Mary McNally, Requiescat in Pace

Angel:             Mary Caroline (Bulman) McNally  October 21, 1935 – June 29, 2018

My hope is that loyal readers will forgive me for this diversion from the local political front, but my heart is occupied elsewhere today.

As you read this, Patti and I are traveling to Washington, D.C. where we will gather with dear friends to celebrate the life and legacy of Mary Caroline McNally.

By any metric, Mary lived a full and incredibly interesting life – definitely not your average octogenarian.

Mary was born in Philadelphia and grew up in the seaside town of Margate, New Jersey, where she graduated magna cum laude from Holy Spirit High School in 1953.

She was one of the first recruits in the Central Intelligence Agency’s early efforts to broaden their talent base outside the Ivy League realm – and early in her career was assigned overseas to Frankfort, Germany, where she met and married a career Army officer – Brigadier General Uri S. French, in 1959.

Their marriage produced three of the most beautiful, loving and accomplished people I know – incredible individuals and the living legacies of this extraordinary woman –  Michael, Mary Catherine and Carlie.

With three precocious children in tow – this military family moved over twenty times in 20-years throughout the United States and Germany – as Mary continued her service to our great nation – all while perfecting her role as an Army officer’s wife.

As anyone who knew Mary can attest, she was at her best supporting, entertaining and guiding military spouses, organizing charitable events or hosting mid-morning coffees and elegant dinner parties – always with grace, style and poise.

After Mary and General French parted, in 1981, Mary met and fell in love with her devoted husband, Thomas McNally – and thus began an incredible 36-year love story.

Shortly after Mary and Tom were married, they moved to Bangkok, Thailand in what would be her final assignment at CIA.  She enjoyed her work immensely – and loved the shopping, cultures and culinary delights of Thailand – a place she often referred to as her “Happy Place.”

In 1990, after 30 years with the Agency, Mary retired with Tom to Daytona Beach Shores, Florida.

Here, they were blessed by the local presence of Mary’s sister, Patsy Cavanaugh, and brother John Bulman (both of whom I count among the finest human beings I have ever known) along with their large and loving families.

Mary and Tom enjoyed traveling to many continents, including multiple around-the-world cruises, and trips to visit children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, as well as extended family and friends across the globe.

She loved Broadway shows and musicals, fine dining and dancing at the Halifax River Yacht Club.

In quieter moments, it was the panoramic view of the Intercoastal and Atlantic Ocean from her beachfront home that brought Mary the most peace.

Her angelic voice, infectious smile and cackling laugh will be deeply missed.

Of all the wonderful talents bestowed upon the Bulman family – genetically passed through the generations undiluted – is the gift of friendship.  My wife and I have been blessed to count this wonderful tribe among our dearest friends for many, many years.

With her passing, I am sharply reminded that, as beautiful souls like Mary McNally pass from this world to the everlasting life their strong faith assured, they can never be replaced in the orbit of our lives.

I once read that what readies us for our own mortality is our steady exposure to loss as one ages.

First comes the passing of elders: grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles; and later the loss of contemporaries, friends, classmates, spouses – even our enemies and antagonists begin to leave us – always reminding us that death is an inevitable part of life.

But so long as happy memories remain – family gatherings, parties, quiet conversations, advise received, gifts bestowed and received, graduations and milestones, the birth of children, the funerals and mourning, good times and bad – I will always be reminded of my good fortune to have very special people in my life.

Following Mary’s passing, I was contemplating the depth and breadth of a life so well lived, and was reminded of a short poem by the author Linda Ellis entitled, “The Dash”:

I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend.  He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning – to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars – the house – the cash.  What matters is how we lived and loved and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?  For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more – and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile – remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

Beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, CIA officer, world traveler, adventurer – friend.

Quite a dash indeed.

Requiescat in pace.

May God bless and keep Mary McNally – and all of you.

 

 

On Volusia: The Demonization of Mike Chitwood

“I hold it to a sign of great prudence in men to refrain alike from threats and from the use of insulting language, for neither of these things deprives the enemy of his power, but the first puts him more on his guard, while the other intensifies his hatred of you and makes him more industrious in devising means to harm you.”

— Niccolo Machiavelli

In the game of Chess, the “Fool’s Mate” is a rarely accomplished move which allows Black to achieve checkmate in the fewest number of moves possible.

The maneuver can only be pulled off if White commits an extraordinary mistake.

Not unlike the modern blood sport of politics, Chess is a game of strategy and tactics – a contest that requires the mental agility to play both sides of the board simultaneously, while maintaining the dexterity and sense of timing to take advantage of the errors of your opponent.

Often the difference between success and failure is whether or not a politician has the situational awareness and innate ability to select their platform and political battles carefully – to instinctively know which issues to associate oneself with and which conflicts would be better fought by a surrogate, etc.

Especially when locked in a pitched battle with an incredibly popular foe.

In modern politics, it seems candidates instinctively employ the oldest technique in the world early and often in their campaign – the demonization of the enemy – a tactic with the dual effect of focusing supporters against their opposition by painting them as the personification of all that’s wrong – while portraying the candidate as a savior fighting against something mean and evil.

However, the tactic can backlash quicker than a cheap fishing reel – and result in serious consequences – as it immediately limits options and, depending upon the proportionality, can have the opposite effect by making the candidate appear petty, unfair and vindictive.

Personification and demonization works best when you can associate malevolence with one person, idea or even object (consider the gun control “debate”) then dehumanizing that person or “thing” and painting them as the embodiment of all your campaign stands against.

Last week, during a radio interview with WNDB’s Marc Bernier, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood covered a lot of ground – from his thoughts on ‘pay to play’ politics and the debilitating impact of wealthy political insiders to his clearly deteriorating relationship with former sheriff and current at-large candidate, Ben Johnson.

But it was Sheriff Chitwood’s weird retort to a backhanded slight by the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys that has led to this tempest in a teapot – with Ms. Denys supporters actively demonizing him as a foul-mouthed misogynist and charter member of the “He-Man Women Haters Club.”

During an earlier appearance with Mr. Bernier, Councilwoman Denys opined that the reason the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is having difficulty attracting quality candidates for sworn positions is because no one wants to work for Sheriff Chitwood.

Not one to absorb political slights – Sheriff Chitwood responded with a very cogent assessment of the industry-wide issue of law enforcement hiring – then went all Rick James “Super Freak” on us with the goofy observation, “All Deb Denys knows about law enforcement is the fur-lined handcuffs on her headboard.”  

 Inappropriate?  Yes.

Salacious and provocative?  Certainly.

A savage barbarism against women everywhere?  Hardly.

Yet, almost immediately, Ms. Denys’ political proxies deftly initiated the “Fool’s Mate” maneuver – complete with the shock, awe and moral outrage one normally reserves for actual atrocities – you know, like public corruption, abdication of sworn responsibilities to the people who elected you, a turncoat voting record and the wholesale giveaway of our hard-earned tax dollars and public amenities to engrained political insiders. . .

(I mean, why didn’t anyone call Governor Rick Scott and demand action when County Chair Ed Kelley, Sleepy Pat Patterson – and Deb Denys – were actively destroying the personal and professional reputations of Councilwoman Heather Post and Dr. Sara Zydowizc; two brave ladies with the courage and sense of duty to protect their constituents from years of neglect and bureaucratic ineptitude in a critical government function?)

Look, it’s not my place to defend Mike Chitwood – he’s a big boy with an enormous following of supporters who find his no-hold-barred assessment of the dismal state of county government to be refreshingly free of the political correctness and the nonsensical spin that has camouflaged some grave internal wrenches in the machinery of government for a long, long time.

Like any controversial figure, he also has his fair share of vehement detractors and critics.

But at the same time, I see a clear protectionist strategy at play in this latest contrived brouhaha, and given the high-stakes endgame this election represents – coupled with Sheriff Chitwood’s call for a federal investigation – I think it is important to examine the motivations of those who have the most to lose.

Love him or hate him, Sheriff Chitwood has become the outspoken voice of an increasingly disenfranchised majority as he works to expose the rank corruption and mismanagement in DeLand – a weird “system” fostered by an information black-market, facilitated by a former county manager with enormous, almost godlike power, and fiercely protected by an unwritten process that grants reciprocal political favors and access to those who can pay to play.

For the past decade – if not longer – Volusia County government has slowly transmogrified into an elite oligarchy – where an incredibly wealthy and well-organized donor class gorges greedily at the public tit in the form of “economic incentives,” tax abatement, infrastructure, cash giveaways, the half-price sale of public assets to private interests, ridiculously low impact fees and the manipulative control of public policy simply by their physical appearance in council chambers.

This camarilla of insiders – who I euphemistically refer to as our High Panjandrums of Political Power – represent the Old Guard, an entrenched power structure populated by influential  millionaires – even billionaires – in the insurance, real estate development and motorsports industries – who long ago learned that politics is the art of controlling your environment – and the means to that end is infusing massive amounts of money into the campaign accounts of hand-select candidates.

While completely legal under our antiquated campaign finance rules, the undeniable result is a weird form of quid pro quo corruption – the Latin phrase for “something for something” – a favor or advantage granted in return for something of value – that has changed the course of our collective history here on the Fun Coast.

I’m not going to subject you to the laundry list of giveaways, incentives and corporate welfare projects that have used our hard-earned tax dollars to mitigate private risk for all the right last names for years – you’ve heard it all before.

But suffice it to say that We, The People have stood slack-jawed while the Volusia County Council have confederated with other local officials to transfer tens-of-millions in public funds to these select private interests.

Tens-of-millions.

At the same time, we have watched as large areas of the Halifax area have been allowed to decompose – subjected to unchecked blight, dilapidation and a growing sense of hopelessness that has left many of us who pay attention with the unmistakable impression that no one in the Halls of Power cares enough to intervene – because, at its core, that’s not the purpose of the ‘system’ they exist to serve.

Even a casual observer can see the direct lineage of campaign contributions and incentives – and the incredible influence of a few well-connected insiders have on public policy.  Now, Sheriff Chitwood is actively calling for a federal investigation of insider politics in Volusia County.

When you connect the donor with the politician and the incentives granted – you see a direct correlation to those who are currently working overtime to demonize Sheriff Chitwood and marginalize anyone else who threatens the status quo.

Ask yourself the darker question – who benefits with Sheriff Chitwood marginalized, brought to heel or out of the way?

Who is best served when the watchdog is politically neutered?

The stakes are high – and many have a lot to lose once the dominoes begin to fall.

In my view, we are witnessing the first salvos in a battle that will ultimately decide the fate of Volusia County.

We have at hand the very real ability to wrest free from the death grip of corruption and cronyism that threatens more of the same – or we can accept the status quo and continue our slow spiral into mediocrity and stagnation.

Ultimately, it depends upon our collective ability to ignore this self-serving faux-outrage and strategic demonization – the result of a ridiculous imbroglio between a member of the entrenched power elite and a foul-mouthed whistleblower with a mandate for change – and focus our attention on making the right decisions at the ballot box this fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for July 6, 2018

Hi, Kids!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Independence Day!

We sure did.

Nothing brings me more joy than the sight of my sweet grand baby splashing around in her kiddie pool on a fun summer afternoon.  After 57 trips around the sun, I’ve finally figured out that’s what its all about.

Well, it’s time once again to end our busy week with a recap of the good, the bad and the ugly that impacted all of us – the long-suffering denizens of Florida’s Fabled Fun Coast!

From the increasingly suspicious antics of those street beggars over at the Volusia County School Board, to Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s over-the-top revelation that the only thing County Councilwoman Deb Deny’s knows about law enforcement is the “fur-lined handcuffs on her headboard” – it’s been a fairly interesting week that was.

Just for giggles, I thought we would kick things off with another round of our favorite pastime here at Barker’s View HQ – a little game I like to call, “What the Hell?”

I cordially invite our friends at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the St. Miklos Water Management District to play along!

Come on – it’ll be Wide. Open. Fun!

The rules are simple – study the photograph below and take a wild-ass guess if the scene depicted is:

Mosaiac Flooding

A. A camera-ready ad for ICI Homes’ new marketing slogan – “Your trip to the lake just got shorter!”?

B. Daytona’s innovative new subdivision “Tsunami Surge” – a swamp-life themed housing complex that gives new meaning to the term “immersive lifestyle”?

C. What happens when you build a sprawling “full life” community on what was once our aquifer recharge area – a place where wetlands, pine scrub and sandy uplands formed a special habitat for wildlife and allowed groundwater to refresh our fragile source of drinking water, as God intended.

If you picked C – give yourself a Gold Star!

Last week, a loyal reader and smart observer of the serious issues we face in this era of cancerous growth sent me some shocking photographs of the Mosaic community – a 1,200+ unit monstrosity currently being built by Mori Hossieni – our High Panjandrum of Political Power and King of the Donor Class – on a large tract off LPGA Boulevard near Jimmy Buffett’s own environmental atrocity at Latitudes Daytona – that utopian Parrothead Paradise – a faux-beach community under construction virtually on top of our potable water wells.

What you see depicted in the photograph is the result of a recent summer rain shower – a typical afternoon thunderstorm –  that brought street flooding and areas of standing water pushing into yards and driveways – turning residential streets into virtual “No Wake Zones” in the middle of Mori’s “close-knit lifestyle community for the young and young at heart.”

My ass.

Look, I’m not an environmental engineer, but I spend a lot of time outdoors, and my observations find that rainwater will do its level best to find the lowest point in the topography where it will collect and stand while it slowly percolates through the sandy loam to ultimately replenish the overstressed Floridan aquifer – our sole source of drinking water and the only thing that makes this salty piece of land we call home habitable.

This is what happens when we literally ‘pave paradise and put up a parking lot’ – the unintended consequences of clear-cutting, leveling and filling wetlands, pine scrub and recharge areas in favor of 1,200 cookie cutters in the middle of another contrived “lifestyle” community.

This problem isn’t unique to Mosaic.

It is the expected result of our weird system of quid pro quo corruption that allows uber-wealthy developers to hire the chairman of the very regulatory agency that “manages” our most precious natural resource to ramrod their interests through the environmental permitting process.

You know, the same developers that have been paying ridiculously discounted impact fees – development costs meant to support infrastructure improvements that haven’t seen an increase in 15-years – while they earn credits for proportional share agreements in today’s dollars – then quash publicly-funded reports that would have exposed this scam for the open thievery it is?

To add insult to injury, when the always exuberant business reporter, Clayton Park, of the Daytona Beach News-Journal served up the ultimate softball and asked Mori why he chose to invest here – his saccharine response had me hugging the porcelain throne:

“One of the major deciding factors for us to make investments in our community,” Hosseini said, “is the progressive county and city elected and professional leaders who are proactive by keeping taxes down, actively creating jobs, and creating a better life for our citizens by protecting the environment.”    

(Dammit – I just shot a steaming mouthful of Chock-full-o’-Nuts out of my nose. . .gets me every time.) 

If anyone – and I mean anyone – can point their finger at one frigging thing that our elected officials in Volusia County have done that could be remotely considered “progressive,” a single instance where these dullards have “kept taxes down” or actively “created jobs” – please let me know.

Fact is, us long-suffering rubes learned a long time ago that there is very little – if anything – we can do to stave off unchecked development and curb the western sprawl that passes for “progress” and is actively destroying our quality of life while turning the Halifax area into a traffic-clogged hellhole of overburdened streets, overbuilt greenspace and overstressed essential services.

A place where our beachside has clearly been abandoned by the smart money for better opportunities in the pine scrub off LPGA Boulevard – and we have come to accept it, because – under the current circumstances – what the hell else are we going to do?

Just please don’t tell us any of this is the result of visionary leadership.

That’s an insult to our collective intelligence that many find hard to swallow.

If those the News-Journal describes as our “Rich & Powerful” want to openly gloat that these ugly  affronts to our natural places are the direct result of the gutting of our environmental impact regulations by their elected shills as a return on a substantial investment in the political campaigns of sitting politicians who serve their greedy masters like dull tools – then I, for one, can begrudgingly accept that.

Because it’s the truth.

But I find it iniquitous for anyone – even His Royal Highness Mori Hosseini – to use the terms “progressive” and “Volusia County” in the same sentence.

That just pisses people off.

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

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

Asshole:          County of Volusia

Can we stop this wacky charade?

I mean, am I the only one who was hoping against hope that this shifty slight-of-hand and strategic ignorance would stop once you-know-who fled the building with a sack full of cash?

Right.

For years, the Volusia County Council – by divine edict of their uber-wealthy political benefactors – have been trying desperately to rob residents of our century old heritage of beach driving.

Now, it appears our elected officials, and that band of inept mandarins that push their warped policies at Volusia County Beach Management, have found the one tried and true method that works first time, every time – they simply priced a day at the beach out of the financial reach of many struggling families in Volusia County.

Yet, we are still debating why there has been a drop in Volusia’s daily beach pass sales? 

With a day at the beach currently priced at $20.00, or $25.00 for an annual resident pass, in a county with a per capita income of $24,844 and an inordinate number of families living below the poverty level – where $20.00 can mean the difference between feeding their children, filling a prescription or keeping the lights on – the options get really limited, really quick.

Struggling families can either stay home – or attempt to find “off-beach” parking.

Why is it that whenever the choice is presented, our elected officials on the Volusia County Council always opt for the route that will most adversely effect those who can least afford it – like doubling access fees to our most important natural amenity?

Let’s face it, Volusia County’s beach management plan has taken on the appearance of a Turkish Bazaar – where everyone who is anyone seem to make money anytime the strand is gated off or turned into a private amenity.

Only We, The People are consistently shortchanged.

From spending public funds to sue their own constituents and prevent them from having a vote on beach access issues, to pissing away our long-held tradition of beach driving as an “inducement” for tacky theme hotels, arbitrarily closing beach ramps, spending millions of our tax dollars on “off-beach” lots yet never opening them, granting lucrative toll collection contracts to an out-of-state company, suggesting parking meters be installed in parking spaces paid for with public funds and generally dragging their feet on the repair and replacement of storm damaged walkovers – the Volusia County Council’s track record on beach access is abysmal – and getting worse.

In fact, many long-time residents I speak with claim that the worst decision ever made was removing control of our beaches from the municipalities in favor of a “unified policy” under county control.

I agree.

To add insult, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, who has openly opposed beach driving for years under the guise he supports “beach access” – which means he’s cool with the idea of you schlepping your children, chairs, umbrellas and coolers across four-lanes of heavy traffic from an off-beach parking area, said of the county’s “plan,” which opened a few ramps that were inexplicably closed in exchange for a 100% increase in tolls, “This makes sense.  It’s working, it’s giving people easier access when the beach is accessible.”

That’s what I love most about Chairman Kelley – he never met a tax or fee hike he didn’t like – unless, of course, that fee would adversely impact the bottom line of his cronies in the real estate development community. . .

There has been a move in Volusia County – and other local governments – that despite our incredibly high tax rate – public funded amenities, such as parks, picnic areas and our beach – should be cash generators with exorbitant access tolls, rental fees and other ancillary costs.

The result is roped-off gazebos, locked gates, inhospitable playgrounds and a beach that looks like an ugly forest of poisoned poles and rampant sign pollution with no visual appeal and a horribly uninviting feel.

Folks, we didn’t inflict this wound on ourselves – those we elected to represent our interests did – and the visitors we spend to attract are beginning to notice.

Make no mistake, the reason sales of beach passes are down more than 50% over the same period last year is a direct result of Volusia County’s cruel plan to eliminate beach driving – or price it out of the reach of many – because that is what they were directed to do by their political benefactors.

Angel:             Sheriff Michael Chitwood & WNDB’s Marc Bernier

Look, not everyone is going to agree with me on this one – and that’s okay – but if you haven’t listened to Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s explosive interview with Marc Bernier on WNDB last Tuesday – you’re missing something special – and incredibly insightful.

Rarely do We, The People have the unique opportunity to hear the unvarnished truth from a sitting elected official – the chief law enforcement officer of our county – totally devoid of the stench of political correctness and refreshingly free of the canned soundbites and sideways jabbering that make many political interviews long on fluff and short on substance by design.

Say what you will about Sheriff Chitwood – I admit he can be polarizing – but I suspect we will never see him scurrying away from the glare of a news camera like a greasy sewer-roach in some slimy attempt to dodge a reporter’s hard questions on the issues of the day.

To the contrary.

Our Sheriff calls it like he sees it – and obviously doesn’t give a damn what those dullards on the dais of power in DeLand – or anyone else, for that matter – think about it.

I respect that.

In Mr. Bernier’s very cogent and wide-ranging examination of the important issues – from Volusia County’s current “cesspool” of pay-to-play politics to former County Manager Jim Dinneen’s surprise appearance as a finalist for the job in Pinellas County – Sheriff Chitwood didn’t disappoint with his bold, no-holds-barred assessment of the current dismal state of affairs in DeLand and beyond.

Some of it was shocking – especially in his description of a little-known facet of how certain power players maintain a death-grip on the political throat of certain local elected officials – and explained his inside take on the ‘pay to play’ scheme that has allowed certain uber-wealthy insiders to control public policy, enrich themselves while avoiding paying their fair share for growth and retain direct access to the public teat.

Now, Sheriff Chitwood is calling for a federal investigation.

Regular readers of this forum know that for over two-years now I have railed against the seedy manipulation of our elected officials by a handful of incredibly wealthy individuals in the insurance, real estate development and motorsports industries through the infusion of massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates for local offices as a means of controlling their personal and professional environment.

All perfectly legal under our antiquated campaign finance laws which permits individuals and corporate entities under their control – or shadow companies and LLC’s with bizarre names totally unrelated to the person or industry making the contribution – linked only by a common address.

In turn, even casual observers of Volusia’s body politic have stood dumbstruck by the blatancy of the deception as these same individuals are repeatedly granted tens-of-millions in infrastructure, tax abatement and other dubious economic development “incentives” that look for all the world like corporate cronyism and the use of public funds to hedge private risk.

According to Sheriff Chitwood, an individual in the construction trades reported to him that a building contractor working for mega-developer Mori Hosseini’s ICI Homes was allegedly told which political candidates he and his subcontractors should support if he wished to retain the contract.

In fact, Sheriff Chitwood said he offered to personally drive the contractor to the FBI field office in Daytona Beach – but was told the victim was terrified of losing his business and livelihood by coming forward.

That’s scary stuff.

In my view, if true, that represents base thuggery – the gross use of extortive threats and lucrative contracts to force the political support of subordinate private entities in order to maintain physical control of elective bodies and further the personal interests of political insiders with a profit motive.

 What part of that sounds like a healthy representative democracy to you? 

In my view, if this problem is as pervasive as many smart people think it is – consider for a moment the wide shadow cast by the umbrella of certain local entities who employ hundreds of workers, contractors and sub-contractors – and donate heavily to local political campaigns?

Then there was Sheriff Chitwood’s retort to a backhanded slight attributed to the always arrogant County Councilwoman Deb Denys, who said the reason Chitwood cannot attract candidates to fill sworn vacancies in his agency is because good people “don’t want to work for him.”

The Sheriff responded with sound facts regarding the industry-wide problem of attracting quality applicants to law enforcement throughout the state – then took a hard left to the dark side when he averred the only thing Deb Denys knows about policing is the “fur-lined handcuffs on her headboard.”

Look, I’ve used some frosty zingers on occasion to vent my frustrations on the machinations of a county government run amok – but perhaps Sheriff Chitwood could have found a better analogy.

I’m certainly no fan of Deb Denys – but the Sheriff’s corellation was, well, a little weird. . .

Now, we can all stand-by for the fusillade from our haughty elected officials and senior management in the Halls of Power in DeLand as they broadside Sheriff Chitwood for his quip.

Since when did people lose their political sense of humor?  Especially during an election year?

It always amazes me that well-meaning people will attack like a rabid dingo when some elected official utters a spicy phrase they find offensive – yet they have no problem at all with the daily moral ambiguity, routine ethical compromises and good old-fashioned base corruption that has all but crippled substantive progress in Volusia County for years.

Mark my word – there will be the usual sad-eyed head-shaking and audible sighs from our elected officials in DeLand – exasperated lectures from the dais about ‘civility’ and ‘professionalism,’ and the angry condemnation and faux-tears from Old Ed Kelley, who keeps telling us through his sobs that he doesn’t need this shit – not after his ‘Bro Country’ music star son offered to buy him a beach house in the panhandle and deliver him from this fetid shithole he helped create.

 (What an elitist asshole.  I mean, really – invoking the goofy celebrity status of your son as a means of telling us piss-ants you’re doing us a favor being here?  My God. . .)

The odd thing is – I don’t remember the same sense of outrage by those who are making hay over Sheriff Chitwood’s salacious attempt at humor – painting him as a charter member of the “He-Man Woman Haters Club” – and starting a mini-movement to pillory him – whenever Old Ed, Sleepy Pat Patterson – and Deb Denys – were personally destroying Councilwoman Heather Post and Dr. Sara Zydowicz, in the news media and from the dais, when these brave ladies exposed mismanagement and neglect in a critical county service, then asked the tough questions during the final days of the Dinneen regime.

I mean, where was the righteous indignation when Dr. Z put her career on the line and courageously laid bare the travesty at our medical examiner’s office – and was promptly labeled a liar and openly accused of “ginning up” allegations in a well-orchestrated barrage designed to protect Jim Dinneen?

Where was the hue and cry when Mr. Dinneen angrily reminded everyone that Ms. Post was terminated from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – squawking on the front page of the newspaper,  “I think you all forget her circumstances of why she doesn’t work here anymore” – yet failed to mention that Post filed a wrongful termination suit and received a $44,000 settlement from the county?

Where is the fury and seething rage?

 I mean, powerful people tried to openly ruin these women simply for trying to protect the public and expose wrongdoing?

Look, I get it – but this tempest in a teapot smells a whole lot like election year dramatics to me.

Trust me when I say – Deb Denys is more than capable of handling herself in a political knife fight – she has the toughness to give as good as she gets – and the political savvy to fake a foul quicker than a Hungarian soccer player taking a dive.

Now, King Hossieni’s sister – Maryam Ghyabi – is piling on, using social media to ask if Sheriff Chitwood can be “forgiven” for his transgression against Councilwoman Denys?

Please.

In my view, our ‘powers that be’ are beginning to learn that the game is not so fun when the piñata hits back – and if anyone thinks Sheriff Chitwood, a tough cop with the hard bark necessary to absorb cheap political attacks and punch back – is going to stand around and be verbally abused by the likes of this current crop of compromised chattel they better damn well think again.

Something tells me Mike isn’t going to stand by for this silly auto de fé by political confederate’s intent of vilifying one of the most popular sitting sheriffs in the state.

We live in an age where the word “civility” is used by sitting politicians as a cudgel to beat the daylights out of anyone who rises in opposition to their chicanery, all while ensuring lockstep fealty to an oligarchical system which seemingly exists to meet the profit motives of the well-connected few.

Could the Sheriff choose his words more carefully from time-to-time?  Sure.  We all could.

But Sheriff Chitwood is clearly his own man – the refreshing, independent voice that we desperately need in this foul time and place in our history – and a politician who understands that he is ultimately accountable to the voters for his strengths and weaknesses.

The fact is, it’s high-time the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County had a champion in a position of power in DeLand – someone willing to stand up for us and expose the abject corruption, gross mismanagement, wheeler-dealer backroom shenanigans and blatant cronyism that has drug us all to this grim nadir – and I believe we have found that in a flamboyant cop from Philadelphia with a foul mouth and clean conscience.

Quote of the Week:

“I am disappointed and dismayed by the recent secret negotiations that led to a contract with Florida Hospital that may or may not be in the best interests of the children attending our public schools. I question the superintendent’s motive, and why our board members didn’t table the issue until more discussion could be held.”

–Mary G. Bennett, Daytona Beach, a retired 40-year classroom veteran of Volusia County Schools, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Letters to the Editor, Wednesday, July 3, 2018

There is growing concern that the same lack of transparency and candor that has destroyed the public’s trust in County government may now be infecting the Volusia County School Board.

Last week, we learned that after some 15-months of clandestine negotiations – district bureaucrats struck a lopsided deal which makes Florida Hospital the “exclusive student education and student wellness partner of the School Board for all purposes and on all levels.”

For a relatively paltry sum of $200K a year. . . 

In fact, this cheap marketing scheme was brought before the School Board during a “special” meeting which left at least two members – Carl Persis and Ida Wright – questioning the need for the cloak-and-dagger secrecy that gave our elected representatives just days to study the costs and benefits of this uber-weird partnership before a vote was called.

Yet, in the end, the vote was unanimous. . .

Then, School Board attorney Ted Doran attempted to dismiss our concerns by explaining that private negotiations are common in the “corporate world.”

My ass.

This “deal” smells like a rotten mackerel by moonlight.

Long-time civic activist Gwen Azama-Edwards recently wrote, Without open dialogue, and receiving only $200,000 every year from Florida Hospital, our public schools have been put at a disadvantage. Now, the right to understand and utilize all of the health care resources in the community has been shortchanged and influenced by money.” 

I agree with you, Gwen – and I have serious concerns about the direction of our schools – and the ultimate fate of our school tax dollars.

Clearly, many of you do as well.

For instance, what’s up with this creepy double-taxation scheme that has the district assuming the role of a tramp mendicant – panhandling from area municipalities to pay for the incredibly important “School Guardian” program – a rushed, state mandated security measure which will place armed civilians in elementary schools?

Or why our teachers are being denied a living wage by a district that continues to fund Taj Mahal facilities and lucrative compensation and benefits packages for those with Platinum VIP status in the “Superintendent’s Cabinet”?

Or why – in an election year – our school board representatives finally regained control of their cognitive functions and decided (on a 3-2 vote) against bonding $150 million at a cost of $50 million (something they wouldn’t have batted an eye at a year ago) in favor of a pay-as-you-go stratagem to fund facility renovation and replacement costs?

Questions, questions – always with the questions, Barker. . .

And Another Thing!

Here’s some wonderful news from the Sons of the Beach website:

“The Sons of the Beach’ Board of Directors has voted to establish a Political Action Committee to expand the SOBs ability to participate in the political process.  Currently the SOBs are a Non-Profit Corporation, as such,  the SOBs have been limited to the extent in which they can engage directly in the political process.

With the establishment of the Sons of the Beach and Friends, as a 501 C4 corporation,  the SOBs and Friends will be able to contribute financially and to endorse candidates.  The establishment of the Sons of the Beach and Friends requires careful separation of certain aspects of the relationship between the two corporations.  One of those aspects is the delineation of finances for each corporation. 

The Sons of the Beach and Friends banking structure is in the process of being established.  Soon you will be able to contribute to the SOBs and Friends. 

Your contributions will help gain independence from those special interests who for the last thirty years have enacted their failed ideas.  Those ideas have stripped a community of its freedoms and traditions all for their own selfish benefit.”

I’ve said it before – in matters of public policy there is strength in numbers.

And, with enough like-minded people investing in the future of Volusia County, We, The People can also play the campaign finance game.

I hope you will join other loyal members of the Barker’s View tribe on Saturday, July 21st for the Second Sons of the Beach protest of the theft of our beach behind the Hard Rock Hotel in Daytona Beach.

SOB’s will join with friends and supporters on the Hard Rock’s semi-private beach between 9:00am and 3:00pm for a peaceful sit-in as we soak up some rays while letting those marionettes on the County Council know that there is some shit we won’t eat!

If you are not a member of Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy, please go to www.sonsofthebeach.org and join us today.  It’s free – and best of all – you’ll be helping a cause of vital importance to our quality of life in the Halifax area.

I can guarantee you a fun day with smart, civically engaged neighbors who are dedicated to securing beach access for future generations.

Have a great weekend, y’all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best of Barker’s View: The Curse of Chief Tomokie

Happy Monday, Y’all!

The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently asked local historians to solve the 150 year old mystery of where the name “Volusia” originated.

As part of their “Curious Coast” series, this morning the newspaper ran some suggestions on how we came by our unique moniker.

Last spring, I speculated on the origin of our name – and explained my goofy thoughts on the Volusia County charter debate – which appears to be as topical today as it was then – especially as we begin the process of selecting a new County Manager.

Enjoy!

Let’s be honest.  We’re a hot mess here on the Fun Coast.

We came to be way back in December 1854, when the state legislature split Orange County, leaving 600 unfortunate souls languishing on a plot of pine scrub about the size of Rhode Island, nestled between the St. John’s River and the Atlantic Ocean.

They named us after our largest city at the time, Volusia.

Orange County went on to Disney World, theme parks and metropolitan prosperity.

They even got a Trader Joe’s.  Two of ’em.

Volusia?  Not so much.

We never quite got it together.

Hell, even the origin of our name has been in dispute since we were founded.

Some claim “Volusia” comes from an old Euchee Indian word, while others believe we were named after a British fellow, Voluz, who owned a plantation on the banks of the St. Johns.

Still others say the modern Volusia is an anglicized derivative of Veluche – the Belgian owner of a cheap roadside trading post.

Then there’s the theory that the Spanish dubbed us Volusio, after the famed Roman jurist who tutored Marcus Aurelius – or an early B-list magician – archaeologists are just not sure.

Yep.  A lot of history here on the Fun Coast.  Good and bad.

Interestingly, today marks the 60th Anniversary of the dedication of the Chief Tomokie statute in Tomoka State Park.

When I was a little kid, a big day for us was loading up in the car and having a picnic under the big oak trees surrounding the Tomokie statute.

I remember gazing up at the anatomically correct naked Indians shooting arrows at the Chief – as he stood proud, bravely pouring water on his attackers from his golden cup with spear raised high.

He was one cool dude.

Now, he looks like a broken mess – his fist raised in defiant resistance.

I think maybe the Chief took the ass at us after we ran his people off the land – then allowed his monument to fall victim to vandalism and utter disrepair.

That’s why we can’t have nice things.

Personally, I think our name derives from some ancient Timucuan curse ol’ Tomokie laid down which doomed us all to wretchedly poor county governance, spotty municipal service delivery, and a dearth of upscale grocery stores for the next thousand years.

Let’s face it, through the years people have tried just about everything to make a living here – sugar, cattle, indigo, moonshine, shipwreck salvage, rum running, speculative property development – you name it.

The dark and spooky ruins of these failed enterprises can be found everywhere you look.

If you talk to old timers, they tell stories of political graft and corruption in the “bad old days” that will curl your hair.

Seems like we have always had a weird vibe here in Volusia County.

I was recently waxing nostalgic over a 1989 article by Bo Poertner in the Orlando Sentinel under the headline, “Volusia Awash in Crime, Corruption, Power Politics – Tax Turmoil Mark Decade.”

 The lede drew me in:

“Wander for a few minutes through the 1980’s in Volusia County.”

“Slosh through the quagmire of violent crime and political corruption.  Elbow your way through power politics – upheavals over taxes, beach tolls, control of the beaches, growth management and environmental protection, protests over pornography, and demonstrations against street drugs.”

Sound familiar?

As I’ve said before – in Volusia County, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’ve lived here a long time – over 50-years now – and it bothers me when well-meaning folks try to re-write history as a salve for our modern problems.

Look, I have a lot of respect for Dr. Bud Fleuchaus.

He’s been pulling teeth in these parts for years – he yanked a few of mine – and he’s a nice guy, too.

Back in the day, he was a highly-respected elected official and political insider who helped draft the original charter – a document some claim brought law and order to the wild and woolly Turkish Bazar that was Volusia County government.

Last Sunday, he wrote a very cogent point-counterpoint editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal where he took Sheriff Mike Chitwood to task for his push to return constitutional sovereignty to the office.

In my view, Dr. Fleuchaus gilded the lily a bit with tales of how our time-tested charter has withstood “five Charter Review Commissions with few functional changes.”

That’s a debate for another day.

He also claimed that the great Chitwood/Dinneen blood feud, “…undermines the dignity of the Volusia County government which for 46 years has been a leader in progressive management and quality service delivery.”

 Doc, you have my unending respect – but let’s not go crazy here.

To describe what we’ve seen in Deland over the past decade as “progressive management” and “quality service delivery” is a stretch.

According to Dr. Fleuchaus, “The framers of Volusia’s charter envisioned a government that would be managed by a professional, experienced administrator under the direction of a seven-member elected council establishing all its policies.”

 That’s an admirable goal.

But what happens when the system goes haywire?

I don’t think the drafters of our charter got together in a dark room and said, “Let’s see how we can consolidate power in the hands of one person, you know, to make it easier for big money political insiders to co-opt our elected officials, manipulate county government, and control access to the public trough for a select few while alienating the will and input of the people.”

At least I hope they didn’t.

But that’s what happened over time.

I have no doubt Dr. Fleuchaus, and the other framers of our charter, could not have envision a day when uber-wealthy power brokers would infuse hundreds of thousands of dollars into county council elections, create an artificial economy by providing tax-funded incentives to businesses and entities favored by the donor class, or a time when our elected officials would circle the wagons around a demonstrably flawed and unscrupulous county manager who controls their political fate through a flawed insider campaign finance scheme.

I agree with Sheriff Chitwood’s incredibly strong statement in his response, “Simply put, the county’s charter puts way too much power and influence in the hands of one person and his deep-pocketed supporters.”

 He’s right.

 As our newly elected Sheriff also pointed out – it’s not the sheriff’s charter, and it’s not the county manager’s charter – it is the people’s charter.

In my view, it is time our elected officials realize this and return power where it rightfully belongs – with the citizens of Volusia County – and give us the opportunity to be heard on this important and terribly divisive issue.

On Volusia: Hungry, Hungry Hippos

I’ve never been on Safari, but I’ve seen nature documentaries showing the destructive potential of the Hippopotamus – a brute which can reach 10,000 pounds.

While these giant herbivores appear to be awkward and hulking, in truth, they can run up to 14 miles per hour on land, or conceal themselves underwater and lope along the bottom of rivers and lakes with incredible grace and speed.

The hippo also ranks among the most dangerous animals in the world, responsible for more than 3,000 deaths each year.

Jesus.  Imagine a five-ton behemoth barreling down on your ass, tusks flashing, tearing up the tundra on the Tanzanian veld, attempting to crush, drown then swallow you whole?

Terrifying.

There is no reasoning with a Hippopotamus, and they are described by scientists as “notoriously unpredictable.”

They are programmed to eat and make little hippos – and woe be to anyone or anything that attempts to interrupt that process.  Once a big bull sets those broad-set eyes on something he perceives as a threat, well, it’s probably too late, and few survive the encounter.

I was reminded of the similarities between these great beasts and certain real estate developers who are quickly exploiting our current “make hay while the sun shines” growth management plan – a slash and burn strategy to clear-cut and pave over as much greenspace, in the shortest amount of time possible.

I recently read an interesting article posted by a former colleague, now in the private sector, discussing a recent survey that found community growth is the Number One issue that keeps local government officials awake at night.

Not managing growth – but expanding, becoming larger.

Ranking above strategic planning, increased community engagement or even the budget, how to enlarge their communities and increase growth opportunities is what consumes many public officials today.

The ‘Bigger is always Better’ syndrome.

Sound familiar?

Historically, one of the problems Floridian’s face is that real estate developers have a much better lobby than We, The People.

They also have a clear strategic focus that ensures maximum profitability on every acre or parcel within their control – even if it means skirting the letter and spirit of environmental regulations – or turning elected representatives into aggressive shills through our spongy campaign finance laws to ensure their projects come to fruition.

That’s a very effective strategy – up until the moment long-suffering residents become wise to the ‘pay to play’ scheme and organize to toss the bums out and replace them with responsive representatives who see ‘growth management’ as something other than turning every available square foot of nature into another half-vacant strip center in the name of “progress.”

In matters of influencing public policy – there is strength in numbers.

At a recent “smart growth” forum hosted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, an estimated 200 of our friends and neighbors turned out to have their questions answered.

In New Smyrna Beach, citizens are starting to look like Frankensteinian villagers as they demand their voices be heard on the issue of unchecked growth, which is quickly ruining the character of this quaint beach community.

In Ormond Beach, those intrepid souls of CANDO II – real grassroots activists who are beginning to impact the politics of growth and development – as they work to preserve their quality of life and the ‘small town’ atmosphere that other cities are spending to re-create.

Unfortunately, there is also a weird school of thought among our ‘Rich & Powerful’ when it comes to managing growth – and their voice is a lot louder than yours and mine.

For instance, consider the interesting “conservation” mindset of Prince John Albright, CEO of Consolidated Tomoka, a Daytona Beach-based company whose land sales in recent years included sites of some of the major projects that are poised to bring thousands of new homes as well as dozens of stores, restaurants and other businesses to the area, including the new Latitude Margaritaville 55-and-older and all-ages Mosaic “full life” communities going up off of LPGA Boulevard, just west of Interstate 95.”

After sitting as a resident “expert” on growth at the News-Journal’s community forum, Prince John followed up with some data points that perhaps get overlooked or even not realized when talking about ‘smart growth’ and as some of it pertains to CTO (Consolidated-Tomoka).”

He went on to explain that the good ol’ boys investment club over at Consolidated-Tomoka has put over half their land holdings into conservation in the past 20-years – with some 13,000 acres sold to the state for Tiger Bay Wildlife Management Area – which “puts a cap on residential growth potential.”

Really?

Prince John would also have us believe, “Daytona Beach’s current residential building permits are WELL BELOW its 30-year average thus one may ask, what growth?’ I think the recent growth concerns have come about because there hasn’t been ANY growth for a very long time.”

Did he just say, “What growth?”

My God. . .

Here are some interesting “data points” Mr. Albright conveniently forgot to mention when discussing just what prompted Consolidated-Tomoka to suddenly get all warm-and-fuzzy over mitigating the environmental impacts of recent westward sprawl:

In June 2016, the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection issued a consent order requiring Consolidated-Tomoka – without admitting wrongdoing – to restore 107.9 acres of wetlands, create another 41.26 acres of wetlands, and pay a fine in the amount of $187,500, after allegations the company illegally dredged and filled some 163 acres of wetlands on 3,500 acres it owns west of I-95 and north of LPGA Boulevard.

You might recognize that area as on or near the current site of that “Parrothead Paradise” – Jimmy Buffett’s own Latitudes Daytona – a 6,900+ residential and commercial monstrosity by Canadian mega-developer Minto Communities.

Did I mention that the “environmental consultant” hired by Consolidated-Tomoka to ramrod the permits for the Margaritaville project just happened to be Bio-Tech Consulting, Inc. – whose president just happens to be Long John Miklos – who just happens to be the sitting five-term chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District?

Because they did.

This typically Florida-style farce has become a running gag – mega-developers hiring Mr. Miklos to lobby for their interests before the very regulatory agency he oversees – while our neutered ethics apparatus stands back and tacitly encourages the practice.

How fun.  How uniquely Floridian.

Then, in December 2017, Consolidated-Tomoka added insult to injury by starting work on the EPA ordered wetlands restoration project without first obtaining the necessary state permits.

But wait, there’s more. . .

According to a December Daytona Beach News-Journal article entitled, well, “Wetlands restoration work begins without required permit,” the intrepid environmental reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver let us know:

When Consolidated-Tomoka agreed to the EPA’s settlement, the federal agency also stated the company couldn’t get mitigation credit for restoring and creating the wetlands. However, the application to the water management district from Consolidated-Tomoka and Bio-Tech asks the district for state mitigation credit for the work. The application seeks 46.72 credits for the work, which Consolidated-Tomoka could use in exchange for wetland impacts to other properties.”

For the record, mitigation credits are part of Florida’s goofy “hurt here, help there” system of allowing developers to purchase credits from a permitted wetland bank in exchange for harmful impacts to wetlands in “nearby” locations.

Mitigation credits in our region currently bring between $50,000 and $165,000 each.

On June 8, 2018, the St. John’s River Water Management District approved 355 wetland mitigation credits for a 2,500-acre parcel owned by Consolidated-Tomoka near the Tiger Bay WMA.

On June 11, 2018 – Consolidated-Tomoka sold a 70% stake in the parcel to a New York investment group for $15.3 million.

According to reports, Consolidated-Tomoka retains a 30% stake and management rights on the property which will now become a wetlands mitigation bank worth between $18 million and $59 million.

Wow.

“One of the consulting firms that assisted Tiger Bay Mitigation LLC in obtaining permit approval from the water management district was Bio-Tech Consulting Inc., whose president is John Miklos, who is also serving a fifth term as chairman of the water management district.”

Hungry, Hungry Hippos, indeed. . .

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for June 29, 2018

Hi, kids!

Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth!

The great author and chronicler of all things Florida, Carl Hiaasen, once said, “The Sunshine State is a paradise of scandals teeming with drifters, deadbeats and misfits drawn here by some dark primordial calling like demented trout.  And you’d be surprised how many of them decide to run for public office.”

 Damn, if he doesn’t hit the nail on the head, eh?

Last week marked the end of qualifying and the beginning of the 2018 election season, a time when political hopefuls – entrenched insider incumbents, well-meaning populists and wide-eyed naïfs, newbies and their political benefactors and strategists – will work hard to gain our trust – and our vote – in races and referendums of vital importance to our future here on the beleaguered Fun Coast and beyond.

For years, well-meaning people have attempted to politely persuade me to throw my hat in the ring and stand for various elective offices.  While I sincerely appreciate their confidence, I simply don’t have the stomach for it.

As I like to say, I’m a complainer – not a ‘doer.’

A cowardly critic – a chronic bitcher with a blog – a keyboard warrior – an inane muckraker with an axe to grind – and I have no desire for political power beyond expressing my opinions on the issues of the day, and, as Conrad said, “. . .using the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel – before all, to make you see – and, perhaps, provide that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.”

That, and nothing more.

In my experience, serious candidates for public office invariably have one thing in common – they share a real ‘fire in the belly,’ an overwhelming drive to compete in what has become a brutal blood sport and win at all costs.

That requires a level of personal commitment, grit and an old-fashioned work ethic that I simply don’t possess.

While there is plenty of time between now and the primary – or the general election in November – to get their message across, there is simply no time to waste – and that requires starting well before dawn and working feverishly until after dark, talking issues, pressing-the-flesh and getting their smiling visage in front of as many potential voters as possible.

Look, I don’t know much, but if you are running for public office this time around and your campaign isn’t issue-centric – you’re doing it wrong.

In the past, John Q. Public could give a damn about the challenges we face (that’s a big reason we’re in the shape we’re in) and oftentimes a smile and a shoeshine could win the day – but this year is different, I think.

While it’s still the ‘candidate’ they’re voting for – I believe it will be less about how the person chooses to present him or herself, and more about clearly defining unique solutions to the age-old problems we face here on the Fun Coast that will win votes this time around.

The folks I talk to are genuinely concerned about the direction our local governments are heading – specifically when it comes to unchecked development, a lack of effective revitalization efforts and the pox of insider influence – something many see shaping everything from our desperate transportation infrastructure needs to massive corporate giveaways and the growing lack of transparency in what should be the people’s business.

In short, anyone in the arena should be prepared with new, innovative answers with a strong focus on problem-solving initiatives – and a plan to pay for them – because it’s going to take both to get voters attention this fall.

Tired defenders of the status quo – or those who were given a chance to serve and squandered it – will be identified as the boat anchors they are.

The majority of candidates won’t receive the anointment and financial support of our High Panjandrum’s of Political Power – so the only option they have left is the grueling process of door-to-door, grassroots campaigning – house-to-house fighting to win over their neighbors and spread the good word of change.

That’s a damn difficult proposition – but it works.

In fact, absent a groaning war chest full of political I.O.U’s, it’s the only thing that can.

Candidates with tens-of-thousands of dollars funneled from the usual suspects – our uber-wealthy donor class and their various corporations, political action committees and shadowy entities – have the wherewithal to cover ground quickly through mass media campaigns – and the only antidote to that is shoe leather and perseverance.

That’s also a difficult proposition in the heat and humidity of a Florida summer.

But when the ‘nut-cutting’ hour comes this August, we’ll see who outworked who – and then our collective decisions will become infinitely more focused.

Until then, get used to receiving the glossy mailouts showing the various candidates sitting comfortably barefoot on the beach, surrounded by his/her family, all uniformly clad cap-à-pie in starched white shirts and comfortable jeans, with a rented Labrador or precocious grandchild carefully staged center frame.

After all, pictures make politics – and with enough money – even a dimwitted incumbent can carefully craft an image that will make the uniformed voter suspend reality and forget the candidates abysmal voting record, alienation, lies and manipulation for the past four years.

Fortunately, we are living in the age of ‘high-information’ voters – people who care enough about the important issues to seek out fresh perspectives and alternative opinions to support what they take in with their own eyes and ears.

Clearly, I’m not a political scientist by any means – but I receive calls from various political candidates this time of the year, soliciting my goofy opinions on the issues of the day as they work to cobble together a platform, and I’m happy to help when I can.

But if you want someone to fawn, flatter, pat you on the backside and massage your developing political ego – probably better to rub elbows with the Halifax Power Set – because I’m the last guy you want to reach out to.  Trust me.

Look, my take on the news of the day is no more insightful or prescient that anyone else’s (and that includes our uber-wealthy ‘power brokers’) but I’ve been around too long to be fooled by cheap trickery and imaging – and I refuse to be blinded by the sweet serenade of someone who’s in it for the wrong reasons – most of whom will quickly transform into everything they hated once elected to high office, just like the shitheads who came before.

But if you’re in the race of your life to try and make a real difference in the life of our community – to help restore confidence in our system of governance, ensure a level playing field and enhance social, educational, service and civic opportunities for every citizen – then you have my full support.

The positive takeaway is we have some impressive candidates in the mix this season – remarkable people from all walks of life on both sides of the County with a true vision for change.

We’ve got some of Carl’s misfits, too.

We’ll talk more about all of them in weeks to come.

In the meantime, I’ll be here – watching, waiting, and calling bullshit on any political candidate or two-bit operative who tries to pull the wool over our collective eyes and distract us from the grave issues that effect our lives and livelihoods with cheap political assholery.

This election is far too important for that.

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

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

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

Admittedly, I’m one to carry a grudge – I admit it.

One of my innumerable character flaws, I guess.

I’ve really tried to get past this – but it still bothers me – and this bears repeating:

Now that our preening elected representatives in DeLand have purged their spleen in a fit of political pique and exposed their vile hatred for anyone who challenges the status quo of an entrenched power structure – a political protection racket that showers select candidates with hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions in exchange for four-years of lockstep conformity and complete fealty to the Donor Class – they are pointing the finger of blame at their long-suffering constituents.

Did anyone expect anything different?

Despite the weak-minded denials of our doddering fool of a County Chairman, Ed Kelley – a perennial politician who hasn’t had an original thought since he accepted his first campaign contribution – it is clear to anyone paying attention that the majority of Volusia County Council members have developed a virulent case of psychological projection, a political defense mechanism that allows them to abdicate responsibility and attribute all the problems in their sole span of control to the “malarkey” of naysaying constituents.

It appears – with the exception of current political punching bag, Heather Post – council members have convinced themselves that the dismal political climate we find ourselves in is the result of angry social media posts and attempts by Sheriff Mike Chitwood to expose the broken and corrupt nature of this horrible system he inherited following the last election.

Look, you can’t have it both ways.

Our elected officials need to understand that you can completely ignore the needs, wants and concerns of your constituents, shut them out of the process, ignore their input and surprise them with off-the-agenda stunts designed to ramrod sketchy public policies and conceal murky intentions, then funnel millions in public funds to the private profit motives of a few powerful political insiders – but when the light of day finally exposes the machinations of this oligarchical system – you cannot simply blame the victim.

Our elected representatives on the dais of power would have us believe that if we continue to speak out and call attention to this farcical system we have suffered under – a bastardized process that has thwarted any substantive progress in Volusia County for years – then the continued exercise of our First Amendment rights will chase away any “good” county manager candidates, leaving us to select from the “Barney Fifes” of the current executive class.

I’ll take an honest Barney Fife over a shifty shitheel with a pedigree any day of the week.

No, despite what they would have us believe – this one is on them – not us.

For months, We, The People have been forced to stand by and witness this ugly exclusionary process play out – a constituency left totally voiceless, stymied by an internally controlled information black market – repeatedly and openly lied to, then told we were too stupid to appreciate the issues facing us in a weird form of political gaslighting.

In fact, if you look at the classic techniques used by tormentors to psychologically abuse and control their victims you might find some eerie similarities to our current situation:

It’s textbook.  And it’s wrong.

Fortunately, smart people with the insider knowledge and understanding of the how, what, when and why the wheel came off our collective cart at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center are beginning to echo the concerns of Sheriff Chitwood, Councilwoman Post and others with the guts to defend us from this abusive relationship that has ruined the public’s trust in their government.

In Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, former County Councilman Doug Daniels both confirmed our worst fears – and provided a cogent way forward as we collectively struggle to right the ship in the aftermath of one of the most disastrous periods in our history.

“Will Dinneen’s departure usher in an era of good government?  No.”

“The county’s power structure and its poorly drafted, antiquated charter will remain. When there are only a handful of big-money donors funding political campaigns, miracles will be in short supply, particularly now that the rich have come to display their power not by building public monuments, but by raiding taxpayer funds. We cannot change that, but we can change the charter to provide for an open, transparent government. We can watch them do it.”

Mr. Daniels rightly suggests that Volusia’s sacrosanct charter should be changed to ensure accountability, transparency and fiscal integrity through an independent internal auditor reporting directly to the council – and the people.

He also suggested that we replace this hodgepodge system of management by crisis with a 20-year strategic vision for Volusia County.

I couldn’t agree more.

He further suggests reorganizing the charter to provide a strong elected chairman, with a salary similar to circuit court judges – someone with the “real power” to effectively represent the interests of Volusia County in regional issues, like SunRail.

“With such reforms, you still might not like what the county government does, but at least you would know what it is doing. With an elected chairman, we would have someone who could represent us here and on a bigger stage, and someone we could hold accountable.”

In my view, change is on the breeze.

With a good crop of outstanding new candidates for public office working hard to gain our trust – and our vote – hope springs anew this election cycle.

Clearly, the big money candidates are getting nervous, and they should be.

The political pendulum is beginning its slow arc, hopefully returning power where it rightfully belongs – to We, The People, from which all political legitimacy originates.

So, let our ‘powers that be’ know exactly how you feel.

Let them know that we will not be told to shut up and sit-down by the likes of Old Ed Kelley, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson or any other self-serving politician who has clearly lost the moral authority to lead.

Asshole:          Volusia County School Board  

With Volusia County residents still reeling from wild revelations of gross mismanagement, open deception by senior officials, neglect of essential services and the stench of corruption that continues to slowly waft from the fetid swamp of county government – one would think that other taxing authorities and public entities would put greater emphasis on communication, ethical clarity and transparency.

Yeah, right.

In yet another startling disclosure out of DeLand, it seems the Volusia County Council wasn’t the only elective body claiming to have been treated like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed bullshit – by senior staff on important matters of great public concern.

Last week, the Volusia County School Board – meeting in “special” session – approved a $2 million-dollar, five-year contract with Florida Hospital naming the healthcare provider the “exclusive student education and student wellness partner of the School Board for all purposes and on all levels.”

The agreement ends some 15-months of shadowy, back-alley negotiations by district officials that resulted in an 18-page agreement that gives Florida Hospital all the marketing exposure they could have dreamed for – including naming rights, sponsorship options, districtwide distribution of branded material, and graduate recruitment options, among other benefits.

In exchange, Florida Hospital will provide students a biannual speaker series, internships and a walk-thru of their facilities. . .

Wow.

In keeping with this new era of government secrecy, school officials apparently failed to even consider a competitive process by including Halifax Health – the district’s other long-time partner – who has provided essential counseling and therapeutic services to thousands of families through Halifax Behavioral Services, volunteer opportunities for students in health-related career academies, and, as the Daytona Beach News-Journal recently reported, “a long list of other benefits” for many years.

Why?  Because Halifax Health – a publicly funded hospital – didn’t approach the school district with the sponsorship idea first.

Say what?

That smells a lot like the typical chickenshit Volusia County Two-Step – a shifty means to avoid accountability once the light of day shines on their latest scheme.

Perhaps most disturbing – but not unexpected – is that we are being led to believe these secret negotiations with a single provider were withheld from our elected representatives on the Volusia County School Board until just days before they were asked to vote on the issue.

I find that frightening – and you should too.

In my view, it is high time our elected officials – regardless of their post – start investigating, identifying and terminating any senior administrator or staff member who knowingly and intentionally withholds material information from policymakers and the public.

Why, because it’s against the fucking law, that’s why.

When public funds are expended ostensibly in the public interest – we have a statutorial right to know how our money is being spent – or what we are giving away to our latest corporate “partner.”

Despite the incredibly weak excuse by School Board Attorney Ted Doran that private negotiations are common practice in the “corporate world” – Doran apparently fails to realize that he represents our School Board, not IBM – a responsibility that requires open, transparent and morally sound practices to maintain the public trust.

And don’t give me this self-congratulatory bullshit that the board’s “special” meeting was meant to be a “celebration of a historic accomplishment.”

My ass.

Nobody cured cancer here – you entered into a clever publicity agreement with a hospital system – nothing more.

The Volusia County school district needs to understand that they have a growing credibility problem with their core stakeholders – students, parents, teachers and those of us who pay the freight.

There is mounting suspicion that government secrecy smells a whole lot like corruption and mismanagement – and given what we have just experienced – our distrust and apprehension is well-founded.

Let’s put the blame squarely where it rightfully rests – with those who stood before us and promised to serve with our best interests at heart – our elected School Board officials who took an oath – and assured us they would work hard to develop open, honest and transparent policies and programs that improve educational opportunities for our children and compensate our teachers with a competitive salary and benefits package equal to their dedicated contribution to the future of our society.

Instead, we get more of the same – weird uncertainties born of a mysterious process that leaves us asking, “why?” – and the darker question, “Qui bono?”

Perhaps most disturbing, according to a recent News-Journal editorial, “The vote was unanimous, though two board members – Carl Persis and Ida Wright – questioned the need for secrecy,”  then ignored their best instincts and voted with the rest of these elitist assholes who clearly believe our right-to-know doesn’t matter as much as inking a lopsided deal.

Say what?

So, Persis and Wright knew what they were doing was wrong – and they did it anyway!

(The others did too, they were just smart enough not to admit it. . .)

Just once I would like to see an elected official stand-up for the interests of their constituents – act boldly in the spirit of our commitment to “Government in the Sunshine” and throw the brake when they suspect their colleagues are being prodded down the wrong path by an unaccountable staff.

Instead, we get more of this “tail wagging the dog” brand of public administration from Volusia County “leaders” – little more than backroom collusions followed by public policy by ambush at “special” meetings – a foul process that sours us on even positive outcomes by tainting the process.

Gentle readers, from stalled negotiations with the teacher’s union, to begging money from the cities in some weird double-taxation scheme to pay for a hastily thrown together “Guardian” program that will ask brave men and women to go in harms way to protect our children with programmatic funding still in doubt – to the heartbreak of consistently under-performing schools and nonsensical administrative policies – it is high time we take a closer look at the machinations of the Volusia County School Board, and the Secret Squirrels on its staff that sold us out and alienated a long-time partner, this election cycle.

If history repeats – and it always does – we may find way more than we bargained for when the truth finally comes to light.

With hundreds-of-millions of our tax dollars budgeted annually, Volusia County government entities desperately need an independent oversight authority and a strong fiscal responsibility ordinance that stops these pernicious “deals” that are quickly eroding our trust and depriving us of quality services and opportunities.

Now, there’s a Tallahassee mandate we could all rally behind.

Angel:             Bellaire Community Group

Those intrepid souls at the grassroots advocacy Bellaire Community Group recently completed a citizen satisfaction survey which produced some incredibly interesting results regarding how citizens perceive their government.

This is something our incumbent politicians and ‘powers that be’ should print, frame and refer to whenever they question why they lost the election this fall:

Do you think the Daytona Beach Government is interested in what residents have to say?

Yes                   19%

No                    65%

No Idea           16%

Do you think Volusia County Government is interested in what residents want?

Yes                   21%

No                    67%

No Idea           12%

Do you trust your City’s Government?

Yes                   15%

No                    66%

No Idea           19%

Do you trust your County’s Government?

Yes                   5%

No                    78%

No Idea           17%

What grade would you give City Manager Jim Chisholm?     C-

What grade would you give County Manager Jim Dineen?   D-

How effective is Daytona Beach’s Code Enforcement? Please indicate with a number from 1 to 10.  (Very Effective 1 – Not Effective at all 10):               7

Do you support beach driving?

Yes                   98%

No                    2%

Level of Transparency (1 Very transparent – 10 Not transparent at all):

Daytona Beach            7

County of Volusia        8

The term of office for Daytona Beach Commissioners is 4 years. Should this be changed to 2 years?

Yes                   64%

No                    36%

Will you recommend The Hard Rock to friends and family that will be coming to Daytona Beach?

Yes                   34%

No                    66%

Should County Manager Jim Dineen be fired?

Yes                   94%

No                    6%

Do you like living in Daytona Beach?

Yes                   95%

No                    5%

Do you support our County’s plan to raise taxes above rollback for the next 3-years so they can pay off the debt they incurred?

Yes                   10%

No                    90%

Do you vote?

Yes                   91%

No                    4%

Sometimes      5%

Have you ever had to call police or 911 because you were a victim of a crime or a witness to a crime?

Yes                   56%

No                    44%

Do you think the city has planned growth well enough to ensure that residents who live here now will continue to enjoy the quality of life?

Yes                   20%

No                    80%

Are you satisfied that the city is adequately improving infrastructure in our neighborhoods – roads, sidewalks, water, sewer, etc.

Yes                   28%

No                    72%

Do you think attending neighborhood and other resident meetings is a good way to stay informed and participate in the local government process?

Yes                   100%

No

(For more information, please go to www.bellairecommunitygroup.com – or better yet, attend one of their meetings sometime soon.  You’ll be glad you did.)

Asshole:          “Smart Growth” Advocates

Sorry, folks – I’m not buying it.

And neither should you.

Earlier this week, the Daytona Beach News-Journal presented what should have been a thought-provoking community townhall which posed the difficult question, “What does smart growth look like?”

The forum sounded compelling – so I tuned-in on social media and settled back to listen to the pros and cons of perhaps the most difficult problem to face Volusia County since quid pro quo corruption came into vogue.

Then, I saw that the board was bookended by Maryam Ghyabi – a transportation consultant and sister of the King of the Donor Class, mega-developer Mori Hossieni, and Prince John Albright – CEO of Consolidated Tomoka Land Company.

The only member of the panel with the people’s interest at heart was former Volusia County Council member and area environmentalist Pat Northey.

It looked like one of those “What doesn’t belong” games – where your choices are a Timber rattlesnake, a King cobra, and a potted plant.   

The fact is, Ms. Ghyabi, Prince John and their associates have accumulated massive fortunes – directly and indirectly – from the local real estate development game, where ‘growth management’ is defined as physically cramming as much density into a given parcel as possible – and damn the consequences to our natural resources, infrastructure or quality of life.

Look, when talk turns to drinking our own sewerage, there is no more “smart growth.”

At that point, any further stress on our aquifer becomes a very expensive exercise in shitting in our own nest – literally.

Besides, what the hell is there to talk about?

And who would listen if we did?

The Volusia County Council and other local governments have already approved massive residential and commercial development from Farmton to the Flagler County line – including the appropriation of some $15.8 million in public funds to extend Williamson Boulevard – the infamous “road to nowhere” – for the sole purpose of facilitating Mr. Hossieni’s 1,700 unit atrocity known as Woodhaven.

And the challenges faced by New Smyrna Beach – where residents have all but taken up pitchforks and flaming torches to get the attention of those they elected to represent their interests – are quickly ruining one of Florida’s last original beach communities.

Add to that the death of wetlands and recharge areas at Mosaic, Latitudes – and Geosam Capital’s brutal rape of the land west of New Smyrna – an outrage marked by forest fires and a dust bowl that rivals 1934 Oklahoma – and you get the idea that developers aren’t really interested in the environmental protestations of us long-suffering locals.

After all – like gopher tortoises, we’re little more than collateral damage – and they paid damn good money for the lockstep loyalty of sitting politicians with no qualms about permitting them to re-purpose every available acre of greenspace into zero-lot-line slices of the American Dream.

What are we going to do, complain?

Look, I may be a pessimistic asshole – but I’m suspicious whenever these shameless shills on the dais of power allow their political benefactors to slash, burn and clear-cut the land – churning old growth forests and wildlife habitats into environmental abattoirs right in front of our eyes to make way for ugly cracker box houses at a rate of one per month – then lean back at “listening sessions,” massage their chin contemplatively, and act like they’re interested in what those of us who have to sit in traffic, drink our own piss and deal with the fallout think about it.

For instance, after Granada Boulevard in Ormond Beach was turned into a moonscape to accommodate a WaWa and another tacky chicken wing drive-thru – now our incumbent city commissioners are falling all over themselves to hear the opinions of their constituents.

My ass.

Taking a page from New Smyrna Beach’s Coastal Community Resiliency initiative,  Ormond Beach city officials are banking on their oh-so cutely labeled “OB Life” series – designed to restore public trust in an intentionally broken system that whittled away at zoning and environmental regulations –  now that the horse is well out of the barn.

Bullshit.

It remains inconceivable to me that ostensibly bright public officials believe that We, The People cannot distinguish between substantive public input and a cheapjack political smokescreen designed to divert our attention while the bulldozers roar.

I don’t believe it because it’s not true – these whores know precisely what they’re doing.

I sincerely hope you recognize it too.

If you really believe that the City of Ormond Beach – or the County of Volusia – gives a flaming shit what you think – it’s time to think again.    

In my view, an immediate moratorium on new development and unchecked sprawl until the very real issues of transportation, infrastructure, impact fees, water and continuing environmental insults are resolved is the only “smart” answer to the very real predicament we face.

Frankly, its now or never.

It’s time we stop this asinine “make hay while the sun shines” development strategy that is ruining our quality of life while enriching the privileged few.

Don’t hold your breath.

The status quo is lucrative for all the right last names – and that, my friends, is all that matters in our local Halls of Power.

Angel:             MEAC Woman of the Year – Lyndsey Edwards

Earlier this month, Bethune-Cookman’s own Lyndsey Edwards was named the 2018 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Woman of the Year!

What an incredible personal honor – and a true source of pride for the City of Daytona Beach.

This prestigious award is presented annually by the MEAC Senior Woman Administrators to “celebrate the achievements of senior female student-athletes who have excelled in academics, athletics, service and leadership.”

 According to B-CU Head Coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis, “She is a young woman of high intellect and strong moral character.  We are blessed to have her in our program these past four years.  She not only impacted our program, but she poured herself into this university, as well as being a servant leader.  Her legacy will live on here, and we hope that other students will model her qualities.”

Congratulations, Ms. Edwards!  You’ve made us very proud!

 Quote of the Week:

“Our County Council members should be embarrassed by their performance.  They were surprised by the state’s requirements over the half-cent road tax. Surprised over the morgue issue. Surprised over the impact fee tax study. There needs to be an independent external audit to find out what other surprises are out there.”

–Pat and Chuck Gleichmann, Ormond-by-the-Sea, Letters to the Editor, “Drain the Volusia County Swamp,” June 26, 2018

The chorus for outside intervention is growing – but will anyone listen?

And Another Thing!

Am I the only one who saw this coming?

Remember way back in December when DeLand City Commissioner, Jeff Hunter, claimed the on-again-off-again boyfriend of a former “girlfriend” extorted some $20,000 from him?

It was clearly trouble on the half-shell – a political cautionary tale in the making.

Typically, whenever a guy my age shows up with a 24-year old sport model on his arm – something is, how shall I say this. . .“Awry.”

As the Robinson’s family robot was fond of saying – “That shit just doesn’t compute.”

According to reports, Commissioner Hunter is accused of serious drug-related felony crimes after allegedly providing prescription opioids to his unrequited love interest – some seven times.

He’s also accused by the court of public opinion of allowing the little head to think for the big head. . .

Apparently, Mr. Hunter wasn’t the brightest drug dealer ever minted as evidence developed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement suggests he left voicemails on his former girlfriend’s (and potential co-defendant in his extortion plot) cellphone discussing how many pills he had available.

That’s right.  Voicemail.

Did I mention Hunter met his “girlfriend” while she was doing the wax-on/wax-off thing at a DeLand area car wash?

I mean, this has all the elements of a good Jim Croce tune – or a bad Investigation Discovery special, right?

I don’t make this shit up folks, really.

Of course, Hunter’s attorney, Jason Harr, is vehemently denying any wrongdoing – claiming that the Commissioner, and his impressive 1970’s porn star horseshoe ‘Stache – are merely victims of a weird revenge scheme hatched by his former girlfriend following the arrest of her  boyfriend/suspected baby-daddy.

(Whew!  This is like one of those hyper-dramatic Spanish telenovelas – I need a program to keep up with the players. . .)

According to news reports, Hunter’s mouthpiece said the Commish went to police after he was scammed out of thousands of dollars by the conniving couple, adding, “He doesn’t want to be a victim. He wants to be an example,” Harr said. “He believes as a rising star in local politics, that he should be an example.”

Damn, I like that.  Lawyer Harr earned his keep on that soundbite alone.

Well done, sir.

Look, between us, Hunter may have fancied himself a “rising star” in local politics – but the truth is – a 40-watt bulb outshines most politicians in Volusia County.  Still it’s a damnable shame to see a promising career – and the good name of America’s Best Downtown – sacrificed on the altar of middle-age delusion.

As of this writing, Mr. Hunter is refusing to do the right thing and step down to protect his community and constituents from further embarrassment.

Now, we will see if Governor Rick Scott steps up and removes Commissioner Hunter from office until this love triangle, turned extortion plot, turned narcotics arrest can be sorted out by the courts.

Guess Carl Hiaasen knew what he was talking about. . .

Have a great weekend, kids!

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: We’re with Stupid

They just don’t get it.

With the abrupt departure of beleaguered former County Manager Jim Dinneen, the same challenges remain – but with fresh opportunities for changing the culture and focus of Volusia County government.

Unfortunately, seizing breaks and developing a strategic vision isn’t the Volusia County Council’s forte.

Now that our preening elected representatives in DeLand have purged their spleen in a fit of political pique and exposed their vile hatred for anyone who challenges the status quo of an entrenched power structure – a political protection racket that showers select candidates with hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions in exchange for four-years of lockstep conformity and complete fealty to the Donor Class – they are pointing the finger of blame at their long-suffering constituents.

Did anyone expect anything different?

Despite the weak-minded denials of our doddering fool of a County Chairman, Ed Kelley – a perennial politician who hasn’t had an original thought since he accepted his first campaign contribution – it is clear to anyone paying attention that the majority of Volusia County Council members have developed a virulent case of psychological projection, a political defense mechanism that allows them to abdicate responsibility and attribute all the problems in their sole span of control to the “malarkey” of naysaying constituents.

It appears – with the exception of current political punching bag, Heather Post – council members have convinced themselves that the dismal political climate we find ourselves in is the result of angry social media posts and attempts by Sheriff Mike Chitwood to expose the broken and corrupt nature of this horrible system he inherited following the last election.

Look, you can’t have it both ways.

Our elected officials need to understand that you can completely ignore the needs, wants and concerns of your constituents, shut them out of the process, ignore their input and surprise them with off-the-agenda stunts designed to ramrod sketchy public policies and conceal murky intentions, then funnel millions in public funds to the private profit motives of a few powerful political insiders – but when the light of day finally exposes the machinations of this oligarchical system – you cannot simply blame the victim.

Those dullards we elected to represent our interests on the dais of power would have us believe that if we continue to speak out and call attention to this farcical system we have suffered under – a bastardized process that has thwarted any substantive progress in Volusia County for years – then the continued exercise of our First Amendment rights will chase away any “good” county manager candidates, leaving us to select from the “Barney Fifes” of the current executive class.

Bullshit.

No, despite what they would have us believe – this one is on them – not us.

For months, We, The People have been forced to stand by and witness this ugly exclusionary process play out – a constituency left totally voiceless, stymied by an internally controlled information black market – repeatedly and openly lied to, then told we were too stupid to appreciate the issues facing us in a weird form of political gaslighting.

In fact, if you look at the classic techniques used by tormentors to psychologically abuse and control their victims you might find some eerie similarities to our current situation:

Withholding:  Pretending not to understand or refusing to listen, “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “Your trying to confuse me.”

Countering:  Changing the subject or questioning the victim’s thoughts and opinions, “Is that another one of your crazy ideas?”  or “You’re imagining things.”

Trivializing:  Making the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant.  “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?”  or “You’re too sensitive.”

Forgetting/Denial:  Pretending to have forgotten the facts of what actually happened or denying promises made.  “I never said that!”  or “It’s all in your head.  You’re just ginning up stuff.” 

 It’s textbook.  And it’s wrong.

Fortunately, smart people with the insider knowledge and understanding of the how, what, when and why the wheel came off our collective cart at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center are beginning to echo the concerns of Sheriff Chitwood, Councilwoman Post and others with the guts to defend us from this abusive relationship that has ruined the public’s trust in their government.

In Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, former County Councilman Doug Daniels both confirmed our worst fears – and provided a cogent way forward as we collectively struggle to right the ship in the aftermath of one of the most disastrous periods in our history.

“Will Dinneen’s departure usher in an era of good government?  No.”

“The county’s power structure and its poorly drafted, antiquated charter will remain. When there are only a handful of big-money donors funding political campaigns, miracles will be in short supply, particularly now that the rich have come to display their power not by building public monuments, but by raiding taxpayer funds. We cannot change that, but we can change the charter to provide for an open, transparent government. We can watch them do it.”

 Mr. Daniels rightly suggests that Volusia’s sacrosanct charter should be changed to ensure accountability, transparency and fiscal integrity through an independent internal auditor reporting directly to the council – and the people.

He also suggested that we replace this hodgepodge system of management by crisis with a 20-year strategic vision for Volusia County.

I couldn’t agree more.

He further suggests reorganizing the charter to provide a strong elected chairman, with a salary similar to circuit court judges – someone with the “real power” to effectively represent the interests of Volusia County in regional issues, like SunRail.

“With such reforms, you still might not like what the county government does, but at least you would know what it is doing. With an elected chairman, we would have someone who could represent us here and on a bigger stage, and someone we could hold accountable.”

 In my view, change is on the breeze.

With a good crop of outstanding new candidates for public office working hard to gain our trust – and our vote – hope springs anew this election cycle.

Clearly, the big money candidates are getting nervous, and they should be.

The political pendulum is beginning its slow arc, hopefully returning power where it rightfully belongs – to We, The People, from which all political legitimacy originates.

So be loud.

Be proud.

And let our ‘powers that be’ know exactly how you feel at the ballot box.

We will not be told to shut up and sit-down by the likes of Old Ed Kelley, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson or any other self-serving politician who has clearly lost the moral authority to lead.      

 

  

 

 

Angels & Assholes for June 22, 2018

Hi, kids!

And after souper gonnen they to ryse,

At ese wel, with hertes fresshe and glade,

To lyken hir, or that hir laughen made.

He song; she pleyde; he tolde tale of Wade.

But at the laste, as every thing hath ende,

She took hir leve, and nedes wolde wende.

–Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde

In the four short years since I retired from life and melted into the semi-reclusive internet troll I’ve become, I keep what’s left of my mind limber by trying to learn something new every day – turning my leisure years into something of a strange sabbatical where I attempt to gain enlightenment and see grace in the mundane things found in my cloistered environment.

Those who know me well are aware that I suffer from social anxiety – I’m awkward, naturally suspicious, and don’t make friends easily – so I impose on the company of a small handful of life-long confidants who understand and accept my quirks.

The result is that I spend an inordinate amount of time alone – lost in my own weak mind – reading, thinking, brooding and contemplating things that most “normal” people might find, well, boring.

Last week, I traveled to my ancestral home in the hills of East Tennessee and availed myself of a week in the quaint community of Jonesborough – the oldest town in the state – a place rich in history, culture, and good music – home to the International Storytelling Center.

Each evening I sat outside, sipped fine locally distilled whiskey, and studied the unique habits of Lampyridae – lightning bugs – small winged beetles of the order Coleopetera who use bioluminescence at twilight to attract mates and prey.

In the past few days, I’ve analyzed every scientific study I could find on one of God’s most captivating creatures – insects who spend most of their lives in the larval stage – and just two short months at the end of their lifespan in flight with their strobe-like butts illuminating the evening greenspace.

I’ve been fascinated by them since childhood – and it was a spectacular scene as hundreds rose from the earth, simultaneously, just at dusk – then disappeared in unison at some naturally predetermined time known only to them.

I was thrilled to see them come out each evening – and sad to see them go.

The English author Geoffrey Chaucer is credited with the idiom, “All good things must come to an end” – a reminder that all human experiences – good and bad – are temporary.

It can be used to express resigned acceptance, a term of regret or as a prophetic  warning – and it applies equally to all of us – even fireflies and county managers.

Many members of the loyal Barker’s View tribe have reached out this week and asked how it feels to have my opinions on the machinations of Volusia County government validated in a few short days – and I’ve tried to explain that there is no ‘victory’ in the departure of County Manager Jim Dinneen.

Every end signals a new beginning – just as when we pass away, somewhere in this big ol’ goofy world a newborn baby screams their way to life – and the whole circle begins anew.

Trust me when I say that the forced departure of a mediocre public administrator commanding over $300,000 in tax funded salary and benefits isn’t nearly that important in the great scheme of things – in fact, it is a necessary and beneficial part of the political evolution of Volusia County.

Our ‘powers that be’ will now fumble through the important task of selecting a new county manager – then our wealthy political insiders will begin beating that poor square peg into the round hole of an oligarchical system that will remain entrenched long after Mr. Dinneen is stewarding another community a thousand-miles away from this beleaguered place we call home.

I have always been fond of the quote, “Be humble in victory, gracious in defeat.”

It’s a good axiom to live by.

After all, sometimes winning is not so important as having participated in the debate of competing ideas that shape our collective future – an endeavor that can unite and ultimately strengthen our community bonds.

You won’t find anything more about Jim Dinneen on this blog after today – he’s someone else’s problem now – and I wish him well.

Godspeed, dude.

All things must come to an end.  This too shall pass.

Whatever.

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.

Gentle readers, as we mark the end of this uber-weird period of our history, I’d like to dedicate today’s special Volusia-centric episode of Angels & Assholes to Sheriff Michael Chitwood for his personal dedication and professional perseverance – at great risk to his standing and reputation – as he worked valiantly to shine a very bright light on the sinister intrigues of a greed-crazed power structure that damn near sank us all.

Look, it’s not the Volusia County Five-Year Budget Forecast  – but it’s all I’ve got.

I covered some of this earlier in the week, but, believe me – it bears repeating:

Asshole:          The Volusia County Council

It’s been a hell of a week in the Halls of Power at the venerated Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center in DeLand – a stressful period for county employees, senior management and elected officials alike.

Periods of transition are never easy, and given the enormous power vested in government executives the sense of uncertainty and organizational anxiety that career civil servants feel during times of political upheaval can be almost paralyzing.

Some are worried about “what comes next?” – the ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’ syndrome.  While others may be concerned that the ethical and procedural lapses that were accepted, even ensured their survival under the previous administration, will come back to haunt them when the sunlight finally filters in.

There is a primal form of Darwinism that takes hold in city halls and county offices during times like these – and trust me – there will be distinct winners and losers when the redistribution of referent power shakes out.

It hasn’t exactly been a picnic for us either, the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County, who have taken it on the chin of late – rocked by startling revelations of mismanagement, ineptitude and neglect of essential government services – still reeling from an open letter by emergency service unions which gave us a rare glimpse at just how dysfunctional things truly were under former County Manager Jim Dinneen’s administration, coupled with the bombshell that a $50,000 tax funded impact fee study was willfully withheld from policymakers and the public.

Unfortunately, rather than salve our fears and demonstrate the stability of leadership necessary to shepherd a worried constituency through a difficult and uncertain period – our elected officials on the Volusia County Council showed just how shallow the depth of their character truly is when they fell apart in a combined emotional meltdown on the dais last Tuesday.

Right before our eyes, we watched as those strong-willed personalities we elected to represent our interests dissolved into whimpering soup sandwiches – openly bawling over the death of a well-fortified pay-to-play system that fed them well during political campaigns – but ultimately cost them the faith and confidence of their constituents.

Then, a pack mentality formed – and they attacked us.

It was a shameful example of what happens when self-absorbed political elites don’t get exactly what they want – a petty hissy-fit at our expense – marked by vicious rhetoric and cutting personal attacks as they worked desperately to kill who they perceived to be the messenger.

At the risk of sounding cruel – racking sobs, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth by those in a position of leadership while mourning the messy departure of a grossly overpaid public executive – whose growing list of five-alarm fuck-ups became too flagrant to ignore – doesn’t engender public confidence.

In fact, it makes me question how these hyper-sensitive shitheads would react during an actual crisis?

Scary.

During over 31-years in public service, I don’t ever recall my senior leadership responding to a serious situation by throwing themselves in the floor and having a good cry.

I mean, the sight of our sitting County Chairman choking back tears like a hyper-emotional Jan Brady?

Surreal.

Perhaps more troubling than grown men and women turning on the waterworks over the hasty resignation of a besieged manager was the complete rewrite of history by our weak-minded politicians with an obvious selective memory.

When will these dullards come to the realization that nobody this side of the east bank of the St. John’s – or the planet Mars, for that matter – believes anything they say anymore? 

Or accept that the wee man “Sleepy” Pat Patterson dramatically vowed he would trust with his life to, concealed material information, then blatantly and repeatedly lied to them – and us – leaving our haughty elected officials looking like a passel of out-of-touch pillocks?

And all of these issues are somehow our fault?

My God. 

I mean, where did Councilwoman Billie Wheeler expect We, The People would turn for scraps of public information on the important issues of the day as she was decrying the witchery of Facebook?

The always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys has claimed strategic ignorance of key issues for months – should we have reached out to her for answers?

Perhaps the cosmic black hole that was the Dinneen administration’s communications strategy was our go-to source?

The hilarious scene of Little Jimmy running like a scalded dog as he avoided questions from WFTV reporter Mike Springer and his cameraman was like a bad Benny Hill sketch.

And they have the temerity to upbraid their constituents for seeking answers and voicing critical opinions on social media?

My ass.

Councilwoman Wheeler, Ms. Denys and the rest of these shameless sycophants should understand that when a citizenry senses a complete lack of candidness by their elected and appointed officials, they seek information where they can get it – and social media conveniently serves that role.

Instead of communicating with us openly and honestly, our “leadership” used their scheduled discussion period to verbally excoriate their constituents and horsewhip Councilwoman Heather Post – then openly accuse Sheriff Chitwood of ‘cyberbullying’ and other crimes against Mr. Dinneen.

Fucking hypocrites.

I have a personal rule – I never feel sorry for someone making over $300,000 a year in tax funded salary and benefits (especially in a county with a per capita income of just over $24,000) and I never squirt tears over the ouster of petty autocrat who treated his employees – and the municipalities – like toilet paper and overstayed his welcome by about a decade.

It’s just not worth the emotional capital.

And I certainly never get misty-eyed over politicians who stand for election – do and say everything and anything to win elevation to a position of power and influence – then feign that their feelings get bruised like a ripe peach whenever those pesky citizens who voted for them question why they refuse to represent their interests.

We’re not talking about some hayseed caucus in Hooterville here – these people are in the Big League now – and they have a sacred responsibility to steward hundred-of-millions of taxpayer dollars, ensure the quality of essential government services to some 500,000 people and provide oversight to a massive bureaucracy with a lot of moving parts.

Look, no one expects them to get it right all the time – but what we will not tolerate is this rampant quid pro quo corruption, abject mismanagement and the stench of lies.

We are sick of public policy by ambush – and the base political legerdemain of the type clumsily performed by the Volusia County Council when they shut the door on Councilwoman Post and deftly protected Dinneen’s astronomical severance package.

We are fed up with our County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert – a snarling jackal when he’s suing the citizens of Volusia County with their own money, then transforms into Casper Milquetoast when it comes time to defend us – who refused to even consider the possibility of a “just cause” termination.

We are outraged by the wholesale giveaway of the traditions that have made our area a world-famous tourist destination for over a century to here-today-gone-tomorrow speculators.

We are afraid of the grave danger to our families posed by the deteriorating state of our emergency medical services, and other essential government services, that have been allowed to wither on the budgetary vine, while millions in economic incentives, half-price sales of public property to private interests, and other disgusting examples of corporate welfare are flaunted in our collective face.

But it was this hateful lecturing of their constituents – a vile, pointed and sustained rebuke of those they ostensibly represent – all while completely dismissing the reality of how we arrived at this point in history – that has sent shock waves through Volusia County.

Many friends and readers have told me that they cannot recall ever being attacked so viciously by sitting public officials in such a venomous and uncalled for display of political pique – and they are demanding a public apology – or their immediate resignation.

Chairman Kelley lost his composure and allowed a brutal, mean-spirited free-for-all to ensue – all while using the power of the gavel to angrily silence opposition.

That’s not leadership – it’s bullying.

We, The People were forced to sit quietly and absorb the verbal abuse hurled by our elected public servants – and that, my fellow citizens, is counter to our democratic principles.

Well, “sitting quietly” isn’t my way – and this aggression is unacceptable.

Look, I can give as good as I get – but the average citizen, real people who work hard, pay their taxes, raise their children and follow the rules – deserve better from those who ask us to elevate them to positions of high power and influence over our lives and livelihoods.

I call on the Volusia County Council to publicly apologize to their constituents for this unprovoked, self-indulgent attack – or step down from the Ivory Tower and allow true servant-leaders to right the ship and return honesty and transparency to OUR county government.

Angel:             Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood

A master woodcarver knows the importance of keeping his knives razor-sharp.

These craftsmen use the right tool at all times, gently coaxing the finely-honed blade through the material, allowing it to perform its intended purpose, while respecting its inherent duality – the ability to create great things – or destroy them.

I’ve found the same true of airplanes I have piloted.

An elegant, well-designed aircraft responds well to gentle control inputs – after all, they were meant to fly, and if given their head, the ship will gracefully lean into the wind and soar like a bird.  Conversely, they don’t respond well to coarse treatment or heavy-handed forces – balking, yawing and oscillating through the sky until they invariably try to hurt you.

In my view, Sheriff Mike Chitwood embodies many of these same attributes.

As a veteran law enforcement officer, his mind and hands have been trained for a very specific purpose – the protection of life and property in service to a cause greater than his own self-interests – and he has proven time and again that he does not suffer fools gladly.

If given the freedom and support to independently perform his vitally important role in the community – I believe he can achieve great things and address the problem of crime and victimization that have had such a debilitating effect on many areas of Volusia County.

However, if he is reined in by simple-minded bureaucrats – expect Sheriff Chitwood to push-back.  Hard.

Over the course of three-decades in public service, I’ve seen many “good cops” – the highest praise a law enforcement professional can receive from his peers – and Mike Chitwood is most definitely one of the best.

He also has an inherent penchant for self-promotion that rivals the best of P. T. Barnum, and is clearly more at home in front of a television camera than most of his peers – and that’s okay.

He recognizes it, embraces it, and uses the resulting notoriety to his advantage and ours.

Our sheriff has the work ethic of the Amish.

To say that Sheriff Chitwood is opinionated on the issues of the day is an understatement – and in keeping with his ‘no-bullshit’ style of plain-talk that resonates with supporters and rankles his critics – he is notoriously disapproving of chickenshit officials and nonsensical processes that, in his view, do not represent the best interests of the citizens he serves.

As I’ve previously written, love him or hate him, Sheriff Mike Chitwood tells it like he sees it.

For the first time in decades, the citizens of Volusia County have a fresh set of eyes inside the tattered carnival tent that passes for governance here on Florida’s beleaguered Fun Coast – and Sheriff Chitwood’s frequent reports of his observations of the dark side did not paint a pretty picture of the dictatorial oligarchy he found himself mired in following the election.

In March 2017, Sheriff Chitwood publicly expressed his growing concerns about County Manager Jim Dinneen, calling him a “lying sack of shit” and expressing his anger at not having been notified that Volusia planned to oppose a Florida Senate bill that would give our duly elected sheriff more autonomy.

At that time, the Sheriff succinctly detailed just a few of the ways his office was being intentionally hamstrung by our sacrosanct charter:

“Chitwood asked if corrections officers could simply serve warrants on people at the jail instead of pulling a deputy off patrol to come in and do it. The county said no, he said.

Chitwood wants to move his legal adviser from a different department on a floor below to the same floor as the sheriff. The county attorney said no, he said.

And when the county gives the go-ahead, Chitwood said it takes forever. An incentive program that would give deputies a day off if they find evidence in a burglary took more two months to process. “Why in God’s name is everything so hard?” he said.”

 And the Sheriff is the one painted as an unprofessional ogre?

My ass.

Chitwood was right – it was a cheap attempt by Dinneen, and others desperately clinging to power, to keep him out of the loop on an important issue that may ultimately remove our county’s chief law enforcement officer from the oppressive yoke of an omnipotent appointed official with total authority and zero political accountability.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a good start to this weird relationship that makes an elected official a direct report to an appointed one – but it made clear to anyone paying attention that Mike Chitwood was not going to go along to get along.

In a May 2018 column featured prominently in the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “County Manager has too much power, too little accountability” Sheriff Chitwood didn’t mince words in laying out the issues inherent to a hijacked Home Rule charter run amok.

The Sheriff’s incredibly insightful article began with perhaps the most chilling revelation I’ve ever heard from a sitting elected official.

“One of the first greetings I got when I was elected as your sheriff was a warning from our County Manager Jim Dinneen. The message was play nice or my time as sheriff would be brief.”

In most places, the shocking nature of that frightening disclosure by the county’s chief law enforcement executive would go through the organization – and the community – like an ice water enema.

In most places, this startling revelation would have been immediately investigated by those charged with maintaining public integrity in government as an early warning of institutionalized corruption.

But not here.

In retrospect, during this climacteric phase we had become desensitized to this brand of Machiavellian intimidation – where “playing nice” is dog-whistle politics for the lock-step conformity required of elected and appointed officials in this self-perpetuating system which places total control in the hands of one marionette.

In my view, this entire stinking mess was created by those who knew (or should have known) better – and they have no one but themselves to blame.

With the departure of their sainted fixer and facilitator, the majority of our elected officials – with the exception of their current political punching bag, Heather Post – took careful aim at perhaps the most popular elected representative in Central Florida – then punished our sheriff from the dais with despicable distortions and allegations of ‘cyber-bullying’ and unprofessional official conduct.

In my view, these stroppy dullards are about to get a taste of their own medicine when they learn that the game isn’t nearly as fun when the piñata hits back.

I can guarantee you Sheriff Chitwood won’t stand idle this election season – and I hope you won’t either.

In our democratic system of governance, the will of the people is the basis of all government authority.

When public officials and institutions lose the trust and consent of their constituents, we have a right and responsibility through the electoral process to replace elected officials who enact policies counter to our collective interests with servant-leaders who will restore honor and basic fairness to the process.

That includes our current crop of cowardly politicians in DeLand who repeatedly turned a deaf ear each time Sheriff Chitwood – and others – sounded the klaxon; valiantly attempting, time-and-again, to expose the depth of Mr. Dinneen’s abject incompetence and maladministration that ultimately brought us to this dangerously low period in Volusia County’s history.

I’m proud of you, Sheriff Chitwood.  We all are.

Quote of the Week:

“We have one of the most unprofessional sheriffs I’ve ever seen in my life. This has really put a black mark on Volusia County. The comments are as unprofessional as any I’ve ever seen.”

 –Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, during the Volusia County Council meeting of Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Psychologists define hysterical contagion as a strong copycat effect of imitative behavior based on the power of suggestion and word of mouth influence, because the symptoms often include those associated with clinical hysteria.

Look, I’m no headshrinker – but that sounds a whole lot like what I witnessed during the waning minutes of that political shitstorm on Tuesday afternoon.

They lost it.  Big time.

One common theme that emerged during Tuesday’s meeting was the council’s hand-wringing over the damage all of this ugliness has cause to the “image” of Volusia County – and what affect that might have on our ability to attract quality candidates to fill Mr. Dinneen’s very expensive shoes.

Trust me – it won’t be that difficult.

However, to put it in my own crude way – if one thing holds true with this godawful iteration of our Volusia County Council, it’s this: These buffoons could fuck-up a wet dream – but we are charter-bound to let them try and replace the most important position in Volusia County government. 

 Hey VCC, why not let someone else help with the heavy lifting, eh?

Please?

Earlier this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal made the following excellent suggestion in an editorial entitled, “After Dinneen, an opportunity.”

“Conduct an open, public search, similar to how DeLand last year hired Police Chief Jason Umberger. The city posted on its website the resume of each finalist, along with their answers to 12 questions about their leadership style and other issues, and it hosted forums to introduce candidates to the community.

“The process was a model of transparency and civic engagement, and so far, appears to have produced a quality result.”

“If the county followed a similar path in hiring the next manager, it would address criticisms that the council and administration have become too insular and unresponsive to public concerns. Because it will take more than removing Jim Dinneen from the equation to restore balance.”

Now that our elected officials have had their temper-tantrum and a good cry, perhaps cooler heads can get down to the real business at hand – drop the power mongering and political posturing – and develop a well-crafted, transparent and objective criterion for selecting a new county manager.

A process that will include input from all stakeholders – including the long-suffering citizens who carry the water – not just the cabal of uber-wealthy political insiders whose undue influence on our democratic system ultimately created a greed-monster of biblical proportions – and irreparably damaged the public’s trust and confidence in their government.

And Another Thing!

“Now with County Manager Jim Dinneen’s sudden and immediate departure, Kelley, along with council members Pat Patterson and Joyce Cusack, lambaste Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s opinions and behavior, and Councilwoman Deborah Denys has reservations about the general public’s participation on social media, with Patterson calling the activism “malarkey.”  The sitting council best be reminded that they serve at the constituencies’ pleasure, and the intellectual smugness they have displayed will be remembered by the voters on Election Day.”

 –Christopher Durgin, DeLand, Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, ‘Banana Republic’, Friday, June 22, 2018

Wow.  Looks like a certain County Council I know needs to start playing nice in the public sandbox, eh?

Change is on the breeze, my friends.

That’s it for me – let’s all take a break and get some rest and relaxation this weekend, okay?

We’ve earned it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: What’s Changed?

If anyone still believes our elected representatives on the Volusia County Council have anything but utter distain for you and me – their long-suffering constituents – you should watch the council comments section at the bitter end of their June 16th public meeting.

Over the top.

It was like watching the outbreak of some virulently contagious form of emotional dysregulation disorder wash over the chamber.

Following a meeting which saw County Manager Jim Dinneen pull off his latest escape –  with the political dexterity and deft manipulation of Harry Houdini – Mr. Dinneen clearly orchestrated a maneuver whereby he “asked” to vacate the contractual obligation of a six-month transition period – allowing him to saunter out of the building with a groaning wheelbarrow full of greenbacks on his way to his next “gig.”

The rest of us?  Well, we’re left holding the bag. . .

Get used to it – it’s not the first time a sketchy city/county manager slipped the noose and beat for the hills with a sack full of cash – and it won’t be the last.

In fact – lucrative severance packages are this mercenary professions stock-in-trade – and Jim Dinneen has already forgotten the name “Volusia County.”

You see, getting sentimentally attached to the rubes you fleece just muddies the water in his business.

But what happened next on the dais was truly disturbing – like watching some goofy community theater troupe botching an extemporaneous performance of a Shakespearean tragedy.

Look, I’ve been around the block a few times – but rarely have I seen this brand of overacted melodrama – it was Pomposity on Parade – marked by the hyper-emotional venting of our thin-skinned politicians during what transformed from a slightly uncomfortable public meeting into the exorcism segment of the Rite of Beatification for Saint James Dinneen.

It was an extraordinary example of a shamefully self-indulgent political pity party – a juvenile overreaction by a camarilla of self-centered egomaniacs acting out – and it was painful to watch.

At the risk of sounding cruel – open weeping, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth by those in a position of leadership mourning the loss of an appointed official with a long history of five-alarm fuck-ups – especially one who commanded over $300,000 in salary and benefits – doesn’t engender confidence.

Seriously, to see Old Ed weeping like a lachrymose grandmother over the death of an entrenched power structure doesn’t inspire confidence in his leadership – or emotional stability.

In fact, it makes me question how these hyper-sensitive blowhards would react during an actual crisis?

Scary.

From Billie Wheeler’s angry indictment of citizens exercising their sacred First Amendment right to voice  political dissension on social media – to “Sleepy” Pat Patterson using his one fleeting moment of lucidity to call Sheriff Mike Chitwood “the most unprofessional” he’d ever seen – to our doddering fool of a County Chair questioning the veracity of the grieving mother of a dead child who desperately tried to call attention to the serious issues at the Medical Examiner’s Office – it was repugnant.

Then the always arrogant Deb Denys spewed the stunner, “If anyone here thinks the next manager is going to walk on water, I need to launch you on the next rocket out of here!”

dinneen door
“You see over there?  That’s the door.  Don’t let it hit you in the ass on the way out.” 

Really, Deb?

Hey, Deb – no one expects an omnibenevolent, supernatural deity in flowing robes at the helm – just a hardworking chief executive with the smarts and professional ethics to conduct the people’s business in a fair, transparent, inclusive and efficient manner that builds consensus and shows respect for the sanctity of the democratic process – and our hard-earned tax dollars.

Is that too much to ask?

Whatever.

More troubling was that the incessant rambling and fawning from the dais incorporated a complete rewrite of history by weak-minded politicians with an obvious selective memory.

After tidying up the Dineen ugliness – a performance that was clearly choreographed in advance – our “leadership” used their open discussion period, not to communicate and calm the fears of a worried constituency, but instead, they used it as another opportunity to horsewhip Councilwoman Heather Post – up to and including openly accusing her of ‘cyber-bullying’ and suggesting her condemnation of Mr. Dinneen’s maladministration was criminal.

Fucking hypocrites.

I have a personal rule – I never feel sorry for someone making over $250,000 a year.  It’s just not worth the emotional capital – and besides, I don’t think Little Jimmy is too worried about where his next meal is coming from.

And I certainly never feel sorry for politicians who stand for election – do and say everything and anything to win elevation to a position of power and influence – then feign that their feelings get bruised like a ripe peach whenever those pesky citizens who voted for them question why they refuse to represent their interests.

We’re not talking about some hayseed caucus in Hooterville here – these people are in the Big League now – and they have a sworn responsibility to steward hundred-of-millions of taxpayer dollars, ensure the quality of essential government services to some 500,000 people and provide oversight to a massive bureaucracy with a lot of moving parts.

No one expects them to get it right all the time – but what we will not tolerate is open corruption, abject mismanagement and the stench of lies.

Regardless, dry-up the waterworks and grow some bark.

As Harry S. Truman was fond of saying, “If you can’t take the heat, then get out of the kitchen.”

In my view, any politician worth his or her salt should understand that We, The People have a right and a responsibility to petition our government for the redress of grievances – and when our voices are ignored, and our concerns dismissed as they have been for months, then there will be calls for change.

Sometimes vehemently.

We have stood helplessly and witnessed a slow erosion of trust and public confidence in Volusia County government.

Institutions and processes we once thought were inviolate have been compromised by uber-wealthy opportunists who routinely access public funds for private profit motives with the full acquiescence – and encouragement – of those we elected to represent our interests.

Then, when mechanisms put in place by our supposedly sacrosanct Home Rule Charter to provide oversight and accountability of a county manager with overwhelming, almost autonomous power, are disabled or ignored – we have a right to be concerned – and to voice our frustration by the most expedient means possible.

Councilwoman Billie Wheeler should understand that thanks to social media, citizens now have the opportunity to identify others who are similarly situated – with the same values, fears and concerns – then join together to exchange ideas and discuss their collective vision for the future.

Those of us who use social media are neither always right, nor always wrong, but it is clear that technology is changing the way people take their news, form opinions and view their government.

Frankly, we’re a group of taxpayers that have collectively realized we’re all mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.

As elected officials, the Volusia County Council should understand this growing frustration and embrace the real-time political thermometer that social media represents to savvy politicians – then use it to their advantage, and ours, as Heather Post has done.

Our own elected Rip Van Winkle “Sleepy” Pat Patterson wearily lamented from the dais today that friends often ask him “What’s changed?” – why is everyone so mean-spirited these days?

The answer is, everything has changed – and nothing has changed.

Just a different ass in the same leather wing-back chair – with the same controlling factors at play.

Unfortunately, those awkward dullards on the dais of power cannot seem to grasp that issues and opinions now move at the speed of the internet – and cheapjack political sleight-of-hand like we saw today no longer fools anyone.

Frankly, today marked the end of a sad chapter in a book full of political mistakes, malfeasance,  power-plays and tin-pot tyrants that have plagued the Fun Coast since our inception – and so long as Mr. Dinneen vacates our public administration building by close of business Friday – we can all rest comfortably knowing he’ll soon be someone else’s problem.

Unfortunately, the sins of Jim Dinneen were merely a symptom of a much deeper, much darker issue in Volusia County government.

It is time to fundamentally change this foul oligarchical system by electing servant-leaders who place service above self – and the needs and wants of their constituents above the private profit motives of the few.

That change begins at the ballot box.

 

 

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: “A Public Office is a Public Trust”

Article II, Section 8, Florida Constitution: “A public office is a public trust.”

For many, public service is a calling – a true willingness to serve others, a chance to work hard in a cause greater than ones own self-interests – and make their community, state or nation a better place.

For others, it is a means to an end.

A “gig” where you get to make the rules – and play with other people’s money with very little direct oversight – and employment protections the average citizen will never know.

Sometimes those in positions of power – with incredible influence over the lives and livelihoods of others – get confused.

When everyone laughs at their jokes, complements their tie, and agrees with them on decisions large and small – these “leaders” lose touch with reality and consider themselves invincible – blinded by that hubristic feeling of pompous omnipotence.

Add the external pressures of an enormous salary and benefits package – and near total political control over those elected to set public policy – and bad things happen.

It’s a problem as old as politics – and the ash heap of history is littered with the festering political carcasses of shitheels who couldn’t balance power with humility.

I see my role as an alternative blogger – a shit-stirring, pain in the ass critic who “points out where the strong man stumbled” and pokes fun at these haughty egomaniacs – as important to maintaining balance and accountability in a process that has neither.

Now that County Manager Jim Dinneen is on the ropes – many others are coming forward, shining a very bright light on a very dark and slippery period of our history here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

From public safety unions to Sheriff Mike Chitwood and Councilwoman Heather Post – to the average Joe and Jane Lunchpail on the street – every day more citizens are openly calling for the immediate removal of this greedy little shyster who has for a decade stood as a mean-spirited barricade to substantive progress – the very personification of a weird brand of quid pro quo corruption that has gone from the shadows to the norm in Volusia County.

Like the old Bedouin proverb teaches, “As the camel falls to its knees, more knives are drawn. . .”

A smart friend recently called and asked how it feels to have everything I’ve written in the past two-and-a-half years validated over the course of two-days?

The answer: It’s bittersweet.

Look, there is no ‘victory’ here – and even if County Manager Jim Dinneen is run out of town on a rail at today’s County Council meeting – he still walks with a quarter-million-dollars of our money stuffed in a greasy paper bag, thanks to a one-sided employment contract that was specifically written to ensure a soft landing when Dinneen’s sins against the public trust were inevitably exposed.

Some call it a “golden parachute” – but it’s more akin to good old-fashioned buggery – and the county attorney who swallowed an antiemetic and approved it should be placed in stocks and given the Bastinado treatment in front of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center.

If you haven’t read it – I urge everyone to take note – because We, The People will be entering into another employment agreement with yet another itinerant manager in coming months.

In a 2011 rewrite of the agreement – just days before the Florida Legislature limited severance packages for public officials to an amount no greater than 20-weeks salary – Mr. Dinneen was permitted to include onerous language which skirts the law and provides him with a prize package worth nearly $250,000 for some convoluted assistance in finding his replacement.

Now, County Attorney Dan Eckert – a recipient of public funds who continues to serve his master like the neutered lapdog he is (Dan’s a tiger when he’s suing the citizens of Volusia County, but yellow to the core when it comes time to protect them from a little man with a God complex) – is doing his level best to convince those dullards we elected to represent our interests that Dinneen – who has now been exposed as a weeping chancre on our system of governance – has a lead pipe cinch on his obscene severance package.

Fucking coward.

Something tells me this isn’t going to end well for Dan, his Machiavellian prince – or any elected official who continues to support this absurd, bullying farce that has destroyed the public’s trust and confidence in their government.

Like some maniacal Paul Revere on a drunken midnight ride, I’ve been screaming to anyone who would listen that Volusia County has, for the past decade, been hijacked by a cabal of cheapjack greed-heads who use our intentionally squirrely campaign finance laws to pour hundreds-of-thousands of dollars into the war chests of hand-select candidates as a means of maintaining direct access to the public trough.

Damn if I wasn’t right after all.

If you don’t believe me – simply take a stroll down memory lane and match the campaign contributions to the names, addresses and corporate entities – then see how our honorable council members voted when it came time for their sugar daddies to collect a return on investment.

I have a working theory that this bastardized “system” works, in part, because it is wholly facilitated by the ultimate authority under our holy and hallowed Home Rule Charter – County Manager Jim Dinneen.

In turn, the oligarchs who routinely use our tax dollars and public assets for personal profit motives provide Mr. Dinneen with a level of political protection not seen since the days of Gangland Chicago.

How?  By controlling the campaign funding spigot.

The true sin surrounding Jim Dinneen’s skullduggery is that some of those we have elected and appointed to positions of high public trust continue to defend the indefensible – even as physical and anecdotal evidence mounts that his actions may well represent a textbook case of official misconduct.

In my view, despite Dan Eckert’s spineless quibbling – I believe our elected officials have all the evidence they need to dismiss Mr. Dinneen’s hastily crafted resignation – then jettison his mendacious ass under the “just cause” provisions of the termination clause of his contract, which specifically prohibits a “violation of applicable state or County ethics provisions.”

In July 2015, the Volusia County Council – including current members Joyce Cusack, the always arrogant Deb Denys and The Very Reverend Dr. Fred Lowry – voted 6-0 to appropriate some $50,000 in public funds for a study of impact fees by Texas-based Duncan Associates (“Sleepy” Pat Patterson was strategically absent that day.)

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “But what members of the County Council, most of the public, and even those city leaders didn’t know is this: The county received a 52-page impact fee study two years ago that recommended fees almost three times higher in some categories and a change to a county ordinance the consultants deemed overly generous to developers.”

Shocking?  You bet your ass it is.

When the results of the study were received by Mr. Dinneen and his staff in September 2016, the expert’s findings weren’t what they wanted to hear – and they damn sure weren’t what area developers (who have turned our democratic process into little more than a livestock auction) wanted to hear.

So, a study conducted in the public interest, and paid for with public funds, was willfully and intentionally suppressed – never allowed to see the light-of-day – even as the county council struggled mightily with the impact fee issue both before, during and after the half-cent sales tax debacle was formally removed from the ballot due to mounting citizen concern that developers were not carrying their fair share of the load.

Turns out they weren’t.

In an asinine, and incredibly self-incriminating statement to News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt, the hapless Clay Ervin, Volusia County’s director of growth and resource management (?), claimed the report was a mere “draft.”

“Whenever you go out for public review, you want to make sure the documentation is accurate and reflects the intent and purpose.”

My ass.

What consultant with a shred of credibility sends a “draft” of their $50,000 findings – as if to say, “If you fellas don’t like these figures, I’m sure we can dig around the store room and find something you like better.” 

To add insult, just two-weeks ago, Dinneen, Ervin and Deputy County Manager George Recktenwald sat in stone silence like the Three Wise Monkeys as those hapless dupes on the  council voted to expend even more public funds with Duncan Associates.

That was the exact second their careers – and what little was left of their professional credibility – gave up the ghost.

I mean, if Duncan’s methodology was so “flawed” that senior staff dismissed their findings out-of-hand – and kept the study out of sight for two-years – then why in the hell would anyone in their right mind go back and pay them even more for a second bite at the apple?

So, what exactly was the “intent and purpose” of physically suppressing this study?

I have another working theory – and it doesn’t bode well for Little Jimmy’s severance:

In my view, Mr. Dinneen and others in senior management have used their public positions to secure an incredibly lucrative financial benefit for specific members of the development community – a group which, for years, has infused massive campaign contributions into the coffers of sitting public officials, then extracted millions of dollars as a return on that investment in infrastructure and incentives – like ensuring that impact fees remain at 2003 levels while the credits they earn for proportionate share agreements are based on current costs.

If true, that’s criminal – and Dan Eckert damn well knows it.

Florida State Statute 112.313 specifically states that it is a Misuse of Public Office when a public officer corruptly uses or attempts to use his or her official position – or perform his or her official duties – to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself or others.

Gentle readers, this smoking gun cannot simply be explained away by some mid-level bureaucrat with his hair on fire trying feverishly to save his pension.

Appropriating $50,000 in public funds for a study, conducted in the public interest, to educate our elected policy makers on impact fee upgrades – then maliciously hiding that important information from them as they dither and dawdle for answers before pissing good money after bad is base malfeasance and neglect of a public duty.

Clearly, Dinneen and his senior staff are ethically, morally and professionally compromised – and if those we pay to investigate public corruption will get off their collective ass – I suspect we may soon see just how deep this abject degeneracy goes.

Now, the finger of suspicion is rightfully pointing where it must ultimately – at those addle-brained assholes we elected to represent our interests on the dais of power – those who took an oath to protect the public trust and uphold the constitution of the State of Florida – then held us out to dry.

It is time our elected officials realize that reasonable people are rightfully questioning how they could not have known that this study existed – given that at least three sitting members voted to appropriate the tax dollars two-years ago – and, more importantly, why they are refusing to take definitive action to protect their constituents and excise this virulent and metastasizing cancer from the body politic now that they clearly know of the depth of the problem?

I believe there is a reckoning coming at the ballot box this fall – long overdue – as Volusia County Council incumbents learn that a public office truly is a public trust.