Daytona Beach: If Not Now, When?

Just months before his death in 2015, at the conclusion of his 70th birthday celebration in beautiful Beaufort, South Carolina, the magnificent novelist Pat Conroy explained to his legions of loyal readers, “I have written books because I thought if I explained my own life somehow, I could explain some of your life to you.” 

While I have nothing in common with one of the greatest literary virtuosos of our time, I understand his desire to use his own experiences to inform others, to stir a sense of introspection and consideration of what ‘community’ means, to use the written word to show our kinship and connectedness – especially during a time where everything in popular culture seeks to divide us.   

Here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast, our lifestyles and economics may differ – but our shared experience cannot be ignored – anymore than closing the drawbridge at some gated community in Ormond Beach can shield those trapped inside from the ugly realities of the Halifax areas schizophrenic search for a civic identity.   

Whether we want to admit it – from Ormond Beach to Ponce Inlet – we are all in this fetid mess together. . . 

Some years ago, I published a blogpost entitled, “Daytona Beach: A Tale of Two Cities,” a crude study of our civic dichotomy – a look at the distinct halves of the same whole – the two markedly different communities that comprise Daytona Beach.

It was written at a time when the concept of Latitudes at Margaritaville – that faux-beach community in the palmettos and pine scrub west of I-95 brought to life by Canadian developer Minto Group – was being marketed to tens-of-thousands of 55-and-over Parrot Heads, and the mega-convenience store/destination Buc-ees was still on the drawing board. 

At the time, Minto’s overenthusiastic Senior Vice President Bill Bullock squalled, “How could you not be ecstatic?  On both the east and west of the interstate you’ve got incredible things happening – and they’re all complementary uses – it’s putting Daytona back on the map!”

As things progressed and the hype reached its crescendo, as is my habit, I turned my attention away from the crowd marveling at the “progress” on Boomtown Boulevard and looked over my shoulder at what remains of our core tourist area on Beachside – and our blighted established neighborhoods, such as Midtown, Downtown, and beyond.

Then I asked the darker question, “What will become of the rest of us now that the real money is moving west.  Are we not all part of the same “Daytona Beach Resort Area?”

Unfortunately, the answer to that grim query is now crystal clear to anyone paying attention – and we remain horrible conflicted on just who, and what, we want to be – never more evident than in the woozy aftermath of the disastrous Truck Meet 2021 – a wide open debauch that may have been the final straw in a long series of obscene insults foisted upon area residents by quick-buck promotors and the stuck-on-stupid leadership of our challenged hospitality industry. 

In my view, it has become equally clear that those entities we have relied on to craft a marketable product – such as the Halifax Area Advertising Authority, that good ‘ol boys travel club over at Team Volusia, the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce, or the redundant Volusia County Division of Economic Development (who are still advertising the exciting prospect that “One Daytona will be located directly across from the Daytona International Speedway,” a project that opened in 2017. . .) – have proven incapable of creating an appropriate image that complements the best strand of beach on the eastern seaboard.

For instance, on its website, “Team Volusia” still refuses to enact a key suggestion of the $100,000 2011 Volusia County Tourism Study by even acknowledging “hospitality and tourism” under its “Key Industries” section (although it does highlight our booming “motion picture/video production” trade.  Am I missing something?).

Even News-Journal editor Pat Rice, gave a nod to the supreme importance of tourism in his Sunday editorial on the extent of the Daytona Beach Resort Area’s horribly split personality:  

“Unfortunately, our No. 1 industry – tourism – pays low wages. Daytona Beach’s per capita annual income in 2019 was $24,360, and a quarter of the community lives in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”

Tragic.

In February 2020, the HAAA previewed a calamitous “new” advertising campaign – “Think You Know Daytona Beach?” – to replace the equally disastrous “Wide.  Open.  Fun.” debacle, a marketing ploy which continues to play on all the double-entendres and worst perceptions potential visitors have come to associate with the Fun Coast: “Endless Parties,” “Kids Getting Wild,” “Hitting the Clubs,” “Going Topless,” “All Day Beach Bashes,” and “Just a bunch of kids making pour decisions.” 

My God. . . 

According to a report by Jim Abbott writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, last week, the rudderless HAAA Board of Directors “decided to consider (?)” seating yet another committee to address the “destination’s long-term marketing vision.”

Bullshit. 

How many more bites at this rotten apple are we expected to give the demonstrably clueless HAAA – or any of the other redundant and unimaginative “advertising authorities” and self-serving “economic development” shills that, for decades, have failed to craft a sustainable image to promote our “No. 1 industry”?

Perhaps it’s time for the taxpayers of Volusia County to let our elected officials know that we are tired of throwing good money after bad supporting these farcical shams and repetitious “party town” marketing ploys – and demand a collaborative approach that encourages civic engagement and values community input in developing a comprehensive strategic vision for the future of the Halifax area, one that capitalizes on our many attributes – to write a story that explains to visitors the very best of our lives here – rather than catering to the prurient interests of fast-buck artists with a profit motive. 

If not now, when?

Angels & Assholes for June 18, 2021

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           Daytona International Speedway & Truck Meet 2021

“The last Dictate of the Judgement, concerning the Good or Bad, that may follow on any Action, is not properly the whole Cause, but the last Part of it, and yet may be said to produce the Effect necessarily, in such Manner as the last Feather may be said to break a Horses Back, when there were so many laid on before as there want but that one to do it.”

— Thomas Hobbs, 1684

In the aftermath of the DIS sponsored Truck Meet 2021, one former area law enforcement official made the astute observation on social media, “This event is the trashiest spectacle of shit-faced miscreants I have yet experienced. Whatever money we make off of it isn’t enough.”

Other beachside locals have described it as the “worst event ever seen,” (that is saying something, considering most long-time residents are hardened veterans of some truly noxious events).

It appears this may have been the straw that broke that swayback camels back. . .

Now, as the dust settles and the glaring echoes of train horns fade, there remains more questions than answers. 

One thing is certain, those old fogeys at the helm of the Daytona Beach lodging, hospitality, and tourism industry seem incapable of experiential learning – the ability to gain understanding from past mistakes – then use that hard-earned knowledge to their strategic advantage. 

If they had the capacity for heuristic reflection, perhaps someone in a position of influence would say “enough is enough,” finally realizing that this level of mass mayhem is irreparably damaging our product.   

Perhaps its time to change that?

Earlier this week, in a piece entitled “Daytona’s Definition of Insanity,” I jotted down some thoughts on the pros and cons of a hospitality industry based on binge tourism, an event driven boom/bust market that prospers when the carnival comes to town and eats beans in between, rather than develop a sustainable year-round draw punctuated with the well-managed traditional events Daytona Beach is famous for.   

Interestingly, others felt that this annual truck bacchanalia should continue – but only if it can be better organized and more effectively controlled. 

History has proven that it cannot. 

For years, the Halifax area has hosted various custom truck meets that began as little more than a social media flash mob – with thousands of lifted pickup trucks descending on Daytona Beach, burning rubber on Atlantic Avenue and racing down neighborhood streets, blasting obnoxious train horns, and “rolling coal,” spewing dense clouds of acrid black diesel smoke into the humid spring air, all while rowdy young boys and girls try desperately to see and be seen, drinking beer, cruising the strip, everyone doing their best to perpetuate the anything goes atmosphere our tourist officials spent lavishly to cultivate:

Wide.  Open.  Fun. 

A carefully crafted image of an off-the-rails “party town” – a place where the rules are different and visitors are free to ‘do whatcha wanna’ without concern or consequence – a return to the bad old days when the term “came on vacation, left on probation” became the unofficial slogan of the Daytona Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. 

Unfortunately, no one in the moribund Halifax area hospitality hierarchy seems interested in finding a reasonable balance – I mean, why consider the source, so long as they can disingenuously commiserate with traumatized residents – then crow about sold out room nights and bed-tax increases in the newspaper, eh?    

It’s not like we weren’t warned. 

Our exalted ‘powers that be’ hire experts to give educated advice, develop a unique “brand,” then sell it to the masses in select markets around the country.    

So, why won’t anyone listen to them?

Early last year, as the specter of the Coronavirus pandemic loomed, the Halifax Area Advertising Authority held a workshop to discuss alternatives to the widely panned Wide. Open. Fun. campaign created by The Brandon Agency, the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (?) based marketing firm that brought the controversial slogan to life in November 2017. 

According to a February 2020 article by reporter Jim Abbott writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, at that confab a Brandon executive made the painfully obvious observation that The Worlds Most Famous Beach suffers from a deteriorating image problem: 

“Compared with 15 other regional markets that included St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Cocoa Beach and Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach ranked third in familiarity, but ranked 10th in favorability, said Andy Kovan, one of the Brandon executives at the workshop.”

“Survey comments focused on the area’s “a reputation of being more of a Spring Break/party destination more than a family destination.” Another characterized it as “full of trashy bars and people.”

“We have a perception issue and it’s a big one,” Kovan told the board members, “and we’ve chosen to ignore it in a lot of the advertising. In the new ad, “people who have a perception problem, we’re going after them in a way that we never have before.”  

Was that not clear enough?

How about the highly touted 2018 Beachside Redevelopment Committee chaired by former Brown & Brown executive Tony Grippa – a Blue Ribbon think tank comprised of our best and brightest minds – the crème de la crème of our social, civic, business, and political elite – who, after months of deliberation, came up with the simple suggestion:

“Expand the opportunities to make the beach a year-round destination for all visitors.”

Among the panel’s other wholly ignored recommendations was improving “…the perception of the entire region, with a focus on a variety of residential, recreational, cultural and entertainment opportunities in the area.”

Yet, nobody who should seems to give two-shits. 

Why is that?   

Certainly not those elected and appointed officials who commissioned these expensive studies in the first place – especially after they have served their true purpose as a time-buying political insulation ploy, putting time and distance between them and a horrifying News-Journal exposé on “Daytona’s troubled beachside.”

Now, the Grippa report collects mold in a musty records morgue somewhere in DeLand – bookending the 2011 Tourism Study – the results of a $100,000 comprehensive analysis ordered by the Volusia County Council – which concluded our beachside “tourism product” was a serious impediment to attracting visitors and economic development, finding, more ominously, “…there is no “plan” for who is leading the effort and how these challenges can be improved.”

What’s changed a decade later? 

(Stop asking questions, Barker.  You are making some very important people uncomfortable. . .) 

Good.   

I’m just a little confused.

If we have repeatedly been warned by numerous high-priced marketing gurus – expensive out-of-town “experts” with a nice suit and briefcase – that the Daytona Beach Resort Area is widely perceived as a down-at-the-heels, anything goes, trash strewn honky tonk, then why are stalwarts like Daytona International Speedway and the Convention & Visitors Bureau (the event was listed on their website) still tacitly promoting these horribly corrosive three-day/two-night beer-soaked debauches that advance the very image everyone tells us must change if we want to survive as a tourist destination?    

Perhaps the problem goes back to the Halifax area’s acute dissociative identity disorder – which manifests as our historic inability to decide who and what we are – let alone determine what we aspire to be. 

Trust me – you will get a wide variety of answers to those questions depending upon who you ask. . . 

Are we a “family-oriented destination” – or a kick-out-the-jams beer, boobs, and bikes party scene centered on the World Center of Racing

Many believe we are a throwback to another time, where a few uber-wealthy insiders pass the same nickel around and the rest of us scramble and scrape for crumbs – where ingenuity and a level playing field has been replaced by a thriving “Good ‘Ol Boys” network that permeates politics to gain an unfair advantage and stifles entrepreneurial investment outside tightly controlled alliances.

A divided community of haves and have-nots struggling to find an elusive identity, while the blight and dilapidation of the beachside contrasts with the malignant growth and boomtown atmosphere to the west, as our elected and appointed officials prove, time-and-again, how reluctant they are to change the stagnant status quo.

A neglected diamond-in-the-rough that, to those of us with the right set of eyes, still possesses all the facets to shine brightly. 

Regardless, everyone agrees we remain a cautionary tale to the tourist mecca of Central Florida’s I-4 corridor – an ominous warning of the fate that awaits those who fail to protect and promote that which makes them unique in a vast sea of vacation destinations.   

In my view, the strong opinions held by those on both sides of the “special events” issue provides a unique opportunity for Daytona Beach’s bright new City Manager, Deric Feacher, to start a productive dialog with stakeholders, listen to constituents, conduct an independent cost/benefit analysis of both sanctioned and “pop-up” events, then create a means for residents and the business community to inform their elected officials – and our seemingly stuck-on-stupid hospitality industry – of those things we will, and will not, tolerate in the place we live, work, learn, and play.   

I know, I know – don’t hold your breath, right? 

If history repeats (and it always does for those who refuse to learn from it) once this latest hangover passes, I suspect the Halifax area’s addiction to a quick buck regardless of the destructive cost will continue.

For now, gird your loins, folks – Trucktoberfest 2021 is just around the corner. . . 

Angel               Rev. Larry Edwards & First Lady Gwen Azama-Edwards

If we are lucky, true angels will be placed in our path that positively impact the trajectory of our lives in ways large and small – generous souls who seek to guide and encourage us, asking nothing in return – providing that strong shoulder to lean on, or a swift kick in the backside just when we need it most.

The Rev. Larry Edwards has been a blessing in my life.

During my professional life as Chief of Police for a diverse community, Rev. Edwards served as a spiritual, social, and civic mentor, always encouraging me to do the right thing, for the right reason, regardless of political pressure.    

Given his vast experience serving as chaplain for the Daytona Beach Police Department and good work with the State Attorney’s Office – standing at the nexus of law enforcement and the needs of the community – Rev. Edwards developed a strong reputation for resolving conflicts using street-level diplomacy, and the ability to disentangle seemingly intractable problems in hotspots from Daytona Beach to Virginia Beach, Dallas, Miami Beach, Columbus, and Myrtle Beach. 

Given the universal respect Rev. Edwards commands, before my retirement in 2014, he graciously helped me form a multidenominational executive advisory committee comprised of area clergy to provide advice and support to the members of my agency as we worked to improve police-community relations.   

That special relationship is what first brought a wayward sinner like me into the openhearted sanctuary of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Holly Hill, a place where a white police officer was welcomed with a warm embrace, made to feel at home, and could worship shoulder-to-shoulder with a predominantly African American congregation while building the kind of trust that only comes from a true sense of friendship. 

I value those experiences to this day.     

For over 20-years, Rev. Larry Edwards and his beautiful wife, First Lady Gwen Azama-Edwards, tended to the spiritual needs of their devoted flock with pastoral care and a message of God’s love for his children. 

Earlier this month, Rev. Edwards gave his last sermon from the pulpit at St. John’s as he said goodbye to the church he served so well, for so long.

But his “retirement” would not last long.

On Monday, Rev. Edwards accepted an appointed by Pastor Victor Gooden of New Life Church Ministries to serve in the important role of Pastor of Evangelism effective immediately.   

In addition, Minister Gwen Azama-Edwards will complete her ordination under Pastor Gooden’s tutelage. 

Kudos and hearty congratulations to my dear friends on this exciting new chapter in their spiritual lives in service to a grateful community!   

Quote of the Week

“Mayor Henry, Members of the Commission, and Manager Feacher:

As a resident of the Woodland Avenue Daytona Beach, I cannot express strongly enough my outrage at what occurred in our city last weekend. The reckless behavior and total lawlessness and disrespect for our city shown by these vandals was both frightening and sickening. 

These were not tourist, they were vandals.

The maddening thing is that it was totally predictable, and the entire administration left the citizens you all were either elected to, or hired to, protect exposed to danger.  You had to know, or should have known, what was going to happen…we had last year to predict what this year would bring. Yet you did nothing other than handout the pink Ps… truly a pitiful response to an invasion of lawbreaking not seen since the days of BCR and possibly worse. 

The Commission found time to outlaw kids flying kites and skateboarding in Riverfront Park but took a nap on this obvious danger to your residents

Social media is full of videos depicting all types of lawlessness including a shooting for all to see around the world on what you allowed to occur in Daytona Beach….are you proud?…harsh?  I don’t think so. If all of you resigned in mass it would not be too drastic a reaction to what you are doing to the town you are all supposed to be serving.

Why was the Speedway not forced to apply for a special event permit? Did anyone really think the “event” was going to be contained to the track? Does the possibility of bringing money into the city a justification to allow any behavior in your view?  Do you not see yet the long-term damages these types of events cause the city?  Now we want to revisit the process of actually considering a return of this destructive invasion of vandals?

Insanity to even consider it!

Heads up to you who are still sleeping. There has been an escalation in lawlessness in recent events each one more volatile than the last. Your lack of leadership has left your police department in a position of having a policy of appeasement rather than enforcement. Sending a message now to the entire world that anything goes in Daytona Beach….  Show some courage and leadership or step down.”

–Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach and longtime area resident, in an open letter to Daytona Beach city officials, Tuesday, June 15, 2021

And Another Thing!

On Wednesday evening during the regular meeting of the Daytona Beach City Commission, the elected and appointed officials did something truly admirable.  

The City Commission voted unanimously to restore the time-honored democratic tradition of providing citizens a voice in the governance of their community when they rightfully returned public participation as a regular part of the business meeting.

The vote included extending a speaker’s time to a full three-minutes and featuring citizen remarks on the city’s public access broadcast. 

It is my long-held belief that all substantive civic progress stems from a robust debate and the open competition of ideas – a thoughtful consideration of innovative concepts – a meaningful civic outlet for dissent and discussion. 

Rarely are good public policy decisions made in a vacuum – especially true when elected officials emotionally distance themselves from their constituents by building a hubristic wall of arrogance and infallibility – a strategy that invariably results in festering animosity on both sides of the dais.

This was truly an important moment as City Manager Feacher begins the process of slowly draining the mote, opening the fortified portcullis, and letting sunlight shine brightly in the dank inner sanctum at City Hall after nearly 20-years of effective darkness. 

Then, Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young gave a comprehensive overview of the unmitigated havoc that descended on the community last weekend in the form of Truck Meet 2021 – an anarchic shit show that taxed officers and staff to their operational, physical, and emotional limits.

And he rightfully wants it to go away. 

It was a story of organizational courage that highlighted Chief Young’s extraordinary leadership skills – and exemplified his pride and affection for the community he serves.   

His efforts and professionalism during the latest Siege of Daytona spoke for themselves – but his impassioned words and complete transparency earned him the respect and admiration of grateful citizens and elected officials. 

Then, with Mayor Derrick Henry moderating, the elected officials engaged in a sober and thoughtful discussion of an event that is, by any metric, a growing threat to public safety – and rapidly destroying the city’s international reputation – something we have been forewarned is crippling our ability to draw visitors in support of our most important industry.

In my view, it was a positive meeting – one the elected officials, and the good citizens of Daytona Beach, can be proud of. 

To paraphrase the immortal words of Neil Armstrong:

It was one small step for the Daytona Beach City Commission – one giant leap for the long-suffering citizens of the Halifax area. 

For the first time in memory, in a David and Goliath moment, the City of Daytona Beach boldly stood firm and let the leadership of Daytona International Speedway (who, for decades, have wielded unconditional influence over civic affairs) know that there is some shit we won’t eat.

While Mayor Henry called DIS “partners” with the city – not “enemies” – it was clear Daytona Beach officials put them on notice.   

The residents of east Volusia will no longer tolerate being set upon by thousands of out-of-control renegades, literally and figuratively pissing on our streets, front lawns, and community standards, terrorizing our neighborhoods, viciously brawling in front of our children, driving destructively on our beach, and leaving (accurately) tons of trash behind – as some out-of-town promoter sidesteps any financial responsibility – then rides away with a fat wad of cash.   

All while the next storm builds. . .

With community emotions running high, during Wednesday night’s meeting, Mayor Henry made it clear that those tone-deaf corporate money-grubbers at DIS have not yet made a formal decision on whether they will sponsor this, and similar, bleed-over events in the future.

With residents, government, and business owners looking for assurance, why the suspense?

Perhaps that tells us all we need to know about the Speedway’s ultimate commitment to the health and safety of our community? 

In my view, the Daytona Beach City Commission, Chief Young, and City Manager Deric Feacher deserve our respect for standing up to those untouchables in the Daytona International Speedway’s executive suite, holding them to account for their irresponsible sponsorship of an event that they knew, or should have known, would inflict such an indelible wound on The Worlds Most Famous Beach and beyond.

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

Daytona’s Definition of Insanity

Another year, another headline.

This morning’s front page/above the fold banner in The Daytona Beach News-Journal screamed:

“Daytona Truck Meet Snarls A-1-A”

For the sake of brevity, I won’t get into the myriad Facebook comments describing the anecdotal evidence supplied by beachside residents this weekend – or the equally passionate competing views from those who enjoyed the event and see it as another temporary boon for our struggling hospitality industry.

Suffice it to say, the weekend was different depending upon which side of the brew-soaked truck bed you were sitting in. . .     

(It didn’t bother me. I’m not the smartest guy you know, but I’ve learned the valuable lesson of touching a hot stove twice – so, I got the hell out of dodge for the weekend.)

Let’s just say that (once again) the frayed nerves of area residents remain raw in the aftermath of the latest influx of rowdy (insert motorized conveyance here) enthusiasts who turned our streets into a congested dragstrip, and our beachside neighborhoods into Party Central, as the Daytona Beach Resort Area hosted three days/two nights of gridlocked debauchery. 

Look, I am not a stick-in-the-mud ‘you damn kids get off my lawn‘ badge carrying member of the Fun Police – but this situation has gotten out-of-control and simply cannot be healthy for the civic and economic viability of our community.     

Since at least 2013, the Halifax area has hosted various lifted truck meets – another evolving “special event” that began as little more than a social media flash mob – with thousands of custom pickup trucks descending on Daytona Beach, burning rubber on Atlantic Avenue and neighborhood streets, blasting obnoxious train horns, and “rolling coal,” spewing dense clouds of acrid black diesel smoke into the humid spring air, all while rowdy young boys and girls try desperately to see and be seen, drinking beer, cruising the strip, everyone doing their best to perpetuate the anything goes atmosphere our tourist gurus have spent lavishly to cultivate:

Wide.  Open.  Fun.     

In an example of history repeating itself, by Sunday afternoon, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry issued one of his loquacious manifestos sidestepping any responsibility (…I take each complaint, inconvenience, and exposure to contemptuous activities associated with the event to heart. However, the most apparent misunderstanding among our residents is the erroneous belief that this event is sanctioned, sponsored, or benefits the city. The event takes place at the Speedway and has a promoter; none of its activities are approved or encouraged by the City of Daytona Beach. . .)

All while promising to do better next time (…While complaints came from every corner of our city, our beachside community experienced the bulk of the inappropriate behaviors.   We accept that this event must be revisited, and I will be fully engaged in ensuring that its current status does not become a standard…)

My ass.

(Note to Mayor Henry: This “inappropriate behavior” became the Daytona Beach Resort Area’s Gold Standard decades ago.  Our ‘powers that be’ invited it.  They cultivated it.  And now that Frankenstein’s monster is destroying our quality of life, we have no one to blame but you. . .)

Unfortunately, a few frustrated residents continued with the wrongheaded notion that the Daytona Beach Police Department are somehow to blame – they are not.

In fact, they do an incredible job under difficult and dangerous circumstances – standing firm in the face of an often-untenable situation where a relative handful of officers and event staff manage to control and make safe tens-of-thousands of residents, visitors, and vehicles in what can be a powder keg.    

The idea that the Daytona Beach Visitors & Convention Bureau can feature the Truck Meet 2021 event on their official website – with the influential Daytona International Speedway and One Daytona playing official host – then, once we have the participants corralled on the beachside – demand that law enforcement set upon them like a Comanche war party and issue hundreds of traffic citations, or take draconian action on nuisance violations, as a means of dissuading these invited visitors from returning to our area seems inherently wrong to me.   

After all, we, the long-suffering residents of the Halifax area, either knew or should have known what was coming – just like our “hospitality gurus” did – even though, in our feast or famine binge tourism economy, one that is now totally reliant on special events for its very survival – we are told to expect a different outcome, time-after-time-after-time. . . 

(Spoiler Alert:  Stop reading now if you are physically nauseated by the tired and horribly redundant “we need a civic vision and identity” pitch. You have been warned. . .)

In my view, it is time for our Halifax area’s crippled brain trust – which includes those political deaf-mutes over at the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce – to establish a true civic vision for our desperately challenged core tourist area and beyond, reimagine a “brand” which builds on our most important natural asset, The Worlds Most Famous Beach, a real multi-faceted placemaking philosophy that moves beyond the fast buck “special events” mentality, and the itinerant resort town grifters who profit from it, and transform Daytona Beach into a sustainable year-round destination.   

Having lived in the Halifax area virtually all my life, I have seen the devastating effects of this Boom/Bust cycle, the recurring economic expansion and contraction that has reduced some of the most valuable real estate on the Eastern Seaboard to overgrown vacant lots and empty strip centers – and reduced a World Class vacation mecca into a dilapidated shell of its former draw. 

This transformative change cannot happen in the leadership vacuum of the status quo. 

Clearly, the tired Old Guard of the Halifax area hospitality industry – the same clueless “visionaries” who have, time-and-again, proven they lack the imagination and basic marketing skills to capitalize on the best-known beach on the planet – have now eaten this apple to its rotten core. 

Now, it is time to demand action – and a change in direction.   

Despite Mayor Henry’s patented abdication, where he sheepishly looks at his shoes and promises to do better ‘next time’ – the shell-shocked residents of Daytona Beach who pay the bills and suffer in silence – have clearly had their fill of these raging debacles that benefit a relative few while impacting the quality of life of so many. 

We have all heard Einstein’s theory that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result” – so when are “we” going to do something about it? 

When will We, The Little People, demand that our elected and appointed officials – and those uber-wealthy insiders they take their marching orders from – stop paying hypocritical lip service and fundamentally change the destructive cycle of these horribly corrosive repeat events that continue to destroy “the brand”?     

___________________________________________________

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

We’ll be taking your calls and discussing local issues on “The Fastest Two-Hours in Radio!”

Join us locally at 1380am “The CAT” or online at http://www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button)

Make-Believe: Politics as Theater

During my working life in a very active municipal law enforcement agency, few things took precedence over the afternoon episode of Days of Our Lives – and, over time, the long running soap opera became a staple in our daily lives.    

As the smooth tones of MacDonald Carey spoke the famous introduction, “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives,” cops in uniform, detectives, and administrative staff would gather in the department’s training room to eat lunch and watch the latest goings-on in the fictional town of Salem.

It was a way to tune out the real madness for 30-minutes and immerse ourselves in the silly escapism of a contrived human drama, a brief distraction from the inhumanity police officers deal with as a matter of routine.    

Besides, we all enjoy a good drama, a well-constructed plotline with memorable characters and an interesting arc, artistically presented with building action and an exciting climax, something we can relate to on a social or personal level.   

I suppose us weirdos who enjoy observing and analyzing local politics are inescapably drawn to this grotesque genre by the theater of politics

For instance, I have always been fascinated by the actors who play the various roles in this serial tragicomedy, the mental gymnastics of anticipating the unfolding plotline, watching the interaction of the various cast members and guessing at the behind-the-scenes influences. 

Any given public meeting of a Volusia County elected body will have all the right elements – conflict, tension, surprise, extraordinary characters, strange behavior, controversy, mystery, comedy, and suspense – often leading to a bizarre double-cross twist at the end that pulls the rug out from under the audience in a dramatic conclusion that rivals anything M. Night Shyamalan could dream up.

Good politicians are natural actors, with a knack for self-promotion, timing, and the instinctive ability to paint themselves into the lead role in any situation – shameless scene-stealers who always hit their mark and adapt to whatever environment they find themselves in. 

Don’t believe me? 

Just watch any of our local elected officials as they deftly jockey for position, theatrically schmoozing and posturing with Governor Ron DeSantis whenever he makes one of his increasingly frequent appearances in Volusia County – classic Shakespeare. . .

Getting elected to high office is an increasingly difficult proposition at all levels of government.    

A successful candidate must possess the ability to be many things to many people – in an environment where “likeability” outweighs competence – a compromised electoral process that requires a lot of money to make it to the dance. 

In an age of 24/7 political marketing, where voters are inundated with television, radio, and roadside advertisements, every “press conference” and personal appearance a highly scripted one act play – it is difficult for a grassroots candidate to be swept into office on a groundswell of popular support – and almost impossible for them to survive in this cutthroat environment if they do. 

This cash-as-fuel atmosphere has allowed a relatively small group of uber-wealthy elites to exert extraordinary influence over local policymaking as they manipulate the outcome of elections through artificially large campaign contributions to hand select candidates willing to sell their political souls in a Faustian bargain for the power and perquisites of office.   

As a result, virtually everything We, The Little People see is choreographed with “winners and losers” decided in advance and what passes for “public policy” a foregone conclusion.   

With a practiced eye, it becomes easy to discern the often-blurred line between a manufactured theatrical representation and the actual intrigues of those engaged in the “people’s business,” especially when those who are elected and appointed to represent our interests become enmeshed in petty plays and slapstick skits. 

On Monday evening, the ongoing shit show that is the City of Deltona “jumped the shark” during the overly dramatic conclusion of the “Interim City Manager John Peters submits his resignation” episode – and everyone involved, from Peters to the hapless elected officials – played their supporting roles with practiced perfection on a grand stage set before an emotionally charged gallery.     

The evening began with cage match between Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the Deltona City Commission; wherein Sheriff Chitwood used a CompStat presentation as a feint to lambaste the elected officials for their abysmal reaction to a false report of misconduct by a deputy accused of inappropriately touching a citizen when her leg brace setoff a metal detector at a previous commission meeting.

Ingeniously, Sheriff Chitwood used the contretemps to effectively quash rumors of a mysterious “study” into whether Deltona is ready for its own police department. 

Frankly, the elected officials should have covered up, backed into a corner of the ring, and taken their pummeling with a smile – because their incredibly weak and yammering individual defenses to Sheriff Chitwood’s masterful beatdown was akin to punching back against an enraged Mike Tyson in his prime. 

Sometimes it is better to take the inevitable political ass beating and live to fight another day, especially when your much larger opponent is as skilled and light-on-his-feet as Sheriff Chitwood. . .

Then, discussion of Interim City Manager John Peters’ dramatic threat to resign over veiled “interference” from a few elected officials dissolved into emotionally charged theatrics – with Peters’ voice cracking in a tear-stained explanation of the horrific trauma he was subjected to by a couple of middle-aged neophyte neighborhood politicians, culminating in a theatrical self-defense, “I am damned principled!” – all while those he once worked for tripped over themselves – virtually begging him to reconsider and stay in the catbird seat until at least January, effectively anointing Mr. Peters with almost dictatorial powers, free from any meddling oversight by the people’s elected representatives.

Trust me. This won’t end well. . .

Look, by all accounts John Peters is a good guy who is trying to do the right thing, under difficult circumstances, as he works hard to change the perverse culture of a damaged and dysfunctional governmental organization that is responsible for establishing and implementing policies that affect the lives and livelihoods of some 90,000 souls. 

Unfortunately, this dramatic intrigue is not limited to Deltona – or Daytona Beach, Debary, Edgewater, Ormond Beach, Palm Coast, or – hell, you get the drift. . .

Next Tuesday, get your seat early for the latest production of that weird Kabuki theater masterfully acted by the Volusia County Council and directed by County Manager George “The Wreck” Rectenwald – an episode I am sure will be chockful of farcical fits, misdirection, self-serving showmanship, and edge-of-your-seat dramatic machinations.

Make no mistake – absolutely nothing of substance will be accomplished – but I guarantee it will be fun to watch.

It is what keeps us all coming back for more. . .

Lies and Brimstone

What a difference a week makes in Volusia County politics. . . 

Just last Tuesday, our self-anointed eminence grise, District 5 Volusia County Councilman – The Very Reverend Dr. Fred Lowry – seemed to have fully emerged from a weird chrysalis, transforming before our eyes from an ineffectual lump – an inanimate houseplant perched on the dais of power who didn’t say two words during his first term in office – into a virtual parliamentary expert who relished taking our neophyte Chairman Jeff Brower to the woodshed for his every procedural faux pas and misstep using arrogant histrionics, annoying “Hear, Hear’s,” and toad-like puffery.   

It became obvious to even a casual observer of this bimonthly théâtre de l’absurde that His Eminence was leading a blatant behind-the-scenes effort by those stalwarts of the status quo (inside government and out) to marginalize Chairman Brower and diminish any political momentum he may have had after decisively defeating the Old Guard’s preferred candidate with a voter mandate for change.   

The Rev. Lowry had clearly come into his own – and, week-after-week, he aggressively fulfilled his marching orders to wrest power from Chairman Brower and return it to those elite political insiders who believed they had rightfully purchased it with massive campaign contributions to their political handmaidens.  

These must have been heady days for Rev. Lowry.

He repeatedly put the boots to the accident-prone Chairman Brower, then sat back, arms folded with an overconfident sense of pride, as his “colleagues” on the political tag-team joined in the near non-stop beatdown of Brower and everything he stands for.   

In turn, it looked certain that Rev. Lowry was on his way to the at-large seat in 2022.

Then, the hopes and dreams of Rev. Lowry’s uber-wealthy handlers went off the rails. . .  

Look, I am clearly not a religious man – at best a lapsed Episcopalian, the sheep who got lost – but I have a highly developed conscience and have never forgotten the biblical wisdom of King Solomon, who said, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before the fall.”  

As often happens at the nexus of politics and religion, His Eminence virtually imploded in the pulpit of the Deltona Lakes Baptist Church during a May 30 sermon to the faithful – a weird allocution that ran the gamut of half-baked political nuttery – from wild conspiracy theories to descriptions of macabre Satanic rituals involving child sacrifice, even a puzzling denial of the Coronavirus pandemic – bizarre pontifications, literally from the lunatic fringe, that left many of his constituents rightfully horrified

Others openly questioned his clearly tenuous grip on reality. . .    

During his strange oration, the Right Reverend used a call-and-response strategy, best described in a blockbuster essay by the Orlando Sentinel’s Editorial Board last week:

“…a Facebook Live video shows one of Volusia County’s top elected officials preaching to the congregation about satanic rituals and torturing children and using their blood to extract a compound called adrenochrome, which is then used in the belief it brings on hallucinations, intensifies personalities and slows the aging process.

“This issue is supposed to be rampant I hear in Hollywood and among the elite,” Lowry told his flock. “I don’t know if it’s true, but where there’s smoke …” Lowry then held his hand behind his ear and awaited the answer he was looking for: “Fire.”

You read that right. 

I am certainly not going to try to pick Rev. Lowry’s thoughts apart – because I don’t want to understand that level of batshit craziness.   

Do you? 

Before Rev. Lowry had the opportunity to evoke the “forces of evil” defense to the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial drubbing; on Friday, the Reverend L. Ron Durham – a busy man who wears a variety of hats as a pastor, part-time Community Relations director for the City of Daytona Beach, president of the Volusia County Democratic Black Caucus, who is no stranger to controversy himself – joined in the growing calls for Lowry’s resignation, or outright removal from office, after losing the confidence of his constituents:

“We are calling into serious question Mr. Lowry’s ability and judgement when it comes to making significant decisions that will affect the lives of those living here in Volusia County. Decisions made by the Volusia County Council should be rooted in fact,” Rev. Dr. L. Ronald Durham, president of the caucus, said in a Friday news release.”

So, I guess that tells us who will be running for the Volusia County Council at-large seat (again) next year, eh? 

Whatever.

The Nazi Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich’s chief propagandist, is credited with the quote, “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth” – an effective strategy that uses repetition to make something appear true, even if it isn’t – creating what psychologists refer to as an “illusion of truth.”

This despicable tactic is especially troublesome when it is used by a recognized authority figure to sway public opinion, demonize political opponents, or draw attention to ones failing church. . . 

In my view, as a pastor – a shepherd of his flock who places the esteemed honorific “Doctor” before his name – and a duly elected representative of the people of Volusia County, Rev. Lowry has a duty to the truth – because most reasonable people consider the source when judging the plausibility of a statement or theory. 

Look, as a blowhard blogger, I am a prime example that, as Americans, we are all entitled to our personal opinions and goofy theories on the ways of the world.

But I firmly believe those who hold lofty positions of public trust have a sworn obligation to stop repeating falsehoods, perpetuating already debunked claims, and using misdirection to achieve a personal or political end.

That’s wrong.

And, as others have been so quick to point out to Chairman Brower – a powerful elected official simply cannot change hats at their whim – because it is corrosive to the public’s confidence in their government – and fosters a growing cynicism and suspicion of those things we were once so certain of – those institutions that form the bedrock of our core beliefs and values – a growing wariness of the heart that has brought us to this dangerous and difficult place in our local and national history.

I know it is hard to believe – but we deserve better than this. 

Now that Rev. Lowry has exposed his true personal beliefs – revealed the glaring contradiction between his religious teachings and civic policy decisions, especially regarding his repeated votes on the dais to accept millions in federal Coronavirus relief funds for something he clearly believes to be the greatest hoax in the history of mankind – I believe he has a duty to resign from his position of political influence.

Then, The Right Reverend is free to spew any bilgewater he wants from the comfort and protection of his haughty pulpit in Deltona and no one, other than those unfortunates who choose to listen to his tripe, will be the worse for it.    

Angels & Assholes for June 4, 2021

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           Chief Antagonist Mark D. Barker

This might come as a shock, but I get a lot of hate mail. 

Yep.  Comes with the territory.  

I know something about the cathartic release that comes with venting one’s spleen, and (other than the cheap threats that end with, “I know where you live”) I just assume the authors of these “nastygrams” feel better for the effort.

I always do. . . 

In my view, anything that furthers a larger discussion of the intractable issues we collectively face is a good thing, and I always learn something from those with whom I disagree.  Besides, after years in the dusty arena – I have developed some hard bark and a calloused soul – perfectly capable of giving as good as I get.

Rather than engage in a battle of wits with my many detractors – or speak to the vacant eyes of our elected officials, who sit stone-faced on the dais of power, like those weird figures carved by the Rapa Nui people on Easter Island, during what passes for ‘citizen participation’ at any stilted public meeting – or engage with my long-suffering neighbors at some civic coffee klatch orchestrated by what passes for our local newspaper – I simply jot down my goofy thoughts for the masses to ponder, then accept the slings and arrows of contrary opinions in the spirit in which they are loosed.   

Last week, I received a wonderfully condescending note from one of the Halifax areas preeminent ‘Movers & Shakers’ who made the infinitely valid point that, “…this week’s honorable mention ASSHOLE should be you.” 

Because this esteemed member of our local brain trust is apparently a voracious reader of these goofy screeds – and took his valuable time to nominate me – I did not want to disappoint. . .

This uber-wealthy insider took me to task for, among other things, having the impudence to imply in last week’s Angels & Assholes that the latest march toward the resurrection of the failed Volusia County sales tax initiative is anything but “needed and essential.”

According to the high-placed member of our local literati, “…the money needs to be spent on improving Volusia County. It does not go to the CEO Alliance. They don’t need it. The people who voted against it need it and the money needs to be spent wisely and for the people who need it most.”

Bullshit.

I found my critic’s statement revealing on several fronts. 

First, nothing changes.  

Incredibly, our “Rich & Powerful” overseers – even after having their asses handed to them at the ballot box in 2019, and again in 2020 – still possess the abject arrogance to look down their long noses and tell We, The Little People what is best for us. 

In their greed-crazed minds, they know more than you do about how your family’s hard-earned money should be spent – and if they happen to skim a few bucks in lucrative government contracts, weird backroom deals, or “economic incentives” for imparting their infallible wisdom or encouraging more growth – well, that’s just the cost of doin’ bidness here on the Fun Coast.

Meanwhile, an unacceptable percentage of Volusia County residents live like the Joad’s – while a precious few gilded millionaires (and billionaires) soak up all the public largesse and special favors their elected and appointed handmaidens can shovel their way. 

And I’m the asshole? 

Second, while those shadowy puppeteers over at the CEO Business Alliance may not “need” it – it did not stop them from financing a full-blown campaign to shove a sales tax increase down our collective throat that some 55% of Volusia County voters roundly rejected in an expensive special election just two-years ago.

If anyone over at the CEO Star Chamber expect us to believe that the puffery on Monday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal front page touting the virtual philanthropic work of P$S Paving – a major local government contractor and member of The Alliance who donated a reported $17,026 to the political action committee formed to ramrod the 2019 money-suck – was anything but scripted whoopla designed to convince Daytona Beach taxpayers that P$S is doing them a huge favor by hauling all that dirty fill dirt off city owned land – they are insulting our intelligence. 

My God.  How dumb to they think we are? 

Look, I have long suspected that News-Journal editor Pat Rice, and the members of our social and civic elite that he considers “friends,” have lost any capacity for shame – just don’t expect us to believe that P$S Paving did not know to the penny how much profit they could haul out of taxpayer-owned ground for a relatively paltry investment. 

(According to reports, P$S Paving is paying the City of Daytona Beach $1.50 per cubic yard of dirt – in a market demanding between “$4.00 and $12.00” a yard. . .)

Apparently, the News-Journal now runs interference as P$S Paving’s new public relations arm (according to the report, “P&S Paving President Tim Phillips did not return calls this week seeking comment.”  I don’t blame him.) so, our local newspaper set about crying the poormouth blues on behalf of our benevolent benefactor:  

“While the $1.50 per cubic yard P&S Paving is paying the city is lower than what’s being charged on the open market, the company is shouldering hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses up front for fuel, labor and equipment usage. The company is also paying for all surveys, studies, expert services, remediation and restoration of the pond sites.”

“P&S Paving also footed the bill to shift and then pave the dirt haul path that runs the length of the site near First Step Shelter.”

To who’s benefit? 

Is there some direct advantage to the long-suffering taxpayers of Daytona Beach who own the land currently being hauled away – or is this “deal” only of benefit to developers desperately in need of fill to raise “low-lying land” in support of the malignant sprawl west of I-95?   

Is there some environmental value to digging a massive 40 acre crater (billed as a “retention pond”) on a parcel of public property “pockmarked with wetlands”?

I’m asking. 

Am I missing something?

Because I am almost certain that during my three-decades in public service someone told me that it was government’s responsibility to protect public funds, assets, and resources from being used to further private ventures when the public is only incidentally benefitted.

Yes, yes. . .I clearly remember that lesson during my mail-order correspondence course with the Rocco Clubbo School of Bureaucracy of Chillicothe, Illinois, that I found in the back of Public Management magazine. . .     

But I’m the asshole? 

Most of the ‘common folk’ I kibitz with on barstools fail to see the logic in giving more money to the same people who got us into this fetid mess in the first place.

In my view, the most accurate précis on this brewing debacle was written by the intrepid civic activist, Ken Strickland, on the Facebook public affairs site FREE Daytona Beach last week:

“No resident with half a pea brain will vote in favor of giving a nickel to pay for infrastructure for developers. If they can’t pay their own way too damn bad. We have far too many needs in our existing neighborhoods. Our current elected officials cannot be trusted with more revenue period.”

Amen.

Look, I may be a King Hell Asshole (the evidence is overwhelming, just ask my wife) but I refuse to be steamrolled by those with the wherewithal to purchase a chip in the game.

I will not be browbeaten by mercenary insiders who subliminally suggest that my opinions (and yours) are somehow invalidated by their faux optimism.

A crude attempt to “lead with the positives” – a botched strategy born in a backroom by some horseshit-spewing research and marketing firm that requires taxpayers doubt what we see, hear, and feel with our own senses – that demands we ignore our hard-won perceptions after watching the same last names haul millions of dollars in “economic incentives” and corporate welfare out of the public coffers for decades. 

I may be an asshole, but I am not a rube – not anymore – and neither are you.

Asshole           Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington  

The artistry of creating a problem to justify an expense – the cultivated ability to spin a fantastic yarn to rationalize a public expenditure – is a necessary skill for any perennial politician. 

Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington peacocked his mastery of the craft earlier this month when he asked that a dusty feasibility study – clearly designed to facilitate relocation of the city’s police facility – be taken out of bureaucratic mothballs and passed around for serious discussion. 

As you may recall, the “study” found that the current building on West Granada Boulevard (built in 2001) is now an ancient relic of times gone by, lost to the ravages of time.  A dangerous, antiquated hovel that now sits in something ominously called a “flood hazard zone.”

My ass. 

Inexplicably, rather than simply tell the truth and explain to Ormond Beach residents that the Police Department sits on 2.1 acres of the most valuable real estate in the city – its location vital to bookending the fantastic Granada Boulevard streetscape with a complimentary commercial development – Mayor Partington prefers to tell us scary stories of floods and $500,000 critical renovations.

Why?

In my experience, that never ends well. . . 

The problem with fabricating a story to fit the preferred solution is that once an elected official goes down that circuitous path there is no turning back – and the hapless buffoon who tries to pull the wool over his or her constituent’s eyes is forever shackled to the contrived narrative – in this case the expenditure of somewhere between $26 to $35 million depending upon the facilities bells and whistles.

Wow.

I trust Ormond Beach Police Chief Jesse Godfrey – I consider him a friend and former colleague of extraordinary skill and dedication.  If Chief Godfrey tells us his agency needs a new building – I believe him.

In a recent article by Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Chief Godfrey essentially said just that:

“I think we’ve outgrown this building, to be honest with you,” Godfrey said. “And with our population getting larger, and other cities around us getting larger, we’re going to need more people, more employees at the police department and this building simply can’t hold them all.”

That makes sense. 

Rather than simply trusting the intelligence of Ormond Beach residents and treating them with a modicum of respect – or, God forbid, explain the sound strategy of moving public safety assets as the population center transitions west – Mayor Partington looks like a disingenuous fool, a cartoon character caught red-faced – forced to defend this political insulation ploy with his butterfingered political sleight-of-hand.   

In my opinion (for what that’s worth), the Ormond Beach City Commission can learn something from this needless threat to the public trust and vote to shelve this cockamamie sham in that mildewed bin where bad ideas are entombed at City Hall – then set a course for the structured and transparent relocation of the police facility based upon the sound Granada Boulevard revitalization plan and Chief Godfrey’s professional recommendations. 

The good people of Ormond Beach will understand the need to get this important property back on the tax roll as the brilliant finishing touch to what is quickly transforming into one of the best Main Streets in Volusia County.

Please do not cheapen that civic progress with the stench of political gamesmanship. 

Quote of the Week

“. . .Fred Lowry needs to resign. Now. And if he won’t do that, the County Council needs to use whatever powers it possesses to condemn Lowry for bringing shame not only on himself but on the office he holds.

His colleagues ought to be appalled. Lowry’s not only an embarrassment, his judgment is now in serious question. The council is charged with making consequential decisions that are supposed to be rooted in fact and reality.

How can anyone trust that Lowry’s making fact-based decisions when he’s preaching sermons about cabals of Satanists using the blood of kidnapped children to get high and live longer?. . .”

–Excerpted from the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board’s, “Meet Fred Lowry, a Volusia County Council member spreading the gospel of QAnon,” Thursday, June 3, 2021

Whoa. 

It gets better. . .

I encourage everyone who cares about good governance in Volusia County and beyond to read the Orlando Sentinel’s incredibly disturbing essay on our self-anointed éminence grise, Volusia County Councilman and Right Reverend Dr. Fred Lowry.

According to the editorial, last week, in a“sermon” to his dwindling flock at the Deltona Lakes Baptist Church – the Rev. Lowry spouted wild tales from the lunatic fringe.

For instance, he proffered a conspiracy theory involving the “Hollywood elite” and their alleged torture and exsanguination of kidnapped children at shadowy satanic rituals during which an hallucinogenic compound is extracted from their blood and consumed for its anti-aging properties.

You read that right. . .

The editorial also called out His Eminence’s weird denial of the Coronavirus pandemic, wherein he claimed we were all “lied to” about what has been billed by physicians and scientists as one of the most virulent public health threats in modern times.

Which begs the question, if Councilman Lowry honestly believed what he told his congregants, then why has he agreed to extend the local state of emergency 64 times – or voted to accept millions-of-dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds earmarked for pandemic response – something he now says is the greatest global hoax in the history of the world? 

The Orlando Sentinel’s courageous editorial board did not stop there:

. . . his political campaign in 2018 had the financial backing of Volusia County’s longtime political power brokers like International Speedway Corp. and homebuilder Mori Hosseini’s development companies.

Maybe Lowry’s fellow County Council members will care, knowing that the guy up there on the dais weighing in on policy — including a response to the pandemic he denies took place — is the same guy who’s buying what QAnon is selling, and then peddling that garbage to his church congregation.

Don’t let him get away with it, Volusia. Find the courage to speak out against conspiracies, misinformation and lies before it’s too late.”

Please find this incredibly well-written and highly informative editorial here: https://tinyurl.com/9jhuae7c .

And Another Thing!

The adulation and beatification of former Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm continued this week with an odd “proclamation” by the Volusia County Council – you know, one of those stuffy “Hear ye, Hear ye, Whereas and Wherefore” stroke jobs – the epitome of gross political pandering – proclaiming June 1, 2021, as “Jim Chisholm Day” in Volusia County.

Give me a break. . .

The proclamation was requested by at-large Councilman Ben Johnson, but I seriously doubt it was an original thought, as Mr. Chisholm – the Darling of the Donor Class and Champion of the Civic Elite – slowly slogs his way toward the ash heap of history.   

Among the dubious “accomplishments” included in the proclamation were:

WHEREAS, Chisholm oversaw the development of several multimillion dollar projects that benefit the city’s underserved population: the Midtown Cultural and Educational Center, Yvonne Scarlett-Golden Center, Cypress Aquatic Center, and the Orange Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard reconstruction projects; and

In my experience, the last thing Jim Chisholm cared about was “the city’s underserved population.” 

Don’t take my word for it – look at the deplorable conditions in many Midtown neighborhoods – or refer to Mr. Chisholm’s now infamous 2019 quote to WFTV reporter Mike Springer on the issue of street flooding near Nova Road:

“The only thing they can do is try to look for another place that’s not a flood prone area.  That’s basically the lowest part of the city.”

You read that right. 

When residents in the long-established Caroline Street neighborhood desperately begged city officials for protection from frequent floodwaters the cruel answer from Mr. Chisholm was – Move.

My God. 

I also noticed the County Council’s awkward glorification did not include the City of Daytona Beach’s abysmal treatment of veterans and their efforts to save the historically significant City Island Recreation Center and establish a museum to showcase the areas rich military history during World War II.

In a September 2020 interview in the News-Journal, Robert Hawes, president of the Veterans Museum and Educational Center, was quoted:

“I’m so disappointed with the city of Daytona Beach,” Hawes said. “The city has spent millions and millions of dollars on all kinds of crap, and they stonewalled us.”

Crap indeed. . .

The Veterans Museum and Educational center is now located in the welcoming community of Holly Hill – along with the world class fitness complex Pictona at Holly Hill – and numerous other small businesses who fled to neighboring communities when they could no longer jump through the seemingly infinite bureaucratic hoops and hurdles which impeded substantive entrepreneurial investment under Chisholm’s strange reign. 

Tellingly, Volusia County’s pronunciamiento deifying the life and times of Jim Chisholm rightfully included his all-embracing commitment to the “Brown & Brown Insurance headquarters” in downtrodden downtown – because if anything is certain in Daytona Beach – it is that His Royal Highness King J. Hyatt Brown wants for nothing. . .

Embarrassingly, I summersaulted out of my swivel chair (backwards) when I saw that the proclamation credited Chisholm with constructing a “homeless shelter” – which launched me on a fool’s errand to find the damn thing.

I’m still searching. . .

Oh, I drove past an elaborate $6+ million publicly funded self-improvement seminar in the hinterlands on US-92 west of town – a facility which apparently serves as the raison d’être for P$S Paving’s goldmine on surrounding city owned property – but I have yet to find the come-as-you-are homeless shelter we were all promised.

Have you?

Look, I realize these political platitudes do not carry much weight outside the council chamber – but I wonder what message these unearned accolades send to Jane & John Q. Public, who see the blight and dilapidation in key areas of Daytona Beach, remember the tax funded for-profit “public/private partnerships” they were forced to underwrite, the corporate welfare, deliberate neglect of public assets, malignant sprawl, and the lack of transparency or substantive citizen input in the planning process, etc., etc.?

And what does it say to the other municipalities? 

Many of which will be negatively impacted by the decisions made on Chisholm’s watch for years, yet few of whom had a working relationship with Mr. Chisholm?

At the end of the day, Councilman Johnson, and the others on the dais of power, said ‘all the right things’ and did as they were told, ensuring that Sir James V. Chisholm received his just deserts for serving his (and their) influential masters with such great personal and professional devotion.

All while those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence languish in the civic, social, and economic stagnation that is the natural byproduct of cronyism, parti pris decisions, and political favoritism. 

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

Word to the Wise:  Angels & Assholes will take a brief pause next week. 

In the meantime, please avail yourself of the voluminous Barker’s View collection, chockfull of my wacky thoughts and insights on the issues of the day here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

These monthly archives are accessible at the bottom of the page.     

Today We Remember: The Men of Spike Team Asp

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance traditionally observed on May 30 but now officially established as the last Monday in May.  It is the day we honor and memorialize those brave men and women who have given their lives in defense of our nation.

Each Memorial Day, Barker’s View publishes the remarkable story of Spike Team ASP – an incredible tale of the heroism and sacrifice of three United States Army Special Forces soldiers on a covert mission in the Laotian countryside on March 28, 1968 – and their enduring legacy of service and devotion.

Never forget.

________________________________________________________

In late March 1968, United States Army Sergeant First Class George “Ron” Brown of Holly Hill, Florida, Sergeant Alan Boyer of Missoula, Montana, and Sergeant Greg Huston of Shelby County, Ohio, along with six indigenous personnel – collectively known as “Spike Team Asp” – conducted a top-secret intelligence operation behind enemy lines approximately 12-miles northeast of Tchepone, Laos.

tchepone

Assigned to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam/Studies and Observation Group (MACV/SOG) this team of elite Special Forces soldiers was tasked with setting Air Force wire-tapping equipment and sensors along the labyrinthine Ho Chi Minh trail system, the main north-south supply line for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.

The men had been covertly inserted into the area after launching from Nakon Phanom, Thailand aboard a CH-3 from the Air Force’s 20th Helicopter Squadron call sign “Pony Express.”

More than 25 special forces soldiers and many indigenous troops had already been killed or gone missing in our deadly secret war in Laos.

At approximately 11:00am on the morning of March 28, the team reported that they were in contact with an enemy force and requested an immediate emergency extraction from the area.

A helicopter arrived in the area a short time later and quickly located the team on the ground.

Due to thick canopy jungle and rough terrain the pilot was unable to land so a rope ladder was dropped from the open doorway of the aircraft to the men below.  Five of the six indigenous troops climbed the ladder and were safely taken into the helicopter.

As the sixth was going up, Sergeant Boyer was seen beginning his ascent on the bottom rung of the ladder.

Al Boyer
Alan Boyer

Just as Boyer started climbing, one of the rope’s mounting brackets either broke free or was shot away by heavy enemy ground fire.  Personnel on the helicopter reported observing the indigenous soldier and Sgt. Boyer falling to the ground.

According to reports, Sgt. Dave Mayberry, who served as the chase medic on the extraction helicopter, observed the Green Berets still very much alive and heroically returning fire and defending their position.

When Sgt. Mayberry turned to treat one of the wounded he lost sight of the men on the ground.

Brown, Huston and Boyer were never seen again.

Numerous air assets were diverted to the area and a rescue team was assembled, but the mission was called off later that afternoon when there were no further communications from the men.

On April 1, 1968, Special Forces Sergeant Chuck Feller, along with several indigenous soldiers, launched on a mission to locate the lost men of Spike Team Asp.  After just six hours on the ground, Sgt. Feller and his team came into direct contact with the enemy and called for an emergency extraction.

Ron 3
Ron Brown

Again, a rope ladder had to be dropped and one of the indigenous soldiers was forced to dangle from the rungs as the helicopter returned to the airbase in Thailand.  Sgt. Feller later reported that his search found no evidence of Spike Team Asp.

Interestingly, after Al Boyer went missing in action, his best friend since childhood, Doug Hagen, was attending North Dakota State University when he heard the news.  He decided he needed to find out what happened to his friend, and enlisted in the Army, ultimately joining the 5th Special Forces Group, just as Boyer had done.

On August 7, 1971, 1st Lieutenant Doug Hagen was killed during heavy fighting while leading a reconnaissance team – RT Kansas – on a secret mission deep within enemy controlled territory.

For his heroism, Doug received the Medal of Honor, the United States highest decoration for valor.  He was the last United States Army soldier to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam war.

In January 2000, a team from the former Joint POW/MIA Accounting Office conducted extensive excavations of the Laotian countryside near where Spike Team Asp was last seen.

During the latter part of the war, the Ho Chi Minh trail was heavily bombed leaving the earth deeply cratered and much of the topography completely different than it had been in 1968, making search and recovery efforts extremely difficult.

However, the archaeological excavation uncovered several personal artifacts attributable to U.S. military personnel, to include a metal boot insert and several uniform buttons.

In addition, a single human tooth was recovered at the site.

The tooth was later linked to Ron Brown through dental x-rays at the Department of Defense Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.

In May 2003, Sergeant Brown’s daughter, Ronda Brown-Pitts, was notified by the Army that her father’s remains had been found in Laos.  Unfortunately, dental records provided to her showed that her father’s tooth had a filling – and the tooth recovered did not.

Due to the confusion, Ronda demanded a DNA test, but it was refused based on the Army’s policy of “body desecration.” A DNA test would have destroyed “all of the remains.”

In 2006, a casket containing the remains of Master Sergeant George “Ron” Brown was delivered to his daughter and later interred with full military honors in Dayton, Texas.

Many years ago, I received a POW/MIA bracelet bearing Ron’s name.

When I was a young boy growing up during the Vietnam era, these bracelets were a fairly common sight, but not so much anymore.  In the 1970’s many school children wore the bracelet as a means of ensuring that the POW/MIA issue remained a priority until they all came home.

For those whose adopted POW didn’t come home, the bracelet holder became the keeper of the eternal memory of one man’s sacrifice.

The silver band has become both a personal memorial, and a public reminder, that there are some debts of gratitude that cannot be repaid.

This small token has allowed me to learn about Ron’s military career and his incredible heroism; and I have had the honor of speaking with his friends and family, and to meet and correspond with some of the men he served with on Okinawa and in Vietnam.

He was a husband, a father, a former member of the U.S. Army Parachute Team “The Golden Knights,” and a professional soldier of incredible skill and dedication.

Even though Ron’s “remains” have been repatriated, I still wear his bracelet as a personal remembrance of one man’s sacrifice to the high cost of freedom – and in memory of Greg Huston, who remains missing.

Incredibly, the story of Spike Team Asp continues.

greg huston
Greg Huston

On March 7, 2016, one day before what would have been Sergeant Alan Boyer’s 70th birthday, United States Army and DOD officials presented his sister with Alan’s military decorations, to include the Silver Star and Purple Heart.

During the visit, Judi Boyer Bouchard, now of Leesburg, Florida, was notified that a single leg bone fragment had been located by the Defense Department POW/MIA Accounting Office.  The bone shard was apparently purchased by a Laotian activist from Lao nationals described as “remains dealers,” and later positively identified through mitochondrial DNA analysis.

On June 22, 2016, Sergeant Alan Boyer was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 28.

He was laid to rest just 15-feet from his best friend, Doug Hagen.

hagen
Doug Hagen

Currently, more than 1,500 Americans remain missing after the Vietnam War.

Overall, there are more than 82,000 missing personnel from past conflicts, including World War II, Korea, the Cold War and the Global War on Terror.

On this Memorial Day, and every day, let us remember the extraordinary service of men like Ron Brown, Al Boyer, Greg Huston and Doug Hagen – and all those brave souls who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our great nation.

Never forgotten.

Deltona Burning

During my three decades in public service, I learned many things – an experiential education that taught me a lot about human nature and the effect of unbridled power on small minds. 

Through the years, the citizens I served graciously expended public funds to educate my mind and body, allowing me the opportunity to develop those skills necessary to serve the community effectively and efficiently. 

I have never forgotten their generosity – or the important life lessons learned.   

Now that I am a washed up “has been” – firmly ensconced on the back bench here on the ash heap of history – my enormous ego conveniently allows me to forget my own myriad mistakes and failures while haughtily pointing out the faults and foibles of those still in the arena in some vain attempt to remain relevant to the civic discussion well after my expiry date. 

Thanks to this hard-earned skill set, I have developed the ability to identify the symptoms of bureaucratic dysfunction – and an essential understanding of the internal intrigues and machinations of government that most laypersons mistakenly dismiss as ‘politics as usual.’  

But I’ll be dipped if I can figure out what is going on in the City of Deltona.

Like many of you – I have more questions than answers. . .

I do know that an inability to attract and retain quality senior administrators is a key indicator of a government in trouble – and by that metric the City of Deltona is a shit show choreographed, produced, and performed in the inferno of a raging dumpster fire. . .

Unfortunately, reversing this grim trend requires that the elected leadership have the capacity for introspection, a sense of self-awareness, and the capacity to understand their individual and collective role in the council/manager form of government.

Then adjust course and stay in their lane.

And the acting City Manager should not blindside his bosses by dropping public allegations of misconduct with no good way for them to defend themselves – or mitigate the speculation and instability which is sweeping the community.

Earlier this week, Interim City Manager John Peters III informed the Deltona City Commission of his intent to resign and return to his role as Director of Public Works following what The Daytona Beach News-Journal conservatively called “a long series of controversies” that have plagued this West Volusia behemoth since former City Manager Jane Shang’s reign of terror ended. 

Astonishingly, Mr. Peters’ resignation marks the third change in leadership in less than a year and a half. . .    

According to reports, the crux of the problem is on-going “interference” by elected officials in operational decisions – but I suspect the issues run far deeper – the lingering effects of old wounds that refuse to heal because someone is constantly picking at the scab.   

Interestingly, in an article by reporter Al Everson writing in the West Volusia Beacon, Mr. Peters made the cryptic statement, “I don’t have a choice.  There’s too much interference.  If I resign, I can speak out about it.”

I found that official statement strange, because I am not sure stepping down so he can speak publicly about the seething turmoil inside Deltona City Hall is a good career move. . .

He went on to explain that the meddling is coming from city commissioners who oppose his measures on code enforcement and personnel decisions. 

“That’s a breach of the charter,” Peters told the Beacon. 

That’s a serious charge, and if he’s right, the City Attorney has a duty to act to protect the integrity of the city’s guiding document. 

However, the term “interference” can be subjective – especially when applied to the separation of powers in a municipal government. 

For instance, is an elected official congratulating an employee on a job well done considered interference?  Or is it limited to “If you don’t stop code enforcement activities in my district, hire my cousin, fire the finance director, pave my street, etc., etc., I’ll move to fire you”? 

It is one reason why most chief executives have an employment agreement which contractually protects them from the power struggles inherent in local government. 

In addition, most county and municipal charters clearly delineate the authority and responsibilities of the manager – setting parameters that provide the political insulation to allow the chief executive the latitude to run the day-to-day operations free of intrusion from the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker – who are elected by the people to make policy decisions and direct the expenditure of public funds.  

When that civic equilibrium is disturbed by either side of the equation, the resulting oscillations can become so turbulent that the public begins to distrust its government.

That is typically when good executives follow their moral compass and depart for greener pastures rather than compromise their professional ethics and personal reputation – and bad executives jump from the flaming wreckage and run for the hills, usually with pitchfork wielding villagers in hot pursuit. . .    

In an unusual move, Sheriff Mike Chitwood entered the fray on social media last week, calling it a “sad day” in Deltona before praising Mr. Peters for doing a good job, “…with the transparency, accountability and professionalism Deltona sorely needed.”

Then, Sheriff Chitwood set about naming-names. . . 

“Unfortunately, I believe he was up against interference from certain City Commissioners named Dana McCool, David Sosa and Anita Bradford.”

One thing is certain, Sheriff Chitwood has a sharp mind and a well-honed political instinct – but I hope against hope that he is mistaken in his assessment.

I do not know Sosa or Bradford personally, but I have great respect for Commissioner Dana McCool – who got into politics for all the right reasons – after years of fighting an out-of-control City Hall from outside the ramparts as a frustrated civic activist intent on making her community a better place. 

I suppose time will tell which of the sitting elected officials have pure intentions and which do not; however, I believe the seemingly intractable issues plaguing Deltona predate Ms. McCool by years. . .    

In a prepared agenda item for the June 7 Commission meeting, Mr. Peters oddly outlined three possible choices – one of which would keep him at the helm for the remainder of the year:

Accept his resignation immediately and designate an interim City Manager.

Accept the resignation effective upon the completion of the draft budget in mid-August and designate an interim City Manager at that time.

Accept the resignation effective Dec. 31, to allow the Commission to complete a search for a City Manager.

Look, this isn’t a Chinese restaurant – and if Mr. Peters finds his position that desperate and untenable – why didn’t he simply give adequate notice and take his football and go home?

To add to the speculation, after Mr. Peters made his shocking announcement – and dropped the serious allegations of official interference – he refused to clarify his stunning statements:

“I’m really not talking about it at this point,” Peters told a News-Journal reporter last week, fanning the sense of drama.   

Naturally, this intrigue has caused some to wonder if this entire fuss is a well-orchestrated powerplay by Peters to force the issue of his “acting” status (which has now drug on nearly six-months) – and worry that if the Commission acquiesces to any behind-the-scenes demands then get down on their knees and beg him to stay – it would clearly grant him near dictatorial powers. 

And, if his intent was to return to his former role, why wouldn’t Peters simply finish his temporary “Queen for the Day” appointment and shuffle on back to the relative comfort and obscurity of the Public Works Department?

Others ask why, if Mr. Peters wants the fulltime role, would he paint himself into this very narrow corner – after all who in their right mind would take this tumultuous job on a 4-3 vote of a clearly divided commission?

These are legitimate questions that deserve answers.  And fast. 

The fear, of course, is that this dysfunction is going to get worse as the finger pointing begins and there will always be self-serving opportunists on the sideline waiting to take advantage of a leadership void – charlatans with one good suit and a briefcase, “consultants,” and failed screwballs looking for work – who will offer their services in hopes of backdooring a six-figure city manager gig. 

In my view, between now and the June 7 agenda item, this situation will continue to fester as speculation builds.

Now is the time for Mayor Heidi Herzberg to rally her wayward “colleagues” and start a public dialog with the goal of amicably repairing things with their temporary placeholder – then begin the important process of selecting a strong permanent replacement.

In my view, it is wrong to allow Mr. Peters to languish in an interim status for months on end – and, if the meddling he describes is so deleterious to the operational effectiveness of the municipal government that he has no choice but to step down – those violations of the separation of power defined in the city’s charter should be investigated, aired publicly, and swiftly dealt with according to law. 

While questions abound, one thing is certain – the good citizens of Deltona deserve stability – and time is of the essence.      

Angels & Assholes for May 28, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               Daytona Beach City Manager Deric Feacher

Next week marks a quantum change in the vision, management, and direction of the City of Daytona Beach as Deric Feacher takes the helm at City Hall after nearly two-decades under the omnipotent control of City Manager Jim Chisholm.

In my view, Mr. Chisholm epitomized raw political power – and he had a practiced talent for keeping those uber-wealthy political insiders who control the local electoral landscape firmly in his camp – creating an impenetrable Iron Dome of political protection that all but ensured he was not going anywhere unless it was on his terms. 

I was always impressed by his intuitive sense of self-preservation in a position not known for longevity. 

In keeping with the job requirements, Mr. Chisholm was many different things to many different people – always playing important civic moves close to the vest – even when a hint of transparency, or simply feigning interest in the opinions of those who pay the bills would have served him better, but Mr. Chisholm remained inscrutable, holding true to his own counsel, and he did not suffer fools.

And we were all fools. . . 

Having grown up in the Halifax area – I have seen Daytona Beach at its best, and worst – a perspective that allows me to reflect on “what could have been” with the hard-earned cynicism to ask, “Is this all we got for all we gave?”    

As Mr. Chisholm accepts the accolades of his well-connected friends, I can’t help but wonder if the “improvements” we saw on his watch – a few resort hotels, the renovation of The Pier, the weird redux of our still downtrodden downtown, the coming “Brown Esplanade,”  One Daytona, laying the foundation for the incredibly expensive and obscurely couched “Daytona Emerging” project, and the massive sprawl on Boomtown Boulevard and beyond (each accomplishment having a common denominator in those he considered “friends”) – make up for the almost strategic rot that has consumed critical areas of the community, a civic rust that has brought a once world class destination to its knees?   

Farewell, Mr. Chisholm.  Enjoy the fruits of your labor – and go comfortable in the knowledge you served that exclusive camarilla known affectionately as “friends of Jim” so well, for so long.

Trust me.  The name James V. Chisholm will not be forgotten in these parts. . .

Now, it is time to look forward, shielding our raw senses from the sudden light of optimism after years of being kept in effective darkness, and consider the exciting promise of “what will be” as Deric Feacher – young, energetic, and gregarious – best described as the polar opposite of Jim Chisholm in personality and accessibility – begins the hard work of determining priorities through a fresh set of eyes. 

By all accounts, Mr. Feacher has built a reputation as someone who gets things done while keeping his finger on the social, civic, and economic pulse of the community. 

According to a recent exposé in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean we learned that Mr. Feacher is not afraid of getting out in the community where his constituents live, work, learn, and play – extending both the reach and effectiveness of municipal services by bringing City Hall to the streets and listening to the needs of the taxpayers who fund them:

“During his four years in Haines City the fund balance was doubled, single family home construction permits hit record levels, new restaurants opened downtown, a food truck marketplace and art alley was created, and residents’ voices were heard at town hall meetings, community gatherings and coffee talks.  Feacher also launched the mobile City Hall program that brings a trailer and city officials to residents to answer their questions and let them take care of city business in their neighborhoods.”

I find that refreshing. 

Under Mr. Chisholm’s control, our only access to the innerworkings of that cloistered municipal citadel on Ridgewood Avenue came through brusque communiques issued by the guardian of the gate – the city’s “communications manager” – who carefully spun the administrations well-crafted narrative and prevented direct access to the inner sanctum of power.  

In addition, any entrepreneur who has attempted to start a small business in the City of Daytona Beach will tell you horror stories about the myriad hoops and hurdles those responsible for “economic development” put in their path – time-wasting impediments that have caused many to throw in the towel and move their enterprise to surrounding communities. 

Something tells me that bureaucratic obstructionism is about to end – but change will not come easy.   

Let’s face it, Daytona Beach is as far from small town Haines City as Mr. Feacher could imagine – more akin to his former community’s doomed theme park “Circus World” with its tattered Big Top and despondent clown troupe – and how he adapts to that stark contrast will be interesting. 

The transition of power in government is always a difficult period as the new leader learns the issues through a firehose of internal and external sources all vying for position, access, and influence – while trying desperately to establish a successful working relationship with the elected body – seven strong personalities each with differing intellect, priorities, and loyalties.

The City of Daytona Beach has many pressing issues that have languished for far too long. 

It also possesses all the right pieces and parts required for civic excellence – the best beach in Florida, beautiful riverfront, a world class motorsports complex, renowned colleges and universities, a small business community hungry for change, and the strong bones of established neighborhoods – all waiting for the talented hand of a master civic artist to put the blocks in place. 

In my view, the future is promising. 

My hope is that Mr. Chisholm’s parasitic “friends” will leave Deric Feacher alone – and allow him the opportunity to be the “People’s Champion” that the long-suffering citizens of Daytona Beach have been waiting for. 

Asshole           Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton

It makes my skin crawl when someone in a highly paid leadership position plunges an organization or community into a shit storm of abject dysfunction – then moseys away from the flaming wreckage – dodging responsibility by blaming the “political climate” while those who relied on them – those who trusted them – are left to founder.  

Earlier this week I posted a blog entitled “Enemies of the State” following the shocking revelation that for the past five-years the City of Palm Coast has maintained a secret list of “difficult citizens” – 24 taxpayers who somehow ran athwart city employees and wound up on the municipal registry of undesirables.

What I found most ominous – and patently unconstitutional – was the fact those labeled as public enemies by the ruling junta were not notified of their official status – no due process and no way of mitigating the damage to their character and reputation in the community. 

We are told “The List” was created under former City Manager Jim Landon in 2016 – but the despicable practice was continued under Matt Morton’s tyrannical reign.

It was the latest controversy in the tumultuous recent history of this community which has been besieged by civic and political chaos (resulting in Morton contracting armed guards to patrol City Hall, further alienating staff from those they serve).

In my view, much of the havoc was created by Morton’s callous slash-and-burn personnel management technique, one that saw a near constant churn among senior staff – including the cowardly practice of openly blaming current and former staff members in media interviews to cover his own shortcomings and questionable conduct. 

So, just nine days after Palm Coast Mayor Melissa Holland mysteriously fled City Hall – now Mr. Morton has dropped his own cryptic notice of resignation effective June 26.

According to the excellent reportage of Flaglerlive.com:

“The resignation is not entirely surprising: Morton was essentially a Holland protege, and without her on the council, he’d lost his support’s cornerstone. But the resignation adds at least some credence to rampant speculation that Holland’s resignation was not prompted only by concerns over her daughter’s health, and that the two resignations are connected.”

Adding to the “rampant speculation” was the purely Mortonian tactic of citing a tenet of the International City/County Management Association’s Code of Ethics – in my experience, a fraternity of public administrators that exists to protect its weakest links – which reads:

“Resist any encroachment on professional responsibilities, believing the member should be free to carry out official policies without interference, and handle each problem without discrimination on the basis of principle and justice.”

Interestingly, it was the same passage cited by Deltona Interim City Manager John Peters III just days earlier in his own ‘take this job and shove it’ moment with meddling elected officials there.

Unlike the unfolding debacle in Deltona, Mr. Morton gave no explanation or context for his veiled allegation – only apologizing to his “executive team” for notifying them of his decision by email (who does that?) – then declaring they “…deserve much better than what the political climate is offering.”  

My God. . .

In my view, what Palm Coast’s staff, elected officials, and citizens deserve is a chief executive who, by their personal and professional example, brings confidence and stability to this important role – someone who values honor, treats others with respect, and possesses the competence to lead this troubled community out of a fetid quagmire of dysfunction.  

They deserve a leader worthy of their trust.  

Angel               B-CU Athletic Director Lynn Thompson

Earlier this week, Bethune-Cookman University announced the sad news that Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Lynn Thompson will be leaving that role next month. 

Vice President Thompson’s departure marks the end of a stellar 30-year career with the university. 

According to a release by B-CU Athletics, “Hired initially at Bethune-Cookman in 1991, as the youngest Division I athletics director in the nation, Thompson is now the longest tenured and one of the most respected Division I athletic directors in the NCAA. Because of his success, Thompson was elevated to the position of Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics in 2015, providing executive leadership over the 17-sport Division I program and support offices for the B-CU Department of Athletics.”

According to reports, under Mr. Thompson’s outstanding leadership, “…the Wildcats won a total of 71 championships, beginning with 54 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) crowns and a dynasty of 12 baseball championships in a 15-year span. B-CU softball teams put together a streak of five straight softball titles from 2000-2004, along with three consecutive titles from 2010-12 and two more in 2018-19.

The B-CU football program has won a total of six MEAC championships during Thompson’s tenure, including at least a share of three consecutive from 2012-14.

Additionally, the Wildcats won the school’s first-ever national HBCU championship in 2010.”

Impressive.

Outside his commitment to Wildcat sports, Mr. Thompson has been heavily involved in the Bethune-Cookman University Fellowship of Christian Athletes – and served as staff pastor and led the men’s ministry at Calvary Christian Center in Ormond Beach for over 10-years. 

Most important, Lynn Thompson’s profound contributions to his profession, the university, and our community can be measured by the lives he touched in such a brilliant and positive way.

The calling to prepare young minds for a rich and fulfilling life is an infinitely important one, and true mentors like Mr. Thompson leave an indelible part of themselves with each student athlete – each future leader – whose character they help shape.   

As such, their legacy of service to others endures.

Thank you, Mr. Thompson.  We’re glad you passed our way. 

Quote of the Week

“A plan for all, from the tiniest creatures to the biggest developers. For the poor and wealthy alike, for the old oaks (which share 80% of our DNA), to the imported palms.

For the shopkeepers and mall walkers, the athletes and porch rockers. For the race car drivers, power walkers, saunterers, cyclists. For the farmers and fishermen, to the business owners, large and small. For the green, smooth lawns to the wild native habitats, butterflies and bees. For the old buildings and new ones. For those who want to be shuttled around to those who want the security of surround metal and sound.

None should be left out.

Why are we sitting around arguing and blaming? The power of interaction is the power of our connectedness, and the source of creative solutions, solutions that are born out of merely talking, and listening, out of interaction.

The other option is to continue on a predictable path, that of the incessant power struggles and of diminishing one another. The dance of life is the push and pull of opposites, in order to create balance, and in nature, homeostasis. The real issues are not solved with power — political or financial — boasting or bullying, whining, complaining, or blaming. Over time, it all plays out and like kids on a seesaw, the issues go up and down, and one falls off until the other gets back on, and the game starts over.  We can do better than that.  Have homo sapiens learned nothing from our long history on the planet?”

–Linda Williams, Ormond Beach, a founder of the city’s Civil Discourse series, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Civil Discourse founder says with a plan, we can do better,” Tuesday, May 18, 2021

I enjoy reading the authentic thoughts of Linda Williams – a smart, engaged citizen who brought the Civil Discourse concept to Ormond Beach several years ago as a “…creative solution born out of my own search for a way through the chaos, anger and frustration of trying to influence livability issues in our community.”

In my view, she speaks the truth in a language that local pseudointellectuals like News-Journal editor Pat Rice and a few of our haughty elected officials try desperately to mimic in their quest to stifle bold discussion on social media and beyond in favor of their definition of go along to get along “civility” in government. 

We need more voices of reason and reconciliation in this time of bitter distrust and discontent – and those like Ms. Williams give hope that we are capable of something better – a place where citizens and public servants can seek understanding and work together in the public interest without being labeled an unsophisticated clodhopper or a Machiavellian meddler.   

I wish I had Ms. Williams capacity for graciousness and good manners, but I don’t. 

Unfortunately, I lack the intellect or disposition for “a new way of thinking” about solutions to the grievous dysfunction that has been foisted on us by forces most citizens cannot begin to understand – political machinations and selfish private profit motives that have reduced Volusia County to a cautionary tale.

And what happens when those we have elected to represent our interests stifle dialogue altogether and stop listening to their constituents?

For instance, during the recent free-for-all that was the debate over short-term rental regulations in Volusia County, certain council members were visibly miffed over the use of a well-produced video presentation by vacation rental proponents. 

Apparently, those stalwarts of the status quo did not like the idea of being spoken to without the ability to respond or provide input. . .

Sound familiar? 

Now, the Volusia County Council plans to discuss limiting the use of videos (which have become a staple of any boring staff presentation) by citizens and groups trying desperately to communicate with their vacuous, stone-faced elected officials on the dais of power.   

So, for good or ill, I will remain down here in this filthy slit trench that passes for the public discourse in this foul year 2021 – a lone voice in a very dark wilderness – whining, complaining, and blaming – holding that thin line between our collective quality of life and the self-serving motivations of those fortunate few with a chip in the game.

And Another Thing!

“Public confidence in County government has been slowly eroded by the steady flow of missteps, bullying, and legislative slight-of-hand that invariably benefits a privileged few while laying the financial burden squarely on the back of Volusia County residents.

As a result, we no longer assume Council decisions serve the common good.  Now, we instinctively ask ourselves the darker question, “who benefits?”

–Barker’s View, “Qui Bono?” January 2, 2016

The one certainty here on Florida’s Fun Coast is that no tax increase is ever dead.

This week, we saw the rotting claw-like hand of the Volusia County sales tax initiative begin its slow rise from the sandy loam in that musty graveyard where bad ideas are temporarily tamped down in their shallow graves – only to be resurrected when the moon is full – and attitudes softened with the lash of overdevelopment, threats of being forced to drink our own reclaimed sewage, and the inconvenience of near gridlocked traffic. . .    

In 2019, Volusia County voters overwhelmingly rejected the notion that the same bad actors on the dais of power should be given even more of our hard-earned money to shower on the same powerful special interests that fund their perennial runs for high office. 

It was the culmination of a match made in hell.

In June 2017, area residents learned that the mysterious Star Chamber of uber-wealthy insiders over at the CEO Business Alliance of Volusia County hired a Tallahassee-based research firm to gauge public support for a half-penny sales tax increase, ostensibly to be used to fund transportation and “other infrastructure” improvements.

The use of private funds in support of a public tax increase raised eyebrows. . . 

In turn, Volusia County government ramrodded a half-assed assessment by the municipalities, demanding they cobble together an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink wish list of transportation projects – bridges, roads, sidewalks, trails, intersections, traffic lights, spans, etc., etc. – anything they felt could benefit from Jane & John Q. Public’s acquiescence to their cheap demand for more, more, more tax dollars to be squandered on corporate welfare projects and lucrative government contracts that always seem to benefit all the right last names.

Fortunately, Volusia County residents saw this scheme for what it was and roundly rejected the idea following an expensive special election in the spring of 2019, when some 55% of voters sent a clear message to Volusia County government and its greedy handlers, “We prefer to keep our money in our pocket and out of yours, thank you.” 

Following the vote, in an article entitled “Volusia voters reject half-cent sales tax hike,” reporter Mark Harper wrote in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Voters who said no expressed a wide range of reasons for that lack of trust: Too much growth, charging developers too little in impact fees, the awarding of incentives to corporations including International Speedway Corp. and Brown & Brown, Inc., and the decision to hold a special election in May costing $490,000 rather than having it during a general election.”

What’s changed?

Any substantive talk on pursuing alternative revenue sources for things like beach management, reduction of daily tolls for Volusia County residents, or improved public access – how about logical cost saving initiatives, a reexamination of priorities, or strengthening environmental protections that do not begin and end with a cheap photo op?  

No?

Any clear understanding of what Volusia County, or the municipalities, plan to do with the millions-upon-millions of dollars being showered on them like manna from heaven in the form of federal CARES Act funds?

No?

Anyone heard even a whisper from our ‘powers that be’ of a temporary moratorium on residential planned unit developments until our already overburdened transportation infrastructure and water resources can be improved and protected?

No?

Has anyone noticed a willingness on the part of Volusia County’s Old Guard to work collaboratively with Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post to find common ground on the issues important to We, The Little People?

I didn’t think so. . . 

I don’t know about you, but all I see is more development – more greenspace, wetlands, and wildlife habitat being bulldozed into a mucky moonscape – while our elected and appointed officials wring their hands with faux concern over the starvation of manatees in the condemned Indian River Lagoon, ulcerated lesions on fish in the St. John’s River, and the ongoing pollution of our springs.

All while speculative developers pat themselves on the back for leaving thin “wildlife corridors” amongst the zero-lot-line cracker box palaces as they haul untold profits out of the pine scrub. 

Yet, the working theory remains that if we just give more money to the same people who got us into this fetid mess in the first place, everything is going to somehow work out for the best.   

Bullshit.   

Last Sunday, News-Journal editor Pat Rice explained to us rubes the futility of slowing the malignant sprawl in Volusia County in his piece, “Volusia needs to prepare for growth inevitably on its way.”

After detailing all the reasons people want to move to Volusia County – and why growth will never pay for itself – Mr. Rice reminded us of what we missed out on by rejecting the last shameless money grab:

“In 2019, voters said no to a proposed half-cent sales tax that would have paid for the infrastructure needs in the county and its cities. The tax — an estimated $42 million a year — would have helped cover not just new infrastructure but old infrastructure that needs replacement or repair.”

Then, Mr. Rice figuratively placed a flashlight under his chin and laid the frightening groundwork for the next push for a sales tax increase we all know is coming:

“The bottom line: We need a plan to get ahead of the new growth headed our way, and to ensure that new growth doesn’t destroy everyone’s quality of life. That plan will almost certainly require additional revenue.”

“Otherwise, we’re going to look like Orlando, and soon.”

Perhaps it is time to remind those “very important people” who are currently meeting behind the scenes, working hard to formulate another bite at the sales tax apple, that the same reasons their plan has been repeatedly rejected remain true today.

It is time they realize that those of us who have invested, struggled, and made our lives here will not be coerced by their crude attempts to punish us into submission with even more sprawl.

It was true in 2019 – and it remains so today:  There is some shit we won’t eat.

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

Enemies of the State

Members of a free society abhor the idea of alienation and estrangement – defined as the experience of being separated or held out from a group or activity in which one should be involved by virtue of a perceived physical or ideological difference.

In fact, our national motto – E Pluribus Unum “From many, one” – speaks to the notion of unity, a shared identity, our unique ability to come together, regardless of our disagreements and dissimilarities, and be a contributing part of something exceptional. 

The idea that we are all equal under the law – the bedrock of our democracy.

Because when powerful people begin singling out those they see as lesser – labeling those who think, act, worship, or look different from them or vehemently disagree with public policy – bad things happen. 

As recent history teaches there is a fine line between a functioning symbiotic society governed by a representative democracy and an autocratic dictatorship founded on fear and divisiveness, where the rule of law is ultimately replaced by diktats of powerful bureaucrats, and an “Us vs. Them” mentality sets in – both in the streets and the gilded Halls of Power.  

Sound familiar?

For the past several years, I have brooded on the increasingly insular nature of local government – a strange phenomenon marked by a growing disconnect and distrust between our elected and appointed officials and those they serve.

As a former career civil servant turned dilettante political analyst, I frequently observe elected officials – good men and women who run for high office on a promise of changing the status quo and returning responsive government – then become everything they hated once they are taken into the maw of a self-serving bureaucracy.   

That personal and political transilience happens more rapidly than one might think.   

Once fawned over by career staff, wealthy insiders, and hangers-on who laugh at their jokes – the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker quickly become convinced of their own infallibility – and secretly become addicted to the fact people are forced to listen as they drone on during the policymaking process.

Over time, these malleable nitwits become confident they are the smartest person in any room.   

This near constant ego massage, coupled with the innate fear of losing the prestige and perquisites of their haughty position, breeds a weird political paranoia – especially when those citizens whose concerns they once championed turn angry and sullen, crowding the chamber, demanding access, and input in a process our High & Mighty are now convinced is the exclusive domain of the ruling class.

In turn, any semblance of “public participation” becomes a sham – where our superiors stare into space, gripped by some egomaniacal catatonia – refusing to even acknowledge the presence of their constituents – as concerned citizens try desperately to make themselves understood. 

Some dismiss me and this blogsite as the ravings of a bloviating blowhard who always sees the dark side of any civic issue – a demented, half-drunk Henny Penney with a chip on my shoulder – and perhaps that is true.

But the fact is – I don’t make this shit up.

And the growing evidence of this incredibly divisive, circle the wagons, mindset in major local governments keeps my eyes open and my ear to the track. 

For instance, this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a disturbing report on the City of Palm Coast’s despicable practice of placing persons they arbitrarily label “difficult citizens” on a secret list maintained by senior administrators at City Hall. 

You read that right. 

Perhaps most sinister, those who are pigeon-holed as undesirables – the modern equivalent of an Untermensch, who, in Nazi Germany, referred to those held out as inferior, even subhuman – are never told they have been officially registered as “difficult.”

Frightening.

No explanation. 

No due process.

And no means of mitigating the damage to their character and reputation in the community. 

Let that sink in for a moment. . . 

I find it unfathomable that the administration of a modern municipality of some 90,000 residents met in a backroom in the bowels of Palm Coast City Hall and determined it was right and proper to establish and maintain a list of 24 taxpaying “difficult citizens” – whose transgressions range from verbal spats with code enforcement officers to throwing a “spear-like object” at a city truck – a mysterious official register that even some of the city’s elected officials were unaware of.

In fact, Council member Ed Danko (who is no stranger to controversy) was left wondering if he was on “The List” as well. . .    

Apparently, the criteria for being labeled a “difficult citizen” consists of little more than being nominated by a city employee or official following a problematic contact or an open challenge to municipal authority – information, much of which is non-criminal in nature, is then compiled and forwarded to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office for reasons that are not completely clear. 

You see, the scope of Palm Coast’s domestic intelligence gathering operation against its citizens remains murky – and no one knows to what extent those appearing on the list are subject to surveillance, monitoring, or disparate treatment – because the cowardly City Manager Matt Morton refused to answer questions from the working press – referring that uncomfortable task to his mouthpiece, city spokeswoman Brittany Kershaw.

According to Kershaw’s practiced backspin:

“It’s two-fold. It’s a way to protect the city staff from walking into an area where there might be someone who doesn’t want other people on their property and has either threatened city staff in the past or has done something that caused concern.  It’s also a way to protect the employee and also it’s a way to respect our residents if they don’t want us on their property.”

My ass.

Trust me, Ms. Kershaw – this has nothing to do with respect for your residents and everything to do with imparting fear and intimidation in anyone who may challenge the reach and power of Palm Coast government. 

Although we are told “The List” was started under former City Manager Jim Landon in 2016 – the practice was clearly approved and continued under Mr. Morton’s tyrannical reign. 

Look, don’t take my word for it – read for yourself the copious news reports of how whistleblowers and internal critics have their careers destroyed and lives turned upside down by Mr. Morton’s wrath.

But this is different – because it involves average citizens like you and I who happen to run afoul of a government run amok.

As Orlando constitutional attorney Howard Marks stated in an interview with the News-Journal:

“No due process, no way to challenge and potentially defames citizens and sets up a procedure where they are treated differently than other citizens.  If it is a public record, which it is, this can be published to all citizens and creates a situation where the people on the list can be treated as second-class citizens with less rights than other citizens.”

While we cannot know if the media’s discovery of this foul practice weighed into the recent decision by Palm Coast Mayor Melissa Holland to abruptly resign her position – it should have.

By any metric, this appalling practice is indefensible, corrosive, and wrong. 

In my view, Mr. Morton – and any other municipal administrator who participated in or condoned this pernicious classification system – should follow Ms. Holland’s lead and resign immediately – or face termination.

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal