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. . .

Whatever. 

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. 

Why? 

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. . . 

Bullshit.

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. 

Remember? 

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.”

Interesting. 

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.”

Bullshit.

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. . .

Why?

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.

Why?

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. 

Bullshit. 

“(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. 

Hypocrites. 

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.

Wow. 

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.    

Whatever.   

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. . . 

Whatever.

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?

Angels & Assholes for October 1, 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               Sons of the Beach, Dream Green Volusia, and the CEO Business Alliance

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The infant will play by the cobra’s den, and the toddler will reach into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the sea is full of water.”

–Isaiah 11:6-9

Whoa. 

We live in strange times, folks.  The stuff of Old Testament prophecies. . .

When I mention Sons of the Beach, Dream Green Volusia, and the Volusia CEO Business Alliance as Angels – in the same space – well, it sounds like something out of The Book of Revelation. 

Sometimes it takes extraordinary circumstances – and strange partnerships – to accomplish extraordinary things – none more important that reversing the devastating effects of excess nutrients, toxins, and sewage-fueled algal blooms that are destroying the Indian River Lagoon, one of Florida’s most threatened ecosystems. 

Something that affects all of us.   

It’s no secret that we’ve made a mess of things here in the Sunshine State, literally shitting in our own nest – paving over wetlands, allowing fertilizer runoff and septic leaching in tidal creeks and canals, always favoring the greed-crazed profit motives of coastal real estate developers over the health and safety of our rivers, springs, estuaries, and critical waterways – even sacrificing the very source of our drinking water for another half-empty strip center or godawful “theme” community. 

Early last year, Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy – partnered with that mysterious camera stellata at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance to host world-renowned marine biologist and bio/geochemist, Dr. Thomas Goreau, in Daytona Beach.

According to a media release by Sons of the Beach, Dr. Goreau specializes in “ocean reef restoration and construction, shoreline protection, and fisheries restoration,” and has developed Biorock technology that can help mitigate the impact of coastal erosion, protect biodiversity, and stabilize beaches – something we desperately need here on the Fun Coast.   

Unfortunately, COVID-19 precautions prevented Dr. Goreau’s presentation last year, but further research found that Biorock technology could be used to naturally mitigate and repair damage to the severely threatened Mosquito Lagoon and Indian River.

Earlier this year, the grassroots environmental group Dream Green Volusia – who recently mounted a successful campaign to save a threatened portion of the Ormond Scenic Loop – has joined the fight. 

As a dilettante aquarist – one who has successfully flooded my home with live seawater on multiple occasions, resulting in thousands of dollars in repairs and remediation, and watched hundreds of dollars in tropical fish feed on one another through the years – I know something of the restorative effect of biological filtration and the nitrogen cycle in the conversion of harmful nutrients and waste – and while not everything created in the microcosm of a home aquarium can (or should) be recreated in nature – the idea of technologically assisted natural filtration and symbiosis is compelling. 

Now, thanks to the unlikely partnership of Sons of the Beach, Dream Green Volusia, and the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, we have a chance to learn more about Biorock applications from the inventors of this promising technology.    

On October 5, Dr. Goreau and his colleague, Dr. Brian Lapointe, will join Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower and county staff in presenting a pilot program on how Biorock could be used to assist in the restoration of the Indian River Lagoon and beyond.    

The presentation will take place during the regular Volusia County Council meeting. 

According to SOB President Paul Zimmerman:

“The Sons of the Beach would like to invite all those who are concerned about the degradation of The Indian River Lagoon, and all the waterways of Volusia County, to attend the VCC meeting on October 5th, to learn how this innovative technology can transform our waterways. If you are unable to attend, please visit the link below to learn how Biorock can help us restore this vital marine ecosystem. We believe that an approval for this pilot program will result in a measurable improvement, and eventually lead to expansion in other waterways and beaches in Volusia County.”

Unfortunately, there are some experts who believe the Indian River Lagoon is too far gone to save, and the current patchwork of solutions have come too late to make a substantive difference – but that doesn’t mean we would stop trying – or close our minds to innovative ways to stop the cycle of destruction that has resulted in the death of scores of manatees, fish, mollusks, and the seagrass beds that are critical to supporting the sensitive biodiversity of the lagoon. 

In my view, it is time we do something beyond a convenient photo-op for politicians holding outsized checks who paint themselves as “environmentalists” – or the well-meaning, but wholly insufficient, band-aid approaches – and begin the process of using proven solutions and legislation that, over time, can change the grim tide of overdevelopment and the resulting effects of excess nutrients and toxic chemicals that are slowly suffocating this once bountiful ecosystem.  

Yard signs supporting the “Save The Lagoon” initiative will be available Saturday, October 2, 2021, from 10:00am to 11:00am at the City Island parking lot in Daytona Beach.   

Angel               Daytona Beach Special Events Task Force

“This is just not going to happen again,” County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler said Thursday. “I don’t want this back in this community. … I don’t want our citizens going through that again.”

–Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, as quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Drinking, public urination, cursing: Why Daytona Truck Meet will end,” Thursday, JULY 20, 2017

The American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”

Obviously, Ralph didn’t understand the pettiness of politics. . . 

In the early 1980’s when I was a young and idealistic police officer, serving as president of the Volusia Crime Prevention Association, the organization had a thought that our area could benefit from a telephone tip line much like the Orlando Police Department’s successful “Crimeline” program.

Naïvely, we ran with it. . .

Back in the day, OPD Officer Jim Bishop would feature re-enactments of crimes which were aired on regional television affiliates and radio, offering a reward of up to $1,000 for anyone who called in an anonymous tip which led to an arrest in the unsolved case.   

With the blessing of the association, I became the point man for the effort – holding fundraisers with area civic groups, recruiting volunteers for a community-based board of directors to oversee the program and administrate rewards, mapped out the logistics, spoke to every club, group, committee, and commission who would listen, all while lobbying hard to convince then Volusia County Sheriff Ed Duff – a brash pipe-smoking former FBI agent who privately voiced support for the project – knowing that his backing and political clout would be key for a successful countywide effort.  

Then, a small neighborhood newspaper ran a headline, “Crime Line Start Up Spurred by Holly Hill.” 

That’s when the wheel came off the cart. . .

Shortly afterward, Sheriff Duff was quoted prominently in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, speaking at a meeting of the Volusia County Police Chief’s Association, “I’m not convinced we have that many crimes that would warrant Crimeline attention,” and, just like that – the project was dead in the water. . . 

The article continued, “After Duff announced his agency would be unable to staff the phone, Chief Harold Burr, Ormond Beach, president of the group asked if any other agency would be able to bare the burden of the phone.  When no response was given, Burr said the group would consider the proposal and report back to Barker at the next meeting.”

My boss, former Holly Hill Police Chief J. P. Finn, broke the news to me as gently as he could – The idea should have come from someone who could use the creation of a high-profile program to their political advantage. . .

I was disheartened – our hard work had been for naught, and it was wrong and unfair to those who helped bring this important program to life – but I knew he was right. 

It wasn’t the quality or necessity of the program – it was who could take credit for it that mattered. 

I never forgot that.

Today, Crimestoppers of Northeast Florida – which was incorporated in 1996 by the Daytona Beach Rotary Club following the tragic murder of prominent local businessman Alan Robertson – is one of the most successful programs of its kind in the nation, helping to solve thousands of felony cases and resulting in the recovery of millions-of-dollars in stolen property.

In addition, the program incorporates a robust crime prevention message that is vital to fighting crime and victimization in our area. 

I was reminded of my early education on the fine points of ‘politics’ earlier this week when the “Daytona Beach Special Events Task Force” held its first meeting.

The task force was the brainchild of Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu following the disastrous Daytona Truck Meet in June, an anything goes beer-fueled debauch, which resulted in widespread mayhem as lifted truck enthusiasts turned our community into a public urinal, terrorizing beachside residents with gridlocked traffic, burnouts, and insufferable train horns.

In my view, getting everyone around the same table to discuss solutions – an all-hands-on-deck approach involving a cooperative effort to limit the impact of these “special events” on east Volusia communities – was a great idea and an excellent way to effectively manage these caustic spectacles that are ruining our tourism product and irreparably tarnishing the brand.

According to a July 2021 report by WFTV’s Mike Springer, “Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu said she is working with the other cities on the peninsula from Ormond Beach to Ponce Inlet to form a joint task force to respond to those pop-up social media event that she says can be disruptive for the people living there.”

Apparently, lame duck Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler also wanted credit for the initiative. 

Unfortunately, she’s done little more than mewl about doing something for the past four-years – then, just days before the task force met, she was quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“I knew everybody needed to be engaged,” said Volusia County Council member Billie Wheeler, who was first to suggest a unified approach to the problem. “If Daytona pushes them out, they’ll just go to the Shores or Ormond Beach. It’s like squeezing the balloon.”

Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu has also taken a lead on the effort, and after talking with Wheeler, a former Daytona Beach police chief and others who handled past wild events like Spring Break, Cantu suggested forming the task force.”

It shouldn’t matter, but it does. 

After the task force met on Wednesday, the News-Journal finally got it right:

“The task force had its beginnings with City Commissioner Stacy Cantu. After listening to residents vent their frustrations about unsanctioned events, Cantu decided to look into what could be done.”

To her credit, Commissioner Cantu began voicing support for what became known as the Special Events Task Force in the immediate aftermath of the June truck debacle – rightfully calling for a comprehensive response to these disruptive events – and, in my view, she should be applauded for this important first step.    

On Wednesday, with little time to spare before next month’s “Trucktoberfest” shit-show descends on the beachside, area managers, mayors, and police chiefs met at the Ocean Center in what many hope will be an on-going effort to develop cooperative solutions. 

In the end, some very good ideas came from the meeting which was moderated by Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry. 

The confab also proved, once and for all, that Sheriff Mike Chitwood is a Master of the Art of telling it exactly like it is. 

When talk turned to the 800-pound gorilla in the room – Daytona International Speedway – who plays host to the daytime portion of these otherwise unsanctioned truck events, Sheriff Chitwood placed blame squarely where it belongs:

“If I invite 150 of my closest friends to my house, and they trash the shit out of the city when they’re leaving, whose fault is it?” Chitwood asked. “It should be mine.”

Amen.

As always, I was most impressed by Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young – who explained the problems inherent to these “invasion events” – and helped map a cooperative and targeted strategy to effectively manage them in the future – including holding promotors financially accountable, supporting legislation to give law enforcement more tools, and taking a ‘zero tolerance’ stance with those who break the law. 

“If we’re forced to deal with this event again it’ll be zero tolerance,” Young said.  “We can see this event is getting bigger and bigger and has become like a Mardi Gras.”

Kudos to Daytona Beach Commissioner Cantu for her vision and initiative – and to the impressive group who participated Wednesday night.      

In my view, this incredibly cooperative and collegial meeting was a great first step – now, let’s hope our elected and appointed leadership can keep the momentum going. 

Asshole           Deltona City Government  

You know the old sideswipe, “You couldn’t pay me to work here”? 

Well, in the City of Deltona, that appears to be true.

Recently, Interim City Manager John Peters – who just last month rescinded his pending resignation which, for months, had been hanging over the heads of elected officials like Damocles’ sword – announced that his administration would be offering substantial across-the-board pay increases as a means of attracting workers to perpetually vacant positions in the municipal government. 

The move came ahead of a job fair held yesterday afternoon to fill “multiple positions” ranging from public works technicians to administrative and compliance roles – with a “Parks Superintendent” appointment beginning at $32.89 per hour.

(Damn! Where’s my Smokey the Bear hat?)

In an article by the News-Journal’s outstanding Wild West Volusia reporter Katie Kustura, Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg – who was first elected to the perennially dysfunctional Deltona City Commission over a decade ago – claims the city has historically lost personnel to other area municipalities who pay more for similar services. 

“People come here, they get their training for a year, they get their certification and bye-bye,” Herzberg said during the August 9 workshop.

Other municipalities aren’t the only other competition either.

“We do compete with the private sector in a lot of our positions,” Peters said. “Customer service, we lose them to the power company, the phone company, the bank.”

I’ll just bet Deltona loses a few to the concept of common human decency, too. . .

Look, I hate to contradict Mayor Herzberg’s educated assessment of what Mr. Peters described as a “multilayered problem” – after all, anyone who has been in the wheelhouse of this perpetual shit-show as long as Ms. Herzberg should have a pretty good grasp as to why the place is hemorrhaging people – but has anyone taken a look at the near-constant internal strife and turmoil in a community that seems destined to come apart at its seams? 

The fact is, many are drawn to government jobs at all levels for the stability, security, excellent benefits, retirement plans, and almost guaranteed annual pay increases – advantages that are rarities in the private sector (as the poster boy for civil service protections, I should know).

But even with these attractive employment benefits and incentives, no one in their right mind wants to work in a topsy-turvy environment where the city government seems perpetually at odds with the citizens it exists to serve – or suffer the career crippling wounds of the internecine warfare at City Hall – forever enduring the embarrassing gaffes and howlers by elected officials that have kept the City of Deltona in the funny papers for years. 

For instance, many are still reeling from the devastating fallout of former City Manager Jane Shang’s reign of terror, a terribly divisive period which destroyed morale (and the public trust), while the merry-go-round of acting/interim managers and directors has resulted in an unstable and confusing environment for both citizens and staff. 

Most professionals want to play for the coach that recruited them – not a placeholder with an expiration date.    

When you add confusing headlines like, “Deltona’s HR director claims in lawsuit he was fired; city says he’s still on payroll,” which accompany ugly claims that Mr. Peters used demeaning and sexually harassing language toward employees – coupled with disturbing allegations that “…women in a position of power or management have either been let go, forced to resign or voluntarily left” – and you get the idea that money might not be the real reason Deltona is having a problem recruiting and retaining quality candidates. 

Sometimes government’s go-to panacea of throwing taxpayer dollars at a problem until it goes away works well – and sometimes it doesn’t. 

In my experience, those drawn to government service are some of the most dedicated and personally committed professionals anywhere – many with an innate enthusiasm for service above self and a true connection with the community – traits that money cannot buy.  

Perhaps the City of Deltona should take a long, introspective look at its culture – then find ways to improve the work environment by mending fences with rightfully chary residents, encouraging productivity through performance-based recognition, developing strong core values, breaking down barriers between citizens and staff, establishing opportunities for professional and personal development, and setting definable organizational goals that allow each employee to use their creativity and initiative in a meaningful way.

It’s not rocket science.

Creating a welcoming environment and professional climate that allows people to excel doesn’t cost a thing.

Quote of the Week

“The City Commission voted 4-1 on a second reading of an ordinance amendment to prohibit all car and motorcycle washes in Ormond Beach during recognized special events at its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 22. Commissioner Rob Littleton voted no.

Two residents, one of whom is a business owner, spoke against the city passing this amendment, pointing out that the washes raise money for nonprofits.

The commissioners voted on the amendment without further discussion. At the first reading of the amendment, voted on by the commission on Sept. 8, Commissioner Troy Kent said the residents he had spoken with don’t want to see these types of washes in the city.”

–Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas, Ormond Beach Observer, “City bans Bike Week, Biketoberfest car and motorcycle washes,” Thursday, September 23, 2021

Hey, screw your small business that partners with not-for-profit civic organization to take advantage of special event traffic – the “resident(s)” who have Komisar Troy Kent’s ear said they don’t want to see that tawdry shit anymore.    

So there.    

Call me old-fashioned, but I like my Bike Week a little on the trashy side, and those ubiquitous bikini bike wash events have, for decades, been a part of our hallowed tradition of separating out-of-town bikers from their disposable income with a sophisticated and highly scientific combination of boobs, bikes, and beer

These bike washes serve as a way for bars and restaurants to lure customers off the street – and for properly permitted civic organizations to raise funds in support of local charitable causes during special events.

As we slowly emerge from the civic, economic, and social stagnation of the pandemic – with many small businesses still struggling for survival – Mayor Bill Partington and his Merry Band of Prudes thought it best to take up the nonsensical cause of banning these harmless fundraisers. 

Given that this uber-important legislation amending the city’s Land Development Code has been winding its way through the bowels of City Hall since July, including a scheduled hearing and testimony before the Planning Board, it is apparent this latest cause célèbre has received the full and undivided attention of the bureaucracy. 

Considering the sausage making included a supporting nine-page staff report containing background and analysis, a three-page “Proposed Land Development Code Amendment,” a four-page memorandum to the Mayor and City Commission reviewed and approved by three senior executives, and a six-page draft ordinance – all completed by Planning Director Steven Spraker (a credentialed member of the American Institute of Certified Planners) – it is reasonable to assume that the City of Ormond Beach has now expended many hours equaling thousands of taxpayer dollars to give this horseshit decree the full weight and might of government enforcement.

Why?

To whose benefit? 

As a resident and taxpayer of Ormond Beach, how does this godawful waste of time, talent, and tax dollars improve my overall quality of life?

I mean – what difference does it make – and who gives a damn?

These charitable bike washes are a self-correcting issue – without any oversight or enforcement, at the end of each Bike Week or Biketoberfest, they simply vanish – like they were never even here – and a few struggling businesses and nonprofits have a couple of bucks in the coffer that they wouldn’t have without the opportunity.    

Dollars that equate to putting food on the table for area small business owners and their staff – and a little extra for doing good in our community.   

By the way, at the same meeting where this landmark legislation received its first public hearing and approval, the Ormond Beach City Commission set an annual budget of $101.7 million while raising taxes some 4.7% on a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Dwight Selby voting against the increase. . . 

And Another Thing!

I pride myself on the fact this blogsite attracts an eclectic readership.   

From uber-wealthy oligarchs who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast, to politicians, government executives, retirees on fixed incomes and young people just getting established, everyone can find something on this page that piques their interest – or pisses them off – and ultimately stimulates a greater discussion of the issues across our diverse social and economic strata. 

As The Daytona Beach News-Journal continues its inexorable slide into mediocrity and regionalization (damn the looming government shutdown and potentially crippling US credit default, how about that frontpage story of a 225-pound pig in a sundress?!) – with its near-constant virtue signaling and “progressive” slant on everything – many are starved for an alternative view, a jaded take on the news and newsmakers that better represents our collective reality.

The problem is – I don’t report the news.  I bitch about it.   

Last week, the News-Journal (which has found a lucrative niche as a weekly real estate marketing brochure) spent an inordinate amount of time reporting the sale of a $5.1 million oceanfront château in Ormond Beach, which was recently purchased by a Tennessee couple who, we are told, run a charity for disabled dogs – good work which they apparently plan to continue here. 

According to an article by the News-Journal’s exceptional business editor Clayton Park entitled, “Oceanfront Ormond Beach home sells for $5.1 million, most ever in Volusia County”:

“The two-story luxury home was built in 2007 and offers 12,426 square feet of living space and “nearly 16,000 square feet under roof,” said (realtor Christopher) Connors. It sits on a nearly one-acre lot that includes 156½ feet of ocean frontage, an outdoor infinity pool with an attached spa overlooking the ocean, and two garages that can accommodate up to six cars.”

Wow.

The article went on to tout the boom in “luxury home” transactions in the area – as exemplified by the sale of 14 homes costing “$1 million or more” in August alone – which has left some area real estate brokers absolutely giddy.

According to a report by the Daytona Beach Area Association of Realtors, “The average sales price of homes sold in the greater Daytona Beach area exceeded $400,000 for the first time ever in July. In August, the average sale price dipped slightly to $392,448, but was still up 20.3% from a year ago, according to the association’s latest report.”

That’s good news, I suppose.

Considering that less than a year ago, some 7,645 businesses in Volusia County (including some real estate brokers and developers) accepted a collective total of between $435,953,828 and $751,803,828 in federally backed Payroll Protection Loans which, according to reports, retained some 57,269 area jobs. . . 

Now, I assume those loans will need to be paid back at some point – so, when these massive bills come due, what happens to La Belle Époque?

Look, I hate to spoil the party by dropping a deuce in the proverbial punchbowl – but these are questions we should be asking ourselves – because, God knows, the News-Journal isn’t going to ask them for us. . .    

Unfortunately, not everyone is living in the Gatsbyesque splendor of an oceanfront manse here on the Fun Coast. 

As I sit here at Barker’s View HQ – comfortably ensconced in our arrogantly shabby wood-frame cracker box in the wilds of “affordable Ormond” – I can’t help but contemplate the growing contrast of this Tale of Two Cities – a place where homes now command an average price of $400,000 while the median household income in Volusia remains below state (-$10,713) and national (-$18,730) averages and a sizeable portion of the population live at or below the federal poverty line or are considered “asset limited, income constrained, employed.”

In my view, these numbers – on both sides of the spectrum – bring into focus the true depth of the looming affordable housing crisis as those who struggle to make ends meet in the warehouse jobs our “economic development” types are so proud of, or perform dead-end scutwork in the hospitality industry, are quickly pushed out of the market – and any “federal assistance” that thousands of area residents and businesses relied on for their survival now seems limited to supporting the whims and bonuses of massive bureaucracies. 

For instance, for those who have been caught between an economic rock and a hard place due to COVID-19, a recent vote by our elected dullards on the Volusia County Council reduced your rental and utilities assistance to just six-months – all while county government lavishes in hundreds-of-millions in federal relief funds. . .  

Hey, Barker, who gives a shit about helping families avoid homelessness when bathrooms at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building need a remodel, eh?  

Whatever.  

In my view, these astronomical property values call into question why – almost universally – local government’s saw the need to raise taxes and inflate operating budgets at a time when many families and the small businesses that support them (89% of Volusia County businesses employ 20 people or less) are still feeling the devastating financial impacts of the pandemic?

I mean, is a $1.1 Billion budget in a county with no identifiable transportation infrastructure plan ethical?

I’m asking. 

Given the number of people who spoke passionately at the recent Volusia County budget hearing, which saw craven politicians increase taxes while setting an enormous budget – my hope is that this shameless money grab may finally have awakened the sleeping bear – the thousands of residents who are feeling the pain of eking out a living in this artificial service-based economy, at a time when the price of goods and services continues to increase exponentially.  (Anyone been to the grocery store lately?   Me neither.)

Given the growing local divide between the “haves and have nots” perhaps these concerned citizens will make good on their promise to sharpen their pencils and do the homework our elected officials can’t be bothered with – doing the deep dive into the massive spending and inflated allocations to identify the fat and gristle – then demand the fundamental changes necessary to bring this monstrous bureaucracy in line at the ballot box next year.

Its now or never.

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