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 Friends of the Green Lion Café
“Maybe politicians are motivated by power. They want to boss the show, call the shots, twist arms, and land on the rest of us like a ton of bricks. That would mean that politicians are bad. Or maybe politicians are motivated by fame. Perhaps they believe the old saw “Washington is Hollywood for the ugly.” They want to be fabulous, in the limelight at all times, the only noodle in the soup, and box-office dynamite. That would mean that politicians are mentally ill.”
–The Late, Great P. J. O’Rourke, “No Apparent Motive: A chilling characteristic of politicians is that they’re not in it for the money,” The Atlantic, November 2002
In the 1994 film Forrest Gump, our eponymous hero observes, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”
Well, in the gilded chambers of the Palm Coast City Council, “Life is like a box of cereal – full of nuts and flakes – and you know exactly what you’re going to get.”
As this latest unfortunate saga began, in 2017, Carolyn and Tony Marlow, owners of the incredibly popular Golden Lion restaurant in Flagler Beach, took a chance on a dilapidated space at the failing Palm Harbor golf course.
At the time, what passed for a “restaurant” had dwindled to little more than an unsightly concession stand, and the dying golf operation had hemorrhaged some $9 million since its inception.
After agreeing to renovate the space and attempt to turn the failing eatery around, the Marlow’s, negotiated a favorable lease consistent with the risk – with the first six months absorbed by the City of Palm Coast, then $500 a month, with a $25-a-month increase each year after year two.
In turn, the Marlow’s put some $100,000 and copious amounts of blood, sweat, and tears into refurbishing the place and opened what would become the wildly successful Green Lion Café, which Trip Advisor now rates as the number one restaurant in Palm Coast.
Due to the Green Lion Café’s popularity, the Palm Harbor golf course has also turned around.
According to an excellent exposé by Pierre Tristam writing in FlaglerLive! “The intangible role the restaurant played in that turnaround, to the benefit of the city, is likely incalculable. Green Lion in April requested a lease extension, as allowed by contract.”
I encourage everyone to read Mr. Tristam’s excellent report here: https://tinyurl.com/2h78cjjr
Then, as things often go in that wild and wacky funhouse that is the Palm Coast council chamber, the proverbial wheel came off the cart. . .
During a recent workshop, Palm Coast Councilmembers Eddie Branquinho, Ed Danko, and Victor Barbosa set upon the Green Lion lease, calling it “shameful,” “outrageous,” and a “sweetheart deal” that was “robbing the people” – clearly punishing the Marlow’s and their hardworking employees for their extraordinary success.
The matter came back to the elective body recently after staff renegotiated the terms of the Green Lion’s lease which increased the restaurant’s rent 317% over the next five years, bringing it more in line with current market rates.
According to Mr. Tristam’s article, “The work of months of negotiations between the city and Green Lion crumbled before the council’s assault.”
“I want to use the word shame. Because I could use different words, but the word shame, that’s what we should be using over here for the people that actually did this lease five years ago,” Council member Eddie Branquinho said, not naming Jim Landon, the city manager who negotiated the lease. “And shame on us if we agreed to this. Shame on us. This is actually – let me use the bad word, this is robbing the people of Palm Coast. This is actually a shame.” He was equally critical of the city staff, which he said should not have submitted the lease proposal in its present form. “This is bad,” he said. “This is shameful. Shameful.” He tried to walk back the personal attack later, by saying he was not intending to be personal.”
Not to be outdone, the always angry Ed Danko, began throwing superfluous offers from the dais, “I’ll give you seven, or eight,” mocking the $600 a month rent the Marlow’s paid under the initial terms.
According to Mr. Tristam, had Councilman Danko bothered to read the agenda packet he would have known the renegotiated terms called for $1,200 per month starting in September, increasing by several hundred dollars each year to $2,500 by the fifth year.
After much preening and posturing, most of the Council supported going immediately to the $2,500 per month rental fee – before pulling the rug out from under the Green Lion altogether and agreeing to go out for competitive bid on the restaurant operation.
After the meeting, Christopher Marlow of the Green Lion said:
“And now they’re talking about kicking us out and putting 30 families out of work so the city can make $1,000 a month more? Are you kidding me?” Marlowe said. Since taking over the restaurant had weathered numerous closures because of hurricanes and tropical storms, the kitchen floor had caved in, the dining room had flooded. The restaurant repaired and moved on. “We want to continue our lease. The City of Palm Coast is making it very difficult, and quite honestly making it almost impossible.” He added: “We have agreed to everything that they’ve asked for and it’s still not enough for these councilmen. I don’t know what to do with these people. It was just like a feeding frenzy yesterday.”
According to reports, on Monday, Palm Coast employees entered the restaurant’s kitchen to take measurements while staff was preparing for a busy Valentine’s Day service. . .
Over the years, I have written a lot about the concept of shame in politics – an emotion that once served as a controlling factor in public life.
Now, that social trait has been lost to accelerated evolution in brazen politicians – a time when we can no longer count on a sense of dishonor and ignominy to control boorish behavior from those we elect to represent our interests – or govern their often-outrageous official actions once the arrogance of power becomes the operative ethic.
As a result, the ad hominem attacks on staff, marginalization of “colleagues” who refuse to tow the line, and open debasement of citizens who engage with government is now the norm rather than the exception.
Unfortunately, most reasonable people – even those who are proven assets to their community like the Marlow family – simply choose to disengage, chalk it all up to a horrific experience, and relocate their proven enterprises elsewhere.
Trust me. That deteriorating Us vs. Them mentality is not limited to the Duchy of Palm Coast.
Now, it seems political pressure, well applied, is the only effective deterrent to this abject egotism.
Earlier this week, the heat generated by a group of committed citizens was felt by the Palm Coast City Council when hundreds of friends of the Green Lion Café descended on City Hall to let their voices be heard on the asinine and arbitrary decision which threatened to crush a successful local business under the council’s supercilious bootheel.
Although the rental rates were not on Tuesday’s agenda, according to reports, furious residents began lining up in advance of the 9:00am meeting, intent on letting their elected officials know their utter disgust at the unwarranted abuse heaped on a local business and its employees.
What resulted was some two-hours of terse public comment.
According to a subsequent report in FlaglerLive!, “Remarkably, not one of the scores of people who spoke dissented from the recurring theme, which combined indictments of the council with appeals to reopen lease negotiations with the Green Lion.”
“The crush of pointed, at times bitter but never indecorous unanimity was a counterpoint to what has become the chronic, inflammatory tendency of council members, particularly Danko, to use their dais, their social media accounts and their position as brutal bully pulpits. The approach is typically divorced from thoughtful deliberation or even an understanding of recent history or administrative groundwork.”
At the end of the day, in the face of withering criticism, the Palm Coast City Council reversed their previous decision and agreed to reopen lease negotiations with the Green Lion.
As Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin said after the action, “I must say it’s rare in today’s political climate that we can have so many residents, so many neighbors, so much of our community attend an event, an organization agenda like this and perform with such decorum. I applaud you all and thank you very much and at this point, I’ll move on with the rest of the agenda. So thank you.”
Please read the rest of this interesting story here: https://tinyurl.com/2wd672hh
Thanks to the civic involvement of Palm Coast residents, some thirty families who stood to lose their livelihoods – a tragic consequence of this abject stupidity that would have had radiating impacts across Flagler County – will now remain employed, allowed to continue their excellent work operating the most popular establishment in Palm Coast.
Kudos to the Marlow’s – and the good citizens of Palm Coast – for boldly stepping forward to let their voices be heard!
As Margret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
What a splendid example of that adage in action, eh?
Times they are a-changing across the political landscape in Volusia and Flagler Counties, and it is refreshing to see the long-suffering victims of these bullies finally pushing back.
Asshole Volusia County Council
Earlier this week, it was interesting to watch Glenn Storch, one of Central Florida’s most prominent and effective land use attorneys, morph into his new role as adjunct legal counsel to the Volusia County Council on the languishing issue of establishing low-impact development standards.
This doesn’t happen often (if ever), but I agreed with Mr. Storch when he advised our elected dullards that it is impossible to ask developers – his clients – to adhere to environmental regulations and design requirements that preserve natural areas and processes when no one in county government has taken the time to define those standards or formulate comprehensive legislation that can be duplicated uniformly in each jurisdiction across Volusia County.
Frankly, I thought it was nice of Mr. Storch to meet his pro bono obligation lecturing those dipshits on the dais how to legislate public policy to the benefit of their constituents – a foreign concept to most of this bunch. . .
Although definitions differ, low-Impact Development is typically considered an approach to land development that works with nature to manage stormwater as close to its source as possible by incorporating principles such as preserving and recreating natural landscape features, capturing rainwater, maintaining natural greenspace, and limiting impervious surfaces to create functional and visually appealing site drainage that treats stormwater as a resource rather than a waste product.
During Tuesday’s discussion of an agenda item regarding an amended interlocal service agreement with the City of Ormond Beach related to yet another proposed “upscale” 298-unit residential development – Ridge Haven – shoehorned between Plantation Oaks and the Village of Pine Run, things took a strange turn when Chairman Jeff Brower asked Mr. Storch if his client would consider low-impact development concessions.
The Chairman’s request was based upon citizen input from recent town hall meetings he has moderated across Volusia County – and the undeniable groundswell of popular support for controlling malignant sprawl in the region.
As always, I was impressed by the intrepid Suzanne Scheiber of Dream Green Volusia who spoke passionately on behalf of our environment – recapping several distant hot-air generators that were hosted by Volusia County in 2018 where the “principles” of low-impact development were bandied about – then reminding everyone that “we can do better.”
During the very productive deliberation that ensued, the true loyalties of those sitting on the dais of power became evident as the craven Gang of Four circled the wagons around the needs of their political benefactors in the development industry – before Councilman Ben Johnson attempted to cut off further discussion altogether on a matter of near universal concern to citizens of Volusia County – his motion immediately seconded by The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry.
It was incredibly telling to watch the maneuverings of those Volusia County Council members who serve as finger-puppets of their political donors and benefactors in the real estate development industry – crowing about “overregulation,” “over-stepping,” protecting the rights of speculative developers from onerous regulations, and (for the umpteenth time) what the definition of low-impact development even means.
Taking rightful exception to Johnson’s parliamentary obstructionism, Chairman Brower called for a roll call vote on the motion which resulted in lockstep “Yea” nods from Council members Danny Robins, Billie Wheeler, His Eminence “Dr.” Fred Lowry, and Ben Johnson – with Brower, Heather Post, and Barb Girtman voting for transparency and open discussion.
Fortunately, the measure to muzzle further discussion required a two-thirds majority for passage, and the conversation was allowed to continue.
As always, the discussion tactically dissolved into a spitting match between the developer’s darling, “Dr.” Fred Lowry and Councilwoman Heather Post, with Lowry running interference for his benefactors – pushing hard to quickly approve the issue at hand and “move on” – past the uncomfortable discourse that threatened the status quo. . .
Unbelievably, this rather benign agenda item exposed the disturbing fact that neither County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald, County Attorney Mike Dyer, Growth and Resources Management Director Clay Ervin, nor anyone in the gilded halls of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Complex has taken the initiative to develop strategies for controlling growth, strengthening development regulations, or define low-impact development standards in the face of massive public outcry against the sprawl that is rapidly choking our quality of life.
Perhaps the “LID” legislation is moldering in the same dank bureaucratic sink as the long-forgotten impact fee study?
Time will tell. It always does. . .
Anyone else remember the educational series Ms. Scheiber spoke of – paid for by the United States Environmental Protection Agency – and presented by Mr. Ervin and others back in 2018 which discussed implementation of “green building and infrastructure standards”?
After four years and countless acres of slash-and-burn clear-cutting to make way for more wood frame cracker boxes (with more being approved every week), we are now waiting for yet another plodding “water quality” workshop before Volusia County kicks the rusty can even further down the road on the most pressing issue of our time while the bulldozers continue to roar. . .
I hope you will remember this deliberately ineffectual stall tactic at the ballot box this year.
In my view, the issue of uncontrolled growth and the resultant environmental impacts is the singular concern of area residents – one that will have major impacts on elections that will determine the future composition of the Volusia County Council.
In my experience, sometimes these pernicious practices can bring a quick end to the public service of entrenched bureaucrats when the right people assume the reins of power. . .
Just a little unsolicited career longevity advice that these sluggardly senior bureaucrats might want to consider before they drag their expensive heels and leave their bosses squirming on other topics of grave public importance.
Quote of the Week
“Now, more than ever, it is important to balance environmental and economic considerations in our daily operations. A sustainable future for Volusia County, and our entire region, will be based on solutions that include environmental, economic and social considerations.”
–Volusia County Council, 2012
What the hell happened?
This decade-old quote was excerpted from a dull 2018 PowerPoint presentation entitled “Low-Impact Development in Comprehensive Planning,” presented by Volusia Growth and Resource Management Director Clay Ervin at the Lyonia Environmental Center.
That inspirational ditty by a previous iteration of the council did not age well. . .
The dog-and-pony show containing this hollow remark was part of a larger educational series focused on the “…challenges and benefits of instituting low impact development strategies into our structures and community design.”
During the program, speakers discussed the recommendations of something called the 2005 Volusia Smart Growth Implementation Committee, which included heady suggestions like, “protect the environmental core,” “meet the infrastructure needs of smart development,” “direct development to appropriate locations,” and ample bureaucratic pabulum like “develop vibrant, livable and sustainable urban communities,” (as opposed to, “slap together lethargic, dispirited, unlivable communities on every inch of greenspace while permitting growth to outpace supporting infrastructure. . .”?)
So, here we are in 2022 – still clueless about what “low-impact development” and environmental protection standards might look like in the context of comprehensive land use planning.
Trust me. The longer this hedging drags on, the more suspicious We, The Little People become – never a positive for incumbents during an election year. . .
Is it old-fashioned bureaucratic foot-dragging in an environment where no one is ever held accountable?
Or is it bureaucratic paralysis by analysis – a strategic procrastination by senior administrators?
In my view, it has all the earmarks of a pattern of intentional stalling that benefits well-heeled insiders who control their environment with massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates who, once in office, have effectively fiddled while Rome burned, as their political benefactors haul untold millions of dollars out of the pine scrub. . .
I’m asking. Because, ten-years on, citizens who are living with the environmental fallout, gridlock, flooding, and water quality concerns have a right to know.
And Another Thing!
This week, what passes for a public meeting of the Volusia County Council was apparently held on the dark side of the moon – at least those parts I could decipher – as the proceedings were transmitted across the rusty tomato cans and taut waxed twine our ‘powers that be’ use to communicate with us rubes who pay the bills and suffer in silence.
As in weeks/months/years past, this week, the online broadcast sounded like Alexander Graham Bell hailing Mr. Watson on his harmonic telegraph – the video feed fading in-and-out, microphones spitting and sputtering with frustrating frequency – coupled with the annoying tone and pitch of COVID stricken Councilwoman Billie Wheeler screeching across an ear-splitting Zoom connection with an amplitude that broke a wine glass in the sideboard, aggravated my already raging tinnitus, and left me with a weird form of Havana Syndrome. . .
Seriously, I’ve heard clearer communications transmitted from space probes in the Kuiper Belt.
The sound quality, unreliability, and physical manipulation required to remain marginally connected to these staged bimonthly hootenanny’s sucks.
Am I wrong?
Look, I spend an inordinate amount of my sedentary life watching hours of bone-crushingly boring public meetings on public access cable channels, so you don’t have to.
(At least that is how I justify sitting on my ass, drinking iced whiskey, and hurling snarky barbs at my television. . .)
To their credit, local governments like Daytona Beach, Port Orange, Flagler County, and Deltona actively broadcast public meetings and other important civic information to residents via public access programming.
So, why can’t Volusia County, the wealthiest most bloated bureaucracy in the region – a cash hog commanding an annual budget now surging past $1 Billion – take advantage of this newfangled technology called “television” to engage with interested taxpayers?
I realize the Volusia County Council is not the most transparent group of elected officials ever to convene – but many taxpayers are beginning to suspect that by making it physically burdensome for their constituents to listen to their stilted and highly choreographed meetings – most will simply tune out and go away.
In my jaded view, that scheme helps fuel the apathy and disinterest that allows them to ramrod shitty public policy, implement tax and fee increases, and change important regulations without opposition.
Is there another explanation why these elected dullards – awash in millions of federal Coronavirus relief funds – refuse to improve communications capabilities that allow residents to watch a legible and reliable broadcast, so they are not forced to gather in proximity with other serfs and helots who must sit shoulder-to-shoulder in chambers to watch the intrigues of our Monarchical rules?
Look, most of what passes for the “public’s business” is so much pap and fluff – staged Kabuki punctuated with mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations, delivered in a hypnotizing monotone by some disinterested staffer, peppered with complicated bureaucratese, and artfully packaged so no normal human being could possibly understand what in the hell they are talking about – including our dazed and confused elected officials who nod quietly while daydreaming about what their ‘free lunch’ will consist of. . .
In my view, effective public communications improve accountability, increase transparency, and expedite responsiveness to constituent concerns – all the elements required for something called good governance.
In my experience, increasing the flow and quality of information also increases the public’s trust in the process.
Folks, we deserve better.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!
Barker’s View will on hiatus next week. Please feel free to peruse the ample store of past pieces all conveniently archived for your listening and dancing pleasure at the bottom of the page.
Keep the faith, friends!