Angels & Assholes for September 23, 2022

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:

Asshole           City of New Smyrna Beach

As someone who spent a lifetime serving in a municipal government – and an ardent watcher of the fascinating intrigues of local politics – I often hold out the quaint seaside community of New Smyrna Beach as the one city on the Fun Coast that “got it right.” 

Unfortunately, last week many observers were disappointed when the City Commission gifted a hefty pay increase of up to 27% for the top three municipal employees – in an era where it is increasingly difficult to find entry level personnel willing to provide critical public services – to include law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical professionals. 

In an informative article by reporter Brenno Carillo writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned that New Smyrna Beach is lavishing cash on its already comfortably compensated administrators simply to keep up with the Joneses:

“City Manager Khalid Resheidat’s salary increased by 16%, from $158,908 to $185,676; City Attorney Carrie Avallone’s salary increased by 18%, from $151,410 to $179,000; and City Clerk Kelly McQuillen’s salary increased by 27.8%, from $76,693 to $97,988.

Heather Kidd, the city’s human resources director, conducted a survey on the current salaries for the same positions in other Volusia County cities. She presented her findings before the City Commission on Tuesday.

Kidd explained that the proposed compression adjustments for the fiscal year 2022-23 budget for the city manager and city attorney salaries (an increase of 3%) would not be sufficient to put the city among the top-paying cities in the county.

With the 3% increase, the $163,676 city manager salary would rank 11th out of 14, behind Holly Hill’s $163,738. The city attorney’s $155,952 would be fourth behind Ormond Beach’s $182,686.”

So what?

In a 2021 comparative analysis of area salaries and benefit packages by the City of Deltona, the News-Journal reported that Mr. Resheidat’s annual salary was $165,280 (that’s $6,372 more than reported by the city’s HR Director this week) with a total compensation package of $190,347.

Look, as an uneducated thirty-year bureaucrat who clawed my way to middle-management and hung on by my fingernails, I don’t begrudge any of my former ilk who take every nickel they can off the table, but I happen to know the magicians’ tricks – and which senior positions should be considered “essential,” and which are more fluff and puff than substance. . .

As I see it, the problem for New Smyrna Beach taxpayers comes when one looks at the salary range for the city’s other 340 employees – a place where the top nine department heads and senior appointed officials each make over $100,000 annually – while the median salary for those who perform essential services is just $41,662 (according to 2021 GovSalaries.com) – some 4% lower than the national average for public employees. 

Now, Mr. Resheidat will command over four-times the average salary of his employees. 

Much to my wife’s consternation – and because I rank just below “imbecile” on the Goddard Intelligence Scale – during my senior public service I never accepted a pay increase unless my subordinates were granted an equal raise. 

It was the right thing to do. 

Although I never commanded a six-figure salary, and my wife and I couldn’t afford an ostentatious house, or the trappings and toys of success, we adopted a comfortable lifestyle in keeping with a police officer’s salary.   

I knew when I entered the civil service I was never going to get “rich.”

In my view, public service is an honor and a sacred privilege – one with benefits that pay incredible dividends many in the private sector will never know – such as defined benefit pensions, premium health insurance, job protections, and a sense of serving something greater than one’s own self-interests.

In my view, those perquisites more than compensate for the traditionally low wages of the civil service.

Unfortunately, that customary tradeoff is quickly evolving for some at the top of the public pyramid.    

Now, senior administrators command all these privileges – as well as astronomical salary packages that rival anything in local business and industry – often with extras that include car allowances, cellular phone stipends, supplemental insurance, and additional private pension contributions.   

Where does it end? 

Just because city and county managers now command exorbitant salaries, benefits, and lucrative “golden parachutes” (always citing the volatility inherent to the job while ignoring their own political meddling) does not mean elected officials are dutybound to meet these extortionate demands simply to keep up with a regional ranking.

Especially in a beautiful beachfront destination. 

In my view, if the job pays $190,347 with bennies in New Smyrna, then that is what it pays (which is three times the $61,885 median household income of this upscale community) – and there are plenty of professional managers out there willing to accept this lucrative package to live in the relative paradise of what remains of this quaint slice of Old Florida.

Perhaps it is time for that political insulation consortium comprised of our “best and brightest” – known as the exalted Volusia Round Table of Elected Officials, who periodically assemble in effective darkness to work the Ouija board and solve the most pressing issues of our time – to set reasonable limits on these extravagant executive salaries until some of the quality-of-life issues you and I deal with daily are resolved.

In my view, this game of setting unreasonably high pay and benefits packages to attract potential suitors to the executive suite is unsustainable, and it is high time our elected officials stop allowing the tail to wag the dog. 

Asshole           Deltona City Commission

Let’s face facts. 

After twenty-seven controversial years, it is now safe to say – based on the empirical evidence – that the City of Deltona has been a failed experiment, a cartoonish sideshow that has destroyed the public trust and organizational effectiveness of the local government. 

Prove me wrong?  

Deltona did not spring organically from an old-timey railroad stop or ferry crossing – the sprawling city began as a modern “planned” community – the brainchild of the Mackle brothers, one of the most prolific real estate development corporations in the state’s sleazy history. 

According to a 2017 article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“The Mackle family, consisting of brothers Frank Jr., Robert and Elliott, forever altered the landscape and demographics of Florida.

Their General Development Corp. was the largest land development company in Florida for a time, and they turned thousands of square miles of swampland and thick woodland into sprawling residential communities for the middle class. One of the Mackle brothers’ biggest achievements was Deltona, the community they created in 1962. They also developed Marco Island and Port St. Lucie, among others.

They had high hopes for Deltona from the outset, said author-historian Jason Vuic, a Florida native who is writing a book about Florida’s land development giants from the early second half of the 20th century.

“They had this wonderful stretch of beautiful oak land … with lakes,” Vuic said. “It was completely virgin land, and they built this entire community known as Deltona.”

Originally known as Deltona Lakes, some well-meaning residents attempted to incorporate as a city in 1987, and again in 1990, but were unsuccessful until 1995.  The city’s charter was adopted on September 9, 1995, and a seven-member city commission was elected, operating under a commission-manager form of government.  

According to reports, Deltona Lakes was incorporated on New Year’s Eve 1995, with its name shortened to Deltona – a contraction of DeLand and Daytona – or, as some suspect, an ancient Timucua word meaning “accursed shit show.”

For instance, the municipality has had at least a dozen city managers or acting city managers since its incorporation just 27-years ago.  The longest serving manager was Fritz Behring who held the volatile post from 1999 to 2005. 

Smarter people than me have tried to figure out why Deltona is so hard on chief executives – but no one in their right mind would willingly enter a political meatgrinder – which is why they have such poor luck finding quality talent from outside the organization.

Or inside, for that matter. . .

For instance, anyone remember the horrific five-year régime of Jane Shang, who damn near destroyed the municipality from the inside out? 

I won’t rehash all the injuries and absurdities that Ms. Shang inflicted on the good citizens of Deltona – there is nothing to be gained from that.  Besides, anyone who witnessed Shang’s abusive and vindictive reign of terror, even from a distance, will never forget what they saw.

In Shang’s tumultuous wake, Deputy City Manager Marc-Antonie Cooper was tapped in January 2020 by unanimous vote of the City Commission to serve in the acting role – then, just ten-months later, he was unceremoniously sent back to his former position on a 4-3 vote. 

Cooper subsequently left for the top job in Forest Park, Georgia – and recently settled a discrimination suit he filed against Deltona for a reported $45,000. . .

In turn, the city’s Public Works Director, John Peters III, was elevated to Acting City Manager. 

Although Peters received high marks from the elected officials and enjoyed the support of many residents, in June 2021, things hit the skids when he publicly threatened (in the media) to take his football and go home, citing allegations that two commissioners were treading into day-to-day operations in contravention of Deltona’s charter. 

Like much of the city’s political history – the episode was ugly and shambolic – adding to the sense of dysfunction and instability that has shrouded Deltona City Hall for years.   

The melodrama ended in an emotional meeting, with Peters breaking down on the dais, wailing “I am damned principled!” before putting his threat on hold when everyone agreed to play nice going forward.

That ploy only works once. . . 

Just one-month later, Peters received his second $2,500 bump following a satisfactory performance review – and in November 2021, he asked for a 2.8% pay raise, a phone allowance, and an increase to the car allowance. 

Then, during a May meeting, Peters requested a severance package be added to his employment agreement after he hired a full-time public works director – essentially eliminating his lifeboat should he decide to return to that position. 

Interestingly, the current public works director has submitted his resignation effective October 6 – which Commissioner Anita Bradford accusatorially found “convenient.” 

Equally interesting was the fact Peters amended contract had not been signed – which prompted the city attorney to spit-and-sputter about reviewing the meeting audio to deduce the commission’s intent at the time. 

Weird.

I mean, what city attorney worth their exorbitant salary cannot pull up the municipality’s formally executed or amended contractual obligations at the push of a button?

Whatever.

In my view, the unaddressed issue that has tainted Mr. Peters tenure is that, from the outset, his appointment was based on an unspoken workaround.  A convenient means of circumventing the City’s charter, which requires the manager live within the city limits of Deltona. 

For the uninitiated, Mr. Peters’ resides in neighboring DeBary and had no known plans to uproot and move to the community he manages – thus, the perennial “acting” status. 

In my view, that arrangement is disingenuous and does nothing to promote stability in a place that desperately needs it.

In recent weeks, residents of Deltona were rightly taken aback when a commission agenda item announced:

“Please accept this Agenda Item as my Notice of Resignation as Acting City Manager for the City of Deltona effective November 17, 2022, in accordance with my Employment Contract. I have met with each Commissioner over the last week and a half to discuss the reasons for my resignation. In closing, I want to thank you for the opportunity to lead the incredible team of Deltona employees in a positive direction through all aspects of City governance for the citizens of Deltona.”

On Monday evening, as per usual, the Deltona City Commission meeting fell into confusing disarray – stretching into the early hours of the morning – ultimately concluding with the elected official’s voting 4-3 to accept Peters’ resignation “effective immediately” – with the majority rejecting his request to return as Director of Public Works.

During the often-rambling debate, a Pandora’s Box of issues eerily emerged – to include raw political friction, the power and influence of Deltona’s fire union (especially during an election year/contract negotiation), staff morale, a job search, tales of private conversations being intercepted from outside the City Manager’s office, and a veiled reference to sealed ‘secret files’ held on a city hard drive apparently related to former Human Resources Director Richard Adams and his recently settled lawsuit alleging retaliation and discrimination by John Peters.   

Ultimately, Commissioner Bradford made it clear that she did not want Peters back in City Hall – period – and fanatically hammered away at both Peters and those colleagues pushing for a more measured resolution to avoid payment of another enormous severance package. 

Essentially, the final vote put Peters out on his ass with full pay and benefits until November 17 – jumped the Deputy City Manager – and shoved the city’s contracted attorney, Marsha Segal-George, into the wheelhouse for at least the next two-weeks.

I don’t understand it either.

A special meeting to seek a way forward has been scheduled for Monday, September 26 – and the rumor mill is swirling.  I’ve even heard wild speculation that Jim Chisholm, the controversial former Daytona Beach city manager – now very comfortably retired – is being considered by Deltona’s ruling junta. . .

Yeah.  That.  

Look, a city manager’s job of juggling the wants and whims of the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker who were each elected to make difficult decisions for their neighbors – while keeping the pitchfork wielding villagers marginally content – is a damn hard dollar.

Not for the faint of heart.

In my experience, Mr. Peters should have known the pitfalls going in – and realized that after 20-months at the helm – you cannot go home again. . .

The frenzy on the dais resulted in one citizen suggesting that the commission-manager form of government be abolished, and the Fire Department given to Volusia County, in favor of hiring a contract manager to juggle consultant fees and service agreements. 

Something to consider. . .

If the City of Deltona is to remain a legitimate entity – then the elected officials must begin the painful process of sorting through the divisive baggage and set a collective vision, putting aside the meanspirited “gotcha” politics, collusions, and accusatory maneuvers – to find a means of working cooperatively with community stakeholders to achieve civic equilibrium.  

That doesn’t come from a consultant’s expensive attaché case – it is crafted by people who care – and begins with listening to constituents and learning what is important to them.

The good citizens of Deltona deserve better.

Stay tuned, this is about to get interesting. . . 

Quote of the Week

“A state audit report has identified a series of blunders at Volusia County Schools, including flawed implementation of a multimillion-dollar software program, insufficient accounting of district resources, and a security breach that sent hundreds of thousands of district dollars to a bank account that appears to be linked to an overseas fraud scheme. “District security management needs improvement,” the report states.

The district told the Observer that it has learned from the errors and has made changes to prevent similar problems in the future.”

–Senior Editor Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, “State audit details financial, IT missteps at Volusia County Schools,” Wednesday, September 21, 2022

I published my thoughts on this scandalous situation at Volusia County Schools last month. 

It bears repeating.

In July 2022, the Volusia County School Board took delivery of a shocking report detailing the results of an operational audit of district processes and administrative activities conducted by Florida’s Auditor General during fiscal year 2019-20.

The summary findings were a guided tour through a disturbingly dysfunctional organization where the concept of accountability commensurate with responsibility is a cudgel reserved for silencing whistleblowers who point out the flagrant waste and incompetence all around them.

For instance, the audit’s first significant finding explained:

“District personnel did not always verify vendor bank accounts before electronic payments were made to those accounts and, as a result, electronic payments totaling $359,566 for vendor services were made to a wrong bank account.”

According to the report, due in part to lackadaisical security and independent vendor verification procedures, the district fell victim to what the DeLand Police Department later described as an “overseas fraud scheme,” which resulted in some vendor service payments being routed to an unverified account.

Fortunately, $193,869 of the theft was recovered from the “District’s bank” and the remainder – $140,697 – was paid by the district’s cyber insurance company.

Volusia County taxpayers were on the hook for the $25,000 deductible. . .

Most telling, the report detailed the massive waste of time, money, and resources related to the district’s horribly compromised software program – something former Assistant Director of Applications and Infrastructure Alex Kennedy tried multiple times to warn key decisionmakers about until he was suddenly fired in 2020. . .

Auditors determined that the installation and implementation of the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system was beset with issues from the beginning – complicated by the district’s failure to keep minutes of “steering committee” meetings when the software was selected – with little effort to ensure that the project progressed through implementation according to the terms of the contract.

Then the committee was disbanded without explanation – which destroyed any institutional knowledge or project continuity – leading to even more expensive delays due to personnel changes.

Ultimately, the program cost Volusia County taxpayers millions of dollars in cost overruns and functionality issues.

It also cost the only person in the district who gave a damn his livelihood. . .

From the outset, Mr. Kennedy raised concerns about the School Board’s adoption of the financial software because it was not designed for use in a K-12 setting, which required that the district spend millions re-engineering the program – explaining that no other K-12 school system had successfully adopted the program and there were other software options that cost less.

In August 2018, Mr. Kennedy authored an email to the highest echelon of district leadership, which ended with the dire warning:

“More importantly, if we are ever lucky enough to “make” this software work it will most likely be the most expensive ERP solution ever brought forward to a K12 institution with both the minimal and most complicated functionality. As an employee and tax paying citizen I strongly recommend putting this project on hold and having it reassessed by a third party state agency such as DMS (Department of Management Services).”

Unfortunately, his expert opinion was ignored.

Had district leadership listened to Mr. Kennedy instead of acquiescing to those who told them what they wanted to hear; it is estimated taxpayers could have saved over $4 million on the project.

On May 14, 2020, without warning that his employment was in jeopardy, Mr. Kennedy was abruptly terminated – because that is the fate that befalls anyone who breaks the sacred Code of Omerta in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand and sounds the klaxon on misfeasance, the gross waste of funds, or the organizational incompetence that permits it. 

In a recent appeal of his previously dismissed whistleblower lawsuit, Mr. Kennedy’s attorney wrote:

“His repeated complaints resulted in his termination, so Mr. Kennedy brought a claim under the FWA (Federal Whistleblower Act).  The FWA protects public employees from retaliation when they raise allegations of government negligence and waste.”

Considering the findings of state auditors – I wish Mr. Kennedy the best of luck.

In my view, the audit was a scathing indictment of a cloistered system that now commands an annual budget in excess of $1 Billion – now the largest public budget in Volusia County – with little oversight or answerability.

In addition to these serious issues, the audit also uncovered a lack of accountability in the disposal of tangible personal property (fixtures, furniture, equipment, and motor vehicles), lax access privileges to sensitive student data that could result in fraud and other financial crimes against individuals, the fact 5% of employees with direct contact with children had not received a required five-year background check, and a history of weak information technology security training, authentication procedures, and written guidelines which could further compromise sensitive data.

My God.

In this week’s exposé in the Ormond Beach Observer, School Board member “Clueless Carl” Persis overlooked the fact that Mr. Kennedy tried valiantly to warn anyone and everyone at Volusia County Schools of the extraordinarily expensive ERP implementation:

“These issues show why it’s important to have audits, Persis said: Now the board knows about the errors and what must be done to ensure that they are not repeated.

“We can’t change what has occurred, and the people who were in charge of it at that time are no longer here,” Persis said. “… Everyone who is in charge now will nod their head and say, ‘Yeah, we agree. Mistakes were made, but this is what we’re doing now and this is how we can assure you we’re on the right track.’”

Mistakes?  My ass. 

In my view, a courageous whistleblower’s livelihood and reputation have been maliciously destroyed – a chilling warning to anyone in the organization who would dare expose waste and wrongdoing – and that fact should not be flippantly dismissed as a mere slip-up.  

As I have said before, these appalling revelations should send a shudder through parents, teachers, students, and staff – and enrage Volusia County taxpayers who are forced to pay for this continuing institutional incompetence.

And Another Thing!

Something remarkable happened at the Volusia County Council meeting this week.  

Or so our elected dullards would have us believe. . .

After years of kicking the can down the dusty political trail on the pressing issue of increasing impact fees on new development to mitigate the corrosive effect of massive sprawl on our inadequate infrastructure and understaffed essential services across Volusia County – on Tuesday, the County Council voted unanimously to update formulas and fees for fire, parks & recreation, thoroughfare roads, and a new fee for Emergency Medical Services effective immediately. 

Yep.  Heroes all. 

Just ask them.  

What a crock o’ shit.   

Now that many population centers in Volusia County are reaching build-out – with our natural places and aquifer recharge areas blanketed by ugly zero-lot-line cracker box “theme” communities and sticks-and-glue apartment complexes – our courageous caped crusaders on the dais of power now turn from years of strategic procrastination to emerge as Champions of the People!    

All while those fat cats in the real estate development community – uber-wealthy insiders who bankroll the political campaigns of those malleable sock puppets who have done everything in their power to drag their leaden feet on impact fees while their benefactors slashed, burned, clear-cut, and hauled untold millions out of the pine scrub – then left current residents to deal with the gridlock and fallout. 

Look around, that’s a pretty good return on investment, wouldn’t you say? 

On Tuesday, District 5 Councilman The Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry moved to accept increases proposed in a consultant’s study effective immediately – which means Director of Growth and Resource Management Clay Ervin can now take his sweet time preparing ordinance amendments for a future vote by the council. 

Whatever.

Anyone remember way back in June 2018 when we awoke to the revelation of a mysterious “Secret Study” exposed by The Daytona Beach News-Journal?

I do.

After 15-years of suppressing impact fees, we learned the results of a $50,000 publicly funded study conducted in 2016 – “…that recommended fees almost three times higher in some categories and a change to a county ordinance the consultants deemed overly generous to developers…”

The report had been intentionally hidden from council members and the public during impact fee discussions.   

You read that right.

At the time, Mr. Ervin mewled to his shocked constituents:

“It was not final; it was still a draft … and we felt it was incorrect,” said Clay Ervin, the county’s director of growth and resource management, adding that traffic analyses like these are always done in phases and are never aired until they’re complete. “Whenever you go out for public review, you want to make sure the documentation is accurate and reflects the intent and purpose.”

My ass. 

That final deception cost former County Manager Jim Dinneen his job – and it should have been Clay Ervin’s last bite at that rotten apple – but as an entrenched member of Volusia County’s “Good ol’ Boys Network,” I’m sure he was ‘just following orders.’

Then, in October 2021 – after months of timewasting twaddle – the current iteration of the Volusia County Council agreed to pay $134,360 to a Tampa-based consultant, now known as Benesch, to review impact fees.

Although growth will never pay for itself – and government refuses to use the increase in tax revenues to pay for the infrastructure necessary to accommodate it – had Volusia County accepted the results of the “secret” 2016 impact fee study and captured revenue during the ensuing boom cycle we may have been able to salve some of the growing pains that are quickly destroying our quality of life.

Now, that’s water (and millions of dollars) under the bridge. . . 

Sad.

Four years ago, in a prescient statement to former reporter Dustin Wyatt writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Proposal to double Volusia County’s impact fees stirs support, concern,” the late great political watchdog Big John opined:

“They’ve lost millions of dollars in impact fees that should have been earned in the past five years and that’s a gigantic number that we gave away to the development community,” he said, adding that the full recommendation by the consultant represents the only way to gain some ground.

“Better late than never,” Big added.

Better late than never. . . 

I hope you will remember this long and sordid travesty at the ballot box in November.

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

Angels & Assholes for September 16, 2022

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               Children’s Advocate Linda Merrell

I attended elementary school at St. James Episcopal Day School in Ormond Beach. 

The class sizes were small, and classmates remained together as they advanced, an experience that formed the foundation of lifelong friendships that endure to this day. 

It was at St. James that I came to know the wonderful Merrell family – the children of Dr. Robert Merrell and his beautiful wife Linda – and I have known few people longer than my childhood friend, the renowned Cobb Cole land use attorney Rob Merrell.

This week, I received word that Rob’s dear mother, the legendary Linda Merrell – a tireless advocate for abused and disadvantaged children – has transitioned to life everlasting at 83.

I won’t say “passed away,” because Mrs. Merrell’s half-century of selfless advocacy on behalf of those least able to defend themselves from abuse, neglect, and victimization will not be forgotten.    

In an exceptional commemoration of Mrs. Merrell’s many accomplishments in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean gave readers a glimpse at her 50-years of noble activism, as told by some of Volusia County’s most civically engaged dignitaries:

“Former County Councilwoman Pat Northey first met Merrell decades ago when they both got involved in a county PTA organization.

“I was a young thing just getting started in PTA, and Linda was like the icon,” said Northey, who served on the County Council from 1993-2004 and again from 2007-2014. “We wanted to be Linda Merrell when we grew up. She was very caring and very loving, never threatening. But she also knew her way around Tallahassee. She knew everybody and she knew how to get it done.”

In addition:

“J. Hyatt Brown, chairman of Daytona Beach-based Brown & Brown insurance company, and his wife, Cici, have known different generations of the Merrell family back to the 1950s. Brown got to know Linda Merrell better around the time he was Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives from 1978– 1980.

“She was always involved in good things in the community,” he said. “She would come to Tallahassee on her child and medical issues, and she was very persistent.”

Brown said he remembers her as “a wonderful person” who was always smiling and upbeat.”

Me too.

During her storied work as a champion for children, Mrs. Merrell served as coordinator of the Florida Governor’s Constituency for Children, helped found the Florida Children’s Health Insurance Program, which now provides insurance to some 2.6 million disadvantaged kids across Florida, co-founder of the Florida CHAIN and Florida Child Health Coalition “…which subsequently became a bedrock of support for the Children’s Movement of Florida and the Florida KidsWell project.”

In addition, Mrs. Merrell served with the Developmental Disabilities Council, Healthy Start Coalition, various children’s hospitals, and child advocacies across the state on programs such as Early Steps and Healthy Start and served as a member of the Florida Medical Association Alliance. 

Through it all, Linda Merrell served devotedly as a loving mother to her five incredibly gifted children. 

A life of dedicated service, truly well-lived.

Thank you, Mrs. Merrell. 

Your service and advocacy are measured in lives saved – the lives of our most vulnerable – the very essence of God’s work.    

(Services for Linda Merrell will be held at 1:00pm, Saturday, October 8 at St. James Episcopal Church, 44 South Halifax Drive, Ormond Beach.  A reception will follow at the church. The public is invited to attend both the service and reception.)

Angel               Volusia School Board Member Anita Burnette

Normally, the Volusia County School Board finds a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Every.  Damn.  Time.

But on Tuesday, board member Anita Burnette raised the bar and demonstrated her commitment to the best interests of her constituents and Volusia County Schools when she made two motions to end the legal services contract with controversial board attorney Ted Doran’s law firm.   

With cause. 

Unfortunately, Burnette’s courageous first motion died for lack of a second.  Her follow-up motion was seconded by Jamie Haynes; however, the measure failed on a 3-2 vote.

At the beginning of a workshop to discuss Mr. Doran’s recent performance evaluation, Chair Ruben Colon announced that the board had received notice that Doran was being replaced by Aaron Wolfe, a partner with Doran, Sims, Wolfe, and Yoon. 

Last month, Doran received an abysmal performance review from board members – receiving a score of just 45 of a possible 95 – along with cutting remarks from Burnette and Haynes, who spoke of distrust, disparate treatment, and intimidation.    

In the most telling moment of that process, lame duck board member Linda Cuthbert held true to the abject absurdity that has marked her tenure by giving Doran a perfect score (?), kowtowing to the internal and external forces that have kept the polarizing Doran in the catbird seat for the past two-decades.

For reasons that remain murky, last year, the School Board approved a three-year contract for Doran’s firm just one week before his previous agreement was set to expire, seemingly in contravention of a long-standing School Board policy requiring that the attorney be reviewed and retained annually.   

According to a June 2021 article by Cassidy Alexander writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“The timeline put the pressure on board members to make a decision at their meeting on Tuesday or risk losing legal counsel, although some board members were interested in exploring other options.

The new contract included a 25% raise for the attorney who’s been representing the School Board since 2002.”

During Tuesday’s workshop, Jamie Haynes suggested changes to the legal services policy – to include a provision that any future contract be written and reviewed by an independent attorney.

“I don’t think the contract should be written by the person that the contract is for.”

Yeah.  Wow.

In addition, earlier this week the board approved a $1.36 billion budget.

The district’s groaning pot o’ taxpayer gold is now larger that the county’s obscenely bloated budget (preliminarily set at $1.06 billion) and now takes the cake as the largest public budget in Volusia County.

Which, as The Stranger said, “…places it high in the running for the largest public-school budget worldwide.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it made me laugh to beat the band.  Parts, anyway. . .

This week the spotlight returned to the shambolic dysfunction that plagues Volusia County Schools when a group of students reportedly played a sick “prank” at Mainland High School resulting in mass panic and a wildfire of misinformation that rapidly spread throughout the community.

To his enormous credit, the incident was expertly managed by Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young and his officers with assistance from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and school authorities.    

Last Friday, a baggie containing what was later determined to be the deadly substance Fentanyl was discovered near lockers at Atlantic High School in Port Orange.  In a snippet of chilling body worn camera footage from Atlantic’s School Resource Officer as released by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, a clearly clueless school employee is seen holding the packet with his bare hands before raising it close to his face. . .

Seriously.  I don’t make this shit up, folks. 

The mayhem did not end there. 

According to a release from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office:

“On Friday at Atlantic High School in Port Orange, a teacher asked the School Resource Deputy for assistance with a small packet of unknown powder turned in by a student. The student found the packet on the floor near the senior locker bay restrooms. The SRD tested the powder and observed a presumptive positive result for fentanyl.

Also Friday, at Pine Ridge High School in Deltona, deputies responded to a report of a possible weapon displayed during an altercation on campus. During a search of a student’s backpack, deputies recovered a replica Glock BB gun. The 16-year-old student violently resisted deputies and attempted to fight them but was taken into custody on charges of campus disruption, resisting an officer with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer.”

Jesus.

In my view, in the wake of former Director of Safety and Security Michelle Newman’s abrupt departure earlier this month, these recurring incidents have exposed the urgency of recruiting an experienced security professional to set policy, establish training protocols, and coordinate protection efforts for a district serving some 64,000 students and 7,400 teachers and staff across the width and breadth of Volusia County. 

Fortunately, Volusia County Schools has a cadre of highly trained School Resource Officers from various jurisdictions and a compliment of armed Guardians dedicated to protecting the lives of students and staff from the unthinkable. 

However, as district campuses become more reminiscent of a dystopian Mad Max Thunderdome than places of learning, in my view, the elected and appointed administration needs to rethink a comprehensive disciplinary plan to regain control and foster a change of culture.   

When school started last month, our “new” Superintendent Dr. Carmen Balgobin issued a statement which said, in part, “We are committed to leading with grace and respect and ensuring that every single campus is safe, and that learning is engaging for every student.”

What happened?

The events of last week have proven that it is time Dr. Balgobin, and the School Board, change tack and begin leading with discipline, accountability, and strict consequences for student/criminals who engage in violent or disruptive behavior and work to return sanity to the learning environment. 

By any metric, stopping dangerous criminal activity on school campuses and providing a safe and secure learning environment for students, teachers, and staff should be Dr. Balgobin’s highest priority. 

Anything less is unacceptable.  And dangerous.   

Asshole           Ormond Beach City Commission

Obviously taking their cue from another local government I know; the City of Ormond Beach has not updated municipal service impact fees on new development in over a quarter-century

Now, these pro-development shills appear to be balking at the substantial fee increases their own consultant has recommended.

A $99,000 study paid for by taxpayers and conducted by Raftelis, a government and utilities management consultancy, determined that for some land uses – like single-family residential – road impact fees alone should be increased by 400%

The study also suggested that impact fees for trip generating fast-food restaurants and convenience stores should now be over $25,000 per 1,000 square feet.  (By comparison, current fees for a new convenience store run $1,355.44 per 1,000 square feet.)     

According to an excellent article by Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer:

“According to a city memo, Ormond Beach has assessed impact fees for water and sewer since 1974. An impact fee for recreational facilities was added in 1987, and an impact fee ordinance was adopted in 1990, and later amended in 1996. In 2010, a mobility fee replaced concurrency and road impact fees were imposed on certain state roads in the Transportation Concurrency Exception Areas.

Per the study by Raftelis, the city last updated its municipal services impact fees — which include parks and recreation, stormwater, local roads, and mobility fees — in 1996, though it has indexed rates annually.”

Now, after 19-years on the Ormond Beach City Commission, Troy Kent, who is also a current candidate for the Volusia County Council District 4 seat, has finally recognized that residents are wise to this perennial foot-dragging:

“Ormond Beach voters know growth doesn’t pay for itself, said Commissioner Troy Kent at their meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 7, where they were given an overview of proposed impact fee increases. They know impact fees aren’t enough.

“That being said, this increase for fast food restaurants is outrageous at 1,000 square feet,” Kent said.  “… Convenience store (impact fees)? Outrageous. So, if you’re late to the party, and you’re a fast-food restaurant or convenience store, you’re going to get hammered.”

Wait.  “Outrageous”?

Do you want to know what most people consider a frigging outrage?

Compromised politicians rubberstamping density increases and development at a rate that has outpaced our transportation and utilities infrastructure – and the lack of planning and foresight that will now have the deleterious impacts of Avalon Park – a “City within a City” – encroaching on Ormond Beach’s southern border.     

Or the frustration of waiting three cycles of a traffic signal at Granada Boulevard and (insert cross street here), weed-strewed lots that were once pristine suburban forest and wildlife habit which fell victim to slash-and-burn clearcutting to make way for another convenience store, and the exorbitant cost of expanding infrastructure now that paving and utilities contractors have local governments over a barrel. 

Welcome to the reality of having shoved ten-pounds of shit into a five-pound bag, Mr. Kent. . .

If you are a speculative developer who is still snout-deep in the boom cycle – please do not be concerned.  Your malleable sock puppets on the dais of power in Ormond Beach have you covered.   

According to the Observer’s report, “…discussion during the meeting was the first step in an update process that will stretch through 2023 and will include future public input.”

So, with $99,000 in study costs over the transom, now we are going to clack and jabber about the expert’s recommendations for another year

Bullshit.

When it comes to seeking ways of having development mitigate its impact on our quality of life nothing happens fast. . . 

I hope you will remember this bid’ness as usual procrastination at the ballot box in November.

Angel               City of Daytona Beach

Will wonders never cease?   

Back in March, I would not have given you a plug nickel for the life expectancy of the City Island Recreation Center, a World War II era structure overlooking the city’s beautiful Yacht Basin.

The unique building is of great historical significance to the Halifax area’s ties to the war effort – another connection to our past that fell victim to intentional neglect – a tactic that withholds preventative maintenance at certain publicly owned facilities – allowing them to rot until reaching such a deplorable state of dilapidation that demolition becomes the only viable option.

Sound familiar?

Earlier this year, Daytona Beach City Commissioners Ruth Trager and Ken Strickland were the only two elected officials who joined local historians and residents concerned about the loss of another community landmark in calling for a short reprieve while a citizen committee could study potential uses for the recreation center. 

Last week, civic activist and committee chair Anne Ruby presented the group’s findings to the Daytona Beach City Commission. 

Ideas included a state-of-the-art learning center, event space, a museum and art displays, as well as traditional community center amenities, such as a banquet hall, performing arts stage, and space for community meetings and celebrations.    

According to an informative report by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “The committee also recommends opening a small restaurant in the structure and creating an outdoor deck overlooking the Halifax River where people could dine, enjoy a glass of lemonade and take in the view.”

Other thoughtful suggestions included the use of a “HistoBot” – described as an interactive mobile teaching station – which would provide information on the building’s connection to the Woman’s Army Corps in Daytona Beach.

The committee’s report was well-received by both elected officials and citizens concerned about the 80-year-old structure’s future.   

According to the News-Journal’s report:

“This plain, boxy building started out as a simple place for recreation,” Ruby said. “With a revival that would take it well into the future, the rec center would be a place for us to understand the importance of the past, the importance of community and the importance of working together to create a better tomorrow.”

Commissioners were impressed by the committee’s presentation.

“It’s almost as if you can feel yourself being there,” said City Commissioner Dannette Henry. “The presentation was very thorough. There’s nothing you left out.”

In addition, Mayor Derrick Henry applauded the committee’s efforts:

“I think you did an amazing job,” Mayor Derrick Henry told the seven recreation center committee members gathered at City Hall. “From my perspective, you all have hit a grand slam.”

The City Commission will take a formal vote to safeguard the structure on October 19.  If approved, the City of Daytona Beach can begin the process of finding historic preservation grants to renovate the structure. 

Kudos to Anne Ruby and those intrepid members of the rec center committee who showed the value of civic participation – the power of a collaborative charrette to foster citizen engagement and transform communities – and to the members of the Daytona Beach City Commission who took the time to listen to the recommendations of their constituents for the future of this historic community asset. 

Well done.

Quote of the Week

“On Aug. 9, the Florida Department of Transportation presented a $1.36 million design for “improvements” to Granada Boulevard. FDOT’s goal for the $5.38 million reconstruction: Slow down traffic with additional medians, lanes narrowed to ten feet, and four raised pedestrian crosswalks.

Slower speeds were the goal when a previous City Commission narrowed downtown Granada traffic lanes and added medians with medjool palm trees. Though Granada pedestrians are scarce, the new FDOT design will include four raised pedestrian crossings. Twelve to 20 foot-wide medians will squeeze narrowed traffic lanes closer to sidewalks.

Bike lanes end abruptly at each end of the Granada Bridge. The FDOT plan shows exiting bicycles sharing right-hand Granada traffic lanes with cars, Votran buses, grocery tractor-trailers, trash trucks, U.S. Mail semis, delivery trucks, and yard maintenance pickups pulling wide trailers. At the Granada traffic light, one of the two A1A southbound stacking lanes will be eliminated to make room for island medians, palm trees, and enhanced landscaping.

Granada Boulevard is already gridlocked at peak hours by four traffic lights between U.S. 1 and A1A and by the railroad and two traffic signals to the west. FDOT’s redesign will further slow traffic on the city’s lone hurricane evacuation route and lengthen emergency response times. Compressed traffic volumes will create longer lines of idling cars, wasted fuel, and more exhaust fumes.

The Granada repaving and redesign will begin in the summer of 2023. The presentation can be viewed at the project website at www.cflroads.com/project/447105-1. Project manager Ty Garner can be reached at ty.garner@dot.state.fl.us.

FDOT has partnered with the city and county on a second project, a 3.6 mile A1A stretch of Ocean Shore Boulevard from Granada north to Sandra Drive. Two raised pedestrian crossings with palm trees will be installed at both the Granada light and a hundred yards north. New east side sidewalks will be constructed in front of residences along most of the project length.

Between Neptune and Sandra, a “chicane” curve, more raised pedestrian crossings with refuge islands, center medians with palm trees, various bike lane options, and more enhanced landscaping. These features will implement FDOT goals to slow down A1A traffic while creating a “community vision” and “sense of place.” Unknown? Whether the proposed changes will have the unintended consequence of diverting north peninsula traffic onto John Anderson Drive, a narrow, tree canopied residential roadway.

View the A1A project online at www.cflroads.com/project/962200-2. Project manager Steven Buck can be reached at steven.buck@dot.state.fl.us.”

–Former Ormond Beach City Commissioner Jeff Boyle, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “FDOT redesigns: Granada Boulevard and North A1A Monday,” September 12, 2022

And Another Thing!

The Volusia County Council has lost legitimacy.

There.  I said what many residents have been thinking for months.

Our policymaking process has become an irretrievably politicized farce – a dysfunctional shitshow – incapable of compromise or consensus, an ongoing embarrassment to the residents of Volusia County and a cautionary tale for our more successful neighbors in Central Florida.  

Rather than steward public funds, ensure efficient essential services, bring accessible government to the people they serve, and advance our quality of life, it is increasingly evident that the Volusia County Council’s raison d’être is to procrastinate on the pressing issues of the day.  

Rather than govern, these hacks exist to deftly kick the can down the dusty political trail and put time and distance between meaningful policies and commonsense regulations to allow maximum profit for those who hold the paper on their craven political souls.

I am referring to the seminal issue of our time: Overdevelopment

The ghastly slash-and-burn clearcutting that facilitates the malignant sprawl – the massive zero-lot-line “theme” subdivisions, cookie cutter strip centers, and abhorrent sticks-and-glue apartment complexes – the perpetual foot-dragging on reasonable and responsible impact fees, environmental regulations, low-impact practices, and commonsense protections for our dwindling natural resources. 

Trust me.  Most of the municipalities in Volusia County – and the whole of state government – are equally as culpable, and history will not be kind to these compromised shitheels who were elected to serve the best interests of their constituents during what has arguably been the most prolific boom cycle in the history of the Sunshine State.

Now, during this unique election cycle the balance of power is at stake and it has become evident the Gang of Four – Councilmembers Ben Johnson, Danny Robins, Billie Wheeler, and The Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry – plan to play politics from the dais to ensure nothing of substance happens until January. 

If ever.

Finding long-term solutions to the myriad problems we face is not important to them – the “people’s business” now replaced by time-wasting accusations that Chairman Jeff Brower once double-parked near the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building. . . 

If you don’t think there is a lot on the table, look at the depths to which some will go to marginalize and destroy any elected official who seeks to live up to their sacred oath and represent the needs of We, The Little People – rather than further the mercenary motivations of their political benefactors – the elite Old Guard who underwrite the campaigns of those malleable politicians who so willingly do their bidding. 

Last week, the true motivations of those cheap facilitators became clear when Councilwoman Heather Post took another choreographed public flogging – this time by former at-large candidate Sherrise Boyd – who put forth a contrived scenario about the disposition of Ms. Post’s personal firearm following an April fall at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building.

For the record, Ms. Post’s accident occurred five-months ago. . .

County Manager George Recktenwald and Director of Public Protection Mark Swanson refuted Ms. Boyd’s version of events, but that did not stop the feeding frenzy that ensued. 

I agree that the laws govern all of us – even sitting elected officials – and Ms. Post has repeatedly assured that she did not possess a firearm inside the gilded council chamber.  But this was not about soliciting clarification of a rumor, it was a shoddy attempt to publicly demean Councilwoman Post.

Unsubstantiated rumors and bogus calls for “investigations” are classic election year diversions – which serve the purposes of those working the rods and strings behind the scenes who support candidates bankrolled by an entrenched power structure desperate to maintain a majority vote on the dais of power.

The fact is, Ms. Post isn’t running for anything – but her independent thought and willingness to challenge the lockstep conformity is anathema to those stalwarts of the stagnant status quo – and her support of Chairman Brower in a long series of 5-2 votes has left her open to this bullying and intimidation.   

In Volusia County, if you cannot get your candidate elected on the strength of their pro-development platform, then destroy the character and reputation of those duly elected officials who have the courage to buck this compromised system and run them out of office. 

Frankly, this disgusting powerplay should be roundly condemned by every sitting incumbent and candidate for public office – and remembered by every voter in Volusia County.   

Instead of rising to his role as senior statesman, lame duck Councilman Ben Johnson piles on at every opportunity – playing his supporting role in this orchestrated political hit job like the obsequious minion he has become – hammering away at Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post at every meeting with base accusations and loaded questions to the delight of his party bosses and “Rich & Powerful” benefactors.

What a sad way for Mr. Johnson to end a lifetime of service to the citizens of Volusia County. 

Unfortunately, most politicians who enter the Faustian bargain that comes with accepting massive campaign contributions from special interests invariably become everything they hated when they first ran for office.

It is now clear Ben Johnson is no exception. . . 

In my view, the “trust issue” that has plagued the Volusia County Council for years has now dissolved into a true crisis of confidence – a feeling by the governed that that this rudderless ship of fools is more interested in consolidating power for mysterious shot-callers with no-holds-barred attacks designed to protect the status quo than effectively dealing with the issues. 

More interested in protecting and perpetuating this bloated bureaucracy and keeping the public teat patent for all the right last names than progressing our civic, social, environmental, and economic needs – more focused on holding onto power than fixing the growing problems that threaten the quality of life for future generations. 

And these malleable marionettes have no one to blame but themselves.

The one irrefutable fact of good governance is that once the public trust has been lost – when elected and appointed officials no longer possess the moral authority to lead – constituent confidence is impossible to restore.

That is when fundamental change will (and must) occur at the ballot box – and I believe Volusia County voters see right through this not-so-subtle diversionary charade. 

I don’t know about you, but November can’t get here soon enough. . . 

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

Angels & Assholes for September 9, 2022

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:

Asshole           Volusia School Board Attorney Ted Doran  

We all make mistakes. 

But not all of us learn from them.   

God knows the long and winding path of my life is littered with the wreckage of what happens when hubris and stupidity collide, and I have the scars to prove it. . .   

As an uneducated bumpkin, I have never participated in a curriculum of structured and systematic learning, but like most graduates of the prestigious School of Hard Knocks, I have a wealth of experiential learning – the most expensive education one can achieve – and during my professional life I became an accomplished mimic of those traits I admired in others.    

What I know of leadership was gained from those I respect, imitating those qualities I revered, and sidestepping their faults and foibles.

The one universal attribute I have found in true servant-leaders is humility – the ability to embrace introspection and self-analysis, to recognize and learn from their mistakes, and a willingness to humble themselves to constructive criticism – coupled with the self-awareness to understand how others view and interpret their character, personality, and motivations.     

Most important, they have the courage to accept responsibility for their actions and create a culture of openness and honesty within an organization, rather than pointing fingers, blaming others, or fostering divisiveness and distrust.  

Last week, the Volusia County School Board did what its predecessors had not done in the past forty-years when members conducted a performance review of their attorney.

You read that right. 

Despite the fact a rule requiring that the board’s attorney be reviewed and retained at the first meeting each July has been in place since 1974 – Mr. Doran has somehow escaped formal scrutiny during his long and often controversial tenure.

The results were telling. . .

According to an excellent article by Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer:

“School Board Chair Ruben Colon, who gave Attorney Ted Doran an overall score of 9 out of 19, called the results “concerning.”

“You should be given the opportunity to adjust them with each of us and see if we can make it better,” Colon said. “There’s a lot of work to be done. Forty-five out of 95 is not good, and I don’t think anybody in this room can say that’s good.”

To skew the results away from the obvious, Doran apologist Linda Cuthbert was the only member to award him a perfect score of 19 (really?), with Carl Persis rating Doran an 11, Anita Burnette gave him a 4, while Jamie Haynes expressed her displeasure with a 2.

Concerning indeed. . .

During the discussion, Burnette and Haynes pulled no punches, with Burnette voicing concerns that Doran did not treat each member equally and that she felt “intimidated” by Doran’s “rough” communications.

“I don’t feel like I can trust our attorney to have a professional conversation because of things that were said that I’ve trusted him to keep between us at a meeting,” Burnette said.

Ms. Haynes reported a similar experience. 

According to the Observer’s report, “Haynes shared an incident where she said she was threatened by Doran and received a text message “trying to skew what was said and turn it into a different type of statement.” Haynes claimed Doran also reached out to one of her family members in his attempts to speak with her, a move she said she didn’t feel was appropriate, and that he sent an email to the board when he was not able to get in contact with her.”

“So I have some issues with trust, professionalism and being threatened,” Haynes said. “If I were a principal and a teacher threatened me, how would I take that? That’s kind of the situation we’re in.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Doran is serving under the relative safety of a three-year employment contract – a protection that directly contravenes the School Board’s long-standing policy of an annual review and reappointment – in essence preventing Mr. Doran’s clients (the School Board) from firing him should they lose confidence in their attorney.    

In my view, either the rules govern everyone – or they should apply to no one.

For Mr. Doran’s part, rather than humble himself to the process – he blamed “misinformation” – then turned the tables on his bosses, claiming “…not one of you has ever privately or publicly criticized me before tonight, and not one of you called me and asked me any questions about any of the decisions that you were making.”

Bullshit.

“Every board member I’ve ever worked under would tell you that I did everything in my power to protect them both legally and politically,” Doran said. “And that’s true today. I don’t want to publicly air or respond in a public way to some of these things — I would rather explain them to you privately, and if you still feel there’s an issue, then we can come back and talk about it.”

Wow.  So much for removing ego from the equation, eh? 

In my view, openness and transparency in the process of evaluating and setting expectations for one of the most highly compensated positions in the district demands that any further discussion be held in the public eye.  

Something tells me this isn’t over.

According to reports, School Board Chair Ruben Colon “encouraged Doran to set up meeting with each board member, with a mediator if necessary,” and said Policy 103 governing the attorney’s annual review will be discussed at a future meeting.

I hope so, because many Volusia County taxpayers are curious how Mr. Doran obtained a multi-year contract. . . 

The attorney-client relationship should be based upon trust and confidence, built upon a foundation of professional ethics, sound counsel, and accepted norms.  I am not sure terms like “intimidated,” “rough” communications, and feeling “threatened” are normal – especially when the attorney is compensated with public funds. 

In the view of many, it is time for Mr. Doran to do the right thing and voluntarily step aside.

This abysmal performance evaluation signals a loss of confidence in his representation and advocacy by his client – an irretrievably broken relationship – an unfortunate distraction that adds to the shambolic and dysfunctional administration of a district that continues to hemorrhage talent and face financial catastrophe with a budget now in excess of $1 billion.

Asshole                       Protogroup

I don’t know much about construction, and I am certainly not a metallurgist.  

In fact, I don’t know which end of a hammer you blow in. . . 

But I can look at a severely corroded steel reinforcement and question its integrity – the intense rusting of exposed metal bars meant to strengthen a concrete foundation supporting a high-rise building in the corrosive environment of salt air and ocean spray – and determine whether the structure is a place I want to enter. 

And, as a long-time resident of the Halifax area, I know a suppurating eyesore when I see it. . .

Anyone paying attention will remember those heady days when a colossal “game changer” beachfront condominium and convention center was announced – another panacea project that our ‘powers that be’ promised would cure all the social, civic, and economic ills of our blighted beachside.

With great trepidation, local officials bet all our hopes and dreams for the revitalization of our core tourist area on what was colloquially known as the “Russian project” when the twin towers began to slowly emerge from an ugly gash in the sandy dunes. 

The developer, then known as Protogroup, hung a seemingly permanent “Under Construction” sign and proceeded to block traffic, obstruct beach access, construct an unpermitted “contra-lane” on Oakridge Boulevard, swapped contractors mid-stream, ignored deadlines, extended estimated completion dates, and refused to respond to the legitimate questions of the working press amid reports of IRS investigations and a mysterious financing scheme.   

While the south tower of the promised dual span convention hotel struggled upward in fits and starts, the foundation of what was to be the north tower – an ugly group of stained concrete pillars with their crowns of rusted rebar – sat stagnant and exposed, for years, as Daytona Beach and Volusia County officials nervously shuffled their feet and put on a brave public face, while secretly worrying what would become of the beachside’s most visible project. 

Then, in June 2021, the Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium in the Miami suburb of Surfside, Florida, partially collapsed killing ninety-eight people, and all eyes ominously turned to the corroded foundation of what was to support the tallest building ever constructed in Daytona Beach. . .

Last week, the City of Daytona Beach took bold action to eliminate this festering eyesore and protect the public from potential disaster.

At least it looked that way. . . 

According to a report by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Late Thursday afternoon, the city’s chief building official issued a condemnation order for the hulking Protogroup company structure that has been stalled out in the foundation construction phase for the past three years.

City Chief Building Official Glen Urquhart wrote in his condemnation order that portions of the unfinished structure are dangerous and “likely to partially or completely collapse, or to become detached or dislodged” due to faulty construction, neglect, abandonment, exposure to the elements, damage and decay.”

Wow. 

According to the report, on Friday, someone at the site covered the bright orange condemnation signs with plywood – out of sight, and out of mind, I suppose. . .   

My God.

Pursuant to the city’s original order, Protogroup (now d/b/a PDA Trading Inc.) must repair the rusting concrete structure “to a safe condition” within three days or demolish it and clear the site within twenty days.

In addition, the News-Journal reported that the recently completed 455-room Daytona Grande is facing foreclosure, “The mortgage company is currently seeking foreclosure on the south property for lack of payments,” Urquhart wrote in an email Tuesday to City Manager Deric Feacher.”

Uh-oh. 

Let’s hope our collective fears aren’t coming to reality.

In an October 2018 piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by reporter Jim Abbott, Tony Grippa, the former chair of the ill-fated Beachside Redevelopment Committee said what we were all thinking:

“The city still lacks an overall strategy as it relates to A1A and the beachside corridor, and this is what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket.”

At this point, however, completion of the project is imperative, Grippa said.

“It would be absolutely devastating to have, in addition to all the old boarded-up buildings, now a new partially completed building,” Grippa said. “That sitting vacant and empty would really hurt the beachside, optically, economically and emotionally.”

Perhaps that sentiment is why city officials announced midweek that Protogroup is getting a reprieve, of sorts, on the condemnation action so long as they agreed to meet the requirements – like removing all debris on the site by today, reapplying for expired permits, and developing a plan to test the foundation and certify it can support the enormous weight of a 31-story building. 

Oh, and the City of Daytona Beach has now allowed the bright orange “condemnation” notices to be removed from the site, apparently to salve the fears of prospective condo customers and those already under contract.

Weird.

In my 31-years in public service, this is the first time I have ever seen a notice of condemnation removed before performance demands were met simply to appease a real estate broker. . . 

According to a follow-up article which appeared in Wednesday’s News-Journal, Sheriff Guindi, vice president of Residential and Commercial Sales for Realty Pros Assured, was quoted:

“We’ve got all our contract holders calling us,” Guindi said.

He said he has lined up $63.75 million in gross sales so far, including one individual sale for $7.85 million to a man who bought both penthouses. Guindi said that’s the largest residential condo sale in Volusia County’s history and more than $1 million higher than any house sale in the county.

Guindi said sales have been going “really, really well,” but he worries about “misconceptions” people may have about the condo tower project. He said Protogroup sunk the pilings into the site to “get a jumpstart on construction,” but needed to secure sufficient condo sales before diving further into building the tower.

“I think it was premature for the city to slap the condemnation on it without talking to a structural engineer,” Guindi said.”

Premature?  Really? 

This enforcement action was literally years in the making.

Clearly, Mr. Guindi could sell ice to an Eskimo – but is he qualified to bet his customer’s safety on the strength of those rusted hunks of rebar protruding from the structure’s footings? 

Caveat Emptor, baby. . .

Look, I applaud the City of Daytona Beach and Chief Building Official Glen Urquhart for working hard to ensure public safety and protect the best interests of residents and visitors – but given the many setbacks, stagnation, corrosion of structural components and lack of responsiveness to the concerns of officials and the public – many are asking if the pernicious effects of Halifax area “politics as usual” is undermining the Chief’s efforts? 

Time will tell.

Angel               Ted Teschner & Mr. Dunderbak’s

After an incredible 47-year run, Ted Teschner, the proud owner and operator of the iconic Volusia Mall eatery Mr. Dunderbak’s, has announced he has listed the business for sale. 

In my experience, given the transient nature of things on Florida’s Fun Coast, few things last – especially locally owned restaurants – which seem to have a lifespan of about six-months.    

Thanks to the love and care of Mr. Teschner and his wonderful staff, Mr. Dunderbak’s survived food courts, economic downturns, and the painful demise of major retail anchors, as the mall slowly fell victim to online shopping and the pull of “new” commercial centers on Boomtown Boulevard.

My hope is that the new owners will keep Mr. Dunderbak’s just the way it is – and has been – for nearly five decades. 

Last week, Mr. Teschner announced the potential sale in an emotional social media post that touched the hearts of many long-time residents:

“The time has come that we will be listing Mr. D’s for sale very soon. After 47 years of serving our great community it is with a degree of sadness and a bit of satisfaction that we have survived through thick and thin. My great staff has been the number 1 reason for our success and our great customer base. Hopefully a buyer will be found that will carry on all of our great traditions.

Ironically my Father always said my biggest fault was I could not stick with anything for any period of time. I doubt anything will transpire before the end of this year and I have volunteered to stay on as a consultant for up to 1 year in any type of transition. I will keep you posted on any future developments.” 

In my view, small businesses and those who put their blood, sweat, and tears into their success, form the very backbone of Volusia County’s economy.  Everyone at Mr. Dunderbak’s can be exceedingly proud of their service to generations of Volusia County residents. 

Thanks, Ted.  Best of luck for the future.   

We’re glad you passed our way. . . 

Quote of the Week

“The politics of this is just absolutely unreal,” Post said. “The stuff that keeps coming up and keeps coming out, the ridiculous, ridiculous dwellings on certain things is so political. It’s not even funny. This place is a circus.”

–Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post, as quoted by The Ormond Beach Observer, “Councilwoman Heather Post defends herself against rumors surrounding her April injury,” Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The ugly ‘Politics of Personal Destruction’ that now dominate the political landscape reached a new low this week at what passes for a Volusia County Council meeting when former at-large candidate Sherrise Boyd took to the podium and launched a clearly coordinated attack designed to discredit and marginalize Councilwoman Post.

Why? 

In my opinion, because Ms. Post represents an independence of thought that those lockstep conformists who represent a few entrenched insiders and their hand-select candidates fear.

And it was sad to see Ms. Boyd taken in by their sham. 

According to Boyd, questions are swirling (in what I am sure are a few political fishing camps) over the disposition of a firearm legally carried by Councilwoman Post when she fell down a flight of stairs in a public area of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building in DeLand.

Councilwoman Post unequivocally denied the accusations and attempted to tamp down the feeding frenzy she knew was coming.  

According to the Observer’s report, “…Sherrise Boyd, brought forth allegations that when Post fell down the stairs, a firearm dropped from her purse and onto the ground, and, that it was picked up by a citizen whom Post instructed to hand the gun over to emergency medical services personnel.

Boyd said that she was told the gun was transported with Post to the hospital in a biohazard bag before it was turned over to Post’s husband.

“I don’t know if this is true or not,” Boyd said. “I’m very honest. I don’t know, but it has come up to me and it’s been going around and if that is the case, then I do believe that at the council [chambers], the metal detectors that were put up here, they shouldn’t just be for the public.”

I found it odd that – by her own admission – Ms. Boyd did not know if the rumors were true or not, yet she began her persecution by asking if anyone on the council wanted to step aside? 

What a crock of shit. . .

I guess if you can’t get your slate of malleable candidates elected on the strength of their merits and platform – just run-off those duly elected elected officials who actually represent We, The Little People, eh?

My God.

I can’t think of anything more un-American.

The diversionary melodrama continued with County Manager George Recktenwald providing a full explanation of the non-event – including the testimony of Interim Public Protection Director Mark Swanson – who corroborated Ms. Post’s version of events.

Clearly not satisfied that the wind had been taken out of the choreographed attack, Councilman Ben Johnson assumed his weird Perry Mason persona and launched into a cross-examination of Ms. Post from the dais – making not-so-veiled accusations that she intended to unlawfully carry a firearm into the commission chamber that day. 

How sad. 

And how telling.

Come on, Ben. End your long and distinguished elective service to the citizens of Volusia County on a high note.

You’re embarrassing yourself, sir.

In my view, some very important people – insiders who have purchased a chip in this very lucrative game – are becoming increasingly frightened by the very real possibility of losing their iron grip on power this November. 

To that end, those political operatives who prosecute these baseless attacks continue to put more dust in the air – cutting into Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Post at every opportunity – deflecting attention from the serious issues of overdevelopment, impact fees, transportation infrastructure, and the exploitation of our wild places and natural resources so speculative developers can haul even more cash out of the pine scrub across the width and breadth of Volusia County. 

Councilwoman Post is correct – this is a circus – a cheap distraction we can expect will continue until the November election. 

And it is a horrible disservice to the citizens of Volusia County.

I hope you will vote accordingly.   

And Another Thing!

“I guess there was a post or something that Tyler didn’t like, so Tyler (unfollowed) Brian,” Ed Kelley said. “They do differ on politics…. Brian is a conservative businessperson who believes in less government, and I guess Tyler believes in something else.”

–Former Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Political divide won’t break up Florida Georgia Line, Ed Kelley says,” January 20, 2021

Then, last week, the other shoe dropped. . . 

“Whatever disagreements they have, we were hoping they’d be able to pick up and tour next year,” said former Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, the father of Florida Georgia Line singer Brian Kelley, a Volusia County native who was raised in Ormond Beach.

“We were holding out hope it wouldn’t be the last one,” the elder Kelley said of a Wednesday show by FGL at the Minnesota State Fair that reportedly was the duo’s final performance. “I know Brian was hoping they could work it out.”

–Former Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Is Florida Georgia Line breaking up? Brian Kelley’s Ormond Beach dad responds,” September 6, 2022

Normally, I wouldn’t mention this.

But given that the tabloid-like bruhaha that became the waning days of the “Bro Country” duo Florida Georgia Line played out on the frontpage of the News-Journal’s “Local” section – and the fact former Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley is now serving as his son’s spokesperson (?) – the “local connection” piqued my prurient interest. . . 

Mercifully, the painfully protracted Florida Georgia Line melodrama has finally – humanely, compassionately, benevolently – come to an unceremonious end.

After months of denials, it appears the corrosive divisiveness of what passes for “politics” in this age of scorched earth partisanship has cleaved asunder what was arguably one of the most wildly successful – and horribly maligned – musical duos of all time.  

This tragicomedy has played out, ad nauseum, since the 2020 presidential election when political friction between Floridian Brian Kelley (who supported Trump) and his bandmate, Georgia native Tyler Hubbard (who supported Biden and carried the bulk of the vocals) went public on social media. 

Then, Ed Kelley weighed-in on the controversy, explaining to a News-Journal reporter in January 2021 that while his son was a “conservative businessperson who believes in less government,” his business partner Hubbard “believed in something else. . .” 

According to an article by Marcus K. Dowling in Nashville’s The Tennessean last Friday:

“On a July 2022 appearance on Bobby Bobes’ podcast, Hubbard noted that the breakup occurred because Kelley initiated them going solo, though there is “no bad blood between the two of them.” Hubbard did add that they “might revisit getting the duo back together 10 to 15 years down the line.” He then joked that they would not reunite before then, “even if they were offered $1 million to play a wedding.”

Yeah.  That.

Look, I was never a fan of FGL’s music.  In fact, I have publicly lamented that the incredible popularity of the “Bro Country” genre and other pop/rap/hip-hop “music” wrapped with a twang is a certain sign of the coming apocalypse. . . 

But I hate to see anyone fail due to a stupid political disagreement – especially a pair that has seen unprecedented commercial success in a difficult industry. 

Besides all the artsy-fartsy bullshit we hear from today’s “stars” – usually “20-something” trend chasing created personas in $1,000 ripped jeans, strategically placed tattoos, and a carefully coiffed hairstyle selected by their labels marketing group – the music business is just that – with hundreds of moving parts working behind the scenes to sell a product. 

And a lot of livelihoods depend upon it.

I don’t know why I care. 

Both Hubbard and Kelley – regardless of any future success as independent acts – will live extremely comfortably for generations to come off FGL residuals and ancillary businesses. 

Perhaps I see the demise of Florida Georgia Line as a metaphor for what we are becoming as a nation – as a people – a place where the line “One Nation, Under God, Indivisible” has become a quaint notion whose time has passed.

A once united national identity, now replaced by warring factions in blue and red, brother vs. brother, a growing hatred bankrolled by behind-the-scenes billionaire puppeteers with both an ideological and profit motive – and fueled by narcissistic elected assholes and lockstep radical operatives on both sides of the political spectrum. 

Now, even music – which was once the great uniter, the universal language that spoke to our emotions, something that drew us together in cheering throngs, artistic expression that transcended that which divides us – is falling victim to politics.

God help us all.   

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

“Rinse & Repeat” The Sordid Story of Long John Miklos Continues

“Hey, Barker – you’re full of shit.”

“That’s asinine.  You have no idea what you’re talking about, asshole.”

“That kook is the reason people are losing faith and trust in local government and our environmental regulatory agencies. . .”

I’ve heard it all.  And I have been called it all. 

Which makes this week’s moment of enlightenment – that second in time when the truth is revealed, frontpage, above-the-fold – that transformative instant when one’s opinions and purpose are validated – both sweet, and sickening.    

As long-time readers of this blog will remember, Barker’s View cut its editorial teeth on The Debacle in DeBary, the sordid tale of a small West Volusia community that was set upon by a greed-crazed cabal of developer shills, working at the highest levels of the local government, who were intent on paving over sensitive land known as the Gemini Springs Annex.

In a sleazy attempt to push a ‘transportation-oriented’ development near the SunRail station – the city’s murky involvement with John Miklos, the former chair of the St. Johns River Water Management District – who also happens to own an environmental consultancy, Bio-Tech, which lobbied for clients before the same regulatory agency he oversaw (you read that right) – shocked the conscience of many throughout Central Florida and beyond. 

So, when the City of Debary paid Mr. Miklos and his firm $38,500 (plus $155 per hour directly to Miklos for his involvement) to consult on a land acquisition process that everyone knew would ultimately come before the very board that he chairs, many saw the shit for what it was. . . 

When I read the news this week that disgraced Seminole Tax Collector Joel Greenberg testified in a sworn deposition to state investigators that Miklos was being “greased off” to influence the approval of development permits in ecologically sensitive areas, it confirmed what many of us have suspected for years

According to an excellent report by Martin E. Comas writing in the Orlando Sentinel:

“Let’s say (a development project) is not approved to be built because there are environmental issues,” Greenberg said this summer in a jailhouse interview with investigators with the State Attorney’s Office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement, a transcript of which was released last week. “Miklos would get greased off or something, and then they would all magically be approved. And this was rinse and repeat, what they would do.”

(At the time of this writing, Miklos has not been charged with any crime, and in the past, he has repeatedly claimed to have recused himself on any permitting activity that his company brought before the SJRWMD.) 

In my view, this was not a one-off aberration.  This “fox running the henhouse” shit went on for years. 

In fact, Miklos was the longest serving chair of the SJRWMD Governing Board, having first been appointed by then Governor Charlie Crist in 2010, then reappointed by Rick Scott to an additional four-year term in March 2014. 

The Governing Board first elected Miklos as Chair in 2013 and re-elected him in both 2014 and 2015.  He remained at the head of the snake until early 2019, when Gov. Ron DeSantis revoked his appointment to the board. 

At the time, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s intrepid environmental journalist Dinah Pulver Voyles reported that an analysis of records obtained from the St. Johns River Water Management District showed that Miklos’ company represented clients before the regulatory agency 117 times after he was appointed to the board in 2010 – and Bio Tech’s permitting activity before the district more than doubled when he became chairman in 2013.

At the time I wrote, “The News-Journal’s Dinah Pulver hasn’t just peeled the onion on this slimy land deal in DeBary – she ripped that sucker open like one of those greasy “Bloomin’ Vidalia’s” at a chain steakhouse.” 

In my view, Ms. Pulver’s reporting on this gross corruption in plain sight deserved the Pulitzer Prize. . . 

Disturbingly, according to a recent report on Greenberg’s testimony by Ms. Pulver in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “He (Miklos) now serves on the University of Central Florida board, appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Since 2016, as an individual and through two of his companies, Miklos has contributed more than $122,000 to candidates campaigning for state office, including $53,000 to Ron DeSantis and Friends of Ron DeSantis, and $1,000 to (embattled State Senator Jason) Brodeur.”

W.T.F?

In most places that respect common decency and the rule of law, a scumbag who engaged in that level of open thievery would be slapped in irons, paraded through the streets, and publicly humiliated for high crimes against the environment and massive public corruption.

But this is Florida – the biggest whorehouse in the world – and the rules are different here.

Now, I’m just spit-balling here, but outside most third-world Banana Republics – promoting the interests of personal customers coming before the very same regulatory board that you chair is considered a colossal conflict of interest – if not a criminal misuse of public office.

Not if your John Miklos – or those greed-heads who found a for-hire workaround of Florida’s tepid environmental regulations. 

In my view, Christ and Scott either knew, or should have known, that John Miklos is a congenital liar and a pathological sneak thief with no morals and a personal disdain for transactional ethics.

So, why would the incredibly popular Governor DeSantis appoint Miklos to serve on the UCF Board? 

To my jaded mind, Miklos should serve as Florida’s poster boy for the basest form of quid pro quo corruption – something that has now become accepted practice at all levels of government in the Sunshine State.

With tens-of-thousands of dollars being funneled into local political campaigns by developers and those sutlers who make their livings off the crumbs left behind – coupled with the Pavlovian rubberstamp response to high density development by hand-select elected officials who benefit from the largesse – can you prove me wrong?

We are the victims of John Miklos and those who used him as a dull tool to exploit our sensitive environment to make way for more cookie cutter subdivisions and ghastly strip centers – the very wild places and natural resources he was charged with protecting.

This wholesale growth-at-all-cost/destruction-for-profit will have repercussions for our children and grandchildren. 

Damn this scum.

Now is the time for Volusia County officials to ferret out and set a moratorium on any development applications or approvals for projects ramrodded by Miklos or his firm based upon Greenberg’s allegations and supporting anecdotal evidence. 

Fortunately, it appears the worm is beginning to turn in this fetid political dung pit – thanks to the testimony of a convicted sex trafficker and all-around shitbag who violated the public trust, stole from his constituents, and is now cooperating with state and federal authorities prior to his sentencing in December, hoping to save his own foul skin.

But isn’t that the way it always is? 

I was a police officer for over thirty-years and can attest that you do not find informants with access, or make cases against habitual offenders, in the hallowed halls of a convent – you find them down in the vile darkness. 

When backed into a corner – facing years of fashioning anal bungs out of apple cores in a 6’x6’ prison cell – the rats and snakes always begin to feed on one another – and many powerful people are rightfully getting nervous.

Stay tuned – something tells me things are about to get interesting. . .

Angels & Assholes for September 2, 2022

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:

Asshole           Daytona Beach “Visionaries”  

Last week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal published an article by reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean which asked the question many Halifax area residents have known the answer to for years:

“Daytona Beach running out of land?”

According to the News-Journal:

“In just the past four years, 2,386 new single-family homes have been built in Daytona Beach, and another 769 are under construction. Also since the beginning of 2019, 2,250 new multi-family units have been constructed, and an additional 1,094 units are currently under construction.

And in that same four-year span, 131 new commercial buildings have gone up and another 48 are being built now.

Some would call that healthy growth that should be celebrated, but others see it as overdevelopment that never should have been approved.”

I’m not sure those figures include development that has already been shot through the grease and is waiting to break ground. 

So, yeah.  Count me in the “overdevelopment that never should have been approved” camp.

I don’t know of any existing resident who has sat through three cycles of a traffic signal at (insert the intersection of any major thoroughfare and already overburdened surface street here) or seen development’s corrosive effects on our natural places that would describe this malignant sprawl as “healthy growth.” 

Now, Daytona Beach Planning Director Dennis Mrozek is telling his strategically blindfolded City Commission that the city’s growth-at-all-cost approach of shoving ten-pounds of shit into a five-pound sack has now reached critical mass:

“We are at our western boundary,” Mrozek said at the workshop held to discuss growth management. “There is no place else to go.”

Wow. 

What a stark realization that must be for a municipal planning director who now looks like a kid trying to beat oversized square blocks into a few remaining round holes. . .     

Is it possible that smart people appointed to positions of high responsibility who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – and those elected policymakers who sell themselves each election cycle as “visionary servant-leaders” – have painted us into a corner? 

Because that’s what it sounds like. 

“There is no place else to go. . .”

Now, Halifax area residents are asking the tough questions as senior officials use revisionist history to convince us we have never had it better.  

For instance, many look at the scope and type of permitted development and ask if these bland, cookie cutter subdivisions and monstrous sticks-and-glue apartment complexes – some of which have the visual appeal of a Khrushchyovka from the former Soviet Union – truly represent the exalted “highest and best” use we hear so much of from speculative developers? 

I realize this is subjective, but does the quality and appearance of these massive projects that now blanket our aquifer recharge areas and sensitive pine scrub enhance placemaking and community aesthetics or detract from it?

Now that this “cart before the horse” strategy has allowed build-out and density to outpace our transportation infrastructure can our utilities be far behind?  And what will it mean for taxes and our collective quality of life when we begin the necessary process of building and widening roads, bridges, and thoroughfares as we quickly reach gridlock?

When we exceed the carrying capacity of the land, what effect will excessive consumption have on our dwindling natural resources, springs and rivers, and the quality and quantity of our finite water supply?  

In a recent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal detailing efforts to improve the “…dilapidated stretch of Mason Avenue that runs from Clyde Morris Boulevard east to Beach Street,” Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu accused the Florida Department of Transportation of putting a “Band-Aid” on the problem while calling for more left turn lanes, elongated medians, and an improved appearance for the downtrodden gateway.    

Conversely, traffic engineering expert Maryam Ghyabi made an equally valid point, given the enormity of the task ahead for area transportation planners:

“We can’t keep ‘good’ hostage for ‘excellent.  I think it’s a great project. It’s going to be a major improvement for that corridor.”

Trust me.  We’re going to have a lot of these discussions (and tradeoffs) as city, county, and state officials debate the prioritization of “big city” transportation needs on a Hooterville budget – or at least until our local governments and that Camera Stellata over at the CEO Business Alliance make it so painful that taxpayers finally cry “Uncle!” and approve the one-cent transportation sales tax increase they’ve been salivating over for years. . . 

Now that we’re all reaping the civic, social, and budgetary whirlwind of overdevelopment – who will be held accountable for the gross lack of planning that has resulted in this patchwork quilt of wood frame “theme” subdivisions, “lifestyle” communities, and “cities within a city” – all serviced by massive strip centers, chain restaurants, and commercial clusters just east of a two-lane pinch point (that monument to mediocrity) at the Tomoka River bridge on LPGA Boulevard?

Most important, without a massive increase in taxes and fees, how will we pay for it all?

(And please don’t give me any of that Happy Horseshit about government belt-tightening or growth ‘paying for itself’ – not gonna happen. . .)   

Unchecked sprawl remains the seminal issue of our time – and the reason many Volusia County voters are suspicious of entrenched incumbents and political newcomers whose campaigns are being bankrolled by mega-developers and well-connected insiders who have benefitted most from this tsunami of rubberstamped overdevelopment.

In the News-Journal’s exposé, Daytona Beach Deputy City Manager Jim Morris – a successful land use attorney who found his way to the inner-sanctum of the municipality’s Development and Administrative Services apparatus (?) (with a salary in excess of $214,000 annually) – was quoted, “…the next opportunity for developers might be east of the area that’s seen explosive growth, especially in the city’s historic core that’s needed redevelopment for decades.”

Don’t hold your breath Mid-Town, Beachside, or points east of Boomtown Boulevard.   

We’ve heard it all before.

Many smart people I speak with don’t think the smart money is finished adding insult to injury by shoehorning more high-density “planned developments” and mega-warehouses onto the few viable acres that remain.   

Unless (cue the Jaws theme) they decide to press the state to allow encroachment on the Tiger Bay Wildlife Refuge. . .

When it comes to the voracious appetite of speculative developers during a feeding frenzy – never say never.

With the Daytona Beach City Commission doing their best to convince worried constituents that the growth enhancing “toilet-to-tap” augmentation strategy of treating flushed wastewater to potable standards is no more than an ugly on-line rumor (pay no attention to the “proof of concept” demonstration testing system that was used to develop and test the process in partnership with the St. Johns River Water Management District – or the fact the Florida legislature has preempted local governments from prohibiting the practice as part of the “One Water” statewide comprehensive water strategy) – Mr. Morris dutifully backed their play by painting a rosy picture of the Halifax area’s collective future, frontpage above the fold:

“When Volusia County became one of the first in Florida to charge impact fees, that hurt development, Morris said.

“While other parts of Florida grew, the energy avoided Daytona Beach,” Morris said.

That downward slide is a bad memory now, and the city has become a place with an increasing number of good jobs and nice places to live, he said.

“I think it’s a better place to be now economically than when I was growing up,” Morris said.”

Just a bad memory? 

How’s by you?

I wonder if the tens-of-thousands of area residents considered asset limited/income constrained – unable to find affordable housing in a place where a basic one-bedroom apartment now demands an income of at least $17 an hour – think we are in a better place economically?

According to those who pull the strings on our lives and livelihoods from the Ivory Tower of Power, the “good times are here again!”  Again. . .

Get used to it, folks. “There is no place else to go. . .”

Asshole           County of Volusia

Anyone remember when taxpayers could access the tag office, building and zoning, veterans services, the property appraisers office, traffic court and other county departments all under one roof at the Volusia County Administrative Complex at 250 North Beach Street in Daytona Beach? 

You know, before the Halifax area’s “homeless problem” became frontpage news in 2016 when hordes of the great unwashed were forced from their soggy cardboard boxes and dirty blankets tucked in the palmetto scrub and oyster middens of Manatee Island and assembled – en masse – on a very visible perch outside the county building in the heart of downtown Daytona.  

Then, in September 2017, the coup de grâce for our convenient one stop shop came when Hurricane Irma caused massive flooding in the building – resulting in repair estimates of $5.4 million and replacement costs of $7 million – in 2018 dollars. 

And there she sat.  Moldering.   

For the next five years. . . 

Because it is one thing to tell the public there are no plans to revive a public asset – it is another to remove any doubt by allowing it to strategically rot. 

Earlier this week, a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe sent me a photograph of the building being razed and the footprint sodded over. 

By the time I got there on Monday morning, all that remained of what many old-timers knew as the old Sears Roebuck building was a neatly screened fence, some empty sod pallets, and a homeless man wearing a housedress. . .   

I did some asking around and many who are normally “in the know” on Halifax area happenings were as surprised as I was – and when I reached out to some key elected officials – it quickly became clear that our ‘powers that be’ were out-of-the-loop as well. . .     

Maybe those of us who pay the bills missed the memo? 

In February 2022, Volusia County issued “Hurricane Irma Cost Recovery Update #7” which mentioned “permanent repairs” (“Insurance is expected to pay a large amount toward permanent work, especially on 250 North Beach Street…”) and a request for reimbursement for nearly $500,000 in “mitigation activities” performed at the building in the immediate aftermath of the storm.   

But, to my knowledge, the only nugget of substance oozing out of that hermetically sealed information vacuum at the Thomas C. Kelly Administrative Complex in DeLand came in a September 2018 article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal: 

“A Volusia County building closed since Hurricane Irma will be torn down and rebuilt using about $13 million that’s anticipated from FEMA and an insurance settlement, the County Council decided Tuesday.

The rebuilt Daytona Beach Administration Building at 250 N. Beach St. — where residents used to pay taxes, obtain new license tags, and consult with property appraiser staff — could set the stage for a bigger project to come.

In the summer of 2017, former county manager Jim Dinneen unveiled a mega plan for a multi-million-dollar courthouse complex on the same site that hinged on the demolition of the administration building. The possibility of consolidating these county services when, and if, a new courthouse rises is still on the table, said George Recktenwald, interim county manager.”

Ah, remember those heady days of “mega plans” that always benefitted all the right last names? 

I do. . .

With another out-of-town “expert’s” opinion in hand, then County Manager Jim Dinneen announced plans were being formulated for a monstrous, five-story, $260 million “best-of-the-best” courthouse and county office facility in downtown Daytona – on the site that has just been cleared. 

So, what gives? 

What should we expect? 

With millions-of-dollars over the transom, are county officials collaborating with the City of Daytona Beach on how the property can be used to enhance the “Downtown” experience?   

How will the property’s future dovetail with The Framework Group’s massive apartment complex to be built just north of the Brown & Brown headquarters – or fit with the Riverfront Esplanade and proposed North Beach Street improvements? 

Given the changing character of the downtown streetscape, is it time for Volusia County to consider getting the property back on the tax rolls and allow the marketplace to dictate its future use?   

How much will it all cost?   

Hell, how much did we pay for the demolition and sod? 

And what became of the dude in the sensible frock? 

Always more suspense. . . 

Once again, the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County – and the good citizens of Daytona Beach who have spent so much time, money, and effort revitalizing their historic downtown – are left to speculate what our ‘best and brightest’ have planned for the large publicly owned piece of the puzzle at 250 North Beach Street?  

The next time an incumbent County Council member tut-tuts about “the public trust” – I hope you will remind them that this complete lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the planning process is what has destroyed constituent confidence in any project Volusia County government is associated with. 

Then vote like your quality of life depends upon it. . .

Angel               Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood

The passing of talk radio icons Marc Bernier and Big John left an informational black hole here on Florida’s Fun Coast. 

As a regular listener and frequent contributor to GovStuff Live! I learned much from the thoughtful commentary and varied opinions of that eclectic group of civically active citizens who called in to discuss the issues of the day on Big John’s “…educational, informational, inspirational local forum.”

I miss our good-natured banter and the lively debate of competing ideas that frequently ended in a wager for an Oyster Pub hotdog.    

Most of all, I miss my friend Big John. . .

Recently, our intrepid Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood – who has never shied from speaking his mind – has boldly stepped in to fill this community void with the launch of his “Chit Chat” podcast. 

Following in the tradition of Bernier and Big John, Sheriff Chitwood is moving behind the microphone to discuss the issues of the day and push topical information to residents.   

Last week, Sheriff Chitwood debuted the first episode of Chit Chat with guests Dan Abrams, Sean “Sticks” Larkin and Deputy Sheriff Curtis Wilson of the popular law enforcement reality show On Patrol: Live.  

Please find Chit Chat here: https://tinyurl.com/45y2sm3m

According to Sheriff Chitwood, the podcast will not be limited to law enforcement topics alone, and future programs will cover news, sports, politics, and life in general. 

In addition, during the premiere episode, Sheriff Chitwood took the opportunity to advertise openings with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office Communications Division – a wonderful way of reaching those interested in opportunities in public service!

Kudos to Sheriff Chitwood for using this exciting new format to increase transparency and foster information sharing in Volusia County! 

Quote of the Week

“Guest Services Inc., the Virginia-based company that has secured concessionaire contracts with hundreds of state parks nationwide — most recently, and to the chagrin of many, at DeLeon Springs State Park — is ruffling feathers once again in West Volusia.

In mid-July, a group of Orange City small-business owners were taken aback by news that Guest Services Inc. would close the boat ramp at French Landing to commercial kayak vendors as of Aug. 1.

French Landing, at the end of French Avenue just past the entrance to Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, is on state-park land.

“The outfitters were never really informed this was going to happen,” Astrid Jackson, owner of Venture Outdoors, told The Beacon.”

–Reporter Eli Witek, writing in The West Volusia Beacon, “First pancakes, now kayaks? Tour companies say concessionaire has run them out of Blue Spring,” September 1, 2020

And so it begins. . .

Out with the old, and in with some officious Tallahassee bureaucrat’s notion of “compliance.”

Achtung!

“Recent, unauthorized commercial activities in the area of Blue Spring State Park known as French Landing have required us to place a heightened emphasis on remaining in compliance with Florida Adminsitrative [sic] Code,” the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the state park system, said in response to one business owner’s query. “We understand that this may be inconsistent with your previous experience and apologize for that inconvenience.”

Vendors estimate that $1 million in gross revenue will be lost with local kayak guides and rentals shut down. . .

And Another Thing!

Speaking of Wild West Volusia. . .

Things in the District 5 Volusia County Council race got interesting this week when The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that candidate David Santiago, and his opponent, sitting Deltona City Commissioner Victor Ramos, are exchanging bloody blows after Mr. Santiago’s former employer filed a defamation suit against him. 

As I understand it (and I am not sure that I do) former two-term state representative-turned revolving door lobbyist-turned Volusia County Council candidate David Santiago was dismissed from his $150,000 “chief operations development officer” role with Family Health Source, a nonprofit federally qualified health center based in West Volusia. 

Apparently, Family Health Source’s CEO Laurie Asbury had concerns over Santiago’s $120,000 gig as a “government consultant” with Tallahassee-based law firm Colodny Fass – a job he accepted after being term limited out of the Florida House of Representatives. . .

According to the News-Journal, Santiago countered that his outside employment was approved by Asbury at the time of hire, claimed wrongful termination, and requested 18-months’ severance. . .  Whoa.

(Reminder to Self:  Start looking for a “position” with a federally funded nonprofit soonest.)

In turn, Family Health Source conducted an in-house investigation (?) which determined the separation was within policy – a finding that prompted Santiago to write the governing board with allegations of what he described as Asbury’s “gross behavior” – charges he reportedly had not previously disclosed.

According to the report, Santiago alleges that Asbury “…made sexual-based comments and questions to (sic) towards me,” Santiago wrote, saying she used crude terms in comparing male and female body parts. “She would press the conversation and try to get a conversation ongoing. It was very uncomfortable and disturbing to hear this from the CEO.”

In their defense, Family Health Source has filed a defamation suit claiming that Santiago “…communicated false and defamatory statements about Asbury to third-parties,” also “in a negligent manner, without reasonable care as to their truth or falsity.”

Want to hear the juicy part?

“(Victor) Ramos, Santiago’s opponent, was until earlier this month vice chair of Family Health Source’s board.”

You read that right.

According to the report, “Is there motive?” Santiago asked. “I don’t know. … (Ramos’) girlfriend or fiancée just got offered the position that I had.”

Ramos, in an interview last week, confirmed his girlfriend, Bruines Ramirez, has been hired by Family Health Source but had not yet started.

“Her position is totally different,” Ramos said. “I’ll put her résumé up to his any time of day.”

Ramos said he had no say in whether or not to take legal action against Santiago.”

Yeah.  It’s a convoluted mess.

Everything Deltona residents have come to expect from their elected “representatives” – and, in my view, a sad indictment of the quality of candidates Volusia County now attracts.    

Unfortunately, our choices in these important non-partisan races seem limited to political retreads and malleable marionettes who receive the nod of fragmented local party affiliates – who do little more than scream “RINO!” at one another or wallow in the depths of their “wokeness” – all while the significant local issues we face are ignored. 

Those grassroots candidates who are driven by a fire in the belly to serve – the common people who build businesses, contribute to the civic advancement of their communities, and work hard to eke out a living in the Fun Coast’s artificial economy – are quickly turned off by the coarse nature of local politics and the pay-to-play shenanigans that mark what passes for “governance.”

In the recent Volusia County primary, David Santiago garnered the most votes (7,713) on the strength of a war chest totaling $39,180 – much of that originating from mysterious political action committees and a few Volusia County power brokers from the financial services and insurance industries.

According to campaign finance reports, Santiago’s contributions more than double that of his November opponent, Victor Ramos (who received 5,109 votes).

Is this the best we can do? 

I’m asking.

In my jaded view, these lamebrains, stodgy stalwarts of the status quo, and compromised posers will remain in control of Volusia County politics until We, The Little People begin a serious discussion of how these non-partisan knife fights are funded. 

A situation where each dollar donated from those uber-wealthy insiders with a chip in the game comes with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge expectation we are repeatedly told does not exist – yet is exposed with glaring regularity each time a well-heeled mega-donor enters a council or commission chamber to receive a return on investment. . .

It is also increasingly difficult to attract quality candidates for public office when the sole focus of local elections shifts from the issues to the gross sideshow that is the politics of personal destruction – outrageous glossy mailers, open politicking by sitting elected officials from the dais of power, and vicious social media attacks foisted by cunning operatives who turn every human fault and foible into a horrific character assassination. 

Who in their right mind would subject themselves to that? 

As a result, we are often left to choose between candidates whose actions, loyalties, and hidden platforms are incommensurate with our civic needs and community values. 

And history repeats – as it always does for those who refuse to learn from it.   

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