Angels & Assholes for September 24, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

“Masks are in, masks are out, run in circles, scream and shout!”

Before you get your knickers in a twist, please know I don’t give a tinker’s damn which side of the raging ‘mask mandate’ mêlée you come down on – but I think we can all agree the clumsiness and abject ineptitude with which the Volusia County School Board has approached this controversial topic is unconscionable.

Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ current executive order, any masking policies in public schools must contain an opt-out provision, ostensibly to protect a parent’s right to choose what’s best for their child – and it was understood from the outset there could be serious financial consequences for the district if elected officials ignored the Guv’s decree. 

At present, ‘them’s the rules.’  Like it or not. 

So, just weeks ago, the School Board made the decision to ignore Gov. DeSantis’ order and require face coverings for all students and staff while indoors – with a confusing weeklong “grace period” to allow for medical exemptions – while a host of other real-life scenarios seemed open for interpretation.

Then, inexplicably, the board reversed itself – with Chair Linda Cuthbert changing her vote to give parents the option. 

According to an excellent article by education reporter Cassidy Alexander writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Cuthbert said:

“It was a very difficult decision I had to make tonight. It was one I did not want to make. But I had to do it for our administrators who are dealing with a lot of opposition,” she (Cuthbert) said. “Our classrooms, our campuses are not to be used as places of contention.”

According to Cuthbert, she saw “vitriol” and “aggression” on display at area schools, which resulted in acts of bullying and student protest.

“Bullying is very much on display,” she said. “What has happened to our kindness? To our understanding of the plight of others?”

Clearly, Ms. Cuthbert presents some important questions.

I would also ask: What happened to the concept of organizational stability, making tough decisions based upon the best facts available and sticking to them, the idea of consistency in policymaking, following the rule of law, setting an example of unity, clarity, and understanding, the act of listening to constituents, and working cooperatively to take the ugliness of politics out of a public health mitigation strategy? 

Whatever.  

In my view, this mishmash of conflicting messages has – once and for all – irreparably damaged the public trust and left parents, students, teachers, and staff horribly confused.   

At the end of the day, the Volusia County School Board stirred the hornet’s nest for no reason (or the best of reasons, depending on your view) invariably returning to the very place they started, having accomplished nothing but stoking an angry, venomous, and divisive argument on both sides of this controversial topic.    

That’s not governance – that’s chaos.        

Perhaps there was a strategic method to the school board’s madness? 

On Tuesday, the board voted – unanimously – to accept a budget worth an astronomical $1.2 Billion, which included the obligatory tax increase needed to feed the insatiable beast, while allowing administrators to again break the piggybank and remove $41 million in savings to make ends meet.   

I guess raising our taxes was the one thing they could all agree on, eh? 

Look, I don’t want to call it a classic red herring, but with parents in a boil over the convoluted on-again/off-again mask mandate – distracted by yet another expertly choreographed tempest in a teapot – absolutely no one spoke on the continuing fiscal irresponsibility that, for over a decade, has been leading the district toward financial disaster. 

According to the News-Journal report:

“It’s the biggest public budget in Volusia County, topping even the tentative county budget of $1.1 billion. But when it came time for a public hearing on the issue, no one had signed up to speak. At one of the most-attended board meetings in years, people lined up into the parking lot to talk only about whether or not to require masks in schools.”

So, what excuse did our elected officials provide for this latest massive dive into reserves?

COVID.  Of course. 

Then, last Sunday, we learned that Volusia County schools have plummeted to a collective “C” rating – down from a “B” grade in 2019 – with the State of Florida accurately assigning a letter grade to the abject mediocrity the district has become known for.    

The reason?

You guessed it – COVID. 

What I found most preposterous was a goofy suggestion by Christopher Cowell, the “head of education” at Stetson University, and former deputy superintendent of academic programs for Volusia County Schools, who opined in the News-Journal, “…educators should take this opportunity to refocus on social and emotional learning for students that are being taxed, which can help prepare those children for academic learning, and look for opportunities for enrichment rather than remediation.”

Social and emotional learning?

Enrichment rather than remediation?

Say what?

I guess it will be left to area employers – who will ultimately offer these “socially and emotionally” indoctrinated young victims scutwork in the service industries – to teach them the rudiments of reading, writing, and the basic ‘rithmetic necessary to move boxes from A to B in a deafening warehouse or change linen and scrub toilets in some beachside fleabag? 

Tragic. 

Perhaps most disturbing, in keeping with the district’s ‘duck and cover’ response to any crisis, when Ms. Alexander attempted to get hard answers as to why Volusia County schools are circling the toilet in key metrics – and what they plan to do about it – she was met with the stonewall treatment by those senior administrators ensconced in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand:

“The News-Journal requested to interview (Superintendent Scott) Fritz, but (District Mouthpiece Kelly) Schulz said he was not available over three days last week. Deputy Superintendent Carmen Balgobin and the three assistant superintendents over each level of schooling were also not available for an interview, according to Schulz. Additionally, The News-Journal requested to interview two principals, and did not receive a response. The News-Journal was only able to send questions to Schulz via email.”

Wow.

It is said, “We get the government we deserve.”

In this case, I’m not sure anyone – especially impressionable young children who are dependent upon this chaotic and dysfunctional shit-show for their primary education – deserve this treatment at the hands of six-figure administrators, clear and the continuing failures of management and leadership which will put our children at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives while perpetuating the dreadful Volusia County cycle of dead-end service jobs paying pauper wages.

In my view, this institutional confusion is unfair, unjust, and unconscionable – yet most seem content to allow these dullards to tax our eyeballs out – while We, The Little People remain exclusively focused on fighting the intractable culture wars. 

Perhaps we get what we deserve after all?    

Asshole           NASCAR

WTF? 

Last week, Halifax area residents and legions of long-time race fans were blindsided by the news that NASCAR is moving the time-honored start to Daytona Speed Weeks – the Busch Clash – to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2022.

You read that right. 

According to reports, the iconic race will be removed from the local lineup and run on a slapdash quarter-mile asphalt short track that will be constructed inside the Coliseum two-weeks before the Daytona 500.

Like I said, WTF?

In my view, this ham-handed move represents a cheap sideshow – clearly orchestrated to grab lucrative television dollars – and a bold slap-in-the-face to hardcore fans who have kept the flagging sport afloat in good times and bad.      

The news was rightfully met with astonished indignation by area residents who have supported Daytona International Speedway and NASCAR for decades, most recently with a multi-million-dollar investment of public funds couched as “tax incentives” for the construction of One Daytona, including extensive renovations to DIS, a project collectively known as Daytona Rising.

Is this the way NASCAR repays our generosity?

My ass.

Apparently, this bungle is the brainchild of France Family legacy and wunderkind Ben Kennedy, who has become the unfortunate face of NASCAR’s “new generation” of leadership.

In my view, like most family-owned businesses, professional stockcar racing hasn’t been the same since Big Bill and Bill Jr. passed on to glory and the awkward son, Brian France, clumsily took the reins in 2003 before taking an “indefinite leave of absence” in 2018.

Anyone remember him?

Me neither. . .

According to an excellent article by the News-Journal’s Ken Willis, “The news also hit hard for those in the area’s hotel and hospitality industry, said Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County.”

“I can’t tell NASCAR and the Speedway how to run their business,” Davis said. “They have every right in the world to do business as they see fit, but I wish they had given us more time than only four or five months (notice). As hoteliers, restaurants, amusements, and gift shops, we will suffer greatly.”

In addition, Uncle Bob accurately surmised the move will cost our area “hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars” in sales and tourist development taxes, while hamstringing Daytona’s unfortunate “Wide. Open. Fun.” marketing campaign, which intricately links the areas historical connection to racing with our traditional beach town tourism product. 

“What do we have left in racing?” Davis said. “Start your engines for what? We’re decreasing.”

So, where does that leave Daytona Speedweeks 2022?

In perhaps the worst example of ‘corporatese’ – that weird dialect that uses a jumble of words to convey the least amount of information possible – this week Daytona International Speedway President Frank Kelleher was quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“I can’t get into specifics, just know that there is a very large group of crossfunctional people that are looking at every day of the week,” he said. “We’re just looking at things that we can program in, from the One Daytona side of the street to the Speedway side.”

Whatever.

Look, I know nothing about running a billion-dollar motorsports entertainment company – but I am familiar with the fading concepts of loyalty, continuity, and tradition – and the importance of supporting those who brought you to the dance – and have given so much to ensure the success of an enterprise that has become such an integral part of this community.

This one stings.

Angel               Westplan Investors

Stay low and keep your fingers crossed, kids.  We might have a live one on the line. . .  

After Tampa developer The Framework Group left us high-and-dry, deciding they couldn’t turn a suitable profit even with a proposed $10.2 million property tax break, it appears downtrodden Downtown Daytona may get a multiuse apartment complex after all!

Last week, Sir John Albright explained in the News-Journal that Westplan Investors – an Atlanta-based international private real estate investment and development firm – have signed a contract with his CTO Realty Growth (formerly known as the ‘good ol’ boys investment club’ at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company) to purchase the long-vacant six-acre site along Ridgewood Avenue which formerly housed the First Baptist Church. 

If all goes well, Westplan Investors may undertake a slightly smaller, 250 unit “multi-family housing” (read: apartment complex) development with surface parking instead of the weird semi-public elevated garage once proposed by The Framework Group – with space to spare for potential retail development. 

I subscribe to the theory that past performance is a good indicator of future success (or failure), so I took a cursory look at Westplan Investors and their previous projects in “economically strong and fast-growing cities” like Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston, and Charlotte. 

What I found was impressive.   

Unlike many of the here today/gone tomorrow fast-buck artists who have set upon the Halifax area in years past, Westplan Investors lives by a corporate code of ethics, which, among other precepts, requires their associates be present, personable, consistent, and reliable in every effort, committed to the proposition, “We do what we say, and we say what we do. Delivering with unwavering conviction. Procrastination is not a virtue.”  

Given the snail’s pace and complete lack of public communication inherent to most area projects, I found Westplan’s commitment to transparency refreshing. 

Perhaps most exciting, according to a recent report by the News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean:

“The current plan is also being worked out privately and won’t seek taxpayer money or approvals beyond the routine city OKs for the site plan and building permits. That’s in contrast to the public partnership sought last year for the previous developer, the Framework Group.”

Wait just a doggone minute.  Say WHAT?!   

You’re telling me a reputable, conscientious, and experienced real estate developer wants to build something in Daytona Beach without sticking their hand out for an “incentive” or two? 

Wow!

Now, if Mayor Derrick Henry and the Daytona Beach City Commission can keep their thumbs out of the pie – stop with the cockamamie “public/private” giveaways and “affordable housing” skims – we may finally have something beyond idle talk happening downtown. 

Look, time will tell – and I’ve always been a stooge for Sir John’s unbridled enthusiasm for the next big ‘gamechanger’ – but you’ve got to admit, this looks promising.

Let me be among the first to welcome Westplan Investors to “The Fun Coast”I like your style!

Quote of the Week

“Thanks to my wife Debbie and all who helped to get us to the primary victory today. It will take even more work over the next five weeks as well as more campaign contributions to win this. I am aware we will never raise the kind of money our opponent will have. Remember we defeated the 1/2 cent sales tax with 10% as much money as its supporters had. Jeff Brower won the County Chair with nowhere near the money his opponent had. Both are proof that votes beat money. We can win if everyone in Zone 2 that is tired of big money and big business buying our elections and telling us what’s good for us will just get out and VOTE on November 2. #VOTESBEATMONEY”

–Ken Strickland, Candidate for Daytona Beach Zone 2 City Commission, thanking supporters on social media following his narrow 13 vote victory in Tuesday’s primary, setting up a November runoff with challenger Larry McDermott, Tuesday, September 21, 2021  

And Another Thing!

The internecine “Us vs. Them” warfare on the dais of power in DeLand reached its nadir this week – and you and I – the long-suffering and wholly ignored taxpayers of Volusia County were the big losers.

After retching through Tuesday’s regular Volusia County Council meeting, followed by that shim-sham of a “budget hearing,” it became shockingly clear to me that Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post stand alone in the breach – fighting desperately for some semblance of accountability as the behemoth gorges on a budget now worth $1.1 Billion – and the “strong majority” of Volusia’s Old Guard keep their iron boot firmly on their throats. 

The Gang of Four’s seething hatred (strong word, but accurate) wasn’t subtle, either. . .

For instance, during that bimonthly theater known as “Council Comments,” our self-anointed eminence grise, The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry – that kooky conspiracy theorist who hadn’t been seen at a public meeting since August 17lambasted Chairman Brower for the crime of wishing him well while His Eminence was fighting the very COVID-19 virus he once told his parishioners doesn’t exist. 

In perhaps the most mean-spirited and wholly inappropriate dress-down on official record, the pompous “Dr.” Lowry – phoning it in via “Zoom,” clad in a ball cap and t-shirt for the auspicious occasion – blasted Chairman Brower in a cheap diatribe, claiming “…the Chair took it upon himself to update everybody in the world” that he was hospitalized with COVID – scolding and embarrassing Brower with, “…the Chair did not have my permission to do that…”

Bullshit.

It didn’t stop there. . .

“Nearly everything he said was inaccurate. I had just barely been in the hospital. I hadn’t even contacted my parents or my sister or anybody,” Lowry said, mentioning some members of his congregation were in a bit of a panic. “I had to spend the afternoon trying to clarify to them that I was not at death’s door.”

In my view, it was snide and snotty – a prime example of just how low The Righteous Reverend will stoop to land a cheap shot on Brower while the spotlight is on him. 

After an awkward beat, Chairman Brower – clearly taken aback by Lowry’s spitefulness – sincerely apologized for the horrific transgression of showing the common human emotion of empathy and voicing concern for a supposed “colleague” during a dark moment. 

To her credit, the lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler took her fair share of the blame in a heartfelt, but unnecessary, mea culpa.

Apparently, Ms. Wheeler had been communicating with Councilman Lowry during his health scare (interesting) – and keeping Chairman Brower apprised of Lowry’s updates – admitting she “encouraged” the Chair to share the information after misunderstanding Lowry’s desire to keep his protracted absence a secret.

Trust me.  “Dr.” Lowry understands better than most that, as an elected official and long-time public figure, his unexplained three-week disappearance from the dais – especially during the budget process – was not going unnoticed. 

In fact, some were wondering if His Eminence had abandoned his seat altogether – finally heeding the fervent calls from his critics to step down. 

No such luck. . .

While Lowry may well be embarrassed by the fact he was bitten on the ass by his own goofy rhetoric – wild claims that the coronavirus is a hoax, “We did not have a pandemic, folks. We were lied to,” etc. – which caused many of his detractors to be swept up in a wave of ironic schadenfreude – in my view, Chairman Brower did the right thing when he informed the public of Lowry’s mysterious vanishing act – and asked that we keep him in our prayers.

After watching “Dr.” Lowry – a pious ‘man of the cloth’ – turn Brower’s act of kindness against him, I was reminded of the old phrase, “What would Jesus do?” 

As a heathen sinner, I don’t have a clue. 

But I doubt he would take a fellow official to the woodshed for expressing sincere concern, enlightening worried constituents, and asking that he be held up in prayer at a time when so many in our community and beyond have succumbed to complications of COVID-19.

Sad.

Following the regular business meeting, the final budget hearing further exposed just how dysfunctional – if not delusional – the Volusia County Council has become. 

I do not count Councilwoman Barbara Girtman among those shameless shills who hold themselves out as “fiscal conservatives” – cloaking themselves in the blind support of what passes for the Volusia County Republican Party – a fragmented group of dispassionate poseurs who appear to have lost their political compass since their contentious firebrand, Tony Ledbetter, passed away.

In my view, Ms. Girtman has always been honest about her positions, a person of great poise and manners – always thoughtful and dignified in any debate of the issues – and while I rarely agree with her decisions, I appreciate Ms. Girtman’s intellectual acumen and political integrity. 

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the craven Group of Four that orchestrated a tax increase in the face of overburdened citizens who piteously begged for relief from the podium – including some 4,700 silent witnesses who signed petitions demanding full rollback – many of whom are still reeling from the financial devastation of the pandemic. 

Get used to it, your pain doesn’t hold sway at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building. 

That level of reverence and responsiveness is reserved for developers pushing rezoning requests and big money campaign donors with a pet project – whoops, sorry for the redundancy. . .

Perhaps my most disappointing takeaway from Tuesday’s fiasco was final confirmation that the political transition of freshman Councilman Danny Robins is now complete just eight-months into his first term. 

Like many of you, I had high hopes for this young man.

The once promising newcomer and self-described fiscal and constitutional conservative – albeit with a weird bent for rambling stream-of-consciousness twaddle – has now become totally convinced of his own infallibility.

Now that Mr. Robins has been pounded into the round hole of conformism and conventionality – obviously terrified of independent thought, or, God forbid, taking an original stand that might be contrary to the groupthink paralysis that pervades the dais – it is patently evident that Danny is now thoroughly enjoying his role as a top-tier insider – and there is little doubt Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post will be resigned to 5-2 votes with the consistency of a Swiss watch.

At least until next years election. . .   

Keep the faith, friends. 

After Tuesday night’s debacle, I have a feeling that things are going to get very interesting in 2022.       

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

Volusia County got the goldmine – We got the shaft. . .

Let’s face it, the property tax increase was a given – it was inevitable.

Like any massive bureaucracy, the “system” exists to feed itself – and it was clear that County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and his senior staff of creative bean counters would not be denied – even if it cost them, and the elected officials who carry the water for them, their last ragged shred of credibility. . .

After those we elected to represent our interests were done whining the blues about what a “tough decision” they faced – mewling over how hard they work for us, shoveling our hard-earned tax dollars into the insatiable maw of this monstrous machine – at the end of the day, everyone in county government got what they wanted.

And, once again, the long-suffering Volusia County taxpayer got the shaft. 

Did anyone really expect something different?  

How about the lady who respectfully approached her elected officials and made a fervent plea for mercy – explaining that the tax increase would make it difficult for her to make ends meet?

Screw you – our gas prices went up too. . .

Or the residents who found some $400,000 in unnecessary library improvements?

Screw you – we don’t have the luxury of looking at the minutiae of a $1.1 Billion budget – we’re Big Picture strategic thinkers, you meddling assholes. . .

Horrible.

On Tuesday evening, the Volusia County Council sat smugly on the dais of power, the majority arrogantly ignoring the voices of their frustrated constituents, and raised our taxes at a time many are still reeling from the financial devastation of the pandemic – and county government is awash in hundreds-of-millions in federal relief funds with enough reserves to weather anything short of a thermonuclear holocaust.

While the Gang of Four cried the Poormouth Blues – reminding us all how fiscally responsible they are – the subtle clues told anyone paying attention that everyone who is anyone is getting their share – including the corporate welfare pipeline at Team Volusia.

For instance, prior to the budget vote, our elected marionettes mechanically handed over some $250,000 in public funds to those do-nothings at Team Volusia – that “public/private” consortium of all the right last names which claims to be the “economic development” arm of Volusia County government – yet apparently hasn’t a clue about Volusia County’s true economic landscape.

After I bitched (repeatedly) about the shitty optics of using non-existent businesses and over-inflated employment numbers as catfish bait, it appears Team Volusia finally removed the long-defunct Blue Coast Bakery from their dubious list of Volusia County’s largest employers, now using the more generic (but equally confusing) ruse:

“Volusia County is fortunate to have employers of all sizes. From small startups to companies with thousands of workers. These large employers also account for the creation of jobs by other employers, which builds a dynamic workforce. Among our larger employers are:  BLANK – NADA – ZILCH – NOTHING”

Incredibly, Team Volusia still refuses to list tourism and hospitality – our bread-and-butter – as a target industry on its “new” website. . .

Why?

I guess President and CEO Keith Norden and Team Volusia’s “distinguished board of directors” were too busy taking pictures with one another to do the research, eh?

(Hey, what do you want for $250,000?)

Name one company currently operating in Volusia County – with the exclusion of government or a taxing district – that employs “thousands” of full-time local workers? 

I’ll wait. . .

Screw the truth, Barker.  It sounds good, dammit, and if the sham lures some unsuspecting dupe to Volusia County – or keeps the public teat flowing – who cares?

How do these shameless shills sleep at night?

Unfortunately, our elected officials refuse to do the homework – or even question expenditures and inefficiencies using “Dr.” Fred Lowry’s patented “Not my yob, man” dodge – avoiding anything remotely resembling oversight or accountability that would expose where our tax dollars are most effective – and where they are not – especially in an environment where an endless supply of money is a foregone conclusion. 

Don’t take my word for it, watch how the “strong majority” (that Councilman Danny Robins prays for each night) circle the wagons and viciously attack Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post when they dare question six-figure department heads, suggest alternate revenue sources, or ask for a line-item review of government spending.    

Seriously, if you live and pay taxes in Volusia County, you owe it to yourself to watch yesterday’s achieved video of Tuesday’s regular meeting and subsequent budget vote.

In my view, the way Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post were treated by these contemptuous bullies epitomizes the depths to which the “strong majority” of lockstep conformists will go to protect the stagnant status quo – and it deserves a larger audience.

The fix is in, folks – and it is hard to unsee once you witness it firsthand – and decipher the motivation. 

Now, their annual lycanthropic transformation can begin.

When the gavel fell Tuesday evening, it marked the moment those spineless tax-and-spend schlubs on the Volusia County Council, the quisling Gang of Four, comprised of Councilman Ben Johnson, the lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, Councilman Danny Robins, and The Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry, who fought so hard for the exorbitant tax increase the bloated bureaucracy needs to sustain itself – an annual budget of $1.1 Billion – began their transmogrification, preternaturally reverting from champions of Big Government to the faux “staunch fiscal conservatives” – skulking back into the fold of what passes for the Volusia County Republican party – hoping against hope that us rubes who pay the bills and suffer in silence will forget their slick transition before election time.    

Bullshit. 

The great truth in local politics is that those who practice it seek desperately to be all things to all people – to have their cake and eat it too (sharing only with those well-heeled insiders who fund their political campaigns) – using scary stories of financial Armageddon to instill fear in their long-suffering constituents, while pandering to the entrenched bureaucrats and special interests who orchestrate the show behind the scenes, a moral and ethical conflict never more evident than during the annual Kabuki known as “budget hearings.” 

A time when our elected representatives are lulled into strategic ignorance as senior “staff” (who fawn over them and laugh at their jokes) use elaborate PowerPoint presentations – colorful pie charts and confusing graphs, long on pap and fluff, but devoid of the line-item specifics which would expose the thick rind of insulating fat – to sell the ubiquitous annual tax increase that has left Volusia County residents among the most burdened in the state. 

Then, once they have given the ravenous bureaucracy everything it asked for, those who had no qualms getting their greedy hands even deeper into our pockets immediately duck behind a thin façade of respectability, referring to themselves as “conservatives” while kissing the sizeable backsides of those who sit at the top of the Volusia County Republican hierarchy – shameless dupes who invariably allow these tax-mongers back into the tent without question or consequence. . . 

Watch. Listen. Learn.

Most important – get involved.

Your family’s quality of life hangs in the balance.

Please join Barker’s View tomorrow from 4pm to 6pm on GovStuff Live! with Big John where we will be talking local issues and taking your calls on the fastest two-hours in radio!

Tune-in locally at 1380am The CAT – or online at http://www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

And please join Barker’s View for Angels & Assholes in this space on Friday where I’ll have more views on the absurdities of our life and politics here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast!

The Great Con Job of “Consolidation”

We’re being manipulated. 

The ‘powers that be’ in Volusia County are up to their old tricks – those Master Magicians  – who practice the sleazy legerdemain that distracts our attention through deft manipulation of the narrative, diverting focus from the fact this overstuffed bureaucracy is getting their hands even deeper into our pockets. 

For instance, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the shameless propaganda organ of our “Rich & Powerful” (the newspapers descriptor, not mine), has continued to flog the tired idea of “consolidation” of area fire departments and emergency medical services – using the sham that if Volusia County taxpayers want lower property taxes, then creating another massive government entity is the only way to accomplish it.

Bullshit. 

I am going to say this as clearly as I can:  Do not let anyone take away your municipal services.   

By their own admission, the News-Journal’s editorial board knows nothing about the challenges facing Volusia County emergency services – only those first responders who suffer within it do – and anytime Councilwoman Heather Post has attempted to pull answers from our six-figure Director of Public Protection Joe “The Blue Falcon” Pozzo – she has been strategically blocked by her “colleagues” who use parliamentary roadblocks and open hostility to shut her down. 

Why is that? 

Here’s a concept the News-Journal should embrace:  Perhaps editor Pat Rice should get off his ass and practice some investigative journalism – do a deep dive – ferret out the reasons why sitting elected officials consistently hamstring Ms. Post and block her every attempt to get answers – rather than being content with regurgitating the pap and fluff of another government paid consultant’s report.

Some self-serving politicians ask why I refuse to call and seek their thoughts before I form an opinion on the issues that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast. 

The answer is I am no longer content to be handfed sugar lumps by entrenched insiders – or be complicit to the same lockstep acceptance of the status quo that is ruining our once great hometown newspaper – and Volusia County government. 

You shouldn’t either. 

Now, with a $1.1 Billion budget set to be voted on by the Volusia County Council Tuesday evening – complete with a supporting tax increase which will speed up the groaning cash conveyor that feeds this bloated hog – our newspaper of record conveniently resurrects the specter of “consolidation” of well-managed, community-oriented, and operationally effective municipal services into some godawful amalgam. 

After numerous “studies” have failed to convince area residents that the gross dysfunction of Volusia County government – or something like it – is somehow better than the quality services they receive from their municipality – now, one more time, the News-Journal is suggesting county officials commission yet another high-priced consultant to take an “…arms-length look at all facets of the emergency-response system.”

Want to guess how that “study” will shake out? 

My God.  How stupid do they think we are? 

I have asked this before, but why is it we never hear about a contraction of Volusia County government – pairing down this gluttonous brute which has consistently made its residents among the most heavily burdened in the state?

Despite what our elected and appointed officials in DeLand tell us – I promise you that “right sizing” Volusia County government will not result in Armageddon.

Regardless of what those compromised dullards on the News-Journal’s editorial board would have us believe – creating even larger, more unmanageable government entities is not the answer.

Invariably, any economies of scale are lost to the inherent bureaucratic inefficiencies, service delivery is reduced for smaller consumers who no longer have a voice, as the behemoth gobbles resources and builds massive facilities, management gives way to fiefdom building, and our “representatives” ultimately increase taxes and service fees to satiate the hungry colossus – all while local control becomes non-existent – and the unique character and identity of established communities is erased in favor of the “bigger is always better” myth. 

I suspect this great con job will go away Tuesday evening – the exact second the Volusia County Council passes the proposed tax increase on a 5-2 vote – and the Gang of Four begin the process of rehabilitating themselves, magically transforming from the irresponsible tax-and-spenders they are, to the image of the staunch “fiscal conservative” they want to portray for reelection. 

Please stay focused on that which is important – your family’s quality of life hangs in the balance.

Good citizenship requires participation

My stock in trade is poking fun and making snide observations on the abject absurdity inherent to local politics – an always jaundiced look at the weird mechanics of governance here of Florida’s Fun Coast – and the interesting characters who practice it.

I enjoy the spirited debate, the competition of ideas, and the concept of furthering a wider discussion of the issues as we work together for the greater good – and as a former senior public official in a local municipality – I have endured the often-withering criticism, and understand the great responsibility, that comes with accepting public funds to serve in the public interest.   

The truth is, now that my public life is over, I have a great deal of respect for anyone with the strength and courage to stand for elective office – especially in this dismal political environment – and I realize better than most the important role elected officials play in crafting, debating, and implementing the policies and procedures that have such a dramatic impact on our lives and livelihoods. 

As our political climate turns meaner, more aggressive – even cutthroat – where will we find good men and women willing to subject themselves to the fiery furnace of public service? 

There are many theories why interest in elective community service is waning, but the evidence is clear, most people no longer want to associate themselves with what modern politics represents.

After all, who in their right mind would want to hold themselves out for high office given the personal, professional, and financial cost of admission?   

It begins with the withering criticism, bald-faced lies, and fabrications inherent to the open warfare of the campaign – even minor office seekers are subject to having their lives laid bare, with every youthful indiscretion and decades-old lapse in judgement magnified, embellished, and trotted out for the world to judge – then comes the razor-thin tightrope of begging funds and support from friends, neighbors, and supporters without succumbing to the lure of “big money” donors, a Faustian bargain that often sees good people transforming into everything they hated when they got into politics. 

Add the fact we live in a time when one’s political affiliations are hurled as epithets – and even reasonable people are forced to the fringe when party politics insinuates itself into allegedly “non-partisan” local races – where those rabid yahoos who inhabit the upper echelon of various executive committees, clubs, caucuses, and coalitions support candidates based upon party loyalty and malleability, rather than intellect and civic vision.

After navigating the heat and ash of a hard-fought campaign, the newly elected official is forced to jump headfirst into the fetid shit-pit that passes for ‘governance’ – a place where wide-eyed neophyte politicians enter The Thunderdome – only to be set upon by their more experienced, and often wholly compromised, “colleagues” who immediately set about pounding them into the round hole of lockstep conformity.   

For their trouble, critics like me snipe and poke fun from the relative comfort of the cheap seats – picking apart every decision with the crystal clarity of 20-20 hindsight – exposing the absurdity of a “system” now totally controlled by senior bureaucrats, entrenched insiders with a chip in the game, and those with the wherewithal to control their environment with exorbitant campaign contributions. 

Many begin the journey with the thankless task of volunteer service on various advisory boards and civic committees – spending hours in meetings, studying the intricacies of issues important to their community’s future, finding equitable solutions for their neighbors, and hashing out sound recommendations – only to have their hard work, and well-thought advice, arrogantly ignored by elected officials more interested in getting reelected than doing the right thing, for the right reasons. 

On Tuesday, Daytona Beach residents of Zone 2 will cast ballots during a special election to replace former Commissioner Aaron Delgado who moved out of the district and relinquished his seat earlier this year. 

The race has drawn four contenders, good citizens willing to hold themselves out for the opportunity to serve the needs of their neighbors – at a time when the City of Daytona Beach stands at a crossroads – one path leading to renaissance and resurgence, the other to more of the same.   

It is an important decision, given that Zone 2 covers much of the core tourist area of the beachside south of Oakridge Boulevard, and sections of the mainland along Mason Avenue to Nova Road – both established areas of the community in desperate need of revitalization. 

The next Zone 2 commissioner faces key decisions – including proposed improvements to Seabreeze Boulevard, prodding the planned rebirth of the East ISB gateway, restoring economic stability to Midtown neighborhoods, encouraging entrepreneurial investment in downtrodden Downtown, and supporting infill projects, community clean-up, and commonsense economic development efforts to kindle the ember of revival that City Manager Deric Feacher represents.

If you live in Daytona Beach Zone 2 and have done your homework, I’ll bet none of the four candidates represent all things to all people.  Each taking difficult positions on divisive issues facing the community, like short-term rentals and auxiliary dwelling units, beach access, and how to manage the out-of-control development that is threatening the quality of life for all East Volusia residents. 

In my view, Ken Strickland represents a quality choice for Zone 2. 

I met Ken through his civic activism on beach driving and access issues, and later shared a radio microphone with him on Big John’s GovStuff Live! community forum, where I found him to be extremely well-versed on the myriad issues facing Daytona Beach and beyond – someone focused on the needs of all taxpayers, not just the out-sized wants of well-heeled insiders – always open and accessible to anyone seeking information or assistance.     

In my view, Ken Strickland is a tireless advocate for the citizens and a champion for our unique lifestyle in the Halifax area – and his inclusive solutions to the long-term issues we face speaks to the frustrations of many in our community who are desperately looking for a new way forward.

While Ken may not check all the boxes on your individual list, residents of Zone 2 owe it to themselves to take a close look at Ken’s impressive community involvement, and his fervent attempt to sound the klaxon while there is still something worth preserving.

In my view, Ken Strickland has dedicated himself to making our community a more livable, fun, and environmentally resilient place to live, work, learn, and play – and he is deserving of taking his proven commitment to community improvement to the next level. 

Regardless of who you chose to cast your sacred vote for – if you are a resident of Zone 2 – I hope you will participate in this important process. 

Next year, due to redistricting, all members of the Volusia County Council will be up for reelection, with the exception of County Chair Jeff Brower, a rare opportunity to make a mid-term political correction to perhaps the most dysfunctional elective body in Florida (which, like The Stranger said, “…places it high in the running” for most dysfunctional anywhere. . .)

At a time when our community, and our nation, is so horribly divided along political and ideological lines, perhaps we can all agree that participation in our hallowed political process – the idea of casting our vote for the candidate who best represents our interests and vision – is the epitome of good citizenship and critical to building a better community for everyone. 

If you have that fire-in-the-belly to serve, I hope you will consider a run for public office – or service on a local advisory board in your community.

It is important.

Good citizenship requires active participation – not apathy.

Angels & Assholes for September 10, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           The Mysterious Protogroup

Did you attend the Daytona Grande Oceanfront Resort’s swellegant soirée yesterday?

Me neither. . .

Evidently, it was the most exclusive ticket in town.  The high-point of what passes for the Halifax area’s late summer scene – a last chance to rub-elbows, see-and-be-seen, and soak up all the coquetry and hobnobbing inherent to these affairs, an occasion spéciale, no doubt worthy of mention in David Patrick Columbia’s famous Social Diary.   

My ass.

Look, don’t feel snubbed – the invitation-only fête celebrating the opening of what The Daytona Beach News-Journal described as “…that portion of the biggest, most expensive development in Daytona Beach history” – was envisioned by Protogroup as “…a small gathering with a select few.”

That “select few” included a declined invitation to lame duck Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler. . .

I wonder why?  

In his own inimitable way, Uncle Bob Davis, president-for-life and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County, committed the ultimate social faux pas by forwarding a copy of his invitation to everyone in his groaning Rolodex – only to suffer an awkward discomfiture when “…some who RSVP’d with their interest in attending the event received word from the hotel that the guest list was full.”

Ouch. 

Now, I don’t know if Mr. Davis was trying to expand attendance, rub his colleagues’ noses in the fact he was invited and they were not, or, if he simply ignored the first rule of social etiquette that warns “friends of friends should not invite friends” – but I found the resulting tempest in a teapot classic Daytona Beach. . . 

According to a News-Journal report on the resulting bruhaha, “In the wake of the misunderstanding, Davis isn’t planning to attend the event, he said.”

Whatever.

I also found it interesting that, once again, our newspaper of record was given the cold shoulder – rudely excluded from yet another chic Grand Gala.

Again, I wonder why?

It was embarrassingly similar to the gauche treatment the newspaper received this spring during a choisi cocktail party at the publicly funded One Daytona shopping and entertainment complex, where “50 of Daytona Beach’s most influential leaders” apparently attempted to carve out some private time with new Daytona Beach City Manager Deric Feacher.

While the crème de la crème of the Halifax areas civic, social, and business elite noshed on hors d’oeuvres and subliminally telegraphed to Mr. Feacher which side his bread is buttered on, News-Journal reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean and her photographer were initially denied entry.

That is, before the horrific optics became too flagrant for even those high-hatted snobs to ignore and the door was, begrudgingly, opened to the working press. . . 

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

I wonder why We, The Little People – you know, the forgotten ones who have suffered for years with that grotesque eyesore that is the rotten bones of what may or may not eventually become the “North Tower” portion of the still unfinished project, endured the perpetual disruption of Oakridge Boulevard, ran the gauntlet on the blocked sidewalk, been frustratingly turned away from the often closed pedestrian beach access point, the long-suffering locals who have anxiously borne the controversies, the concessions, the speculation, the media embargo, the delays, and uncertainty – are always shunned from these oh-so swanky “invitation-only” affairs?       

Angel               Volusia’s “Full Rollback” Supporters

“I Thank God every day we have a strong majority vote…”

–District 3 Volusia County Councilman Danny Robins, August 21, 2021

I read an interesting factoid this week, one that helped bring perspective to the debate over Volusia County’s proposed property tax increase.     

If you started a timer, one million seconds would take over a week and a half to elapse – one billion seconds would take almost 32 years. . .

The budget recommended by Volusia County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald is $1.1 Billion.

Wow. 

This week, the “strong majority” of elected officials on the Volusia County Council chose to ignore the Great Unwashed – and by their abject arrogance – let us all know where those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence stand in the great scheme of things.   

On Tuesday evening, with Rev. Fred Lowry in a hospital fighting COVID-19, four craven political hacks – the remainder of Volusia’s Old Guard – those stalwarts of the status quo, turned their backs on the fervent pleas of constituents demanding full rollback, including callously snubbing over 3,114 concerned citizens who signed petitions begging for tax relief, at a time when many are still suffering the financial devastation wrought by the pandemic while county government is awash in over $107 million in federal funds – literally more money than the burgeoning bureaucracy knows what to do with.

For those just joining the fun – an annual tax increase is a foregone conclusion here on the Fun Coast – and asking those we have elected to represent our interests for relief is an exercise in utter futility.

Why?

Because they no longer work for you.     

To add insult, at a time when Volusia County government refuses to live within its massive means, I found it reprehensible that our elected representatives had the unmitigated gall to limit federal rental assistance to thousands of low-income residents to six-months – many of whom lost jobs, small businesses, or had their income drastically reduced during last year’s government-imposed shutdown – that’s after telling strapped participants that the program (which took in over 1,300 applications in just three-hours) would provide aid for a maximum of one-year.    

Is it possible those dullards on the dais haven’t seen the numbers?

According to reports, a staggering 45% of Volusia County households are living below the poverty level or considered “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” earning little more than a pauper’s wage, unable to afford basic monthly household necessities.

Or maybe they just don’t care?

Regardless, the lockstep majority could give two-shits what you think – or the struggles your family endures to put food on the table in this artificial, service-oriented economy – and anyone who dares complain, to make their voice heard, or demands spending cuts is dismissed as a heretic.       

Prior to the budget sham, the same “strong majority” voted this week to weaken our inalienable right to approach our government for redress of grievances, to share input with those we have elected to represent our interests, speak out on issues of civic concern, and participate in our government in a meaningful way – while attempting to use the parliamentary process to effectively hamstring Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post and limit their ability to question the ways and means of this bloated bureaucracy.

The change was subtle, but strategic. 

For instance, during what passed for a budget hearing, Councilman Ben Johnson – and his ventriloquist dummy, Councilman Danny Robins (who actually claimed in one of his weird stream-of-consciousness rants that it is citizens, not government, who are failing to live within our means) – droned on, ad nauseum, telling scary stories about the doomsday scenario that awaits if the millage was set at full rollback – yet turned on Ms. Post, demanding that she effectively sit down and shut up, whenever she attempted to make cogent points, protect her constituents, and identify areas where the bureaucratic blubber could be cut.

As I have said before, small-minded politicians and entrenched insiders quash dissent and civic activism by cloaking bald-faced censorship in “civility ordinances” and “rules of decorum,” insidious suppressive measures that crush the spirit of anyone who suggests slowing the cash conveyor the monster needs to grow exponentially.

This tactic was never more evident than during the horribly convoluted “budget process” – where elected policymakers drape themselves in a political armor of strategic ignorance – seemingly content to make decisions based upon a colorful, but essentially meaningless, staff supplied PowerPoint presentation, without the benefit of detailed information or line-item specifics – conveniently ‘running out of time’ to make substantive cuts before statutorily imposed time limits force a vote.   

Add some mewling about “how hard this is,” and old-timey gibberish about “starting the process earlier next year,” “this isn’t politics, it’s for the good of our children,” and the ever-popular “we’re taxpayers too” dodge, and you have the essential elements of a classic Volusia County money grab. 

Bullshit.

Perhaps most despicable, the ability to make your voice heard on this and many other important issues was limited under the guise of a decorum ordinance – setting “guidelines” for public participation – a tyrannical diktat cloaked in a velvet glove that ensures our Monarchial rulers aren’t unduly inconvenienced by the incessant whining of their subjects – and, more important, a means to protect the “system,” and those entrenched insiders who feed greedily at the public trough, from any threat or oversight.   

Clearly, Volusia County government would prefer taxpayers acquiesce to symbolic “meetings” – choreographed charades where predetermined public policies and expenditures are rubber-stamped – while the ‘people’s business’ is hammered out behind closed doors and shaped by external influence, far from the prying eyes of us rubes who pay the bills.   

In my view, it is time those lockstep marionettes on the dais of power understand that good citizenship is not silent subservience to an entrenched power structure convinced of its own infallibility – and the process of crafting inclusive public policies should not be at the comfort and convenience of a few hypersensitive prima donnas perched on the dais of power.

If citizens cannot make themselves heard before their elected representatives at a public meeting – in a building paid for with their own hard-earned tax dollars – among bureaucrats and senior staff who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – then where can they be heard on matters of civic importance?

How about the ballot box?

In my view, it is time those who hold high elective office understand that all political power is derived from the consent of the people – and there is some shit we won’t eat. 

You have one last opportunity to speak out on this abomination of a budget on September 21 when the final hearing is scheduled.

Asshole           Port Orange Fire Chief Joe Wulfing

Looks like Port Orange Fire Chief Joe Wulfing is enjoying the Volusia County Kool-Aid. 

Or, perhaps the county’s Director of Public Protection Joe “Blue Falcon” Pozzo’s strategy of publicly destroying the career of former Port Orange Fire Chief Ken Fustin as an example of the grim fate that awaits anyone who buck’s Volusia’s horribly broken emergency medical system has had the desired effect?

Despite the fervent cries from first responders, hospitals, and area residents that Volusia County’s EMS system is a disaster-in-waiting – Chief Wulfing tells us that response times, at least in Port Orange, aren’t a problem.

Say what?

In an interesting article by Brenno Carillo writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Port Orange ambulance times are ‘satisfactory,’ for now, new fire chief says,” Wulfing (who was the Division Chief of Operations before his elevation to Fire/Rescue Chief following Fustin’s professional execution) comes off as a clueless dolt – now claiming he was unaware of the myriad historical issues that have made Volusia County EMS a cautionary tale:

“I’m amazed at how much I did not know (about) how thorough the EMS system is,” Wulfing said in a recent interview with The News-Journal.”

Shocking.  Considering any rookie firefighter or paramedic can explain – chapter-and-verse – the problems and mismanagement in Volusia County’s EMS system. 

Don’t take my word for it.  Ask them.   

Now, apparently after being indoctrinated during meetings with county officials, Wulfing isn’t sure around-the-clock municipal ambulance coverage is needed in his community. 

“I don’t know if that’s the answer right now,” he (Wulfing) said of expanding the service to 24 hours. “With everything I learned in the past couple months, I can’t say that if we put another ambulance on the road it solves the issue. It’s impossible to know.”

Wulfing explained “Ambulances are going to hospitals to drop patients off and they can’t leave because the staffing, the overcrowding of the hospital is so bad that they have to sit in a hallway,” he said. “We need to address these other issues to prevent ambulances from sitting in hospitals and not being utilized.”

Just two-weeks ago, The Blue Falcon – under withering questioning from Councilwoman Heather Post – said fielding additional ambulances would help unburden the system.

Unfortunately, Volusia County can’t attract, hire, or retain qualified paramedics to staff them.

So, why wouldn’t allowing Port Orange 24/7 transport help? 

In my view, Ms. Post was right to hold Director Pozzo’s feet to the fire and attempt to draw out the truth – to insist on an explanation for the abysmal response times, the exodus of qualified paramedics, and senior staff’s repeated failure to recognize the inherent flaws in the disastrous “dynamic deployment” strategy. 

During the same meeting, Ms. Post inquired when/if the City of Port Orange would receive authorization for around-the-clock transport and Pozzo had the cheek to explain he has asked Wulfing to put the request in writing.

I guess we know the answer to that, eh? 

Something stinks. . .

Anyone else remember the cheap backstabbing in April when Pozzo orchestrated the termination of Ken Fustin after he boldly stood up to months of Pozzo’s provocation, bullying, and foot-dragging on the 24-hour transport question?

A serious issue of public concern that Fustin rightfully believed placed the lives of Port Orange residents in danger?

At the time, in a heartfelt explanation, former Chief Fustin said:

“My professional relationship with Mr. Pozzo took a dramatic nosedive about 10 months ago when I felt he and Volusia County Fire Chief Howard Bailey were attempting to extort the taxpayers of Port Orange by reducing the annual enclave fire protection fee Volusia County paid to Port Orange, in exchange for allowing Port Orange Fire to operate our ambulance 24 hours per day, instead of the 12 hours per day they have limited the department to for the past two years.”

“There had been a long history of the county paying Port Orange $50,000 per year for enclave fire protection, in spite of the fact they were collecting nearly three to four times that amount from residents within these enclaves. They proposed reducing the annual enclave fee to $35,000 per year on a three-year contract offer, so a reduction of $45,000 in total,” Chief Fustin said.

“This was concurrent with conversations I was having with County Fire Chief Bailey who stated if I were to accept the lower enclave protection fee, he would help get us 24-hour ambulance coverage. Where I’m from, that’s extortion.”

Wow.

Now, less than five-months later, Joe Wulfing – the beneficiary of Pozzo’s cheap shot – would have residents believe everything’s hunky-dory

My ass. 

These diametrically opposed mixed signals are confusing. 

Perhaps it is time for Mayor Don Burnette and the Port Orange City Council to examine this odd reversal of fortune and determine what significant improvements have been made to this horribly fouled system since Ken Fustin sounded the alarm on the grave threat to public safety that caused the City of Port Orange to purchase and staff an ambulance in the first place. 

Asshole           The Daytona Beach News-Journal  

Is it wrong to demand a reasonable product for the price paid? 

I’m asking, because what passed for Monday’s edition of The Daytona Beach News-Journal left a lot to be desired. . . 

When I’m sitting in a bar and talk turns to the state of our local newspaper, I like to pontificate that “The Daytona Beach News-Journal is the best written, worst edited paper in the nation.”

Because it is.

Like a smart friend asked this week, “Since when does a media outlet work 9 to 5?” 

Since I was a small boy, The Daytona Beach News-Journal has been my hometown newspaper and it holds a special place in my heart. 

I learned to think logically and read critically while perusing the News-Journal – discussing the news and opinions of the day with my father – spending quality time, getting his perspective on the issues, learning what was important to him and why.    

For many years, area subscribers received both a morning and evening paper (can you imagine?) – what remains is a homogenized, and increasingly regionalized, exercise in three-day old rehashed “news” – a collection of dumbed-down pap that contains just enough local content to justify its masthead and waning existence.

As a local news junkie, I take the online edition – which permits me to read the “E-Edition” of the printed paper – while also receiving relatively topical “breaking news” reports before they become stale – which doesn’t take long in our modern 24/7 news cycle.   

On Monday – Labor Day – many loyal readers settled down with a cup of coffee and discovered that the News-Journal had taken the day off as well.    

The “newspaper” was little more than a frontpage history lesson on the origins of the traditional end-of-summer holiday – the rest reminded me of a cheap hotdog, stuffed with meaningless filler, fat, and fluff – a smattering of recycled wire reports, the comics, a primetime television guide, and paid public notices.

Look, it was a refreshing break from the “All COVID-All the time” sensationalism, “progressive” slant, and weird editorial bent we have come to expect – a “local” newspaper in name only, now wholly controlled by an international mega-conglomerate and clearly in survival mode – with a whittled down newsroom, barebones staff, outsourced printing, and a final product as far from a hometown daily as one could imagine.   

I understand the newspaper business is a hard dollar, and editor Pat Rice keeps it mildly entertaining by fomenting increasingly ridiculous opinions on the issues of the day – always siding with those “Friends of Pat” who hold sway in all-the-right social and civic circles – while routinely virtue signaling about the demographics of those precious few journalists still on the payroll, because Pat’s notion of “diversity” apparently determines “…what makes news, and it impacts how we cover it.”   

Say what?

Look, I don’t care what color, creed, religion, orientation, or planet you happen to identify with – I think the one common denominator is we all want our news to be gathered and reported in a fair, reliable, unbiased, and objective way.

In my view, The Daytona Beach News-Journal has some of the best working journalists and photographers in the business – who, when given the opportunity, are more than capable of in-depth investigative reporting, crafting interesting local features, writing riveting editorial content, and covering the rich political, social, civic, and cultural landscape here on the Fun Coast. 

Analysts who study the changing media marketplace have long declared the death of print media; claiming the emergence of social media platforms, internet penetration, and the fact consumers are increasingly reluctant to pay for content they can find any number of places for free represent the death knell for paper and ink. 

Maybe they’re right. 

Unfortunately, the News-Journal’s leadership seems content to let this important outlet die a death of a thousand cuts, slowly throwing in the towel, with management phoning it in, satisfied with whatever Monday’s edition represents – rather than allowing time and space for the detailed reportage and hyper-local focus on the stories and issues that shape our lives and livelihoods in Volusia County.

I’m talking about the quality newspaper we once enjoyed before talented reporters were given pink slips, reassigned, or run off – and those who remain were relegated to regurgitating press releases and tiptoeing around the editor’s apple cart.

Regardless, it is incredibly painful to see my beloved hometown newspaper go down in a flaming hole of mediocrity. . .  

Quote of the Week

“The Ormond Beach City Commission is poised to raise your taxes 4.7%, but they will do it without my support, and I’d like to tell you why.

I will oppose this tax increase for one very simple reason: The city doesn’t need the money. The tax increase will generate about $800,000 in additional revenue.

The city has $8.8 million in reserves (or 25% of the Operating Budget). The city has a policy of maintaining reserves at 15% (or $5.4 million). That means the city has excess reserves of $3.4 million.

Don’t get me wrong: Being fiscally careful is a good thing. But taking money out of your pockets to put it in the city’s savings account is unacceptable. It’s your money, and it should stay in your bank account until the city absolutely needs it.

Although I don’t believe we should raise taxes at all, I recommended a compromise of half the proposed increase (or 2.35%), which would have covered the increase in the cost of living. Unfortunately, that compromise received no support from any of the other four City Commission members.

In case you’ve heard that most of the tax increase will be used to finance the new $625,000 Public Safety Fund, let me explain why that’s not completely accurate. Most of what that fund consists of is being used to pay for things previously found in other accounts like $200,000 for new police vehicles (formerly in the Vehicle Replacement Fund) and $230,000 in fire engines (the $90,000 loan payment on one older fire engine and the $140,000 per year payment for two new engines). So the tax increase isn’t paying for enhanced public safety spending because nearly 70% of that fund (or $430,000) was already in the budget.

Nobody supports the brave men and women of the Ormond Beach Police Department more than I do. In addition to serving on the City Commission, I am president of the Ormond Beach Police Foundation, which has raised over $140,000 of private donations in support of training, technology, equipment and benevolence for our brave men and women in blue.

So here’s the bottom line. The proposed General Fund (a.k.a. Operating Fund) for the city is $35 million. The proposed tax increase is $800,000. The city has $3.4 million in excess reserves. Cut the taxpayers some slack. Do not raise taxes. Use a quarter of the excess reserves to fully fund the budget, and the city will still have $2.6 million in excess reserves.”

–Ormond Beach City Commissioner Dwight Selby, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Why I won’t vote for a 4.7% tax increase,” Wednesday, September 1, 2021

On Wednesday evening, during its first budget hearing, the Ormond Beach City Commission voted 4-1 to raise the property tax rate by 4.7% for fiscal year 2021-2022.

Commissioner Dwight Selby voted against it. 

The final budget hearing is set for 7:00 p.m., Wednesday, September 22.

And Another Thing!

In September 1996, I matriculated with the 187th Session of the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia. 

Wow.  How time flies, huh?

It remains one of the highlights of my career – and the source of many longtime friends and professional colleagues from around the globe. 

The FBI National Academy was founded July 29, 1935 under then Director J. Edgar Hoover.  

The program was created in response to a 1930 study by the Wickersham Commission that recommended the standardization and professionalization of law enforcement departments across the United States through centralized training.

With strong support from the International Association of Chiefs of Police and with the authority of Congress and the Department of Justice, the “FBI Police Training School” was born.

At that time, courses included scientific aids in crime detection, preparation of reports, criminal investigation techniques, and administration and organization. With the advent of World War II, courses were added in espionage and sabotage.

Today, the FBI National Academy has evolved into the premiere professional course of study for U.S. and international law enforcement leaders through a nomination and extensive vetting process. 

Because the title is earned – never given – it remains the greatest brotherhood and sisterhood in international law enforcement.

The 10-week program – which provides coursework in intelligence theory, terrorism and terrorist mindsets, management science, law, behavioral science, law enforcement communication, and forensic science – serves to improve the administration of justice in police departments and agencies at home and abroad and to raise law enforcement standards, knowledge, and cooperation worldwide.

In keeping with the holistic mind/body approach, participants are offered the opportunity to complete a grueling physical fitness challenge colloquially known as “The Yellow Brick Road” – a series of intensifying runs during the session which culminate in a 6.1-mile obstacle course along constantly changing terrain built by Marine Corps Base Quantico.

The Yellow Brick Road was made famous by actress Jody Foster in the opening scene of “Silence of the Lambs.”

Along the way, participants must climb over walls, run through creeks, jump through simulated windows, scale rock faces with ropes, crawl under barbed wire in muddy water, maneuver across cargo nets, and more. When (and if) the students complete this difficult test, they receive an actual yellow brick to memorialize their achievement.

I am incredibly proud of mine. 

This weekend, members of the 187th Session of the FBI National Academy will join in Central Florida to celebrate our 25th Anniversary in high style! 

Look out O-Town – the 187th is coming through!  (Like a herd of geriatric turtles, considering we’re all over 60 now. . .)

Barker’s View will return on September 24 for your listening and dancing pleasure. 

In the meantime, please feel free to enjoy the archives located at the bottom of this page. 

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

Angels & Assholes for September 3, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel              Marc Bernier

For over 30-years, award-winning broadcast journalist and titan of local media, WNDB’s Marc Bernier, brought a better understanding of the world around us – and gave a voice to the disenfranchised – through his incredibly popular radio forum where the issues of the day could be discussed, opinions debated, and frustrations aired in a fair, inclusive, and open give-and-take.    

Marc once said, “Dealing with an area like Central Florida, it is imperative that residents have a place where they can air their feelings on local happenings.  I’m happy to host a forum for that.”

Several years ago, I enjoyed lunch with Marc and his frequent contributor, former Holly Hill City Commissioner Arthur “The Flame” Byrnes.  I was extremely flattered to discover that Marc was a loyal reader of Barker’s View.    

As a skilled critic of local news and opinion, Marc was among the first to encourage these fumbling editorials – graciously explaining that he felt this blogsite represented an important alternative voice in the community – and he frequently promoted Barker’s View by reading my screeds on-air to highlight contemporary issues in Volusia County.

His mentions were always a source of personal pride – and the fact he could move comfortably with our civic and political elite – interviewing newsmakers from Washington to Tallahassee – yet still find time to compliment and inspire a nobody like me is a testament to his inherent kindness and good nature.     

By any metric, Marc was the consummate talk radio host, truly interested in the subject at hand, with the inherent ability to make his guests feel like the center of attention – and his eloquence, sophisticated sense of humor, and depth of knowledge made the dialog feel effortless.

Many area politicians made their bones (or crashed and burned) during one of Marc’s enlightening question-and-answer sessions. 

The Marc Bernier Show had a deep bench with an eclectic group of contributors that represent the best and brightest in local politics – civic icons like Pat Northey, Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Jim Purdy, Arthur Byrnes, Jim Rose, Dwight Selby – notable personalities he affectionately called “The Volusianaries” – including the multitalented Mike Scudiero, Marc’s dear friend and protégé, who I consider one of the best political minds anywhere. 

I was most impressed with Marc’s astonishing work ethic. 

For years, he kept an exhausting schedule – providing news and commentary on WNDB’s morning programming from 7:00am to 9:00am – then researching topics and representing advertisers before his regular 3:00pm to 6:00pm slot, along with a slate of weekend programs, which ran the gamut from gardening, personal finance, books, and restaurant reviews. 

According to www.marcberniershow.com :

“In January 2009, Marc was added to the staff at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University serving as Special Assistant to the President for Government and Community affairs and serves as the moderator and producer of “The President’s Speakers Series,” a program of interviews with public policy experts on foreign and domestic policy before a live audience. In August of 2019, Marc moved the Speaker Series to Daytona State College with a focus on local and regional issues utilizing experts and DSC faculty to the mix in moderated discussion.”

In perhaps his most important role, Marc helped foster positive change in local government, shining a bright light on the issues and policymakers, while remaining accepting and respectful of differing points of view – and as our politics became more polarized, more acerbic, and divisive, Mr. Bernier proved the value of a voice of reason – progressing and elevating the discussion with wit, humor, and an enduring love for the community he served so well, for so long.        

Last Saturday evening this important and always eloquent voice, one which provided such keen insight on local, national, and international affairs, a friend and mentor to so many, was silenced by complications of COVID-19.

Sadly, Marc’s once bright stage has gone dark – just when we need him most – and we are all lesser for his profound absence.  

The incomparable Marc Bernier was 65-years old. 

Angel               DeLand Economic Development Director Nick Conte

Regardless of where you stand on recreational and medicinal marijuana – make no mistake – in time it is coming to a shop near you as cannabis rapidly becomes mainstream in much of America. 

According to reports, a 2019 Pew Research survey revealed that 67% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana – more than double the number in 2000 at 31%.

Some 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana for adults above the age of 21, and landmark reform legislation known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act is set to be voted on later this year which would legalize the substance throughout the U.S.

Experts estimate that cannabis and its related products and ephemera will become a $100 Billion industry by 2030. 

I am perhaps the only former law enforcement executive you know who advocates the legalization of recreational and medicinal marijuana – and while I’m not exactly Tommy Chong – I believe doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. . . 

In my view, smart communities are embracing controlled cannabis cultivation, sales, jobs, dispensaries, and the resulting revenue – literally getting in on the ground floor of this burgeoning industry which last year posted an annual sales increase of nearly 70% ($17.5 billion according to Forbes) during the depths of the pandemic. 

On Monday, the City of DeLand announced a huge catch when the community landed Cookies, LLC, a highly respected and long-established provider of premium cannabis products in regulated markets nationwide.

According to a press release by DeLand’s impressive Community Information Manager Chris Graham:

“COOKIES LLC, a leading provider of top-of-the-line cannabis products, announced today they are embarking on a project in DeLand to launch their Florida headquarters – a project that will represent a $100 million capital investment and eventually bring 400 jobs to our community.

“On behalf of the City, I want to welcome COOKIES to our community,” said Mayor Robert F. Apgar. “COOKIES’ total investment will represent one of the largest in the commercial sector in our City’s history and will help create hundreds of high-paying jobs for our area over time. COOKIES is an outstanding organization, and I am looking forward to watching them become an integral part of DeLand.”

According to reports, Cookies, LLC, which last year acquired one of Florida’s 22 medical marijuana treatment center licenses, will cultivate, grow, process, and distribute cannabis products from the Northwest Industrial Business Park near the DeLand Airport – operating from a 400,000 square foot facility once owned by the Brunswick Corporation – which includes some 20-acres of adjacent undeveloped industrial land for planned expansion. 

According to the city’s incredibly talented Economic Development Director Nick Conte – who should rightfully be credited with bringing this project to fruition – Cookies, LLC is expected to bring some 400 new jobs to Volusia County – with senior managerial positions paying between $100,000 and $200,000 annually. 

I know, I know – the “hangers-on” like those dullards over at the “Good ol’ Boys Travel Club” at Team Volusia are clamoring for recognition as budgets are being decided.   

I can assure you this project became a reality thanks to the hard work and perseverance of Director Conte – an old-school negotiator who shoots straight from the hip with an impressive track record of bringing solid business and industry to those fortunate communities he serves. 

It is no secret that I’ve never been a fan of the corporate welfare scheme that passes for “economic development” here on the Fun Coast – an elaborate ruse where our gurus over at Team Volusia still list the long-defunct Blue Coast Bakers, LLC of Ormond Beach as employing 300 people – touting it as one of “Volusia County’s Largest Employers.”

My ass.

It’s a well-known fact that Blue Coast Bakers ceased operations in 2018 and everyone associated with the venture – including the measly “15 to 20” jobs it produced – has been MIA since. . .

Remember?

Who can forget when Team Volusia CEO Keith Norden said in an October 2019 article by News-Journal business reporter Clayton Park entitled “Where did Blue Coast Bakers go?”:

“I’m not sure what happened,” said Team Volusia CEO Keith Norden, whose group played a key role in bringing Blue Coast Bakers here. “It took so much time for him to get set up, but his equipment was there.”

Say what?

Don’t take my word for it – see for yourself: https://tinyurl.com/kecafsfy  

How in good conscience can the Team Volusia Executive Committee and Board – some very important people representing the best and brightest in Volusia County government, business, education, and industry – continue to allow this sham to continue?

How long will our ‘movers & shakers’ permit Team Volusia to lure unsuspecting enterprises to our area using demonstrably false metrics – potentially destroying our reputation in the process? 

Seriously.  How long?

In my view, Nick Conte represents the best of municipal economic development practitioners – those dedicated professionals who work with brokers, business owners, and civic leaders to turn the heads of those looking to establish or relocate their enterprise by helping create an inviting community with a vibrant city center, attractive amenities, and a level playing field where people naturally want to live, work, learn, and play.

Kudos to Director Conte, Mayor Apgar, City Manager Michael Pleus, and their impressive team at the City of DeLand for having the inspired vision to partner with Cookies, LLC.

Well done!

Quote of the Week

“In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” (a film 70 years old, taken from a short story by American author Philip Stern, who said the plot came to him in a dream), the main character, George Bailey, contemplates the meaning of his life. He has spent his entire life giving of himself to the people of Bedford Falls and now reflects morosely on his perceived failures. His compassion has been directed to helping ordinary people in his community, those who have mortgages and rents to pay, families to care for, without seeking self-aggrandizement.

The story is relevant in today’s world. We want to see someone like George Bailey in the movies and in life, someone to inspire us and understand their regard for us is real, not feigned for personal ambition, connecting us with each other in groups that may not have otherwise socialized, someone whose ideas influence us to then extend ourselves to others. Essentially, to enhance us with their joy.

And so, I thank you, Gloria Max for being living proof that the George Baileys of the movies do exist.

Thank you for all the ways you have brought people together. Thank you for your knowledge and understanding at the Jewish Federation, knowing the importance of details in how to maintain and maximize food supplies, and other programs which results in 700-plus backpacks delivered with age-appropriate items, luncheons with thoughtful gifts (when they can resume) for the elderly; programs financed with extensive fundraising, radio appearances, newsletters, and, through it all, demonstrating how to appreciate all people — those who contribute and those who stand in line.

Thank you for writing and reading “thank you” letters. I’ll never forget hearing you read so poignantly some of the ones you received at a ceremony in order for others to hear what each dollar goes toward in making life less severe for the oppressed, reminding us how life’s events can quickly overtake ordinary people facing overwhelming difficulties and just how much your type of competent personalized outreach is critical during those times.

In your current Rosh Hashanah appeal, you quote the Talmud: “We rise by raising others, and he who bends over to aid the fallen, stands erect” — a mission reflected in your professional stature as director of the Jewish Federation.

During “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George is shown flashbacks of what his community would have looked like had it not been for all his good deeds over the years. The movie ends with the townspeople surrounding him with love and support, toasting him as the “richest man in town” due to all his friends.

Thank you, Gloria, for your durability, regardless of health challenges and stressful times, for making our lives richer by being the one person we can count on to make a difference. May you continue to endure and endear!

–Sara Crane, Port Orange, Ormond Beach Observer Letters to the Editor, Thanks to Gloria Max for her ‘wonderful’ service,” Tuesday, August 24, 2021  

Thank you, Gloria Max. 

For showing us, by your wonderful example, the transformative power of simply doing the right thing for the right reasons – the epitome of ‘a real mensch.’    

A true angel among us. . .

And Another Thing!

I recently posted a response to Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice’s resurrection of the tired “consolidation” scam – a Sunday screed wherein Mr. Rice reasoned that if the municipalities merge essential services and facilities, and small communities go away altogether, costs could be lowered with a corresponding reduction in taxes – suggesting that ending “duplication” would somehow lower government spending.

Bullshit. 

Bigger government always finds a way to grow exponentially.

Don’t take my word for it.  Take a gander at that unwieldy brute known as Volusia County government – and the grisly fate that befalls anyone who attempts to reign it in.

Invariably, any economies of scale are lost to the inherent bureaucratic inefficiencies, service delivery is reduced for smaller consumers who no longer have a voice, as the behemoth gobbles resources, builds Taj Mahal facilities, and ultimately increases taxes and fees to satiate the hungry colossus – all while local control becomes non-existent – and the unique character and identity of established communities is erased in favor of the “bigger is always better” myth.  

As a product of a small town – where citizens have come to expect almost personalized essential services – I can assure you that residents of Ormond Beach, Holly Hill, South Daytona, Ponce Inlet, Daytona Beach Shores, New Smyrna Beach, DeLand, Lake Helen, etc., have no desire to abandon their highly responsive municipal services, civic stability, and hometown pride for the shit-show of dysfunction and kingdom building inherent to larger governments. 

Especially when (between the constant bickering and bitchery on the dais) their elected representatives on the Volusia County Council constantly moan the Poormouth Blues – with the so-called “conservative” majority demanding a tax increase, spinning flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories of the Armageddon-like consequences of even suggesting that this bloated bureaucracy tighten its belt – now that it commands an annual budget of over $1 Billion

Trust me, your growing indignation is justified.   

It takes real cheek to demand more blood from the turnip as area residents and small businesses, many still reeling from the devastating economic effects of the pandemic, are forced to boil and eat their own belts to survive.

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council gathered in special session for the arduous task of determining how to allocate some $107 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds – a federal giveaway your great-grandchildren will still be paying for – designed to support “urgent” coronavirus response efforts, stabilize businesses and households, replace “lost revenue” for eligible local governments, save jobs, and “address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the inequal impact of the pandemic.”

You’ll be relieved to know that a portion of that manna from heaven has been earmarked for crucial public health safeguards and exigent economic challenges – to include a “rotunda upgrade,” bathroom renovations, and a fountain reconstruction at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center, etc. . .   

I’ll sleep better knowing that.   

Then our eagle-eyed elected watchdogs sharpened their pencils and rolled up their sleeves, as the much-anticipated budget discussion got underway.    

It is always interesting to watch this annual Kabuki production – all take and no give – a shim-sham “negotiation” in name only which resulted in some comical slapstick as our elected dullards made the tough calls – giving the thumbs up-or-down on draconian spending cuts.

I’m talking real bloodletting here – like whether to reduce the number of times portable toilets on the beach are emptied (a sanitary seven days a week, or a disgusting four? Hey, what do you want for your $20 day pass, beach access AND a clean shitter? Covid-Schmovid, right?) – reducing field trips for those pitiful Dickensian tikes participating in summer recreation programs from three to two, staunching that financial arterial bleed known as beach ramp sweeping, and the gut-wrenching elimination or downsizing of a few already vacant positions.   

When our elected representatives were done hacking that thick rind of fat off this distended hog the floor of the chamber looked like an abattoir. . .

Whatever.  

In total, the council whittled a trifling $2.8 million from the budget, most of that savings came from eliminating $1.6 million earmarked for “economic development” incentives and infrastructure – which still leaves over $8 million in that corporate welfare slush fund.

Many will be relieved to know that regular beach Port-o-Let cleaning, and the summer field trips, were saved.

Regular beach ramp sweeping and professional printing for even more gaudy signage for toll kiosks were not. . .

In a major cost saving measure, three beach ramps – two in Daytona Beach and one in New Smyrna Beach – will be closed during the “off season” when the strand looks like a ghost town, open only on weekends. 

I don’t make this shit up, folks.   

The faux-handwringing resulted in a paltry 3.8% departure from County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald’s “recommended budget” of $1.1 Billion – a wholly symbolic gesture which, in essence, said, “See we gave you insufferable crybabies something, now shut up, and pay up.”

Like throwing a deck chair off the Queen Mary. . .

Then, the directors and department heads, each commanding six-figures, sauntered back to the comfort of their offices in the Thomas C. Kelly administration center with a clean conscience – safe in the knowledge that they ‘fooled ‘em again’ – and got every bureaucrat in the building a $1,000 bonus in the process.    

Trust me – you don’t have to be The Amazing Kreskin to get one over on this bunch. . . 

Of course, the Gang of Four (with the Very Reverend Fred Lowry inexplicably absent. Again?) engaged in some Oscar-worthy performances when describing the catastrophic results of asking Volusia County government to cut their tax-strapped constituents a break at a time when the monstrous bureaucracy is awash in over $107 million in free money from Uncle Sam.

No dice. 

Although the budget requires the formality of a vote on Tuesday, September 7 – the tax increase – however modest our elected officials may claim – is a fait accompli.

In my view, it was heartening to see Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post try valiantly to live up to their commitment to protect Volusia County residents – forcing the tax-and-spend majority to vote up-or-down on individual cuts – while attempting to hold those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest accountable. 

Unfortunately, in keeping with the current theme, Post and Brower were summarily outvoted by what Councilman Danny Robins affectionately calls the “strong majority” – a cabal of lockstep marionettes more concerned with protecting the interests of the bureaucracy, senior staff, and the insiders who make their living dragging on the public teat than addressing the very real needs of their constituents. 

Good luck, neighbors.  We’re gonna need it. . .

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

The Seeds of Dysfunction

I’m not a religious man – like the old Tom T. Hall song, “Me and Jesus got our own thing going” – but I understand the biblical concept of sowing and reaping – and the importance of acceptance and forgiveness – concepts that seem quaint and antiquated in a nation horribly divided by, of all things, one’s vaccination status.

This now engrained divisiveness was never more evident than last weekend when I posted a heartfelt condolence on the loss of local radio icon Marc Bernier to a social media platform – a natural human response to loss – something I hoped would comfort his family, friends, and associates – a gesture that was met with the basest, most despicable form of hatred and ridicule, a low point even in the anything goes environment of the internet. 

Trust me.  It takes a lot to shock my conscience – and I can give as good as I get on matters of politics and public policy – but these post mortem and ad hominem attacks on Mr. Bernier, ostensibly because of his opposition to government mandates and a personal reluctance to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, defied what I know of common decency and the idea of empathy as a foundational aspect of our shared humanity. 

Most of the vile comments and laughing emojis were sent by anonymous posters, hiding behind fabricated profiles, which allowed the faceless cowards to provoke the emotions of others – many grieving the loss of a friend – without fear of accountability or retribution. 

I found this goading, bullying, and personal disparagement disgraceful – but not surprising.

Nothing surprises me anymore. 

Several people messaged me offline asking that I delete the hurtful remarks – and despite my natural aversion to censorship in all forms – I removed some of the more outrageous comments. 

It was then I realized that it is impossible to eliminate hatred and fear with the push of a button, and my post was not the only one that prompted a venomous response from those oh-so-virtuous keyboard warriors. 

On Wednesday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal eulogized Mr. Bernier in an editorial entitled “Long time voice is silenced by COVID,” which read, in part:

“It’s a tragedy that, in death, Bernier is being denied that courtesy. As a vocal opponent of vaccination, his death of COVID-19 has drawn mockery from people who try to reduce his death to one factoid. The comments turned so vicious that WNDB was forced to moderate comments on its Facebook page.”

How did we get here? 

Perhaps more important, what are the long-term ramifications of this cruelty – clearly defined battlelines with American’s taking sides – Red vs. Blue, pro-vaxx vs. anti-vaxx, Republican vs. Democrat – where family, friends, and neighbors are now willing to dehumanize their perceived enemy in this pitched ideological war?

Perhaps the seeds of our dysfunction were sowed the minute a public health crisis was seized by self-serving politicians during an election year, a time when the concept of statesmanship has been replaced by demagogues and virtue-signaling elitists – firebrands on all sides of the political spectrum – who have now brought the fringe elements to the mainstream with a constant “us vs. them” drumbeat – further dividing the masses along racial, ethnic, political, patriotic, and economic lines.

And our local and national media was all too willing to jump on the bandwagon and sensationalize the crisis to sell newspapers. . .

Now, one’s personal healthcare choices – once the exclusive domain of the individual and his or her doctor – have become a flashpoint, an excuse for prejudicial demonization, a moral justification for discrimination and intolerance.

Bullshit. 

On Tuesday evening, the Volusia County School Board met in an emergency session to discuss the imposition of a “mask mandate” – something many angry parents saw as a personal affront to their liberties, their parental rights, and a reversal of the optional policy they were told to expect when school began last month. 

I don’t want to argue the virtue of the board’s intent – but it was perceived by many as a “bait and switch” maneuver with few choices remaining for those who seek to keep face coverings optional.   

In my view, this continued confusion and rancor is the natural result of an abysmal lack of effective communication between Volusia County school administrators and the parents, students, teachers, and staff who have grown suspicious of the district’s mercurial approach to any crisis – and its insular, circle-the-wagons mentality when dealing with criticism and outside input. 

Perhaps most confounding to both sides of the issue – in a meeting that quickly descended into bedlam, with angry parents shouting from outside the board chamber, others offering boisterous jeers and comment from the gallery – was that the “emergency” mandate apparently designed to stop the rapid spread of coronavirus was given an effective date of September 7 with a week-long grace period to give parent the opportunity to obtain medical opt outs for their children.

That means the board’s urgent mandatory mask order won’t be enforced until September 13 – with an end date on or about October 12. 

Confused?  Me too. 

I happen to be a proponent of vaccinations and personal protective measures – having received the jab at my first opportunity – because, after doing the research, it was the right decision for me – and I wear a mask when appropriate and wash my hands with a frequency that boarders on compulsion. 

That’s my decision.   

I could care less about your personal healthcare choices – until you shove them down my throat.

However, I abhor government mandates and diktats – especially in a time when our public health agencies have become uncommunicative, and speculation runs rampant.

In my view, the idea that local, state, and federal entities would stop reporting hard data, replacing sound recommendations and education with the removal of personal choice and subjugate citizens to conform to state ordered inoculations and practices against our free will is frightening.

Now, it appears logical discussion and debate has been lost in the fog of battle and the din of speculation and conjecture.    

Are the unvaccinated infecting the vaccinated? 

Are the vaccinated infecting the unvaccinated? 

Do cloth face coverings have any significant affect on viral transmission?

Is it morally and ethically acceptable to shun someone based upon their vaccination status – to diminish their worth and socially ostracize them – even to the extreme of denying advanced medical care or publicly mocking their death?   

What ultimate responsibility does the media, and our elected “leadership,” bear for their role in hijacking a public health crisis and turning it into a political shit-show, then fanning the flames of divisiveness for purely self-serving reasons?

The answers change hourly. . .

All I know with certainty is that, in the last few days, I have had both vaccinated and unvaccinated friends succumb to complications of COVID-19 – and their loss is equally profound and heartbreaking.    

The seeds of our dysfunction have sprouted – and the invasive fruit is spreading like an aggressive malignancy – sending its foul roots into the very heart of American society. 

If we ever stop fighting amongst ourselves long enough – perhaps we might take a minute to consider who planted them – and why? 

Consolidation? Yeah, right.

“On Thursday, it was difficult not to get caught up in the pomp and circumstance that began the first Volusia County Council meeting of the new year as returning and newly elected council members participated in the traditional swearing-in ceremony that marks the transfer of power.

A formal demarcation, an exciting new beginning.

A cause for hope.

The opening remarks given by Chairman Jeff Brower and incoming District 3 Councilman Danny Robins were nothing short of inspirational, reaffirming their personal commitment to the protections and provisions of the United States Constitution, returning county government to the people, a message of unity set amidst a backdrop of national political and social divide.  

Watching from the comfort of Barker’s View HQ, I noticed that during the first public participation opportunity before the new council, there was a welcoming lightness in the chamber – and I was impressed when Chairman Brower thanked each citizen who addressed the body – as others in the gallery applauded the contributions of their fellow citizens. 

Unfortunately, it did not take long for old ways and simmering animosities to bleed through the fresh coat of optimism that Chairman Brower had so carefully applied. . .” 

–Barker’s View, “A New Year and a Fresh Start,” January 11, 2021

And, as they say, the rest is history. . .

Like many of you, when Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower overwhelmingly defeated a well-financed, professionally managed, and solidly entrenched perennial politician during last year’s election, I allowed the promise of a bold new day to blunt my well-honed instincts.

In a pique of naivety, my joyful heart overtook the naturally suspicious nature of my softening head – and I was swept up in a building wave of hope and anticipation – something any professional gambler, or degenerate political junkie, will tell you is tailormade for crushing disappointment.   

In my defense, I am not sure anyone (other than a Cassadega soothsayer) could have predicted how desperate Volusia County’s Old Guard would become in the wake of sweeping change as these stalwarts of the status quo watched their grip on power become more tenuous.

Add the success of Amendment 10 – a statewide initiative which rightfully returned autonomy to the “constitutional offices” – which resulted in the Old Guard mounting a pitched challenge to the voter-approved change to their historical way of “doing things” – which determined it was infinitely more manageable to hold sway over one malleable County Manager than it would be to control multiple elected officeholders with political accountability to We, The Little People.

Now, the sitting majority are making good on the goofy premonitions of former County Chair Ed Kelley, who, following the defeat of the misguided Amendment 10 challenge, told us scary stories of higher taxes – our collective punishment for having the temerity to seek greater citizen control after 50-years of cronyism and good ol’ boy politics – which has seen this bloated bureaucracy grow exponentially into a monstrous government requiring feed at the rate of over $1 Billion annually.   

A so-called “conservative” majority who are intent on raising taxes on Volusia County residents even after the financial devastation experienced by small businesses and families last year– at a time when the bureaucracy is awash in over $100 million in coronavirus relief funds – so much money our elected and appointed officials have no legitimate idea how to spend it all. 

Now, Pat Rice, that clueless knob who holds the post of Senior Comandante of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, a once proud local newspaper – now a regionalized rag of a national media conglomerate, desperately fighting on the far left flank of the culture wars – has the audacity to resurrect the tired old “consolidation” of area municipalities and services – the decades-old “Nuclear Option” ruse that our ‘powers that be’ trot out each time they want us to sit down and shut up.    

A “You think its bad now?  Wait until this cabal of lockstep marionettes in DeLand and their uber-wealthy handlers control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide” strategy that suggests residents of municipalities that supply superior essential services – cities with stable and responsive governments – would ever consider handing their lives and livelihoods over to this gangly shit-show that passes for Volusia County government or something like it.

How dumb do these power-addled assholes think we are?   

Unfortunately, Mr. Rice’s uninspired Sunday piece “Consolidation would save money, but it will never happen,” speaks more to his complete lack of creativity and imagination – and his handlers lockstep refusal to stand behind the growing number of Volusia County residents who are taking to the streets, demanding their county government reign in spending, find responsible alternative revenue sources, strengthen land use regulations to limit the malignant growth that is destroying our natural places, and live within their sizeable means, before squeezing even more out of this exsanguinated turnip. 

Why is it we never hear about a contraction of Volusia County government? 

Pairing down this gluttonous brute which consistently ranks among the largest employers in Volusia County.

Rather than asking the cities to consolidate and handover exceptional, well-managed government services to some swollen oaf – how about we try restructuring the horribly failed beach management scheme, allowing those municipalities with the capability to provide emergency medical transport to better serve their residents, demanding a modicum of performance from our unimaginative economic development types who consistently mistake corporate welfare with civic progress, elevating the thousands of families trapped in a cycle of poverty wages and a lack of affordable housing, stop the practice of allowing rot and decay to consume publicly owned buildings and facilities in favor of Taj Mahal replacements, finding imaginative alternative revenue sources, get government out of the private sector to allow ingenuity, competition on a level playing field, and entrepreneurial investment to flourish, breaking down bureaucratic barriers, eliminating administrative diktats, strengthening private property rights, demanding the neighborhood level accountability municipal government provides, etc., etc., etc., etc.   

Despite what our elected and appointed officials in DeLand tell us – I promise you that “right sizing” Volusia County government will not result in Armageddon.

In my view, it is time we tell these doomsayers and bullies – the Gang of Four on the dais of power (and their propaganda organ over at what remains of The Daytona Beach News-Journal) who are intent on destroying Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post, that We, The Little People, demand a change in the tired Big Government/High Tax status quo – where insiders with a chip in the game are assured a place at the public teat, while those of us who pay the bills are forced to eat the rancid effluent of the massive machine. 

That important message begins at the ballot box next year. 

Angels & Assholes for August 27, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               The Daytona Beach Police Department

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

–Matthew 5:9

On June 23, Officer Jason Raynor was gravely wounded while investigating a suspicious incident on Kingston Avenue in Daytona Beach. 

The 26-year old succumbed to his injuries following a valiant 55-day fight.   

26. . .

In a ceremony befitting this young officer’s service and sacrifice, on Monday, over 1,000 current and former law enforcement officers from around the state and nation joined together in a grim time-honored tradition – standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a thin blue line – a silent yet incredibly powerful ceremonial tribute to one of our own who, as President Lincoln said, gave “The last full measure of devotion.” 

These officers, deputies, and agents were joined by thousands of area residents who lined the procession route, displaying flags and offering heartfelt salutes – an inspiring show of community support for Officer Raynor and his bereaved family – a physical expression of their enduring love and appreciation for the men and women of local law enforcement.   

Throughout this horrific ordeal – a tragedy that galvanized the Halifax area and beyond – the leadership, officers, and staff of the Daytona Beach Police Department have demonstrated the true depth and strength of the brotherhood and sisterhood of law enforcement.

A fraternal bond that exemplifies their abiding commitment to something greater than themselves – a love of service, community, and humanity – and a sense of pride which cannot be broken by the despicable act of a base coward or the misplaced anger of an often-ungrateful society. 

In my view, Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young has met this unfathomable challenge with great poise, grace, and professionalism – a beacon of strength for his department and community during this traumatic time.

May God bless and keep Officer Jason Raynor and bring comfort to his family, and the courageous officers and staff of the Daytona Beach Police Department, in the difficult days and weeks ahead – and may our grateful community never forget the service and sacrifice of these brave heroes as they go about their difficult and dangerous job to protect and serve. 

Asshole           Deltona Interim City Manager John Peters III 

“Leadership at the top sets the boundaries of what’s acceptable. Leadership sets the agenda and priorities. Leadership defines the culture by clarifying the gray areas. Leadership decides whether or not there will be progress.”

–Ken Perlman, “Pro vs. Con: What’s the Opposite of ‘Progress’?” Forbes, May 2013

During my productive life I was a prodigious keeper of notebooks – stacks of them – Moleskines all collated and categorized by month, date, and time; encyclopedias of to-do lists and “GTD” planners – booklets chockfull of interesting words, quotes, clippings, and random thoughts – notes and asides that served to memorialize significant events and a close-at-hand reference when things weren’t all too clear.  

More than once during my long career, those little black books saved my bacon when those with a convenient memory casually changed the known facts to fit a more self-serving narrative. . . 

Unless you are an astronaut exploring the far reaches of the Kuiper Belt, there are few things in this world that someone else hasn’t experienced, problems that have not already been solved, an anecdotal solution written down and passed along for the edification of others.    

The trials, tribulations, and challenges of our personal and professional lives often have proven solutions, but only if we are willing to drop our defenses, open our mind, and listen to the sound advice of others – or remember the hard lessons of our own experiences so history does not repeat – because one recurring issue we all face is, in the absence of leadership and oversight, sometimes people in positions of great responsibility violate our trust. 

I was reminded of the importance of strong accountability last week while reading the ghastly details of the most recent debacle to beset the City of Deltona: 

A lawsuit filed by the city’s former (current?) Human Resources Director Richard Adams – who claims he was fired after launching an investigation into allegations that Interim City Manager John Peters III made “…discriminatory and inappropriate comments” in the workplace.  

Damn. 

Not what the perpetually besieged City of Deltona needed at this time in its wobbly history, eh? 

Whenever young, upwardly mobile government professionals seek my advice on how to sidestep the numerous pitfalls (and pit vipers) one encounters along their career path in public service, I am always quick to point out that – while I knew very little about the nuts-and-bolts of sound governance and management – I was instinctively aware of what snares to avoid.

For instance, anyone who has been in the workforce for the better part of, oh, the last century, knows that discriminatory conduct and “inappropriate” comments are mala in se – an act which is not just prohibited, but morally and ethically evil in itself – a despicable and debasing practice counter to the development of a cohesive and inclusive team.    

According to an excellent piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by the intrepid Wild West Volusia correspondent Katie Kustura:

“The portion of that complaint included in Adams’ lawsuit states, in part, that “women in a position of power or management have either been let go, forced to resign or voluntarily left.” The name of the person who made that comment is not included in the lawsuit.

Adams, on March 8, wrote a formal complaint “of sexual harassment and discrimination against Peters” and sent it to Mayor Heidi Herzberg and the other members of the City Commission, according to the lawsuit. Herzberg said Tuesday afternoon by phone that she had no comment.”

Really? 

Crickets?

Nothing to ameliorate the very real fears of anxious Deltona residents concerned they are staring down yet another massively expensive settlement, a “Golden Parachute,” for yet another senior staffer caught up in the seemingly endless internecine warfare at City Hall? 

Perhaps more disturbing, according to the report, the City of Deltona hired an outside investigator to probe Mr. Adams allegations, “…but the investigation was never completed nor were his retaliation complaints investigated.”

Wow. 

It is one thing to be made aware of complaints of degrading behavior by a senior executive – it is quite another to do absolutely nothing to investigate or correct the problem once you are cognizant of it.  

Look, I am clearly not an attorney – however, in my experience, those who practice employment law will tell you that harassment and discrimination allegations should be dealt with expeditiously – before the ink dries on the complaint, in fact.

In addition to being required by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission – it is the right thing to do to protect employees and the integrity of the workplace – because bullying behavior, especially by the chief executive, dehumanizes employees and destroys the cohesiveness of the team. 

The lawsuit also claims that in July 2020, Adams received a complaint that on two separate occasions while Peters was the director of public works, he “used offensive, sexually harassing language. Peters admitted to using ‘questionable’ language and indicated he would discontinue such behavior moving forward.”

Unfortunately, according to the News-Journal’s report, requests for records relating to lawsuit were less than forthcoming – and everyone in the hierarchy at City Hall (including Peters and Herzberg) is hiding behind the patented “we don’t comment on pending litigation” dodge. . . 

Most folks call that a “red flag.”

As a result, the good citizens of Deltona still don’t know if Mr. Adams is receiving public funds to serve in the public interest – or if the embattled Interim City Manager is simply paying the former/current HR Director to sit on his ass at home. . .

Several weeks before the Adam’s lawsuit was made public, Mr. Peters made a calculated move to consolidate power while playing the victim of overzealous politicians – making bold allegations that freshman elected officials were meddling in the day-to-day operations of the municipal government – a tactic frequently employed to neuter those who ask too many questions. 

It is also a serious charge that carries the full weight of the City Charter – the municipality’s governing document – an indelible stain which can ruin the political career of any councilmember who peeks too deep into the inner sanctum.

In May, Mr. Peters strategically threatened to resign citing “interference” by elected officials in operational decisions – going so far as to air the city’s dirty laundry in the West Volusia Beacon – “I don’t have a choice.  There’s too much interference.  If I resign, I can speak out about it.”

Then, in a grossly Machiavellian move, after dropping that turd in the punchbowl, Peters simply quit communicating in the media leaving residents to speculate and stew.   

To add insult, during a subsequent public meeting, Peters dramatically wept like a lachrymose grandmother while mewling about his “integrity” – while Commissioners Dana McCool and David Sosa were publicly slow-roasted – effectively ending any accountability with Mr. Peter’s standing threat to take his football and go home if anyone looked over his shoulder. . . 

Bullshit. 

At the time, I thought, “If there was ever a bureaucracy that needs outside oversight from those with political accountability, it is that deteriorating shit-show on Providence Boulevard.”

One nugget in my voluminous library of notebooks speaks to the importance of quickly excising those whose abhorrent personal and professional behavior is cancerous to the good order and discipline of the group – a malignancy that can quickly metastasize throughout the organization destroying morale, efficiency, and effectiveness. 

In my view, it is time for Interim City Manager John Peters to call on his hallowed personal integrity and resign from the City of Deltona – he is damaged goods – and a clear distraction to the substantive progress the community so desperately needs. 

Asshole           Volusia County’s Gang of Four

“Is this how you envision your goverment (sic) working?  

Do we still live in a Republic or are we headed towards Dictatorship?

You be the judge. 

Regardless of opinion, County Council members are Policy Makers. We are NOT to get involved in day to day operations or the performance of duties. That is the duty of the County Manager. PERIOD. This organizational terrorism, Lambasting employees for over 2 hours, is not only outside our job description, it is goverment (sic) over reach that has developed a pattern. A pattern which has been documented by other elected officials since approximately 2017. See Charter sections 203 (Division of Power) and Section 404 (Non Interference by County Council). http://library.municode.com/…/codes/code_of_ordinances…

Equally troubling, is decorum or lack there of. Goverment (sic) bodies run meetings by Roberts Rules, NOT Romper Room. Roberts Rules of order ensures an efficient and effective meeting between members which then proceed forward by a majority vote, not a 1 person vote. Is ignoring a motion that had a second ok? Is this how a republic works? Or is this Dictatorship, one wanting to control the narrative and rule by absolute control? We see behavior like this all over the country and world. Unfortunately it is flexing right at our doorstep. This conduct is 100% about politics and personal gain, NOT the people.

I am calling on our cities, our chambers, our businesses, and our citizens. Your Goverment (sic) needs your help. Your Community needs your help. This is NOT ok.

I Thank God everyday we have a strong majority vote and I am equally thankful for the opportunity to fight for the citizens of Volusia County.

Thank you – Danny”

–District 3 Volusia County Councilman Danny Robins, as posted to various Facebook political sites with links to some twenty-one municipalities in Volusia County, Saturday, August 21, 2021

Wow. 

This jumbled grammatical nightmare – an uber-weird S.O.S. of sorts – was apparently cobbled together and published by freshman Volusia County Councilman Danny Robins at the odd hour of 9:40pm last Saturday evening. . .

Scary stuff. 

Look, I’ve seen sitting politicians self-destruct in a pique of hubris and pomposity – some in spectacular fashion – but rarely with this degree of callow desperation and complete lack of self-awareness. 

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

In one ill-thought and horribly disconnected screed, Councilman Robins has, once and for all, exposed the existence of a lockstep voting bloc – the “strong majority” – now appropriately branded The Gang of Four, a shameless, bullying cabal comprised of Ben Johnson, his protégé Danny Robins, lame duck Billie Wheeler, and that batshit-crazy conspiracy theorist Rev. Fred Lowry.

The stalwarts of Volusia County’s Old Guard and their just-off-stage handlers – craven marionettes who have proven they will do anything in their considerable power to protect the stagnant status quo and block official oversight of a bloated bureaucracy which now commands an annual budget exceeding $1 Billion

I am giving Councilwoman Barb Girtman the benefit of the doubt. 

I consider her the intellectual superior on the dais – always sincere, thoughtful, and composed – but her repeated refusal to stand up for the rights of her fellow council members to speak, make inquiry, and let sunshine into the fusty halls of power is confusing to many – giving the appearance she tacitly approves of this thuggery. 

Whatever.

During last week’s théâtre de l’absurde that passes for a Volusia County Council meeting, Councilwoman Heather Post made a gallant effort to extract straight answers to pointed questions from Public Protection Director Joe “Blue Falcon” Pozzo – anything which might explain the nightmarish shit-show that is emergency medical transport – a life-and-death issue that predates the stressors of the pandemic by years – and a matter of grave concern to area residents, first responders, and hospitals. 

To her credit, the incredibly well-prepared Ms. Post attempted to hold a senior executive accountable – asking the hard questions, uncovering half-truths, and cutting through the smoke and double-talk – demanding an end to the age-old internal communications issues that keep Volusia County policymakers almost strategically in the dark.

In my view, Ms. Post was right to hold Pozzo’s feet to the fire and attempt to draw out the truth – to insist on an explanation for the abysmal response times, the exodus of qualified paramedics, and the senior staff’s repeated failure to recognize the inherent flaws in the disastrous “dynamic deployment” strategy – and, perhaps most important, understand the warped mindset behind Volusia County’s greed-crazed refusal to allow the cities to transport ill and injured residents 24-hours a day. 

In my view, Post’s factfinding was the quintessence of the policymaking function – being proactive, finding solutions, gathering information for the proper allocation of millions-of-dollars in coronavirus relief funds to support emergency services – rather than waiting for yet another “lapse in judgement” when, inevitably, some poor soul dies waiting on an ambulance. . .

For example, when Ms. Post inquired when/if the City of Port Orange would receive authorization for around-the-clock transport, Pozzo had the cheek to explain he has asked the municipality’s new fire chief to put the request in writing.

Say what?

Am I the only one who remembers the cheap backstabbing in April when Pozzo orchestrated the termination of Port Orange Fire Chief Ken Fustin after he boldly stood up to months of Pozzo’s provocation, bullying, and foot-dragging on the 24-hour transport question?

A serious issue of public concern that Fustin rightfully believed placed the lives of Port Orange residents in danger? 

Then, rather than settle the matter like brother firefighters and colleagues, Joe “Blue Falcon” Pozzo ran home and told Daddy George that Kenny was using bad words? 

My ass.  

In their Pavlovian response to any perceived threat to an entrenched bureaucrat, The Gang of Four immediately circled the wagons and set upon Ms. Post, accusing her of overstepping boundaries and badgering a senior director commanding six-figures – a division director with personal responsibility for the health, safety, and welfare of Volusia County residents – essentially attempting a parliamentary coup d’état demanding that Chairman Jeff Brower shutdown Ms. Post and put an end to her desperate search for answers. 

It was ugly and desperate – another embarrassing imbroglio that left County Attorney Mike Dyer with a redlined pucker factor of “10” – and County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald running out of initialisms, acronyms, and bureaucratese to keep his bosses baffled and corralled.     

In keeping with the on-going demonization of Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post, The Gang of Four – with Mr. Robins clutching his pearls in faux-indignation – continued pummeling Ms. Post for having the temerity to question Pozzo on long-term issues and seeking honest answers on how the County Council can help him improve service delivery.

Now, Mr. Robins sends out this goofy all-hands-on deck distress signal hyper-dramatically asking, “our cities, our chambers, our businesses, and our citizens” (you know, the very people and organizations Ms. Post is trying frantically to help) to turn on the only two elected representatives on the dais with a demonstrated personal commitment to accountability, oversight, and a reduced tax burden.

There is one thing in Danny’s missive I agree with:  This is NOT okay. . .    

My sincere hope is that Mr. Robins and his band of wooden figureheads will realize that Councilwoman Post and Chairman Brower won their seats just like they did – by majority vote of the constituents Post and Brower are trying desperately to serve.

In my view, Robins own brand of “organizational terrorism,” bashing his colleagues on social media, making serious allegations of personal gain by elected officials – practicing the ugly politics of personal destruction – is caustic, counterproductive, and wrong. 

Fortunately, this chicanery is wearing thin with many voters seeking substantive change in Volusia County government – and the 2022 election season is just around the corner.   

Angel               “Crazy Eddie” Colosimo

Crazy Eddie was no angel. 

Anyone who knows anything about my beloved City of Holly Hill will tell you that it has its share of interesting characters – a place where the “movers-and-shakers” have colorful monikers like “Big John,” “Snake,” and “Crazy Eddie” – a wonderfully eccentric community made special by so many who give so much of themselves to help others.   

In 2003, Eddie Colosimo, the quintessential cantankerous curmudgeon with a heart of pure gold, founded Bikers for First Amendment Rights – a civic and fraternal organization devoted to community engagement, veteran outreach, and protecting the constitutional rights of the “Common Joe.”

To our great fortune, the club ultimately headquartered in Holly Hill. 

In its various locations and iterations, BFFAR was a mix of social club, biker bar, and veterans’ assistance center, a place where everyone was welcome, and all walks of life could gather and listen to Eddie hold court over a cocktail – an omnipresent cigarette bobbing from his lips – as he talked politics, railed against government overreach, and told an endless stream of bawdy jokes.

In 2013, BFFAR became the center of a small town tempest in a teapot when a former Holly Hill city manager arbitrarily ordered Eddie to remove a row of military flags that had flown proudly in front of the clubhouse for years. 

During the ensuing bruhaha, Eddie mounted a highly successful campaign to put the overzealous chief executive in his place, jamming City Hall with angry veterans, fanning a letter writing campaign, ultimately convincing the elected officials to overturn the manager’s stupid diktat and allow the flags to fly. 

No one could muster – or incite – a crowd like Crazy Eddie. 

I loved every uncomfortable minute of it. . . 

Once, Crazy Eddie lived up to his nickname during one of his frequent blustery appearances at a city commission meeting, giving him the dubious distinction of being the only member of the public I was ever asked to remove from the chamber in over 30-years of service. 

After escorting him outside City Hall – still fuming, flailing, and shouting – Eddie turned to me, gave me that sly smile and a wink – then shook my hand to let me know there were no hard feelings.

Anyone who honorably served in the armed forces was a brother or sister to Crazy Eddie – himself a proud former Marine – and he worked tirelessly to ensure that veterans issues remained at the forefront; lobbying, fundraising, speaking out, making waves, making a difference – always seeking better for our veterans – and always willing to help a fellow service member in need. 

Anyone who spent time in his company can attest that Crazy Eddie was gregarious, fearless, fun loving, and incredibly generous – with a massive ego of heroic proportion, one who didn’t suffer fools – and, for a skinny guy, he took up a lot of real estate whenever he walked into a room. 

He was also an incredibly savvy navigator of the political landscape with the tenacity, strength of personality, and natural leadership ability to get things done.    

We need more people like that. 

Now that I think of it, Crazy Eddie is an angel – one with a halo of cigarette smoke and a cocktail in hand, sporting a well-worn biker vest and signature leather cowboy hat – and I can see him roaring through the pearly gates of heaven on his motorcycle, flags flying off the back, asking St. Peter for directions to the clothing optional section. . .    

My friend Crazy Eddie Colosimo – an indefatigable champion for the rights of the little guy – died this week following a battle with COVID-19.

He was 79-years old.

Fly high, my brother. 

Quote of the Week

“You need to respect us enough that you can come to us.  I guarantee you we’re going to hear about it, and we want to be responsible to the people we serve in this county.”

–Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower asking Public Protection Director Joe “Blue Falcon” Pozzo for the courtesy of proper notice when he arbitrarily changes established public policy in his division’s “take a wild-ass-guess, asking neither permission nor forgiveness” approach to meeting the emergency medical transport needs of some 567,650 people, Tuesday, August 17, 2021

And Another Thing! 

Every great story in my life – the tragedies, triumphs, and intractable predicaments – always include smart women and copious amounts of whiskey. 

This small chapter was no exception.

Several months ago, the impressive Rhonda Kanan of Paradise Properties of NSB, asked me to address the New Smyrna Beach Board of Realtors at the beautiful riverfront Brannon Center. 

I have long admired Rhonda’s civic activism and dogged tenacity in fighting for basic fairness in a protracted civic issue in New Smyrna Beach, but I begged off – several times – turning down her kind invitation, convinced I had nothing in common with esteemed members of the real estate profession (because I don’t). 

Then she caught me at a vulnerable moment. . .

I was ensconced at a bar (go figure) – drinking fine Tennessee whiskey, well into my cups – when Rhonda texted and convinced me to attend. 

I am so thankful for her persistence.   

Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to the NSB Board of Realtors – a true honor that gave me the opportunity to meet with a group of wonderful realtors, title agents, and industry executives who are making a real difference in Southeast Volusia’s vibrant business community.   

While doing research, I was immediately taken with the real estate profession’s Code of Ethics – a living document which holds the distinction of being the first codification of ethical practices adopted by any business group in the United States. 

A set of enduring standards which has made the title Realtor among the most trusted names in our society. 

It also gave me the chance to explore contemporary issues facing the real estate industry – and the board’s ongoing commitment to ensuring property rights, the creation of adequate housing, the building of functional communities, the development of productive industries and agriculture, and the preservation of a healthy environment.   

When I arrived at the venue, I was warmly greeted by the very gracious Kathryn Disbrow of First American Title, who ensured my immediate comfort then gave a beautiful introduction that left me blushing – and incredibly humbled. . .   

I enjoy being around smart, dedicated professionals – that’s how I learn – and the NSB Board of Realtors proved to be outstanding ambassadors for their profession, actively committed to improving the quality of life in Southeast Volusia and beyond. 

I admire that. 

A very special thank you to Rhonda Kanan, Kathryn Disbrow, and the staff and membership of this exceptional organization for your kindness and hospitality.

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

Angels & Assholes for August 13, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               The Incomparable Mr. George Mirabal

I knew George Mirabal during my productive years, which is to say we met on occasion when our paths crossed at various breakfast meetings, socials, and chamber events that brought bureaucrats and elected decision-makers together with business leaders to address civic issues, breakdown barriers, and build relationships.

No one did that important work better than George. 

Although Mr. Mirabal served the Halifax area business community for over two-decades as Chief Executive Officer of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, he was best known as the creative force behind Team Volusia – a public/private partnership formed in 2010 which unified economic development efforts and established a cooperative strategy for attracting business and industry to Volusia County. 

During his early efforts, the working title of this visionary concept was the Metro Daytona Economic Development Corporation – and Mr. Mirabal met pushback from some in local governments who rejected the idea out of hand – simply because it was not their idea.

Always sensitive to the political landscape, Mr. Mirabal quickly realized the name did not best represent the mosaic of unique communities that comprise Volusia County. 

According to a February 2020 article by business reporter Clayton Park writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Team Volusia honors Mirabal for role in launching group,” George recalled meeting one-on-one to with area civic leaders:

 “It wasn’t a lot of big stuff, it was little stuff,” he said of the cities’ objections.”

“At the top of the list was the name: Metro Daytona had to go.” 

Through strength of personality, an old school sense of collegiality, and the benefit of long-established personal trust, in less than a year, Mr. Mirabal had all the players on the same page. 

Over a decade later, Mr. Mirabal’s visionary concept – and his bold efforts to change the status quo by bringing economic development practitioners and private interests together in a team concept – has proven Emerson’s theory “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”

In addition, George has been credited with bringing the Ladies Professional Golf Association to the area – and transforming Daytona Bike Week into the regional economic powerhouse it has become. 

In retirement, Mr. Mirabal continued his service to the community as a member of the Board of Directors of the Daytona Beach Police Foundation, a non-profit which raises funds for advanced training, educational opportunities, and specialized equipment to enhance the professionalism of Daytona Beach police officers.  

Mr. Mirabal was a credit to his challenging profession – a benevolent influencer and uniter who selflessly stewarded one of the most successful eras in Volusia County’s history.  Perhaps more important, he was a true gentleman, dearly loved by his wife Joyce, his family, former colleagues, and the many he served during a lifetime of helping others achieve their dreams.  

We’re glad he passed our way. 

This lion of Halifax area business and commerce lost his battle with COVID-19 on Tuesday afternoon. 

The incomparable George Mirabal was 83 years old. 

Asshole           Daytona Beach News-Journal Editor Pat Rice

Look, we get it: 

Pat Rice, the Supreme Comandante of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, hates everything Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower stands for.

For the past two-weeks, outside the wall-to-wall coverage of COVID-19 – all coronavirus, all the time – News-Journal Editor Pat Rice has directed the full-might of what remains of our hometown newspaper to giving Chairman Brower the falanga treatment. 

Why?

Because the wildly popular Chairman pushed a misguided effort to promote a council resolution supporting our Bill of Rights, a move designed to assure worried constituents that Volusia County will remain vigilant for federal mandates that infringe on our inalienable freedoms and seek judicial review of unconstitutional actions.

I believe the true reason Mr. Rice has his fangs out is because Chairman Brower is a maverick, an individualistic square peg who will not be forced into the round hole of lockstep conformity – or manipulated by Pat’s friends in Volusia County’s Old Guard – perennial politicians and uber-wealthy insiders intent on protecting an entrenched power structure and preserving the status quo. 

Just in case we didn’t ‘get it’ the first three-or-four times around, since last Wednesday, the News-Journal has bombarded us with the following painfully redundant headlines:

“Bill of Rights measure debated”

“Volusia ‘Bill of Rights sanctuary’ effort fails”

“Volusia County right to stop divisive debate over ‘Bill of Rights’”

“Volusia County votes down oddball Bill of Rights sanctuary measure”

“Volusia Chair Brower’s unneeded, divisive ‘resolution to nowhere’”

That last one takes the cake.

Hell, it took the whole damn bakery. . . 

In his Sunday screed, Mr. Rice once again put the boots to Chairman Brower – accusing him of wasting staff time, describing him as a “misguided zealot,” questioned his leadership, staining Brower as a liar willing to “fudge the facts,” belittling his outside-the-box suggestions for revenue generation, and accused him of being a discordant force who is “driving a wedge” between people.

Jesus.  Project much, Pat? 

What I found most outrageous is when Mr. Rice reached down to the bottom of that rotten barrel and evoked the fading memory of former County Manager Little Mean Jim Dineen – in my view, the most controversial and demonstrably divisive County Manager in the history of the position – someone Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood once accurately described as a “lying sack of shit” – as Rice used former Chair Frank Bruno as the end-all and be-all of consensus-building and “leadership.” 

(Did I mention that Bruno and Dinneen are now in business together as the dynamic duo of Bruno & Dinneen: The Relocation Authority – touting their government service under the Keller Williams Realty flag – “The principals led Volusia County Government at the highest levels before transitioning from serving people in government to serving people in real estate.”)

Whatever.

I don’t make this shit up, folks. 

Unfortunately, it appears Mr. Rice is living in a past of his own making – completely out-of-touch with our reality.  

Now that Comandante Rice has made it abundantly clear that he – and those influential “Friends of Pat” who hold such sway in our local Halls of Power – will stop at nothing to destroy Chairman Brower – perhaps Mr. Rice can get back to his place on the front line of the culture wars – standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his “woke” colleagues at Gannett in the battle of “We’re right and you’re wrong” – all while our local newspaper continues its slow fade into regionalized obscurity. 

Quote of the Week

“We want everyone to know that Daytona Beach is the destination of choice. We have everything you need,” was the message City Manager Deric C. Feacher shared with hospitality leaders at this morning’s meeting of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County. He shared that under his leadership there has been a renewed focus on removing barriers and finding ways to get to “yes” to accelerate the dreams, ideals and goals of the elected officials and residents. “I promise you this, if we are all able to get on the same page, we will accelerate beyond what you can imagine,” he said.”

–As posted to The City of Daytona Beach Government Facebook page, Wednesday, August 11, 2021

I am impressed with Daytona Beach City Manager Deric Feacher – he has class, a sense of style and panache, an air of forward momentum – and his effervescent enthusiasm is a welcome change from the wallpaper paste persona of his predecessor. 

In my view, Mr. Feacher’s élan is exactly what the Halifax area needs, a great communicator with a steady hand on stick-and-throttle, as the Worlds Most Famous Beach prepares to take flight – to break free from the stagnant status quo and soar – with a renewed focus on those areas of the community that have withered in neglect while the real money turned to areas west or made secretive plans for our downtrodden downtown that never seem to gel.   

Any flight requires a degree of preplanning – and most important is identifying our destination before we depart – where do we want to go, and how do we plan to get there? 

What route do we plan to fly to get from point A to B, how much time will it take given the performance characteristics of our craft, how much fuel and resources will be required, are there alternate locations to set down should a problem arise, and what environmental factors may play a role?

What are the prevailing winds – will they help, or hamper, our forward progress?  Turbulence or bad weather ahead?  What potential problems should we anticipate?  Are their risks we can mitigate before takeoff?  Where is the point of no return?  Are our systems, instruments, means of communication, and crew properly tuned, briefed, and working to our advantage?      

This week, Mr. Feacher asked our often stuck on stupid tourism mavens at the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County to consider these important questions:

“What is our brand?” “What are we selling?” “What do we want to be? “Why are we the destination of choice?”

“Everything we need is here.  The question is how do we brand our community?”

During his remarks, Mr. Feacher mentioned the horrific impacts of destructive viral events, such as the disastrous Truck Meet 2021, that continue to terrorize residents, gridlock traffic, and tax law enforcement resources to the breaking point – a hostile takeover of our community that threatens to destroy what remains of the Halifax areas fragile reputation as a tourist destination and inhibit entrepreneurial investment just when we need it most.

As a wise old flight instructor once told me, when dealing with a problem inflight, you have all the time you need – but no time to waste.    

Clearly, when it comes to the viability of Daytona Beach as a destination of choice, time is of the essence. 

Let’s hope Deric Feacher’s actions are as energetic as his inspiring words.

As pilot in command, the City Manager has a great responsibility to those who have put their faith in his exciting path forward – and our collective quality of life is in his hands.       

And Another Thing!

Musing about local politics on this blogsite means receiving a lot of emails, texts, and phone calls filled with weird rumors, nattering, and cockamamie theories about the happenings around town.

As a result, I spend a considerable amount of time fielding the gossip and bitchery that I publicly claim to abhor, but privately love listening to. 

It’s one reason I have always felt a kinship with Washington socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth who famously said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit next to me.”

In our hyper-connected world, social media, the ‘everyman’s soapbox’ – is a virtual firehose of largely unvetted information, and a greasy window into that exclusive country club where the sausage gets made – especially when elected officials use the medium to push their version of the narrative, preen for their supporters, and hint at where they lineup on the hot button issues. 

In fact, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the other platforms are perfect outlets for the current practice of D-list politicians being photographed, arm-in-arm, with C-list politicians and on up the ladder – like reality show “celebrities” awkwardly posing on a soiled red carpet – a cringeworthy method of self-aggrandizement now de rigueur in local politics. 

Sometimes that works out – and sometimes it doesn’t. . . 

But one thing is certain, trust in government – especially here on the Fun Coast – continues to plummet and our elected officials have no one to blame but themselves.  As a result, engaged citizens are increasingly taking it upon themselves to do what our local media won’t and have a second look at what they are being told by those who hold high public office.   

A prime example of that was a Facebook post this week by District 3 Volusia County Councilman Danny Robins touting his recent adventure to the Everglades in search of advice on water quality issues from the quintessential ‘Old Florida’ character known as Ronald “Alligator” Bergeron – who apparently received his nickname for his penchant for rasslin’ alligators – and was once described by the Tampa Bay Times as “…the most Florida of all Florida office holders.” 

Wow.  That’s saying something. . . 

According to Councilman Robins:

“Last weekend I traveled to the heart of the Florida everglades, through the cypress swamps, south past the Seminole Indian reservation, in search of a man and in search of answers. This man is said to be the living legend, a true pioneer, the lone guardian gladesman who has spent his life as the sole protector of Florida’s waterways.”

The sole protector?  Lone Guardian?  Of Florida’s waterways?  Damn.  Ol’ Alligator has his hands full, huh. . .

According to Councilman Robins, he sought out Alligator Ron for elusive answers to how we can protect threatened estuaries here in Volusia County – which, all joking aside, is something that has been near to Mr. Robins’ heart long before he took office in January. 

Despite Mr. Robins’ portrayal of “Alligator Ron” as a modern-day cross between Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Crocodile Dundee (if Mick Dundee had his own professionally produced self-promotional website, that is) – several of Danny’s constituents took the opportunity to dig deeper, rather than take things at face value.

They discovered that, in addition to Mr. Bergeron’s conservation efforts, he is one of the largest land developers in the Southeast – a self-made multi-millionaire who, just before he was appointed to the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board by Governor Ron DeSantis – inked a $25 million no-bid contract with the same SFWMD to complete a languishing wetland conservation project designed to store and clean water before it reaches the St. Lucie River in Martin County known as the C-44 Reservoir/Stormwater Treatment Area.

You read that right. 

Sound familiar?   It should.

This blogsite cut its teeth opining on the reportage of former News-Journal, and current USA Today environmental journalist, Dinah Voyles Pulver, and her outstanding coverage of what was dubbed “The Debacle in Debary,” a sordid story of a former chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board who made a cottage industry lobbying for the interests of his public and private clients in front of the very state regulatory agency he oversaw. 

All perfectly legal according to the Florida Ethics Commission. . . 

You read that right, too.  

To his credit, before his appointment, Alligator Ron asked the ethics commission if his company’s contract with the SFWMD would violate conflict-of-interest prohibitions – and he received the all-clear on April 12, 2019.

His appointment to the governing board became effective later that day. . . 

In December 2019, that controversial contract expanded by an additional $14 millionseven-months after Alligator Ron took his seat on the board – again, no harm, no foul.   

Since everything was on the up-and-up, it has been reported that an additional $9 million was added to the construction contract in June 2020 – bringing the total amount awarded by the SFWMD to the company owned by Mr. Bergeron to $48 million

Last summer, Mr. Bergeron successfully fought a second ethics complaint which cited a potential conflict related to the contract when our state ethics apparatus found a “lack of legal sufficiency” during a closed-door session in July 2020. 

Whatever. 

Aw, shucks, just bidness’ as usual here in the Sunshine State, y’all. . .    

In my view, Councilman Robins has dedicated himself to conservation and environmental concerns – and as an elected official, he has demonstrated the ability to accept even biting criticism and use it to his advantage.   

His hard work placing mini oyster reefs, planting seagrass, propagating mangroves, regenerating the shoreline, and assisting resiliency planning in Southeast Volusia – working closely with committed environmental groups like the Riverside Conservancy and others to clean and protect our sensitive estuaries – has proven Mr. Robins’ commitment to the safety and preservation of our waterways.

That’s impressive.     

Based upon this hands-on approach to restoring the Indian River Lagoon and other threatened area waterways, I have no doubt Mr. Robins was sincere in his quest for answers at the knee of the wise old sage – an earnest effort to discover new and innovative ways we can improve water quality here at home – and prevent the IRL and Intracoastal Waterway from becoming a barren bowl of guacamole like much of Alligator Ron’s stomping grounds in South Flori. . .

Wait a minute? 

Vert der ferk?

Oh, never mind. . . 

I am equally impressed that some Volusia County residents took it upon themselves to dig deeper – to flesh out the rest of the story – and understand the politics of the players and policies behind the colorful soundbites and posturing.

Clearly, Florida’s failed hurt here, help there approach to “protecting” our sensitive wetlands and greenspace is wearing thin with weary residents who are forced to watch helplessly as massive development threatens our quality of life. 

A claustrophobic sense of doom as our elected officials approve even more sprawling zero-lot-line “theme” communities, threatening the very source of our drinking water, and fouling our lakes, springs, and rivers with runoff from more apartment complexes, more half-empty strip centers and convenience stores – crushing our already stressed transportation and public utilities infrastructure – as our remaining natural places and wildlife habitats are churned into a black muck to make way for a developer’s idea of “progress.” 

Thanks for asking the tough questions, folks.   

As I am fond of saying, if something in government piques your curiosity – don’t take my word for it – keep digging, you might be surprised what you find.

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

Barker’s View will be on the road next week – but Angels & Assholes will return later this month! 

As always – please be safe, and thanks for reading.