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.