“On Thursday, it was difficult not to get caught up in the pomp and circumstance that began the first Volusia County Council meeting of the new year as returning and newly elected council members participated in the traditional swearing-in ceremony that marks the transfer of power.
A formal demarcation, an exciting new beginning.
A cause for hope.
The opening remarks given by Chairman Jeff Brower and incoming District 3 Councilman Danny Robins were nothing short of inspirational, reaffirming their personal commitment to the protections and provisions of the United States Constitution, returning county government to the people, a message of unity set amidst a backdrop of national political and social divide.
Watching from the comfort of Barker’s View HQ, I noticed that during the first public participation opportunity before the new council, there was a welcoming lightness in the chamber – and I was impressed when Chairman Brower thanked each citizen who addressed the body – as others in the gallery applauded the contributions of their fellow citizens.
Unfortunately, it did not take long for old ways and simmering animosities to bleed through the fresh coat of optimism that Chairman Brower had so carefully applied. . .”
–Barker’s View, “A New Year and a Fresh Start,” January 11, 2021
And, as they say, the rest is history. . .
Like many of you, when Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower overwhelmingly defeated a well-financed, professionally managed, and solidly entrenched perennial politician during last year’s election, I allowed the promise of a bold new day to blunt my well-honed instincts.
In a pique of naivety, my joyful heart overtook the naturally suspicious nature of my softening head – and I was swept up in a building wave of hope and anticipation – something any professional gambler, or degenerate political junkie, will tell you is tailormade for crushing disappointment.
In my defense, I am not sure anyone (other than a Cassadega soothsayer) could have predicted how desperate Volusia County’s Old Guard would become in the wake of sweeping change as these stalwarts of the status quo watched their grip on power become more tenuous.
Add the success of Amendment 10 – a statewide initiative which rightfully returned autonomy to the “constitutional offices” – which resulted in the Old Guard mounting a pitched challenge to the voter-approved change to their historical way of “doing things” – which determined it was infinitely more manageable to hold sway over one malleable County Manager than it would be to control multiple elected officeholders with political accountability to We, The Little People.
Now, the sitting majority are making good on the goofy premonitions of former County Chair Ed Kelley, who, following the defeat of the misguided Amendment 10 challenge, told us scary stories of higher taxes – our collective punishment for having the temerity to seek greater citizen control after 50-years of cronyism and good ol’ boy politics – which has seen this bloated bureaucracy grow exponentially into a monstrous government requiring feed at the rate of over $1 Billion annually.
A so-called “conservative” majority who are intent on raising taxes on Volusia County residents even after the financial devastation experienced by small businesses and families last year– at a time when the bureaucracy is awash in over $100 million in coronavirus relief funds – so much money our elected and appointed officials have no legitimate idea how to spend it all.
Now, Pat Rice, that clueless knob who holds the post of Senior Comandante of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, a once proud local newspaper – now a regionalized rag of a national media conglomerate, desperately fighting on the far left flank of the culture wars – has the audacity to resurrect the tired old “consolidation” of area municipalities and services – the decades-old “Nuclear Option” ruse that our ‘powers that be’ trot out each time they want us to sit down and shut up.
A “You think its bad now? Wait until this cabal of lockstep marionettes in DeLand and their uber-wealthy handlers control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide” strategy that suggests residents of municipalities that supply superior essential services – cities with stable and responsive governments – would ever consider handing their lives and livelihoods over to this gangly shit-show that passes for Volusia County government or something like it.
How dumb do these power-addled assholes think we are?
Unfortunately, Mr. Rice’s uninspired Sunday piece “Consolidation would save money, but it will never happen,” speaks more to his complete lack of creativity and imagination – and his handlers lockstep refusal to stand behind the growing number of Volusia County residents who are taking to the streets, demanding their county government reign in spending, find responsible alternative revenue sources, strengthen land use regulations to limit the malignant growth that is destroying our natural places, and live within their sizeable means, before squeezing even more out of this exsanguinated turnip.
Why is it we never hear about a contraction of Volusia County government?
Pairing down this gluttonous brute which consistently ranks among the largest employers in Volusia County.
Rather than asking the cities to consolidate and handover exceptional, well-managed government services to some swollen oaf – how about we try restructuring the horribly failed beach management scheme, allowing those municipalities with the capability to provide emergency medical transport to better serve their residents, demanding a modicum of performance from our unimaginative economic development types who consistently mistake corporate welfare with civic progress, elevating the thousands of families trapped in a cycle of poverty wages and a lack of affordable housing, stop the practice of allowing rot and decay to consume publicly owned buildings and facilities in favor of Taj Mahal replacements, finding imaginative alternative revenue sources, get government out of the private sector to allow ingenuity, competition on a level playing field, and entrepreneurial investment to flourish, breaking down bureaucratic barriers, eliminating administrative diktats, strengthening private property rights, demanding the neighborhood level accountability municipal government provides, etc., etc., etc., etc.
Despite what our elected and appointed officials in DeLand tell us – I promise you that “right sizing” Volusia County government will not result in Armageddon.
In my view, it is time we tell these doomsayers and bullies – the Gang of Four on the dais of power (and their propaganda organ over at what remains of The Daytona Beach News-Journal) who are intent on destroying Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post, that We, The Little People, demand a change in the tired Big Government/High Tax status quo – where insiders with a chip in the game are assured a place at the public teat, while those of us who pay the bills are forced to eat the rancid effluent of the massive machine.
That important message begins at the ballot box next year.
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 The Daytona Beach Police Department
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
On June 23, Officer Jason Raynor was gravely wounded while investigating a suspicious incident on Kingston Avenue in Daytona Beach.
The 26-year old succumbed to his injuries following a valiant 55-day fight.
26. . .
In a ceremony befitting this young officer’s service and sacrifice, on Monday, over 1,000 current and former law enforcement officers from around the state and nation joined together in a grim time-honored tradition – standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a thin blue line – a silent yet incredibly powerful ceremonial tribute to one of our own who, as President Lincoln said, gave “The last full measure of devotion.”
These officers, deputies, and agents were joined by thousands of area residents who lined the procession route, displaying flags and offering heartfelt salutes – an inspiring show of community support for Officer Raynor and his bereaved family – a physical expression of their enduring love and appreciation for the men and women of local law enforcement.
Throughout this horrific ordeal – a tragedy that galvanized the Halifax area and beyond – the leadership, officers, and staff of the Daytona Beach Police Department have demonstrated the true depth and strength of the brotherhood and sisterhood of law enforcement.
A fraternal bond that exemplifies their abiding commitment to something greater than themselves – a love of service, community, and humanity – and a sense of pride which cannot be broken by the despicable act of a base coward or the misplaced anger of an often-ungrateful society.
In my view, Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young has met this unfathomable challenge with great poise, grace, and professionalism – a beacon of strength for his department and community during this traumatic time.
May God bless and keep Officer Jason Raynor and bring comfort to his family, and the courageous officers and staff of the Daytona Beach Police Department, in the difficult days and weeks ahead – and may our grateful community never forget the service and sacrifice of these brave heroes as they go about their difficult and dangerous job to protect and serve.
Asshole Deltona Interim City Manager John Peters III
“Leadership at the top sets the boundaries of what’s acceptable. Leadership sets the agenda and priorities. Leadership defines the culture by clarifying the gray areas. Leadership decides whether or not there will be progress.”
–Ken Perlman, “Pro vs. Con: What’s the Opposite of ‘Progress’?” Forbes, May 2013
During my productive life I was a prodigious keeper of notebooks – stacks of them – Moleskines all collated and categorized by month, date, and time; encyclopedias of to-do lists and “GTD” planners – booklets chockfull of interesting words, quotes, clippings, and random thoughts – notes and asides that served to memorialize significant events and a close-at-hand reference when things weren’t all too clear.
More than once during my long career, those little black books saved my bacon when those with a convenient memory casually changed the known facts to fit a more self-serving narrative. . .
Unless you are an astronaut exploring the far reaches of the Kuiper Belt, there are few things in this world that someone else hasn’t experienced, problems that have not already been solved, an anecdotal solution written down and passed along for the edification of others.
The trials, tribulations, and challenges of our personal and professional lives often have proven solutions, but only if we are willing to drop our defenses, open our mind, and listen to the sound advice of others – or remember the hard lessons of our own experiences so history does not repeat – because one recurring issue we all face is, in the absence of leadership and oversight, sometimes people in positions of great responsibility violate our trust.
I was reminded of the importance of strong accountability last week while reading the ghastly details of the most recent debacle to beset the City of Deltona:
A lawsuit filed by the city’s former (current?) Human Resources Director Richard Adams – who claims he was fired after launching an investigation into allegations that Interim City Manager John Peters III made “…discriminatory and inappropriate comments” in the workplace.
Not what the perpetually besieged City of Deltona needed at this time in its wobbly history, eh?
Whenever young, upwardly mobile government professionals seek my advice on how to sidestep the numerous pitfalls (and pit vipers) one encounters along their career path in public service, I am always quick to point out that – while I knew very little about the nuts-and-bolts of sound governance and management – I was instinctively aware of what snares to avoid.
For instance, anyone who has been in the workforce for the better part of, oh, the last century, knows that discriminatory conduct and “inappropriate” comments are mala in se – an act which is not just prohibited, but morally and ethically evil in itself – a despicable and debasing practice counter to the development of a cohesive and inclusive team.
According to an excellent piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by the intrepid Wild West Volusia correspondent Katie Kustura:
“The portion of that complaint included in Adams’ lawsuit states, in part, that “women in a position of power or management have either been let go, forced to resign or voluntarily left.” The name of the person who made that comment is not included in the lawsuit.
Adams, on March 8, wrote a formal complaint “of sexual harassment and discrimination against Peters” and sent it to Mayor Heidi Herzberg and the other members of the City Commission, according to the lawsuit. Herzberg said Tuesday afternoon by phone that she had no comment.”
Nothing to ameliorate the very real fears of anxious Deltona residents concerned they are staring down yet another massively expensive settlement, a “Golden Parachute,” for yet another senior staffer caught up in the seemingly endless internecine warfare at City Hall?
Perhaps more disturbing, according to the report, the City of Deltona hired an outside investigator to probe Mr. Adams allegations, “…but the investigation was never completed nor were his retaliation complaints investigated.”
It is one thing to be made aware of complaints of degrading behavior by a senior executive – it is quite another to do absolutely nothing to investigate or correct the problem once you are cognizant of it.
Look, I am clearly not an attorney – however, in my experience, those who practice employment law will tell you that harassment and discrimination allegations should be dealt with expeditiously – before the ink dries on the complaint, in fact.
In addition to being required by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission – it is the right thing to do to protect employees and the integrity of the workplace – because bullying behavior, especially by the chief executive, dehumanizes employees and destroys the cohesiveness of the team.
The lawsuit also claims that in July 2020, Adams received a complaint that on two separate occasions while Peters was the director of public works, he “used offensive, sexually harassing language. Peters admitted to using ‘questionable’ language and indicated he would discontinue such behavior moving forward.”
Unfortunately, according to the News-Journal’s report, requests for records relating to lawsuit were less than forthcoming – and everyone in the hierarchy at City Hall (including Peters and Herzberg) is hiding behind the patented “we don’t comment on pending litigation” dodge. . .
Most folks call that a “red flag.”
As a result, the good citizens of Deltona still don’t know if Mr. Adams is receiving public funds to serve in the public interest – or if the embattled Interim City Manager is simply paying the former/current HR Director to sit on his ass at home. . .
Several weeks before the Adam’s lawsuit was made public, Mr. Peters made a calculated move to consolidate power while playing the victim of overzealous politicians – making bold allegations that freshman elected officials were meddling in the day-to-day operations of the municipal government – a tactic frequently employed to neuter those who ask too many questions.
It is also a serious charge that carries the full weight of the City Charter – the municipality’s governing document – an indelible stain which can ruin the political career of any councilmember who peeks too deep into the inner sanctum.
In May, Mr. Peters strategically threatened to resign citing “interference” by elected officials in operational decisions – going so far as to air the city’s dirty laundry in the West Volusia Beacon – “I don’t have a choice. There’s too much interference. If I resign, I can speak out about it.”
Then, in a grossly Machiavellian move, after dropping that turd in the punchbowl, Peters simply quit communicating in the media leaving residents to speculate and stew.
To add insult, during a subsequent public meeting, Peters dramatically wept like a lachrymose grandmother while mewling about his “integrity” – while Commissioners Dana McCool and David Sosa were publicly slow-roasted – effectively ending any accountability with Mr. Peter’s standing threat to take his football and go home if anyone looked over his shoulder. . .
At the time, I thought, “If there was ever a bureaucracy that needs outside oversight from those with political accountability, it is that deteriorating shit-show on Providence Boulevard.”
One nugget in my voluminous library of notebooks speaks to the importance of quickly excising those whose abhorrent personal and professional behavior is cancerous to the good order and discipline of the group – a malignancy that can quickly metastasize throughout the organization destroying morale, efficiency, and effectiveness.
In my view, it is time for Interim City Manager John Peters to call on his hallowed personal integrity and resign from the City of Deltona – he is damaged goods – and a clear distraction to the substantive progress the community so desperately needs.
Asshole Volusia County’s Gang of Four
“Is this how you envision your goverment (sic) working?
Do we still live in a Republic or are we headed towards Dictatorship?
You be the judge.
Regardless of opinion, County Council members are Policy Makers. We are NOT to get involved in day to day operations or the performance of duties. That is the duty of the County Manager. PERIOD. This organizational terrorism, Lambasting employees for over 2 hours, is not only outside our job description, it is goverment (sic) over reach that has developed a pattern. A pattern which has been documented by other elected officials since approximately 2017. See Charter sections 203 (Division of Power) and Section 404 (Non Interference by County Council). http://library.municode.com/…/codes/code_of_ordinances…
Equally troubling, is decorum or lack there of. Goverment (sic) bodies run meetings by Roberts Rules, NOT Romper Room. Roberts Rules of order ensures an efficient and effective meeting between members which then proceed forward by a majority vote, not a 1 person vote. Is ignoring a motion that had a second ok? Is this how a republic works? Or is this Dictatorship, one wanting to control the narrative and rule by absolute control? We see behavior like this all over the country and world. Unfortunately it is flexing right at our doorstep. This conduct is 100% about politics and personal gain, NOT the people.
I am calling on our cities, our chambers, our businesses, and our citizens. Your Goverment (sic) needs your help. Your Community needs your help. This is NOT ok.
I Thank God everyday we have a strong majority vote and I am equally thankful for the opportunity to fight for the citizens of Volusia County.
Thank you – Danny”
–District 3 Volusia County Councilman Danny Robins, as posted to various Facebook political sites with links to some twenty-one municipalities in Volusia County, Saturday, August 21, 2021
This jumbled grammatical nightmare – an uber-weird S.O.S. of sorts – was apparently cobbled together and published by freshman Volusia County Councilman Danny Robins at the odd hour of 9:40pm last Saturday evening. . .
Look, I’ve seen sitting politicians self-destruct in a pique of hubris and pomposity – some in spectacular fashion – but rarely with this degree of callow desperation and complete lack of self-awareness.
I don’t make this shit up, folks.
In one ill-thought and horribly disconnected screed, Councilman Robins has, once and for all, exposed the existence of a lockstep voting bloc – the “strong majority” – now appropriately branded The Gang of Four, a shameless, bullying cabal comprised of Ben Johnson, his protégé Danny Robins, lame duck Billie Wheeler, and that batshit-crazy conspiracy theorist Rev. Fred Lowry.
The stalwarts of Volusia County’s Old Guard and their just-off-stage handlers – craven marionettes who have proven they will do anything in their considerable power to protect the stagnant status quo and block official oversight of a bloated bureaucracy which now commands an annual budget exceeding $1 Billion.
I am giving Councilwoman Barb Girtman the benefit of the doubt.
I consider her the intellectual superior on the dais – always sincere, thoughtful, and composed – but her repeated refusal to stand up for the rights of her fellow council members to speak, make inquiry, and let sunshine into the fusty halls of power is confusing to many – giving the appearance she tacitly approves of this thuggery.
During last week’s théâtre de l’absurde that passes for a Volusia County Council meeting, Councilwoman Heather Post made a gallant effort to extract straight answers to pointed questions from Public Protection Director Joe “Blue Falcon” Pozzo – anything which might explain the nightmarish shit-show that is emergency medical transport – a life-and-death issue that predates the stressors of the pandemic by years – and a matter of grave concern to area residents, first responders, and hospitals.
To her credit, the incredibly well-prepared Ms. Post attempted to hold a senior executive accountable – asking the hard questions, uncovering half-truths, and cutting through the smoke and double-talk – demanding an end to the age-old internal communications issues that keep Volusia County policymakers almost strategically in the dark.
In my view, Ms. Post was right to hold Pozzo’s feet to the fire and attempt to draw out the truth – to insist on an explanation for the abysmal response times, the exodus of qualified paramedics, and the senior staff’s repeated failure to recognize the inherent flaws in the disastrous “dynamic deployment” strategy – and, perhaps most important, understand the warped mindset behind Volusia County’s greed-crazed refusal to allow the cities to transport ill and injured residents 24-hours a day.
In my view, Post’s factfinding was the quintessence of the policymaking function – being proactive, finding solutions, gathering information for the proper allocation of millions-of-dollars in coronavirus relief funds to support emergency services – rather than waiting for yet another “lapse in judgement” when, inevitably, some poor soul dies waiting on an ambulance. . .
For example, when Ms. Post inquired when/if the City of Port Orange would receive authorization for around-the-clock transport, Pozzo had the cheek to explain he has asked the municipality’s new fire chief to put the request in writing.
Am I the only one who remembers the cheap backstabbing in April when Pozzo orchestrated the termination of Port Orange Fire Chief Ken Fustin after he boldly stood up to months of Pozzo’s provocation, bullying, and foot-dragging on the 24-hour transport question?
A serious issue of public concern that Fustin rightfully believed placed the lives of Port Orange residents in danger?
Then, rather than settle the matter like brother firefighters and colleagues, Joe “Blue Falcon” Pozzo ran home and told Daddy George that Kenny was using bad words?
In their Pavlovian response to any perceived threat to an entrenched bureaucrat, The Gang of Fourimmediately circled the wagons and set upon Ms. Post, accusing her of overstepping boundaries and badgering a senior director commanding six-figures – a division director with personal responsibility for the health, safety, and welfare of Volusia County residents – essentially attempting a parliamentary coup d’état demanding that Chairman Jeff Brower shutdown Ms. Post and put an end to her desperate search for answers.
It was ugly and desperate – another embarrassing imbroglio that left County Attorney Mike Dyer with a redlined pucker factor of “10” – and County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald running out of initialisms, acronyms, and bureaucratese to keep his bosses baffled and corralled.
In keeping with the on-going demonization of Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post, The Gang of Four – with Mr. Robins clutching his pearls in faux-indignation – continued pummeling Ms. Post for having the temerity to question Pozzo on long-term issues and seeking honest answers on how the County Council can help him improve service delivery.
Now, Mr. Robins sends out this goofy all-hands-on deck distress signal hyper-dramatically asking, “our cities, our chambers, our businesses, and our citizens” (you know, the very people and organizations Ms. Post is trying frantically to help) to turn on the only two elected representatives on the dais with a demonstrated personal commitment to accountability, oversight, and a reduced tax burden.
There is one thing in Danny’s missive I agree with: This is NOT okay. . .
My sincere hope is that Mr. Robins and his band of wooden figureheads will realize that Councilwoman Post and Chairman Brower won their seats just like they did – by majority vote of the constituents Post and Brower are trying desperately to serve.
In my view, Robins own brand of “organizational terrorism,” bashing his colleagues on social media, making serious allegations of personal gain by elected officials – practicing the ugly politics of personal destruction – is caustic, counterproductive, and wrong.
Fortunately, this chicanery is wearing thin with many voters seeking substantive change in Volusia County government – and the 2022 election season is just around the corner.
Angel “Crazy Eddie” Colosimo
Crazy Eddie was no angel.
Anyone who knows anything about my beloved City of Holly Hill will tell you that it has its share of interesting characters – a place where the “movers-and-shakers” have colorful monikers like “Big John,” “Snake,” and “Crazy Eddie” – a wonderfully eccentric community made special by so many who give so much of themselves to help others.
In 2003, Eddie Colosimo, the quintessential cantankerous curmudgeon with a heart of pure gold, founded Bikers for First Amendment Rights – a civic and fraternal organization devoted to community engagement, veteran outreach, and protecting the constitutional rights of the “Common Joe.”
To our great fortune, the club ultimately headquartered in Holly Hill.
In its various locations and iterations, BFFAR was a mix of social club, biker bar, and veterans’ assistance center, a place where everyone was welcome, and all walks of life could gather and listen to Eddie hold court over a cocktail – an omnipresent cigarette bobbing from his lips – as he talked politics, railed against government overreach, and told an endless stream of bawdy jokes.
In 2013, BFFAR became the center of a small town tempest in a teapot when a former Holly Hill city manager arbitrarily ordered Eddie to remove a row of military flags that had flown proudly in front of the clubhouse for years.
During the ensuing bruhaha, Eddie mounted a highly successful campaign to put the overzealous chief executive in his place, jamming City Hall with angry veterans, fanning a letter writing campaign, ultimately convincing the elected officials to overturn the manager’s stupid diktat and allow the flags to fly.
No one could muster – or incite – a crowd like Crazy Eddie.
I loved every uncomfortable minute of it. . .
Once, Crazy Eddie lived up to his nickname during one of his frequent blustery appearances at a city commission meeting, giving him the dubious distinction of being the only member of the public I was ever asked to remove from the chamber in over 30-years of service.
After escorting him outside City Hall – still fuming, flailing, and shouting – Eddie turned to me, gave me that sly smile and a wink – then shook my hand to let me know there were no hard feelings.
Anyone who honorably served in the armed forces was a brother or sister to Crazy Eddie – himself a proud former Marine – and he worked tirelessly to ensure that veterans issues remained at the forefront; lobbying, fundraising, speaking out, making waves, making a difference – always seeking better for our veterans – and always willing to help a fellow service member in need.
Anyone who spent time in his company can attest that Crazy Eddie was gregarious, fearless, fun loving, and incredibly generous – with a massive ego of heroic proportion, one who didn’t suffer fools – and, for a skinny guy, he took up a lot of real estate whenever he walked into a room.
He was also an incredibly savvy navigator of the political landscape with the tenacity, strength of personality, and natural leadership ability to get things done.
We need more people like that.
Now that I think of it, Crazy Eddie is an angel – one with a halo of cigarette smoke and a cocktail in hand, sporting a well-worn biker vest and signature leather cowboy hat – and I can see him roaring through the pearly gates of heaven on his motorcycle, flags flying off the back, asking St. Peter for directions to the clothing optional section. . .
My friend Crazy Eddie Colosimo – an indefatigable champion for the rights of the little guy – died this week following a battle with COVID-19.
He was 79-years old.
Fly high, my brother.
Quote of the Week
“You need to respect us enough that you can come to us. I guarantee you we’re going to hear about it, and we want to be responsible to the people we serve in this county.”
–Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower asking Public Protection Director Joe “Blue Falcon” Pozzo for the courtesy of proper notice when he arbitrarily changes established public policy in his division’s “take a wild-ass-guess, asking neither permission nor forgiveness” approach to meeting the emergency medical transport needs of some 567,650 people, Tuesday, August 17, 2021
And Another Thing!
Every great story in my life – the tragedies, triumphs, and intractable predicaments – always include smart women and copious amounts of whiskey.
This small chapter was no exception.
Several months ago, the impressive Rhonda Kanan of Paradise Properties of NSB, asked me to address the New Smyrna Beach Board of Realtors at the beautiful riverfront Brannon Center.
I have long admired Rhonda’s civic activism and dogged tenacity in fighting for basic fairness in a protracted civic issue in New Smyrna Beach, but I begged off – several times – turning down her kind invitation, convinced I had nothing in common with esteemed members of the real estate profession (because I don’t).
Then she caught me at a vulnerable moment. . .
I was ensconced at a bar (go figure) – drinking fine Tennessee whiskey, well into my cups – when Rhonda texted and convinced me to attend.
I am so thankful for her persistence.
Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to the NSB Board of Realtors – a true honor that gave me the opportunity to meet with a group of wonderful realtors, title agents, and industry executives who are making a real difference in Southeast Volusia’s vibrant business community.
While doing research, I was immediately taken with the real estate profession’s Code of Ethics – a living document which holds the distinction of being the first codification of ethical practices adopted by any business group in the United States.
A set of enduring standards which has made the title Realtor among the most trusted names in our society.
It also gave me the chance to explore contemporary issues facing the real estate industry – and the board’s ongoing commitment to ensuring property rights, the creation of adequate housing, the building of functional communities, the development of productive industries and agriculture, and the preservation of a healthy environment.
When I arrived at the venue, I was warmly greeted by the very gracious Kathryn Disbrow of First American Title, who ensured my immediate comfort then gave a beautiful introduction that left me blushing – and incredibly humbled. . .
I enjoy being around smart, dedicated professionals – that’s how I learn – and the NSB Board of Realtors proved to be outstanding ambassadors for their profession, actively committed to improving the quality of life in Southeast Volusia and beyond.
I admire that.
A very special thank you to Rhonda Kanan, Kathryn Disbrow, and the staff and membership of this exceptional organization for your kindness and hospitality.
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 The Incomparable Mr. George Mirabal
I knew George Mirabal during my productive years, which is to say we met on occasion when our paths crossed at various breakfast meetings, socials, and chamber events that brought bureaucrats and elected decision-makers together with business leaders to address civic issues, breakdown barriers, and build relationships.
No one did that important work better than George.
Although Mr. Mirabal served the Halifax area business community for over two-decades as Chief Executive Officer of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, he was best known as the creative force behind Team Volusia – a public/private partnership formed in 2010 which unified economic development efforts and established a cooperative strategy for attracting business and industry to Volusia County.
During his early efforts, the working title of this visionary concept was the Metro Daytona Economic Development Corporation – and Mr. Mirabal met pushback from some in local governments who rejected the idea out of hand – simply because it was not their idea.
Always sensitive to the political landscape, Mr. Mirabal quickly realized the name did not best represent the mosaic of unique communities that comprise Volusia County.
According to a February 2020 article by business reporter Clayton Park writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Team Volusia honors Mirabal for role in launching group,” George recalled meeting one-on-one to with area civic leaders:
“It wasn’t a lot of big stuff, it was little stuff,” he said of the cities’ objections.”
“At the top of the list was the name: Metro Daytona had to go.”
Through strength of personality, an old school sense of collegiality, and the benefit of long-established personal trust, in less than a year, Mr. Mirabal had all the players on the same page.
Over a decade later, Mr. Mirabal’s visionary concept – and his bold efforts to change the status quo by bringing economic development practitioners and private interests together in a team concept – has proven Emerson’s theory “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”
In addition, George has been credited with bringing the Ladies Professional Golf Association to the area – and transforming Daytona Bike Week into the regional economic powerhouse it has become.
In retirement, Mr. Mirabal continued his service to the community as a member of the Board of Directors of the Daytona Beach Police Foundation, a non-profit which raises funds for advanced training, educational opportunities, and specialized equipment to enhance the professionalism of Daytona Beach police officers.
Mr. Mirabal was a credit to his challenging profession – a benevolent influencer and uniter who selflessly stewarded one of the most successful eras in Volusia County’s history. Perhaps more important, he was a true gentleman, dearly loved by his wife Joyce, his family, former colleagues, and the many he served during a lifetime of helping others achieve their dreams.
We’re glad he passed our way.
This lion of Halifax area business and commerce lost his battle with COVID-19 on Tuesday afternoon.
The incomparable George Mirabal was 83 years old.
Asshole Daytona Beach News-Journal Editor Pat Rice
Look, we get it:
Pat Rice, the Supreme Comandante of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, hates everything Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower stands for.
For the past two-weeks, outside the wall-to-wall coverage of COVID-19 – all coronavirus, all the time – News-Journal Editor Pat Rice has directed the full-might of what remains of our hometown newspaper to giving Chairman Brower the falanga treatment.
Because the wildly popular Chairman pushed a misguided effort to promote a council resolution supporting our Bill of Rights, a move designed to assure worried constituents that Volusia County will remain vigilant for federal mandates that infringe on our inalienable freedoms and seek judicial review of unconstitutional actions.
I believe the true reason Mr. Rice has his fangs out is because Chairman Brower is a maverick, an individualistic square peg who will not be forced into the round hole of lockstep conformity – or manipulated by Pat’s friends in Volusia County’s Old Guard – perennial politicians and uber-wealthy insiders intent on protecting an entrenched power structure and preserving the status quo.
Just in case we didn’t ‘get it’ the first three-or-four times around, since last Wednesday, the News-Journal has bombarded us with the following painfully redundant headlines:
“Bill of Rights measure debated”
“Volusia ‘Bill of Rights sanctuary’ effort fails”
“Volusia County right to stop divisive debate over ‘Bill of Rights’”
“Volusia County votes down oddball Bill of Rights sanctuary measure”
“Volusia Chair Brower’s unneeded, divisive ‘resolution to nowhere’”
That last one takes the cake.
Hell, it took the whole damn bakery. . .
In his Sunday screed, Mr. Rice once again put the boots to Chairman Brower – accusing him of wasting staff time, describing him as a “misguided zealot,” questioned his leadership, staining Brower as a liar willing to “fudge the facts,” belittling his outside-the-box suggestions for revenue generation, and accused him of being a discordant force who is “driving a wedge” between people.
Jesus. Project much, Pat?
What I found most outrageous is when Mr. Rice reached down to the bottom of that rotten barrel and evoked the fading memory of former County Manager Little Mean Jim Dineen – in my view, the most controversial and demonstrably divisive County Manager in the history of the position – someone Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood once accurately described as a “lying sack of shit” – as Rice used former Chair Frank Bruno as the end-all and be-all of consensus-building and “leadership.”
(Did I mention that Bruno and Dinneen are now in business together as the dynamic duo of Bruno & Dinneen: The Relocation Authority – touting their government service under the Keller Williams Realty flag – “The principals led Volusia County Government at the highest levels before transitioning from serving people in government to serving people in real estate.”)
I don’t make this shit up, folks.
Unfortunately, it appears Mr. Rice is living in a past of his own making – completely out-of-touch with our reality.
Now that Comandante Rice has made it abundantly clear that he – and those influential “Friends of Pat” who hold such sway in our local Halls of Power – will stop at nothing to destroy Chairman Brower – perhaps Mr. Rice can get back to his place on the front line of the culture wars – standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his “woke” colleagues at Gannett in the battle of “We’re right and you’re wrong” – all while our local newspaper continues its slow fade into regionalized obscurity.
Quote of the Week
“We want everyone to know that Daytona Beach is the destination of choice. We have everything you need,” was the message City Manager Deric C. Feacher shared with hospitality leaders at this morning’s meeting of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County. He shared that under his leadership there has been a renewed focus on removing barriers and finding ways to get to “yes” to accelerate the dreams, ideals and goals of the elected officials and residents. “I promise you this, if we are all able to get on the same page, we will accelerate beyond what you can imagine,” he said.”
–As posted to The City of Daytona Beach Government Facebook page, Wednesday, August 11, 2021
I am impressed with Daytona Beach City Manager Deric Feacher – he has class, a sense of style and panache, an air of forward momentum – and his effervescent enthusiasm is a welcome change from the wallpaper paste persona of his predecessor.
In my view, Mr. Feacher’s élan is exactly what the Halifax area needs, a great communicator with a steady hand on stick-and-throttle, as the Worlds Most Famous Beach prepares to take flight – to break free from the stagnant status quo and soar – with a renewed focus on those areas of the community that have withered in neglect while the real money turned to areas west or made secretive plans for our downtrodden downtown that never seem to gel.
Any flight requires a degree of preplanning – and most important is identifying our destination before we depart – where do we want to go, and how do we plan to get there?
What route do we plan to fly to get from point A to B, how much time will it take given the performance characteristics of our craft, how much fuel and resources will be required, are there alternate locations to set down should a problem arise, and what environmental factors may play a role?
What are the prevailing winds – will they help, or hamper, our forward progress? Turbulence or bad weather ahead? What potential problems should we anticipate? Are their risks we can mitigate before takeoff? Where is the point of no return? Are our systems, instruments, means of communication, and crew properly tuned, briefed, and working to our advantage?
This week, Mr. Feacher asked our often stuck on stupid tourism mavens at the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County to consider these important questions:
“What is our brand?” “What are we selling?” “What do we want to be? “Why are we the destination of choice?”
“Everything we need is here. The question is how do we brand our community?”
During his remarks, Mr. Feacher mentioned the horrific impacts of destructive viral events, such as the disastrous Truck Meet 2021, that continue to terrorize residents, gridlock traffic, and tax law enforcement resources to the breaking point – a hostile takeover of our community that threatens to destroy what remains of the Halifax areas fragile reputation as a tourist destination and inhibit entrepreneurial investment just when we need it most.
As a wise old flight instructor once told me, when dealing with a problem inflight, you have all the time you need – but no time to waste.
Clearly, when it comes to the viability of Daytona Beach as a destination of choice, time is of the essence.
Let’s hope Deric Feacher’s actions are as energetic as his inspiring words.
As pilot in command, the City Manager has a great responsibility to those who have put their faith in his exciting path forward – and our collective quality of life is in his hands.
And Another Thing!
Musing about local politics on this blogsite means receiving a lot of emails, texts, and phone calls filled with weird rumors, nattering, and cockamamie theories about the happenings around town.
As a result, I spend a considerable amount of time fielding the gossip and bitchery that I publicly claim to abhor, but privately love listening to.
It’s one reason I have always felt a kinship with Washington socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth who famously said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit next to me.”
In our hyper-connected world, social media, the ‘everyman’s soapbox’ – is a virtual firehose of largely unvetted information, and a greasy window into that exclusive country club where the sausage gets made – especially when elected officials use the medium to push their version of the narrative, preen for their supporters, and hint at where they lineup on the hot button issues.
In fact, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the other platforms are perfect outlets for the current practice of D-list politicians being photographed, arm-in-arm, with C-list politicians and on up the ladder – like reality show “celebrities” awkwardly posing on a soiled red carpet – a cringeworthy method of self-aggrandizement now de rigueur in local politics.
Sometimes that works out – and sometimes it doesn’t. . .
But one thing is certain, trust in government – especially here on the Fun Coast – continues to plummet and our elected officials have no one to blame but themselves. As a result, engaged citizens are increasingly taking it upon themselves to do what our local media won’t and have a second look at what they are being told by those who hold high public office.
A prime example of that was a Facebook post this week by District 3 Volusia County Councilman Danny Robins touting his recent adventure to the Everglades in search of advice on water quality issues from the quintessential ‘Old Florida’ character known as Ronald “Alligator” Bergeron – who apparently received his nickname for his penchant for rasslin’ alligators – and was once described by the Tampa Bay Times as “…the most Florida of all Florida office holders.”
Wow. That’s saying something. . .
According to Councilman Robins:
“Last weekend I traveled to the heart of the Florida everglades, through the cypress swamps, south past the Seminole Indian reservation, in search of a man and in search of answers. This man is said to be the living legend, a true pioneer, the lone guardian gladesman who has spent his life as the sole protector of Florida’s waterways.”
The sole protector? Lone Guardian?Of Florida’s waterways? Damn. Ol’ Alligator has his hands full, huh. . .
According to Councilman Robins, he sought out Alligator Ron for elusive answers to how we can protect threatened estuaries here in Volusia County – which, all joking aside, is something that has been near to Mr. Robins’ heart long before he took office in January.
Despite Mr. Robins’ portrayal of “Alligator Ron” as a modern-day cross between Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Crocodile Dundee (if Mick Dundee had his own professionally produced self-promotional website, that is) – several of Danny’s constituents took the opportunity to dig deeper, rather than take things at face value.
They discovered that, in addition to Mr. Bergeron’s conservation efforts, he is one of the largest land developers in the Southeast – a self-made multi-millionaire who, just before he was appointed to the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board by Governor Ron DeSantis – inked a $25 million no-bid contract with the same SFWMD to complete a languishing wetland conservation project designed to store and clean water before it reaches the St. Lucie River in Martin County known as the C-44 Reservoir/Stormwater Treatment Area.
You read that right.
Sound familiar? It should.
This blogsite cut its teeth opining on the reportage of former News-Journal, and current USA Today environmental journalist, Dinah Voyles Pulver, and her outstanding coverage of what was dubbed “The Debacle in Debary,” a sordid story of a former chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board who made a cottage industry lobbying for the interests of his public and private clients in front of the very state regulatory agency he oversaw.
All perfectly legal according to the Florida Ethics Commission. . .
You read that right, too.
To his credit, before his appointment, Alligator Ron asked the ethics commission if his company’s contract with the SFWMD would violate conflict-of-interest prohibitions – and he received the all-clear on April 12, 2019.
His appointment to the governing board became effective later that day. . .
In December 2019, that controversial contract expanded by an additional $14 million – seven-months after Alligator Ron took his seat on the board – again, no harm, no foul.
Since everything was on the up-and-up, it has been reported that an additional $9 million was added to the construction contract in June 2020 – bringing the total amount awarded by the SFWMD to the company owned by Mr. Bergeron to $48 million.
Last summer, Mr. Bergeron successfully fought a second ethics complaint which cited a potential conflict related to the contract when our state ethics apparatus found a “lack of legal sufficiency” during a closed-door session in July 2020.
Aw, shucks, just bidness’ as usual here in the Sunshine State, y’all. . .
In my view, Councilman Robins has dedicated himself to conservation and environmental concerns – and as an elected official, he has demonstrated the ability to accept even biting criticism and use it to his advantage.
His hard work placing mini oyster reefs, planting seagrass, propagating mangroves, regenerating the shoreline, and assisting resiliency planning in Southeast Volusia – working closely with committed environmental groups like the Riverside Conservancy and others to clean and protect our sensitive estuaries – has proven Mr. Robins’ commitment to the safety and preservation of our waterways.
Based upon this hands-on approach to restoring the Indian River Lagoon and other threatened area waterways, I have no doubt Mr. Robins was sincere in his quest for answers at the knee of the wise old sage – an earnest effort to discover new and innovative ways we can improve water quality here at home – and prevent the IRL and Intracoastal Waterway from becoming a barren bowl of guacamole like much of Alligator Ron’s stomping grounds in South Flori. . .
Wait a minute?
Vert der ferk?
Oh, never mind. . .
I am equally impressed that some Volusia County residents took it upon themselves to dig deeper – to flesh out the rest of the story – and understand the politics of the players and policies behind the colorful soundbites and posturing.
Clearly, Florida’s failed hurt here, help there approach to “protecting” our sensitive wetlands and greenspace is wearing thin with weary residents who are forced to watch helplessly as massive development threatens our quality of life.
A claustrophobic sense of doom as our elected officials approve even more sprawling zero-lot-line “theme” communities, threatening the very source of our drinking water, and fouling our lakes, springs, and rivers with runoff from more apartment complexes, more half-empty strip centers and convenience stores – crushing our already stressed transportation and public utilities infrastructure – as our remaining natural places and wildlife habitats are churned into a black muck to make way for a developer’s idea of “progress.”
Thanks for asking the tough questions, folks.
As I am fond of saying, if something in government piques your curiosity – don’t take my word for it – keep digging, you might be surprised what you find.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!
Barker’s View will be on the road next week – but Angels & Assholes will return later this month!
As always – please be safe, and thanks for reading.
“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
–Benjamin Franklin, 1789
You want an uplifting story of deliverance from the darkness – a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ feel-good fairytale of redemption and recovery?
Unfortunately, you are not going to find it here.
Look, I am not a sociologist (I consider myself lucky to have escaped the Volusia County school system with a high school diploma) – just a cantankerous old crank who sits on the proverbial park bench of life watching the world go by.
What I’ve seen of late isn’t pretty. . .
I spent the bulk of my life in public service – studying, developing, and exercising the art and science of emergency management – determining best practices and protocols for protecting life and property during emergent situations, working from a multi-disciplinary approach, bringing experts together from law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, public works, civil engineers, and other government and private entities to plan for the worst when things were calm.
Then, when the chips are down and the wolf comes to call – hurricanes, hazardous materials incidents, wildfires, etc. – those responsible for emergency management, operations, logistics, finance, and their myriad support functions all work cooperatively – reacting almost instinctively in a dynamic environment, practiced to such a degree that even when we get small things wrong, nobody notices.
Those times are where friendships, collegiality, and community partnerships prove their value.
I knew my counterparts in other agencies, and they knew me.
We spent time together at large-scale exercises, conferences, and advanced training programs at places like the National Emergency Management Training Center at Emmitsburg, Maryland, where we socialized together, traded ideas and experiences, broke down barriers, and developed confidence in one another’s abilities.
As a result, there were few offices at the local, state, or federal level of government that I couldn’t pick up the phone and reach a friend – someone who would drop everything to help solve a problem in my community – confident I would do the same for them.
That included our partners in the media – who play such a crucial role in pushing time sensitive information during a crisis.
Our success in the areas of disaster mitigation, response, and recovery developed internal and external confidence in the “system” – which is why in an emergency, the public has faith in their emergency management officials to do the right thing – a relationship that transcends their well-developed suspicions of general government.
It is why we willingly make personal preparedness plans, heed official warnings, follow evacuation orders, and engage in mitigation efforts before disaster strikes.
It’s called hard-earned trust.
When the coronavirus pandemic emerged early last year, I felt certain that our public health service and emergency management agencies would quickly have the task well in hand – providing proven prevention strategies, calming the fears of a worried public with a skillful and organized public information campaign – our political leadership taking a step back and allowing the experts to manage the crisis, media outlets working cooperatively to assuage fear with fact – and our friends, family, and neighbors coming together, putting our social and political differences aside, in a united effort to eradicate a dangerous scourge, just as we have done before.
Yeah, right. . .
Don’t get me wrong – there was a moment in time when the “we’re all in this together” mantra seemed to gain traction – but it was tragically short-lived – ending the exact second egomaniacal politicians began preening, posturing, and grandstanding in an election year – and corporate media conglomerates opted for sensationalism and speculation over fact-based reporting.
Like falling dominos, one-by-one our local elected and appointed “leadership” proved to be anything but – abdicating their sworn responsibility, some transforming into dictatorial tyrants, corrupting both the meaning and purpose of “local emergency declarations,” while trusted emergency management professionals were pushed aside, given little (if any) role, as our public health services became withdrawn and uncommunicative under orders from above.
Then craven politicians sought to control the message with self-aggrandizing shills who took over our televisions – spouting conflicting recommendations peppered with wild political rhetoric cleverly designed to divide us along ideological lines – and any doctor, director, or scientist who didn’t toe the official line was discredited and destroyed.
Widespread and wholly subjective “mandates” were implemented, state and local governments shuttered certain businesses while bolstering others, the newly unemployed forced into a demonstrably broken system, the core recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (which changed little since the early days of the outbreak) were ignored, schools were closed with a generation of students unable to read or write effectively, and many rightfully felt our foundational liberties were being eroded in exchange for a marginal degree of “safety.”
Because they are.
All while the campaign season reached a fever pitch and Republicans and Democrats engaged in trench warfare – both sides using the abysmal response to the crisis as a weapon – rather than demonstrate unity and purpose of action in the public interest.
And the body count continued to mount.
Then, it was every man, woman, and child for themselves. . .
Instead of responding in accordance with established emergency management protocols governing mass immunizations – early distribution sites turned into disorganized cattle calls, with the elderly and infirm forced to sleep in their cars, enduring freezing temperatures on the shoulder of the road in the hinterlands, only to be turned away when supplies were exhausted.
Then, young, healthy politicians (and their immediate family members) who were implementing draconian measures under emergency ordinances, bankrupting families, and destroying long established businesses, were seen sauntering past queues of senior citizens who were waiting for limited doses, literally pushing aside those with comorbidities who urgently needed the vaccine to survive, in the most grotesque display of political privilege in history.
Quickly, trust in the process evaporated as the media opted to fan the culture wars – pitting the “vaxxed” against the “unvaxxed,” masked against unmasked, flaunting dubious daily statistics which were later proven to be weeks old or have no basis in fact – ultimately turning a public health crisis into an “Us v. Them” political battle royale divided along “blue” and “red” lines.
Now, as the Delta variant sweeps the nation, it is no longer about protecting the public and managing a crisis, and all about who can stoop lower to debase and dehumanize the “enemy” – and I’m not talking about the virus. . .
Don’t believe me?
Last month, The Daytona Beach News-Journal lost its last shred of dignity when it ran a bold headline over an incredibly callous Letter to the Editor which announced, “It’s hard to feel sympathy for anti-vax, anti-mask people who get sick or die from COVID.”
Part of this heartless screed read:
“The first thing that actually comes to mind when I read articles about these folks is “good riddance.” That’s a horrible reaction for any fellow human to have, but it’s there. The sooner they leave, the sooner responsible people can get our society back to respecting one another and looking out for the common good.”
“Respecting one another”?
It’s hard to feel sympathy for those who are sick and dying?
Was this the lowest of the low?
To add insult, Volusia County officials are now meeting to discuss how they plan to spend millions-of-dollars in virtually “unrestricted” (thanks to what the News-Journal called “creative accounting”) federal coronavirus relief funds – so much “free” money floating down from on high that our politicians don’t have a clue how to squander it all.
For instance, of the $77 million being spent – with hundreds of our neighbors hospitalized or dead – just $1 million has been budgeted “…for remaining COVID-19 expenses, like PPE, testing and advertising.”
Of course, they kicked off the spending spree by showering the bureaucracy, top to bottom, with cash bonuses while maneuvering to raise property taxes on already strapped families desperately seeking a way out of a dark hole, in some obscene grab for more, more, more.
A recovery “plan” as disastrous as the response – guaranteeing even more death and taxes. . .
Let’s hope that when COVID-19 is finally curbed We, The People never forget how we were manipulated, and so horribly divided, by those in government and the media – the very foundational institutions of our democracy – who turned a viral public health threat into a political shitshow to further their own craven self-interests.
This afternoon Barker’s View joins GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm.
We’ll be taking your calls and talking local issues on the fastest two-hours in radio!
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 Volusia County Council
The Nobel prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein, widely considered the most influential mind of the 20th century, is credited with discovering the laws of thermodynamics – a series of complex equations which explain why energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only changed from one form to another.
Clearly, I’m no genius, but I beg to differ with Mr. Einstein’s theory. . .
You see, Old Al never had the opportunity to sit through one of those interminable bimonthly hootenannies that pass for a Volusia County Council meeting – a soul crushing political black hole so dense that logic, purpose, and reason cannot escape – an exercise in utter ineptitude with the supernatural ability to convert useful energy into wasted time.
The only byproduct of this strange conversion of light into effective darkness being the lingering carnival-like odor of fresh horseshit and spent peanut shells on the floor of a big top.
On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council trudged through its longest meeting of the year – a painful exercise that stretched from 9:30am to its merciful adjournment around 7:15pm – an excruciating session, long on hot air and frustratingly short on substance.
I know. I listened to every insufferable minute of it here at Barker’s View HQ. . .
Things got off to an odd start (weirder than usual, anyway) when Chairman Jeff Brower attempted to gavel the festivities to order, only to find the council did not have a quorum present, which sent him wandering across the dais, awkwardly attempting to roundup enough of our elected decision-makers to warrant a meeting.
While Councilwoman Heather Post finally joined the fun – Councilman Ben Johnson and The Right Reverend Fred Lowry never made an appearance. . .
For the most part, the marathon meeting was rather benign. Then that omnipresent undercurrent of political intrigue slithered its way through the murk, setting off the passive-aggressive shitshow we have come to expect.
That long denied and unseen demon that sows discontent in the chamber was working hard by the time Chairman Brower’s goofy “Bill of Rights” resolution was called – which, for reasons known only to Mr. Brower – sought to remind his “colleagues” of their oath of office, and assuage the fears of a few jittery constituents, by pointing out Volusia County’s fundamental duty to have unconstitutional actions of the executive and legislative branches of government reviewed by the judiciary.
We needed a resolution to remind us of that?
I’m asking. Because the whole thing had a weird vibe to it.
Unfortunately, Chairman Brower played right into his detractor’s hands – and The Daytona Beach News-Journal took another opportunity to publicly spank him, labeling Mr. Brower an “oddball,” and wrongly blaming him for the divisiveness on the dais – all for the amusement of Volusia’s stodgy Old Guard – insiders who are desperate to rid themselves of Brower’s populism and return to the bad old days of good old boy cronyism.
Look, our inalienable rights and responsibilities ensured by the United States Constitution do not need a nonsensical resolution by some stunted backwater like Volusia County, Florida to survive.
They need to be exercised by We, The People. Otherwise, our sacred protections will atrophy.
Unfortunately, substantive participation in our government is not easy when politicians at all levels seem more interested in furthering their own self-interests, and those of their wealthy benefactors, than serving the needs of their long-suffering constituents.
I think Mr. Brower’s heart was in the right place when he sought to reassure those who fear our liberties are being eroded – because in some cases they are – and I do not believe his symbolic gesture was meant to be contentious.
However, like the majority of Brower’s “colleagues,” I could not for the life of me understand the purpose (or intent) of the resolution?
That said, I found it laughable that lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler had the cheek to use Brower’s proposed resolution as cheap camouflage for her on-going role in the shit-slinging and marginalization that she and her “colleagues” who comprise the Praetorian Guard of Volusia County’s stagnant status quo – zealously protecting the interests of the emperors – while working overtime to freeze out Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post for having the temerity to think for themselves.
“I really pray that we stop this divisiveness,” Wheeler feebly puled. “I really don’t see the purpose in this.”
Anyone paying attention can see that Councilwoman Wheeler is a lockstep conformist with a mean streak a mile wide – a cunning political elitist who routinely joins with her confederates to put the proverbial knife in Chairman Brower’s back – just as she has done for Councilwoman Post for the past five-years – then mewls and coos like Aunt Martha Brewster when she gets called out.
Don’t take my word for it.
Take a strong antiemetic and watch any archived video of the tag team match that passes for “the people’s business” over the last eight-months and you will quickly get a feel for why votes on the issues that affect our lives and livelihood consistently fall 5-2.
Just prior to The Great Bill of Rights kerfuffle came an issue I waited patiently for – not some boring budget discussion (trust me, your taxes are going up. By how much? TBD), or some monotone snooze-fest explaining the outcome of an internal audit – but the mysterious mechanics of “expanding” the rules of decorum for public meetings.
At the last meeting in July, the item was abruptly postponed without explanation (I assumed the gabfest had gone well-past Rev. Lowry’s naptime?), a formally noticed item to begin preliminary discussion and staff direction on an amended ordinance which directly affects the who, what, when, where, why, and how you and I can publicly address our elected officials.
That’s important to me.
Unfortunately, our ability to be heard – to personally appear, hat in hand – and reverently genuflect before the anointed ones to petition our government for the redress of grievances in a suitably docile and subservient manner, consistent with the sensitive decorum of their gilded chamber – is not all that important to those sitting in the catbird seats on the other side of the divide.
It went much like I expected. Limiting public input while telling us they weren’t limiting public input. . .
According to the excellent live play-by-play offered by News-Journal reporter Mary Helen Moore – on the question, “Does the council wish to set aside a specific time for public comment on non-agenda matters?”
——————————————————— Cut Here ————————————————————
“Wheeler said she’d like to go back to limiting public comment at the beginning of the meeting to 30 minutes or an hour max. Girtman said she agreed. Post does not. She said she wants as much public comment at the beginning of the meeting as possible, and they can accommodate those with time constraints on an as-needed basis. Robins said they have a ton of ways to communicate with constituents. “This is not telling people we don’t want to hear them,” Wheeler said. Brower said he won’t vote for that. “I can’t support that. I think one of the most important things we do is listen to the public,” Brower said. Wheeler motioned for a one-hour time limit at the beginning of the meeting. Vote passes 3-2, with Brower and Post voting no.”
——————————————————— Cut Here ————————————————————
(Instructions: Cut this out. Paste it on your refrigerator. Remember it at the ballot box next year.)
Things went downhill from there. . .
I will not attempt to summarize the budget discussion, but the part where Councilman Robins (who knew exactly which buttons to push) “suggested” that if the council demands a 5% across the board budget reduction – then the elected officials should be required to take a commensurate pay cut and curtail spending for business-related travel – is Comedy Gold.
If it weren’t so tragic. . .
In my view, the near apoplectic response from Councilwoman Post – who has proven herself a full-time public servant, one who has sacrificed her professional pursuits (Read: personal income) in service to her constituents – exemplified how two elected officials can come at the same job with completely different priorities.
This isn’t the first time the issue of council member’s pay has been raised – but it was the only time in modern history that I have heard a sitting elected official recommend a reduction to show solidarity with a grossly bloated bureaucracy that Brower and Post have asked to tighten its belt a notch. . .
In January 2020, (before Mr. Robins was elected) during a workshop to discuss proposed charter amendments, former Council Chair Ed Kelley grumbled:
“I’m trying to whittle away at some things that make no sense. And I’ll get crucified for saying this, but I’m going to say it. We’re paid 50 percent of what is recommended that everybody else is paid, and that we’re not remunerated for anything else.”
Old Ed’s mournful rendition of the Poormouth Blues was immediately supported by Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, who, in a pique of jealousy, moaned (as quoted in a subsequent News-Journal article):
“We don’t get reimbursed for any of our expenses,” said Wheeler, going on to describe the travel across the county and state to attend meetings they say they are expected to attend. Wheeler said when she goes to out-of-town meetings, the other elected officials share their salaries.
“They’re sitting there with their car allowance as well as their assistant with them, when we don’t have any of that,” said Wheeler. “I just think, all we can do is throw it out there.”
Hell, it was like listening to Ma and Pa Joad describe the depravities of poverty in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. . .
Interestingly, on Tuesday, only Councilwoman Barb Girtman came to Ms. Post’s aid:
“Don’t think someone’s taking advantage because they’re traveling or going to a (Florida Association of Counties) conference and spending their time getting educated about how to bring back more,” Girtman suggested. “It’s ridiculous for the amount of time, opportunity and resources that we have to pour into this position to do the job right.”
If anyone doubted that Councilman Robins’ virtue-cloaked “suggestion” wasn’t laser targeted at Ms. Post – that confusion evaporated when he posted an itemized accounting of all travel-related expenses for individual council members on social media – raw figures without context which show Post has far surpassed her colleagues in travel over the past four-years.
So, is Ms. Post a spendthrift who wastes tax dollars on out-of-county junkets?
Or are the others comfortable living in the “Volusia vacuum,” too damn lazy to get off their sorry ass and explore what is working elsewhere, attend training seminars, confer with other elected officials, or lobby for our collective interests in Washington and Tallahassee where the real decisions are made?
You be the judge.
Clearly, Mr. Robins is a bright boy who knows how to lob a loaded suggestion to provoke a desired effect in exchange for an affectionate pat on the head from those powerful external forces (many from their own political party) who are also working hard to see Brower and Post fail.
I hope Councilman Robins understands that his constituents who pay attention (and vote) are savvy enough to tell when a politician is sincere – and when he is actively campaigning against a fellow elected official from that lofty perch on the dais of power.
In my view, Mr. Robins misplaced guile exposes the depths to which he – and the other lockstep marionettes he aligns with – will go to gaslight Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post, marginalize their effectiveness, and torpedo their political future.
By any metric, this chickenshit manipulation and petty finger-pointing is counterproductive – especially in an environment where long-suffering taxpayers are patiently waiting for a way out of this social, civic, and economic quagmire – demanding something in return for suffering under a growing weight of a tax burden that places Volusia County in the top 5% of counties nationwide and 6th on a list of the highest taxed counties in the state.
At the end of the day, in the maelstrom of the worst public health crisis since the pandemic began, did our exalted elected officials demonstrate unity, concern, and collegiality?
With discussions of a proposed $1.1 billion budget underway, did our representatives provide reassurance to weary taxpayers – or work cooperatively to find legitimate ways to conserve resources or make this massive bureaucratic behemoth slightly more efficient and effective?
Instead, they pissed in each other’s Wheaties – embarrassing themselves, and their constituents, with cheap parlor tricks and bickering – then tried to convince us it was something different.
With an election looming next year, our powers that be who smugly sit in the inner-circle should realize these contemptable tactics are a double-edged sword – politics as usual, played at close range – and times they are a-changin’.
Angel Volusia County Medical Professionals
We have a crisis at hand.
One that transcends the posturing of pandering politicians, fearmongering newspaper salesmen, and the cockamamie rumors of radical conspiracy theorists – a true emergency – and lives hang in the balance.
The sobering fact is that a variant of COVID-19 has made a resurgence nationwide – and Volusia County has seen a dramatic increase in the number of very sick people requiring hospitalization – a situation that is taxing limited critical care resources and pushing those incredibly dedicated professionals who stand on the front line in the fight for life to the absolute limits of physical and emotional endurance.
This week, reporter Nikki Ross, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s front-page piece, ‘My dream is a living hell,’ told the chilling story of 26-year-old Lauren Anderson, an emergency room nurse at Halifax Health Medical Center, who attempted to communicate with a gravely ill COVID-19 patient last week by writing notes, trying desperately to convince her breathless patient they needed to be put on a ventilator – or they would die.
Imagine the psychological toll that takes on a young caregiver?
Based upon the number of people I know personally who are currently hospitalized – and those I have become aware of through mutual friends and social media – I am quite certain Nurse Anderson’s story is not unique.
The recent surge has resulted in the tragic loss of so many wonderful souls in our community – including the recent death of Justin White, a loving husband, father of four, and 15-year veteran of the Port Orange Police Department – who left an indelible mark on the lives of others through his tireless volunteerism and service to the community.
The written word cannot adequately describe my enduring admiration and respect for the compassionate nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, first responders, technicians, pharmacists, food service workers, janitorial personnel, administrators, and the dedicated support staff working around-the-clock at hospitals and nursing facilities, serving our community under difficult and dangerous circumstances to heal the sick and comfort the dying.
In my view, these are the true angels among us – talented men and women who strive mightily to preserve life while putting their own health and safety at risk.
Healthcare choices are an intensely personal matter.
For me, after much research, a consultation with my long-suffering physician, the intrepid Dr. Sandford Kinne, and careful contemplation, I received a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as it became available to my age group.
I continue to follow the commonsense recommendations of public health experts to protect myself and others – and I sincerely hope that you will do the same.
Getting the jab was the right decision for me – but I refuse to participate in the debasement and dehumanization of those who, for myriad reasons, determine the vaccine is not right for them.
But for those who are considering the vaccine – now is the time.
Regardless of your choice, please remain vigilant – take care of yourself and each other – and formulate a responsible plan for protecting your family until this scourge has been eliminated.
This one’s important.
Quote of the Week
“The Justice Department announced today a settlement agreement with Florida’s Volusia County School District (VCS) to address the district’s systemic and discriminatory practices that punish students with disabilities for their disability-related behavior and deny them equal access to VCS’s programs and services.
The department conducted an investigation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida received a complaint from a local legal aid organization on behalf of several students, many of whom have Autism Spectrum Disorder. The complaint alleged that VCS unnecessarily excluded students with disabilities from the school’s education programs and services by regularly: (1) requiring parents or guardians to pick up their children with disabilities from school or to keep them home; (2) disciplining students for behavior resulting from their disability; and (3) engaging with law enforcement to remove students with disabilities, one as young as kindergarten age, from school.
The department’s investigation substantiated the allegations in the complaint, confirming that VCS had excluded students with disabilities from its programs and services through unnecessary removals from the classroom. It also found that VCS staff often failed to implement necessary behavioral supports and lacked training on how to properly respond to students’ disability-related behavior. These issues led to the exclusion of students with disabilities from VCS’s programs and services and, at times, resulted in calls to law enforcement to remove students with disabilities from school, including through the misuse of Florida’s Baker Act procedures. . .“
–United States Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, as excerpted from an official media release, “Justice Department Settles with Florida’s Volusia County School District to Protect Students with Disabilities from Classroom Removals and Other Discrimination,” Tuesday, August 3, 2021
And Another Thing!
Thanks for being here. I appreciate it more than you know.
Sometimes I must sound like a broken record – pointing out where the ‘strongman stumbled, or the doer of deeds could have done them better,’ illustrating the absurdity of it all– but Volusia County is a target rich environment for a dilettante political editorialist, and I am humbled by the fact so many take the time to read these screeds and further a larger discussion of the issues.
This blogsite returned a much-needed purpose to my life in retirement – and whether we agree on the issues, or you abhor everything I represent – I thank you for indulging me.
Believe it or not, I seek out positives to comment on in this space week-to-week – some act of civic ingenuity that results in an efficiency for taxpayers – or a case where elected officials took the time to listen to their constituents and work cooperatively to right a wrong or improve our quality of life.
Trust me. I get a lot of “suggestions” on what I should write about.
Increasingly, I tend to sidestep requests from hyper-partisan political organizations and well-meaning citizens who ask that I take up the latest cause célèbre or stir the pot on some controversial bruhaha which always favors one of our horribly broken major political parties.
I want this site to remain one man’s goofy opinion on the news and newsmakers of the day – neither always right, nor always wrong – but always fiercely independent.
Despite the curmudgeonly asshole I play on this blogsite, those who know me well will tell you I am a closet optimist – a cheerleader for the underdog – someone who finds the good in most people and situations.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to mix it up, poke the bear, and argue politics – and I’ve made a hobby of questioning the ancestry of those craven few who receive public funds to serve in the public interest, then violate the trust of those they are sworn to serve.
I suppose my infatuation is based on a lifelong addiction to the drama of political theater – and based upon the incredible popularity of Barker’s View – I am not alone.
It is heartening that so many of you take time out of your day to join me in watching the sausage being made from here on the sidelines – hoping against hope our elected officials won’t revert to their base instincts – then reveling in that satisfying, yet disheartening, sense of “I told you so” when they inevitably do.
Funny when you think how gullible we remain, even after having been burnt by the hot stove time and again. . .
Tomorrow I will turn 61-years young.
Seriously, I use that tired cliché because I don’t feel old.
In many ways I am in the best shape of my life – working out at the gym, losing weight, getting stronger physically and mentally, recently curbing a near lifelong cigarette habit, and generally taking better care of myself.
At this stage of my life, I feel like Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, finding fun and merriment in any circumstance – a genetic trait that I inherited from my 86-year-old mom – who is the youngest (and funniest) octogenarian I know.
Growing up, my parents instilled a sense of possibility in me – a blessing and a curse – the ability to put the fear of the unknown aside, put it all on the line, trust my best instincts, and damn the consequences.
With birthdays being a time for retrospection, I find that fascination with ‘what could be’ has been a guiding factor in my life – for good or for ill – everything-or-nothing, put it all on black and spin the wheel, laying it on the line for the thrill of high achievement or the agonizing disappointment of abject failure – nothing in between – a feeling that anything worth doing comes with a high degree of risk, or it is not worth doing at all.
So, what have I learned in sixty-one years of circling the sun?
Whether you are six or sixty – Dream big. Take chances. Set goals. Seek great adventures.
I’ve tried to live my life by that simple advise – and God smiled on me.
I rolled the dice, and all my dreams came true.
A beautiful family and a small circle of faithful friends who bring such happiness and meaning to my life with their incredible love, understanding, and encouragement.
Who could want for more?
On my birthday – and everyday – I wish the same for each of you.
Rancor between Republicans and Democrats is as old as the ages – an ideological split that has polarized our nation and gridlocked what remains of our system of governance – a selfish sociopolitical divide that would have both sides bring our great nation to its knees before ever considering compromise or collegiality.
Literally everything – including the coronavirus pandemic – has been politicized by these warring factions.
Even our once trusted media sources have joined the fight as cheap propaganda organs, losing any semblance of objectivity by choosing sides in the culture wars, further dividing us with sensationalism and hype, pitting neighbor against neighbor – “vaxxed vs. unvaxxed,” right vs. left, liberal vs. conservative, white vs. black, LGBTQ vs. straight – always laser focused on that which separates us.
It is no longer about public health – or even national unity in a crisis – it is about politics.
And it is increasingly personal.
Unfortunately, this scorched earth partisan hatred has permeated every stratum of politics.
Locally, the various Volusia County Republican and Democratic party affiliates, clubs, and committees have been horribly splintered – with various groups left bickering over fringe politics as the Old Fogeys of the Entrenched Establishment fight with young firebrands for influence and control – internecine rivalries exacerbated by party “rules” and edicts that appear good for some, but not for all.
It is just one reason I remain a heathen No Party Affiliate – choosing to trust my own jaded instincts and sources of information (namely my highly attuned six senses) over the fear mongering and puffery that now passes for “news” – or the ravings of some ideologue with a God complex.
Recently, Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post was taken into the maw of what passes for Florida’s ethics apparatus – a politically tainted shitshow that even those who work in it will tell you is a farce – when a local operative from Post’s own Republican party filed a petty, mean-spirited complaint that Ms. Post failed to list her mortgaged home as an “asset” and omitted her widely published stipend for elected service from a required financial disclosure form.
According to an explanation published by Ms. Post on social media, the complaint against her was brought by Phyllis Stauffenberg, a long-time mover-and-shaker in local Republican politics, who is rarely seen at public meetings without her sidekick – Barbara Bonarrigo – a darling of the Volusia County Republican hierarchy who received Ms. Stauffenberg’s personal endorsement during her run against Ms. Post for the District 4 seat last year:
“It is very evident the ridiculous complaints were filed with the state ethics committee by this member of the RECVC (Republican Executive Committee of Volusia County) for the group and their handlers to be able to claim that I was “investigated for ethics violations” by the state in an attempt to continue to perpetuate the false, ill reputation they have worked so hard to portray me as.”
Of course, Ms. Stauffenberg defended her actions in the grammatical nightmare below, claiming Ms. Post is suffering some delusional paranoia (as excerpted):
“Most assuredly, Heather Post, I am NEVER, and I mean “NEVER” Prompted by ANYONE. Certainly NOT the RECVC. After all, isn’t that the party by which you stand? You, my dear, are “barking” up the wrong tree. It is my habit to Critique candidates. It is what I do. If, in fact, there are discrepancies, I will, without doubt, pursue appropriate action. It matters NOT to me what platform or party candidates, or elected officials hold. I have, I fact, been in regular contact with the Ethics Commission.”
(Oddly, I have noticed that whenever anyone publicly challenges these partisan hacks – on either side of the aisle – or speaks out against the status quo, the immediate defense mechanism is to brand them a raving paranoiac in a weird form of political gaslighting.)
In my view, this was a classic example of the ethics process being weaponized – not to bring a scoundrel who uses their public office for personal gain to justice – but to smear a sitting politician and give a partisan candidate an advantage in a supposedly non-partisan election.
Look, its not like Councilwoman Post was hiding assets in some offshore account in the Seychelles, funneling ‘dark money’ to remunerate a “ghost” candidate, or paying off young “escorts” with no-show jobs, right?
She had a mix-up on a form – a scrivener’s error that she later corrected – but her oversight left an opening for a cheap shot, something you can set your watch by in Volusia County politics, and it appears Inspector Stauffenberg and, according to Ms. Post, the Republican Executive Committee of Volusia County, took full advantage of it.
But why would a staunch Republican like Ms. Stauffenberg put a sitting elected official from her own party through the mill over a trivial clerical mistake?
In my view, like Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower – Ms. Post is not who the gatekeepers in the local Republican power structure, and the uber-wealthy insiders they represent, wanted (or needed?) in office.
While their opponents – perennial politicians and malleable candidates who were hand-selected from the ranks of the faithful (regardless of whether they knew a damn thing about local issues) – were gifted glowing endorsements at elegant fundraisers hosted by “Rich & Powerful” benefactors and B-list politicians, and received lavish campaign contributions from those who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast – Post and Brower were left to founder – shunned like political lepers, while their good names were besmirched with virulent attack ads and lies on glossy mailers paid for by mysterious political action committees (including one chaired by Brower’s incumbent opponent).
Anyone remember Volusia Citizens for Good Governance?
Ethics? My ass.
Fortunately, the grassroots voters and taxpayers had a better idea.
We made our voice heard, loud-and-clear, at the ballot box last year – and announced to those entrenched politicians who have repeatedly told us to shut-up and sit-down that it was time for a change in the civic, social, and economic stagnation that has made Volusia County a cautionary tale throughout Central Florida and beyond.
Now, Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post are paying a heavy price for their independence – all while those darlings of the status quo primp and preen for their stodgy Old Guard puppeteers who are desperate to hang onto what little they still control, regardless of the means or methods required.