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 Big John and GovStuff Live!
As regular readers of these screeds know, I am not given to sentimental puling, but the passing of my friend Big John last Sunday morning has brought a flood of emotions – not the least of which is fear for the future of political discourse in Volusia County.
In my view, the great kick in the gut that marks the passing of this Icon of Volusia County – our area’s preeminent commentator on regional issues, someone who devoted himself and his encyclopedic knowledge to furthering our collective understanding of local government – is that he took his leave just when we need him most.
After a lifetime of service to others, Big John became the political conscience of Volusia County, and informing the discussion of the civic, social, economic, and environmental issues was important to him.
In fact, he devoted the bulk of his interesting life to educating the public on the bureaucratic machinations and policy decisions that affect our lives and livelihoods, always lamenting the fact that when it comes to local government, “Nobody knows nothing.”
He knew of which he spoke.
During his long public life, in addition to service on various boards and commissions, Big spent a total of twelve-years as an elected member of the Volusia County Council, including a stint as chair – his tenure marked by colorful antics and confrontations with his colleagues and detractors alike – well-crafted theater purposely designed to bring public attention to the pressing matters of the day.
As evidence that Big never shied away from controversy, when this blogsite was in its infancy, he asked if I would appear as a regular guest of his radio forum GovStuff Live!
He recognized Barker’s View as another means of furthering the discussion, questioning the motivations of the local power structure, and poking fun at the snobbishness that has become commonplace in politics and those who practice it.
When well-meaning people feared these posts were pissing off some very important people – strongly suggesting that I tone it down – Big John encouraged me to speak my mind and gave this blog a larger voice in the community.
He “got it” when others did not, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity and inspiration he provided.
This year Barker’s View celebrated its seventh anniversary as a monthly contributor to GovStuff Live! – and I will miss my frequent interaction with Big John as we prepared for the forum or just hashed over the news of the day.
To his credit, Big John never demanded fealty to his point of view and abhorred an echo chamber.
He welcomed all opinions, and if he disagreed, worked to change your mind using facts, logic, a rapier-like wit, and the open competition of ideas – always employing his exhaustive understanding of the players and issues to great advantage in any debate.
In the often-cloistered environment of local government, Big was able to glean inside information from his extensive network of trusted sources, both inside government and out, and used it to shine a bright light and keep us informed.
For good reason, many of our local “movers & shakers” were fearful of engaging in open debate with Big on the radio – but as a long-time listener, I never heard him treat an in-studio guest in an unfriendly manner. In fact, he was hyper-protective of those who joined him, and he made everyone feel welcome regardless of status or stature.
Yet, Big enjoyed sticking his thumb squarely in the eye of pompous politicians, bringing their outsized egos down to earth where they could be examined and better understood by voters.
Now, that incredible resource is gone forever – and We, The Little People he championed so long and so well have lost a fierce advocate, teacher, and friend.
On a personal note, I want to thank Big’s long-suffering producer Larry Steele, at WELE “The Cat” – and the incomparable Jeff Boyle – who so admirably stepped in and kept the forum on the air for the last few weeks.
I will also miss hearing the views and asides of that loyal and eclectic group of callers who contributed so much to the color and commentary of GovStuff Live!
This afternoon I hope you will join me in listening to the final broadcast of GovStuff Live! beginning at 4:00pm.
As this once bright stage goes dark, I am filled with a profound sadness for the future of local political discourse in the wake of Big John’s passing.
My hope is that the citizens of Volusia County will honor Big’s extraordinary legacy by becoming informed voters.
Take the time to learn all you can about the issues and those we elect to implement public policy, set tax rates, and allocate public funds – then elect servant-leaders who genuinely care about preserving and enhancing the unique character of Volusia County.
Get informed. Get involved. Vote like your quality of life depends upon it.
I can think of no greater tribute to this unique soul who dedicated his life to making Volusia County a better place to live, work, play, and learn.
Thank you, Big. We are glad you passed our way.
May God bless and keep you.
A nondenominational celebration of Big John’s extraordinary life will be held tomorrow at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 201 University Boulevard in Daytona Beach, beginning at 10:00am.
Angel Ron Rice, Requiescat in Pace
The legendary Ron Rice passed this week at his oceanfront home in Ormond Beach.
A self-made man of humble beginnings who, through his own hard work and promotional genius, became a titan of the sun care industry after forming the globally recognized Hawaiian Tropic brand in Daytona Beach 50-years ago.
According to a report by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s business editor Clayton Park:
“Rice incorporated Hawaiian Tropic as a company in 1969 and grew it to become the nation’s fifth-best selling line of sun care products, employing 500 people, most of whom worked at his headquarters plant at 1190 U.S. 1 in Ormond Beach. He sold the company to Playtex for $83 million in April 2007.”
Ron Rice was 81-years old.
Asshole Volusia County Council
If you live and pay exorbitant taxes here on Florida’s Fun Coast and still believe your input is valued by our elected dullards on the Volusia County Council, look no further than Tuesday’s edition of this bimonthly promenade of pomposity for evidence to the contrary.
In keeping with their foul tradition of exclusion, prior to what passes for “public participation,” Council member Barbara Girtman asked Chairman Jeff Brower to explain to their assembled subjects – taxpayers like you and me, many of whom took time away from work, raising families, and their busy lives to appear in council chambers at 9:30am on a weekday – that The Monarchy never acknowledges the presence of serfs who prostrate themselves at the podium to seek redress of grievances, ask questions, or provide input on public policy.
In turn, Chairman Brower essentially explained that the Exalted Ones never respond to the great unwashed hordes who come before them, explaining that if they were to actually listen and consider the frivolous wants of the underclass – then the Ruling Class would be spending an inordinate of their extremely valuable time on the nonsensical, irrational, and foolish notions of the villeins – rather than focusing on the important issues of the day.
As the campaign season heats up, I urge all voters to attend candidate forums and ask incumbents seeking reelection why they refuse to answer constituent questions in open public meetings?
Then, look them in the eye as they mewl and coo about all the reasons responding to your frivolous concerns is a timewaster for these self-important assholes. . .
I can assure Chairman Brower and his “colleagues” on the dais of power that nothing they fritter, bicker, and bitch about during these stilted shitshows they call the “people’s business” is more important than addressing the thoughts, concerns, and input of those citizens who pay the bills and have been expected to suffer in silence.
Frankly, I don’t give two-shits if their “meeting” drags on until midnight – nothing is more important than addressing the needs of their constituents from whom all political power originates.
For those elected officials George Mason described as our “trustees and servants” to deny We, The Little People our right to meaningful participation in our government and receive answers to our inquiries in an open, honest, and transparent way is, at best, political cowardice – and, at worst, the arrogance of power run amok.
To add insult, on Tuesday, when a citizen asked to project a PowerPoint presentation during his allotted three-minute audience – technology that is used, ad nauseum, by every entrenched bureaucrat who drones on before the council – to illustrate the problems inherent to administrative zoning changes, he was denied the opportunity.
Instead, the gentleman was ordered to hold up his laptop computer in a clumsy, and wholly embarrassing, move clearly designed to humiliate the speaker.
In another slap, when Councilwoman Heather Post questioned what could be done to make it easier for John Q. to research and find content in meeting minutes – such as correlating the times on archived video with discussion items – (specifically those related to American Rescue Plan Act spending) she received the usual tut-tutting from Councilman Ben Johnson about overworking “staff” and the disconnected excuse that “not a lot of people look at it” (excuse me?) – along with the usual arrogant obstructionism from our self-anointed Éminence Grise, The Very Reverend and Meanspirited “Dr.” Fred Lowry.
The very idea of anyone elected to represent the best interests of Volusia County residents asking the county’s ample “staff” to make things easier for us by better memorializing meetings, workshops, and the various hot air generators where our money is being spent is anathema in the cloistered halls of power in DeLand.
Clearly, the operative ethic at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Complex is to treat citizens like mushrooms – keep them in the dark and feed them horseshit.
Add to that “Dr.” Lowry’s aggressive (and annoying) one-upmanship of Councilwoman Post and the omnipresent parliamentary disorder and legislatorial confusion – which this week included a runaway microphone that had Ms. Post (who, once again, joined the meeting virtually) loudly broadcasting what sounded like an off-the-record sidebar conversation regarding injuries sustained during a terrible fall in a county-owned building (Ms. Post – I say again, its spelled: Morgan & Morgan, For the People) – and you get the picture that all three rings of this cirque de l’absurde were in play on Tuesday.
But it didn’t stop with ignoring the concerns of their long-suffering constituents.
In my view, the most shocking moment came during a public hearing on a convoluted rezoning application for a single-family home that is currently being built partially inside an Environmental Systems Corridor – a conservation zone that provides linkage and protection for areas of pristine natural space near the threatened Spruce Creek.
According to At-Large Councilman Ben Johnson, the property owners engaged in a series of “…blatant violations of the rules…” – to include the corridor infringement and desecration of sensitive vegetation on the property among other “mistakes.”
The item drew public comment from concerned neighbors and environmentalists, one decrying the “death by a thousand cuts” that occurs when encroachment on wildlife corridors and environmental setbacks are accommodated, ignored, or result in a slap on the wrist for those responsible.
Unfortunately, rather than set an example, it became evident that our elected representatives were more concerned with assisting the needs of the applicant in getting their new house out of the ground (regardless of where it sat) than the very real threat posed to the enforcement of future environmental violations by setting flawed conservation policy (because fish, raccoons, squirrels, whitetail deer, and Outstanding Florida Waterways don’t vote).
In an incredibly weird move, during the “public” hearing, much of the senior staff of Volusia County government – to include County Attorney Mike Dyer – scurried off the dais with Councilman Ben Johnson to conduct the “people’s business” in some anteroom outside the prying eyes of, well, the public.
You read that right.
Just up, turned their ass to the audience, and dashed for the Bat Cave where the magic happens.
To his credit, Chairman Brower was as perplexed as the rest of us slack jawed rubes when he inquired, “What happened to the county staff?” (laughter) “I’m serious, when I see the County Attorney or Clay go out with one of the council, I want to know what’s being said, um, this is a public hearing and it needs to be publicly presented, not behind a closed door.”
An awkward silence ensued before Councilman Danny Robins interjected, “…before we know what’s going on…,” as Brower continued, “I’m not making an assumption, I’m making an observation that Clay went in the hall with a county council member to speak about something, and I think in an important public hearing like this it needs to be public.”
A rightfully perturbed Brower went on to say, “We’ve got the entire county staff debating this in the hallway, perhaps. . .”
When Johnson and County Attorney Dyer sauntered back into the chamber – his terse exchange with Brower put everyone on notice that the Anointed Ones do exactly as they please.
In keeping with their complete dismissal of citizens, as Dyer took his seat following the backroom tête-à-tête, he blithely interrupted a citizen who was standing at the podium preparing to speak with, “Sorry Mr. Chair, I understand there was a concern?”
Chairman Brower asked, “Yeah, I just wondered why everyone was in the hall when I saw Clay go out with Mr. Johnson, possibly to discuss this. This is a public hearing, and I want the public to have the benefit of that information, whatever it was.”
In turn, Dyer openly lectured Mr. Brower with a hyper-defensive response, “Okay, I’m happy to speak to it. Any member of the council can ask me a question at any time; and they may do so privately or publicly. Mr. Johnson is free to address the comment. I have nothing to hide. Just doing my job.”
Whoa. “The counselor doth protest too much, methinks…” (With sincere apologies to Bill Shakespeare…)
I must admit, I did not see the dismissive “Just doing my yob, man” retort coming from the County Attorney in response to a legitimate question of procedure and transparency from the Chairman of the County Council during an active public hearing.
In my view, the response was rude and insubordinate, but it got Mr. Dyer’s message across loud and clear – and now we know who wields the power during these hoedowns – and who does not.
My God, how embarrassing to watch the county’s senior elected representative being dressed down on the dais by his subordinate, “I have nothing to hide. Just doing my job,” thankfully saving Mr. Brower the embarrassment of adding the obvious, “…you inconsequential eunuch.”
Following his explanation, it appeared to me that Ben Johnson was merely ducking into a phone booth to don his Superman costume – turned up the Beltones so he could feign listening to the silly “official” proceedings in the chamber – then singlehandedly searched for a “mutual solution,” outside the confines of the public eye:
“I’ve listened to everything that’s been said, we also hear it back there (back where?) but the idea is I’m trying to find a mutual solution all the way around to make sure we do what’s right for all the general public, ‘cause this is a very serious situation, has long-term impacts, as a matter of fact I heard from our attorney that whatever we do here could affect us at future times in other court actions. But I’m trying to find a mutual way that we can do something, and I don’t know yet. I think most everybody knows which way I’ m leaning, but I still would like to take and see if there are other solutions.”
Local environmental advocate Suzanne Scheiber then approached the podium and accurately called the backroom conference “really troubling” – before returning focus to the proceeding and expressing her concerns for the patency of Florida’s wildlife corridor.
When Ms. Scheiber was finished making sense of the nonsensical, Councilman Johnson apologized if he “offended anyone,” brushing off the unusual confab as “not unusual” before launching into some cornpone bibble-babble about his intentions. . .
In my past life in public service, the Florida League of Cities was fond of trotting out a line from some long-forgotten court decision when discussing the importance of adhering to statutes that keep all aspects of governmental meetings open and accessible to the public at all times:
“Every thought, as well as every affirmative act, of a public official as it relates to and is within the scope of his official duties, is a matter of public concern; and it is the entire decision-making process that the legislature intended to affect by the enactment of the statute before us. This act is a declaration of public policy, the frustration of which constitutes irreparable injury to the public interest.” Times Publishing Company, etc. v. Williams
One would think our erudite (and highly self-protective) County Attorney would have heard of this concept before, eh?
Ms. Scheiber was right.
It is troubling when senior staff, the county attorney, and an elected official abruptly dart from the chamber during the middle of a public hearing to discuss “mutually advantageous solutions” (whatever that means) totally outside the view of the public, as it reinforces our worst fears of backroom shenanigans.
Please don’t take my word for any of this. Watch the antics here: https://tinyurl.com/4nwnenyv
Trust me. Once you’ve seen it for yourself, it cannot be ‘unseen.’
In my jaded view, this continuing dysfunction and obstructionism is something that should not be forgotten at the ballot box this year. . .
Quote of the Week
To whom it may concern:
John W. Brower a/k/a Big John wishes all his friends and enemies the best in their life to come.
Those of you who were my friends, I hope the best for. Those of you who were my enemies, I hope you see the light. Most of us were not friends or enemies — we just had different opinions — a shade right, or a shade left.
Volusia County is a beautiful place. As I told you in my tribute to Sweetie, I really loved it. I was the luckiest guy in the world to have spent 18 years in a row with a beautiful woman, smart and sharp. She made me look real good.
Moving on to the next chapter, my best friend Reva and her current husband Ben, who have been taking care of me, will take over the Big House, and the best lawyer in Volusia County, Mel Stack, will take over all legal matters.
I want to especially thank my friends: Chad, Mary and Mark of the Beach, for the many hours spent helping Reva and Ben care for me. Some of you will be remembered with special gifts and charities will not be forgotten (Jerry Doliner Food Bank, Father Phil’s school, Someone Cares, endowment for Gloria and Ray Max and Sophie’s Circle). My funeral will be done by Father Phil at Our Lady of Lourdes.
Over and Out.
–Big John’s heartfelt message to the community as published by Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas in the Ormond Beach Observer, “He was Big: Longtime radio host, former county councilman, is one to be remembered,” Wednesday, May 18, 2022
And Another Thing!
Sometimes I question whether we are living in an alternate reality – a parallel universe where nothing is as it seems – a place where concepts like, institutional knowledge, recall, and the human emotion of shame no longer exists.
Earlier this week, Volusia County government issued a press release announcing:
“The National Association of Counties (NACo) has given an achievement award to Volusia County Government for its rapid and comprehensive implementation of changes required by the passage of Amendment 10 in 2018. The voter-approved ballot measure created constitutional elected offices for the sheriff, tax collector, supervisor of elections and property appraiser.”
My God. . .
I guess the NACo forgot the ugly, time-consuming, and incredibly divisive lawsuit authorized by the Volusia County Council, then prosecuted by former County Attorney Dan Eckert, against the will of 63% of Florida voters (and 54% of Volusia County voters) who approved the measure returning constitutional sovereignty to certain elected offices.
Of course, the Volusia County Council’s vote to spend tax dollars to contest the results of a fair and lawful election came during a typical off-the-agenda ambush. . .
The ill-advised challenge was based upon a non-existent threat to Volusia’s sacred charter which, prior to Amendment 10, consolidated power in the hands of a politically unaccountable county manager (and insiders with the wherewithal to influence public policy).
Only Councilwoman Heather Post opposed the lawsuit.
At the time, Sheriff Mike Chitwood rightfully named the County Council “Scumbags of the Week,” accurately explaining, “Volusia County is a sunny place for shady people.”
In addition, Sheriff Chitwood wrote, “…violating the public’s trust and circumventing the will of the people who voted to restore the ability of constitutional officers to answer directly to voters instead of county bureaucracy,” and called on then Chair Ed Kelley to resign, correctly describing him as “…an abysmal failure as county chair.”
Then, after all this disruption and internecine warfare – an incredibly expensive waste of time, money, and effort – after two court rulings against the challenge, in 2020, the Volusia County Council finally voted to drop the asinine suit.
Now, two-years on, NACo is lavishing accolades on Volusia County?
“When the amendment took effect on Jan. 5, 2021, Volusia County was the first county out of the starting gate. Since then, the team has shared its documents and process with other counties that needed assistance.
NACo President Larry Johnson said: “All across the country, counties are working tirelessly to support residents and drive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s achievement award winning programs showcase how counties work every day to build healthy, safe and thriving communities”
Only in the Twilight Zone of government can what started as an abject disaster – an afront to the voters of Volusia County and the state of Florida – later be painted as an award-winning effort.
Look, my hat is off to Volusia County’s Business Services Director Jeaniene Jennings and her team of department heads and others who worked diligently to develop plans for the smooth transition in adherence with the Will of the People – solutions that were later used as a template for other counties.
An impressive effort and yeoman’s work by all involved.
But I’m not sure anyone who paid for the council’s expensive folly is ready to forgive and forget just yet. . .
In my view, the initial reaction of those Stalwarts of the Status Quo who arrogantly appropriated public funds and delegated staff time to circling the wagons and undermining the decision of Florida voters in a craven attempt to consolidate power should be long remembered – and condemned by freedom loving people everywhere.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!