Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. . .

Time is a strange thing.

While it doesn’t heal all wounds as we’ve been led to believe, like water flowing over rock, it does takes the edge off and dulls sharp memories – good and bad.

Time can make heroes out of heels, and vice versa, and change our perceptions of people, places and times gone by.

Over time, the origins of ideas and answers begin to blur.

And only the monuments remain. . .

As a result, with the passage of time, we often get trapped in the “halos and horns” conundrum, where we view people from the past through our hypercritical modern lens, often demonizing historic figures for their acts and omissions – while canonizing others as we rewrite history or engage in collective denialism.

That judgmental arrogance allows us to paint our modern selves in a morally and ethically superior light as we criticize the ghosts of long-dead notables.

Recently, there has been a brewing tempest in a teapot over a long-forgotten coquina monument, originally erected to memorialize a forgotten Daytona Beach mayor, Edward Armstrong – a politician of a different era – who is now best remembered as a dictatorial shithead and corrupt ward healer with few redeeming civic qualities.

Normally, I like to stay focused on the present – rarely averting my eyes from current events – but I found the strange saga of Mayor Armstrong and his ill-fated marker intriguing.

Born in 1880, Mayor Armstrong was a Halifax area grocer who served five terms during the 1920’s and 30’s – ultimately becoming the undeniable Boss of Daytona Beach politics during the Great Depression.

A big part of his political success was due to his ability to garner support from African Americans – making jobs available for minority candidates during a time of segregation and focusing on community improvements – and in 1935 he won by a landslide after receiving 91% of the black vote.

He also had an unwritten requirement that city employees kickback 10% of their pay. . .

In addition, according to reports, “…the Daytona Beach News-Journal, often accused him of corruption that included buying votes, squandering and misappropriating funds, political favoritism and tampering with elections.”

In a recent treatment by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Mark Lane, we learned that, in addition to his underhanded political machinations, Mayor Armstrong was instrumental in building some of the Halifax area’s earliest infrastructure – to include a public transportation system, a waterworks project, municipal airport – and seeking New Deal funding for an ocean side park, built by the Works Progress Administration, that included the Clock Tower, Boardwalk, Bandshell – and the Edward H. Armstrong Monument. . .

Mayor Armstrong is perhaps best known for his involvement in “The Battle of Daytona Beach” which saw police officers, armed city employees and supporters in a standoff with Florida National Guard troops at City Hall following a state investigation into “fiscal irregularities.”

You can read all about it – it’s a quaint part of our colorful history here on the Fun Coast. . .

When Mayor Armstrong died in January 1938, the Daytona Beach City Commission and all the right last names of the day couldn’t agree on the wording for the Armstrong plaque – ultimately voting 3-2 against putting up anything at all.

The brouhaha got me pondering what local historians and cyber-archaeologists will think of us a hundred years from now?

I mean, what’s changed?

Although we haven’t had the National Guard show up (yet), is our local government anymore responsive or transparent than it was when the Armstrong Machine was in power?

Could our elected and appointed officials be more disrespectful of our concerns or irresponsible with our hard-earned tax dollars?

At least we don’t have politicians who play favorites based upon our ability to contribute to a political campaign – and we don’t hear rampant claims of “fiscal irregularities” – or widespread criticism of the lack of oversight that allows egregious abuses in government spending or the use of public funds for private projects. . .

Thank God that type of political corruption, corporate welfare and bureaucratic dysfunction is a quaint part of our past, right?

Interestingly, the Armstrong controversy is centered just feet from “Ritchey Plaza,” a sempiternal monument to another former Daytona Beach mayor and founding member of the Halifax area’s present-day ‘in-crowd,’ Glenn Ritchey, which was built smack-dab in the smoldering remains of our once thriving Boardwalk – the epicenter of the now tattered and fading World’s Most Famous Beach.

With the scourge of unrestrained blight creeping in all directions, and the pungent odor of urine wafting on the sea breeze, I always questioned the optics of the monument – complete with Adirondack chairs and eight (count ‘em) Royal Palm trees – strategically positioned around one of those “Remember, I coughed up cash” plaques commemorating the largesse of the donor class and reminding Mayor Ritchey who really cares. . .

I guess it’s only right, though – it’s a Halifax area tradition – and Mayor Ritchey deserves his due.

After all, Mr. Ritchey’s contemporaries – like our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hossieni, has his name emblazoned on more buildings at Daytona State College and Embry-Riddle than you can shake a stick at – and His Royal Highness Hyatt Brown has a museum, and will soon have his name emblazoned on the tallest building in downtown Daytona complete with a sprawling riverside esplanade – while our own First Family of Auto Racing, the France Dynasty, has statuary galore.

I guess at the end of the day, Mayor Armstrong’s only true sin was not cementing his own legacy by ensuring his constituents paid for a plaque to adorn the self-aggrandizing monument to his own self-importance.

Fortunately, around here, we always learn from history, right?

Right.

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

Listen locally at 1380am The Cat, or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

We’ll be talking local issues and taking your calls on the fastest two-hours in radio!

 

A Real Eye-Opener

Barker’s Eye-Opener

A generous pour of Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey into a large earthen mug.  Top with hot, bold, dark roast coffee, preferably Café Bustelo – enjoy, repeat as necessary.   

 _______________________________

I don’t work anymore.  That’s obvious.

Partly of my own slothful volition, but mostly because no one in their right mind would hire me. . .

Now, I mainly criticize the handiwork of those elected and appointed officials who accept public funds, ostensibly to “serve” in the public interest.

As a result, I can enjoy indulgences like a wee dram or two in my morning coffee – an anesthetic of sorts, for my twisted thoughts and opinions on the insanity of the world outside my window.

My avocation requires that I be a voracious consumer of the news.

I read multiple online newspapers, public affairs journals, several local sites along with a broad  sweep of LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook – a daily regimen that keeps me reasonably up to date on the issues.

In addition, I sometimes idle away the morning reviewing archived video of various government meetings as a means of masochistic self-torture. . .

The real curse is, I’m often drawn to the minutia of events – the seemingly esoteric parts of public meetings and official press releases that are so often used to obscure and deflect the true issues.

Perhaps that’s a reflection of my years as an entrenched bureaucrat – but reading between the lines has become my stock in trade – the art of deciphering the pettifoggery inherent to administering the people’s business.

Unfortunately, that means my morning whiskey is becoming more of a necessity than a treat.

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council held its bimonthly théâtre de l’absurde, a farcical stage production of bizarre performance art that leaves both staff and constituents mourning the fact that what passed for a public meeting represents hours of their lives they will never be able to reclaim. . .

It can be both infuriating and terribly disheartening.

For instance, one rather benign item was listed on the agenda as “2020 state legislative agenda.”

As is their habit, this time of the year, most local governments – and the do-nothing ancillary organizations they fund – engage in the annual make-work exercise of setting “priorities” for the coming year.

Normally, these urgencies are wide-ranging and flexible – like “We support legislative efforts to improve water quality!” – so that literally any nexus to a reasonably sanitary glass of water can be hailed a rousing success by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, during his obnoxious “State of the County” address in January.

This year’s hodgepodge of legislative desires was no different.

During his painful presentation, our in-house lobbyist, Government Affairs Director John Booker, yammered, stammered, spit, sputtered, fidgeted, fumbled and stumbled his way through the short list of Volusia County’s legislative agenda – all but admitting that “over the past year or so” he’s wasted precious time collaborating with like-types on how other jurisdictions stage their own list of priorities – then um, ah, eh, he “took a stab” at creating a 20-page glossy booklet (the first five pages of which is an elaborate tableau vivant of our illustrious county and state politicians). . .

Look, I don’t mean to be a nitpicking, mean-spirited asshole – and I realize that some folks just aren’t comfortable public speakers, but, like an emergency room doctor who can’t stand the sight of blood – awkwardness in front of a governmental audience usually doesn’t inspire confidence in lobbyists – who spend most of their time, well, speaking publicly in front of a government audience. . .

So, don’t take my word for it.

Watch Mr. Booker’s disastrous performance for yourself – then ask if we are getting the most from our $90,000 annual salary in the Government Affairs role – which was created for Mr. Booker when Volusia County promptly fired former professional Washington lobbyist Jamie Pericola, after he dared speak truth to power regarding the utter dysfunction in county government.

The council’s “priorities” also include a cockamamie one-sentence authorization to permit the Historic North Turn Legends Beach Parade – which everyone who is anyone outside of Volusia County government agrees is a non-issue.

Considering state legislative committee meetings are already underway – and the 2020 session starts in January – even Mr. Booker admits we’re “ah, a little bit late in the game” in getting our agenda together – but what do you want for $90 grand, eh?

Jesus. . .

The meeting continued with the usual gibberish and ham-handed attempts to stitch together some semblance of public policy – which ultimately required that Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman attempt to demystify the previous official actions of the council dealing with a simple special exception for a rural event center.

That humiliating exercise resulted in this nearly verbatim jabber by the clearly parliamentary and cognitively challenged Ed Kelley:

“Motion to amend the additional amendment to remove the amendment to the amended. . .”

(In an attempt to shorten the embarrassment, something in that mess was moved by Rev. Fred Lowry – I think – then passed unanimously?)

“Need a motion to approve the amended motion that was amended.”

(Again, something in that prattle was moved by Councilwoman Girtman – I think – and passed unanimously?)

Look, I don’t make this shit up, folks.

You couldn’t possibly exaggerate it. . .

In my view, we stand at a crossroads in Volusia County – a government clearly run amok with no clear order or direction – which continues to hold firm to the ‘old ways’ which allow the same tired puppets to occupy the same seats of power and “play government” – until they are needed to rubber stamp the wants of those who truly control the rods and strings.

As a result, I believe that after these nonsensical “meetings,” County Manager George Recktenwald, with the help of other senior officials, simply interpret what they think our elected officials might have meant when they took official action from the dais, authorized expenditures, passed resolutions or established critical public policy – then blend it all together into some semblance of order that will ultimately effect our lives and livelihoods for years to come.

Is there another explanation? 

I also happen to believe it’s intentional.

Because there is no other logical reason for this continuing dysfunction and confusion.

Talk about an eyeopener. . .

In my view, the fact that Chairman Kelley – knowing full-well the utter chaos, disorder and nervous snickering which continues to plague any meeting he presides over – can still stand and face his bewildered constituents and ask for another four years at the helm of this ship of fools –  speaks to his egomaniacal inability to put the true needs of those he is expected to serve over his own self-interests.

Enough is enough.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

Angels & Assholes for November 8, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Daytona Beach City Commission

This week, the incomparable Mark Lane, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, let us know that no bad idea is ever really dead – especially once a self-serving bureaucracy, and the elected officials it controls, get dollar signs dancing in their heads and engages the legislative machinery.

Earlier this year, Daytona Beach residents learned that City Manager Jim Chisholm, and his minions on the City Commission, were working surreptitiously to have public use deed restrictions on City Island removed so they can ultimately accommodate the avaricious greedheads looking to exploit the land.

Even Volusia County – who has a courthouse and library on the property – and His Royal Highness J. Hyatt Brown, who controls everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide in this community, claimed they were blindsided by the news. . .

Last December, former Governor Rick Scott and his Cabinet voted to remove the deed restrictions, which date to 1925, if the City of Daytona Beach agreed to render unto Caesar a handsome ransom of $8.77 million.

When the scam was uncovered, citizens of the Halifax area were rightfully and royally pissed off – I’ve found that is the expected reaction whenever We, The People find out those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests have ulterior motives – however; it appears now that our collective push-back has receded, Mr. Chisholm is moving full speed ahead with plans that could ultimately privatize City Island by lobbying the state to remove the fee.

Or at least he tried to. . .

At their last meeting in October, as commissioners reached one of the final Administrative Items on the agenda, the rather benign topic of setting the city’s legislative priorities for the coming year, there it was, in a resolution request from the City Manager’s Office on line 10-B – buried amongst the innocuous state and federal funding requests:

Support for release of state-owned rights and restrictions on riverfront area property to the City at no cost to the City.

My God. . . 

After the city’s always effervescent Government Relations Administrator, Hardy Smith, used his patented ‘dry as a popcorn fart’ delivery to explain the city’s legislative priorities – he tossed it over to Commissioner Rob Gilliland – who proceeded to lecture us on how the initial exposure of the City Island debacle was “completely misrepresented by the News-Journal,” then did his level best to assure us that “there’s nothing underhanded going on here. . .”

Bullshit.

Even if there isn’t, we’re all way past the old governmental “See, nothing up my sleeves!” trope. . .

To her credit, Commissioner Ruth Trager spoke directly to the controversy – and the will of the people – in calling for an end to this quest to turn “the peoples” island over to what she aptly described as “some big entity” for private profit.

Hell, even Mayor Derrick Henry formally acknowledged the “trust issue,” the clear and convincing message that We, The People unequivocally – do not want to see Jackie Robinson Ballpark and other areas set aside for public use and recreation put under a bulldozer blade.

The whole exercise was stilted, uncomfortable and clumsy – and it was clear to everyone that Mr. Chisholm shouldn’t have tried to shoot this political hot potato through the grease – because it just brought more unwanted attention and official yammering to the original shit storm. . .

It was equally apparent that the elected officials and the City Manager’s Office were working from two completely different sheets of music, and none of the policymakers (except, perhaps, Mr. Gilliland) seemed completely comfortable with what was happening or why.

In politics, perception often becomes reality – and given the community outcry the first time around – tossing this cause célèbre in with the miscellany of a legislative priorities package was wrong.

This should never have been sprung on the citizens this way.

At the end of the day – at the very smart suggestion of Commissioner Aaron Delgado – the elected officials agreed to pull the item from the mishmash of municipal lobbying “priorities” until visual aids (they didn’t have maps before now?), various development restrictions (and a narrative that makes some semblance of sense) can be produced to ameliorate the very real fears of a citizenry that has been fooled before.

Look for this to come back for discussion later this month. . .

Angel              OBS Association & Ormond Beach City Commission 

It always amazes me, and restores my faith in our battered and bruised democratic system, when a small group of committed citizens band together to protect their civic interests – and are actually listened to by government.

That takes guts – and a degree of mutual trust and diplomacy that’s sorely lacking in local government today.

However, that is exactly what happened this week when the Ormond Beach City Commission agreed to table its push to convert thousands of Ormond by the Sea homes from septic to municipal sewer until further inquiry can be made.

On Tuesday, members of the OBS Association and other residents of the unincorporated north peninsula took to the podium at the Volusia County Council meeting to express their fervent view that the environmental argument brought by the City of Ormond Beach doesn’t hold water (pun intended) unless an independent study scientifically proves that their septic systems are a significant contributor to pollutants and nutrients in the Halifax River.

Needless to say, the concerned citizens didn’t get much of a response from their elected representatives in DeLand. . .

In an unfortunate turn, one clearly angry individual used an extremely poor choice of words when he said council members “should be shot” for their handling (or lack thereof) of the highly contentious septic-to-sewer measure.

That’s wrong.  And dangerous.

I’m all for speaking truth to power – and I am a staunch defender of a citizen’s right to voice criticisms and seek redress of grievances before those they have elected to serve their interests – but no one has the right to evoke even the suggestion of violence toward our elected officials or anyone else.

That crosses a very bright line – and I agree with Chairman Ed Kelley that violence has no place in the public discourse.

Fortunately, the Ormond Beach City Commission was more receptive to residents’ concerns.

During the meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to direct staff to research a scientific analysis – and look at alternative environmental protection projects that can be completed in the interim.

There was also substantive discussion of a moratorium on new septic systems in Ormond Beach.

Kudos to the intrepid civic activist Jeff Brower – candidate for Volusia County Chair – who boldly stepped into the fray and spent his own time and money to bring independent soil testing to the conversation.

I was also impressed by Commissioner Dwight Selby – who has been the city’s very visible point man for this issue from its inception – and was incredibly magnanimous in agreeing to seek answers for north peninsula residents.

In addition, Commissioner Troy Kent showed signs of the responsive civic leader I once knew when he openly contemplated how the city got so deep into this issue – knowing well the residents of Ormond by the Sea didn’t want it – then looked introspectively at the larger issue:

“We need to get our own house in order first.  We need to get our own residents — all of them — off septic before we introduce this into other jurisdictions.”

At the end of the day, I understand why some don’t believe that the proposed study will be independent or objective – and only the City of Ormond Beach can alleviate those fears through complete transparency and on-going collaboration with their constituents and north peninsula residents.

But, in my jaded view, this was a good start.

Look, I don’t agree with much coming out of the Ormond Beach City Commission chambers of late, but this high-minded compromise in the interest of concerned citizens showed real statesmanship.

A job well done by both sides of this difficult and divisive challenge.

Angel              Seabird Island Residents and the Halifax River Audubon Society

As I mentioned in the screed above – bad ideas in Volusia County, from sales tax initiatives to the wholesale giveaway of public resources to for-profit interests and colossally stupid development schemes – just seem to reanimate and claw from their moldering graves the very minute our attention wanes.

After a few fits and starts a decade ago, most of us thought the sclerotic plans to develop Seabird Island – one of the most sensitive and accessible nesting rookeries for brown pelicans, great herons, egrets, wading birds and other species on Florida’s east coast – were dead and properly buried.

They weren’t. . .

This week we learned that a pair of former Seminole County Firefighters-turned-developers (?) are resurrecting plans for a 102-slip deep-water marina on the south side of the Port Orange causeway under the Dunlawton bridge.

Which proves my long-standing belief that, in the Sunshine State, literally anyone – regardless of education, training, vision, experience, funding or motivation – can make the lycanthropic transformation into speculative developer. . .

Whatever.

According to reports, the original plans brought by Melbourne-based developer Joe Calderwood, never got past the design stage.

This incredibly complex project would require filling some 1.2 acres of sensitive wetlands and river bottom to make way for 87 parking spaces – then dredging other areas of the site to allow boats enough draft to maneuver.

Historically, residents of the long-time mobile home park have been less than receptive to the idea of having their quality of life – and the habitat of the birds and wildlife they share the island with – irreparably disturbed by some cockamamie development scheme.

Obviously, there are more questions than answers right now – and any plans for disturbing this  protected critical wildlife area and develop what the two former firemen envision as Pelican Key Marina (I don’t make this shit up, folks) – would need to start from square one.

Good.

I admire the young men’s determination – but taking on a massive marina project in the worst possible location – adjacent to a protected seabird colony involving the destruction of sovereign submerged lands, a natural sandbar and sensitive estuary – in an environment where residents have proven their desire to be left alone might be a little ambitious. . .

But stranger things have happened here on the Fun Coast. . .

Kudos to Seabird Island residents and the Halifax River Audubon Society for your dedicated advocacy for this sensitive ecosystem and sanctuary.

Keep up the good fight.

Quote of the Week

“Facebook is the domain of trolls who live not to provoke thought but simply to provoke. Facebook is also the platform that refuses to police political advertising. Candidates at all levels will need to deal with false narratives on Facebook.”

“A final point: Social media can be ugly, but it’s inexpensive, and 2020 could be a year when money will have less influence, and may even be a liability.”

–Pat Rice, Editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Predictions for 2020 elections,” Sunday, November 3, 2019

On Monday, I wrote a piece which asked the question – Whose opinion matters most?

I also learned this week from several reliable sources that there are plans afoot in Volusia County government, and its hyper-redundant “economic development” apparatus, to increase their social media presence as a means of confronting what is being referred to, in the parlance of Mr. Rice,  as “false narratives.”

In my view, that means any point of view that doesn’t comport with the official glittering generalities that pass for “public information” – regardless of how patently misleading or biased those messages may be.   

Perhaps I’m clinically paranoid – but since I am the only guy sitting around in his boxer shorts pounding out an alternative opinion blog focused exclusively on the machinations of Volusia County politics which is read by thousands each month – I get the sneaking feeling they’re talking about me. . .

Clearly, this forum is upsetting what passes for the Halifax area haut monde.

Maybe it should. 

Frankly, I could care less what these damnable political hypocrites think.

In my view, Volusia County government isn’t known for employing the best and brightest in its senior management ranks – that’s just a sad reality – and we’ve had a front row, center ring seat to the intellectual limits of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and his Boo-Boo the Addlepated Clown act for the past three years. . .

Let’s just say, our Brain Trust in DeLand doesn’t inspire confidence.

So, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in the Ivory Tower of Power had the dull-witted idea to bring their bureaucratic agitprop to social media as a means of marginalizing citizens who point out the utter dysfunction we’ve suffered for years.  

Here’s an educated prediction from up here in the cheap seats:

If the long-suffering citizens – those who pay the bills with their hard-earned tax dollars – suspect for one minute that highly-paid governmental mouthpieces are being dispatched to the lower parts of the internet to battle “trolls” and bicker with frustrated citizens on Facebook as a means of influencing the outcome of a local election – or to hawk flawed public policy – the political shit-storm that accompanies that level of official waste and overreach is going to be felt strongly at the ballot box.

For the uninitiated in the Halls of Power, this is a simple exercise in critical thinking – a rapid cause-effect analysis – an evaluation of all potential outcomes beyond the momentary ego-massage of answering a critic. . .

I would remind Mr. Rice – and the others who feel the need to do something, anything, to stop the near-constant criticism of a system that no longer represents the interests of its constituents – of the effectiveness of Facebook in the defeat of the recent sales tax referendum.

The fact is, social media represents a bully pulpit for the masses, a clear and equal voice for “citizen journalists” – and bombastic blowhards like me – who ventilate when they realize they can no longer afford political representation in this oligarchical caste system we find ourselves in.

And anyone who doesn’t embrace that concept won’t be in politics – or the news gathering business – in the coming decade.

Consider that some free advice from out here in the hinterlands – an alternative view you might not get in that bastion of obsessive groupthink in DeLand. . .

In my view, Mr. Rice is right about one thing – the citizens of Volusia County are most assuredly coming to the realization that the pernicious use of massive campaign contributions to purchase the loyalties of compromised perennial politicians is counter to the civic, social and economic progress we deserve.

So, go ahead and set ‘squabbling on Facebook’ as a governmental priority for 2020 – rather than attempting to learn from the varied – even scathing – criticism of a constituency grown tired of neglect, and let’s see how that strategy works come election time. . .

I’ve mentioned this before, perhaps it’s time for Volusia County, and those ancillary quasi-governmental organizations that drag on the public tit, to focus on the foundational elements of public service – transparency, honor, fidelity to our democratic values, service over self-interest, ensuring a level playing field for everyone – regardless of their ability to pay, and a commitment to providing fact-based information in the public interest, rather than engaging in this base form of political insulation.

And Another Thing!

Kudos to Richard Wahl, the New Jersey Mega-Millions lotto winner who recently invested $13.65 million in the revitalization of our desperately downtrodden core tourist area by purchasing the rotting corpse of the former La Playa Hotel & Resort – with the intent of transforming the festering eyesore into a timeshare property.

For his trouble, Mr. Wahl was all but labeled a fool and a rube by those whose opinions matter in the Halifax area tourist and hospitality industry. . .

In a recent report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, our own Bob Davis, Chief Maharishi of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County, didn’t sound overly encouraging of Mr. Wahl’s vision:

“He (Wahl) had to invest his money to get the tax credit,” Bob Davis said. “It’s a good piece of property in a good location, but I think that timeshares have had their day. People aren’t investing in timeshares (like they once were) because they can’t get out of the contracts. If that’s what he wants to do with his money, God bless him.”

Awesome reception for our new investor, Bob!

Wait until Mr. Wahl meets the Welcome Wagon over at the City of Daytona Beach Permits & Licensing Department. . .

As you may recall, the decrepit ruins of the La Playa were owned by Summit Hospitality group – those darlings of the Volusia County Council responsible for permanently removing some 410’ linear feet of beach driving behind their Hard Rock Hotel – who kept stringing us along with tall tales of renovating the dump as a “name brand” hotel.

Somewhere in that process, Volusia County gifted an adjacent beach approach to Summit – apparently contingent on the developer constructing a “dune walkover” and a beachside parking lot.

No word yet on the fate of our beach approach. . .

Stay tuned.

It’s painfully clear that local government can’t dig us out of this festering quagmire of blight and dilapidation that our ‘powers that be’ have turned a blind eye to for years.

No, the issues are now so horribly entrenched that “The Brand” has been irreparably damaged, with a corresponding impact on occupancy and room rates.  Yet, I doubt Mr. Davis – or anyone else who makes their living prognosticating on Fun Coast tourism – will confirm my suspicions. . .

In my view, the only thing that can reverse our fate is the stimulating effect of entrepreneurial investment on the beleaguered beachside.

By forming a strategic vision for the future which incorporates quality hotels, family-priced resorts, private convention and entertainment venues, well-managed short-term rental properties, wholly owned condominiums, first class timeshares and the “condotel” concept into a comprehensive plan which embraces our century old traditions of beach driving and open access – I believe good things can happen on Atlantic Avenue and beyond.

That plan should include a commitment from notoriously lead-footed Daytona Beach bureaucrats to remove the onerous hoops and hurdles that have seen the dreams of more than one new business owner dashed before ever opening the doors – and foster a “business friendly” approach to welcoming new enterprise on the beachside.

Unfortunately, according to our Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce’ “Government Relations E-News Update!” the legislative committee is busying themselves rehashing “priorities” for the coming year, that – like most years before – will never come to fruition (how’s that east ISB looking?), rather than focus on using their collective clout to breakdown the official barriers and bureaucratic interference that is the true obstacle to outside investment and revitalization.

I know some of these Chamber types personally.

They are incredibly bright minds with a history of personal success – so, why they engage in these annual fiddler’s conventions while our beachside burns continues to escape me. . .

Interestingly, I almost never see the kind of negativity that greeted Mr. Wahl from our exalted city/county “leaders” when ill-fated businesses throw good money after bad by rolling the dice in places like One Daytona – where the average life expectancy of even nationally recognized restaurants and shops is about that of an asthmatic Mayfly. . .

Why is that?

Good luck, Mr. Wahl – and welcome to the Fun Coast!

You’re gonna need it, buddy. . .

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Accountability in the Age of Absurdity

Way back in 2016, this experiment in alternative opinion blogging was born from the simple notion that someone should say what everyone was secretly thinking.

In fact, an early Barker’s View post grew from my frustration over the Volusia County Council’s lack of an annual evaluation of then county manager Jim Dinneen – a process that became a ridiculous rubber stamp that always resulted in a generous year-end bonus for Mr. Dinneen – apparently to reward his skillful channeling of our tax dollars in all the right directions. . .

In my view, this lack of a comprehensive review for the county manager, and our entrenched county attorney, exemplified all the dysfunction, insider influence and open cronyism that passes for governance in Volusia County.

I could no longer contain my outrage:

“Anyone who can read the printed word and think critically cannot help but be moved to uncontrolled rage by the Council’s continued pandering to a few wealthy and influential insiders, multi-million dollar giveaways, lawsuits against their own constituents, open bullying by the County Attorney’s office, our cartoon character of a Council Chair, the sheer arrogance of the County Manager, and the Council’s continued indifference to the needs and opinions of those they serve.”       

And everything I have written since has been a riff on that same unsettling theme. . .

Now, as we approach 2020, the majority of our elected officials on the Volusia County Council remain the obsequious handmaidens of a system that still abhors accountability and oversight.

What’s changed?

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Heather Post did her level best to convince her “colleagues” on the dais of power that the two most powerful positions in county government – the manager and county attorney – should be evaluated by objective written review.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? 

During my years in public service, I received – and wrote – written evaluations, participated in 360° reviews, single and multi-rater management audits, external promotional assessments, outside inspections and organizational improvement planning – each of which was memorialized in writing to ensure an accurate portrait, year-over-year, of my performance trajectory.

I’ll bet many of you have had a similar evaluation during your working life.  It’s pretty common.

Except in county government. . .

The commonsense process of actually assessing the effectiveness of the highest paid recipients of public funds in our county government was supported by Councilwomen Post, Billie Wheeler and Barbara Girtman.

Unfortunately, the measure was rejected, out-of-hand, by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – the lockstep voting bloc of Councilmen Ben Johnson and the Very Reverend Fred Lowry, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys.

But why?

Well, according to Chairman Kelley, “We don’t have an off-the-shelf form at this point.”

Apparently, we don’t employ the talent in our Human Resources office to research and put one together in, oh, an hour-or-so, either. . .

Sad.

Look, I would be reasonably satisfied if the Volusia County Council could have just one meeting where they weren’t required to spend the last half deciphering their twisted votes, mini-moves, amendments and amendments-to-amendments that always leave staff – and their confused constituents – scratching their heads. . .

Perhaps, We, The People should exercise our right to political accountability and use this bimonthly affront to our collective intelligence as our own evaluation of those we have elected to high office, eh?

In government, senior management – and the citizens they serve – deserve a thorough review of their professional performance, accomplishments and growth areas at regular intervals.

It’s a healthy part of the oversight process, and the narrative evaluation provides personalized feedback and a mechanism for communicating expectations for organizational goals and professional objectives that just aren’t possible in the farcical performance art of a Volusia County Council meeting.

Anyone who has ever served in a leadership role understands that performance evaluations are a critical resource for documenting the health and success of the organization – and should be a continuing process at all levels.

But not in the byzantine bureaucracy in DeLand. . .

In government, as in most progressive private organizations, accountability exists when a responsible individual, and the services they provide, are subject to horizontal oversight.  This occurs when the responsible party is required to provide articulable justification for their actions, expenditures, and the performance of their subordinate staff.

A practice especially important for government officials at the executive level whose decisions can have wide-ranging and very expensive implications.

You want to know the most serious issue Volusia County residents face?

It is the staggering level of incompetence, government waste and resource mismanagement that results in surprise headlines like “Volusia’s overtime tab: $99 million since 2013” and other shocking revelations – and a continuing, almost institutionalized, lack of substantive oversight by our elected officials that allows this atrocious course of conduct to continue.

 

On Volusia: Whose opinion matters?

“Well, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.”

–Dirty Harry Callahan, The Dead Pool, 1988

 

Sometimes the news on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast sounds like a broken record.

“For a city already working with its trust issues. . .”

“After a former Volusia County Council member proclaimed in a public meeting this summer that trust in county government had never been lower. . .”

“What they’re most divided on: how much trust the public has in county government.”

“Much has been written about Volusia County government and a lack of transparency.”

“They got caught doing something that now seems deceitful.”

Sounds like a bad Barker’s View screed, doesn’t it?

It’s not.

These quotes came right from the pages of The Daytona Beach News-Journal – picked from feature stories, editorials and letters from readers who have grown suspicious of the machinations of our elected and appointed officials and the uber-wealthy special interests who seem to control it all.

Unfortunately, in the oligarchical system that has come to dominate our lives and livelihoods here in Volusia County – constructive criticism is neither welcome nor accepted – and those who attempt to shine a bright light into the dank corners where public funds and private interests intersect are often marginalized, painted as lunatics, or worse, labeled as “trolls” who reside in the lower parts of the internet and exist simply to poke, prod and provoke the “Rich & Powerful” who can still afford political representation.

So, we are forced to ask the question: Whose critical views on the myriad issues of the day are more accurate and worthy of our attention?

Which opinion matters most – an amalgam of viewpoints of an editorial board – or the concerns voiced in the contentious realm of social media, something News-Journal editor Pat Rice calls the “domain of trolls who live not to provoke thought but simply to provoke”?

More often than not, on those rare occasions when our newspaper of record calls foul on the editorial page, they sound like that kindly-yet-critical old aunt, who, at the risk of offending, softly suggests you might want to “run a comb through your hair” – as opposed to the blunt message of the overbearing truth-teller in the family who calls it like she sees it, “It looks like rat’s are nesting on your head, Lois – do you even own a hairbrush? Look in a mirror for Christ sake. . .” 

It seems whenever the News-Journal has cause to offer a gentle suggestion to the perennial politicians and governmental insiders who are seen as “friends” and conflicted associates of the newspaper’s senior leadership – the paper comes off like a mewing, declawed kitten with a raging case of  Taijin Kyofusho.

The true editorial scolding is saved for ordinary citizens and grassroots efforts with the temerity to challenge the status quo – voice a call for fundamental change to this disparate scheme that has resulted in the social and economic quagmire we find ourselves in – or use the every-man’s civic soapbox of social media to vent frustration, voice an opinion or engage in a no-holds-barred debate of the issues.

Whenever someone from outside the fraternity offers a pointed criticism, calls out missed opportunities for substantive change, or brings attention to the utter incompetence and dysfunction that have come to permeate the halls of power in DeLand and beyond – they are invariably treated as a threat to the “system” – branded an opinionated malcontent without credibility and immediately set upon by those who still stand to benefit.

That’s not shaping public opinion – that’s an exercise in not ruffling the right feathers. . .

Sound familiar? 

It should, because marginalization – the process of making others feel their opinions are insignificant or secondary to those held by insiders – is the exact tactic used by members of the Volusia County Council to ensure lockstep conformity.

In my view, the most important opinion is your own.

I happen to write down my goofy thoughts on the issues we face and circulate them on this blog site as a means of stirring the pot, calling attention to the seemingly intractable problems we face and stimulating a greater discussion in the community.

Why? 

Because our ‘powers that be’ hate it when We, The People focus on the machinations of the politically unaccountable insiders behind the curtain – or expose the self-serving maneuverings of  their bought-and-paid-for politicians who are repeatedly returned to office on increasingly larger piles of campaign cash originating from those who the system now exists to serve.

In my view, when citizens educate themselves on the issues of the day – then formulate individual opinions that come together into a collective vision for the future through the debate of competing ideas – it results in quality public policy, civic revitalization, collaborative problem solving and fosters a true sense of ‘community building.’

So, to hell with what I, or anybody else thinks – or what the News-Journal tells you about the role of social media and non-conventional communication in contemporary politics.

Take the time to educate yourselves and your neighbors, learn the players and the issues, contemplate our collective needs – then form your own opinions – and express your views in whatever forum you feel comfortable with.

If you are a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe, I naturally consider you an ‘informed voter’ who looks at all sides of an issue then makes a knowledgeable decision.

If not, I encourage you to get involved.

Talk to candidates for public office, hold their feet to the fire on issues that are important to you and your family, voice your point of view on the issues of the day, be bold, be brave and let’s return a respectful and responsive “government of the people” to DeLand and beyond this election cycle.

Let’s restore the public’s trust in our local government by electing those who value it.

It’s important – now, more than ever.

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 1, 2019

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               Dustin Wyatt & Tony Holt

The exodus from The Daytona Beach News-Journal continues, and the unfortunate loss of journalistic talent and stability is being felt throughout the community as our nearly 116-year-old newspaper of record slowly transitions into something. . .different.

Much of what I write about here on Barker’s View is a riff on News-Journal articles crafted by gifted professional journalists and editorialists who are out pounding the streets, working the phones, keeping their ear to the ground and bringing the news of the day to our doorstep or computer screen each morning.

And, like anyone with ethical boundaries who serves the public, they often take a horrible beating for their efforts. . .

During my professional life, I developed close working relationships with some very talented News-Journal reporters – superior scribes like Lyda Longa, Patricio Balona, Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, Barry Gear and others – and had the pleasure of working with legendary storytellers like Kathy Kelly and the late John Carter – it wasn’t always easy, and I took the lumps when I made a mistake, but these symbiotic relationships taught me how hard good reporters work to get it right and the importance of building trust.

Now, instead of hearing it straight from those we have elected and appointed to serve our civic interests, increasingly, stories in our hometown newspaper will begin, “. . .according to a GateHouse Media data analysis. . .”

Adding to the sense of uncertainty was the newsroom layoffs – then, this summer, the News-Journal’s printing press was shuttered, and the operation moved to another GateHouse proprietary in Ocala.

The explanation? 

“These days, it’s not unusual for a newspaper to be printed outside the market where it circulates. In fact, it’s become the norm.”

Sad.

Then, the talented editor and accomplished author Derek Catron – and our incredibly dedicated environmental reporter, Dinah Voyles-Pulver, who shined such a bright light on those who profit from the wholesale destruction of our natural places, left for roles with GateHouse Media.

And now, crime reporter and Sun Crime State podcast host, Tony Holt, and our intrepid Volusia County reporter, Dustin Wyatt, are leaving the News-Journal for greener pastures. . .

In my view, Mr. Holt’s coverage of the always intriguing local crime beat was truly second-to-none – and it was always interesting to learn the misty machinations of Volusia County government from Dustin Wyatt’s inimitable writing.

I don’t know about you, but Dustin’s live Tweets from County Council meetings were something I looked forward to.

As I understand it, Tony has been snatched up by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, while Dustin will be serving the fortunate citizens of the Upstate of South Carolina as a journalist with the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

When it comes to consuming the news, one thing I appreciate is the institutional knowledge of a seasoned reporter who understands the nuances of what is happening ‘behind the story’ – and uses that situational awareness to triangulate relationships, analyze previous decisions, recall quotes, develop depth and craft a rich explanation of perhaps the one nugget of good information in an otherwise dull public meeting.

In my view, Mr. Wyatt’s painstaking reporting on what became known as the ‘secret study’ – a 2016 report commissioned by the county council which was intentionally hidden from policymakers because it called for higher impact fees – brilliantly exposed the lack of transparency and backroom shenanigans so common in Volusia County politics.

In my view, his unflinching reportage ultimately led to the departure of former County Manager Jim Dinneen – and if he never writes another exposé – Dustin Wyatt earned his spurs on that one. . .

I’ve said this before, community journalism is important – and ‘our’ newspaper is as relevant and necessary today as it always has been – perhaps more so.

That’s why the loss of those bylines we have come to trust is so terribly difficult to take.

Best of luck, Dustin and Tony.

Your important contributions to the life and health of our community will be sorely missed.

Asshole           Volusia County Council  

Last month, I wrote a screed venting my spleen on the growing mystery of why County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert attempted to unilaterally cancel a popular historic racing parade in Ponce Inlet.

Following a public outcry from race organizers, beach driving advocates and concerned residents, earlier this month the county council rightfully ignored Mr. Eckert’s weird “advice” and authorized the 2020 North Turn Parade on a 5-2 vote.

That’s a good thing.  The event has become a very important part of Speed Weeks – and it deserves the county’s logistical support and sponsorship.

Now, amid accusations that over the eight-year life of the parade, county officials allocated public funds and logistical resources for the event without proper accounting or documentation, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys has come down with selective amnesia – acting as though she has no recollection of the county’s direct involvement.

The trouble is, a virulent case of selective amnesia is highly infectious – especially when it starts running rampant through the halls of governmental power – and, like a bad syphilis outbreak, it can be hard to stop until virtually no one in the organization can remember what they had for breakfast – let alone who authorized public funds for a controversial community event. . .

As a result, the chasm of trust between taxpayers and Volusia County government has deepened, with many – including at least one former member of the Volusia County Council – wondering aloud what other unexplained leaks are lurking in the labyrinthine system.

Unfortunately, it appears help is still too far out for hope. . .

Inexplicably, nearly a year after the position was approved, Volusia County has conveniently failed to attract a qualified internal auditor – the ombudsman we were promised would improve transparency in this shadowy secret society and add a layer of “checks and balances.”

For the princely $215,000 plus bennies we pay County Manager Georgie Recktenwald, we don’t get to hear directly from the Big Guy himself; however, Volusia’s new professional mouthpiece, Kevin Captain, tells us it’s a “unique and difficult” position to field.

Difficult?

Maybe.

But for $156,963 a year – certainly not impossible. . .

Last week, in a well-researched piece by former News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt, we learned that, even in the aftermath of the shit-storm surrounding the North Turn Racing Parade, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, continues to consider the internal auditor a “waste of money.” 

You read that right.

“It’s nonsense to think we need an internal auditor,” Kelley said, adding that that measure is only needed when a company is in the midst of a financial scandal. “That’s for a company like Enron.”

 Actually, it’s to prevent another governmental “Enron,” you insufferable ninny. . .

If this isn’t a “financial scandal,” what would Chairman Kelley call the unexplained allocation and expenditure of tens-of-thousands in public funds and transportation resources with no record, requisition, allocation, accounting or documentation?

If Old Ed can’t see the frightening similarities between Enron and Volusia County government – the hubris, the arrogant sense of infallibility, the clear lack of ethical and moral guidance, the marginalization and destruction of whistle-blowers, the ‘asleep at the switch’ lack of oversight, the unnerving incompetence that precludes even an organized public meeting – then perhaps we have bigger issues than we know. . .

“It’s my guess that there are lots of surprises from over the years,” said Vicky Jackson, a Daytona Beach resident and former councilwoman who served from 1989 to 1994.  We have had a series of managers and financial people and it’s past time to check up on the peoples’ money.”

Amen, sister. . .

Now, after yet another embarrassing fiasco, Chairman Kelley has been forced to acknowledge what many of us have been demanding for years – an end to the pernicious practice of ‘Public Policy by Ambush’ – off-the-agenda financial sneak attacks, where our hard-earned tax dollars are shunted to special interests without any debate, explanation or public input.

Our elected officials have used this sleight-of-hand for years – now, they have been caught with their pants down. . .

In my view, it’s not enough to pull the same scam time-after-time – then feign a lukewarm promise of substantive change to the way you’ve always done business after the con has been exposed.

We’ve heard it all before, and this is unacceptable by any standard.

I like to humor myself into believing that we still have some fragments of a democratic process remaining – like the sacred tradition that permits one person, one vote.

I believe that if enough like-minded citizens hold firm to the basic belief that we can control our destiny by electing strong, ethical and visionary members of our community to high office – servant/leaders who will stand firm in defense of the rights, responsibilities and privileges of taxpaying residents who work hard to carve out a life here on Florida’s Fun Coast – we can once again balance political power and restore transparency, fairness and the spirit of democracy in Volusia County government.

Angel               Maryam Ghyabi & Kelli McGee

Have you ever gone into a situation with terribly preconceived notions – only to be pleasantly surprised that those with seemingly opposite viewpoints can find common ground on matters of universal importance to the community?

This week I had the pleasure of meeting with Maryam Ghyabi, owner of Ghyabi Consultants & Management, a transportation and infrastructure engineering consultancy in Ormond Beach, and Kelli McGee, Executive Director of the Riverside Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy dedicated to cleaning and protecting our sensitive waterways and estuarine ecosystems.

We were joined by the irrepressible Big John – host of the public affairs forum GovStuff Live! With Big John, on 1380am The Cat – an important alternative voice which airs weekdays beginning at 4:00pm.

What began as an invitation for coffee turned into a three-hour, wide-ranging discussion on some of the most important state and local issues of our time –  transportation, infrastructure, growth, controversial funding issues and the impact of urban sprawl and development on our water quality and natural places.

We agreed on certain issues – disagreed on others – and shared personal insights on problem-solving, community building, environmental resiliency and sustainability planning.

Initially, I felt like a fish out of water – an unrefined bumpkin asked into the company of real players.

Fortunately, my fears were quickly put to rest.

I found these two highly accomplished professionals to be super intelligent,  sharp-witted and incredibly astute on the contemporary issues facing Volusia County and beyond; with a disarming sense of humor and down-to-earth charm that immediately put me at ease.

As an uneducated rube, I learn best from being around smart people – and my time spent with Mrs. Ghyabi and Ms. McGee provided a quality primer on many important topics that interest me.

Most important, it was the first time that anyone took the time to sit down and ask my opinion on the myriad civic, environmental and social threats facing our community – let alone value my input on potential answers.

In my view, the result of these informal discussions between people of differing perspectives naturally result in a feeling of  joint ownership in solutions – and proves that the debate of varied opinions can be done in a non-confrontational way – in an atmosphere where everyone’s contribution has value.

Trust me.  Key Volusia County governments do not employ the vision required to get us out of this quagmire.

As a result, we desperately need more of these small group conversations across the diversity of stakeholders as we work collectively to establish a path forward – one that includes clean water, supports and protects our natural resources, effectively manages growth, embraces environmental conservation, demands quality governance and leaves our children and grandchildren with a safe, prosperous and healthy coastal community to call home.

Angel              Bethune-Cookman University Homecoming 2019

Kudos to everyone from the university who worked so hard to see Bethune-Cookman’s Homecoming 2019 become a rousing success!

In my view, it was a true shot-in-the-arm for this important community institution that has endured turmoil and distraction for too long.

From Friday’s Pep Rally at Ocean Center to Saturday’s parade, afternoon of football and fellowship, I believe this special weekend signaled a turning point in the renaissance of B-CU.

It is evident that there truly are community angels among us, and Barker’s View would like to recognize the contributions of B-CU Graduate Assistant Tennis Coach Alejandra Vidal for her outstanding work making the 5th Annual Juan Varon Wildcat Invitational tournament such a huge success.

The event is the university’s signature tennis tournament which brings clay court play to Daytona Beach in honor of former team captain Juan Varon, who tragically lost his life in a 2013 auto accident.

According to historian and senior writer Dan Ryan of B-CU Athletics, “With our resources maxed out thanks to homecoming and a sold-out football game down the road, Alejandra stepped up and made sure the tennis tournament was a logistical success.”  

Also, I recently heard an inspirational story about National Football League veteran Jon Bostic, a linebacker for the Washington Redskins, who recently honored his father – B-CU great and 1984 MEAC Defensive Player of the Year John Bostic – by purchasing throwback uniforms for the current Wildcat squad and sponsored a party for the entire 1984 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship team, which was coached by former B-CU and Miami Dolphin great Larry Little.

In addition, Jon provided a few very special gifts for his father, legendary Coach Little and other members of the Wildcat’s staff.

What a wonderful way to pay tribute to the contributions of B-CU Hall of Famer John Bostic – and a beautiful expression of a son’s love. . .

Angels, indeed.

Quote of the Week

The city seems bound and determined to move forward with the Beach Street project come hell or high water (very appropriate considering the location). Like the ridiculously expensive roundabouts now under construction in Flagler County and the City of Palm Coast, it is very frustrating when government spends tens of millions of dollars for projects that the locals do not want. Representative government? I think not!”

–Mike McQuire, Palm Coast, The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “City persists in Beach Street foolishness,” Monday, October 28, 2019

It is becoming increasingly clear to anyone paying attention that the mysterious plans to systematically destroy Beach Street merchants under the guise of “transforming” the area by removing traffic lanes and widening the already ample sidewalk has nothing to do with helping existing businesses and everything to do with appeasing special interests.

Yep.  It appears the greedy Curse of the Halifax – the bizarre anathema to good governance that puts the wants of political insiders over the needs of many – is alive and well downtown. . .

According to a persuasive dispatch sent to members of the Daytona Beach City Commission by James Sass, long-time owner of Abraxas Books:

“I’m in touch with many merchants on Beach Street and none of them I am aware of are in favor of the project to narrow Beach Street two lanes. I know Kelly White pushed this and I know (City Commissioner) Quanita May is now pushing it. I’ve not spoken to anyone who feels they are representing the interests of the merchants on Beach Street. Quite the opposite, the impression is they are ramrodding the agenda of Kelly White especially in her relationship with Brown & Brown and the Riverfront Esplanade Foundation. None of the other business owners I have spoken to on Beach Street are in favor of this project.”

“The arguments for it presented by Jim Chisholm, Quanita May and a handful of people invariably affiliated with Jack and Kelly White are lame at best and not shared by anyone I have spoken to.”

Unfortunately, for reasons known only to Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm, he is hellbent on forcing the complete destruction of the downtown streetscape – an area that already includes all the aesthetic qualities, traffic flow, sidewalks and ample parking necessary for success.

Why is Mr. Chisholm intent on treating Downtown like a kid with a box of Tinker Toys – build something – then tear it apart and put something else together with the random pieces?

With construction expected to start in January, perhaps it’s time for the Daytona Beach City Commission to actually do their job – provide a modicum of oversight to Mr. Chisholm – and  consider the urgent needs of their constituents who are trying desperately to eke out a living downtown.

These are small businesses who have suffered the environmental and economic hardships – and stood valiantly against the economic odds, waiting patiently for the much-promised Eternal Blessing of Brown & Brown to take hold – only to be told their storefronts will be virtually inaccessible as Jim Chisholm and Company orchestrates the destruction of Beach Street.

And Another Thing!

There was an ancient Chinese execution tactic known as “Lingchi” – which loosely translates to “lingering death” or “death by a thousand slices.”

As the name implies, lingchi was a brutally drawn out process where the executioner would administer hundreds of cuts to the body of the condemned, slowly exsanguinating the victim over time. . .

I was reminded of this nasty bit of history last week when a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe reached out to express his utter disgust with the recent unanimous vote by the Volusia County Council to raise fees for both the county parking garage, and surface lots, during events at the Ocean Center and Peabody Auditorium.

In addition, our elected officials gave the “Gift that Keeps on Giving” by increasing daily maximum rates for their spooky elevated garage at Ocean Walk from $8.00 to $10.00. . .

Jesus.

Why the need for a 100% increase in parking fees as our increasingly distressed core tourist area is struggling to attract visitors – fighting for its very survival?

At a time when Main Street merchants are begging city and county officials to lead, follow or get the hell out of the way as they work feverishly to breath life into that vitally important commercial corridor? 

Because, despite a budget approaching $1 Billion – Volusia County needs the money for “accelerated completion of much needed capital improvements” to the garage – oh, and some parasitic horseshit about keeping rates in line with other nearby parking locations.

Civic Lingchi.  What a cruelly effective strategy for killing a tourist economy. . .

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Halloween Parable

Happy Halloween!

It’s that time of year when ghouls and goblins take to the streets in search of sweet treats and what passes for fall in Central Florida begins to usher in some less humid air and heat indexes somewhere south of the high 90’s (we hope).

Unfortunately, the political atmosphere here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast has ruined the spirit of the season for us long-suffering locals.

After watching the spooky machinations of our local elected officials – and the macabre half-truths and eerie sense of utter dysfunction that routinely flutter from the dark belfry of Volusia County government – contrived haunted houses and creepy costumes just don’t scare us much anymore. . .

I wanted to take a moment to tell you a parable I experienced the other day – a mark in time which, in my view, serves as a perfect metaphor for these weird, upside-down, topsy-turvy times we live in on this salty piece of land we call home – a message I hope you seriously contemplate as our election season begins to heat up.

Last weekend, a dear old friend and I took a drive to the lovely Lake County community of Mount Dora to attend the 35th Annual Craft Fair, a wildly popular event that brings some 400 vendors – and tens-of-thousands of visitors – to the city’s quaint downtown each fall.

Due to the extraordinary attendance on Sunday, we were required to park in a distant church lot which was renting spaces at a premium as a fundraiser for their youth programs – then hike the interminable distance to the event on a blistering Central Florida autumn morning.

As we approached an intersection, I noticed a young towheaded boy – perhaps 9-years old – standing fixed in the middle of the narrow sidewalk, irritatingly blocking the arduous progress of those making their way down the hill toward the festival.

At first, I thought he was just another self-absorbed “Generation Z” lost in his own weird world – then, when he snickered with his friends, I realized what he was doing. . .

The child’s father was very animatedly spinning a tattered sign nearby, attempting to lure traffic into another private parking lot – totally unaware that his son was making sport of impeding foot traffic – a game that required the elderly and infirm (like me) to leave the sidewalk, guide through the unstable grass or step off the curb to get around the rickety little turd.

I remarked to my friend that my gut reaction was to horse-kick the kid out of my path – landing him on his ass in the middle of East 5th Avenue – but immediately realized, in that scenario, I would be considered the bad guy. . . 

That’s right.

Because that is the world we live in now. 

In my view, booting the recalcitrant child into next Tuesday would have imparted a temporarily painful, yet infinitely valuable, life-long lesson on the importance of good manners.

After all, I don’t have the time or inclination to teach some ungovernable urchin the inviolate rules of the road – like the social imperative of stepping aside when old people are attempting to navigate an uneven sidewalk – yet, it’s me who would have been seen as an abusive shitheel for applying a well-earned, and highly educational, swift kick to the ass. . .

This little vignette reminded me of how special interests and the perennial politicians they control continue to obstruct progress throughout Volusia County.

From beach driving, to economic development, malignant sprawl, water quality issues, downtown Daytona and beyond – those we elect to serve our interests – officials who have the power to kick these insidious insiders and do-nothing bureaucrats to the curb, have become so horribly compromised by our warped campaign finance system that now we are all at the mercy of a few uber-wealthy overseers and their dull tools on the dais of power.

And, it seems our watchdogs have all been neutered. . .

The newsroom at our local paper is hemorrhaging talent while the number of government “public information” mouthpieces continue to multiply – and true local journalism is becoming a thing of the past as news-gathering organizations continue the push toward regionalization and a reliance on homogenized “feelgood” pap – creating a slanted playing field that allows outsize influences to affect public policy with little challenge.

We now find ourselves in a sick scenario where our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and others like him, routinely fumble and bumble their way through important public meetings – rubber-stamping  what passes for ill-informed public policy cobbled together by an entrenched senior staff – with all the poise and statesmanship of diseased rats maneuvering through an electrified maze. . .

And none of this frightens us anymore.

Then, some half-bright like me tries to voice an alternative opinion on the seemingly intractable issues that impede progress here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast – to point out the faults in this oligarchical “system” that controls our lives and livelihoods and expose corrosive issues that should be clear as gin to any elected or appointed official who actually pays attention – and I’m called a demented asshole by our ‘powers that be’?   

Strange times, indeed. 

I hope come election time, you’ll remember the twisted moral of this simpleminded folktale – and vote for those candidates who promise to figuratively kick these political roadblocks off our collective sidewalk – and return a sense of honor, transparency and values-based service to Volusia County government.

Trick or Treat, y’all. . .

Angels & Assholes for October 25, 2019

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           Team Volusia

Go figure. . .

Earlier this week Barker’s View advanced even higher on the “Halifax Area Civic Shit List” when I penned my goofy opinion on Team Volusia, and our other hyper-redundant “economic development” maharishis, following a solid piece by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Business Reporter Clayton Park which explored the not-so-mysterious demise of Blue Coast Bakers in Ormond Beach.

Apparently, I succeeded in personally offending everyone in the Volusia County economic development apparatus.

Oh, well.  Can’t please everyone, right?

Besides, in this case, I have purchased the right to an opinion.

As a resident of Ormond Beach, I’m an honorary Executive Level “investor” in Team Volusia – which means $25,000 in public funds that originated from my neighbors and I go to underwrite this hayride each year. . .

Whatever.

At the risk of paraphrasing Clayton Park’s excellent reportage, when Blue Coast purchased an aging distribution center circa 2014, Team Volusia announced the company had the potential to create 300 jobs with an average annual wage of $38,000 – resulting in a potential financial impact to Volusia’s gross domestic product of $46,000,000.

That’s one helluva bakery, dudes and dudettes.  Heady stuff.

The problem is – it was all bullshit.

Now, many question if we can believe anything Team Volusia says. . .

Landing Blue Coast Bakers was held out as a testament to the power of expensive direct mailings, and, by association, evidence of a return on our investment for the thousands of dollars in national and international travel for Team Volusia execs, the Farnborough International Airshow in the UK,  the auspicious Hannover Messe Industrial/Technology Show in Germany, extravagant meetings in Tokyo, the full-color annual reports that look like a travelogue, the VIP Rolex 24 soirees and other expensive perks, spiffs and bait offered for other potential “Big Wins.”

Everyone in the crapshoot that is the “economic development” game hung their hat on it.

Blue Coast was the toast of regional business journals, annual reports and cocktail parties.

Even the illustrious up-and-coming civic honchos at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce proudly listed Blue Coast Bakers in it’s 2019 Membership Directory and Buyers Guide as one of Volusia County’s “Top Employers” at 300 jobs.  (Source: Team Volusia – July 2017 latest data – Page 49)

One small problem:  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. . .

“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.”

Well, Mr. Norden may have been poleaxed by the news – but I think I know what happened:

Team Volusia and others used Blue Coast Bakers as a cheap marketing tool to further their own self-interests – then promptly forgot about the poor rube when it unceremoniously folded.

They flogged the shit out it as the next big thing in glossy annual reports – touted a struggling start-up commercial bakery in a building which required $12 million in upgrades as the best thing since sliced bread (pun intended), promised hundreds of “high paying” jobs, then screamed and preened in various business journals and our local newspaper “Look at what we did, assholes!” as an ostentatious means of keeping their publicly funded do-nothing gigs – then, crickets, when the whole shebang folded and vaporized.

Now, the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce claims they weren’t intentionally duped by their “partners” at Team Volusia as I suggested earlier in the week – nor did they deliberately puff the 300 nonexistent jobs in their glossy magazine without any concern for the validity of the information.

According to Nancy Keefer, president and CEO of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, the erroneous information was the result of timing – the buyer’s guide goes for design and layout well in advance, so the information was dated, at best, when the publication went to press.

At worst, the job data was fabricated by Team Volusia – who either knew, or should have known, that Blue Coast Baker never employed more than “15 to 20” on their best day.

But I’m not supposed to concern myself with those things. . .

Neither are you.  Because it upsets the apple cart.

Enough with the rude questions and innuendo, Barker.

You’re just pissing very important people off and making others terribly uncomfortable.

Besides, nay-saying assholes like me don’t attract “high paying” jobs to our area – however, spewing positive gibberish regardless of circumstance, publishing false narratives about our economic situation and going along to get along does. . .

So, screw it.  Keep doing what you’re doing guys!

Enjoy the international VIP treatment in Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and beyond – just keep flyin’ high, Mr. Norden – and maybe you’ll luck into a couple hundred of those highly coveted warehouse jobs we’re all dreamy-eyed over.

Hell, even a blind hog gets an acorn every now and again, right? 

All it takes is pulling wild estimates of job creation potential out of your collective ass and giving false hope to the thousands of Volusia County families who struggle to meet basic living expenses each month that Easy Street is just around the corner – but who cares? 

That rabble doesn’t build distribution centers.

Besides, you can clean it all up by handing out awards to all the right last names at the next glitzy annual gala. . .

I’m wrong.  You’re right.  Everything’s great.  Eat the poor.

GO TEAM!

Angel              The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia

With little fanfare and even less civic drama, The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia is well on its way to providing a first-rate homeless assistance center.

The come-as-you-are shelter and “day center” will provide services for nearly the same number of clients as the languishing First Step Shelter – for less than half the annual cost. . .

According to the City of DeLand:

“The proposed 6,300 square foot facility, called “The Bridge” will include 30 crisis center beds, a communal dining area and commercial kitchen, showers, offices and space to provide coordinated entry and case management, mental health and drug abuse counseling, job counseling, medical care, haircuts, showers and laundry.  The goal of this coordinated and comprehensive approach is to transition people to housing within 30-90 days.”

One thing I admire about the West Volusia shelter is how some 50 local volunteers have come on-board – and the City of DeLand has donated several surplus vehicles to assist the community effort.

I also appreciate how DeLand City Manager Michael Pleus is intent on ensuring that The Bridge is a safe and comfortable environment for those it serves.

The differences between The Bridge and First Step are striking, both in its funding strategy and administration, and proves that a community-oriented focus is always better than the competing interests of petty politicians – and profiteers.

Asshole           County of Volusia

Like The Dude said, “New shit has come to light, man. . .”

Here’s an update to another controversial piece I wrote earlier in the week – but given the grave ramifications of this latest revelation of gross resource mismanagement in Volusia County government – it bears repeating:

On Monday, reporter Dustin Wyatt (we’re gonna miss you, buddy) wrote a revealing piece on the growing “mystery” surrounding Volusia County’s previous sponsorship and transportation assistance to the suddenly controversial North Turn Beach Parade.

For the past eight-years, as part of a still puzzling “sponsorship agreement,” Volusia County has used Votran buses to transport visitors to and from the parade in Ponce Inlet.

Only now – after County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert’s sketchy attempt to kill the popular event was begrudgingly overturned on a 5-2 vote – is the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys calling foul.

In fact, she labeled the parade’s use of the county transportation service “discrimination” – and acted for all the world like this was the first time she was ever made aware of Votran’s involvement.   

 Is it possible that Volusia County – a massive taxing authority with an annual budget approaching $1 Billion – could have committed public funds to assist a community event for nearly a decade with absolutely no official allocation (or even knowledge) of the recurring expenditure?

You bet your ass it is. . .

Look, in my view, Volusia County should assist with logistics for the parade – just as it should accommodate other communities who host successful cultural events that draw thousands of visitors to our area each year.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?   

 I mean, isn’t that why publicly funded organizations like the Convention & Visitors Bureau exist?

In my view, the darker issue is that absolutely no one in a position to do so has any memory of just how the county came to subsidize the parade – who authorized the expenditure of resources – or even a true accounting of the amount of public funds spent.

According to the News-Journal, “Last year, the Legends event cost taxpayers $9,732, with nearly half of that ($4,464) going to Votran and the rest going to county staffing and marketing for the event. Since 2013, the county has spent $16,500 on Votran for the event. But the total of the other costs remains unknown.”

Marketing?

The total of the other costs remains unknown?

Jesus. . .

According to Kevin Captain, Volusia County’s “Interim Director of Community Information”:

“There’s not anyone on staff who seems to know. There’s no record of it.”

No record of it?

Even former County Manager Jim Dinneen – who, I’m convinced, was aware of every backroom deal and shoot-it-through-the-grease public policy legerdemain in recent memory – has no conscious recollection of the matter.

Weird. 

Only former County Councilman Josh Wagner accepted responsibility for the baffling sponsorship agreement.

According to Mr. Wagner, he brought the issue up in one of those famous “off the agenda” public policy by ambush sessions during his comments at the end of a Volusia County Council meeting.

Naturally, there is no official record of the authorization – and former council members Pat Northey and Doug Daniels both dispute Wagner’s self-assured recollections.

“It was discussed,” said Wagner. “There wasn’t any kind of hidden agenda. There was nothing hidden at all.”

Interestingly, research conducted by parade organizer Rhonda Glasnak finds that, while the origin of the sponsorship agreement remains an enigma – our current elected officials were all keenly aware of the event in 2018.

How?  Because it was placed on their community event update in February 2018. . .

A check of the February 6, 2018, County Council agenda packet finds the following:

“The seventh annual Historic North Turn Legends Beach Parade will be held at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 10 in Ponce Inlet, running down Atlantic Avenue making the south turn onto the world’s most famous beach. The event is a cooperative effort among Volusia County Government, the Town of Ponce Inlet and Racing’s North Turn restaurant. These are the sites of the original north and south turns of the early beach and road course.

This was the 4.1-mile course where the Grand National Race ran from 1948 until 1958, when it was relocated to the new Super Speedway, today known as Daytona International Speedway.

Spectators should park at Toronita Avenue Park, 4200 S. Atlantic Ave., Wilbur-by-the-Sea. Votran will provide free shuttle service to and from the north and south turn beach ramps from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. At 9 a.m. at Winter Haven Park, there will be a historic marker unveiling of a bronze marker honoring the only original NASCAR strip of beach/road course left in Volusia County.”

Wow.  Sounds pretty clear to me. . .

The update was prepared and presented to each council member as an agenda item four days before the 2018 parade by former Community Information Director Joanne Magley, who earlier this month was anointed director of marketing and customer service at Daytona “International” Airport. . .

So, why didn’t Councilwoman Denys get her knickers in a twist when she was informed of Votran’s direct involvement last year?

Why the selective amnesia, Deb?

Is this massive financial oversight and subsequent bureaucratic tap dance the real reason Mr. Eckert attempted to put the kibosh on the Legend’s parade after eight years of routine approvals?

And how can We, The People have any confidence that there aren’t other torrential leaks of our hard-earned tax dollars that absolutely no one with the fiduciary responsibility to steward public funds has any knowledge of?

My God. . .

Exactly how much of our money has to go missing – with no official record of lawful requisition, allocation or proper accounting – before someone, anyone, with a badge steps up, issues subpoenas, and begins a competent criminal investigation of Volusia County government?

Don’t those of us who, for years, have been asked to pay the bills and suffer in silence have a right to demand answers?

Damned right we do.

Quote of the Week

 “There is, of course, a faster way to settle this. That’s to invite an outside entity, perhaps the St. Johns River Water Management District, to provide independent testing proving that collectively, septic tanks in the north peninsula are a problem. The city should pursue that testing.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal Editorial, “Test claims about septic,” Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The controversial push by Ormond Beach City Councilman Dwight Selby and other local “movers & shakers” (who aren’t generally seen as tree-hugging dirt worshipers) to convert thousands of existing septic systems in Ormond-by-the-Sea to municipal sewer over environmental concerns continues.

I’ve sat down with Mr. Selby and listened to his reasoning and I’ve talked to representatives of grassroots organizations and private citizens who oppose the measure.

Mr. Selby makes a cogent argument for why this is the time – and the north peninsula is the place – to begin the massive undertaking of cleaning up the Halifax River and Tomoka Basin.

Conversely, residents of Ormond-by-the-Sea have an equally convincing narrative why they are suspicious of Mr. Selby’s motives – and aren’t ready to bend over for an aggressive conversion program foisted on them by a neighboring municipality – unless and until someone without a chip in the game provides scientific evidence of need.

For instance, septic-to-sewer proponents have long stood on the findings of a 2013 Florida Department of Health report which indicates soil conditions on the north peninsula aren’t conducive to septic systems.

Now, a senior administrator for the Department of Health in Volusia County claims the report was merely a recommendation and shouldn’t be used to determine whether Ormond-by-the-Sea should hook into Ormond Beach’s sewer system.

I found that quavering side-step by a senior state bureaucrat troubling – and a far cry from the Burning Bush relevance Mr. Selby and others have put on the report as the foundational argument for the conversion. . .

Caused me to take a step back, anyway.

In my view – like most hot button issues in Volusia County – the septic-to-sewer wars all boil down to a simple matter of trust.

The unfortunate reality is that many citizens no longer trust their elected and appointed officials to represent their best interests.

To his credit, civic activist Jeff Brower, an able candidate for Volusia County Council Chair, stepped up and did what many have been demanding since this debate started – he took it upon himself to take soil samples and sent them to an independent laboratory for analysis.

For his trouble, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, took a cheap shot at Mr. Brower’s efforts, labeling him “just another person who thinks he knows more than the experts.”

The difference being that Jeff Brower actually took definitive steps to seek an independent scientific study into the question of whether or not septic systems have contributed to nutrient contamination of area estuaries – while, predictably, Old Ed sat on his ass, sniping from the clown quarters. . .

Recently, Clifford Gold of Ormond Beach, a civil sanitary engineer with over 70 years’ experience, suggested in a letter to the editor of the News-Journal, “a careful study of the number of failing systems before adopting the major expense of subsurface piping systems (and possibly pumping stations).”

According to Mr. Gold, the most efficient means of conducting this study may be spectrographic analysis using infrared aerial photography to identify compromised systems.

“It appears that more advance study is needed before resorting to the construction nuisance and expense of public sewers.”

 I agree.

Next Tuesday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal is hosting a coffee klatch from 7:30am to 9:00am at Alfie’s Restaurant, 1666 Ocean Shore Boulevard, to further discussion of this thorny issue.

“In the spirit of creating dialog,” the News-Journal hopes to bring city and county officials together with area residents to share information and “answer questions regarding septic and sewer.”

It’s a noble effort – and a civil discussion of the issue certainly can’t hurt – but, in my view, until testing conclusively confirms that north peninsula septic systems represent a significant contributor to groundwater contamination and pollutants in the Halifax River – I’m not sure Ormond Beach and Volusia County “leaders” have any hard answers to provide. . .

Trust me.  More official speculation by bureaucrats and politicians isn’t going to help matters.

In my view, it is time for the City of Ormond Beach to work with their concerned neighbors to agree on an independent engineering firm – one which residents have confidence in – who can conduct an impartial study with a focus on identifying answers to the myriad questions surrounding this incredibly controversial initiative.

Only then can both sides begin substantive negotiations to either proceed – or nix the idea altogether – with all the facts at hand.

And Another Thing!

Last week, Volusia County School Board Chairman Carl Persis appeared on the public affairs radio forum Govstuff Live! with Big John to discuss topical issues facing our embattled school district.

I appreciate Chairman Persis’ willingness to accept hard questions regarding the seemingly intractable problems that continue to plague the district – and I was most impressed by the depth of his clearly well-thought answers and explanations.

In the aftermath of the security breech at Spruce Creek High School earlier this month – wherein an ambulatory drunk armed with a pocketknife penetrated every layer of security at a slow stagger before taking a seat in an occupied classroom – I asked the Volusia County School District for a list of qualifications for the individual who has been appointed our “Emergency Management and School Safety Coordinator.” 

I’m not going to identify the person by name – it’s not important, and its not his fault – he’s a veteran educator, not a security expert – a fish out of water.

Besides, I understand that legitimate journalists are actively looking into this issue and I’ll leave it to them to tell the full story. . .

To my surprise, the public records custodian responded to my simple request by announcing that the district had no current resume or listing of credentials for the individual upon who’s shoulders rests the most sensitive, gravely important responsibility of all – the physical safety and security of our children. 

In turn, I was provided with perhaps the worst written, ill-conceived job description I’ve ever read – a cobbled together hodgepodge of grammatically erroneous horseshit that culminates in a “Position Goal” of:

“To provide supervision and oversight for all school safety and security personnel, policies and procedures as well as to school social services to students of Volusia County Schools.”

Yeah.

When I expressed my utter shock that the district’s human resources department didn’t have a list of qualifications for the person performing this extraordinarily important function – someone scrounged around the musty files and produced a resume for the individual – circa 1993.

You read that right:  The latest vetted credentials available for the senior district executive with personal responsibility for the physical safety and security of thousands of students and staff is at least 26-years stale. . .

Look, I don’t know about where you work – but during my professional life, we used personnel action forms to document academic achievements, certifications, advanced training, unique abilities, credentials and experience attained by our employees during the course of their career  as a way of determining who possessed the requisite skills and qualifications before we promoted them to sensitive positions of great responsibility within the agency.

What a wacky concept, right?   

So, based upon our “Emergency Management and School Safety Coordinator’s” resume, I was able to determine that – once again – we have a security coordinator who does not possess the statutorily defined qualifications to serve as an armed School Guardian – the very position he is charged with supervising. 

During Chairman Persis’ radio appearance, I had the opportunity to ask him if – given the current environment and the findings of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas report – Volusia County Schools would consider recruiting a credentialed and experienced physical security expert to develop and oversee competent protocols for our clearly vulnerable schools.

To his credit, Mr. Persis committed to exploring that possibility.

And I intend to hold him to it.

You see, I don’t have the luxury of taking an impartial and unbiased stance on this incredibly disturbing district-wide practice of promoting and utilizing wholly unqualified individuals in sensitive roles  – because I have young members of my own family who are placed in the district’s charge each and every day.

In an emergency, their lives, and hundreds of other innocents, will depend upon the dedication, leadership and knowhow of the district’s security specialist.

It is my sincere hope that Chairman Persis holds firm to his word, and encourages the other members of the Volusia County School Board to develop sound public policy that raises the security function from a catchall afterthought to the professional standing it deserves.

______________________

As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read and further a greater discussion of the issues facing us here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast!

If you’re looking for something extra special to do this weekend, the Glenn Ring Memorial Concert will be held at the historic Daytona Beach Bandshell tomorrow afternoon from 2:00pm to 6:00pm.

Area musicians will join to remember Glenn’s storied life and legacy – and honor his important contributions to the Daytona Beach music scene.  Beer and wine will be available for purchase and you will be able to rent chairs on-site.

A Celebration of Life service will be held on Sunday, October 27, 2019, at 2:00pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 56 N. Halifax Drive, Ormond Beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry. But I’m not sorry. . .

There is an inherent dishonesty in politics.

Perhaps that’s the reason I never had the stomach for it.

Not that I’m some stalwart of ethical purity – God knows, I’m not.  Just another sinner lost in the wilderness – so maybe it’s the lack of clarity that bothers me most.

I think this institutionalized deceit comes from the need to be everything to everyone – and when the first duty of a politician is to get elected – the ability to quickly spin a narrative and paint circumstances in a positive light becomes second nature.

It’s why television news organizations now have things like “Truth-o-Meters” and other visual tchotchkes to check the facts and tell us the degree to which our elected officials – and those who want to be – are lying to appease some segment of their constituency.

It’s not healthy to our participatory democracy, but We, The People have come to expect it.

Unfortunately, in Volusia County there is another, infinitely more important, consideration for both prospective and perennial politicians – our “Rich & Powerful” overseers who control the playing field with massive campaign contributions that ensure their personal and professional wants and whims take priority.

This division of loyalties results in an ‘us vs. them’ mentality that seems to have infected every level of county government – a culture that seeks to serve the “system” rather than the needs of citizens.

And this overweening desire to serve their political masters and protect the bureaucracy has resulted in a deep divide – and a complete loss of the public’s trust in their government.

Recently, I learned that some of my postings on this blogsite have angered several of our self-important “movers & shakers” in the economic development game and their compatriots in the Chamber of Commerce set.

Sorry.  But I’m not sorry. . .

When I retired from municipal government, I didn’t set out to become the political conscience of Volusia County.

“Not my job,” as bureaucrats like to say.

Besides, I’m not exactly the poster boy for good governance.

During over 31-years of public service, I made my share of mistakes that cost the taxpayers money, stood by in cowardly silence as senior executives misused their position or openly lied to city commissioners to drive their personal agenda, and I clawed and fumbled my way to a management position then held on by my fingernails – a living example of the Peter Principle in action. . .

This blog is, in many ways, a personal catharsis.

And, like any good magician, I know how the sleight-of-hand is performed. . .

So, if my musings and observations on the news and newsmakers from the local political swamp makes certain very important people uncomfortable – that’s okay – they’re all veterans of the internecine wars and intergovernmental squabbles, smart men and women with hard bark who are well capable of taking care of themselves and protecting their ‘turf.’

And if some fool banging out hyper-critical screeds in his tattered boxer shorts can raise the hackles of our social and political elite – perhaps we do have bigger problems than even my gin-soaked, conspiratorial mind can conjure?

Clearly, the long-suffering residents of Volusia County are desperate for an alternative opinion on the issues of the day – a point of view that either validates their own observations or provides food for thought – and I enjoy the lively debate of competing ideas that always elevates my understanding.

In my experience, good politicians and career public servants – those who are called to serve a cause greater than their own self-interests – use criticism to their personal and political advantage.

By taking the pulse of their constituents and exploring the varied fears and aspirations of those they serve, elected officials can craft public policy from an informed position that considers the real needs of those whose lives and livelihoods are most affected.

And those in the Ivory Tower of Power who get personally offended by critical opinions that are counter to their own sense of infallibility – to hell with them.  That’s the arrogance of ego.

One day I’ll tire of being a blowhard critic, pointing out how, as Roosevelt said, the strongman stumbled, or the doer of deeds could have done them better – but it won’t be today.

If the thousands of readers that access Barker’s View each month continue to find a chuckle, an insight, a weird facet to a complex civic issue or a kernel of truth they may have been searching for – then I’ll consider this exercise a twisted public service.

Look, at the end of the day, I’m getting a little long in the tooth for self-therapy – and I long ago stopped caring what others think of me – so if some goofy opinion of mine causes heartburn around the political fishing camps that have reduced many government offices and organizations to paranoid, clock-watching mediocrity – too damn bad.

 

Team Volusia: The sham continues

Once again, Volusia County taxpayers were greeted with yet another highly touted “big win” for area economic development types that quietly fell flat.

A recent front page piece by News-Journal Business Reporter Clayton Park entitled “Where did Blue Coast Bakers go?” told the familiar story of how a business that promised some 300 jobs and was once hyped as a major “victory” by Team Volusia – a “public/private” partnership which utilizes corporate welfare schemes to lure businesses to Volusia County – seemingly vanished into thin air sometime last year. . .

In 2014, Blue Coast Bakers purchased the former US Foods distribution center on North US-1 in Ormond Beach, but never “got off the ground” – citing the cost of renovating the 30-year old building it purchased for some $3.8 million – an undertaking which took 2 ½ years and a reported $12 million to complete.

According to reports, the company never employed more than 15-20 people. . .

Although we are being told that the wholesale bakery did not receive any public funds or tax incentives from Team Volusia – the organization was quick to claim the company as “. . .one of its first successful efforts to bring a significant employer here.”

And the “good times are here again, again” publicity campaign didn’t stop there.

At first, the venture was given the super-secret cover “Project Baker” – least our gravy train be stolen by a competing “economic development corporation.”  (Sound familiar?)

In fact, a simple Google search finds evidence that everyone who is anyone in the local “economic development” apparatus – from government “leaders” to the Volusia Manufacturers Association and especially Team Volusia – touted Blue Coast as a virtual tsunami of prosperity and “high paying” jobs.

It was the ultimate fodder for shameless self-promotion at a time when Team Volusia – and the other hyper-redundant “economic development” shills really needed some positive publicity.

It was billed as a testament to the power of expensive direct mailings, and, finally, evidence of a return on our investment for the thousands of dollars in national and international travel for Team Volusia execs, VIP Rolex 24 soirees and other expensive perks and bait offered for other potential “Big Wins.”

Even the illustrious civic honchos at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce proudly listed Blue Coast Bakers in it’s 2019 Membership Directory and Buyers Guide as one of Volusia County’s “Top Employers” at 300 jobs.  (Source: Team Volusia – July 2017 latest data – Page 49)

One small problem:  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. . .

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

“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.”

Well, Mr. Norden may have been poleaxed by the news – but I think I know what happened:

Team Volusia and others used Blue Coast Bakers as a cheap marketing tool to further their own self-interests – then promptly forgot about the poor rube when it unceremoniously folded.

They flogged the shit out it as the next big thing – touted a struggling start-up commercial bakery in an aging building as the best thing since sliced bread (pun intended), promised us all “high paying” jobs, then screamed and preened in various business journals and our local newspaper “Look at what we did, assholes!” as an ostentatious means of keeping their publicly funded do-nothing gigs – then, crickets, when the whole shebang folded and vaporized.

If you’re not pissed off – you should be. . .

Either the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce was intentionally duped by their “partners” at Team Volusia – or they deliberately puffed the 300 nonexistent jobs in their glossy magazine without any concern for the validity of the information.

And our civic “leadership” has the balls to claim we don’t have a public trust issue in Volusia County?

My ass.

In my view, this constitutes another malicious sham perpetrated against those of us who pay the bills – one that results in continuing distrust of our local governments – and the parasitic insiders who are always found lurking around these pernicious “public/private” partnerships which use public funds to further private interests. . .

I’m sick and tired of being blatantly lied to by these half-bright carnival barkers who burn through our hard-earned tax dollars under the dubious guise of “economic development” – using corporate welfare strategies that allow entrenched insiders to pick winners-and-losers and skew the natural balance of a competitive marketplace.

In my view, it is wrong.  It is dishonest.  And it needs to stop.