Today We Remember: The Men of Spike Team Asp

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance traditionally observed on May 30 but now officially established as the last Monday in May.  It is the day we honor and memorialize those brave men and women who have given their lives in defense of our nation.

Each Memorial Day, Barker’s View publishes the remarkable story of Spike Team ASP – an incredible tale of the heroism and sacrifice of three United States Army Special Forces soldiers on a covert mission in the Laotian countryside on March 28, 1968 – and their enduring legacy of service and devotion.

Never forget.

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In late March 1968, United States Army Sergeant First Class George “Ron” Brown of Holly Hill, Florida, Sergeant Alan Boyer of Missoula, Montana, and Sergeant Greg Huston of Shelby County, Ohio, along with six indigenous personnel – collectively known as “Spike Team Asp” – conducted a top-secret intelligence operation behind enemy lines approximately 12-miles northeast of Tchepone, Laos.

tchepone

Assigned to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam/Studies and Observation Group (MACV/SOG) this team of elite Special Forces soldiers was tasked with setting Air Force wire-tapping equipment and sensors along the labyrinthine Ho Chi Minh trail system, the main north-south supply line for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.

The men had been covertly inserted into the area after launching from Nakon Phanom, Thailand aboard a CH-3 from the Air Force’s 20th Helicopter Squadron call sign “Pony Express.”

More than 25 special forces soldiers and many indigenous troops had already been killed or gone missing in our deadly secret war in Laos.

At approximately 11:00am on the morning of March 28, the team reported that they were in contact with an enemy force and requested an immediate emergency extraction from the area.

A helicopter arrived in the area a short time later and quickly located the team on the ground.

Due to thick canopy jungle and rough terrain the pilot was unable to land so a rope ladder was dropped from the open doorway of the aircraft to the men below.  Five of the six indigenous troops climbed the ladder and were safely taken into the helicopter.

As the sixth was going up, Sergeant Boyer was seen beginning his ascent on the bottom rung of the ladder.

Al Boyer
Alan Boyer

Just as Boyer started climbing, one of the rope’s mounting brackets either broke free or was shot away by heavy enemy ground fire.  Personnel on the helicopter reported observing the indigenous soldier and Sgt. Boyer falling to the ground.

According to reports, Sgt. Dave Mayberry, who served as the chase medic on the extraction helicopter, observed the Green Berets still very much alive and heroically returning fire and defending their position.

When Sgt. Mayberry turned to treat one of the wounded he lost sight of the men on the ground.

Brown, Huston and Boyer were never seen again.

Numerous air assets were diverted to the area and a rescue team was assembled, but the mission was called off later that afternoon when there were no further communications from the men.

On April 1, 1968, Special Forces Sergeant Chuck Feller, along with several indigenous soldiers, launched on a mission to locate the lost men of Spike Team Asp.  After just six hours on the ground, Sgt. Feller and his team came into direct contact with the enemy and called for an emergency extraction.

Ron 3
Ron Brown

Again, a rope ladder had to be dropped and one of the indigenous soldiers was forced to dangle from the rungs as the helicopter returned to the airbase in Thailand.  Sgt. Feller later reported that his search found no evidence of Spike Team Asp.

Interestingly, after Al Boyer went missing in action, his best friend since childhood, Doug Hagen, was attending North Dakota State University when he heard the news.  He decided he needed to find out what happened to his friend, and enlisted in the Army, ultimately joining the 5th Special Forces Group, just as Boyer had done.

On August 7, 1971, 1st Lieutenant Doug Hagen was killed during heavy fighting while leading a reconnaissance team – RT Kansas – on a secret mission deep within enemy controlled territory.

For his heroism, Doug received the Medal of Honor, the United States highest decoration for valor.  He was the last United States Army soldier to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam war.

In January 2000, a team from the former Joint POW/MIA Accounting Office conducted extensive excavations of the Laotian countryside near where Spike Team Asp was last seen.

During the latter part of the war, the Ho Chi Minh trail was heavily bombed leaving the earth deeply cratered and much of the topography completely different than it had been in 1968, making search and recovery efforts extremely difficult.

However, the archaeological excavation uncovered several personal artifacts attributable to U.S. military personnel, to include a metal boot insert and several uniform buttons.

In addition, a single human tooth was recovered at the site.

The tooth was later linked to Ron Brown through dental x-rays at the Department of Defense Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.

In May 2003, Sergeant Brown’s daughter, Ronda Brown-Pitts, was notified by the Army that her father’s remains had been found in Laos.  Unfortunately, dental records provided to her showed that her father’s tooth had a filling – and the tooth recovered did not.

Due to the confusion, Ronda demanded a DNA test, but it was refused based on the Army’s policy of “body desecration.” A DNA test would have destroyed “all of the remains.”

In 2006, a casket containing the remains of Master Sergeant George “Ron” Brown was delivered to his daughter and later interred with full military honors in Dayton, Texas.

Many years ago, I received a POW/MIA bracelet bearing Ron’s name.

When I was a young boy growing up during the Vietnam era, these bracelets were a fairly common sight, but not so much anymore.  In the 1970’s many school children wore the bracelet as a means of ensuring that the POW/MIA issue remained a priority until they all came home.

For those whose adopted POW didn’t come home, the bracelet holder became the keeper of the eternal memory of one man’s sacrifice.

The silver band has become both a personal memorial, and a public reminder, that there are some debts of gratitude that cannot be repaid.

This small token has allowed me to learn about Ron’s military career and his incredible heroism; and I have had the honor of speaking with his friends and family, and to meet and correspond with some of the men he served with on Okinawa and in Vietnam.

He was a husband, a father, a former member of the U.S. Army Parachute Team “The Golden Knights,” and a professional soldier of incredible skill and dedication.

Even though Ron’s “remains” have been repatriated, I still wear his bracelet as a personal remembrance of one man’s sacrifice to the high cost of freedom – and in memory of Greg Huston, who remains missing.

Incredibly, the story of Spike Team Asp continues.

greg huston
Greg Huston

On March 7, 2016, one day before what would have been Sergeant Alan Boyer’s 70th birthday, United States Army and DOD officials presented his sister with Alan’s military decorations, to include the Silver Star and Purple Heart.

During the visit, Judi Boyer Bouchard, now of Leesburg, Florida, was notified that a single leg bone fragment had been located by the Defense Department POW/MIA Accounting Office.  The bone shard was apparently purchased by a Laotian activist from Lao nationals described as “remains dealers,” and later positively identified through mitochondrial DNA analysis.

On June 22, 2016, Sergeant Alan Boyer was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 28.

He was laid to rest just 15-feet from his best friend, Doug Hagen.

hagen
Doug Hagen

Currently, more than 1,500 Americans remain missing after the Vietnam War.

Overall, there are more than 82,000 missing personnel from past conflicts, including World War II, Korea, the Cold War and the Global War on Terror.

On this Memorial Day, and every day, let us remember the extraordinary service of men like Ron Brown, Al Boyer, Greg Huston and Doug Hagen – and all those brave souls who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our great nation.

Never forgotten.

Deltona Burning

During my three decades in public service, I learned many things – an experiential education that taught me a lot about human nature and the effect of unbridled power on small minds. 

Through the years, the citizens I served graciously expended public funds to educate my mind and body, allowing me the opportunity to develop those skills necessary to serve the community effectively and efficiently. 

I have never forgotten their generosity – or the important life lessons learned.   

Now that I am a washed up “has been” – firmly ensconced on the back bench here on the ash heap of history – my enormous ego conveniently allows me to forget my own myriad mistakes and failures while haughtily pointing out the faults and foibles of those still in the arena in some vain attempt to remain relevant to the civic discussion well after my expiry date. 

Thanks to this hard-earned skill set, I have developed the ability to identify the symptoms of bureaucratic dysfunction – and an essential understanding of the internal intrigues and machinations of government that most laypersons mistakenly dismiss as ‘politics as usual.’  

But I’ll be dipped if I can figure out what is going on in the City of Deltona.

Like many of you – I have more questions than answers. . .

I do know that an inability to attract and retain quality senior administrators is a key indicator of a government in trouble – and by that metric the City of Deltona is a shit show choreographed, produced, and performed in the inferno of a raging dumpster fire. . .

Unfortunately, reversing this grim trend requires that the elected leadership have the capacity for introspection, a sense of self-awareness, and the capacity to understand their individual and collective role in the council/manager form of government.

Then adjust course and stay in their lane.

And the acting City Manager should not blindside his bosses by dropping public allegations of misconduct with no good way for them to defend themselves – or mitigate the speculation and instability which is sweeping the community.

Earlier this week, Interim City Manager John Peters III informed the Deltona City Commission of his intent to resign and return to his role as Director of Public Works following what The Daytona Beach News-Journal conservatively called “a long series of controversies” that have plagued this West Volusia behemoth since former City Manager Jane Shang’s reign of terror ended. 

Astonishingly, Mr. Peters’ resignation marks the third change in leadership in less than a year and a half. . .    

According to reports, the crux of the problem is on-going “interference” by elected officials in operational decisions – but I suspect the issues run far deeper – the lingering effects of old wounds that refuse to heal because someone is constantly picking at the scab.   

Interestingly, in an article by reporter Al Everson writing in the West Volusia Beacon, Mr. Peters made the cryptic statement, “I don’t have a choice.  There’s too much interference.  If I resign, I can speak out about it.”

I found that official statement strange, because I am not sure stepping down so he can speak publicly about the seething turmoil inside Deltona City Hall is a good career move. . .

He went on to explain that the meddling is coming from city commissioners who oppose his measures on code enforcement and personnel decisions. 

“That’s a breach of the charter,” Peters told the Beacon. 

That’s a serious charge, and if he’s right, the City Attorney has a duty to act to protect the integrity of the city’s guiding document. 

However, the term “interference” can be subjective – especially when applied to the separation of powers in a municipal government. 

For instance, is an elected official congratulating an employee on a job well done considered interference?  Or is it limited to “If you don’t stop code enforcement activities in my district, hire my cousin, fire the finance director, pave my street, etc., etc., I’ll move to fire you”? 

It is one reason why most chief executives have an employment agreement which contractually protects them from the power struggles inherent in local government. 

In addition, most county and municipal charters clearly delineate the authority and responsibilities of the manager – setting parameters that provide the political insulation to allow the chief executive the latitude to run the day-to-day operations free of intrusion from the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker – who are elected by the people to make policy decisions and direct the expenditure of public funds.  

When that civic equilibrium is disturbed by either side of the equation, the resulting oscillations can become so turbulent that the public begins to distrust its government.

That is typically when good executives follow their moral compass and depart for greener pastures rather than compromise their professional ethics and personal reputation – and bad executives jump from the flaming wreckage and run for the hills, usually with pitchfork wielding villagers in hot pursuit. . .    

In an unusual move, Sheriff Mike Chitwood entered the fray on social media last week, calling it a “sad day” in Deltona before praising Mr. Peters for doing a good job, “…with the transparency, accountability and professionalism Deltona sorely needed.”

Then, Sheriff Chitwood set about naming-names. . . 

“Unfortunately, I believe he was up against interference from certain City Commissioners named Dana McCool, David Sosa and Anita Bradford.”

One thing is certain, Sheriff Chitwood has a sharp mind and a well-honed political instinct – but I hope against hope that he is mistaken in his assessment.

I do not know Sosa or Bradford personally, but I have great respect for Commissioner Dana McCool – who got into politics for all the right reasons – after years of fighting an out-of-control City Hall from outside the ramparts as a frustrated civic activist intent on making her community a better place. 

I suppose time will tell which of the sitting elected officials have pure intentions and which do not; however, I believe the seemingly intractable issues plaguing Deltona predate Ms. McCool by years. . .    

In a prepared agenda item for the June 7 Commission meeting, Mr. Peters oddly outlined three possible choices – one of which would keep him at the helm for the remainder of the year:

Accept his resignation immediately and designate an interim City Manager.

Accept the resignation effective upon the completion of the draft budget in mid-August and designate an interim City Manager at that time.

Accept the resignation effective Dec. 31, to allow the Commission to complete a search for a City Manager.

Look, this isn’t a Chinese restaurant – and if Mr. Peters finds his position that desperate and untenable – why didn’t he simply give adequate notice and take his football and go home?

To add to the speculation, after Mr. Peters made his shocking announcement – and dropped the serious allegations of official interference – he refused to clarify his stunning statements:

“I’m really not talking about it at this point,” Peters told a News-Journal reporter last week, fanning the sense of drama.   

Naturally, this intrigue has caused some to wonder if this entire fuss is a well-orchestrated powerplay by Peters to force the issue of his “acting” status (which has now drug on nearly six-months) – and worry that if the Commission acquiesces to any behind-the-scenes demands then get down on their knees and beg him to stay – it would clearly grant him near dictatorial powers. 

And, if his intent was to return to his former role, why wouldn’t Peters simply finish his temporary “Queen for the Day” appointment and shuffle on back to the relative comfort and obscurity of the Public Works Department?

Others ask why, if Mr. Peters wants the fulltime role, would he paint himself into this very narrow corner – after all who in their right mind would take this tumultuous job on a 4-3 vote of a clearly divided commission?

These are legitimate questions that deserve answers.  And fast. 

The fear, of course, is that this dysfunction is going to get worse as the finger pointing begins and there will always be self-serving opportunists on the sideline waiting to take advantage of a leadership void – charlatans with one good suit and a briefcase, “consultants,” and failed screwballs looking for work – who will offer their services in hopes of backdooring a six-figure city manager gig. 

In my view, between now and the June 7 agenda item, this situation will continue to fester as speculation builds.

Now is the time for Mayor Heidi Herzberg to rally her wayward “colleagues” and start a public dialog with the goal of amicably repairing things with their temporary placeholder – then begin the important process of selecting a strong permanent replacement.

In my view, it is wrong to allow Mr. Peters to languish in an interim status for months on end – and, if the meddling he describes is so deleterious to the operational effectiveness of the municipal government that he has no choice but to step down – those violations of the separation of power defined in the city’s charter should be investigated, aired publicly, and swiftly dealt with according to law. 

While questions abound, one thing is certain – the good citizens of Deltona deserve stability – and time is of the essence.      

Angels & Assholes for May 28, 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               Daytona Beach City Manager Deric Feacher

Next week marks a quantum change in the vision, management, and direction of the City of Daytona Beach as Deric Feacher takes the helm at City Hall after nearly two-decades under the omnipotent control of City Manager Jim Chisholm.

In my view, Mr. Chisholm epitomized raw political power – and he had a practiced talent for keeping those uber-wealthy political insiders who control the local electoral landscape firmly in his camp – creating an impenetrable Iron Dome of political protection that all but ensured he was not going anywhere unless it was on his terms. 

I was always impressed by his intuitive sense of self-preservation in a position not known for longevity. 

In keeping with the job requirements, Mr. Chisholm was many different things to many different people – always playing important civic moves close to the vest – even when a hint of transparency, or simply feigning interest in the opinions of those who pay the bills would have served him better, but Mr. Chisholm remained inscrutable, holding true to his own counsel, and he did not suffer fools.

And we were all fools. . . 

Having grown up in the Halifax area – I have seen Daytona Beach at its best, and worst – a perspective that allows me to reflect on “what could have been” with the hard-earned cynicism to ask, “Is this all we got for all we gave?”    

As Mr. Chisholm accepts the accolades of his well-connected friends, I can’t help but wonder if the “improvements” we saw on his watch – a few resort hotels, the renovation of The Pier, the weird redux of our still downtrodden downtown, the coming “Brown Esplanade,”  One Daytona, laying the foundation for the incredibly expensive and obscurely couched “Daytona Emerging” project, and the massive sprawl on Boomtown Boulevard and beyond (each accomplishment having a common denominator in those he considered “friends”) – make up for the almost strategic rot that has consumed critical areas of the community, a civic rust that has brought a once world class destination to its knees?   

Farewell, Mr. Chisholm.  Enjoy the fruits of your labor – and go comfortable in the knowledge you served that exclusive camarilla known affectionately as “friends of Jim” so well, for so long.

Trust me.  The name James V. Chisholm will not be forgotten in these parts. . .

Now, it is time to look forward, shielding our raw senses from the sudden light of optimism after years of being kept in effective darkness, and consider the exciting promise of “what will be” as Deric Feacher – young, energetic, and gregarious – best described as the polar opposite of Jim Chisholm in personality and accessibility – begins the hard work of determining priorities through a fresh set of eyes. 

By all accounts, Mr. Feacher has built a reputation as someone who gets things done while keeping his finger on the social, civic, and economic pulse of the community. 

According to a recent exposé in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean we learned that Mr. Feacher is not afraid of getting out in the community where his constituents live, work, learn, and play – extending both the reach and effectiveness of municipal services by bringing City Hall to the streets and listening to the needs of the taxpayers who fund them:

“During his four years in Haines City the fund balance was doubled, single family home construction permits hit record levels, new restaurants opened downtown, a food truck marketplace and art alley was created, and residents’ voices were heard at town hall meetings, community gatherings and coffee talks.  Feacher also launched the mobile City Hall program that brings a trailer and city officials to residents to answer their questions and let them take care of city business in their neighborhoods.”

I find that refreshing. 

Under Mr. Chisholm’s control, our only access to the innerworkings of that cloistered municipal citadel on Ridgewood Avenue came through brusque communiques issued by the guardian of the gate – the city’s “communications manager” – who carefully spun the administrations well-crafted narrative and prevented direct access to the inner sanctum of power.  

In addition, any entrepreneur who has attempted to start a small business in the City of Daytona Beach will tell you horror stories about the myriad hoops and hurdles those responsible for “economic development” put in their path – time-wasting impediments that have caused many to throw in the towel and move their enterprise to surrounding communities. 

Something tells me that bureaucratic obstructionism is about to end – but change will not come easy.   

Let’s face it, Daytona Beach is as far from small town Haines City as Mr. Feacher could imagine – more akin to his former community’s doomed theme park “Circus World” with its tattered Big Top and despondent clown troupe – and how he adapts to that stark contrast will be interesting. 

The transition of power in government is always a difficult period as the new leader learns the issues through a firehose of internal and external sources all vying for position, access, and influence – while trying desperately to establish a successful working relationship with the elected body – seven strong personalities each with differing intellect, priorities, and loyalties.

The City of Daytona Beach has many pressing issues that have languished for far too long. 

It also possesses all the right pieces and parts required for civic excellence – the best beach in Florida, beautiful riverfront, a world class motorsports complex, renowned colleges and universities, a small business community hungry for change, and the strong bones of established neighborhoods – all waiting for the talented hand of a master civic artist to put the blocks in place. 

In my view, the future is promising. 

My hope is that Mr. Chisholm’s parasitic “friends” will leave Deric Feacher alone – and allow him the opportunity to be the “People’s Champion” that the long-suffering citizens of Daytona Beach have been waiting for. 

Asshole           Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton

It makes my skin crawl when someone in a highly paid leadership position plunges an organization or community into a shit storm of abject dysfunction – then moseys away from the flaming wreckage – dodging responsibility by blaming the “political climate” while those who relied on them – those who trusted them – are left to founder.  

Earlier this week I posted a blog entitled “Enemies of the State” following the shocking revelation that for the past five-years the City of Palm Coast has maintained a secret list of “difficult citizens” – 24 taxpayers who somehow ran athwart city employees and wound up on the municipal registry of undesirables.

What I found most ominous – and patently unconstitutional – was the fact those labeled as public enemies by the ruling junta were not notified of their official status – no due process and no way of mitigating the damage to their character and reputation in the community. 

We are told “The List” was created under former City Manager Jim Landon in 2016 – but the despicable practice was continued under Matt Morton’s tyrannical reign.

It was the latest controversy in the tumultuous recent history of this community which has been besieged by civic and political chaos (resulting in Morton contracting armed guards to patrol City Hall, further alienating staff from those they serve).

In my view, much of the havoc was created by Morton’s callous slash-and-burn personnel management technique, one that saw a near constant churn among senior staff – including the cowardly practice of openly blaming current and former staff members in media interviews to cover his own shortcomings and questionable conduct. 

So, just nine days after Palm Coast Mayor Melissa Holland mysteriously fled City Hall – now Mr. Morton has dropped his own cryptic notice of resignation effective June 26.

According to the excellent reportage of Flaglerlive.com:

“The resignation is not entirely surprising: Morton was essentially a Holland protege, and without her on the council, he’d lost his support’s cornerstone. But the resignation adds at least some credence to rampant speculation that Holland’s resignation was not prompted only by concerns over her daughter’s health, and that the two resignations are connected.”

Adding to the “rampant speculation” was the purely Mortonian tactic of citing a tenet of the International City/County Management Association’s Code of Ethics – in my experience, a fraternity of public administrators that exists to protect its weakest links – which reads:

“Resist any encroachment on professional responsibilities, believing the member should be free to carry out official policies without interference, and handle each problem without discrimination on the basis of principle and justice.”

Interestingly, it was the same passage cited by Deltona Interim City Manager John Peters III just days earlier in his own ‘take this job and shove it’ moment with meddling elected officials there.

Unlike the unfolding debacle in Deltona, Mr. Morton gave no explanation or context for his veiled allegation – only apologizing to his “executive team” for notifying them of his decision by email (who does that?) – then declaring they “…deserve much better than what the political climate is offering.”  

My God. . .

In my view, what Palm Coast’s staff, elected officials, and citizens deserve is a chief executive who, by their personal and professional example, brings confidence and stability to this important role – someone who values honor, treats others with respect, and possesses the competence to lead this troubled community out of a fetid quagmire of dysfunction.  

They deserve a leader worthy of their trust.  

Angel               B-CU Athletic Director Lynn Thompson

Earlier this week, Bethune-Cookman University announced the sad news that Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Lynn Thompson will be leaving that role next month. 

Vice President Thompson’s departure marks the end of a stellar 30-year career with the university. 

According to a release by B-CU Athletics, “Hired initially at Bethune-Cookman in 1991, as the youngest Division I athletics director in the nation, Thompson is now the longest tenured and one of the most respected Division I athletic directors in the NCAA. Because of his success, Thompson was elevated to the position of Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics in 2015, providing executive leadership over the 17-sport Division I program and support offices for the B-CU Department of Athletics.”

According to reports, under Mr. Thompson’s outstanding leadership, “…the Wildcats won a total of 71 championships, beginning with 54 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) crowns and a dynasty of 12 baseball championships in a 15-year span. B-CU softball teams put together a streak of five straight softball titles from 2000-2004, along with three consecutive titles from 2010-12 and two more in 2018-19.

The B-CU football program has won a total of six MEAC championships during Thompson’s tenure, including at least a share of three consecutive from 2012-14.

Additionally, the Wildcats won the school’s first-ever national HBCU championship in 2010.”

Impressive.

Outside his commitment to Wildcat sports, Mr. Thompson has been heavily involved in the Bethune-Cookman University Fellowship of Christian Athletes – and served as staff pastor and led the men’s ministry at Calvary Christian Center in Ormond Beach for over 10-years. 

Most important, Lynn Thompson’s profound contributions to his profession, the university, and our community can be measured by the lives he touched in such a brilliant and positive way.

The calling to prepare young minds for a rich and fulfilling life is an infinitely important one, and true mentors like Mr. Thompson leave an indelible part of themselves with each student athlete – each future leader – whose character they help shape.   

As such, their legacy of service to others endures.

Thank you, Mr. Thompson.  We’re glad you passed our way. 

Quote of the Week

“A plan for all, from the tiniest creatures to the biggest developers. For the poor and wealthy alike, for the old oaks (which share 80% of our DNA), to the imported palms.

For the shopkeepers and mall walkers, the athletes and porch rockers. For the race car drivers, power walkers, saunterers, cyclists. For the farmers and fishermen, to the business owners, large and small. For the green, smooth lawns to the wild native habitats, butterflies and bees. For the old buildings and new ones. For those who want to be shuttled around to those who want the security of surround metal and sound.

None should be left out.

Why are we sitting around arguing and blaming? The power of interaction is the power of our connectedness, and the source of creative solutions, solutions that are born out of merely talking, and listening, out of interaction.

The other option is to continue on a predictable path, that of the incessant power struggles and of diminishing one another. The dance of life is the push and pull of opposites, in order to create balance, and in nature, homeostasis. The real issues are not solved with power — political or financial — boasting or bullying, whining, complaining, or blaming. Over time, it all plays out and like kids on a seesaw, the issues go up and down, and one falls off until the other gets back on, and the game starts over.  We can do better than that.  Have homo sapiens learned nothing from our long history on the planet?”

–Linda Williams, Ormond Beach, a founder of the city’s Civil Discourse series, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Civil Discourse founder says with a plan, we can do better,” Tuesday, May 18, 2021

I enjoy reading the authentic thoughts of Linda Williams – a smart, engaged citizen who brought the Civil Discourse concept to Ormond Beach several years ago as a “…creative solution born out of my own search for a way through the chaos, anger and frustration of trying to influence livability issues in our community.”

In my view, she speaks the truth in a language that local pseudointellectuals like News-Journal editor Pat Rice and a few of our haughty elected officials try desperately to mimic in their quest to stifle bold discussion on social media and beyond in favor of their definition of go along to get along “civility” in government. 

We need more voices of reason and reconciliation in this time of bitter distrust and discontent – and those like Ms. Williams give hope that we are capable of something better – a place where citizens and public servants can seek understanding and work together in the public interest without being labeled an unsophisticated clodhopper or a Machiavellian meddler.   

I wish I had Ms. Williams capacity for graciousness and good manners, but I don’t. 

Unfortunately, I lack the intellect or disposition for “a new way of thinking” about solutions to the grievous dysfunction that has been foisted on us by forces most citizens cannot begin to understand – political machinations and selfish private profit motives that have reduced Volusia County to a cautionary tale.

And what happens when those we have elected to represent our interests stifle dialogue altogether and stop listening to their constituents?

For instance, during the recent free-for-all that was the debate over short-term rental regulations in Volusia County, certain council members were visibly miffed over the use of a well-produced video presentation by vacation rental proponents. 

Apparently, those stalwarts of the status quo did not like the idea of being spoken to without the ability to respond or provide input. . .

Sound familiar? 

Now, the Volusia County Council plans to discuss limiting the use of videos (which have become a staple of any boring staff presentation) by citizens and groups trying desperately to communicate with their vacuous, stone-faced elected officials on the dais of power.   

So, for good or ill, I will remain down here in this filthy slit trench that passes for the public discourse in this foul year 2021 – a lone voice in a very dark wilderness – whining, complaining, and blaming – holding that thin line between our collective quality of life and the self-serving motivations of those fortunate few with a chip in the game.

And Another Thing!

“Public confidence in County government has been slowly eroded by the steady flow of missteps, bullying, and legislative slight-of-hand that invariably benefits a privileged few while laying the financial burden squarely on the back of Volusia County residents.

As a result, we no longer assume Council decisions serve the common good.  Now, we instinctively ask ourselves the darker question, “who benefits?”

–Barker’s View, “Qui Bono?” January 2, 2016

The one certainty here on Florida’s Fun Coast is that no tax increase is ever dead.

This week, we saw the rotting claw-like hand of the Volusia County sales tax initiative begin its slow rise from the sandy loam in that musty graveyard where bad ideas are temporarily tamped down in their shallow graves – only to be resurrected when the moon is full – and attitudes softened with the lash of overdevelopment, threats of being forced to drink our own reclaimed sewage, and the inconvenience of near gridlocked traffic. . .    

In 2019, Volusia County voters overwhelmingly rejected the notion that the same bad actors on the dais of power should be given even more of our hard-earned money to shower on the same powerful special interests that fund their perennial runs for high office. 

It was the culmination of a match made in hell.

In June 2017, area residents learned that the mysterious Star Chamber of uber-wealthy insiders over at the CEO Business Alliance of Volusia County hired a Tallahassee-based research firm to gauge public support for a half-penny sales tax increase, ostensibly to be used to fund transportation and “other infrastructure” improvements.

The use of private funds in support of a public tax increase raised eyebrows. . . 

In turn, Volusia County government ramrodded a half-assed assessment by the municipalities, demanding they cobble together an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink wish list of transportation projects – bridges, roads, sidewalks, trails, intersections, traffic lights, spans, etc., etc. – anything they felt could benefit from Jane & John Q. Public’s acquiescence to their cheap demand for more, more, more tax dollars to be squandered on corporate welfare projects and lucrative government contracts that always seem to benefit all the right last names.

Fortunately, Volusia County residents saw this scheme for what it was and roundly rejected the idea following an expensive special election in the spring of 2019, when some 55% of voters sent a clear message to Volusia County government and its greedy handlers, “We prefer to keep our money in our pocket and out of yours, thank you.” 

Following the vote, in an article entitled “Volusia voters reject half-cent sales tax hike,” reporter Mark Harper wrote in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Voters who said no expressed a wide range of reasons for that lack of trust: Too much growth, charging developers too little in impact fees, the awarding of incentives to corporations including International Speedway Corp. and Brown & Brown, Inc., and the decision to hold a special election in May costing $490,000 rather than having it during a general election.”

What’s changed?

Any substantive talk on pursuing alternative revenue sources for things like beach management, reduction of daily tolls for Volusia County residents, or improved public access – how about logical cost saving initiatives, a reexamination of priorities, or strengthening environmental protections that do not begin and end with a cheap photo op?  

No?

Any clear understanding of what Volusia County, or the municipalities, plan to do with the millions-upon-millions of dollars being showered on them like manna from heaven in the form of federal CARES Act funds?

No?

Anyone heard even a whisper from our ‘powers that be’ of a temporary moratorium on residential planned unit developments until our already overburdened transportation infrastructure and water resources can be improved and protected?

No?

Has anyone noticed a willingness on the part of Volusia County’s Old Guard to work collaboratively with Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post to find common ground on the issues important to We, The Little People?

I didn’t think so. . . 

I don’t know about you, but all I see is more development – more greenspace, wetlands, and wildlife habitat being bulldozed into a mucky moonscape – while our elected and appointed officials wring their hands with faux concern over the starvation of manatees in the condemned Indian River Lagoon, ulcerated lesions on fish in the St. John’s River, and the ongoing pollution of our springs.

All while speculative developers pat themselves on the back for leaving thin “wildlife corridors” amongst the zero-lot-line cracker box palaces as they haul untold profits out of the pine scrub. 

Yet, the working theory remains that if we just give more money to the same people who got us into this fetid mess in the first place, everything is going to somehow work out for the best.   

Bullshit.   

Last Sunday, News-Journal editor Pat Rice explained to us rubes the futility of slowing the malignant sprawl in Volusia County in his piece, “Volusia needs to prepare for growth inevitably on its way.”

After detailing all the reasons people want to move to Volusia County – and why growth will never pay for itself – Mr. Rice reminded us of what we missed out on by rejecting the last shameless money grab:

“In 2019, voters said no to a proposed half-cent sales tax that would have paid for the infrastructure needs in the county and its cities. The tax — an estimated $42 million a year — would have helped cover not just new infrastructure but old infrastructure that needs replacement or repair.”

Then, Mr. Rice figuratively placed a flashlight under his chin and laid the frightening groundwork for the next push for a sales tax increase we all know is coming:

“The bottom line: We need a plan to get ahead of the new growth headed our way, and to ensure that new growth doesn’t destroy everyone’s quality of life. That plan will almost certainly require additional revenue.”

“Otherwise, we’re going to look like Orlando, and soon.”

Perhaps it is time to remind those “very important people” who are currently meeting behind the scenes, working hard to formulate another bite at the sales tax apple, that the same reasons their plan has been repeatedly rejected remain true today.

It is time they realize that those of us who have invested, struggled, and made our lives here will not be coerced by their crude attempts to punish us into submission with even more sprawl.

It was true in 2019 – and it remains so today:  There is some shit we won’t eat.

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

Enemies of the State

Members of a free society abhor the idea of alienation and estrangement – defined as the experience of being separated or held out from a group or activity in which one should be involved by virtue of a perceived physical or ideological difference.

In fact, our national motto – E Pluribus Unum “From many, one” – speaks to the notion of unity, a shared identity, our unique ability to come together, regardless of our disagreements and dissimilarities, and be a contributing part of something exceptional. 

The idea that we are all equal under the law – the bedrock of our democracy.

Because when powerful people begin singling out those they see as lesser – labeling those who think, act, worship, or look different from them or vehemently disagree with public policy – bad things happen. 

As recent history teaches there is a fine line between a functioning symbiotic society governed by a representative democracy and an autocratic dictatorship founded on fear and divisiveness, where the rule of law is ultimately replaced by diktats of powerful bureaucrats, and an “Us vs. Them” mentality sets in – both in the streets and the gilded Halls of Power.  

Sound familiar?

For the past several years, I have brooded on the increasingly insular nature of local government – a strange phenomenon marked by a growing disconnect and distrust between our elected and appointed officials and those they serve.

As a former career civil servant turned dilettante political analyst, I frequently observe elected officials – good men and women who run for high office on a promise of changing the status quo and returning responsive government – then become everything they hated once they are taken into the maw of a self-serving bureaucracy.   

That personal and political transilience happens more rapidly than one might think.   

Once fawned over by career staff, wealthy insiders, and hangers-on who laugh at their jokes – the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker quickly become convinced of their own infallibility – and secretly become addicted to the fact people are forced to listen as they drone on during the policymaking process.

Over time, these malleable nitwits become confident they are the smartest person in any room.   

This near constant ego massage, coupled with the innate fear of losing the prestige and perquisites of their haughty position, breeds a weird political paranoia – especially when those citizens whose concerns they once championed turn angry and sullen, crowding the chamber, demanding access, and input in a process our High & Mighty are now convinced is the exclusive domain of the ruling class.

In turn, any semblance of “public participation” becomes a sham – where our superiors stare into space, gripped by some egomaniacal catatonia – refusing to even acknowledge the presence of their constituents – as concerned citizens try desperately to make themselves understood. 

Some dismiss me and this blogsite as the ravings of a bloviating blowhard who always sees the dark side of any civic issue – a demented, half-drunk Henny Penney with a chip on my shoulder – and perhaps that is true.

But the fact is – I don’t make this shit up.

And the growing evidence of this incredibly divisive, circle the wagons, mindset in major local governments keeps my eyes open and my ear to the track. 

For instance, this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a disturbing report on the City of Palm Coast’s despicable practice of placing persons they arbitrarily label “difficult citizens” on a secret list maintained by senior administrators at City Hall. 

You read that right. 

Perhaps most sinister, those who are pigeon-holed as undesirables – the modern equivalent of an Untermensch, who, in Nazi Germany, referred to those held out as inferior, even subhuman – are never told they have been officially registered as “difficult.”

Frightening.

No explanation. 

No due process.

And no means of mitigating the damage to their character and reputation in the community. 

Let that sink in for a moment. . . 

I find it unfathomable that the administration of a modern municipality of some 90,000 residents met in a backroom in the bowels of Palm Coast City Hall and determined it was right and proper to establish and maintain a list of 24 taxpaying “difficult citizens” – whose transgressions range from verbal spats with code enforcement officers to throwing a “spear-like object” at a city truck – a mysterious official register that even some of the city’s elected officials were unaware of.

In fact, Council member Ed Danko (who is no stranger to controversy) was left wondering if he was on “The List” as well. . .    

Apparently, the criteria for being labeled a “difficult citizen” consists of little more than being nominated by a city employee or official following a problematic contact or an open challenge to municipal authority – information, much of which is non-criminal in nature, is then compiled and forwarded to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office for reasons that are not completely clear. 

You see, the scope of Palm Coast’s domestic intelligence gathering operation against its citizens remains murky – and no one knows to what extent those appearing on the list are subject to surveillance, monitoring, or disparate treatment – because the cowardly City Manager Matt Morton refused to answer questions from the working press – referring that uncomfortable task to his mouthpiece, city spokeswoman Brittany Kershaw.

According to Kershaw’s practiced backspin:

“It’s two-fold. It’s a way to protect the city staff from walking into an area where there might be someone who doesn’t want other people on their property and has either threatened city staff in the past or has done something that caused concern.  It’s also a way to protect the employee and also it’s a way to respect our residents if they don’t want us on their property.”

My ass.

Trust me, Ms. Kershaw – this has nothing to do with respect for your residents and everything to do with imparting fear and intimidation in anyone who may challenge the reach and power of Palm Coast government. 

Although we are told “The List” was started under former City Manager Jim Landon in 2016 – the practice was clearly approved and continued under Mr. Morton’s tyrannical reign. 

Look, don’t take my word for it – read for yourself the copious news reports of how whistleblowers and internal critics have their careers destroyed and lives turned upside down by Mr. Morton’s wrath.

But this is different – because it involves average citizens like you and I who happen to run afoul of a government run amok.

As Orlando constitutional attorney Howard Marks stated in an interview with the News-Journal:

“No due process, no way to challenge and potentially defames citizens and sets up a procedure where they are treated differently than other citizens.  If it is a public record, which it is, this can be published to all citizens and creates a situation where the people on the list can be treated as second-class citizens with less rights than other citizens.”

While we cannot know if the media’s discovery of this foul practice weighed into the recent decision by Palm Coast Mayor Melissa Holland to abruptly resign her position – it should have.

By any metric, this appalling practice is indefensible, corrosive, and wrong. 

In my view, Mr. Morton – and any other municipal administrator who participated in or condoned this pernicious classification system – should follow Ms. Holland’s lead and resign immediately – or face termination.

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

The Education of Jeff Brower

“All wish to possess knowledge, but few are willing to pay the price.”

–Juvenal

During what has become known as the “Silver Age” of Latin literature, the Roman empire had its own blogger – a fellow named Decimus Junius Juvenalis – now known as Juvenal, a savage satirist who is thought to have pursued a career in the civil service before becoming disillusioned by the corruption and bureaucratic ineptitude he encountered in government.

He began writing scathing critiques of daily life in Rome, venting his indignation at the vices and often ludicrous nature of those who ascend to positions of high power – once telling the story of how the Emperor Domitian summoned his top advisors to solve the pressing conundrum of how to cook a fish too large for the pan. . . 

From experience, I’m sure his friends were horrified by Juvenal’s odd quest to find his voice and speak the inconvenient truth of what goes on behind the political curtain – asking him in hushed tones:

“Juvy, what the hell are you doing, man?  You’re pissing off the emperor and his wealthy friends with these goofy screeds of yours – now the peons in the streets are beginning to question the incestuous nature of the “system” – and that makes important people uneasy.  I’m worried about you, bro. . .”

Of the many prescient quotes by Juvenal still in circulation today, such as, “Who will watch the watchers?” and “Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt” – my favorite is “Difficile est saturam non scribere”: It is difficult not to write satire.

Ain’t that the damn truth. . . 

No one knows what ultimately became of Juvenal. 

It is widely speculated that he was exiled by an angry Domitian, perhaps to Egypt, where he died penniless – others say he was recalled to Rome when Nerva became emperor. 

As always happens when powerful people become offended, he was marginalized, painted as a shit stirrer, and paid a heavy price for going against the grain and speaking the truth as he saw it.

I think civic activists, true public servants, and anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the happenings that effect our collective lives and livelihoods feel a strange kinship with ol’ Juvenal – especially during these dangerous and difficult times when the only constant is change. 

Let’s face it, anyone who pays attention to the intrigues of local government cannot help but shake their heads at our current situation – watching what happens when our “Rich & Powerful” political elite get nervous – and the resulting turmoil and Machiavellian machinations that are the natural byproduct of a changing environment, where those who once held all the cards see their grip on power slipping away.

We saw this weird dynamic at play last week during longtime Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm’s last public meeting – a strange adoubement where very wealthy and influential insiders like His Royal Majesty and Lord of the Realm King J. Hyatt Brown, and our High Panjandrum of Political Power Mori Hossieni, elegantly rose from their reserved seats, approached their indebted subjects on the dais of power, and paid homage to the man who served their needs so well, for so long.

In my view, the spectacle was as telling as it was touching. . .   

Apparently, Quanita “Call Me Commissioner!” May was moved to tears by the pageantry of it all – voice dramatically cracking with emotion, the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth that always accompany the demise of a long-held status quo.

Now, with the city’s new manager Deric Feacher on deck, there is an electric feeling of change in the air. 

Trust me.  The uncertainty of ‘what comes next’ is making the crème de la crème of our political aristocracy, both inside government and out, extremely anxious.   

Not unexpectedly, we are seeing a similar struggle for control on the Volusia County Council following the rise to power of a populist “everyman” in Chairman Jeff Brower – a gentleman farmer who is proving to be as far from the archetype of the modern-day politician as one could imagine – as he struggles to keep promises and find solutions to intractable problems – seeking answers to questions that many of his “colleagues” would prefer to go unasked.

Is Mr. Brower making his share of mistakes? 

You bet he is. 

I suspect Chairman Brower is learning that politics is not unlike shoveling horseshit out of his barn – except the lives of real people often hang in the balance. 

It is a prime example of why the learning curve for newly minted office holders is so steep – and horribly unforgiving – made infinitely more difficult when your detractors seize every opportunity to expose shortcomings, painting every misstep as another embarrassing faux pas or something more sinister.    

I know about these things – pointing out, as Roosevelt said, “…how the strongman stumbled or the doer of deeds could have done them better,” has become my always sarcastic stock-in-trade. . .

Earlier this week, Chairman Brower put his foot in that fetid bucket of political dung (actually, he put both feet in and stomped around in it) when he attempted to broker a meeting between Sheriff Mike Chitwood and a Deltona couple who reports indicate made demonstrably false allegations against a Volusia County deputy.

In turn, Sheriff Chitwood called Chairman Brower’s entreaty “way off base” (because it was) and, in his own inimitable way, suggested those who tried to destroy a career law enforcement officer were “lying sacks of shit.”    

Many were waiting with bated breath for me to take a side, lubricate whatever is left of my feeble mind with copious amounts of whiskey, and lambaste either Sheriff Chitwood, or Chairman Brower, with my usual snarky bluster. 

I didn’t. 

Given that the career of a dedicated law enforcement officer hung in the balance – and the matter has rightfully been referred to the State Attorney’s Office for prosecution – I decided to step back and see how Mr. Brower responded to the natural perceptions his request fostered in the minds of his constituents who, though experience, have become leery of even the suggestion of meddling by elected officials before I weighed in.   

In truth, my natural reaction was to rip Chairman Brower a new bunghole. . . 

In a complete reversal of what we have come to expect from our ‘powers that be,’ rather than attempt to shield himself behind the modern practice of political “damage control” – Chairman Brower promptly appeared on WNDB’s Marc Bernier public affairs program and took responsibility for why he reached out to Sheriff Chitwood – then issued an open and heartfelt explanation to his constituents on social media. 

I understand that Chairman Brower will also appear on WELE’s GovStuff Live! with Big John this week. 

In my view, Sheriff Chitwood deserves our respect and appreciation for seeking justice for the deputy who was falsely accused – for standing firm to the core principles of his agency and protecting the foundational underpinnings of our system by prosecuting those who would attempt to destroy a good man’s life with baseless allegations.

In fact, I can think of few things more reprehensible than bearing false witness against a dedicated public servant charged with the safety and security of a public meeting in what appears to be some revolting attempt to make a cheap political statement.

In my view, Sheriff Chitwood’s aggressive response speaks to his leadership – and commitment to preserving the honor of those brave men and women who serve my family and yours with such dignity and courage.    

After reading Chairman Brower’s explanation, it appears his motives were pure – and I commend his good instinct in taking the high road by detailing his motivations to the citizens of Volusia County. 

In my view, by accepting personal responsibility and explaining his actions, Chairman Brower returns a sense of honor to his position – one that was tarnished long before Mr. Brower entered the arena – a seat of great responsibility that over the last few years lost any semblance of dignity, integrity, or respect for the public trust. 

Clearly, Mr. Brower is beginning to understand that experiential learning in the fishbowl of public life is the most expensive education one can receive – and, as Juvenal said – he is paying an awfully heavy price for that important knowledge. . .     

Angels & Assholes for May 21, 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.

King Hell Asshole        Volusia County Council

“All power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people. That government is instituted and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty and the right of acquiring property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. That the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their government whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purpose of its institution.”

–James Madison

When a governmental body – comprised of duly elected officials charged with representing the needs of all citizens, legislating public policy in the sunshine, and stewarding our hard-earned tax dollars – puts unreasonable restrictions on the ability of their constituents to fully participate in their governance, the balance and source of power becomes skewed.

But one thing is clear – ultimately, We, The People, will find a way to be heard. 

During Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting, following the pleas and protestations of those for and against the prohibition of short-term rentals in unincorporated Volusia, we witnessed perhaps the best example of why many citizens consider this body – this throwback to the bad-old-days of backroom cronyism and good ol’ boy politics – the most abusive, dictatorial, and clearly choreographed shit-show in modern times.

At the end of the day – nothing changed.

When our ‘powers that be’ were given the opportunity to establish modern, commonsense regulations that would bring the popular concept of vacation rentals into code compliance while protecting the peace and dignity of homeowners in areas of unincorporated Volusia County – a burgeoning worldwide industry that Volusia County government shamelessly reaps tourism taxes from while scoffing at the practice from on high – the majority agreed to, once again, do nothing.   

For me, it was not so much why the majority elected to listen to current pseudo-chairman, The Right Reverend Fred Lowry, and vote to preserve the status quo – it is how they ultimately went about it – and for anyone paying attention, it was clear from the outset that Volusia’s Old Guard were not going to allow Chairman Jeff Brower a victory. 

Even if that meant keeping unincorporated Volusia County in the Stone Age.  

The handwriting was on the wall when, in recent weeks, District 3 newcomer Danny Robins had his photograph taken in a chummy pose with Bob Davis, “President for Life” of the decrepit and horribly stagnant Daytona Beach Hotel and Motel Association – an organization vehemently against even the mention of short-term rentals, considering the concept an anathema to offering our dwindling tourist population anything other than a tired beachside motel experience. 

Then, after dozens of citizens from all districts spoke in favor of allowing well-regulated vacation rentals in unincorporated areas – including a video featuring countless residents who work for a living and couldn’t take the day to sit on their ass in the council chambers because their elected officials won’t even consider an occasional evening meeting – Councilwoman Billie Wheeler had clearly been inconvenienced long enough and called a point-of-order to whine about how long these concerned residents were taking to communicate with their representatives. . .

Of course, Wheeler’s mewling chaunt was immediately supported by the self-anointed éminence grise, Fred Lowry, and Councilman Ben Johnson – yet Chairman Brower held firm to his core belief that those who pay the bills have a right to participate in their government – and allowed the people to finish their presentation. 

After His Eminence made the motion to maintain the status quo and do absolutely nothing to establish proper regulation of a major segment of our region’s hospitality options (which was quickly seconded by Johnson) it came time for our elected officials to openly discuss the issue in front of Volusia County voters.

That is when the proverbial cart left the rails. . .

As happens, Billie Wheeler quickly wandered off into one of her self-absorbed orations where she muses out loud – somehow managing to craft a narrative about how her personal life meshes with any issue coming before the council, from outhouses on the beach to short-term rentals, using a string of possessive personal pronouns, “me, me, me” – yammering something about how she bought a condo to keep the riffraff out, followed by the incredibly conflicted statement:

“I love short-term rentals. I use them myself, but I may not want them to infiltrate somebody’s residential neighborhood that already has an ordinance stating that it’s not OK.  That’s all I’m saying. . .”

Whatever that means. . . 

As the discussion digressed, Councilman Robins’ eyes glazed over as he launched into one of those weird soliloquies of his, delivered without intonation or expressiveness in the patented Robins monotone, spouting nonsensical platitudes, disconnected bromides, and parallels to current events that only he understands:

“Four score and seven years ago, ferggitty verst gliddy darn well glurb gloopy, societal issues, nibby nabby noopie, sex trafficking, sabby siddy saba, war on drugs, toody uooby walla – something to chew on.  Turn on your television, flippidy, flappidty, floop, and beware the Jabberwock. Flamsky ramsky damsky crocklefether squiggs. In the immortal words of Fred Flintstone, yabba, dabba, do, cities on fire, iggily biggily, personal accountability, suum, mun, ha, no, nonny and peaceful coexistence.  Bottom line, Jeff Brower and his ideas are stooopid.  Shama lama ding dong.” 

(Queue Councilman Fred Lowry shouting “Hear! Hear!” in the background like some addled Member of Parliament in the Imperial Duchy of Duchebagistan. . .)

Look, I’m being facetious, but I must admit – Councilman Robins confuses me.

Honestly, can anyone tell me what Danny is saying when he goes catatonic and launches into one of his passive/aggressive stream-of-consciousness monologues?

I didn’t think so.

In keeping with the theme, Mr. Robins cemented his position with Volusia’s stalwarts of the status quo when he said he supported short-term rentals to “create an incentive to get people to come together” (say what?) apparently in furtherance of his never-ending quest to orchestrate peace on earth from his vaunted perch on the District 3 seat.

Then Mr. Robins quibbled that he actually said something like, I support short-term rentals, the key word being “BUT” – clearly having mastered the old political dodge:  I can’t be responsible for your misinterpretation of what I thought I meant when I made the statement in support of the issue I now oppose. 

Whatever.

When it was his turn, His Eminence Fred Lowry took the opportunity for another cheap shot at Mr. Brower:

“Chair mentioned a few minutes ago that he wants to bring people together.  I’m the senior member up here and this has been the most divisive five-months that I think I’ve ever experienced here on the council,” then he called for the vote.

(If you had the time, and I had an exascale supercomputer, I could refute Rev. Lowry’s outlandish comment on past discord during his reign – but that blogpost would be just north of a Proust novel in total wordcount. . .)

In an act of parliamentary belligerence, Lowry rudely shut off further conversation and debate before Councilwoman Heather Post even had a chance to voice her concerns – or adequately represent the citizens of District 4 – going so far as to demand a legal opinion from the County Attorney before withdrawing his open attempt to silence a “colleague.”   

While Ms. Post was ultimately allowed to speak, it was clear that the majority didn’t give two-shits about her contribution since all the lockstep marionettes on the dais had already been heard. 

During her time, Councilwoman Post made the most cogent point of the day:

“I’d also like to point out the county has actively taken money from short-term rentals for years and it has been illegal for years.  You have a number of owners for years who have come into the county who may have even been told it’s illegal, but told, ‘Hey it’s illegal but we’re not going to do anything to enforce it, but we’ll still take the money,’ and now we have issues with that.”

I think that’s the equivalent of someone who lives off the earnings of a prostitute, then raises the defense that its moral, legal, and ethical, so long as they don’t know the exact address of the whorehouse. . . 

Hear! Hear! 

My God. . .

When the vote was taken, despite the fervent pleas of Volusia County taxpayers who have invested in unincorporated areas of Volusia County, the lockstep majority dismissed any attempt at compromise and the vote fell 5-2 with Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post on the losing end.

Again, absolutely nothing changed

I don’t care where you stand on the issue of vacation rentals – most will agree this stalling and stagnation cannot stand.   

In my view, Chairman Brower’s victory last November was a clear signal that Volusia County residents are fed-up with this abject dysfunction. 

I believe We, The People will exercise the ultimate power at the ballot box next year and vote to unseat this obstructionist deadwood and fundamentally change the trajectory of our compromised county government. 

Quote of the Week

“Sunday’s editorial “Turmoil on Volusia Council is an intellectual embarrassment to the organization.” The paper’s editorial board should guard against such biased, narrow-thinking, inflammatory writing. It seems this one was written by one person who created a straw scenario of Jeff Brower supporters paranoid of a cabal out to destroy the county with evil intents, who whisper in the dark, blackmail and stampede council members.

Is there a cabal? I believe so.

Just check the campaign contributions. Former County Councilwoman Deb Denys collected $244,000. The $1000 limit didn’t stop those who donate thousands of dollars through loopholes.

Is it designed to destroy the county? No.

See, for example, the Williamson Avenue extension from Pioneer Trail to Airport Road. Cost millions with elaborate palm trees and all amenities but not one residence and plenty of room for developers. Check Riverfront Park that existed for more than 100 years; now fenced to lock out skateboarders and near-do-wells. Don’t like the historical Dr. Josie Rogers house? Who has the power to move it? It is now moved, derelict and inaccessible.

Why did the editorial board approve the language “the evil Committee of Evil to Destroy Volusia County” and describe people as “the most inept band of scoundrels ever to plot destruction?”

I am a Jeff Brower supporter, like a majority of voters, and a beach advocate. I don’t whisper in his ear, blackmail, or stampede but I do wish him well and welcome his new ideas. We need to cheer him on without fear of offending the cabal. Compare an article in the same edition that lauds the new city manager as someone who will listen to an idea even if it’s unconventional and seems a little crazy.

Rather than turmoil, I see a healthy discussion and debate which is to be applauded rather than condemned. We might even find that Brower will be his own man without the supporters so even the cabal will accept him.”

–Former Daytona Beach Mayor (69-74) and founding member of Sons of the Beach Richard Kane, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Brower has ideas,” Sunday, May 16, 2021

The fallout over the News-Journal editorial board’s misguided attempt to convince us (or themselves?) that there isn’t a concerted effort among Volusia’s power elite to marginalize Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower – political legerdemain which took the form of an editorial entitled, “Turmoil on Volusia council,” (Sunday, May 9) – continued this week with an excellent explanation by the politically astute longtime civic activist Richard Kane.

It is no secret that, for years, all the right last names have controlled everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast through enormous campaign contributions funneled to hand select candidates using various corporate entities all linked to uber-wealthy insiders with a chip in the game. 

Like Mr. Kane, I don’t believe this Rich & Powerful “cabal” is out to destroy Volusia County – but they damn sure want to maintain an advantageous playing field by continuing the influence and access their campaign contributions demand. 

It is called controlling one’s environment. 

Is it wrong? 

I suppose that depends upon which side of an issue you fall. 

But when the mere physical presence of one of these political benefactors in a council or commission chamber anywhere in the Halifax area invariably sways a vote in their favor – in my view, that level of influence cannot be healthy in a representative democracy.  

Trust me.  The Daytona Beach News-Journal understands the concept of external political control better than most – and I hope the management of our local newspaper has learned the valuable lesson that the residents of Volusia County (read: their subscribers) can spot these ham-handed attempts at misdirection a mile away.  

And Another Thing!

I left the Republican party in 2013.

A 16-day government shutdown served as the tipping point as I saw both major political parties moved past the ragged fringe. 

Although largely symbolic, I felt the temporary shuttering of our government was a national embarrassment – an insolent act of extremism that demonstrated the nadir of our seemingly bottomless political dysfunction.

I realized my time on the GOP train was ending and I began considering alternatives.

Clearly, the Democratic party does not represent my values and interests.

I don’t know about you – but I’m getting sick and tired of being lectured by arrogant limousine liberals and avowed socialists in Washington and beyond (in that ‘oh so righteous’ drone) about literally everything – from personal health decisions, to the malleability of what were once considered inalienable rights, to my personal complicity in the “(insert perceived social injustice du jour here)” – and anything I say in my defense is branded “hate speech.”   

Bullshit.  

Like many of you, I have watched helplessly as our elected officials disregard the ideals that made our political institutions great – silencing moderates in both parties – while fanning the polarization that has resulted in complete legislative paralysis.

At the time, I wrote a letter to the Republican Party of Florida voicing my concerns (let’s face it, if I am not the archetype of the GOP demographic, who is?) – yet my correspondence was never answered (or even acknowledged). 

I guess when some staffer shook the envelope and a check did not fall out, it went directly in the old shitcan. . .

So, I changed my voter registration and embraced the independence of No Party Affiliation.

As we watch what passes for the “leadership” on both sides of the aisle work overtime to foster this intransient partisan impasse – an ideological chasm that has left our nation dreadfully divided and our treasured liberties in danger – I have never regretted my decision.

That sense of abandonment and frustration is why I rarely discuss national politics in this forum – besides, those partisan hacks that now pass for our “mainstream media” do a fine job of that 24-hours a day.

However, like many of you, I fear the lasting damage being done by radical puppet masters on both extremes of the political spectrum. 

What concerns me most is the emergence of partisan politics in Volusia County non-partisan elections. 

Not that party politics hasn’t always played a large role in County Council races in terms of support and financial backing – but now we are seeing factions like the fusty Republican Executive Committee turning up in council chambers to take Chairman Jeff Brower (a staunch republican himself) to task for one perceived transgression or another.

Then, earlier this week, Richard Thripp, the awkward Chairman of what passes for the Volusia County Democratic Party, took credit for giving The Hometown News “the scoop” on Danny Fuqua’s entrance into the Volusia County Council District 2 race. 

Really, The Hometown news?

According to reports, Mr. Fuqua – a retired Army veteran who lost to incumbent Councilwoman Billie Wheeler by the slimmest of margins in 2020 – will face well-connected Republican Chase Tramont for the same seat next year. 

In a recent article in the Hometown News announcing the early start to the 2022 political season, Mr. Tramont said:

“The idea of getting out early is two-fold: First, we have already made the internal decision to do this, so what’s the point in waiting? We don’t care who else may get in the race or how the political dominos fall. We believe this (is) the door that the Lord has opened for my family and I, so we are ready to walk through it. The second reason is that we have a lot of residents and business owners to speak to. I don’t have a personal political agenda. The residents of District 2 will be establishing the agenda.”

I don’t know about you, but I have not seen the divine hand of God in Volusia County politics in an awfully long time – and while Mr. Tramont would like us to believe he does not have “…a personal political agenda,” I strongly suspect some of the “very important people” who helped finance his run for the Port Orange City Council do. . .   

Look, I’m not naïve and neither are you – financial loyalties and ideological gridlock is already a big problem on the dais of power in Deland – and partisan politics will always be a part of the process.

And we all know that candidates never cloak their political leanings until they take their seat, right?

Right.   

My hope is that next year’s local non-partisan contests – a wild campaign season which will see six of seven Volusia County Council seats up for grabs due to redistricting – will not dissolve into the fractious tribalism inherent to modern partisan politics – and allow good men and women, regardless of affiliation, to be honest in their promises to voters.

We’ll see. . .

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

“What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate. . .”

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. . .”

–Strother Martin as “The Captain,” Cool Hand Luke, 1967

My wife Patti and I have been together for many years – more than half our lives (or so it seems) – and we still have trouble communicating on a basic level.   

In fact, we have been together so long that we mostly make ourselves understood through a series of grunts, body language interpretation, or crude proto-cuneiform notes that only we can decipher – a weird marital telepathy that I get right about 40% of the time.

Just yesterday I was explaining some abstract concept to her about my plans to go to the grocery store – and she looked at me like I was speaking some obscure Běifānghuà dialect, an ancient Sinitic language not heard by human ears since the Great Yuan dynasty – and, without breaking her blank expression, said:

“What the hell are you talking about?”  

I leaned in and clearly enunciated each syllable: “I-am-going-to-Publix-do-you-need-anything?” 

And, through our impenetrable uncommunicative fog, my wife and I finally connected!

On this singular issue, for one brief moment, we actually understood each other – as it turns out, we needed milk. . .

In Volusia County, we have experienced a collective feeling of alienation – an almost mass miscommunication that has left many feeling unacknowledged on the important issues of the day. 

When I sit on a barstool and talk local politics with the taxpayer sitting next to me or discuss mutual concerns with my neighbors on the street, most tell me that the malignant sprawl west of I-95 in the City of Daytona Beach is the single greatest threat to our quality of life.

A close second is their collective anxiety over the horrible mismanagement of our beach by a detached bureaucratic apparatus that has left our hard-to-access and overregulated strand looking like a haunted forest of wooden poles, plastic stakes, and do-this-don’t-do-that signage – all while our disconnected ‘powers that be’ continue to tell themselves that the price of a day at the beach is still within reach in a place where 40% of households do not earn enough to consistently cover basic living expenses. 

40 percent.    

When you add a growing sense in our neighborhoods that the individual has no real say in the civic direction of the Halifax area and beyond – a perception that the needs of families and the contributions of their struggling small businesses are ignored – there is a growing perception of marginalization as we watch those with influence openly access public funds to underwrite private profit motives and downplay those simple quality of life issues which are important to us. 

When Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower ran for office against an entrenched insider who everyone who is anyone just knew was a shoo-in – he did something unheard of in local politics and took the time to listen to his neighbors – not while sipping chardonnay at flashy fundraisers sponsored by uber-wealthy powerbrokers, but at bar-b-ques, small gatherings in living rooms, and in those places where real people live, learn, work and play – and his campaign took on a grassroots importance – a feeling that he was interested in those issues the “average citizen” (read: you and I) find important in our daily lives.

It is almost like We, The Little People, and those we elect to represent our interests on the dais of power are on two different frequencies – a ‘bad connection’ that has left us unable to communicate on any substantive level. 

It is part of why I abhor the overformal pageantry of things like the State of the County Address – where our elected Monarchy get dressed in their finery, luncheon among their “Rich & Powerful” benefactors, and spend a couple of hours talking down to their long-suffering constituents through stilted video productions leaving no legitimate way of sharing ideas, exchanging information, expressing our feelings, and gaining mutual understanding.

To add insult, what passes for ‘Public Participation’ in government meetings throughout Volusia County has taken on an insulting sense of unwanted formality – where our elected officials limit their audience to three-minutes and give off a palpable vibe they would rather be anywhere else than listening to the yakety-yak of concerned residents who took the time out of their day to be heard. 

In my view, it is this fundamental lack of effective communication that has resulted in much of the dysfunction and distrust that has hampered substantive progress for far too long.

On Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a frontpage feature by business writer Clayton Park entitled: “Fears of Volusia overdevelopment: Surge in new homes, commercial projects raises concerns over green space, water resources.” 

It was clear that both sides of the very contentious issue of overdevelopment are speaking two different languages – distinct mindsets where one side sees the benefits of greenspace, protecting our sensitive ecology, and ensuring a safe supply of potable water for future generations – while those in the development and real estate industry never saw a virgin forest (or golf course, cemetery, etc.) that they didn’t at least subliminally consider how many homesites they could shoehorn onto it at the cheapest possible price.

For instance, while Chairman Brower was concerned about the “floodgates” opening on new home construction, apartment projects and commercial development throughout Volusia County – the effects of which we can already see, feel, and experience with our own senses – Carl Lentz, a former Daytona Beach City Commissioner and current managing director of SVN Alliance Commercial Real Estate Advisors, who, according to Mr. Park’s report, have brokered many of the land sales along the Boomtown Boulevard area of LPGA, would have us believe:

“The LPGA area was planned for this kind of growth,” he (Lentz) said. “People are getting sticker shock at seeing it all at once as opposed to gradually. Had it been gradual growth over the years people wouldn’t be complaining about it.”

Whose fault is that? 

There is a reason the word “planning” typically comes before “development” – and given the pressure on our already overburdened transportation infrastructure and aquifer recharge areas – anticipating issues and preparing for them is something Mr. Lentz and his fellow elected officials had no apparent interest in when they served as rubberstamps for aggressive developers. 

It appears like this breakdown is an almost strategic ignorance – saying one thing while knowing full well the destructive possibilities of the monster you have created.  

Regardless, it is not “sticker shock” – because we had no say in the sale – rather, it is a well-founded fear among existing residents that we have permitted too much, too soon – and the adverse effects are beginning to show themselves areawide. 

Perhaps now it is becoming clear why we were placed in this dangerous predicament in the first place, eh?

The more disturbing question is how deep into our municipal and county government processes does this strategic ignorance go – this intentional failure to communicate

An entrenched system where ignorance serves as a productive asset and allows those in positions of power to plausibly deny culpability in the aftermath of this looming crisis.

Points to ponder while you are sitting in gridlocked traffic on Granada Boulevard this week. . .

Archangels: Police Memorial Day 2021

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the calendar week in which that date falls as National Police Week. 

This national day of remembrance honors law enforcement officers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Law enforcement nationwide is well-worthy of our admiration and enduring respect as they go in harm’s way to protect your family and mine.

Last year, 306 law enforcement officers lost their lives in the line of duty in the United States.

So far, 125 have paid the ultimate sacrifice in 2021.

To all those serving or who have served – thank you for holding the line.

We stand alone together.

_______________________________

From my earliest memories, law enforcement officers have always been my heroes.

They still are.

Today marks National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day 2021.

A time for reflection on the incredible contributions of the men and women who so courageously serve and protect us all – and an opportunity to honor those brave souls who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

In what is proving to be a particularly deadly period in our history for line of duty deaths, it is important that we remember those officers who, as Lincoln said, gave “The last full measure of devotion.”

It is also fitting that we take this opportunity to consider the greater question of the role of the police in a free and open society – and the importance of citizen support for their indispensable work in preserving our way of life in America.

The great privilege of my life was the opportunity to serve in law enforcement with some of the most dedicated and talented public servants I have ever known.

For thirty-one years I had the distinct honor of standing with strong men and women who hold a thin blue line between order and chaos, between good and evil, between you and I and the predatory criminals who prey on that which we love most.

In my long career, I learned something about law enforcement officers and what these extraordinary people are made of.  I have always thought that any contribution I made was just a function of the job at hand, but I am extremely proud just to have been associated with people I consider true American heroes.

Brevard County Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was one of them.

In early 1986, I was a young officer with the Holly Hill Police Department assigned to the Uniformed Patrol Division.

At that time, I had been on the job for about three years (in other words, I had just learned how to write a traffic ticket the same way twice) and I was working the “Midnight shift” – 11:00pm to 7:00am – answering calls for service from an old Dodge Aspen patrol car with a single blue light on the roof, and a Motorola “Mocom” radio, equipped with a green light to let you know it was on and a red light to let you know it was transmitting when you keyed the microphone.

A quaint antique by today’s standards.

Today, a patrol vehicle’s interior looks more like the flight deck of the Space Shuttle, with mobile data units, stolen vehicle trackers, tag readers, electronic citation systems, digital video cameras and multi-channel 800MHz radios.

It is amazing how advances in technology transformed policing during my career.

One night I arrived at the police department for briefing, got a cup of coffee from Dispatch, and took my seat at the long wooden table where officers gathered before and after each tour to pass-on important and not-so-important information, listen to the sergeant give duty assignments, gossip, tell wholly inappropriate jokes, or bitch and moan about, well, everything.

(One of the first things you learn as a police chief is that cops complain – that’s how they “deal” with the horrific and unnatural things the job brings them in contact with.  It’s when they stop complaining that you have a problem on your hands.)

That night my sergeant introduced me to the “FNG,” a “f—g new guy,” sitting by himself at the end of the desk.

He was a short, stocky blond with big 80’s-style aviator glasses who thrust out his hand and eagerly introduced himself with a big grin and a heavy Western New York accent, “Howyadoin’, I’m Bob!”

At the time, many police departments didn’t have the formal field training and evaluation programs of today, and most in-service training was conducted by senior officers teaching their juniors the ropes through experiential learning and anecdotal information.

That night I was assigned to show our newest officer the city limits and get him familiar with the streets, point out the hot spots, and generally indoctrinate him on how to survive the physical and political hazards of small-town Florida.

If you’ve ever shared the confines of a patrol unit for hours-on-end with another officer then you know how fast, and how strong, a bond develops between partners in a business where you put your life in another person’s hands and promise to do the same for them.

Robert Nicol, Jr. was born in Coatbridge, Scotland, in 1948.

He was a former deputy with the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office in Canandaigua, New York, a small community in the Finger Lakes region.

Escaping the aftermath of a messy divorce, Bob fled New York as a newly minted single-father with three young children – two boys and a girl – and his mom in tow.

Settling in Holly Hill, Bob soon applied to the police department and was hired almost immediately by Chief Pat Finn, who was extremely impressed by Bob’s military background and his previous law enforcement experience.

During four-years in the U.S. Army, Bob served proudly in some of the fiercest fighting in Vietnam and was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat, the Bronze Star for valor and the Army Commendation Medal for his extraordinary service to our nation.

Bob Nicol was an American hero before he ever pinned on a badge.

Although twelve-years my senior, he had an energetic personality, contagious laugh and a great sense of humor that impressed me right away.  We quickly became friends, and since Bob didn’t know many people here, he and I spent a lot of time together talking, drinking, and inhabiting the bars and nightclubs of Daytona Beach.

When we weren’t working, you could find us perched at Club Mocambo, the Beachcomber, Silver Bucket, Full House or any of a dozen other illustrious local night spots, quite stylish in our leather Member’s Only jackets.

Unlike me, Bob was an affable, good-looking guy who always had a way with the ladies – and I benefited more times than I care to admit just from my association with him.

The stories and escapades are legendary, but perhaps better left for a different forum. . .

I learned a lot from Bob – personally and professionally.

He was a great father to his two young sons and beautiful daughter – and he doted on his mother, a brash Scot who spoke with a thick brogue and frequently made Shortbread cookies that I miss to this day.

Most of all, Bob was a damn good cop – smart, dedicated, and tenacious.

It didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself in the local law enforcement community and, in May 1987, he was offered a sworn position as a deputy with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

It was a great professional development opportunity, and the job offered more money to support his children.

We discussed the pros and cons, and late one shift Bob and I met door-to-door in our patrol cars in some parking lot near Ridgewood Avenue.  He told me he was going to take the job.  I congratulated him, we shook hands, then immediately began making plans to facilitate his move to Port St. John.

Bob and I remained great friends, even though our schedules and the hour-drive between us put a dent in our nightlife.

Probably for the best.

It was not long before Bob proved himself a true asset to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.  He was respected and well-liked by everyone who knew him.

He was a cops-cop, and the epitome of who you wanted stepping out of a police car in a dark alley when you really needed help.

At approximately 4:00am on Saturday, September 19, 1987, Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was on patrol on U.S. 1, just south of State Road 405, when he made a “routine” (if there is such a thing) traffic stop.

During the encounter, Bob arrested the driver, Scott Roberts, 21, on traffic-related charges.

Further investigation found that one of the five passengers in the vehicle, later identified as Jeffrey Mason, a 24-year-old landscaper living in Orlando, was in possession of less than 20-grams of marijuana.

Bob arrested him on the misdemeanor charge.

While Bob was securing Roberts in his patrol car and attempting to control the four others still inside the vehicle, Jeffrey Mason broke free and escaped custody – running across the divided highway with Deputy Nicol in close foot pursuit.

As they ran into the roadway, a vehicle traveling north swerved to avoid Mason and inadvertently struck Bob at high speed.

The force of the impact sent his body crashing into the windshield, catapulted him over the top of the moving car before throwing him to the pavement, witnesses said.

His neck was broken, and the base of his skull was crushed.

Bob was transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center where he remained in Intensive Care with severe traumatic brain damage.

After a manhunt involving some thirty law enforcement officers, Jeffrey Mason was found cowering in a wooded area near S.R. 405 and taken into custody without incident.

It was later determined that he was on probation in the State of Ohio for involuntary manslaughter stemming from a 1983 traffic crash which killed the passenger in his car.

On Wednesday, September 30, 1987, my friend Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. lost his courageous battle and died from injuries sustained in the line of duty twelve days earlier.

He left behind his mother, Pat Skindzier, and three children, then 15, 8, and 5.

Brevard County Sheriff Jake Miller posthumously awarded Deputy Nicol the Medal of Valor for his actions that fateful morning – the highest honor bestowed on a law enforcement officer.

I will never forget the enormous number of law enforcement officers – all of us resplendent in our Class A dress uniforms – who gathered for his funeral with full honors at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Titusville.

I openly wept for the first time in my young career over the flag-draped coffin of a fallen brother and friend.

Later, Nicol Park on US-1 in Port St. John was named in Bob’s honor.

A fitting tribute to a hero – but a tragic waste of an incredible soul.

It is a tradition in law enforcement and the military for brothers and sisters in arms to join in remembrance of our fallen comrades on days such as this to honor their service, sacrifice, and friendship.

The name of Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. is inscribed on memorial panel 35-E: 8 at the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“Remember! All who have served alongside them; we who have donned the same proud uniform, being sworn to the same faith and allegiance — We will never forget their sacrifice. Remember!”

Currently, there are some 22,611 names engraved on the granite walls of our national memorial – with each entrance to that hallowed ground adorned with powerful statuary of an adult lion protecting its cubs, symbolizing the protective role of law enforcement officers and the strength, courage and valor that are hallmarks of those who serve and protect.

The words of the Roman senator Tacitus are carved into the memorial’s cornerstone:

“In Valor There Is Hope.” 

On this Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day, I remember my friend Bob – and his great devotion and sacrifice – along with all the men and women of law enforcement who have laid down their lives so that we may live in peace.

I hope you will too.

Angels & Assholes for May 14, 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.

Asshole           The Daytona Beach News-Journal

The Daytona Beach News-Journal did not make many friends this week among a growing segment of its subscribers who open the paper, hold their nose, and take what passes for the “news of the day” with a grain of salt. . .   

Perhaps the management of our struggling hometown newspaper cemented some long-term relationships with those it calls our “Rich & Powerful” – uber-wealthy insiders who have openly controlled Volusia County politics for decades – but a Sunday editorial oddly touted, “No, Volusia County isn’t run by the forces of darkness.  Not even close,” didn’t earn any points with those of us desperate for an unvarnished view of the issues that affect our lives and livelihoods here on the Fun Coast. 

I am not sure who this weird piece was trying to convince – us, or the haunted conscience of the newspaper’s clearly out-of-touch editorial board? 

Because the premise demands that we suspend belief in what we see and hear with our own senses, lower our expectations for those we have elected to represent our interests, and accept what we have come to expect from our elected “leadership” in Volusia County.

In short, the editorial suggests both Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower, and his only apparent ally, Councilwoman Heather Post, should acquiesce to the forces of mediocrity – get along and go along – so they will not be a one or two vote minority on the important issues they both campaigned on.

Bullshit. 

For the record, it is called keeping promises to your constituents – an almost unheard-of concept in the Turkish bazaar of Volusia County politics.   

Anyone paying attention can see that Volusia County’s Old Guard is desperate to hold onto power – to protect the outsized influence on public policy their exorbitant campaign contributions demand – while their mouthpiece (our newspaper of record) does everything possible to support the notion of the majority’s infallibility. 

In turn, the issues that are important to Volusia County residents – such as beach access and management, the conservation of our natural places, reining in unchecked sprawl, limiting corporate welfare and kick the can politics – are scoffed at, both from the dais and in our local newspaper.    

Last Sunday’s editorial was juxtaposed with an op/ed written by the civically detached/socially connected editor Pat Rice, who lectured frustrated taxpayers on the importance of civility in public discourse, while espousing his haughty thoughts on our rights and responsibilities under the First Amendment.

Bullshit. 

Apparently, some “very important” member of the Halifax area’s oligarchical elite (aka: Mr. Rice’s social circle) has become insulted by something in this space – or an opinion expressed by a concerned citizen on the everyman’s soapbox of social media – which prompted the editor-in-chief to take us to the woodshed, and, once again, explain our “responsibilities.”

My views on our rights under the First Amendment are (naturally) mirrored by the landmark United States Supreme Court decision in the case of Hustler Magazine and Larry C. Flynt v. Jerry Falwell, which reads, in part:

“The sort of robust political debate encouraged by the First Amendment is bound to produce speech that is critical of those who hold public office or those public figures who are “intimately involved in the resolution of important public questions or, by reason of their fame, shape events in areas of concern to society at large.”

“[o]ne of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures.” Such criticism, inevitably, will not always be reasoned or moderate; public figures as well as public officials will be subject to “vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks,” and “[T]he candidate who vaunts his spotless record and sterling integrity cannot convincingly cry ‘Foul!’ when an opponent or an industrious reporter attempts to demonstrate the contrary. . .”

Amen. 

In my view, these recent screeds by the News-Journal raise darker questions – like when will We, The Little People have someone to champion our interests? 

When will those elected officials with the strength to hold firm to their promises command the same respect as those lockstep marionettes they share the dais with? 

And when will the News-Journal stop being used as a propaganda organ to gaslight us peons into believing that the organized aggression and open hostility we see being used to protect the status quo is a figment of our collective imagination?

Perhaps the telling answer could be found just under the surface, down in the recesses of that repressed editorial conscience the News-Journal tries so hard to ignore:

“In fact, all opposition seems to be considered as a sign that the forces of darkness are aligned against the chairman. Even as we write this, we can imagine the howls of inchoate fury that will rage across social media Sunday morning. Clearly, they will say, The News-Journal is in on it.

To which we’d reply: If we are, we’re not doing a very good job. In fact, the Evil Committee of Evil To Destroy Volusia County seems to be the most inept band of scoundrels ever to plot destruction.”

Sadly, the News-Journal was right on both accounts. . .

Angel               City of Deltona

Government can be slow on the uptake. 

You know, the act of grasping a concept based upon readily available evidence – sensing a problem then taking definitive action to correct or mitigate the threat.  And once it does, the painfully slow yet massive momentum of government requires a lot of time and distance for the bureaucratic leviathan to change course. 

Residents of Volusia County have been sounding the klaxon on the dangers of overdevelopment – the civic equivalent of cramming ten pounds of manure into a five-pound bag – where residential developments are approved with little, if any, consideration of their long-term impact on our water supply, environment, the ability to process and dispose of waste, and an already overburdened transportation infrastructure.

In fact, the good citizens of Deltona have been screaming (literally) in the face of their elected representatives for years – demanding to be heard on growth management issues – and it appears City Hall is finally beginning to listen.

This week, we learned that Deltona officials are exploring the possibility of a short moratorium on residential planned unit developments while interim City Manager John Peters reviews codes and determines how best to wrest control of the process from developers and return it to the elected representatives. 

It is refreshing when government awakes to the fact that few things are impossible when you make the rules. 

Far too often, regulations are narrowly crafted to benefit special interests, all so elected officials can throw up their hands and tell constituents that the “guidelines” prevent them from acting in the community’s best interest.

For instance, real estate developers know that they can purchase a tract under one zoning classification, essentially placing a speculative (and potentially lucrative) wager – knowing odds are they can get the property rezoned – which will permit them to shoehorn hundreds of cracker boxes onto a spit of land at an enormous profit.

Whenever this ‘shoot-it-through-the-grease’ rezoning flim-flam is questioned – developers always scream “If you don’t like having the landscape clear-cut, greenspace destroyed, and dwindling water supplies further taxed – then buy the property and do what you want with it.” 

Which is refried horseshit.  And they know it.   

Eventually, those we elect to represent our interests will come to the realization that zoning changes should be more than a foregone conclusion – and that those who rape the land for profit should not automatically expect a free hand when it comes to manipulating land use regulations.

If approved, Deltona will enact a six-month moratorium on Residential Planned Unit Developments to give staff time to tweak the City’s current “overly broad” regulations and formulate new residential categories for the Commission’s review. 

In a recent article explaining the proposed zoning speedbump by the News-Journal’s intrepid Wild West Volusia reporter Katie Kustura, Deltona City Commissioner and Champion of the People Dana McCool explained:

“We are in control of how our city develops, not developers,” McCool said. “We’re not discouraging infill development; we’re not discouraging commercial development. This is so that we can stop and look at the beautiful land that we have in Deltona and move forward in a responsible manner.”   

Residents of Daytona Beach don’t hold your breath.

Unfortunately, your elected officials never met a massive development they didn’t like – and those courageous civic activists who run for office on a platform of tapping the brakes on unchecked sprawl always seem to be outspent by those with the wherewithal to purchase a chip in the game. . . 

Angel               Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young

If it isn’t obvious, The Daytona Beach News-Journal really got my hackles up this week.   

Perhaps provoking anger in its lagging readership was the intent of this week’s weird narratives, who knows?

In my view, if we look beyond this week’s leaden headline “Naked Cowboy seeks to take back no contest plea,” we find a story of personal strength and professional courage that every resident of Daytona Beach can take immense pride in. 

In keeping with the teachings of Phineas T. Barnum, the American showman who once said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” Robert “The Naked Cowboy” Burck, was back in the news this week – apparently attempting to rescind his no contest plea to a charge of resisting arrest without violence during Bike Week 2021 – and putting the City of Daytona Beach on notice that he intends to file a lawsuit.   

Unfortunately, it appears The Daytona Beach News-Journal continues to serve as Mr. Burck’s publicity agent – even after thousands of area residents watched shocking footage from an officer’s body-worn camera which captured his abhorrent behavior following a misdemeanor panhandling violation on Main Street – which included spouting a vile racist epithet and hurling a homophobic slur at a Daytona Beach police officer.   

“Put your mask on. You must be a Joe Biden fan, right. You want higher gas prices,’ Burck said. Then Burck said ‘(f-word) (n-word) running (the country).’”

This week, the News-Journal seemed willing to give the Naked Cowboy a very wide pass – along with yet another opportunity to explain away his inexcusable behavior on their platform:

“When a News-Journal reporter suggested to him that the n-word was highly offensive, Burck said he hears it all the time among Blacks on Times Square, who he said use it in reference to him.

“I don’t remember using that word, but it wouldn’t surprise me because I talk that way with my friends. They talk with me. We’re out of control. I’m a redneck. Nothing personal. I love all people. I could (not) care less if you are Black or white.’”

Really?  The “I’m a redneck” defense? 

Wow. 

In my view, the more important story – one all but lost in the hype and fluff surrounding a larger-than-life cartoon character best known for parading around New York’s Times Square in his skivvy shorts, strumming a guitar, and posing for tourists – is the steadfast loyalty and support Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young has shown for his officers, and his community, throughout this overly dramatized incident.

To his credit, Chief Young has demonstrated an incredible level of professionalism and self-control, all while our newspaper of record ignored Burck’s ghastly behavior and deified him in repeat articles and editorials – including a despicable demand that Chief Young and Mayor Derrick Henry, both prominent African American civic leaders, issue The Naked Cowboy an official apology following his racist tirade:

“Ask Burck for forgiveness. Do the same for his wife, who had to watch her husband being manhandled and taken away, leaving her holding his broken guitar.  Make it clear that, as a city, this is not who we are.”

My God.

In their most recent coverage, the News-Journal reported:

“Told of Burck’s threat to sue the Police Department, Chief Young said in a phone interview that given all that was happening across the country, including active shooters, police reform and officer-involved shootings of unarmed people, the Naked Cowboy was not high on his list of priorities.

“If this is all we have to talk about is the Naked Cowboy I think we are doing pretty good,” Young said.”

The perfect response.

And I wholeheartedly agree – Is this all the News-Journal has to talk about?

Something you will not read on the pages of the News-Journal is that the Halifax area enjoys an incredible level of civic stability – free from the destructive civil disobedience and violent turmoil that has reduced many cities across the nation to smoking rubble – due in no small part to professionals like Chief Young and Sheriff Mike Chitwood who have worked diligently to build a foundation of trust in this wonderfully diverse community.     

That is not an easy task – nor something that happens by accident.

I have had the pleasure of knowing Chief Young throughout his stellar career, and I have always been impressed by his unflinching professional bearing and quiet self-assurance, important leadership qualities that inspire confidence in his officers, staff, subordinates, and constituents. 

During this National Police Week – a time when we honor the commitment and sacrifice of our local law enforcement officers – the Daytona Beach Police Department’s ongoing commitment to community service is something we can all take pride in.

Chief Jakari Young and his dedicated officers have earned our support and admiration.   

As for the sordid case of The Naked Cowboy, in my view, it is high time our newspaper of record stops this horribly lopsided narrative and places blame where it rightfully belongs. 

Quote of the Week

“Volusia Chair Jeff Brower was quoted as saying in NJ (News-Journal) 5-9, in response to HB337 “we can’t keep up maintenance of our existing roads ….. must (sp?) less come up with money for new ones.”  What happened to his plan B to find the $750,000,000 that the 1/2 cent sales tax would have provided?”

–Former Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, writing in the Facebook political forum Volusia Politics, Monday, May 10, 2021

In my experience, it is unusual for a former elected official to openly criticize his or her successor – especially one that has been in office less than six-months.

In our democratic system, we elect one county chair at a time – and most predecessors, whether they mercifully retire from public life like Mr. Kelley, or are voted out of office – have the class to allow the current elected leadership the space to govern, solve problems (read: clean up the messes created or ignored by the previous administration) and set priorities for their term. 

It is an unwritten rule of the elective service that respects the continuity of the process and upholds the dignity of the office – but Ed Kelley’s always opportunistic oeuvre was based upon his ability to take direction from his political benefactors – and it appears absolutely nothing has changed in his new life as a political nobody. . .

Regardless, Old Ed clawed his way off the political ash heap this week and took to social media, using the above-quoted grammatical nightmare to harangue Chairman Jeff Brower – who is trying desperately to hold firm to his campaign promises in the face of withering criticism from those sullen powermongers, who (despite what The Daytona Beach News-Journal would have us believe) are actively attempting to marginalize Mr. Brower and force him into lockstep conformity with the status quo.    

I will not attempt to defend Chairman Brower. 

In my view, he does an excellent job of defining his bright path forward in his brilliant response to this tired political hack: 

“Ed Kelley sorry you don’t understand the concept. You took the county on the wrong path. I will not continue your sprint to insolvency, I am taking us on a new course to endure whatever comes our way as we strengthen our tax base. Job Creation and Economic growth are the result of a healthy local economy NOT a substitute for it. We chase jobs and growth at any cost. That’s a Ponzi scheme whose time ran out.

Now we will build a county that attracts good business and residents so we can pick and choose the kind of innovative businesses we want instead of bribing a few with nothing to show but more calls to raise taxes.

You think we can raise taxes yearly to build more infrastructure to continue to build more developments to continue to create more sewage and pump water out of the ground faster than it can recharge and by magic it all just ends up well. It doesn’t, it ends in insolvency. We can’t maintain what we have now, build more huge developments, maintain them, and keep repeating the cycle and expect that it will ever pay for itself.

Plan B started with the voters who said stop doing the things that got us into trouble in the first place. That’s who I listened to and will continue to serve. I don’t know who you served or if you really can’t see the path you set us on has led to trouble, but your perennial push for tax increases exposes that truth. Please keep talking, it reminds people of how much work there is to do.

Bravo, Chairman Brower.  Bravo!

And Another Thing!

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the calendar week in which that day falls as National Police Week.

Established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1962, National Police Week pays special recognition to those valiant souls who have lost their lives in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others.

From my earliest memories, law enforcement officers have always been my heroes.

They still are.

Tomorrow marks National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day 2021.

A time for reflection on the incredible contributions of the men and women who so courageously serve and protect us all – and an opportunity to honor those brave souls who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

In what is proving to be a particularly deadly period in our history for line of duty deaths, it is important that we remember those officers who, as Lincoln said, gave “The last full measure of devotion.”

It is also fitting that we take this opportunity to consider the greater question of the role of the police in a free and open society – and the importance of citizen support for their indispensable work in preserving our way of life in America.

The great privilege of my life was the opportunity to serve in law enforcement with some of the most dedicated and talented public servants I have ever known.

For thirty-one years I had the distinct honor of standing with strong men and women who hold a thin blue line between order and chaos, between good and evil, between you and I and the predatory criminals who prey on that which we love most.

In my long career, I learned something about law enforcement officers and what these extraordinary people are made of – and I have always considered any small contribution I made was merely a function of the job at hand – but I am extremely proud just to have been associated with people I consider true American heroes.

Please take some time to quietly reflect on their contributions and sacrifices this weekend.

In the words of Roman senator and historian Tacitus, “In valor there is hope.”

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

Leaders Eat Last

. . . before it is an honor, leadership is trust; Before it is a call to glory, Leadership is a call to service.

. . . before all else, forever, and always, leadership is a willingness to serve.

—Father Edson Wood, OSA, Cadet Catholic Chaplain

Invocation at Assumption of Command by BG Curtis Scaparrotti, Commandant of Cadets, U.S. Military Academy

August 11, 2004

I don’t know much about the art and science of “management.” 

During my professional life I was privileged to attend some of the foremost executive development courses in the nation.  But the tools and concepts of leadership taught in the sterile environment of a classroom can remain abstract concepts until the moment the student comes bad-breath to bad-breath with another living, breathing human being they are tasked with inspiring, encouraging, and motivating to achieve a specific goal. 

I am not an educated man – but I am a highly accomplished mimic – and what I know of exceptional leadership skills comes from watching those I admire then impersonating those positive traits.

It is not as simple as it sounds.   

Leadership takes many forms depending upon the needs of the team or organization – a dynamic, ever-evolving process that requires those in leadership roles to deftly shift between various “styles” to cope with changing circumstances and personalities. 

Those leadership styles have been “defined” by experts – visionary, autocratic, hands-off, transformational, transactional, bureaucratic, etc. – but at the end of the day, it all comes down to being a decent person who cares about those who perform the critical service delivery to their customers or constituents.

In my experience, the qualities of a true leader are best exemplified by those who simply care about the wellbeing of those they are responsible for and work hard to see that the needs of their subordinates and organization take precedence over their own self-interests.

Every time.  All the time.  

Once that idea takes hold in an organization, leadership becomes a common responsibility from top to bottom, and “taking care of your people” becomes synonymous with mission success. 

I was reminded of the importance of setting a strong example when I opened The Daytona Beach News-Journal this morning and saw the shocking headline, “Schools chief getting $10,000 bonus: Volusia’s Fritz rewarded for strategic-plan effort.”

In the accompanying article by education reporter Cassidy Alexander, we learned that a little-known codicil to Superintendent Scott Fritz’ employment agreement with the taxpayers of Volusia County provides for a $10,000 annual spiff if he merely accomplishes the job that he was hired to do. . . 

According to Ms. Alexander’s excellent reportage:

“It’s performance-based pay for creating a strategic plan, which provides a road map of sorts for the district and includes how to measure its progress in different areas. The board’s attorney Ted Doran explained that the board gave Fritz one goal to meet by Aug. 15, 2020: Create a strategic plan that has measurable, attainable, smart goals with key performance indicators.”

“If he did it, he is entitled to (performance pay),” Doran said. The superintendent’s contract requires the district to set aside the funding for performance pay each year. The board unanimously approved the bonus.”

As a dear friend of mine who has spent years in a senior leadership position with a multi-national corporation said: “That’s nuts. . .”

He’s right.

Look, I am not a leadership expert or management analyst – but I can read – and a cursory review of the Volusia County Schools job description for the Superintendent lists the top two performance responsibilities and essential functions as:

Provide innovative and visionary leadership.

Conduct strategic planning processes and build strong consensus in support of district goals.

Did our elected representatives on the School Board – or their attorney – not bother to have a glance at Fritz’ basic job requirements before lavishing ten large on a chief executive already commanding over $205,000 annually in a district where teacher salaries rank in the bottom third when compared with other districts in the state? 

I can assure you teachers union president Elizabeth Albert understands that building and sustaining a winning team begins with the concept that “Leaders Eat Last” – waiting until their subordinates have received their sustenance, forgoing their own comfort and enrichment until junior members of the organization are made whole.

It is the fundamental principle of servant leadership.

“What I’m asking for is equity,” Albert said. “I’m asking for something for the people who carried the load this year … Every single employee in this district — from FMTs to school bus drivers to cafeteria workers, paras, office specialists, teachers, principals, everybody — they deserve it.”

Amen.

Shockingly, at the end of the News-Journals informative article, we learned that “The creation of the strategic plan was a nine-month process and was facilitated by an outside group called DeliverEd.”

Excuse me?

Wait, not only did Superintendent Fritz receive a bonus for a strategic plan he was obligated to complete by the basic requirements of his position – but the plan itself was “facilitated” by an outside consultant? 

I’m asking, because that sounds awfully close to the ragged edge between “delegating” and using your employer’s money (read: the taxpayers of Volusia County) to hire someone to do your job. . . 

So, what exactly did we get for our $10,000 – what groundbreaking strategic “roadmap” did Dr. Fritz, our consultant, and his highly paid “Cabinet” produce that will fundamentally change the abject dysfunction, stagnation, and mediocrity in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand?

What can students, staff, and teachers expect in terms of the promised “measurable, attainable, smart goals with key performance indicators”?

Well, here is the final product of our district’s brain trust: 

“Engage all students in high levels of learning every day.

Recruit, retain and develop high-quality staff.

Provide a safe, healthy and supportive environment.

Ensure resources and operational processes are strategically aligned.

Strengthen communication and community engagement. It also includes a new vision statement: “Create life-long learners prepared for an ever-changing global society.”

Really?

My God.

Good luck, kids.  You’re going to need it. . .