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 St. Johns River Water Management District
There was a time when anyone who saw the SJRWMD listed as an “Angel” in this space would have me strapped into a straitjacket and committed to a state facility for the congenitally stupid.
Maybe I’m going soft in the head, but I’ll take “progress” on the environmental front when and where I can find it. . .
Way back in the “bad old days,” this blogsite cut its editorial teeth on The Debacle in DeBary – a nasty tale of bullies, thieves, grifters, and opportunistic leeches who set their greedy sights on 102 sensitive acres known as the Gemini Springs Addition.
To make a very long and filthy story short, some career bureaucrats at DeBary City Hall hired the then Chairman of the SJRWMD – who also happened to own an Orlando-area environmental consulting firm which saw dozens of clients successfully receive permits from the very board he oversaw – to serve as a consultant in a scheme that would have allowed DeBary to acquire the property from the district, then ramrod a massive Transportation Oriented Development near the SunRail station adjacent to the threatened Gemini Springs complex.
The backdoor scheme was so sleazy that it resulted a shitstorm of epic proportions when former News-Journal environmental reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver doggedly exposed the shim-sham to the light of day.
In my view, Ms. Pulver should have received the Pulitzer Prize for her investigative reporting.
Several years ago, the SJRWMD finally settled the sordid matter by transferring the land to Volusia County with the understanding it would be held in conservation and protected from development “in perpetuity.”
In government parlance, the word “perpetuity” can mean “about 10-years or until no one is looking” – and many were uncomfortable with a solution that left the proverbial henhouse in the hands of elected foxes whose political campaigns are bought and paid for by developers.
Upon learning of the transfer, I suggested that the Gemini Springs Addition be placed in the care of a private entity such as the Nature Conservancy – whose first core value is “Integrity above reproach” – a concept that clearly has no correlation to Volusia County government. . .
No one listened.
I was reminded of this ugly period in Volusia County’s sordid history last week when – somehow/by accident – an incredibly controversial item silently appeared on the SJRWMD consent agenda which would have authorized the “surplusing” of some 18,000 acres of conservation land in Central and North Florida.
These ‘throwaway’ conservation properties included 3,000 acres right here in Volusia County. . .
You read that right.
In turn, the real heroes of this story – the local environmentalists who sounded the klaxon and spoke out against the ill-thought move – caused the SJRWMD to take a second look, and the item was rescinded. Fortunately, the outcry resulted in a plan to study the process for identifying surplus properties over the next six-months.
The valid concerns of residents and environmentalists were also shared by some members of the Volusia County Council who reached out to the SJRWMD. As a result, at a recent public meeting, County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald reported that “…if there’s any effort in the future (for the sale of surplus land) that they’ll involve all stakeholders.”
Even better, in a June 17 Twitter post, SJRWMD Chair Rob Bradley confirmed:
“The @SJRWMD Board has no intention of considering the sale of district lands. We are excited about potential land acquisition opportunities in certain ecologically valuable areas in our river basin. Florida forever!”
In my experience, it is the rare regulatory agency that possesses the transparency and clarity of purpose to listen to their constituents and partner agencies – then publicly reverse course and take steps to ensure a mistake is not repeated.
Kudos to everyone involved.
It’s been a while, but I think this is what good governance looks like. . .
Angel Ponce Inlet Town Manager Jeaneen Witt
We live in an unfortunate era where bigger is always perceived as better. But in my experience, great things often come from small beginnings.
I spent my working life in service to the good citizens of Holly Hill – the “City with a Heart” – a tightknit slice of Old Florida on the banks of the Halifax River.
While I clawed my way up the ladder to become the poster boy for the Peter Principle in Public Service, some of my former colleagues have gone on to make a high mark in service to communities throughout the Halifax area and beyond.
During three-decades with the City of Holly Hill, I had the opportunity to work with some incredible professionals, to include the incomparable Joe Forte, who rose like fine cream – going from firefighter to his current role as one of the finest city managers anywhere – and Kurt Swartzlander, Holly Hill’s former award-winning finance director who was recently named City Manager of Daytona Beach Shores.
Early in her stellar career, Jeaneen Witt – a proud United States Air Force veteran – served as Holly Hill’s City Clerk before moving on to roles of increasing responsibility in the beautiful community of Ponce Inlet.
During her 20-year tenure, Jeaneen served in a variety of roles, to include Assistant Town Manager, before being appointed Town Manager in 2010. In addition to being a talented chief executive who has stewarded the town through many difficult challenges, she happens to be one of the nicest people I know.
Last week, it was reported that Ms. Witt will be retiring effective October 22, 2022.
According to an excellent report by Brenno Carillo writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“It has been an honor to serve this community in this role,” Witt wrote in her resignation letter. “We have accomplished great things together that are visible throughout the town and there are some exciting projects ahead, for which the town is in its best financial position to accomplish.”
To ensure a seamless transition, the Ponce Inlet Town Council has already begun the difficult task of finding a suitable replacement.
According to the report, Ponce Inlet Mayor Lois Paritsky reassured residents, “…their town government is robust and redundant,” and that “…there will be no disruption in the high level of services that our staff provides to our residents every day.”
Kudos to Jeaneen Witt on the culmination of an outstanding career in service to the grateful citizens of Ponce Inlet.
Given her wealth of knowledge in multiple disciplines, dedication to excellence in public service, and personal care for those she serves, my hope is that Ms. Witt will find a way to continue to contribute to the community during her well-deserved retirement.
Asshole Flagler Beach City Commission
Where does the buck stop in Flagler Beach?
In a Council/Manager form of government, the manager is given extraordinary powers over every aspect of government services.
For instance, the executive has complete autonomy to hire and fire employees, set internal policies, direct the operations of all departments, and control financial, purchasing, and budgetary processes across the scope of the government.
In turn, We, The Little People elect the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker to serve on a council or commission – like a corporate board of directors – who appoint a chief executive with strong managerial and organizational skills to run the day-to-day operations and enact public policy.
Most do an exceptional job serving multiple masters while bringing economic and civic progress to their communities.
The ‘system’ also insulates career civil servants, the frontline professionals who deliver essential services to the community, from the often politically motivated nature of elected officials who are normally prohibited by charter from directing or interfering with operations.
Usually, the chief executive’s safeguards include a prohibitive “Golden Parachute” – a massive severance package that is triggered whenever a chief executive is dismissed “without cause” – and what constitutes “cause” is often narrowly defined in both employment agreements and the law.
Regardless, elected officials have an ethical responsibility to their constituents to ensure oversight and accountability, then act decisively to protect the public’s trust when the warning signs of dysfunction and mismanagement become evident.
From experience I can tell you when that process breaks down, dreadful things happen.
In my view, after the travesty in Flagler Beach last week, some highly compensated heads at the top of the municipal administration should be launched out of City Hall like a Saturn 5 – beginning with City Manager William Whitson.
Last Thursday, the Flagler Beach City Commission was clued into the fact taxpayers lost out on a $739,000 capital improvement grant from the Flagler County Tourist Development Council after the city’s administration missed the program’s application deadline.
Inconceivably, they ignored an extension as well. . .
In short, Mr. Whitson simply ‘missed the boat.’
According to a disturbing article in FlaglerLive!:
“The failure of the city administration to meet the deadline is a mirror image of its failure to secure in time a contracted booking with its usual fireworks vendor for the July 4 display. Flagler Beach will have no fireworks this year, and potentially for the next several years, as it rebuilds its pier.” (See: “Flagler Beach Could Have Had Its July 4 Fireworks Had It Not Waited Until April 24 to Book the Show,” here: https://flaglerlive.com/175810/fireworks-booking/ )
It’s not as consequential as missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant funding. But it reflects equally on an administration that appears to be less in control of basic managerial steps, despite recurring reminders.
“Our last meeting there was a representative here from TDC reminding us about the grant process, and then we had a meeting with TDC. Did we apply for the $700,000 grant?” Commissioner Eric Cooley asked Whitson Thursday evening during the meeting.
“No, it just wasn’t enough time for me to apply,” Whitson said.
There was a pause, the kind of silence that evokes pins not only dropping but stinging.”
To make matters worse, last year, Flagler County Tourism Director Amy Lukasik publicly and privately reminded city officials of the application requirements – to include offers of help.
Another contributing factor is that the City of Flagler Beach failed to identify an eligible “shelf ready” capital improvement project – such as the proposed replacement of the city’s iconic pier or reconstruction of the boardwalk – neither of which have been designed.
According to the report, Flagler Beach attorney Scott Spradley, who chaired the city’s unfortunate Fourth of July fireworks committee, said after the meeting:
“My concern as I heard the city manager acknowledge he failed to meet the TDC Grant filing deadline was ‘here we go again,’” Spradley said. “This is why there will be no 4th of July fireworks in Flagler Beach. That was another failure by the city administration to make timely arrangements. I don’t like the pattern. Plus, each of these failures results in a black eye to the City Commission but undeservedly so in my opinion. The City Commission issues orders and is only as good as the capability of the city administration to carry out those orders. Lately, those orders are not being carried out. This is a problem from my view as a resident, a business owner and a concerned member of the Flagler Beach community.”
You read that right – Mr. Spradley used the terms “failed” or “failure(s)” three times. . .
Now, the Flagler Beach City Commission has a duty to act.
Unfortunately, the abysmal lack of accountability in local government is not limited to the quaint beachfront community of Flagler Beach.
The organizational culture of many local governments abjures the timeless concepts of accountability commensurate with responsibility – never admitting mistakes – communicating with constituents in ambiguous sound bites, official claptrap that allows senior elected and appointed officials to take credit for successes then sidestep blame when errors occur.
In this case, the blame is self-evident, and the taxpayers of Flagler Beach deserve an apology – and accountability.
Quote of the Week
“The developers are Winter Park real estate investors Andre Vidrine and Stephen Whitley doing business under the name Daytona Land Partners LLC.
“We are fortunate to have purchased this property, both from a strategic location as well as working with one of our preferred governmental agencies, the City of Daytona Beach,” wrote Vidrine in a text message responding to an inquiry by The Daytona Beach News-Journal. “The staff, along with Mayor and Commissioners, are firm but fair and are well respected in our network.”
Vidrine declined to offer details regarding the project. He did, however, say, “We are conservative businessmen if that helps to answer, but not answer the question.”
His response was to an inquiry from The News-Journal asking whether the industrial park was being developed as an entirely “spec” project, meaning they can eventually fill it with tenants, or being built with commitments in advance.
Vidrine said he was bound by a confidentiality agreement from commenting more on the project.”
–Winter Park “real estate investor” Andre Vidrine, as quoted by Business Editor Clayton Park writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Who will be the tenants in new Daytona industrial park in LPGA area?” Thursday, June 30, 2022
Now we can start another round of the Fun Coast’s favorite pastime – “Daytona Beach Jeopardy” – where long-suffering residents swing a wild-assed guess at what is coming to the site of the latest clear-cut moonscape near Boomtown Boulevard.
As part of our disastrous ‘cart before the horse’ growth strategy, it appears a Winter Park developer is working with the East Volusia faction of their “fair and well-respected” network at the City of Daytona Beach to build something called the “Daytona Commerce Center I and II” at the northeast corner of the Mason Avenue Extension and Dunn Avenue.
You mean another massive commercial/industrial complex generating umpteen trips per hour is being permitted near the LPGA Boulevard corridor and its Monument to Mediocrity at the Tomoka River pinch point?
An already congested and dangerous stretch of roadway that transportation experts tell us will soon gridlock – even as those dullards at the County of Volusia drag their well-worn heels on plans by the Florida Department of Transportation to improve capacity and safety between U.S. 92 and Williamson Boulevard?
You want Barker’s Recipe for Civic Disaster? Build first – infrastructure later. . .
According to the report, the 60,000 square foot industrial park will provide space for either light manufacturing or a warehouse operation.
“I’ll take Another Industrial Warehouse for $200, Alex.”
Of course, us rubes cannot know exactly what we are getting in this latest grab-bag project because of inane “confidentiality agreements” that developers use to keep us – and our elected representatives – strategically out-of-the-loop until last minute.
In my view, this statutorily protected secrecy is more about keeping civic meddling to a minimum – and neutering an elected official’s ability to ask questions – than protecting a developer’s competitive advantage. . .
The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?
Perhaps it is time for Volusia County District Schools to begin the process of building “Forklift 101” and “How to lubricate automated robotics” – or better yet – “Feeding an asset limited and income constricted family on $15 dollars an hour” – into the curriculum?
And Another Thing!
“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”
–From “Signs” by The 5 Man Electrical Band, 1971
Ain’t that the damn truth. . .
The only campaign sign that would ever cement my vote came from my friend and perennial New Orleans mayoral candidate, Manny Chevrolet Bruno, who just happens to have the best slogan in politics:
“Vote Manny Chevrolet – A Troubled Man for Troubled Times.”
I will never run for public office, but if I did, that’s a tagline I would steal. (If only for the practice. . .)
Each election cycle, Manny’s satirical grassroots candidacy brings more attention to the myriad challenges facing that beautiful historic city than he ever could if elected.
While tooling around in the Lone Eagle this week, during interminable waits at various intersections, I noted these election year nuisances sprouting like noxious weeds in yards, commercial properties, and vacant lots – appearing overnight on private property and in the public right-of-way, propagating exponentially, multiplying and clustering – becoming so ubiquitous that voters quickly ignore them as they become overwhelmed, burned out, and disengaged.
Maybe that’s the plan?
Driving east on Granada Boulevard here in God’s Country, I even spied a gaudy sign touting the candidacy of an incredibly well-financed candidate for the Ormond Beach City Commission attached to the side of the tony Gaslamp Shoppes. . .
Look, I’m not even sure that’s legal here in the Fingerbowl District – but who gives a shit, right?
I found it unsightly and out of place – but so am I. . .
During my travels, I noted that one candidate for local office was affixing a sign to only one side of those double-sided wooden frames – which prompted the subliminal question, “Does this person get the most out of available assets, or simply buy more. . .?”
I’m weird that way.
This time of the year candidates or their surrogates will sweep through a neighborhood like a herd of sweat-soaked turtles leaving those obnoxious signs to mark their turf.
Subtlety and aesthetics be damned.
When speaking with my neighbors, some tell me they know the candidate whose name appears in front of their home personally – I suspect others simply acquiesce because they do not want to offend – merely trying to close the door and return to the peace and quiet of their lives.
You rarely see that level of cordiality here at the Olde Barker Place.
Trust me. I intentionally make this arrogantly shabby cracker box so unhospitable that even the most hardened political shill thinks twice before approaching with a glossy leaflet in hand (yes, the “GO AWAY” doormat means you, Mr./Ms. Candidate) and as a confirmed recluse, I never answer the doorbell.
Yeah. You do you. I’m not into “interacting.”
Especially when it comes to making nice with the smiling visage of some retread politician who proves repeatedly – in thought, word, and deed – that they could give two-shits about what my neighbors and I think once they have been re-elected.
I hate to be rude (no I don’t) but turnabout is fair play. . .
So, the next time a candidate for political office shows up on your doorstep, take the opportunity to ask the hard the questions (because, if elected, you will never see them again) regarding their stance on the issues important to your family and livelihood.
Then demand the hard answers that go beyond some pithy marketing slogan on a campaign tchotchke or a canned response at a pretentious partisan hobnob. (Politicians endorsing politicians? Really?)
I guarantee – even if you masquerade as an informed voter – you won’t be bothered by a pesky political knock at the door again. . .
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend and a happy Independence Day, y’all!