Angels & Assholes for April 9, 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 Beach News-Journal Editor Pat Rice 

Sometimes I wonder if Pat Rice and I live in the same community?

The divergence of our viewpoints on the issues of the day could not be more contradictory – and his editorials and stewardship of our hometown newspaper seem increasingly tailored to bore his readership into a pap and fluff coma – rather than educate and inform.    

For instance, does anyone give two-shits about a “Naked Cowboy” bobblehead doll? 

Me neither.   

But despite our thirst for hard news on the myriad issues we face here on the Fun Coast, earlier this week, Mr. Rice chose to devote the bulk of the News-Journals frontpage (and damn near half of 2A) to shamelessly marketing the nodding likeness of a street busker who heaped vile abuse on a Daytona Beach police officer following a misdemeanor arrest during Bike Week. 

Whatever. 

As the regionalization (and “dumbing down”) of our hometown newspaper continues, what passes for “local journalism” is often a reworked press release from Palm Beach County fashioned into an outdated article that has gone completely stale by the time it reaches our driveway, or worse, a haughty lecture from the editorial board on the social issue du jour.   

It is not the depth of the newsroom – The Daytona Beach News-Journal is blessed with some of the best reporters, columnists, and investigative journalists in the business – but the constant experimentation and endless changeups as Gannett executives attempt to keep their product relevant demonstrates an annoying desperation that is turning many readers away. 

And some of Mr. Rice’s editorial positions simply defy logic. 

For instance, last Sunday, Mr. Rice took a weird stance on the innumerable – and almost fatal – leadership, financial, and administrative issues that continue to plague Bethune-Cookman University when he pooh-poohed the significant contributions of former president Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite, all while heaping praise on the University’s perennially dysfunctional Board of Trustees.

Why?  Apparently, Dr. Chrite didn’t return Mr. Rice’s phone call. . .  

Instead, Chairman Belvin Perry, along with several members of B-CU’s board, gave Mr. Rice a three-hour audience – little more than an off-the-record ego massage that most journalists worth their salt would have recognized for what it was – a not for publication tête-à-tête that may have buoyed Mr. Rice’s self-image, but neutered any substantive inquiry, and left our newspaper’s chief editor with nothing to report beyond the impressive résumés of current board members.  

Well played, Chairman Perry.  Well played.

Clearly, Dr. Chrite’s abrupt departure for Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, arguably the most prestigious business school in the nation, was met by shock and disappointment as the reality of the situation stunned B-CU students and alumni. 

Last month, an informative piece by the Daytona Times quoted B-CU National Alumni President Johnny McCrae, Jr.:

“I do think the board ran him out.  I think the board is responsible for this.  There is a rift.  I have some issues with the role of the board which needs to be addressed.  Chrite’s leaving shows a lack of stability in the Board’s leadership.”

Did Mr. Rice bother to speak to those most affected by Dr. Chrite’s departure before advising “critics of B-CU’s board” to ignore their experiential instincts and support more of the same? 

In my view, the instability and upheaval at Bethune-Cookman University is real – and it is detrimental to the fragile viability of this important institution. 

The fact is, Bethune-Cookman University remains in a very precarious position – just months out of an imminent shroud crafted from greed and maladministration – something many in the administration worked hard to reverse.

The departure of a professional administrator of Dr. Chrite’s international acclaim, someone who righted a leaky ship in very turbulent waters – does nothing to instill confidence in potential donors, creditors, students, or staff – and all the puff pieces and soft-soap Mr. Rice can churn out is not going to change that.   

Only strong, committed, and ethical leadership can turn things around.   

Look, taking contrary opinions for the sake of being contrary is my gig.

Fair and balanced reporting on the important issues of the day and forming an editorial stance based upon the factual totality of the circumstances – rather than bruised egos – is the business of The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

At least it should be.  

Asshole           Volusia County Council

On April 29, National Football League franchises will gather in Cleveland to select newly eligible players for the 2021 NFL season.

My hope is that owners will consider members of the Volusia County Council as key prospects for kicker positions. 

Given their propensity for expertly punting important issues down the political playing field – in my view, these craven do-nothings are prime draft picks. . .

On Tuesday, many watched in slack-jawed amazement as Chairman Jeff Brower asked his “colleagues” to consider begging their woefully overworked and underpaid senior staff to pull together information regarding the possibility of selling naming rights and sponsorships for beach approaches as a potential revenue source.

Understand, Mr. Brower put no date certain on his innovative suggestion – which brings with it the possibility of reducing the burden on residents for beach management costs by an estimated $1 million – merely a request to get things moving in an exploratory fashion.   

Unfortunately, that was too much to ask of their exhausted senior staff – who are apparently physically and mentally drained from rearranging PowerPoint presentations and speaking in circles. . .

When Chairman Brower brought the item for discussion, he was immediately met with the foot-dragging excuses that typically result in good ideas and unconventional solutions being lost in the bureaucratic ether, only to return months/years later in a form or function that bears no resemblance to the original thought. 

Disappointingly, Councilman Ben Johnson said that, while he was not opposed to discussing the issue, he wanted it postponed until after the new budget takes effect – a delaying tactic that was quicky advanced by Councilwoman Billie Wheeler – who mewled about how overburdened everyone is, you know, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and all. . .

My ass.

In response, Councilwoman Heather Post asked the logical question, “We’ve been in COVID for well over a year now.  Who knows how long COVID is going to last, so does that mean that we don’t look at county government issues until that passes?”

In addition, Councilman Johnson noted that he is a fan of “user fees” – like the exorbitant $20 daily toll Volusia County residents currently pay for vehicular access to their public beach – except, in this case, Volusia County also dips into our general fund to supplement the grotesquely distended beach management budget – to the tune of some $9.6 million for the current fiscal year alone. 

In my view, I don’t think Volusia County residents should have to pay to use our beach.

But if so – then direct our wholly inept Coastal Division Czar Jessica Winterwerp to start cutting expenses and downsizing operations so John & Jane Q. Public are not taxed twice for a day at the beach. . . 

When Ms. Post moved to have staff compile information on naming rights at their leisure (God forbid there be any stress applied to our six-figure big shot bureaucrats) her motion was met with the eerie sound of chirping crickets, which resulted in Chairman Brower politely appealing to Mr. Johnson, asking if he would move to bring the issue back in the fall. 

Ultimately, the stonewalling Billie Wheeler floated a motion to bring back the idea sometime after October 1 – a move that had the desired effect of killing any further mention of something potentially beneficial to their constituents – a dilatory maneuver which, of course, received unanimous support. 

In the end, Councilman Lowrey took a cheap shot at Chairman Brower – chastising him for “pressuring” Mr. Johnson into making an alternative motion – then arrogantly demanding that Brower never do the same to him. 

Bullshit.

It is time Rev. Lowrey realizes that no one expects anything of substance from him anymore – and it is apparent that his passive hostility toward Chairman Brower is clearly choreographed for effect.   

Until the new Chair was elected – Councilman Lowrey suffered a debilitating form of political mutism that rendered him a wholly ineffectual non-entity on the council – and I hope his constituents recognize that his latest feigned parliamentary expertise is just another brazen attempt to publicly humiliate and marginalize Mr. Brower for having the boldness to challenge the status quo. 

Since taking office in January, Chairman Brower has championed the purchase and preservation of environmentally sensitive land along The Loop, Ormond Beach’s scenic byway, singlehandedly drug the languishing issue of short-term rentals to the forefront, spoke passionately on water quality and development issues, met with the owners of Hard Rock Daytona to discuss beach access issues – to include voicing his support for opening beach driving from the Boardwalk to East ISB – and advocated to increase the number of admission tickets which will allow family members to attend high school graduation ceremonies.  

Too much, too soon?  Maybe. 

But Chairman Brower’s enthusiasm and impressive work ethic is encouraging – a refreshing change to the slogging dysfunction and stagnation that have plagued this elective body for decades.    

My hope is that Volusia County voters will remember these craven obstructionists – obstinate timewasters who oppose or prolong any initiative that may bring positive change to an atrophied system where mediocrity thrives – and jettison these shameless shirkers in favor of true servant-leaders with a willingness to bring innovation and originality to the intractable issues we face.   

Angel               Deltona’s Brandy Lee White

“He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

–Abraham Lincoln

I’m sure Brandy Lee White has heard Abe’s little ditty a few times this week.  

A few days ago it was reported that the strong-willed Deltona civic activist who has worked tirelessly to bring substantive change to the fumbling and bumbling method of governance in her community, filed a lawsuit following the crucible of fire she and her family were forced to endure in 2018.

In the highly publicized case, Ms. White was criminally accused by Deltona’s former City Manager Jane Shang and Finance Director Tracy Hooper of using her cellular phone to “surreptitiously” record a brief meeting with Hooper in a public area of City Hall.

According to Ms. White, the charge was filed to silence her constitutionally protected civic involvement – and she accuses the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office of being manipulated by Shang in her apparent pursuit of intimidating and retaliating against Ms. White. 

As a result, Ms. White experienced the horror of being wrongfully accused of a felony crime – a life-altering event – a traumatic psychological blow resulting from the stigma, shame, adverse personal and professional impacts, and a loss of standing in the community – not to mention the fear, frustration and disorientation that comes as the case slowly winds its way through the byzantine system.

Fortunately, our outstanding State Attorney R. J. Larizza – who is often required to call balls and strikes at the nexus of petty politics and criminal accusations – rightfully declined to prosecute Ms. White.

In my view, the pathetic ‘powers that be’ in the inner sanctum of Deltona City Hall did not like Ms. White – so they set about to destroy her – using the full might of the criminal justice system to silence her. 

If that doesn’t send a shiver up your spine, it should. . .    

And, inexplicably, Deltona’s elected officials refuse to take the matter to task and make things right.   

After several failed attempts to reach an amicable agreement with city officials to mitigate her harrowing experience and bring positive change to the way citizens are treated by their elected and appointed officials, this week, Ms. White filed a lawsuit “pro se” – meaning “on one’s own behalf” – without benefit of a lawyer.

The rambling suit names just about everyone who was anyone in Deltona City Hall in April 2018. 

There is an ancient adage that says, “He who goes to the law takes a wolf by the ears,” and, unfortunately, I fear when the City’s highly paid legal staff get Ms. White in a courtroom it will not be pretty as they further embarrass, humiliate, and consume her like a lamb in a lion cage.

Look, one should not attempt to remove their own diseased appendix for the same reason they should not represent themselves in a court of law.

Ms. White clearly has pluck. 

I wish her well. 

My sincere hope is that the City of Deltona will tell their incredibly expensive attorneys to retract their fangs and detach themselves from the public teat, stop victimizing a civically active resident, and reach a reasonable agreement with Brandy White – one that recognizes and compensates the permanent and irreversible harm she has endured – then develop strong protections so that no citizen who attempts to participate in their government is forced to endure such a vengeful and spiteful attack in the future.        

Quote of the Week

“If you could only address one issue during your first year as chair, which issue would it be?

The biggest issue that Volusia County faces now and certainly in the future is water quality and water quantity. The problem is when you just focus on that one thing, it encompasses so much more because of the way we develop. Every new home that is hooked up to water is reducing the amount of water and we really do have a problem that the aquifer is not keeping up now with the amount of water that we have.”

–Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower, as quoted in an interview with the Ormond Beach Observer, “Q+A with Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower: beach driving, the Loop and water quality,” Thursday, April 1, 2021

And Another Thing!

In years past, if someone said to me, “Did you hear Holly Hill is hosting a prestigious International sports tournament this week?” I would have assumed they were the victim of a closed head injury and called an ambulance. . .

But “The City with a Heart” is doing just that!

This week, Pictona and the City of Holly Hill is proudly hosting The Humana-Island Doctors Bainbridge Cup, described as “pickleball’s foremost international event.” 

This year’s competition has drawn some 500 competitors, including 65 local entrants, and represents the first time the Bainbridge Cup tournament has been played in the United States.

This major event is sanctioned by the International Federation of Pickleball, who touts the $6 million Pictona complex “…as the finest pickleball facility in the world with 24 lighted courts, 8 covered courts, championship courts, a clubhouse and an onsite restaurant.”

In my view, Pictona is the most exciting addition to the Halifax area in decades. 

Kudos to everyone involved for bringing this high-status sporting event to Holly Hill!

The tournament, which is free and open to spectators practicing COVID-19 safety protocols, continues through Sunday with competitive play beginning at 8:00am each day.    

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

The Cult of Mediocrity

The old saying “If I knew then what I know now” speaks to the universal themes of wisdom and regret, perils and pitfalls, the consequences of our choices, hard lessons learned. 

It is an age-old lament that has been translated into every language in the world and muttered by all people of a certain age as both an affirmation of the benefits of hindsight and retrospection – and a warning to those behind them on the trail of life.    

The process of gaining knowledge through experiential learning is painful – and dreadfully expensive – and the often-embarrassing nature of learning from our mistakes keeps some from admitting their fallibility or changing course, because doing so would break with homogenized lockstep conformity, knowing the best way to camouflage oneself is to stick with the herd.

We see this a lot in local government – especially in the molasses-like quagmire that is Volusia County – where a firmly rooted status quo moves at a glacial pace and things of substance often wither and die of age and neglect. 

As District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post learned during her first term, “mavericks” – freethinkers who dare to consider solutions outside the aging box of conventionality – are not welcome in the inner sanctum at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building.

That is the domain of those who understand the benefit of getting along and going along.

A place where toeing the line buys politicians admittance to a very exclusive club – and wraps them in the welcoming blanket of political patronage provided by powerful insiders with the wherewithal to influence elections – and public policy.

For nearly four years, her long-suffering constituents watched as Ms. Post was beaten like a borrowed mule by her “colleagues” on the dais of power – openly maligned, marginalized, and discredited personally and professionally – as Volusia’s ‘Old Guard’ attempted to pound a square peg into the round hole of conformity. 

The melodramatic eyerolling and histrionics on display whenever Ms. Post would attempt to move an issue forward – or, God forbid, question a member of senior staff – was ugly and painful.

Perhaps more important, the open obstructionism and ostracism of Councilwoman Post by perennial elected officials – political retreads who had long overstayed their effectiveness – denied the residents of District 4 the equal and effective representation they voted for and deserve. 

This political shunning – the physical and emotional rejection of a duly elected member of the Volusia County Council as a means of modifying behavior, limiting influence, and forcing allegiance to the status quo – is now being wielded against Council Chair Jeff Brower. 

On Tuesday, Chairman Brower attempted to discuss an innovative idea to sell naming rights and sponsorships of beach approaches as an alternative revenue source – one that would reduce the burden of beach management on taxpayers – possibly leading to the elimination of onerous beach access tolls for Volusia County residents. 

Almost immediately, Mr. Brower’s request was met with the foot-dragging excuses that typically result in good ideas and unconventional solutions being lost in the bureaucratic ether, only to return months/years later in a form or function that bears no resemblance to the original thought. 

Disappointingly, Councilman Ben Johnson said that, while he was not opposed to discussing the issue, he wanted it postponed until after the new budget takes effect (why would anyone delay discussion of something that could have a positive impact on the budget?) – a delaying tactic that was quicky advanced by the stonewalling Councilwoman Billie Wheeler – who mewled about how overworked senior staff is, you know, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and all (read: counting and stacking the $225+ million in federal CARES Act largesse).

And, once again, a good idea – one which held the potential of true and lasting benefit to the people of Volusia County – was kicked down the dusty political trail. . .

If you are interested, I discuss Tuesday’s public pillorying of Chairman Brower in tomorrow’s Angels & Assholes column (because, in my jaded opinion, this embarrassing episode surely represents the height of political assholery). 

On April 27, Chairman Brower will present the State of the County Address – billed as “…an annual opportunity for the County Council to celebrate partnerships, reflect on the accomplishments of the previous year and outline the County’s future goals” – which, in years past, has been little more than a toffee-nosed klatch of our civic and social elite.

My sincere hope is that – rather than regurgitate a laundry list of pseudo-accomplishments as claimed by those do-nothings at Team Volusia or the mysterious CEO Business Alliance – Mr. Brower will use this opportunity to shine a very bright light on the dysfunction, sloth-like foot dragging, and obstructionist mentality of the political in-crowd that has resulted in economic and civic stagnation. 

Now that Chairman Jeff Brower knows what many of his constituents have known for years, it is time this cult of mediocrity be publicly exposed for what it is. 

Free Money?

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council will reflexively pass the 56th extension of the State of Local Emergency related to the Coronavirus pandemic. 

And, if history repeats, it will accept another massive infusion of federal funds under the ever-expanding COVID-19 response and relief umbrella. . . 

The local emergency declaration was originally passed in March 2020 and gave extraordinary powers to County Manager George Recktenwald and then Chairman Ed Kelley to make unilateral decisions in the early days of the public health emergency. 

Let’s just say our tried-and-true emergency management protocols did not work as planned. 

In fact, the wheel came off the proverbial cart when some council members felt their contributions were being overshadowed – resulting in contradictory social media statements and stilted press conferences – punctuated by hysterical manifestos by a few elected officials demanding the immediate closure of all parks, beaches, recreation facilities – and urging “shutting down businesses completely for two-weeks. . .”

The fact is it would be unthinkable for a politician to let a good crisis go to waste without an opportunity to grandstand – an operational certainty during any emergency – which resulted in spit-spats and finger pointing as “colleagues” began calling each other out for failing to act with sufficient panic-stricken overreach.

Historians will write tomes about the abject buffoonery, one-upmanship, and political cowardice that marked the early days of the pandemic.

I lost interest in the State of Local Emergency about the 14th extension. 

How about you?  Was it the 5th or the 35th?

Regardless, the concept is now meaningless – nobody cares anymore – except those number crunchers in the bowels of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building who shovel the enormous influx of federal funds into the gaping maw of this outsized bureaucracy. 

Last year, the federal government allocated $96.5 million in CARES Act funds to Volusia County. 

Of that, some $21 million went to Daytona “International” Airport, while $15 million was doled out to the municipalities.  By December 2020, it was reported that “…$19 million has been spent on rental and mortgage assistance and about $1.6 million has been approved and will soon go out.”

In my view, things took a weird turn when Volusia County announced it would be spending CARES Act funds to renovate the former New Smyrna Beach Courthouse Annex – something described by Facilities Director Jim Corbett as the “fastest-moving project” he had ever seen. 

Oddly, the original cost of the contract mushroomed from $377,464 to a whopping $996,170 – with County Manager Recktenwald explaining that change orders are normally spread over the course of a job, but this time, the elected officials were getting them all at once.

Say what?

How can a contractor anticipate change orders before the first nail has been driven?    

When several sitting councilmembers questioned the massive price hike – they were mollycoddled into acquiescence with the bureaucratic lullaby, “unforeseen site conditions and upgrading the facility to current Florida building codes, yada, yada, yada. . .”

Why the rush? 

Because the use of federal CARES Act funds required that permits be in hand no later than the last day of 2020. 

Is it just me, or does anyone else think renovating a county-owned building using federal funds earmarked for a public health crisis is contrary to the programmatic goals of pathogen control and community economic recovery?

Trust me – the questions surrounding how the tsunami of federal relief dollars is being acquired and spent isn’t limited to county government. 

Last week, Mark Harper wrote an interesting piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled “Who got federal PPP loans? Were they needed?”

In an interesting quote from our High Panjandrum of Political Power, we got a brief glimpse into the mindset of some local companies in the early days of the crisis:

“Mori Hosseini, president of ICI Homes, acknowledged that home builders ended up doing well in Florida in 2020. But he said that trend wasn’t clear in the first months after the pandemic hit a little more than a year ago and business for everyone slowed for a time.

“The year ended up being pretty good, but we didn’t know (when the pandemic first hit),” Hosseini told The News-Journal on Friday. “Many, many companies immediately laid off people. We decided not to lay off anybody. The culture of our company, we didn’t let people go. So when the opportunity came (for PPP funds), we grabbed it.”

Hosseini also pointed out that his Daytona Beach-based company, which builds homes across Florida, pays millions of dollars in taxes every year.”

This phenomenon of “grabbing” federal funds before demonstrating a need is clearly not limited to the private sector. 

In the late 1990’s I saw local governments across the state of Florida engage in a kleptocratic feeding frenzy when the tobacco settlement showered millions of dollars on dubious youth smoking enforcement and prevention programs – funds that paid for totally unrelated public programs and projects, and supplemented overtime payments for police officers who drove around aimlessly trying to catch Little Johnny Jones puffing a Marlboro behind the corn crib. . .  

There is a unique dynamic that occurs whenever our government fills a trough with cash – then removes the normal checks and balances that deter waste, fraud, and abuse – almost a mob mentality where rules and mores no longer apply.   

Having studied crowd control theories during my professional life, I can tell you that in the early life cycle of a mob – the members lose their sense of individuality and humanity – and become susceptible to emotion, fearmongering, and suggestion as the “collective mind” takes over.

Do the same motivations and psychological drivers apply to government and industries who, by all indicators, not just survived the pandemic but thrived during the economic downturn?  

According to Mr. Harper’s informative report, “…some 343 building and construction firms in Volusia and Flagler counties received $23 million in PPP loans to help support just over 2,000 jobs.”

Yet, “…across Florida, building permits were up 30% in 2020 over the previous year,” and “…new home sales across Florida were up more than 20% over 2019. And 483 real-estate industry firms in Volusia and Flagler counties were recipients of PPP loans totaling about $15 million to support nearly 1,600 workers.”

Wow.

Nothing about this corporate gluttony made sense to me, then I read on a construction industry website an explanatory article on forgivable PPP “loans” that began, “It’s not as good a deal as free money, but it’s pretty close. . .”

Like I said, this week the Volusia County Council will do two things of substance – both of which will go virtually unnoticed by those who have become desensitized through repetition:

Our elected officials will vote to accept some $2,741,015 in grant funds under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act – specifically earmarked “…for costs related to operations, personnel, cleaning, sanitization, janitorial services, combating the spread of pathogens at the airport, and debt service payments,” essentially anything that can be remotely correlated to combating the spread of COVID-19 at Daytona “International” Airport.

Then, they will approve the 56th extension of the State of Local Emergency.

With millions of dollars in “free money” being lavished on local governments, many of which have seen little, if any, loss of revenue – and area businesses finding it impossible to hire employees now that individual “stimulus” checks, eviction prohibitions, and assistance programs are flowing freely – many are contemplating the long-term impacts this massive federal largesse will have on all levels of our economy.

If history repeats, I suspect the gorge-until-the-teat-goes-dry mindset will hold until the damage becomes too great to ignore.   

God help us.

Angels & Assholes for April 2, 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.

It will soon be time to start traveling again. Summer vacations and weekend getaways – things we could only dream about this time last year.

We all need some time away – a fresh perspective that comes from a change of scenery – a chance to see what other communities are doing to put their best face forward. 

Last week, my wife and I joined dear friends on a road trip to South Carolina’s enchanted Lowcountry – essentially the coastal and cultural region which encompasses the beautiful marshlands and sea islands – a place of moss draped live oaks, canopied byways, and the ever-present aroma of saltwater and pluff mud, all framed by brilliant azaleas and camellias ablaze with spring color. 

I have loved Charleston since I first laid eyes on her – the Holy City – with its charming colonial architecture, church steeples, picturesque alleyways, vibrant arts and entertainment, upscale shopping, and incredibly diverse culture, punctuated by a flourishing food scene that rivals New Orleans. 

Or Paris, for that matter.

From the beautiful antebellum mansions and old money opulence South of Broad, to its historic French Quarter and beautifully lush gardens, flickering gas lamps and carriage houses, the City of Charleston puts its rich history on full display – the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all.

On a daytrip to the historic waterfront community of Georgetown, about an hour north of Charleston on Highway 17, we experienced a vibrant downtown, punctuated with eclectic shops and funky restaurants, which the Chamber of Commerce is proud to note are almost exclusively owned and operated by local residents. 

Following a tour of beautiful Pawley’s Island with its weathered ‘arrogantly shabby’ beachfront cottages and narrow treelined streets, on a whim, we turned north on the coast road for the short drive to the bustling tourist mecca of Myrtle Beach on The Grand Strand.

After stopping at The Bowery – a wooden beachfront honky-tonk best known for giving the supergroup “Alabama” their start – we sipped rum drinks on the boardwalk and watched the throngs of tourists, volleyball players, and beachgoers do their thing just off the traffic packed boulevard. 

I really enjoyed the feel of Myrtle Beach – lively, bustling, ‘touristy’ in an old-fashioned way, packed with a diverse group of families, bikers, and young people. 

Does it have issues similar to east Volusia?  Sure. 

But I found it an old school destination that never gave up its identity or inherent charm – a place that truly lives up to its marketing slogan: “Where happiness comes in waves.”

Upon returning to the Charleston area, we took the drive out to Folly Beach, southeast of the picturesque Ashley River, for an incredible oyster roast at Bowen’s Island – self-described as “…an aging pile of cinder blocks and boards held up by layers of graffiti” – a 70+ year old restaurant in name only that steams enormous clusters of fresh local oysters in a small inner-sanctum under the building – briny bivalves best washed down with copious amounts of ice-cold Hamm’s beer.

As one food writer so aptly put it, “Bowen’s Island isn’t a restaurant, it’s a state of mind. . .”

If you are looking for a spring getaway, consider taking the drive north to Charleston and immerse yourself in the extraordinary history and culture of one of the most unique cities in the world. 

You’ll be glad you did.

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

Asshole           Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry

Let this serve as a cautionary tale to any local business owner, resident, or investor who gets caught up in the momentary hype and attempts to provide substantive input on how to improve our blight-ridden beachside. . .

In my view, when it comes to tyrannical diktats and despotic decrees, few local “leaders” can match the consistent authoritarian overreach – or base stupidity – of Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry. 

If there is one thing a tin-pot tyrant like Mayor Henry knows it is how to get his name in the newspaper by taking wildly controversial positions – especially when those views prove detrimental, even fatal, to Daytona Beach businesses who are struggling mightily to emerge from the economic devastation left by the pandemic – an almost hour-to-hour fight to keep their doors open and support the families who rely on them.

Of course, Hizzoner always wraps himself, and his goofy dictates, in the thin cloak of “safety” – easy insulation for someone who has not missed a paycheck during this entire ordeal and knows that he won’t – so long as the spigot of public funds remains patent. 

During his closing remarks at a recent City Commission meeting, Mayor Henry figuratively lit his Calabash pipe, donned the deerstalker of an expert criminologist, and stunned many with his asinine pontification that the city’s extended 3:00am bar closing for permitted establishments should be rolled back to 2:00am as a means of curbing crime (?).

In an excellent heads-up by Eileen Zaffiro-Keen writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, we read a cogent quote from Rick Kitt, a local entrepreneur who owns three establishments along the horribly neglected Seabreeze Boulevard:

“Anything that takes money out of people’s pockets is not a good idea,” said Kitt, who owns Daytona Tap Room, the Axe & Grog Pub, and Evolved Vegan Kitchen. “With COVID everyone’s struggling. Why put more people out of business? They’re supposed to support us.”

Why indeed? 

Last month, Seabreeze Boulevard business owners (no doubt regrettably) joined residents in a wide-ranging discussion of what could be done to improve the area. 

The meeting followed a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence when the new owners of the Plaza Resort joined Hotel/Motel Association president Bob Davis and Mayor Henry on a walking tour of the area – a stroll that left some local merchants claiming it was the first time they had ever laid eyes on the city’s Mayor. . .  

During the subsequent “brainstorming” session, numerous suggestions were floated – including establishing an arts district with murals and functional sculptures, placemaking signage designating Seabreeze an entertainment zone, increased security and trash pickup, beautifying facades to spruce up the area, even a shuttle service to improve transportation for residents and visitors. 

Apparently, one resident suggested closing the bars earlier so people can “feel safe” on Seabreeze Boulevard. . .

Guess what stuck with “Il Duce”?

Perhaps now local merchants and entrepreneurs will finally understand why it is best to keep Mayor Henry and his business crushing “economic development” types in City Hall at arm’s length.

Let this be a lesson.   

If history has proven anything, it is once Mayor Henry sets his sights on your business – bad things are going to happen – unless you are an uber-wealthy insider with the wherewithal to underwrite his political campaigns coupled with a willingness to ignore his ham-fisted fumbling on the dais of power – then, the world is your oyster. . .     

In Mayor Henry’s world, nothing can be given unless something of equal or greater value is taken away – a repressive give-and-take that instills fear and limits opposition. 

It is called control.

Still want to get involved?

I didn’t think so. . .

Don’t take my word for it, ask most Main Street area businesses how things have worked out for them under “Il Duce’s” regime – or speak with any potential investor who has jumped through the myriad hoops and hurdles that are forcing small business start-ups to neighboring communities – then ask yourself how much longer the voters of Daytona Beach will allow this tyrannical hack to drive our core tourist area into the toilet?

Angel               Daytona Beach City Manager Deric C. Feacher

Thanks for holding firm, Mr. Feacher! 

While other finalists for the Daytona Beach City Manager search turned-tail and ran for the hills when they got their first look at what passes for “governance” here – Deric Feacher ignored his physiological fight-or-flight response and stuck with us when others did not.

Thanks to his fearless tenacity (or lack of a pain avoidance instinct?) Mr. Feacher was appointed to the top post following a marathon meeting last weekend.

As I wrote earlier in the week, at the end of an awfully long day – which included an eleventh-hour attempt by Quanita “Call me Commissioner!” May to wipe the slate clean and start over again – a discombobulated round-robin discussion led by Mayor Derrick Henry resulted in the selection of Mr. Feacher, 44, who serves as the current manager of Haines City, a community of 26,000 near Winter Haven.

Commissioner May cast the lone vote against Mr. Feacher.  I assume because several civically engaged residents spoke in his favor. . .

Whatever.

Now, all that remains is for Daytona Beach City Attorney Robert Jagger and City Commissioner Aaron Delgado to negotiate an amicable contract with Feacher to be discussed and approved by the full commission in coming weeks.

Many in the community are worried that the Jagger/Delgado legal tag team will gift Mr. Feacher with an ironclad contract that will make it nearly impossible (if not prohibitively expensive) to unseat him should the need arise – but I know Mr. Delgado is a smart guy who will ensure things are fair and reasonable for all involved – including the long-suffering residents of Daytona Beach.   

This one’s important – because as the City of Daytona Beach goes – so goes the rest of the Halifax area, and given the harsh financial wallop of the pandemic, and the heavy yoke of the most anti-business local government in memory, we desperately need someone with an open-door and enthusiastic vision for our future.  

Look, I don’t know about you, but I am relieved this godawful selection process is behind us – and we all deserve a reason for optimism. 

I hope you will join me in welcoming Mr. Feacher back to our community (he is a graduate of Bethune-Cookman University) and let’s give this good man an honest chance to prove his worth, get a handle on the formidable challenges we face, and help build a bright future for the World’s Most Famous Beach!

Angel               Central Baptist Church & The Florida National Guard

A few weeks ago, a dear friend reached out and gave me a hot tip. 

Word was that Central Baptist Church in Daytona Beach was hosting a COVID-19 vaccination site that weekend.

Miraculously, there were appointments available – and my age group had finally become eligible. 

So, without much hope of success, (after all, I’m a lapsed Episcopalian, not a Baptist, and certainly not a member of Central) I thought, it won’t hurt to call the church for details.   

Much to my surprise, the helpful lady who answered the phone immediately signed me up – and while she could not tell me what flavor of vaccine would be available on the day – she assured me that if I appeared at the appointed time, I would receive a jab. 

Considering the hell and high water I went through to get my 86-year-old mother the two Moderna inoculations at the Volusia County Fair Grounds – I was leery that any process involving the Florida Department of Health could possibly be this easy – or organized.   

A few days later, I received a confirmation call from the cheerful church lady and it looked like this thing was really going to happen! 

And it did. 

When I arrived at beautiful Central Baptist, I was promptly greeted by a uniformed member of the Florida National Guard who confirmed my name on the list and courteously invited me inside.  In the sanctuary I was met by an equally attentive healthcare worker who quickly checked my paperwork and escorted me to a room where the vaccine would be administered. 

I then learned that I would receive the coveted Johnson & Johnson one-and-done vaccine! 

While I waited a few minutes for a seat to open, I spoke with a National Guard staff sergeant who explained that the soldiers assisting were from support units based in Orlando and Tallahassee. 

The soldier explained that he was a vehicle operator by military occupation, but everyone involved seemed completely comfortable facilitating the logistics of moving people through what was a rapid and highly organized process. 

Once inside, a friendly nurse asked me a few questions before painlessly administering the shot and issuing my completed vaccination record.    

Fortunately, I experienced no side effects at all – beyond a slight soreness at the injection site which quickly went away – with none of the fever, fatigue, and general aches many have reported after receiving the various vaccines.

Per Governor Ron DeSantis’ recent order, Floridian’s 18-years of age and older will be eligible for the vaccine beginning Monday, April 5 – and I encourage everyone who wants one to take it.

It is an individual decision – what works best for you and your family – and I realize many have serious reservations about receiving the vaccine. 

All things considered, I feel most fortunate to have had the opportunity.  

Kudos to Central Baptist Church, and the remarkable soldiers of the Florida National Guard, for providing this potentially lifesaving service – thanks to all involved for a wonderful experience!

Quote of the Week

“Daytona’s appetite for out-of-control ravenous growth is going to be detrimental to all of Volusia County, particularly on the eastern side.”

–Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington, as quoted in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Avalon Park Daytona project gets Planning Board’s approval,” Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Look, I’m not a traffic engineer, but I have developed a foolproof method for gauging the level of congestion and gridlock on Granada Boulevard in Ormond Beach by the number of times I am forced to roll down my window and scream – “Pull your head out of your ass, you dumb S.O.B!” – a well-intentioned public service that assists my fellow motorists in retaining situational awareness to ensure they move people and goods down the roadway safely. . . 

No need to thank me.  Just doing my part.   

Let’s call it Barker’s ‘PYHOOYAYDSOB Measure of Infrastructure Effectiveness.’ 

As the current mega-developments and tony “theme/lifestyle communities” west of I-95 reach buildout, I find the run between Nova Road west to Williamson Boulevard is consistently a four PYHOOYAYDSOB trip. 

And things just took a turn for the worse. . .

The Frankensteinian Avalon Park Daytona got a jump start last week when the Daytona Beach Planning Board approved a preliminary plat for the project’s first phase which will include some 1,609 residential units and 90,000 square feet of commercial property.

According to the Observer’s report, “. . .the commercial portion of the development in this first phase would front on Granada Boulevard.”

Of course, the City of Daytona Beach is absolutely giddy over the project, continuing their ‘damn the torpedoes – growth at all cost’ approach to urban planning with no concern for the detrimental impacts this malignant sprawl will have on neighboring communities, our fragile natural places, or our regions threatened aquifer.

With a glittery promise of adding “$2 billion in ad valorem values to Daytona Beach and Volusia County,” don’t expect any impediments to this latest concept of “progress” that will border an already overburdened State Road 40 and beyond.

Everyone gets over.  Everyone gets fat.  And no one who should seems to care.

Of course, to put a band aid on the gaping avulsion that the slash-and-burn land clearing will leave on the pine scrub and wildlife habitats, Avalon’s first phase includes “…six parks, two amenity centers and the preservation of wetlands at the southern portion of the project.”

My ass.

Building artificial greenspace and “amenity centers” is how pro-growth politicians and planning board puppets live with themselves after allowing some out-of-town developer with a profit motive to churn the land into a moonscape – essentially shitting in our own nest – all to make way for 10,000 more overpriced cracker boxes and the godawful commercial strip centers that sustain them.   

Welcome to the party, Mr. Mayor. . .

Better late than never.

And Another Thing!

Last week, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, Sons of the Beach, began circulating a petition urging the Volusia County Council to return on-beach parking from International Speedway Boulevard north to the Boardwalk. 

Petitions are now available at the Oasis Tiki Bar, RST Computers, Crabby Joe’s, Main Street Station, The Guitar Attic, and both Salty Dog Surf Shops.  You can also download a copy at www.sonsofthebeach.org – or sign the petition online here: https://tinyurl.com/yazye4ec

I hope you will join me in supporting this important grassroots effort to restore beach access in the challenged Main Street corridor and return a sense of fun to our core tourist area!

In addition, I wholeheartedly support Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower’s bold new plan to exempt county residents from the exorbitant beach access fees that have all but priced a day at the beach out of reach for many Volusia County families. 

Mr. Brower believes that Volusia County taxpayers have already given their pound of flesh for the privilege of accessing their public beach – and they should not have to pay again to use it.

I agree.

According to Mr. Brower:

“First, if you want to discourage something you tax it. If you want to encourage an action you give tax relief. Tolls and driving restrictions have been killing our beachside since they were started. We were promised Miami Beach like results. It failed.

Most people who live here are glad we didn’t become Miami. But we have all suffered from the declining beachside these policies have laid at our feet. The results of these failed policies are a gateway to the World’s Most Famous Beach that is an embarrassment. Main Street and the Boardwalk died. A1A and Seabreeze Blvd. have declined and discussions are finally beginning to plan ways to rejuvenate it.

Removing the toll booths completely would make us a destination for visitors and locals once again. That means increased business for all. When you tax less, revenue increases. It’s a proven economic principle. And when you make folks welcome they come back and bring friends.”

If you live or do business in Volusia County, I encourage you to support Chairman Brower and his innovative plan to make our beaches more accessible for all residents.

That’s all for me.  Happy Easter, everyone!

Oracle or Empty Suit? Time will tell. . .

Is a self-help guru what the City of Daytona Beach needs right now?

The answer just may be yes.

You wouldn’t know it by reading our local newspaper – who has given more front page/above the fold space to a homeless knife sharpener and the inventor of a trash bag hook than the chief executive who will shape the future direction of our community for decades – but last weekend the Daytona Beach City Commission succumbed to what some, on the dais and off, felt was a horribly flawed selection process when they picked between two polar opposite personalities to select their new City Manager.

I watched part of it on DBTV. 

Let’s just say when a nice, civically engaged lady like Anne Ruby stands at the podium and frustratingly calls her elected officials ‘stumblebums’ – it wasn’t pretty. . .

After hiring a highly paid out-of-state headhunter to conduct a nationwide search for qualified candidates to replace the retiring Jim Chisholm – a process that garnered less applications than the Port Orange opening, or the recent search for a Police Chief in Eustis – several finalists mysteriously dropped out of the process altogether, ultimately leaving the City Commission with just two potential managers to select from.

At the end of a very long day – which included an eleventh-hour attempt by Quanita “Call me Commissioner!” May to wipe the slate clean and start over again – a discombobulated round-robin discussion led by Mayor Derrick Henry resulted in the selection of Deric Feacher, 44, the current manager of Haines City, a community of 28,000 near Winter Haven. 

Commissioner May cast the lone vote against Mr. Feacher. . . 

Now, all that remains is for Daytona Beach City Attorney Robert Jagger and City Commissioner Aaron Delgado to negotiate an amicable contract with Feacher to be discussed and approved by the full commission in coming weeks.

Don’t be surprised if Mr. Feacher’s employment agreement looks nothing like yours. 

Because of the highly contentious and politicized nature of the job, most city and county managers enjoy extraordinary protections – to include golden parachutes and other expensive perquisites, extras, and privileges – including a salary and benefits package that those in the private sector could not envision in their wildest wet dreams.

Is it worth it? 

We’ll see.    

According to a 2018 article in the Lakeland Ledger, his evaluation by the Haines City Commission – his first as City Manager in that community – said that Mr. Feacher “…finished with a composite 3.96 from the city commissioners. Feacher was scored from 1 to 5 on 10 different categories. Scoring a 1 was considered “unacceptable.” A 5 represented “outstanding.”

While serving as City Manager of Winter Haven, his performance was rated a 3.5 – before he was terminated on a 3-2 vote in 2016. . .

I’m not holding that against him – and neither should you – for city managers, that comes with the territory.

“Just less than exceptional” evaluations aside, it appears the City of Daytona Beach is getting quite a bundle in Deric Feacher:

A relatively experienced chief executive who doubles as a charming self-help guru – the total package, all wrapped up with a stylish bowtie!

Yep!

When not working his day job in Haines City, Deric C. Feacher, transforms into “The Messenger!” – a personal-growth expert and disciple of the controversial-but-charismatic John C. Maxwell (who can teach you how to become a coach, mentor, speaker, and influencer using the “Maxwell Method,” which leads to “certification” – allowing you to use books, videos, speaking scripts, guides, and presentations written and sold by, well, John C. Maxwell, as you help others become their “better selves” – for a fee, of course. . . ) 

According to his self-promoting “all-Deric-all-the-time” website, www.dericfeacher.com :

“Deric C. Feacher, “The Messenger,” is the transformational speaker you need! He works regularly with people who face almost insurmountable challenges, but after hearing him speak, realize they have the tools to reach their full potential and are just one small step from success!”

I have listened to a few of Mr. Feacher’s “Let’s Get Together” podcast episodes – inspirational snippets with titles such as, “Validation is not necessary,” and “Dream Chaser or Destiny Creator” – and I must admit – after a few installments, my self-loathing isn’t nearly so debilitating. . . 

Whatever.

Look, I realize that I am a curmudgeonly whiner who subscribes more to the P.T. Barnum “There’s a sucker born every minute” theorem than the overblown teachings of a self-help industry that has become a parody of itself (as any episode of Dr. Phil will prove) – but to each their own. 

The fact is, now more than ever, we need a self-confident “leadership expert” to help save us from ourselves – even if it comes in the form of a personable guy from out of town with a great smile and a briefcase. . . 

If they are honest with themselves, there are few who live or do business in the Halifax area who won’t admit that the “World’s Most Famous Beach” faces “insurmountable challenges” – or that most of the tools in our chest have been lost, stolen, or just allowed to rust away.

As a result, we desperately need a superhero to step out of a phone booth, assess our shortcomings with the benefit of x-ray vision, and rescue us from the resort town grifters, uber-wealthy insiders, and decades of monstrously self-serving politicians that have brought us to this civic, social, and economic nadir.   

Is “The Messenger!” the dynamic caped crusader we have all been so anxiously waiting for?

God, I hope so. . .

photo Credit: The Ledger

A Change is Coming

Who’s running this popsicle stand?

If you live in Volusia County chances are your little slice of paradise is administered by the council-manager form of government – a system in which the elected council or commission hires a professional manager who essentially serves as the chief executive officer – responsible for the day-to-day operations of all city or county departments and employees through a staff of experienced department heads. 

Depending upon who you talk to, there are myriad reasons why most communities that provide comprehensive public services have adopted this form of governance, but the bottom line is it takes the inefficiencies of petty politics out of the equation.

At least that’s the working theory. . .    

As I have said before, We, The People elect the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker to serve on a council or commission – like a corporate board of directors – who appoint a manager with ostensibly strong administrative and organizational skills to run the operations of the county or municipal government, enact the public policy decisions of the elected body, and provide information to assist the legislative function.

To that end, the manager is given extraordinary powers over every aspect of government operations and services. 

For instance, the executive has complete autonomy to hire and fire employees, set internal policies, personally direct the operations of all departments and services of the government and administrate all financial and budgetary processes.

It also means that no one elected official has more ‘power’ than any of the others – meaning the mayor or council chair are typically relegated to refereeing public meetings and acting in a ceremonial role, cutting ribbons at the grand opening of the latest Dollar Mart, or presenting a proclamation recognizing Mavis Bracegirdle as she turns “100-years young!” . . . 

The ‘system’ also insulates career civil servants, the professionals who provide essential governmental services to the community, from the often politically motivated meddling of elected officials.

Most managers do a fine job, serving multiple masters while bringing economic and civic progress to their communities.

Others?  Not so much. . . 

The role requires a strategic mind – the ability to stay ahead of the game and just above the political fray – with the dexterity to communicate the important details of complex civic issues to the elected officials then guide them toward reasonable consensus. 

It can be tough to find the ‘right fit.’

In my experience, problems arise when communities mistake a good ‘project manager’ for someone with the comprehensive skills needed to oversee the multifaceted operations, administration, and budgeting of a county or municipality.  

Many candidates for city manager positions cut their teeth as department heads or senior administrators, responsible for one slice of a much larger pie, with expertise in public works or city planning, but without the broad range of experience operating what is a large and unwieldy piece of machinery while keeping 5 to 7 hyper-critical politicians happy.    

For instance, if asked to paint City Hall – the project manager could request proposals, administer the bid process, hire the contractor, select the grade and color of paint, set a budget for the project, supervise the minor details of the job, and see the work completed in a reasonable period within the financial parameters. 

Just don’t ask them to see that the building’s roof receives proper preventive maintenance, the lawn is mowed, and landscaping maintained, the parking lot is properly paved and striped according to regulations, the irrigation system remains operational, the air conditioning system is functional, the physical plant is safe and secure for public use, etc., etc. 

This inexperience and ineptitude often breeds inner turmoil as the manager begins blaming others for their own incompetence, a practice that always results in expensive turnover, the loss of institutional knowledge, low morale, and the confusion and second-guessing that come when the chief executive starts circling the wagons. . .  (For more details, see: City of Deltona)

There is an old joke that being a city manager is like riding a bike – except the bike is on fire.  You are on fire.  The fire is on fire.  Everything is on fire. . . 

Tough gig.  

Just over one year ago, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm began his long goodbye.

And I do mean long.

A process that should have taken a few months to get right drug on.  And on.  And on. 

A clumsy nationwide search by a highly paid out-of-state headhunter garnered a relatively few applicants (for a Florida resort town with the best weather in the nation and a reputation for lavishing its chief executive with an exorbitant salary and benefits package?) which everyone agreed failed to produce the depth of talent, civic vision, and professional experience everyone hoped for.

So, here we are. 

After winnowing the field to the final three using a tired, run-of-the-mill, wholly uninspired selection process, on Saturday, the Daytona Beach City Commission will hold one-on-one meetings with the candidates followed by a special City Commission meeting to discuss and select the top candidate.

If you live or do business in the City of Daytona Beach, you might want to be there for that. . .

This is without doubt the most important decision this iteration of the City Commission will make during their tenure – and Mr. Chisholm’s brogans will be big shoes to fill. 

In my view – like it or not – Jim Chisholm epitomized raw political power – it was always his show – and whoever was elected to office was just visiting. 

Whomever is ultimately selected to fill this important role will need superhuman skills to bring this fractured community together – to mend fences with marginalized citizens who have been effectively shutout of their government – rebuild the deteriorating core tourist area, curb beachside blight, reestablish trust and communications, get a grip on the malignant growth in the piney woods west of I-95, prepare for the exsanguination of our aquifer, establish priorities beyond funneling public funds to the wants and whims of influential insiders (who offer the attractive prospect of political insulation in exchange for loyalty), then have the courage to open the doors and windows at City Hall and let the disinfecting power of sunshine into that dank and cloistered environment so desperately in need of change.   

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

The Citizen Journalist

I am not a writer – and certainly not a “journalist.”

At best, a dilettante opinionist, at worst, a blowhard with internet access. . .

I regularly receive requests from loyal members of the Barker’s View tribe asking that I “investigate” a governmental excess or inefficiency – or “look into” some political intrigue or right a civic wrong that media outlets have turned up their noses at – and, on occasion, these requests pique my interest and I’ll make a call, do a public records request, or ask around to satisfy my own curiosity.

And sometimes those who contact me go away pissed because I do not share their moral outrage over an outsized water bill – or the fact their trash was not collected on time – or demand answers as to why Volusia County won’t maintain their driveway, etc., etc.

Sadly, regardless of the issue at hand, in nearly every case the person who calls me demands anonymity – a request I always honor – because they fear retribution from their own local government if it were known they were seeking answers, even to relatively benign questions. 

Most of the time I refer the concerned reader to their elected representative (a name they rarely know), a resource that had not crossed their minds, because so many politicians stop acknowledging the concerns of their constituents about 12-minutes after they win an election. . . 

Many times, those who reach out to me are just like-minded souls who want someone to listen to their concerns or kibbitz about the issues of the day.

I know how that feels – and nobody likes hearing the rumors and gossip more than I do. 

But the fact remains, I don’t ‘report the news’ in this space – I wouldn’t know how – yet I am all too quick to tell those who do how the job of covering the news should be accomplished (playing the hyper-critical know-it-all is kind of my schtick. . .)

I’m not saying that local media outlets aren’t their own worst enemies at times – because they are – but when I read a news story regarding community issues without official comment, or listen to a television reporter stand before the camera and say with a frustrated sigh, “..and (insert highly paid government officials name here) didn’t return phone calls on Monday or Tuesday seeking comment,” or “We don’t comment on litigation, personnel issues, anything of substance, etc., etc.” – normally followed by a canned written statement from something called a “Public Information Officer” – I get the feeling that true transparency and outreach in government is a thing of the past. 

And it becomes apparent that the chasm between our government bureaucracies and the working press has never been wider. 

When I was playing government – I worked for a small municipality that didn’t have a public information staff to spin a response to media requests.  As a result, I learned the importance of openness and honesty when providing a release, always done with daily personal contact with the reporter – making sure their needs were met and developing trust over time.  

As a result, I became friends with many long-time reporters – some of whom remain close to this day. 

While those personal and professional relationships did not insulate me from the occasional trip to the woodshed – they allowed me to push critical information to the public, explain situations without fear of having the information released prematurely, and involve the press as a trusted and valued member of the team during emergencies.

With that citizens got to know their public servants by name – and knew who to call when they needed help.

(Two-years after I retired, I was still receiving calls on my cell phone from former constituents who didn’t realize (or care) that I was no longer their police chief – they just wanted me to sort out a problem they were having. . .I miss that.)   

Perhaps that accessibility is why a hack like me gets so many requests from citizens searching desperately for help navigating the rat maze that passes for our ‘Halls of Power’ during their search for that illusive kernel of truth?

In the information vacuum that has been created by the increasingly insular nature of our elected and appointed officials, many taxpayers take to social media for answers – seeking validation of their suspicions – speculating on the who, what, why, when, and how of public policies and positions that effect our lives and livelihoods – effectively becoming ‘citizen journalists’ seeking clarity in the murky world of local politics and passing that knowledge on to their neighbors.

It also gets confusing when elected officials wade into the often-contentious waters of social media to argue with their frustrated constituents or harangue them for taking a position contrary to the carefully crafted official narrative, odd behavior from those holding positions of trust that breeds more questions and solidifies the notion that citizen input in the process is unwelcome and almost universally ignored by decisionmakers.

I’m not sure consolidating, hoarding, and controlling the release of information as a means of maintaining power and control over the governed is how things are supposed to work in a representative democracy. 

So, if you have questions about pressing civic issues – or just need help with a government service – I encourage you to reach out to your elected representative at the city or county level and share your concerns with them – and ask for their help.

Demand answers and make your needs and opinions known. 

Better yet, attend a public meeting and address your elected officials during what passes for public participation – it is every citizen’s right and civic responsibility to seek information and contribute to the greater discussion – even if those on the dais of power sit there staring into space like gargoyles – I guarantee others in the community who share your concerns will be grateful for your involvement.

Then, if you fail to get a prompt and respectful response from the official who was elected to represent your interests, you know who to cast your sacred vote for in the next election.   

That is where the ultimate power lies. 

Angels & Assholes for March 19, 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           The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Recently, News-Journal editor Pat Rice published a piece under the headline, “Honest, accurate local news matters,” announcing that certain content would now be available by subscription only and encouraging readers to purchase his product by touting the importance of “local journalism.”

“…such journalism is absolutely vital to the fabric of the communities that make up Volusia and Flagler counties. We have a First Amendment right to do our work, and we also feel a great responsibility to do it professionally.”

He’s right. 

In my view, Mr. Rice and his associates have an ethical responsibility to gather and present the news in a professional and objective way – ensuring that all sides of a story are told in a fair-minded way – rejecting the slant and sensationalism that has become the not-so-subtle marketing tool of “news” organizations everywhere.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal failed in that sacred obligation last week.

It seemed simple enough – the low-hanging fruit of the “bad cop” narrative – a guaranteed draw, especially when coupled with the arrest of a larger-than-life personality in the form of Robert “Naked Cowboy” Burck, a 50-year-old street performer most identified with New York’s Times Square who parades around in his skivvies, strumming a guitar, and taking selfies with tourists. 

According to reports, on the first Saturday of Bike Week 2021 – after being warned that accepting money from visitors near Main Street businesses violated specific provisions of a city ordinance which also prohibits panhandling – Burck apparently ignored fair notice and continued doing his thing. 

In a statement issued by Daytona Beach Chief of Police Jakari Young, we learned that officers were prepared to issue the Naked Cowboy a notice to appear in court – little more than a citation for the city ordinance violation – but while in custody, Mr. Burck began engaging a small crowd that gathered to watch, using extreme profanity, and chiding the arresting officer. 

Then, things turned ugly. . .   

At one point, Mr. Burck turned to the arresting officer and uttered a disgusting racial slur:

“Put your mask on.  You’re a Joe Biden fan, right?  You want higher gas prices and fucking (N-word epithet) running the country. . .”

Then, as the female officer moved Burck to the rear of a patrol car – his guitar was inadvertently broken – prompting him to hurl a revolting homophobic epithet to humiliate the officer, calling her a “Fucking dyke” – twice. 

The entire exchange was captured by the officer’s body worn camera – and when I watched the unedited full-length version released by the Daytona Beach Police Department – I was so taken aback I had to watch the shocking footage multiple times so I could confirm I heard what I thought I heard.

In my view, those hurtful words degraded the officer – and disparaged our entire community – and were the last thing I expected to hear from this iconic street performer.   

Yet, when I watched the News-Journal’s version of the video – the offensive parts had been masterfully edited out – leaving only those sections which supported the “cop screws up” storyline – totally ignoring the fact a famous performer came to our community and uttered the worst, most divisive racial epithet in the English language, in my view, using the provocative and hateful speech as a means of humiliating a local police officer. 

Ultimately, the city ordinance violation was dismissed by a judge, Mr. Burck paid a nominal fine to settle a misdemeanor charge, and adjudication was withheld. 

But not one word of his abhorrent verbal abuse of a local police officer appeared in the newspaper – and this week, when they had a chance to set the record straight – they laid up short.

From the onset, the News-Journal, and other national and international media outlets, covered this story with front page/above the fold prominence – including sympathetic interviews, lecturing editorials, one under the sensational banner, “Free the Naked Cowboy! Panhandling law doesn’t ban street performers,” publishing letters to the editor headlined, “Daytona Beach owes ‘Naked Cowboy’ an apology for arrest, and an explanation,” then heralding Burck’s triumphant return with “The Naked Cowboy rides again on Main Street after arrest at Daytona Beach’s Bike Week.”

What I found most reprehensible was an oh-so-morally-superior op/ed last Friday headed “Learning lessons from the Naked Cowboy” which said, in part:

“Mayor Derrick Henry, Police Chief Jakari Young: We suspect that you, like the rest of us, didn’t know about this until after the worst had happened. But you are the ones with the power to turn the story around. Burck told The News-Journal’s Jim Abbott he plans to return to Daytona Beach today, and all eyes will be on him when he does. Be ready with a plan to make things right. Ask Burck for forgiveness. Do the same for his wife, who had to watch her husband being manhandled and taken away, leaving her holding his broken guitar.

Make it clear that, as a city, this is not who we are.”

You read that right – the News-Journal’s editorial board demanded that two prominent African American civic leaders seek forgiveness from someone who spewed highly charged racial and homophobic slurs on a public street corner in their community? 

Are you serious?

Kudos to Mayor Henry and Chief Young for refusing to grovel and beg for absolution. 

That takes courage – especially after our hometown newspaper did little more than canonize Mr. Burck for over a week. 

Where is the moral outrage?

Where is the fervent cry for “social justice”?

I guess those haughty concepts are null-and-void when it is a police officer on the receiving end, eh?   

Fortunately, the same First Amendment that gives Mr. Burck the right to spew this inflammatory speech on a street corner in Daytona Beach is the same one that gives me the right to rebuke his comments – just as the venerated concept of journalistic integrity requires that Mr. Rice tell all sides of the story – even those facets that do not comport with the prevailing narrative that cops are the last socially acceptable punching bags. 

I love The Daytona Beach News-Journal – it is “my newspaper” – but I fear what it is becoming.

In my view, now that Mr. Burck has stated his regrets in the newspaper (and hired a Jacksonville lawyer to “come after” the City of Daytona Beach) The Daytona Beach News-Journal owes Chief Jakari Young, Mayor Derrick Henry, and the Daytona Beach Police Department an apology – a big one.

It is time that Pat Rice assure us all that, as our newspaper of record, this is not what “local journalism” has become.

Angel               Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite

So, long Dr. Chrite, we hardly knew ye. . . 

This week Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite abruptly announced he was resigning the presidency of Bethune-Cookman University after being selected to lead Bentley University in Massachusetts, one of the top business schools in the nation.   

According to reports, he did not notify the University’s Board of Trustees of his decision – but clearly Dr. Chrite is smart enough to get while the gettin’s good. . .   

To say his relatively brief tenure at Bethune-Cookman was difficult is an understatement, and in a February 2020 letter to alumni, Bethune Dr. Chrite did not pull punches.

“2020 will be a pivotal year in the history of B-CU,” President Chrite wrote. “It will be the year our beloved university prepared to close its doors, or it will be the year we turned a corner and began moving toward an exciting future.”

He was right.  Times were grim.    

At that anxious point, B-CU was in its second year of academic probation after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges demanded the elimination of an $8 million operating deficit and improvements to its horrendous system of governance.   

The loss of accreditation would have signaled the death knell for this challenged institution – one that has been financially gutted by mismanagement, a lack of oversight by self-serving trustees, and voracious greed.

Last fall, under Dr. Chrite’s outstanding leadership, Bethune-Cookman University announced it would maintain its all-important academic accreditation as the University was able to reduce expenditures, complete an extensive review of policies and protocols, overhaul its contractual obligations and transactional relationships, and get them working to B-CU’s advantage.

In addition, Dr. Chrite brought together experts in finance, accreditation, and academic governance, then increased private sector support to transform the University “…into a properly running institution of higher learning.”

Thanks to the almost universal confidence Dr. Chrite inspired, Volusia County’s own political powerhouse Mori Hossieni is believed to have lobbied hard behind the scenes to ensure B-CU received a much needed $17 million infusion from the Florida Legislature.

Now the shock and disappointment of Dr. Chrite’s decision is sweeping the community, and many are begging the obvious question – why?

Everyone except Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, that is. . .

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by Pat Rice and Eileen Zaffiro-Kean on Wednesday, Mayor Henry said:

“Based on a lot of factors I knew he wouldn’t be there that long,” Henry said. “There are a lot of subterraneous issues at Bethune-Cookman that are complex, and the community is not aware of the rationale of some of the decisions he made at the university during his tenure.”

Oddly, Mayor Henry felt the need to kick Dr. Chrite on his way out the door, describing a non-existent “gulf” between the university and the community.

Say what?

Then, on Thursday, we learned in an informative article in the News-Journal:

“The mayor’s wife, Stephanie Henry, had been dean of education at B-CU when Chrite arrived. She was offered another position during a staff reorganization of the school but decided to leave the university.  She left on good terms,” the mayor said. “She left in great standing with him (Chrite).”

Sure.  Whatever you say, Mr. Mayor. . . 

I can only assume that the “subterraneous issues” Mayor Henry described included Dr. Chrite’s, honesty, transparency, truthfulness, a willingness to put the needs of the university above those of his cronies, and a highly developed fiduciary responsibility to something other than his own bank account.

It is called “professional integrity” – something that has been sorely lacking in the halls of power at Bethune-Cookman University – and Daytona Beach City Hall, for that matter. . .

Unfortunately, men and women of good character do not seem to last long in our local power structure – so, we say goodbye and best wishes to another lost visionary as he rides into the sunset. 

Kudos to Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite for his outstanding efforts to right the ship during turbulent times and under extremely difficult circumstances.  In my view, Dr. Chrite’s good work honored Dr. Bethune’s dream and saved this important institution from the brink of disaster.

Let’s hope the B-CU Board of Trustees will continue on the path Dr. Chrite so boldly blazed. 

Yeah, right. . .

Angel               Ormond Beach City Commission

No, I didn’t bump my head – but thanks for the concern. . .

Look, I rarely agree with anything those pro-development lackeys on the Ormond Beach City Commission do or say – but I must give credit where credit is due.

On Tuesday night the majority struck a small blow for the preservation of a sliver of this community’s last remaining greenspace. 

In a strange turn of events, Mayor Bill Partington joined City Commissioners Troy Kent and Susan Persis in voting against a proposed land use change that would have seen some 2.81 acres on West Granada Boulevard rezoned from “open space/conservation” to “medium density residential” – literally paving the way for more godawful townhouses on the already horribly congested thoroughfare. . .

According to a piece in the Ormond Beach Observer by Jarleene Almenas:

“City Commissioners Dwight Selby and Rob Littleton were the only ones to vote yes. Littleton said it was a “tough” decision, as the property was located in his zone. He said he supported the land use change, but would have been very strict once the development order came before the commission at a later date.”

My ass. 

During the meeting, Commissioner Persis had an incredibly cogent thought that is being lauded by many of her thankful constituents:

“I think it looks beautiful the way it is,” she said. “…I don’t know why people feel we have to build on every leftover greenspace that we have in Ormond Beach.” 

“I don’t see anything wrong with leaving something ‘Open Space/Conservation.’ We don’t have a whole lot of greenspace left in that area, and it’s just concerning to me why we would need to build something right there.”

Perhaps the fact that Ormond Beach residents are rising in unison, vehemently demanding that their elected officials take steps to preserve and protect environmentally sensitive lands along The Loop and beyond from further destruction and development, is beginning to sink in at City Hall.

I damn sure hope so. 

With the pending encroachment of the monstrous Avalon Park, and mounting pressure from unchecked development along the city’s southern border, it is refreshing to see one small patch of green will remain. 

For now, anyway. . .

Kudos to Mayor Partington, and Commissioners Kent and Persis for having the courage to do the right thing for your constituents and community.   

Quote of the Week

“I want to be clear that I believe the urgent issue of LGBTQ+ discrimination in our schools deserves a strong response based on policy, not just sentiment. I could not in good conscience support a resolution that relegated such an important issue to spring break when students would not be in school. The resolution dismissed the values of inclusion that it allegedly represented. We cannot keep passing toothless statements of support instead of tackling the very real problems our LGBTQ+ students are facing.”

–Volusia County School Board member Anita Burnette, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer Letters to the Editor, “Volusia County School Board’s Anita Burnette: says LGBTQ discrimination deserves ‘a strong response,” Friday, March 12, 2021

I am always skeptical of politicians who do one thing – then wait to see which way the political winds are blowing – before saying they would have done this or that IF only the measure had gone farther in resolving the issue, blah, blah, blah. . .   

I guess when a sitting School Board member wants to end LGBTQ+ discrimination in Volusia County Schools, she does it by refusing to second a resolution supporting “LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week”? 

Really?

It’s Politics 101: How to appear the hero without really committing yourself. 

Look, maybe Ms. Burnette is sincere. 

As a neophyte politician recently elected to the Volusia County School Board, perhaps the most grossly dysfunctional governing body in Volusia County, I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt.

The fact is, this tempest in a teapot did not need to become such a disruptive dispute in the first place. 

In my view, it is a given that more should be done to protect the health, welfare, and education of student’s who identify as LGBTQ+ – but this should not become the flashpoint for more hysterical and divisive debate – asinine arguments fueled by the unrighteous indignation of a few pompous closed-minded fools – intramural feuds that always breed contempt, amplify differences, and pit student-against-student as they follow their parents’ lead.

Typically, that is when the quaint notion of an elected official ‘doing the right thing’ meets its fiery end on a pyre of empty, but highly emotional, demagoguery – and the cycle of stagnation repeats.   

What the hell – let’s see what Ms. Burnette is capable of, eh?

I don’t know about you, but I am willing to give Ms. Burnette a chance to prove herself – and demonstrate the deftness and political savvy to bring all sides of this difficult and divisive issue to the table and propose realistic public policies that ensure all Volusia County students have an educational environment free of bigotry, prejudice, bullying, and intolerance. 

Good luck, Ms. Burnette.  You’re gonna need it. . .

And Another Thing!

“Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls – you’re about to behold a sight so strange, so horrifying, so utterly monstrous, that I urge you who are easily frightened or upset, who suffer from nervous disorders, weak hearts, or queasy stomachs, who experience nightmares, and any children under the age of 16, to forgo witnessing this exhibit of the greatest oddities and illusions in the history of local governance. . .”

Sometimes I think Volusia County would do well to hire an old-fashioned carnival barker to stand outside the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building and warn us rubes of the frightening geek show that awaits us inside on those days our illustrious elected officials gather for their bimonthly production of the Théâtre de l’absurde.

This week was no exception.

Let’s face it, political cowardice, in all its ugly forms, has been a dominating factor in Volusia County governance for years – it is autochthonous to the “system.”

At best, this phenomenon is marked by a lack of backbone which prevents our elected officials from doing the right thing – for the right reasons – for fear of alienating their most vocal critics, or, god forbid, their political benefactors.

Everyone agrees that elected officials should have the discretion to change tack in response to an ever-evolving political environment – so long as they are open and honest about it.

This week, the Volusia County Council suddenly reversed course on its temporary ban on the processing of code enforcement actions involving short-term rentals – cravenly adopting the political doctrine of ‘who screams loudest’ – a policy guaranteed to create hell and havoc as elected officials flip-flop on contentious issues to appease their noisiest constituents.

Never works. . .

In my view, County Chair Jeff Brower is a good man who is trying desperately to do right by his campaign promises and deeply held convictions – something that frustrates the status quo – but he simply must learn how to read trends, anticipate the mini-moves of his “colleagues,” and get his head in the game. 

Quick. 

For instance, Mr. Brower’s open shilling for an internal job applicant from the dais almost guarantees that County Manager George Recktenwald will not hire that individual as he seeks to avoid the very real appearance of political influence (or worse) in the process.    

I realize developing that level of dexterity can be especially difficult in the shadowy milieu of Volusia politics – a three-dimensional chess game where the loyalties and motivations of those we have elected to set public policy morph from meeting-to-meeting depending upon who is pulling the rods and cables – creating an unstable atmosphere where nothing is as it seems and literally anything is possible.   

Rather than hold firm to a unanimous decision that suspended enforcement action for a few weeks while the state legislature wrangles with the thorny issue of short-term rentals – the majority blinked when faced with potential legal action from residents of Bethune Beach – and caved to Councilman Fred Lowrey’s strategic handwringing over the potential loss of the county’s grandfathered regulatory authority.

On a 4-3 vote – with Chairman Brower, Councilwoman Heather Post, and Councilman Danny Robins holding firm to the council’s previous call – the moratorium was lifted, leaving owners of short-term rentals subject to immediate enforcement action without prior notification.     

Now, those unfortunates who have rented their properties through April 30 (the end of the legislative session) are left holding the bag – subjecting them to angry renters whose vacation plans have been upended and the possibility of throwing current visitors out on the street, while exposing the property owner to potential legal action. 

I don’t care which side of this incredibly divisive issue you fall on – that hardly seems fair. 

Of course, the larger problem is an elected body that sends mixed signals – voting on, then extending, a controversial policy after receiving public input and with the best intentions for all concerned – then reversing course midstream in another off-the-agenda vote. 

It appeared botched and bungled as Billie Wheeler and Fred Lowrey worked to embarrass Mr. Brower – whose head swung back and forth like a drowning man searching desperately for a life ring. 

When setting ‘parameters’ for citizens wishing to serve on the council’s ad hoc short term rental advisory committee – something that, depending upon its makeup, has the potential to dissolve into a no-holds-barred Battle Royale for the ages – Councilwoman Wheeler attempted to limit appointments to electors living in the unincorporated area – openly shitting on residents who may live in a Volusia County municipality and own rental property in an unincorporated area such as Bethune Beach or Ormond-by-the-Sea.

You know, taxpaying property owners with an actual chip in the game?

Ultimately, Wheeler successfully got the issue kicked even further down the road by whining she didn’t have enough time to vet applications – convincing her colleagues to push the formation of their own advisory board until late April – proving once and for all that Ms. Wheeler’s Gumby-like spine makes her the most malleable, wishy-washy politician to ever bend with the prevailing winds.   

Fairness and equal representation be damned – when Billie Wheeler was told that she doesn’t like peer-to-peer rentals anymore – the fate of these poleaxed property owners was sealed. 

Whatever.

In my view, Councilman Danny Robins said it best when he asked the rhetorical question – “What kind of message are we sending to our visitors?  What kind of message are we sending to our property owners, our residents, our taxpayers?”

“Step right up, folks.  Look if you must at the greatest shit-show on earth. . .”

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

Barker’s View will be taking a short pause next week – Angels & Assholes will return for your listening and dancing pleasure on April 2! 

In the meantime, please feel free to revive old civic nightmares of who tried to save us – and who tried to screw us – in the BV archives!

The Cowboy has no Clothes

I hate to go against the prevailing winds of media adulation – but I don’t give a damn about the Naked Cowboy.

There.  I said it. 

The Daytona Beach News-Journal has turned the arrest of Robert “Naked Cowboy” Burck, 50, a well-known street performer and fixture in New York’s Times Square, who ran afoul of the City of Daytona Beach’s panhandling ordinance on Main Street last weekend, into a cause célèbre. 

The first Saturday of Bike Week 2021, reports indicate that Burck was asked by police to stop accepting money from visitors and bystanders who were posing with him in his Fruit-of-the-Looms and distinctive white cowboy boots near the entrance to a Main Street business in violation of a provision in the panhandling ordinance.

When he failed to comply with the officer’s request, he was subsequently arrested and citied for the city ordinance violation.   

It is what happened during Burck’s arrest – and his subsequent beatification by the News-Journal – that I have a problem with. 

Maintaining order and controlling crowds during largescale events is both an art and a science. 

It is this constant monitoring and attention to detail that allows a relative handful of officers and special events personnel to manage beer-soaked Bike Week crowds, keep traffic flowing citywide, and provide a safe and fun environment for visitors and residents.

With Main Street serving as the traditional epicenter of Daytona Beach Bike Week activities, it is imperative that law enforcement maintain an extraordinary level of situational awareness – keeping their heads on a swivel – coordinating security and enforcement activities to anticipate and effectively mitigate problems before they start – because merriment can quickly turn to chaos when a partying crowd transforms into an angry mob.   

As in the case involving Mr. Burck, officers often use their increasingly limited discretion in providing warnings and suggestions to control behavior, ensure compliance, and keep the peace – but a police officer’s quiver has a limited number of arrows – and when someone refuses to heed fair notice or ignores lawful directives – their arrest and removal from the situation is often necessary.

The fact that the violator enjoys celebrity status – however shallow that term may be in this foul year 2021 – should not factor into the decision. 

That is called favoritism.

Selective enforcement can undermine the rule of law and subject law enforcement officers, and our criminal justice system, to accusations of bias and preferential treatment whenever us ‘commoners’ feel we are being treated differently than someone with prominence, political power, or fame.       

In a statement to the News-Journal, Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young rightfully defended his officers – and placed blame for this highly publicized incident squarely where it belongs:

“Just to be clear, a person’s celebrity status does not exempt them from following the law and we will not pick and choose who the law applies to,” Young wrote. “Mr. Burck was arrested as a result of his own actions. Had he complied when the officers initially made contact with him, he would have been free to go and enjoy the rest of his evening.”

Anyone who took the time to watch the unedited full-length video captured by the arresting officer’s body worn camera, clearly saw Mr. Burck using profanities, shouting at onlookers, making a racially charged reference to “the blacks” being allowed to “walk around” and accept tips but not him – and, finally, directing a disgusting homophobic slur at the young female officer – twice calling her a “fucking dyke.” 

(Don’t take my word for it, watch the full video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5ezpoaFuVQ – be your own judge of the horrific racial slur Burck spit at the officer between 2:55 and 3:00 minutes into the video. . .)

Shocking.

Not one word of that in the virulent media coverage of the Naked Cowboy’s arrest. 

To add insult, when contacted by a News-Journal reporter, Burck’s California-based manager claimed, “What frustrates us so much is the bad mark it (the arrest) puts on our corporate associations.”  

No word yet from Naked Cowboy Enterprises on how publicly hurling misogynistic brickbats will ultimately affect the company’s “corporate associations” . . .

Look, I abhor the current “cancel culture” that is turning us into a nation of 330 million perpetually offended crybabies – but how can anyone ignore the fact that using a highly demeaning epithet to denigrate a law enforcement officer in the lawful performance of her duty is acceptable conduct?   

Where is the moral outrage

Where are the fervent calls for “social justice”

Where is the public denouncement and widespread condemnation of this cruel and searing brand used to dehumanize the LGBTQ+ community – a desensitization that fosters violence and discrimination?

Oh, I forgot – the hurtful words were used to humiliate a cop – which makes the revolting practice not only acceptable, but automatically elevates the person wielding the slur to immediate hero status in a society where police officers are the last politically acceptable piñatas.   

Bullshit. 

Not surprisingly, the News-Journal and other national and international media outlets, covered this non-story with front page/above the fold prominence – including sympathetic interviews, editorials under the sensational banner, “Free the Naked Cowboy! Panhandling law doesn’t ban street performers,” publishing letters to the editor headlined, “Daytona Beach owes ‘Naked Cowboy’ an apology for arrest, and an explanation,” heralding Burck’s triumphant return with “The Naked Cowboy rides again on Main Street after arrest at Daytona Beach’s Bike Week.”

In response to the horribly slanted coverage, some community members rallied to the Naked Cowboy’s defense – with one local merchant gifting him an expensive guitar to replace the one that that was inadvertently broken while in police custody “…as a goodwill gesture from the people of Daytona Beach.”

Enough already.

If News-Journal editor Pat Rice can openly ignore the debasement of a young police officer in a desperate effort to sell papers – all while masterfully avoiding any reference to Burck’s abhorrent behavior – then perhaps he has simply given up on introspectively exploring the myriad reasons his readership is turning elsewhere for “news.” 

In my view, if anyone is owed an apology, it is the police officer – one who willingly puts her life on the line to ensure the safety of our community – who was so disgustingly abused by a famous person who is apparently a whole different guy than the scantily clad wandering troubadour he portrays on the street. 

Angels & Assholes for March 12, 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 Beach Mayor Derrick Henry

There is a difference between correcting behavior and punishment – seeking compliance rather than crushing a violator under the full weight of government – using harsh laws, arbitrarily interpreted by a closed system, in a symbolic gibbeting of otherwise law-abiding citizens and businesses as an example to others. 

A means of extracting vengeance whenever the Monarchial rule-makers feel disrespected by a member of the servile class. 

This time last year, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry got his name in the newspaper by enacting a sweeping Royal Decree in the waning hours of Bike Week 2020 which “revoked” lawfully obtained permits, effectively shutting down small businesses and entertainment venues, hindering commerce and totally disrupting the remaining 24-hours of a special event vital to our local economy. 

You may remember that during this same time, Mayor Henry fought desperately to have Volusia County “fence off” public beaches, imposed an asinine curfew, closed community amenities, and sought to enact other cockamamie executive orders and mandates under the COVID-19 “emergency declaration” with no apparent concern for the financial impact his nanny state impulses would have on struggling small businesses. 

He did it to flex his muscles under the expanded “emergency” powers.  

He did it because no one on the Daytona Beach City Commission had the courage to question it.

And any other explanation that relies on “safety” or the “public interest” simply does not hold water – because last December, Derrick Henry exposed his “do as I say, not as I do” self-serving nature – and, in my view, no longer possesses the moral authority to lead. 

I believe Mayor Henry forfeited the right to Lord over his subject’s the exact second that he – and his wife – exercised political privilege and accepted the COVID-19 vaccine in violation of Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order – arrogantly waltzing past his elderly and infirm constituents whose access to the highly-sought inoculation was a matter of life and death.

I realize Mayor Henry was not alone.  Many cowardly politicians on both sides of the isle cut the over-the-horizon line – the moral equivalent of throwing our most vulnerable off a lifeboat to make room for the civic and political elite. 

It was wrong.

I know some of you are tired of me dredging up this embarrassment time-and-again – but I think most would agree that the rules apply to everyone – or they should apply to no one. 

I was reminded of that this week. 

On Tuesday, the outstanding tag team of Clayton Park and Eileen Zaffiro-Keen reported in The Daytona Beach News-Journal on the on-going saga of Main Street Station – a beleaguered year-round bar and music venue currently struggling for its life on the horribly neglected Main Street.

Apparently, Main Street Station had the terminal misfortune to run afoul of the Mayor’s wrath during the Edict of Derrick the Great 2020, which declared that anyone who dared ply their wares or – god forbid – try and earn a living on the last day of Bike Week, would be branded Outlaws of the Realm to be dealt with accordingly.

As I understand it, and I am not sure I do, Main Street Station is accused of failing to comply with the Mayor’s diktat – which resulted in a fine (reasonable) – coupled with an asinine, business-killing prohibition on any outdoor activities for the next three Bike Weeks (unreasonable). 

The owner of Main Street Station, Phaedra Lee, gave a brief explanation in the News-Journal report:

“She (Lee) said she received it at 5:45 p.m. that day. The notice stated that she had one hour to comply.

“We complied with the request as diligently and quickly as possible,” she said. “We closed the backstage, vendors left, beer tub girls cancelled, bars closed. We had 400 people on (that) Saturday night and we charged them $10 to come inside. … We never had a chance to share our story (with city officials).

Instead, the business was hit with code violations, a fine and a ban from taking part in outdoor Bike Week activities in 2021, 2022 and 2023.”

Ultimately, the fine was reduced to $5,000 and Main Street Station was “banned” from outdoor activities this year only – but when they tried to establish their normal outside set-up this week the business was sanctioned yet again for failing to have the proper permits in place.  

In my view, the city’s order prohibiting open-air activities at Main Street Station is counter to the stated goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19 – forcing patrons to congregate inside the venue.

It also has a direct and devastating financial impact on a small business who relies on special events for its very survival – like kinking the oxygen tube on a patient struggling to breathe.

If members of the City Commission have been given marching orders by their political benefactors to kill special events, they are doing a masterful job of it.

I was a little surprised by the lukewarm nonresponse of the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce, who deftly sidestepped the well-advertised trials of Main Street Station – but I guess now small business owners know where they stand when they get sideways with mayoral decrees, eh?   

Look, I’ve heard people chiding the cops, attempting to place blame on code enforcement officers for doing their job – that’s wrong – because this is not a law enforcement issue.

Police and code enforcement officers are dutybound to aggressively enforce the laws and ordinances as enacted by elected officials with uniform fairness and firmness – and my hat is off to Captain Scott Lee and the officers and staff of the Daytona Beach Police Department for doing a damn difficult job with consistent professionalism.   

This embarrassing brouhaha is the result of bad public policy – set by a power-hungry autocrat flexing his new-found muscles under the guise of an “emergency declaration” – a pattern that has given rise to the emerging belief that the city’s special magistrate process is being used as the City Commission’s own Uncle Gunnysack. 

Don’t take my word for it. 

Regardless of which side you fall on the short-term rental debate, most agree that levying $15,000 fines for advertising a peer-to-peer rental outside an arbitrary line in the sand is excessive.

Because it is.    

In over thirty years in law enforcement, I learned that people are rightfully wary of subjective “emergency” orders and arbitrary mandates. 

Once they suspect that some tin-pot politician’s Draconian fiats have crossed into the realm of the ridiculous – or catch a whiff of punitive politics at play – they rightfully begin to question the motive.   

When that happens, the people’s desire for personal liberty – and a level playing field for everyone – will make itself known at the ballot box.   

Angel               Filmmaker Jared Thompson  

The purpose of art, regardless of medium, is to move our emotions – to challenge our senses, test our perceptions and make us feel – a process that allows us to view our shared experience and environment differently.

They say the new enlightenment is authenticity, and when I finished watching the phenomenal work of filmmaker Jared Thompson entitled “Daytona Beach: The other side of the bridge,” I was left repeating one word:

Powerful

Because this short film is as genuine and real as it gets. 

In fact, the jarring visuals captured by Thompson, who grew up in Daytona Beach, were so forceful – simultaneously moving and disturbing – that I immediately recommended it to friends, all of whom were equally impressed. 

This extraordinary documentary lays bare the challenges of those living and surviving in Daytona Beach’s historic Midtown – which is a million miles from the gated subdivisions of Ormond Beach – and a place rarely seen by those arguing over expensive property rights in tony beach enclaves.  

According to an excellent treatment by the News-Journal’s Erica Van Buren:

“The documentary shows scenes of crime, poverty, drug use, murder and citizens coping with the loss of loved ones due to gun violence as the backdrop to some of the poorest streets in Daytona Beach.

“I was inspired to shoot this documentary because I grew up here,” said Thompson, 28, who now lives in Texas. “I feel like we are voiceless on this side of the bridge, away from the tourist attractions and what the city is known for globally. I feel like we don’t matter. And I want to change that.”

In my view, Jared Thompson is clearly an emerging artist at the top of his craft, and his unique perspective on our areas social, cultural, economic, and civic contrasts is incredibly provocative.

A brilliant accomplishment by a gifted young man who tells a compelling story through beautiful – yet intensely graphic – images.

This is important work – not the glazed over Chamber of Commerce version of the Daytona Beach Resort Area we are accustomed to.

It deserves your attention.   

You can find Mr. Thompson’s extraordinary documentary here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-x7JOBJwDo

Angel               Dream Green Volusia

Last week I brought you an overview of the grassroots effort of Dream Green Volusia and the wildly popular Defend the Loop campaign which is bringing community awareness to this increasingly threatened scenic byway – one highlighted this time of year when thousands of motorcyclists cruise the beautifully canopied roadway. 

As the Volusia County Council works to purchase a 36-acre conservation buffer at the planned 1,577 home Plantation Oaks development along Old Dixie Highway, Dream Green Volusia continues the fight to bring attention to the importance of protecting and preserving this beloved and environmentally sensitive thoroughfare for generations to come.   

This afternoon from 2:00pm to 5:00pm, Dream Green Volusia will host a 50/50 raffle on Main Street Daytona Beach!

Participating locations include The Pallet Pub, Dirty Harry’s, Froggy’s Saloon, Neptune’s Sports Pub, Boot Hill Saloon, Peanut and George’s Pub and Main Street Station. 

Tickets are $5.00.

The winner will be announced at Main Street Station at 6:00pm – and you need not be present to win (address and phone number are required for each ticket purchased). 

In addition, a second raffle will be held tomorrow, Saturday, March 13, at Iron Horse Saloon on US-1 in Ormond Beach. 

Tickets will be available between 2:00pm and 5:00pm with the drawing at 5:30pm. 

The winner takes 50% of the total collected with the other half going to Dream Green Volusia for land conservation along the Ormond Beach Scenic Loop and Trail. 

For more information on how you can help, please go to www.dreamgreenvolusia.com    

Quote of the Week

“Much of what happened with VOL (Volusia Online Learning) this school year could have been avoided if district administration would have listened and provided TRUE and COMPREHENSIVE support,” Peterson wrote. “The current leadership does NOT accept any responsibility for being ignorant of virtual school operations or legislation, for not providing comprehensive support, and for not supporting the VOL admin team.”

— J. Susy Peterson, former Volusia County online learning principal, as quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Ex-principal: Volusia virtual school in need of support,” Friday, March 5, 2021

There you have it, folks. 

From the horse’s mouth to your ears: 

“The current leadership does NOT accept any responsibility for being ignorant of (insert any contemporary educational issue here) . . .”

This week – for reasons known only to their personal conscience – members of the Volusia County School Board refused to pass a routine resolution declaring March 22-26 as “LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week.”

The same resolution was unanimously passed last year without controversy. 

What gives?

According to a disturbing report by News-Journal education reporter Cassidy Alexander, “…after hearing from three parents who compared the resolution to supporting pedophilia or teaching students about masturbation, and who said it’s not the school’s role to teach their children about “politics,” the motion failed.”

It didn’t do any of those things. 

The resolution stated, in part, that Volusia County Schools are “…committed to bringing awareness to the effects of the devastating cycle of discrimination on LGBTQ+ health and the resulting disparities, and assured students who identify as LGBTQ+ that adults within the school system support them.

The symbolic resolution did not come with some weird curriculum – and no announcement was required – as students will be on Spring Break during the period during the designated awareness week.

According to Superintendent Scott Fritz, “It was simply saying that every child that walks across our stage and in our schools, will be treated fairly, equally and with equity,” explained Superintendent Scott Fritz, adding that it’s a common resolution for school districts.”

The resolution was supported by board member Carl Persis, whose motion failed for a lack of a second and he pulled no punches in rightfully lambasting his colleagues, “You’re either discriminatory or you’re not. You can’t justify discrimination,” he said. “You either are homophobic, or you’re not. That’s where we are with this.”

Frankly, that is the strongest, most decisive, statement I have ever heard from Mr. Persis. 

Like all of you, I have several lifelong friends who are gay. 

That isn’t some virtue signaling horseshit – it’s a fact. We all have friends, family, and professional colleagues who identify as LGBTQ+.

One of my closest friends experienced serious difficulties when we were growing up simply because of his sexual orientation – and, despite these challenges, I watched him grow into an incredibly successful man who spent his working life developing high-rise condominiums in downtown San Francisco – a person of great character and a true role model for what skill, smarts, and hard work can accomplish.   

Whenever I read something like this, I immediately equate it to my dear friends and former colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community – and I question how anyone could deny or discriminate against these wonderful human beings? 

How could anyone not support a child or refuse to advocate for their health and wellness during this incredibly challenging time in their lives?   

According to the report, “Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or aren’t sure of their sexuality face significant health risks compared to their heterosexual or cisgender peers, according to the resolution that didn’t pass. They’re far more likely to have considered or attempted suicide or have persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

At the end of the day, School Board Chairwoman Linda Cuthbert (who said she would have seconded Mr. Persis’ motion but was prohibited by parliamentary rules) wants to continue the discussion and asked staff to return with a resolution supporting some watered-down version of “diversity.” 

Let’s hope something positive results from this latest spectacle of stupidity at Volusia County Schools.

My God. 

Ignorant, indeed. 

And Another Thing!

I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of how things work around here. 

Former longtime South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarborough is a man with many valuable skills, and a deep tool chest acquired over years in the political trenches, who possesses an innate gift for professional survival that kept him at the helm of the municipality for an astonishing 33-years. 

That’s like 132 in ‘city manager years’. . .

In a profession where many managers are little more than itinerant labor – plying their trade until the political winds change, then moving on to their next performance wherever elected officials are impressed by a nice suit and a shoeshine – Joe’s longevity was something I always admired.

Then, things got weird.   

Following his retirement from South Daytona, Mr. Yarborough mysteriously assumed the unusual role as cheerleader for the failed half-cent sales tax push – a shameless money grab that our uber-wealthy oligarchs attempted to shove down our throats so forcefully one would have thought they stood to personally benefit from the enormous pot of cash the tax would produce. . . 

With Joe serving as the initiative’s chief mouthpiece, and Dr. Kent Sharples, president of the shadowy Volusia CEO Business Alliance (who knows something about second acts) as his slack-jawed sidekick, they toured the countryside with a canned dog-and-pony show. 

The embarrassing debacle fell flat on its face in an expensive special election.

To our collective credit, Volusia County voters rejected the hype and scary stories, and everyone involved scattered to the four winds – no doubt hunkering down to determine how best to improve their place in the suckling order at the public tit when the question is called again. . .

Just between you and me, I never understood why Mr. Yarborough put 45-years of hard-earned professional credibility on the line to convince a skeptical public to trust a group of fatuous politicians – who long-ago lost the confidence of their constituents – by shamelessly shilling for a controversial effort that threatened to saddle every man, woman, and child with a sales tax increase ostensibly to fund an unstructured and ill-strategized wish list of transportation infrastructure projects. 

It seemed beneath him – humiliating in a fashion – and the ploy never made sense to me.    

Then, Joe resurfaced last year in a News-Journal article announcing his new role as a ‘gentleman farmer’ hoeing hemp plants on a plot of land near the Alabama-Mississippi border.  According to reports, the Martin & Yarbrough Hemp Company produces CBD infused ointments and unguents for humans and their pets. 

On Monday, during this month’s Barker’s View appearance on the civic affairs forum GovStuff Live! with Big John, we learned that King J. Hyatt Brown personally appeared at a local Rotary Club meeting where he formally introduced Mr. Yarborough as the new manager of his Esplanade in Downtown Daytona! 

Suddenly, everything came into perfect clarity. . .

If a veteran City Manager knows anything it is – always be looking for your next job.

Well played, sir.    

The $23 million transformation of the once public riverfront park into an eternal shrine to the Halifax areas Benevolent King and Savior J. Hyatt Brown is well underway, with crews actively planting majestic oaks, constructing a scenic overlook behind the hulking News-Journal Center, preparing space for the lush gardens, excavating expansive ponds, and laying the mile-long raised walkway that will meander through the park.   

The renovation is being graciously funded by J. Hyatt and CiCi Brown through a $26 million pledge – which, according to reports, includes some $3 million to cover salaries for park employees, including the manager and an assistant that will be hired by the governing foundation. 

Because I’m a cantankerous asshole, I take perverse pleasure in poking fun at serious things – but I honestly believe the Esplanade will be a showpiece for Daytona Beach’s downtrodden downtown – a civic jewel that we all hope will work symbiotically with the recently completed Brown & Brown headquarters to breathe new life into the historic shopping and entertainment area.  

Others are not so optimistic about the park’s ultimate economic impact – and given the city’s penchant for throwing massive amounts of public money into dubious streetscapes, a bridge that was years in the making, public investments in odd “economic development” follies involving all the right last names, corporate welfare, and consistently pulling defeat from the jaws of victory – they have every right to their well-founded suspicions. 

Especially since the taxpayers of Daytona Beach are now on the hook for an estimated $800,000 annually for perpetual maintenance and upkeep of Mr. Brown’s 22.5-acre Enchanted Kingdom.    

Congratulations, Joe.  Well earned.    

That’s all for me!  Have a happy and safe final weekend of Bike Week 2021!