A Question of Trust

This week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal broke the disturbing story of Colton Phillips – the son of Tim Phillips, owner of P&S Paving, described by the News-Journal as “one of the most successful businesses in Daytona Beach,” and a member of the incredibly powerful CEO Business Alliance – a young man who just three years ago “…faced up to 15 years in prison for his role in what investigators called the “The Colton Phillips Drug Trafficking Organization…”

This is no reflection on the Phillips family.  Kids will embarrass you.  That’s what they do. 

Some grow out of it.  Others, not so much.

But this goes beyond youthful indiscretion. . .

In 2018, investigators from the East Volusia Narcotics Task Force found Colton Phillips and his co-conspirators in possession of some 2.8 pounds of cocaine, 4.25 pounds of methamphetamine, vials of testosterone, marijuana, “a large amount of cash,” computers, and drug paraphernalia at his Daytona Beach home. 

According to the report, the organization was suspected of importing one kilogram of cocaine into Volusia County from California each month.  In turn, Phillips sold the illicit drugs to his roommate – identified as Arad Radfar – who then trafficked the substance on something called the “dark web.” 

From what I gather, this wasn’t the most sophisticated bunch of dopers in that shadowy world – something akin to a spoiled Little Lord Fauntleroy meets Miami Vice story – openly communicating their nefarious activities via text message, shipping cocaine through the mail, and employing some drug-addled kid as a runner.

Regardless, the cost in lives destroyed and the corrosive impact of illicit drugs on our community is incalculable.    

According to the outstanding reportage of the News-Journal’s Frank Fernandez, in 2019, all public records related to the Phillips case were mysteriously sealed and “vanished from public view” for more than a year. 

In October 2020, an attorney for Gannett, the parent company of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, was successful in having the documents unsealed and open for public view later that year.

According to reports, in November 2018, State Attorney R. J. Larizza’s office “…filed nine charges against Phillips. They included three first-degree felonies including trafficking in cocaine more than 400 grams and trafficking in methamphetamine, as well as multiple third-degree felony and misdemeanor drug charges.

Phillips entered a plea of no contest to all nine counts in his plea agreement. Based on sentencing guidelines filed in the case, he scored a lowest permissible prison sentence of 179.40 months, which works out to 14.95 years in state prison.”

Officials say that following his arrest, Colton Phillips provided substantial assistance in ancillary investigations – cooperation which earned him an unheard-of plea deal of 15-years’ probation, forfeiture of two vehicles, $19,020 in cash, and reimbursement for costs associated with the investigation – while his co-conspirator, Radfar, was deported to Iran on an immigration violation where he was most likely welcomed home a national hero for helping weaken the fabric of our society. . .

In addition, Phillips was specifically prohibited by the terms of his probation from consuming alcohol – and reports indicate he spent a stint in a residential rehabilitation facility. 

“The plea deal waived a fine of $262,000” and prosecutors put aside minimum mandatory sentences paving the way for the extended probation. 

Plea agreements are nothing new – they happen every day and are an important part of our criminal justice system – especially for first time offenders like Phillips – and I believe the State Attorney’s spokesman who said, “All actions taken by every agency involved in this case were appropriate efforts to achieve the investigatory goals of utilizing the “dark web” to seize illegal drugs and disrupt their distribution networks locally and nationally.”

He also had a damn fine criminal defense attorney in Aaron Delgado.

But given the serious nature of the charges – Colton’s “deal” left many questioning whether his family’s prominence and powerful political connections had more to do with the extraordinary leniency he received than any information he provided. 

Because that is the sorry state of the public’s trust in once unquestioned institutions here on the Fun Coast – a place where political influence is seemingly traded like a commodity through a skewed campaign finance process, and people frequently confuse the size of someone’s bank account with their civic vision, confusing selfishness with altruism, something that has cost local government the confidence of its constituents – and resulted in every policy or legislative action subject to the question, ‘Who benefits?’      

Is that accurate?  I hope not.

But from hard-earned experience I know perception is reality in matters of official fairness – and our criminal justice system stands or falls on the trust and respect of those it exists to serve.  That is why those who serve within it have such a high duty to defend the integrity of the process.    

Inconceivably, after being given what Circuit Judge Dennis Craig described as “The deal of the century” – supervised probation which specifically prohibits Phillips from visiting bars or consuming alcohol – in late August, Colton Phillips was found in a blatant state of intoxication – I’m talkin’ shitfaced – clearly in actual physical control of his running pick-up truck in a parking lane at Biggins Gentlemen’s Club in Daytona Beach Shores. 

Yeah.  You read that right.

An employee of the establishment confirmed that Phillips drank a beer (before being cut off due to his state of intoxication) inside the bar. 

Let’s just say things went downhill from there. . .

I spent my entire adult life in law enforcement, coming up through the ranks, working in every operational and administrative post in my agency – including extensive experience in narcotics investigations – and I know better than most the physical and political pitfalls inherent to serving and protecting from the impossible damned if you do, damned if you don’t position behind a badge.

That is why I rarely second-guess the on-scene decisions of working police officers – but what happened during this encounter is undeniably confusing – and concerning.   

For reasons that remain murky, rather than arrest Phillips for the obvious DUI – the officers also opted to release Colton on his own recognizance for the glaring probation violation – then an on-duty Daytona Beach Shores Public Safety officer gave him a “courtesy ride” home. 

In explaining her call to another officer, as seen on a body-worn camera video, the officer is overheard saying, “This is not a traditional way we handle things.  But it’s making the best of what could be a messy situation.”



Yeah.  I know. . .

Fortunately, the officer clearly made the decision to release Phillips before he pulled the old “Do you know who I am?” jive – directing an investigating officer to, “Look up who my dad is” – then slurring his way through a blathering explanation of the area roads his father’s company has paved.

When the investigating officer asked Colton who is father was, he dropped “Tim Phillips” like he was laying down a Royal Flush. . .   

After that, things got, well, weird.

As the field interview continued, one young officer gushed about how “my chick” was at the Phillips’ “place” (a Flagler County ranch owned by Tim Phillips) in Bunnell the day before – mentioning other prominent names who were apparently also in attendance – before reminding Colton of the obvious:

“Your dad is a very wealthy man.”

Yeah.  Ugh

Then, after officers assumed the extraordinary liability of directing an employee of Biggins to park Colton’s truck (?) – because he was too “twisted” to drive it – Phillips was given a “courtesy ride” home. . .


As a crusty retired police supervisor said to me after watching the disturbing video, “I thought we stopped giving drunks a ride home twenty-years ago? – then proceeded to recite a litany of good officers and former law enforcement executives who had their careers ruined over the mere appearance of favoritism in criminal cases.     

There is a kernel of wisdom in that for the young officers depicted in this video.    

To their credit, the Daytona Beach Shores Department of Public Safety charged Phillips for the probation violation, and he will appear before Judge Craig to answer for his actions in November.

Trust me.  Many will be watching to see if Colton’s string of extraordinary luck continues – or if he gets a wake-up call – a dose of reality beyond the six-month curfew suggested by the Office of Community Corrections. 

It is important, because Mr. Phillips’ unusual good fortune now has many questioning the basic fairness and impartiality of our justice system.

That is unacceptable. 

Look, I am familiar with many of the public officials and prosecutors involved in the News-Journal article – all dedicated professionals, including DBSPS Director Stephan Dembinsky, who is one of the finest law enforcement executives I know – and I consider them honorable people who perform a difficult and dangerous job protecting our community and seeking justice with great skill. 

They do not need a washed-up has-been like me to lecture them from the comfort of a Barcalounger regarding the perception of preferential treatment for some entitled poor little rich kid with a silver spoon – who, by all appearances, could give two-shits about the provisions of his generous probation.    

As the News-Journal’s article rightly pointed out, “While the decision not to take Phillips to jail or charge him with DUI may have been questionable, it did not appear to have anything to do with the prominence of his father, Tim Phillips, owner of P&S Paving and a member of the CEO Business Alliance.”

But there is no denying that the suggestion of privilege and undue advantage is what made this story newsworthy in the first place – and why I felt compelled to write about it’s corrosive effect on the public trust.  

The fact is, even the insinuation of favoritism and cronyism undermines the foundational underpinnings of our system – the assurance of basic fairness and impartiality – where no one is above, or beneath, the law.

Unfortunately, many in the community who have reached out to me since this sordid story broke feel very differently about the appearance of things. . . 

That loss of confidence in our system of justice disturbs me more than watching the life of a clearly troubled young man unravel like a cheap spool of rotten yarn in full view of the community he continues to thumb his nose at.

Like many of you, I sincerely hope Colton Phillips gets the help he needs – and our community receives the protection from this irresponsible behavior we deserve.    

Angels & Assholes for October 29, 2021

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was.

Angel               Daytona Beach City Commission

Last week, the Daytona Beach City Commission held a workshop to discuss exciting changes to the northern end of Beach Street and east Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard – including a potential roundabout and flood mitigation projects at the intersection of Fairview Avenue.

According to reports, the $8 million Beach Street Streetscape Phase II will include new lighting, improved parking to accommodate events at the Esplanade, wider sidewalks, and the potential for decorative medians and other enhancements to improve the dog-tired area from Bay Street to Fairview Avenue and MMB Boulevard from Ridgewood Avenue to Beach Street. 

I was pleasantly surprised that Mayor Derrick Henry called for additional meetings to allow for public input before the tough decisions are made – a process that has not always been as transparent or inclusive when considering high-profile public projects.

In fact, it seemed that previous Beach Street streetscape projects were ramrodded through without any concern for the needs or wants of downtown merchants. 

Add to that the economic stress caused by the interminable Veterans Memorial Bridge construction, speculation about what, if any, direct impact the Brown & Brown headquarters would have on area businesses, and a previously uncommunicative administration – and one can better understand the gaping divide between City Hall and some who make their living downtown.     

Now, there is a ray of hope. 

In my view, there are some innovative ideas on the table – and making the connection between Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard and downtown represents a leap forward for the historically neglected Mid-Down business district – and a more comprehensive approach to the community’s placemaking efforts. 

Like many of you, Downtown Daytona was a big part of my life growing up – and it remains critical to the success of the mosaic of unique communities that comprise the Halifax area.   

It is where we shopped as a family on Saturdays, went to the movies, and enjoyed every kid’s favorite – the magical toy department at Dunn Brothers.  Unfortunately, we all watched the slow death of this once bustling area when the Volusia Mall came to town and the focus turned west. 

Sound familiar?   

After several fits-and-starts – with the $25 million renovation of the Brown Esplanade slogging toward completion, and rumors of a potential 250-unit apartment complex on a long-vacant site north of International Speedway Boulevard – it appears things are really starting to happen downtown. 

Kudos to Mayor Henry, City Manager Deric Feacher, and the Daytona Beach City Commission for tapping the brakes on this important project to allow time for citizen input – creating an avenue for community involvement in civic planning – personal contributions that allow residents to have real‘skin in the game,’ something that has been sorely missing from the visioning process.

Now it is important for citizens, property owners, established businesses, and entrepreneurs to get involved.    

In addition, the Florida Department of Transportation is hosting a public charrette on Wednesday, November 10, 2021, at the Ocean Center, 101 North Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach, between 5:30pm and 7:00pm.

The community planning session will allow residents input on proposed transportation solutions for segments of Atlantic Avenue, the horror show that is East International Speedway Boulevard, Main Street, Seabreeze Boulevard, and the Nightmare on Oakridge Boulevard.

If you care about the future of our core tourist area – this one’s important.   

Look, my suggestions for the future of downtown are no better, or worse, than yours. 

But when the best concepts of both are identified and discussed – the debate of competing ideas can help produce something transformative – a shared vision that is no longer “mine” or “yours,” but “ours.” 

Angel               The Root Family

Many thanks to the Halifax area’s first family of compassionate philanthropy for their recent gift of $500,000 to cover administrative costs of the United Way of Volusia and Flagler Counties. 

This generous donation will help offset operational expenses allowing every dollar received from charitable giving to support partner agencies.    

With little recognition, The Root Family Foundation has been a long-time philanthropic supporter of worthy local causes, to include investments in education, the arts, and innovative health initiatives in Volusia County.

The Halifax area is blessed with a precious few families and foundations committed to improving our quality of life and helping those less fortunate through their substantial giving to service and charitable organizations. 

The Root family continues to express its care and generosity in meaningful ways, and this substantial gift will help the United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties fund twenty-two programs at 17 local nonprofits focusing on Education, Financial Stability, and Health.

Angel               Herbert M. Davidson Award Recipients

This evening, the Halifax area’s civic, social, political, and economic elite will join at the Hard Rock Daytona for an elegant soiree celebrating the outstanding community service of Mr. Joe Petrock and the incomparable Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.     

The Herbert M. Davidson Memorial Award for Outstanding Community Service is named in honor of the former longtime publisher of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, whose generosity and vision helped promote the arts and fostered social, civic, and economic improvement in Volusia County.

The honor is presented annually to those individuals who have demonstrated exceptional service to our community.   

According to a recent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “This year, because the awards were not given in 2020, two people will receive the award.”

“One is Joe Petrock, executive director of the Halifax Health Foundation. According to the Community Foundation, Petrock has been “a business and community leader for decades.” He has raised millions of dollars in donations for the Halifax Health Hospital and various charities.”

The other continues to serve as an internationally recognized symbol of hope and an inspiration for the ages. 

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune – a champion of education and civil rights – who founded Bethune-Cookman University and is considered the Matriarch of Daytona Beach, will also receive the award in memory of her generational contributions to the betterment of humankind.

Fittingly, the impressive Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via will receive the Community Foundation of Volusia & Flagler Counties’ Young Leader Award for his extraordinary service and leadership! 

Mayor Via has served as a member of the Holly Hill City Commission since 2016 and was elected to his first term as mayor two-years later at just 28 years old. He was elected to a second term in 2020.

During his tenure, Mayor Via has boldly led an exciting renaissance in “The City with a Heart” – to include the development and expansion of the incredibly successful Pictona at Holly Hill – a true community sports and fitness destination that has brought international recognition to Volusia County.   

Well deserved, Mayor Via!

Asshole           Ormond Beach City Commission

In a recent Letter to the Editor of the Ormond Beach Observer, resident Lori Bennett made a cogent point about the Ormond Beach City Commission:

“Citizen requests are routinely denied and ignored. We need a lifesaving emergency room center for the beachside to replace the razed hospital, more beach parking to supplement the Andy Romano Park — which we had to vote to tax ourselves millions to get — preservation of historic buildings, conservation of what’s left of the Loop, and restoration of Ormond development rules that once protected trees, wetlands, and green space.

The current City Commission continues to spend millions of dollars on projects we don’t want while refusing to consider items we do want. In Ormond Beach, it appears the public agenda has been replaced by a private, special interest agenda.”

Unlike our elected officials, Ms. Bennett clearly has her finger on what is important to Ormond Beach residents – and what is not. 

Recently, I wrote a screed on the issue of Ormond Beach donating $20,000 in public funds to help fund a $52,000 plinth to support a privately commissioned bronze statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, which will stand in the Brown Esplanade in Daytona Beach.

The charitable gift to a non-profit committee came just weeks after city officials raised taxes and increased the budget at a time when municipal coffers are overflowing with reserve funds and federal pandemic relief money.

I was recently reminded by an astute BV reader of the famous soldier, politician, and frontiersman Davy Crockett’s thoughts on the use of public funds for private charity during discussion of the congressional appropriation of federal funds to support the widow of a distinguished United States naval officer.  

When Congressman Crockett took the floor, he said:

“We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money.”

After Col. Crockett offered to donate one-week of his personal salary to the cause – and invited his colleagues to do likewise – well, naturally, the bill died a quick death. . .

It is called pompous politicians putting their own money where their mouth is.  Not mine.

In my view, these limitations on the use of our hard-earned tax dollars are as prudent today as they were then – especially true when members of the Ormond Beach Police Department were in attendance – desperately attempting to educate the City Commission on the fact their pay and benefits remain far behind many department’s in the region – at a time when the recruitment and retention of professional law enforcement officers is increasingly difficult.

With the specter of the colossal Avalon Park looming on the community’s southern border and talk of bringing a new 143-lot subdivision to the already congested area of North Tymber Creek Road and Airport Road – developments that will place increasing pressure on our police department, utilities, roads, and essential public services – perhaps it is time our elected officials start looking after those who risk their lives to serve and protect our community before writing checks for “nice to have” items which should rightfully be funded with private donations, like a statuary base that will stand in a neighboring city.     

To his credit, in casting the lone dissenting vote opposing the use of public funds for the private work, Commissioner Troy Kent rightly explained, “It’s not me writing a check for $20,000,” Kent said. “It’s easy to do that, I think, when it’s not coming out of my personal account.”

As I have said, Mr. Kent and I rarely agree – on anything.

But his assessment of this glaring misuse of tax dollars is spot-on.

In my view, it is high time for Mayor Bill Partington and the rest of the City Commission to get their head in the game and look for more appropriate funding sources – you know, like they flippantly directed when grassroots activists from Dream Green Volusia begged for help in preserving a threatened section of the Ormond Scenic Loop – an environmental treasure that is actually located within the city limits. 

Look, residents of Florida’s Fun Coast are a generous sort – especially when it comes to preserving our unique cultural and environmental assets – and we have consistently proven our willingness to set something aside for that express purpose. 

Last year, I joined 72% of Volusia County voters in supporting the continuation of the Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO programs – the latter committed to providing, “…grant funds to finance acquisition, restoration, construction or improvement of facilities to be used for environmental, cultural, historical and outdoor recreational purposes.”

Two key aspects of the Volusia ECHO program are:

“Foster public memory and community identity by promoting and providing access to destinations and experiences associated with past events, peoples, and places within the County of Volusia.”

And “Improve the quality of life for Volusia’s citizens by providing access to the cultural arts, increase cultural based tourism, and encourage redevelopment and revitalization of downtown and urban areas through the provision of cultural arts facilities.”

In my view, Volusia ECHO represents the perfect funding source for this incredibly important statue – one which will be enjoyed by generations to come – in a place of reflection and contemplation of the extraordinary contributions of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune to Daytona Beach and beyond. 

Quote of the Week

“I love the Northern mockingbirds and I enjoy hearing them sing, during the day or all night. Why does it matter if other states have the same state bird? … Our pristine natural habitat is being destroyed; I rarely see or hear the mockingbirds anymore! Let the Northern mockingbird remain our official state bird and try to protect their environment — along with many other species that call Florida their home!”

–Patricia Page, Ponce Inlet, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, USA Today Florida Network, “Don’t kill the mockingbird,” Saturday, October 23, 2021

Florida residents are up in arms – and they should be.

But not for the reasons you might think.   

Inexplicably, the hottest topic ahead of the 2022 legislative session isn’t the pandemic, the growing labor shortage that is crippling many small businesses, Florida’s horribly broken unemployment system, preventing another deadly condominium collapse, malignant overdevelopment, our threatened water supply, or stopping the environmental destruction that has resulted in the death of scores of manatees, shorebirds, fish, and mollusks in the Indian River Lagoon. 

Instead, all eyes are fixed on an absurd bill filed by Tampa State Senator Jeff Brandes “rescinding the designation of the mockingbird as the state bird” – a measure that represents either the worst joke in the history of state politics, or the greatest strategic distraction ever perpetrated on a disinterested constituency. 

In turn, lawmakers have filed two additional bills – supported by at least one grassroots petition – to strip the Northern Mockingbird of its title as Florida’s State Bird – a designation it has held since 1927.


Because Brandes thinks it would be a “fun thing to debate.”

What a crock of shit. . .

At a time when our state and nation are facing serious internal and external threats – during one of the most divisive periods in history, where families and neighbors are irretrievably split along political and ideological lines – and once trusted news sources and institutions have turned their focus to fighting the inane culture wars and fanning the flames of partisan discord – these giddy elected dipshits want to waste precious time arguing inconsequential nonsense?

My God.

Even The Daytona Beach News-Journal got into the act – multiple times – with cute op/eds legitimizing this idiocy, including suggesting the equivalent of handing out participation trophies to all birds in the state:

“At the same time, however, we don’t think Florida should have to settle for the mockingbird. We’re Florida. We need something big, noisy, bright, and unique to us.

So how about this. Florida’s new state bird is: Bird.”

My ass.

The piece then launched into some drivel about protecting “…the shorelines, the marshes, the rivers that contribute so much to this state’s quality of life,” even as the editorial board wallowed in environmental politics just weeks before, cutting Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower off at the knees, and arrogantly pooh-poohing a recent push for a small pilot project to evaluate an innovative technology that may help with efforts to restore the threatened Indian River Lagoon. . .

Since we’re all weighing in, I think the official avian representative of the Sunshine State should be the Dodo Bird – an extinct flightless bird which once inhabited the island of Mauritius, which, like most of our elected officials – has absolutely nothing in common with the citizens of the State of Florida – a pathetic order driven to extinction by wholesale slaughter, greed, and invasive species – all while its habitat was destroyed by human intervention.   

A bird considered to be dull-witted, too trusting, and easily duped – now, like Florida Man, an internationally recognized symbol of stupidity.

Sound familiar? 

Interestingly, Sen. Brandes is flogging support for his asinine resolution online with the hashtag “#Wecandobetter”. 

Ain’t that the damn truth? 

Perhaps Florida lawmakers should consider making that the official state slogan. . .

And Another Thing!

There is a reason many good people will not stand for elective office.

Would you willingly walk into a meatgrinder?    

I know many civic-minded individuals with the acumen, depth of experience, and commonsense to take Volusia County, and its unique municipalities, out of the doldrums and replace the stagnant status quo with inspirational and inclusive leadership.

Unfortunately, many quality candidates for office are turned away by the disgusting nature of modern political contests – the “win at all cost” strategy of mutual assured destruction – where exaggerations, mischaracterizations, and outright lies are weaponized then mass distributed to ensure the spoils go to the contestant who can stoop the lowest, hit the hardest, and operate most comfortably in this blood-soaked shit-trench where nothing is considered immoral, unethical, or unfair.  

Last Saturday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal featured the differences between Daytona Beach City Commission candidates Ken Strickland and Larry McDermott, who are vying for the Zone 2 seat vacated by Aaron Delgado following his move to Ormond Beach over the summer.

It was a story as old as Daytona Beach – where our economy is essentially based on the same five people passing the same nickel around – and as topical as the modern political strategy of those same people using massive campaign contributions to control their environment.

A calculated return on investment – all perfectly permissible under current campaign finance rules – and one that ensures lockstep conformity prevails over innovation or independent thought.    

“Grassroots” vs. “Establishment” – the stark contrast between the voiceless ‘little guy,’ families and small businesses scraping by in this artificial economy, eking out a living amongst the strategic blight, dilapidation, and challenged neighborhoods, struggling to maintain what remains of our quality of life while ‘all the right last names’ – those influential few with a real chip in the game – receive everything they ask for from their malleable elected handmaidens and more.

In her informative article, News-Journal reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean pointed out the true difference between the two candidates:  

Money and powerful“connections.”  

“McDermott is more of the establishment candidate, and he has many more financial contributions from powerful locals who have helped him amass $29,490 in his campaign coffers. Strickland trails far behind with $9,100 in contributions.

But despite fewer connections and campaign dollars, Strickland is the one who collected the most votes in the Sept. 21 special primary election, albeit narrowly.”

That’s true. 

The primary was a tight race with just a handful of votes separating Strickland and McDermott – and I knew it would not be long before the knives came out. . .

Earlier this week, the McDermott campaign cut into his opponent with the ubiquitous ‘glossy mailer’ – which asked Zone 2 voters, “Which one would you hire?” – with contrived comparative resumes listing Ken Strickland’s only accomplishment as having once operated a gentleman’s club in Daytona Beach while touting his own volunteer work on various area boards and committees.   

Ken has made no secret of the fact he owned the Paradise Club in Daytona Beach – which was open for over a decade – that tells me the obviously successful business was perfectly legal and operated within city codes.

To his credit, not once during this campaign has Mr. Strickland attacked his opponent on any level, always keeping laser focus on the issues – conducting himself, and his campaign, with honor and respect.   

I don’t know Larry McDermott – but now I know what he represents. 

I first met Ken during our mutual work on beach driving and access issues – just part of his tireless activism with Sons of the Beach, First Step Shelter, Beachside Neighborhood Watch, and other community-oriented groups – and we have shared a radio microphone discussing the issues of the day on Big John’s public affairs forum GovStuff Live!

Few people have Ken’s depth of civic knowledge, a deep understanding of what is important to residents – true situational awareness gained through dedicated attendance at public meetings – and a civic view shaped by listening to the concerns of his neighbors, not well-heeled insiders.   

By any metric, Ken Strickland has proven himself a vigorous advocate for the citizens of Daytona Beach and a champion for our unique lifestyle in the Halifax area. 

In my view, Ken’s inclusive solutions to the long-term issues we face speak to a different way of thinking – a new way forward.

The choice for Zone 2 voters comes down to a change of tack or more of the same.

As Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower’s overwhelming victory against an entrenched insider proved – We, The Little People have grown to detest the politics of personal destruction – skeevy insinuations and destructive hit pieces by those who are embedded (or indebted?) with the tired stalwarts of the status quo who have overseen the civic deterioration of the Halifax area for far too long.   

In my view, Ken Strickland is a dedicated community servant who represents the best choice for collaboratively addressing the myriad civic, social, environmental, and economic issues during this pivotal time in the city’s history. 

I encourage all Zone 2 voters to get out and vote on Tuesday.

As Ken said, “Votes beat money.” 

He’s right.  Now is the time to do your part and participate in our most sacred civic duty – because, as we have seen time-and-again, political apathy has long-term consequences.    

That’s all for me.  Have a Happy Halloween, y’all!

Soiling our neighbor’s nest

“It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest.”

–Medieval Proverb

But what do we call a dyspeptic avian that also shits in its neighbors nest?

Unfortunately, that’s a question we need to ask ourselves. . .

Way back in the spring of 1987, the tugboat Break of Dawn, towing a garbage scow hauling 3,186 pounds of refuse, sailed from New York harbor moving south along the east coast to a port in North Carolina where plans called for its cargo to be dumped and turned into methane gas by a private contractor. 

When the barge and its crew were refused entry at Morehead City, the vessel became a putrid pariah – an odoriferous international symbol of the byproduct of malignant overdevelopment and the growing problem of what to do with it – bobbing around the Atlantic and Caribbean like a fetid Flying Dutchman, turned away from ports in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Belize and the Bahamas.

Ultimately, the ill-fated vessel returned to New York where its cargo was burned; however, the resulting publicity began discussions that led to residential recycling programs nationwide. 

Then, in a 2013 scandal, the South Carolina Ethics Commission discovered that several state senators were accepting large campaign contributions from waste management firms in the Northeast.  In turn, garbage from New York and New Jersey – including suspected human waste – was being dumped in the Palmetto State, a lucrative arrangement in which the New York Department of Sanitation paid out-of-state landfills some $112 per ton in 2012 dollars.   

That added up to millions-of-dollars annually.    

Remember a few years back when what became known as the “poop train” hauling New York City sewage sludge became stranded in the small hamlet of Parrish, Alabama? 

A 2018 Associated Press article aptly described the smelly mess:

“In Parrish, Alabama, population 982, the sludge-hauling train cars have sat idle near the little league ball fields for more than two months, Mayor Heather Hall said. The smell is unbearable, especially around dusk after the atmosphere has become heated, she said.  “Oh my goodness, it’s just a nightmare here,” she said. “It smells like rotting corpses, or carcasses. It smells like death.”

Due to the astronomical amount of hazardous waste being dumped there, a former Alabama attorney general once described the state as “America’s pay toilet.”

If you think the Sunshine State – or Volusia County – is immune to these problems.  Think again.   

According to a state permitting application, Volusia-based American Bioclean, Inc. is currently seeking permission from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to allow processed human waste – known by the more marketable moniker “Biosolids” in the “residual management” industry – to be hauled from Volusia County and dumped on sensitive land located less than two-miles from Crescent Lake and Silver Lake in South Putnam County.

According to www.nohumansewage.com :

“Class B Biosolids sewage/sludge may contain dangerous heavy metals, carcinogens, radioactive waste, neurotoxins, disease causing bacteria and antibiotic resistant pathogens. It is basically made up of any waste that gets poured down your drain and septic, which can include medical waste, industrial waste and more. This is a highly controversial issue that has landed itself in our backyards. Townships all over the country are desperately trying to stop the spread of this hazardous, concentrated human waste.”

The proposed dump site for Volusia’s bacteria-laden sludge is located near Crescent City in south Putnam County, off Old Highway 17 – property which, according to the Environmental Coalition of Putnam County, contains a “…stream that drains from Silver Lake and runs straight to Crescent Lake at a place called Hurricane Point.”

Ultimately, Crescent Lake – which is on the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s list of impaired waterways – feeds into the St. Johns River.

According to www.dontpooponputnam.org :

“Allowing biosolids to be applied in such close proximity to the lake and watershed, which is already impaired, would be detrimental to the ecosystem, and not honor the TMDL that was put in place to protect it.

If we want to protect the natural resources that make this area the gem that it is, there need to be better protections to safeguard them. No one will want to come to this area or be on the water when algal blooms cause massive fish and bird kills due to elevated phosphorus levels from runoff from Class B Biosolids/Sewage Sludge dumping.”

Sound familiar? 

It should.

In 2018, a massive toxic algal bloom at Blue Cypress Lake in Indian River County – at the headwaters of the threatened St. Johns River – was attributed to runoff from agriculturally applied South Florida Class B biosolids. 

That is the same blue-green algae that is believed responsible for the ulcerated lesions recently found on fish in Lake George and various West Volusia springs along the St. Johns. . .

In my view, the residents of Putnam County are right to oppose the outside dumping of our human waste on their environmentally sensitive land – and many have signed a petition asking local and state officials to prohibit the practice – a move supported by a recent resolution by the City of Crescent City requesting that the Florida Department of Environmental Protect and Putnam County reject the permit request. 

It is high time that elected and appointed officials throughout Volusia County get serious about the deleterious effects of nutrient pollution on the Indian River Lagoon, St. Johns River, and beyond – doing something beyond donning their LL Bean waders for a convenient photo-op – and aggressively employ the legislative process to limit septic leaching and stop the use of sewage sludge near threatened wetlands and estuaries – here and elsewhere.

In my view, that begins with considering reasonable limits on the malignant overdevelopment that has permitted hundreds of cracker box houses in zero-lot-line “theme” communities to be built on top of our aquifer recharge areas and sensitive wetlands – and influencing our state and federal legislative delegation to push for stronger biosolid management regulations. 

Look, I rarely agree with News-Journal editor Pat Rice – about anything – but his Sunday indulgence naming “growth and development” as the greatest driver of local news is completely accurate.

“While many people like what Margaritaville and the growing west side are bringing to Daytona Beach, just as many people don’t like the rapid growth, They question whether it’s really adding value to the area. And yes, the developers building all those new home and stores on Daytona Beach’s west side are prominent.

Growth and development will continue to drive the news in Volusia and Flagler counties, and it will continue to create equal parts happiness (people like new places to eat and shop, and businesses like new customers) and conflict (people are genuinely worried that the area’s growth is negatively impacting them).”  

Equal parts? Really?

Because I rarely speak with anyone who says, “Wow, it was great sitting through three cycles of those traffic lights on LPGA today!”

In the view of many, Volusia County is reaching critical mass – and the negative impact of overdevelopment is being felt everywhere you look – including the near gridlocked traffic on area thoroughfares, increasing demands on essential government services (like our struggling emergency medial system), and the continuing destruction of our remaining greenspace and wildlife habitats.

As the bulldozers continue to roar. . . 

Now, as this disturbing story out of Putnam County points out – we can no longer cram ten-pounds of shit into a 5-pound bag – and it is clear that those who make their living dealing in our waste are having a tough time finding room for more.

How I became a Philanthropist. . .

Getting away from the familiar has a way of changing our perspective.

As has become our October custom, this week my wife and I traveled with dear friends to one of our favorite getaways – the Red Hills region of Southwest Georgia – a place where creatives have discovered the civic magic in historic preservation and true community redevelopment.

I happen to like old places with a rich history; that feeling of continuity and the strength and stability of things that last.

This year, we stayed at The Cairo House, a beautifully restored and comfortably appointed 1930’s four-bedroom home offered as a well-managed and licensed short-term rental – with burnished hardwood floors, a formal dining room, and wood burning fireplaces in each bedroom that hearkens back to a more genteel era.

The home is in Cairo, Georgia, situated between Thomasville and Bainbridge, two historic communities with elegantly restored downtowns, each offering an eclectic selection of upscale boutiques, specialty gifts, coffee shops, craft breweries, and a variety of excellent dining experiences all tied together by a vibrant arts scene.

While touring Bainbridge’s quaint town square, I met the talented artist and milliner Eldrick Jacobs, the friendly proprietor of Flint and Port Hat Company, who is resurrecting the traditional art of custom hat making for a discerning clientele.  The intricate process begins with a 45-minute fitting session by limited appointment where every aspect of your handmade creation is decided before Mr. Jacobs begins crafting your hat from fine beaver felt.

Learn more about this impressive young man’s creations here: https://tinyurl.com/rbxy6zu  

While walking in this quaint city center, civic pride was evident everywhere, and the Downtown Development Authority recently accepted the Georgia Exceptional Mainstreet (GEM designation) for their redevelopment efforts.    

By adopting sense-of-place initiatives into the regeneration of the community’s downtown, entrepreneurs and private investors are working closely with visionary city planners to develop mixed-use infill projects which incorporate historic attributes while making use of all available space, with residences in upper-levels of historic buildings to encourage a more inviting and walkable city center.

The plan is drawing people back to living downtown in beautifully renovated second and third floor spaces – bolstered by complementary creative and entertainment districts that are repurposing existing façades to house galleries, eateries, and other businesses with artistic leanings.

The comparative experience between the economic, civic, and social progress of many small towns in the region and the stagnation in much of the Halifax area remains palpable – and, once again, proved the benefit of evaluating the success of others and how those ideas might translate here at home.

It made me wonder if our elected and appointed officials ever explore outside Volusia County? 

One glaring difference I noted was that, rather than hiding projects behind cryptograms like “Project X” – they utilize the concept of whole community decision making to bring people together and seek innovative ideas during the inclusive planning phase. 

Early on, this collaborative approach resulted in the Bainbridge Renaissance Strategic Vision and Plan that brought public entities, nongovernmental organizations, private foundations, leaders from other successful communities, and citizens together to focus on placemaking – building trust, encouraging early buy-in from all stakeholders, and capitalizing on community assets important to residents.

In Bainbridge, this incredible transformation is highlighted in before-and-after photographs on display in a wonderful town square park – complete with pavilion, public art, attractive pond, and landscaping, with historic markers along a well-manicured walking path.

In one innovative project, a former livery stable was gutted and festive lights added, transforming it into an adaptable space for events like an open-air market, concerts, or a wedding venue.   

This commitment to honoring the past while building a future where creativity and innovation can thrive was evident in the impeccable cleanliness and order that has become an outward expression of pride.

Now, these innovative communities – where politics simply got out of the way and allowed vision and creativity to flourish – attract residents, tourists, and entrepreneurs who can appreciate its unique attributes. 

Look, no community is perfect – and each of these places we visited still have work to do – but they have built a strong, diverse, and resilient foundation.  Something I find very special.

It’s good to be home.  Just in time for Trucktoberfest. . .ugh.

Let’s take a look at the week that was:

While traveling, I read the news of the day here on the Fun Coast, keeping up on current events by monitoring social media, and staying in electronic contact with civically active friends on the rumors and gossip.

For those who pay attention, the political maneuvers and machinations are never dull here on this salty piece of land we call home. . . 

I’ve said it before – there is an inherent dishonesty in politics.  That is the reason I never had the stomach for it.

God knows, I’m not the best example of ethical and moral purity, just another unrepentant sinner lost in the wilderness.  But the lack of clarity in politics bothers me – the stark difference between what those we elect tell us and what we see with our own eyes.    

The ability to paint a mental picture that does not match what your constituents see outside their window is an operational necessity in local government – a surreal place where money is no object because it is simply a matter of raising taxes when you need more slop for the voracious hog. . .

For instance, last month, the City of Ormond Beach – like many other area governments and taxing districts – voted to increase the budget and raise taxes despite the hue and cry of strapped area residents – a “process” that has become a foregone conclusion year-after-year.   

With city coffers now brimming with cash – supplemented with enormous reserves and federal coronavirus relief funds – on Tuesday, the Ormond Beach City Commission voted 4-1 to gift $20,000 of our hard-earned tax dollars to offset the estimated $52,000 for a plinth that will support a bronze statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune in the perpetually under construction Brown Grande Esplanade, located in the publicly improved and tax incentivized Duchy of Hyattona.

According to an informative article by Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer:

“It’s unprecedented and historical that we’re living through this moment in time where for the next 100-plus years the statue in the U.S. Capitol that represents the state of Florida, one of the two, will be a hometown resident and trailblazer of civil rights and social justice,” said Nancy Lohman, president of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, at the City Commission meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

The statuary fund is seeking a total of $52,000, with $25,000 already committed by the city of Daytona Beach.”

Look, Mrs. Lohman is an incredibly generous philanthropist, patron of the arts, and humanitarian who gives munificently to various charitable causes. 

Me?  Not so much. . .

I have publicly praised and supported Mrs. Lohman’s stewardship of the outstanding Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund board of directors, a group of dedicated civic leaders who collected private donations for the beautiful marble statue which will stand in perpetuity in the United States Capitol – and I admire the good work she and her husband Lowell have done to improve our quality of life – including their recent $4 million endowment for diabetes research at Halifax Health. 

True Angels in our community – and you can’t blame her for asking, right?   

However, in my view, elected officials allocating public funds for a privately commissioned work, one administered by a non-profit organization which will stand in a neighboring community, is wrong.

In explaining his lone dissenting vote, Commissioner Troy Kent rightly explained, “It’s not me writing a check for $20,000,” Kent said. “It’s easy to do that, I think, when it’s not coming out of my personal account.”

Mr. Kent and I rarely agree – on anything.

But his assessment of this glaring misuse of public funds is spot-on.

Then, in the most tenuous connection ever made from a public dais, Mayor Bill Partington justified spending public funds on a private endeavor by reminding us of the generosity of our fellow Ormond Beach philanthropist and Standard Oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. . .who died in 1937. 

“Mayor Bill Partington told Kent he made a good point, but argued that John D. Rockefeller, one of Ormond’s most famous residents in history, was a huge supporter of Bethune.

“Ormond Beach has a history of supporting this,” Partington said.”

My God. . . 

I don’t make this shit up, folks. 

Then, on Wednesday, we were reminded of our recurring public support of local billionaires by lavishing private, for-profit, projects with various tax incentives, cash infusions, infrastructure support, and other camouflaged corporate welfare – a lucrative return on investment for their outlandish campaign contributions to hand-select candidates who always seem to be of a like mind with their political benefactors. 

In an informative article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by business editor Clayton Park, we learned that the publicly funded, yet perpetually struggling, One Daytona complex – which is owned by International Speedway Corporation – is welcoming several new businesses, intrepid investors willing to try their luck where many others have failed.

For the record – One Daytona received “…$40 million from the city of Daytona Beach and Volusia County for infrastructure, such as new roads and utility lines,” on the tired promise of “creating thousands of new jobs.” 

My ass.

To show their appreciation for our collective largesse, ISC now charges all-comers an “enhanced amenity fee” – essentially a one percent before sales tax levy on all goods and services purchased at the Speedway’s “symbiotic” entertainment and shopping complex that you and I helped subsidize. 

I call these giveaways the “new normal” – public/private partnerships where We, The Little People get screwed coming and going. . .  

According to Mr. Park, “To date, One Daytona has created hundreds of jobs, but it remains doubtful that the number of people employed there are in the thousands.”

Of course, former Daytona Beach City Commissioner Carl Lentz IV, who in 2014 voted for the One Daytona “economic incentives,” a commercial realtor and managing partner of SVN Alliance Commercial Real Estate Advisors, was able to dream up a self-serving explanation based upon how stupid he thinks us rubes are:

“People have a hard time understanding tax incentives.  It’s easy to say they (NASCAR) are getting something for nothing, but sometimes incentives are the only way to make a development viable.”


In my view, if a for-profit project is not economically viable with private investment, based on a level playing field where businesses stand or fall on their own merits, not artificial props – unable to sprout or survive without public support and “incentives” that most small enterprises will never know – then they should not be considered (or approved) in the first place. 

I disagree with local government’s continued meddling in what should be a free, open, and fair marketplace – time-after-time providing multimillions in public funds to underwrite the private endeavors of those extremely wealthy insiders with a chip in the game.

But what do I know? 

I’m still getting comfortable with my new charitable role – our historic connection to John D. Rockefeller – as an esteemed (if involuntary) Ormond Beach philanthropist. . .

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

Angels & Assholes will return next week – I hope you will too.

Here’s Two to Watch

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council’s Gang of Four will be faced with a conundrum:

How to avoid doing the right thing, for the right reasons, while publicly screwing Chairman Jeff Brower – and the taxpayers of Volusia County – out of a political “win.”

At issue is Chairman Brower’s revenue generating proposal to allow naming rights and sponsorship of beach access points – something that was roundly panned by the I Hate Brower Brigade when it was first discussed this spring – as a means of reducing or eliminating beach tolls for already overtaxed Volusia County residents.   

At the time, Chairman Brower reminded his surly “colleagues” that residents already pay for beach ramps through their property taxes and charging them an additional toll is double taxation, “It’s a tiny little tax break for the people that live here not to have to pay twice for beach access.”

In typical fashion, rather than find a way to strangle the proposal outright, the Gang of Four pooh-poohed the idea, agreeing to kick the can down the road, reluctantly agreeing to revisit the proposal in the fall after the predetermined sham of raising property taxes had been ramrodded through. 

At the time, lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler said with a straight face, “I would really like to see if after the fall when the budget has already been discussed.”

Sure she would. . .

Because why would any elected official in their right mind even consider an outside-the-box moneymaker that may help offset exorbitant beach management expenses – or dare question the staff’s prearranged budget to find ways to cut spending, generate additional income, and lessen the groaning tax burden on John and Jane Q during the budget process? 

Crazy talk.  Right?

My God.

Inconceivably, Councilman Danny Robins – who has cemented his role as an entrenched insider and lockstep conformist – took things a step further, accusing Chairman Brower of pandering to his supporters in the beach driving community:

“You are feeding your base support, only with other people’s money. Welcome to the swamp,” Robins railed from the dais in his patented stream-of-consciousness gibberish, “Talk about ‘bought and paid for’ and ‘pay to play,’ something you campaigned — and we all campaigned — so hard on.”

It was a left field cheap shot which no doubt earned Danny – who exhibits the loyalty of a Golden Retriever – an affectionate pat on his pointy head from his political maharishi, At-Large Councilman Ben Johnson.   

My ass. 

At the end of the day, Brower’s suggestion was effectively marginalized, stained, and tabled until it could be brought back for a sham hearing tomorrow – well after the $1.1 Billion budget and corresponding tax increase had been set in stone. 

Now, Volusia County “leadership” has begrudgingly placed an agenda item under the lofty “Excellence in Government” goal (sorry, I just shot Café Bustelo through my nose) complete with an obligatory watered-down PowerPoint presentation – which leads the elected officials down the Yellow Brick Road to the “decision points” – which asks whether or not the Volusia County Council should diminish any potential savings from sponsorships by hiring an outside firm – or develop yet another thick layer of inhouse bureaucracy – to market and manage the program.

Clearly, those do-nothing senior executives at the Beach Management Division are far too busy printing additional “do this/don’t do that” sign pollution and figuring out ways to prohibit anything remotely “fun” or attractive on Volusia County beaches to administrate a simple sponsorship program. 

Don’t take my word for it. 

See the half-assed presentation for yourself – the information, such as it is, can be found under Item 10 on the agenda – complete with two pages of pap, fluff, and filler listing “County Assets” consisting of a tableau of generic photographs depicting beach ramps, parks, libraries, etc.   

You paid for it, folks.  Look for yourself. 

After reading the lackluster agenda package, one can almost hear County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald telling an underling, “Don’t spend too much time on this one.  Brower’s “naming rights” bullshit is dead on arrival. . .”

5-2 here we come. . .


Another item that caught my attention is a Land Development Code waiver request by an entity called Oak Hill Association, Inc. – what appears to be a mobile home community located on a manufactured peninsula which extends well into the endangered Indian River Lagoon – which seeks to construct a vertical seawall to prevent erosion from boat wakes, something specifically prohibited by current shoreline protection regulations. 

“Vertical seawalls and bulkheads are prohibited adjacent to all [naturally occurring] watercourses or water bodies except as may be waived by the county council. Hardening of the estuarine shoreline shall be allowed only when erosion is causing a serious threat to life or property.”   

So, what does the esteemed Clay Ervin, our Director Growth and Resource Management, recommend?

Approval, of course. 

According to the agenda package, Mr. Ervin is recommending that the Volusia County Council rubberstamp the seawall request under the following conditions:

1. Provide shoreline stabilization by adding oyster shells, earthen material, and coquina rip-rap in front of the seawall to protect against erosion and provide habitat for wildlife.

2. Restore a five-foot portion of wetland buffer, with plantings according to the Volusia County Habitat Planting Guidelines, to provide nutrient uptake and improve water quality.

What a load of “rip-rap”. . . 

Earlier this month, Chairman Brower – at the urging of a diverse group consisting of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, the grassroots environmental activists at Dream Green Volusia, and the shadowy CEO Business Alliance – hosted Dr. Tom Goreau, president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, and Dr. Brian Lapointe, a water quality researcher at Florida Atlantic University, to discuss how the emerging Biorock technology might prove beneficial in restoring the fading Mosquito Lagoon, one of the most threatened ecosystems in the nation.

The discussion was met with open skepticism, consternation, and tut-tutting by the Gang of Four – supported by questioning editorials in The Daytona Beach News-Journal – all pushing the old “We need more information” ruse.

Everyone who is anyone was reluctant to even consider a small pilot project to determine if Biorock could be used as part of a comprehensive preservation strategy to turn the grim tide of death and destruction attributed to deteriorating water quality caused by overdevelopment, simply because Chairman Brower is associated with it. 

Now, the Council is faced with a no-brainer – with vertical seawalls specifically prohibited as a means of preserving critical estuarine habitat – this should be a 7-0 no vote without discussion. 


Because according to Samantha J. West, an Environmental Specialist III at Volusia County, writing in an environmental permitting and ecological impact review:  

“Construction of vertical walls or bulkheads along naturally occurring water bodies causes long term effects to an ecologically sensitive habitat such as the Indian River Lagoon. More specifically, it produces an abrupt transition from deep water to dry land, degrading water quality and eliminating the intertidal zone where many marine and estuarine species live and utilize as nursery habitat, and foraging habitat for wading birds. In addition, once one property constructs a vertical wall or bulkhead, a “domino effect” occurs along the shoreline, as the wave action from hitting the vertical wall will move to the adjacent property, scouring and eroding their shoreline.”

I mean, “long term effects,” “degrading water quality,” “domino effect,” what more do those elected dullards on the dais of power need to hear? 

Not so fast, Barker. . . 

Inconceivably, after explaining the toxic effects of vertical seawalls on ecologically sensitive habitats like the Indian River Lagoon, Volusia’s environmental gurus recommend approval of the seawall (you read that right) based upon the fact the property owner previously tried to mitigate the erosion by erecting a “breakwater” that failed to absorb wave energy before it reached the shoreline. 

In my uneducated experience, time and tide are never kind to mobile home parks – and the Volusia County Council shouldn’t stand in the way of Mother Nature.

It’s going to be an interesting meeting. 

Let’s see what maneuvers and machinations the hypocritical Gang of Four use to worm their way out of these two thorny issues – one, a proposal to generate additional revenue and save taxpayers from the almost overwhelming burden of bureaucratic spending, the other a step toward beginning the process of saying no to destructive shoreline construction and other projects deemed deleterious to the threatened Indian River Lagoon. 

Let’s see how they put our money where their mouth is.

Hide and watch. These craven political backstabbers are more than up to the task. . . 

The Idea Man

“A few weeks ago, the mayor wrote up a detailed list of suggestions to help the long-struggling Main Street and Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard areas.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Biketoberfest changes on the way?” Friday, October 15, 2021

Wait a minute. 

Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry – who, in real life, serves as an assistant principal at an area public school – sat down and cobbled together a list of “suggestions” that will ultimately “change” the two largest, most lucrative, special events in Volusia County? 

Say what?

But don’t worry, Mayor Henry has reassured local businesses, many still struggling to recover from the financial devastation wrought by the pandemic, “My aim is in no way eliminating or getting rid of Bike Week and Biketoberfest.”

Hizzoner’s here to help. . . 


According to a report by the News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, last Wednesday, while area businesses and property owners were preparing for the start of Biketoberfest, the Daytona Beach City Commission took up Mayor Henry’s “suggestions” – much of which appear to involve “better rules” and “cracking down” on things like parking, more government involvement/control, and the enforcement of “redevelopment standards” on Main Street and Mary Mcleod Bethune Boulevard – struggling commercial areas that have suffered from years of civic neglect and stagnation.   

In typical form, Mayor Henry likes the notion that businesses and property owners should be “brought to heel” with more regulation and enforcement.   

Don’t get me wrong – the idea of cleaning up our horribly blighted core tourist area is decades overdue – and, for far too long, a small group of powerful Main Street area property owners have hampered substantive progress by refusing to establish year-round businesses, opting for vacant storefronts and rudimentary parking lots only open during special events, while those who have a fulltime presence feel they are locked in an “Us vs. Them” adversarial relationship with City Hall.

Because they are.

Like our horribly neglected gateway on East International Speedway Boulevard, for years the City of Daytona Beach has sat idle, taking a hands-off approach while the Main Street Redevelopment Area languished – with decaying flags and faded temporary signage hanging from dilapidated façades while vacant buildings and weed-strewn lots added to the down-at-the-heels feel – the area buoyed only by the incredibly lucrative biker events many full-time merchants rely on for their survival.

That’s why when Mayor Henry “…sees a connection between some of the problems around those two corridors and Bike Week and Biketoberfest, and he wants to remove any barriers to redevelopment that the city might be reinforcing with the way it oversees biker parties,” my first reaction is Qui Bono?   

Who benefits?

Because you can bet your ass Mr. Henry did not conjure up this lightning-quick decision to move heaven-and-earth and use the legislative process, rather than collaborative planning, to reverse the clearly strategic blight that has driven beachside property values into the toilet and discouraged outside investment for years.

I could be wrong – but I have my own suspicions. 

In June 2019, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s outstanding business editor Clayton Park wrote an informative piece entitled, “Consolidated-Tomoka casts an eye over Daytona’s Main Street,” which announced the hush-hush formation of a limited liability company called “DB Main Street LLC.”

At the time, the powerful Sir John Albright, who oversees the newest iteration that good ol’ boys investment club now known as CTO Realty Growth, said, “We have all kinds of LLCs. We have tons of little entities. I wouldn’t read anything into it.”

Nothing to see here, folks.  Keep moving. . .    

Those paying attention may recall that the formation of the company followed the unveiling of architectural renderings showing “what could be” on a city-owned parking lot across Auditorium Boulevard from the Ocean Center, just north of Main Street. 


I do.

Former Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm used the conceptual drawings to highlight a possible multi-story parking garage, apartments or condominiums, and street-level retail shops (renderings that were commissioned by Consolidated-Tomoka) during a February 2019 presentation to the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, which included CTO Realty Growth’s still unrealized plan to develop the former First Baptist Church site in downtrodden downtown.   

“Consolidated-Tomoka officials at the time said the Main Street Mixed-Use renderings were produced to suggest what could be done with the parking lot and did not represent an actual project.”

Just spit-balling, eh?  Okay.

Now, Mayor Henry – with zero input from residents or Main Street area businesses – those who make their living from the long-established Bike Week and Biketoberfest events (which is estimated to have brought $16 million to the region this weekend) – wants “earthmoving” changes, “big alterations,” boldly stating, “It will take great leadership and a willingness to upset some people who have their own agenda to achieve the greater goals.”


The “personal agenda” part, that is. . .

When you look at other destinations around the county who have successfully reinvented themselves, most winning transformations begin with establishing community and stakeholder “buy in” – an intense process that begins with a collaborative period of planning and design – establishing how government can assist established businesses, and encourage entrepreneurial investment, by reducing onerous bureaucratic hurdles – finding creative solutions to historic roadblocks, considering the concerns of area residents, then forming a clear and collective vision for the future. 

Our hospitality gurus have just spent $50,000 with a Canadian consultant for “…a full-scope deep dive into today’s destination image and perception of Daytona Beach.”

In addition, Seabreeze Boulevard merchants are actively looking for ways to improve that entertainment district.

Everyone doing their own thing with little, if any, coordination.

Clearly, Mayor Henry could give two-shits what these studies and discussions may, or may not, show – for reasons known only to him – time’s a-wasting for earthmoving change. 

Anyone else see the importance of integrating the results of the hospitality consultant’s report – along with the previous findings of the Beachside Redevelopment Committee and the 2013 “Analysis of Volusia County Tourism Marketing” – as part of a holistic look at our “tourism product” and how City Hall can help (or not)?

Short-term solutions that benefit those with the right last names – change based solely on the enforcement of draconian diktats ramrodded down the throats of area residents and businesses – lasts only as long as the project and administration that pushed it.

True civic, social, and economic transformation can only be realized when those with a stake in the ultimate outcome are made part of the solution.

That begins with an open, transparent, and inclusive process that leads to a clear roadmap forward – not dictatorial government-imposed mandates which only benefit the next “game changing” project du jour.

This one is important – and long overdue.

Perhaps we shouldn’t rely on the same tired bureaucrats and entrenched insiders who got us into this mess in the first place to give us more of the same?

In my view, transforming Main Street and beyond will require more than Mayor Henry’s suspicious “suggestions” and saber rattling to ensure success.     

Angels & Assholes for October 15, 2021

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was.

Angel               Big John & GovStuff Live!

If you attend any obscure government or civic meeting in Volusia County – not the drudgery and drama of formal city commission and the county council meetings – but those seemingly insignificant committee and advisory board confabs where the real behind-the-scenes work gets done, you will likely overlook the smartest, most influential person in the room.

Trust me.  It will not be the powerful chairperson or any of those self-important elected and appointed officials peacocking on the dais of power. 

Somewhere in the back of the room, usually noshing on a plate of complimentary hors d’oeuvres, will be a bearded man clad in a rumpled cap, omnipresent shorts, wrinkled t-shirt, and scuffed Crocks, notebook in hand and a wry smile, quietly taking it all in.

A disheveled character silently working the mental gymnastics required to link the intricate puzzle pieces with the swirling rumors and insider backstories inherent to local politics – then use his decades of hard-earned experience, and well-honed instinct, to winnow the wheat from the chaff and make sense of the nonsensical. 

Promptly at 4:00pm each weekday, Big John – Volusia County’s unlikely political conscience – takes to the airwaves for a “strenuous two-hours” of radio, distilling all he has gleaned from countless meetings and sources down to something us rubes who comprise his loyal “21 listeners” can understand – trying valiantly to educate the masses on the bureaucratic maneuvers and intrigue that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast. 

Because, according to Volusia County’s preeminent political pundit, when it comes to local government, “Nobody knows nothing.”

He’s right. 

Born John W. Brower (no relation) and raised in a “rough ethnic neighborhood” in Asbury Park, New Jersey, John received a Political Science degree from the prestigious Rutgers University (“Rahway State” as he likes to joke) and went to work for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company following graduation.

Upon earning his “Ph.D in Tireology,” Big John moved to Florida in 1972.

For many years, Big John – to which he legally changed his name in 1979 – operated three highly successful Big John’s Tire and Muffler stores throughout Volusia County – made famous by his humorous television, radio, and newspaper commercials featuring Big in his trademark blue work shirt. 

I first met Big at his “Lubritorium” on Mason Avenue when I was a young and idealistic police officer. 

He called the police department after discovering that someone tied a string to a set of shock absorbers, placing the line through an open window of a storage room, an obvious attempt to steal the items after the business closed.

After dark, I concealed myself in a good vantage point and waited – for hours – catching the thief, a down-on-his-luck employee, in the act.

Rather than seek retribution, in his own benevolent way, Big John was more interested in the why – seeking to understand the personal issues that led his desperate employee to steal – and determine ways he could help. 

I never forgot that incredible display of compassion.

Ultimately, Big John found his way into local politics – serving an impressive twelve-years on the Volusia County Council, including one term as Council Chair – during an incredibly productive period which saw the modernization of the Daytona Beach International Airport, creation of the Ocean Center, and other important civic accomplishments.   

In addition, the community affairs program “Big Talk with Big John” premiered on WEDG-FM – which began as a Saturday morning talk show – ultimately moving to WELE-AM.

Then, in 2009, Big John took ownership of the radio station, later donating WELE to Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. 

Now, GovStuff Live! “an educational, informational and inspirational forum” allows Big John to fulfil his passion for the study and analysis of local government – a champion of We, The Little People, always providing his entertaining and informative take on the important issues of the day – with a cadre of regular contributors, which include everyone from an esteemed retired United States Ambassador, former elected officials, industry professionals, civic activists, respected members of the legal community, Sheriff Mike Chitwood, and the ever-expanding cast of colorful characters who regularly call-in to add their unique take. 

Even me.

This month marked my sixth anniversary as a monthly contributor on Volusia County’s only completely local talk radio forum.

Wow.  Time flies. 

Recently, Big and I spoke about the importance of “reinventing” oneself – finding purpose once retirement replaces professional pursuits – and this blogsite, along with my regular appearances on GovStuff Live!, has given a renewed meaning to my life – something I didn’t think possible when I finished three-decades in public service.

I am forever grateful that Big has given Barker’s View a larger voice.

In my view, the incomparable Big John represents the quintessence of community service – giving selflessly, striving again-and-again to right wrongs, expose the phonies and absurdity, unraveling the mysteries, and bringing a greater understanding of the often-insulated world of local government. 

This wonderfully complex personality – a deep thinker and dedicated doer – enriches our community with his remarkable insight on the issues important to all of us. 

He “gets it” when others don’t – and we need him now more than ever. 

Angel               Mary McCleod Bethune Statue

I rarely agree with Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, but this week he and I are completely simpatico:

“A very special thank you to all who have had a part in bringing the statue to Daytona Beach. Mother Mary is finally home before going to her perpetual resting palace in Statuary Hall. This is a defining moment in the history of our community and a seminal moment in the legacy of our most beloved community Matriarch.”

Well said, Mr. Mayor.

Last Friday afternoon, I drove to DSC’s News-Journal Center in downtown Daytona Beach where the beautiful 11-foot marble statue of Mary Mcleod Bethune had been delicately placed following a long journey from its birthplace on the Tuscan coast of Italy. 

As I gazed through the building’s great glass entryway, I could see the magnificent sculpture, its gleaming plinth just visible under the obscuring veil – standing in wait for the much-anticipated unveiling which happened in grand style earlier this week.

I was gripped by the same feeling of pride and excitement that all Floridians are experiencing. 

This extraordinary monument was made possible by the hard work and financial support of The Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, Inc. Board of Directors, chaired by local business icon and philanthrope Nancy Lohman – a distinguished group representing a diverse cross-section of Halifax area industries and individuals who have so generously dedicated their time, talent, and resources to see this five-year journey to memorialize Dr. Bethune’s remarkable legacy become a reality. 

Early next year, Dr. Bethune’s statue will travel to Washington, D.C. where it will be enshrined in the United States Capitol’s hallowed Statuary Hall State Collection – one of two sculptures representing the State of Florida – and the first Black person to stand in the state collection.   

During its stopover in Daytona Beach, area residents will have the opportunity to view the beautiful statue and accompanying exhibits honoring Dr. Bethune’s legacy through December 12. 

According to project organizers, in addition to Dr. Bethune’s marble statue, the exhibit includes the “bronze statue commissioned for Bethune Plaza in the Daytona Beach Riverfront Esplanade Park,” a feature-length documentary, and K-12 teaching curriculum.

Viewings will be available each day of the week with complimentary tickets available at https://www.mmbstatue.org/

I hope you will avail yourself of this once in a lifetime opportunity. 

As Mayor Henry so eloquently said, “When history records how we as a community responded to our role as custodians of this great legacy, let the record read that Daytona Beach passed the test with straight superiors.”

A special thank you to everyone involved in this wonderful, and important, endeavor.   

Asshole           The Daytona Beach News-Journal  

Last Sunday, editor Pat Rice, the Comandante of what remains of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, exposed just how far afield things have gotten when he – a trained journalist – openly called for government regulation of the social media platform Facebook.

In my view, further regulating content represents an infringement on our sacred First Amendment right to express our thoughts and opinions on the “everyman’s soapbox” of social media – a means of curbing the “poison” of free expression with the full force of law – especially for those who are critical of Mr. Rice and his dwindling product.

I found it shocking that a senior editor and working editorialist who is employed by the largest corporate media-conglomerate in the nation would seek to further limit the expression of ideas across the wide political, cultural, and social divide.   

I mean, has anyone heard of an American journalist – a sitting member of something called the First Amendment Foundation – who would willingly slide down the slippery slope of censorship because they are offended by what some goofy “blogger/troll” opines on Facebook?

Me neither.  

Then, things went from bad to worse. . .

On Wednesday, I realized the depth of the News-Journal’s outsized role in fighting the raging culture wars when it “unveiled” former Navy SEAL, and current Deltona City Commissioner, Loren King, publicly shaming him because his name appeared on a “hacked” membership list of the Oath Keepers organization. 

For the uninitiated, the term “hacking” is generally defined as “the deliberate access or infiltration of a computer system or program without authorization.” 

I equate it to a burglar who breaks into your home, then parades your unmentionables through the street. . .

According to the report, the News-Journal was provided a “hacked roster” containing the names, addresses, phone numbers, and private email addresses of “almost 40,000” Oath Keepers across the United States – including 130 here in Volusia, Flagler, and St. Johns Counties. 

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center – a once respected watchdog group which is now no stranger to controversy, allegations, and internal strife – the Oath Keepers organization “…is based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy Americans’ liberties.”

Out of some 40,000 members – “at least” 21 Oath Keepers were implicated in the January 6 attack on the Capitol Building in Washington, with eighteen of those charged with conspiracy.

21 out of 40,000?

Look, I’m not a ‘joiner,’ so don’t expect to find my name on any membership list.    

The fact is, I used to be people person – but people ruined that for me – and, as a confirmed tightwad, there are few causes I care enough about to part with my hard-earned money to support. . . 

Besides, there are usually meetings to attend, dues to pay, weird hats to wear, and – before you know it – you are expected to actually interact with others. 

No thanks.  Sends a cold shiver up my socially anxious spine just thinking about it. . . 

So, I subscribe to the old Groucho Marx adage, “I wouldn’t belong to a club that would have me as a member” – and while I am certainly no expert on homegrown extremism – I’ll just bet if the News-Journal bothered to check, they would find “at least” a few members of the AAA, DAV, VFW, ASPCA, the Audubon Society, local quilting bees, and a couple former Boy Scouts involved in that travesty in Washington as well. 

Look, I am not downplaying the significant threat posed by extremists and blatantly racist groups across the political and ideological spectrum – but, in my experience, many of these “militia” types are given too much attention.

To me, most appear to be pudgy butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers who like to dress up in surplus store camouflage, put a patch on their arm, and play Johnny Rambo – destroying the reputation of even mainstream national organizations committed to peacefully protesting what they see as an erosion of our foundational principals during the most divisive period in our nation’s history who are unfairly maligned and demonized for their perceived association.    

That is why most news outlets who still maintain a modicum of journalistic integrity need more than a purloined list before painting tens-of-thousands of American citizens as wild-eyed seditionists. 

In my view, a few bad apples should not tarnish the reputation – or diminish the service – of the thousands of former members of the military, law enforcement, and first responders, who may have joined with others dedicated to living up to their sacred oath of preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

I don’t know what some goofy group like Oath Keepers represents, but as someone who raised their hand and swore a sacred oath to protect both this great nation, and my community, I keep that vow as a solemn promise – one without an expiration date – and I know others I had the honor of serving with who keep their oath as well. 

Regardless of the insinuation, Commissioner Loren King – a veteran who served this nation as a member of the elite Navy SEALs, now continuing his legacy of service on the Deltona City Commission – does not strike me as a threat to national security. 

Besides, Mr. King advised that while he was a member of the Oath Keeper organization for a couple of years, he is no longer affiliated with the group. 

According to a veiled threat in the News-Journal article, “King is the only local elected official who has thus far been identified as an Oath Keeper by The News-Journal.”

Thus far? 

Really?  The inquisition continues?

Now there are 130 residents of Volusia, Flagler, and St. Johns Counties – including “…a former law enforcement officer, a Vietnam veteran, a retired financial administrator, a Cadillac salesman, a mechanic and a trucker” – who are being painted with the same brush as the 21 dipshits who breached the Capitol on January 6 – no doubt terrified that their hometown newspaper will be releasing stolen information about their associations that originated from the unauthorized access to an organizations computer system – a group that they may, or may not, be associated with any longer.  

My God. 

Interestingly, the same First Amendment protections that allow “blogger/trolls” like me to denounce the sorry state of The Daytona Beach News-Journal is the same constitutionally protected right that allows Pat Rice to publish stolen personal information on the front page of his once respected newspaper. 

After reading this – and his views on the regulation and further censorship of social media – I wonder where Mr. Rice draws the line?

The News-Journal article closed with an off-base quote from Professor Deana Rohlinger, “research director” of Florida State University’s Institute on Politics, who attaches something dark and sinister to terms like “constitutionalist,” “American ideals,” “freedom” and “individual rights”:

“One of the interesting things about (Oath Keepers) is they are a militia army (says who?  Facebook?), but very constitutionalist, wrapped with all kinds of American ideals like freedom and individual rights,” she said. “They may become these umbrella terms under which more extreme ideas can take shelter.”

What an assumptive asshole. . .

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum – it is painfully clear we can no longer trust the likes of Professor Rohlinger – or Editor Rice – to preserve, protect, and defend those inalienable rights and liberties the rest of us hold dear from a self-anointed perch on their idea of the moral high ground.

Quote of the Week

“If I decide I want to live in the mountains of Wyoming because I’ve had enough of the population of Florida, I can, and nobody can stop me. But if somebody from New York wants to move to Florida, they have the same right!” Fitzsimmons said. “We have to stop screaming, and put our heads together and figure out what we want Florida to look like in the next 10 years …. They’re coming whether we want them or not.”

That’s why, he said, he supports the construction of housing on the former Southridge Golf Course in DeLand, for example. The development, fairly near to the city center, would serve as an infill development, instead of sprawl.

“If we’re not infilling, not concentrating that population, it’s going to sprawl. Those are the only choices we have,” Fitzsimmons said. “I’m not saying I like them, but I’m being a realist. We can’t put a fence on the border, and we can’t tell folks they can’t come here anymore.”

–Bob Fitzsimmons of DeLand-based developer Gallery Homes, excerpted from the West Volusia Beacon, “Perspectives on Growth: DeLand builders says, ‘Get to know your comp plan’,” Saturday, October 9, 2021

My ass.

By his own admission, Mr. Fitzsimmons estimates his company has blanketed West Volusia with over 1,000 homes after drudging through what he describes as the “arduous” and “extensive” process of working with local planning staff.

In my view, that typically translates to a developer getting whatever they want when the matter goes before the respective communities elected body, as evidenced by the increased density, near gridlocked traffic, and massive overdeveloped we have experienced in the past few years.

Now, it seems the approval of planned unit developments has become a foregone conclusion.

Why is that?

Now, Mr. Fitzsimmons would have us “give the staff a break” and stop coming before our elected officials to let our voices be heard on the devastating and cumulative impact of malignant residential and commercial development on our quality of life – especially in a county with no identifiable transportation infrastructure plan – and focus on changing our community’s comprehensive plan instead. 

“I fight tooth and nail with them on a regular basis,” Fitzsimmons said. “Then they’re getting in front of the council or the commission and the next thing they do is get crucified by the public and accused of being in our back pocket, and nothing could be further from the truth.”


Why would a developer find it necessary to “fight tooth and nail” if their proposal fits within current zoning and environmental regulations? 

Perhaps Mr. Fitzsimmons is right. 

While the development industry continues to invest vast sums into the campaign coffers of hand-select candidates (in 2019, it was estimated that 20% of campaign funds originated from real estate developers), now is the time for We, The Little People, to elect representatives committed to the idea that comp plans are established ahead of development to ensure our quality of life (at least they should be).

In my view, the idea of arbitrarily changing zoning requirements – as our elected representatives throw their hands in the air and mewl “there’s nothing we can do!” – while our remaining wildlife habitat is churned into a moonscape to make room for another godawful “theme” community while dismissing the concerns of residents.

That is anathema to the very concept of comprehensive planning and land use regulations.

Yes, Mr. Fitzsimmons is on to something here.

It is time we recruit and support quality candidates for elective office at all levels of government – those with a willingness to serve the interests of those who elected them, not just those who fund their perpetual campaigns – then vote like our lives and livelihoods depend on it. 

In my view, time is of the essence now that area developers have set their insatiable sights on former golf courses (Can cemeteries be far behind?) – a self-serving strategy that will shoehorn even more wood frame cracker boxes into built out neighborhoods and change the character of communities with increased density, traffic, and service demand – accelerating the on-going destruction of our quality of life.  

And Another Thing!

I am not the most altruistic guy you know. 

From anecdotal experience, I subscribe to the tried-and-true philosophy that “no good deed goes unpunished.”  

Four-decades witnessing man’s inhumanity to man (and women, children, defenseless animals, etc.) cauterized that portion of my prefrontal cortex that houses the “do-gooder” gene which regulates philanthropic impulse.

As a result, you will not find me volunteering to nurse baby squirrels back to health, donating to charitable causes, or working to save the world from (enter the trending cause du jour here).

I’m more Larry David than Albert Sweitzer.   

That said, I have an enduring respect for those who dedicate themselves to helping the less fortunate, protecting our sensitive environment, promoting civic activism, and preserving our unique history – big-hearted volunteers who generously give of their time, money, and talents in the grassroots cause of promoting good governance – asking nothing in return for their selfless community service. 

In Volusia County, we are fortunate to have a committed group of environmentalists working hard against mounting odds to protect our waterways and wild places from the myriad sins of overdevelopment – fighting valiantly against entrenched special interests with a profit motive.    

In my experience, the congenital need for recognition (and money) is shared by those who hold themselves out for high-office – and some who make a lucrative cottage industry out of social, humanitarian, or environmental activism – enriching themselves, politically and financially, from traditionally not-for-profit pursuits. 

Enter the case of Biorock – an emerging technology developed by Dr. Tom Goreau, who comes off like the quintessential ‘mad scientist’ with a Doctorate in Biogeochemistry from Harvard University, a Masters in Planetary Astronomy from Caltech, with an undergraduate degree in Planetary Physics from the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology – which involves running a low-voltage electrical charge through a submerged steel structure to enhance calcification and stimulate the growth of beneficial marine life, including filter-feeding oysters, corals, and seagrasses.

Smart dude.

Recently, Dr. Goreau and his esteemed associate, Dr. Brian Lapointe, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, were invited to Volusia County by the unlikely consortium of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, the community environmental activists at Dream Green Volusia, and the mysterious CEO Business Alliance, to educate our elected officials on potential Biorock applications in the imperiled Mosquito Lagoon. 

It went about like you would expect.

Again, no good deed goes unpunished.   

For their trouble, Dr. Goreau and Dr. Lapointe were met with open skepticism – treated like snake oil salesmen by those dullards on the dais – interrogated by Councilmen Ben Johnson and his sock puppet Danny Robins, then quizzed by lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler with a series of prepared questions.

In turn, we heard from Dr. Duane De Freese, who serves as executive director of the tax supported Indian River Lagoon Council, who was quoted in the News-Journal:

“There were an awful lot of unanswered questions yesterday that need to be answered before a project would move forward.”

Dr. De Freese also suggested Goreau apply for a National Estuary Program grant.  

According to govsalaries.com, Dr. De Freese received $112,500 last year for helping determine which initiatives will receive funding, and which will not. 

In 2020, the “Deputy Director” of the IRL Council was paid $78,000, while the “Chief Operating Officer” and “Special Projects Coordinator” were paid $70,000 and $60,000, respectively. 

In 2021, when you add projected administrative costs and facilities expenses of $271,200 – on top of annual salaries and benefits worth some $420,498 – you begin to see that doing good for the lagoon comes with some overhead. . . 

Look, I get it.

The competition for scarce grant funding is fierce – and there are many councils, committees, conservancies, trusts, districts and a host of local, city, state, federal, private and non-profit stakeholders in the mix – all justifying their thin slice of the pie to fund various projects and emerging technologies under various conservation and management efforts of the National Estuary Program which focus on improving water quality and “living resource” priorities.  

But what I did not expect was the ferocity of the attack on those associated with the Biorock proposal – the gross negativity, roadblocks, and politicking from every corner – including two derogatory editorials in The Daytona Beach News-Journal coupled with chiding posts on social media dismissing the concept and accusing anyone associated with the project of ulterior motives.

Tut-tutting and pointing fingers while the Indian River Lagoon continues its painful death spiral. . .


Because Volusia County Chairman Jeff Brower supports exploring a small pilot project to evaluate the effectiveness of Biorock technology on seagrass propagation in the Mosquito Lagoon. 

That’s why. 

Trust me.  The I Hate Brower Brigade has been working overtime this week to cast dispersions – to now include the esteemed Clay Henderson, the former Supreme Sherang of Volusia County environmentalists – who authored a cockeyed essay in last Sunday’s News-Journal reminding everyone, “…there is no new black box of “bio-rocks” that will immediately restore the lagoon to health.”

I don’t recall anyone describing Biorock as a ‘quick fix,’ do you?

After reading Mr. Henderson’s piece, I got the creepy feeling that his position conveniently fit tongue-in-groove with the narrative currently espoused by those who are working feverishly to A. Link Chairman Brower to Biorock, and B. Discredit both Brower, and the technology, to prevent either from claiming a beneficial accomplishment. 

Am I wrong? 

I also find it strange that the project’s so-called “supporters” at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance have been eerily quiet as the arrows fly. . .

In my view, like everything of substance, petty politics is blocking an experimental test of this encouraging technology as a means of marginalizing anyone or anything that violates the sacred rule of groupthink and lockstep conformity that ensures only the anointed ones receive recognition – and the financial largesse of Volusia County government.

Tragically, this potential mitigation tool – a technology that, in cooperation with other promising initiatives, may help combat the ongoing destruction of the Indian River Lagoon – is falling victim to the scourge of Fun Coast politics.

I hope that will not be the lagoons epitaph. 

That’s all for me.  Have a safe and happy Biketoberfest, y’all!

Barker’s View will be on the road next week! 

Our weekly installment of Angels & Assholes will return on Friday, October 29, with more scary stories of our life and times just in time for Halloween! 

The Gatekeeper

Admittedly, I come off as a curmudgeonly asshole – always looking for the dark cloud – searching for the mold on the civic peaches and cream served up by our “movers & shakers,” deeply suspicious of the true motivations of self-serving politicians, their highly-placed “friends,” and “do-gooders” with a profit motive. 

I wear the badge of a “blogger/troll” with pride.

It’s true, I take a perverse pleasure in my role, always arguing the contrarian view, never content to accept a “press release,” carefully choreographed by a professional “public information (insulation?) officer,” always devoid of substance and padded with a confusing blend of pap, fluff, and bureaucratese – or accede to the preening and posturing of craven politicians who prove, time-and-again, where their true loyalties lay.    

It is a satisfying sense of independence our hometown newspaper once enjoyed before it was gobbled up by an international mega-media conglomerate – then merged into the “nation-blanketing” print and digital behemoth now known as Gannett – a massive churn that publishes watered-down “newspapers” in hundreds of communities across some forty-seven states.    

Gannett is now the largest newspaper company in the nation – dwarfing its distant competitors McClatchy and Tribune Publishing (which owns the Orlando Sentinel) – both of which were sold to private hedge funds within the past 18-months.

According to reports, Gannett has a current goal of 10-million digital subscribers by 2025.

Given the global reach, power, and control of his parent company – I found it odd that Pat Rice, editor of what remains of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, would use his Sunday screed to cut into Facebook (and Barker’s View) – calling for greater regulation of social media, essentially establishing a government filter on the competition of ideas (especially those which are critical of Mr. Rice and his product) as a means of silencing dissenting opinions and limiting the flow and content of information to a few massive media corporations.


Because in Mr. Rice’s world, the only “truth” we need to hear comes from Zuul the Gatekeeper

Now, the “facts” are whatever Gannett tells us they are – because they are the only game in town.

With newsrooms having been gutted to ensure a profit, there are precious few journalists remaining with the autonomy to look past the four corners of a press release, let alone do the deep dive into the local issues that affect our lives and livelihoods. 

In his recent essay, “Does Facebook need greater regulation? You bet it does,” Mr. Rice gives us a personal history of his formative years as a wide-eyed student of journalism – engaging in high-brow debates on the lofty topics of “…the marketplace of ideas, and the notion of gatekeepers.”

“Occasionally a professor would join us. I remember one of them suggesting that maybe the marketplace of ideas was better for having some responsible gatekeepers present to establish some guardrails to ensure accuracy and fairness. Having had a couple beers, I pushed back. The best thing for the marketplace of ideas is complete and unfettered freedom. Let the marketplace itself decide what’s fair and accurate, and who’s right or wrong.

Yes, I was that full of myself.”

Guess what, Pat?  You still are. 

Full of yourself, that is. . .

Now that We, The Little People have a soapbox – a means of connecting, exchanging ideas, and voicing an opinion (the “poison” as Rice calls it) in a forum beyond writing letters to the editor, limited to 250 words, which may or may not see the light of day depending upon the whims of an editorial board – now, as a handmaiden of the largest media conglomerate in the nation, Mr. Rice comes down on the side of censorship in the form of a “gatekeeper” wielding the full might of government regulation. 


“(Some blogger/trolls criticize me or The News-Journal in one paragraph while quoting our fine reporting in the next paragraph. I guess, deep down, they appreciate content built on facts.) But the unfair and grossly inaccurate and meanspirilted (sic) comments Facebook and other social media allow in the name of making us all “friends,” and the damaging tribalism they’re created at the community and national level, and their willingness to allow foreign adversaries to plant false information – all of it making the owners of Facebook and their investors billions of dollars every quarter – have convinced me that regulation is needed.”

I’m not sure if Mr. Rice is talking about my goofy rants on the absurdities of local politics and his friends who control it (is there another “blogger/troll” I’m not aware of?) – or Gannett’s wholesale assault on anyone who questions their horribly slanted narrative – an exercise in pitting neighbor-against-neighbor for over a year with divisive rhetoric on the pandemic and beyond – openly fighting the culture wars across the breadth of a once valued local newspaper now wholly controlled by a massive media-holding company with no tolerance for dissenting opinions. 


Look, if Mr. Rice is having a crisis of conscience because he sold his once idealistic soul to the devil of corporate media in a weird Faustian bargain – then used his lofty position to climb the local social ladder – well, that’s his problem. 

As for me, I’ll continue to “calls ‘em like I sees um” and to hell with what petty politicians, hyper-sensitive newspaper editors, and their corporate masters think. 


Join Barker’s View tomorrow on GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm.

We’ll be taking your calls and discussing local issues on the Fastest Two-Hours in Radio!

Join us locally at 1380am The Cat, or on the web at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live Button). 

Angels & Assholes for October 8, 2021

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was.

Asshole           Halifax Area Advertising Authority

Perception is the “immediate or intuitive recognition or appreciation, as of moral, psychological, or aesthetic qualities; insight; intuition; discernment.”

It is our mental interpretation of images, objects, ideas, scents, sounds, and physical sensations based upon our own unique experiences.    

What is your “image and perception” of the Daytona Beach Resort Area? 

Yeah.  Me too. . .  

So, why is it necessary for the Halifax Area Advertising Authority to spend $50,000 in bed tax Monopoly money to bankroll yet another study by an out-of-town expert for “…a full-scope deep dive into today’s destination image and perception of Daytona Beach”?

Earlier this week, I gave a brief history lesson of the reams of expensive paper – complete with colorful graphs and charts – extensive reports that various and sundry experts have been paid handsomely to generate so our elected officials and tourism gurus could fade the political heat and say, “See, we’re doing something, folks!” as our core tourist area deteriorated from bad to worse.   

For instance, in 2013, Volusia County residents paid $100,000 to Strategic Advisory Group of Duluth, Georgia for an “Analysis of Volusia County Tourism Marketing” – a voluminous and wholly ignored independent study which is now collecting dust on a groaning shelf in some ancient records morgue in DeLand.

The informative SAG study is bookended by a 2017 year-long effort by Volusia County’s best-and-brightest, an impressive consortium of all the right last names, who, under the leadership of Tony Grippa, became known as the Beachside Redevelopment Committee.

The blue-ribbon think tank was born in the aftermath of the News-Journal’s outstanding “Tarnished Jewel” exposé which took an in-depth look into the malignant blight that has slowly destroyed our core tourist area – an embarrassing picture of the civic stagnation and gross malingering by those who, for decades, have accepted public funds, wasted precious resources and assets, and looked the other way – doing absolutely nothing to turn the grim tide.    

In May 2018, as Mr. Grippa finished presenting the group’s recommendations to a disinterested Volusia County Council – our elected dullards on the dais of power collectively yawned and discharged the committee with “great thanks and appreciation.”

Then, crickets. . .

In the aftermath of the Beachside Redevelopment Committees arduous work – core recommendations which were painfully ignored by both our elected officials and entrenched hospitality insiders – News-Journal editor Pat Rice wrote in a 2019 essay:

“It takes time to remedy the decades of neglect and problems that have allowed the beachside to become decrepit and crime ridden. Raggedy rental housing doesn’t improve overnight. Shops and restaurants don’t just sprout up because people wish for them. Everyone gets that.

But there is such a thing as not trying hard enough. There is such a thing as flying too below the public’s radar. There is such a thing as not banging the drum loudly.”

Then, last Sunday, Mr. Rice wrote another entreaty, once again asking for someone to do something about what he described as our “decrepit core beachside.”

“Most everyone wants to see the beachside better than it is. Not just so we can attract tourists. It should be the place where all of us want to visit or live.

Let’s get to it.”

Right. . .

But first, let’s throw another $50 grand down the bottomless rabbit hole of bureaucratic ineptitude and stagnation so yet another high-priced consultant can give us solid advice that, as history repeatedly proves, our entrenched tourism insiders and elected officials will totally disregard. 

My God. 

As one smart BV reader so aptly put it this week: “It is paralysis by analysis.”

Asshole           Palm Coast City Councilman Ed Danko

I don’t care where you fall on the political spectrum – from left wing moonbat to right wing nutjob, and all points in between – we can all agree that journalistic freedom and the ability to address ones elected representatives on matters of public concern – free from threats and intimidation from those who hold governmental power – is sacrosanct in a free and open society.

Values that live at the very core of our nation’s foundational principles.

It is no secret that the City of Palm Coast has come off the rails, taking on all the foul attributes of a Banana Republic – with petty tyrants, inept goofballs, and political zealots holding key positions within what passes for a “government” – a situation that has now dissolved into censorship, partisan warfare, and the open suppression of dissenting opinions by a sitting member of the Palm Coast City Council.

According to reports, last week, civically active Flagler Beach attorney Scott W. Spradley rose to address the Palm Coast City Council after his business was apparently blacklisted by something called the “Flagler Trump Club.”

His crime? 

Mr. Spradley advertised his business on FlaglerLive! an online news and opinion site expertly written by former News-Journal editorial writer Pierre Tristam – a forum which has been openly critical of City Councilman Ed Danko – who also happens to serve as Vice President of the Flagler Trump Club – and other Flagler County politicians.   

Several weeks ago, Mr. Danko, who likes to quickly change hats and metamorphose from elected official to partisan wacko and back again – acting in his role as the Flagler Trump Club’s vice president – published a list of some twenty-one area businesses (including the City of Palm Coast) who advertise on FlaglerLive! calling for residents to “boycott” the establishments until they knuckle under to the economic pressure and stop running ads with the newspaper – or, I assume, go broke.


When addressing the Palm Coast City Council, Mr. Spradley explained:

“I have my business and Flagler Beach, which is a law firm. I’ve been there for 15 years.  My law firm provides representation to individuals and small businesses throughout the area. The last two years have been really a struggle for a lot of individuals and small businesses for all the reasons we know. So, I added to my plate, and helped fifty-four businesses obtain PPP loans–paycheck protection program loans. A lot of restaurants or law firms, other businesses, real estate companies, all of which kept them going, and we are happy to do that. This is what we do. Over the last two years I have four employees, all women, all moms, all who live in Palm Coast. You represent them all, including Mr. Danko. Two weeks ago today–”

With that, Councilman Danko rudely interrupted Spradley – raising a parliamentary point-of-order – asking Mayor David Alfin, “Is the Flagler Trump Club and its agency on our city council agenda?”    

To his credit, Mayor Alfin reminded Councilman Danko “The public is allowed to speak their mind, so reserve your comment.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Danko’s contentious and antagonistic attempts to prevent a citizen from addressing the City Council continued – with Mayor Alfin admonishing Danko to “respect the public first” – before Danko began making ridiculous counteraccusations, claiming “This man is just making this stuff up trying to pin it on me.  I’ve had enough of this garbage from this guy,” which prompted Mayor Alfin to invite Mr. Danko to “leave the dais.”

During the heated exchange, Councilman Danko openly threatened Mr. Spradley from his seat on the dais, “You’re in dangerous territory as a lawyer and you should know it,” as Mayor Alfin repeatedly attempted to gavel the shit-show into some form of order.

Ultimately, City Attorney William Reischmann intervened, reminding the elected officials, “All members of this council are not to speak over other members of this council, all members of this council are not to interrupt.  The mayor has the power to remove individuals, including council members, from this gathering, from this room, if the order is not followed, and his orders are not followed.”

My God. 

When Mr. Spradley’s three-minutes had elapsed, Mayor Alfin rightfully gave Councilman Danko the opportunity to respond.

The Councilman used the time to brand Spradley a “liberal” (although reports indicate that Mr. Spradley is a registered Republican) – and chastised Alfin for standing up for the public’s right to speak, “Quite frankly, Mr. Mayor, I’m appalled that you allowed it.”

Allowed it?

Look, I do not particularly care for Mr. Tristam’s politics (or Danko’s for that matter) but I defend his right to publish an independent opinion – free from the base censorship and economic intimidation wielded by Councilman Danko. 

In my view, this is not about political preference or the debate of competing ideas. 

It represents a crude attempt by a petty, self-serving politician with no qualms about shitting on our hallowed democratic values – or stooping to threats, bluster, and economic bullying to suppress opposition and silence anyone he happens to disagree with. 

I cannot think of anything more un-American.

As Flagler Beach City Commissioner Eric Cooley so aptly put it on social media earlier this week (excerpted):

“A council member from Palm Coast called for a boycott of local Flagler Beach business owned by Scott W. Spradley in the “political club” he is Vice President of due to the publications this local business advertises in. He also went on further to state that if the business changes the method of advertising to a way he sees fit, he will call for the boycott to end by the political group he is vice president of.

This is not ok. Using the same audience you work with as a Council member for personal initiatives (or in this case personal vendettas) is unethical and immoral. Elected officials should be supporting local business, not attempting to turn the community against itself. Elected officials should be working to make the community better, not drag partisan problems into non-partisan business. Elected officials should be supporting the right to free speech and free enterprise, not attempting to dictate personal mandates on how local business functions. Lastly, a elected official should NEVER purposely damage the community they are tasked with representing! As you can see, this particular official does not comply on ANY of these counts. There is also a county commissioner who supports this behavior.”

In my view, it is time for Palm Coast voters – and the local Republican Party apparatus – to immediately distance themselves from this dangerous political hack before more damage is done to the fabric of a community so vitally important to our region.    

Angel               State Representative Elizabeth Fetterhoff

Kudos to State Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff for her efforts to protect our courageous first responders with the reasonable presumption that a COVID-19 diagnosis is job-related, legally acknowledged to have been contracted while performing their duties, allowing them the benefits they deserve.   

According to an article by Mark Harper writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, after Port Orange Police Sergeant Justin White passed away from complications of COVID-19, “White’s widow Carlyn filed for death benefits through a workers’ compensation claim with the city and its insurer, Preferred Governmental Claim Solutions of Lake Mary. Six days after his death, that claim was denied, as it could not be proven he contracted COVID-19 on the job.”

That’s unconscionable

If successful, Rep. Fetterhoff’s bill would provide the presumption to firefighters, emergency medical technicians, law enforcement officers, and correctional officers – those brave souls who willingly go into harm’s way to serve and protect.

My friend Mike Scudiero, the outstanding executive director of the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association, a union representing some 1,700 police officers throughout Florida, was quoted in the News-Journal:

“The biggest thing to remember is any first responder, whether it’s police, fire or medical, these people have no say as to who they come in contact with. They don’t have the ability as you and I might have to work behind plexiglass in a crowded office, or from home,” Scudiero said. “They have to go wherever a dispatcher sends them during any given shift.”

As a career police officer and proud member of a law enforcement family – I commend Rep. Fetterhoff for her commitment to the health and wellbeing of our critical first responders – and encourage elected representatives at all levels of government to support this important legislation. 

Asshole           Volusia County Council

I guess there were a few crumbs left on the table that the “strong majority” of our elected dullards on the Volusia County Council hadn’t gotten their greedy little fingers on during last month’s façade of a budget process – a shameless money grab that saw a tax increase in support of a $1.1 Billion budget. 

At this week’s Volusia County Council meeting, lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler – who, now that she isn’t groveling for the support of her uber-wealthy campaign contributors, could care less how much she screws-over already strapped families – moved to increase entry fees for the tax supported Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet. 

You read that right.

Never mind that during an August special meeting, the Volusia County Council proposed a modest $1.00 across the board increase in general admission fees to fund upgrades and offset increased costs.

Because when it comes to raising tolls and taxes, enough is never enough.   

In my view, the one-dollar increase was both reasonable and necessary – helping to support and improve this area treasure while keeping the cost of admission within reach of struggling families who are slowly being priced out of a day at the beach. 

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Wheeler pulled the innocuous fee increase from the consent agenda, which is typically composed of self-explanatory and non-controversial items that do not require individual motions for approval, then telling us all with a straight face that she wanted more. . .

“I really think that that is not enough. . .”

She then quickly “encouraged” a $3.00 across-the-board fee increase.

Say what?

In keeping with tradition, Wheeler’s cheap set-up was quickly spiked by His Eminence, The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry – before being validated on a classic 5-2 vote – with Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post doing the right thing by their constituents (who already pay for the Marine Science Center through their taxes).

Now, thanks to the heartless, and obviously pre-arranged, suggestion of Councilwoman Wheeler, admission prices will now climb to $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $5 for children over three – with annual individual passes going from $15 to $21, and family passes increasing from $35 to $60.    

Look, some will say, “It’s three-bucks, Barker.  Who cares? 

I do. 

Because the slimy manner and means by which this increase was clearly orchestrated ahead of time – then wormed through without a shred of public notice or input – makes my skin crawl

In my view, this quisling bait-and-switch tactic of public policy by ambush – something we were promised in January would not happen again – is a down-and-dirty way of getting deeper into our pockets, fleecing visitors, and ramrodding diktats that directly impact our lives and livelihoods without any public comment or debate of competing ideas.

Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post held firm to their convictions and, as true representatives of the people who elected them, voted to maintain the agreed upon dollar increase as established during the budget process when it became clear the “strong majority” were not interested in giving Volusia County residents a break.  

Many long-suffering Volusia County taxpayers felt relieved when Councilwoman Wheeler announced she would not seek re-election in 2022 – a ray of hope that this meanspirited and disconnected marionette was finally making way for someone, anyone, who will work in the interests of citizens, rather than her political benefactors.

But not me. 

As a grizzled observer of local politics, I knew that Ms. Wheeler became much more dangerous to our quality of life the moment she shrugged off all traces of political accountability – now free to openly serve her masters – while continuing the tag-team attack on Brower and Post.   

Trust me.  Councilwoman Wheeler has an agenda, a majority vote, and plenty of time to see the wants and whims of her backstage handlers inside the bureaucracy and out implemented before the curtain falls in January 2023.  

In my view, this on-going shim-sham is wrong, a complete lack of transparency, continuity, and stability – a grossly dysfunctional environment where nothing is ever really settled – and just a small part of why we cannot trust anything this “strong majority” of Old Guard insiders say or do.

Quote of the Week

“Pastor Lowry, no one forced you to run for public office, to assume the incredibly important role of giving your constituents eyes and ears on and a voice in their local government — a government designed to be “by the people and for the people.”

You chose to run, and the people trusted you enough to perform this role, so they elected you. When that happened, you gave up the life of an ordinary person, and became a public figure. Again, this is the role you chose, of your own free will.

We entrusted you with amazing powers. You can reach in our wallets to take our hard-earned money to run the government you’re in charge of. You can make rules about how we can conduct our lives and how we are allowed to use our property. Your decisions affect the roads we drive on, the services we depend on, and the communities we live in.

We pay you for this. County Council members earn $45,240 per year, an amount that’s about $5,000 higher than the average annual wage in West Volusia.

At the Sept. 21 County Council meeting, you chastised our county chair, Jeff Brower, because Brower had announced publicly that you had missed two consecutive meetings of the County Council because you were suffering from COVID-19 and were hospitalized with the virus.

You said you hadn’t given Brower permission to share information about your health and scolded him for sharing it.

Hogwash. Brower did exactly the right thing, in consideration of all the people who consent to be governed by the Volusia County Council.

No one needs your permission to share important information about a public figure’s fitness to carry out his or her duties. It’s the public’s right to know. It’s essential information for the people who are governed.”

–Excerpted from The West Volusia Beacon, “Public figures and privacy,” an open letter to Dr. Fred Lowry, Tuesday, September 28, 2021

A tip-o’-the-cap to Beacon publisher Barb Shepherd for hitting the nail squarely on the head. . .

And Another Thing!

If Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower announced that he likes ice cream – you can rest assured that those puppeteers who control the rods and strings at The Daytona Beach News-Journal (and the Volusia County Council) would immediately order an op/ed calling him out – questioning the mysterious reasons why he enjoys this so-called “ice cream,” lugubriously warning residents to be highly suspicious of frozen confections generally – and Brower’s preferred flavor specifically. . .   

Earlier this week, Chairman Brower – at the urging of a diverse group consisting of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, the grassroots environmental activists at Dream Green Volusia, and the shadowy CEO Business Alliance – hosted Dr. Tom Goreau, president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, and Dr. Brian Lapointe, a water quality researcher at Florida Atlantic University, to discuss how the emerging Biorock technology might prove beneficial in restoring the fading Mosquito Lagoon, one of the most threatened ecosystems in the nation. 

Naturally, the News-Journal’s editorial board found the whole idea, well, suspicious – something to be “questioned” – simply because Chairman Brower’s name was associated with it. 

In a cheap-shot editorial on Tuesday – even before Goreau or Lapointe had the opportunity to explain the concept and its potential applicability to the lagoon – the News-Journal began the process of marginalizing the idea by asking inane questions, before getting to the true nut of the matter:

“What applicability would the Oak Hill project have to the rest of the lagoon? Does it have the potential to damage the lagoon instead of healing it? And if so, can that damage be undone?”

Say what?

Wait. You’re asking if Biorock could cause more damage than the current destruction and degradation resulting from the catastrophic loss of seagrass beds, on-going nutrient pollution, and the resultant harmful algal blooms that have killed hundreds of manatees and scores of fish, wildlife, and mollusks?

My God. . .

Then, the editorial board questioned Chairman Brower’s motivations:

“Council members should also be clear on what this pilot project would cost — and what long-term financial commitments might be involved if the technology shows success. It’s regrettable that this proposal, which has apparently been under consideration for some time, was not brought forward during the county’s budget process. County Chairman Jeff Brower was openly critical of county spending during the recent budget debate. Why didn’t he bring this forward then?”

Apparently, the senior leadership of the News-Journal, and their friends on the Anti-Brower Brigade, feel that if the restoration of the lagoon requires “long term financial commitments” (which it undoubtedly will) or unconventional solutions that go beyond photo-ops for politicians funding a hodge-podge of band-aid approaches, then the entirety of the Indian River can die a long, public, and gut-wrenchingly painful death.

Or am I reading that wrong? 

At the risk of speaking for Chairman Brower, perhaps he hasn’t mentioned this promising technology before now because anything of substance the Chair, or Councilwoman Heather Post, bring forward is immediately mocked and maligned by the quisling Gang of Four – Volusia’s entrenched Old Guard who are intent on preserving the status quo while destroying the political careers and effectiveness of anyone who refuses to fall into lockstep conformity. 

You know, the same mockery, bullying, and ridicule we watch, month-after-month, that the News-Journal tells us does not exist?     

Another reason might be because Chairman Brower successfully campaigned on a platform of reducing government spending, holding the line on Volusia County’s exorbitant tax rate, and protecting our sensitive wetlands, estuaries, and waterways – promises which, unlike his craven “colleagues,” he has tried everything in his power to live up to.

If I understand it correctly, plans include funding any potential use of Biorock technology with grants along with state and federal monies currently earmarked for restoration of the Indian River Lagoon.

Why didn’t the News-Journal listen to the presentation before muddying the proverbial water by stirring up the horseshit? 

This wasn’t a sales pitch – it was an opportunity for our elected officials to learn something about a promising new technology that has proven its worth in experimental applications around the globe – a process that has the ancillary benefit of restoring seagrass beds and assisting the proliferation of filter-feeders critical to improving water quality. 

Both Dr. Goreau and Dr. Lapointe were simply explaining how a pilot project in Oak Hill might be used to scientifically measure the effectiveness of a new strategy that could become part of the massive, multi-functional effort that will be required to restore the Mosquito Lagoon.

For their trouble, the esteemed scientists were put on the hot seat in a fashion by Councilman Ben Johnson, his ventriloquist dummy Councilman Danny Robins, and the lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler – who put on their Dick Tracy hats and did their best to interrogate two world-renowned experts in the protection and restoration of marine estuaries who were simply trying to educate them – then laughably tut-tutted over how concerned they are about protecting “taxpayer dollars.”

My ass.   

These universally respected experts were asked to appear and provide their educated insight – they were not “selling” anything to Volusia County.  Frankly, it appeared to me that the good doctors could care less whether this backwards backwater commissions an experiment with their technology or not. 

In typical fashion, to build political insulation, some council members suggested Goreau and Lapointe get mired even deeper in state and federal bureaucracies – going before the St. Johns River Water Management District and other labyrinthine government agencies who give lip service to our state’s abysmal water quality – before Volusia would even consider anything so groundbreaking.    


To his credit, County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald witnessed what was happening on the dais and mercifully offered to work out the details with Dr. Goreau – a move which gave a glimmer of hope for a Biorock pilot project in the Mosquito Lagoon. 

(I don’t think it will happen – but I’m a cynical asshole – while others close to the project feel Mr. Recktenwald will be able to pull something of substance together. I hope so.)

It was a variation on the old kick the can down the road “until we get more information” ruse – which, in the case of government’s relationship to emerging technologies – typically translates to “let’s wait until it becomes a commercial success so we can pay exponentially more than we would have if we assisted with the developmental research.”

In my view, it is time for those organizations who ostensibly exist to protect and preserve Florida’s waterways – like the St. Johns River Water Management District – to begin developing sustainable funding sources to explore these cutting-edge strategies and formulate a comprehensive plan to stop septic leaching, reduce nutrient loads, limit coastal development, and stem the toxic runoff that is destroying the Indian River Lagoon while there is still something worth worrying about.

Despite what we routinely witness here on the Fun Coast, there are some threats that transcend the pettiness of politics, and it was exciting to see a diverse group of stakeholders express such enthusiasm for trying a new and innovative technology to restore biodiversity in Mosquito Lagoon and beyond.

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

More Money. More Hot Air.

Don’t look now, but the periodic discussion of the deplorable state of the Halifax area’s tourism product is back on the table – and while absolutely nothing of substance will come from it – it is nice to occasionally delude ourselves with a sense of, well, hope. . . 

Us weary denizens of Florida’s fabled Fun Coast are weird that way. 

In his Sunday screed, editor Pat Rice of The Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote yet another entreaty for someone to do something about what he described as our “decrepit core beachside.”

In summation, Mr. Rice implored:

“Most everyone wants to see the beachside better than it is. Not just so we can attract tourists. It should be the place where all of us want to visit or live.

Let’s get to it.”

While I appreciate Mr. Rice’s perseverance, the fact is, in Volusia County we have an almost masochistic bent for allowing those we have elected and appointed to positions of high responsibility to tell us what they think we want to hear and a willingness to bank on the ramblings of developers shills, uber-wealthy insiders, and pseudo-experts as fact – while ignoring the paid advice of professionals or our own educated perceptions and suspicions – always accepting the inevitable with a stoic “that’s just the way it is” resignation. 

Perhaps it is because the stark reality of our collective predicament is simply too much to bear – or, after decades of living with the squalor, blight, and dilapidation that is our core tourist area we have simply become accustomed to it? 

Recently, Uncle Bob Davis, President for Life of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County, and Jonathan Abraham Eid, of Los Angeles-based Vienna Capital, the latest owner of the Grande dame of beachside hotels – The Plaza Resort & Spa – held a “Hoteliers Unite” summit, bringing together our tourism and hospitality gurus for a meeting of the minds.

Unfortunately, the guest list included six members of the tax supported Halifax Area Advertising Authority – which raised questions among some that the private confab may have “undermined” the spirit of Florida’s open meeting law. 

Because it did. . . 


According to an excellent report by Jim Abbott writing in the News-Journal, “…the meeting included an update from Davis and Eid on a year’s worth of meetings that they have had with various Daytona Beach and Volusia County officials, beachside residents, business owners and others seeking to foster communication that could lead to improvements in infrastructure, code enforcement and other issues.”  

Sound familiar?

Yep.  ‘Big doings,’ folks – the only thing missing this time around is the perfunctory “Town Hall” or “coffee klatch” sponsored by the News-Journal and hosted by Pat Rice. . .

Invariably, those with a chip in the game will say “That’s just Barker being a Negative Nancy – always focused on the dark side,” and maybe they are right.

But whenever I begin to doubt my best instincts, I ground myself with a quick review of the voluminous 2013 Analysis of Volusia County Tourism Marketing conducted by Strategic Advisory Group of Duluth, Georgia – a wholly ignored independent study that Volusia County residents paid $100,000 for – which is now collecting dust on a groaning shelf in some ancient records morgue in DeLand.

The report was controversial – some in West Volusia thought they were underrepresented – while others accused former County Manager Jim Dinneen of having authored the report himself – and, at the end of the day, some of the consultant’s core suggestions obviously didn’t sit well with our fusty, ‘set in their ways,’ tourism mavens.

However, none of our entrenched hospitality insiders can say they were not warned. 

After interviewing some 150 “stakeholders” (essentially the same group listed above), SAG distilled some common themes for Volusia County political leaders to consider.

These included the problems inherent with creating a singular tourism agency for Volusia County – citing the fact Southeast and West Volusia are vastly different from Daytona Beach (that’s true) with each attracting a different demographic, no comprehensive communications plan to keep stakeholders informed of tourism efforts, the lack of research-driven marketing strategies, and no identifiable measurement plan, “…a tool to increase understanding of success and current and future direction.”

So, what’s changed?

After all, DeLand and New Smyrna Beach have worked hard to develop unique communities – with thriving art and entertainment venues, an identifiable city center, and a hometown feel that draws repeat visitors, entrepreneurs, and satisfied full-time residents. 

The Daytona Beach Resort Area has not. . .

Most important, according to SAG, the stakeholders expressed concern over the long-term condition of the tourism product, “notably the beach side of Daytona Beach.”

There were many types of concerns expressed. Examples include:

1. Condition of hotels

2. Condition of storefronts in high volume areas

3. Lack of attractive streetscape in key tourism areas

“There is widespread concern that there is no “plan” for who is leading the effort and how these challenges can be improved. The issue of improvement in the tourism product was a top priority in most of the interviews.”

Again, sound familiar?

It should.

Because in May 2018, Tony Grippa, chair of the blue-ribbon Beachside Redevelopment Committee, briefed the Volusia County Council on its year-long in-depth study of the historical challenges facing tourism and redevelopment from Ormond Beach to Daytona Beach Shores.

The study, conducted by Volusia County’s ‘best and brightest,’ was born in the aftermath of the News-Journal’s outstanding “Tarnished Jewel” exposé which took a deep dive into the malignant blight that has been slowly destroying our core tourist areas for years.   

When the impressive Mr. Grippa finished his presentation before the Volusia County Council – and laid the group’s bureaucratically neutered findings at the feet of the masters – our elected dullards on the dais of power (now having effectively faded the political heat) discharged the committee with “great thanks and appreciation” – while lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler cooed:

I am fighting with you on this,” Wheeler said. “This is my district, and we do have a plan of action, but I want to make sure it is not one of those plans of actions that goes on the shelf, and I can tell you I am 100% committed to doing whatever I need to do in collaborating with this group on getting things moving.”

Rah, Rah, Rah – Sis-Boom-Bah! 

More bullshit. More time over the transom.

So, what happened to that “Plan of Action” Ms. Wheeler?

Although convenient, the fact is, Councilwoman Wheeler shouldn’t be the scapegoat for the historic waste and inefficiencies, lack of civic vision, the motivations of mercenary property owners, and the almost strategic blight that continues to drive our “tourism product” into the toilet.

In the aftermath of the Beachside Redevelopment Committees arduous work – which, according to past precedent, went totally unheeded by both our elected officials and entrenched hospitality insiders – Mr. Rice wrote in a 2019 essay:

“It takes time to remedy the decades of neglect and problems that have allowed the beachside to become decrepit and crime ridden. Raggedy rental housing doesn’t improve overnight. Shops and restaurants don’t just sprout up because people wish for them. Everyone gets that.

But there is such a thing as not trying hard enough. There is such a thing as flying too below the public’s radar. There is such a thing as not banging the drum loudly.”

Inconceivably, according to reports, recently the Halifax Area Advertising Authority board of directors, “unanimously approved the selection of MMGY NextFactor, a travel and tourism consulting firm based in Vancouver, Canada, to prepare a long-term strategic plan to overhaul the destination’s image.”

The $50,000 study is described as “…a full-scope deep dive into today’s destination image and perception of Daytona Beach.”

My God. 

Eight-years on, perhaps before we expend one more dime on studies and consultant reports, our “tourism gurus” should print this line from the SAG report and have it tattooed on their foreheads:

“Without resources – leadership and economic – the overall tourism experience in Volusia County will decline.  An overall collaborative strategy is needed.”  

How many more times do our ‘powers that be’ need to hear it?