On Volusia: The Lion in Winter

Politicians are a different breed.

I truly admire those with a legitimate call to serve – that fire-in-the-belly determination to stand bare before their neighbors and endure the slings and arrows of a modern political campaign – then work cooperatively to make a difference in the life of their community.

Despite my often-scathing criticism of local politics, it is important to remember that there are true servant-leaders working hard in elected positions in municipal governments and serving on civic committees, taxing authorities and advisory boards throughout Volusia County and beyond.

Those who spend their time and talents in service to their community without mercenary motivations – who aren’t driven by cronyism, facilitating corporate welfare or lock-step loyalty to a venal system that enriches those who have purchased a lucrative spot on the public suckling line at our expense.

Given our unique circumstance here on the Fun Coast – a place where many key elected officials have become little more than obsequious bootblacks for the uber-wealthy insiders who purchase politicians like cheap livestock each election cycle – it is easy to become cynical about the process.

But it’s never dull. . .

Last week, during an elegant soiree of the Volusia County Association for Responsible Development (sorry, I just upchucked in my mouth a little) – where the always arrogant Deb Denys was being “honored” as Citizen of the Year (?) – our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, stood before the assembled developers, real estate speculators and political benefactors that he served so well and announced he will not seek a second term.

But it became immediately apparent that Old Ed wouldn’t be going quietly into that good night as a lame duck political eunuch. . .

After letting the air out of the room, Chairman Kelley clumsily threw his support to Ms. Denys, who will vacate her District 3 post (sort of) to run for the catbird seat.

It was a well-orchestrated plan, clearly conceived in some shady backroom deal by two sitting officials, that will allow Old Ed to use the remainder of his term – damn near a full year – to transform back into the political werewolf we all know and love to run interference for Ms. Denys – slinging mud, digging dirt and spreading misinformation about anyone who dares to challenge the status quo.

And it didn’t take long for Chairman Kelley to make his lycanthropic change – or accelerate the destruction of public respect for his high office – when he began hurling cheap accusations and veiled threats on social media.

Just days after his announcement, Mr. Kelley took to Facebook to troll Jeff “Plan B” Brower, the Deleon Springs farmer, small business owner and intrepid civic activist who is currently Ms. Denys’ only declared challenger.

Old Ed called into question Mr. Brower’s property tax bill, besmirched his contributors, and even took an oblique swipe at some obscure “agriculture exemption inquiry” on Brower’s family farmland, whatever that means.

(Now that Ed has pried opened that long nailed shut door, I think it would be fun for some reputable investigative reporter to take a look at which politically active corporations and individuals are actively farming in Volusia County in exchange for a break on their property tax bill, don’t you think?)

Chairman Kelley’s outburst on Facebook was ugly and embarrassing – and so typical of the underhanded, cheap-jack treachery that has defined Volusia County government since the original sin:

Having our very Charter cobbled together by some of the same uber-wealthy insiders who even now reap the fruits of their handiwork at the public teat. . .

I’ve said it for years – Ed Kelley is a whole different person when he’s angry – and, right out of the gate, he didn’t disappoint.

At the end of the day, it was a petty attempt to besmirch the reputation of a civically active citizen with a burning desire to serve – simply because Mr. Brower poses a real threat to the oligarchical system that has fed Old Ed’s cronies so well, for so long.

In doing so, Chairman Kelley exposed that ugly, abusive and vindictive part of himself – that shit-covered rat that crawls out and spews bile whenever the “system” becomes vulnerable each election cycle.

Don’t take my word for it.

Watch how Chairman Kelley treated Councilwoman Heather Post literally from the moment she took office.

Review how he openly signed his name to a letter supporting Ms. Post for statewide office which said, “Volusia County enthusiastically supports County Council Member Heather Post’s candidacy for a Vice President position with the Florida Association of Counties (FAC)” – yet, the second he was out of our sight, actively and enthusiastically campaigned against Ms. Post!

Rather than make good on his promise to support his own colleague’s run on behalf of Volusia County –  he succumbed to his innate propensity for quisling and mean-spirited backstabbing, then – when the chips were down – he blatantly lied – and embarrassed all of us in the process. . .

Add the fact that Old Ed couldn’t cut the mustard on an incredibly lucrative half-cent sales tax initiative that crashed like a cheap kite during a very expensive special election last year.

(Maybe it just boiled down to the fact our ‘Rich & Powerful’ couldn’t afford another round of Mr. Kelley’s ham-handed bungling screwing up their next bite at the apple?)

And don’t get me started on the fumbling, mumbling and bumbling that has marked Mr. Kelley’s term at the helm of this ship of fools – how he quashed public participation, shutdown his “colleagues” whenever they attempted to question the “why” of things and, through his gross ineptitude, turned the legislative process into a foul joke.

Trust me.  They’ll be plenty of time for reminiscing on all of this and more over the next year. . .

But the next time you find yourself waiting on three cycles of a traffic light on area surface roads – or contemplate the specter of drinking your own recycled waste to make room for even more development – or pay handsomely to enjoy what’s left of a beach you already support with your tax dollars – or try desperately to keep a roof over your head and feed your family – or contemplate how Volusia County’s budget grew to nearly $1 Billionask yourself if your family is better off for having been subjected to Old Ed’s unique brand of “service”?

The fact is Ed Kelley has always allowed vindictive animus and petty politics to stand in the way of true public service – and it shows.

In my jaded view, Chairman Kelley – and his heir apparent, Deb Denys – a perennial politician with the “likability” factor of a water moccasin and a malleable voting record – represent all that is wrong with Volusia County government.

This year, I’m not alone.

Make no mistake, Jeff “Plan B” Brower has been recognized by his opposition as a very real threat to the status quo – the continued viability of using public funds for private projects – and the exclusion of citizen input into the ways and means of these pompous assholes who govern our lives and livelihoods.

If Ed Kelley’s ill-timed mudslinging on social media this weekend is any indication, it’s going to be a very interesting – and revealing – election year on all sides of the ballot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for January 17, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel              Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley

He finally did the right thing. . .

Earlier this week I received word through the Barker’s View grapevine that Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley would announce his retirement from public life during the Volusia County Association for Responsible Development’s elegant soiree last evening.

Apparently, it wasn’t a very well-kept secret. . .

Out of some warped sense of begrudging respect, I held the news until Chairman Kelley could sing his swan song in his own inimitable way.

I owed him that.

I can’t think of a more fitting setting for his valediction – in a gaudy ballroom at One Daytona – the struggling retail, shopping and entertainment complex owned by International Speedway Corporation that Volusia County and Daytona Beach taxpayers gifted a cumulative total of $40 million in incentives – with Old Ed standing resplendent before an intimate coterie of developers, real estate speculators and political benefactors that he served so well, for so long.

Unfortunately, the news was bittersweet – after Ed stole her thunder, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys announced she will now be seeking the catbird seat when she takes on the only external threat to the iron grip of Volusia County’s oligarchy – Jeff “Plan B” Brower – and whoever else our power brokers insinuate into the race to muddy the waters this fall.

Tragically, the ascendance of Deb Denys may well be a prophetic sign that we are finally hitting rock bottom. . .

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Kelley said he plans to spend time helping his son, Brian Kelley, with business endeavors related to his very successful music career with the country band Florida Georgia Line.”

Whatever that means. . .

Cowbell
In retirement, Kelley plans to assist his son, Brian Kelley, of Florida Georgia Line

Regardless, I find the timing interesting – and you can bet your sweet patoot none of this was conceived in a vacuum – as I’m sure our power brokers were involved at every step.

Before you pop the champagne corks, Chairman Kelley plans to finish out his term – which means he isn’t going anywhere until December 31st. . .

Look, I’ve watched Ed Kelley’s political mischief since his early days in Ormond Beach – back when I was still bound and ball-gagged by my job in the public sector and wasn’t allowed to have an opinion – but to say he and I never saw eye-to-eye on the issues of the day is an understatement.

In my jaded view, for years, Old Ed has used his considerable clout – influence he earned the hard way – by kissing the sizable backsides of our oligarchical overseers, ignoring the needs of his constituents and doing whatever it took to ramrod the for-profit projects of his cronies – always in a manner detrimental to our quality of life and pocketbooks.

In fact, I don’t believe Ed Kelley had an original thought after he accepted his first campaign contribution. . .

But maybe that’s how the game is played here on the Fun Coast? 

If so, then Mr. Kelley was a master of his craft.

As a perennial politician with many years of public service under his belt, I was always struck by the fact he had the ability to shrug off withering criticism (and common sense) and remain true to his own North Star.

No matter how ridiculous or hurtful to our quality of life his brainless decisions were, he never wavered; something I found both admirable and confounding.

I am essentially a hapless rube lost in the dark political wilderness – a naïf who shifts through the massive piles of steaming manure produced by local governments seeking specks of truth – then I salve my raw frustrations on the pages of this blogsite.

And Ed Kelley was the perfect foil.

In my mind, Chairman Kelley was never a political villain – more a dithering figurehead who shilly-shallied on stage while the real decision-makers worked behind the curtain – and his value to the “system” was that he never asked “why?”

Regardless of the issue, he never disappointed my pathological need to find fault – and proved a worthy adversary for anyone attempting to influence public policy from outside the Ivory Tower of Power – or blow the whistle on inefficiencies and mismanagement in county government.

Like a gormless drone, he dutifully patrolled the battlements of this Kingdom of Fools like a demented sentry – always protecting the status quo from any external threat.

If Chairman Kelley is remembered for anything, it will be that he helped crush participatory democracy in Volusia County – an ineffective jackleg who shit on everything his long-suffering constituents held dear.

So, as Chairman Kelley enters the twilight of his public career and becomes a lame duck – a political eunuch – (which can be infinitely more dangerous than a politician who still needs to curry favor) I plan to stay vigilant – and metaphorically quirt him like a borrowed mule in this space every time he sells us out for cheap political leverage – right to the bitter end.

I don’t think Chairman Kelley would expect – or respect – anything less. . .

I hope you’ll stay tuned.  Because things just got very interesting in Volusia County politics.

Angel               Former DeBary City Clerk Stacy Tebo

Last month, while meeting behind closed doors in “Executive Session,” the DeBary City Council approved a settlement agreement with former city clerk Stacy Tebo worth some $287,000.

The citizens of DeBary will pay a $5,000 deductible and the remainder of the cost will be assumed by the city’s liability carrier.

The action brings to a close a very dark chapter in DeBary’s history and emphasizes the importance of professional management and politically accountable oversight in the often-cloistered environment of government organizations where, by charter, the chief executive’s power is virtually omnipotent.

Following some five-years of ugly, and incredibly expensive, legal wrangling as the municipality tried to defend outrageous allegations against former city manager Dan Parrott – who was accused of repeatedly demeaning Tebo and former Assistant City Manager Kassandra Blissett –  who endured alleged misogynistic slurs, an incredibly hostile work environment and the ultimate demise of their promising careers with the city.

The lawsuit claimed “ongoing and pervasive sexist remarks,” such as:

“Women don’t think clearly because they are too emotional.”

 “There’s too much estrogen here.”

 When the women complained, they were fired. . .

Mind boggling, really.

Ultimately, Parrott fled the small community with a sack full of severance and other lucrative payouts, and the city government dissolved into a fetid quagmire of political vengeance and malfeasance, which ended with the duly elected mayor being removed from office in a cheap coup d’etat.

In May 2018, DeBary settled Ms. Blissett’s gender discrimination suit for $250,000.

Then, in August 2018, a federal court ruled in favor of Parrott and the City of DeBary; however, to her credit, Ms. Tebo appealed the decision and continued her relentless pursuit of justice, prompting the city to settle the matter in December.

According to reports, an attorney representing DeBary surmised that, had Ms. Tebo’s case gone to trial, the cost would have been “much higher” than $287,500.

Indeed. . .

The DeBary case aside, perhaps it’s time we begin holding highly paid public administrators personally responsible when they act in an abhorrent manner that destroys morale, discriminates, sexually demeans and exposes their constituents to serious financial liability – then withhold lucrative severance packages until all investigations and lawsuits have been settled.

In my view, the quickest way to put a stop to sexual harassment, official misconduct and discriminatory practices by senior executives is to hold these craven assholes – who feel their lofty position permits them to exercise their God complex with impunity – personally responsible for monetary damages.

The idea that powerful government administrators in Florida and beyond can repeatedly slip the noose by pulling the ripcord on a lucrative golden parachute – then move on to their next victim – is proving extremely costly for taxpayers.

The concept of accepting personal accountability for one’s own actions sounds like a fiscally responsible idea to me.

How about you?

I applaud Ms. Tebo – and others like her – for having the courage and perseverance to expose sexist bullying and pursue justice for herself and other women who feel they have suffered any form of humiliation or discrimination in the workplace.

Angel               Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via

During this week’s Knights of the Round Table meeting – that shadowy de facto government comprised of area mayors and managers that also serves as a political insulation committee for unpopular policy decisions and a war room for tax increases – Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via demonstrated the courage to say what others won’t.

With Volusia municipalities still reeling from the news that Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm tried to unilaterally quash the promised First Step Shelter’s safe zone, Mr. Via put into plain talk what many in our local Halls of Power must have been thinking for over a week.

“There seems to be a disconnect in what we were promised and what is reality now,” Via said. 

“I’m thoroughly disappointed in looking at what we’re going to get.  We talk a lot about trust. This is a perfect example of why citizens don’t trust government.”

Amen.

According to reports, the latest brouhaha began earlier this month when First Step Executive Director Victoria Fahlberg sent a clearly worded email to shelter board members regarding the future of the safe zone that explained, “. . .the manager (Chisholm) has decided to not move forward with building it.”

Any ambiguity there?  Just asking.

Because Fahlberg back peddled faster than a circus clown on a unicycle – claiming what she really meant to say was that Mr. Chisholm “would not be leading the effort to build the safe zone,” deciding instead to send it back to the First Step board to develop a plan, secure funding, etc.

How bizarre.

Why is it that when any aspect of this dreadful money pit is publicly discussed – those close to it are left hemming and hawing, yipping and yapping – trying desperately to explain why what we were told doesn’t comport with what was delivered?

In fact, each time The Daytona Beach News-Journal peels another layer from this fetid onion, more questions arise.

For instance, what began as a low barrier, come as you are, shelter for Halifax area homeless somehow transmogrified into a mysterious self-help seminar designed to efficiently transition wayward vagabonds from the mean streets to a prosperous, contributing life.  Somewhere.

Only the programmatic details have never been fully explained to those of us who pay the bills – and, to my knowledge, no one who should has any understanding of the goals, objectives, past success or per client cost.

Now, it appears the “program” has shape-shifted into little more than a very expensive Book Club. . .

According to a report in the News-Journal by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, Director Fahlberg said:

“They’re given three free meals a day now, and they can simply sit and read in their free time rather than put their energy into where they’re going to sleep or get more food. Some of the clients are rail thin, but they’re starting to gain weight on food from the county jail that they’re grateful to have.”

So, that’s the measure of success?

I’m asking.  Because that doesn’t sound like a homeless rehabilitation program – it sounds like my daily routine in retirement. . .

It gets worse.

Inexplicably, the same architect who designed the facility has apparently been tapped to plan the safe zone as well.

As a result, a simple fenced in area on the property now has an estimated price tag of $200,000 – not including security costs of $150,000 annually.

I mean, we’re talking a patch of bare ground for those who either can’t – or won’t – submit to the rejuvenating affects of the First Step program – not the Château de Chambord.

With $6 million in public funds already over the transom, my guess is Daytona Beach officials are merely confused:  After all, it’s a tough call – should the safe zone be located between the formal gardens and the reflecting pool or next to the polo pitch?

In addition to Mayor Via’s bold stand against this continuing absurdity, Ormond Beach City Commissioner and First Step board member Dwight Selby recently asked his colleagues to withhold his city’s $82,000 annual contribution to fund shelter operations until the safe zone becomes a reality – or the board determines the space is not needed (?)

I suspect we are hearing the death knell for the shelter’s external funding scheme as more municipalities come to the stark realization that First Step is simply not financially sustainable under the current plan – and it bears no resemblance to what any of us were promised going in.

That’s assuming a “plan” exists at all – because every shred of material evidence points to the fact the First Step debacle remains the exclusive domain of the City of Daytona Beach – as Mr. Chisholm intended – and any external oversight is clearly unacceptable to him or his wholly subservient city commission.

Quote of the Week

“Twenty years ago, voters approved both Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO. Both are due to sunset this year. However, a half-cent sales tax increase failed to pass just seven months ago in an expensive special election. That should have sent a clear message that there is no appetite for an increase to the local sales tax.”

 –Joe Hannoush, Libertarian Party of Volusia County, The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “Sales tax isn’t ready for Round Two,” Wednesday, January 15, 2020

When will Volusia County elected officials respect the will of the people?

Now, Deland Mayor Bob Apgar – with the support of our lame duck doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley – are floating the nasty idea of “bundling” a full cent sales tax increase into the voter approved Volusia Forever and ECHO programs, which must be renewed, or allowed to sunset, this year.

Now, our ‘powers that be’ want to present us with a weird Hobson’s choice – a “take it or leave it” proposition that does nothing to address the serious and ongoing “trust issues” that saw last years half-cent sales tax initiative go down in flames.

Can this cockamamie strategy possibly be legal?

In my view, wrapping three important issues into one unappealing turd dilutes the viability of each issue – and does a real disservice to area voters – many of whom, including area environmentalists, support the preservation of Volusia Forever and ECHO.

This idea of “vote for a tax increase and you get all of it – or vote against it and you get none of it” doesn’t sit well with me.

In fact, it stinks.

And Another Thing!

Vote Jeff “Plan B” Brower for Volusia County Council Chair.

Vote like your family’s quality of life depends upon it.  Because it does. . .

For more information, please visit: https://www.jeffbrowervcc1.com/

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

 

 

On Volusia: The Epitome of Arrogance

Look, I want to qualify this screed by saying I’m not opposed to paying people what they are worth – especially those with the courage to stand for public office – and I have always respected senior public officials who, on principle, refused to accept pay increases if their subordinates were not afforded the same benefit or during times of financial hardship for their jurisdiction.

I know something about that.

It’s called making a small personal sacrifice for the betterment of something larger than your own self-interests.

During a rushed and rambling council workshop last week, talk turned to placing Charter amendments on the ballot for this year’s election – the act of expending public funds to solicit permanent, voter-approved changes to our county’s otherwise sacrosanct governing document.

To say our Charter needs a fresh set of eyes, beyond the once in a blue moon review by a committee made up of all the right last names, is an understatement. . .

But rather than focus on those serious issues with the Charter – like ensuring those of us who pay the bills are afforded substantive input in the development of public policy – our elected officials took the opportunity to serve their own vanity by suggesting we change the name of our elected body from “Council” to “Commission.”

Why?

Because the term “Councilperson” doesn’t command the level of approbation and reverence our elected representatives feel they are entitled to.

Then, in perhaps the flakiest thing since my granny’s buttermilk biscuits, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, made the asinine suggestion that his exalted position at the head of this wobbly totem pole be officially changed to “Mayor.”

Don’t take my word for it, down three fingers of bourbon, chase it with Kaopectate, and listen to the archived audio.

While council members were on the topic of how woefully unappreciated they are, our vainglorious elected elite had the unmitigated gall to publicly wallow in their own egotistic angst over how terribly expensive shameless self-promotion has become for politicians in 2020.

So, for what must have seemed like the best of reasons, the Volusia County Council tuned their proverbial guitars to the doghouse bass and played the Poor Mouth Blues – openly mewing, moaning and whining about out-of-pocket expenses, a lack of personal assistants, the price of gasoline and high cost of their automobile insurance – before determining how to best couch ballot language for a pay increase that gullible voters might actually swallow.

It was like listening to the Joad’s describe the depravities of poverty in the Dust Bowl. . .

Now, until a recent article on the subject in the News-Journal, I didn’t know exactly how much we pay our elected officials to sacrifice their valuable time and talents for the ungrateful bastards who elected them – and I’ll just bet you didn’t either.

Because its next to impossible to calculate base salary, per diem, fees for attendance at various self-congratulatory soirees and awards banquets, etc. – not to mention travel, hotel and dining expenses for do-nothing meetings, conferences, hobnobs, grip-n-grins and hot air generators in, Tallahassee, Washington D.C. and beyond.

Now, these junkets are always sugarcoated in some pressing public need – like Councilwoman Deb Denys’ incessant squalling about her single-handed attempts to lure SpaceX and United Launch Alliance out of Brevard County to a vacant shopping center on ISB – as though the Titusville/Cocoa/Melbourne metroplex, located literally on the doorstep of the Kennedy Space Center, doesn’t have enough abandoned storefronts, office buildings and warehouse space to accommodate a hundred aerospace companies within a stones throw of the launchpad. . .

Whatever.

For the record, according to the News-Journal, Old Ed commands a base salary of $54,288 annually for his “service” as council chair – and the rest haul in $45,240 each year – essentially for attending two meetings a month and schlepping around to a slate of officious time-wasters that never seem to improve our quality of life or lower our already exorbitant tax rate.

That’s an incredible $217,152 we will have paid Ed Kelley to fumble, mumble and bumble his way through a four-year term at the helm of this ship of fools. . .

Did I mention that, according to 2018 census records, Volusia County households have a median income of just $46,760 – which must cover essential life expenses for families with children?

Since listening to this shit show play out in real-time – and recalling that some 43% of Volusia households do not earn enough to consistently cover basic living expenses – I’ve wondered if these unashamed crybabies sat bolt upright in the middle of the night, lathered in cold sweat, asking themselves if they really said those things into an open microphone?

During an election year? 

Look, I realize that, generally speaking, most politicians have a pretty high opinion of themselves – but building resentment by publicly complaining about their remuneration in front of the tax-strapped folks who foot the bill (after they begged us for the job with the full knowledge of what it paid) is never a good look.

In fact, it’s loutish.

But what’s done is done.

Ultimately, we all get what we deserve.

If our elected officials are convinced that that a pay increase is truly the highest and best use of our tax dollars – then, by all means, they should put that question to the voters this fall.

I can’t wait to see the reaction. . .

 

On Volusia: “The Seduction of Secrecy”

“Difference of opinion leads to inquiry, and inquiry to the truth.”

–Thomas Jefferson, 1815

I find it fascinating that people – depending upon position and perspective – can see the same issue from distinctly different viewpoints.  For instance, those who hold lofty public positions and elevate themselves above those who elected them have a different line of sight from those of us down here in the trenches.

In Volusia County, there is a supreme third perspective – the views of those known colloquially as our “Rich & Powerful” – the oligarchical insiders who trade in local politicians like cheap livestock each election season – then use their purchased clout to shape public policy.

As a result, the always self-serving vision of our uber-wealthy overseers is the only one that matters.

As outsiders peering into the inner sanctum of local governments through the greasy window in the fortified portcullis that separates us from those who accept public funds ostensibly to serve in the public interest – we are forced to use scripted public meetings to catch a glimpse of where our haughty “leadership” stand on the pressing issues of the day.

With the advent of paid government mouthpieces, “communications managers” and “public information directors” – who sanitize and condense “the message” into expressionless press releases while running interference for public administrators – these stilted biweekly theatrical productions by the Volusia County Council and various municipal commissions are the only knothole we have left.

Over time, it has become painfully apparent that most official decisions are a foregone conclusion – hashed out ahead of time in the city or county managers office or based solely on the safety of a “staff recommendation” – reducing the need for public input or strategic thought on the important issues.

This homogenized decision-making process excludes differing opinions from the debate – reducing public policy considerations to an exercise in rubber-stamping the behind-the-scenes “suggestions” of those with a financial chip in the game.

Look, don’t get me wrong – secrecy simplifies things.

However, as taxpayers, we should have an equal voice on how our money is spent – and some meaningful input in legislative and policy decisions that directly affect our lives and livelihoods.

It’s true.  “Information is the currency of power,” and ensuring the people’s ‘right to know’ is the central purpose of Florida’s venerated (yet increasingly eroded) public records and open meetings laws.

Recently, this growing culture of secrecy became problematic when the City of Deltona willingly entered the high stakes game of attracting an Amazon distribution center – and the adage ‘knowledge is power’ became more than just a worn proverb.

Now, the long-suffering community is embroiled in yet another controversy as city commissioners ask why some members were provided advance information – and others were not.

Meanwhile, no one mentions that the good citizens of Deltona were asked to pony up millions in tax incentives before knowing who – or what – they were luring to town. . .

In my view, increasingly, our local governments are falling victim to what Fritz Schwarz, chief counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice, has called “the seduction of secrecy,” and everyone will agree that an informed citizenry is democracy’s best defense.

So, why are We, The People being treated like mushrooms: Kept in the dark and fed bullshit?

I mean, the lengths to which some government offices will go to avoid answering legitimate questions from citizens and reporters – such as where millions in public funds have been spent – are becoming too obvious to ignore.

The working press, who, despite having some trust issues of their own, still hold an important watchdog role over the often-self-serving nature of government, and should be provided reasonable access to investigate and report on the maneuverings and motivations of those who hold power over us.

That always gets messy – as it should.

Our elected and appointed officials derive their authority from the will of the people – in other words, they work for us – or at least they should.

Somehow, in Volusia County, those well-defined roles have been reversed.

This sense of remoteness between the average citizen and those we elect to serve our interests, is becoming institutionalized, an accepted part of what passes for local governance in the new decade, an environment where public policy is formed in seclusion.

Especially when public officials seem to completely ignore that the “trust issue” even exists.

This summer, when incumbent politicians come out of their bunkers in the Ivory Tower of Power to shake our hands, slap our backs and ask for another bite at the apple, please take a minute to ask them when those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence became an afterthought?

Ask them why they sold their souls for a cameo in a staged play that no longer bears any resemblance to a representative democracy – or service in the public interest?


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

Listen locally at 1380am “The Cat” – or worldwide at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

In addition, I will be the streaming live on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mdbarker1 – thanks for joining us for “The fastest two-hours in radio!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for January 10, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Volusia County Council

I’m trying my damnedest to stop carping on every mini-move and intrigue of the Volusia County Council – because the turmoil and dysfunction is omnipresent – and it has become clear that there is nothing anyone without a billion dollars in the bank can say that will fundamentally change the existing state of affairs.

At least until the election this fall. . .

In the interim, I’m left looking like a demented Henny Penny, running in circles, pointing fingers and calling attention to the blatantly obvious.

Let’s be honest – as long as the dais resembles some weird Island of Misfit Toys – led by our doddering fool of a county chair, Ed Kelley – I think its prudent to keep at least one eye peeled, as their every decision directly affects our lives, livelihoods and pocketbooks.

So, let me just hit the high points that caught my eye during the latest production of our Theater of the Absurd:

Yesterday, we learned that absolutely nothing has changed as we enter the new decade, when Councilwoman Heather Post nominated her colleague, District 1 representative Barb Girtman, for the Vice-Chair post.

Her motion died for lack of a second – amid an awful, earth-shattering silence.

Instead, the status quo was suitably and predictably protected when Rev. Fred Lowry was returned to the post for another term.

Then, Councilwoman Billie Wheeler made an abrupt motion to appoint Assistant County Attorney Michael Dyer, former general counsel for Volusia County Schools, to the role of interim county attorney effective immediately.

Since Mr. Eckert announced he would be leaving, there has been speculation in the community that Dyer was Eckert’s first choice to succeed him – an idea, I suspect, that is shared by unnamed fringe players who control our destiny from the shadows – especially given the fact that there are two very experienced and respected deputy county attorneys on staff – one a former county court judge.

So, despite all the caterwauling from the dais about ensuring a “transparent process,” a nationwide search, the possibility of dissuading qualified outside candidates from applying and other horseshit assurances – I predict that our “new” county attorney will ultimately be Mike Dyer.

On a positive note, Ms. Post announced that Votran is working toward providing long-needed bus service to Tanger Outlets and the shopping mecca of Tomoka Town Center – at no additional cost – something we were told was physically impossible (unless we agreed to pony up some $871,000+ to expand service) when the subject was broached eons ago.

Of course, Ms. Post’s contributions to the public transportation effort were immediately marginalized by County Manager George Recktenwald and Old Ed – who pointed out that it was actually Georgie who built the fire under Votran during the behind-the-scenes discussions that ultimately reversed months of stonewalling.

Sorry Councilwoman Post, early on, when you refused to be beaten into the round hole of lockstep conformity to the “system” – in the eyes of your esteemed “colleagues” – you will never measure up and your efforts will always be marginalized.

It’s the “Volusia way”. . .

I also want to commend Councilwoman Deb Denys for her persuasive suggestion that someone from that festering money pit over at First Step Shelter be asked to appear before the council.

Call me crazy, but I would very much like for someone, anyone, in a position of authority to formally explain the chaos and confusion that permeates everything about the so-called “shelter” and its bizarre administration.

Wouldn’t you?

With millions of tax dollars over the transom – and more coming – I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Denys logical suggestion to explore where First Step is going, and how it plans to get there, as it continues to hemorrhage cash month-over-month.

Look, I’m sorry – I tried to follow along with the afternoon workshop – but my antiemetic simply wasn’t strong enough.

When the talk turned to the exploration of Charter amendments for this year’s election – somehow it has become imperative that we change the name of the County Council to “County Commission.” 

Why?

Because “Councilperson” apparently doesn’t command the appropriate level of respect from their cronies who hold office in other Florida counties – leaving them feeling like a hillbilly municipal official from some panhandle hog waller.

I don’t make this stuff up, folks.

Then, for reasons known only to him, Old Ed pushed the weird idea of changing his exalted title from “Chairman” to “Mayor.” (?)

I guess “King Shit the Rag Boy” was taken.

When money is no object – that’s when tone-deaf elected officials begin spending our money to put vanity referendums on the ballot.

Remember that the next time they ask you to support a sales tax increase. . .

Whatever.

It was when the group began collectively crying the Poor Mouth Blues over the pittance they receive for their exhaustive service to Volusia County and all Mankind.

Frankly, as they prattled on about “what people expect” of them (they don’t have a flippin’ clue what people expect) and the atrocious drain their haughty positions put on their valuable time and pocketbook – then tried their level best to couch an undeserved pay raise in disjointed terms they think you and I (and the thousands of their constituents living at or below the poverty line) will swallow – I actually became nauseated.

Yep.  Threw-up in my mouth a little.

 I had to turn it off.  Really.    

From their pretentious whining about how much their car insurance cost (suggesting a “car allowance” might be appropriate) to crying and rending their garments over the stress shameless self-promotion puts on their disposable income, it became chillingly clear that we’ll soon be asked to pay these stuffed-shirt buffoons even more than we already do.

Honestly.

Perhaps our ‘powers that be’ have finally got a small taste of what financially strapped Volusia County families deal with every day – and the burden isn’t attending some stilted meeting, photo opportunity, Washington soiree, Tallahassee hot air generator or other obscure political hobnob – but the real and ongoing struggle of keeping a roof over their children’s heads and putting food on the table.

Regardless, I’m not inclined to supplement these crybabies with one more public dime than they already receive.

The fact is, they each stood for elective office on a promise of selfless public service, knowing full-well what the job entailed – and what it paid.

If they don’t want to do it anymore – then quitget the hell out – and make room for an actual servant-leader who is in it for more than their own personal enrichment.

These assholes should be ashamed of themselves.

Angel              Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz

For the first time in his short tenure at the helm of Volusia County District Schools, our new Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz is saying all the right things.

While he’s not speaking my language just yet – it appears Dr. Frtiz is slowly developing a clear road map away from the flaming wreckage that is our district’s administration – moving carefully towards more insightful, effective and standardized educational strategies for long-suffering Volusia County students.

In my view, for far too long, some principals have been allowed to run their schools like feudal lords – a practice that ultimately resulted in the shocking scandal at Mainland High School and left district student’s with wildly different experiences based solely on geography.

Fortunately, it appears Dr. Fritz sees the very real need to get everyone on the same page, using proven lesson plans, exposing students to scholastic aptitude testing, putting greater emphasis on the fundamentals, promoting early literacy programs, and, perhaps most important, asking the district’s most effective teachers for their valuable input.

That’s the benefit of a fresh set of eyes.

However, it’s patently clear that Dr. Fritz has a rough road ahead. . .

While I was initially impressed that the district acted quickly to relieve the principal of Ortona Elementary after allegations by school staff of “unprofessional conduct,” which resulted in an investigation that, despite multiple revelations by staff members all having close similarities, failed to develop evidence of misconduct.

The result was a strongly worded letter of caution (?) and “mental health and threat assessment training.”  Then, on Tuesday, we learned that the embattled administrator was simply shuffled to an assistant principal role at Spruce Creek High School.

Did I miss something?

Well, at least he wasn’t appointed Chief of Security and placed in charge of our children’s safety. . .

While I applaud Dr. Fritz’ efforts to change the toxic culture in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand – in my view, he still has a long way to go when it comes to important reforms.

Maybe things are happening behind the scenes (I hope), but I still haven’t seen evidence that Dr. Fritz is addressing perhaps the most pressing issue facing Volusia County Schools – the complete revamp of safety and security protocols – to including employing a credentialed physical security expert to administrate and enforce the unique policies and practices necessary to properly secure our schools – along with an effective plan to stop the widespread bullying and violence we’ve seen over the past year.

In my opinion, that includes purging the system of highly compensated senior administrators – shameless posers who have mastered the art of talking the talk – saying all the right things and deflecting blame when telling issues occur – yet lack the training, experience and commitment to walk the walk. . .

Regardless of the quality of the teaching, lesson planning or programs offered, children simply cannot achieve in an environment that harkens back to Attica 1971.

Quote of the Week

“The lack of communication and total disregard for the neighboring cities and county who financially support the mission is wholly unacceptable in my opinion. We were there and gave support when asked.  There was an opportunity to reach out and collaborate with neighboring local governments that was totally disregarded by Mr. Chisholm.  Instead, I hear about it for the first time after he makes his decision in a silo by reading the local newspaper.”

Port Orange Mayor Don Burnette, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Decision putting Daytona homeless ‘safe zone’ in limbo leaves Port Orange leaders unnerved,” Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Whatever.

Unfortunately, Mayor Burnette’s noble saber rattling – and spot on assessment of the complete lack of substantive communication from Daytona Beach – was diluted by the First Step Board’s milquetoast response to the Safe Zone controversy when they simply kicked the can even further down the road as they grope and fumble for a new way forward.

In my view, most telling was when members began important discussions concerning the fate of the Safe Zone – and Mayor Derrick Henry fled the room like a base coward taking his city attorney with him – as the City of Daytona Beach abruptly cut the television feed with the meeting still in progress. . .

They had a commission meeting, you know.

My ass.

 If anyone at First Step – or the City of Daytona Beach – think these chikenshit moves instill confidence in potential donors, they are sadly mistaken.

My only hope is that area voters will remember the fainthearted response of First Step Board members when it came time to stand up for what we were promised – not to mention their seemingly endless tolerance for abuse and embarrassment at our expense.

What a bunch of neutered lapdogs, eh?

In my view, this continued acquiescence and spineless timidity of certain municipal representatives on the board proves the moral courage exhibited by South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall and Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte, who resigned when it became clear the misdirection and machinations of senior Daytona Beach officials conflicted with their professional ethics and sense of service in the public interest.

Clearly, the City of Daytona Beach wants unfettered control of the First Step facility and operation – so give it to them, dammit – and pull all external municipal funding for this expensive sham now.

And Another Thing!

An Open Note to the Daytona Beach City Commission:

Look, I hate to be one to give advice.

During my long career in public service, I found it prudent to take the guidance of well-meaning critics over the sycophantic fawning of obsequious shits who’s only goal was to feather their own nest – and I hope you will consider this opinion in the spirit in which it is offered.

If you are a sitting Daytona Beach City Commissioner who plans to seek reelection, I strongly suggest that you take a long look at what’s happening in the bowels of your own City Hall – a place that has become a citadel of non-communication, evasion and obfuscation that protects senior administrators from outside inquiry and steadily broadens the void between you and your increasingly suspicious constituents.

Don’t take my word for it.  Read the paper. . .

Earlier this week, the News-Journal published a bold editorial which painfully, yet accurately, summarized the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the demise of a proposed safe zone at the controversial First Step Shelter.

But this isn’t about who will ultimately pay for a designated patch of muddy ground for the less fortunate to lay their head on.

It’s a telling look at a local power structure that has made a conscious decision to adopt dictatorial rule over democratic representation – a sacred system which serves to provide politically accountable oversight and prevent the kind of abuses and cloistered atmosphere your residents have been complaining about for some time now.

Only now, the City of Daytona Beach’s relationship with its neighbors is being irreparably damaged.

And you are the face of it. 

I don’t need to tell you that we live in a pivotal time in the history of this unique mosaic of municipalities in east Volusia County – where everyone is affected by out-of-control growth, a lack of adequate infrastructure and pressure on our sensitive environment and water supply – a time when open communication and honest collaboration on the issues we collectively face will be key to finding sustainable, long-term solutions.

Yet, City Manager Jim Chisholm seems intent on forging his own path (not always forward) on the important issues of the day – damn the consequences – including unilateral decisions on the direction of the First Step Shelter that has resulted in the resignation of two important advocates from your neighbors to the north and south – meddling that now threatens the all-important financial support from Port Orange and beyond.

Look, I admire Mr. Chisholm’s self-confidence and strength of personality.

Clearly, he shoots from the hip when it comes to making important decisions – but where he finds direction is known only to him.

Despite popular belief, this isn’t the kingdom of a few well-heeled oligarchs – it is a living, breathing, struggling community whose essential services are funded by the hard-earned tax dollars of the residents who voted you into office – and that doesn’t comport with Mr. Chisholm’s increasingly insular style.

In my view, your staff’s refusal to cooperate with the working press is an abomination – the antithesis of an open and transparent local government – a situation that cannot help but foster suspicion and speculation that the tail truly is wagging the dog.

It also projects incredible weakness – and serves to substantiate the pervasive view that Mr. Chisholm’s impetuous actions are protected by a few wealthy insiders who fund your political campaigns. . .

I understand if you don’t want to accept my unsolicited counsel, after all, I don’t have any money – which means I couldn’t possibly have a civic vision – but perhaps you should listen to our community’s newspaper:

“In short, commissioners should have taken control as they were elected to do. They should have stood up for the principles of transparency and respect for the First Step board members and the city’s taxpayers, who are footing the bill.

It’s not too late.

“Commissioners can make it clear that things must change, and fast. If there needs to be a discussion of whether or where to build a safe zone, call all the stakeholders to the table. Stop rubber-stamping staff decisions as if the commission were helpless to make changes. And for heaven’s sake, make it clear that Chisholm no longer has permission to make major policy decisions behind closed doors.”

That’s powerful.

And it does not inspire public confidence in sitting politicians preparing to ask their neighbors for another bite at the apple.

In my view, your action – or inaction – in reining in Mr. Chisholm’s despotic rule by exercising the powers and oversight vested in the city commission by Charter – then demanding that your staff open the windows and let the sunshine bathe the dark corners of City Hall, which have become the realm of “communications managers” and other politically unaccountable gatekeepers – will ultimately determine your political fate this fall.

You’re welcome.  You can thank me later. . .

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

 

On Volusia: The Ultimate “Bait and Switch”

I hate to call “bait and switch,” on the First Step Shelter, but I’m definitely leading the growing chorus of Volusia County taxpayers – and concerned politicians – who feel that what we paid for, and what we ultimately received, are two very different things. . .

I’m not inclined to provide a history lesson to politicians who never seem to learn from it – but many here in the “Real World” will recall those dark days in the winter of 2016 when the City of Daytona Beach closed access to restrooms, benches and the relative concealment of soggy cardboard boxes and dirty blankets tucked into the oyster middens of Manatee Island.

The equal and opposite backfire to this misguided action was an orchestrated mass migration of homeless from the shadows to a very visible perch outside the County Administration building on North Beach Street.

The occupation became a very visible social, civic and economic reminder – and one that would drive what ultimately came to be the ungodly expensive First Step Shelter.

As early as 2013, when the homeless population grew in the face of the Great Recession, our local “movers & shakers” began to explore options for “controlling” the problem – or at least providing a rudimentary shelter that would comport with laws prohibiting the institutional humiliation of the homeless population.

To that end, in early 2014, the city hired controversial shelter consultant Robert Marbut – who now serves the Trump administration as our national director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness – paying him some $135,000 for his suggestions.

Ultimately, Marbut developed a plan – then known as Volusia Safe Harbor – which the News-Journal described as a “no-frills, 26,000-square-foot shelter with 250 beds on county property” that would be funded by all 16 Volusia County municipalities chipping in a cumulative total of $1.6 million annually for operating costs.

By 2015, Volusia County finally got off their ass and offered property near Stewart-Marchman ACT and other service providers – along with $4 million for construction costs and $2 million for operational expenses over five years.

Then, in February 2016, immediately following the Beach Street encampment, the county’s contribution was formalized in a written agreement – but the plan went down in flames on a split vote of the County Council – ostensibly over concerns the municipalities weren’t adequately committed to supporting operating costs.

In 2017, Daytona Beach countered with a contentious idea – under a nonprofit formed by the city called First Step Shelter – with the selling point that the facility could be built quickly, and at a lower cost, than the original plan.

Endless debate began over every aspect of the proposed shelter – would it be tensile fabric, modular buildings, tents, trailers, etc. – and time marched on.

We were told, “an important goal for the city is to design a shelter building with an estimated construction cost not to exceed $2 million.” 

Within months – and without any logical explanation to long-suffering taxpayers – construction costs alone soared to over $6 million with operating costs estimated at $1.1 to $1.7 million annually.

(And don’t get me started on the uber-weird ancillary “deal” to allow P$S Paving to haul publicly owned fill dirt off the site and sell it for private profit. . .)

In November, The Daytona Beach News-Journal announced, “New Daytona homeless shelter to include safe zone,” a legal place for homeless persons to sleep and an integral part of why many Volusia County cities signed on in the first place.

The area would have provided homeless persons who either can’t, or won’t, participate in First Step’s publicly funded self-help seminar a place to sleep in relative safety – and an option to incarceration for those engaging in “life sustaining” activities, such as sleeping or creating unsanitary conditions in a public place.

Now, we’re faced with yet another growing shit storm after the current iteration of the much-anticipated Safe Zone was effectively killed by unilateral edict of City Manager Jim Chisholm – eliminating the one piece of this complex and incredibly expensive solution that the municipalities were promised.

Jesus.

What was once billed as a reasonably priced “come as you are” low barrier shelter has transmogrified into a mysterious personal development program that, as far as I know, has never been publicly explained in terms of programmatic goals, success in similar shelters or per client operational and ancillary costs.

And abject confusion reigns. . .

As an example, on Wednesday afternoon, I watched in absolute shock as members of the First Step Shelter Board – with the exception of Ormond Beach City Commissioner Dwight Selby, who pushed to allow staff to develop a workable policy – explained why they didn’t believe the shelter should permit the common humanitarian service of protecting vulnerable homeless people from the threat of exposure and hypothermia on extremely cold nights.

You read that right.

Our $6 million dollar “homeless shelter” will not provide cold weather shelter to our homeless population. . . 

Christ.  That’s not penny-pinching – that’s cruel.

Then, after much saber rattling in the newspaper, the First Step Board took a namby-pamby, do-nothing position after Mr. Chisholm put the kibosh on the promised Safe Zone when they simply kicked the can even further down the road as they ostensibly search for additional funding (or a new plan, or something.)

In my view, most telling was when members began discussion on the fate of the Safe Zone – and Mayor Derrick Henry fled the room like a base coward taking his city attorney with him – as the City of Daytona Beach abruptly cut the television feed with the meeting still in progress.

They had a commission meeting, you know. . .

Trust me.  If anyone at First Step – or the City of Daytona Beach – thinks that kind of petty crap instills confidence in potential donors, they are mistaken.

All we know for certain is that First Step is NOT a homeless shelter – and acceptance into the “program” appears to be contingent on a persons willingness to jump through a multitude of hoops – making First Step anything but “low barrier.”

In a Tweet earlier this week, Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post said:

“Unfortunately people finding a way to the shelter & showing up are being turned away with no assistance being told “They don’t take walk-ins”.  On a hopeful note, discussion about being a cold weather shelter is expected to be discussed at their next Board mtg.”

With just 23 homeless persons currently being served – and multitudes remaining on the street – many of my neighbors are asking serious questions about the future of this unsustainable money pit, and when our representatives on the First Step Shelter Board will finally grow a pair and challenge Mr. Chisholm’s unrestrained power over a program our tax dollars are helping underwrite.

And perhaps its time for the Volusia County Council to determine the direction of this mess before releasing one more dime of our tax dollars – because it is growing more apparent that First Step has the financial life expectancy of a consumptive Mayfly. . .

In my view, our municipal representatives should make good on their promise to pull external funding for this godawful quagmire and turn the facility, operation and growing expense over to Daytona Beach once and for all.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Daytona’s own “Deep Throat”

During the Washington Post’s investigation into the Watergate conspiracy, a high-ranking FBI official, decades later identified as Mark Felt, surreptitiously provided key information to reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein regarding the Nixon administration’s involvement while operating under the now infamous pseudonym “Deep Throat.”

The revelations helped to confirm the reporter’s suspicions – exposing what was arguably the biggest scandal of the last century – and ultimately resulted in the resignation of a sitting United States president.

Interestingly, Woodward and Bernstein met “Deep Throat” in a darkened parking garage. . .

Sound familiar?

This week, Pat Rice, editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, published some disturbing photographs depicting the unfinished interior of the Protogroup’s languishing hotel and condominium project – which remains virtually stagnant at the epicenter of our core tourist area.

According to the report, these compelling photographs and other revelations received by Mr. Rice, originated from someone close to the project who wished to remain anonymous. . .

In addition, Mr. Rice detailed some troubling information regarding the condition of internal fixtures – including what appeared to be rusting pipes associated with the fire suppression system – and “surface rust” on two escalators that have been stored under tarps on the first floor of the south tower.  

Look, I’m no expert on the construction of skyscrapers – in fact, I don’t know which end of a hammer you blow in – but does storing expensive escalators in a corrosive salt mist protected only by a blue tarp – or potentially installing a rust-pitted moving staircase in a “luxury” hotel,  sound right to you?

Me neither. . .

Maybe it’s just my debilitating paranoia, but when you assemble the mysterious puzzle pieces of setbacks, slowdowns, allegations, lawsuits and revelations that have surrounded this project from its inception – one gets the idea maybe all is not as it seems.

In fact, the intrepid civic activist, Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach – whose only motivation is preserving our quality of life – has been sounding the klaxon for months.

To make matters worse, I recently read a disturbing social media post from someone purporting to have inside information alleging serious irregularities surrounding the project – which, if true, would not bode well for the future of the already overdue towers.

I’ve learned to take things I read on the internet with a grain of salt – unless and until they comport with other material evidence at hand – but every time we see workers slap another coat of paint on the corroded reinforcing steel on the “north tower” – residents become increasingly uncomfortable.

I’m glad that people seemingly ‘in the know’ are beginning to speak out.

It takes courage to come forward with information vital to the well-being of our community – and it can be extremely intimidating, especially when one looks at how whistle blowers are treated in Volusia County government and beyond.

The fact someone with internal knowledge brought this to Mr. Rice’s attention should not be looked on lightly.

When one feels an ethical obligation to expose acts and omissions they believe are contrary to the public interest, be it in public or private organizations – it comes at great personal expense – and exposes whistle blowers to retaliation, the potential loss of a hard-earned career and the destruction of personal and professional relationships that results in ostracism and isolation.

That’s a heavy price to pay for doing the right thing.

But, in the end, sunlight is always the best disinfectant, and, as Einstein said, “To remain silent is to be guilty of complicity.”   

As Mr. Rice pointed out, everyone hopes the Protogroup’s project is a “resounding success” – because the alternative is grim – and I’m not sure our beleaguered beachside can withstand another blow.

In my view, based upon the News-Journal’s excellent reportage – and the various rumors that are swirling throughout our worried community – perhaps it’s time our ‘powers that be’ consider investigating these serious concerns – then take steps to enforce whatever neutered performance guarantees they agreed to back when everyone who is anyone in the Daytona Beach elite were soaking themselves in a fit of excited incontinence over the ‘next big thing.’

This ones important.

 

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Year of the Rat

“Trust is a fragile thing – difficult to build, easy to break. It cannot be bargained for. Only if it is freely given it can be expected in return.”

–Peter Lerangis, The Sword Thief

 

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2020 is the Year of the Rat. . .

Despite the rat’s unappealing reputation here in the west – the rodent ranks first among the twelve zodiac animals.

How the rat received that premiere distinction is an interesting story:

According to folklore, the exalted Jade Emperor – who, in Chinese mythology, ruled heaven and earth thousands of years ago – decreed that the place of each animal on the calendar would be decided by the order in which they arrived at his celestial party.

Needless to say, all the animals were excited to meet the Heavenly Grandfather as the Emperor was known, and the Cat asked the Rat to wake him from a nap so he would not miss the opportunity to ascend into the heavens and attend the grand soiree.

After thinking about it, the Rat feared he would seem unattractive to the Emperor when compared to the handsome Cat, so, he intentionally let the Cat oversleep and miss the party altogether.

Then, after outwitting the Cat, the Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride to the Emperor’s home in heaven. . .

Just as the pair arrived at the Emperor’s gilded door, the Rat jumped off the beasts back, landing ahead of the Ox, and scurried forward to gain the advantage and became the first animal to the enter the party.

Needless to say, the Ox never trusted that rat bastard again – and the vicious animosity that still exists between cats and rats is notorious. . .

I was reminded of this ancient tale of treachery and betrayal after reading The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s first editorial of the new decade, “Build trust in 2020,” which spoke of the ultimate importance of local efforts to restore the public trust and rebuild confidence in our local government in the coming year.

I agree.   Wholeheartedly.

Unfortunately, it appears the Halifax areas current oligarchical system, which bears no resemblance to a representative democracy, coupled with an almost pathological need for secrecy – something at odds with our sacred principles and open government laws – has isolated a worried constituency from their elected and appointed representatives – isn’t going to change on its own.

For instance, earlier this week, WFTV’s intrepid investigative reporter Mike Springer – whose smarts, perseverance and grasp of the important issues ranks him among the best in the business – produced a disturbing story on his attempts to gain hard answers to where some $90 million in Community Redevelopment Funds were spent in the Main Street CRA.

According to the report, a tour of the area found abundant evidence of blight, dilapidation and civic neglect permeating the redevelopment area – to include numerous vacant storefronts, graffiti and pole banners in the Surfside Village historic district that were so tattered and faded the signs were unreadable. . .

The short question being how – with nearly a hundred million dollars over the transom since 1992 – could this relatively small area of our beachside still be an atrophied wasteland?

Given that the City of Daytona Beach has stopped formally communicating with the working press, Springer dutifully attempted to contact “Communications Manager” Susan Cerbone – a professional mouthpiece who is paid handsomely to guard the gate from pesky reporters and inquisitive citizens – by email for “three straight days.”

Really?  

In a brazen display of just how far senior officials at City Hall will go to avoid external scrutiny – Ms. Cerbone (by email, of course) questioned what Mr. Springer’s “story was about” and, rather than be interviewed in an open, professional and transparent way, directed that the reporter tip his hand and forward a list of questions for review.

Weird.

When Springer explained he was investigating “The Main Street CRA and how the city has used the money to reinvest and develop that district,” and logically asked to speak with the city’s redevelopment director Reed Berger – Cerbone mysteriously stopped communicating altogether.

It appears Mr. Springer has hit upon something that the City of Daytona Beach would prefer remain in the shadows. . .

The bureaucracy’s obvious unwillingness to provide an open accounting of where $90 million in public funds went – which actually equates to some $120 million over thirty years – and how, decades later, the redevelopment district (along with much of our core tourist area) remains mired in malignant blight and economic stagnation – is incredibly telling.

And frightening.

The citizens of Daytona Beach – and beleaguered Main Street merchants – deserve answers.

In my view, it is clear why Mr. Berger – who has stood unconscionably idle while the beachside and beyond deteriorated – wouldn’t want to answer a reporters pointed questions.

I don’t blame him.

But that’s his job, dammit.

At some point, shouldn’t responsible elected officials and municipal administrators come to the realization that perhaps the City’s Redevelopment Director should be held personally responsible for – I dunno – Redevelopment?

Whatever.

When it comes to matters of trust, a lack of substantive communication between elected and appointed officials and their baffled constituents typically doesn’t promote public confidence.

In fact, it destroys it.

It’s a big part of why Volusia County’s desperate push for a half-cent sales tax was soundly defeated last year – and the reason the referendum will go down in flames again if the same incompetent assholes remain in power when the question is returned to the ballot.

And the ongoing shit show that is the Volusia County Council – under the miserable reign of our doddering fool of a county chair, Ed Kelley – whose biweekly Captain Queeg impression has broken our faith and turned the legislative process into a tasteless joke – isn’t helping to repair our horribly damaged relationship with those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest.

This complete lack of values-based leadership and cult-like addiction to secrecy at all levels of government is perhaps the most troubling issue facing Volusia County residents – one that our current crop of rats have proven unable or unwilling to escape.

In our democratic system, just power is derived from the consent of the governed, and we don’t have to accept this – or stand by while those who have abused our sacred trust attempt to ameliorate their sins, rewrite history and stand for reelection.

I hope you will remember where true power lies come November.

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for January 3, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Daytona Beach Downtown Development Authority

“Sham: Cheap falseness, not genuine, having such poor quality as to seem false, a trick that deludes”

–Merriam-Webster

Despite the death song of some downtown merchants, and the growing protests of long-time residents, it is painfully clear that the City of Daytona Beach is moving full steam ahead with an asinine plan to destroy a serviceable streetscape on Beach Street and replace it with something, well, different.

When the process begins in a few weeks, I think it’s safe to say that not all of the small businesses that currently occupy downtown storefronts will be there when the project ends sometime later this year.

And maybe that’s part of the plan?

I cannot imagine how it must feel to put your blood, sweat and tears into something you built – only to have your own municipal government actively work against you – with the only logical explanation being that your shop or service doesn’t comport with some wealthy insiders “vision” of what they ultimately want downtown to look like. . .

Now, apparently to soften the blow of a terminal diagnosis, the City of Daytona Beach is announcing grand plans to “help” downtown merchants by suddenly changing tack from a cloistered, fuliginous, information black hole to what is now being described as a culture of “consistent communication” and a willingness to listen to “impacted groups” and solicit feedback.

My ass.

In my experience, the only accurate predictor of future performance is past behavior, and anyone paying attention can call this sham a mile away. . .

Given the experience of some merchants during the Orange Avenue reconstruction – which began in August 2014 yet wasn’t finished until 2017 – and myriad other projects that drag on for months, even years, beyond estimates, nobody is holding out much hope for the proposed Beach Street “improvements” timeline.

And don’t get me started on the Tom Staed Veterans Memorial Bridge fiasco – a county project which, despite daily fines, finger pointing and official promises – has remained perpetually under construction since 2016. . .

Now, to calm the fears of some Beach Street merchants – or to salve their own tortured conscience – Daytona Beach officials are saying all the right things, promising to assist struggling businesses, and, now that the city has awarded the $4.4 million job to P$S Paving, actually listen to their concerns. . .

Bullshit.

The Daytona Beach Downtown Development Authority, which just happens to be chaired by an attorney with Cobb Cole (a firm representing everyone who is anyone in the downtown development game), are exporting dollars to a Ponte Vedra Beach based marketing agency while flogging “special events” as a means of providing palliative care for the doomed – a too little, too late hospice for retail used-to-be’s.

One concerned reader forwarded me a copy of a colorful brochure, apparently sent by the Downtown Development Authority in resident’s water bills, touting Christmas events on Beach Street.

It arrived on December 31st. . .

Wow.

Clearly, a select few in the Halifax area aristocracy have definite plans for what our downtown will look like over the next decade – including which businesses will be allowed to prosper and which will wither.

I believe their dream of creating a “destination” ultimately includes the commercial development of City Island – the real estate is simply too valuable – and all the right players are on-board – which means the rest of us are just along for the ride. . .

If it’s any consolation, in my view, the die was cast on the fate of downtown Daytona long before what passes for public discussion even began – and was cemented when His Royal Majesty J. Hyatt Brown callously held a proposed $750,000 children’s splash park in the “Brown Esplanade” hostage to the lane reduction project.

Unless the street project moved forward – the splash pad would be “eradicated.”

(And I’m a mean-spirited ogre?  Whoa.)

To ensure there was no confusion where our exalted Ruling Class stood, J. Hyatt was bolstered in his hostile demand by our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hossieni, as the two titans rose before their hired chattel and gave them not-so-subliminal marching orders.

The great Bob Dylan said, “he not busy being born is busy dying” – and, in my view, that moment at the Daytona Beach City Commission meeting of December 18, 2019, marked the birth of “Hyattona” – and the death of anything that doesn’t comport with one man’s vision for the rest of us.

Angel               Louis Fuchs  

“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

— Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias”

Unfortunately, the Halifax area elite could give two-shits when it comes to curating our community history – and the memory of those who took us from a salty patch of palmetto scrub, across the Bell Curve of civic success, to where we are now.

Instead, Volusia County’s self-aggrandizing ‘powers that be’ seem more interested in assuring their own legacy (and currying favor) through the deification of our present-day pompous political insiders.

Even if their strange idea of civic glory only lasts a few decades.

In the 1960’s, a small group of local businessmen, led by the venerated J. Saxon Lloyd, formed the Civic League of the Halifax Area – one of those “membership by invitation only” secret societies that, to this day, continue to serve as the puppet masters who form public policy in their own image – and to their own advantage. . .

The Civic League, and those “Rich & Powerful” political insiders who populated it back in its heyday, were of the opinion that a clique of power brokers was more effective at community decision-making than our democratic system of politically accountable representatives, “which change administrations every year, because it will be permanent.”

(What’s changed?)

No one was more ingrained in the local power structure of the day – or more dedicated to the future success of east Volusia County – than Halifax area business leader and community activist, Lou Fuchs.

In fact, Mr. Fuchs is the late uncle of the esteemed Dr. Hal Kushner, a former Vietnam Prisoner of War and true American hero, whose ophthalmology practice has served residents of the Halifax area since 1977.

It is reported that, as a boy, Dr. Kushner spent a couple of summers working at his Uncle Lou’s linen service.

Given the importance of Mr. Fuchs personal and professional contributions to our areas progress, the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce named one of their most prestigious honors “The Lou Fuchs Leadership Award” – a prize which now appears on the political resume of every Old School Volusia County “mover and shaker” worth their salt.

In fact, the honor was so exclusive that recipients were nominated and selected solely at the suggestion of previous award winners.

Unfortunately, I guess Lou’s contributions to the halcyon days of the “World’s Most Famous Beach” just don’t measure up to those of our current nobility – who have successfully built a “New Daytona” in the piney woods west of I-95 – then collectively turned their backs while the rest of our once vibrant community, including our beleaguered beachside, decomposes into dilapidated oblivion. . .

In keeping with their obsequious trend of renaming awards after our present crop of uber-wealthy overseers – it was announced this week that the Chamber has callously shit on the revered memory of Lou Fuchs – and will now refer to the honor as “The Glenn Ritchey Leadership Award.” 

Jesus.

What happened to honoring Mr. Fuchs’ dedication and contributions?

Hell, what happened to the common human emotion of shame?

The Chamber’s unabashed brown-nosing follows closely on the heels of their equally boot-licking move to rename the annual “Enterprise Award” after the current King of Kings J. Hyatt Brown. . .

(Which, by the by, will be bestowed on the do-nothing, publicly funded Team Volusia at the Chamber’s elegant soiree later this month. . .you read that right.)

Damn. . .

Sorry, Lou.  Your legacy is lost to whatever passes for our malleable and capricious history now.

In the end, I wonder how the Halifax area’s mutable historical record will remember this damnable period of our civic, social and economic existence – and the contributions of our current crop of Exalted Monarchs and their shameless “Pretensions of Greatness”?

Quote of the Week

“Deltona, where the trust of the commissioners and city manager was lost a long time ago, only added to that mistrust.

When I read the Opinion page (“Big News: It’s Amazon”) and it lists all the “obvious people” who were aware of what was going on, I just shook my head.

The residents were told: Non-Disclosure Agreement, we can’t say anything.

When you’re approving $2.5 million in incentives, the residents have a right to know a bit more than “We can’t say anything.”

The city’s DeltonaTV page posted “It’s all pretty exciting #amazon is coming to #deltona and the residents FAITH in City of Deltona, Florida has never been stronger.”

Really?

In my opinion the city missed a big opportunity to regain some of that FAITH and residents trust.”

–Dayle Whitman, Deltona, The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “Deltona’s Amazon secrecy strained trust,” Sunday, December 29, 2019

Well said, Dayle.   Thank you for your important contributions to the betterment of Deltona and beyond.

Also, a Barker’s View tip o’ the hat to Mr. Andy Brachhold of Daytona Beach for mentioning this humble blog in his recent News-Journal editorial, “Keep Beach Street unique and vibrant.”

Sincerely appreciated!

Besides, anytime my name is evoked (without spitting on the ground in disgust) it apparently pisses off all the right people – that can’t be a bad thing. . .

And Another Thing!

Look, I get it.

And, I admire the effort.

Recently, it’s become increasingly clear that a few of our Halifax area aristocrats and their fawning minions are enlisting the help of others in the community to answer my hypercritical screeds on social media.

The typical response usually takes the form of reminding me that I “don’t speak for everyone,” and end with some tripe about “how dare you besmirch the altruistic efforts of the Great and Powerful J. Hyatt Brown to gift us nice things and elevate us from this foul and fetid wasteland.”

Then, they question what I’ve done in my life to better our community. . .     

Unfortunately, my detractors – who always telegraph their intent by admitting they were “asked to comment” – seem to come from that segment of the population who still equate the quality of a person’s civic vision with the size of their bank account, and belittle my supporters with arrogant comments like, “I pay more taxes than most of you combined!,” then remind everyone of their former relevance and standing before they were hypnotized by daytime television. . .

Because they obviously don’t have a clue about current events, local politics or the innumerable problems brewing outside the guarded entrance to their tony gated community.

I suspect we’ll see more of this orchestrated resistance to my rambling thoughts and jaded opinions on the issues and newsmakers as our local governments – and those organizations and hangers-on who make their living suckling greedily at the public teat – egotistically succumb to the need to answer my rants.

Look, I live for the feud – so keep them coming.

Frankly, I enjoy the challenge – because it validates in my own inflated ego that Barker’s View is making a difference in the life and direction of our community – and I’m flattered that anything I could write would result in this much angst in the Ivory Tower of Power.

Maybe our “Rich & Powerful” should consider the source – then think long and hard about the source of this growing civic frustration.

Despite the incredible popularity of this site, I remain, quite simply, a half-drunk everyman – a star-crossed rube banging out my political vexations – then floating them out on the ether, hoping against hope to encourage a larger discussion in the community.

And, maybe it shouldn’t be so dreadfully easy for a few well-heeled insiders to use influence and backroom deals to force their myopic vision on everyone else?

I’m positive that our democratic system of governance works better with the open debate of competing ideas – an all-inclusive discussion that incorporates a variety of opinions into public policy design – a process which values the diverse input of all stakeholders, rather than succumb to the dictatorial edicts of a few.        

In my view, at this dawn of a new decade, it is not the loquacious blathering of some ‘keyboard warrior’ like me that our wealthy overseers need to worry about as they frantically work to protect the status quo.

As I said in my New Year greeting earlier this week – it is the awakening that is slowly taking place across the breadth of Volusia County that threatens their grip on power – and, at the end of the day, our haughty ‘powers that be’ will have no one to blame but themselves.

In my view, the thousands of independent thinkers who read these posts every month – who share these views throughout the community, form their own opinions, then vote their conscience at the ballot box – will ultimately return power to We, The People and set a bold new course for inclusion, fiscal responsibility and equality in local governance.

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend – and a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year – everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year!

As we enter the dawn of a new decade, I want to sincerely thank the loyal Barker’s View readers – the independent thinkers who consider my views, form their own opinions, then vote their conscience.

God knows I’m not perfect – and I understand these hypercritical political screeds and weird thoughts on our lives and livelihoods here on the Fun Coast are not for everyone – but, with your help, I believe there is an awakening taking place across the breadth of Volusia County.

Since its inception, this small blog site has now hosted hundreds-of-thousands of page views and, for good or ill, the content continues to grow in popularity with thousands tuning in each month.

Although we don’t always agree, I believe the success of Barker’s View is in driving a larger discussion of the issues – and in letting our ‘powers that be’ know someone is watching from up here in the cheap seats.

The fact so many of you seek out a genuine alternative opinion on the issues of the day tells me that this experiment is making a difference in the life and direction of our community.

I appreciate that.

2020 holds the exciting potential of fresh beginnings – and an election that may well begin our transformation from the oligarchical rule of a few, to an inclusive system where values-driven elected officials represent the very real needs of all constituents.

We’ll talk about that potential – and much more – in the coming year.

Thanks for taking the ride.

Mark