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 Marc Bernier
For over 30-years, award-winning broadcast journalist and titan of local media, WNDB’s Marc Bernier, brought a better understanding of the world around us – and gave a voice to the disenfranchised – through his incredibly popular radio forum where the issues of the day could be discussed, opinions debated, and frustrations aired in a fair, inclusive, and open give-and-take.
Marc once said, “Dealing with an area like Central Florida, it is imperative that residents have a place where they can air their feelings on local happenings. I’m happy to host a forum for that.”
Several years ago, I enjoyed lunch with Marc and his frequent contributor, former Holly Hill City Commissioner Arthur “The Flame” Byrnes. I was extremely flattered to discover that Marc was a loyal reader of Barker’s View.
As a skilled critic of local news and opinion, Marc was among the first to encourage these fumbling editorials – graciously explaining that he felt this blogsite represented an important alternative voice in the community – and he frequently promoted Barker’s View by reading my screeds on-air to highlight contemporary issues in Volusia County.
His mentions were always a source of personal pride – and the fact he could move comfortably with our civic and political elite – interviewing newsmakers from Washington to Tallahassee – yet still find time to compliment and inspire a nobody like me is a testament to his inherent kindness and good nature.
By any metric, Marc was the consummate talk radio host, truly interested in the subject at hand, with the inherent ability to make his guests feel like the center of attention – and his eloquence, sophisticated sense of humor, and depth of knowledge made the dialog feel effortless.
Many area politicians made their bones (or crashed and burned) during one of Marc’s enlightening question-and-answer sessions.
The Marc Bernier Show had a deep bench with an eclectic group of contributors that represent the best and brightest in local politics – civic icons like Pat Northey, Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Jim Purdy, Arthur Byrnes, Jim Rose, Dwight Selby – notable personalities he affectionately called “The Volusianaries” – including the multitalented Mike Scudiero, Marc’s dear friend and protégé, who I consider one of the best political minds anywhere.
I was most impressed with Marc’s astonishing work ethic.
For years, he kept an exhausting schedule – providing news and commentary on WNDB’s morning programming from 7:00am to 9:00am – then researching topics and representing advertisers before his regular 3:00pm to 6:00pm slot, along with a slate of weekend programs, which ran the gamut from gardening, personal finance, books, and restaurant reviews.
According to www.marcberniershow.com :
“In January 2009, Marc was added to the staff at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University serving as Special Assistant to the President for Government and Community affairs and serves as the moderator and producer of “The President’s Speakers Series,” a program of interviews with public policy experts on foreign and domestic policy before a live audience. In August of 2019, Marc moved the Speaker Series to Daytona State College with a focus on local and regional issues utilizing experts and DSC faculty to the mix in moderated discussion.”
In perhaps his most important role, Marc helped foster positive change in local government, shining a bright light on the issues and policymakers, while remaining accepting and respectful of differing points of view – and as our politics became more polarized, more acerbic, and divisive, Mr. Bernier proved the value of a voice of reason – progressing and elevating the discussion with wit, humor, and an enduring love for the community he served so well, for so long.
Last Saturday evening this important and always eloquent voice, one which provided such keen insight on local, national, and international affairs, a friend and mentor to so many, was silenced by complications of COVID-19.
Sadly, Marc’s once bright stage has gone dark – just when we need him most – and we are all lesser for his profound absence.
The incomparable Marc Bernier was 65-years old.
Angel DeLand Economic Development Director Nick Conte
Regardless of where you stand on recreational and medicinal marijuana – make no mistake – in time it is coming to a shop near you as cannabis rapidly becomes mainstream in much of America.
According to reports, a 2019 Pew Research survey revealed that 67% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana – more than double the number in 2000 at 31%.
Some 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana for adults above the age of 21, and landmark reform legislation known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act is set to be voted on later this year which would legalize the substance throughout the U.S.
Experts estimate that cannabis and its related products and ephemera will become a $100 Billion industry by 2030.
I am perhaps the only former law enforcement executive you know who advocates the legalization of recreational and medicinal marijuana – and while I’m not exactly Tommy Chong – I believe doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. . .
In my view, smart communities are embracing controlled cannabis cultivation, sales, jobs, dispensaries, and the resulting revenue – literally getting in on the ground floor of this burgeoning industry which last year posted an annual sales increase of nearly 70% ($17.5 billion according to Forbes) during the depths of the pandemic.
On Monday, the City of DeLand announced a huge catch when the community landed Cookies, LLC, a highly respected and long-established provider of premium cannabis products in regulated markets nationwide.
According to a press release by DeLand’s impressive Community Information Manager Chris Graham:
“COOKIES LLC, a leading provider of top-of-the-line cannabis products, announced today they are embarking on a project in DeLand to launch their Florida headquarters – a project that will represent a $100 million capital investment and eventually bring 400 jobs to our community.
“On behalf of the City, I want to welcome COOKIES to our community,” said Mayor Robert F. Apgar. “COOKIES’ total investment will represent one of the largest in the commercial sector in our City’s history and will help create hundreds of high-paying jobs for our area over time. COOKIES is an outstanding organization, and I am looking forward to watching them become an integral part of DeLand.”
According to reports, Cookies, LLC, which last year acquired one of Florida’s 22 medical marijuana treatment center licenses, will cultivate, grow, process, and distribute cannabis products from the Northwest Industrial Business Park near the DeLand Airport – operating from a 400,000 square foot facility once owned by the Brunswick Corporation – which includes some 20-acres of adjacent undeveloped industrial land for planned expansion.
According to the city’s incredibly talented Economic Development Director Nick Conte – who should rightfully be credited with bringing this project to fruition – Cookies, LLC is expected to bring some 400 new jobs to Volusia County – with senior managerial positions paying between $100,000 and $200,000 annually.
I know, I know – the “hangers-on” like those dullards over at the “Good ol’ Boys Travel Club” at Team Volusia are clamoring for recognition as budgets are being decided.
I can assure you this project became a reality thanks to the hard work and perseverance of Director Conte – an old-school negotiator who shoots straight from the hip with an impressive track record of bringing solid business and industry to those fortunate communities he serves.
It is no secret that I’ve never been a fan of the corporate welfare scheme that passes for “economic development” here on the Fun Coast – an elaborate ruse where our gurus over at Team Volusia still list the long-defunct Blue Coast Bakers, LLC of Ormond Beach as employing 300 people – touting it as one of “Volusia County’s Largest Employers.”
It’s a well-known fact that Blue Coast Bakers ceased operations in 2018 and everyone associated with the venture – including the measly “15 to 20” jobs it produced – has been MIA since. . .
Who can forget when Team Volusia CEO Keith Norden said in an October 2019 article by News-Journal business reporter Clayton Park entitled “Where did Blue Coast Bakers go?”:
“I’m not sure what happened,” said Team Volusia CEO Keith Norden, whose group played a key role in bringing Blue Coast Bakers here. “It took so much time for him to get set up, but his equipment was there.”
Don’t take my word for it – see for yourself: https://tinyurl.com/kecafsfy
How in good conscience can the Team Volusia Executive Committee and Board – some very important people representing the best and brightest in Volusia County government, business, education, and industry – continue to allow this sham to continue?
How long will our ‘movers & shakers’ permit Team Volusia to lure unsuspecting enterprises to our area using demonstrably false metrics – potentially destroying our reputation in the process?
Seriously. How long?
In my view, Nick Conte represents the best of municipal economic development practitioners – those dedicated professionals who work with brokers, business owners, and civic leaders to turn the heads of those looking to establish or relocate their enterprise by helping create an inviting community with a vibrant city center, attractive amenities, and a level playing field where people naturally want to live, work, learn, and play.
Kudos to Director Conte, Mayor Apgar, City Manager Michael Pleus, and their impressive team at the City of DeLand for having the inspired vision to partner with Cookies, LLC.
Quote of the Week
“In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” (a film 70 years old, taken from a short story by American author Philip Stern, who said the plot came to him in a dream), the main character, George Bailey, contemplates the meaning of his life. He has spent his entire life giving of himself to the people of Bedford Falls and now reflects morosely on his perceived failures. His compassion has been directed to helping ordinary people in his community, those who have mortgages and rents to pay, families to care for, without seeking self-aggrandizement.
The story is relevant in today’s world. We want to see someone like George Bailey in the movies and in life, someone to inspire us and understand their regard for us is real, not feigned for personal ambition, connecting us with each other in groups that may not have otherwise socialized, someone whose ideas influence us to then extend ourselves to others. Essentially, to enhance us with their joy.
And so, I thank you, Gloria Max for being living proof that the George Baileys of the movies do exist.
Thank you for all the ways you have brought people together. Thank you for your knowledge and understanding at the Jewish Federation, knowing the importance of details in how to maintain and maximize food supplies, and other programs which results in 700-plus backpacks delivered with age-appropriate items, luncheons with thoughtful gifts (when they can resume) for the elderly; programs financed with extensive fundraising, radio appearances, newsletters, and, through it all, demonstrating how to appreciate all people — those who contribute and those who stand in line.
Thank you for writing and reading “thank you” letters. I’ll never forget hearing you read so poignantly some of the ones you received at a ceremony in order for others to hear what each dollar goes toward in making life less severe for the oppressed, reminding us how life’s events can quickly overtake ordinary people facing overwhelming difficulties and just how much your type of competent personalized outreach is critical during those times.
In your current Rosh Hashanah appeal, you quote the Talmud: “We rise by raising others, and he who bends over to aid the fallen, stands erect” — a mission reflected in your professional stature as director of the Jewish Federation.
During “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George is shown flashbacks of what his community would have looked like had it not been for all his good deeds over the years. The movie ends with the townspeople surrounding him with love and support, toasting him as the “richest man in town” due to all his friends.
Thank you, Gloria, for your durability, regardless of health challenges and stressful times, for making our lives richer by being the one person we can count on to make a difference. May you continue to endure and endear!
–Sara Crane, Port Orange, Ormond Beach Observer Letters to the Editor, “Thanks to Gloria Max for her ‘wonderful’ service,” Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Thank you, Gloria Max.
For showing us, by your wonderful example, the transformative power of simply doing the right thing for the right reasons – the epitome of ‘a real mensch.’
A true angel among us. . .
And Another Thing!
I recently posted a response to Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice’s resurrection of the tired “consolidation” scam – a Sunday screed wherein Mr. Rice reasoned that if the municipalities merge essential services and facilities, and small communities go away altogether, costs could be lowered with a corresponding reduction in taxes – suggesting that ending “duplication” would somehow lower government spending.
Bigger government always finds a way to grow exponentially.
Don’t take my word for it. Take a gander at that unwieldy brute known as Volusia County government – and the grisly fate that befalls anyone who attempts to reign it in.
Invariably, any economies of scale are lost to the inherent bureaucratic inefficiencies, service delivery is reduced for smaller consumers who no longer have a voice, as the behemoth gobbles resources, builds Taj Mahal facilities, and ultimately increases taxes and fees to satiate the hungry colossus – all while local control becomes non-existent – and the unique character and identity of established communities is erased in favor of the “bigger is always better” myth.
As a product of a small town – where citizens have come to expect almost personalized essential services – I can assure you that residents of Ormond Beach, Holly Hill, South Daytona, Ponce Inlet, Daytona Beach Shores, New Smyrna Beach, DeLand, Lake Helen, etc., have no desire to abandon their highly responsive municipal services, civic stability, and hometown pride for the shit-show of dysfunction and kingdom building inherent to larger governments.
Especially when (between the constant bickering and bitchery on the dais) their elected representatives on the Volusia County Council constantly moan the Poormouth Blues – with the so-called “conservative” majority demanding a tax increase, spinning flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories of the Armageddon-like consequences of even suggesting that this bloated bureaucracy tighten its belt – now that it commands an annual budget of over $1 Billion.
Trust me, your growing indignation is justified.
It takes real cheek to demand more blood from the turnip as area residents and small businesses, many still reeling from the devastating economic effects of the pandemic, are forced to boil and eat their own belts to survive.
On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council gathered in special session for the arduous task of determining how to allocate some $107 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds – a federal giveaway your great-grandchildren will still be paying for – designed to support “urgent” coronavirus response efforts, stabilize businesses and households, replace “lost revenue” for eligible local governments, save jobs, and “address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the inequal impact of the pandemic.”
You’ll be relieved to know that a portion of that manna from heaven has been earmarked for crucial public health safeguards and exigent economic challenges – to include a “rotunda upgrade,” bathroom renovations, and a fountain reconstruction at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center, etc. . .
I’ll sleep better knowing that.
Then our eagle-eyed elected watchdogs sharpened their pencils and rolled up their sleeves, as the much-anticipated budget discussion got underway.
It is always interesting to watch this annual Kabuki production – all take and no give – a shim-sham “negotiation” in name only which resulted in some comical slapstick as our elected dullards made the tough calls – giving the thumbs up-or-down on draconian spending cuts.
I’m talking real bloodletting here – like whether to reduce the number of times portable toilets on the beach are emptied (a sanitary seven days a week, or a disgusting four? Hey, what do you want for your $20 day pass, beach access AND a clean shitter? Covid-Schmovid, right?) – reducing field trips for those pitiful Dickensian tikes participating in summer recreation programs from three to two, staunching that financial arterial bleed known as beach ramp sweeping, and the gut-wrenching elimination or downsizing of a few already vacant positions.
When our elected representatives were done hacking that thick rind of fat off this distended hog the floor of the chamber looked like an abattoir. . .
In total, the council whittled a trifling $2.8 million from the budget, most of that savings came from eliminating $1.6 million earmarked for “economic development” incentives and infrastructure – which still leaves over $8 million in that corporate welfare slush fund.
Many will be relieved to know that regular beach Port-o-Let cleaning, and the summer field trips, were saved.
Regular beach ramp sweeping and professional printing for even more gaudy signage for toll kiosks were not. . .
In a major cost saving measure, three beach ramps – two in Daytona Beach and one in New Smyrna Beach – will be closed during the “off season” when the strand looks like a ghost town, open only on weekends.
I don’t make this shit up, folks.
The faux-handwringing resulted in a paltry 3.8% departure from County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald’s “recommended budget” of $1.1 Billion – a wholly symbolic gesture which, in essence, said, “See we gave you insufferable crybabies something, now shut up, and pay up.”
Like throwing a deck chair off the Queen Mary. . .
Then, the directors and department heads, each commanding six-figures, sauntered back to the comfort of their offices in the Thomas C. Kelly administration center with a clean conscience – safe in the knowledge that they ‘fooled ‘em again’ – and got every bureaucrat in the building a $1,000 bonus in the process.
Trust me – you don’t have to be The Amazing Kreskin to get one over on this bunch. . .
Of course, the Gang of Four (with the Very Reverend Fred Lowry inexplicably absent. Again?) engaged in some Oscar-worthy performances when describing the catastrophic results of asking Volusia County government to cut their tax-strapped constituents a break at a time when the monstrous bureaucracy is awash in over $107 million in free money from Uncle Sam.
Although the budget requires the formality of a vote on Tuesday, September 7 – the tax increase – however modest our elected officials may claim – is a fait accompli.
In my view, it was heartening to see Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post try valiantly to live up to their commitment to protect Volusia County residents – forcing the tax-and-spend majority to vote up-or-down on individual cuts – while attempting to hold those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest accountable.
Unfortunately, in keeping with the current theme, Post and Brower were summarily outvoted by what Councilman Danny Robins affectionately calls the “strong majority” – a cabal of lockstep marionettes more concerned with protecting the interests of the bureaucracy, senior staff, and the insiders who make their living dragging on the public teat than addressing the very real needs of their constituents.
Good luck, neighbors. We’re gonna need it. . .
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!