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 Local Public Affairs Forums
We live in an age where the publics right/need to know is quickly being eroded at all levels of government as craven politicians and entrenched bureaucrats seek to conduct the “people’s business” in the shadows while limiting citizen input in the process.
I find that incredibly frightening.
Florida was once the most transparent state in the nation thanks to strict “sunshine laws” which limit backroom machinations, yet our powerful legislators and those who hold the paper on their political souls, have passed laws which allow massive corporations seeking “economic incentives” to hide behind mysterious cryptograms, and force local elected officials to vote on approvals and amendments without any idea who the public largesse will benefit.
The Florida Legislature is taking up a secrecy bill that would cloak state college and university presidential searches in effective darkness – allowing powerful insiders to exert their outsized influence in private – opening the door for cronyism or worse.
We live in a time when elected officials sit expressionless on their gilded perches — gazing down on their hapless subjects like stone-faced gargoyles – placing stringent limitations on the public’s right to participate in their government, hiding behind obstructionist “civility ordinances,” while obstinately refusing to communicate, answer questions, explain decisions, or even acknowledge the presence of those they serve.
In my view, our democratic processes work best when vigorous discussion and debate produces a variety of views and opinions in spaces away from the partisan fishing camps and narrow-minded clubs and committees of political parties.
This is why the United States Constitution places such emphasis on protecting our inalienable right to free speech, allowing the competition of ideas to elevate the best solutions resulting in informed and inclusive public policy, because anything less than complete transparency in government breeds suspicion, speculation, and distrust.
But what happens when powerful public figures – and those working behind the scenes to manipulate the message – use their position to marginalize those who seek to participate in the civic discussion as ‘naysayers,’ ‘malcontents,’ and ‘trolls,’ discredit administrators of social media sites who are charged with keeping order during a tumultuous political debate (often requiring a whip and chair), and work to limit the reach of forums where opposing views can be expressed and debated?
It is happening all around us – an organized effort to limit free expression on prominent issues and control the narrative by silencing criticism of our elitist ‘powers that be.’
In my view, social media sites, community groups, and grassroots political forums – the everyman’s soapboxes which give a voice to the disenfranchised – remain the last bastions of free and open expression, places that invite the rough and tumble political discourse that is vitally important to the preservation of freedom and democracy in an era when our elected officials ignore our fervent pleas, beholden only to their powerful benefactors.
It is heartening to know that so many civic activists in the Halifax area and beyond support one another in furthering a civic dialog, even when we disagree on the issues or solutions.
When Barker’s View was in its infancy, the first social media forum to post my blog was FREE Daytona Beach – a Facebook site administered by the intrepid beach driving and access advocate Elaine Barnicle – who helped introduce these diverse and often over-the-top screeds to a larger audience.
On the Wall of Honor in Barker’s View HQ, I proudly display a Certificate of Appreciation presented by the Bellaire Community Group when they invited me to speak on topical local issues.
I treasure it.
I am most proud of Barker View’s standing monthly appearance (second Monday of each month) on GovStuff Live! hosted by WELE 1380am (listen online at www.govstuff.org ) – Volusia’s premiere public affairs radio forum – where community icon Big John uses local issues to educate and inspire on the “fastest two-hours in radio” each weekday beginning at 4:00pm.
Trust me. If you aren’t listening to GovStuff Live! you’re doing it wrong – an eclectic format that strives to teach us something about this place we call home.
Thanks to your readership, Barker’s View has contributed to several local and national podcasts, to include “Live with Boyd!” presented by Sherrise Boyd – and the New Orleans-based “Troubled Men” podcast moderated by the irrepressible Manny Chevrolet and Renee Coman.
Now, this blogsite is posted to numerous political and public affairs forums on a variety of platforms – to include the incredibly popular, and refreshingly controversial Facebook page Volusia Issues – and other illuminating community-based social media sites.
These forums are important, and whether we agree or disagree on the issues of the day – I thank you for reading Barker’s View and furthering the discussion.
I hope you – the loyal members of the Barker’s View Tribe – will join me in supporting these important outlets dedicated to the free and open exchange of ideas and opinion so our civic dialog never devolves into an exclusive echo chamber for the “Rich & Powerful.”
Asshole Port Orange City Council
Look, I normally leave Port Orange out of the discussion – the municipal government has been relatively stable of late, and they are accomplishing some wonderful things in that beautiful community.
But as an avid watcher of the théâtre de l’absurde that is local politics, I live for these little vignettes.
Last month, during the regularly scheduled meeting of the Port Orange City Council, a gentleman clad in a black trench coat who identified himself only as “Anonymous” submitted the required written adjuration requesting permission to speak to his elected officials, approached the dais of power, and asked that Mayor Don Burnette read from the “topic” section of his request form for the public record.
This prompted some squirming from the clearly discomfited Mayor and Council members – who were visibly affright – clearly unaccustomed to being openly challenged by a lowly member of the unwashed public. . .
There was some awkward repartee – with Mayor Burnette repeatedly reminding the speaker “It’s your three-minutes” (Ugh) – and Mr. Anonymous responding, in kind, “Mayor, please read the topic, for the public.”
Finally, Mayor Burnette acquiesced to his constituent’s simple request and read the speaker’s haughty demand into the record:
“Request to take anonymous requests for public records seriously.”
With that, Mr. Anonymous turned and left the chamber as mysteriously as he arrived – having made a valid point about the need for local governments to respect Florida’s remaining sunshine laws.
For his trouble, Anonymous was dutifully followed out of the room by Port Orange’s (most recent) Police Chief Manuel Marino, who, according to an article in the Hometown News, “…watched to ensure Anonymous did not cause a further disturbance.”
For the record, the man did not create a “disturbance” – not even a “dustup” – nor anything close to a “bruhaha.”
(Trust me. Having served in Holly Hill city government for over 30-years, I’ve seen some bruhahas in my day. . .)
No, this man’s sin was much more egregious – he made some very important people uncomfortable – a transgression that is unforgiveable in the stilted dukedoms of Volusia County.
Don’t take my word for it, watch the fun for yourself here: https://tinyurl.com/yckstnpv
According to the Hometown News, apparently to assuage the fears of our ruffled elected elite, “The various police departments within Volusia had a planned meeting in the following days where such rare instances as this are communicated to ensure a pattern of something nefarious is not in the planning.”
Wait. Do you mean, the dark and contemptable practice of common citizens prostrating themselves before their elected officials for redress of grievances? Or the public’s evil-minded attempts to participate in their government by seeking input in policy decisions? Or, God forbid, asking government officials to adhere to public records laws?
After the “disturbance” was quelled, the meeting returned to a comfortable exchange of pap and fluff – allowing the elected officials to recover from the ruffled-feathers induced by an anonymous citizen with the temerity to challenge the ‘powers that be’ – before talk turned to the always thorny issue of “Council Compensation,” setting the stage for a production of that old-fashioned election year Kabuki I adore.
The term limited Mayor Burnette – wrapping himself in the political insulation of a second term that continues until 2024 – began discussions of a pay raise for himself and council members with a traditional “It’s not about the money” argument:
“I don’t want Port Orange to be the kind of town that only people with money in their pocket can serve. Because this is not something that we do for the money, but it should be a fair compensation.”
The old, ‘Just because we don’t do this for the money, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be fairly compensated for doing it’ tap dance.
What ensued was an impressive performance of the “Poormouth Blues” with its gloomy refrain of ‘service from the ‘heart,’ and the onerous demands and responsibilities placed upon elected officials, yadda, yadda, yadda.
At present, council members receive $13,600 in public funds annually, while Mayor Burnette commands $18,600 for his arduous service. Under a proposed ordinance, the mayor’s salary would have been increased to $34,414 – with council members taking $25,810 each.
Thank God it’s not about the money, eh?
The measure died on a 3-2 vote with Councilmen Reed Foley and Scott Stiltner, who are currently standing for re-election – and Councilman Chase Tramont, who is running for the At-Large Volusia County Council seat – voting “No” in a perfectly orchestrated act of cheap political posturing.
According to reports, Mayor Burnette took umbrage, crowing, “I see how you guys value my time.”
To which Candidate Tramont responded, “With all due respect, Mr. Mayor, my vote of no is not because I don’t value your time. That was not a personal vote, it was simply because I disagreed with it.”
Mayor Burnette bristled, “You don’t value my time. You value my time zero,” and Tramont – all but unfurling his superhero cape as the Champion of the Overtaxed Taxpayer – assured, “I didn’t say I’m not going to pay ya. But I’m not going to double your salary.”
That’s rich, don’t ya think?
Yes, they really think we are that gullible. . .
After the requisite apologies from Mayor Burnette for “taking things personally” – and discussion of how the Port Orange mayor’s salary is somehow tied to the Volusia County Council chair’s stipend – “Councilman (Scott) Stiltner introduced an amendment that would lower the mayor’s increase from 60% to 45% of the Volusia County chair’s salary while maintaining the City Council rate at 75% of the mayor’s salary.”
The final Act of this ill-staged tragicomedy ended when the salary amendment passed on a dramatic 3-2, skin-of-the-teeth margin, with Councilman Foley and Candidate Tramont holding firm to their original “No” votes, for obvious reasons. . .
(Curtains close, deafening applause, my tears flowing as I gently toss a bouquet of calla lilies onto the gilded stage. . .)
Superb performance. Well worth the price of admission, don’t you think?
I guess, in the end, everyone got what they wanted – except that poor bastard who slinked out under police surveillance – and the long-suffering taxpayers of Port Orange. . .
Quote of the Week
“Now more than ever, manatees are facing hazardous living conditions, as food is becoming more scarce in the waters they inhabit. Manatees can weigh up to 1,800 pounds and must consume 10% of their body weight daily.
“The problem is the pollution in the water right now,” (local eco tour guide Ashley) Howard said. “It’s killing off a lot of the seagrass manatees naturally eat. They are purely vegetation eaters, so they’re always looking for some sort of greenery to snack on.”
According to The News Service of Florida, 1,003 manatees have died in Florida waters in 2021, more than 10% of the estimated population of manatees in the state waters. Nearly two-thirds of the deaths have occurred along the East Coast. Last year, the state recorded 637 manatee deaths.
Manatee Watch coordinators will host two upcoming, free training sessions for those interested in becoming a volunteer. Advance registration is required; contact Chad Murch at ManateeWatch@Volusia.org or call 386-736-5927, ext. 12839. For more information about manatees and Manatee Watch, visit www.volusiamanatees.org.
The sessions will be held 10 a.m. to noon Monday, Feb. 7, at the Stetson Aquatic Center, 2636 Alhambra Ave., DeLand, and 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 12, at the Marine Discovery Center, 520 Barracuda Blvd., New Smyrna Beach.”
–Abbie Pace, contributing writer for the Ormond Beach Observer, as excerpted from her informative article “Want to help save the manatees? Here’s how to get involved in Volusia County,” Wednesday, February 2, 2022
And Another Thing!
The blessing and curse of my life is the gift of a long and vivid memory.
For instance, I rarely forget the exploits of retread politicians who hopscotch through various elective roles with the support of their “Rich & Powerful” benefactors, influential insiders whose hand-select candidates return the favor by allowing them to control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on Florida’s Fun Coast.
Despite my scathing criticism of local politics and those illusionists who practice the art, it is important to remember that there are true servant-leaders working hard to improve our lives and livelihoods in elected positions on councils, commissions, taxing authorities, and advisory boards throughout Volusia County – and, in my view, some damn fine grassroots candidates are stepping forward to help level the playing field just when we need them the most.
It takes courage to walk through the fiery shit-trench that is a modern Volusia County political campaign.
I admire that.
It is not an easy calling for those who endeavor to serve their community without mercenary motivations or lockstep conformity to a stagnant “system,” one sullied by cronyism and corporate welfare schemes that ensure a return on investment for those who can pay to play.
For those of us who prefer to watch from the relative safety of the cheap seats, it is easy to become cynical, jaded to a process that no longer bears any semblance to a representative democracy.
That familiar queasy feeling returned earlier this week when I learned that 17-year Ormond Beach City Commissioner Troy Kent has filed to run for the Volusia County Council District 4 seat.
17-years. You read that right. . .
As it stands, Kent will challenge his pro-development colleague, Rob Littleton, who has served on the Ormond Beach Commission since 2016, and the impressive local business owner Ken Smith, who lost the Zone 2 Ormond Beach race to Commissioner Kent in 2020.
While processing this latest “the more things change, the more they stay the same” moment, my feeble mind returned to February 2018, and the sight of that environmental atrocity on Granada Boulevard that galvanized residents who were horrified by slash and burn land clearing operations that turned a very visible segment of our community’s urban greenspace into a muddy moonscape as some 2,061 trees – many of them century-old specimen hardwoods – and some 20-acres of natural buffer and wildlife habitat were churned into pulp.
Remember? I hope so.
What followed was a hard-fought campaign for the future of Ormond Beach – a battle between uber-wealthy developers and those who make their living building and selling commercial real estate – and the grassroots activists and environmentalists dedicated to staunching the growth at all cost strategy that is destroying our quality of life.
In total, over a quarter-million dollars was invested in that local City Commission race.
Naturally, the incumbents were returned to office on a green wave of cash provided by special interests who get rich transforming our natural places into obscene cookie-cutter subdivisions and half-empty strip centers.
On election night, Ormond Beach’s tone-deaf incumbent Mayor Bill Partington, Troy Kent, and their posse of re-elected commissioners, posed on the dance floor of the Rockin’ Ranch – epitomizing the back slappin’ good ol’ boy network they represent – holding up a filthy push broom to signify their “clean sweep.”
I don’t know about you, but the abject arrogance exemplified in that moment stuck with me.
Look for more in 2022. . .
For instance, in the Volusia County Council Zone 2 race, civic activist Paul Zimmerman is facing off against Danny Fuqua, a former military officer who gave lame duck incumbent Councilwoman Billie Wheeler a run for her money in 2020, and the Darling of the Donor Class, Port Orange Councilman Chase Tramont (who is literally on the payroll of CEO Business Alliance member and local powerbroker “Mad Mike” Panaggio at DME Holdings) who has amassed a hefty war chest of some $45,131 – with twenty-seven maximum individual donations of $1,000 – all perfectly legal under our weird campaign finance rules. . .
Yeah. I know. . .
By comparison, Mr. Fuqua’s campaign has received $7,584.70 with Zimmerman trailing both at just $1,997.88.
To his credit, and in the spirit of Mr. Zimmerman’s citizen-focused effort, he has not received any contribution over $250, nor has he accepted anything from those “Rich & Powerful” insiders in the real estate development, construction, and insurance industries.
In my view, Paul Zimmerman continues to run a positive campaign fixed on the issues important to his neighbors – like malignant sprawl, environmental protections, and water quality – with a demonstrated commitment to protecting our unique tradition of beach driving and access for residents and visitors.
Follow along as political loyalties are traded here: https://tinyurl.com/3khvk4wt
Earlier this week, the intrepid change agent Sherrise Boyd entered the Volusia County Council At-Large race, joining popular Councilwoman Heather Post, and former Port Orange City Manager Jake Johansson, who are each seeking the seat currently held by retiring Councilman Ben Johnson.
In a release on social media this week, Ms. Boyd said:
“I believe there needs to be plenty of changes in the County and unfortunately not many people want to take on the role and responsibilities of being an elected official. I feel the real creation of democracy has long been forgotten and left to those of selfish needs to benefit from when they are not truly for the people or the purpose…. Well, I am for the people, who are the entire purpose for a County Councilperson to even exist.”
In my view, Ms. Boyd brings a wealth of public and private management experience to the field, and her civic activism and educational campaigns – including the popular “Wake Up with Boyd” forum on Facebook Live – adds an interesting new dynamic to this important race.
She faces an uphill battle.
To discuss Candidate Boyd’s stance on the issues, or volunteer for her campaign, she invites us to contact her at 386-341-5670.
In 2020, the overwhelming majority of Volusia County voters sent a strong message to Volusia’s stagnant Old Guard, demanding substantive change to the status quo when we elected Jeff Brower to the catbird seat as Volusia County Council Chair over an entrenched insider with what many felt was an insurmountable financial advantage.
Then, earlier this year, civic activist Ken Strickland took the cake in what was widely billed as a “grassroots vs. establishment” contest for the Daytona Beach City Commission Zone 2 seat.
Although he trailed far behind his well-connected opponent in campaign funds, Commissioner Strickland won on a simple strategy of “Votes beat money.”
As I am fond of saying, it is time our ‘powers that be’ in the Ivory Towers of Power understand that there is some shit We, The Little People won’t eat – and that message resonates loudest at the ballot box.
I hope you will continue the wave of change that is sending a message of hope and inspiration for a better, more prosperous, future for everyone.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!