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:
Before we get into this week’s thoughts, I want to send my heartfelt thoughts and prayers to everyone who has been affected by Hurricane Nicole – a storm that has forever changed the landscape of our beach – as Mother Nature reclaimed that which is hers.
This may come as a surprise, but politics isn’t personal for me, and I have dear friends on all sides of the political spectrum.
From wild-eyed conservatives to moon-bat liberals, political strategists, elected officials, “movers & shakers,” developers, environmentalists, and dedicated civic activists – unlikely friends up-and-down the local power totem pole. We can vehemently disagree and actively work different sides of the street – then meet in the middle for a beer and a laugh.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of dyed-in-the-wool assholes in politics – but they tend to be suppurating assholes in ‘real life’ as well.
You know who you are. . .
But during times of crisis, it is important that we put our political differences aside and work together to end the suffering and help our neighbors become whole again.
As I write this at a thankfully unscathed Barker’s View HQ, the news is bleak for coastal areas of Volusia and Flagler Counties, with reports that multiple homes have collapsed into the sea with severe beach erosion now threatening many other structures and public infrastructure, to include high-rise hotels, condominiums, and sections of A-1-A.
Tragically, the storm has also resulted in at least two deaths in Orange County.
This transcends petty politics.
Now is the time to pull together as a community – to support one another, encourage the work of our elected and appointed leaders, and heed the directives of our emergency management experts as they work to assess the impacts and determine a way forward as we work cooperatively to build a more resilient beachside.
My hope is that as we recover from the utter devastation on the beachside, we can learn how best to live in this fragile coastal environment and better serve our most precious natural asset by guarding what remains of the dunes and coastal vegetation that protect our shoreline from erosion.
Make no mistake, we are a strong community – better together – and we will recover.
Now, for a bit of a diversion, here are my bleary-eyed views on the week that was in Fun Coast politics:
I try to keep my ear to the ground, especially in the aftermath of elections in Volusia County – a place where the more things change, the more they stay the same – and a palpable melancholy has swept across many concerned citizens and environmental activists who were hoping for substantive change and a true voice in their County government on Tuesday.
That didn’t happen.
The apathy that has gripped Volusia County for years was apparent when a majority of the 55% of Volusia’s registered voters who bothered to participate sent five fresh faces to the Volusia County Council – four political newcomers and a perennial retread from Ormond Beach – most possessing the same mercenary loyalties as their predecessors.
Look, I don’t want to lump District 1 Councilman-elect Don Dempsey into my jaded preconceived notions of what will be.
I must have been washing my beard the day Mr. Dempsey campaigned for office, because what I know of his platform is limited to a blurb in The Daytona Beach News-Journal – some pie-in-the-sky goal of “reducing the size of government and lowering taxes” – in an environment where all our elected dullards seem capable of is growing the bureaucracy and insidiously increasing taxes and fees.
As a regular Barker’s View commenter pointed out earlier this week, the good news is the election was free, open, and well-managed by Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis. Whether or not you agree the electoral process was “fair” depends upon what side of the skewed campaign finance scheme you find yourself on. . .
Unfortunately, as the victory celebrations wind down (and Volusia’s wealthy overseers allow their newly purchased livestock to disillusion themselves into thinking they won on their own merits), we are left with the realization that Volusia County has once again cemented its foul reputation as the poster child for political dysfunction – a cautionary tale for our more successful neighbors in Central Florida – and a laughingstock to the real players in places like Tampa and Orlando.
A skewed political system, wholly controlled by a closed oligarchy and divided by a clear line of demarcation between those who have, and those who don’t – victims of an artificial economy created by a select few uber-rich insiders who continue to stack the deck using massive campaign contributions to their malleable handmaidens to reduce regulatory incumbrances and secure their permanent place at the public trough.
And the stagnant status quo continues. . .
The terrible kernel of truth I divined from Tuesday’s bloodletting is that we live in a time of diminishing expectations.
Get used to it.
So, my dear friends and neighbors, with apologies to Keats: That is all Ye know on the Fun Coast, and all Ye need to know. . .
Asshole County of Volusia
Last week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal published an in-depth look at another brewing scandal in the cloistered Halls of Power at the Thomas C. Kelly Administrative Building in DeLand, when reporter Frank Fernandez flashed open the expensive drapery in the executive suite to expose allegations of “malicious and abusive behavior” toward inmates at the Volusia County Branch Jail…” and a possible cover-up at the highest levels of county government.
According to the News-Journal’s exposé, now neutered Volusia County Department of Corrections Director Mark Flowers has retained the venerable Daytona Beach attorney Kelly Chanfrau, whose firm has investigated claims that Director Flowers was retaliated against after he blew the whistle on the physical abuse of inmates.
Chanfrau recently forwarded correspondence to County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald, which included a memorandum headed “formal written complaint” that Flowers sent to the County Manager on August 6.
It read like a scene out of “Brubaker”:
“In the memo, Flowers wrote that he has repeatedly reported unlawful actions that have occurred within the jail, but the issues have not been addressed. Flowers wrote there was a cover-up involving a use-of-force incident against an inmate named Justin Caruthers. He wrote that Caruthers reported that “Your correctional officers beat my ass.”
Flowers wrote that two correctional officers witnessed the incident and wrote statements. The two officers said that while they could not point to any individual officer, Caruthers was struck and punched numerous times in the head and body. A nurse at the jail said “They beat his ass,” Flowers reported. Flowers wrote that nine days after the incident he interviewed Caruthers, who still had two black eyes.
Flowers said that against his recommendation, Mark Swanson, the interim director of the Public Protection Department, reassigned the officers involved to other duties in the jail rather than removing them from the facility to prevent any possibility of witness intimidation or harassment.”
The report claims that Flowers received at least two emails from judges asking him to investigate use of force incidents at the jail.
According to the News-Journal, Director Flowers was concerned about the “use of sadistic and malicious force for sport,” and on May 10, sent an email to all staff members directing that they “…not strike inmates in the face or head unless it was a last resort.”
According to Flowers, as a result, he was subject to bullying and intimidation – and it was reported that the nurse in the Caruthers case later asked to be transferred to another facility due to harassment.
Since submitting his memorandum alerting Volusia County’s senior elected and appointed officials of potential misconduct at the jail, Flowers has experienced the fate of most whistleblowers in government – watching helplessly as his career dissipation light began to flash, the wagons circled, and the bureaucracy entered self-protection mode.
According to the News-Journal report, when Flowers returned from medical leave on August 2, he was removed from his office, relieved of his duties, and “…told to work out of a conference room.”
If publicly stripping a senior director of their workspace and duties – then placing them in the pillory of a conference room as a visible example – does not have a chilling effect on any potential whistleblower considering coming forward with allegations of misconduct in County government, I don’t know what would. . .
According to Chanfrau’s letter, after submitting his memorandum to the County Manager, Flowers reported that Recktenwald told him, “I don’t know what I am going to do with you now. You have put me in a difficult position now that you have sent your (formal complaint) to all my bosses. The jury is still out.”
Flowers’ banishment included being placed on “administrative leave with pay” on August 15. . .
In response to a News-Journal inquiry, Volusia County’s paid mouthpiece Kevin Captain used his bureaucratic superpower of expending copious amounts of hot-air without communicating anything of substance:
“Due to the nature and complexity of the circumstances, the County has referred a portion of the investigation to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The County will continue to investigate all matters pertaining to this inquiry with objectivity and impartiality and we look forward to releasing all of the relevant information at the appropriate time.”
A “…portion of the investigation”?
Trust me – given the shady ‘nature and complexity’ of these disturbing allegations – absolutely nothing about this raging shit show should be investigated in-house. . .
Interestingly, during the November 1 Volusia County Council meeting, the wife of a Department of Corrections Sergeant approached the dais during public participation and passionately reported low morale and other issues within the department – specifically the plight of jail employees who have been denied a Coronavirus stipend that similarly situated coworkers were afforded after working under difficult and dangerous conditions during the pandemic.
From my earliest days in law enforcement, it was drilled into me that the health and safety of a prisoner in my custody remained my personal and legal responsibility until I properly remanded them to the care and control of the Volusia County Jail.
During my productive life as a police administrator, I referred criminal charges and terminated the employment of officers who intentionally mistreated prisoners in their care – and in my experience, the way in which senior elected and appointed officials respond to these serious issues tells you everything you need to know about the values and principles of an organization.
If there is a modicum of accuracy to these serious allegations, perhaps it is time those at the top of this steaming dung heap learn that the cover-up is always worse than the crime.
My sincere hope is that Director Flowers is not the latest victim of Volusia County’s insular culture of concealment – the entrenched lack of transparency that has destroyed the public trust and created a needless “Us vs. Them” divide that continues to impede progress on the myriad issues we face.
In my view, while Volusia County residents await the results of FDLE’s investigation into “a portion” of these allegations (?) – the internal issues surrounding the professional crucifixion of Director Flowers ostensibly for having the courage to come forward and report suspected criminal mistreatment of inmates also deserves an external review – by the United States Department of Justice.
Given the grave nature of these allegations – both at the jail and in the executive suite of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building – I believe the Volusia County Council should convene in special session to address the News-Journal’s report, ensure that inmates are protected from alleged “sadistic and malicious” abuse, and temporarily relieve both County Manager Recktenwald and Interim Director of Public Protection Mark Swanson until their official actions can be thoroughly investigated and confidence restored.
This is just one example of why so many were hoping for a culture change in the hallowed Halls of Power in Deland on Tuesday.
Because the citizens of Volusia County – who will ultimately pay dearly for this continuing gross ineptitude – deserve better.
Angels Residents of Daytona Beach’s Midtown
I often wonder how some elected officials sleep at night – let alone look their weary constituents in the eye. . .
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian – residents of the historically neglected Midtown neighborhood of Daytona Beach continued to suffer helplessly as floodwaters filled their homes – again.
A regular and incredibly expensive occurrence that happens every time heavy rains pay them a visit. In fact, a friend of mine who lives in Midtown told me that, in the wake of Ian, the fetid water rose until it was nearly knee-deep – marking the fourth time his home has flooded.
Last Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal published a report by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean which had officials claiming the lack of effective mitigation efforts in the low-lying Midtown neighborhood is due to a “shortage of funds.”
In my view, more like a lack of priorities.
And a dearth of political courage. . .
For instance, anyone recall the official answer from the City of Daytona Beach when the intrepid WFTV reporter Mike Springer cornered City Manager Jim “The Chiseler” Chisholm in a parking lot and asked about the plight of Midtown residents?
I do. The Chiseler’s arrogant response to his suffering citizens:“Move.”
(Did I mention that The Chiseler is now the Interim City Manager for the waterlogged City of Deltona? Because he is. . .)
According to the News-Journal’s report, “While people in Pelican Bay and Indigo Lakes were shocked to see their neighborhoods inundated, longtime Midtown residents were not. It’s happened in the historically Black community before – again and again, for many decades. The crushing poverty throughout Midtown and its already beat-up homes and businesses make recovery especially hard. It’s where about 500 public housing units are located, and it’s home to many of Daytona Beach’s poorest residents.”
The flooding problem has lingered for decades, and in the view of many affected residents, city and county officials have intentionally neglected Midtown and surrounding flood prone areas while lavishing public funds on the various private for-profit projects of those who can afford to pay-to-play, all while rubberstamping the sprawling fill-and-build development that some experts believe has contributed to flooding in established neighborhoods from Ormond Beach to New Smyrna Beach to Deltona and beyond.
“The city made a push to tackle the flooding problem in 2009, when more than 20 inches of rain fell over a six-day period. But so far Daytona Beach hasn’t been able to pull together $3 million for the in-depth study needed to come up with a flood mitigation plan, much less the tens of millions of dollars needed to create a new drainage system.
The city is willing to put up $1.5 million for the study, and has made requests in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., for the other $1.5 million every year since 2009. Thirteen years later, the city still doesn’t have the money to get out of the starting blocks. But after watching the devastation and trauma Ian inflicted on Midtown, a nerve has been struck and city leaders have a new determination to make this time different.”
Time will tell.
If we use history as our guide, in just the past few years, Daytona Beach and Volusia County have found tens-of-millions in tax incentives, infrastructure improvements, and cash infusions to underwrite private projects like One Daytona, Tanger Outlets, the Brown & Brown building, and an $800,000 annual burden to cover maintenance on the much heralded 22-acre Brown Esplanade in downtrodden downtown Daytona, to name a few.
And don’t get me started on the $15.8 million Williamson Boulevard extension – colloquially known as the “road to nowhere” – that opened access to more, more, more planned developments, to include our High Panjandrum of Political Power Mori Hosseini’s sprawling Woodhaven project.
Which makes it disingenuous for the City of Daytona Beach and Volusia County to cry the Poormouth Blues when it comes time to fund solutions to chronic public infrastructure issues – like recurrent flooding – and that monument to mediocrity at the two-lane pinch-point on Boomtown Boulevard.
Many believe these corporate welfare projects are nice-to-haves – but not while our neighbors in Midtown and beyond are being forced out of their inundated homes every time it rains.
Quote of the Week
“It’s just like the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on me when I’m not even running, and on a private senior citizen (Collins) who dares express his opinion on the corruption in local politics,” Brower wrote. “Vic Baker is a corrupt bully doing the bidding of the REC’s biggest donors who will do anything to win.”
–Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia Republican boss files elections complaint,” Election Day, November 8, 2022
I know, I know – enough with the sour grapes, Barker.
Just indulge me one more political pity party, then I’ll move along.
(No, I won’t – you know me better than that.)
The fact is nothing surprises me anymore.
Especially when it comes to Volusia County politics – or the unvarnished “Us vs. Them” hatred and divisiveness that now controls the political discourse everywhere.
On Election Day, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a frontpage report airing the dirty laundry of Volusia’s fractured Republican apparatus and the ugly internecine warfare that has resulted from the Republican Executive Committee of Volusia endorsing those hand-select candidates underwritten by our “Rich & Powerful” oligarchs – while doing everything possible to destroy any “grassroots” candidate who vowed to represent We, The Little People over the wants, whims, and profit motives of those with a chip in the game.
According to the report, the RECV, led by the meanspirited Paul Deering and his toady, Volusia GOP State Committeeman Vic Baker – threw more dust in the air by filing a complaint with state elections officials against a political action committee that supported those “Volusia Values” candidates who were backed by Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower, just before election day.
The strategy gave ample opportunity for Deering/Baker and Company to further villainize Brower (who was not running for anything).
In my view, to effectively boost those RECV meat puppets who were financed by the Big Money donors – all of whom were scared shitless they would lose their iron-grip on power.
According to the report, “The Brower-backed candidates have signed a pledge not to raise taxes and have campaigned on protecting the environment from overdevelopment, taking issue with candidates who have accepted contributions from developers.”
At the end of the day, none of it mattered.
Look, I have come to accept that Volusia County elections are now a partisan blood sport – and I’m not talking Red v. Blue here.
The Republican apparatus on Florida’s Fun Coast is horribly fractured with so many clubs, caucuses, conclaves, federations, and covens – that you need a program to keep up with the players – and what remains of the Volusia County Democratic party has become so irrelevant that it is rarely mentioned in serious political conversations.
At the end of the day, we have arrived at the bottom – where nothing matters except winning at all costs – a place where the ends always justify the means and those who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic Tides here in Volusia County have, once again, succeeded in diverting our attention from the myriad issues we face with more, more, more distraction and obstructionism.
We have no one to blame but ourselves.
Thomas Jefferson was right – “The government you elect, is the government you deserve.”
Unfortunately, something tells me our way will be dark and slippery for the foreseeable future.
I sincerely hope I’m wrong.
And Another Thing!
Psst. Wanna hear a rumor?
I live by the adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, sit next to me,” because much of the behind-the-scenes (and it is all behind-the-scenes) machinations of the political and legislative process is cloaked in intrigue and speculation.
Frankly, if I printed half of the insider tips, salacious rumors, and political hypotheses that come into the Barker’s View mailbox it would scare the pants off most Fun Coast residents, most of whom now take an out of sight, out of mine stance on local government.
That indifference is just fine with most elected and appointed officials. . .
What frightens me is how many of these rumors and innuendo invariably prove true.
Last week in this space, I voiced my cynical opinion on the unearned accolades being draped on The Very Revered “Dr.” Fred Lowry last week as he slinked off the dais of power after resigning the District 5 Volusia County Council seat to run for the School Board.
Because “resign-to-run” is the law, and Lowry’s last official day in office is Monday.
In Florida, an elected or appointed “officer” may not qualify as a candidate for another state, district, county, or municipal public office if the terms, or any part of the terms, overlap with each other should the candidate be elected or appointed and did not resign from the office they presently hold.
According to state statute, once submitted, the resignation is irrevocable.
Or is it?
After publishing last week’s Angels & Assholes, I received several disturbing messages from some very smart and civically in-tune readers who said – “rumor has it” – Governor Ron DeSantis will reappoint The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry to the District 5 seat until January 2023, when Councilman-elect David Santiago, who was duly elected to the office on Tuesday, is sworn it.
Hell, even The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently ran with a story headlined, “Volusia County Council District 5 seat to be vacant until January,” so I naturally assumed “Dr.” Lowry had finally shuffled off to the political ash heap where all perennial politicians ultimately land.
It would be the first time (in anyone’s memory) that an incumbent who resigned-to-run was reappointed to office over his or her duly elected successor – and without any input from the residents of District 5.
Other than their majority vote for Santiago on Tuesday, that is. . .
Look, I respect Governor DeSantis and have championed his initiatives to support law enforcement in Florida – and I appreciate the fact he has worked hard to keep the Sunshine State free of the asinine policies that have brought many major metropolitan areas around the nation to their knees.
I do not agree with his every thought and stance like some partisan automatons I know – but in politics you take the good with the bad – and Governor DeSantis’ enormous popularity is undeniable.
However, the foundational principle of our Constitutional system is nemo est supra legem – “no one is above the law” – and in all matters, the law should be the governing edict. Because intentionally circumventing the rules to reward political loyalty, or worse, is autocratic at best and despotic at worst.
As a Harvard educated lawyer, I suspect Governor DeSantis is better acquainted with that noble concept than I am.
At least I hope he is. . .
During “Dr.” Lowry’s run for the Volusia County School Board, he was the recipient of an odd endorsement from Governor DeSantis – no doubt the result of an entreaty from the local Republican hierarchy or some “Rich & Powerful” member of Volusia’s Old Guard – because, in my view, no one in their right mind could support Lowry’s ravings from the lunatic fringe or his obstructionist antics that have sacrificed the public trust to the profit motives of his political benefactors.
Despite Governor DeSantis’ huge popularity – his support of “Dr.” Lowry did not help as incumbent School Board Chair Ruben Colon won that race in an unreasonably close contest in August.
If my information is wrong – and this is all wild speculation during the turbulence of a chaotic political season – then we can chalk it up to baseless gossip and move along.
But if this ugly rumor proves true, in my view, it lends credence to the jaundiced belief of many Fun Coast residents that the stagnant status quo rewards its own – a spurious circumvention of the rules that will further exacerbate the “trust issue” – a malignancy that continues to spread across the body politic in Volusia County and beyond.
Again, time will tell. . .
Keep the faith, friends.
That’s all for me. Here’s wishing all my brothers and sisters who served in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces a Happy Veteran’s Day!
Have a great weekend, y’all!