On Volusia: Deltona’s Growing Scamdemic

The chasm between the City of Deltona and the residents it ostensibly exists to serve widened this week, a gulf of distrust that continues to stifle substantive progress and distort the community’s civic vision for the future.

In my experience, that sense of suspicion is born of political arrogance – when government forgets that its very legitimacy is derived from the will of the people.

Unfortunately, that’s a reality not limited to Deltona.

That does not mean that those constituents who scream the loudest always get their way – or that mob rule should determine public policy.

And it shouldn’t be that whoever has the gold makes the rules.

That is not how a representative democracy is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, when the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker – our fellow citizens who stand for election on the promise to represent our interests – turn insular and become self-serving, frustration quickly turns to animosity.

On April 1, by Royal Edict, Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg announced that City Hall and the water utility offices would be closed to public access under the omnipotent power of a “local state of emergency,” which some politicians have come to believe supersedes the United States Constitution and rule of law.

If the coronavirus scare has proven anything, it is how quickly a segment of our society will cave to the tyrannical demands petty dictators and their excessive “executive orders” that have quarantined a healthy population, closed publicly owned facilities and arbitrarily shutdown commerce, while selecting which businesses will live, and which will die, based upon a government definition of “essential.”

That includes craven local officials who have no qualms using fear-mongering and a contrived “virtual” presence to violate our basic right to access public meetings and participate in governmental processes.

While many local governments have used emergency declarations to suspend the peoples business until there could be substantive public input, placing routine decision-making authority in the hands of the chief executive; others continued to operate under a weird remote conferencing scheme where policy makers legislate public policy by phoning it in from the comfort of their bunker.

Last Monday, the Deltona City Commission met in chambers with all elected officials present – practicing social distancing through the use of tables set at intervals below the dais.

Leading the official agenda was a weird CYA diktat which stated:

“Following CDC guidelines, we are not allowing public access into the Commission Chambers and practicing social distancing with the City Commissioners and staff. Though there are restrictions when it comes to public gatherings, we are dedicated to making sure those who would like to make their voice heard are able to.” 

My ass.

I don’t recall anything in “CDC guidelines” that directed, “wash your hands, stay six-feet from other people, cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face mask, monitor your health, oh, and don’t allow public access into the Deltona Commission Chambers”. . .

The edict continued with a convoluted process whereby citizens wishing to participate in their government could submit public comment – so long as the input was received three days in advance of the meeting – or contribute via something called an “ecomment” option.

Unbelievably, with citizens (and a working newspaper reporter) physically locked out of the public building, the commission promptly convened a public hearing allowing the subdivision of a section of commercial property.

Except, the hearing was a sham – there were no members of the general public in the room.

Deltona taxpayers were openly denied access.

In fact, as this faux public meeting continued, concerned residents could be heard pounding on the locked doors, screaming for their right to speak, demanding admittance to the meeting as assured by Florida’s open meeting law – only to be arrogantly ignored by their own elected officials.

Commissioner Loren King was the only representative who stood for commonsense and civic decency when he called into question why official action was being taken when residents were excluded from the process?

I felt queasy listening to the booming report of citizens hammering at the locked door – it was jarringly reminiscent of oppressed serfs pounding at the castle’s ironclad portcullis – the great unwashed insisting on being heard by a haughtily detached Monarchy.

In my view, this gut-wrenching display was so unamerican – so contrary to our democratic principles – that it should shock the conscience of anyone who values free and open access to our governmental processes.

According to reports, ultimately a Volusia County sheriff’s deputy was able to gain access to the inner sanctum, and a reporter from the West Volusia Beacon was allowed to monitor the remainder of the meeting in person.

Now self-important politicians are finding unique ways to craft a “new normal” – loosening processes once protected by charter and the constitution – that will allow them to “remove formalities” and take whatever action they feel is “prudent” to protect the public’s health and insulate themselves from political criticism.

This isn’t about a virus anymore.

We are watching the coronavirus pandemic transition from a public health crisis to a civic “scamdemic” – where craven “public servants” take advantage of a bad situation to fundamentally change our system of governance for the convenience of the “system” – while finding innovative ways to further exclude those of us who are expected to pay the bills and suffer in silence behind a locked door.

 

Angels & Assholes for May 22, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Volusia County Council

I admit taking a perverse pleasure in watching our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and his goofy “colleagues” on the dais of power make a mucked-up mockery of things.

Call it a pastime.

I realize it’s sick and wrong to take such utter delight in the intellectual limitations of people who hold themselves in such high regard – and I’ve clearly lost all objectivity – but Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting will stand as empirical evidence that our lives and livelihoods are being directed by a troupe of befuddled buffoons.

Shocking. 

The cart came off the rails when they undertook amending a resolution to expand a Volusia County relief program which allocates just $10 million, of the nearly $100 million in CARES Act funds the county received, to support small businesses who have carried the brunt of this government-imposed shutdown on their shoulders.

Then, things turned into a bad Three Stooges episode as Chairman Kelley lost any semblance of control or ‘decorum’ – only there were seven of them acting in this outrageous slapstick tragicomedy – setting policy with all the grace of an ungulate on ice. . .

Please don’t take my word for it.

Just down a strong antiemetic and watch this shit show for yourself.  (The fun begins around 4:57:00)

Then, in keeping with Volusia County’s tried-and-true strategy of public policy by ambush – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys pulled a shameless end run on her long-suffering constituents by trying to elevate Interim County Attorney Mike Dyer to the permanent role by the usual off-the-agenda sleight of hand.

Her greasy move was the antithesis of political integrity.

In January, when the council placed Dyer in the temporary role following a bloodletting in the county attorney’s office – we were promised that the full-time position would only be filled following a transparent search.

At the time, an article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal explained:

“Councilman Ben Johnson initially shared concern that appointing Dyer as interim might give the impression that, if Dyer is eventually chosen as the permanent county attorney, that the decision was a “foregone conclusion.”

Councilwoman Barbara Girtman, along with others on the dais, said as long as they conduct (the) search with transparency, she doesn’t see Dyer’s appointment as a problem.

“It will be transparent. It will be discussed publicly,” said Councilwoman Deb Denys.”

Bullshit.

No search.  No discussion.  No transparency.  A foregone conclusion.

More ‘end-of-the-meeting’ shenanigans.

To Councilman Ben Johnson’s credit, he spotted what Denys was up to and suggested that Dyer’s appointment to the permanent role (and rough draft contract) be placed on an upcoming agenda.

The motion passed unanimously. . .

Not one of our elected representatives stood up and said, “Hey, what happened to the search?  What happened to the whole ‘transparency’ thing?”

My God.

In my view, this latest backroom flimflam proves – once and for all – that Councilwoman Denys is a bald-faced congenital liar who lacks the strength of character and moral authority to lead.

If Ms. Denys had a shred of decency, she would immediately resign her lofty post, abandon her craven campaign for County Chair, and slither off to that rotten dung heap where deceitful political hacks go to bury the foul-smelling remains of their political career.

This doesn’t bear any resemblance to good governance.

This isn’t normal.  This isn’t leadership.  We deserve better.

 Asshole           Volusia County District Schools

Cue the mournful dirge that signals the start of the Volusia County School District’s annual performance of the Poor Mouth Blues. . .

With a budget rapidly approaching $1 billion – you read that right: One Billion Dollars – district administrators are telling us the mushrooming bureaucracy is now facing a $16 million deficit – a shortfall some four times what it was just two years ago when School Board members told us the system was in “budget crisis mode.” 

This ship is sinking. . .and our children’s education hangs in the balance.

Ignoring the fact that this already top-heavy/multi-layered organization continues to add “assistant superintendents” – each with six-figure salary and benefits packages – it seems no matter who is appointed to manage this money hog, the “system” will never live within its massive means.

In coming weeks, we will hear the same tired song blaming the patently unfair state funding formula (that legislators clearly have no intention of rectifying) – always exacerbated by increasing personnel expenses, retirement contributions, staff raises, etc. – the perennial excuses district administrators never seem to anticipate or plan for.

For the past decade, it has become increasingly clear that the self-serving upper stratum of Volusia County Schools has become more concerned with protecting their own positions in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand than improving the curriculum, learning strategy and educational experience of students.

This mercenary and maladroit approach to educational administration has resulted in nasty scandals, embarrassing revelations of almost criminal malfeasance, lack of accountability, allegations of academic cheating, security breakdowns that have threatened the safety of students and staff, and a complete inability to adapt to a changing economic, social and civic environment.

As this latest shortfall is foisted upon taxpayers – we hear disturbing stories of staff members who remain virtually unaccounted for in the system – “teachers on assignment,” personnel who were hired under grant programs that remained on the payroll long after the program expired, certified educators being used in bus loops and school cafés – all of which begs the question:

Are there individuals lost in this byzantine maze that are being paid to do nothing at all? 

In my view, now that schools are shuttered for the summer, it is time our “new” superintendent Scotty Fritz begins an all-hands approach to trimming the obvious fat at the top of the org chart, evaluating each administrator and program, then cutting anything not directly related to educational activities.

Considering the School Board’s willingness to repeatedly dip into reserves rather than stop the hemorrhage – returning to the well time-and-again, even as the spending continues unabated – it’s time for taxpayers to take a close look at how, and why, this behemoth continues to gorge.

Angel              BC-U Senior Miranda White    

The response to COVID-19 has exacted a toll from all of us – taken away family occasions, our ability to work, play, worship and engage in those important life moments – special times and milestones we will never get back.

That includes student athletes and graduating high school and college seniors who have been denied the opportunity to showcase their talents and celebrate scholastic accomplishments.

By any metric, Bethune-Cookman University senior Miranda White is an exceptional young woman with incalculable contribution potential to our society.

Earlier this month, the four-year letter winner for the Lady Wildcat volleyball squad was named Bethune-Cookman University Athletics Woman of The Year!

But her wonderful accomplishments go far beyond the court.

The California native was the first student accepted into B-CU’s Integrated Environmental Science (IES) Program that allows students to pursue both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years through classroom, field experiences and collaborating with government, academic and private practitioners.

In addition, Ms. White was selected for the National Council on Undergraduate Research’s 24th annual Posters on the Hill event, originally scheduled for Washington, DC on April 20-21.

According to B-CU Athletics, Ms. White was the first student from the university selected for this distinguished program.

Her research project “Using a Bayesian Conditional Probabilistic Model to Identify Efficient Environmental Indicators of Harmful Algal Blooms Within the Indian River Lagoon, Florida, USA” used a timed series of analyses to determine strategies for algal bloom control in Florida’s sensitive east coast estuaries.

Unfortunately, due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus response, Ms. White was unable to present her findings to members of Congress – which required she post a virtual presentation instead.

In my view, Ms. White, and her groundbreaking environmental research, exemplifies the importance of Bethune-Cookman University to the life of Central Florida and beyond.

I hope you will join me in congratulating Miranda White on her incredibly impressive athletic and academic achievements – and in acknowledging her important scientific contributions to the protection and preservation of our threatened waterways.

Quote of the Week

“The Anglers and the City of New Smyrna may see this as a victory, but I see it as the beginning of righting the wrongs which have been perpetrated on the hardworking tax paying citizens of NSB.”

 –Rhonda J. Kanan, New Smyrna Beach, in an emailed response to The Daytona Beach News-Journal for the article, “Lawsuit dismissed against NSB Anglers’ Yacht Club which bars women,” Tuesday, May 19, 2020

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

Just get the hell off publicly owned land if you are not willing to welcome everyone.

I thought those were the rules?  Right?  

Do what’cha wanna on private property – but certain anti-discrimination laws apply to publicly owned land?

Guess not. . .

The Anglers Club – a ‘not-for-profit’ corporation – which sits on some incredibly valuable waterfront real estate on New Smyrna’s North Causeway – is the current iteration of a club formed in 1914 which was chartered exclusively for “white male citizens over 21 years of age.”

According to reports, at present, the “club” has some 90 members – none of whom are black. . .or female.

The organization describes itself as a “fraternal organization” – an exclusive “men’s club” – and bristles at the idea of being portrayed as discriminatory in any way.

As I see it, the only rub is that most private “men’s clubs” don’t sit on two-acres of prime riverfront property – publicly owned by all citizens of New Smyrna Beach – with an estimated worth of some $4 million – that is “leased” to The Anglers Club by the municipal government for a paltry $25.00 a year. . .

You read that right.  $25 bucks a year. 

The city last approved The Angler’s 99-year lease in 1944 – which, absent any substantive action by the NSB City Commission, will remain in effect until 2043. . .

Earlier this year, Rhonda Kanan, a courageous New Smyrna Beach resident decided to do what city officials wouldn’t and filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of The Anglers Club’s lopsided arrangement, which essentially allows an organization that openly discriminates against women the use of very valuable public property for private benefit.

According to Ms. Kanan’s suit, way back in 2009, the City of New Smyrna Beach received a legal opinion that The Anglers Club leases were invalid.

The remedies ran from ratifying the leases in an open public meeting, to asserting the agreements aren’t worth the yellowing paper they are printed on, including the option of ejecting the club from the property altogether.

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

Thank goodness, right? 

Because if the “club” had been found to be racially discriminatory, that could have serious political repercussions if it were allowed to remain on public property. . .

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

Frankly, the New Smyrna Beach City Commission should be ashamed of itself for their base political cowardice.

So, as these things often go when citizens have the temerity to challenge City Hall, this week a Circuit Court judge dismissed Ms. Kanan’s case.

Apparently, the statute of limitations provided just one year to challenge the validity of the lease – which was signed 76 years ago. . .

The judge also found that Ms. Kanan did not have “standing” to file the lawsuit in the first place.

That should sound familiar to beach driving advocates who were told by a judge they didn’t have a leg to stand on either when they attempted to stand up for the rights of the people. 

To her credit, Rhonda Kanan has courageously vowed to continue her legal fight for basic fairness – and a legitimate financial return on this prime riverfront asset for New Smyrna Beach residents.

Good luck, Ms. Kanan – something tells me you’re gonna need it. . .

And Another Thing!

The City of DeLand had a bad week. . .

Despite the many reader requests for my weird take on things – I’m not going to pile on with more nonsense that won’t do anything to salve the raw tension and sense of distrust in the wake of a “block party” turned bedlam.

I will say this: I wholeheartedly support those law enforcement officers who, while bravely attempting to keep the peace, were viciously and repeatedly attacked with bottles and barstools – and had guns pointed at them through a hostile crowd.

As officials continue to autopsy the events leading to last weekend’s lawlessness, one thing is irrefutable – our courageous law enforcement officers are not punching bags – and I commend Sheriff Michael Chitwood for his support of the officers and deputies who were violently set upon while trying to bring order during this out-of-control melee.

I would also like to commend Sheriff Chitwood for working closely with a diverse group of area leaders and clergy to find common ground and begin substantive discussions on how to best serve the myriad needs of the Spring Hill community.

Noble work.

In my view, it is also becoming increasingly clear that the men and women of the DeLand Police Department – and the citizens they serve – deserve a different style of leadership.

We learned a few things about Chief Umberger during a highly publicized dust-up with Sheriff Chitwood in the aftermath of a traffic stop that began in the City of DeLand and ended with VCSO deputies being fired upon with a tactical shotgun in Deltona – a violent confrontation that ended in the death of the suspect when deputies acted to defend themselves.

Incredibly, Chief Umberger thought it best to hold a press conference the following day wherein he questioned Sheriff Chitwood’s initial narrative – then engaged in a weird CYA defense of his pursuit policy (?) – while attempting to distance his agency from the precipitating event.

Chief Umberger’s strange tap-dancing brought a harsh admonition from the Sheriff – and the Volusia County Deputies Association – who rightfully felt he undermined the “bravery and valor demonstrated by our deputies.”    

Clearly, both Sheriff Chitwood – and his deputies – have lost confidence in Chief Umberger.

Now, we learn that the International Union of Police Associations, the collective bargaining unit representing DeLand police officers, is openly requesting that the Florida Commission on Ethics investigate Chief Umberger’s professional conduct during a 2019 internal affairs investigation.

According to the formal IUPA complaint, “Chief Umberger excluded exculpatory evidence and manipulated facts so that his decision to fire the officers would seem justified.”

Look, there are always three sides to every story – but during times of crisis – citizens need to know that their local law enforcement leadership is strong, committed and holding the moral high ground.

And a call for an ethics investigation by your line officers is hard to overcome.

By all accounts, Jason Umberger is a nice guy and a competent police executive – and I happen to know that the job he holds is a hard dollar, even on a good day.

I’m just not sure how one rebuilds a relationship with the police union representing their staff after the nuclear option has been detonated. . .

In my view, given the series of distractions that continue to envelope him during this difficult time, perhaps it is time for Chief Umberger to consider his options.

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

 

 

 

On Volusia: A Bridge Too Far

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

President George W. Bush, 2002

Yeah.  What he said. . .

On Tuesday, Halifax area residents and business owners had the rug pulled out from under them once again.

The long-anticipated May 19 opening date for the interminably delayed Orange Avenue Bridge came and went – and, for the umpteenth time, that red-faced rube, Volusia County Engineer Tadd Kasbeer, was forced to stare at his shoes, shuffle his feet, and sheepishly announce that Orlando-based contractor Johnson Bros. Corporation fooled him again.  Again.

If you ask me, that joke is getting old. . .

Apparently, the Johnson brothers are a couple of fun-loving guys who build high-level concrete arch bridges on weekends in their spare time – then entertain themselves by pulling arbitrary completion dates out of thin air and watching government engineers squirm.

According to a report by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, it has now taken almost as long to construct the Orange Avenue span as it took to complete the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco – which is four times longer. . .

Our project began way back in June 2016 with an initial estimated completion date of December 2018.

Whoa.

In the Johnson’s defense, they weathered three hurricanes, a lightning strike, unstable ground, a toppled crane, bad engineering advice and at least one violation of the old “measure twice – cut once” apprentice rule when the height of the bridge railing was apparently “miscalculated”. . .

So, now the ‘he said/she said’ finger-pointing has begun in earnest – with Johnson Bros. telling us the bridge is ready to go – they’re just waiting on the high sign from Volusia County – while Kasbeer claims another Florida Department of Transportation structural inspection is required.

As a result, estimates for opening day range from next week to August or beyond.

The only thing for certain is, like a guy who finally discerned the connection between a hot stove and his singed finger, Tadd Kasbeer has given his last hard date for opening.

I guess after being publicly humiliated time-and-again Volusia County has decided it is infinitely easier to just stop communicating with their constituents altogether.

“We’re not giving out any more dates,” said Kasbeer, the county’s director of engineering and construction. “It’s up to the contractor to tell us when they’ll open.”

Whatever.

Look, watching Tadd Kasbeer get pranked never gets old.

But waiting for the Orange Avenue Bridge to open does.

Now that we’ve all had another good belly laugh at Volusia County’s expense – perhaps the Johnson Bros. and FDOT will open the bridge?

Please?

Happy motoring, y’all!

 

Rise Up and Be Heard You Uneducated, Misinformed Knuckleheads!

We all have an emotional breaking point, a place where situations and circumstances become so dark and disturbing that they overwhelm the better elements of our character – causing us to throw off the traces of civility – and surrender to the purely human ability to override one’s conscience.

God knows, I lost it a long time ago. . .

Let’s face it – these are trying times – and not all of us, or the institutions we once relied on, will be the same on the other side.

In my view, it’s becoming clear Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice is beginning to crack. . .

On Sunday, Mr. Rice published his weekly op/ed column – an often wispy look the issues of the day – and, sometimes, an esoteric message only understood by a select group of well-connected intimates who’s gilded view of the Halifax area is completely different from those of us who try desperately to make a living, educate their children and make a life here. . .

The gist of Mr. Rice’s missive (I think) was his inability to grasp how anyone could have an opinion that contrasts with his elitist view of the world – specifically, how thinking citizens could question the merits of the national vote-by-mail initiative that has been contrived in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

What clued me into Pat’s mental meltdown was when he referred to those who use Facebook – which has become every man’s soapbox – to voice a dissenting opinion as “misinformed, uneducated knuckleheads.”

“…Facebook can be a cesspool where any knucklehead with a misinformed or uneducated political point of view can regurgitate it at the rest of us.

I know, there are also informed people who use Facebook to thoughtfully weigh in on local, state and national issues.  Let’s be honest: Those people are a distinct minority who are often drowned out by people who drink and post, or who serial-post truly fake news and opinion from clearly biased sources, or who share spurious conspiracy theories for partisan reasons.

It’s ugly on Facebook, and it’s only going to get uglier between now and the November general election.  My advice to everyone is to stop using Facebook altogether.”

(“Drink and post”?  Hummmm. . .)

Well, speaking for the rest of us, Mr. Rice, your unsolicited “advice” – which positions your media outlet as the only viable and informed viewpoint – goes against everything we know about the importance of competing ideas in a free and open society.

A smart friend of mine, and long-time News-Journal subscriber, who took righteous offense to being labeled an uneducated knucklehead by the editor of our local newspaper reminded me of a December 2019 editorial by Mr. Rice in which he arrogantly lectured Sheriff Michael Chitwood for accurately referring to the Volusia County Council as “scumbags.”

At the time, Mr. Rice was apparently apoplectic when Sheriff Chitwood’s gave an incredibly honest description of those misfits on the dais of power – who have subverted the democratic process and kowtowed to every want and whim of their political benefactors – when he called for the resignation of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and identified a “ruling class that will do anything to hold on to power.”  

During his vehement defense of his friends in high places, Mr. Rice went on to remind the Sheriff that our “ruling class” have a first amendment right to “…persuade elected officials to see things their way.”

You and I don’t, because in Mr. Rice’s eyes we’re clueless assholes – but his clubby chums that comprise our social and financial elite – do.

Look, Sheriff Chitwood is universally known as a straight-shooter who calls it like he sees it – he doesn’t suffer fools – and his brash assessments often cut through the political pap and fluff to expose the heart of a situation or conflict – allowing for positive change.

I like that.

What I don’t care for is condescending “do as I say, not as I do” twaddle from a clearly frightened and wholly compromised newspaper editor who’s allegiances have clouded his judgement – and reduced him to the same name-calling he claims to despise.

In my view, it is important to what remains of our democracy that we keep making our diverse opinions known on social media and beyond – scream it from the rooftops – until those we have elected to represent our interests realize there is some shit we won’t eat.

Perhaps Mr. Rice should take the same unsolicited “advice” he heaped on Sheriff Chitwood:

“Don’t stop being colorful.  Just stop being mean.  Stop going nuclear.  Volusia County deserves that much.”

 

 

 

On Volusia: Finding our Center of Gravity

Military strategists know the importance of probing defenses – analyzing the enemy’s capabilities and response – then targeting critical vulnerabilities for maximum effectiveness.

The Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, in his seminal work “On War” spoke of identifying “Centers of Gravity” – which modern warfighters have doctrinally identified as “any important sources of strength” – values, mental toughness, moral resilience, physical strength, power of will – that if exploited “will do the most significant damage to an adversaries ability to resist.”

These centers of gravity exist in all organizations – including government bureaucracies.

The mandate for leadership is to identify these sources of strength, protect them, continuously improve them, and use these strategic and operational assets to full advantage.

Unfortunately, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic at all levels of government has exposed our greatest vulnerabilities to both the citizens it ostensibly exists to serve – and potential bad actors around the world.

Historically, when threats are identified, government plans and prepares, then provides citizens the best information and recommendations possible – a tempered approach that protects the vulnerable while respecting the rights and livelihoods of the many.

That didn’t happen when coronavirus came calling – and, as a result, we are beginning to see widespread outrage and even greater political polarization.  (If that’s possible.)

When you add the ongoing frenzy of media hype and hysteria that continues to focus on the prurient elements – ignoring any hopeful trend in favor of flogging negativity and engaging in the vilest form of fear-mongering in history – it becomes clear why we are experiencing this national nervous breakdown.

Hysteria and misinformation have spread much faster than the virus – and with politicians in the mix – panic has resulted in this whole-of-society response that is destroying our economy, leaving families in financial ruin, and caused many to question how this could have possibly happened here in the “Land of the Free?” 

Then, there is the “kick them when their down” syndrome that some media outlets have embraced – the nonstop lecturing and divisive browbeating that was once the exclusive domain of blowhards like me. . .

For instance, I think everyone has had quite enough of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s corona-cut-and-paste editorials – which recently preached the gospel according to some Treasure Coast hack – insinuating that “Floridians are idiots” and “Floridians are botching this (recovery)” based on some provocative tripe in the UK’s Daily Mail about people returning to restaurants. . .

Quickly followed by a blast from editor Pat Rice which shit on the opinions of citizens who have taken to social media – every man’s soapbox – to voice their views on vote by mail and other virus-related contrivances.

In his Sunday claptrap entitled, “Facebook, and the bizarre vote-by-mail opponents,” he said:

“We also all know that Facebook can be a cesspool where any knucklehead with a misinformed or uneducated political point of view can regurgitate it at the rest of us.”

That’s right, Pat.  Make room for the rest of us.

Why should you corner the market on knucklehead, misinformed and uneducated political views?

Oh, he went on to tidy things up a bit, but you get the idea.

Mr. Rice – who long ago lost credibility by exposing his own partisan views and associations – like many in the media and government, feels that his elitist viewpoint is the only one that matters.

Over the past nine weeks or so, we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of local governance – and the media that has influenced its clumsy response – elected and appointed officials who were clearly bested by the complexity of the situation, flailing desperately to keep pace with ever-changing state “executive orders” – then enacting public policy on the fly; protocols which had drastic impacts on our lives and changed almost hourly.

While others on the dais of power turned insular, more self-serving, hyper-focused on their need for political exposure in an election year – going so far as exaggerating their dubious connection to White House policymakers (which turned out to be nothing more than cattle call teleconferences) – publishing weird manifestos on social media, mandating weekly “special meetings,” demanding input in the decision-making process during a declared state of emergency and doing everything possible to remain visible and relevant.

In my view, this has not been Volusia County government’s finest hour. . .

So, where do we go from here?  

I long ago came to the conclusion that our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, doesn’t have the mental capacity for self-reflection, but I sincerely hope that in the quiet hours, when County Manager George Recktenwald ponders his administrations accomplishments and growth areas – he considers what this botched response, and equally shaky “recovery,” is having on the foundational elements of our community – the civic, social and economic mainstays we rely on during times of crisis.

My hope is that Mr. Recktenwald will ask himself the question:

“Is this still about a virus?”

In my view, there is little motivation for state and local government to stop the endless – and wholly unconstitutional – limitations on our movement, ability to peaceably assemble for lawful purposes, worship in accordance with the practices of our faith and engage in the pursuit of our business or profession without government interference – so long as the tsunami of federal funds continues unabated.

Experts tell me that this disjointed response and recovery is essentially a political problem that requires a political solution – and these constitutional insults will result in numerous lawsuits – and the ultimate removal of many overweening politicians who pushed governmental overreach and control over the needs of their suffering constituents at the polls this fall.

I agree with that to a point.

Despite Pat Rice’s condescending horseshit – I encourage everyone to voice your opinion, on social media or elsewhere – scream it from the rooftops – and let our elected and appointed officials in the Ivory Tower of Power know exactly how you feel about their definition of the “new normal” they are hoping against hope we will all embrace without push-back.

Perhaps its time We, The People find our “center of gravity” – the awesome power of the ballot box – and demand a return to that omnipotent democratic principle that mandates all political power is derived from the will of the governed.

 

 

 

Archangels: Reflections on Law Enforcement Memorial Day 2020

On Monday, members of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office stood face-to-face with evil after an armed and dangerous assailant fled from a traffic stop in the City of DeLand – reminding us, once again, of the extreme threats faced by law enforcement officers every day.

A stark reminder indeed – and all thoughts and prayers are with the deputies involved as we reflect on the sacrifice of the courageous men and women who ‘serve and protect.’  

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week.  This national day of remembrance pays tribute to law enforcement officers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Law enforcement nationwide is well-worthy of our admiration and unending respect as they go in harm’s way to protect your family and mine.

Last year, 146 law enforcement officers lost their lives in the line of duty in the United States.

So far, 72 have paid the ultimate sacrifice in 2020.

To all those serving or who have served – thank you for holding the line.

We stand alone, together.

Daytona Beach Police Department

Officer Kevin John Fischer, September 4, 1998

Officer Gregory J. Sorenson, July 26, 1982

Deputy Sheriff Frank Dean Genovese, June 3, 1982

Officer Sam Etheredge, Jr., December 25, 1980

Detective Harry F. Raines, January 13, 1945

Officer Willie R. Denson, April 30, 1937

Officer Lawrence B. Hall, August 28, 1932

Officer Benny P. Stricklin, January 23, 1931

Officer Lewis Tanner, October 26, 1930

 

DeLand Police Department

Sergeant George Tinsley, May 7, 1979

Patrolman Elmer L. Michael, February 17, 1942

 

Flagler County Sheriff’s Office

Sergeant Frank “Frankie” Celico, September 9, 2011

Deputy Sheriff Charles T. “Chuck” Sease, July 5, 2003

Deputy Sheriff George W. “Son” Durrance, August 25, 1927

Sheriff Perry Hall, August 21, 1927

 

Florida Dept. of Corrections

Officer Donna Fitzgerald, June 25, 2008

 

Florida Highway Patrol

Trooper Darryl Louis Haywood, Sr., October 2, 2004

Trooper Edwin J. Gasque, October 26, 1961

 

New Smyrna Beach Police Department

Officer Roy Lundell Nelson, Jr., August 13, 2005

K9 Caeser, August 13, 2005

 

Ormond Beach Police Department

Officer Robert Francis “Bob” Grim, Sr., November 13, 2004

 

Ponce Inlet Police Department

Officer Timothy Thomas Pollard, September 22, 1987

 

Volusia County Beach Patrol

Captain John Irwin “Jay” McDonough, II, February 16, 2011

 

Volusia County Sheriff’s Department

Deputy Sheriff Frank Scofield, June 2, 2019

K9 Forest, November 22, 2016

Deputy Sheriff Stephen Saboda, November 6, 1982

Donald Shackleford, 1979

Alva Hayman, 1974

Frank Smith, 1927

Chief Deputy Sheriff William Park Edwards, November 5, 1907

Deputy Sheriff Charles Mortimer Kurtz, September 3, 1907

Deputy Sheriff William Kurtz Kremer, December 10, 1898

Sheriff Jefferson Davis Kurtz, April 25, 1895

 

_______________________________

 

Archangels

From my earliest memories, law enforcement officers have always been my heroes.

They still are.

Today marks National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day 2020.

A time for reflection on the incredible contributions of the men and women who so courageously serve and protect us all – and an opportunity to honor those brave souls who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

In what is proving to be a particularly deadly period in our history for line of duty deaths, it is important that we remember those officers who, as Lincoln said, gave “The last full measure of devotion.” 

It is also fitting that we take this opportunity to consider the greater question of the role of the police in a free and open society – and the importance of citizen support for their indispensable work in preserving our way of life in America.

The great privilege of my life was the opportunity to serve in law enforcement with some of the most dedicated and talented public servants I have ever known.

For thirty-one years I had the distinct honor of standing with strong men and women who hold a thin blue line between order and chaos, between good and evil, between you and I and the predatory criminals who prey on that which we love most.

In my long career, I learned something about law enforcement officers and what these extraordinary people are made of.  I have always thought that any contribution I made was just a function of the job at hand, but I am extremely proud just to have been associated with people I consider true American heroes.

Brevard County Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was one of them.

In early 1986, I was a young officer with the Holly Hill Police Department assigned to the Uniformed Patrol Division.

Bob 1
Bob Nicol, Jr.

At that time, I had been on the job for about three years (in other words, I had just learned how to write a traffic ticket the same way twice) and I was working the “Midnight shift” – 11:00pm to 7:00am – answering calls for service from an old Dodge Aspen patrol car with a single blue light on the roof, and a Motorola “Mocom” radio, equipped with a green light to let you know it was on and a red light to let you know it was transmitting when you keyed the microphone.

A quaint antique by today’s standards.

Today, a patrol vehicle’s interior looks more like the flight deck of the Space Shuttle, with mobile data units, stolen vehicle trackers, tag readers, electronic citation systems, digital video cameras and multi-channel 800MHz radios.

It is amazing how advances in technology transformed policing during my career.

One night I arrived at the police department for briefing, got a cup of coffee from Dispatch, and took my seat at the long wooden table where officers gathered before and after each tour to pass-on important and not-so-important information, listen to the sergeant give duty assignments, gossip, tell wholly inappropriate jokes, and bitch and moan about, well, everything.

(One of the first things you learn as a police chief is that cops complain – that’s how they “deal” with the horrific and unnatural things the job brings them in contact with.  It’s when they stop complaining that you have a problem on your hands.)

That night my sergeant introduced me to the “FNG,” a “f—g new guy,” sitting by himself at the end of the desk.

He was a short, stocky blond with big 80’s-style aviator glasses who thrust out his hand and eagerly introduced himself with a big grin and a heavy Western New York accent, “Howyadoin’, I’m Bob!”

At the time, many police departments didn’t have the formal field training and evaluation programs of today, and most in-service training was conducted by senior officers teaching their juniors the ropes through experiential learning and anecdotal information.

That night I was assigned to show our newest officer the city limits and get him familiar with the streets, point out the hot spots, and generally indoctrinate him on how to survive the physical and political hazards of small-town Florida.

If you’ve ever shared the confines of a patrol unit for hours-on-end with another officer then you know how fast, and how strong, a bond develops between partners in a business where you put your life in another person’s hands and promise to do the same for them.

Robert Nicol, Jr. was born in Coatbridge, Scotland, in 1948.

He was a former deputy with the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office in Canadaigua, New York, a small community in the Finger Lakes region.

Escaping the aftermath of a messy divorce, Bob fled New York as a newly minted single-father with three young children – two boys and a girl – and his mom in tow.

Settling in Holly Hill, Bob soon applied to the police department and was hired almost immediately by Chief Pat Finn, who was extremely impressed by Bob’s military background and his previous law enforcement experience.

During four-years in the U.S. Army, Bob served proudly in some of the most fierce fighting in Vietnam and was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat, the Bronze Star for valor and the Army Commendation Medal for his extraordinary service to our nation.

Bob Nicol was an American hero before he ever pinned on a badge.

Although twelve-years my senior, he had an energetic personality, contagious laugh and a great sense of humor that impressed me right away.  We quickly became friends, and since Bob didn’t know many people here, he and I spent a lot of time together talking, drinking, and inhabiting the bars and nightclubs of Daytona Beach.

When we weren’t working, you could find us perched at Club Mocambo, the Beachcomber, Silver Bucket, Full House or any of a dozen other illustrious local night spots, quite stylish in our leather Member’s Only jackets.

Unlike me, Bob was an affable, good-looking guy who always had a way with the ladies – and I benefited more times than I care to admit just from my association with him.

The stories and escapades are legendary, but perhaps better left for a different forum. . .

I learned a lot from Bob – personally and professionally.

He was a great father to his two young sons and beautiful daughter – and he doted on his mother, a brash Scot who spoke with a thick brogue and frequently made Shortbread cookies that I miss to this day.

Most of all, Bob was a damn good cop – smart, dedicated and tenacious.

It didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself in the local law enforcement community and, in May 1987, he was offered a sworn position as a deputy with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

It was a great professional development opportunity, and the job offered more money to support his children.

We discussed the pro’s and con’s, and late one shift Bob and I met door-to-door in our patrol cars in some parking lot near Ridgewood Avenue.  He told me he was going to take the job.  I congratulated him, we shook hands, then immediately began making plans to facilitate his move to Port St. John.

Bob and I remained great friends, even though our schedules and the hour-drive between us put a dent in our nightlife.

Probably for the best.

It wasn’t long before Bob proved himself a true asset to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.  He was respected and very well-liked by everyone who knew him.

He was a cops-cop, and the epitome of who you wanted stepping out of a police car in a dark alley when you really need help.

At approximately 4:00am on Saturday, September 19, 1987, Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was on patrol on U.S. 1, just south of State Road 405, when he made a “routine” (if there is such a thing) traffic stop.

During the encounter, Bob arrested the driver, Scott Roberts, 21, on traffic-related charges.

Further investigation found that one of the five passengers in the vehicle, later identified as Jeffrey Mason, a 24-year old landscaper living in Orlando, was in possession of less than 20-grams of marijuana.

Bob arrested him on the misdemeanor charge.

While Bob was securing Roberts in his patrol car and attempting to control the four others still inside the vehicle, Jeffrey Mason broke free and escaped custody – running across the divided highway with Deputy Nicol in close foot pursuit.

As they ran into the roadway, a vehicle traveling north swerved to avoid Mason and inadvertently struck Bob at high speed.

The force of the impact sent his body crashing into the windshield, catapulted him over the top of the moving car before throwing him to the pavement, witnesses said.

His neck was broken, and the base of his skull was crushed.

Bob was transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center where he remained in Intensive Care with severe traumatic brain damage.

After a manhunt involving some thirty law enforcement officers, Jeffrey Mason was found cowering in a wooded area near S.R. 405 and taken into custody without incident.

It was later determined that he was on probation in the State of Ohio for involuntary manslaughter stemming from a 1983 traffic crash which killed the passenger in his car.

On Wednesday, September 30, 1987, my friend Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. lost his courageous battle and died from injuries sustained in the line of duty twelve days earlier.

He left behind his mother, Pat Skindzier, and three children, ages 15, 8, and 5.

Brevard County Sheriff Jake Miller posthumously awarded Deputy Nicol the Medal of Valor for his actions that fateful morning – the highest honor bestowed on a law enforcement officer.

I will never forget the enormous number of law enforcement officers – all of us shining and resplendent in our Class A dress uniforms – who gathered for his funeral with full honors at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Titusville.

I openly wept for the first time in my young career over the flag-draped coffin of a fallen brother and friend.

Later, Nicol Park on US-1 in Port St. John was named in Bob’s honor.

A fitting tribute to a hero – but a tragic waste of an incredible soul.

It is a tradition in law enforcement and the military for brothers and sisters in arms to join in remembrance of our fallen comrades on days such as this to honor their service, sacrifice and friendship.

The name of Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. is inscribed on memorial panel 35-E: 8 at the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

robert_nicol_rubbing

“Remember! All who have served alongside them; we who have donned the same proud uniform, being sworn to the same faith and allegiance — We will never forget their sacrifice. Remember!”

On this Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day, I remember my friend Bob – and his great devotion and sacrifice –  along with all the men and women of law enforcement who have laid down their lives so that we may live in peace.

I hope you will too.

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: We’re not in this together

First, we were told the shutdown was about “flattening the curve.”

Now, it’s about “finding the cure.” 

The goalpost keeps moving.

In my view, it is not about a virus anymore – it’s about the money. . .

Earlier this week, the Volusia County Council took steps to accept $96,543,792 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds – and applied for an additional $1,021,988 from the Florida Department of Transportation for Votran’s Gold Paratransit services – along with $21,218,428 in Federal Transit Administration CARES Act relief for our public transportation provider.

I found it interesting that the resolution supporting the application and acceptance of these funds doesn’t include a factual basis of need, a breakdown of how these funds will be spent, who will oversee and audit the allocation, etc. – only that Volusia County “has the authority” to apply.

Look, I’m mathematically illiterate, but by my ciphering that’s $118,784,208 and we’re not even through “Phase 1” of something called “Relaunch Volusia.”

Earlier this week, I tried to read the glossy supplement touting the Relaunch Volusia program – I felt it important to learn the intricacies of how county government plans to use this cascade of federal dollars to breathe life into our local economy – and get the thousands of area residents who have been financially devastated by draconian local, state and federal response protocols back to work.

I turned to page one – “A Message from the Volusia County Council” – which began:

“The Volusia County Council is working tirelessly during these extraordinary times to address the unprecedented challenges we face as County Government and as a community. We’ve enacted policies to protect the public and our employees and ensure that critical services continue with little or no interruption.”

Then, I retched into my wastebasket and poured three-fingers of Irish Whiskey in my coffee cup. . .

I just couldn’t stomach that load of tripe.

In my view, it is telling when an elected body puts their own dubious “contributions” above the hardship and sacrifice of those they serve – and any bureaucrat with two synapses still firing knows the pitfalls of openly whining about how “tirelessly” elected officials (who haven’t lost a dime in salary or benefits since this shit show started) are “working,” while those they were elected to serve are suffering mightily.

Perhaps those clueless dullards on the Volusia County Council should have flipped the text of their staff-contrived narrative, which ended with the glaring afterthought:

“We also would like to thank the public for its cooperation, understanding and patience. We are truly all in this together, and we will make it through together to a better tomorrow!”

Bullshit.

From what I could gather, the remainder of the “Relaunch Volusia” plan contained loose metrics for reopening county government – you know, getting bureaucrats comfortably back in their cubicles – while creating more questions than answers on when you and I can expect our lives, businesses and livelihoods to return to whatever passes for “normal” in the aftermath of this debacle.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of the “we’re all in this together,” feel-good gibberish. . .

Because we’re not.

While Volusia County government takes delivery of some $119 million in federal aid, small businesses, hospitality workers, home-based enterprises, personal service professionals, etc., who have unfairly carried this lopsided response on their shoulders continue to suffer while waiting for benefits.

I recently saw a post on social media where a business-owner announced that the company she built with her own hands was closing permanently due to the financial pressures of the government-imposed shutdown.

Admittedly, I got emotional watching the now unemployed entrepreneur (who won’t qualify for assistance) explain how she was taking a “day for grieving” before deciding what comes next.

How terribly sad. . .

This week, during yet another “special” meeting, the Volusia County Council finally approved a program that applies a paltry $10 million – divided into $3,000 grants – to struggling small businesses who meet ever-changing government-mandated criteria and can “document” an economic loss of $3K or more – although a week ago we were warned that grant funds could not be used for lost wages or revenue – so, I guess the actual permitted use will remain a mystery for now.

If you think your small business qualifies, the first-come-first-served Thunderdome competition begins this morning at http://www.volusiabusinessresources.com

As I understand it, the current version of the program limits “assistance” – whatever that ultimately means – to just 3,300 small businesses out of the 12,000 currently struggling to do business in Volusia County.

I found it interesting that the same explanation of need and other documentary requirements don’t apply equally to the avalanche of federal dollars Volusia County is receiving now that county staffers have interpreted CARES Act guidelines to mean the funds can be used for just about anything creative bureaucrats can link to COVID-19. . .

Still think any of this is about us?     

In my view, the needs of those who pay the bills and attempt to “communicate” our concerns to our elected representatives through email messages and video technology – artificial input that is openly dismissed as an annoyance as they legally flaunt the spirit of our open meeting law – are unimportant to our elected and appointed officials.

Apparently, so long as The Monarchy continues to greedily extend the “State of Emergency” every seven-days – anything goes.

Meanwhile, as Volusia County officials continue to stuff the coffers with federal funds – thousands of area residents continue to languish in breadlines, seeking sustenance for their hungry families, as many fall victim to a “recovery” that is proving to be just as disjointed as the “response.”

Tragic.

Incredibly, in last Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, we were clued-in to a recent study that proved, “…among the most affected are income-constrained families who face a greater risk for financial ruin.”  

No kidding? 

Apparently, those who are living at or below the poverty line are at greater risk of financial disaster that those “essentials” who have experienced little, if any, inconvenience over the past eight-weeks.

Who would’ve thunk it?

Not surprisingly, that “study” also found that some 72,519 households in Volusia County met the textbook definition of “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” as of 2018, the last year data was available for review (say what?).

Collateral damage in the “war on an invisible enemy” that is proving incredibly lucrative for Volusia County government.

And don’t expect anyone currently in power to do anything about it – not so long as the bucket brigade of federal relief funds continues to consume our elected and appointed officials in the bunker at the “TCK” building in DeLand.

One thing remains clear – a self-serving bureaucracy will always take care of its own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Avalon Defined

Avalon

In Celtic mythology, the isle of the dead, an island paradise in the western seas where, according to Arthurian legend, King Arthur and other heroes are taken after death

In Volusia County, it’s a place where our quality of life goes to die. . .

Just five months ago, Volusia County residents awoke to an article by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s business reporter Clayton Park announcing “Latitude Margaritaville is about to get a big new neighbor.”  

We were told that an Orlando-based developer – a smiling Swiss named Beat Kahli – who does business as Avalon Park Group and the Switzerland-based SiteEx Properties Holding, was purchasing some 2,600 acres on the south side of State Road 40, west of Interstate 95, from Tymber Creek Road west to Tiger Bay State Forest.

The deal is being hashed out between Avalon Park Group, and the good ol’ boys investment club over at Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company, for an undisclosed amount.

The “plan” calls for building thousands of homes, townhouses and apartments, along with one million square feet of commercial space – immediately adjacent to the massive sprawl that is the faux beach community of Latitude Margaritaville and Mosaic – developments that have consumed thousands of acres atop our aquifer recharge areas (read: the source of our drinking water) off LPGA Boulevard.

Last December, our new friend the Smiling Swiss told Mr. Park, “We are not just developers, we’re town builders.”

Apparently, these “towns” conveniently fail to provide public infrastructure, emergency services and utilities – parasitically drawing off their neighbors existing resources while contributing to traffic and sprawl.

Instead, Avalon Park Group’s practice is to fund required infrastructure through “public/private partnerships,” which, in our experience here on the Fun Coast, typically means the use of public funds to underwrite a developer’s private profit motives.

That includes the variation on the theme proposed by Mr. Kahli, whereby a publicly backed bond would be repaid with property taxes and impact fees – leaving existing residents saddled with maintenance, upkeep and expansion in perpetuity.

I have a problem with that.

By any metric, the City of Daytona Beach has assumed a growth at all cost strategy that continues to place thousands of homes, apartments, shopping and businesses on “Boomtown Boulevard” – constructing “New Daytona” in the pine scrub west of I-95 – while ignoring the festering blight and dilapidation in Midtown, core tourist areas of the beachside and beyond.

Now, to sweeten the deal and make his “city within a city” more tempting to area politicians, Mr. Kahli is offering to replace the pinch-point on LPGA Boulevard – the two-lane bridge spanning the threatened Tomoka River – and construct an overpass at Hand Avenue.

In my view, last year’s no-holds-barred push for a half-cent sales tax increase, a shameless money grab that we all knew would be earmarked for more development, rather than existing transportation needs, should have told Mr. Kahli that we’re not ready for his aggressive style of development – despite what he may have been told by those lame ducks City Manager Jim Chisholm and our doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley. . .

Perhaps Mr. Kahli should understand that Volusia County has gotten development wrong for years.

Our politicians have kowtowed to every whim of developers and builders who own the paper on their political souls, including the almost criminal suppression of impact fees while squandering precious transportation infrastructure funds on ‘roads to nowhere’ and allowing massive growth with little planning, management or concern for our environment.

Now, residents of the Halifax area are legitimately concerned about what thousands of new residents and commercial space massed on the southern border of Ormond Beach will mean for our limited civic resources, roads and utilities – and how it will impact our dwindling quality of life.

For now, it seems only Mr. Chisholm and Mr. Kelley have been given direct access to the hard facts surrounding Avalon Park Daytona – the dynamic duo of deception – and this one is far too important for their unique brand of political chicanery.

Before this project takes one additional step forward, it is time for complete transparency on the development’s transportation planning, our future and existing needs – and clear guidance on how Mr. Kahli plans to pay for it all.

__________________________________

Please join me this afternoon as Barker’s View joins GovStuff Live with Big John beginning at 4:00pm!

We’ll be taking your calls and discussing the important issues facing us here on Florida’s Fun Coast on the fastest two-hours in radio!

Tune in locally at 1380am “The Cat” – or on the World Wide Web at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button)

Thanks in advance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Truth in Advertising?

When District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post first took office, I supported everything she represented – a counterpoint to the entrenched status quo, an emerging maverick who refused to be pigeonholed or forced into lockstep conformity by the ‘Good ol’ Boy’ network that has controlled everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast for decades.

I didn’t have much hope for the rest of those dullards on the dais – but I put a lot of faith in Ms. Post.

She became a political punching bag – the target of her “colleagues” political ire as they tried desperately to pound a square peg into the round hole of conformity – and a lightening rod for time-wasting controversy.

I am still enamored with the ideal Ms. Post represented to many – an independent voice who seeks the truth, serves in the public interest, stands up to political bullies, embraces the concept of fairness and fights mightily to give taxpayers a true voice in their government.

To many, she was our best hope for something resembling a representative democracy.

Then, I watched as she slowly changed into something different.

While continuing to mouth the words many of us wanted to hear, when it came down to it, Ms. Post invariably voted in mindless agreement with the majority – something that became hard for her supporters to swallow – especially when those votes helped take away more of our century old heritage of beach driving or involved development issues that adversely impact our quality of life.

Then, she stopped talking to the working press altogether – choosing instead to communicate with the world exclusively through a canned social media presence where she alone controls the message.

I found it reclusive and weird – a one-way barrier which protected her from political criticism by releasing only what she wanted her constituents to hear – using the distance to help cultivate the image of a professional political victim.

Initially, I chalked this chameleon-like ability to change with the prevailing winds up to inexperience – a desire to be all things to all voters – then, I recognized it for what it is:

Shameless self-promotion which plays on the average citizens short political memory.

Not that this peculiar personality trait hasn’t become a prerequisite for public office at all levels of government – it has.  But with Ms. Post, it quickly became so flagrant that it was repellent for the many long-suffering residents and civic activists who had hoped for more.

Frankly, the political posturing and preening by Ms. Post and other members up for reelection became a serious distraction during Volusia County’s response to COVID-19 – complete with Facebook manifestos, the release of half-baked information outside official public information protocols and insisting on weekly meetings to allow for political exposure – even if it undercut the authority granted to County Manager George Recktenwald by the emergency declaration.

I didn’t think this pretentious horseshit could get much deeper. . .

Then, earlier this week, a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe asked if I had seen a photograph Ms. Post published to her social media page on the National Day of Prayer – an annual event formally recognizing the importance of prayer by all faiths to the health, safety and cohesiveness of our nation.

The well-crafted photograph appears to depict The Very Reverend Heather Post standing dutifully in the pulpit – a heavenly light bathing her in a soft beatific glow from a stained-glass crucifix – giving the perfect impression to anyone observing that she was witnessing to devout congregants on our National Day of Prayer. . .

The only problem – it was a sham – in my view, the ecclesiastical equivalent of Stolen Valor.

The photograph appears to have been taken at the Riverview United Methodist Church during a September 6, 2019 town hall to discuss septic-to-sewer conversions in Ormond-by-the-Sea – not a National Day of Prayer event.

Don’t take my word for it – ask anyone who was there.

Or better yet, ask Ms. Post.

The concerned reader (who, by the way, is a confirmed supporter of the Councilwoman) was rightly offended by the fact Ms. Post used the photograph to insinuate she was engaged in a National Day of Prayer event – when others couldn’t – due to quarantine and social isolation.

Why? 

Because the sentiments that accompanied the ethereal photograph on Facebook said, “On this #NationalPrayerDay Whomever it is you pray to, join me in saying a prayer that our protectors be strong, our sick be healed, our children be loved, and that all be blessed. #VolusiaCountyDistrict4

The National Day of Prayer reference set the stage – and because this is an election year – the #VolusiaCountyDistrict4 made it political.

When I saw the misapplication for myself, I was stunned.

This was over-the-top.  Even for a Volusia County election season.

Look, I’m the sheep that got lost – an unrepentant sinner just trying to do the right thing in a world gone mad – but even a lowlife like me can see this self-serving stunt is wrong on a number of levels.

I don’t agree with District 5 representative Dr. Fred Lowry’s politics – but he holds advanced degrees in Religious Studies and New Testament Theology – and has actively and tended his flock at a Deltona church since 1993.

If Dr. Lowry wants to exploit his pastoral standing for political gain – that is his right as an active, long-time member of the clergy.  After all, he answered a higher calling and dedicated his life to the ministerial care of his congregation.

It is equally within bounds for former Volusia County Sheriff and current council member Ben Johnson to use his decades of honorable law enforcement service to his political advantage – because he has earned that privilege.

And, if the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys wants to hold herself out as a shameless developer’s shill – have at it!

She’s earned that right as well. . .

Unfortunately, when it comes to Volusia County government – Ms. Post isn’t the only poseur holding high positions of responsibility – and their ham-fisted official response to the coronavirus outbreak has exposed the depth of this ineptitude and dysfunction with horrifying regularity.

I don’t know why this campaign tactic bothers me – but it does.

Perhaps, like many of you, I’m sick and tired of those who were elected to represent our interests engaging in these clumsy attempts to pull the wool over our eyes with cheap political posturing – especially during a “State of Emergency” that is crushing small business and leaving thousands of hungry families standing in breadlines – grasping at any shred of truth they can find.

Welcome to the “new reality,” folks. . .

 

 

Angels & Assholes for May 8, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Gannett

Change is inevitable.  I get it.

But I don’t have to like it.

There is no denying that The Daytona Beach News-Journal is morphing into a weird amalgam of information and pap – something akin to a regionalized USA Today – which I’ve always considered news light – something to pass the time while waiting for your boarding call.

I suppose we should have expected it when our long-time local newspaper was caught up in the merger of two massive conglomerates – GateHouse Media and the Gannett Company – which created “…a nation-blanketing print and digital giant, with more than 260 daily newspapers and hundreds more websites and community and weekly newspapers stretching across 47 states.” 

When local newspapers are gobbled up by mass media holding companies, the community aspect is naturally replaced by something different – something homogenized and bland – as the immense talent of our hometown reporters and editorialists becomes diluted with pools, research groups, downsizing and weird computational reporting, where news stories emerge from a faceless database, eliminating the need for shoe leather journalism.

While I don’t always agree with News-Journal editor Pat Rice – or the views of his editorial board – this transformation is not his fault.

Sometimes, when I take a view which differs from the newspaper’s editorial stance, a few people misinterpret that to mean I dislike Mr. Rice – or the newspaper he runs – and that is simply not true.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal will always be “my newspaper.”

The daily broadsheet I grew up with that taught me to read critically and think analytically – the common denominator that allowed my late father and I to bond as we discussed our often-divergent thoughts on the issues of the day.

In my view, the purpose of the editorial page – and this blog site – is to provoke a larger discussion of the issues, to stimulate the debate of competing ideas, agitate, persuade, even “stir the pot” on occasion – or, in the case of the incomparable scribe Mark Lane, to use humor to enlighten us.

The fact is, I like disagreeing – even arguing – with people who are smarter than me.

That’s how I learn.

And I’m still of the shrinking view that we can have wildly conflicting opinions on politics – or the social, civic and economic challenges we face – and remain friends.

Last Friday, I took offense to a nationally distributed editorial which originated from some nameless editorialist at the Gannett flagship USA Today and republished in the News-Journal entitled, “Reverse the anti-science pandemic.”

“Of all the emotions, none motivates like fear. It is not reason or civic virtue that is keeping people indoors.

It is, rather, fear — fear of dying in a hospital without a ventilator or of spreading disease to a loved one.

Fear is also often behind big shifts in society and public policy. In fact, America’s future prosperity could well depend on its ability to use the coronavirus pandemic and the fear it engenders for positive results.”

Bullshit.

This ill-thought tripe began an essay which attempted to link the coronavirus outbreak with climate change – but what it ultimately achieved was to give readers an inadvertent glimpse into the mindset of our nation’s largest newspaper chain.

What a ghastly view of the human condition.

What telling insight into how this media behemoth thinks and the motivational forces it embraces.

The use of “fear” as a change agent for whatever the giant considers “positive results.”

In my view, that truly is terrifying.

I happen to believe that Americans have acquitted themselves admirably during this challenge – uniting in a common goal of “flattening the curve,” protecting those most vulnerable and taking steps to physically isolate while remaining socially and civically connected.

And we have found creative ways to support healthcare professionals and first responders serving and protecting at great personal risk – providing assistance to those on the front line in this “war on the invisible threat.”

When threatened – Americans fight to preserve our way of life – and our nationwide willingness to join together during times of emergency speaks to our unique sense of pride, patriotism and sacrifice – a willingness to protect something greater than our own self-interests.

And many have engaged in this struggle at dreadful cost to their personal finances and business interests.

Hold your heads high! 

Our individual and collective response to this pandemic has shown incredible courage – heroic personal and professional contributions, large and small, that represent the very antithesis of panic and trepidation.

In my view, no “positive result” was ever based on fear.

What truly frightens me is that, in the not to distant future, I may not have a local opinion to disagree with – an editor to bicker with over the issues of the day – or a “community” newspaper to call my own.

Replaced by a gargantuan fearmonger that pushes its version of the “news” to the masses through a lockstep network of hundreds of outlets across the nation – and shapes public policy, right down to the local level – with hyper-sensationalized horseshit designed to instill terror in the American heart and mind.

Angel               Consortium of Fitness Centers

Small businesses have taken the fight against COVID-19 squarely on the chin.

That includes fitness centers, personal trainers, martial arts studios and neighborhood micro-gyms have unduly shouldered much of the burden and suffered the economic ravages of our state and local governments biased response to the outbreak.

Last week, a consortium of fifteen local, privately owned businesses, who provide essential health and fitness services to our community, issued an open letter to the Volusia County Council on behalf of some 112 employees who were financially devastated when these small facilities were erroneously categorized under the same umbrella as massive corporate “gyms.”

During the lock-down, many of these companies attempted to safely provide for the health of their customers through virtual workouts and other online services – now, they are rightfully asking our ‘powers that be’ to allow them to initiate a well-thought step-by-step process for safely reopening their businesses in the face of “…losing thousands of dollars weekly with little-to-no rent abatement, delayed or denied federal loans, and mounting operating costs.”

Fortunately, it appears Volusia County is working on a program which will put some $10 million in federal relief funds, in the form of $3,000 grants, in the hands of strapped small businesses – many of which are on the ragged edge of closing their doors forever.

Of course, there will be government-defined parameters for how business-owners can spend the funds – but anything helps.

With luck, the Volusia County Council will vote to approve this much needed assistance during their “special meeting” on Tuesday.

In the groups cogent plea for help authored by Bobby Wise of Delta Life Fitness in Daytona Beach, the consortium summed up the frustrations of many:

“We ask the Volusia County Council to consider the damage caused to our civil liberties as business owners. The State has essentially decided that they know what is best for private industry and for consumers. This philosophy violates every American principle of self-determination, free market economics, and the Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Amen.    

In my view, these truths apply equally to bars, nightclubs, hair salons, barber shops, boutiques and specialty stores, restaurants and the many other businesses who were left to die a slow, painful death by tyrannical decrees.

Here’s hoping these desperate cries for help do not fall on deaf ears – and much-needed funds are quickly routed where they are needed most.

It’s time to get Volusia County back to work.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

I am getting tired of being lectured by compromised elected officials’ intent on telegraphing how they plan to vote on critical changes to comprehensive plans and zoning issues before We, The People have had a chance to provide required public input.

They puff out their pompous chests and crow about how their hand-picked appointees and hangers-on which occupy various “growth management” commissions and “land development” boards have unanimously approved modifications – a political insulation ploy that always includes the pernicious practice of ensuring the legitimate concerns of taxpayers are dismissed as “misinformation.”

These changes always place our sensitive environment and diminishing quality of life in jeopardy – while making it infinitely easier for developers to seek tax-based giveaways, publicly funded infrastructure improvements and engage in sham “hurt here, help there” programs to legally facilitate the destruction of our environment.

(Trust me – when “…it can be demonstrated to be in the overriding public interest,” (read: greed) some of the most threatened estuaries, wetlands, lagoons and wildlife habitats in the nation don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. . .)

All while kowtowing to the self-serving needs of phony-baloney “economic development” shills whose uninspired sleight-of-hand always includes the use of public funds to underwrite private profit motives.

On Tuesday, in her long-winded lead-up to a motion postponing a vote on the issue, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys droned on, ad nauseam, about the need to turn the whole of southwest Volusia into a Commercial Space Opportunity Overlay District.

The changes to the comp plan ostensibly serve to incentivize and expedite approval of a wide range of aerospace industries – and capture the accompanying “high paying jobs” we are always promised but never materialize – by ensuring our tax dollars fund the private infrastructure needs of Buck Rogers and Company.

In his cogent response during what passed for public input, Jeff Brower, who is aggressively challenging Ms. Denys for Volusia County Chair, spoke for many in Volusia when he said:

“What should be made clear is that limited tax dollars and infrastructure monies is not fast tracked to incentivize new businesses while Volusia residents and existing businesses continue to suffer from a lack of maintenance and upgrades.”

In response, the ultimate bureaucrat, Clay Ervin, our director of growth management (whose gross incompetence and malleability became evident when he told area mayors not to “reinvent the wheel” on smart growth), supported Old Ed’s predetermined position by quibbling that the changes do not necessarily promise incentives.

“There’s no formal commitment of any expenditure for money for any job at this point,” Ervin said.

At this point? 

No shit.  The proposed changes haven’t even gone through the eyewash/formality of a vote – but you can bet your bippy those who stand to benefit most are champing at the bit to get these changes in place so the incentivization of potential marks can begin. . .

Last year, in the frenzied drive for the failed half-cent sales tax increase, the star-crossed  municipalities identified hundreds of critical transportation infrastructure projects – current and future needs that remain stagnant and unfunded – pressing needs that represent a clear and present threat to our quality of life.

In my view, before we spend one more dime in public funds to support the infrastructure needs or offer tax abatement for “the next big thing,” perhaps our ‘powers that be’ should begin the difficult process of living within their means in this strange “new reality” they have created – and prioritizing existing resources to meet the needs of current residents.

Quote of the Week

“That was a good question.  They got the ocean.  It’s one of those things where we just weren’t ready, but we wanted to get people back on the beach.  We could have put it off a week because I fully expect that this weekend.”

–Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, responding to a question by WFTV reporter Mike Springer regarding the closure of public restrooms to beach goers, Monday, May 4, 2020

Last week, I took our doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley to the woodshed for his flippant answer to a logical question by the intrepid WFTV-9 investigative reporter Mike Springer, when he asked:

“We hear the importance of having good hygiene and being sanitary when you are out and about, but if we have thousands of people at the beach, how are we able to have good hygiene and sanitation if we can’t use the bathroom there to wash our hands and do other things?”

Now, Mr. Kelley claims his dim-witted remark was a joke – and Mr. Springer took the Chairman’s answer in jest – but I just could not let it go.

Look, I have the weirdest and broadest sense of humor anyone could imagine – and I can find something inappropriately funny in the darkest situation – but making light of a poorly thought official decision to open Volusia County beaches to thousands of visitors, while keeping public restrooms padlocked, was cruel – and exemplified the institutional ineptitude we’ve come to expect from our county government.

“Hey, let those hapless peons’ shit in the ocean.” 

What a knee-slapper, right?

I guess that’s why I didn’t find the situation quite as amusing as Chairman Kelley – and given his propensity for making mean-spirited declarations at the most inopportune time – anything is possible. . .

Then, rather than admit a mistake and move on, our resident beach safety “expert,” Chief Ray Manchester, barefacedly tried to cover Kelley’s ass when he said, “Due to challenges with decontamination, the public restrooms remain closed.  These facilities present a challenge because they create an opportunity for the easy spread of germs and bacteria.”

Say what?

According to photographs that readers have sent me in the past, these off-beach restrooms typically look like a fetid Third-World squat-hole, where you take your health and safety in your own hands on a good day. . .

Now, they’re worried about cleanliness? 

Look, Votran, our county’s public transportation service, has been operating with minimal precautionary measures – no hand sanitizer or wipes available to riders, no enforcement of social distancing requirements, etc. – while countless “essential” businesses, like groceries, big box stores and gas stations have kept their restrooms open since the COVID-19 lock-down began.

These companies didn’t turn their facilities into some posh Ritz-Carlton style toilette, with a washroom attendant to freshen things up and offer a spritz of cologne, mouthwash and mints – they simply opened for business and expected customers to wash their hands and practice good personal hygiene.

So, I asked the logical question:

Why can’t ostensibly bright people – who County Manager George Recktenwald has held out as the “best team in the state” – professionals who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – find a way to open public restrooms for the personal convenience of beach goers?

Then – suddenly – in the great tradition of exploration and discovery of Pasteur, Edison, Newton and Einstein – midweek we witnessed a monumental breakthrough! 

On Wednesday afternoon, Old Ed stood proudly at a lectern in the bowels of the Volusia County Emergency Operations Center and belched his way through a prepared statement – congratulating his own performance for ramrodding the opening of off-beach restrooms (effective tomorrow) – complete with paid “porters” who, I guess, will loiter around bathrooms wiping things down when you’re done wiping things down. . .

Whatever.

Kudos to those dedicated county executives and elected officials who boldly went above and beyond the call, spending countless hours and sparing no expense in researching, brainstorming and burning the midnight oil to devise a solution to this conundrum wrapped in an enigma – ultimately solving the infinite mystery of how to turn the key on an outhouse door.

And Another Thing!

Unlike her cantankerous son, if anyone has ever spoken a bad word about my mother – I have never heard it.

Admittedly, I’m biased – but she’s hard not to like.

An authentic free spirit with a quick laugh and comedic sense of humor that draws people like moths to a bright, inviting light.

Standing five-foot-nothing at an incredibly young 85 – she tools around town in her wholly inappropriate jet-black pick-up truck like some diminutive badass – and her mind remains much sharper than what remains of my own hop-laden gray matter.

Billie Mae Barker is a world-class raconteur, who loves regaling everyone she meets with stories of when she dated Elvis Presley in the 1950’s, holding her audience in awe with a thick hillbilly accent and a razor wit that perfectly complements an encyclopedic memory.

Like my grandmother before her, my mom is the funniest person I know – a personality that finds the lighter side of any situation – and makes you feel better just being in her presence through an innate ability to find the silver lining.

Something I find both interesting, and infinitely confounding, is the depth and eclectic variety of those she counts among her countless friends.

I know like five people.  She knows everyone!

In fact, many of the politicians and ‘movers and shakers’ I take to the woodshed on this site count my mother among their friends – and always ask for her with genuine interest, or relate a funny story, whenever I speak with them.

Then, they invariably question how a daft asshole like me could possibly have originated from that wonderful woman.

I must admit – that remains a mystery to me too. . .

Fortunately, through the gift of time, my mom has had the chance to enjoy her many grandchildren – and now, great grandchildren – imprinting upon each of them the same depth of love, pursuit of fun and zest for life my sister and I inherited.

I am forever grateful for that gift.

Throughout the incalculability of space and time, God found the perfect mother for me.

And that is why I can never repay him for the enormous favors and blessings he has brought to my life through her presence.

I also want to wish my long-suffering wife, Patti, a very Happy Birthday this weekend!

Trust me.  If there was ever a living saint, she’s it.

And I love her beyond words. . .

Here’s wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to my wife and mom – and all mothers out there as we approach their special day.

That includes all those loving moms who care for their precious fur babies!

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