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 Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post
When faced with challenge and adversity, many politicians opt for the comfort of conformism – the craven “go along and get along” strategy that avoids critical evaluation of the issues and an authentic debate of ideas – retreating from their campaign promises and core values for the protection of groupthink and obedience to the status quo.
Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post knows something about political adversity.
Since Post took the District 4 seat in 2017 – winning reelection in 2020 – she has been the victim of a vicious gaslighting campaign by Volusia’s Old Guard, those stalwarts of the status quo, who have marginalized and discredited Ms. Post at every turn.
It became apparent early in her first term that Ms. Post would not be beaten into the round hole of political conformity, and her staunch resistance made her the personal punching bag of craven politicians and their well-heeled puppet masters.
Repeatedly, Ms. Post’s “colleagues” took great delight in verbally pummeling her from the dais – complete with dramatic eye-rolling, deep sighs, and other histrionics – as the lock-step majority opportunistically painted Councilwoman Post as an ineffectual nonconformist, alienating her with cheap parliamentary maneuvers, and denying her constituents the representation they deserved.
(For a primer on how political shunning works – the physical and emotional rejection of a duly elected member of the Volusia County Council as a means of coercing behavior, limiting influence, and forcing allegiance to the status quo – just watch how this pernicious process is being wielded against Council Chair Jeff Brower.)
Look, I have not always agreed with Ms. Post – or been kind to her in this space.
But I have come to respect her independence, work ethic, political acumen, and willingness to hold senior bureaucrats accountable in an atmosphere where any elected official who dares question the “why” of things is ostracized – permanently relegated to the sidelines – while the entrenched Gang of Four run roughshod.
Last week, Ms. Post announced that she has filed to run for the at-large seat in 2022!
That’s good news.
It has been an open secret that current at-large Councilman Ben Johnson will not seek reelection next year – which resulted in backdoor speculation that at least one retread politician would climb down from the ash heap of history and make another run – a scary proposition that harkened back to the “bad old days” of Volusia County politics.
With Councilwoman Post running for the at-large spot, it was recently announced that (so far) Ormond Beach City Commissioner Rob Littleton will challenge local business owner Ken Smith for the District 4 seat.
Mr. Smith ran unsuccessfully in 2020 against insider incumbent Troy Kent for the Ormond Beach City Commission.
In a recent interview with the Ormond Beach Observer, Smith said, “I wanted to work in the city level, but when that opportunity came up, I just couldn’t turn it down. That’s my main motivation — to take the momentum Jeff (Brower) and Heather have made and carry through with it.”
Conversely, Commissioner Littleton has been part of the pro-growth Ormond Beach City Commission where, most recently, he ignored the impassioned pleas of his constituents and made the asinine decision to destroy the historic Union Church on North Beach Street.
Why? To make way for a shell parking lot. . .
While campaigning in 2018, Mr. Littleton was quoted by the Observer at a candidate forum crowing about the city’s “smart and responsible” growth.
“Don’t allow the rhetoric to blind you to the facts,” Littleton said.
“He stated his priorities were keeping property taxes low, maintaining a responsible city budget and preserving “a great quality of life.”
Which, as we now know, is complete bullshit – given that Mr. Littleton just voted to raise taxes for Ormond Beach residents. . .
I think we have had enough of perennial politicians climbing the ladder – slick hustlers who say one thing at election time and do another come budget time – all while reminding us not to listen to the “rhetoric” (which is defined as anything that contradicts their slash-and-burn growth strategy) as they try hard to convince us we should believe their spin over what we see with our own eyes and feel with our own pocketbook.
Trust me. Our well-heeled ‘powers that be’ who, for far too long, have controlled everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on Florida’s Fun Coast are beginning to get nervous.
With the obstructionist Gang of Four under serious threat of being tossed out on their collective ass next year the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County have a real opportunity to take back our government and stop the insidious process of paying exorbitant taxes while receiving nothing in return.
Exciting times are on the horizon, kids. Stay tuned!
Asshole Team Volusia and the “Economic Development” Sham
“The City will pay the Annual Grant to the Company within 60-days after the Company has submitted a proper invoice. . .”
–Boilerplate “Economic Development Agreement” by and between (ENTER CITY/COUNTY GOVERNMENT HERE) and (SECRET/REDACTED) in order to “…incentivize the Company to implement the project.”
The giveaway is always followed by a paragraph of carefully constructed legal drivel that defines the “public benefit” of gifting corporate welfare to massive conglomerates for allowing us the privilege of hosting their next warehouse:
“…will provide a public benefit to the City’s residents and businesses, including by generating significant new ad valorem taxes (including for the public school system); adding jobs to the local employment base; and creating induced and indirect jobs and other economic effects which will have a positive impact on local small businesses.”
Because without an identified “public benefit,” gifting incentives and siphoning our hard-earned tax dollars to a private for-profit entity would be considered undue government intervention in the marketplace, favoritism that creates a skewed playing field – if not organized fraud. . .
So begins another incredibly expensive corporate welfare sham at the hands of those dullards over at Team Volusia – our publicly funded “economic development” facilitators that have made a cottage industry of bringing scut work and warehouse jobs to Volusia County by writing checks that you and I are responsible for cashing – then labeling it “progress.”
On Wednesday evening, the Daytona Beach City Commission was asked to vote on a resolution allowing $4 million in tax incentives cloaked as a “grant” for the mysterious Project Tarpon – a shadowy five-story, 2.8 million-square-foot distribution and logistics center to be developed near the Daytona Beach “International” Airport at the desirable nexus of I-95 and the I-4 corridor.
In the most ludicrous scam of the night, the people’s elected representatives were also asked to vote on a future land use change to accommodate the secretive project – without being told why.
You read that right.
To their immense credit, Commissioners Ken Strickland, Quanita May, and Ruth Trager voted against the land use change, citing the fact they would be deciding in the blind, completely unaware of why – or for whom – the change was being enabled.
“If you don’t want to tell us what you’re doing or what’s going to happen with that land, it doesn’t really make sense for us to vote to change it when we don’t know what we’re voting for,” Strickland said.
The Secret Squirrel shenanigans continued well into Wednesday’s meeting – with the company’s identity revealed just before Daytona Beach taxpayers were asked to gift the massive tax break spaced over five-years to what everyone correctly suspected was the on-line behemoth Amazon – which earned $21.3 billion in profit on more than $386 billion in annual sales last year.
You read that right, too.
The City of Daytona Beach just handed $4 million in incentives to the largest on-line retailer in the known universe while allowing them to build a gigantic warehouse immediately next to Daytona “International” Airport at the intersection of two major interstate highways which allow direct access to ports at Tampa, Canaveral, Miami, and Jacksonville – and the heart of Central Florida – on the promise of jobs paying an average of just $15.00 bucks an hour – which equates to an annual salary the astute watcher Anne Ruby noted falls short of current local rental rates, which are now skyward of $1,000 a month.
Given the many advantages of the location, you might think our “economic development” gurus would reverse the burden, you know, broker a “deal” beneficial to residents and existing businesses beyond promises of low-paying jobs servicing an automated “fulfilment center” – but not here.
In Volusia County, the rules are different – depending upon who you are – and who is “negotiating” on your behalf. . .
For instance, it appears the true beneficiary of the project will be our friends at NASCAR (d/b/a Event Equipment Leasing, Inc. and Southeasern Hay & Nursery, Inc.) – who made the incredibly smart decision to maintain ownership of the land and ink a long-term lease with Amazon.
Of course, the horseshit hype started well before the project stepped from behind its enigmatic cryptonym when Daytona Beach Deputy City Manager/Fire Chief/Economic Development Shill Dru Driscoll wrote in a highly embroidered memorandum to his boss, City Manager Deric Feacher, which read, in part, the “$200 million” facility “Complimenting the planned growth of the Embry-Riddle Research Park to the east, this proposed facility is anticipated to attract similar and/or ancillary businesses. . .” blah, blah, blah.
Apparently, Mr. Driscoll forgot to reach out to Embry-Riddle for specifics on just how the project will “compliment” the university’s nearby business incubator, because in a recent guessing game played out on the frontpage of the News-Journal, Business Editor Clayton Park quoted Rodney Cruise, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Embry-Riddle, who seemed less convinced of Driscoll’s exaggerated assessment:
“We haven’t had any involvement (with Amazon) to this point, but we look forward to supporting any company that comes to the area.”
Was this another embarrassing faux pas by a senior bureaucrat wearing too many hats – or simply more cheap hucksterism from City Hall – something we all hoped Mr. Feacher would put a stop to?
You be the judge.
Under the current shim-sham of statutorily assured corporate anonymity, the taxpayers who absorb the cost, tolerate the traffic, and shoulder inducements the average small business could never dream of must suffer the corporate intrigue that allows cheapjack hagglers like Team Volusia to “negotiate” our money away behind closed doors – while We, The Little People are left to guess if we are vying for another distribution center, a modern manufacturing operation, or a toxic waste incinerator – we simply don’t know until it’s a done deal – because in this Turkish bazar political environment everything is for sale and anything is possible. . .
It has become a bad “Let’s Make a Deal” episode – where elected officials are asked to make land use decisions and give away our money on dubious corporate welfare schemes with little, if any, advance knowledge of the surprise waiting behind door number three.
When the Amazon distribution center in Deltona was being “negotiated” by Team Volusia under a similar cloak of secrecy (which ultimately gifted Amazon $2.5 million in “incentives” from the citizens of Deltona in exchange for a promise of 500 warehouse jobs by the end of 2023) it resulted in civic turmoil when some elected and appointed officials were told of Amazon’s interest in putting a warehouse facility in the community, while others were treated like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed bullshit.
These secretive games rightfully concerned many Deltona residents – the natural result of keeping essential information from key decisionmakers – while allowing select insiders advanced knowledge that could be used for a variety of advantages.
By any metric, this backroom skullduggery is inherently unfair, the antithesis of true economic development, and counter to the concept of inclusiveness in the planning process and government in the sunshine.
In my view, any elected or appointed official who thinks it is a good idea to advocate or make public policy decisions in effective darkness – without any substantive review or due diligence – is either dumb, deluded, or guilty of gross nonfeasance.
It is time to eliminate that expensive ruse over at Team Volusia in favor of supporting community-based economic development practitioners who will recruit diverse businesses and industry in an open, honest, and transparent way – based on a strategy that fosters a fair and competitive environment – putting the highest interests of residents over the depths of corporate greed.
Quote of the Week
“My biggest concern is the 1,000-pound gorilla in the room: where is the water going to come from (for all the new homes and businesses)? Where are we going to get the clean water from?” Brower said.
Noting the surge in new homes, apartments and commercial developments that Volusia County is seeing, much of it in the nearby LPGA area directly south of the Avalon Park Daytona property, Brower said, “We’re pumping water out of the aquifer faster than it’s being replenished. At least with Avalon, you’re going to get a commitment to protect the environment, but some developers are simply building as many homes as they possibly can.”
“And if there’s enough water in the aquifer, why are Blue Springs and other springs in Florida pumping out less water?” Brower asked. “I think we’re on dangerous territory and that we need to pause and look at what is the projected outcome?”
–Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Business Editor Clayton Park, “Developer pushes back start date for 10,000-home Avalon Park Daytona to early 2022,” Sunday, November 28, 2021
A tip o’ the cap to Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower for continuing to ask the tough questions – and for holding true to the promises he made to the citizens of Volusia County.
And Another Thing!
In W. W. Jacobs’ 1902 horror story “The Monkeys Paw” – a fairytale surrounding a mummified simian paw that grants three wishes to anyone who grasps it – the moral lesson is, “Be careful what you wish for – you may receive it.”
I was reminded of that age-old truism this week when newly minted Daytona Beach Zone 2 City Commissioner Ken Strickland appeared on the public affairs forum GovStuff Live! for a Q&A with the program’s razor-sharp moderator Big John – the most civically astute and influential pundit in Volusia County politics – one who does not suffer fools, or ill-prepared politicians, graciously.
With just two-weeks on the job, chalk it up to the bustle of the Thanksgiving holiday, campaign fatigue, or the lack of situational awareness inherent to entering a fast-paced game already in progress – it became painfully apparent that Commissioner Strickland was not as prepared to discuss the nuances of current events as he should have been for his first public appearance.
In my experience, Ken Strickland is an impressive guy.
A long-time civic activist who has championed the cause of the little guy, fought for basic fairness in forgotten Midtown neighborhoods, spoke truth to power, and worked hard to protect our heritage of beach driving and preserve our unique quality of life here on the Fun Coast.
Regrettably, it was obvious that Commissioner Strickland had not done his homework.
Knowing Ken as I do – I would be willing to bet that will not happen again. . .
Let’s call it a well-deserved baptism by fire – or a ‘rookie mistake’ – but one that requires an immediate change of tack (tact?).
During Big’s interview, Commissioner Strickland gave a telling anecdote about his recent trip to the Daytona International Speedway corporate offices to ask about another super-secret project (widely rumored to be Costco) slated for the publicly funded One Daytona – the retail and entertainment complex owned by DIS that you and I helped underwrite to the tune of some $40 million in county/city tax breaks, infrastructure, and lucrative incentives.
Rather than brief a sitting elected official on the benefits and challenges of the proposed project – a reasonable inquiry given the scope and potential impacts of another megastore – Commissioner Strickland’s question was met with an arrogant “smile and grin” as DIS officials refused to identify the company involved.
Frankly, I was shocked when Big John announced that other elected officials had already been briefed on details of the project – essential information that was apparently denied to Commissioner Strickland.
If accurate, that represents a complete lack of respect – an obstinate slap in the face to both Commissioner Strickland and his long-suffering constituents – a risky strategy for a company with no qualms about asking for government handouts when it serves their needs.
Given the insular nature of many local government bureaucracies, there is a steep learning curve for any neophyte elected official – good citizens who enter the arena for all the right reasons – who can quickly be taken into the maw of the system, flattered by obsequious senior staffers, and told exactly what insiders want them to hear – a slippery slope that often results in the same frustrating and ineffectual groupthink that prompted them to run for office in the first place.
Add to that the legions of “new friends” with all the right last names that convince newly elected politicians they know what is best for the rest of us and you have a tried-and-true formula for protecting and promoting the stagnant status quo.
On Wednesday evening, Commissioner Strickland proved his mettle when he said no to a land use change without first knowing why – then cast the lone vote against gifting Amazon $4 million in corporate welfare.
That sends a strong message – and proves that Ken Strickland will not go along to get along.
Elective service is a difficult role, and, despite my bluster and second-guessing, I have a great deal of admiration for Mr. Strickland and others with the courage to stand for high office – even those I consistently disagree with – who strive to vote their conscience despite the often-withering criticism of supporters and detractors alike.
Because what they do is important.
It is nothing personal – its politics – and I understand better than most how the game is played.
During over thirty-years in government, I was often accused of being “sharp-elbowed” – a term found in political dictionaries that describes “…being aggressive and assertive when it comes to pursuing a legislative agenda or pushing one’s point of view.”
The term is said to have originated from a quote by the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle, who said, “No man lives without jostling and being jostled. In all ways he has to elbow himself through the world, giving and receiving offense.”
Seeking the truth and working hard to represent the unique needs of one’s constituency is no place for the faint-of-heart.
Standing up for those things you believe to be right and just is especially important in an era where local political contests have become more a blood sport than a democratic process – and public policy decisions are often made by compromised elected marionettes, beholden by massive campaign contributions – who cast votes on issues they rarely understand to placate their well-heeled benefactors.
In my experience, there is a time for diplomacy, compromise, and acquiescence – and there is a time for those we have elected to represent our dwindling interests to take a bold stand, command respect, demand answers, make the tough decisions, and protect our hard-earned tax dollars and quality of life from those who seek to exploit both for personal and corporate profit – even when it means going against the established grain.
In time, Commissioner Strickland will find his footing – just as Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower has done, despite overwhelming opposition – and his important contributions will prove pivotal to reclaiming government for the people of Daytona Beach, not just the well-heeled few who have enjoyed far too much influence for far too long.
It is readily apparent that voters are demanding change across the width and breadth of Volusia County – and those we place our trust in should not let that energy go to waste.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!