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!

8 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for May 28, 2021

  1. Being a transplant to FL, your insight into the local history and politics is helpful to understand the community. Thanks, good read.

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  2. Pat Rice wants his builder friends not to pay for the widening of the LPGA Bridge over I95 or what Avalon will ruin in our lives .He wants the sales tax raised as Derrick Henry gave them an impact fee holiday.Raise the impact fees and if you want to buy a new home you pay for it I dont want to pay anything that belongs to builders cost to accomplish their business.Pat Rice look in the mirror at a rag you are taking down to garbage with 2 day old news and everything is an update and now it is filled with stories from the 16 Florida papers and USA Today that your boss Gannett owns.Palm Beach Post is giving 2 free weeks of online schools as their editor is begging for delivery drivers..I listen to WNDB with Bernier and Ormond Beach Observer.Guess thats all we have except for all the Orlando Cable News .Volusia County lacks real news except for Marks blogs.

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  3. “During his four years in Haines City, single family home construction permits hit record levels”….. Lets hope Mr Feacher doesn’t set records of that sort here, and we still enjoy the unobstructed view across the intercoastal from our seat at a Beach St eatery!

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  4. It’s time the county council take a hard look at trimming the budget to pay for infrastructure, rather than pushing another dead on arrival sales tax increase!!! There is plenty of space inside the budget to trim out the pork to pay for much needed road, stormwater,and sidewalks improvements if they do not start now then come November 2022 the voters will look to candidates that have the will and backbone to do what’s necessary to trim the budget across the board to build monies for the future improvements

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  5. We WILL look like Orlando soon & it isn’t OUR fault & we do NOT want to increase our taxes for THEIR building! I don’t care what backroom deals were done! Let the builders pay increased impact fees IF they have to build – I think we should have a moratorium on building all over Volusia County! It’s totally out of control! They’re throwing up cookie cutter houses & apt buildings & they’re ALL getting sold! Traffic is already a nightmare – I don’t know what the future holds, but I surely hope we don’t start having bridge collapses since they didn’t put the money in infrastructure & did everything ass-backwards as usual! Great blog, as usual Mr. Barker! Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, all! 🙂

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  6. Please look into Edgewaters Hacienda Del Rio where they are bulldozing gopher turtles and other wildlife with no care of the outcome of the creatures. It’s a horrible mess..

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