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 DeLand Community Activist Dr. Wendy Anderson
How many ways does the DeLand City Commission need to hear it?
Last month – during the fourth ‘first reading’ of a developer’s request for rezoning of the former Sandhill Golf Course – the DeLand City Commission listened to more than four-hours of testimony from area residents and environmental experts over fears of ground contamination at the proposed site of the 615 unit “Beresford Reserve” project.
At issue are very real concerns about pesticides and other contaminates found in the soil of the former golf course that also served as a municipal waste dump in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Fortunately, DeLand residents have a champion in the impressive community activist Wendy Anderson Ph.D., Professor of Environmental Science and Studies at Stetson University, a member of both the City of DeLand’s economic development and brownfield program advisory boards, who also serves as chair of the Volusia County Soil & Water Conservation District.
As an environmental scientist, activist, and educator, Dr. Anderson has devoted her life to researching and improving sustainability and water quality practices, with a focus on promoting environmental education, natural resource conservation, and sustainable foods systems.
In a candidate statement supporting her 2020 run for the Volusia County Soil & Water Conservation District, Dr. Anderson said she “..believes that soil, water, and food are the foundation of all of society, and that protecting those resources to ensure food and water security for all people now and into the future is the most important work she needs to be doing.”
In my view, Dr. Anderson’s valiant effort to educate citizens and policymakers on the potential health and safety issues surrounding the proposed development of a former golf course, sitting atop a buried dump, is a testament to her personal and professional commitment to our environment and quality of life.
In an excellent piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Old golf course’s past as dump stymies plans,” business editor Clayton Park quoted Dr. Anderson as she implored the elected officials to postpone the rezoning request until further tests can be performed:
“Tonight is about history,” Anderson told the commissioners at the meeting. “It’s about the history of our city and the 20th century and the history that we’re making and recording tonight. The decisions you all make here tonight will have consequences (for current and future generations). This is not a perfunctory rezoning hearing for yet another green space, for yet more houses.”
Attorney Mark Watts, who specializes in land use issues for the venerable Cobb Cole and represents developer Elevation Development, countered that his client has voluntarily “…agreed to hold off on breaking ground until a more comprehensive and thorough environmental study can be done on the former Sandhill golf course site.”
That’s a good thing.
Because during the meeting, elected officials heard input from various environmental experts on both sides of the issue – to include the results of soil testing which showed the presence of “arsenic, barium, chromium, gasoline, a series of heavy metals including lead, copper, nickel, cadmium, mercury, silver, zirconium, nitrates, oils, solid waste (and) pesticides.”
Damn. Has it come to this?
First, we foul our nest with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, toxic chemicals, and other hazardous waste – then set about transferring the contamination to another site in something called an “environmental cleanup” – all so the lucrative land can be developed with a clean conscience – permitting single-family homes to be built and sold where these poisonous substances once lay, hoping against hope we get them all.
Why is it we never err on the side of caution – or learn from previous mistakes?
According to the News-Journal report, during the meeting, officials heard chilling anecdotal evidence from Donna Pepin, a resident of DeLand and member of the West Volusia Hospital Authority Board, who told a horror story of her service as a Hospice nurse treating terminally ill cancer patients living in Country Club Estates – a subdivision built on the site of the former DeLand Country Club.
“The reason soon became apparent when several homeowners in that community filed a lawsuit after learning that their wells had become contaminated from pesticides used on the old golf course.”
Reports from the Volusia County Department of Health show that in 2011 and 2012 testing found that 116 wells in Country Club Estates were positive for the now-banned insecticide Dieldrin while 171 wells were found to have no detectable levels of the substance.
At the time, internationally recognized environmental activist Erin Brockovich spoke to concerned residents in DeLand about the contamination found at Country Club Estates which ultimately resulted in a class-action lawsuit.
Conversely, at the time, some in the golf industry referred to concerned residents as “enviro-lunatic homeowners” set on destroying a golf facility with “anti-pesticide nonsense,” citing the “miniscule” amounts of Dieldrin found in the water wells.
Look, I’m no expert – but I know what I want, and don’t want, in my drinking water.
In 2019, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry listed Dieldrin at 18 on their Substance Priority List of 275 toxins commonly found at facilities on the National Priorities List, “…which are determined to pose the most significant potential threat to human health due to their known or suspected toxicity and potential for human exposure…”
At the end of the day, the DeLand City Commission directed Mr. Watts and Elevation Development to return for a fifth “first reading” next month.
I applaud the excellent work of Dr. Wendy Anderson. Her firm stand and dedication to protecting Volusia County residents from potential environmental contaminants is important.
The decisions made by the DeLand City Commission, and other elective bodies throughout Volusia County, will have profound consequences on the health of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren – and those impacts will be the metric by which they measure the safety and sustainability of the environment, water quality, and natural resources we leave behind.
In my view, that generational responsibility – our legacy of environmental stewardship – is all too often compromised by the insatiable greed of speculative developers who now see even toxic waste sites as an opportunity.
Angel City of Holly Hill and Pictona II
One year ago, over 70% of voters reauthorized the Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO programs – initiatives funded by a capped ad valorem property tax that supports land preservation efforts and environmental, cultural, historic, and outdoor recreational facilities.
Last week, the ECHO Advisory Board – an oversight committee which reviews grant requests for applicability then makes funding recommendations to the Volusia County Council – approved an “exceptional grant” valued at $2.5 million to assist the expansion of Pictona at Holly Hill.
By any metric, this incredibly successful recreational and fitness draw is quickly putting Holly Hill – and Volusia County – back on the map.
The $6.3 million facility that opened in July 2020 is the exceptional vision of Rainer and Julie Martens of Ormond Beach – and has quickly developed a reputation as the epicenter of the fastest growing sport in America.
The ECHO grant will pave the way for the estimated $6 million addition to the facility, doubling the number of courts and adding a 10,000-square foot clubhouse, to include a championship stadium complete with a skybox and seating for 1,200 spectators.
In addition to hosting international pickleball tournaments, this multifunctional facility will be configured to accommodate stage shows as well. Under the partnership, the City of Holly Hill will host monthly concerts and community events at the new stadium.
In September, the Holly Hill City Commission approved $1 million in public funds to assist the expansion – just under the $1.2 million the community contributed to the initial plan last year – with construction of that facility assisted by a $400,000 standard ECHO grant and the bulk provided by the Marten’s charitable foundation.
In my view, this represents the epitome of a positive public/private partnership – a project that has proven its success before additional funds were invested – a true community asset that will pay economic, recreational, and wellness dividends to citizens of Volusia County while providing a quality tourism product beyond the quick-buck “special events” strategy our hospitality gurus have relied on for decades.
Rather than the typical corporate welfare schemes foisted on Volusia County taxpayers under a cloak of secrecy – investment in regional recreational amenities like Pictona provides a demonstrable and sustainable public benefit beyond propping up some corporate bottom-line and skewing the playing field to the disadvantage of small local businesses.
In fact, Pictona has had the opposite effect.
For instance, the advent of Pictona II has spurred interest from local investors who are actively considering a luxury recreational vehicle resort for the former Bishop’s Dairy site off Flomich Avenue – vacant pastureland at the virtual center of the US-1 commercial corridor.
I understand the exclusive RV resort will cater specifically to motorcoach owners drawn to events at Pictona – in a natural setting uniquely situated to provide direct access to the Daytona Beach Resort Area – with the upscale comforts and amenities that will keep visitors returning to our area year-after-year.
Kudos to the City of Holly Hill and Pictona II for raising the bar!
And special thanks to the Volusia ECHO Advisory Board for seeing the continuing civic and economic benefit in assisting the expansion of this extraordinary community recreational and fitness complex.
Remarkable things are happening in The City with a Heart!
Quote of the Week
When it comes to First Step Shelter thankfully we do not listen to the experts on Volusia Issues that make up the majority of our Volusia Discontents in the Daytona area. You know the ones who are constantly negative about everything. They rarely take the time to get the facts. Criticize everything and rarely give to any charity. Real warm Helpful people. Never offer any kind of solutions. Just talk about their hard earned tax money. They are forever upset that they have been left behind by those that actually do something about the problems. The ones who actually try to make this a better place. I am sick of the partial facts. Yes FSS is operating at about 50 beds. Our plan is to raise the money to actually buy more quality beds and to increase occupancy. We need to buy 50 more beds and they have to be super supportive and specially made. Not cheap junk like was donated several years ago. DR. Victoria Falhberg continues to find the money to expand the operation. No one has done the job of finding money like she has. Over 1 million in new funds since she took over. Yet our Amazing Discontents who usually have 20-30% 0f the facts go off half cocked and criticize because that’s what they do best. Criticize without knowledge. It makes you guys feel better doesn’t it. So how about this. Prove me wrong. I will match every donation required to buy the beds so we can make your dream of having a full FSS happen. I am betting that I get a few dollars from the regulars that actually do care like Ann Ruby and John Nicholson and Maybe Ken Strickland but the majority, I mean the huge majority do not actually give a dam. They do not give to charity they offer nothing but unfounded criticism. How about you Mr. blogger, you say you care what’s your excuse for not taking my challenge. How about a real great facetious quote, something real colorful and meaningless. Just put down that beer and give a few dollars. I am willing to continue to work my tail off for FSS like very few others do. Here is where you go https://firststepshelterinc.kindful.com/ whatever you donate to bed sponsorships I will match. We need 50 more beds. Its a lot of dollars but I have half of it as my responsibility.”
–“Mad Mike” Panaggio, CEO of DME Holdings, member of the CEO Business Alliance, and First Step Shelter Board of Directors, writing on Facebook’s political affairs forum Volusia Issues, Friday, December 3, 2021, 11:38pm
Folks, I don’t make this stuff up.
Couldn’t if I tried. . .
The above grammatical nightmare was recently posted by Mike Panaggio, the prominent CEO of DME Holdings, a Daytona Beach direct marketing firm/sports academy and member of the mysterious CEO Business Alliance – a shadowy organization that claims its “sole mission” is to “…stimulate new job creation and capital investment in Volusia County,” (that is, when they aren’t trying desperately to raise your sales tax) – and long-time member of the beleaguered First Step Shelter Board of Directors.
He is also given to composing meanspirited, late-night jeremiads berating We, The Ungrateful Little People, always reminding us of the scope and capabilities of his extraordinary wealth and success. . .
Since neither Mr. Panaggio, the CEO Alliance, or the First Step Shelter has publicly disavowed, removed, or apologized for his highly offensive and derogatory missive which alienated thousands of potential donors on social media – I must assume it is authentic – because this is not the first time us foul Fun Coast malcontents have been on the receiving end of a Panaggio rebuke.
That is why his latest embarrassment deserved a larger audience – especially given my not-so-veiled honorable mention:
“How about you Mr. blogger, you say you care what’s your excuse for not taking my challenge. How about a real great facetious quote, something real colorful and meaningless. Just put down that beer and give a few dollars.”
My God. . . Cringeworthy, indeed.
Here’s a pithy quote for you on behalf of my fellow Volusia Issues contributors:
“Up yours, Panaggio. . .”
Was that ‘colorful and meaningless’ enough for you?
Because it damn sure comes from the heart. . .
I left Mr. Panaggio’s latest crudity in its original, unedited form – a raw stream-of-conscience virtue signaling tirade – so you can judge for yourself how our social, civic, and economic elite go about soliciting donations, inspiring confidence, and building community support for our publicly funded – and desperately challenged – homeless assistance center.
Apparently, it is not enough that Mr. Panaggio sees himself as a do-gooder – in his self-absorbed world, it is more important that others see Mr. Panaggio as a do-gooder – perhaps that is why he paints himself a Tier-1 philanthropist during this “season of giving” – and if he has to call you a liar, belittle your opinions, disparage previous donations as “cheap junk,” and marginalize anyone he disagrees with in a braggy harangue to get that point across, so be it.
Is it possible the All-Knowing and All-Seeing Great Wizard of Weirdness telepathically knows which charitable organizations you and I (branded “Volusia Discontents”) choose to support – and which we do not?
Look, I won’t get into the litany of perception issues, waste, mismanagement, toxic politics, and old-fashioned foul-ups that have plagued the First Step concept (whatever that is) since its conflicted inception – serious organizational bungling – including the tragic death of a client for lack of a simple public transportation plan (at a homeless shelter?) – in my view, these poor optics (or gross incompetence) has kept many potential donors at arm’s length.
Now, we are being harshly lectured by a self-centered First Step board member – told that the real reason the facility has failed to thrive is due to shoddy beds – “cheap junk” – bunks that were no-doubt gifted by a well-meaning donor whose generosity is now being badmouthed by the very person who failed to inspect the suitability of the beds before they were accepted and pressed into service.
Who does that?
In my experience, the Mike Panaggio’s of the world – shameless show-boaters who stage a Broadway production whenever they write a check – always look down their long noses at those of us here in the real world who do not see things exactly as they do. . .
Given the well-publicized turmoil and controversy, many believe First Step has become little more than an income source for multiple layers of staff and management – with little, if any, measurable impact on the still prevalent ‘homeless problem’ we were all promised was the “shelters” incredibly expensive raison d’être.
Those negative perceptions are to be expected, given the complete lack of an effective public communications plan, beyond Mr. Panaggio’s midnight ravings. . .
Is there another explanation – or is it my fault for pointing out a pile of shit so my neighbors don’t step in it? Again?
Given the facility’s recurring $113,000 monthly nut (2020 figures) I am surprised the shelter’s charitable giving strategy seems limited to a sitting board member throwing angry insults on Facebook then groveling for handouts?
Weird approach, eh?
In September 2020, the Volusia County Council directed some $1.09 million in CARES Act funding to the needy First Step shelter – a cash infusion of public funds that we were told would be used to hire even more staff, build a 1,000 square foot addition, dedicated computer room, a floor-to-ceiling partition for the multipurpose room, with the remainder of the federal manna being used to:
“…hang microfiber curtains around bunk beds to prevent germ transmission; install motion-activated faucets, urinals and toilets; add UV air disinfection units; build outdoor patio roofs; buy patio furniture; purchase high-grade washers and dryers; hire a housing coordinator who would help find residents places to live; and add another new full-time employee who would monitor residents for up to 12 months after they moved into permanent housing.”
So – just one year on – what happened?
With all the brainpower we have purchased with our “hard-earned tax dollars,” you mean to tell me no one thought it might be smart to purchase replacement beds with the windfall?
Really? Touchless toilets but no beds?
At a homeless shelter?
In my view, Volusia County taxpayers have continuously given much more than their fair share to support that expensive debacle in the hinterlands – a homeless “shelter” in name only – and it is high time for the First Step concept to stand or fall on its own two feet.
If not, let the City of Daytona Beach simply dissolve it – chalk it up to former City Manager Jim Chisholm’s promising, but financially unsustainable, idea that became a perpetual parasite on the neck of Volusia County taxpayers.
Then our ‘powers that be’ can use the land for what many believe was its intended purpose all along:
Allowing P$S Paving a lucrative source of fill dirt until the whole shebang can be sold to the developer du jour and developed into the next lakeside “lifestyle” community. . .
And Another Thing!
Santa Claus came early for many on the Fun Coast when Pat Rice, editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal and Commissar of the Political Education and Propaganda organ of Volusia County’s Old Guard, announced his much anticipated retirement this week.
Rather than doing what a conscientious captain should and go down with his ship and skeleton crew – after some 12-years at the helm – Mr. Rice is conveniently abandoning the flaming wreckage of the foundering daily after overseeing the outsourcing of editing, printing, inserting, etc., etc. – as the once bustling newsroom dwindled to a precious few after many talented journalists jumped ship – while others were summarily “downsized,” or simply run off, in an exsanguinating bloodletting Editor Rice dubbed “restructuring.”
Right or wrong, Pat Rice became the area poster boy for all that is wrong with modern newspapers – willing victims of a decade-long corporate feeding frenzy when once hyper-local papers were gobbled up by hedge funds – traded like chattel – then homogenized, regionalized, and forced into the stable of faceless international media conglomerates who demand fealty to an increasingly progressive slant and a “profit over quality” ethos that continues to lower the bar industrywide.
Then they wallow in self-pity, lamenting the ‘death of print journalism.’
Rather than rage against the dying of the light, it seemed Mr. Rice simply acquiesced – becoming a blunt tool of corporate greed – unable, unwilling, or incapable of producing a marketable product in an increasingly conservative and rapidly growing metropolitan statistical area with a resident population pushing 700,000 – a place desperate for an independent watchdog – an environment where our crude political system is fueled by a few uber-wealthy insiders, a “donor class” comprised of the same five people and industries who control our artificial economy and feed greedily at the public teat.
Unfortunately, those same “Rich and Powerful” (the News-Journal’s description, not mine) happen to be members of an exclusive club that became conversationally known around town as “Friends of Pat” – in my view, an unhealthy fraternization with newsmakers that Mr. Rice flagrantly flaunted – posting social media photographs rubbing the right shoulders, publicly enjoying his chummy relationships with politicians, power brokers, business leaders, and the crème de la crème of the Halifax area’s civic, social, and financial elite.
You know, those who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast – the very set Mr. Rice should have been aggressively questioning and reporting on?
In my view, Pat’s convenient “friendships” demonstrated just how intertwined the Volusia County triumvirate of ‘Big Money’ donors, the malleable candidates they buy like cheap livestock through exorbitant campaign contributions, and the News-Journal – who always seemed too close to the other two legs of the stool for comfort – have become.
Over time, disenfranchised News-Journal readers watched as their elected and appointed officials came to arrogantly ignore Mr. Rice’s toothless “watchdogs” (a/k/a the working press) – as they simply cut out the middleman and began communicating with us through in-house spinmeisters – highly paid public mouthpieces who tell us exactly what our government thinks we want to hear in canned press releases that are willingly regurgitated by the News-Journal.
All while good reporters – and the readership they serve – are left to endure the resultant coldshoulder routine, “Multiple attempts were made without success to get comments from (insert powerful public official/developer/powerbroker here).”
I suppose the handwriting was on the wall. It was clear to anyone paying attention that Mr. Rice has been phoning it in for a while now. (Because what else is he going to do, now that the News-Journal offices are vacant and the building up for sale?)
For instance, Mr. Rice recently used his prominent standing space in the Sunday News-Journal to call for even more censorship and infringement of our right to free expression on our last alternative voice – the wide-open space of social media.
I found it odd that a working journalist and self-described defender of our sacred First Amendment protections was openly lamenting the fact that since We, The Voiceless Little People have had our fill of being spoon-fed horseshit – and many have taken to the everyman’s soapbox of social media to rail against government overreach, the bureaucratic tax-and-spend gluttony, and out-of-control growth that is threatening our quality of life – more government regulation is required:
“(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.”
Unless there is another “blogger/troll” on the Fun Coast that I am not aware of, I egomaniacally presumed Mr. Rice was referring to me and I have worn the disparaging moniker as a badge of honor ever sense. . .
What Mr. Rice failed to mention was the fact his newspaper – and its parent Gannett – have been on the frontlines, fanning the flames of the insane ‘culture wars’ – doing their level best to politicize the pandemic, further dividing us, pitting neighbor-against-neighbor along every perceived difference and viewpoint – then blaming long-suffering taxpayers for the Us vs. Them mentality and historic lack of trust in local government – blaming what he described as “social media pundits,” and maligning elected officials who live up to their promises as “misguided zealots” and liars who “fudge the facts.”
Unfortunately, it always appeared to me that Mr. Rice was completely out-of-touch with our reality – and his quote in reporter Jim Abbot’s benevolent swansong, “Editor Pat Rice to retire this year,” sounded eerily as if he was having a sudden realization of his true purpose – perhaps a crisis of conscience after selling his once idealistic soul to the devil of corporate media in some weird Faustian bargain:
“A newspaper is really a public trust,” Rice said. “You can be owned by a company or individual, but I have always felt it’s a public trust to do the right thing for the community. A lot goes into that.
“You have to be watchdogs of government; you have to be fair and accurately cover all segments of community, no matter what. You have to cover both the good things as well as the things that need improvement. I don’t want to hold up a specific story other than to say we’ve fulfilled that obligation really well to our readers, and I know the staff will continue to do that.”
Better late than never, I suppose. . .
Hey, just spit balling here, but perhaps Mr. Rice can find work crafting a more positive message for fellow civic do-gooder “Mad Mike” Panaggio and the struggling First Step Shelter?
At the end of the day, I admire Mr. Rice’s decision to step aside – to move on to “something else” – because it is the right thing to do for News-Journal subscribers, employees, and the community.
As we watch the stern rise on the sinking SS News-Journal, don’t expect anything to fundamentally change.
I expect the last act performed by Editor Rice will be to tamp down the grave of our once proud local newspaper, a crumbling pillar of this community now reduced to a bedraggled “holding” of a multinational media conglomerate – a previously trusted source that we have helplessly witnessed devolve into a regionalized rag – the unfortunate legacy of a principled newspaperman turned corporate shill.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!