Hello? Is anyone there?

I’m on vacation – enjoying a 30-year love affair with New Orleans – the “The City that Care Forgot.”

But Pat Rice’s column in today’s News-Journal “A Daytona Beach primer for President Trump” really got my alcohol-infused blood boiling.

After going through a laundry list of reasons why we no longer trust government here on the Fun Coast – he accuses those who use social media as the only effective means of communicating with those in power of being “nasty and mean spirited.”

That’s like saying, “You’ve been socked in the eye, punched in the mouth and kicked in the groin – what are you sore about?”

Here’s a post from last November that, in my jaded view, explains part of the story…

Now, I’m going back to vacation mode – have a great week everyone!

If I didn’t know better, one might think I’m suffering from some weird persecutory delusion of late – an irrational fear that my progeny, this humble blog site, has become the object of collective hostility by our ‘movers & shakers’ – who seem increasingly worried by this lone voice in the wilderness.

On occasion, well-meaning members of the Halifax area Illuminati will sit me down and point out where I erred on one civic issue or another – or try and persuade me to change my opinion on some important project or asinine development that stands to benefit the few at the expense of many.

Sometimes these arguments are compelling – other times they speak to the mercenary needs of those who seek an advantage – and, over time, I’ve developed the unique ability to differentiate the two within nanoseconds. . .

I understand the motivation – and I do my level best to explain to members of this clique, ostensibly bright people who continue to mistake the size of someone’s bank account with their level of intelligence and civic vision – that Barker’s View is simply one man’s jaded opinion on the vexing issues of our time, and it’s popularity speaks to the growing number of citizens who no longer feel any connection to their local government.

It’s good to know that I am not alone in this dreaded feeling of alienation, marginalization and suppression of substantive public input – or my fervent desire to see a fundamental change in the manner and means by which uber-wealthy oligarchs and their hangers-on control their environment, and our lives and livelihoods, by purchasing political loyalty through our perverse campaign finance system.

This increasingly cloistered and enigmatic society of those who have influence, was evident in Sunday’s The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

In a telling piece by reporter Jim Abbott, which explored the looming January deadline for the languishing “$192 million” beachfront condominium and convention center being developed by the Russian-owned Protogroup, a project which remains painfully ‘under construction’ near Oakridge Boulevard and North Atlantic Avenue in the heart of our core tourist area.

In fact, even casual watchers are stunned by the cadaverous appearance of the site – and many are concerned about the fate of the towers – and the $1.6 million in CRA funds the City of Daytona Beach is slated to release to Protogroup for a beach approach and utility work as outlined in a “loose” public/private “agreement.”

Unfortunately, Protogroup, and the City of Daytona Beach, have both become equally (and suspiciously) uncommunicative – leaving the rest of us to suffer in fear and speculation of what will become of our beachside if this key section of real estate is abandoned mid-construction.

In fact, according to reports, Protogroup hasn’t responded to requests from the News-Journal “for months,” and calls seeking comment from the construction contractor “weren’t returned.”

In my view, perhaps more disturbing is the fact that Daytona Beach officials – those elected to represent the interests of their constituents – are also actively avoiding mounting questions from the press on the fate of what is quickly morphing into a grotesque white elephant.

In a weird twist, Mr. Abbott reports that, “Multiple attempts were made without success to get comments from Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry as well as Commissioner Rob Gilliland.”

Then, a full week after emailed questions regarding the state of the towers were sent to Commissioner Quanita May (as she requested?), the News-Journal received a series of one-word non-answers apparently compiled by municipal mouthpiece, Shelley Szafraniec:

“Are you satisfied with the progress of the construction to this point? Yes.”

“Are you concerned about the project not making this deadline? No.”

Jesus.  How can a sitting public official be so patently out-of-touch – or unresponsive?

In my view, this clumsy dodge by the Daytona Beach City Commission is cowardly, and speaks to the isolation many residents rightly feel from elected officials with a sworn personal and fiduciary responsibility to those who pay the bills.

Interestingly, on Sunday’s editorial page, the News-Journal asked why more residents aren’t “lending their voice” to local governments on environmental issues and resiliency:

“What too many aren’t seeing is their place in the discussion. They don’t see opportunities to adapt to changing conditions. They aren’t speaking out to demand their leaders do a better job of managing threats to the way of life they treasure. Many — make that most — don’t even vote in local elections.”

Perhaps the answer is that average citizens no longer see their “place” in anything local government does.

Long-suffering constituents watch as their elected and appointed officials openly ignore the working press – communicating with us through spinmeisters – highly paid public mouthpieces who tell us exactly what our government thinks we want to hear.

Citizens stand helpless while even more environmentally sensitive lands are rezoned and more “planned unit developments,” often owned by campaign contributors, are permitted and the bulldozers roar over a slash-and-burn moonscape, paving over aquifer recharge areas and planting more gaudy “theme” communities on wetlands and wildlife habitat that are never coming back.

Residents watch in horror as those same compromised politicians pay mumbling lip service to things like resiliency, concurrency and sustainability – while hiding and suppressing publicly funded studies recommending higher impact fees for speculative real estate developers.

When outlets like this blog site – or courageous civic activists – speak out and demand answers, our ‘powers that be’ do their level best to marginalize our collective voice and persuade us their rotten “vision” is more important than our own, all while suppressing dissent and alternative opinion by extraordinary measures.

For instance, when we try and participate during county and municipal governmental meetings, citizens are regularly harangued by their mayor, or our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, to remain courteous and professional when they prostrate themselves before the Monarchy and seek their benevolence.

At “public meetings,” politically accountable elected officials have purposely severed the television feed during the “public comment forum” – which has been relegated to the bitter end of the meeting and allows taxpayers just 2.5 minutes to address their exalted “representatives” – ensuring that their constituents concerns and criticisms are contained within the four walls of the chamber.

And they do so with the confidence that, come election time, they’ll simply outspend their challengers with money taken directly from the pockets of those who stand at the nexus of public funds and private interests.

All while reminding us Dalits how “responsive” they are to our needs. . .

Things have gotten so bad that, in Daytona Beach, intrepid activists are now demanding a municipal charter amendment to ensure that those who pay the bills are afforded at least 3-minutes to address civic issues and provide input at public meetings.

My God. 

Perhaps its time The Daytona Beach News-Journal stop asking muted citizens why they refuse to engage with their local governments – and start asking these arrogant “public servants” who are clearly no longer accountable to anyone other than their wealthy handlers – why they have effectively walled themselves off from their constituents and the media?

Just make sure you’re courteous and professional when you do it. . .

 

 

Angels & Assholes for February 14, 2020

Hey, kids!

Welcome to our Valentine’s Day Special – All love, all the time!

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               Daytona International Speedway & NASCAR  

We’ve had quite a few issues on our plate in the early days of 2020 – from the machinations in the county attorney’s office, to East ISB, the continuing debacle at First Step Shelter, the breech birth of Hyattona with its wholesale destruction of our downtown streetscape, upheaval in Deltona and the first salvos in this year’s election cycle – so it’s refreshing to have a distraction now that the most exciting weekend in motorsports has returned to Daytona International Speedway.

Last year was a time of transition and contraction for our friends over at DIS and NASCAR as they continue the fight to remain relevant and find a place for their struggling product in the ever-evolving world of sports entertainment.

In Daytona Beach, racing will always be our raison d’être – one man’s extraordinary vision that helped build our community and continues to sustain it – a massive undertaking that remains vitally important to our regional economy.

Here’s wishing everyone at NASCAR a prosperous, safe and exiting weekend as the sport kicks off its 2020 season with the Great American Race – the one and only Daytona 500 – on Sunday.

Let’s hope our local hospitality industry sees a much-needed boost from the event as well.

Despite what we are repeatedly told is a “healthy economic outlook” for Volusia County – many in our community remain dependent on a robust special events season to keep their heads above water – and we really need race fans, spring breakers, motorcycle enthusiasts and anyone else we can lure to our slightly down-at-the-heels destination – to come visit us in droves over the next few weeks.

Like many of you, I fear our hospitality industry, and those ancillary businesses that rely on it,  are standing at a dire crossroads – and a few more seasons of reduced occupancy won’t bode well for struggling families who depend on service industry jobs to make a life.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurial start-ups and established small businesses receive very little in the way of assistance or financial incentives in Volusia County.

It seems our Regional Chamber of Commerce has become perpetually starstruck by the “Rich & Powerful” oligarchs who control our lives and livelihoods here on the Fun Coast – and corporate welfare is exclusively reserved for those who have the wherewithal to purchase it through a massive return on their investment in the campaign coffers of perennial politicians with a certain “flexibility” on issues that affect their bottom line. . .

Look, I spend an inordinate amount of time opining on the myriad social and economic issues that are dragging our core tourist area and beyond into a festering quagmire of blight and despair – something I believe is fundamentally damaging our sense of place, civic pride and international reputation.

However, each year about this time, with spring in the air and the roar of stock car racing on the breeze – I get a renewed enthusiasm for what our future could hold under the right circumstances.

Thanks to everyone at DIS, NASCAR and the various service providers and first responders who worked so hard to make Speed Weeks such a rousing success!

When I was growing up, the speedway had bumper stickers that said, “If you wanna race, Daytona is the place!”

Here’s hoping it always will be.

Keep the faith, baby.

Angel              New Smyrna Beach Police Department

Earlier this week, we learned that the New Smyrna Beach Police Department is exploring the use of small Unmanned Aerial Systems – commonly referred to as “drones” – to assist public safety efforts and better serve the needs of their residents.

At present, just three Volusia County law enforcement agencies employ this emerging technology – Daytona Beach, Holly Hill and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.

I’m proud to report that late last year I helped seven Holly Hill police officers prepare for the rigorous Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 written examination; a comprehensive knowledge test covering various regulatory, safety and decision-making aspects of unmanned flight that certifies them to act as commercial UAS pilots.

As a certificated flight instructor and retired law enforcement officer, this volunteer opportunity allowed me to give back to my department, community and profession in a meaningful way – and, I must admit – it is exciting to play a small role in bringing this amazing asset into service locally.

Just as the Wright Brother’s 1903 flight changed our world forever – rapid advances in the public and commercial use of unmanned systems will improve our daily lives in ways once reserved for science fiction novels – and define this century as the dawn of a new age in aviation advancements.

UAS technology is bringing cost effective aerial capabilities to local, state and federal government agencies for improved search and rescue, law enforcement, disaster recovery, firefighting, inspection, spectrometry, security operations and more.

In fact, advanced payloads are available to assist in a variety of public safety applications – and whenever a drone successfully locates a missing Alzheimer’s victim, allows a safe and efficient damage assessment following a natural disaster or helps contain a raging brush fire – the benefit of this equipment becomes self-evident.

Unfortunately, despite clear rules regulating the use of drones, some still harbor significant concerns that these systems will be misused for surveillance activities or other operations that invade a citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy, or endanger the safety of persons and property on the ground.

While privacy concerns are important to all Americans – unfortunately, the concept, as our parents and grandparents knew it – no longer exists in modern society.

Whenever we go out in public, technology is capturing images and data all around us as business and industry use our personal information for a variety of purposes – and the use of cell phone cameras, CCTV monitors and security sensors is omnipresent.

Just consider the amount of overt and covert scanning and monitoring that occurs during a trip through any airport in the world and you begin to understand how far down that road we are.

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t demand that government agencies act responsibly in the deployment of unmanned systems – and it is important that local departments use sound command and control strategies to ensure these extraordinary devices are properly employed for their intended purpose as a means of building public trust in the technology.

I applaud NSB Police Chief Mike Coffins’ efforts to provide advance information to residents on the laws regulating UAS operations in the public airspace – and his department’s internal policies which will govern the use of drones in police operations.

Kudos to the New Smyrna Beach Police Department for embracing the use of small Unmanned Aerial Systems to enhance and improve service delivery.

Welcome to the 21st Century, y’all.

Quote of the Week

“I’ve lived in DeLand for 67 years. I remember the Daytona from many years back. I worked on the Boardwalk for 7 1/2 in the early 80’s repairing the arcade games. The big money seemed to never like what it was then. Now I drive down A1A and it is like canyon in that area. Horrible!”

 “There is no flavor of a seaside town and will never be again. New Smyrna is making some of the same mistakes, but not as quickly. There never should have been high rise buildings on the east side of A1A. I kinda wish there was a hall of shame for the officials responsible for this spoiling of the beach area. May their legacy be recorded for all to know.”

–Doug Bell, DeLand, writing in Facebook’s Volusia Issues public forum, Monday, February 10, 2020

According to Mr. Bell, he placed the above anecdote in the comments section of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s social media page last week in response to a recent announcement that the newspaper will be hosting yet another community coffee klatch to discuss the malignant blight and dilapidation that has all but consumed East ISB and much of our languishing beachside.

I don’t know Mr. Bell personally, but I’m told his opinion was “deleted” from the site – so, I thought I would give him a well-deserved voice on this important issue.

(Note: After I posted this blog, I received word from the News-Journal that the omission of Mr. Bell’s post must have been in error.  In my experience, the N-J is good about accepting all points-of-view, even those hypercritical of the newspaper.  I’m sure if Mr. Bell is so inclined, he could resubmit his piece for publication.)

While I admire the News-Journal’s persistence in attempting to stimulate a continuing dialog  – the fact is, we’ve talked these specific issues to death – and there is still no substantive plan for turning the tide and revitalizing our core tourist area and beyond.

In my view, the time for idle chit-chat on these important issues has come and gone.

Now, it is time for direct action at the ballot box.

Unless and until those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests actually listen to our concerns – all the “Town Hall” meetings and neighborhood coffees the News-Journal can muster will remain little more than hot air generators for citizens who have been marginalized and ignored by their own representatives.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Bell.

Perhaps it is time to enshrine these do-nothing buffoons that hold high public office in a place of dishonor – the Volusia County Hall of Shame.

Let it serve as a terrible reminder to future generations of the corrosive effect consolidating power in the hands of a few greedy bastards had on a once world-class destination. . .

And Another Thing!

Ready to attend some exciting candidate “grip-n-grins” as the 2020 election season heats up?

Yeah, me neither. . .

But this one sounds like it will be fun – and informative.

 From Jeff “Plan B” Brower, Candidate for Volusia County Chair:

“Come on out for happy hour on your way home and meet the real Plan B – Volusia County Chair 2020 candidate Jeff Brower.  Enjoy some great snacks and/or buy a delicious meal from this local favorite restaurant over the World’s Most Famous Beach.  Ask Jeff questions, meet our volunteers, sign a petition to get Jeff on the ballot and just enjoy the beautiful setting and great food and drinks. Make a donation and get a Plan B tee shirt as a thank you!”

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 – 4:00pm to 7:00pm

Crabby Joe’s Deck & Grill – 3701 South Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach Shores, Florida

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Barker’s View will be on hiatus next week – taking some much-needed time away, a different perspective and a chance to become somebody else’s problem for a while. . .

I know some of you political junkies, sitting politicians, entrenched bureaucrats, uber-wealthy insiders and die-hard members of the BV Tribe miss my weekly take on the news and newsmakers who influence public policy in Volusia County whenever I’m away.

(I have to admit – because I’m a degenerate masochist – I also long for the froth and fray of local politics whenever I’m away. . .)

Have no fear!

Because my views on our place and time are nothing if not prolific – there are over 500 posts archived by month and year on this blog site that will give you a unique historical perspective on the myriad problems we face.

If you want to feed your need for an alternative point-of-view – and take a disturbing glimpse into my quirky mind and the weird forces that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast – go crazy with it!

Fair warning: I’ll be back in a week or so. . .

As always, thanks for reading – and have a great weekend, my Valentines!

 

On Volusia: Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance

Sometimes, in the quiet of the evening, when I’m sipping aged whiskey and cogitating on the signs and wonders – I question if we’re living in some parallel dimension here on the Fun Coast?

Because, of the hundreds-of-trillions of galaxies out there in the infinite expanse of the universe – you’d be hard pressed to find a more surreal political “reality” than what we experience here on this salty piece of land.

A place where, no matter how utterly dysfunctional things may get, our ‘powers that be’ always muster the hubris to stand before their long-suffering subjects, smile broadly, and paint a rosy picture using a dull palette of half-truths, feint maneuvers and old-fashioned political horseshit.

Once again, when it came time to do the right thing, our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, couldn’t rise to it.

On Tuesday, Old Ed stood before a fawning coterie of insiders, political benefactors, government contractors, political candidates, a handful of municipal officials (who, given their historic poor treatment by county government, would have preferred to be anywhere else) and a few suspicious citizens – to deliver the annual “State of the County” address.

(I would have been there, but I wash my beard on Tuesdays and can’t do a thing with it. . .)

So, I watched the oddly produced video on the County website afterward – the first ten-minutes of which was a rolling advertisement for the event’s (wink,wink) “sponsors.”

As usual, I was immediately struck by the fact that every elected official and bureaucrat in the room was acknowledged and thanked during the lengthy introduction – not one mention of the hard-working and overtaxed residents of Volusia County who pay the bills and suffer in silence.

After all, it’s not about us.  It never has been.

During the opening segment of the canned video, county employees were shown sampling water quality on the St. John’s River – before a Volusia County environmental specialist took the opportunity to scold residents:

“If people really knew why we did this and rather than just complaining about the water looking so bad or being concerned about whether the fish are edible or not, if they really understood why things get so bad and took more care of what they do we might not have to be out here quite as much.”

So, the fact our water quality is in serious decline – with wild fish showing signs of tumors and lesions – is our fault?

If only we took more care, it would lighten the load on Volusia County Environmental Management and clean-up our increasingly polluted rivers, estuaries and sensitive wetlands. . .

Remember: The state of our environment has nothing to do with the residential and commercial sprawl our elected officials continue to permit – while their political benefactors in the real estate development industry line their groaning pockets – understand?

So, stop your bitching about whether the fish are edible, or why the water looks so bad, and change your heathen ways.  Got it?

That’s when I turned it off.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of being blamed and lectured by the very elected officials and entrenched bureaucrats who got us into this damnable condition in the first place. . .

Whatever.

 It was an ostentatious affair – political vanity run amok – complete with a “free lunch” provided by several companies that do business with Volusia County (?) – and held at the county owned Ocean Center, which stands at the epicenter of our crumbling core tourist area.

How appropriate.  How completely appropriate. . .

One would have thought that as he sang his swansong before a roomful of like types, Chairman Kelley would have, for once, told the truth – you know, sail off into the sunset with a clear conscience – while challenging the next iteration of our county council to begin the monumental process of rebuilding the public trust.

Nah.

Instead, Chairman Kelley dutifully recognized the assembled nabobs, then flogged some ridiculous narrative to shore up his heir apparent – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys – clumsily touting her weird obsession with “space jobs” – while their “colleagues” provided video evidence of their own ill-informed perception of the state of things here on the beleaguered Fun Coast.

According to the agitprop that was provided to attendees:

“Government, business and education leaders also are coordinating like never before to ensure that Volusia County – squarely within the so-called Space Triangle – has the regulatory climate and educated workforce necessary to broadcast its message to the aerospace industry: Volusia County is ready, and Volusia County is right!”

Say what?

The fictitious Space Triangle is “so called” because it doesn’t exist.

And the fact of the matter is, we are nowhere near ready. . .

Just for the record – I didn’t say that.  Dr. Kent Sharples, the Enlightened One of the exalted CEO Business Alliance did.

Remember?

During his flashlight-under-the-chin apocalyptic prognostication at the November 2019 meeting of the Knights of the Roundtable, describing our horrific fate if we don’t increase the sales tax, Sharples said of roads, infrastructure and “shovel-ready” sites to attract aerospace companies:

“Until we get that infrastructure in place, we’re not going to be successful.  If we’re not ready in 12 to 18 months to be able to start construction, we’re not even in the competition anymore.”

My ass.

In my view, this shim-sham of aerospace manufacturing in Volusia County continues to serve as a convenient diversion to the fact we don’t have the infrastructure, workforce or ancillary services to support these industries, and, at present, we simply cannot compete with Brevard County – who continues to recover from the economic disaster resulting from the loss of the shuttle program – not to mention that the vacant infrastructure which pockmarks the Titusville, Cocoa, Melbourne metroplex sits literally on the doorstep of the commercial launch complex.

While Volusia County’s potential role in the space industry remains decades away – if ever – those we have elected to meet our current economic and employment needs continue to feed us this pie-in-the-sky pap as though we’re ready to start launching rockets from the old Home Depot parking lot next month.

Bullshit.

The constant drumbeat from Denys and our shameless “economic development” shills is cruel comfort to some 43% of our county’s population who struggle to meet monthly living expenses – and the thousands more living below the poverty line – who are begging for more opportunities than $32,000 a year storehouse jobs.

In my view, Dr. Sharples was right about one thing – if these half-wits who hold high office don’t put a moratorium on this massive sprawl and begin the process of improving our transportation, water quality and utilities infrastructure in the next 12 to 18 months – we’re all screwed. . .

But wait, there was more “good news” from Old Ed and the Funky Bunch on Tuesday.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Among other things, Kelley touted major upgrades to the Ocean Center and Daytona Beach International Airport, new routes for Votran buses, the hiring of a long-awaited internal auditor and giving County Manager George Recktenwald the permanent job as a few of the year’s highlights, adding that the State of the County video may have shown a lot of progress and accomplishments some residents might not know about.”

Tragically, bus routes and new carpet in an airport terminal are what pass for civic “accomplishments” in Volusia County.

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

To take this abject absurdity to the ragged edge – let’s look at a few of the “Goals and Objectives” that, according to the soiree’s glossy program, have been proposed by county government – which, by any metric, remain a figment of our county councils very vivid imagination:

“Maintain and foster productive relationships with public and private partners.”

If maintaining “productive relationships” with “private partners” means funneling public funds to underwrite the private, for-profit projects of their political benefactors – mission accomplished!

“Demonstrate leadership in decisions and actions.”

Does anything about this perpetual shitshow in DeLand resemble strong “leadership”?

“Meet community expectations for quality.”

Please.  The community quit expecting anything from Volusia County government years ago – and we collectively spoke volumes about this continuing “trust issue” during last year’s half-cent sales tax referendum.

Now, let’s hope the long-suffering voters of Volusia County continue that positive momentum and demand servant-leadership that will bring true accomplishments we can all be proud of at the ballot box this fall.

 

 

Talked to Death

“If officials listen, people will talk”

“Residents question if city is listening”

“Residents raise concerns over growth”

“Mayor gets earful at community meeting”

“Since the Fall of 2006, more than 1,800 citizens, residents, persons with a place of employment, business owners or full-time students in Daytona Beach have actively participated in public visioning meetings”

“Panel set for News-Journal meeting focused on homeless”

“A meeting at the Ocean Center on Tuesday night drew a standing room only crowd of local residents who discussed the challenges and opportunities on Daytona Beach’s Main Street”

“Passionate Debate: Meeting on Daytona’s beachside draws large crowd”

“Consider this your personal invitation to attend a “town hall” meeting focused on Daytona Beach’s core beachside area”

“Blighted Corridor: Daytona’s East ISB is broken. Can $25.75M fix it?”

“Daytona readers speak up at ‘Coffee with the News-Journal”

“PAT RICE: Coffee‘s on. Let‘s talk East ISB, Daytona’s beachside”

Is it just me, or does anyone else see a pattern here?

On Sunday, the editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Pat Rice, announced that the newspaper will be hosting yet another community coffee klatch to discuss the malignant blight and dilapidation that has all but consumed East ISB and much of our languishing beachside.

According to Mr. Rice, “The lack of progress is discouraging. But things won’t change without dialogue and ideas.”

It doesn’t appear to those paying attention that much changes with dialogue and ideas, either. . .

They say the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.” 

In Volusia County, we call that process “developing a strategic vision.”

While I admire the News-Journal’s persistence in attempting to stimulate a continuing dialog  – the fact is, we’ve talked these specific issues to death – and there is still no substantive plan for turning the dismal tide and revitalizing our core tourist area and beyond.

In my view, the time for idle talk has come and gone.

Now, it is time for direct action at the ballot box.

The fact is, We, The People, have talked about the myriad problems on the beachside until we’re blue in the face.

Unless and until those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests actually listen to our concerns – all the “Town Hall” meetings and neighborhood coffees the News-Journal can muster will remain little more than hot air generators for citizens who have been marginalized and ignored by their own representatives.

For example, a year ago, some 75 people attended a meeting at the Peninsula Club where they “vehemently opposed” the construction of a roundabout at East ISB and A-1-A.

Then, last month, residents and business owners were told the Florida Department of Transportation would hold a meeting to provide information and solicit input on the very roundabout we resisted since it was a mere suggestion – only to have the session cancelled when it conflicted with the Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual soiree for our social and civic elite. . .

That meeting has been moved to late March when it’s more convenient for politicians who won’t attend it anyway. . .

Still, the problem remains – residents talk, commiserate, provide input, discuss, debate, argue, question, deliberate, weigh options, reflect, ponder and plan – but our fervent desire to be part of the solution, and have our concerns taken seriously, is invariably ignored by the decision-makers.

Every time.

Why is it that you never see a widespread turnout of those we have elected and appointed to serve our interests at these “visioning sessions,” Town Hall meetings and coffee talks?

The fact is, they just don’t give a damn what you and I have to say – and it shows.

While East ISB – the gateway to what was once the World’s Most Famous Beach – continues to crumble, and we learn it will be at least three-years until the promised revitalization project gets underway, millions are being spent on a weird rework of the perfectly serviceable and eye-catching streetscape in Downtown Daytona. . .

Why? 

Because His Exalted Highness J. Hyatt Brown recently lorded over his bought-and-paid-for minions at a Daytona Beach City Commission meeting and demanded it, that’s why.

In fact, he cruelly threatened to remove a children’s splash park from the Brown Esplanade if anyone had the audacity to cross him.

They didn’t. . .

In turn, last week, the City of Daytona Beach spent some $100,000 to move the historic (if not itinerant) Josie Rogers House from its spot across Beach Street from the Brown & Brown headquarters to the western end of the Main Street Bridge.

Why?

We are told the move was necessary to make way for renovations to Riverside Park – which is being hailed as the Crown Jewel of Hyattona – something Daytona Beach taxpayers will be responsible for maintaining for the next 50-years – all while our core tourist area continues to openly decompose.

(Besides, you can’t have some claptrap house in view whenever Hyatt paces the gilded ramparts of his glass and steel monument and settles his gaze across the width and breadth of his kingdom, right?) 

Whatever. . .

Talk is cheap.

So is beachside real estate, once you let it rot into a decrepit hole of blight and dilapidation.

Perhaps that’s been the plan all along, eh?

The News-Journal’s meeting is set for 7:30 to 9:00 a.m., Tuesday, February 25, at Henry’s Pizza, 336 East ISB, Daytona Beach.

Normally, you won’t find an elected official within a mile of any event where their constituents might voice their views – or, God forbid – ask the difficult questions about how we got to this dismal place in our history. . .

However, this is an election year – so, I’ll bet you won’t be able to swing a dead cat inside that pizzeria without hitting a sitting politician who is busy shaking your hand, slapping your back and begging for one more bite at this rotten apple.

Hey, never hurts to talk, right? 

Unfortunately, when it comes to fundamentally changing the beachside’s death spiral, rescuing our imperiled hospitality industry and protecting our very quality of life – voicing our concerns  doesn’t seem to help, either. . .

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal

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Join Barker’s View this afternoon on Gov Stuff Live with Big John! beginning at 4:00pm.

Please tune in locally at 1380am “The CAT” – or on the web at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

I’ll also be streaming the forum live at: https://www.facebook.com/mdbarker1

We’ll be talking the issues of the day and taking your calls at 386-523-1380 – I hope you’ll join us for the Fastest two-hours in Radio! 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for February 7, 2020

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Angel               B-CU President Brent Chrite

They say anyone can hold the helm in calm seas – but when the going turns rough, it requires strong, focused leadership to keep the vessel from foundering – and make no mistake, our once venerated Bethune-Cookman University is precariously close to breaking up on the rocks. . .

In his seminal work on Principle-Centered Leadership, Steven Covey said:

“I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a ‘transformer,’ in any situation, any organization.  Such an individual is yeast that can leaven an entire loaf.  It requires vision, initiative, patience, respect, persistence, courage, and faith to be a transforming leader.”

In my view, Bethune-Cookman University’s new president Brent Chrite represents that one special person – our very best hope for the rebirth of this once great institution – that has been brought to its knees by internal and external forces who cared more for their own self-interests than the sacred promise that was placed in their charge.

According to reports, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the organization which accredits Bethune-Cookman’s programs, is requiring that the university resolve its current operating deficit of $8 million in just a few short weeks.

Unless that happens, the school’s re-accreditation is in grave jeopardy – which would domino into a loss of federal grants and financial aid – and signal the death knell for Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune’s dream.

How terribly sad.

(For a comprehensive look at how B-CU got here, please see: https://tinyurl.com/txezzm9 )

When you analyze the gross maladministration, lack of substantive oversight, backroom deals, lawsuits, counterclaims and good old-fashioned greed that brought B-CU to this dismal place, it stirs a sense of rage.

And it should.

In August 2018, the B-CU National Alumni Association fired a pointed letter to the University’s Board of Trustees demanding answers to some very difficult questions:

“How is it that Kent Sharples, the former president of Daytona State College (and current chair of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance), Joe Petrock, the former board chair of Daytona State College, Jacob F. Bryan, a wealthy Insurance Magnate, and others on the Board of Trustees who share similar pedigrees, approve a dormitory deal that absolutely no one on the Board of Trustees understood!” 

“How is it that the Board of Trustees, being such an eclectic group, to this day, cannot adequately explain why $85 million dollars was borrowed to build dormitories that cost less than $60 million dollars?”

“Where is the other $25 million dollars Dr. Carter-Scott? Joe? Kent? If $25 million dollars was misplaced or misappropriated at Florida State University, it would be a matter of great concern, so you can imagine what $25 million unaccounted for dollars means to a small, private school like Bethune-Cookman University?”

My God.  How do these people sleep at night?

In my view, those in a position to know better, the exalted Board of Trustees – a virtual Who’s Who of the Halifax area elite – had an ethical, moral and fiduciary responsibility to alumni, students and staff to ensure the best interests of this historic university were protected from the self-serving motives of former ‘administrators’ and predatory shysters.

Instead, many stood idle while the jackals fed.

That’s unconscionable.

In my view, perhaps it’s time for Dr. Sharples’ and the members of the CEO Business Alliance – along with the other gazillionaire oligarchs who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast – (and those shameless social climbers who hold themselves out as civic visionaries) to get off their ass, scratch around their couch cushions, and come up with $8 million to shore up this important pillar of our community’s foundation before it’s too late.

You know, actually earn some of those haughty tributes and “honorary doctorates” they so willingly accept with a straight face at elegant soirees each awards season – while, across town, B-CU drowns in a murky sea polluted by graft, corruption and mismanagement.

Look, I’ve all but given up on the “federal investigations” we were promised back in September 2018 – criminal probes that may or may not be ongoing.

I hope I’m wrong, but it doesn’t appear anyone’s coming to the University’s rescue.

After all, this isn’t Stetson or ERAU we’re talking about. . .

How terribly sad.    

Perhaps the long-suffering Wildcat Nation will be buoyed by the words of President Chrite, who recently said, “While this is obviously serious, I have no doubt that we will prevail.  I have full faith in our alumni community, and I am excited about this institutions future.”

Good luck and Godspeed, Dr. Chrite.  We’re glad you’re at the helm.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

To say the First Step Shelter debacle has been a shit show of epic proportions is an understatement.

In fact, the situation has gotten so out of hand that last month Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado attempted to personally intercede to ensure the taxpayers of Volusia County – and the homeless community – are getting maximum benefit from the millions-of-dollars already spent.

Naturally, Delgado was shot down.  But, dammit, he tried.

Then, County Councilwoman Deb Denys demanded that a representative of First Step appear in DeLand and explain the utter dysfunction that seems to permeate every aspect of the shelter project.

So, earlier this week, First Step Executive Director Victoria Fahlberg stood dutifully before the Volusia County Council and gave one of those upbeat/sing-song performances that is the stock-in-trade of career bureaucrats and non-profit administrators when they try and sugarcoat a wet turd.

One might have thought our elected officials would have come prepared – armed to the teeth with a laundry list of questions designed to ferret out the truth surrounding this $6 million+ quagmire – and demand a full explanation of how Fahlberg and the gang at Daytona Beach plan to overcome its mounting operating deficit and keep the doors open long term.

Nah.  They brought the soft-soap instead.

Only Councilwoman Heather Post came anywhere near a probative question when she described a pathetic episode wherein a homeless woman slogged out to the hinterlands to seek assistance at the First Step Shelter last month, pitifully sitting in the rain until a security guard arrived for work that morning – who proceeded to throw her off the property. . .

Of course, Dr. Fahlberg immediately reversed blame – claiming that Post’s little melodrama, and others like it, were the result of a lack of understanding in the community.

Yep.  It seems the homeless population was under the mistaken impression that the First Step Shelter was, well, a shelter.

Bullshit.

In my view, when it came time to pursue hard answers to difficult questions – our elected milquetoasts were struck dumb by some weird form of political pseudobulbar affect by Dr. Fahlberg’s incredibly sugary presentation.

At the end of the day, Fahlberg told those on the dais what they needed to hear – and they wallowed in it.

In my view, outside a “law enforcement referral,” the “shelter” remains a Monday to Friday cottage industry of what I call the ‘do-gooders with a profit motive’ set.

I was left with the impression that, like most governmental endeavors, First Step now exists to serve itself – to feed Fahlberg, security contractors, Catholic Charities, architects, designers, consultants, hangers-on and the government contractor who hauled untold tons of extremely lucrative publicly owned dirt for private profit, etc. – and, in my view, these shameless phonies  proved that theory the exact second they turned a helpless woman out in the January rain. . .

The one opportunity Volusia County taxpayers had to get a deep dive into the operational, financial and administrative components of this incredibly expensive enigma turned into a fawning love-fest – complete with gushing accolades from the dais for Fahlberg and her crew.

Hell, even the always arrogant Deb Denys shape-shifted into a bowl of quivering Jell-O – then had the audacity to lecture the “faith community” (which has fought tooth-and-nail for a come-as-you-are shelter for years) to “write the check and be part of the solution.”

Can Ms. Denys really be that out of touch?

Like most thinking people – I suspect the faith community is waiting patiently to see some level of sanity and stability before financially supporting a goofy pseudo social service that continues to hemorrhage money uncontrollably (an incomprehensible $28,000 per bed) to serve just forty-five participants in some mysterious residential self-esteem seminar.

At the end of the day, we are still being asked to believe what we are told about the shadowy operation and multi-tiered administration of the First Step Shelter.

In other words, they want us to take their word for it.

As history proves, that never seems to work out well for Volusia County taxpayers, who are expected to pay the bills and keep our traps shut, while those we elect to steward public funds continue to cloak the truth.

Angel               Lt. Albert Pagliari, Jr. (Ret.)

Here’s a heartfelt Barker’s View congratulations on the well-deserved retirement of my friend and former colleague, Volusia County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Al Pagliari, Jr., who departed from active service last month following more than 38-years of honorable service.

Early in my career, I had the privilege of serving with Al as a member of the Volusia County Crime Prevention Association.

For the few in Volusia County who don’t know Al – he has a friendly, easygoing style and an omnipresent smile that immediately endears him to anyone he meets – and he carries himself with a quiet self-assurance that instills confidence.

These personal attributes served him, and the citizens of Volusia County, well during his long career in a variety of assignments.

In addition to his incredible talent as a law enforcement officer, Al personifies the best attributes of a servant-leader – a true care and concern for his subordinates and those he serves – with a deep-rooted personal commitment to Volusia County that transcends what is expected.

In every situation, Al takes the high road – a true professional – and earned the confidence of his peers in the local law enforcement community.

What Al Pagliari did behind the scenes to build a bond of trust between residents and the agency was important, and it is heartening to know he will be returning to VCSO in a community relations role.

During a brief retirement ceremony at the Volusia County Council meeting this week, I was touched by the sincere thanks and deep appreciation shown by our County Council for Al’s unique legacy and dedication to the best traditions of our service.

Our elected officials were clearly touched by Al’s storied career.

Lt. Al Pagliari represents the best of us, and he exemplifies the importance of building positive community relations to the success of any law enforcement agency.

A job well done, sir.  We’re glad you passed our way.

Here’s wishing you all the best for a wonderful and purpose-filled retirement.

Asshole           The Coming “Great Daytona Stadium Debacle of 2020”

Hold on to your shorts, folks!

Here we go again. . .

Whenever my wife and I decide to purchase a big-ticket item, one that will significantly impact our monthly budget, we take time to perform due diligence.

You know, a comprehensive analysis of all available options, potential long-term liabilities, the reputation of the company we’re considering doing business with and an honest cost/benefit analysis leading to a sound go/no go decision?

I’ll bet you do the same.

After all, some things are “nice to have,” while others are “must haves.”  Right?

So, why is it whenever our local elected officials enter into some convoluted, multi-decade “public/private” partnership (which usually means the use of public funds to underwrite private profits) with a for-profit entity, neither party seems to give two-shits about the potential consequences?

Is it because they’re gambling with other people’s money? 

Case in point – just two-years into a 30-year lease of the aging “Daytona Stadium” complex, Mike Panaggio of DME Holdings is now suggesting the City of Daytona Beach close the sports venue on LPGA Boulevard – then sell the publicly owned property to a real estate developer. . .

You read that right.

According to an interesting article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Mr. Panaggio can’t seem to turn a profit at the facility under the current arrangement.

Who saw that coming?

Now, Panaggio is trotting out an ostentatious plan to sell the land the stadium occupies – then leverage the estimated $15 million he believes the stadium will fetch with an equal amount derived from “local and national sponsorships.”

In turn, Mr. Panaggio will use the blend of funds to build a “state-of-the-art” indoor athletic complex somewhere in Daytona Beach.

Oh, Panaggio has “pledged” to throw in $1 million. . .

Unlike Mr. Panaggio – I’ve never been accused of seeing the “Big Picture.”

I don’t have the entrepreneurial vision to come up with moneymaking schemes – or the wherewithal to take wild, winner-take-all, risks that either result in massive wealth, or crippling financial ruin, but I admire those who have the cojones to put it all on the line.

So long as these wildcatters use their own money to speculate with. . .

According to Mr. Panaggio (who also owns a sports training academy) this is somehow different:

“I’m not trying to enrich myself.  I’m just trying to use assets wisely,” he said, explaining his idea is to set up a public-private nonprofit.”

Of course, the very officials the citizens of Daytona Beach have appointed and elected to steward their assets think Panaggio’s plan to leverage public funds with private donations to underwrite a for-profit endeavor may have legs – even though no one associated with “Daytona Stadium” has been able to squeeze a profit from the sports venue in years. . .

In a recent social media post defending his vision to those of us who reside in the lower bowels of the internet, Mr. Panaggio said, in part:

“At one point Municipal Stadium was a fresh beautiful young baby puppy but as all good loyal dogs do, they pass on. This puppy needs to be buried and because we love animals and specially dogs, we want and need to get another one to take the place of the old one.  If we can replace it lets do it and try to not cost taxpayers any money.”

Say what? 

Didn’t Panaggio know this mangy geriatric cur had one paw in the grave – and the other three on the proverbial ‘nanner peel – when he leased it just two years ago?

And I’m not sure its accurate to say the replacement won’t cost taxpayers money – when he plans to use some $15 million from the sale of publicly owned property to underwrite the new, bigger, bestest alternative.

Just sayin.’

Look, I like Mr. Panaggio’s spirit.

I think he’s a good guy who puts his time, unbridled enthusiasm and considerable personal wealth into civic issues he feels strongly about – and that’s admirable.

But I question whether selling another public asset to a speculative developer so they can shoehorn even more homes west of the LPGA Boulevard pinch-point is a wise move right now? 

In my view, Mr. Panaggio either knew, or should have known, what he was getting into when he decided to lease what is essentially an inconvenient location for high school footballs games from the City of Daytona Beach (who, I’m sure, was happy to unload the burden).

Everyone understands why Panaggio wants to staunch the flow of good money after bad as he tries to meet a massive 30-year nut that includes $150,000 in annual rent, utilities, taxes, insurance, a $250,000 “performance bond,” $50,000 annually to local youth sports programs and a promise of $2 million in capital improvements to the facility by September.

Wow.

For now, Mr. Panaggio is promising not to cut and run – while teasing a “major concert” at the stadium next month – but he lost me when he added that the show will be the “biggest concert this town has ever had.”

We’ve heard that before.

(Perhaps Mr. Panaggio should ask Dr. Kent Sharples, and some of his cronies over at the CEO Business Alliance, how the last “major concert” we had worked out for them. . .)

Because anytime one of our “movers & shakers” touts another “game changer” – or tells us rubes how we will benefit if we only agree to commingle public funds with private interests – taxpayers are reminded in a most visceral way of all the ugly disappointments we’ve suffered here on the Fun Coast.

The fact is, city and county officials are begging for a sales tax increase, we lack adequate transportation infrastructure to support growing demand, public utilities are woefully overtaxed, our aquifer recharge area is being actively paved over to accommodate a faux beach community in the pine scrub west of I-95, our natural places are being bulldozed at an alarming rate, our rivers and springs are fouled by over-development and residents face the very real specter of drinking their own recycled sewage in a few short years when our potable water supply runs dry.

Before they rollover and acquiesce to the “next big thing,” perhaps Daytona Beach officials should consider whether this is the appropriate time to swing a $30 million sports complex to replace one nobody uses now. . .

Quote of the Week

“We turned out thousands of people, every year for seven years in order to get the county and city governments to fund $8 million for a come-as-you-are, 24/7, emergency shelter with enough services to get people into housing. The proposal we worked on with Catholic Charities and other community partners allowed for a $1.2 million budget for 80-100 residents. With enough beds and low barriers to entry, there would be no need for a safe zone. FAITH will continue to fight for our homeless brothers and sisters because it is what God requires.”

 –Rev. Kathy Tew-Rickey, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Community Voices column, “Barriers to redemption hold homeless people back,” Sunday, February 2, 2020

Given my dismal reputation, she probably won’t want me to say this, but Rev. Rickey is a dear family friend.

Don’t hold it against her that she has compassion for an unrepentant backslider like me. . .

Although we don’t always see eye-to-eye on social issues – she has something unique and original to say about the challenges we face – and I invariably learn something new from our conversations.

She is smart, intuitive, very active in social issues and cares deeply about people and the civic, spiritual and economic health of our community.

In other words, she is everything most of our elected officials are not. 

I would suggest County Councilwoman Deb Denys – and any other clueless elected official who remains ill-informed on the monumental fight by FAITH, and other local faith-based organizations, to serve the needs of those less fortunate in Volusia County – reach out to Rev. Rickey for a history lesson.

It might help our elected officials understand why so many are incredibly disappointed in what First Step Shelter represents – and what it does not. . .

And Another Thing!

As a loyal reader and member of the Barker’s View tribe, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m not out to win any popularity contests.

In fact, if I haven’t offended your personal or political sensibilities – stick around, I get to everyone eventually. . .

That’s okay.  I self-identify as an asshole – but we can still be friends.

After all, differences of opinions are how we find solutions – and the honest debate of competing ideas is important to the health of our community.

That said, I’m swimming against the tide of public opinion on the mysterious case of former Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman, who – after a cumulative total of some three-decades of public service – fell to the political garrote in a messy bloodletting last Friday.

Look, I’ve never met Ms. Seaman – and I damn sure haven’t supported the weird legal opinions that originated from her office under the reign of County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert – but the manner in which she was forced out, then publicly humiliated, opened a brief window into something potentially more sinister.

As usual, there remains more questions than answers – and those who know where this hayride is ultimately heading – aren’t being “made available” to the working press. . .

On Friday, Councilwoman Heather Post issued an alarming memorandum to her “colleagues” announcing that she possessed inside information indicating Seaman had been “overpaid” some $33,000 in cashed out leave – then entered an agreement to pay the county back incrementally – only to receive a ‘suspicious’ pay increase, orchestrated by then County Attorney Dan Eckert and former Human Resources Director Tom Motes.

I read Ms. Post’s memorandum on Sheriff Chitwood’s social media page last Saturday, and her note seemed a tad panicky to me – especially when Councilwoman Post asked that the resignations of Eckert and Motes be “rescinded” to allow time for an investigation.

It was as if Post had just discovered Professor Plum in the library with the candlestick and couldn’t contain her excitement – a weird ‘gotcha’ moment – and Seaman’s’ detractors could smell blood in the water. . .

Considering no one in county government has given Post any substantive information since she took office – it didn’t smell right to me. . .

So, I asked a few inside folks who don’t have a personal or political axe to grind what they knew of this sordid mess.

I quickly learned it was the Volusia County’s finance department who made the error that resulted in an over-payment when Seaman entered the deferred retirement option several years ago.

I’m also told that Seaman offered to refund the full amount to correct the county’s mistake at the time; however – given that she had already paid taxes on the payout – the county preferred she repay it incrementally at $434.76 per paycheck for three years.

So, that’s what she did.

In December 2018, Ms. Seaman, along with another attorney in the office, was given a pay increase commensurate with her responsibilities, something Ms. Post – and County Manager George Recktenwald – now claim was inappropriate, given the fact Seaman was “in debt” to the county.

Say what? 

If this was an error on the county’s part – and the repayment agreement the county requested was executed – why would a mistake by the finance department automatically make Seaman ineligible for merit or routine pay increases? 

And was anyone in the finance department ever held accountable? 

I do agree with Ms. Post on one aspect of this oh-so typical Volusia County contretemps:

Why isn’t our county manager personally responsible for approving every pay increase for non-union employees as a matter of protocol – or signing off on repayment plans – just like every other county or municipal government operating under the council/manager form does? 

Who’s running this shit show?

Whatever.

For now, we’re told that our new Internal Auditor, Jonathan “Milk Carton” Edwards – who hasn’t been seen in public since his surprise on-boarding last November – is on the case.

He’s not being “made available” to those he ostensibly serves, mind you – but we’re assured he’s “directing questions” to the legal department (whatever the hell that means).

Great.

Now that Michael Dyer has been named Interim County Attorney (whose relative inexperience and tepid performance at the Volusia County School District has smart people baffled how he ever fell into this important role) – why is our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, crowing that he doesn’t want a nationwide search like we were all assured would happen?

Who gives a damn what Old Ed thinks?

He’s outta here. . .no longer relevant to the long-term discussion.

And who, pray tell, is waiting in the wings with bated breath if/when Volusia County decides to start farming out some of its lucrative legal work to local law firms, eh?

A potential goldmine that would make $39,000 seem like pocket change.

Remember, when it comes to Volusia County government – the truth is often difficult to discern until all the right people have been granted access to the public trough.

All I’m asking is that you keep an open mind – and take nothing at face value this election season.

This one’s going to get interesting. . .and all the players will be revealed in time.

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

 

 

 

 

Righting Wrongs in NSB

I’m not a “joiner.”

When I was a kid I tried to become a member of the Columbia Record Club once, even submitted an application.

But, when no one called me back, I didn’t push it. . .

Besides, I’ve always subscribed to the old Groucho maxim, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

The fact is, Volusia County has a long history of people who set themselves apart from the rest of us based upon their own sense of self-importance or social status – and that’s okay.

To each their own, I say. . .

Where I have a problem is when these “invitation only” groups, “alliances” and “civic leagues” commission “studies” and “reports” to impose their narrow-minded views on other taxpayers who can’t be members of the club and attempt to craft public policy in their image.

Or when discriminatory organizations flaunt their exclusivity on publicly owned property – through wink-wink arrangements cloaked as “lease” agreements – in my view,  patently unjust pacts that affect everyone through a reduced tax base and limited access to community amenities.

In New Smyrna Beach, there has been a long-simmering (and incredibly ugly) community secret that many residents – including some who have been elected to represent the interests of their neighbors – would prefer remained in the civic shadows.

The Anglers Club – a ‘not-for-profit’ corporation – which sits on some incredibly valuable waterfront real estate on New Smyrna’s North Causeway – is the successor of something called the “Sons of Leisure” which was formed in 1914.

To say the organization’s roots run deep in the quaint coastal community is an understatement. . .

In 1951, after various iterations, the organization apparently amended its governing charter to change the name to the “Anglers’ Yacht Club,” with the stated purpose “to form a social club, having for its purpose and promotion and advancement of recreation of its members and the advancement of game and sports fishing in both fresh and saltwater; to encourage yachting and power boating. . .” yada, yada, yada.

Under the revised charter, the club was exclusively limited to “white male citizens over 21 years of age,” and membership required a majority vote by the club’s even more exclusive “governing board.”

At present, the “club” has some 90 members – none of whom are black. . .

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the organization’s spokesperson, retired attorney Michael Brewer, said (Cue the Dukes of Hazard theme song), “The fact that we don’t have a black member doesn’t mean that we discriminate against them.”

Yeah.  No. . .

The Anglers Club isn’t so cagey when it comes to their views on accepting women into their all male ranks – they don’t.

“It’s a fraternal organization,” Brewer said. “We have a freedom of association in America. To belong to a men’s club doesn’t make you a nasty, discriminatory person.”

In my view, the only problem is that argument is that most “men’s clubs” don’t sit on two-acres of prime riverfront property – owned by the citizens of New Smyrna Beach – with an estimated worth in excess of $2-million and “leased” to the Anglers Club for a paltry $25.00 a year. . .

You read that right.  $25 bucks.  A year.

In my view, if a group of ‘good ol’ boys’ want to buy some property, build a meeting hall and form the New Smyrna Beach chapter of the “He-Man Women Haters Club” who cares?

Just get the hell off public property if you’re not willing to welcome everyone. . .

Now, a courageous resident of New Smyrna Beach, Rhonda Kanan, has decided to do what city officials won’t and challenge the validity of the Anglers Club asinine “lease,” which essentially allows an organization that openly discriminates against women the use of very valuable public property for private benefit.

In her lawsuit, Ms. Kanan alleges that the Anglers secured a Small Business Administration loan after the hurricanes of 2004 damaged club structures – the terms of which require that the organization not discriminate “in any fashion.”

In addition, the organization apparently rents boat slips under a “Submerged Lands Lease” with the State of Florida, provided that the Anglers “shall not discriminate against any individual because of that individual’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status with respect to any activity occurring within the area subject to this lease or upon lands adjacent to and used as an adjunct of the leased area.”    

Huh. 

You see, when you start accepting public funds – which originate from hard working taxpayers who are white, black, brown, male, female, gay, straight, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, from various and sundry places, ethnic backgrounds, and all shapes, sizes, colors, etc., etc. – to repair your private clubhouse – there are strings attached.

And there should be.

According to Ms. Kanan’s suit, way back in 2009, the City of New Smyrna Beach received a legal opinion that the Anglers Club leases were invalid – along with remedies that ran from ratifying the leases in an open public meeting – to asserting the agreements aren’t worth the yellowing paper their printed on and “seek to eject the Club from the premises.”

The 2009 review also found “no racial discrimination” by the Anglers. . .

The News-Journal reports, “The City Commission in 2009 voted 4-1 to renegotiate the lease. But it never did, and the club remains on the property paying the low rate for the land.”

I guess NSB officials opted for the “let’s sit on our collective asses in see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil fashion until people forget about it” response.

According to reports, Ms. Kanan suspects her membership in the New Smyrna Yacht Club was blocked by “certain members of the Anglers Yacht Club” who blackballed her application for reasons that haven’t been made clear – and that prompted her to exhume something many in the community would prefer remained out of the light of day. . .

Regardless of Ms. Kanan’s motivation, in my view, this case raises some interesting, long-simmering questions about basic fairness, the taxpayers expectation of just compensation for their civic assets – and the rights of all people to enjoy the benefit of public amenities – and public funds.

Perhaps if the Anglers spent more time around strong women, they would understand the irrefutable fact that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” – or Heaven more rage than one who sets to right perceived wrongs in service to her community.

Stay tuned, folks.  This ones going to get interesting. . .

 

On Volusia: Civic Mind Reading

I was sitting on a barstool in my favorite watering hole the other evening, feeding the jukebox, nursing a glass of Irish whiskey and casually shooting the breeze with an old buddy of mine.

We ruminated on life, fishing, football and the infinite mysteries of women and the universe.

Invariably, talk turned to local politics, and my friend asked where I find the inspiration to write such a prolific number of these long-winded diatribes on our collective condition – and how I developed the style to impart my thoughts in a way that seems to resonate with so many?

His question took me by surprise. . .

The fact is, I didn’t have an answer.  I’ve never thought about it.

I just opine on the news of the day through the prism of someone who spent three-decades in the meat grinder of small-town politics – a washed-up bureaucratic magician who knows how the legerdemain is performed – and isn’t afraid to expose the illusion when it conflicts with what I know of good governance.

Obviously, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer – not known for my quick wit, or grasp of difficult concepts like long division or the importance of sticking to the monthly booze budget my wife has imposed – so, I took another shot of Jameson, pushed the empty glass toward the back of the bar, and exclaimed:

“I dunno.  From God’s lips to my keyboard, I guess.” 

It’s true.  These screeds just come to me – like some weird gift of extra sensory perception that allows me to instinctively identify the musky scent of political bullshit in any situation – and spot a stuffed-shirt, phony-baloney grifter from a mile away. . .

Sometimes when I read older Barker’s View posts, I find a kernel of truth or a facet of an issue I didn’t realize I possessed when I wrote it – weird, right?

Last week, the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce – a once proud advocate for our business community that faded into just another bastion of Fun Coast mediocrity – held their 100th annual banquet at the Ocean Center, our county-owned event venue nestled in the rotting heart of our core tourist area, to bestow haughty awards and pass the gavel between the Big Wigs du jour, who, for a Century now, parrot the same tired promises their predecessor spewed the previous year. . .and the pernicious cycle repeats.

Whatever.

Look, I don’t give a Tinker’s damn if our “movers & shakers” want to get together, preen and peacock, slap each other on the back and take credit for their own narrowly defined idea of “progress” – after all, that’s what “movers & shakers” do, right?

However, in my view, it crosses a line when the Chamber’s leadership fail to see the glaring idiocy in “honoring” Team Volusia – a publicly funded do-nothing economic development “corporation” – that has been on the margins of every controversial roll-out, secretive project, and bald-faced “high paying jobs” sham perpetrated on Volusia County residents (who are crying out for something, anything, other than storehouse work) as some 43% struggle to meet basic monthly living expenses. . .

My ass.

It boggles my feeble mind that our Regional Chamber of Commerce would be so callous – so heartless – as to openly diminish the efforts and accomplishments of small businesses and area entrepreneurs who strive every day to keep people employed, pay exorbitant taxes, feed their families, see the doors open and the lights on and authentically contribute to our local economy through sheer grit and determination.

Instead, the Chamber’s most prestigious award goes to a passel of “economic development” shills who spend their time touring the world on our dime, taking eleventh-hour credit for the hard work of municipal practitioners and telling our elected officials exactly what they want to hear – all while facilitating corporate welfare incentives and maintaining control with their statutorily protected Secret Squirrel horseshit – which allows them to conceal key information from those of us paying the bills while leaking it to all the right people in advance.

Crowing about his ludicrous accomplishment in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Team Volusia CEO Keith Norden said:

“. . .the award was a “validation” of Team Volusia’s “economic development without walls” approach to recruiting companies to the area.”

Look, if your sole reason for existence is luring new business and industry to Volusia County and you need the “J. Hyatt Brown Enterprise Award” to somehow “validate” your efforts – if the results of your “public/private partnership” aren’t immediately evident to everyone through a burgeoning portfolio of “high paying” jobs, civic prosperity, a fire hose flow of useful leads to municipal partners, expanding regional influence and a robust local economy – perhaps we have bigger problems than we realize?

Because that would signal that they actually believe their own shtick.

And that level of hubristic self-deception is dangerous in a community dealing with myriad social, civic and economic challenges. . .

I thought it was apropos that the evening’s entertainment for our assembled elite was provided by Mr. Kevin Viner, a self-described mentalist – like a modern-day Amazing Kreskin or Carnac the Magnificent – who must have left the chic event Thursday evening with a pounding headache. . .

I mean, being a professional mind reader and all.

Because, I’m assuming Mr. Viner would have made his way to the Ocean Center through the East ISB corridor, traversing the abject blight, dilapidation and human carnage that populates what passes for our core tourist area, and thought:

“Is this the World Famous Daytona Beach?  How can ostensibly bright civic leaders gather in their finery, smack in the middle of this decrepitude, and not be moved to tears by the condition of their community?” 

Then, upon entering the elegantly appointed space – rather than being telepathically overwhelmed by the surge of civic vision, strategic creativity, clarity of purpose, depth of concern and unyielding advocacy for area businesses that normally dominates the thoughts of Chamber of Commerce officials – Mr. Viner must have been met with a blank 30Hz tone emanating from the vacuous “minds” of our Halifax area brain trust. . .

Oh, well.  Maybe not.

But let me have my little Thurberesque fantasies, okay?

Because it’s the only thing that comes close to soothing my utter frustration over this level of apathy from the very organization who should give a damn – but doesn’t – and the intrinsic damage this senseless strategy of “ignore the problem until it goes away” is doing to our “brand” – and our quality of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for January 31, 2020

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Angel               Rose Ann Tornatore

On Monday, First Step Shelter board member and local business owner Rose Ann Tornatore showed incredible personal and civic leadership when she announced a pledge of $250,000 for construction of the shelter’s long-debated ‘Safe Zone’ – a place for those who either can’t – or won’t – participate in First Step’s transitional program to simply rest.

Part of this substantial gift comes from Ms. Tornatore personally; the remainder from her long-time Daytona Beach business Wholesale Lighting.

It’s one thing to participate in vociferous debate – beat the war drums – and perpetuate a sense of dysfunction to drive an agenda or maintain autocratic power over what should be a collective effort.

It’s quite another to look outward, beyond self-interest – recognize a need – and altruistically meet it.

According to reports, this generous donation comes at a significant personal sacrifice to Ms. Tornatore, who described the sum as a “big part” of her life savings.

This isn’t some ego-maniacal Halifax area Fat Cat paying to slap their name on something – this represents a heartfelt contribution that will provide those less fortunate with a place to lay their head in relative peace.

That’s important.

According to an article announcing the donation in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Tornatore said she made the large donation because she thought it was vital to the shelter to have a safe zone, which will give the shelter another way to help the homeless and help cities comply with a federal court ruling on how law enforcement should treat the homeless. She said there’s no political reason for her contribution, only personal motivation to leave an impactful legacy.”

As a testament to her political savvy, Ms. Tornatore enlisted the help of Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm – which should help ensure he won’t put the kibosh on the idea again – and she is actively seeking donations and in-kind services from area builders to help leverage her personal assistance.

In my view, Ms. Tornatore’s gift represents a transformative moment in the tumultuous life of the First Step Shelter – a true opportunity to provide a safe harbor for those seeking respite – and a return to what many of us thought would be a staple of the facility when it was still a concept.

My sincere hope is that Ms. Tornatore’s gracious contribution will spur greater philanthropy in the community – creating much-needed partnerships to help meet the growing financial needs of First Step.

Now, the other members of the First Step board have an ethical obligation to steward Ms. Tornatore’s gift in a responsible way – one that sets a positive example for others considering substantial contributions.

As a loyal Barker’s View reader said earlier this week, “Rose Ann Tornatore may just have saved the First Step Shelter. . .”

Thank you for your generosity, Ms. Tornatore.

Asshole           Halifax Health/UF Health Deltona  

Following a series of protracted legal battles and legislative maneuvering, Halifax Hospital – which receives funding from a special taxing district located in northeastern Volusia County, including the cities of Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, Holly Hill and parts of Port Orange – was allowed to construct a new hospital in Deltona, well outside the taxing authority’s boundaries, and operate it in partnership with University of Florida Health.

Frankly, the fine points of these incredibly expensive lawsuits was difficult for a schlub like me to follow – but I think it all boiled down to the fact Florida’s Constitution requires that the people who pay the bills be given an opportunity to approve the debt before it’s incurred (at least that’s the concept) and if the need for a new hospital in West Volusia was as great as Halifax Health claimed, then those who pay the tax up here in God’s Country should have had the opportunity to vote on it.

That is, unless the legislature steps in and says its okay. . .

So, in May 2019, a bill filed by Rep. David Santiago of Deltona was unanimously approved by both the House and Senate, then signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which, according to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“. . .allows the public hospital to build and operate facilities in adjacent counties outside its taxing district, so long as no taxes collected within the district are spent on such facilities.”

(I’m sure our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hosseini – who owns the paper on most of state government – serves as Chair of the University of Florida’s Board of Trustees – and personally directs what happens at Halifax Health and beyond – helped things along behind the scenes. . .) 

I’m cool with that.  Because that’s how things work in the Sunshine State, right?

What I’m not cool with is this:

Earlier this month, the new Halifax/UF merger held an “invitation only” grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony for the $152.7 million, 95 bed, state-of-the-art medical facility just off I-4 in Deltona exclusively for our “community leaders.”  (Read: Politicians and hangers-on. . .)    

Did you get an invitation?

Me neither. . .

Sorry if this sounds trivial (you know, I’m nothing if not a petty asshole), but I believe the cumulative result of these exclusionary practices by governmental and quasi-governmental entities is giving those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence a collective inferiority complex.

After all, this is a public hospital, i.e. “owned by the community” – it’s not the Anglers Club, right?

Maybe it’s just me – but when government-owned hospitals – who accept tax dollars to operate medical facilities and provide health services for the “preservation of the public health, for the public good and for the use of the public of the district” – start acting like private, for-profit entities and exclude the public they exist to serve from back-slapping/look what we did ceremonies – I have a problem with that.

The same holds true for “theme” hotels, insurance headquarters and other private businesses who accept massive tax funded corporate welfare packages and public amenities – then hold elegant soirees for the exclusive entertainment of politicians and their uber-wealthy handlers who facilitate the public largesse at our expense.

That’s wrong.

And it perpetuates the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality that has driven a wedge between citizens and those they elected to serve their interests.

It is obvious to anyone paying attention that Volusia County has an image problem.

After all, we have a long history of invitation-only civic leagues, discriminatory organizations, “only white males over 21 need apply” good ol’ boy clubs, social societies and secret alliances, populated by stuffed-shirt assholes, who believe public policy is best crafted in a secluded backroom where all the right last names meet privately to decide our fate.

As a result, we’ve become stratified and fragmented, trapped in a weird caste system that confuses the size of one’s bank account with their civic vision, and treats ordinary taxpayers like a sect of untouchables – modern Cagots – ostracized by our political and social elite.

Don’t take my word for it, make an effort to address the Volusia County Council – or any other public meeting in your community – and note the chilly reception you receive.

Unless you have a billion dollars in the bank, I suspect you will be required to fill out a card, then prostrate yourself before the exalted rulers on the high dais and request to be recognized.

Then, you will be ordered to constrain your comments to three-minutes or less – remain servile, courteous and respectful – and don’t expect the elected elite to so much as acknowledge your physical existence during the brief audience you have been granted with the anointed ones. . .

My ass.

In my view, if our elected officials want the VIP treatment – rubbing shoulders with high muckety-mucks at exclusive to-dos – then they should join a frigging country club.

On their own damn dime for a change.  

Otherwise, We, The Great Unwashed – should be permitted unfettered access whenever two or more of our elected “representatives” gather together to cut ribbons and congratulate their own performance.

Tomorrow, Halifax Health will open the new facility for us, the common riffraff, who will be granted access between 11am and 2pm.  Enjoy.

Ever feel as though the citizens of Volusia County have become an afterthought?

Because we are.

When did our elected officials, who draw their legitimacy and moral authority from the consent of the governed, allow their overripe egos to tell them it’s okay to attend invitation-only events like some pseudo-celebrity despite the incredibly disturbing optics – and political consequences?

The answer:  This subliminal shunning of the hoi polloi began the exact minute our elected officials became enamored with the trappings of high office – when they mutated into everything they hated when entering politics – and the needs of their constituents no longer mattered.

I don’t know about you, but I try and avoid hospitals whenever possible.

But, if you’re so inclined, drop by the new facility tomorrow and see what all the fuss was about.

Asshole           Halifax Area Advertising Authority

Look, I hate to say, ‘I told you so,’ because that only reinforces the pervasive notion that I’m a pettifogging shitheel who invariably focuses on the dark cloud while ignoring the silver lining.

But I told you so. . . 

Last week, Daytona Beach “tourism leaders,” who, I guess, manage what’s left of that festering coastal carbuncle that is our core tourist area – came together to wring their hands over the continuing deterioration of the “brand” – and consider whether the insanely expensive “Wide. Open. Fun.” promotional campaign is working in this flagging market.

It isn’t.

Remember when many in our community – including the News-Journal – tried to warn them?

When no one in a position to do something would listen to our concerns?

When some gasbag from Chicagoland wrote a scathing editorial in The Daytona Beach News-Journal bashing us rubes for disrespecting our “destination marketing professionals” by painting them as “clueless public money spenders”?

I do.

It was a disaster in the making – the best of the worst – beating out the twin-turds of, “Dare to Daytona Beach” and “Vacation Outside the Lines,” whatever the hell that means. . .

Loyal readers of this blog – and anyone else who pays attention to the errant plots and plans of local government – will remember the roar and rancor when the Brandon Agency, a South Carolina-based carnival barker, sold our Convention and Visitor Czars on this ridiculously expensive slogan back in 2017.

A long line of involved citizens begged the HAAA board of directors to reconsider and listen to the concerns of area residents – to become more active in cleaning up blighted neighborhoods to help stop the malignant spread of graffiti-marred walls, trash-strewn lots and utter dilapidation that continues to threaten our viability as a vacation destination – rather than purchasing some cornball marketing shtick.

No.  They knew what was best for the rest of us.

And time marched on. . .

Now, two-years in, we are told the Brandon Agency – which commands a monthly retainer of some $46,687.50 – plus $100,000 annually for “creative services” – has no way to capture the number of potential visitors who actually book hotel rooms after accessing the website.

Say what? 

I’m not a hospitality marketing expert (apparently, they aren’t either) – so I’m assuming that leaves vacant rooms, plummeting nightly rates and the number of financially stressed resort properties as the only effective means of judging the campaigns success? 

In my view, it’s time for the Halifax Area Advertising Authority, and the redundant bed tax sucking tourism agencies it supports, to finally admit that the year-over-year decline has a direct correlation to the deterioration of the product.

Then, they should stand on the chest of Halifax area redevelopment officials until they turn their attention to the restoration and revitalization of our decrepit beachside – and demand a stop to the strategic rot that is driving property values into the toilet – making what should be prime real estate ultimately more profitable for all the right speculators in time. . .

Because there isn’t a goofy catchphrase in the world that can save us if this neglect and stagnation is allowed to continue.

(Note to the CVB:  I know, I hate me too – but someone has to say it – while there’s still something left to worry about. . .)

Angel               The Long-Suffering Citizens of Deltona

Even as Jane Shang was being thrown out the door – it was still all about her. . .

After five long years of crushing turmoil that brought the City of Deltona to its knees – former City Manager Jane Shang has finally relinquished her iron grip on power and fled City Hall with a sack full of severance pay – but not before leaving a note to city staff taking personal credit for their accomplishments.

Oh, well.

I suppose it’s “On to the next victim,” as they say in the itinerant public management game. eh?

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

Perhaps that hard-earned knowledge will keep those who make Deltona home eternally vigilant, so this ghastly experience is never repeated.

On Tuesday, during a raucous meeting that saw residents venting their frustrations and demanding Shang’s termination, the city commission voted unanimously to accept her resignation – complete with a contractually obligated golden parachute worth some $286,000.

Wow.

Now, only the fallout remains – and, having endured something similar during my long career in municipal government – I’m not sure it’s going to be as easy as “turning the page.”

It will take the municipality time, painful introspection, salving old wounds, dropping the divisive mindset and complete transparency to recover a sense of civic stability and begin rebuilding relationships with their horribly fractured constituency – and traumatized city employees.

In my view, that should begin with a formal apology from the elected officials to the citizens they serve – because the first act of reconciliation must come from City Hall.

Residents of Deltona can help this important process by taking a deep breath, then reflecting on all they’ve gained as a result of this tumultuous period in the short history of their community.

For instance, rarely have I seen a citizenry more galvanized – more mentally, physically and civically electrified – locked in a desperate fight to preserve participatory democracy and secure the future of their city, despite being virtually ignored by a majority of their city commission.

This citizen activism is evidence of a robust pride in place – a call-to-service normally only seen in the aftermath of a disaster – where people from all walks of life draw close to protect and preserve their community from internal and external threats.

Perhaps those valiant activists who fought in the trenches of this important cause can now dial back from DEFCON 1 to more of a vigilance and monitoring role – and, if not an olive branch, extend a cooperative hand to city officials that will allow healing and transition to begin.

Then, if Deltona’s city commission won’t accept their constituent’s conciliatory gesture – they do so at their own political peril.

But the recovery process must start somewhere.

In my view, Jane Shang represents the worst of a profession that is, unfortunately, notorious for its weakest links – a position that wields omnipotent power in the council/manager form – and can inflict insurmountable damage on a community without strong, politically accountable, oversight.

Good luck, Deltona.  Keep the faith.

Quote of the Week

“Reached by phone Wednesday, Seaman said she had verbally told Dyer in January that she intended to retire in April.  She said she felt shocked “to be told on a Monday” that she would be “out the door Friday.”

“I was informed that the attorney’s office was heading in another direction and I wouldn’t fit in,” Seaman said.”

–Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman, speaking to reporter Casmira Harrison in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman forced out,” Thursday, January 30, 2020

Something doesn’t smell right to me.

“I am grateful for Jamie’s distinguished record of public service to the County and wish her the very best in her future endeavors,” Interim County Attorney Michael Dyer wrote in an email response to questions from The News-Journal.

Wait.  Say what?

Why is it we can’t get straight answers out of these mealy-mouthed assholes who continue to drag on the public tit while telling us what they think we want to hear?

Seriously, who do they think they’re fooling?

There remains a disturbing disconnect between the official line out of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building and the facts – and it continues to destroy our confidence in county government.

Regardless of your views on Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman – I have a problem when Volusia County tells its constituents that Ms. Seaman peaceably resigned – then, we open the News-Journal, and see a bold headline announcing the fact she was “forced out,” with a figurative gun to her head, in some ugly political bloodletting.

And it’s no coincidence that Seaman’s long career ended today – the same day as her former boss, Dan Eckert, was unceremoniously put out to pasture.

Look, I understand that some of our elected officials are looking for a “culture change” in the County Attorney’s Office (I’m not sure they understand what that term means) – but you can bet your bippy that there are some serious political insiders who are interested in shaping the office in their own image – and protecting the status quo at all costs.

These things never occur in a vacuum – and I question why it was necessary to eliminate Ms. Seaman at the point of a spear just two-months before her planned retirement – then paint a false narrative of her departure?

And who gave the placeholder, Michael Dyer, permission to pull the trigger?

Because it appears County Manager George Recktenwald is hiding somewhere on the third floor after Dyer’s ham-handed attempt to put a hard candy shell on this thing backfired. . .

So, while some celebrate the untimely demise of their perceived nemesis – be careful who is pulling the strings and levers behind the curtain – and why.

In my experience, good lawyers have the innate ability to play both offense and defense with equal enthusiasm, and Seaman had an ethical obligation to advocate the opinions of then County Attorney Dan Eckert – legal judgments that were often wildly unpopular outside the cloistered walls of Volusia County government – whether she agreed with them or not.

Is that the reason Ms. Seaman was crucified on the altar of political expediency?

And what if she wouldn’t go along to get along so she was eliminated with extreme prejudice as an example to others?

If so, does axing a career employee for doing a difficult job with integrity just weeks before retirement really represent “progress” in the administration of county government?

I’m asking these dark questions because nothing about this makes sense.

I don’t know Ms. Seaman personally – and I don’t care who you support or despise politically – but the manner in which this was handled was wrong and it raises more questions than answers. . .  

This is an election year – which means whatever happens in DeLand is part of a three-dimensional chess game – and, if you care about good governance more than a momentary sense of retribution, you better damn well pay attention.

Trust me, as unseen (but well-known) forces seek to politicize the county attorney’s office – the machinations of those who are truly in control deserve our undivided attention.

And Another Thing!

Speaking of the weird intrigues of county government. . .

Anyone know what happened to Volusia County’s long-awaited Internal Auditor?

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting worried about him.

Our new watchdog, Jonathan Edwards, has been MIA since he was hired in a weird, less-than-transparent process by County Manager George Recktenwald in November. . .

Maybe he’s been up to his hips in the swamp ferreting out corruption, waste and maladministration in county government?

Or just lounging the day away in some tony Woodland Boulevard bistro?

Perhaps he was absorbed by the cytoplasm of Volusia’s massive bureaucracy, never to be seen in individual form again?

Who knows?

I just thought we might have heard something from our much-ballyhooed ombudsman by now.

Look, I get it.

They’re not real big on multi-tasking in DeLand, and with everyone scrambling to take credit for the long-delayed bus service to Tanger Outlets – Ed Kelley publicly castrating his own political career – breaking down county departments like lower primates playing with a Tinker Toy set – spinning fantastic yarns of launching rocket ships right here in our own backyard – protecting the do-nothing Team Volusia from that mean ol’ boogeyman blogger, etc. etc., I can see how inconsequential things like public integrity audits could slip through the cracks. . .

Last month, the News-Journal published a thoughtful editorial entitled, “Give Volusia County’ s new auditor the right tools,” which offered sound advice for building public confidence in the position:

 “…the County Council should make it clear that no areas are off-limits to Edwards’ oversight.  And they should set guidelines that keep his investigations open and transparent, even before his findings are finalized. Knowing what Edwards is working on will make it less likely that “inconvenient” results are swept under the rug.  Finally, there should be a path for members of the public to suggest areas that need investigating, instead of relying solely on County Council authority to trigger a formal inquiry.”

To my knowledge, none of those things have happened – and Mr. Edward’s seems to be lost in the ethereal mist.

Inquiring minds want to know. . .dammit.  

Is he working from the haunted Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building?

Has he been given the tools and support necessary “to fight corruption, identify inefficiency and point out programs that have failed to meet their goals”?

Was he hermetically sealed in some musty political sarcophagus, insulated from any outside influence until after the election?

I’m asking.  Because his disappearance is creepy. . .

In my view, so long as taxpayers are funding Mr. Edwards’ much-needed service – we deserve to know what became of him! 

Habeas corpus, y’all!

Because, if this is any indication of our auditor’s visibility and public interaction with those he serves, I think we can expect business as usual in the dark places of Volusia County government for a long time to come.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: “We are nobody. . .”

“It’s not Daytona.  It’s Dirtona,” said Enrique Zahn, an east International Speedway Boulevard property owner since the early 1990s who has grown weary waiting for things to improve on the road.”

“We are nobody,” Zahn said.  “It’s controlled by the powerfuls.”

–Enrique Zahn, Daytona Beach, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Daytona’s east ISB overhaul 3 years away,” Monday, January 27, 2020

Wow.

A spot-on assessment of our current social, civic and economic situation from someone actually in the trenches, a small business owner trying desperately to scratch out a living in the Halifax area’s artificial economy.

This week, we learned that the long-awaited East ISB revitalization project isn’t coming anytime soon – and that is devastating news for struggling businesses and property owners – and anyone else who has been waiting patiently for something, anything, to bring hope to our beleaguered beachside.

So, for at least the next three-years, this stretch of abject dilapidation that marks the city’s main gateway to what was once “The World’s Most Famous Beach” will remain a rotting, graffiti-covered monument to the apathy and neglect that is slowly killing a once vibrant tourist economy – as the real money continues its retreat west.

Tragically, despite the controversy surrounding the roundabout, the East ISB revitalization project was the only shred of optimism left.

Because it’s been almost two-years since the Beachside Redevelopment Committee, which was formed in the aftermath of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s scathing exposé on the deplorable condition of our core tourist area, presented its bureaucratically neutered findings to the Volusia County Council.

In my view, the BRC – comprised of all the right last names, heavy hitters  like Albright, Bowler, Ghyabi, Lichtigman, Sharples, Grippa and Henry – represented our last/best hope for substantive change.

Unfortunately, when the report was rolled out, Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler brought a cruel false hope when she enthusiastically vowed that the recommendations (of what turned out to be little more than a time buying political insulation committee) would not be put on a shelf:

“I am fighting with you on this,” Wheeler said. “This is my district, and we do have a plan of action but I want to make sure it is not one of those plans of actions that goes on the shelf, and I can tell you I am 100% committed to doing whatever I need to do in collaborating with this group on getting things moving.”

Bullshit.

Where is that “plan of action” Ms. Wheeler?

Trust me – now’s the time to implement it.  And fast. . .

Call me a soothsayer – but, despite the denials of our Halifax area “Hospitality Gurus” – I recognized early that our struggling tourism industry was in serious trouble – hemorrhaging revenue as the “product” continued to decay – and it had nothing to do with hurricanes or fickle air carriers.

So, as the beachside committee’s report sits gathering dust on some groaning shelf in that dank place where good ideas go to die in Volusia County government – we absorb yet another punishing kick to the gut as we watch our “brand” slowly die. . .

Most places with a sense of pride in place, a strong community spirit and a civic vision –  beyond allowing gazillionaires carte blanche to construct a “New Daytona” in the pine scrub west of town, as they feed greedily at the public trough – would be working collaboratively with residents and business owners to correct the decades of blight and dilapidation that continues its malignant spread.

They would be struggling mightily to protect and curate what remains of our core attraction and manage our most important natural amenity in a way that would enhance our unique traditions while investing in historic beachside neighborhoods and encouraging entrepreneurial investment while supporting existing small business.

Not here.

In a weird reversal of blame that could only happen in Daytona Beach, City Commissioner Quanita May, who ostensibly represents East ISB, goaded desperate business owners on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams – demanding that they throw good money after bad to “overhaul and modernize” – even though most remain in the dark on how much of their property will be lost to the road project – or what effect the disputed roundabout at A-1-A and East ISB will ultimately have on their livelihood.

Look, there’s enough blame to go around – but what we need now is leadership – and hard answers to difficult questions.

To that end, the Florida Department of Transportation prudently scheduled an informational summit to gain public input and communicate with an anxious community on the estimated $23.8 million road project for tomorrow evening.

Unfortunately, the FDOT meeting conflicted with the elegant annual soiree of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce – the very organization that should care, but doesn’t – which means the long-anticipated transportation meeting has been reset for late March.

As a result – you, me, and the besieged business community of East ISB – can wait two more months before we get substantive answers – all so the Chamber of Commerce set can tell us all how good we have it while bestowing something called the “J. Hyatt Brown Enterprise Award” on Team Volusia.

You read that right.

Priorities, eh?

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

Mr. Zahn is right.

We truly are nobody to those who make the rules and substitute lavish banquets for civic engagement here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

2020: A Space Oddity

People often ask me why Volusia County politicians routinely insult the intelligence of their constituents and seem to live in an alternate universe separate from the rest of us – a fantasy land of falsehoods – where they fabricate a bogus narrative, then flog the storyline incessantly, in a vain attempt to make us believe things that simply aren’t true.

It’s a form of political “gaslighting,” where those who hold themselves out as a self-important “authority” use manipulation and misdirection to sew confusion and delegitimize our perception of reality.

Once you recognize the method and motivation, it’s easy to spot when elected officials are blowing smoke up your ass. . .

I keep a running list of these recurrent “trust issues” – and trot them out whenever talk turns to resurrecting the rotting corpse of the sales tax initiative that voters roundly defeated last year.

Since taxpayers shot down their bold money grab, Volusia County politicians – and their handlers over at the secret society of millionaires known as the CEO Business Alliance – keep trying to frighten us with tall tales of losing space related businesses because we don’t have the infrastructure in place to accommodate them.

At a November 2019 meeting of the Knights of the Round Table – a shadow government comprised of area mayors and managers that serves as a political insulation committee for difficult public policy decisions – the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys said with that sense of faux-urgency only a politician running for higher office can muster:

“We’re at a crossroads, Volusia County,” Denys continued. “If we get another Blue Origin or Space X (or other aerospace companies considering expanding to Volusia) and they need infrastructure, what’s your answer going to be?”

To bolster the narrative, last week, Team Volusia – that do-nothing “public/private partnership” which ostensibly exists to lure new business and industry to Volusia County – held their annual soiree at The Mori Hosseini Center at Daytona State College.

In years past, The Daytona Beach News-Journal has described Team Volusia’s elegant schmoozer as “big on enthusiasm, short on details” – and this year’s gathering of our stuffed-shirt politicians, their oligarchical handlers and that fawning coterie of “economic development” shills they bankroll with our money was no different.

This year, the keynote speaker was none other than Scott Henderson, Florida site selector for Blue Origin, the private commercial space company formed by Amazon’s Jeff Bazos.

During his speech, Mr. Henderson made the ambiguous comment that our assembled big shots had been waiting to hear – a mustard seed of vague hope that will be perpetuated by Councilwoman Denys, and everyone who makes their living telling people what they want to hear, throughout this years election cycle:

“We’re going to launch something from this county before it’s all said and done.”

And pandemonium ensued. . .

In fact, Volusia County Councilman Fred Lowry took to social media to toast the big announcement, “Attending Team Volusia Annual Dinner. Blue Origin in Volusia County!!!!”

While Ms. Denys touted her recent appointment to something called “Florida’s Space Caucus” (whatever the hell that is) – another nonsensical title only Tallahassee insiders could dream up. . .

Is it just me, or does anyone else see a recurrent theme here? 

Look, maybe “when its all said and done” Blue Origin will be blasting rockets into space from Volusia County  – sending missiles over your home and mine – fouling the sensitive estuaries of the Mosquito Lagoon and Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge with frightening regularity – getting “outside the fences, away from the federal bureaucracy,” (and prying eyes and federal environmental regulations, etc.) at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral (you know, where the launch pads are located?  Where we’ve launched rockets since their inception?)

But it won’t be anytime soon. 

And anyone who suggests differently is – for reasons that are becoming increasingly clear – manipulating the facts to meet their narrative.

You see, five years ago, back when “Project Panther” – another super-secret “economic development” sham which perpetuated the idea that the Shiloh area of Southeast Volusia was poised to become a “spaceport,” to include a rocket manufacturing plant near Oak Hill – then United States Senator and Freeloading Political Astronaut Bill Nelson said:

“I’m not going to sweet talk anything, I’m going to tell it like it is, Shiloh is not going to become a spaceport.”

He was right.

Now, in a front-page article by Clayton Park in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Deb Denys is quoted as saying, “The possibility of Volusia becoming home to a commercial rocket launch site “is always in play.”

Say what?

Where?  When?  Why?  How?

My God.  How cruel? 

Have you been to Brevard County lately? 

I have.

Trust me.  The Titusville, Coco Beach, Melbourne metroplex has enough vacant office buildings, strip centers, warehouse space and vacant land – the carnage left in the wake of the original space programs exodus – to house hundreds of aerospace, support and supply chain businesses, literally on the front porch of the launch complex. . .

While Ms. Denys continues this sham of attracting “commercial space jobs” – all while touting the need for a sales tax increase to pay for the infrastructure required to support it – the good citizens of Volusia County continue to suffer under the debilitating social, civic and economic issues that are ruining our quality of life – including our own growing local transportation issues, water availability, looming environmental catastrophes and overwhelmed utilities.

Yet, she breeds false hope for struggling families with fabrications of imminent space related jobs – and an almost pathological indifference to the real needs of her long-suffering constituents.

Why?

The reality is, while Ms. Denys wastes time in Washington and Tallahassee perpetuating this odd space fantasy and painting herself as a subject matter expert to bolster her campaign for County Chair on our dime – some 43% of the population here on the Fun Coast are unable to meet basic living expenses each month – while uber-wealthy insiders continue to enjoy an endless flow of public funds for private projects – as the affordable housing crisis continues, even as our sensitive natural places are paved over for yet another massive “luxury” community, etc., etc.

And that, friends and neighbors, is when superfluous, non-committal comments at a rubber chicken banquet becomes something more sinister.

Expect to see our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, spill more of this Buck Rogers bilge water during his annual “State of the County” hot air generator next month – when the same shim-sham artists gather to tell us all what they think we want to hear. . .

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of this orchestrated sleight-of-hand designed to divert attention from the pressing needs of Volusia County residents.

“When all is said and done” I hope voters will put a stop to this malicious farce while there’s still something worth worrying about.