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.”
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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
By his own admission, Mr. Fitzsimmons estimates his company has blanketed West Volusia with over 1,000 homes after drudging through what he describes as the “arduous” and “extensive” process of working with local planning staff.
In my view, that typically translates to a developer getting whatever they want when the matter goes before the respective communities elected body, as evidenced by the increased density, near gridlocked traffic, and massive overdeveloped we have experienced in the past few years.
Now, it seems the approval of planned unit developments has become a foregone conclusion.
Why is that?
Now, Mr. Fitzsimmons would have us “give the staff a break” and stop coming before our elected officials to let our voices be heard on the devastating and cumulative impact of malignant residential and commercial development on our quality of life – especially in a county with no identifiable transportation infrastructure plan – and focus on changing our community’s comprehensive plan instead.
“I fight tooth and nail with them on a regular basis,” Fitzsimmons said. “Then they’re getting in front of the council or the commission and the next thing they do is get crucified by the public and accused of being in our back pocket, and nothing could be further from the truth.”
Why would a developer find it necessary to “fight tooth and nail” if their proposal fits within current zoning and environmental regulations?
Perhaps Mr. Fitzsimmons is right.
While the development industry continues to invest vast sums into the campaign coffers of hand-select candidates (in 2019, it was estimated that 20% of campaign funds originated from real estate developers), now is the time for We, The Little People, to elect representatives committed to the idea that comp plans are established ahead of development to ensure our quality of life (at least they should be).
In my view, the idea of arbitrarily changing zoning requirements – as our elected representatives throw their hands in the air and mewl “there’s nothing we can do!” – while our remaining wildlife habitat is churned into a moonscape to make room for another godawful “theme” community while dismissing the concerns of residents.
That is anathema to the very concept of comprehensive planning and land use regulations.
Yes, Mr. Fitzsimmons is on to something here.
It is time we recruit and support quality candidates for elective office at all levels of government – those with a willingness to serve the interests of those who elected them, not just those who fund their perpetual campaigns – then vote like our lives and livelihoods depend on it.
In my view, time is of the essence now that area developers have set their insatiable sights on former golf courses (Can cemeteries be far behind?) – a self-serving strategy that will shoehorn even more wood frame cracker boxes into built out neighborhoods and change the character of communities with increased density, traffic, and service demand – accelerating the on-going destruction of our quality of life.
And Another Thing!
I am not the most altruistic guy you know.
From anecdotal experience, I subscribe to the tried-and-true philosophy that “no good deed goes unpunished.”
Four-decades witnessing man’s inhumanity to man (and women, children, defenseless animals, etc.) cauterized that portion of my prefrontal cortex that houses the “do-gooder” gene which regulates philanthropic impulse.
As a result, you will not find me volunteering to nurse baby squirrels back to health, donating to charitable causes, or working to save the world from (enter the trending cause du jour here).
I’m more Larry David than Albert Sweitzer.
That said, I have an enduring respect for those who dedicate themselves to helping the less fortunate, protecting our sensitive environment, promoting civic activism, and preserving our unique history – big-hearted volunteers who generously give of their time, money, and talents in the grassroots cause of promoting good governance – asking nothing in return for their selfless community service.
In Volusia County, we are fortunate to have a committed group of environmentalists working hard against mounting odds to protect our waterways and wild places from the myriad sins of overdevelopment – fighting valiantly against entrenched special interests with a profit motive.
In my experience, the congenital need for recognition (and money) is shared by those who hold themselves out for high-office – and some who make a lucrative cottage industry out of social, humanitarian, or environmental activism – enriching themselves, politically and financially, from traditionally not-for-profit pursuits.
Enter the case of Biorock – an emerging technology developed by Dr. Tom Goreau, who comes off like the quintessential ‘mad scientist’ with a Doctorate in Biogeochemistry from Harvard University, a Masters in Planetary Astronomy from Caltech, with an undergraduate degree in Planetary Physics from the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology – which involves running a low-voltage electrical charge through a submerged steel structure to enhance calcification and stimulate the growth of beneficial marine life, including filter-feeding oysters, corals, and seagrasses.
Recently, Dr. Goreau and his esteemed associate, Dr. Brian Lapointe, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, were invited to Volusia County by the unlikely consortium of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, the community environmental activists at Dream Green Volusia, and the mysterious CEO Business Alliance, to educate our elected officials on potential Biorock applications in the imperiled Mosquito Lagoon.
It went about like you would expect.
Again, no good deed goes unpunished.
For their trouble, Dr. Goreau and Dr. Lapointe were met with open skepticism – treated like snake oil salesmen by those dullards on the dais – interrogated by Councilmen Ben Johnson and his sock puppet Danny Robins, then quizzed by lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler with a series of prepared questions.
In turn, we heard from Dr. Duane De Freese, who serves as executive director of the tax supported Indian River Lagoon Council, who was quoted in the News-Journal:
“There were an awful lot of unanswered questions yesterday that need to be answered before a project would move forward.”
Dr. De Freese also suggested Goreau apply for a National Estuary Program grant.
According to govsalaries.com, Dr. De Freese received $112,500 last year for helping determine which initiatives will receive funding, and which will not.
In 2020, the “Deputy Director” of the IRL Council was paid $78,000, while the “Chief Operating Officer” and “Special Projects Coordinator” were paid $70,000 and $60,000, respectively.
In 2021, when you add projected administrative costs and facilities expenses of $271,200 – on top of annual salaries and benefits worth some $420,498 – you begin to see that doing good for the lagoon comes with some overhead. . .
Look, I get it.
The competition for scarce grant funding is fierce – and there are many councils, committees, conservancies, trusts, districts and a host of local, city, state, federal, private and non-profit stakeholders in the mix – all justifying their thin slice of the pie to fund various projects and emerging technologies under various conservation and management efforts of the National Estuary Program which focus on improving water quality and “living resource” priorities.
But what I did not expect was the ferocity of the attack on those associated with the Biorock proposal – the gross negativity, roadblocks, and politicking from every corner – including two derogatory editorials in The Daytona Beach News-Journal coupled with chiding posts on social media dismissing the concept and accusing anyone associated with the project of ulterior motives.
Tut-tutting and pointing fingers while the Indian River Lagoon continues its painful death spiral. . .
Because Volusia County Chairman Jeff Brower supports exploring a small pilot project to evaluate the effectiveness of Biorock technology on seagrass propagation in the Mosquito Lagoon.
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!