Angels & Assholes for December 17, 2021

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was.

Angel               “Entitled Daytonans”  

Look, I am not the most educated guy you know. 

The only thing that kept me out of college was high school. . . 

Fact is, I was given the best educational opportunities one could imagine – but things went south for me around the eighth grade when it became glaringly obvious that I was an unfocused daydreamer and mathematical illiterate – ill-suited for the rigors of academia.  

I am still incapable of doing even basic arithmetic without counting on my fingers, and, to this day, our postprandial ritual involves me staring confusedly at the bill until Patti takes it from me to calculate the tip.  

While I may be an uneducated bumpkin, I have been around long enough to know that even academics and intellectuals with advanced degrees are often full of shit – and, in my unschooled view, this week the venerable economist, Dr. Mark Soskin, got it wrong.   

Recently, the retired professor of Economics at the University of Central Florida chimed in on the outstanding exposé in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “New Daytona fulfillment center: Why will Amazon’s tax bill be over $1 million when NASCAR’s was $7,100?,” which pointed out some local applications of Florida’s dubious “Greenbelt Law” that allows developers and commercial property owners to park vacant land under lucrative agricultural exemptions by establishing a “good faith commercial agricultural use of the land.” 

The tax savings are enormous.

Writing on the Facebook public affairs forum Developing Daytona Beach, which is moderated by the articles author, News-Journal business editor Clayton Park, Soskin said:

“Yeah, let’s beat up on NASCAR (the only big player totally loyal to Daytona for 60 years) for the zillionth time. Nascar never took a dime from Daytona for it’s many upgrades of their track facilities, unlike every OTHER sports billionaire getting taxpayer paid-for stadiums, arenas, spring training while team owners get huge share of concessions and parking revenue. But ENTITLED Daytonans revile their friends instead of bribing some Race Teams to move down from the Carolinas to provide year-round revenue to the region.

It’s Daytona that FAILED Nascar, not the reverse; every other race track in the U.S. has been funded by state and local taxpayers EXCEPT Daytona’s!!! Hotel stock is so substandard that a large share of attendees stay in Orange Co. or Brevard. I long ago told Nascar they’re irrational to remain in Daytona: locals too are poor or disinterested to afford tickets, so most attendees travel from out of state; PLUS who else hold’s mega tourism events during off-seasons when Daytona is dead? My scientific study found its the primary or sole destination, has the most repeat visitors, longest length of stay, and most spent per visitor (as opposed to “family” visitors, spring break, and equal to bikers’).”

Guess what? 

A “scientific study” by The Amazing Soskin shows it’s all our fault. 

You ungrateful bastards. . .

According to the News-Journal’s report, “In 2021, NASCAR will pay just $7,100 on the 211 acres of property where Amazon plans to build its fulfillment center, records show. That rate is 27 times lower than the property tax rate for a vacant lot in the Midtown neighborhood, The News-Journal found.

The reason for NASCAR’s low taxes: the land is currently zoned agricultural as a result of a “Greenbelt Exemption” Florida law that originally passed to help farmers in the late 1950s.”

Apparently, NASCAR uses the acreage – and others like it – for off-site parking during events at Daytona International Speedway – then transitions the land back to a commercial hay operation to claim the lucrative agricultural emption.

Is that within the letter and spirit of the law? 

I don’t know – but it works.

According to a quote in the News-Journal’s article attributed to local blowhole and direct marketing magnate “Mad Mike” Panaggio, a self-anointed civic do-gooder and member of the mysterious CEO Business Alliance, skirting the spirit of the exemption is just “good business”:

“I don’t know for sure, but let’s face it, it’s a prime piece of parking for when they have the Daytona 500,” said Panaggio. “(NASCAR has) been looking for ways to maximize their return. You can’t blame them for making a good business move (by taking advantage of the state’s greenbelt exemption). It’s just a loophole.” 

Wow.

According to the News-Journal report:

“In Volusia County, a number of other companies have also taken advantage of the greenbelt exemption, including CTO Realty Growth Inc., the Daytona Beach-based real estate investment trust formerly known as Consolidated-Tomoka Land Co.

After benefitting from the greenbelt exemption tax break for many years, CTO sold off more than 10,500 acres of former agricultural land in Daytona Beach over the past decade.

Today, those properties are home to several commercial developments, including Tanger Outlets and Tomoka Town Center shopping centers, the new super-sized Buc-ee’s gas station next to the Interstate 95/LPGA Boulevard interchange, as well as the rapidly growing Jimmy Buffett-themed Latitude Margaritaville 55-and-older community, and numerous luxury apartment complexes.”

Don’t you remember those massive commercial farming operations on LPGA Boulevard east of I-95? 

Me neither. . .

According to Volusia County Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett – “The system is the system.” 

Whatever.

Now, The Amazing Soskin would have us believe his cyphering has determined it’s all our fault – those “entitled Daytonans” – who haven’t handed over near enough of their hard-earned tax dollars to ensure the astronomical success of NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway – totally ignoring the $40 million in city/county incentives we gifted to DIS for construction of their “synergistic” One Daytona retail and entertainment complex.

Now, to show their appreciation, our friends on the Board of Supervisors at the One Daytona Community Development District shove a one percent “enhanced amenity fee” (a money-grubbing sales-related tax by another name) down our throats on each purchase we make at the publicly funded complex. 

What, you don’t want to support One Daytona’s “enhanced amenities”?

Tough shit.  Not an option.

If you want to patronize the shopping center that we subsidized – then pay-up at the register, rube.

My God.  When will we ever finish paying for this thing?

Yet, according to the esteemed Dr. Soskin, it is all our fault – the “poor and disinterested” taxpayers of Daytona Beach and Volusia County – the great unwashed hordes of asset limited/income constrained drones who fill the warehouse jobs and minimum wage scut work they are forced to underwrite with their hard-earned tax dollars – further strapped by incessant tax increases – hapless victims of an inescapable artificial economy who have “failed” their all-knowing and all-seeing benevolent benefactors who comprise our economic upper crust. 

Bullshit.

Folks, our ‘powers that be’ are continuing their campaign to convince us that We, The Little People – the disenfranchised residents, the “discontents” and skeptics who question why what we see with our own eyes doesn’t comport with what we are told, the overburdened taxpayers who are expected to pay the bills and keep our mouths shut – are the problem, as they force feed us their horribly skewed version of our reality. 

Anyone who holds an opinion contrary to the party line is accused of using “half-truths” and “tainted facts” – discredited with claims our views are not grounded in “facts based in science.”

On Tuesday, just before gifting County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and County Attorney Mike Dyer a 4% retroactive pay raise – Councilman Danny Robins urged both men to become more active on social media, “Get more involved on social media.  You guys do so much behind the scenes and we have to get out the facts and the truth and present it to the people so they can give us direction.”

So, get ready for more official “facts and truth” oozing from the gilded Tower of Power in DeLand in 2022.

It’s called political gaslighting, designed to make us doubt our collective reality, and it is wrong. 

These self-important poohbahs malign and marginalize anyone who calls out the civic stagnation, secret backroom deals, and the incestuous political relationships that perpetuate the problem – with any public dissent or challenge to the status quo viewed as a violation of the law of lèse-majesté

Don’t take my word for it. 

I encourage you to read “Mad Mike” Panaggio’s late-night tirade I republished in last week’s Angels & Assholes for a prime example of how the Halifax area’s Monarchy view us lowly malcontents here on the Fun Coast.    

I don’t buy any of it – and neither should you. 

In my view, it is time to take local government back, to slow the out-of-control growth and bureaucratic swell, then return competence, collegiality, and citizen input to the process. 

Only Volusia County voters can curb the rapacious greed and insider influence that is threatening our quality of life, destroying our environment, and jeopardizing our grandchildren’s future. 

I hope you will remember that at the ballot box next year. . .  

Asshole           Volusia County Council

On Tuesday, your elected officials on the dais of power in DeLand voted unanimously to gift County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and County Manager Mike Dyer (the Council’s only direct reports) a generous 4% pay increase bringing their annual salary to $237,217 and $221,738, respectively. 

Oh, to add insult to the thousands of families in Volusia County who are considered asset limited/income constrained (read: Poor) – many struggling to make ends meet this Holiday Season as they languish at or below the poverty line, suffering under massive inflation, low paying jobs, and a dearth of affordable housing – Councilman Ben Johnson ensured that Recktenwald and Dyer will have very Merry Christmas by moving to make their raise retroactive to October 2. 

What?  You didn’t receive the same consideration for your arduous work schlepping boxes from A to B at (enter warehouse/distribution center here) this year? 

My God.  Shameless. 

The generous increase comes on the heels of a highly contentious budget cycle, with long-suffering taxpayers reeling from yet another hike in ad valorem taxes and fees – a well-choreographed charade where our craven elected officials wring their hands with faux-urgency and fan fears over what will become of us if we fail to feed the voracious bureaucratic machine – despite the fervent pleas of tax-strapped citizens and small businesses who begged for relief. 

In my view, meeting-to-meeting, Attorney Dyer sits quietly like a frightened little boy trying desperately to avoid the tumult and dysfunction at the adult table – as Mr. Recktenwald practices the art and science of selective communication (using indecipherable bureaucratese to mystify his bosses on the dais, who are too embarrassed to admit they have no idea what he’s talking about) and running interference for senior administrators whose contributions are limited to canned PowerPoint presentations – ensuring nothing of substance happens for months on end – always buying time using complex foot-dragging techniques. 

For instance, ever wonder what happened to the impact fee study Chairman Jeff Brower asked for a year ago while the bulldozers continue to roar?  Me too. . .

Conveniently, on Tuesday, Mr. Recktenwald used the tried-and-true “selective memory trick” to disabuse rank-and-file county employees – those who are actually in the trenches providing essential services – of the notion they will be receiving a $1,000 bonus like the council suggested they would in July.

I wonder what that takeback does for the ‘morale and retention’ of county employees?

Unfortunately, one of Mr. Recktenwald’s direct reports – Chief Financial Officer Ryan Ossowski – used “creative accounting” to lead our elected dullards into believing federal CARES Act funding would total a whopping $77 million – an enormous pile of unrestricted funny money that could be lavished on nice-to-have projects, including employee bonuses.   

Remember the time-wasting roundtable where the elected officials salivated over the federal manna and dreamed up a lengthy list of all the pie-in-the-sky pork and projects they could fund with the windfall?

Then, in November, Ossowski pulled the rug out from under them by revising his initial wild ass guess downward to between $33 to $65 million.

How embarrassing. . .and confusing.  

I guess that’s what happens when the fox outfoxes himself, eh? 

No harm/no foul. 

Because in Volusia County government, the idea of accountability commensurate with responsibility (you know, the very concept that justifies these astronomical salary and benefit packages?) is anathema.

Why?

Because when push comes to shove – those we elect to represent our interests can simply fall back on the political insulation provided by Mr. Recktenwald’s discerning amnesia. 

A talent which now commands $237,217 annually. . .  

Angel              Sweetie & Big John

I normally stick to original thoughts and opinions here in the wide-open space of Barker’s View, but this week, Volusia County icon – my friend Big John – penned an eloquent eulogy published in The Daytona Beach News-Journal honoring his beloved “Sweetie,” Barbara Ann Kincade – a fitting tribute to an extraordinary lady who lost her fight with pulmonary fibrosis in October:

“You all know a lot about me. I’ve been a lucky guy. News-Journal writers covered many of my exploits during 12 years on the Volusia County Council, serving as both chair and vice-chair. I was able to build, with the great Dennis McGee, Daytona International Airport which opened in 1992. I was involved in the original Ocean Center construction, rode a Barnum & Bailey elephant to the Ocean Center, served on the Serenity House Board for over 20 years, and saw a road named for me. I have done two strenuous hours a day on the radio for 20 years, earned a 30-year Ph.D. in Tireology, won Modern Tire Dealer’s Best Advertiser in the World and an Addy Award, and once welcomed a quarter of a million people to the Daytona International Speedway.

But my luckiest day was in May 2003, when I met Barbara Ann Kincade, aka Sweetie. Pretty, smart and strong-willed, she liked me despite my many idiosyncrasies. Her hard work writing and polishing speeches made her a distinguished toastmaster, one who mentored others and made many lifelong friends like Jean Linder Jones. When the roof blew off my home, Sweetie moved me into her apartment, saw me through two bouts of prostate cancer, and helped me build the Big House. She counseled me on my radio broadcasts and became my biggest cheerleader.

An excellent tennis player, Sweetie encouraged me to play and get in better shape, and she loved playing with Johnny, Manny, and Demetrius. A koi fish person of the year, she helped create our pond and wondrous natural garden. She worked with the Native Plant Society and volunteered at the Rose Marie Bryan Child Care Center on South Street, advocating for poor kids in the school system. Our property was honored as a National Wildlife Federal Certified Habitat, a University of Florida Friendly Yard and received a City of Holly Hill beautification award, all earned by my humble Sweetie’s hard work. Her fun bridge games included Weegie, Shelia, and Alice.

Sweetie loved her autistic nephew, Kevin, with her whole heart and soul. She was his No. 1 advocate when he attended Deltona High School. At home, she was his teacher and best friend, bringing him self-improvement tools and taking him to evaluations by Dr. Joellen Rogers and Easter Seals. When Kevin stayed with us at the Big House, he went everywhere with us as Sweetie loved to take him shopping and loved him for who he was, her inseparable companion. She loved her family, devoted to her two brothers, Ralph and Barry, two children Brent and CJ, four grandkids, April, Carlie, Tyler, Charlie, niece Lesley, nephews Austin, Chris, and David, cousin Duane, and great-grandchild Gabriel.

Spending 18 years of life with this fabulous woman made me the luckiest guy in the world, inspiring me to be a better man. In return, I did everything in my power to bring her happiness and a really good life. She saw the best in people, spent little money on herself, and gave her entire $1,200 stimulus check to the Jerry Doliner Food Bank.

Her dollars supported numerous other agencies to help anyone she could, encouraging me to do good deeds I might not otherwise have done. She fed and cared for our two giant Great Pyrenees dogs, Goliath and Major.

Sadly, she struggled with pulmonary fibrosis. Prescribed steroids led to steroid psychosis and exacerbated her lung problems. My Sweetie passed away at 10:30 p.m., Oct. 14, 2021.

Her care at Halifax Hospice was exceptional. They called to tell me she wasn’t doing well, and I was able to get there to spend her last hour holding her hand and letting her know how important she was.

I really miss my Sweetie, who had a great belief in God and succeeded in her mission to educate me about Him. Please forgive me for not mentioning all of her friends, she had so many that she loved and cared for.

I hope people who knew and loved her will be able to come to Our Lady of Lourdes Dec. 18 at 11 a.m., when Father Phil will perform a memorial service for Barbara Ann Kincade.”

Thank you, my friend, for gifting us with this touching tribute to a life well lived.    

We should all be so loved. . .

Quote of the Week

“There were two similar stories in the News-Journal this morning that got my attention: The first was about the Amazon fulfillment center proposed for Daytona Beach and supported by a city council that approved a $4 million rebate to Amazon and the second story was about the Toyota electric battery plant to be built in North Carolina with tax and infrastructure rebates from the state worth $430 million.

The Daytona Beach project promises 1,000 jobs and the battery plant promises 1,750 jobs. Some simple math says that we are paying $4,000 per job for Amazon and North Carolina is paying $245,000 per job to Toyota. While I must admit that makes the Daytona Beach investment a real bargain, I do not condone the secret proceedings that brought in more low skilled lower-wage jobs instead of high-tech jobs to significantly lift the average wage scale in our area and keep our graduates from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and Daytona State College in our community.”

–Jim Kotas, Daytona Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “A tale of two cities,” Wednesday, December 15, 2021

And Another Thing!

Tampa-based developer Framework Group returned to the trough this week – this time seeking $7.5 million in tax breaks for a 300-unit apartment complex and parking garage on north Beach Street.

Sound familiar?

By unanimous vote of the Daytona Beach City Commission, on Wednesday evening they got exactly what they wanted. . . 

Per the usual, Daytona Beach Deputy City Manager/Fire Chief/Developer Shill Dru Driscoll represented Framework Group – the multi-functional bureaucratic Swiss Army knife and in-house pseudo-expert on downtown placemaking – who never met an “incentive grant” or corporate welfare scheme he didn’t like. 

Apparently, Mr. Driscoll spends most of his day concocting reasons why the residents he ostensibly works for should gift the developer du jour, or next super-secret “economic development” enigma, a multi-million-dollar spiff – drumming up elaborate memorandums to City Manager Deric Feacher selling the idea with stories of “untested” markets and super-secret projects that we later learn involve handing $4 million in tax incentives to the wealthiest online retailer in the known universe. . .

Whatever.

Last year it became apparent that Framework Group – along with Sir John Albright and our old friends at CTO Realty Growth (formerly known as the good ol’ boys investment club Consolidated Tomoka Land Company) – had a powerful advocate in the bowels of Daytona Beach City Hall.

In October 2020, Mr. Driscoll was taken to the woodshed by that iteration of the Daytona Beach City Commission for dragging a half-baked incentive plan into the light of day – with out-of-date support materials provided just six-hours before the elected officials were expected to vote on a plan that would have citizens gifting the Framework Group $10.5 million in property tax breaks for a proposed apartment complex and hybrid public/private parking garage on the long-vacant site of the former First Baptist Church at ISB and Ridgewood Avenue.   

Then City Commissioner Rob Gilliland described the rushed incentive shim-sham as “haphazard” – while The Daytona Beach News-Journal rightfully decried the lack of transparency and internal pressure to force a decision in effective darkness – placing blame squarely on former City Manager Jim Chisholm. 

At the time, News-Journal editor Pat Rice wrote:

“As the City Commission seeks Chisholm’s replacement, here’s hoping they look for someone who understands the need to communicate, the need for transparency, and the need to visibly be a cheerleader on behalf of the citizens.”   

Remember? 

I do.

To their credit, the Daytona Beach City Commission rightfully decided to take a deep breath and directed city staff to go back to the drawing board and develop hard answers to puzzling questions.

Ultimately, Framework Group dropped the project.

I guess the “Project Delta” apartment/garage was undoable without millions in public incentives to ensure a profit margin?    

Now, in selling the “new” north Beach Street plan (which looks a whole lot like the “old” plan) Mr. Driscoll had the brass huevos to blame Framework Group’s decision to abandon the project on an “untested market”:

“Assisting in furthering the City’s vision this is Framework Group’s second attempt to bring housing to the downtown market as they previously were under contract for the downtown property known as Project Delta. Unfortunately the challenges of the untested market didn’t allow for the project to come to fruition.”

Say what?

Things are different this time around?

Bullshit.

In my view, Driskoll’s highly polished embroidery doesn’t do anything for the Framework Group’s credibility (who are returning to the same untested market?) with suspicious residents who are tired of seeing their hard-earned tax dollars used to underwrite the private, for-profit projects of out-of-town developers. 

What became of the “domino effect” we were all told to expect when we helped Brown & Brown locate its world headquarters downtown on promises a glass and steel insurance office would “…catapult the heart of downtown into a new stratosphere” – what former City Manager Jim Chisholm called “a game changer for the downtown area”?     

Now, we are being told downtown remains an “untested market” where potential developers struggle to get financing for the next game changing “catalyst in downtown”?

According to Driscoll’s memorandum to Mr. Feacher:

“The Downtown Redevelopment Area has not experienced a surge of new residential units on this scale in modern times, making it (an) untested market. Standard speculator developers are limited in their abilities to demonstrate financial viability to their financial partners in the untested market of downtown.”

My ass.

Now that Daytona Beach has a new City Manager in the effervescent Deric Feacher – why is he allowing senior bureaucrats to play the same tired games with the same tired players while expecting a different result? 

And why do Daytona Beach elected officials continue to rubber stamp them?   

Perhaps most important: Where do these tax giveaways end?

Eventually, many hope the City of Daytona Beach will come to the realization that the design and planning of public space is best accomplished with the input of citizens and stakeholders in an open, inventive, and transparent process – free of the hype and horseshit that breaks the community’s spirit time-and-again with the latest panacea project. 

In my view, if city government plans to continue meddling in the marketplace, then it is time to change a system where projects are hidden behind goofy cryptonyms and Secret Squirrel gameplaying – a patently unfair process that continues to erode public confidence and demands policymakers form decisions without adequate information or due diligence. 

While transparency might hamper the outsized “I know something you don’t know” advantage of a few local powerbrokers, it will ultimately produce something we can all take ownership of, while fostering a creative atmosphere and collective vision for the future of the Halifax area that backroom machinations and lucrative corporate welfare schemes can never produce.

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

One thought on “Angels & Assholes for December 17, 2021

  1. Maybe the new City Manager Deric Feacher, is now dancing on the same strings attached to his predecessor, controlled by the same Families5?

    Like

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