Angels & Assholes for September 20, 2019

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           Florida’s Crippled Campaign Finance System

Way back in November 2016, I wrote a little ditty called “The Biggest Whorehouse in the World,” after former Governor “Slick” Rick Scott reappointed his buddy, Long John Miklos, to an unprecedented umpteenth term as head of the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board.

As you may recall, Mr. Miklos owned a prolific environmental consultancy that had an incredible run of success ensuring his clients – generally big-time real estate developers – got what they damn well wanted from the very regulatory agency he oversaw.

In my view, Slick Rick was the poster boy for the statewide problem of quid pro quo corruption – and he had no qualms selling his soul, or the State of Florida, to anyone who passed a buck in his direction.

Over time, watching gubernatorial appointments and access to the highest echelons of political power sold to the highest bidder cemented my belief that we live in the most corrupt state in the union.

What’s changed?

This week, Gatehouse Media – who owns The Daytona Beach News-Journal – published a piece in the “painfully obvious” column about Governor Ron DeSantis’ penchant for openly selling influential appointments to various statewide boards and committees.

The Gatehouse reporter exposed a growing laundry list of campaign donors to something called “Friends of Ron DeSantis,” who magically ascended to posts on powerful boards from the State University System to the Jacksonville Port Authority, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and beyond.

To add insult, the Tampa Bay Times recently uncovered internal memorandums prepared by DeSantis campaign strategists that laid out a virtual smorgasbord of pay-to-play access – from golf outings, to dinners and short grip-n-grin meetings – the exorbitant price list made it clear that admittance to the inner sanctum remains out of reach for most Floridians.

The governor’s staffers made it clear that the pricing scheme was never implemented, but reality is in the eye of the beholder. . .

For instance, according to the Gatehouse report:

“Ron Howse, president of a Cocoa engineering and land planning company, was reappointed in August to the St. Johns Water Management District, after contributing more than $14,700 last year.  Howse also is chair of the Florida Transportation Commission, and last year helped DeSantis’s campaign by making his airplane available to the governor.”

Wow.  Friends indeed. . .

Look, I could have easily headed this Asshole segment with Governor DeSantis – or the name of any current or former politician from either party who has held statewide office in the last millennium – but the fact is, they’re just trying to stay afloat in the cesspit.

The real problem remains Florida’s sketchy campaign finance rules that have turned our political system into a cheap livestock auction.

And if you think its any different at the local level – think again.

In my view, we are “governed” by an entrenched oligarchy, where uber-wealthy individuals and industries have the ability to control their environment by purchasing the malleable loyalties of these uninspired dullards they perennially return to office.

Unfortunately – for reasons I’ve blathered about for years – We, The People are at least partially to blame.

Earlier this week, a long-time friend and loyal Barker’s View reader reminded me of an apt quote by the Savoyard philosopher, Joseph de Maistre, who said: “We get the government we deserve.”

Perhaps it’s time we stop deluding ourselves that our “rich and powerful” overseers are going to step-up and do what’s best for us, and begin populating the halls of power at all levels of government with responsive, independent and ethical servant-leaders with our best interests at heart.

Only then can we begin the monumental process of reforming local and state campaign finance laws and put an end to this pernicious pay-to-play system that has had such a damaging influence on our lives and livelihoods.

Angel               Jeff Brower, Candidate for Volusia County Council Chair

Speaking of responsive and ethical government. . .

Earlier this week, Volusia County residents got the first piece of good news we’ve had in a long while when Jeff Brower formally announced his candidacy for Volusia County Council Chair.

In my view, it’s time to change the cycle of ‘politics as usual’ in DeLand – and it’s good to see quality candidates like Jeff stand up and fight to return a sense of values-based governance to this dry and weary land.

In many ways, this is a true David and Goliath story – a simple man of integrity standing honorably against a money-fueled machine that seeks to perpetuate the status quo at all costs.

In my view, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, has presided over one of the most dysfunctional eras in our illustrious history – a time when unchecked growth and suburban sprawl was mistaken for “progress” – and obfuscation, political sleight-of-hand and the brutalization of those with opposing viewpoints replaced ethical leadership.

When you consider how long Old Ed has championed the wants and whims of the Donor Class – virtually ignoring the needs of his long-suffering constituents to the exclusion of any reasonable sense of fairness – it becomes clear that Chairman Ed Kelley epitomizes the self-serving nature of the lopsided “system” he has worked so hard to protect.

I think we’ve had enough, don’t you?

Jeff Brower is an impressive guy.  He get’s it.

For many years, Jeff has worked diligently to identify waste, inefficiencies and mismanagement in County government and has served as a tireless advocate for accountability and responsive representation.

I also admire his community involvement, volunteerism and personal commitment to preserving our unique heritage of beach driving and access.

Most important, Jeff Brower knows that character counts.

I was impressed by the following from Jeff’s campaign website:

“Like you, Jeff is tired of voting for someone only to be pushed aside for the wishes of Volusia’s power brokers.  He  will be your voice and your vote on the council regardless of your economic or personal status.  You should be the special interest our county government is concerned about.  Our American principles and personal desire for a safe and secure life are in danger as families are confronted with an ever-growing tax burden, rising crime rates, intrusive government, and fiscal irresponsibility that leaves essential services under funded.  It seems as if our votes and voices no longer matter to the people we elect to represent us.”

“The county is the first line of defense to protect our liberty, neighborhoods and beautiful environment.  County government should provide an effective environment for superior public safety, transportation, education, recreation, and a safe and clean environment.  It should also encourage small business establishment and opportunity without picking winners and losers.”

To learn more about Jeff’s impressive commitment to the citizens of Volusia County, please go to: www.jeffbrowervcc1.com

Asshole           First Step Shelter Board

It’s official:  The First Step Shelter Board now has no one to blame but themselves. 

Last week, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm issued a memorandum extending the construction deadline on the beleaguered homeless assistance center for a fourth time – pushing the earliest possible completion date to November 11.

Look, I’m not going to call it a deadline, because experience has proven that things like performance guarantees or expecting contractors to live up to reasonable expectations, are unheard of in this festering quagmire we find ourselves in.

According to reports, even P$S Paving – the beneficiary of an incredibly lucrative land deal which allows them to mine and sell profitable fill dirt in exchange for site preparations – has only completed 85% of the required work. . .

Now, the contractor claims work was hampered when crews had to make “adjustments” to the building foundation built by P&S Paving (?) – along with months-long delays in getting electricity to the building (?).

Say what?

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, setbacks also include “Getting the concrete slab the building sits on dried out has also been slowed down by the site being prone to sogginess. . .”

Whoa.  I guess First Step should have used a smidgen of that fill dirt for its own needs, eh?

Whatever.

On Wednesday, the City of Daytona Beach approved the convoluted lease agreement – before the building is even habitable – so, it’s the neutered First Step Shelter Board’s problem now. . .

My God.  What a damnable mess.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

For those of you tuning in late:  On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council raised our property taxes by 4.8% – bringing the parasitic behemoth’s total annual budget to $980 million. 

You read that right.  Nearly One Billion Dollars.

In an article announcing the rate hike, Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Mark Harper quoted freshman Councilman Ben Johnson’s rather callous take on the county’s voracious appetite after voting to increase the burden on thousands of already tax-strapped constituents:

“I feel pretty good about it,” he said Wednesday. “You see the kind of audience we had, people thanking us for what we did.  We’ve had several letters to the editor, and most of them have been favorable. … I felt like we were very responsible with it.”

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

Councilman Johnson (I hope) was referring to representatives of a few government-funded programs who appeared before their benefactors, hat in hand, and thanked the council for their very livelihoods – because I can assure him that none of my neighbors here in the “Real World” are looking at this obscene tax increase “favorably.”

In fact, everyone I’ve spoken with – from homeowners to businesses to elderly neighbors on fixed incomes to the guy on the barstool next to me – are pissed off beyond belief.

Some even speculate that the increase is punishment for our rejection of the half-cent sales tax. . .

Unfortunately, what our elected dullards are too arrogant to admit is that the collective silence of over 538,000 citizens does not equate to our tacit approval.

To the contrary.  It speaks to our longanimity.

Our deafening quiet is borne of a crippling resignation – the terrible realization that the average citizen can no longer afford political representation – so, we have no choice but to bend over and bear it.

We also learned this week that Volusia County’s wholesale attack on the will of the people in the form of its incessant challenge of Amendment 10 – a voter-approved measure to return constitutional sovereignty to several important county offices – will be heard by a state appeals court early next month.

Even before the election, Volusia County insiders worked hard to get the initiative removed from the ballot altogether, fearing that returning independence and external oversight to our sheriff, property appraiser, elections supervisor and tax collector – which, under the current charter, are relegated to little more than elected department heads reporting to a politically unaccountable manager – would disrupt the solidification of power.

When that initial challenge was denied – and the amendment was approved by voters statewide – a fractured county council directed our weaponized County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert to fight tooth-and-nail to overturn the vote of the people and shit on the very idea of a participatory democracy.

Now, the battle continues, with long-time political hangers-on crowing, ad nauseum, that the county charter – a governing document that was cobbled together in 1970 by a group of entrenched insiders to consolidate power in the hands of a few – should remain sacrosanct.

These tired graybeards – who ferociously preserve and protect the sanctity of their charter by strategically populating the once-per-decade review commissions with many who stand to directly benefit from the status quo – will fight to our last dollar to preserve a bastardized oligarchy that has worked well (for all the right last names, anyway) for nearly a half-century.

See why I’m so fond of campaign finance reform? 

Here’s hoping the appeals court stands on the foundational principles of our democracy and sides with We, The People in returning constitutional sovereignty and political accountability to these important county offices and put an end to Volusia County’s misguided assault on the citizens ability to control our system of governance.

Asshole           City of DeBary

I covered this in a piece last year about the fallout from the ‘Debacle in DeBary’ – and it’s hard to believe the reputation of a conscientious former employee is still being drug through the mud. . .

During the long, hot summer of 2016, I wrote a series of opinion essays on the political maelstrom that wracked the City of DeBary.

People still ask me why I expended so much stomach acid on the small west Volusia town, and I explain that if you care about good government in your community – you should care about good governance everywhere.

I live in God’s Country here in Ormond Beach (seriously, I heard he has a home in IL Villaggio. . .) but what happened in DeBary really bothered me.

DeBary’s disgraced former city manager, Dan Parrott – in my view, a congenitally crooked douchebag whose brand of ham-fisted revenge politics and open misogyny ultimately cost two good women their careers and the duly elected mayor his seat on the council – was ultimately responsible for this civic disaster.

He also cost the citizens of DeBary a ton of money.

One segment of the saga ended last spring when the taxpayers of DeBary (through their insurance premiums) paid for the sins of Dan Parrott by compensating former Assistant City Manager Kassandra Blissett some $250,000 to settle a federal gender discrimination suit.

In my view, that wasn’t nearly enough.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Kassandra since her first job in municipal government.

In my experience, she is a consummate professional – bright, articulate, with a style and sense of humor that endeared her to staff, elected officials and the citizens she served.

Unfortunately, when Parrott took the helm of DeBary government, Ms. Blissett’s career trajectory arced like a lawn dart.

According to her March 2015 complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, female staff members were “subjected to ongoing, pervasive and offensive remarks and discriminatory actions on account of her gender” by Mr. Parrott.

An amended complaint alleged Parrott called Blissett and then city clerk, Stacey Tebo, “bitches,” and sullied Kassandra’s reputation by referring to her as “the county whore.”

In addition, the complaint accused Parrott of making other despicable comments in the workplace, opining that “women don’t think clearly because they are too emotional,” and complaining there was “too much estrogen” on staff.

Jesus.

Of course, neither Parrott, nor the City of DeBary, admitted wrongdoing – claiming Tebo’s suit was all part of some sinister plot to “undermine” the city manager.

Initially, Ms. Tebo lost her gender discrimination and retaliation suit against the City of DeBary and former City Manager Parrott – and she appealed the judgement to the United States Court of Appeals.

Earlier this month, the appellate court upheld the summary judgement dismissing Ms. Tebo’s discrimination suit; however, they reversed the district court’s decision as to her claim of retaliation, remanding it back to the federal district court.

How long will this ugliness continue?

In my view, DeBary’s City Attorney Kurt Ardaman has always been extremely generous when it comes to making work for his colleagues in Central Florida law firms – hiring outside counsel and dragging out issues, ad infinitum, has long been his stock in trade.

From the sloppy coup d’etat that toppled the former mayor, to countless investigations, nasty lawsuits, claims and negotiations – God knows what DeBary residents have paid in outside legal fees over the last five years. . .

In my view, it is high time the citizens of DeBary demand that the municipal government end this ongoing and incredibly expensive defense of the indefensible – reach an amicable settlement with Ms. Tebo – and put the ‘bad old days’ behind them once and for all.

Angel               City of Port Orange

Heroes remembered never die. . .

Kudos to the City of Port Orange for recently dedicating a boat ramp under the Dunlawton Avenue Bridge to the cherished memory of Senior Deputy Frank Scofield of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, who tragically lost his life in June while training for a law enforcement memorial bicycle ride.

During his impressive career, Senior Deputy Schofield served as a patrol deputy, a SWAT team member and spent the last 22-years as a proud member of the Marine Unit.

How appropriate to use this unique location – where families, friends and fishermen launch on adventures – to memorialize the life and legacy of a man who dedicated much of his career to protecting those who enjoy the waterways of Volusia County.

A fitting tribute to a gentle man who epitomized service above self.

Quote of the Week  

“I will not accept that. That should have been left outside. There’s no reason to bring in a twig. This is a place of  business.  I wouldn’t have that in my house, nor would you.” 

–County Chair Ed Kelley, curtly admonishing DeLand resident Tanner Andrews when he attempted to enter tree branches and leaves into the public record to demonstrate his utter frustration over the lack of dependable solid waste collection, Volusia County Council Chambers, September 17, 2019

When the curtain opens on the Kabuki theater that passes for Volusia County Council meetings, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, mumbles through a stern warning to any subject of the realm with the temerity to prostrate themselves at the feet of the monarchy and attempt to seek information or make a point to the Ruling Class.

He begins the boorish admonition by ordering those who have “filled out a card” to direct their silly questions to him alone, then reminds the assembled serfs not to expect a reply – or even acknowledgement of their physical existence – by the Great and Powerful seated on the publicly owned thrones before them.

Our exalted Chairman runs a tight ship (when it comes to citizen participation, anyway) holding the 30-minutes set aside for constituents to address their representatives inviolate – even to the point of cheating citizens out of their three-minute audience should there be more speakers than time allotted. . .

On Tuesday, DeLand resident Tanner Andrews patiently waited his turn to address The Crown.

Upon assuming the podium, Mr. Andrews brilliantly took command of the room – expertly defined the Pecking Order of Power under the Volusia County Charter – and accurately called those dullards on the dais mere “decoration” when reminding everyone that, under the charter, County Manager George Recktenwald actually makes the decisions. . .

In superb fashion, Andrew’s articulately explained that what passes for Volusia County’s Solid Waste department is useless – pointing out that yard trimmings from Hurricane Dorian preparations had yet to be removed from a county road near his home.

In turn, the sharp-witted Mr. Andrew’s asked that a bough of dry leaves and branches be entered into the public record and Old Ed recoiled – jowls aquiver – sputtering and fuming that the Council Chambers is a “place of business.”

Priceless.

Twigs 2
Twigs being forcibly escorted from the place of business. . .

Listening to Tanner Andrew’s take this shameless buffoon behind the woodshed restored my faith in the incredible courage and citizenship of those who speak truth to power.

Well done, sir!

And Another Thing!

On behalf of the Barker’s View Tribe, I want to extend all best wishes to Volusia County Vice Chair Dr. Fred Lowry who has been under the weather this week.

I don’t always agree with Dr. Lowry’s politics – but I have always respected his commitment and willingness to serve others in such a meaningful way.

Here’s wishing Vice Chairman Lowry a most speedy recovery.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends.

 

Photo Credit: Mark Harper, The Daytona Beach News-Journal (@markharper36)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Good Fight

Naturally, I assume that Barker’s View readers fall on the “informed voter” spectrum.

After all, if you take the time to read alternative opinions and stay conversant on the issues of the day, I’ll just bet you’re cognizant of the serious threats we face, and the weird players who contribute to the problem by masquerading as “public servants.”

I follow the ebb-and-flow of political discourse on social media, local newspapers and beyond – keeping my cauliflowered ears open like a pitifully punch-drunk, over-the-hill heavyweight – hoping against hope I can anticipate where the next low blow will come from.

Look, I understand that not everyone has the luxury of time to maintain focus on the machinations of our local governments – and that’s okay – you don’t have to be a hopeless gadfly like me to remain reasonably conscious of current events and their context.

Like knowing who is running for political office, gaining a basic understanding of their platform – and, most important – which factions are financially supporting their campaign.

Then performing your sacred civic duty to vote. . .

I’ve come to the conclusion that many times we denizens of Florida’s Fun Coast wait until the damage is done, then boil into something akin to a disturbed fire ant nest – rather than keep a watchful eye on the fate of our tax dollars – then respond to threats like an organized electorate with differing views but the common goal of protecting our quality of life.

Unfortunately, the majority of Volusia County voters have the political acumen of a narcoleptic ground sloth – snoring soundly, delightfully unaware, while their tax dollars are squandered, or worse, funneled to the private projects of those who own the rights to our elected representatives – only awakening when some neighborhood-level issue threatens their ‘ignorance is bliss’ existence.

Then, they look for all the world like lambs lost in the woods – and that gullible naïveté only emboldens the paid-for politicians and the entrenched insiders who seek to victimize them. . .

That’s when it becomes painfully apparent just how woefully uninformed many of our neighbors are.

I was reminded of this during the growing septic-to-sewer brouhaha on the north peninsula – where the fear of annexation and aggression from the City of Ormond Beach on the quaint seaside community of Ormond-by-the-Sea – has resulted in a storm of disorganized fury and argumentative dissonance.

The Ormond-by-the-Sea Association was formed by a group of concerned citizens to fight for the community’s right to self-determination and freedom from what they perceive as governmental interference in their lives and property.

Unfortunately, some members of the fledgling organization are telling me they have become disillusioned by the tone of certain highly vocal residents who seem clueless about the underlying issues – and even less informed about the process for effectively ‘fighting city hall.’

Rather than educate themselves on all sides of the issue – weigh the known evidence and match lose ends to gain a comprehensive view – some are content with screaming half-truths and misinformation and attacking those with an alternative opinion – seemingly for no other reason that to dominate the conversation and remain ‘relevant’ to the issue by force of personality.

Ultimately, it burns energy, destroys cohesiveness and replaces the all-important sense of shared goals with disillusionment.

Rather than speaking with a united voice – both internally and externally – the organization becomes known for conflicting messages and confusion.

It’s part of why I’m not a “joiner” – it’s also a big reason why Volusia County lags years behind every successful county and community in Central Florida.

In my experience, this self-destructive fragmentation is the fatal flaw in many grassroots organizations – and the main reason our ‘powers that be’ repeatedly steamroll over the will of the people with little, if any, substantive opposition.

For years, Volusia County has been plagued with a malignant form of voter apathy that has brought us to this dismal place in our history – so, in many ways, we have only ourselves to blame.

Many residents are still swayed by glossy mailers and goofy billboards with the smiling visage of our perennial candidates – politicians of no real substance or integrity – who pose on the very beach they are working behind-the-scenes to privatize with their perfectly coiffed family and rented dog. . .

Others feel if they scream louder than the next guy they’re message will be taken seriously by the decision-makers.

It doesn’t work that way here.

Politicians fear the might of citizens who band together in a common cause – who outwork those who control our destiny with massive financial contributions to the campaigns of malleable politicians – then vote their conscience and demand the equal representation our participatory democracy should ensure.

My fervent hope is that as some begin to announce their candidacy for 2020, Volusia County voters will come together on the issues that affect us all – remember those heady days in the immediate aftermath of our crushing defeat of the half-cent money grab – and know that there is power in the ballot box to bring positive change.

I realize it’s difficult – almost impossible – to successfully ‘organize’ a group of very vocal, highly opinionated and incredibly frustrated citizen/activists.

But those who do can change the world.

 

On Volusia: The ‘Us vs. Them’ stalemate

Since retiring from municipal service, I’ve had the opportunity to take a step back and get an outsiders view of the machinations of government – and, more important – how the moves and motivations of our ‘powers that be’ are perceived by many in the mosaic of communities in Volusia County.

I’m amazed – and frightened – by the stark disconnect between local governments and those they ostensibly exist to serve.  Even when projects are undertaken in the best interests of our environment or quality of life – We, The People have developed a healthy skepticism about the true intent of those we have elected to represent our interests.

Sadly, Volusia County and the municipalities have no one to blame but themselves.

They underestimate our ability to see through the thin veil politicians use to conceal their clumsily orchestrated schemes to appease the whims and wants of their political benefactors – those individuals and industries with the financial wherewithal to control their environment using massive campaign contributions to purchase the malleable loyalty of elected officials who stand at the nexus of public funds and private interests.

That breeds suspicion in those of us who can no longer afford political representation.

Then, there are the instances where normally docile local governments transmogrify from sloth-like bureaucracies into King Kong – a monstrous brute that crashes around, crushing jaws agape, roaring and posturing, establishing dominance – stirring anxiety and apprehension in the hearts of the citizens who feed it.

Naturally, citizens develop a healthy fear of what can happen when government forcibly moves on issues that directly affect our lives and livelihoods, and, ultimately, that fear transforms into the secondary emotion of anger.

And make no mistake, many in Volusia County are increasingly infuriated by this weird system of governmental misinformation and outright lies that continues to insult our collective intelligence and requires we dig for the truth on our own.

For instance, last week, Volusia County Growth Management Director Clay Ervin had the brass balls to suspend reality and congratulate the county and municipalities for incorporating “smart growth” initiatives into their comprehensive plans for the past six-decades – even as we watch the malignant sprawl to our west threaten our feeble transportation infrastructure, pressure our natural resources and destroy our quality of life.

Clearly, this growing distrust knows no jurisdictional boundaries.

In a recent edition of the Ormond Observer, a resident published open letters to both Mayor Bill Partington and City Manager Shanahan seeking answers for the pending annexation of over 400 manufactured homes in the Plantation Oaks subdivision.

In addition, a concerned citizen described the City Commission as “Weak.  Lame.  No substance.  Self-serving” – while another questioned the “current state of democracy” in Ormond beach – and decried the destruction of even more greenspace to accommodate a gaudy three-story storage facility on Nova Road. . .

Another example is the current septic-to-sewer imbroglio that is consuming Ormond-by-the-Sea. . .

Residents of the quaint seaside community in unincorporated Volusia County recently drew together in a David and Goliath fight against what many perceive as a Trojan Horse invasion by the City of Ormond Beach.

Add the fact Volusia County has, for decades, reaped tax dollars while virtually ignoring the needs of north peninsula residents and one begins to understand the growing militancy and distrust of those who are joining forces to protect their way of life.

Last week, I met with Ormond Beach City Commissioner Dwight Selby – who has become the point man for the septic-to-sewer initiative – to seek hard answers to my own growing questions.

It was an interesting meeting.

I’m not easily bullshitted, and I found Mr. Selby to be engaging, articulate and passionate about the issue.

I also learned a few things that were counter to strong opinions I held going in.

For instance, I was told – without equivocation – that environmental impacts on the water quality of the Halifax River is the sole stimulus for this initiative.

In addition, Mr. Selby personally assured me that Ormond Beach has no desire to annex the north peninsula – a point driven home by City Manager Joyce Shanahan, who made it clear at a meeting last week that the city has no interest in annexing their neighbors to the north.

The most important question remains murky: How much will the multi-phase implementation of septic-to-sewer cost OBS homeowners and Ormond Beach taxpayers – and what steps will be taken to lessen the financial impact on OBS residents who choose to connect?  

Unfortunately, those answers won’t come until a design and permitting study (paid for by the City of Ormond Beach) is completed within the next 10-12 months.

I encourage anyone with serious concerns about the septic-to-sewer initiative to personally contact Commissioner Selby.

Sit down, look him in the eye, ask the hard questions – debate the issue to your satisfaction – then spell out your concerns and demand evidence-based answers.

Then, join the Ormond-by-the-Sea Association and collectively hold the Ormond Beach City Commission and Volusia County Council politically accountable for their actions.

I assure you I will. . .

Look, there are a multitude of valid reasons why Ormond-by-the-Sea residents would reject septic-to-sewer – and the City of Ormond Beach should be sensitive to those compelling concerns and strive for complete transparency going forward.

There is a lot of good information out there for those willing to seek it out.

There is also a lot of speculation and distrust.

And this ‘us vs. them’ mentality isn’t limited to environmental concerns.

In fact, it has clouded every substantive issue in Volusia County from beach driving to growth management for decades – and I think we’re going to see it’s influence at the ballot box next year. . .

Even if Ormond Beach has the best of intentions – our well-founded distrust in government is a serious impediment to progress on many fronts – and the onus is on the city to begin rebuilding the horribly fractured relationship.

We truly deserve better. . .

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for September 13, 2019

Hi, kids!

I’ve got a goody for you on this spooky Friday the 13th with a Full Moon – so sit down and strap in – ’cause you ain’t gonna believe this one. . .

I get some downright weird phone calls here at Barker’s View HQ from strangers, readers and well-connected friends who keep me up to date and “in the know” on the latest Fun Coast gossip from the political realm.

None more utterly bizarre than the whackadoodle-doozy I heard earlier this week.

The only reason I mention it is because the person who spun the yarn is a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe – extremely bright and in the loop on all-things government – always spot-on when it comes to the swirling undercurrents of Volusia County politics.

Besides, what’s a juicy rumor if you can’t perpetuate it, right? 

According to the BV grapevine – our illustrious former County Manager Little Jimmy Dinneen is actively considering a run for the newly created Volusia County Tax Collector seat – a constitutional elective office which will appear on next year’s ballot following the voter approved Amendment 10!

Yes.  That Little Jimmy Dinneen. . .

As I understand it, the Tax Collector does just that – collects and distributes a variety of local taxes and acts as the county’s chief revenue officer.  In some areas, the tax collector also serves as an agent of the State of Florida to issue drivers licenses and hunting or fishing permits.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. . . 

Look, I don’t know if its true or just idle tittle-tattle – but I wanted you to hear it here first.

And if the buzz on the street isn’t accurate, well, it’s a damn good joke.

Made me laugh all to hell, anyway. . .

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              B-CU President Brent Chrite

On Thursday, the Halifax area received a breath of fresh air in the form of a humble leader who demonstrated the strength of character to speak frankly – to tell the truth – and begin the long-awaited process of healing and rebuilding a key foundational element of our community.

Friends, this is what true leadership looks like.

During the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs & Issues breakfast, Bethune-Cookman University President Brent Chrite called out the malicious actions of those who used their position to loot the coffers of the institution.

“Bethune-Cookman over the last few years has been viewed (by some of the university’s leaders) as a trough for the well-being of a selective few who looked at it as ‘what I can get from this institution, it’s disgusting. … It’s despicable.”

“A new day is coming.”

The university is facing a host of potentially fatal issues – to include an active criminal investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Education into a mysterious student housing project that clearly benefited the few at the expense of many – numerous lawsuits, allegations of financial mismanagement and the looming possibility that B-CU may lose accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

During his heartfelt plea to reestablish lifelines with the community, President Chrite described how the university was “traumatized” by the pernicious régime of former president Edison O. Jackson.

That’s putting it mildly. . .

“There was great damage done to this institution but we’re going to clean it up … if we can get through this year and I’m here because I believe we can.”

In describing his reception in the community, Chrite said he was moved by the “warmth” displayed by local leaders since he and his wife Phyllis relocated from Colorado.

The only advice I would offer President Chrite is be careful which of our illustrious ‘powers that be’ he gets close to.

The fact is, some of our “community pillars and philanthropists” who “served” on the Board of Trustees stood idle while Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s sacred institution was robbed at the point of a pen – leaving the school millions of dollars in debt – then actively blocked any substantive outside intervention by cloaking the inner-workings of the university’s administration in secrecy, before fleeing their post in a cowardly attempt to sidestep responsibility.

Beware of those “community leaders” who assumed positions of vital oversight and high responsibility – then were inexplicably struck deaf, dumb and blind while the institution was being gutted – before claiming, “I was just a member of the Board of Trustees – we weren’t given all the information.”

The same shameless assholes who spent precious time giving each other awards and accolades at elegant soirees, even while the once venerated university they were responsible for protecting fell to its knees.

You know who you are. . .

I admire a man who seeks the truth and fights honorably in the cause of protecting those things our society holds dear – truth, honestly, transparency – and strives to preserve our collective trust in the institutions and ideas that form the foundation of our community.

Kudos to President Chrite for his clear understanding of the frightening issues that threaten B-CU – and for his fervent commitment to saving it.

A new day indeed.

Angel               Buc-ee’s

Yeehaw!

It’s happening!  It’s happening!

Buc-ee’s – the Pride of the Lone Star State – a mega gas station with super-clean restrooms and an insanely loyal cult following is finally breaking ground on their much-ballyhooed Daytona Beach location!   

I’m sorry.  I’m an emotional wreck of excited incontinence and blubbering happiness this morning. . .  Forgive me.

Oh, how I’ve longed to bring you these good tidings after months of uncertainty – and I write this with tears of pure joy streaming down my blotched and bloated cheeks!

Folks, our day has come!

Yep, after hemming-and-hawing with Daytona Beach over the trivial non-issue of exactly how much traffic a massive, 120 pump convenience store might generate on our already strapped Boomtown Boulevard – this week, Buc-ee’s executives announced that work on the behemoth will commence on Monday!

Wow.  What a difference a few weeks make, eh?

In July, a Buc-ee’s spokesperson threw a Texas-sized bucket of cold water on our orgasmic delight when it was reported that city officials were holding up permitting over traffic concerns – something that would push construction back until at least 2021.

Then – as if by divine intervention – the city suddenly produced the required “permits and approvals,” now Buc-ee’s is off to the races!

According to a report by the always effervescent News-Journal business reporter Clayton Park:

“The 53,000-square foot Buc-ee’s “travel convenience center” and 120-fueling position gas station is expected to open in early 2021 and will include a car wash as well as room on the 35-acre property for other stores and/or restaurants.”

Once open, our new addition will be the largest gas station in Florida, so, we’ve got that going for us. . .

Fortunately, the Lords of Economic Prosperity have once again shined their ethereal light on all of us – prompting the City of Daytona Beach to finally come to their senses and realize Halifax area residents could give two-shits about the specter of traffic gridlock on LPGA Boulevard – not when we’re talking a new travel convenience center, dammit!

That includes those laid-back beach bums in their half-million-dollar-zero-lot-line cracker boxes over in Margaritaville who won’t mind for a moment jockeying for position at the Tomoka River pinch point – not when it ensures convenient LPGA access to a “Wall of Icees,” seasoned nuts (roasted on site!), kolaches, cream filled ring-a-dings, beach-themed tchotchkes, Beaver nuggets, homemade fudge bars and a gazillion flavors of jerky. . .

We won! 

By God, we’ve finally arrived!  (Oh, man, there go the waterworks again. . .)

Asshole           Knights of the Roundtable

On Monday, the Knights of the Roundtable – otherwise known as the Roundtable of Volusia County Elected Officials – had a klatch of their weird pseudogovernment where area elected officials and city managers gather in the middle of a workday to enjoy lunch on the taxpayers dime and get their stories straight – a bastion of cowardly “groupthink” that protects the status quo, discourages independent thought and provides political insulation to the weak links.

After months of waiting, our collective political brain trust finally received the much-anticipated public briefing on “smart growth” – a byword local bureaucrats sifted from the smoldering ashes of the horribly failed half-cent sales tax initiative – and a concept area residents hoped would reign in the unchecked growth that promises to have us all drinking recycled sewage in the near future.

Regrettably, our hopes for substantive change were dashed when Volusia County planner Clay Ervin (whose cockroach-like ability for political survival is only rivaled by County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert) assured our assembled politicians there’s “no need to reinvent the wheel” given that Volusia County and the municipalities have incorporated “smart growth” practices in their comprehensive plans for the past 60 years.

Say what?

“When you take the full continuum of what cities are doing with smart growth, I’d say our report card gives us an A grade,” he said. “Every city in Volusia County has a smart growth initiative.”

Wow.

Well, so much for the quaint notion that its sound public policy to ensure transportation and utilities infrastructure keep pace with demand. . .

Who knew?

Despite all empirical evidence to the contrary – we’ve been doing it right all along!

Just for laughs, Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley used the forum as an opportunity to shit on the fears of some 43% of his countywide constituency who are considered asset limited/income constrained when he presented his asinine solution to the growing affordable housing crisis:

According to a report in the Ormond Beach Observer, “County Council Chair Ed Kelley said the answer to making housing more affordable is creating high-paying jobs in the area. Then, those $300,000 homes will be affordable for those people.”

Those people?

Whatever.

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

And I no longer try to make sense of Old Ed’s demented ramblings – for the same reason I don’t attempt to communicate with bread mold. . .

Did anyone really believe Mr. Ervin was going to tell the assembled decision-makers anything other than what he thinks they want to hear?

I mean, what nincompoop had the temerity to suggest that Volusia County governments could possibly have been doing it wrong?

Or that – just maybe – there is room to rethink the way we manage massive development on environmentally sensitive land and control the explosive growth that is threatening the very quality of life of every man, woman and child in Volusia County?

I could be wrong, but I think it was us – the long-suffering residents – who made that point to our elected officials following the sales tax referendum. . .

In Volusia County, politicians and entrenched bureaucrats sit together and award themselves an “A” grade – slapping each other on the back and congratulating their own performance – even as their incredulous constituents (you know, the one’s they dismissively refer to as those people) see the catastrophic effects of unchecked sprawl looming on the horizon.

In my view, Director Ervin’s lopsided agitprop was purely designed to massage the massive egos of small-minded politicians – and represents the death knell for any possibility of resurrecting their half-cent money grab in 2020.

Or for salvaging the public’s trust in their local government.

Thanks for nothing. . .

Quote of the Week

“You presume that this is caused by his occupation — I don’t agree with that theory. There’s no other statistic to prove that (firefighters and police officers) have that condition more so than anyone else in the general population.  To presume their job caused this without proof is not right.”

–County Council Chairman Ed Kelley, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia to cover heart transplant for ex-employee,” Tuesday, September 10, 2019

I used to think our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, was suffering from some virulent form of metastatic greed – a parasitic condition that predisposed him to say and do anything he thought would further the whims of his political benefactors – rendering him totally incapable of independent thought.

Now, Chairman Kelley proves he’s just a damnable liar. . .

Following a failed challenge by the weaponized Volusia County attorney’s office to deny an employee benefits, next week the county council will approve a settlement which will extend lifesaving worker’s compensation coverage to former Corrections Officer Brian Sherer.

The 19-year veteran received a heart transplant in 2013, one-year into his medically required retirement.

Florida statute 112.18 – often referred to as the Heart and Lung Bill – provides firefighters, law enforcement officers and correctional officers worker’s compensation benefits for cardiovascular issues, provided the employee passed a physical examination upon being hired.

That’s the law.

Despite Chairman Kelley’s bald-faced lie, extensive independent studies have conclusively proven that the compounding effects of stress – to include repeat exposure to life and death situations, irregular eating and sleeping habits, recurring psychological trauma, rotating shifts, physical strain, family disruptions and other job-related pressures – have left law enforcement officers with a substantially higher rate of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular conditions as compared to the general population.

As a result, the average age of death for police officers is considerably less than other Americans.

In my view, the notion of protecting those who protect us is a moral imperative – or at least it should be.

But not in Volusia County government.

Here, we spend massive amounts of tax dollars fighting tooth-and-nail to deny a veteran correctional officer time-honored benefits to cover the astronomical expense of a heart transplant – the result of a medical condition Florida law has specifically acknowledged is related to his service.

The very same statutorily mandated presumption that served Councilman Ben Johnson when Volusia County covered the former Sheriff’s medical expenses following a minor job-related heart episode in 2014.

I hope you will clip Chairman Kelley’s loathsome quote and place it somewhere conspicuous in your home or office.

Then, as the campaign season heats up and this foul ball begins inundating his long-suffering constituents with glossy mailers, espousing his quadrennial horseshit, trying hard to convince us how much he cares – pull it out and read exactly how Old Ed feels about the service and sacrifice of our brave first responders.

In my view, it’s time for Volusia County voters to send this insipid half-wit – this perennial drain on our patience and pocketbooks – out to pasture, once and for all – anywhere his nonsensical whimsies won’t have such a deleterious effect on the morale of Volusia County law enforcement officers and firefighters or add to the stress of an already difficult and dangerous job.

And Another Thing!

I took some heat this week when I spoke out against a plan by Volusia County Schools to intentionally exclude classroom teachers from a seat at the adult table as the School Board goes about the convoluted process of selecting our next superintendent.

Hey, my cockamamie views weren’t exactly mine alone – the front page/above the fold headline in Monday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal screamed – “Volusia teachers feel ignored.”

But since when does anyone give a Tinker’s damn how Volusia teachers feel? 

Some took me to the woodshed for suggesting decision-makers ignore the advice of our learned lawyers and consultants – while others implied that I was championing the cause of greed-crazed teachers who only care about more time off, higher wages and better benefits. . .

In a piece entitled “The Politics of Exclusion,” I tried to argue that most forward-thinking organizations work hard to develop a culture that values the experience and input of stakeholders at all levels – especially during periods of transition and rebuilding.

Stupid me.

You see, I failed to consider that highly paid attorney’s – the finest legal minds our tax dollars can afford – who serve the needs of both the Volusia County School District and our elected officials – apparently in consultation with a quasi-public outside contractor hired to oversee the selection and evaluation process – all agreed that teachers should have no place, no voice, no say in this decision. . .

Why?  Because it constitutes a ‘conflict of interest,’ that’s why.

You see, if classroom teachers were allowed any meaningful participation beyond a “focus group” – well, our new superintendent might be prejudiced when making disciplinary decisions.

Instead, our elected officials have populated the selection committee with a few members who have husbands and wives that currently work for Volusia County Schools – so, at least we can all rest assured  there’s no room for undue influence on the process. . .

Right.

Still no word on where our high-priced legal watchdogs were when a sitting principal at Mainland High School – with the full knowledge of senior district administrators – was victimizing hundreds of students with a fraudulent Advanced Placement exam, manufacturing passing grades for student athletes, using non-certified counselors and generally destroying the good reputation and academic achievement of those who rely on Volusia County schools for their education.

My guess is they were wringing their hands over how to ensure former Superintendent Tom Russell got every last red cent he was due in severance before he quickly abandoned us just steps ahead of the shocking revelations of gross mismanagement. . .

Whatever.

Look, I don’t always get it right – but I still believe my opinion that classroom teachers should have a clear voice in this important process has validity.

Perhaps it’s time for the tail to stop wagging the dog in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand?

Maybe those we put our sacred trust in should serve the needs of their constituents with a degree of independence from the sway of entrenched bureaucrats with a vested interest in ensuring a like-minded superintendent takes the helm of this crippled ship of fools.

Otherwise, God only knows what an outside professional might find when he or she starts looking under the filthy rugs in senior administrative offices, eh?

Besides, I don’t know about you, but I’m growing weary of watching Chairman Carl Persis flash a sheepish grin while gushing yet another wholly embarrassing Mea Culpa on television – apologizing for the dearth of leadership and transparency that has indelibly stained his term in office and facilitated the horrendous destruction of the district’s credibility.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Politics of Exclusion

I find it incredible that anyone in the Ivory Tower of Power at Volusia County Schools still has a job following the series of scandals that have rocked taxpayers, irreparably damaged the district’s reputation and called into question the academic achievements of students.

In Volusia County schools, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same – a dull, uninspired place where mediocrity has become the benchmark and one’s ability to deflect blame, sidestep responsibility and protect the system ensures vertical career growth.

Now, rather than include teachers (you know, those folks who are actually in the classroom presenting the curriculum?) in the selection and evaluation of our next superintendent – a nearly omnipotent position of supreme authority – district officials are doing their level best to exclude their important input.

What gives?

In keeping with the district’s time-honored tradition of treating educators like unwanted rubbish, the School Board recently omitted classroom teachers from a seat on the 25-member Superintendent Search Citizens Advisory Committee – an eclectic group charged with reviewing applications and making recommendations to the board.

Instead, the input of classroom teachers has been limited to a “focus group” and a seat at the table for Volusia United Educators.

In my view, the district’s attorney, Ted Doran, openly maligned the concerns of teachers at the board’s August meeting – calling their request to participate in the process a “conflict of interest” –  on the flimsy argument that, “It’s not appropriate for someone to pick their boss.”

Horseshit.

In forward-thinking organizations that value the contributions of stakeholders, employees at all levels are invited to participate in the important process of vetting and recommending the chief executive.

The essence of leadership is developing a culture that values the informed opinions of everyone on the team – rather than perpetuating the tired notion that senior administrators have all the answers – and those serving where the rubber meets the road should merely keep their mouths shut and do their jobs.

An inclusive process has nothing to do with currying favor and everything to do with ensuring a 360-degree evaluation of potential candidates – a comprehensive decision-making process that considers an amalgam of internal and external perspectives.

According to a piece by the News-Journal’s outstanding education reporter, Cassidy Alexander, Mr. Doran suggested that our future superintendent might be swayed if “. . .a teacher on the committee ended up needing to be disciplined or suspended by the superintendent in the future?”

Really?

Don’t get me wrong – given their abysmal track record – it’s not inconceivable that our School Board might select a weak-minded, morally bankrupt shitheel capable of basing disciplinary decisions on whether or not the teaching staff supported his or her appointment.

But in the “real world,” any senior executive with a modicum of integrity knows that favoritism of that stripe is wholly unethical and the first step down the path to personal and professional destruction.

Perhaps more important – where was Mr. Doran’s keen sense of right and wrong when the sitting principal of Mainland High School – with the clear knowledge of senior administrators – was engaged in an organized fraud to deceive hundreds of victims of the Advanced Placement exam scheme, manufacturing passing grades for student athletes, allowing the use of unqualified counselors, then retiring rather than be held accountable for destroying the district’s professional and academic reputation?

Where was the School Board’s faux concern when former Superintendent Tom Russell was skedaddling to a cushy gig at Flagler County Schools – toting a sack full of board-approved severance cash – just steps ahead of the scandalous revelations that have shocked taxpayers and eroded the confidence of students, parents and staff?

Look, Mr. Doran works for the Volusia County School Board – so it is crystal clear that his words echo the inner thoughts of those we have elected to serve the public interest and protect our tax dollars – but our elected officials should realize just how close they are to losing the confidence of their constituents.

Normally, when gross administrative incompetence leads to a complete breakdown in oversight that results in outrageous wrongdoing – senior bureaucrats and politicians seek the input of everyone affected as a means of building trust, restoring a sense of stability and healing the sins of the past.

But not in Volusia County.

Here, our elected officials and senior administrators continue to treat teachers like second-class citizens – necessary, but menial, cogs in a much larger wheel, totally unworthy of adding their voice and experience to this important process – and once again made to feel as if their contributions don’t matter by those arrogant untouchables in DeLand.

Who is served by that?

In my view, the same haughty insiders at the top of the heap are intent on finding a superintendent whose cheap values match their own as they fight to keep their grip on the public tit.

The cycle repeats. . .

How terribly sad – and telling.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Plunder of Ormond-by-the-Sea

Something stinks in Ormond-by-the-Sea. . .

I don’t know about you, but anytime government officials say they “care” about something other than tightening their parasitic grip on our collective wallets, expanding the tax base or making life easier for political insiders, I get the queasy feeling we’re about to take it in the shorts. . .

Last year, the City of Ormond Beach began mysteriously morphing from a government entity that looked the other way as a speculative developer churned a beautiful hardwood hammock populated by majestic old growth oak trees into black muck to make way for another convenience store into the lone ecologically conscious conservator of the Halifax River.

That’s when city officials began ramping up efforts to convert homes in unincorporated Ormond-by-the-Sea from septic to municipal sewer in a multi-phase project which has now been dubbed a top priority by the majority of the Ormond Beach City Commission.

But why?

It’s not like residents of the north peninsula are exactly beating down the door at Ormond Beach City Hall – demanding access to municipal services – and begging to have thousands of dollars in still murky impact and availability fees levied on their properties, right?

The last time an annexation referendum was on the ballot, OBS residents overwhelmingly rejected the idea – and earlier this year, many on the north peninsula were openly skeptical of a strange Volusia County rezoning initiative which our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, described as a “slam dunk for the people.”

Well, according to Ormond Beach City Commissioner Dwight Selby – who also happens to be a prolific commercial real estate broker and developer – the city is doing us all a favor because north peninsula septic tanks are impacting the health of the Halifax River – and “There is nobody else who can do it.”

In a release to the Ormond Beach Observer last week, City Manager Joyce Shanahan no doubt did as she was told and bolstered Commissioner Selby’s horseshit, “The city’s sole goal is simply to improve water quality by reducing nutrients migrating from septic systems into the Halifax River from homes on the north peninsula.” 

Bullshit.

I don’t know about you, but I just lost a lot of respect for the normally upright Ms. Shanahan. . .

Citing a dubious 2013 report by the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County which deemed the north peninsula “unsuitable for septic systems” due to soil conditions and other factors, Mr. Selby and his cronies are suddenly transmogrifying from ravenous real estate speculators into some rabid faction of the Earth Liberation Front.

Never mind that the City of Ormond Beach continues to discharge millions of gallons of partially treated effluent into the Halifax River each week – or the fact the municipality has hundreds of homes currently on septic systems – with even more being permitted by Volusia County at the Vista Della Toscana subdivision being built on environmentally sensitive land off our threatened jewel known as The Loop.

Now, the Ormond Beach City Commission expects us to suspend reality and believe they give two-shits about water quality in the Halifax River?

My God.

In the first step of ramming their aggressive “master plan” down the throats of residents living totally outside their jurisdiction, Ormond Beach elected officials have put taxpayers on the hook for some $1.1 million to cover permitting and design costs for “phase 1” of the project which will initially convert some 700 homes in a swath from Plaza Drive to Longwood Drive.

With 10 phases planned – that’s an incredibly expensive proposition for everyone involved – except those who ultimately stand to benefit most. . .

Look, anyone with two synapses firing can see that the ultimate goal of Mr. Selby and his benefactors has nothing to do with improving water quality and everything to do with the annexation – and commercial development – of the north peninsula.

I’m told that an informational meeting held by District 4 Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post last evening took a weird turn when Commissioner Selby showed up and began openly heckling Ms. Post while actively attempting to hijack her forum.

While I find Mr. Selby’s abject rudeness in attempting to suppress public dialog interesting – it’s not unexpected.

When you consider that Ms. Post’s every attempt to gain substantive information for her worried constituents have been met with Volusia County’s governmental Code of Omerta – it becomes increasingly clear that things are about to get very interesting for Ormond-by-the-Sea residents.

Trust me.  This is one to watch.

Residents of Volusia County and beyond are tired of being blamed for the ongoing pollution of our waterways – even as our elected officials continue to foul our own nest – rubber stamping massive development from Farmton to the Flagler County line and ignoring nutrient-laden runoff from residential and commercial developments – while continuing the practice of pumping wastewater containing phosphorus, nitrogen, pharmaceuticals and other contaminants directly into the Halifax River.

At the end of the day, it’s about greed.  Nothing more.

Anyone who cares about good governance in their own hometown should care about good governance everywhere – and this has the self-serving stench of wholesale commercial exploitation all over it.

Now, we are about to witness the coup de main of a quaint seaside community.

For more information on how residents are organizing to prevent Ormond Beach’s hostile invasion of the north peninsula, please visit the Ormond-by-the-Sea Association at www.obsassociation.org

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for September 6, 2019

“As of 10 o’clock Friday morning it (Hurricane Gloria) had managed to avoid every town on the Eastern seaboard north of Key Largo, and Neil Frank was frantically adjusting his azimuths to account for the hideous disparity he created between Gloria’s berserk reputation and her strangely quiet behavior.

McDonell, however, was still in a state of fear.

“The whole city is closed down,” he said.  “We expect it to hit in two hours.  The streets are empty.  People are afraid.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said.  “You people are like pigs in the wilderness.  Get a grip on yourself.  There is no storm.  That maniac down in Coral Gables just ran another sick trip on us.  He’s blown two in a row now.  And he looks like Ozzy Nelson on speed.”

“Nonsense,” said McDonell.  “He’s the director of the National Hurricane Center.”

“So, what?” I said.  “He’s a raving lunatic – a nice guy, maybe, but a hopeless hurricane junkie.  Pay no attention to him.  Go out and play golf.  The links will not be crowded today.”

–Hunter S. Thompson, “The Geek from Coral Gables,” September 30, 1985

Hi, kids!

I was reminded of Dr. Thompson’s spot-on analysis of how many still feel about hurricane forecasters after the high-drama of the past week – nearly 34-years on. . .

Communications researchers continue to study the negative effects of long-term exposure to prolonged information campaigns – most evident during election cycles when candidates inundate us with non-stop mailers, television spots and print advertising – or when public health promotions (anti-smoking, obesity, etc.) run for extended periods of time.

It’s known as “message fatigue” and over time it weakens concentration and results in resistance and disengagement.

When the flow of information exceeds our ability to cognitively process it, we simply block out what becomes little more than hyper-repetitive noise.

Sound familiar?    

Modern weather forecasting and modeling have given meteorologists the ability to identify trends and changing patterns many days in advance.  These scientific advances  have bought residents in areas vulnerable to severe weather phenomena precious time for preparation, and, if necessary, to get the hell out of the way.

It’s a blessing.

And a curse. . .

For over a week, the Southeastern United States came to a standstill.

We were glued to coverage of Hurricane Borian – which came at us 24/7 via every known media platform – mercilessly flogged by network affiliates, newsies, commercial meteorological sites, the National Hurricane Center and every keyboard weather geek from Charleston to Key West and beyond.

Add to that the growing cottage industry of online “amateur experts” – websites that serve as an aggregate for the various radar returns, storm models, cones, shear maps, vorticity charts and official NHC predictions – providing the worried masses with a level-headed antidote to the no-holds-barred sensationalism and lurid “worst case scenarios” of the Weather Chanel.

When you factor in our natural propensity for information bias and selective attention – our primeval need to focus solely on the best or worst aspects of a situation – we begin to understand why social media dissolved into such a hell-broth of hyper-speculative misinformation (peppered with some really funny memes) this week.

Suddenly, many of my friends who live in this box on my desk became infernal tropical weather experts – arguing and hypothesizing over everything from restaurant closures to the best style of Cheez-it (everyone knows ‘extra toasty’ are the best) and which evacuation routes have the least traffic.

Like touching a live wire – it took me a minute to let go and disengage, shut off the computer and step away, grab one of the fifty-six bags of chips littering the kitchen counter, pop a cold brew from the iced down Yeti and find an old episode of M.A.S.H. on television. . .

Sometimes, ignorance truly is bliss. . .

Frankly, I found my own conspiratorial cheese slipping off the cracker when I momentarily agreed with a post espousing the theory that the non-stop coverage was all a big media plot, choreographed by marketing hacks, to hype the storm and drive worried customers to their Big Box advertisers who got fat this week selling bottled water, plywood and generators. . .

(But what if. . .?  Stop it Mark.  Get a grip, dammit.)

It wasn’t message fatigue; it was massive media overload – and it collectively drove us to the ragged edge as we desperately tried to sort fact from media hysteria.

The interminable wait for Dorian became like drinking from a fire hose of hurricane preparation tips and ‘hunker down’ homilies – an almost claustrophobic feeling of inescapability – that left some serious psychological cuts and scrapes on coastal residents to match the dark bruise on our wallets (I literally have enough snacks, canned goods and Vienna sausages to feed the Third Infantry Division. . .)

Then, when the mercilessly over-hyped maelstrom finally arrived here on the Fun Coast, it was little more than a wet fart – some squally rain on a fresh breeze that wasn’t unlike a strong thunderstorm on a summer afternoon.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise.

Anyone who observed the model runs hour-to-hour knew well in advance that the eye wouldn’t make it left of 80 West – yet, we suspended logic and could never be certain – given the fact those rain-drenched Weather Channel bubble-heads kept the speculation going by covering the ebb and flow of sand on the beach. . .

As a result, my family did the prudent thing and evacuated our small grandchildren and ‘fur babies’ inland – just to be safe.

At the end of the day, Central Florida was spared the devastating impact of one of history’s most destructive hurricanes – a storm that resulted in damage of biblical proportions in the Bahamas as they took a brutal lashing over interminable hours.

As our lives return to normal, let’s take stock of our many blessings and reflect on the valuable lessons that only come from experiences like this.

A ‘hotwash’ of our personal disaster planning and preparation efforts is a good learning tool for the next time – a family or corporate evaluation of what went right or what we could have done differently to mitigate the impacts to our lives and livelihoods.

Most important – let’s all take a deep breath, relax and decompress.  It’s been a long week.

While we are far from perfect – when the chips are down – the long-suffering residents of the Fun Coast have a way of coming together to help each other see our way through some dark and dangerous times.

I’m proud of that – and each of you.

I want to say thank you to the first responders, government leaders, emergency management professionals, neighborhood heroes and our local news reporters who worked so hard to ensure we were informed and prepared, come what may.

Let’s remember those who suffered the hellish brunt of Hurricane Dorian in places like Grand Bahama and the Abacos and do whatever you can to help.  Many reputable emergency response groups are gearing up to provide much-needed humanitarian relief to those whose lives have been irreparably changed.

We got lucky, now, let’s pay it forward.

Welcome to the other side, friends.

Now, back to our regular programming. . .

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               Volusia County Sheriff’s Office

During my many years of law enforcement service, I had the honor of serving with many talented public servants from a variety of local, state, federal and foreign agencies – officers, agents and deputies who exemplified the highest traditions of the police service – and committed their mind, body and spirit to protecting and serving others.

Among the best of the best is newly appointed Volusia County Chief Deputy Joe Gallagher, Jr.

Following the departure of John Creamer from the second-in-command position last month, Sheriff Michael Chitwood named Chief Deputy Gallagher to this important role – an incredibly astute decision that will serve the department, and Volusia County residents, very well.

In over three decades in public service, I have never once heard anyone say anything negative about Joe Gallagher.

Chief Deputy Gallagher comes from a remarkable law enforcement family and enjoys a stellar reputation that has earned him the universal respect of his colleagues – and he possesses a unique diversity of experience and advanced training that make him the perfect fit for this challenging role.

Deputy Chief Gallagher’s former role as Division Chief has been filled by the very impressive Brian Henderson – a 2016 graduate of the prestigious FBI National Academy – and former head of the agency’s investigative services section.

In an article announcing the promotions in Wednesday’s edition of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Wild West Volusia reporter Patricio Balona quoted Sheriff Chitwood:

“The caliber of leaders in the Volusia Sheriff’s Office is second to none, and I’m grateful to all who are stepping up to lead this agency into the future,” Chitwood said. “Chief Deputy Gallagher and Division Chief Henderson are two of the most dedicated, experienced and innovative leaders in our organization, and I know they’ll continue to help us accomplish great things for the people of Volusia County.”

Well said.

Please join me in congratulating Chief Deputy Gallagher and Division Chief Henderson on this important milestone in their stellar careers in service to the citizens of Volusia County.

 Asshole           Public Information in the Age of CYA

 Look, I hate to be the first to throw cold water on the post-storm lovefest that naturally comes in the wake of a near miss, but I’ve got a bone to pick with some of our local professional mouthpieces. . .

 It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building.

Unless you kept an eye on the machinations of county government in the interminable lead-up to Hurricane Dorian, you may have missed several interesting windows into the weird internal structure of Volusia County’s “new and improved” administration under County Manager Georgie Recktenwald.

For instance, as coastal communities from Miami to the Outer Banks prepared for the potential onslaught of a major hurricane – the News-Journal’s preeminent environmental reporter, Dinah Voyles-Pulver, (a community Angel in her own right)  posted on social media that she attempted to interview Jim Judge, Volusia’s very competent emergency management director – a completely reasonable request given the magnitude of the potential  threat.

Her request was summarily denied. . .

You read that right.

Last week our community’s newspaper of record attempted to push critical emergency preparedness information to worried residents – Volusia County’s Public Information Office apparently blocked Director Judge from communicating with his constituents until after close of business.

Then, when our Emergency Management Director was finally allowed to speak with the News-Journal – the call was mysteriously “monitored” by a member of the Public Information Office.

Say what? 

Unfortunately, later in the week, Flagler County joined suit when officials announced to reporters that it’s EM director had “no time for individual calls” – leaving residents to receive vital information from those stilted, highly-staged podium gaggles – where emergency management types provide canned information and jockey for airtime with sharp-elbowed politicians who suddenly transmogrify from the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker into tropical meteorologists.

Conversely, in communities throughout Central Florida, elected and appointed officials took the opportunity to speak directly with their residents, build goodwill and alleviate the natural fear that comes from over a week of non-stop puff.

For instance, in Holly Hill, Mayor Chris Via joined other city officials and employees in helping at the community sandbag pile – working shoulder-to-shoulder with worried constituents – getting their hands dirty in a meaningful and noble cause.

The same was true in South Daytona, and in many cities throughout Central Florida, where countless hometown heroes – citizens, elected officials, faith-based organizations and grassroots helpers – all joined in neighborhood amity to serve a cause greater than their own self-interests.

In Daytona Beach, police officers went door-to-door to educate residents of flood prone areas on the importance of preparation and evacuation – something that helps calm anxious residents and truly personalizes the efforts of municipal government during a crisis – a civic bond which will pay dividends for a long time to come.

I don’t know about you, but I like hearing directly from my mayor, my police chief, my fire chief, my elected officials during an emergency – especially when my family is staring down the barrel of one of the most powerful and destructive storms in recorded history – and Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri and Sheriff Mike Chitwood were informative, accessible, committed and calming before, during and after the storm.

I admire that.

Look, there is always time for senior government officials to speak with media outlets one-on-one.  In fact, that’s a critically important part of their job – and senior administrators and elected officials should know that.

During my many years of public service, some of the most important and lasting relationships I enjoyed were with working journalists – professionals who became trusted colleagues and worked hard to get critical information  out to the public when we needed it most.

It’s a given that not everyone will be happy with the decision makers regardless of outcome – and from personal experience, I know how hard many unsung heroes worked this week to prepare and respond to Hurricane Dorian.

Savvy public officials know that criticism – even when its unwarranted – is all part of a very difficult job, and any attempt to deflect blame or sidestep responsibility in the name of political preservation becomes immediately apparent.

Let’s hope this weird overreach by Volusia County’s Public Information Office was a hiccup in the confusing leadup to a potential crisis – and not a more sinister micromanaging attempt to control the “message” at the point of a spear.

In my view, when local government becomes so massive – so unwieldy – that it can no longer address the vital public information needs of its citizens during a threat – then perhaps it’s time for voters to “right size” the uncommunicative behemoth and bring it to heel.

Asshole           Fun Coast ‘Visionaries’

It’s become apparent that many of our ‘Rich & Powerful’ political influencers are working hard to implement their own Master Plan in Daytona Beach and beyond – one that crafts select parts of our community in their own self-image – while other areas (and constituencies) are left to rot.

Affluent, posh, opulent, swanky, luxuriant, sumptuous, extravagant – haughty hotels with nightly rates far exceeding the budget of most vacationing families, a semi-private park with an astronomical maintenance budget, “enhanced amenity fees” that keep working families out of the tony shopping areas their taxes helped pay for – and exclusive “theme” communities and exorbitantly priced luxury apartments.

Those of us who pay the bills stand in stunned silence as public funds allocated to clip, trim and pamper the lush lawn and ornamental shrubbery at the J. Hyatt Brown Grande Esplanade in Downtown Daytona rivals what we collectively spend housing our very visible homeless population.

Priorities, right? 

This week, the Labor Day holiday (such as it was) reminded us of the thousands of families in Volusia County who are living at or below the poverty line – struggling mightily to make ends meet in an artificial economy based on the same five uber-wealthy oligarchs passing the same nickel around. . .

Those who form the backbone of our service-based market – the hospitality workers, clerks, servers, housekeepers, line cooks, custodians and others who hold down two or more part-time, low-paying jobs – toiling every waking hour to support families and keep a roof over their children’s heads.

I’m talking about the 214,039 Volusia households who are one bad day away from total financial collapse – hardworking folks who will never sip overpriced cocktails on the pool deck at Hard Rock, stroll the increasingly vacant colonnade at One Daytona or buy olive tapenade at an elegant niche grocer – real people who form the foundation of our areas hospitality, construction and light manufacturing industries.

Earlier this year, I listened in stunned silence at the annual gathering of FAITH – a coalition of local faith-based organizations working collaboratively to bring solutions to our myriad social issues – as leaders discussed the scarcity of affordable housing in Volusia and Flagler Counties.

During this period of extraordinary growth – where expensive wood-frame cracker boxes are being slapped together in the pine scrub west of I-95 and sold at an extraordinary rate – it appears our ‘powers that be’ have conveniently forgotten to make room for those who provide the all-important support services that keep our local economy afloat.

Those do-nothing hot air generators on the Volusia County Council have, for years, paid tacit lip service to the problem by labeling the shortage of affordable housing a “crisis.”

 That’s an apt descriptor.   

 Given that 43% of the population is considered “asset limited/income restrained” in a county with a budget nearing one billion dollars (you read that right) – I’d say this has all the earmarks of a civic, social and economic catastrophe.

Screw it.  Wait until those who have purchased a chip in the game get theirs – then, maybe, we’ll worry about making space for the great unwashed throngs who can’t afford the benefit of political representation. . .

In my view, since poor families typically don’t spend large portions of their limited income buying favors with campaign contributions, I won’t hold my breath waiting for our elected officials (or their wealthy overseers who really call the shots) to get off their ass and solve this growing problem for thousands of their financially strapped constituents anytime soon. . .

Angel              Clark Atlanta University

Following Bethune Cookman University’s 36-15 defeat of Jackson State in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Atlanta last Sunday, the Wildcats expected a quick return to Daytona Beach.

Then, uncertainty surrounding Hurricane Dorian’s path resulted in the prudent decision for the team to remain in place, leaving the 125 members of the BCU traveling party – players, coaches and support staff – stuck in their Atlanta hotel.

According to a post by the excellent CAU sportswriter Add Seymour, Jr., “That’s when a former Clark Atlanta University football player reached out to his alma mater for help.”

Bethune-Cookman’s senior associate athletic director, Reginald Thomas, is a Clark Atlanta graduate who was a four-year letterman for the Panthers’ football squad.

Given the urgent need, Thomas arranged for some incredibly sportsmanlike assistance from CAU – who opened their facilities, cafeteria and stadium to the Wildcat squad – providing a place to work out, practice and enjoy a sense of normalcy during an unpredictable time.

According to CAU Athletic Director Dr. J. Lin Dawson, “This shows us that we’re still connected and the success of one largely depends on the success of the other,” Dawson said. “We cannot overlook that. Unfortunately, crisis has a way of bringing us together, but besides that, we are joined at the hip. Their struggle is our struggle. Their triumphs are our triumphs and vice versa.”

 Wow.

I think Dr. Dawson just provided us all with a valuable lesson for the storms of life – a message even more powerful than hurricanes. . .

Quote of the Week

 “Even though FDOT officials say they’ve identified a potential $34 million in federal funding for the DeLand station, securing the entire $80 million-plus construction cost could be a heavy lift. Gov. Ron DeSantis is not a fan of SunRail and might move to block state expenditures. Long story short: Getting the DeLand station up and running would require a lot of work on both sides.”

 –The Daytona Beach News-Journal, editorial “SunRail, we need to talk,” Sunday, September 1, 2019

A decade after signing agreements creating a commuter rail service – contracts which were excruciatingly short on specifics (like how we were going to pay for it over time?) and long on financial obligations for the citizens of Volusia County – our elected and appointed dullards in DeLand are scrambling to have those commitments amended or eliminated before we get caught out.

Unfortunately, Volusia County officials command about as much respect from the Florida Department of Transportation and members of the SunRail Commission as they do from their own constituents.

Nil.  Nothing.  Zilcho.

Back in those heady days when Congressman John Mica was sitting on top of the world in Washington and federal transportation funding for east Central Florida was almost a foregone conclusion, county officials were swooning over all the wonderful “possibilities” SunRail would bring countywide.

Damn the consequences, “We want one!”

There was big talk of ultimately connecting Daytona Beach with the Orlando International Airport, then a scheme was devised to backdoor a “transportation oriented development” near the Debary station – that is, until smart residents pointed out that the depot was built near the Gemini Springs annex, an environmentally sensitive wetland that is now (wink-wink) “protected in perpetuity.”

My ass. . .

Now, John Mica is out-to-pasture, plans for extending rail service to DeLand long-ago derailed (pun intended), the current Governor has no appetite for commuter rail and Volusia County’s portion of the multi-million-dollar SunRail bill is quickly coming home to roost.

So, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, has done perhaps the only thing I have agreed with since he slithered into office nearly four-years ago, and told our “partners” on the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission that we want out of this steaming mess sooner rather than later.

My God.  What a shit show. . .

I suspect FDOT and SunRail knew all along if they ignored us long enough – treated us like the redheaded stepchildren they’ve always considered us – we would eventually crawfish on the original agreement, concede our seat on the board, and leave the adults in the room alone.

The fact is, Volusia County was never relevant to the regional discussion – on this topic or any other – and successful Central Florida communities snicker under their breath and consider us more of a cautionary tale, the Jeffrey Lebowski character, a ne’er-do-well best avoided.

They’re right.

Given our abysmal track record of snatching defeat from the jaws of success – and our reputation as a place where malleable politicians are bought and sold like livestock – I doubt we will ever be considered a serious partner in places where people still care about competence, economic success and good governance.

Regardless, our deadbeat back-peddling on SunRail was the right thing to do.

Let’s keep this folly in mind the next time someone suggests that Volusia County make long-term financial obligations to address regional issues in the future – you can bet our “partners” will. . .

And Another Thing!

I can assure you this – despite the natural fear and anxiety that comes from an approaching hurricane – no one had more pure fun this week than I did.

As most of you know, I retired from a lifetime in the police service over five years ago (wow, how time flies) and I’ve missed that part of my life and personal identity each and every day since.

To salve the transition to “civilian” life – I kept my Florida law enforcement certification active as a part-time officer with my former agency – the Holly Hill Police Department.  Out of respect for current Chief Steve Aldrich, Deputy Chief Jeff Miller and the wonderful men and women who currently serve with such distinction – I don’t come around much anymore.

I had my career.  Now, it’s their time to shine.

But during weather emergencies, I have the absolute pleasure of volunteering my time and what’s left of my talents to serve the community I love so dearly.

Beginning Tuesday morning, as the affects of Hurricane Dorian (such as they were) began to be felt in our area, with Patti and the dogs safely evacuated, I packed the Lone Eagle with supplies and launched on an incredibly rewarding Busman’s Holiday.

Over the next two days, I spent many wonderful hours in the company of the most dedicated professionals I’ve ever known – from the outstanding leadership of City Manager Joe Forte and his senior staff – to the first responders and emergency management staffers who demonstrated such extraordinary commitment, everyone was so welcoming – and made me feel part of things (even when I knew I was in the way. . .)

Before the storm, Mayor Chris Via joined his colleagues in demonstrating the kind of participatory leadership he’s become known for – helping fill sandbags, providing up-to-the-minute preparedness information on social media and supporting appreciative constituents – and even contributed to a nationally broadcast CBS news segment!

Truly hometown heroes.

During my all too brief tour, I had the opportunity to spend time on patrol – even handled a call for service under the watchful eye of the on-duty sergeant – and spent time reminiscing with former colleagues, marveling at the new technology, swapping war stories of storms past – and enjoyed pizza and laughs with some great young officers who were hired after I retired, men and women who are keeping the best traditions and customs of my beloved service alive.

I marveled at how efficiently Holly Hill officers worked with other agencies – especially the near-seamless interaction with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – whose deputies provided invaluable support to all municipal agencies during the event.

Look, I don’t wish these hyper-dramatic events on anybody – but damn if it didn’t do my beat-up old heart good to spend a few hours in a very special place that still feels like home.

If you currently serve in law enforcement or the public service cherish every moment.

I know it sounds weird now, but there will come a time when you will truly miss the opportunity to contribute to your community in such an essential and meaningful way.

To the officers and command staff of the Holly Hill Police Department, thank you for allowing this washed-up old “has-been” to get back in the saddle – even if just for a few precious and long-remembered moments.

It meant more than you know. . .

Have a wonderful weekend, friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels for August 30, 2019

Hi, kids!

Welcome to this abbreviated edition of Angels & Assholes – an irreverent look at the winners and losers who, in my jaundiced view, influence our lives here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

I hope you’ll use this as a brief diversion as we sweaty denizens of the Northern Tropics actively prep for what may, or may not, be Hurricane Dorian.

Trust me.  There will be ample time to rail against the civic assholery that runs rampant here in the Halifax area after the storm – so, this week, I wanted to recognize the everyday Angels that make Volusia County such a special place to live, work and play.

I’m talking about you. . .

Look, we live in weird times.  I get it.

We divide ourselves over petty politics, neighborhood squabbles, social media spats and goofy ideological differences, which, if we ever took a minute to step away and examine logically, would appear so ghastly ridiculous they would redden the cheeks of even the most zealous gadfly.

Add the fact that what passes for our local political ‘powers that be’ have done everything in their power to cause a rift between our government and those of us who pay the bills – and you realize we can be a fractured mess at times. . .

I admit, these screeds that I pound out each week don’t exactly unite the masses – but, hey, some hyper-critical asshole has to point out the faults and foibles of those who are actually in the arena and make fun of how the strongman stumbled, right?

But when the chips are down – and we face a clear and present threat – that’s when it’s time to put our trifling differences aside and come together as a community, you know, that obscure civic concept we’re always crowing about?

Gathering close as neighbors, family and friends – supporting each other and the efforts of our first responders and public officials who are working hard to protect our lives and property.

As I write this, the National Weather Service has placed the grim bullseye of a very dangerous hurricane directly over Central Florida – and while there are a lot of variables still at play – no matter how many times we do this macabre dance, it’s always unsettling being collectively threatened by one of the most awesome forces in Mother Nature’s arsenal.

Damn.  Not again.

Whether or not we are directly impacted by Dorian – these anxious times provide a good opportunity to plan, prepare, refresh disaster supplies and assist those with special needs do the same.

Look, I realize the effects of the over-hyped storms that have paid us a visit over the past decade have been largely limited to a damnable nuisance – but sobering scenes from Michael’s complete devastation in the panhandle, to the wholesale destruction wrought by Andrew in South Florida, give even the most seasoned native cause for pause. . .

For most of my adult life, whenever a storm approached, I hunkered down in a fortified Emergency Operations Center conducting or commanding response and recovery operations.

It became “my thing.”    

I was fascinated by the art and science of “managing” threats to the community – working and training collaboratively with other disciplines to formulate plans and operational protocols when things were calm – so we could respond effectively during the chaos of the storm.

Like most things that interest me, I took it to the nth degree and earned the Professional Emergency Manager designation from the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association – a combination of documented practical experience and advanced training that included coursework at FEMA’s National Emergency Management Training Center near the beautiful Catoctin Mountains in  Emmitsburg, Maryland.

The process taught me a lot – mostly that hope is not an effective strategy – and that modern weather forecasting products have bought us the benefit of precious time in advance of an extreme tropical weather event.

Time to develop personal preparedness plans, protect our homes and businesses, become self-sustaining for a few days when the trappings of modern life are disrupted, and, if necessary, to safely evacuate our loved ones from harm’s way.

Unlike wildfires, tornadoes or severe thunderstorms, generally speaking, hurricanes typically announce their intentions with sufficient advance notice for us to get our shit together, which, for many fun-loving Floridian’s, means laying in enough beer, ice and booze so the party isn’t interrupted when the wind begins to freshen. . .

Look, I joke about my legendary propensity for recreational drinking (mostly true) – so we had our “Hurricane Party” on Wednesday – now, it’s all about monitoring and preparing for what could be a very dangerous system early next week.

(Don’t worry, I’m sure we can find time for a few wee drams of fine sippin’ whiskey in the buildup.  After all, we’re not savages, right?  Not yet anyway – that lycanthropic transformation comes when the A/C dies. . .)

The slow, often erratic movement of these storms has been described as being “stalked by a turtle” – but anyone who has experienced the catastrophic effects of a major hurricane will never forget it.

Like it or not, our seaside lifestyle makes us vulnerable – and the greed-crazed tendency of speculative developers to build on top of barrier islands and destroy natural buffers in the name of “progress” doesn’t help.

I don’t know about you, but regardless of impact, in the aftermath of these events I’m always left with the queasy feeling that building our homes literally on the sandy edge of a very large and unforgiving ocean might not be the best idea we ever had. . .

Keep your chin up, kids.

Trust your better instincts and listen closely to the professionals – remember, “things” can be replaced – lives cannot.

I know, the mere thought of being without power (i.e. precious air conditioning) in the oppressive heat and humidity of early September is enough to break even the strongest spirit – but we’re all in this together.

Or at least we should be.

Earlier today, I watched a short video on a local news channel of two residents struggling in vain to fill sandbags ostensibly to protect their homes from floodwaters.

They couldn’t quite hold the bag open and manipulate the heavy shovel at the same time.

Rather than work cooperatively and help each other complete the chore; they stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a frustrating, almost comedic struggle between sack and spade.

A sad metaphor for our modern lives, I guess. . .

As we face a collective threat, now is the time to be a Guardian Angel to those who need you most – sharing, caring, putting our differences aside so no one weathers the storm alone.

Make do.  Make room.  Let someone know you’re there for them.

Please take care of yourselves and each other.

Check on elderly or infirm neighbors and help anyway you can.

Be someone’s lifeline – if only to chat for a few minutes and help alleviate their fear – and always remember to include your “fur babies” in preparedness and evacuation plans.

Let’s hope this time next week we’re all counting our blessings.

Good luck and God bless, friends.

I think this is what community is all about. . .

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Honorable Path

The path of an honorable man is difficult.

This is especially true in the pursuit of politics, where the rationalization of unethical actions has replaced the debate of competing ideas with the pursuit of self-serving agendas – often camouflaged by official actions that benefit the privileged few over the needs of many – resulting in moral disengagement and a sense of entitlement among our local ruling class where the ends always justify the means.

In my view, in Volusia County, the idea of “public service” has been replaced by fealty to an oligarchical structure that values loyalty to one’s political benefactors and lock-step conformity to a pay-to-play “system” steeped in quid pro quo corruption.

The result is that some local governments are mired in multi-level organizational dysfunction, polarization and protectionism that stands as an impediment to civic, social and economic progress – coupled with horribly divided loyalties that have distanced our elected representatives from their constituents.

A prime example is the shitstorm of controversy that continues to plagued the feckless First Step Shelter Board – a group which serves at the pleasure of the Daytona Beach City Commission, chaired by Mayor Derrick Henry, and composed of politicians from municipalities with funding commitments and a business leader with contractual obligations to the City.

An oversight board in name only that has been publicly dish-ragged by the real players in the First Step project since its inception.

In May, I applauded the incredible resilience of board members who made a very public commitment to the cause of solving one of the most intractable problems of our time, vowing to move forward with a renewed enthusiasm while keeping the beleaguered First Step Board intact despite withering criticism.

In my view, it took courage to continue the fight – especially when Daytona Beach officials were relentlessly bashing the all-volunteer board – openly maligning their efforts, all while City Manager Jim Chisholm and senior staff kept the committee in the dark, preventing and delaying key operational decisions and destroying the boards credibility and effectiveness.

Then the quagmire deepened – spending, personnel and policy decisions became indefensible – and everyone associated with the project began openly sidestepping the now totally neutered board, choosing instead to deal with the real seat of influence at City Hall.

In fact, many began to question how elected and appointed officials of conscience could possibly continue their involvement in this charade – providing tacit approval for the open disregard of independent oversight and political accountability that is crucial to protecting public funds and ensuring the public’s trust in the process?

So, in keeping with their deep sense of personal honor and professional integrity, Holly Hill City Manager and First Step treasurer Joe Forte – and now South Daytona Mayor and board member Bill Hall – followed former Executive Director Mark Geallis in doing the only thing an honorable man can when they formally resigned from this raging dumpster fire.

I happen to know both Mr. Forte and Mayor Hall personally and I have had the honor of serving with both of these extraordinary gentlemen.

In my experience, they see public service as a calling – and perform their duties as trustees of the public trust – taking their oath of office as the ethical imperative of their profession and a sacred moral contract with those they serve.

That is why I admire and respect them both.

There is no doubt in my mind that this deep sense of service to a cause greater than their own self-interests drove their staunch commitment to the First Step Shelter Board – and, I am also convinced that same dedication to these sacrosanct foundational values drove their departure.

In my view, there is honor in walking away from toxic circumstances that no longer serve the best interests of the community – when you cease to have even a semblance of influence in the outcome – and, by your position of trust in the community, continued participation would only lend credence to an increasingly mysterious endgame gone haywire.

The dysfunction and maladministration we are witnessing isn’t merely “growing pains” or the natural friction of project management and quality assurance – I fear it is something infinitely darker, more ominous.

Now comes the age-old question that has stalked Volusia County taxpayers for decades – Cui bono? – who benefits? – because it damn sure isn’t about providing humanitarian assistance and compassionate shelter to our area’s homeless population. . .

My hope is that Ormond Beach City Commissioner and outspoken board member Dwight Selby – and others on the board who still value the highest ideals of public service – will join Mr. Geallis, Mr. Forte and Mayor Hall in distancing themselves from this growing conflagration before their personal and political reputations are sullied by association – and this farce is allowed to continue unabated.

True public servants know the right path isn’t always the easiest.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

Angels & Assholes for August 23, 2019

Hi, kids!

Thanks to you, it’s been an extraordinary week here at Barker’s View HQ!

A piece on the unfolding drama at Mainland High School brought hundreds of new readers to this site on Monday – and stimulated increased interest and constructive discussion of the myriad issues facing Volusia County Schools.

In the past few days, several first-time readers reached out and I was touched by the outpouring of support and encouragement – it does my beat-up old heart good to know that Barker’s View has found its place.

I have no good explanation for the growing popularity of this site.

Perhaps it’s because Barker’s View has remained true to its roots – a boozy every-man, slumped in his boxer shorts, banging out his political frustrations and bristling over the current state of affairs – free of the encumbrances of advertising, alliances, favor or fear.

Or, maybe my fellow taxpayers enjoy the validation of knowing someone feels as disenfranchised as they do?

I can’t put my finger on it.

All I know is with me you get eggroll, baby – the whole enchilada – one man’s unvarnished and unapologetic take – and the fact so many people gravitate to this site each month gives hope that, just maybe, positive change is on our horizon.

Love it or hate it, I sincerely appreciate that so many take the time to read, contemplate and further the important debate of competing ideas that shape our community.

That’s important.

If you’re a loyal member of the Barker’s View Tribe or new to the blog, my hope is you’ll return periodically for a thought provoking, always irreverent look at the political forces and farces that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast!

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           First Step Shelter Board

This morning, the News-Journal’s local section headline screamed, “Shelter battle resolved.”

Like former President George W. Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech – that hed may have been woefully premature – or maybe wishful thinking. . .

There is an apt figure of speech that says, “A camel is a horse designed by committee.”

For Volusia County Taxpayers, this metaphor is coming home to roost in the form of an incredibly expensive money pit still under construction in the hinterlands west of Daytona Beach – a cluster fuck of monumental proportions that no longer bears any resemblance to the come-as-you-are homeless shelter we were promised so many years ago. . .

I’m not going to rehash the laundry list of issues that have haunted this project like a Golem – a leadership disaster that has seen millions of dollars over the transom without the first homeless person (or community) served – a tragic series of financial and procedural blunders that has showcased what happens when an amalgam of politicians and greedy hangers-on are asked to operate and oversee what could have – what should have – honored the better angels of our nature.

Now, Volusia County residents will bear the economic brunt of funding in perpetuity a dubious – and increasingly exclusive – rehabilitation program that will accept just forty-five homeless citizens and ostensibly return them to happy, healthy and productive lives.

All for a starting price of $1.1 million annually.

How?  I’m not sure.

And I don’t think anyone directly involved in the project is either. . .

What I do know is that the concept of getting people off the street, out of the elements and beyond the disapproving gape of visitors and residents was scrapped in favor of something that no longer bears any resemblance to a refuge.

Now, even the idea of a basic safe haven – a place on the massive First Step campus where homeless persons who aren’t part of the formal reintegration program could simply “be” – is off the table altogether.

Something as inexpensive as a primitive pole barn and concrete pad – which, if nothing else, could serve as an alternative to a night in jail – has become a weird deal-breaker for some board members who feel that a homeless shelter that actually shelters the homeless is somehow detrimental to the fragile self-esteem of the fortunate few engaged in a residential personal growth seminar?

Inexplicably, when asked to actually do something in furtherance of getting the First Step Shelter operational (in exchange for the $7,500 they’ve been collecting month in and month out) – Catholic Charities came back with an obscene estimate of $425,000 to run a simple outdoor accommodation – a usurious price that went through the oversight board like an ice water enema.

In fact, the outrageous quote prompted Daytona Beach Mayor and First Step president Derrick Henry to direct Catholic Charities to go back to the drawing board and come up with a  “sparse, spartan, cheap and undesirable, as much as nothing” option – which sounded eerily like the textbook description of what passes for our political leadership here on the Fun Coast. . .

So, without a “safe zone” – or other space for people to get away from the mean streets, take a shower, shelter from the cold, use the restroom, get a haircut, have a hot meal, change clothes, seek safety, rest, ride out a flu, find a compassionate ear, etc. – how, exactly, does the multi-million-dollar First Step Shelter serve the acute needs of countless homeless persons who can’t (or won’t) participate in the “program”?

I mean, isn’t that what we set about to achieve three years and millions of dollars ago?     

Whatever. . .

On Monday, we also learned the shocking news that a former “volunteer,” Jane Bloom – author of a disgusting and insubordinate rebuke of former board member Joe Forte which appeared on social media under the First Step flag – was suddenly elevated to a full-time paid status commanding some $5,500 a month.

You read that right. . .

Mysteriously, Bloom appeared on the scene following the abrupt departure of former executive director Mark Geallis – “volunteering” her time under a broad memorandum of understanding that said she would handle day-to-day shelter operations and assist the board.

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ormond Beach City Commissioner and board member Dwight Selby said, “That’s pretty clear to me that’s a big job, I have a real problem paying a volunteer.  When you sign on as a volunteer, that’s what you are.”

Indeed.

Something tells me there just might be more to the story of how (and why) Ms. Bloom went from altruistic aide to a highly compensated recipient of public funds – comfortably ensconced in an unadvertised position with ill-defined responsibilities. . .

Inexplicably, in an already opaque process mired in conjecture and speculation, Bloom and the board have decided to keep the vetting procedure for the shelter’s next executive director “out of the public eye.”

Apparently, the First Step Board hasn’t come to the realization that the money being pissed away belongs to us – the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County, Florida.

That little bugaboo demands the people’s business be conducted in the sunshine – free of backroom shenanigans and the ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ horseshit that has destroyed our collective faith in county government – and resulted in an angry citizenry calling for the immediate ouster of Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm.

Look, I get why they want to hold one-on-one secretive meetings with the candidates.

If the selection and hiring process looks anything like the shitstorm of dysfunction and slapstick missteps that has reduced the overall effort to a sick joke in the eyes of those of us who fund it – I wouldn’t want my constituents to see it either. . .

Asshole           St. John’s River Water Management District

After making a complete mess of our aquifer recharge areas in a never-ending quest to satiate the voracious appetite of real estate developers, now the St. John’s River Water Management District is teaming with Volusia County to pump partially treated effluent into an abandoned mining pit that they hope will increase flow at the seriously threatened Volusia Blue Springs.

According to an excellent article by our region’s preeminent environmental reporter Dinah Voyles-Pulver writing in the News-Journal, the district’s executive director Ann Shortelle openly shilled for the project in her patented sing-song bureaucratese at Tuesday’s council meeting.

You remember Ann, right? 

She was hand-selected for the job in 2015 by former SJRWMD board chairman Long John Miklos (who made a cottage industry lobbying for clients of his private environmental consultancy in front of the very agency he was charged with overseeing) following a series of forced resignations as then Governor Slick Rick Scott sought a “culture change” during his gory neutering of Florida’s environmental protection apparatus.

In turn, Dr. Shortelle received a $10,000 increase over the previous director’s salary bringing her spot at the public trough to $175,000 a year at the time. . .

“I want to assure you that the technology for aquifer recharge and cleaning the water through wetlands are proven techniques,” Shortelle said. “This is not some kind of experiment.”

Bullshit.

An “experiment” is exactly what this is.

In fact, experts on the health of our sensitive springs tell us that an aquifer recharge project using a converted borrow pit has never been employed this close to a major spring system.

Rather than get serious about reducing demand on the aquifer, those responsible for the quality of our water opt for some unprecedented gamble, which hopes to clean the water through a series of “planted wetlands” in what Director Shortelle appropriately described as “The Pit.”

The venture will ultimately cost some $12 million – split between Volusia County and the cities of DeLand, Deltona, Orange City and the SJRWMD.

According to the News-Journal report, “A consultant, hired by the county, will spend the next year performing testing at the borrow pit site, off French Avenue just east of Blue Spring State Park, to determine if the project is feasible.”

Following the unanimous vote to approve funds for the study, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys gifted us with one of her patented governmental group hugs for her “friends” at local and state water quality agencies – lavishing syrupy praise on the do-nothings and malingers at all levels of government that have sat idle while our springs are bled dry and Volusia’s natural aquifer recharge areas and wetlands are bulldozed for more cracker box “theme” communities.

Sickening.  Considering that over ten-years ago water samples taken at Blue Springs showed nitrate levels higher than those found in 80% of Florida waterways – with flow rates steadily declining for decades.

Decades.

All while these duplicitous assholes keep patting themselves on the back. . .

Once again, we find ourselves in the absurd Volusia County paradox – where the very people and agencies who have fawningly catered to those who rape the land for massive profit and approved malignant development from Farmton to the Flagler County line – sprawl that continues to pressure and pollute the very source of our drinking water supply, are now pissing away more of our hard-earned money as they grab at straws studying ways to “fix” their handiwork at Blue Springs and beyond.

How tragic.

Angel               Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post

Kudos to Councilwoman Heather Post who continues to champion the cause of Volusia County veterans and their families.

Last month, in her role as a member of the National Association of Counties Veterans and Military Services Committee, Ms. Post met with representatives from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation regarding the Hidden Heroes Cities and Counties Program.

This important program shares resources, support and best practices for caregivers who tend to the needs of veterans with the debilitating mental, physical and emotional injuries suffered in service to our nation.

Thanks to Ms. Post’s leadership and commitment to Volusia County’s 75,000+ veterans and active duty military personnel, this week the county council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the Hidden Heroes program, bringing its unique benefits to the local spouses, parents, family members and friends providing care and comfort to our wounded warriors.

Outstanding effort.

Quote of the Week

“Why didn’t district officials know what was going on at Mainland? How did it get so out of control?

Most importantly, how will district officials restore the trust of Mainland High School students and families?

Answering these questions will be painful. And we should keep in mind the eloquent plea of a letter that also appears on this page, urging everyone to remember that many of the people involved, including Salerno, have long records of dedication, leadership and passionate commitment to student success. However, that must not stand in the way of an unflinching and credible investigation.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Our View: Mainland students, parents deserve the full truth,” Monday, August 19, 2019

I wrote about this earlier in the week, but it bears repeating.

In my view, the horrific academic deception and gross maladministration uncovered at Mainland High School may well be more pervasive than we know.  Rarely are these issues confined to a single administrator or institution – and many “in the know” tell me we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. . .

That’s frightening.

Considering the long-term ramifications for students and teachers associated with Volusia County Schools, it’s time for an independent investigation by outside authority to determine the extent of the decay – followed by a top-to-bottom housecleaning of anyone who perpetrated this egregious organized fraud and jeopardized the academic achievements and credentials of students – or looked the other way.

And Another Thing!

Unlike many of our elected representatives, residents of the Halifax area have had their fill of kneeling to the wants and whims of speculative developers – especially when the ‘amenities’ they seek for the few outweigh the needs of the many.

Case in point – an absurd strategy hatched by the mysterious Russian developer, Protogroup, that would take vehicles across heavily traveled A-1-A from the struggling “$192 million” Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominiums project to a satellite parking garage on Oakridge Boulevard.

According to reports, Protogroup has proposed a westbound valet lane travelling opposite one-way traffic at the intersection of A-1-A and Oakridge – a dangerous nightmare for visitors unfamiliar with the area and a colossal headache in the making for long-suffering locals.

Apparently, this bizarre traffic scheme began life as a misrepresented “driveway permit” that was approved by the City of Daytona Beach in 2017?

My ass.

Calling this massive reroute a “driveway” is a crock of shit – and should have been immediately recognized as such by any competent public employee reviewing the permit application. . .

Now, thanks to the activism of several Halifax area residents – who used the power of social media to influence opinion – it appears the Florida Department of Transportation may be ready to listen to the very real concerns of their constituents and reconsider this budding disaster.

On Tuesday evening, the state transportation agency held an information gathering session at Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach attended by over 50 worried citizens – including Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler.

According to Mr. Zimmerman, despite personal invitations to area elected officials, Ms. Wheeler was the only sitting politician to actually make the effort to attend the meeting in support of residents who see this cockamamie traffic pattern as a public safety concern.

I admire that.

(For the record, while their anxious constituents gathered to discuss serious concerns with FDOT, at least part of Volusia County’s state legislative delegation was being recognized for their unwavering commitment and dedication to, well, their constituents by the Ormond Beach City Commission that evening, so, priorities, right?)    

Fortunately, following the meeting, transportation officials announced that additional traffic studies will be conducted to collect more data before the project’s proposed 2021 start date.

We’re told that Protogroup representatives have been officially notified. . .

While I remain cautiously optimistic about the ultimate outcome – it is refreshing to see a state agency actually listening to the fears and anecdotal evidence of area residents – and taking substantive steps to right a wrong.

That’s progress.

Have a great weekend, friends!