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 Volusia County Council & School Board
I recently had a barstool conversation with a slightly-sloshed local sage who speculated whether it is time to cleave Volusia County into two parts – use the traditional “Palmetto Curtain” as a line of demarcation – bisecting into two autonomous counties in some weird parasitic amoebozoan mitosis.
As ridiculous as that sounds, the differences between the two sides of the same geopolitical region could not be more glaring.
I often wonder if our neighbors in West Volusia – quiet places like DeLand, with its award-winning downtown, university vibe, and hometown charm or quaint communities like Pierson and Lake Helen – feel hamstrung being lashed to the stagnation and strategic blight that blankets the core tourist area of Daytona Beach, the boom/bust cycle of invasive eastside “special events,” and the crowded “theme” communities and bumper-to-bumper gridlock along Boomtown Boulevard.
It seems all we have in common are the same influential “big money” campaign donors – uber-wealthy insiders who control their environment with massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates with the malleability to represent their interests, allocate corporate welfare, or rubberstamp “public/private partnerships” that always use public funds to underwrite the private, for-profit, motives of the connected few.
Until Wild West Volusia decides to secede from its rowdy neighbor to the east, the two sides will remain incestuous cousins, struggling under the thumb of that dysfunctional behemoth that is the ever-expanding Volusia County government.
Welcome to the Fun Coast, y’all.
Last week, the Volusia County Council and School Board met in the last of two joint sessions to discuss the contentious subject of redistricting – the charter mandated requirement to redraw district boundaries in the second year following each decennial census.
Redistricting adjusts the boundaries of Volusia’s five political subdivisions to account for uneven growth rates, dividing the county into areas of contiguous territory “as nearly equal” in population as possible, taking care not to dilute minority populations or manipulate electoral borders to give undue advantage to one political party or group.
You know, the concept of basic fairness in the political process? (Sorry, I just shot a mouthful of Woodford Reserve through my nose. . .I hate it when that happens.)
Although there are rules and percentage guidelines to assist the process, as experts who advise cities, counties, and school boards on redistricting are fond of recommending – elected officials should “use common sense” when forming new districts.
I know. I know.
That’s when I knew Volusia County was in trouble. . .
Last week, after the second timewaster between the two elected bodies – despite emotional entreaties from Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis who explained that adopting a combined map would save money and reduce voter confusion – the Volusia County Council and School Board refused to put their individual ultimatums aside and select a common map.
During the initial meeting on October 18, Ms. Lewis – whose passion and diplomacy proved the depth of her commitment to the process and personal dedication to serving her constituents – asked those dullards on the dais to put politics and individual wants aside and compromise in the interest of Volusia County citizens:
“There is one thing, you will not make everybody happy. As you well know in any decision that you make when you vote on anything before you, not everybody is happy. This is not me, it is not I, this is us and we, as a group of people. As these two collective boards, it is not about one person, it is about all of us as a whole. As I mentioned, you will not make everybody happy, but I only ask you again to think about the voters and the people of this great county that we live in.”
They couldn’t do it.
In explaining his arrogant obstinance, our self-anointed eminence grise, The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry who claims to represent Volusia County District 5 tut-tutted:
“Lake Helen and DeLand don’t want to be split up. I completely understand that. I’ve gotten all kinds of emails today from Enterprise and Osteen and they don’t want to be split up and they don’t want to be with the East side. You’ve got Orange City that doesn’t want to be split up and you’ve got DeBary that’s tired of being split up. There’s no map that satisfies all four of those criteria, so I don’t know. To me, we’re just going to have to bite the bullet.”
Which is complete horseshit.
Because 8 out of 10 people in the State of Florida (probably less in Volusia County) have no idea what redistricting is – let alone that the process is underway – nor do they care.
Most are too busy eking out a living and raising their families to become mired in the minutia and political posturing of these self-serving half-wits.
Taxpayers have a right to expect that those they elect to represent their interests will work collaboratively and think strategically – holding firm to their fiduciary responsibility to protect public funds from waste and inefficiency – and live up to the ethical principles expected of public servants while working selflessly to find common ground.
Yeah, right. . .
In an excellent article in the West Volusia Beacon, these farcical joint proceedings were described as:
“After almost three hours of debate, motions, amendments to motions, counter-motions and parliamentary confusion, the two bodies politely walked away, burdened by their failure to reach agreement on reapportionment.”
Which is almost accurate.
In my view, “burdened by their failure” assumes the capacity for cognitive shock – the common human emotion of shame – a sense of the ‘greater good’ with the self-awareness to reflect on the consequences of their actions – and a sincere desire to seek honest compromise even when the security of one’s political fiefdom is at risk.
Because that is what true servant-leaders do.
As Supervisor Lewis so eloquently said through tears of frustration during her final futile plea for concession and agreement:
“We can’t look at ‘now’ and it can’t be territorial, that this is ‘mine,’ this is ‘me,’ its for the county as a whole. So, I, just hope that whatever transpires you do it from your heart, and you do what you think is the best thing for the people of this great county – because it is a great county.”
Folks, that is what real leadership looks like. . .
In my view, when you get down to brass tacks – Volusia County needs more policymakers like Lisa Lewis – and a hell of a lot less like the Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry. . .
Angel Vienna Capital
I hope Los Angeles-based Vienna Capital’s Chairman Xiangjun Li, and his business partner, the always impeccably dressed CEO Jonathan Abraham Eid, will not be too disappointed with us nervous nellies here on the Fun Coast.
It’s just that we’ve heard it all before.
Normally, when someone announces plans to invest $45 million in the renovation of the Grande Dame of Daytona Beach hotels – a complete “makeover” that will see the addition of upscale restaurants, a poolside “beach day club” (one accessible to us lower caste local Dalits), food, beverage, and live music venues with “garden-style” seating – completely transforming the tired old gal into a tony “luxury resort entertainment complex with a hotel in it,” the long-suffering residents of a down-at-the-heels tourist destination are swooning in the streets.
As grizzled veterans of the “game changer” generation – through the decades we have been deceived, deluded, chided, derided, duped, bamboozled, mystified, stunned, flummoxed, hornswoggled, fooled, flimflammed, screwed, blued, and proverbially tattooed – by the best in the business – professional resort-town grifters of every stripe who rolled through the Halifax area with big plans and grandiose ideas – only to pack up the tent and abandon us rubes like a receding midnight tide when the money ran out. . .
And it always runs out.
So, pardon our anxiety. We’re a little skittish around ‘big-time’ out-of-town investors, that’s all.
I’m sure everything will be just fine this time around, right?
Regardless, Vienna Capital can rest assured no one in city or county government will be the least bit concerned with pesky questions like, “Where is the money coming from?” or “What happens if things go sideways while the ‘Pardon our Progress’ signs are still up?” or “What if Hooterville can’t support another ostentatious high-end resort hotel on the strand?”
Hey, do what cha’ wanna.
No one (who should) cares here in the Land of Wide. Open. Fun. Our local governments are always willing to help clean up the mess by reallocating spiffs, making sure even incomplete projects come in under the wire, and overlooking trivial things like performance guarantees or, God forbid, sanctions and accountability.
Besides, as our now uncommunicative friend Alexey Lysich, formerly of St. Petersburg, Russia, now the Palm Coast-based owner of Protogroup, which – after nearly a decade – recently opened the doors on one tower of the promised twin-tower hotel/condominium project at A-1-A and Oakridge Boulevard, once said:
“Money is money.”
With apologies to Keats, “That’s all ye know on the Fun Coast, and all ye need to know. . .”
Now, we learn that Protogroup is precariously close to bankruptcy – unless, of course, the City of Daytona Beach agreed to several amendments to their agreement – including “diverting” $283,829 in utility impact fee credits for Protogroup’s installation of underground water and sewer lines on Oakridge Boulevard, funds that will assist FDOT with the reconstruction of the nightmare intersection at A-1-A – and issuing a permanent certificate of occupancy for the South Tower when that work is complete.
On Wednesday evening, the Daytona Beach City Commission did just that – because what else are they going to do?
Sound familiar? It should.
But enough of that past ‘unpleasantness’ – what about our new friends from California?
According to an excellent article by News-Journal business editor Clayton Park:
“Eid and his partner hope to begin construction to create the spaces for the planned new restaurants in early 2022 with a target date of opening the first of the eateries as well as the beach day club in early 2023.
Susan Cerbone, a spokeswoman for the city of Daytona Beach, on Thursday said the Plaza Resort had not yet submitted plans for adding the new restaurants.
“We’re currently working on our plans for the restaurants,” said Eid. “We prefer to lock in our restaurant tenants before finalizing our design plans.”
Eid said the makeover of the Plaza Resort is being conducted in phases that will allow the hotel to continue operating without interruption.”
To assuage our hyper-irrational fears, Uncle Bob Davis, “…CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County, said he believes Eid and Li will deliver on their promises.
“I think they’re going to make a big difference for our area,” said Davis, a 55-year veteran of the Daytona Beach area hospitality industry.
“It’s wonderful to have a bright young man on the horizon who sees the value of Daytona Beach and Volusia County,” said Davis. “He wants everyone, including the other hotels in our area, to do well because then he’ll do well. I love what I’m seeing. I believe an explosion of good things is about to happen.”
No offense, Bob – but like Jim Croce said, “we’ve got all the geniuses we can use” around here.
In my view, it would be a refreshing change to have someone who says what they mean and means what they say – who keeps promises and completes permitted projects within set standards and a reasonable timeline.
Let’s hope Vienna Capital is everything Uncle Bob says they are, and more.
Just don’t be offended if long-suffering residents of the Halifax area remain skeptical until the investment is made – and the project completed to the standards of quality promised.
Screw it. Just shut up and get on the bandwagon, Barker. . .
Good times are here, again!
Again. . .
Angel Paul Zimmerman & Sons of the Beach
Volusia County is blessed with people who care.
Those who see what could be – and ask why not?
Not naysaying bellyachers like me – but those grassroots activists whose good work transcends “special interests” and self-serving political factions with ulterior motives – involved citizens who give generously of their time and talents, wanting nothing more than to improve our collective quality of life, save our environment, and seek local governance of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Paul Zimmerman and his fellow concerned citizens of Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy Sons of the Beach continue their valiant efforts to preserve our unique lifestyle and protect our most important natural asset and economic driver by asking the tough questions.
Below is an open letter to our ‘powers that be’ in Volusia County government – in my view, important questions that deserve a wider audience – and hard answers:
County Council and Staff,
For the last 35+ years Volusia County has been using the protection of nesting sea turtles as the primary reason for restricting and regulating beach driving, here it is once again in non-turtle season and in defiance of all logic Volusia County has closed beach approaches to beach driving during non-turtle nesting season. I have lived a long time but sometimes the illogical actions of government can still stun me. The closure of the Williams and Hartford approaches in Daytona Beach (and I’m sure others in the county) is prime example of why people have little faith or trust in government. Such illogical actions force us to question the ability of our government to make decisions that represent the interests of the citizens and businesses who elect them and/or pay their salaries.
These closures result in the asking of many questions that begin with why.
Why does the county close the beaches when there are no turtles? Why aren’t all the approaches opened NOT CLOSED during non-turtle nesting season? Why during the time of the low tourist season would the county further restrict access to the primary reason visitors come here? Why do we need a separate police force to patrol the beach when access to the beach is severely restricted for 1/2 the year? Why does there seem to be no concern on how the closures affect the residents who live here and pay taxes to use the beach year around?
Now I have heard that a reason for the closures is because the toll collecting vendor can’t make money during the winter season. Is it the responsibility of the county, and by extension the tax paying citizens, to assure a vendor makes a profit? If concerns of whether collecting tolls pays for itself perhaps that could lead to a logical solution to remove the tolls and open all the approaches.
In the real world when an action has an adverse affect on profitability one stops that action. But in the world of government there is always tax dollars to mitigate bad decisions. Why is it that instead of taking into consideration the public’s right to access the county concerns itself with the bottom line of a vendor? Just who does the county represent?
Hartford and Williams Avenue approaches serve a highly populated residential area where many of the residents are daily beach users. The residents of the area are now forced to use either University or Cardinal approaches, one is over 2 miles south, and the other over one mile north. Closing both of these approaches leaves almost 4 miles of beach where there is no driving access.
Why do we need a separate police force again?
In a world where government function as it should i.e., a body that represents the citizens that elects them and pays their salaries, most of these why questions would never be asked. We believe that during non-turtle season all beach approaches should be open not closed. Why aren’t they? Would you please answer my “why” questions and help educate us on how the actions of the county make sense in representing the interests of its residents and businesses?
Quote of the Week
“Volusia County initially projected a combined revenue loss of $80 million for the four fiscal years between 2019-2020 and 2022-2023, but because of the update in calculations, revenue loss for calendar-year 2020 is now estimated at $12 million, with no revenue loss projected for the next three calendar years.
“If you look at just $80 million versus the $12 million, it seems like a big number,” County Chief Financial Officer Ryan Ossowski said. “But we’re talking about four entire years of an organization that has $620 million in our calculation as far as what our base revenue is.”
–Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Volusia County to hold off on using ARPA dollars, waiting on regulatory and legislative changes,” Tuesday, November 2, 2020
Smoke and mirrors.
Or, as Volusia County CFO Ryan Ossowski likes to say, “Projecting revenue loss is an art and a science.”
Remember during the legerdemain that was the “budget process” this fall when we were told flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories by our elected representatives about the Armageddon-like consequences of failing to raise taxes in support of a monstrous $1.1 Billon budget?
How about the absurd Kabuki theater that produced a laundry list of big ticket nice-to-have items like $1,000 bonuses for all county employees, and repairs to the rickety Ocean Center pay parking lot (which never seems to stand on its own two feet) – all of which was to be paid for with the Manna from Heaven that our grandchildren will still be paying for in the form of the American Rescue Plan Act – a/k/a federal Coronavirus relief dollars?
Well, now it seems CFO Ossowski and his bean counters in DeLand miscalculated revenue loss attributed to COVID-19 – revising the shortfall significantly downward from the projected $77 million.
The net-net of the “update in calculations” means the $107 million received under the ARPA plan may now need to be reallocated for the purposes originally intended by the federal government.
What do you call it when the fox outfoxes himself?
Look, you and I both know that most local government entities did not miss a paycheck during the pandemic – and by their own admission, much of Volusia County’s projected losses were conjured up by what the News-Journal described in July as “…a little creative accounting” – a wink-wink/nudge-nudge means of maneuvering ARPA funds around those annoying programmatic restrictions.
I guess they were too “creative” for their own good, eh?
So, its back to the old drawing board in January – another “bite at the apple” as Chairman Jeff Brower said.
Now that the Christmas in July spending mentality has been reined in – perhaps our elected officials can find more legitimate uses for this windfall – such as the not-so-sexy must-haves, like improvements to our horribly neglected and increasingly inadequate water, sewer, and transportation infrastructure?
Time will tell.
This time around let us hope those dullards on the dais of power put a stop to the “creative accounting” they used to worm their way past federal restrictions and use ARPA funds as they were intended.
And Another Thing!
Congratulations to Zone 2 Daytona Beach City Commissioner-elect Ken Strickland on his victory in Tuesday’s municipal election!
Ken was magnanimous following his well-deserved win:
“I would like to express my deep appreciation for all the hard work of my campaign supporters, but especially to the voters of Daytona Beach Zone 2. You all proved once again that VOTES BEAT MONEY!!!”
It was a hard-fought campaign which played out in true Fun Coast fashion – complete with a massive campaign war chest stuffed with cash in support of the “establishments” hand-select candidate, which paid for the requisite skeevy “glossy mailer” that made an eleventh-hour appearance from Ken’s opponent in a predictable attempt to besmirch Mr. Strickland’s character – an ugly, but often effective, strategy that raises it head each time members of Volusia’s donor class get nervous.
Trust me. Some very important people are getting edgy. . .
With the election of another grassroots candidate coming on the heels of Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower’s decisive win over an entrenched member of the Old Guard last year – you can bet those stalwarts of the status quo are getting increasingly worried going into the 2022 election cycle.
They should be.
In my view, Ken’s victory proves that We, The Little People, have had our fill of the stagnant business as usual bullshit that has made Volusia County a cautionary tale and the laughingstock of our successful neighbors along the prosperous I-4 corridor and beyond.
Look, it is easy to get caught up in the loopy giddiness, excitement, and post-election euphoria – and I must remind myself that when it comes to politicians never put all your eggs in one basket – or expect too much, too soon.
Because like Jeff Brower, Ken cannot do it alone.
However, in my view, there is reason for hope as the City of Daytona Beach stands at an important crossroads – with its energetic new City Manager Deric Feacher getting up to speed – and a committed group of citizens, staff, and grassroots activists’ intent on improving opportunities for all residents of the Halifax area.
That progress was most evident during Wednesday evening’s City Commission meeting when Mayor Derrick Henry’s Beachside Action Committee presented an impressive list of cleanup efforts and aesthetic improvements – removing graffiti, fixing broken sidewalks, replacing dilapidated fixtures, eliminating eyesores, pressure washing the Seabreeze Bridge – and other visible quality of life measures.
Aw, shucks – there I go again. . . Sounding more like Uncle Bob Davis every day.
Look for wonderful things on the horizon for the World’s Most Famous Beach!
That’s all for me. Have a great fall weekend, y’all!
I will be on the road next week and Angels & Assholes will return November 19th – in the meantime please enjoy some of the hundreds of blogs opining on our interesting life and times here on Florida’s Fun Coast in the chronological archives below.
Please join Barker’s View on Monday afternoon as we make our monthly visit to GovStuff Live! with Big John, Volusia County’s premiere public affairs forum, beginning at 4:00pm.
We’ll be talking local issues and taking your calls on the fastest two-hours in radio!
Tune in locally on WELE-AM “The Cat” at 1380am – or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).
Thank you for joining the discussion!