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 Hometown Heroes
The courageous response of our law enforcement, fire, EMS, public works, emergency management personnel, and hundreds of volunteers to the catastrophic events of last week proves once again these lifesaving heroes represent the very best of us.
In my view, Volusia County and the municipalities did a fantastic job of keeping residents safe and informed before, during, and after the storm.
I am normally not complimentary of the Volusia County School Board, but during this “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, district officials made complex decisions under pressure and on the side of caution.
In the aftermath of any disaster there will be criticism of those making the tough calls, a perfectly natural reaction, and one that can lead to improvement if the right people have the capacity to put ego aside and listen.
But what about those decision-makers that couldn’t be bothered to show up?
Last Friday morning with winds still raging, I received a message from a Barker’s View reader who was rightfully mad-as-a-hornet over tone-deaf Ormond Beach Vice Mayor Susan Persis, and her husband, Volusia County School Board member Carl Persis, actively posting their European vacation photographs on social media while their frightened constituents were weathering the howling onslaught of Hurricane Ian here at home.
What I found most cringeworthy was that Vice Mayor Persis doubled-down on her cluelessness by marking herself safe from Hurricane Ian – from Europe. . .
Yeah. I know.
In my view, some of our elected elite live in a weird parallel universe that has nothing in common with those who eke out a living here on what remains of the Fun Coast – a life of extraordinary social and political privilege that We, The Little People will never know – and that’s okay.
But when you accept public funds to serve in the public interest and your constituents and community are under threat, we expect those we elect to be there for us.
Anything less is unacceptable.
From the vantagepoint of three decades in public service, it is a moral obligation – a willingness to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who are suffering – and demonstrate strong leadership when it is needed most.
In my view, the many elected officials throughout Volusia County who exemplified service above self under dangerous and difficult circumstances, joined with volunteers to help in recovery efforts, worked to feed hard-hit residents, and pushed information to constituents deserve our praise and respect.
Meanwhile, our brave first responders and emergency management personnel were away from their families – living in austere conditions, working long hours, staffing emergency operations centers, assisting at shelters, filling sandbags, and bravely preparing to go in harm’s way and save lives when the relentless winds subsided.
When the tragic extent of the storm’s wrath became evident, those brave men and women boldly ventured into flooded neighborhoods – repeatedly wading into the foul soup to physically carry victims to safety – willingly putting their own health and safety at risk to protect the lives of others.
Within hours of Ian moving offshore, power restoration crews fanned out across the region – linemen and electrical technicians from across the nation – working under dangerous conditions to return power to area homes and businesses while heavy equipment operators cleared debris to open blocked roadways.
In addition, numerous area restaurants have donated meals to those in need.
During times of calm, those who live under the blanket of safety and security these brave souls provide are often hyper-critical of those who serve and protect.
In recent years, we have heard asinine calls to “defund the police,” and vocal criticism of the specialized equipment necessary to preserve life when the chips are down, such as high wheelbase former military vehicles that can safely enter flooded streets to access trapped residents.
The fact is, if we paid these men and women their true worth, we couldn’t afford them.
Unfortunately, when the floodwaters recede and politicians return to the primping, preening, and self-promotion of an election year, I fear the uncommon heroism of these brave souls will be forgotten – leaving them to process the mental and physical impacts of the things they have done and observed while protecting others – even as their own families and property were at risk.
With many leaving the police, fire, and EMS services for greener pastures, it is heartening to know that the best-of-the-best stayed – holding the line like generations before – true to the finest traditions of their service.
In the military and law enforcement, there is a custom of decorating those brave men and women who perform with distinction under extraordinary circumstances – a grateful recognition of their bravery, service, and sacrifice.
While these heroes do not put their lives on the line for ribbons; I believe we have an obligation to honor their conspicuous gallantry.
If you are an elected or appointed official at any level of government, my sincere hope is that you will recognize the courage and commitment of those officers, firefighters, EMS personnel, emergency management personnel, utilities workers, equipment operators, public information professionals, support staff, volunteers and the other unsung heroes in your organization who responded when we needed them most.
On behalf of a grateful Barker family – Thank you all.
Your courageous service and sacrifice under life-threatening conditions will never be forgotten.
Angel Dana McCool and Eric Raimundo
I have a kinship with those who further a larger discussion of the issues in Volusia County and beyond. Those bold few who express an authentic opinion, put themselves out there, and speak truth to power – whether we agree or disagree – especially in an environment where the rods and strings of public policy are manipulated by very influential insiders with a profit motive.
Because the vigorous exercise of our First Amendment right is vitally important to the cause of democracy.
I realize my neighbors don’t need to hear more of my bloviating and bullshit – but we desperately need more avenues for community dialog in a place where our newspaper of record is now unrecognizable.
In my view, a greater conversation of the issues is critical at a time when politics has dissolved into “Us vs. Them” partisan warfare – each side retreating further into their respective echo chambers – and I am blessed to have friends who I disagree with politically but can count on for a spirited and good-natured debate.
That’s how I learn.
Recently, Deltona City Commissioner and longtime civic activist Dana McCool – a left-leaning Democrat – joined forces with Republican and longtime Tallahassee hand Eric Raimundo to produce The Smoking Truth podcast, two strong personalities with diverse opinions who find common ground over good cigars.
Before Ian, I had the pleasure of spending time with Dana and Eric at Mike & Mike Productions – a professional sound studio located downstairs of The Cigar Hustler – a phenomenal cigar and craft beer lounge in Deltona, Florida.
I appreciate their hospitality.
If I am ever invited to your home or business, I will arrive self-contained in a cloud of cigarette smoke – complete with a designated driver and my “travel bar” – which always includes a fine whiskey, a couple of beers, Topo Chico, a bag of fresh ice, limes, my trusty Zippo, and a pack of Marlboros – all the ephemera and security blankets I need when away from homebase.
During our fast-paced episode, my hosts more than accommodated my eccentricities and I felt right at home, sipping Power’s Irish Whiskey while talking issues in comfortable surroundings with these two very smart people.
Trust me. Dana and Eric do not disappoint.
Past episodes are available and include lively discussions with great personalities like Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacey Cantu, Congressional Candidate Joe Hannoush, and others.
I hope you will tune in here: https://tinyurl.com/3hdfhkwv
Quote of the Week
“Bryan Collyer of Crunch Construction said a lot of people were trying to figure out what to do with the 121 E. Granada Blvd. site. The solution came as he drove past and thought about the city’s goal to add residential downtown.
“If we can’t go around it, let’s go over it,” Mr. Collyer said. “Let’s put a condo on it.”
William Chapin, architect for the proposed six-story condominium, said the design is a unique mix of styles to solve the problems posed by the site.
“We came up with really what amounts to two buildings, one on the north end, which faces the golf course (Oceanside Country Club) and one on the south end which is right on Granada (Boulevard),” Mr. Chapin said.”
–Reporter John Bozzo writing in Hometown News Volusia, “Condo planned for ‘challenging’ site in Ormond Beach,” Wednesday, September 28, 2022
The vacant lot at 121 East Granada Boulevard in Ormond Beach – a 100’ by 350’ sliver of land that once held the defunct JC’s Lobster Pot and is now home to a Florida Power & Light utility vault – is slated to become a two building six-story condominium complex shoehorned between an office strip center and a Starbucks drive-thru.
You read that right.
With the scarcity of available greenspace, many communities throughout the nation are embracing the concept of “pocket parks” – publicly accessible spaces that turn small or irregular shaped lots into a place of refuge and relaxation that softens the urban landscape, increases walkability and value, while providing character to the community.
But not here.
In Ormond Beach, rather than consider innovative environmentally friendly alternatives to increased density and impact, our sitting officials allow developers to “put a condo on it.”
According to the report, meetings to allow public input on the future of the land have not been scheduled – although Ormond Beach Planning Director Stephen Spraker told Hometown News the “project is under review.”
Hey John Q.:
In Ormond Beach, so long as this current crop of developer shills are in control, your thoughts on the future of your community will always be an afterthought.
In my view, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, city planners and the elected officials who provide direction should reevaluate when, where, and why we develop – moving away from the build at all cost strategy of increasing density and filling every available open space.
When will we get beyond the notion that a few well-heeled developers should get fat while those malleable politicians they control piss away our quality of life for another campaign donation?
And Another Thing!
I have been accused by a few defenders of Volusia County’s status quo of politicizing the effects of Hurricane Ian – “…playing politics and blaming developers for a natural disaster.”
Damn right I am.
With five of our neighbors confirmed dead and preliminary damage estimates now topping $156 million in Volusia County, on Tuesday, the spineless Gang of Four – Volusia County Councilmembers Ben Johnson, Danny Robins, Billie Wheeler, and The Very Revered “Dr.” Fred Lowry – were joined by Councilwoman Barb Girtman in blocking a courageous push by Chair Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post for discussion of a temporary moratorium on future growth and development.
Rather than perform their sworn duty and act decisively, the Gang of Four opted to wait for an unwieldy 14-member Environment and Natural Resources Advisory Committee to debate the obvious while putting more time and distance between this devastation and reasonable growth management initiatives.
With thousands of Volusia County residents still impacted by persistent floodwaters, millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses, our coastal dunes destroyed, and sections of area roadways compromised by erosion and standing water, experts agree that paving over natural buffers and wetlands significantly contributed to the horrific damage seen across the breadth of Central Florida.
Now that Florida’s insurance apparatus is insolvent – with homeowners bracing for astronomical increases in the cost of coverage (if they can get it) – many responsible local governments are actively discussing limiting future growth until existing infrastructure and mitigation initiatives can be discussed.
But not in Volusia County.
Look, it doesn’t take an environmental engineer to see that artificially changing the topography of the land, filling wetlands in an asinine “help here/hurt there” mitigation strategy, raising the elevation of massive developments, and paving over recharge areas with impervious surfaces that increase the speed and volume of stormwater runoff without adequate retention or utilities infrastructure is a calculated gamble that increases profits for real estate developers while leaving new and existing residents vulnerable to catastrophic flooding.
Guess who lost that bet?
Rather than accept the fact their failed “cram ten-pounds of shit in a five-pound bag” growth management strategy bit them on the ass when Mother Nature demonstrated the fragility of our inadequate infrastructure – these sycophantic marionettes revert to their worst instincts and remain beholden to their well-heeled political benefactors – running interference and quashing any reasonable effort to stop the spread until commonsense low-impact development initiatives and infrastructure improvements can be implemented.
Inconceivably, with many of their constituents still suffering, these craven tools stood firm with their “Rich & Powerful” overlords in the real estate development community and (per usual) opted to kick the can down the eroded and debris-strewn road – diverting and procrastinating, falling back on another meaningless political insulation committee to do their thinking for them.
This week, “Mad Mike” Panaggio – the raving social media maven of that secret Camera Stellata over at the CEO Business Alliance – has taken to Facebook with another of his rambling grammatical nightmares to blame We, The Little People for our own victimization – once again lecturing in his condescending way that we should have stood aside while he and his cronies ramrodded a sales tax increase down our throats:
“Again Brower and Barker are playing politics and blaming developers for a natural disaster. Hate to tell you but our county needs better storm water systems. Jeff has had two years to get something done. However it’s easier to blame others for not allowing him to lead. Jeff leadership is not based on your business card it’s earned.
Success is a choice and it’s time to get along and get something done. If you notice where the biggest problems occurred it was not at Margaritaville. It was in Holly Hill and South Daytona where storm water systems are badly in need of upgrades. New construction fared pretty well.
The measly half cent sales tax increase promised upgraded roads and storm water improvements. 30% of the tax being paid by non residents. But no Jeff and his gang of discontents said we don’t believe we need to pay that extra 50.00 a year for these much needed services.
Well we are paying.
Look this was an unavoidable disaster. It was natural not created by the bogeyman or developers. Let’s stop overdevelopment. Let’s elect people that can lead. By suggesting a total moratorium is just cowardly. The County will continue to grow. Let’s find leaders that have some brains and can lead us when things get tough.”
In his patented “blame the victim” strategy, once again Mad Mike trots out his panacea – a “…measly half cent sales tax increase” – while conveniently ignoring the “trust issue” and gross political cowardice that continues to plague Volusia County government – always sidestepping the fact that, for years, taxpayers have watched helplessly while these same compromised shills showered public funds on private interests with a profit motive and intentionally suppressed impact fees while ignoring our transportation and utility needs.
And I’m politicizing a natural disaster?
As these stalwarts of the stagnant status quo watch the chances of their pro-development candidates (funded by the same influential insiders that brought us the current crop of malleable do-nothings) swirl down the storm drain (literally), they are scrambling to deflect blame for the obvious.
It’s not working.
In my view, a month before election day, Volusia County voters have come to the hard-earned realization that the political cowardice, strategic foot-dragging, rubber-stamped zoning changes, and abject obstructionism must end – and this collective demand for a responsive government of the people, by the people, and for the people is going through Volusia’s Old Guard like an ice water enema.
I’ve said it before – vote like your quality of life depends upon it.
Because it does.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!