When we dwell together. . .

“Due to the threat of the global coronavirus pandemic. . .”

The signs are everywhere, and you can end the horrible notice in hundreds of ways:

“. . .we will be closed until further notice.”

“. . .mom’s birthday celebration has been postponed.”

“. . .all service personnel will be furloughed.”

The news is grim, with headlines screaming about the exponential spread of this microbial enemy that has upended life as we know it, a 24-hour news cycle that continues to focus solely on the devastation – coverage that is quickly approaching a saturation point – the “information overload” stage when we become effectively numb to the constant flow of data and statistics that mark the rapid march of a pandemic.

Some of us are able to compartmentalize the gruesome reality of this disease, aware of the unseen danger, but determined to remain positive – while others seem consumed by it – frightened, isolated and gripped by a sense of foreboding that is clearly taking its toll mentally and physically.

Fortunately, the vast majority of people who have been infected with COVID-19 have experienced moderate symptoms and recover in due time with little complications.

However, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems or underlying medical conditions remain at great risk.

That is why we are seeing a nationwide effort to self-isolate and observe social distancing when we venture out for necessities – at least most of us are – unprecedented measures that have required incredible sacrifice and have cost many of our friends, family and neighbors their livelihoods.

And, somehow, life goes on. . .

It’s beginning to feel and sound like spring – temperatures and humidity are beginning to rise; birds are chirping, and my seasonal allergies are marking the season of rebirth – a time of hope, optimism and renewal.

Only this year we must consciously suppress our natural desire to come together, join in groups with family and friends to enjoy our Florida weather, as we remain sequestered in our homes.

During this time, many have taken to social media to stay connected to friends and family in the absence of that all-important physical connection – relationships we will never underestimate again.

And the proliferation of Facebook messages, the sharing of memes, jokes and funny videos show the almost universal need to exercise our sense of humor as an effective coping mechanism during these trying times.

We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and the other milestones of life from our phone or a keyboard – sending well-wishes and congratulations sans the accompanying hug or handshake – and without the traditions and ceremonies that bind us.

It’s enough to depress even the strongest among us.

But, if you look closely, you will find strength, brightness and positivity all around us – things we can connect with as a community – qualities that are exemplified by individuals that have demonstrated incredible leadership and bolstered public confidence in so many unique ways.

For instance, Sheriff Michael Chitwood has spent the last few evenings delivering food for area restaurants – bringing attention to the plight of family owned businesses while keeping spirits high – while letting us know we’re all in this together.

In Daytona Beach, Chief Craig Capri – who has been a consistent voice of calm during turbulent times – performed a similar service for businesses in his community.

Or the incredibly uplifting scene of Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via leading a small parade of cars, complete with the United Brethren in Christ band performing on a flatbed trailer, through the neighborhoods of his community, bringing a smile and much-needed break in the monotony to appreciative residents.

Then, there are the many – both businesses and private citizens – who have found productive ways of helping by making hand sanitizer, sewing masks, packing lunches for children and distributing food to those who can’t afford basic sustenance.

I was particularly taken by County Manager George Recktenwald’s transparency in publicly discussing the emergency decision-making process as various departments and divisions work cooperatively to share information, coordinate with internal and external partners, weather the storm of criticism and develop public policy that, so far, has found a good balance between self-isolation and our ability to enjoy the physical and psychological benefits of our beach and outdoor recreation areas.

And I am consistently touched by the outpouring of support by what are essentially complete strangers – people who I have never personally met – that have reached out to offer their thoughts on this blog site, give a pat on the back, voice a criticism, thoughtfully discuss a local issue or just check to make sure that my family and I are doing okay during these uncertain times.

We are, thank you.

In my view, that speaks volumes to the inherent goodness that remains.

“Due to the threat of the global coronavirus pandemic. . .”

We rediscovered the many wonderful values that bind our community.

We were reminded of how vitally important our physical connection to family and friends truly is, especially during times of crisis.

We marveled at the extraordinary bravery of our first responders and medical professionals on the front line of this crisis.

We learned what it means to put petty differences aside, to think about the needs of others and truly come together as a community, as a state, as a nation to best a common foe and protect our most vulnerable through collective sacrifice.

We saw the best of us.

We found our inner strength.

Our faith was restored.

Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum

 

Angels & Assholes for March 27, 2020

Howdy my fellow shut-ins!

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.

Well, it’s been a slow week here in the Fun Coast’s Complaint Department.

Not much for me to whine about of late – at least not on the political, civic or social fronts – as our news cycle remains consumed by the “All Coronavirus/All the time” sensationalism that, in my view, continues to do more harm than good as our seclusion drives a sense of social claustrophobia and uncertainty.

My hope is our local newspaper, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, will reconsider its choice of words during this trying time.

For instance, screaming headlines, like – “Coronavirus: 785% increase in cases; two in Volusia, one in Flagler; still no stay-at-home orders” – don’t really paint an accurate picture of our current situation, at least according to our local hospital medical directors, and simply stoke the fears of readers who are helpless to do anything beyond enduring endless isolation or getting lost in the Byzantine maze of trying to sign up for unemployment benefits.

Who knew that improvised toilet tissue and interminable boredom were the only effective antidote to COVID-19?

Meanwhile, I pass the rosy hours here at Barker’s View HQ – reading, brooding and contemplating ever-changing events – trying desperately to limit my intake of what passes for “news” (difficult for a confirmed info-junkie).

I’m also dodging a constant barrage of Facebook Messenger videos – everything from home remedies for the coronavirus to a Brahma bull knitting a sweater to cartoonish morality plays about “hoarding” – weird vignettes which are literally pouring into my phone – Ding! Ding! Ding! – at all hours of the day from cloistered “friends” (my 84-year old mother at the head of the list) whose boredom-fueled need to share has clearly reached the wacky stage.

That’s okay – if it helps you pass the time with a sense of purpose – keep sending them.

But if you forward anything prefaced with “Let’s keep this going!” (that means you, mom) just know the one meme that would have saved the world died a quick death with me. . . sorry.

In reality, my days under this godawful self-quarantine aren’t much different than any other day in retirement – and those of you who are champing at the bit to retire from contributing jobs to a life of leisure should use this Groundhog Day experience as a precursor of what’s to come when your just reward arrives.

A little advice:

Be careful what you wish for. . .and stay gainfully employed as long as you can.

I hope you and your family are staying healthy and busy, keeping spirits bright and finding a way to occupy your time in productive ways that bring you closer – that’s important.

Please don’t forget to check on your elderly or vulnerable neighbors and make sure they are doing well during these frightful times – and if you don’t have anyone at home and feel lonely or depressed  – feel free to reach out to me.

You’re not alone.

Plus, I’m a damn good pen pal.

To that end, earlier in the week, I mentioned the possibility of organizing a Barker’s View “Meeting of the Minds” when this microbial monster is bested, and we are all able to join together as a tribe.

I’m happy to report the response was overwhelmingly positive.

So, I’m committed to doing just that once our current crisis is over.

We’ll find a willing locally owned establishment where we can all come together, enjoy the beverage of our choice and celebrate our new-found freedom in high style!

I’ll look forward to it.  I hope you will too.

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

Asshole           Daytona Beach City Commission

On Tuesday, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry and the City Commission did the right thing in courageously approving a wide-ranging relief package which will assist residents and businesses who have been financially devastated by government-imposed coronavirus prevention measures.

The program will see the city temporarily absorbing a portion of residents’ utility bills, setting aside building permit fees, suspending commercial rent at city-owned properties and other economic benefits.

The programmatic costs are being covered by the municipality’s reserve fund.

In my view, this outstanding humanitarian effort will assist many shattered families who lost their livelihoods almost instantaneously following unprecedented closures and restrictions, and help the many small businesses who are literally holding on by their fingernails.

Unfortunately, the elected officials couldn’t leave it at that.

Because it’s not enough to give your suffering constituents something of value during a time a crisis – the deal is not complete until you take something of value from them in return.

During the special session, Mayor Henry continued his foolish crusade to shut down Volusia County beaches and further contribute to the sense of civic confinement and building frustration as residents enter the second week of having their lives turned upside down by state and local officials who continue to use our sacred Constitution as toilet paper as supplies of Charmin run low in the Ivory Tower of Power. . .

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal,  with little understanding of how the coronavirus is transmitted – or apparent care for the financial devastation that these cockamamie local ordinances and “emergency declarations” are having on our economy and residents – the majority of the Daytona Beach City Commission voted “…to send a resolution to the county urging that the beach be legally fenced off.”

Bullshit!

Look, I know I sound like a broken record – and I’ve been harangued by many on the importance of social distancing, even self-isolation, to “flattening the curve” – I get it.

But the prevention protocols of the Centers for Disease Control haven’t changed one iota since this crisis began – and Governor Ron DeSantis has continued to push for individual responsibility and commonsense local control while keeping beaches and recreation areas open to the public.

In my view, and that of recognized experts, there appears to be little threat to those who visit the wide expanse of an open beach while maintaining group restrictions and proper intervals – much less exposure than when residents venture out to forage for food at increasingly crowded grocery stores or obtain life sustaining drugs at pharmacies – yet, politicians seem to understand the intrinsic political value in allowing their constituents access to food and water.

At least for now. . .

Regardless, Mayor Henry continues to demand that county officials completely shut down access to the physical and psychological benefits of sunshine, warmth and fresh air.

Now, even Commissioner Aaron Delgado – who I consider the most stable of the bunch – has picked up the torch (after Mayor Henry failed to convince anyone of note outside City Hall to take him seriously) and is now “leading the charge” to erect a fence between citizens and their publicly owned beach.

Mind-boggling.

In keeping with this sweeping hysteria that is consuming local elected officials, beginning today, the City of New Smyrna Beach has closed boat ramps in that community, further sequestering residents and shutting them off from the relative isolation of the open water.

Really?  Boat ramps?

In my view, in perhaps the most horrific example of the malignant political arrogance that will mark the nadir of this crisis locally, Daytona Beach Commissioner Quanita May pontificated that  closing Volusia County beaches would “…send out the message that people can’t use Volusia County’s beaches to dodge the restrictions put in place to fight the virus.”

Even as she admitted that – every day – she walks on the beach, mornings and evenings. . .

So much for practicing the draconian measures that you so haughtily demand for the rest of us, eh?

If Commissioner May has her way – not even the relative peace of a day at the beach will allow us subjects of the realm to escape the iron boot of this ‘well intentioned’ tyranny.    

Now, that truly is “appalling.”

Infuriatingly, the rules will always remain different for those who make them – the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker on the dais of power – who transmogrify into all-powerful martinets, undermining core civil liberties to “protect us from ourselves” as they continue to cobble together “public health laws” seemingly out of thin air.

Frankly, I’ve been impressed with County Manager George Recktenwald and County Chair Ed Kelley’s efforts to weather the storm of criticism and keep our beaches open.

In my view, it is time Florida counties and municipalities follow the leadership and authority of Governor DeSantis and stop this willy-nilly enactment of local lockdowns, shelter-in-place mandates, “stay-at-home” orders, and arbitrary business closures – the “let’s do something for the sake of doing something” legislation that is shitting on the constitutionally protected civil liberties and basic freedoms of their constituents.

During this crisis, local officials have constantly lectured that the reason we cannot simply be governed by CDC suggestions and commonsense recommendations is because We, The People aren’t “taking this seriously enough,” or we can’t be trusted to do the right thing to protect ourselves and our families if we are given access to the knowledge we need to make a decision.

I don’t know what this is, but we are no longer living in a participatory democracy.

Perhaps our benevolent nannies in local elected and appointed positions should remember that they derive power from usthe will of the people – and we won’t soon forget this overreach at the ballot box –  when those we elected to represent our interest treated us as subjects, not citizens – and enforced obedience through irresponsible fear-mongering and oppressive decrees.

Angel               Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the Volusia Deputies Association

Our brave first responders face myriad dangers while serving and protecting our communities – and the traditions and nature of their essential services require that they suit up, show up, and hold the line regardless of the threat.

I’ve said this before, the response at all levels of government has appeared choppy – policies enacted at a 9:00am press conference are no longer relevant at 5:00pm – and it appears our elected leadership has yet to break the seal on their jurisdictions comprehensive emergency management plans.

Yet, our first responders have never wavered.

It appears our political leadership has chosen to engage in what appears to be a game of seat-of-the-pants one-upmanship – making life-altering decisions on the fly – closing businesses, shutting down public recreation areas, limiting movements, and, in some areas of the country, locking down entire cities without a thought to due process or even a good explanation.

Clearly, our leadership gave little thought or planning to the management of potential pandemics – a point made clear by the glaring lapses in executive policies that should go into effect immediately upon an emergency declaration.

Last week, Sheriff Michael Chitwood publicly supported a push by the Volusia County Deputies Association requesting that Governor DeSantis issue an executive order directing that any first responder in the state who contracts COVID-19 would be presumed to have been infected by the virus while on-duty.

In addition, the measure would require that any period of hospitalization, quarantine or self-isolation be paid as on-duty time – rather than deducted from the public safety officials sick, vacation or personal leave time – terming the period of incapacitation as “emergency hazard health duty.” 

I agree wholeheartedly.

In my view, this legal presumption should be extended to cover healthcare professionals who work in public hospitals, testing sites and infection control areas, who, like first responders, do not have the option of standing down or protecting themselves and their families from infection as they perform their vital work in service to our community.

In my view, this commonsense directive should have taken effect throughout the state immediately upon activation of any pandemic emergency declaration – and any authorization should be retroactive to cover those courageous first responders who have contracted COVID-19 since this crisis began.

As Sheriff Chitwood said, it is not a matter of if a first responder will be infected – but when.

Frightening.

Kudos to Sheriff Chitwood and the Volusia Deputies Association for supporting this important measure to protect all first responders as they boldly hold the line during these unprecedented times.

Angel               Halifax Area Hospitality Industry  

No one takes more perverse pleasure in holding the leadership of our local tourism, convention and hospitality apparatus accountable for their various missteps as they haplessly flail for a way to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that has become their “brand” than I do.

But this isn’t a gaffe over some goofy marketing slogan.

These are desperate times.

Earlier this week, in a disturbing piece entitled, “Hotels begin cutting staff,” News-Journal reporter Jim Abbott explored the devastating affects of the coronavirus on Halifax Area hospitality workers as resort properties face single-digit occupancy rates.

For instance, at the Shores Resort & Spa, 90 employees have been furloughed – representing 85% of the workforce – as other area hoteliers prepare to close their doors indefinitely.

Despite what our ‘powers that be’ would have us believe – Volusia County remains a challenged, service-based economy – with some 43% of area households not earning enough to consistently cover basic living expenses – placing many residents at serious risk for financial ruin, even  homelessness.

When you add the thousands of our neighbors who have been laid off from their jobs at area bars, restaurants and other face-to-face businesses in the past week, it is depressing to consider how many families are being bankrupted by this crisis.

In my view, this extraordinary period of rapid unemployment underscores the imperative that our do-nothing “economic development” shills at Team Volusia (who, inexplicably, still refuse to recognize tourism and hospitality as a “key industry” in our area) get off their collective ass and recruit a diverse range of employers offering more than storeroom jobs and scut work.

It is time we demand that those who accept public funds to market the Halifax Area start living up to their hollow promise of “high paying jobs” and allow our desperate workforce innovative opportunities to prosper in this new reality.

We live in strange times – where the cure may well be worse than the disease – and the citizens of the Halifax Area and beyond face the possibility of being “saved” by draconian measures – so they can live in the grip of abject poverty not seen since the Great Depression.

As time runs out for many local businesses, perhaps we should demand our local and state elected officials take immediate and direct action to save our economic lives with equal enthusiasm?

For now, our thoughts and prayers are with those who are experiencing the ruinous effects of these dubious government-imposed measures that seemingly pick which industry wins – and which loose – and have put thousands of our neighbors on the unemployment line.

Please give generously to area service-industry relief organizations.

Angel               Samuel “Rip” Collins

The Barker’s View sports desk has learned of the passing of Samuel “Rip” Collins, a former Bethune-Cookman Wildcat football great who went on to a legendary local coaching career, at the age of 104.

Coach Collins’ positive influence on our community went far beyond the playing field.

He was a true hero.

The following is excerpted from a most fitting tribute by Bethune-Cookman University Athletics:

Samuel Collins came to Bethune-Cookman in the 1940s on a football scholarship when the program was then a two-year school.

He then transferred to Clark in Atlanta, before being drafted into the U.S. Army.

Upon being honorably discharged, Collins returned to Bethune-Cookman and received a bachelor’s degree in 1947, the last year founder Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune served as President.

Dr. Bethune personally conferred his degree.

After graduation, Collins accepted a teaching position at Hutto High School in Bainbridge, Georgia. His next move landed him in DeFuniak Springs at Tivoli, whose athletic program thrived under his leadership, as he started a football program that enjoyed success against schools twice or three times larger.

Returning to Volusia County, Collins was the first football coach at Campbell Junior High School and also coached at Campbell Senior High.

He would later become the first baseball coach at Spruce Creek High School.

Along with Sallie Shelton-Culver — another Bethune-Cookman alum – Collins was one of the first African American teachers at Daytona Beach’s Mainland High School before the school’s legally mandated integration in 1969.

Instead of coaching football, he was originally assigned tennis – a sport he never participated in but learned and developed into a winning program.

In 1985, he was inducted into the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

He married his college sweetheart, Ollye Eichelberger, in March 1942.  The couple remained married 77 years later.

They had three children, Samuel III (deceased), Thaddeus and Sonya. He was a lifetime member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

Rest in Peace, Coach.

Quote of the Week

“Consider this: 3,068,000 Floridians (moms, dads, etc.) are employed in Florida’s tourism, hospitality, restaurants, retail trade and affiliated trade and wholesale businesses. That’s 34% of all jobs, the largest segment of employment in the state.”

“These are the businesses that typically have the least amount of financial wherewithal to withstand a shock like this. These businesses need immediate assistance — not two weeks from now. They need it now!”

–Matt Walsh and Joel Schleicher, Ormond Beach Observer Opinion Section, “Gov. DeSantis, we need economic hope,” Monday, March 23, 2020

And Another Thing!

Here’s an urgent message from Gloria Max, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Volusia and Flagler Counties – and one of the true angels in our community:

“The Jerry Doliner Food Bank of the Jewish Federation has wonderful volunteers and we have seen a huge increase of people coming for food.

Somehow, we have been able to keep up with our supply of food, but it is costing us a lot more. We are asking the public to donate funds so we can continue to assist our needy clients, regardless of race or religion. Even small donations add up. One hundred percent of all donations go for food, as our administration absorbs all costs. We at the Federation have never seen anything like this and we have been giving out food for over 30-years.

Please help us assist those who are vulnerable.”

To contribute, please mail checks to the Jerry Doliner Food Bank, 470 Andalusia Avenue, Ormond Beach, Florida 32174.

Please, help if you can – many in our community need it now, more than ever.

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

Now, I’m going back to feverishly nursing from this bottle of Tito’s and staring catatonically at the television as Pete Weber bowls against Walter Ray Williams, Jr. in the Barbasol World Championship from Lubbock circa 2016. . .

Keep your chin up, folks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Expression in a Time of Crisis

In Sunday’s edition of The Daytona Beach News-Journal the headline reassured us, “Humanity will prevail.” 

Will it?

Will our basic sense of humanity really pass the coronavirus test?

I have no doubt our species will survive COVID-19 and prevail as the highest life-form on the planet as we ultimately find the right chemical compound to kill it – and a vaccine to ensure it stays dead.

But what will our nation – our sense of society and community – look like on the other side of this crisis?

I recently posted on social media what I thought was an interesting question about the preventive curtailment of certain basic American freedoms – like our right to association, to engage in otherwise lawful conduct, to operate a business and engage in commerce without government intrusion.

The countermeasures adopted by all levels of government are unprecedented, and have caused some to contemplate if our civil liberties are a myth – applicable only until the next ‘emergency declaration’ gives federal and state elected officials (and their amateur counterparts in local governments) the authority to confine our movements, close our businesses and shutdown public beaches and recreation areas.

Not by providing sound information and suggestions – but through draconian mandates, measures which seem to change hourly in some interstate gubernatorial one-upmanship – backed by the force of law.

Your thoughts may (and should) differ from mine – and that’s okay.

Regardless of my personal opinions, I am following the rules and practicing the prevention suggestions of the Centers for Disease Control, as I hope everyone else is.

When the first comments appeared on my post, I immediately regretted the decision to ask a philosophic question as the responses turned partisan, ugly and angry.

I watched in horror as my Facebook “friends,” i.e., people I am connected with on the social media platform but have never met in person – began openly attacking actual friends of mine, i.e., people with whom I have actually shared life experiences and developed a personal relationship.

It made me uncomfortable.

Then, as things digressed, members from all categories of my “friends” branched off into internecine skirmishes – arguing presidential politics, hurling invectives and pointing fingers of blame.

In one exchange, I was shocked when a self-described healthcare professional told her over-agitated political antagonist out there in the ether that she would still save his life if he were infected by the virus (rather than let him die over his political opinion?) as through that has become an option in this country. . .

As I watched the conflagration build, I contemplated simply taking the post down with the click of a button – but since we can’t switch these issues off “in real life,” and will ultimately need to have a national conversation on these important questions – I let the post stand.

Then, this weekend I published an essay here on Barker’s View entitled, “A step too far?” wherein I questioned Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post’s call for the complete closure of beaches, recreation areas and businesses – even after she agreed to relegate emergency executive authority to County Manager George Recktenwald and County Chair Ed Kelley.

In my view, Ms. Post broke emergency management protocols when she publicly lobbied in an open letter – effectively violating the agreement to allow Recktenwald and Kelley to make these important decisions – while upending the single source of public information policy that seeks to avoid confusion during a crisis.

I didn’t agree with her – and I said so.

That made other people uncomfortable.

The piece sparked a massive response from Barker’s View readers, with many engaging me on social media and privately, either supporting my opinion, voicing their own views or vehemently protecting Councilwoman Post from what some felt was an “attack” as she tried to educate her constituents on preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Some lashed out at the source, accusing me of breaking ranks with those trying to end the status quo in Volusia County – or allowing my views on beach access and driving to outweigh the public good – while others took the opportunity to tell me how “disappointed” in me they are.

However, in my view, had I failed to call attention to this important issue, or show favoritism, it would have been disingenuous, and I would have felt less of myself (if that’s possible.)

The fact is, I normally support Ms. Post – especially in her attempts to bring a fact-based alternative opinion to the lockstep conformity of county government – and I happen to know she has the hard bark of a now veteran politician which allows her to take criticism in the spirit in which it is given.

But the shear number of people who accessed and read the blog post – then took the time to share their views with me – proved once again how fragmented we are in Volusia County and beyond – yet, how willing we are to voice our opinions – even during a time of national crisis.

Believe it or not, I try not to take politics too seriously – it’s not something I fixate on – and my opinions on the issues tend to come from my own knee-jerk reaction, rather than an in-depth analysis.

Now that we’re all cooped up in our homes – trying hard to do the right thing and prevent the spread of this microbial monster that is actively destroying our economy and threatening the lives and livelihoods of our family, friends and neighbors – I find my thoughts turning more insular, more brooding and dark.

But, is what we’re seeing really the best of our national values at play?

While contemplating the meaning of all this, I got depressed thinking, ‘How can we claim to “all be in this together,” if we remain tribalized by local, state  and  national politics – republicans vs. democrats, liberals vs. conservatives, the haves and have nots – locked in an ideological war for the soul of a nation, a pitched battle that seemingly knows no boundaries or circumstance where hatred isn’t an appropriate initial response.

After contemplating the issue for a moment, I realized that what I was witnessing is the very essence of a free and open society.

In fact, there is nothing more typically American than arguing the issues, exercising our right to free speech and expression, vocalizing our fears, airing our concerns and staunchly defending our views and values through raucous debate – and the fact one participant in a pitched argument would remind their opponent that they will still care for them – regardless of how different their views may be – speaks volumes about our underlying sense of unity.

Our political and personal opinions on the issues of the day remain as individual as our fingerprints – and our willingness to share and defend them is refreshing.

That reinforces my faith in our local and national values.

Humanity will prevail.

Perhaps when this crisis has passed, it will be time to have a good old-fashioned Barker’s View “Meeting of the Minds,” at a locally owned establishment where we can join together with the beverage of our choice, put a face to a name – once again shake hands – and embrace each other and those things that unite us.

Let me know what you think.

A step too far?

Since taking office three years ago, Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post has been a walking political contradiction – a self-described maverick who bucks the entrenched “system,” seemingly going against the grain on controversial issues – yet routinely votes in lockstep conformity with her “colleagues” on the dais of power, especially in development and beach access issues.

Like many, I have a soft spot for Ms. Post – she can be friendly, attentive, accessible to most constituents (who agree with her position) and fiercely inquisitive when exploring the issues – and she’s not afraid to throw a sharp elbow or two during her frequent spats with our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair Ed Kelley.

Conversely, she can also be insular, accusatory, politically paranoid and shamelessly self-promoting – going to great lengths to avoid speaking to the working press – choosing instead to couch her message behind a social media presence only she can control.

To say Ms. Post has a high opinion of herself is an understatement – but that sense of self-confidence has served her well through the turbulent times – and I have supported her efforts to bring an alternative opinion to difficult issues.

I have also taken her to task when warranted.

Last year, in a piece entitled “The trials of Heather Post,” I aptly described the Councilwoman as an “uber-weird show-boater with a ‘look at me’ complex” – because that’s what she is.

But since when has that personality quirk prohibited anyone from holding public office?

Unfortunately, preening and posturing has become a prerequisite – a common trait found in politicians everywhere – but there is an appropriate time and place for playing to the crowd.

This isn’t it.

During an emergency, when we really need our public officials to demonstrate strong leadership, build public confidence and calm the fears of worried constituents – political opportunism becomes glaringly apparent to anyone paying attention.

Earlier this week, “From the office of Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post” (wherever that is) came a fustian manifesto in which Ms. Post explains, ad nauseam, her concerns over the spread of the coronavirus – while making sure to mention that she has personally spoken to the “White House Coronavirus Task Force” (Really? The District 4 Councilwoman from Hooterville, Florida called the White House?) – and lectured us about “mixed messages” – before demanding the immediate closure of all parks, beaches, recreation facilities – and “shutting down businesses completely for the two-week duration.”

Say what?  

Now, anyone paying attention can see that Ms. Post’s panicked reaction was an overblown and undisguised attempt to prop up the threatening screed previously issued by her political supporters at the Volusia Waterman’s Association – the union representing beach safety employees – who are apparently operating in an almost neurotic state of anxiety – and have called for the complete closure of our beaches.

In my view, Post’s official declaration went a step too far.

Why?

Because Ms. Post’s fear-mongering came from a sitting elected official who, just this week, agreed that all emergency management decisions would be made by the Dream Team of County Manager George Recktenwald and Chairman Kelley for the duration of the threat.

Despite this agreed upon protocol, Ms. Post simply could not sit still – because it would be unthinkable for her to let a good crisis go to waste without an opportunity to grandstand.

So, she hyper-dramatically blames her fellow elected officials for not doing enough – for failing to ACT with sufficient overreach to meet the growing crisis. . .  

Unlike her “colleagues” – with the exception of the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys who saw fit to join Kelley and Recktenwald at a stilted after-hours “press conference” to announce the asinine closure of beach ramps (?) – Ms. Post broke established policy and used her office to call for draconian countermeasures which would further crush small business, destroy our local economy and limit the public’s access to safe outdoor recreation opportunities.

Look, given Ms. Post’s history of overstepping procedural boundaries during hurricanes and previous emergencies, insinuating herself into photo opportunities and generally ignoring the concept of single source public information practices – her rambling diatribe is nothing new, or unexpected. . .

That doesn’t make it right.

In my view, once emergency management operations are established, the rules apply to everyone equally – or they apply to no one.

I suspect that in coming hours or days Ms. Post will get her fervent wish to see the beach closed, and even more businesses shuttered, as Governor Ron DeSantis continues his ever-changing “death by a thousand cuts” crisis response.

Then Ms. Post can take the credit she so desperately seeks.

Whatever.

Given Ms. Post’s prior law enforcement experience, she should understand the importance of a unified message – instead, Post acts like she’s playing a role in some science fiction movie.

In my view, Councilwoman Post should understand that true crisis leadership means stepping back, allowing emergency management protocols to function properly, and refrain from muddying the waters with frightening, ill-timed screeds that exacerbate the expanding financial crisis, fan the flames of panic and further unravel our civic fabric during these unprecedented times.

Anything less truly is “reckless and irresponsible.”

 

Angels & Assholes for March 20, 2020

Hey, 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.

As most loyal readers of these screeds have figured out – I’m something of a nonconformist.

I don’t like being told what to do – or how to do it – especially when its my government dictating what I will or won’t do – usurping my right to make informed decisions for myself and my family while issuing what is essentially a death sentence for many small local businesses who are actively laying off our friends and neighbors following a government-imposed shutdown of commerce in response to the coronavirus.

As I write this, my heart bleeds for friends and neighbors who are actively losing their livelihoods and shuttering their businesses as we engage in this national panic to do something, anything, to protect the masses from the virus.

In over thirty years in public service, I learned that people will comply with subjective orders and mandates only so long as they can see the public benefit.

Once they suspect that draconian measures have crossed into the realm of the ridiculous or feel base politics are at play – they will question the strategy – and we will begin seeing civil disobedience if/when citizens perceive an infringement on their constitutionally protected rights and freedoms.

That’s frightening.

The process begins when citizens feel they are slowly being turned into subjects – manipulated by fear and financially ruined by capricious restrictions that seem to change hourly – and appear to favor one business or industry over another in the name of “the public good.”

When government overreach – regardless of the threat – inhibits our ability to make informed decisions for ourselves and our family, free-thinking citizens of a constitutional republic will begin to push back from what they perceive as oppression – regardless if it’s in our collective “best interest” or not.

My sincere hope is that our elected and appointed ‘powers that be’ at all levels of government understand that there are natural limitations to this “preventative” intrusion in our lives and livelihoods – and no one benefits when law abiding citizens are forced into a corner because our elected officials “know what’s best for us.”

We understand the benefits of “social distancing,” frequent hand washing, staying home if we’re sick, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, keeping kids out of school and taking logical precautions to protect ourselves – just like we do every flu season.

And we understand that the coronavirus represents an unprecedented threat.

But why not take enforcement action on those groups and individuals who violate crisis response regulations, rather than continue to adopt widespread and increasingly harsh mandates that affect everyone?

In my view, citizens in a free society don’t understand impulsive and seemingly random decisions to ensure lockstep conformity with other government entities – or nonsensical measures like closing vehicular beach access – or the wholesale destruction of our local economy with a mishmash of restrictions that insult our intelligence and suppress our civil liberties – simply because some officious government entity believes we cannot make prudent decisions for ourselves.

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

Angel               Volusia County Council

Asshole           The Nanny State of Volusia County

We live in strange times.

Made stranger by the fact this would have been the second time in as many weeks I counted the Volusia County Council in the Angel column.

On Tuesday, for the first time in a long time, I felt our elected officials demonstrated true leadership in carefully considering emergency mitigation efforts in response to the coronavirus – even in the face of withering criticism – when they decided on reasonable measures to protect public beach access while recognizing the needs of threatened small businesses.

Then – like always – our elected and appointed officials pulled defeat from the jaws of victory by succumbing to their natural need to overreact.

I wrote the following missive earlier this week, congratulating our elected officials on what, at the time, was a measured response in keeping Volusia County beaches open.

Then, late yesterday afternoon, they turned tail and saw fit to close beach approaches and eliminate beach driving as visitors and residents seek refuge from the claustrophobia of social isolation by getting outdoors and enjoying our beach.

Here’s my original – clearly premature – thoughts:

As the Volusia County Council sat for their regular meeting, Governor Ron DeSantis was in Tallahassee actively shutting down bars and drastically curtailing restaurant operations for the next 30-days – before closing all public schools in Florida until at least April 15 – giving the impression he is simply pulling new measures out of his ass every two-hours in an apparent race to one-up New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio and the State of California for the most draconian response. . .

To ensure efficient command and control, the council gave County Manager George Recktenwald and (frighteningly) our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair Ed Kelley, wide-ranging authority to make unilateral decisions to expedite crisis management decisions (and shield vulnerable council members who are running for reelection from potential criticism) during the emergency declaration. 

When talk turned to protecting Volusia County residents during these uncertain times, I watched our elected officials engage in a thoughtful, contemplative and controlled discussion – which included a presentation by Volusia County public health officials – who provided a peek into the byzantine world of our state and local system, which, once this panic is over, is in desperate need of a complete overhaul – especially in terms of reporting and public information protocols.    

Don’t get me wrong, there were the usual spits and spats between Chairman Kelley and the overly inquisitive Councilwoman Heather Post – and a few cringeworthy moments as some of our elected officials provided their weird thoughts and freewheeling commentary on the issues  – but, for the most part, I was impressed with their ability to work cooperatively when it counts.

And these important decisions were not without controversy. 

Earlier this week, the Volusia Watermen’s Association – a labor union of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters which represents Beach Safety and Ocean Rescue employees – issued a damning open letter to council members accusing them of putting lives at risk by not closing our public beaches, and spewing hyper-dramatic horseshit like, “Every day you wait to act, the virus spreads. . .”

Even though public health officials continue to report no community acquired cases of the virus in Volusia County.

The screed culminated in the rather self-absorbed line, “…if a single Beach Safety employee get sick while you continue to fail to act, we will all know who to blame.”

Bullshit.  

I found it unconscionable that Beach Safety officers, men and women who have sworn to serve and protect, even at risk to their own personal safety, would put their name to this mewling tripe – ignoring the sacred traditions of their service – while seeking the complete closure of their jurisdiction at the first sign of a crisis?

And since when do career civil servants’ issue not-so-veiled political threats to duly elected officials? 

I’m pretty sure that’s not the way our system works. . .

Throughout Volusia County and beyond, the brave men and women of law enforcement, the fire service, emergency medical personnel and dedicated healthcare professionals continue to boldly hold the line – honoring their sacred oath without the convenience of barricading off their entire area of responsibility – putting themselves in harm’s way, instilling public confidence, protecting their neighbors and serving the needs of anxious communities – despite the very real personal hazards they face. 

By their very presence, these public servants bring a sense of calm assurance to frightened residents. 

In my view, anything less is unacceptable – and irresponsible.

If beach safety personnel don’t feel they can stand their post – then they can resign – and retreat to the relative safety of their homes. 

Ultimately, the Volusia County Council took reasonable steps, in concurrence with Governor DeSantis’ mandates, to keep our beaches open and accessible while limiting groups to ten or less with “social distancing” spacing requirements. 

Given the safety provided by the wide expanse of our beaches – which allows people to easily maintain spacing – coupled with the intrinsic physical and psychological benefits of getting outdoors in the sunshine and enjoying the warm breeze – it was the right thing to do. 

Thanks, and kudos to the Volusia County Council – and all of our county staffers, emergency management personnel and first responders on these commonsense crisis response and mitigation efforts.   

Yeah, right.

For reasons that have yet to be fully explained, yesterday afternoon County Manager George Recktenwald announced that beginning Friday, vehicular beach access ramps will be closed in New Smyrna Beach – and, on Saturday, the ban will extend to include all Volusia County beaches.

Bullshit.

Welcome to the Recktenwald/Kelley Emergency Junta – where your beach-going habits are monitored by drones and “Beach Safety officers” (who have proven they would rather be anywhere else) while disabled persons, families with special needs and those of us who support beach management with our hard-earned tax dollars are forced to park wherever we can find a spot and dodge dangerous traffic lanes to access our beach.

Why not enforce the law on groups and individuals who refuse to comply with separation regulations – rather than inconvenience Volusia County beach goers with a driving ban?

As always, these reflexive actions create even more questions and anxiety.

Is this ridiculous mandate only for this Saturday and Sunday – or will the driving ban be extended as the weather warms and residents want to access their beach? 

Well, that’s apparently going to be ‘reevaluated’ by county officials who have proven, time and again, they couldn’t pour piss out of boot with the instructions on the heel.

At a stilted “press conference” last evening – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys tried her level best to demonstrate some semblance of “leadership” to bolster credibility for her run for County Chair – yet, typically, she came off looking like the mealy-mouthed, flip-flopping, responsibility dodging coward she’s become known for.

During a crisis, we expect strong, focused leadership – and this is what we get?

How sad. . .

In my view, our elected officials can blame it on the Centers for Disease Control all they want – but the agency’s prevention guidance hasn’t wavered – and not once have I heard anyone at CDC proclaim that driving a vehicle on a public beach – or associating in groups of less than ten in the open sunshine and fresh air – has resulted in any community acquired infections.

I suspect when the parking complaints start pouring in this weekend from outraged neighborhoods as people exercise their right to access our public beaches by parking anywhere and everywhere they can find a spot – we will see even more cockamamie restrictions in coming days.

Look, if you feel Volusia County beaches should be closed in the interest of public health, that’s fine – stay home.

We can disagree.  That’s okay.

But I happen to be of the mindset that says the risk of contracting the coronavirus while visiting the beach is minimal – as Governor DeSantis suggested in his initial decision to keep Florida beaches open – and I’m quite certain my family and I can make these decisions for ourselves.

Angel               Chief Craig Capri

In my view, Sheriff Michael Chitwood and Daytona Beach Chief of Police Craig Capri have shown outstanding leadership during this crisis – a voice of calm reason who continue to put out commonsense information that builds community confidence and salves fears.

When it comes to commonsense leadership and the development of community-based programs that work, few can match the efforts of Chief Capri.

Last year, the City of Daytona Beach took direct action to effectively eliminate the number of aggressive panhandlers that occupied literally every major intersection in the Halifax Area – a scourge that saw professional mendicants playing on the sympathy and good nature of residents – while ruining the aesthetics of our community.

In an excellent piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Community Voices column earlier this week, Chief Capri expertly summarized the advent of a highly effective ordinance which gave police the tools necessary to drive roadside grifters out of town and stop the proliferation of this insidious practice.

In my view, the City of Daytona Beach got it right when they recognized a community nuisance and adopted proven measures to eliminate it – a program that has paid dividends throughout east Volusia County.

Good work!

Angel               Copper Bottom Distillery

I’ve always said the City of Holly Hill represents the best of small-town Florida – where, during times of crisis and calm, residents and businesses join together to prop each other up – a real sense of community where the worst of times always brings out the best.

In the face of the coronavirus outbreak, our neighbors at Copper Bottom Distillery have begun producing an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to help protect from the spread of the virus – distributing it free of charge to anyone with a need and a four-ounce container.

On Wednesday, dear friends of mine who operate a small local business were concerned about protecting their employees when they found store shelves bare of commercial hand sanitizer and other cleaning products.

Upon learning of Copper Bottom’s extraordinary community service – my friend drove to the Holly Hill distillery and was quickly provided with ample supplies.

What an incredibly generous way to help during this time of fear and uncertainty.

According to reports, the distillery is asking for donations of white table sugar, xanthan gum and bottles to assist with production and distribution.

The hand cleanser is available at Copper Bottom through tomorrow during normal business hours – 12:00pm to 7:00pm – at 998 North Beach Street in Holly Hill.

I hope you will remember this good deed by a local business who saw a need and immediately took steps to meet it when this crisis has passed.

In my view, Copper Bottom produces some of the finest spirits currently in production anywhere – and their handcrafted products can be found at the distillery or your favorite local liquor purveyor.

Please join me in shopping with this wonderful family owned business and say ‘thank you’ for their dedication to protecting the health of their neighbors – and improving our collective quality of life during a difficult time.

Angel               The “Five Families of the Halifax”

On Wednesday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported the news many have been anxiously awaiting:

Bethune-Cookman University is poised to receive a $17.3 million infusion of much-needed cash when Governor Ron DeSantis approves the state budget – which includes $13 million in new funding – a financial inoculation that just might save the imperiled institution from the “edge of extinction.” 

In addition, Bethune-Cookman President Brent Chrite recently received individual $50,000 donations from some of the Halifax Area’s most important and successful business icons and philanthropists; to include, Mori Hosseini, Glenn and Connie Ritchey, Hyatt and Cici Brown and L. Gale Lemerand – along with a $55,000 check from long-time B-CU supporters Lowell and Nancy Lohman.   

According to a report by the News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, former Mayor Ritchey explained “It’s seed money from the business community.  It’s a beginning.  We want to show support for Bethune-Cookman.”

A wonderful new start, indeed.  

The article went on to provide a laundry list of state politicians who had a hand in cobbling together the funding bill – and while we appreciate their efforts – I think we all know where the credit truly belongs. . .

Despite the fact I often take him to task in this space for development and growth management issues – or for using his considerable power to control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast – I have a great deal of respect for Mori Hossieni.

I’m almost certain that he and I don’t agree on anything, but, in my view, he epitomizes the “American Dream” – the promise that with hard work and perseverance one can achieve great things in this country, and make no mistake, few people in the history of the State of Florida have attained more financial success (or raw political influence) than Mr. Hossieni.

Trust me.  Our elected state officials can slap themselves on the back all they want – but none of this happens without Mr. Hossieni’s “encouragement” at the highest levels of government.

Love it or hate it – that’s the way the game is played – and Mori Hossieni is the undisputed champion of the political playing field.

Fortunately, Mr. Hossieni, who has been a longtime advocate for higher education in our state, saw the dire circumstances that have brought Dr. Bethune’s dream – and the hopes of students and anxious alumni – to the very precipice of disaster.

When it mattered most – Mr. Hossieni rode to the rescue of an embattled institution that holds such vital importance to our community – and he did it behind the scenes, leaving the accolades for the politicians who did the heavy lifting.

I admire that. 

I believe this substantial state funding measure – coupled with the generous personal investment of those in a position to truly help – represents a real turning point in Bethune-Cookman’s long institutional nightmare.

Thank you.  Your generosity has made a difference in the lives of many.    

Let’s all take encouragement in Dr. Chrite’s assessment this week:

“I’m so excited about the future of this institution,” he said. “The issues here were caused by inept and corrupt leadership, and they can be fixed by integrity and good leadership. We’ve got the pieces in place.”

Quote of the Week

“The current outbreak is a timely reminder of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ nod, more than a hundred years ago, to sunlight’s disinfecting properties. Brandeis is thought to have been paraphrasing the British jurist James Bryce, who wrote about government transparency in his 1888 book, “The American Commonwealth.”

“Public opinion is a sort of atmosphere, fresh, keen, and full of sunlight, like that of the American cities,” he wrote, “and this sunlight kills many of those noxious germs which are hatched where politicians congregate.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal Our View column, “Sunshine, our best disinfectant,” Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Now, there’s something we can all agree on. . .

And Another Thing!

Since Colonial times, the neighborhood tavern has been a place for community members to gather, enjoy a pint, discuss and debate the news of the day, watch the game, relax with friends and celebrate the blessings of life.

I have my spot – perhaps you have a special place “where everybody knows your name.”

Earlier this week, Governor Ron DeSantis followed the lead of other states in abruptly closing bars and seriously curtailing the hours and operating conditions of restaurants in the latest measure to limit social gatherings in the face of the coronavirus.

As Newton’s third law explained, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – and in our fragile service-based economy – the negative consequence of this government imposition on small businesses will result in massive layoffs, with many establishments closing their doors forever.

Seemingly unfazed by this unfolding financial disaster, earlier this week, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry – in his simpleminded crusade to stop Spring Break even if it bankrupts the rest of us – argued to further curtail the hours restaurants can sell alcohol, even as some speculate that 30-40% of area restaurants could go away in coming weeks.

In turn, rather than being a calming presence during a crisis, Mayor Henry thought it best to fan the flames of panic by calling this “the greatest threat of our lifetime.”

Really?

Whatever.

Mayor Henry’s histrionics aside – we live in a symbiotic economy – a true interdependence where pressure on one segment is felt by everyone.

Tragically, many of our neighbors are losing their jobs at an unprecedented rate, businesses are shutting the doors and feelings of fear, anger and frustration are beginning to fill the void.

Not that Mr. Henry gives two-shits – so long as those damn kids get off the beach. . .

In my view, the extent and seemingly arbitrary nature of these closures – where government decides which industries live and which small businesses die – is a conversation we are going to have in this country once this societal panic subsides.

I suspect many politicians who erred on the side of what they thought would paint them in the best light will find themselves wishing they had bet on their constituents’ courage, intelligence and ability to self-regulate their own behavior instead of issuing sweeping edicts from on high.

While we’re being told a federal stimulus package is forthcoming, the immediate reality is that many local businesses have a life expectancy of weeks – even days – and they desperately need our help.

I would like to make a sincere plea to all members of the Barker’s View tribe:

Please make a point of ordering takeout meals from area restaurants as they struggle mightily to remain open.

Let’s help keep our friends and neighbors employed during this extended closure – and consider donating to service industry relief organizations, like Foundation 37 – “Locals Helping Locals” – which was recently recommended by New Smyrna Beach Mayor Russ Owen.

(Find more information here: https://tinyurl.com/svu9p6t )

In addition, I understand the City of DeLand is actively working to provide assistance to service industry professionals who have been displaced.

Look, you and I can disagree on the goofy political issues of the day – and I admit, my views aren’t always right, or even rational now that I’ve been cooped up all week, rambling around the house on a steady diet of vodka, ice and lime – but I hope you will concur that local businesses and their employees deserve our support during these difficult and uncertain times.

Please don’t forget a generous gratuity for your servers, takeout cashiers and delivery drivers.

Tip like their lives and livelihoods depend upon it.

Because they do.

That’s all for me.  I hope everyone has a great weekend despite our current situation – remember we really are in this together!

Go to the beach.

Take a walk.

Play catch with the kids.

Sit on the porch.

Watch a movie.

Call a distant family member or friend.

Carry out a family feast from a locally owned restaurant you’ve never been to before.

Be cool.

Smile.

Take care of yourself and each other.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln during his 1859 address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! — how consoling in the depths of affliction! “And this, too, shall pass away.”

Keep your chin up, kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food in the Time of Coronavirus

Sometimes things are brought to my attention here at Barker’s View HQ that seem so preposterous – so utterly enraging – that they defy credibility.

But when it comes to the utter absurdity that is Volusia County Schools, nothing surprises me anymore. . .

Earlier this week, I learned through a concerned citizen of yet another shocking gaffe by senior officials in the Ivory Tower of Power at Volusia County Schools – one which, had it not been formally challenged by Holly Hill city officials – may well have resulted in many underprivileged children going hungry during the extended school shutdown.

Beginning next week, Volusia County Schools will provide free breakfast and lunch for displaced students during the school closure period.  The meals will be delivered in drive-thru style (walkers and bicyclists included) from 10:00am to 12:30pm in the parent pick-up line at designated schools.

In my view, that’s a noble effort – one that will provide nourishment to many under-served children who might otherwise go without a nutritious meal.

So, image my outrage when I learned Holly Hill School – where some 94% of the Kindergarten through 8th grade students are on some form of assistance – was intentionally omitted from the meal program because, as district officials explained, “When we looked at HH, the logistics didn’t work to keep the integrity of the plan in place to distribute the food.”

In turn, some families were told they should slog their way to Ormond Beach to reach a food distribution point.

My God.

I also learned that Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte – speaking on behalf of the City Commission – fought tooth-and-nail for basic fairness, sending a scathing email to the district’s hapless “Chief Operating Officer,” Greg Akin, voicing the community’s well-placed indignation.

Upon learning that disadvantaged children in Holly Hill would be denied a meal unless they could navigate their way to Ormond Beach – city officials apparently reached out to a local church who offered to establish a food distribution point near the school.

In turn, a local veterans organization came forward and offered “several thousand” rations for the Holly Hill student’s who were so callously disregarded by Volusia County Schools.

It doesn’t surprise me that, when the chips were down, the good people of Holly Hill – an incredibly tight-knit community who looks out for those most vulnerable – came together to see that poor children were given the same benefit as those in more affluent communities.

Upon learning of the situation, I’m told Volusia County teacher and President of Volusia United Educators Elizabeth Albert (who is also a former Holly Hill City Commissioner) reached out to Superintendent Scotty Fritz on behalf of area families with children who would be left hungry because “the logistics didn’t work.”

In his email to the district, Mr. Forte wrote:

“I and the city commission are very upset that Holly Hill students were not taken into consideration for this plan.  Our children walk and bike to school every day.  All year long we listen to how poor these kids are and when trouble strikes, they are told to go to Ormond Beach.”

 If the city has to take up where the school board is failing, I will do my best to make up for ignoring these needy children and providing them with gross military food.  I would like to know what the details are that the logistics cannot work to keep the integrity of the plan in place to distribute food.

To say we are upset is actually an understatement, frankly, as the saying goes, I’m pissed off!”

Just one more reason I believe Joe Forte is the best City Manager in the business. . .

Ultimately, district officials and School Board members rightly changed tack and have now agreed to provide complimentary meals at Holly Hill School to ensure children in that community receive the same nourishment as those in surrounding cities.

(Find the updated distribution list here: https://tinyurl.com/w77dncx )

How is it possible this Circus of the Absurd can continue?

In my view, institutionalized administrative ineptitude is one thing – but the health and welfare of our children is quite another – with tales of “filthy” classrooms – and now this debacle, one that would have denied sustenance to a socioeconomically challenged school.

Trust me – had Mr. Forte and the elected officials not fought valiantly on behalf of their discarded constituents – we would have seen the heartless juxtaposition of poor children in Holly Hill eating donated military rations, while those in Ormond Beach, Port Orange and elsewhere noshed on freshly prepared takeout. . .

That’s wrong.

All kudos to Mr. Forte, the Holly Hill City Commission and VUE President Albert for their brave stand against this cruel unfairness.

Thank you for fighting for deserving families – your efforts on behalf of those less fortunate epitomize the community’s fitting motto – “The City with a Heart!”

The Nanny State Goes to the Beach

As most loyal readers of Barker’s View know, these screeds are simply one mans warped views of the news and newsmakers of the day – neither always right, nor always wrong – opinions often explained with a dose of humor and sarcasm.

Your thoughts on the issues may vary – and that’s okay.

But, By God, no one should tell you how to think.

I don’t report the news – I grumble about it – and hold those we have elected and appointed to ostensibly look out for our interests accountable with scathing criticism when, in my jaded view, they fall short.

Unfortunately, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the news media and government mouthpieces are no longer reporting the news either.

Despite News-Journal editor Pat Rice’s “Why’s everybody pickin’ on me?  Don’t shoot the messenger” dodge in today’s paper – perhaps its time Mr. Rice take a step back and actually read what his newspaper has been putting out, ad nauseum, for the past week.

For instance, the editorial board’s opinion piece on Friday, “Shut down Bike Week,” isn’t responsible editorial writing – its gross speculation, hype and hysteria – shackled to a liberal dose of transmission shaming that was simply over-the-top.

A hodgepodge of presumptuous “what if’s” that demanded local officials use the power of government to “shut down” the last 24-hours of a special event as some weird symbolic gesture of lock-step conformity – the “everybody’s doing it” mentality that says it’s important to do something – anything – even if its wrong.

Now, after a week of “All Coronavirus/All the time,” and demands for radical action by local government, Mr. Rice cloaks himself and his newspaper as merely the messenger – rather than admit he, and many other local and national media outlets, failed us when we needed them most – succumbing to his industry’s basic need for sensationalism in the face of a building crisis.

I think most will agree that this incessant fear-mongering by media outlets, and the predictable overreaction by some local governments, is both disappointing – and alarming.

For years we have sat idle while government – at all levels – stopped respecting or representing  the will of the people in favor of doing the bidding of their political benefactors and creating public policy that controls various aspects of our lives in a “we know what’s best for the masses” arrogance that, I believe, is a very real threat to our freedom.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy nut to see the frightening overreaction caused by a lack of substantive information from official sources and gross speculation by others which has resulted in many ignoring our national virtues, making us all feel weak and vulnerable to a microbial monster we can’t see – which has resulted in the panicked evisceration of our strong national economy.

Don’t take my word for it.  Have you tried to buy a roll of toilet paper lately? 

To make matters worse, once respected sources in science, academics and the government are now saying, “We have the ability to put your constitutional rights on hold if we feel it is in your best interest” – to control your movements, lock your loved ones away in nursing homes in total isolation, flexing muscles by activating the National Guard and using an iron fist in a velvet glove to force the complete shut down of sports, entertainment and education.

Then, when they deem the threat is over, with the permission of our media and government, We, The Little People, can resume the now hollow promise of our constitutionally protected rights to peaceably assemble, speak freely, question the official narrative and move about at will, but only once the “crisis” has passed. . .

And doom on anyone who questions the motivations of these “do-gooders” with our best interests at heart.

I recently read a local reporter use the term “virus-denier” to describe anyone who dares challenge the All Knowing/All Seeing Great and Powerful elected officials and entrenched bureaucrats of our local and state governments who clearly know far more about how we should live our lives and manage our health than we do.

Because establishing community-wide panic, then marginalizing those who “think” differently from what we are told by the media and our clearly uninformed elected officials – essentially the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker that we elect every two to four years to steward our tax dollars and set effective public policy – is the first step to legitimizing government overreach.

For instance, late Friday, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry came out of hiding and took the extraordinary step of “revoking” all permits related to Bike Week, effectively using the full might of the municipal government to obstruct lawful commerce and disrupt the remaining 24-hours of a special event vital to our local economy and languishing hospitality industry.

I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. . .

Look, I’m no soothsayer – but I do know the mindset of local elected officials whenever billions in federal emergency response dollars are on the table.

So, here’s my short-term prediction:

Early next week, I suspect we will see virtually every municipality in Volusia County – if not the State of Florida – enact something they will call a “State of Emergency” – a prerequisite to bellying up to the federal teat to gorge greedily on the $50 billion earmarked for a local and state “response” to the coronavirus outbreak – just like their big sisters at the State of Florida and County of Volusia have already done.

We’ll also see something called “partial activation” of various local Emergency Operations Centers – which means low-level, non-essential staffers will be sitting around a large room twiddling their thumbs – with absolutely nothing to do except ensure the “partial activation.”

Believe me, nothing of substance will happen – other than our elected officials can say the Emergency Operations Center has been “partially activated.”

Feel safer now? 

Because, while fanning the flames of panic may be irresponsible – losing out on “free money” from something Washington is calling the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” is unthinkable.

And no one want’s to be left behind.

I want to commend Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood for his commonsense approach to providing area residents with the practical information they need to make decisions for themselves and their families – despite this weird need for secrecy and obfuscation that some local and state public health agencies have displayed from the onset.

Make no mistake, our Sheriff will take some heat from his “colleagues” in government for bucking the “system” and actually helping to protect his constituents by liberating them from this shameful information black hole that allows media to spin frightening “what if” scenarios and government agencies to hide their gross ineptitude.

Thank you Sheriff Chitwood.  Giving people substantive information is important to the decision-making process for those who still have the ability to think and reason for themselves.

Look, the number of COVID-19 infections will rise – just like the seasonal flu or any other community acquired respiratory virus.  So, it is incumbent on all of us to take reasonable precautions until this outbreak naturally subsides.

And make no mistake, this will end.

It’s also time we start acting like Americans, dammit – not helpless lemmings.

Once the hysteria of the moment begins to wane, my hope is that citizens will realize the unbridled power of the media to control our behavior and blunt our natural instincts through around-the-clock hype (a very effective marketing tool) and how quickly our rights and freedoms are ignored by those we have elected and appointed when they feel it is in our best interest to trample them.

Angels & Assholes for March 13, 2020

Hey, 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

I’m a big supporter of local journalism – and no one has been more vocal or consistent in endorsing the intrinsic benefit and importance of our local newspaper.

However, the editorial board’s ridiculous decision to publish a presumptuous piece calling for the forced cancellation of Bike Week activities as the event rolls into its final weekend is simply over-the-top.

We’ve now reached the saturation point with today’s News-Journal – crammed with “All Coronavirus, All the time.” 

Don’t take my word for it, take a read. . .

In turn, we have learned that editor Pat Rice has given the order to close the newspaper’s lobby indefinitely.

Why?

Because it was one more way to shoehorn the word “coronavirus” into an online headline – a “See, we’re doing something!  Why don’t you join us in shutting down your business or venue – because no matter what it takes – we’re going to force you into social isolation, just like us!”   

Clearly, rather than slowdown and evaluate the who, what, when and why – the News-Journal and other media outlets are just heating up.

Earlier this week, newspapers across the region frightened us all with the glaring headline:

“Coronavirus: In St. Johns County, Bike Week attendee from New York tests positive”

“The Florida Department of Health announced late Wednesday that a 63-year old male New York resident who had traveled to Daytona for Bike Week has tested positive.”

Then, hours later, the story was corrected by official sources to show that, in fact, the scary New York vector never came anywhere near Daytona Beach!

Frankly, if someone from the “Florida Department of Health” announced that erroneous information to media outlets – then that person should be fired.  Immediately.

Guess what?

A sizable number of residents and visitors still think someone from New York, infected with COVID-19, rubbed elbows with them at some Bike Week venue – and writing lukewarm retractions after the fact is rarely effective when people with even non-related sniffles are being told to endure the personal and financial impacts of self-quarantining themselves for 14-days. . .

In my view, that rush to publish something – anything – is wholly irresponsible and does nothing to calm the uncontrolled panic that has gripped our nation after a week of near-constant flogging by national media outlets – Henny-Penny 24/7 “coverage” that  has now taken the form of around-the-clock chyrons crawling across every television screen in the country.

In their piece “Coronavirus threat is too great, so shut down last weekend of Bike Week” – a rattled screed that can only be described as shameless pandering to the legitimate fears and media-driven hysteria of a community on edge – the News-Journal suggests all but martial law:

“Local municipal or health officials should order an early end to Bike Week. But if they don’t, the task defaults to the businesses that operate the bulk of events. The logistics of shutting things down are stark, but simple. Turn off the beer taps, send servers home, cancel the live music, shut down the vendors.”

Bullshit.

“There’s already been one case of COVID-19 linked to Bike Week.  (No, there hasn’t.) A spokeswoman for the city says that person never made it Daytona Beach, but who can say how many people that person came into contact with on the way?  How many of those people are now carrying the virus, but don’t know it?  What happens to their families, coworkers and neighbors when they go home?  And how many more arrived in town already infected, and have spread the virus on to others? How many more are going to show up this weekend?”

Really?

In my view, this gross speculation has no place in a local newspaper – editorial content or not – so, stay in your lane and let jack-leg bloggers like me worry about what “might” happen. . .

My God.

How dare you presume to tell me – or anyone else – what they can and cannot do?

I’ve got a better suggestion, one that will have a far more beneficial impact on the current “coronavirus craze” than seeking a government-enforced stoppage of legal commerce and impede upon our constitutional right to free association:

Let’s “shut down” the 24/7 hype and reckless posturing by national (and now local) news media – and limit this bizarre hand-wringing that is driving a colossal overreaction in the most advanced nation on the planet.

Is this a public health crisis?  Certainly.

But so is this malicious full court press by media outlets intent on driving an international panic that is now drastically affecting the strongest markets and exchanges in the world.

Trust me.  Far more people will be bankrupt when this national quarantine – enforced by shutting down commerce, sports, education, entertainment, etc. – is over than will ever die from the disease.

Is this what our community has come to?

Is this what our society has come to?

Look, let’s all use commonsense measures to protect ourselves from what most relatively healthy victims have reported causes little more than “mild to moderate” flu symptoms:

Wash your hands and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home and office.

With luck, the Volusia County School Board will consider actually cleaning our school facilities.

Limit international travel to locations with a high incidence of COVID-19.

If you have traveled overseas, come in contact with someone infected by coronavirus and you are having symptoms – get tested.

And, if you’re sick – stay home.

Perhaps most important – think and rationalize for yourself!

Despite what you may have been told by some well-coiffed doctor-who-plays-a-doctor-on-TV – no one needs 500 rolls of toilet paper.

Let’s turn off the nonsensical gibberish being spewed, ad nauseum, by talking heads on what passes for the “news” – and start making decisions for ourselves, and our families, based upon information from respected organizations without a profit motive.

And let’s hope The Daytona Beach News-Journal can regain the trust of its readers once this fear-mongering has run its course.

Asshole           Volusia County School District

Last Sunday, parents and taxpayers opened The Daytona Beach News-Journal to learn the shocking details of the most recent debacle at Volusia County Schools.

In February, a disturbing video depicting a 15-year old student at Seabreeze High School being tripped by two other students during a dangerous “Skull Crusher” prank in a school hallway went viral on a social media platform – an incident that naturally resulted in widespread outrage – and, according to the victim’s parents, was completely mishandled by school officials.

As an attorney with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida who is representing the victim put it, “How did the entire world know what the right thing was, except for the administration in Volusia County?”

Wow.

That’s a damning indictment of our horribly broken system. . .

As I understand it, the matter is now in the juvenile court system after criminal charges were filed by the victim’s parents – but that doesn’t forgive or explain why the district’s internal policies – and those who are paid handsomely to administrate them – seem to consistently get it wrong?

Every damn time. . .

And it just gets worse.

Now, at a time when institutional disinfection, proper sanitary procedures and the availability of basic hand hygiene supplies (i.e. soap) are vital to the prevention of COVID-19 and other communicable illnesses – we’re being told that fear is spreading like wildfire among parents and students of Volusia County schools as teachers roll up their sleeves to clean “filthy” classrooms, field trips are curtailed and the possibility of closing educational facilities looms.

According to a report by the News-Journal’s intrepid education reporter Cassidy Alexander, “The district’s messaging on coronavirus has consistently asked people to keep their hands clean, to use disinfectant on hard surfaces that people touch and to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue.”

But How?

Teachers from throughout the district – those who are actually on the front lines and care deeply about the health and welfare of children in their charge – are reporting school bathrooms being out of soap for “multiple days,” while others are going in their own pocket for hand sanitizer and surface disinfectants, because they no longer have confidence in the district’s contractor to properly clean their classrooms.

My God. 

 Of course – as is standard operating procedure in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand – when this deteriorating situation was brought to the attention of administrators, some well-paid district mouthpiece downplayed the severity with the official reaction, “…a few teachers complained of problems with the cleanliness of their rooms, which she said they’re addressing with ABM (the district’s maintenance provider).” 

Seriously? 

Does the district’s Public Information apparatus read the newspaper?

In turn, Chief Operating Officer Greg Akin said in a nonsensical emailed statement to the News-Journal,  “We will share with ABM any classroom that is missed to make sure they are there to take care of the classrooms within the district.” 

Really, Greg? 

You plan to “share” the problem with the very entity that created the problem in the first place?

Good work, Chief.  That’s the kind of direct action we need right now. . .

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

How many more times does the Volusia County School District have to be plastered across the front page/above the fold of our local newspaper – or go viral on international social media – before someone, anyone, reevaluates the effectiveness of these so-called senior administrators – who are, in my view, little more than blundering posers – who continue to get it wrong, time-after-time?

And where is our new Superintendent Dr. Scotty Fritz? 

In the last week, we learned that Dr. Fritz has played Three-card Monte with some senior administrators – changing their title from Area Superintendent to Assistant Superintendent (?) – and assigning responsibilities for elementary, middle and high schools – and a fourth for student services.

Whatever.

Two of the new six-figure assistant superintendents are transplants from districts where Dr. Fritz previously worked.

I’m not saying bringing in someone he can trust – outsiders with a fresh set of eyes – is a bad thing.  It isn’t.

While it appears district officials are, for some reason, downplaying the significance – we also learned that former Volusia County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Michelle Newman was recently named Director of Safety, Security and Elementary Management – a position our district has desperately needed for years.

Maybe the district will flesh out Director Newman’s qualifications, background and responsibilities going forward?

In my view, how Dr. Fritz handles the “coronavirus crisis” – and the myriad other issues that continue to plague the district – will tell us all we need to know about his leadership ability – and worth.

So far, it appears business as usual. . .

In my view, if things go south – given the fact parents and taxpayers have already determined that many in the entrenched senior management class in DeLand are incapable – if not wholly incompetent – when it comes to addressing the serious issues facing our schools, our new Superintendent will have no one to blame but himself.

Angel               B-CU Athletic Director Lynn Thompson

From the Barker’s View Sports Desk:

Kudos to Bethune-Cookman University Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Lynn Thompson on being named the 2020-2021 Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics!

Vice President Thompson will be honored in June during NACDA’s 55th Annual Convention at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas.

According to B-CU Athletics:

“Thompson’s lengthy and impressive resume includes serving as the first African-American to chair the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee and as a member on the NCAA I-AA Football Committee and the NCAA Football Issues Committees, creating policy for intercollegiate athletics on a national level. He has also served the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference as chairman of the MEAC Basketball, Softball, Track and Field and Baseball Tournaments, and has been selected five times as an NCAA Peer Reviewer for the athletics certification process.”

In addition, Mr. Thompson currently serves on the NCAA Committee on Academics, as a member of the Board of the Florida Sports Foundations and the MEAC Hall of Fame.

Congratulations to Vice President Thompson – and the entire Wildcat Nation – on this important recognition!

Angel               Volusia Councilwoman Billie Wheeler

Some ‘movers & shakers’ in our community thought the godawful plan to place a traffic roundabout at the busy intersection of East International Speedway Boulevard and A-1-A was a “done deal” – argument over – implying that the mysterious public and private forces pushing the loop had won.

Not so fast.

This week, Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler joined the growing chorus of area residents, activists and business owners in questioning how – after all the meetings, “information sharing” sessions, coffee klatches and FDOT community confabs – some in a position of power still can’t see this nightmare in the making for what it is?

“We are facing increased capacity and a section of stopped traffic, creating, in my opinion, the perfect storm,” Ms. Wheeler rightfully announced.

She’s right.

The Councilwoman’s concerns came during a meeting of the “ISB Coalition,” another do-nothing public/private club – comprised of every self-interest currently controlled by our uber-wealthy overseers – to include, area colleges and universities, hospitals, our Regional Chamber of Commerce, Daytona International Speedway, Daytona International Airport, the hotel/motel types, etc. – who have been twiddling their collective thumbs since 2007 over “what to do” with the blight and dilapidation that is our main gateway to what was once “The Worlds Most Famous Beach.”

Commendably, Ms. Wheeler’s vocal support for rethinking the unthinkable was echoed by Maryam Ghyabi, an experienced traffic engineer who serves as chair of the ISB Coalition – along with civic activist Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach – and Bob Davis, President for Life of the Hotel & Lodging Association of Volusia County, who confirmed, “My entire industry does not want roundabouts.”

These voices represent some heavy hitters in the Halifax Area – which bodes well for We, The Little People, who have been screaming to anyone who will listen that a signalized intersection is simply a better fit for a roadway that includes the busiest beach access point in Volusia County.

Kudos to Councilwoman Wheeler for having the courage to stand firm in support of this commonsense solution to the revitalization of the East ISB corridor and beyond.

If you care about the life and health of this vitally important area of our community, I hope you will attend a public meeting regarding the proposed design plans for East ISB on Tuesday, March 31, 5:30pm to 7:30pm, at the Midtown Cultural and Educational Center, 925 George W. Engram Boulevard in Daytona Beach.

According to a Florida Department of Transportation announcement, the meeting will begin with an open house at 5:30pm, when participants can review design information and discuss the project with staff, followed by a brief presentation at 6:00pm, after which participants can provide comments.

This one’s important.

Now is the time to let FDOT and our local elected official know, once again, how you feel.

Because once an asinine roundabout is clogging traffic at all four quadrants of this incredibly important intersection – it will be too late – and residents and visitors will be saddled with this expensive, and wholly inappropriate, boondoggle for many years to come. . .

Quote of the Week

“Florida officials should free local public health officials to be more forthcoming, sharing information that doesn’t betray patient privacy but does provide more assurance to the public. Instead, finding information about new cases has too often been like a game of hide-and-seek. When the first Florida resident fell sick, the news leaked out through a memo on letterhead from Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, not an official press release. It doesn’t exactly inspire public confidence.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal Editorial, “A prescription for more information,” Wednesday, March 11, 2020

I agree.

As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, in my experience, local and state government have an obligation to prepare for potential threats in advance by developing effective policies and protocols for containing emergencies to the extent humanly possible – while limiting widespread panic through the dissemination of substantive information.

These plans should be made and exercised during periods of calm, before a potential epidemic is at hand – rather than mandated from on high once the public start asking the difficult questions. . .

That includes determining what information will be most beneficial to preventing the spread of disease and permit citizens to make informed decisions outside the media-hyped hysteria of the moment.

In my view, some local governments have practiced a strategy of limiting public communications to pithy soundbites and canned releases for so long – protecting the organization and its senior management at all costs – that they have forgotten the importance of timely information to effective crisis management.

In fact, earlier this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote an informative article spotlighting area residents who have self-quarantined after international travel.

Unfortunately, when reporter Nikki Ross attempted to get answers regarding screening protocols at Daytona International Airport, she wrote, “Calls to Daytona Beach International Airport spokeswoman Joanne Magley were not returned.”  

My God.  That is a sentence we should never read during a potential emergency. . .

In my view, the very idea of not returning a reporters calls, or refusing to provide substantive information on the location of community infections, is counter to sound public information protocols designed to increase knowledge, build confidence and limit panic.

Now is the time for openness and complete transparency.

Anything less looks clumsy and destroys public trust.

Anything less is irresponsible.

And Another Thing!

On Wednesday, I read a Facebook post from Ruben Colon, a sitting member of the Volusia County School Board, who, in my view, was undeservedly taken to the woodshed by a local on-line news site for a goofy coronavirus meme he posted on social media that some apparently felt was inappropriate.

In turn, Mr. Colon removed the post and openly apologized to anyone who felt offended by it.

Case closed. 

Obviously, I’m not one to embrace the almost universally institutionalized practice of “political correctness” – watching everything I say or do for fear my words will “trigger” someone and upset their delicate sensibilities – but I don’t go out of my way to be offensive, either.

That just comes naturally. . .

Plus, I no longer wear the gag of a public official that limits one’s point of view and suppresses honest discourse.

Those who currently hold high office should understand that social media, and the use of platforms like Facebook and Twitter to express humor and personal opinions – can be a double-edged sword.

Especially in the blood sport that is modern politics. . .

But that shouldn’t dissuade public officials from openly and honestly communicating with their friends and constituents via social media – and most people I know will forgive mistakes they might make themselves.

Look, I like Ruben Colon.  We don’t always agree on the issues of the day – and that’s okay.

We frequently communicate on matters of mutual concern – and he routinely takes me to task when he feels I have gotten it wrong on a matter related to the school district – and he accepts responsibility when the criticism is deserved.

I respect that.

In any interaction, I have always found Mr. Colon to be incredibly smart and thoughtful – with an excellent grasp of the issues and a burning desire to make things better.

Perhaps most important – he truly cares about the needs of Volusia County students.

In my view, I was incredibly heartened to see so many parents and taxpayers come out in support of Mr. Colon on social media and beyond.

He deserves it.

I admire the fact that Ruben took personal responsibility for his actions – which may or may not have offended some of his constituents – and, in doing so, demonstrated a real commitment to personal honesty and political accountability.

In my view, that speaks to Mr. Colon’s personal and professional character – something we need more of in Volusia County politics.     

That’s all for me.  Stay healthy and take care of each other.

Have a great final weekend of Bike Week 2020, y’all!

 

 

 

 

 

Be Cool, People. . .

When news first broke of the global outbreak of the coronavirus (or COVID-19 as the “in-crowd” calls it) and epidemiologists announced that incessant handwashing and social isolation were the most effective means of combating it’s spread – I immediately thought:  Hot Damn!

Because that just about sums up my day-to-day life here at Barker’s View HQ. . .

As some of you know, for many years I’ve suffered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder which manifests in weird rituals – turning off lights in a specific order when I leave a room, avoiding certain colors, the constant use of hand sanitizer, shunning buffets, etc. – a malady that has rendered me the ultimate ‘germaphobe,’ gripped by the irrational fear of being contaminated by germs, bacteria and viruses.

So, I know how many of you feel as the national news media creates hype and hysteria 24/7 – and every roll of toilet paper in the most advanced nation in the world continues to vanish from the shelves (I still don’t get the correlation, but, whatever).

Earlier this week, public health officials confirmed our worst fears, reporting that two of our neighbors from ‘somewhere’ in Volusia County tested positive for the virus following international travel and are currently in isolation.

In my view, the Volusia County Health Department – and its bosses in Tallahassee – made a grave error when they decided to stop answering questions from the public like, “What city did the person live in,” citing vague privacy laws and state declarations that permit only the age, gender and county in which an infected person lives to be released.

That’s bullshit.

At a time when a lack of governmental transparency, coupled with the around-the-clock gibberish we’re being subjected to, exacerbates the fear and anxiety that is spreading faster than the virus itself – perhaps the “let’s play things close to the vest so we can avoid criticism” policy should be reevaluated?

I don’t need some goofy doctor-who-plays-a-doctor-on-TV to show me how to wash my hands – or a local news anchor demonstrating how to brew gallons of homemade hand sanitizer in my bathtub – but it might be helpful to have the information necessary to evaluate my exposure risk based upon my proximity to an identified community infection, right?

In my experience, local and state government should prepare in advance by developing effective policies for containing emergencies to the extent humanly possible – while limiting widespread panic through the dissemination of topical information.

These public information protocols should be made and exercised during periods of calm, before a potential epidemic is at hand – rather than ham-handedly mandated from on high once the public starts asking the hard questions. . .

That includes determining what information and directions will be most beneficial to preventing the spread of disease and permit citizens to make informed decisions outside the media-hyped hysteria of the moment.

For instance, earlier this week, during a meeting of our exalted Knights of the Roundtable – a political insulation committee formed of area managers and mayors – Volusia County Health Department Administrator Patricia Boswell provided a cursory briefing to our collective brain trust on the spread of the coronavirus.

According to an informative report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, when a representative from Congressman Michael Waltz’ office asked Ms. Boswell several legitimate questions like, “…how many tests will be commercially available locally, how long testing actually takes and whether health officials have a ‘definition of quarantine,”  Boswell said she didn’t know.

Say what? 

And, in the interest of constituent confidence, perhaps Rep. Waltz should be getting his information from a little further up the public health totem pole than Patricia Boswell. . .

Just sayin’.

In addition, Volusia County Councilman Ben Johnson was quoted as saying, “What’s sad about the coronavirus is there’s so little information on it.” 

I hate to disagree with Mr. Johnson, but that’s just not correct.

There is a ton of solid information being produced by reputable, vetted, scientific open sources on all aspects of the novel coronavirus.

Unfortunately, much of it is being blocked by ridiculous “patient confidentiality” concerns – held by public health sources who are more concerned with covering their ass than informing the public – or lost in the hell-broth of misinformation and overreaction by the media and other “official” sources who have whipped this situation into a frenzy.

During my long career in public service, I immersed myself in the art and science of “Emergency Management” – which required many hours of training at FEMA’s National Emergency Management Training Center, participation in exercises, extensive on-line coursework, developing effective best practices, serving in command positions during emergencies and building a portfolio of actual disaster management experience – all culminating in a peer reviewed compilation of my training and experience.

Ultimately, I earned the Florida Professional Emergency Manager credential from the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association – which has become a requisite for preparing for, and responding to, the many hazards coastal communities face.

The one thing I learned during that extensive process is, when dealing with potential pandemics, “panic will always travel faster than the pathogen” – and it’s easy to succumb to the misinformation overload we are receiving from pseudo-experts and televised talking heads intent on using this crisis to increase advertising revenue, or worse, to politicize the issue.

Make no mistake, “panic” is a very effective marketing tool.

It sells everything from massive quantities of Purell, hand soaps, bleach, unguents, ointments, snake oil, bottled water – and toilet paper. . .

Some believe this panic buying provides us with a feeling of “control” – a sense that we are “doing something” to be proactive in the lead-up to a potential threat we have little, if any, influence over.

In my view, it is important to keep the coronavirus outbreak in perspective – including the fact that 80% of the people infected experience mild to moderate symptoms – and many epidemiologists believe that, based upon Farr’s Law of Epidemics (look it up), the spread of COVID-19 will increase and decrease in a predictable pattern – similar to a bell-shaped curve (just like any normal flu season) – and the rate of infection may hit its peak and start falling relatively soon.

In other words, “This too shall pass.”

And we’ve seen worse, believe me.

During the 2017-2018 flu season alone, millions of Americans were infected with influenza and resultant respiratory issues – and some 80,000 died from complications – yet, I don’t recall the National Guard being mobilized, event cancellations, prohibiting fans from attending sporting events, shutting down schools, banning audiences from televised game shows (?), a run on toilet tissue or the near complete collapse of the strongest markets and exchanges in the world.

Do you?   

That doesn’t mean we should take the threat lightly, and those with compromised immune systems, underlying health problems, such as diabetes, hypertension and respiratory ailments, and the elderly, remain particularly susceptible to serious complications.

I suspect you know that already. . .

Look, I’m no expert in the prevention and treatment of community acquired disease – hell, I’m still fighting a pitched battle with toenail fungus that I picked up in an Army field shower in 1979 – but I’m also confident this isn’t the Andromeda Strain.

I also know that panic and hysteria have never solved anything.

So, here are some commonsense suggestions for protecting yourself and your family during these anxious times:

Plan ahead and be ready – not just for coronavirus – but for all hazards.

Learn about emergency and continuity of operation plans at your place of employment – and your child’s school (if they have one?)

Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20-seconds.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily in household common areas.

Avoid travel to places with a high incidence of coronavirus – and listen to the warnings and suggestions of the Centers for Disease Control for the latest on how best to protect from this illness.

Like Winston Churchill boldly said – “We have nothing to fear but eventually eyeing the drapes when the toilet paper runs out,” or something like that. . .

Whatever.

Be cool, people.  Take care of yourselves and those who count on you.

Let’s get through this together.

The Gift of Education – Well applied

I don’t have a formal education – no august and worldly professors to teach me the intricacies of my chosen profession – or how to read critically and think strategically.

Which means I had to become a good mimic early – observing people who were influential in my life and adopting the positives.  Listening, watching and accepting constructive criticism, then adopting those practices and observations.

And I’ve always said that experiential learning is the most expensive education one can receive.

It can be painful, too.

I first met Mr. Wheeler in the late 1970’s when I was a foundering student at Seabreeze High School, and he served as Assistant Principal.

To say I was a “difficult” student is an understatement – prone to mischief, truancy and the petty fistfights and scrapes that teenage boys used to settle differences in the day – which meant that I received a stack of disciplinary “referrals” to Mr. Wheeler’s office.

In his essential role as the school disciplinarian, Mr. Wheeler would mediate disputes, serve as a listening board, provide direction and adjudicate various and sundry conduct violations, and, when necessary, correct a recalcitrant student’s behavior in the form of several sharp whacks from a ventilated paddle vigorously applied to the offender’s backside.

Now, to say Mr. Wheeler cut an imposing figure is an understatement.

He was tall, standing well over six-feet, with a lean swimmers build and massive hands – the size of catcher’s mitts – that swallowed a normal man’s hand and seemed doubly huge to a kid awaiting a liberal application of “corporal punishment.”

Expertly done, the ritual included Mr. Wheeler slowly reviewing the facts of the case, placing a call to my parents for permission to tan my hide (which was always eagerly extended), a long conversation regarding the error of my ways and the future consequences of my abhorrent course – all dragging out the inevitable – making what I knew was to come even more excruciating. . .

When the time came to administer the punishment, Mr. Wheeler would direct that I remove everything from my back pockets and put my hands on his desk as he limbered up that brown wooden paddle with the holes drilled in the middle – I always assumed to limit induced drag and allow a better connection with the target.

With a grimace on my face – I would stand firm, awaiting the three well-placed swats to the seat of my jeans – blows that were always more humiliating than painful.

In turn, Mr. Wheeler would always place a second call to my parents – advising them that, in retrospect, maybe the infraction wasn’t quite as bad as it had originally seemed – and that I had taken my medicine like a man – thankfully mitigating any further sanction I may have received when I got home.

I always appreciated that.

Once I had been suitably disciplined, Mr. Wheeler would shake my hand, put his arm around my shoulder, and made sure I understood how much he wanted me to succeed.

That taught compassion.

In addition to his role as an educator, Mr. Wheeler served as a Daytona Beach Police Officer – and, as a young man, cemented his legendary leadership skills as Chief of Lifeguards for the Beach Patrol.

In 1988, following retirement from Volusia County Schools, Mr. Wheeler was appointed Chief Investigator for the Seventh Judicial Circuit under then State Attorney John Tanner.

By then, I had followed my dream and earned a job with the Holly Hill Police Department, where my relationship with Mr. Wheeler changed to a true mentorship – and I always appreciated knowing that he had my best interests, personally and professionally, at heart.

I knew I could always count on Mr. Wheeler for sound advice – and, when I later served in a senior command role – I would frequently call on him, at all hours, confident in his ability to see the various political and procedural pitfalls and provide common sense guidance.

He never failed me – or the needs of our community.

That taught the importance of accessibility.

My experience wasn’t unique.

During his long tenure, Mr. Wheeler provided quiet support and assistance to many law enforcement executives, consulting on sensitive issues, and his behind-the-scenes involvement served local departments – and the citizens of the Seventh Judicial Circuit – extremely well.

For instance, he taught me the importance of strategic thinking – the art of setting controversial issues aside for a few days to allow time to consider all alternatives, including unintended consequences, then making an informed decision, rather than one based on an emotional gut-reaction or the political pressures of the moment.

That taught leadership and poise under pressure.

And, when necessary, he would call me on the carpet and administer a good, old-fashioned chewing out when I got it wrong – always with that big smile that could be equally charming – or frighteningly ominous – depending on the situation.

That taught accountability.

On occasion, I had a chance to extract some good-natured revenge for the experience of my youth.

Whenever I had the opportunity to speak to groups where Mr. Wheeler was in attendance, I never missed the chance to remind everyone assembled that I was the only Chief of Police in Volusia County to have ever been paddled by Bob Wheeler for other than recreational purposes  – which always resulted in an uncomfortable grin and that hearty giggle the big man was known for.

One of the great blessings in my life was the seat-of-the-pants discipline and incredible lessons I received from Mr. Wheeler – an education that changed my life and trajectory immeasurably.

You may have noticed that I have referred to this great man as “Mr. Wheeler” – because that is how he was addressed – by literally everyone – regardless of title or importance.

He didn’t demand it – as he was one of the most humble, unpretentious and down-to-earth old school gentlemen I have ever known – but that was the level of respect and admiration in which he was universally held.

Robert Lee “Cree” Wheeler passed into the everlasting life his faith assured during the early hours of last Monday morning.

He was 83 years old.

Thank you, Mr. Wheeler, for showing me the way – in so many ways.

May you rest in peace, my friend.