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 The DeLand & Greater West Volusia Chamber of Commerce
Growth management, economic vitality, and sustainability in this era of malignant sprawl elicit strong emotions from residents across Volusia County.
Wherever people gather, in community forums, and across social media, the seminal issue under discussion is the impact of growth and unchecked development on our environment and quality of life.
Unfortunately, as the bulldozers continue to roar, there are always more questions than answers…
On April 27, The DeLand & Greater West Volusia Chamber of Commerce is hosting a “3-Day Mega Event” known as “Vision 2023”:
“This annual Chamber event brings together the Mayors of the 6 municipalities in the West Volusia region to deliver their Mayoral Addresses and participate in a moderated Q&A. Stay informed!”
Day two is billed as, “An educational, interactive Summit for professionals interested in pro-active planning for business success. Panel and roundtable discussions, workshop breakouts, and luncheon keynote. Gear up for success!”
According to the Chamber, the event is sponsored, in part, by land use attorneys Cobb Cole (Diamond) and Mattamy Homes (Platinum) an Orlando real estate developer responsible for the Addison Landing project in DeLand.
Here’s what bothers me:
If you have a passing interest in what your mayor may (or may not) have to say on the issues of explosive growth, jobs and economic stability, our overstressed transportation and utilities infrastructure, environmental impacts, water quantity and quality, and their “vision” for 2023 and beyond, it’s going to cost you:
$35 for Chamber members/$40 for non-members…
You read that right.
Sorry. Call me hyper-sensitive, but I have a problem with that.
In my jaded view, if the DeLand & Greater West Volusia Chamber of Commerce want to hold a klatch and discuss “pro-active planning for business success” – or host a paid huddle so that those so inclined can listen to the nonsensical ravings, handwashing, and historical rewrites of those “Volusia Visionaries” who got us into this fetid mess in the first place – that’s fine by me.
Like P. T. Barnum so aptly said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
But I am suspicious of any “summit” which brings together sitting elected officials representing the mosaic of unique communities in Wild West Volusia – one sponsored by some very heavy hitters in the real estate development community – ostensibly to discuss the most important issues of our time behind closed doors, in a publicly owned building, restricted to those willing (and able) to pay the access fee.
I realize this is a recurring meeting of the minds – and if history repeats (and it always does here on the “Fun Coast,”) – absolutely nothing of substance will be revealed during these hot air generators known as “Mayoral Addresses,” but the nature of the sponsorships and fees have some residents concerned.
For instance, when a resident of Deltona expressed concern about having to “pay” to speak to the mayors – Mayor Santiago Avila, Jr. (one of the featured speakers) bristled on social media, calling the citizen’s comments “…very obvious attacks and unfounded insinuations,” and reminded the resident that they were welcome to “make an appointment” to meet with him.
(Since when did these D-list politicians – who spent most of last year incessantly banging on our doors, accosting us in parking lots, and littering our mailboxes with glossy mailers announcing how “accessible” they would be if elected – get so damn busy that those who pay the bills need to make an appointment for an audience?)
Apparently, Mayor Avila missed the glaring point that We, The Little People – his constituents who cannot afford the $40 access fee to participate in a “moderated Q&A” – have no way of knowing if what he tells them in a public meeting will be different than his address before some very influential members of the real estate development community.
In my view, this is why the public’s business should be conducted in public view – not behind a paywall – and the senior leadership of The DeLand & Greater West Volusia Chamber of Commerce should understand the importance of that.
Asshole Volusia County Council
“It’s déjà vu all over again…”
My thoughts on the Volusia County Council being led around like a bull with a ring in it’s nose by senior staff on the issues of toll-free beach driving for residents, and the establishment of a trial dog friendly beach near Andy Romano Park in Ormond Beach, generated a lot of interest last week.
Regardless of their individual thoughts on the plans, most agreed that watching the tail wag the dog at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building is disturbing.
Following an election that overhauled the bulk of the Council, by careful design, the decision-making process is still controlled exclusively by entrenched bureaucrats and those uber-wealthy insiders who historically use our elected officials like dull tools – a means to a very profitable end.
Add to that the Old Guard’s continued focus on protecting the status quo and frustration builds for those of us who see their quality of life destroyed by malignant overdevelopment, gridlocked traffic, increasing fees and taxes, and a lack of substantive public input in the process.
In my view, an excellent example of this corrosive obstructionism occurred last week during the discussion of Councilman Troy Kent’s well-thought plans for a pilot dog friendly beach and toll-free resident access.
Although both themes have been floated numerous times by various iterations of the VCC, this felt different to me.
Admittedly, I am a compulsive rube – and during their swearing-in ceremony in January – I naturally bought into the hype and horseshit of putting the divisiveness of the past behind, the council’s vow to work collegially to achieve goals, and, most important, At-Large Councilman Jake Johansson’s inspirational call to employ the “Four C’s”: “Cooperation, Collaboration, Communication, and Commonsense.”
The lofty promise that our “new” elected officials would finally work as a mutually respectful “team” – a group of independent thinkers, each devoted to the best interests of their constituents, who respect differing opinions and find consensus through respectful debate?
Didn’t take long for things to go to shit, eh?
To his credit, Councilman Kent came prepared.
His proposal for a trial dog friendly section of beach was supported by the City of Ormond Beach – and included a generous $100,000 gift of start-up funds from area philanthropists Nancy & Lowell Lohman.
In addition, Mr. Kent unveiled a forward-thinking plan that would charge out-of-town visitors slightly more for vehicular beach access and off-beach parking, generating enough additional revenue to reduce the burden on Volusia County residents.
In my view, Kent’s well-thought initiatives exemplified the “Four-C’s” – not mere suggestions, but workable strategies for making our greatest natural resource a more fun and accessible place for Volusia County families – plans that were uncomplicated, well-organized, and clearly communicated without asinine acronyms and bureaucratese.
There are certain hot button issues that always uncover the malleable mindset of those who tell us what we want to hear each election cycle – then metamorphose into something completely different upon taking their seat on the dais of power.
Beach access ranks at the top of that list.
After reading my thoughts on the council’s weird, almost choreographed machinations, several Barker’s View readers reached out to express their frustration with how those who hold themselves out as “fiscal conservatives” and “small government republicans” continue to allow this bloated and insatiable bureaucracy in DeLand to influence public policy in a way always beneficial to county government, rather than those it exists to serve.
As “Fun Coast” history proves, any discussion of changes to Volusia’s incredibly expensive ‘beach mismanagement’ strategy is guaranteed to end on the side of the bureaucracy – ensuring a patent flow of cash now totaling over $24 million annually – to feed the wholly ineffectual Coastal Division and its various support functions.
Look, I hate to break it to you, but toll-free beach access for locals was never going to happen.
The deck was stacked before the discussion even began.
Days before the public meeting, Councilman Danny Robins published a laundry list of dubious “facts” on social media, openly shitting on both of Kent’s ideas, so everyone (including his “colleagues” on the dais) knew how he planned to vote – telegraphing to anyone paying attention how the “discussion” would go.
After listening to Councilman Robins drone on with his disjointed and hyper-emotional monologs – including his petty point of order designed to silence Chairman Jeff Brower – one respected political observer accurately described Robins as little more than a “staff member with a vote.”
To make matters worse, Councilman Robins took to social-media this week to goad those who disagree with the direction and dysfunction of Volusia County government – a tactic that looks petty and meanspirited at what should be the most accessible and responsive level of community governance.
Another disturbing revelation last week came when Councilman Don Dempsey callously admonished tax strapped Volusia County taxpayers from the dais to “suck it up” – suggesting residents should pay even more for beach access, including off-beach parking.
Many took Mr. Dempsey’s tone-deaf scolding as an elitist slap to thousands of area families struggling in a place where 14% of the population live south of the poverty line with a per capita income well below both the state and national average.
A socio-economic reality where “pennies a day” is more than a political punchline.
For most of the meeting, Councilman Matt Reinhart seemed out of his element – because he was – and it quickly became clear that nothing of substance was going to happen on either front as the incredibly well compensated “senior staff” once again succeeded in protecting the status quo, crushing innovation, and kicking the can down that dusty road of political procrastination…
As our elected dullards quibble over “process” (as though there were rhyme or reason to any of this), debate who can talk and when, and silence each another with parliamentary sleight-of-hand as the bureaucratic hierarchy drowns them in excessively complicated minutia on another PowerPoint – We, The Little People, ponder our future in an environment where policymaking has been gifted to a politically unaccountable bureaucracy.
Quote of the Week
“I strongly believe that land can be used to preserve animal habitats and natural resources. This is a smart move because when you think about it. If we ever wanted to study animals or other natural resources, those would be there for us to study at our expense.
Also, the reserved land can be used as a getaway place. Does anybody ever go home and think, “I just need a place to get away from everything?” Well, that land that was reserved would be that one place. When people go to places like this, they have a certain state of mind that is like you found that place.
Lastly, places like parks can be used to appreciate nature. When you feel like you need a place to sort things out, parks can be that calm, serene place. As an added bonus, they could probably help lift your mood.
I hope that we, as a society, play an important role in preservation of our undeveloped land for future generations.”
— Erick J. Palacios II, age 12, Boy Scout Troop 403, as excerpted from The Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “Reserving land for recreation,” Monday, March 27, 2023
Far wiser than his years…
And Another Thing!
I frequently refer to the State of Florida as the “Biggest Whorehouse in the World.”
Because it is.
My fears were reconfirmed this week in a fine piece of investigative reportage by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s intrepid business editor Clayton Park – with contributions by Editor John Dunbar and USA TODAY Florida Network – that demonstrated the importance of local journalism while shining a very bright light on why many in the Florida legislature are hellbent on circling the wagons, drawing the shades, silencing critics, and further weakening public records laws.
In his excellent article, “Strength or conflict of interest? Florida lawmakers’ real estate ties spark debate,” Mr. Park helped answer the age-old question, “Qui Bono?” by uncovering the disturbing connection between certain key legislators and the incredibly lucrative overdevelopment that has blanketed what remains of the Sunshine State with zero-lot-line cracker boxes over the past decade.
At present, some 40% of state lawmakers have ties to the real estate and land development industries.
According to the report:
“Ben Wilcox, research director for a citizens watchdog group in Tallahassee called Integrity Florida, said he finds it troubling that so many state lawmakers have personal ties to the real estate industry.
“The (Florida) Legislature is meant to be a citizens legislature where they have other jobs, (but) it creates obvious conflicts of interest when you see developers and homebuilders sponsor legislation that benefits their industries,” said Wilcox. “They do bring expertise and experience, but more often than not, it’s a cause for concern.”
Connections include a land-use lawyer sponsoring growth management legislation; a homebuilder co-sponsoring legislation on building regulation; a big developer sponsoring legislation that would take away local control of setting limits on development; and a high-paid executive at a giant development firm co-sponsoring a bill to cap the fees his employer pays for economic impact.”
Of course, in keeping with the prevailing political ethic “It’s only a crime if you get caught,” former state Sen. Fred Dudley, who now serves as a construction attorney for a law firm in Tallahassee, was quoted, “There’s nothing illegal about it unless it’s beneficial only to that legislator.”
Whatever you say, Fred…
The article also exposed the current legislative push to gut long-standing home rule authority – essentially neutering local governments by barring them from passing ordinances designed to manage growth, protect water quality, control pollution, and conserve wetlands.
In my view, it doesn’t require Sherlock Holmes to deduce the very bright connection between massive campaign contributions from influential forces in the real estate development industry and those local and state elected officials who legislatively facilitate the slash-and-burn land clearing and “help here/hurt there” mitigation strategies that have allowed malignant sprawl to destroy wildlife habitat, eliminate environmental buffers, and change both the character and topography of the state.
A situation many believe is contributing to disastrous flooding throughout Central Florida and beyond.
The informative article did an excellent job juggling the competing interests of the usual obsequious apologists for influential development interests, our elected marionettes who rubberstamp projects with Pavlovian efficiency, and those – like Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower – who are encouraged by the recent uptick in citizen pushback:
“We’re not going to stop growth. It’s ridiculous to think that. But we need to grow responsibly. Part of that is to not build on wetlands,” Brower said. “We can’t maintain this cavalier attitude of ‘build at all costs.’ But I’m encouraged that the pendulum may be swinging back towards more growth management. Every town hall I go to, among the biggest concerns, No. 1 is over-development. They (citizens) know it’s affecting their quality of life.”
Mr. Brower should be careful.
It’s that kind of ‘Crazy Talk’ that got him politically castrated by Volusia’s Old Guard…
If you live here on Florida’s increasingly claustrophobic “Fun Coast” and care about our dwindling quality of life – I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Daytona Beach News-Journal and perusing this important piece of journalism.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!
Barker’s View will be on hiatus for a couple of weeks as I take some time away.
I find it interesting to look back at how many things have changed – and remained the same – on this salty piece of land we call home. If you are so inclined, while we take a short break, please enjoy a look back at the extensive archive located at the bottom of this page.
On Tuesday, I’ll be co-hosting “The Smoking Truth” podcast with Deltona City Commissioner Dana McCool for an always raucous hour of competing opinions on the news and newsmakers of the day.
Please find The Smoking Truth here: https://tinyurl.com/mr2um7ty – or wherever you receive your favorite podcasts!
See you soon!
2 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for March 31, 2023”
Enjoy whatever you are going to do.Please come back after you take your rest.I read that 69 of 150 something lawmakers have interest in the real estate business.Not good.I think Clayton Park is a great reporter but for the rest of the Gannett organization they are closing lots of the 300 plus papers they blought.Yesterday their stock went down to $1.80 a share as the market went up.Hope we keep our paper even though Gannett turns everything they own left.Enjoy yourself as life is too short.
County council is like a rudderless ship without a captain. No direction, and the guy in the middle seat may seem like a good guy, but that doesnt mean he can lead. Its obvious now.