A Permanent Reminder

I’ve led a charmed life.

By that I mean, at various times in my life special people have been placed in my path who created opportunities.

These weren’t always positive influences – and some of those folks made things so uncomfortable for me that I took a different direction in life – but, like a very wise friend likes to say, “there are no wrong turns.”

Whenever those chances presented themselves, it was up to me to trust my hunches, seize the moment, work hard and make the most of it.

When I was young – maybe 14 – I was fortunate to participate in the Ormond Beach Police Explorer program, one of the first community outreach efforts which brought officers together with area youth and provided training and ride-along opportunities to introduce law enforcement as a possible career choice.

In 1975, Officer Al “Tubby” Monroe responded to an armed robbery in progress at an Ormond Beach store.

He was shot and seriously wounded during a confrontation with the suspects.

That afternoon, members of the Police Explorer Post stood side-by-side with sworn officers and participated in a supervised grid search for physical evidence in a vacant field near the robbery scene.

From that moment, I was hooked.

I loved everything about it.

Those Explorer programs – in Ormond Beach, and later at the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – gave me the opportunity to see law enforcement officers as friends and mentors, and provided invaluable basic training in forensics, patrol techniques, defensive tactics and the command and control of crime scenes and critical incidents that served me well throughout my career.

Despite the best advice of my father, who literally begged me to go to college before starting my career, I explained to my then wife that I was going to pursue my dream of becoming a police officer.

I borrowed the tuition from my grandmother – quit my job in the installment loan department of New Smyrna’s old Coronado Beach Bank – and entered the fall 1982 Basic Recruit Training class at Daytona Beach Community College, under the tutelage of Director Bruce Wragg and the incomparable Daytona Beach Police Lieutenant Noel Ouellette.

By then, I had graduated from the United States Army’s Military Police School at Ft. McClellan, Alabama, and was serving as a member of the 345th MP Company, 1st Platoon, an escort guard unit of the Army Reserve then housed at the Daytona Beach Yacht Basin.

I had been sponsored to “rookie school” by the Port Orange Police Department after a wonderful interview with one of my life-long heroes – then Lt. John Kirvan – when the POPD was housed in an old mobile home near the corner of US-1 and Dunlawton Avenue.

Upon graduation from recruit training in early 1983, I responded to an advertisement with the City of Holly Hill Police Department.

At that time, my father had a neighborhood insurance office in Holly Hill in a building just south of the old “Golden Arches” of McDonald’s.  His former office is a pawn shop now.

My dad told me how much he enjoyed working in the community – about how wonderful the people were – and encouraged me to interview for the position.

At the very least, he said, it would be good practice if I didn’t get the job.

On the appointed date, I got a haircut and dressed in a business suit borrowed from my dad (believe it or not, “dressing for success” was something job applicants used to do as a matter of routine), took the Civil Service test, then sat nervously for an interview with the always imposing figure of Chief John P. Finn.

I remember everything about that conversation with my future boss, mentor and friend.

He was (and remains) an externally gruff, always irascible, incredibly sharp and privately sweet man who did more for me, personally and professionally, than I can ever repay.

He told me in plain English things police officers should know, like, “A woman’s ass and a whiskey glass, make a man a horse’s ass,” meaning that the demise of many promising law enforcement careers – then and now – are the result of alcohol and bad decisions (regardless of gender or orientation.)

And he made it clear that he wouldn’t abide a “thief or a liar” – but of the two, he’d rather have the thief.

When he issued the oath, Chief Finn looked me hard in the eye and told me plain that the one inviolate rule of our profession was to never tell a lie.

Later in life, I would make certain that anyone I hired as a police officer agreed to uphold that sacred tradition of our service.

At that time, many police departments didn’t have the formal field training and evaluation programs that we use today.  Early on, a great old sergeant showed me and the other new hires the city limits, where to find the locker room, and issued each of us a complement of used uniforms – 100% cotton dark brown shirt with pink tan pants – and our “brass” – collar devices, name plate and a traffic whistle on a silver chain.

The rest of your equipment – gun, leather, handcuffs, etc. – you bought and supplied yourself.

After being hired in the job description “Patrolman” I was, quite literally, thrown a set of car keys, located my assigned vehicle in the parking lot (with a single blue light on the roof and an ancient Motorola Mocom radio) and drove off into the night to patrol the streets and interpret the Constitution.

I will never forget the abject fear of making my first stop – a speeding violation on Center Street around 3 o’clock in the morning.

I had absolutely no idea where I was.

In fact, I was so confused that I let the offender go with a warning, because I was too embarrassed to tell the dispatcher that I was lost.

For the next 31-years, I enjoyed an incredibly blessed career in service to the best people in the world.

Everything I wanted happened for me in that small department – including acceptance to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s school – and, ultimately, as my agency’s first appointment to the prestigious FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia.

My career included all the triumphs and tragedies that one would expect in a role so critically important to the life of a small, close-knit community.

Perhaps most important, I had the opportunity to serve with some of the finest professionals in the business – and I took great pride in watching my agency grow from a somewhat backwards department into a respected agency with modern capabilities, equipment and progressive leadership.

In 2009, my great friend and incredibly talented former boss, Don Shinnamon, became Chief of Police in Port St. Lucie, Florida – and I was offered the job in Holly Hill.

I had no formal education or degrees in police management or leadership, but I had a Ph.D. in policing my beloved community.

I knew everyone in town, and I had literally swept the floors in City Hall.  To this day, like an old friend, I know every nook and idiosyncrasy of that beautiful building.

With the encouragement of my family and peers – I accepted the position and, for the next five-years, I enjoyed the most wonderful time of my career.

I honorably retired from active service in March 2014 – 31-years to the day from when I was sworn-in by Chief Finn.

To commemorate my career, and all that it has meant to me and my family – for the past three months I sat with the incredibly talented artist Jeff Henry at The Nine’s Parlor in Daytona Beach, and completed a tattoo.

It is a permanent tribute to the opportunities I was given, the great accomplishments of my professional life, and in honor of those with whom I was so incredibly privileged to have served with in local law enforcement.

In so many ways, my career was the only thing I ever “got right” in my life, and I never want to forget it.

Any of it.

The good.  The bad.  The painful.  The incredible joy and unimaginable grief – the blood, sweat and tears.  The utter boredom and the horrific moments of terror.

The great accomplishments and the terrible failures.  All of it.

On my left forearm Jeff placed a haunting quote from the Roman historian Tacitus – which is conspicuously inscribed in a place of honor at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.:

“In Valor There Is Hope”

in valor

 To those I served with – and those I had the privilege of serving – thank you.

For everything.

This permanent tribute – and my everlasting love and appreciation – belong to all of you.

All of you wonderful friends, family and colleagues on the Honor Roll of my life.

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 17, 2017

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:             Minto Communities

I’m not a fan of contrived “lifestyle” communities, but I completely understand the draw.

Clearly, Minto Communities – the Canadian developer who partnered with Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Holdings to create the Latitudes at Margaritaville development – has hit it out of the park.

Earlier this week, hundreds of Parrotheads camped in the scrub off LPGA Boulevard to be among the first to put a down payment on new lots – and they are selling like hotcakes.

Look, I’m no real estate marketing maven, but when you’ve got the 55-and-over set sleeping in queue under the stars just to hand over their cash, well, Jimmy’s about to make bank.

Again.

Speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Minto’s Vice President, the always overexuberant Wild Bill Bullock, said, “This first day of sales at Latitude Margaritaville Daytona Beach has been a record setting day for Minto in number of sales in one day.”

Hey, good on them, right?

Us locals might as well don our grass skirts and coconut bras and cheer them on from the cheap seats.

As regular readers of this forum know, I happen to believe that building an 8,000+ unit mixed-use development on top of sensitive wetlands, wildlife habitat and recharge areas is shortsighted – I also think infusing 40,000+ additional motorists on our current surface streets and roadways is the epitome of mismanaged growth.

That’s not Minto’s fault.  They are simply doing what developers do.

But trust me – you and I aren’t off the hook.

In coming weeks, we will begin to see the hand-wringing and horror stories coming out of County Manager Jim Dinneen’s office threatening Gridlock Armageddon if We, The People, fail to vote for a one-cent sales tax increase ostensibly earmarked for transportation infrastructure.

They put the cart before the horse.  Now, long-suffering taxpayers are forced to live with the results of their greed and gross ineptitude – and pay dearly to fund the solution.

The fact is, our local gas tax in Volusia County – you know, the cash burden we currently pay at the pump to fund countywide road projects – has been maxed out.

As I understand it, our powers-that-be borrowed against the fuel tax in 2004, now transportation impact fees on new development have been shifted to help repay those bonds – even as Latitudes at Margaritaville – and sprawling new developments from Flagler to Brevard put even more pressure on our already overburdened infrastructure.

With millions of our hard-earned tax dollars being pissed away – or simply handed over to billionaire insurance companies and speculative developers – in my view, a sales tax increase is going to be a hard sell to an already struggling constituency.

Our new neighbors out on Boomtown Boulevard are about to learn that Volusia County is so much more than sipping a Peach Blow Fizz in a cabana on a private beach paid for by your homeowners association fees.

These aging Parrotheads from throughout the United States will soon find out that they are uprooting and moving into one of the most wholly dysfunctional systems of governance ever perpetrated on a tax-strapped population.

They are entering an oligarchical quagmire, totally controlled by a cabal of wealthy political insiders – facilitated by an overpaid, bumbling asshole – and represented by hapless, hand-picked elected officials who are intentionally kept out of the loop by strategic design.

My hope is that this influx of new residents allows us to grow out of this weird system.

Eventually, the population will expand to the point where the right last names no longer have the leverage to control the nexus of public funds and private interests – and we will have a larger pool of potential candidates for public office who are no longer beholden to the few – or bound by our tradition of institutional mediocrity.

Hey, a guy can dream, right?

Fin’s Up!

Angel:             Beachside Redevelopment Committee

We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty.

Earlier this year the brightest minds of the Halifax area were brought together by the Volusia County Council with a mandate to develop workable solutions to the malignant blight and abject squalor that is our core tourist area.

The impressive members of this blue-ribbon panel represent the very best we have to offer – all the right last names and alliances are present – and the board even has a few intrepid souls who have spent years of their lives advocating for beach access and management issues.

This is a serious group.

And they have a lot of people depending upon them.

The sober fact is – if these incredibly smart people fail to deliver – the rest of us are doomed.

As regular readers of this forum know, I wasn’t a big fan of the concept when the redevelopment committee was hatched.  After all, the burnished oak credenzas and bookcases in the executive suites of every government agency in Volusia County are groaning with expensive “studies,” “master plans,” and bullshit “tourism and marketing” reports that continue to collect dust.

As our beachside brain trust works toward developing a comprehensive list of solutions – they have now begun the all-important discussion of how to pay for them.

Look, I’ve been out of the game for a few years – but I can tell you that state and federal grant funds are scarce as hen’s teeth – and should not be considered as part of a long-term solution.

In my experience, it is simply unrealistic – and disingenuous – to insinuate that highly competitive community development block grants and loan programs can be considered a viable funding source.

Frankly, the mere suggestion undermines the credibility of the committee – and the process.

Besides, even if grant funding was readily available, asking for more public dollars to encourage “economic development” and tourism – then allowing the same bumbling dullards in local government to manage the projects is simply begging for more of the same.

My sincere hope is that our “movers & shakers” can find innovative ways to get government out of the marketplace and encourage private investment and entrepreneurship on the beachside and elsewhere.

In my view, the committee should closely analyze the myriad roadblocks, mindless regulations and paralytic bureaucracy that actively obstructs new business starts and perpetuates stagnation in our “redevelopment” areas.

In recent days, I have heard horror stories from two Daytona Beach entrepreneurs at opposite ends of the spectrum.  One, a small start-up – the other a long-established local business that employs many people, pays substantial wages, and strongly contributes to the city’s tax base.

The small business owner was forced to endure an eight-month process – which included an ordinance change, multiple meetings with city officials, thousands of dollars in legal and permitting fees – essentially one nonsensical obstacle after another – just to do business in a strip center on Beville Road.

Eight months.

Somehow, this young man persevered.

Now he is building a vibrant enterprise, hiring employees, and working hard to expand his rented storefront to accommodate a rapidly growing customer base.

He is also actively paying taxes, became a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and serves as a wonderful ambassador for Daytona Beach.

My other friend purchased a large, long-neglected eyesore of a commercial property literally in the heart of Daytona Beach with the goal of expanding his already highly successful business.

He has now been waiting over one-year for municipal permits that will allow renovations and new construction to begin.

One-year.

These stories are not unique.

Throughout Volusia County we have highly paid “economic development” departments, all suckling at the public teat, and collectively beating their chests about all the wonderful new businesses and innovative jobs they are bringing to town.

But the word on the street is something completely different.

Perhaps the powerful members of the Beachside Redevelopment Committee should use their considerable influence to request the removal of these onerous hurdles – and clean out the dead-wood from tax-funded redevelopment offices – then foster progressive public policies that will return fairness and equal opportunities to the marketplace and encourage private investment in our beleaguered beachside and beyond.

In my view, if we want to revitalize the beachside, and other struggling areas of our community, it is high time we begin the process of building a legitimate economy and limit the artificial infusion of public funds in select private endeavors that continue to create an unfair advantage for some – while skewing the playing field for everyone.

But what do I know. . .

Angel:             Deltona City Commissioner Heidi Herzberg

 Let’s face it, the City of Deltona is struggling – and recent headlines announcing bizarre crimes, violent deaths, and the antics of a colossally dysfunctional city government do little to quell the fears of residents – or improve the reputation of the community.

Last week, a friend and I took a long drive through Deltona.

We spent time in the neighborhoods and checked out the city’s shopping, dining and commercial areas.

Unfortunately, our largest community is facing the same issues that much of Volusia County is experiencing – spreading blight and dilapidation, rundown properties in open disrepair bringing down once vibrant neighborhoods, an obvious lack of focused code enforcement, and an increasing number of residents and businesses who are struggling financially.

Trust me – it’s the same from Ormond-by-the-Sea to Oak Hill – and Seville to Osteen.

This week, Deltona Commissioner Heidi Herzberg hosted a town hall meeting with residents to discuss crime and blight.  Ms. Herzberg was joined by Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the deputy city manager.

Seeking public input and participation in finding workable solutions is important.

In my view, it is equally important that the Deltona City Commission begin working collaboratively to provide responsive governance and efficient municipal services to their long-suffering constituents.

That process should begin by replacing the current chief executive with someone who can bring organizational cohesion – and effective management – to a community in crisis before it’s too late.

Asshole:          St. John’s River Water Management District

 Clearly, Long John Miklos has a lot of friends.

On Tuesday, the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board returned Mr. Miklos to yet another one-year term as chairman of the powerful agency.

For those of you who have been living on the dark side of the moon, John Miklos is our reptilian Governor Rick Scott’s hand-selected appointee to the SJRWMD board – who just happens to own an Orlando-based environmental consultancy that actively lobbies on behalf of public and private clients before the very state regulatory agency he oversees.

You read that right.

For instance, last year, the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Dinah Pulver discovered that Mr. Miklos’ Bio-Tech Consulting, Inc. had been hired by the City of DeBary in a despicable attempt to backdoor the development of some 102-acres of environmentally sensitive lands owned by the district near the SunRail station.

DeBary officials personally paid Long John $155 per hour for his “help.”

You read that right, too.

Once this sleazy deal was exposed, literally everyone recognized it for what it was – quid pro quo corruption by a tin pot state regulatory official – except, of course, the Florida Ethics Commission or the Attorney General.

In a wink-wink/nudge-nudge attempt to deodorize his slimy activities, Mr. Miklos routinely declares a “conflict” before board votes involving his clients.  As though We, The People should simply ignore the strong and continuing influence he commands over the district’s staff and management as chairman of the board.

Now, rather than rid itself of the stench of a continuing conflict of interest, the governing board has re-elected Chairman Miklos to an unprecedented fifth term.

What a sick joke.

Miklos fish
Long John Miklos

But don’t look for anything to change.

The Florida Ethics Commission has proven, time and again, that they are a group of do-nothing political enablers who routinely ignore the findings of their own independent investigators and render some of the most idiotic findings ever written into a public record.

This worthless excuse for a public integrity apparatus is just one reason the State of Florida routinely ranks among the most corrupt in the nation.

From the randy romps of our skeezy elected representatives and their tawdry sex-for-votes schemes – to a regulatory agency that repeatedly elects an active lobbyist to regulate development on sensitive wetlands – the rules truly are different here.

Trust me.  We are just beginning to see the terrible distillate of our “ethics” commission’s gross complicity ooze into public view.

My God.

Remember this the next time Rick Scott asks for your vote.

Angel:             Steve & Ryan Ridder – The First Family of Daytona Beach Basketball

Let’s face it, college basketball hasn’t had a very good week.

High-profile petty thieves masquerading as student-athletes creating international incidents, burgeoning recruiting scandals, kickback conspiracies and bribery allegations that have tarnished the sport, sketchy moves that have brought discredit to once venerated programs and created an “anything goes” atmosphere on and off the court.

In my view, the only thing that can fundamentally change the course of college basketball – and organized athletics generally – is men and women of strong moral character who set a clear ethical example for young players and assistants who are the future of the sport.

Coaches at all levels have incredible influence over the lives of their players.  How they use that interpersonal and organizational power is critical to changing the culture and developing a solid moral foundation for their teams.

And that goes far beyond the tenets of good sportsmanship.

The Barker’s View Sports Department sends all best wishes to Coach Steve Ridder – who has elevated Embry-Riddle Basketball into the NCAA ranks – and his impressive son, Coach Ryan Ridder, who recently took the helm of the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.

In my view, the Ridders represent all that is positive about college sports – and we are very fortunate to have them in Daytona Beach.

In a recent interview with B-CU’s extraordinary scribe, Dan Ryan, Steve said, “During the season, there are a lot of highs and a lot of lows, but it’s the greatest profession to be a part of, especially if you’re in it for the right reason”

“Ryan will build the right culture here at Bethune-Cookman. He will care about his players and they will play hard because they know he loves them and will hold them accountable to become better players and people.”

We need more coaches – and community leaders – like Steve and Ryan Ridder.

Quote of the Week:

 “That’s a little steep. I think it’s kind of high to spend $10 to come down to the beach anyway, so yeah, $20 would be tough, I might search out other beaches and look for other places to go.”

–Cathy Timm, a visitor to Central Florida from Denver, as quoted by WKMG, speaking on the Volusia County Council’s asinine vote to raise beach access fees to $20 per day.

Ms. Timm has hit the proverbial nail on the head – and her sentiments echo the thoughts of potential tourists everywhere.

The fact is, our elected representatives have discovered that pricing a day at the beach out of the financial reach of many Central Florida families has the same effect as driving bans – and without the pesky political exposure.

I encourage everyone reading this to take a few minutes and envision yourself as a tourist might, then drive SR A-1-A from Ormond Beach to Ponce Inlet.

Take-in the hand-painted signs on fleabag motels, the grime and blight, omnipresent homeless, vacant store fronts and abandoned strip centers.  Drive by the weed strewn, county-owned properties set aside for “off beach” parking, and experience the pervasive feeling of despair – then tell me your honest reaction.

If you suddenly landed in the Halifax area’s core tourist area with your family, would you stick around to drop a double-sawbuck to cruise the beach?

With a high-profile committee struggling mightily to come to grips with the future of our festering beachside – the natural economic engine of our region – please consider the long-term impact on tourism that raising the daily beach access fee to a prohibitive $20 will have.

Then ask yourself if those we have elected to represent our interests in DeLand are really working for us?

That’s it for me.

Tis’ the season for wonderful arts and crafts festivals throughout the region – none better than the DeLand Fall Festival of the Arts.

The show was recently voted “Best Florida Fine Art Festival” by Florida Trend magazine, and this year marks the festival’s 25th Anniversary, with some 175 juried artists from throughout the country lining beautiful Woodland Boulevard.

It’s a great way to spend the day!

From Barker’s View to you – here’s wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

Et tu, Shelldon?

Well, I guess minor league baseball is off the list. . .

Last week, the Daytona Tortugas announced that Jackie Robinson Ballpark will become totally “Tobacco Free” in 2018.

For you “vapers” out there – you know, people who use electronic atomizers that essentially emit harmless water vapor – the ban includes you as well.

I realize no one is going to agree with me on this – and I don’t care.

Suffice it to say there are a lot of things non-smokers do that annoy the hell out of me – I just choose to stay in my lane and keep my vices and habits as unobtrusive as possible.

I try to live life on my terms, practice moderation, and allow others to do the same.

So, why can’t others reciprocate?

As terrible as this will sound to some, I have smoked cigarettes every day for over 40-years.

I’m not proud of the fact – but I’m not emotionally horrified by it, either.

It is what it is – a “life choice” if you will.  I understand the health ramifications, prohibitive cost and social stigma – but I enjoy burning a Marlboro and drinking alcoholic beverages.

Usually, at the same time.

Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible these days to find a bar that will accommodate both.  The health-obsessed crusaders have even invaded the sanctity of the neighborhood saloon – and nothing will ever be the same.

For me, anyway.

I have never been big on ultimatums or “total bans” on the otherwise legal pursuits of American adults.  Let’s face it, cigarette smokers have become the last segment of the population that literally everyone feels okay in discriminating against.

After all, it’s for our ‘own good,‘ right?

“Look, Barker, you Neanderthal – it’s about the kids.  No one want’s little Johnny and Jane inhaling your disgusting second-hand smoke – and the rest of us are grossed-out by your crude habit.”     

Hey, I get it.

I don’t want you or yours anywhere near my billowing clouds of acrid fumes – that’s why I step-outside, stand well-clear of buildings containing hordes of people who look down their sensitive noses at me, or grab a quick drag with my fellow smelly outcastes in the confines of some drab and intentionally uncomfortable “smoking area.”

Look – I give up.  The harridans of the professional (tax-funded) anti-smoking brigade have won.

So, while I still can, I will enjoy a smoke in the privacy of my own home – or (God forbid) while driving my private vehicle – and simply choose to take my business elsewhere.

As a ‘smoker,’ I am no longer wanted where I grew up watching baseball – Jackie Robinson Ballpark – or most anywhere else for that matter.

At the risk of getting too far afield – in an era when professional sports are reporting historically low attendance records, one would think that a community-based minor league baseball organization would find a way to accommodate all fans willing to dish out the price of a ticket.

I mean, they couldn’t set aside a distant row of bleachers in the Budweiser Bullpen for those who wish to enjoy a stogie and a brew while they watch the Great American Pastime like their fathers and grandfathers before them?

No.  Total ban.  No exceptions. 

Clearly, the Daytona Tortugas have become a big draw in the Halifax area.  They are, without question, doing it right and filling a true need in the community.

And everyone agrees that ‘The Jack’ is a wonderful place to watch baseball.

But what happens when the pendulum swings?

For instance, the slow death-spiral of NASCAR is getting too obvious to ignore.  Despite attempts to camouflage it with pixilated multi-color seats, at most televised races there appears to be as many empty seats as there are fans in attendance, and that trend does not appear to be reacting positively to the latest “rule change” or weird gimmick coming out of the corporate office.

The same is true for the beleaguered National Football League, once the most popular sport in America.  I suspect the NFL has about three-seasons to get its shit together before it becomes totally irrelevant.

I realize this problem has nothing to do with prohibitions on smoking in sports venues.

In my view, in each case, it is the result of a failing product that consistently refused to consider the evolving needs and wants of its fan base (read: Customers).

Those who are willing to spend big bucks on sports entertainment – or devote time to watching it on television – feel increasingly alienated by the open political displays, pregame “protests” of multi-millionaire athletes in the workplace, and the all too boring and incessantly long games that simply command too much time to enjoy.

Add to that the Titanic-like panic in sports marketing departments, and the lack of strategic vision by senior executives who are too dumbstruck by the unfolding disaster to correct the dismal course of their ‘sport,’ and you see we have a crisis at hand.

They do, anyway.

I suspect there will soon come a time when professional sports franchises, and other businesses, will beg people to return to their product – including those much maligned few who choose to use tobacco products.

Or, maybe not.  Who cares.

Got a light?

Angels & Assholes for November 10, 2017

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole:          Volusia Councilwoman Heather Post

If the uber-weird Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post thought her fellow elected officials on the dais of power – or her long-suffering constituents – were simply going to forgive and forget her self-aggrandizing antics during Hurricane Irma, well, she was sadly mistaken.

Trust me.  Her toast is never going to land jelly-side up again.

While I realize this is a rarity, I wholeheartedly agree with Chairman Ed Kelley and the rest of the County Council – Heather Post needs to get her priorities in order.

You may recall that early in her term, the freshman councilwoman had a difficult time adjusting to life as a newly minted policy maker.

Among Heather’s other faux pas, she took an unannounced trip to Tallahassee, accepted an appointment to the First Step homeless shelter board without the knowledge and consent of the council, demanded asinine reports during the height of a destructive maelstrom and engaged in shameless acts of self-promotion that would have made P. T. Barnum proud.

She also claims to be an advocate for her constituents, yet invariably votes for projects and ‘economic incentives’ that will benefit the influential few.

Remember the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock ordinance?

Or, how about the recent Brown & Brown game changer?

I do.

Now, Ms. Post has wheedled herself into an unauthorized board appointment with something called the Florida Association of Counties and plans to ignore her duties and responsibilities at next week’s council meeting in favor of attending the FAC’s annual “legislative conference” in Sarasota.

It seems the council recently authorized $63,350 in dues to return as a member of the association – after opting out of the publicly funded fraternity which seeks to protect home rule through “education, advocacy and collaboration” – just two-years ago.

Perhaps with that many taxpayer dollars invested in our FAC membership, Volusia needs a voice on the board of directors.  But that decision – and appointment – should have been made by the full council in an open meeting.

Since being sworn into office, Ms. Post has been late to council meetings, left early, or was absent altogether some four times.  I don’t know about you, but if an employee of mine conducted themselves in that manner they would be looking for work.

In my view, that’s irresponsible – and wrong.

While I normally have cause to question everything our dotty County Chair Ed Kelley says and does, in this instance, Old Ed is spot-on:

“Our first and foremost responsibility is to serve the people of Volusia County, not people in the state,” Chairman Kelley said in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

In my view, Heather Post is a loose cannon, a whack-job who goes her own way – showboating and elbowing her way into the limelight – and damn the needs of her constituents or the concerns of her colleagues.

Another thing that chaps my ass is the fact our District 4 representative feels she is above speaking to the newspaper of record on matters of civic concern.  For instance, Post refused to return repeated phone calls, texts and emails from a News-Journal reporter seeking comment on her latest tactless, yet oddly self-serving, lapse of judgement.

Apparently, emails to Ms. Post resulted in an automatic reply informing the public to “contact her assistant” in the meantime.

Wait.  Heather Post has an “assistant?”

Eventually, Post responded to the News-Journal via Facebook.  (Say what?)

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

“I’m still working even though I am scheduled to be out of the office today on some personal business,” Post said. “Second, I’m getting my emails & I’ve been communicating with people within the County offices and throughout my district all week.  I’ve told you many times that I am no longer interested in speaking with the News-Journal as they cannot seem to report unbiased & (sic) with the facts.  Your repeated voicemails do not change that status.” 

Honestly.

By her bizarre explanation, Councilwoman Post makes herself look like some deranged office drone caught playing online Sudoku in her cubical instead of working on TPS reports. . .

If Heather Post wants to “advocate statewide” for Volusia County, then perhaps she should run for state office – and if that’s what she’s doing – then Ms. Post should campaign on her own damn time (and dime).

In the meantime, she owes it to those who elected her to high office – and her colleagues on the dais of power – to be on-time, on-point and solely focused on her sworn duties to the citizens of Volusia County.

Angel:             The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 Kudos to those intrepid reporters at the Daytona Beach News-Journal who recently received special recognition from the Florida Press Club for their outstanding work.

Rightfully taking the top spot was staff writer Eileen Zaffiro-Kean for her work on the “Tarnished Jewel” series, a brilliant exposé on Daytona’s struggling beachside redevelopment areas that may well be the impetus for positive change.

For her efforts, Eileen received the prestigious Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting.

In bestowing the honor, the FPC judges artfully pointed out the work as “a wonderful example of civic journalism at its finest.  You demonstrated to your readers that city leaders past and present are guilty at the least of failing to shepherd through promises made decades ago.”  Ouch.

Well deserved.

I’m also happy to see that the courageous Dinah Voyles-Pulver took first place for breaking news and environmental news writing.  In my view, Dinah should have received the Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism for her outstanding reporting on the debacle in DeBary – she’s top notch, and we are fortunate to have her reporting the news.

In addition, the News-Journal’s “Living in the Shadows” special report garnered a first-place award for journalist Suzanne Hirt – and the top prize for photojournalist Lola Gomez.

The incredibly talented Nigel Cook received the blue ribbon for breaking news photography, and David Tucker took home third place in the same category.  Mr. Tucker also took first place in the feature photography division with veteran photographer Jim Tiller taking the second-place spot.

The always entertaining Ken Willis was honored with a first-place award for sports columns and another for sports writing – with a third-place award for sports feature writing.

Mr. Willis always makes the sports section a fun read.

My favorite editorialist, a thoughtful observer of all-things here on the Fun Coast, columnist Mark Lane, received the first-place award for commentary writing and third place for opinion writing.

The great cop’s reporter Frank Fernandez received a first-place honor for public safety reporting, while Seth Robbins took the top spot for general news writing.

In addition, Erica Breunlin and Jim Abbott were also honored for their wonderful work.

For what it’s worth, I want to give a special Barker’s View Angel Award to the intrepid Dustin Wyatt.  That kid can write – and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his hard work and perseverance in reporting the news.

Congratulations and thank you for your good work!

Asshole:          County of Volusia

 Ever wonder if the Daytona Beach News-Journal maintains standing space on the front page for the latest quibbling explanation by Volusia County officials?

Last week, a Volusia County taxpayer – who just happens to be a retired attorney for the City of Daytona Beach – attempted to pay her property taxes online.

Like – I dunno – 99.99% of the rest of us, she used her debit card.

Considering that Volusia County charges $1.50 to pay by E-check – our hapless taxpayer mistakenly thought it would cost the same to transfer her required pound of flesh to feed that grotesque monster of a bureaucracy in DeLand by debit card.

However, when her receipt arrived, the taxpayer discovered that she had been charged a whopping $99 as a “convenience fee” for the privilege.

Convenient for who?

Apparently, Volusia County uses Pittsburgh-based Grant Street Group, a third-party contractor to collect and process tax payments from residents.  In turn, the contractor places an additional financial burden on We, The People in the form of “convenience fees” – which can cost 2.6% of the total assessment if you opt to pay by credit or debit card.

Bullshit.

When the shocked taxpayer had the temerity to question the scheme, and demanded that the transaction be cancelled, she was met with the proverbial blank stare and monotone of a drone-like deputy tax collector who repeated “nothing can be done” like Will Robinson’s creepy robot on a loop-recording.

Then, rather than stand-up for the rights of his constituents to be free from usurious tax collection practices, or even question the process, our doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley came out swinging a rolled-up newspaper at the concerned citizen.

“It’s plainly stated” on the website, Kelley said. “Isn’t it the responsibility for us to read what we are doing?”

Let me translate for those who aren’t fluent in chickenshit gibberish (or “Ed-Speak,” as I call it):

“It’s your fault, not ours.  Shut up and pay your taxes.”

This from an out-of-the-loop asshole who is systematically presiding over one of the most patently ineffectual, and grossly arrogant, elected bodies in the history of Volusia County (and that’s quite a feat).

Because Ed Kelley has trouble stringing together cogent thoughts – or mustering common human empathy for worried residents – Volusia County trotted out one of their many hired mouthpieces to better explain why this now exposed debacle was the taxpayers error.

According to county “spokesperson” Joanne Magley (who is well-paid with public funds to write emails to reporters):

“Rather than not providing our customers the ability to pay with a credit card, the county has chosen to contract with a third-party provider, Grant Street Group,” Magley wrote in an email response to questions by Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt.  

 “The third-party provider contracts with credit card companies and charges a fee (2.6 percent) for the service provided to the customer. That is the convenience of eliminating the need to make a payment in person, during business hours. The payment can be made from home and the customer does not have to pay with cash.”

Magley went on to explain that as a “gesture of good customer service” they ultimately cancelled the taxpayer’s transaction and allowed her to pay by a less onerous method.

My ass.

At the end of the day, the deputy tax collector who repeatedly told the taxpayer that there was no way the transaction could be refunded was exposed by his superiors as either a bald-faced liar – or just another uninformed obstructionist on the county payroll.

Regardless, Volusia County government wouldn’t know “good customer service” if they fell over it.

In fact, complicating and obfuscating government services has become the hallmark of this bloated bureaucracy – and the appalling legacy of County Manager Jim Dinneen.

If you haven’t learned this by now – don’t bother approaching your elected representatives for assistance or explanations.

They no longer work for us.

We were outbid, and the antiquated concepts of constituent responsiveness, taxpayer protections and simple compassion for residents caught in a bad situation have been outsourced to an out-of-state contractor.

Asshole:          Deltona City Commission

What is it about West Volusia municipalities and Orlando law firms?

It’s like some eerie Grimm’s fairy tale wherein local elected officials follow a trail of breadcrumbs down I-4 to the tree-lined streets of old Winter Park, or the glass and steel skyscrapers of downtown Orlando, where they somehow feel confident in their ability to “negotiate” with real Big Bad Wolves – smart lawyers in expensive suits – who eventually eat the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker like a fine Kurobuta pork chop at the Citrus Club.

Last week, the horribly dysfunctional Deltona City Commission – on the recommendation of their horribly dysfunctional City Manager – unanimously approved a contract with Fowler, O’Quinn, Feeney and Sneed worth some $408,000 annually.

That includes a $34,000 retainer (what?) and allows for 220 billable hours per month.

That’s some serious cheddar.

Look, far be it from me to question the expenditure of over $400K per year for municipal legal services.  After all, given the City Commission’s track record – and the brewing animus of the long-suffering citizenry – I suspect Fowler, O’Quinn, Feeney and Sneed will have more than earned their money when all is said and done.

When other commissioners took exception to the price, the always irascible Mayor John Masairczyk – who huddled with City Manager Jane Shang and the city’s Finance Director, then made the $408,000 decision – took offense and accused his fellow well-intentioned elected officials of second-guessing the contract.

Wait a minute – isn’t that their role?

Not in Deltona – and certainly not under the omnipotent rule of Mayor Masairczyk.

During discussions, the Mayor barked, “You’re suggesting we unwind the entire process and start over?”

Well, yes.

If that’s what it takes to ensure that your constituent’s tax dollars are spent as effectively and efficiently as possible.

But in Deltona, the will of the people, and the concerns of certain elected officials, are invariably shouted down in favor of the findings of a small group – normally hand-controlled by Jane Shang.

Weird.

In my view, the City of Deltona – like many other local municipalities that remain contractually beholden to outside service providers – should have strongly considered hiring an in-house attorney and paralegal.

But what do I know.

Perhaps in the conflagration that is Deltona politics, $408,000 a year for legal services is a bargain.

Asshole:          The Florida Legislature

Who knew that Florida’s legislative sessions have more in common with a Las Vegas Tailhook convention than a serious time to conduct the business of state?

And why is it that We, The People are just hearing about this?

The stories gushing out of Tallahassee last week described an atmosphere of long-term sexual hijinks, public indecencies, open assignations for political influence and outright criminal assaults in the hallowed halls of our state capitol that would make Gaius Caligula blush.

As the late, great political thinker and outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson so eloquently wrote:

“Sex and power have a long history of feeding on each other.  In 18th century England, the king and half his ministers were involved in a whole network of strange and violent sex clubs, whipping parlors and half-secret cults that embraced everything from Satanism and human sacrifice to flagrant white slavery and public bestiality.”

“These were no amateur degenerates, like the ones we sneer at today.  They put the whole British Empire on the road to ruin and thought nothing of it – nor cared, for that matter. . .”   

Sound familiar?

Look, if these debauched assholes we elect to represent our interests want to hold mass orgies behind closed doors at the Tennyson apartments – what do I care?

But when those tawdry fumbling’s in public offices and dark parking garages involve powerful lawmakers and lobbyists who are paid to influence political outcomes – I have a big problem with that.

You should too.

Look, elected officials getting caught with their pants down is nothing new.

This isn’t the first time some elected sixty-something, with his pasty fat ass and liver spots crammed into a cheap J.C. Penny suit, deluded himself into thinking a young female staffer was interested in him sexually because of his good looks and charm.

But the strategic use of honey traps by lobbying firms, and political opponents, is the epitome of institutional corruption in Tallahassee.  However, the practice is slowly exposing how powerful politicians allow their abject arrogance, and overweening self-importance, to compromise their personal ethics – and their vote.

What a nightmare.

What an embarrassment.

As Dr. Thompson said, these are no amateur degenerates, and at the end of the day, the ones who ultimately get screwed is you and me.

This is what the road to ruin looks like.

Quote of the Week:

 “What’s frustrating is the fact that a council member thinks that going to their meetings is more important than going to our meetings.”

 –Volusia County Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, as quoted in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, neatly taking fellow councilmember Heather Post to the woodshed for choosing a goofy “legislative conference” in Sarasota over her sworn responsibilities at home.

He’s right.

If Heather Post wants to “see and be seen” at some publicly-funded hot air generator, she should do it when it does not conflict with the people’s business.

I mean, couldn’t she just send her ‘assistant’?

Well, that’s it for me!

As always, thanks so much for taking the time out of your day to read my goofy ramblings.

If you’re looking for something to do on the Fun Coast this weekend, join me under the moss-draped oaks at Flagler County’s Princess Place Preserve for the annual Creekside Festival!

Trust me, if you haven’t been to the incredibly beautiful Princess Preserve, you’re doing it wrong.

It is truly a special place, and one of the crown jewels of the Central Florida coast.

The festival includes bluegrass music both Saturday and Sunday, craft vendors, food trucks and stuff for the kids.  While you’re there, be sure to take a driving tour of the area – which includes camping areas (some with horse corrals), nature trails and awesome views of the marsh and intercoastal waterway.

Princess Place is located at 2500 Princess Place Road – off Old Kings Road in Flagler County.

To all veterans – thank you for your service on this Veteran’s Day 2017!

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: No Harm, No Foul.

Why is it that some elected officials – even when their constituents point out the patently obvious errors and omissions of government – still insist on maintaining their pathological grip on “power” over the people they have taken an oath to serve?

For instance, last week residents of the North Peninsula stood by in horror as a county employee took a piece of heavy equipment and turned a large swath of Bicentennial Park into a moonscape.

As described by the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the work churned the area into, “. . .a tangled mess of ugly brown debris along an otherwise scenic nature trail.”

Why?

Well, almost a decade ago, residents began asking Volusia County to provide separate areas for large and small pets, and two-years ago, a group requested that officials provide additional amenities.

Then – crickets.

In typical fashion, our sloth-like behemoth of a county government did nothing – until last week when, suddenly, they clumsily turned the natural setting into a “tangled mess.” 

Look, everyone understands that these things take time, I mean, there are environmental concerns to address, and permits are required before destroying the habitat of protected species.

It’s a process, right?

Except, Volusia County didn’t bother to obtain the required permits, even after their own environmental monitors found 14 gopher tortoise burrows on the property.

When visitors to the park observed the wholesale destruction of the areas natural setting – some intrepid souls made a formal complaint to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

In typical fashion, FWC issued a stop work order until proper inspections could be performed and permits obtained.  Then – just one week later – after “discussions” with county officials, FWC issued a statement saying, “They were good with what they did without a permit.” 

“They (Volusia County) have always been good partners and have done their due diligence.  No harm, no foul.”

My ass.

Why is it that whenever one government agency is required to regulate another, direct violations of environmental codes and laws protecting endangered wildlife are always chalked up as “no harm, no foul”? 

Anyone remember last summer when an influential DeBary developer strip-cleared some 30-acres of land along Fort Florida Road – effectively grinding a pristine forest into a primordial ooze without any permit or authorization”?

Then, DeBary’s hapless growth management director, Matt Boerger – who literally stood around with his head in his ass while the unauthorized destruction progressed – added insult to injury by allowing the violator to continue work and clean up the “unsightly mess” – and, I suspect, destroy evidence of environmental crimes before FWC investigators could respond.

We’ll never know.

The FWC was unable to find any evidence that gopher tortoises had been harmed during the wholesale destruction of the land – even though area residents described witnessing something entirely different.

Did I mention that both Boerger – and the offending developer – are still happily at work “managing growth” in the City of DeBary.

Some things never change.

How do you think the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the St. John’s River Water Management District, would respond if you or I simply decided to take a Cat D9 and begin scraping every ounce of flora, fauna and habitat from private land?

Try it.  I dare you.

Within days, the full-weight of local, state and federal regulatory agencies would issue bone-crushing fines, fees and legal sanctions.  Yet, whenever government is called to police itself – or projects and consultancies owned by the politically influential – it’s no harm, no foul.

Weird.

This evening at 6pm, Volusia County officials will hold a public meeting at Bicentennial Park to explain why the project languished – for years – and try hard to convince us that no wildlife is being harmed during the commission of this environmental debacle.

They claim that the public will have a chance to provide input as well.

Don’t waste your breath.

According to our doddering fool of a Council Chairman, Ed Kelley, our elected officials are going to do what they want regardless of our concerns.

During last Thursday’s council meeting, Old Ed once again telegraphed the council’s true intent by stating:

“I wouldn’t say if they don’t want it we won’t do it.”

 “If it comes back to us, it will be up to us to decide.”

 My God.  What an arrogant asshole.

You know, I don’t recall that sense of omnipotence and aggressive superiority anywhere in Eddie’s campaign literature.

(Trust me.  I’ve looked.)

But I damn sure won’t forget it whenever any incumbent stands for reelection – and I hope you won’t either.

Once again, our elected officials on the dais of power in DeLand have effectively grabbed We, The People by the collective throat and made it clear that our input is neither wanted – nor required.

In fact, our petty concerns are an annoying hindrance to their idea of “progress.”

As Ed said, they will do what they want – when they want – and damn the wants and needs of us unwashed hordes who exist solely to pay the bills.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 3, 2017

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:             Attorney David Vukelja & Sons of the Beach

Last week saw another sad day for Volusia County.

No one was surprised when the 5th District Court of Appeal ruled against Sons of the Beach and the International Beach Club in the culmination of their latest noble stand to protect and preserve our heritage of beach driving.

But it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

Residents of Volusia County have come to understand that in beach access issues, the deck is stacked, the cards carefully marked, and the game is always dealer’s choice.

I don’t blame the 5th District – although there are unanswered questions about the way the judges were swapped out – and an unrelated controversy surrounding why Judge Eric Eisnaugle is on the bench at all (he has zero experience as a judge, has never taken a trial to a jury verdict and hardly knows what the inside of a courtroom looks like).

See more here: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-eric-eisnaugle-5th-dca-judge-scott-maxwell-20170509-story.html

Regardless, appeals court judges work within the confines of narrowly crafted laws when affirming or reversing lower court rulings – laws that are often carefully legislated by politicians to consolidate power where it can best be directed and controlled.

In my view, David Vukelja did yeoman’s work.

He presented a cogent and common-sense argument challenging the Volusia County Council’s mercurial ordinances which barter away beach driving to speculative developers who agree to convoluted off-beach parking deals.

Unfortunately for us, Volusia County used public funds – and the full power of the county attorney’s office – when our elected and appointed officials sought, and received, a summary dismissal of the cases before they could ever see the light of day.

Please understand:  The very people we elected to represent our interests on the dais of power did this to us – their own constituents. 

I hope you will remember that the next time you belly-up to the voting booth.

In my view, when cases involving important civic issues that have wide public interest (and enormous impact on our lives) are consistently prohibited from ever making it to a courtroom – we have a crisis at hand.

When the process is insulated from judicial oversight – and We, The People can no longer petition our government for redress of grievances – we have bigger problems than beach access.

At the end of the day, these cases helped expose how Volusia County officials continue to ignore the will of the people and skew the marketplace – deciding which businesses will win, and which will lose – as they pursue a covert strategy which will ultimately seal off and privatize our beach.

As I’ve previously said, I would like for my neighbors and friends to take a moment from your busy lives and truly reflect on what the principles at the heart of these matters ultimately mean.

I believe there remains one fundamental mechanism which, if exercised broadly, will allow us to ultimately prevail over the political insiders and well-heeled donor class that seem intent on taking our lifestyle and heritage from us and handing it over to outside speculators for backdoor personal enrichment:

It is the ultimate power of the ballot box.

And it is the only thing that strikes concern in the heart of these self-serving bastards who sold their soul – and our traditions – so cheaply.

Asshole:          County of Volusia

To ensure full disclosure, I want you to know that I have never enjoyed theme parks.

I just don’t care for the mega-expense, or the artificial over-the-top “experience.”  

Never have.

I don’t know if it’s the crowds, the endless standing in queue, the gross cost of everything from bad food to tchotchke souvenirs – or the fact that I have never liked contrived, unnatural situations – like motif restaurants or “lifestyle” communities.

I’m more of an “outdoors” guy – and I like my ecological habitats untouched.

The Volusia County Council is obviously listening to the results of yet another goofy “study” – or being swayed by the ineffectual flailing of our “Coastal Divisions” – as they race closer to destroying our singular natural draw.

This week, we learned that county officials are planning to justify the stratospheric rise in out-of-county access fees by implementing what some on the dais of power are calling a “Disney-like experience” on Volusia beaches.

Say what?

No one – especially those numbskulls we elected to high office – knows exactly what the “Disney experience” entails (because ease of access and quality customer service is so far removed from our current “experience”) but they think it has something to do with adding more toll-takers, opening a few ramps and providing a discount for local college students.

Oh, and transferring trash collection responsibilities from the county’s contractor to visitors, volunteers and toll-takers on their “down-time”. . .

I mean, it’s taken County Manager Jim Dinneen a decade to finally empower his beach law enforcement department to strictly enforce littering ordinances, while the Coastal Divisions waste time sitting around the office, holding meetings to discuss handing out trash bags and fielding goofy “life-sized” characters to “brand” our beach.

Seriously.

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

 It’s not yet clear how much the proposed changes would cost (it never is).  County Chair Ed Kelley said the county needs to look at the theme park known for Mickey Mouse as a model.

“We are going to take a Disney-like approach,” Kelley added. “We need to make this more like Disney.”

Now, Mr. Kelley wants to put even more ugly signage on the strand with “creative” sayings like, “Litter Bugs Me!” – a tired campaign that’s been used to varying effect since the 1950’s.

signs
Are more signs really the answer…?

What is Old Ed yammering about?

You know what bugs me?  The fact our dotty fool of a Council Chairman wouldn’t know excellence in customer service – or sound beach management – if it jumped up and bit him on the ass.

In related news, this week our elected officials moved to purchase eight new toll booths at a cost of nearly $74,000 (that’s $9,250 bucks for a prefab kiosk?). 

Naturally, the booths are manufactured and sold by a Michigan-based company.

After all, we wouldn’t want to spend public funds locally and encourage light industry in Volusia County, right?

Hey, I’ve got a novel idea: Considering the evidence, how about Volusia County government get the hell out of the marketplace and off our beach? 

Just let the natural ebb and flow of both work its magic, without the influence of political insiders, the artificial infusion of public funds or the ham-handed meddling of ethically compromised elected officials.

Yeah, right.  Talk about Fantasyland. . .

Asshole:          Votran

Well, Volusia County Vice Chair Deb Denys finally got what she wanted – expanded bus service in New Smyrna Beach.

Yep, 22 stops along State Road 44 at a cost of “more than” $1-million dollars.

Now, let’s have a little fun – the first person to confirm more than five riders on a New Smyrna-based Votran bus will be anointed “Angel for a Day” in this space.

I hope I’m wrong.  But I’m not.

Still no bus out to the big Tanger Outlet – which was subsidized with our tax dollars on the promise of “jobs” – or plans for increasing service to the rapidly growing “Boomtown Boulevard” area near LPGA and I-95 where hundreds of low-wage restaurant and convenience store workers will flock – but, hey, that’s just the way it goes.

The fact is, it shouldn’t take eighteen-months to make simple route adjustments – while serious service gaps, such as limited night and Sunday service, remain unaddressed.

In my view, with real needs already identified, routes that historically produce low ridership – like New Smyrna Beach – should not be revisited just so some blowhard politician up for reelection can crow, “Looky what I did for you!”

In a recent editorial, the Daytona Beach News-Journal opined, . . .Volusia County residents need a transit system that meets as many of their needs as possible. That will take vigilance and forward thinking on the part of county leaders and a willingness to push McDonald Transit to keep bus service as flexible and nimble as possible to meet changing demand.”

Good luck.

If you haven’t noticed, “vigilance and forward thinking” isn’t exactly our elected official’s strong suit – in fact, these traits are a foreign concept that doesn’t comport with our system, where public policy decisions are routinely made by political insiders and their highly-paid facilitator, completely outside the public arena.

And if you think the County’s administration is ever going to hold a contractor – or any other cog in that rusty machine – accountable for anything, well, you’re delusional.

 Angel:             United States Attorney’s Office – Orlando  

 Wow.  How the mighty have fallen.

It was announced this week that disgraced former state representative and Daytona Beach city commissioner Dwayne Taylor will be forced to forfeit some $63,000 following his conviction on nine-counts of fraud.

If he doesn’t have it – prosecutors will be looking for “substitute assets.” 

It seems Representative Taylor was using his campaign account like a personal piggy bank – and that’s a no-no.

Now, it’s time to pay the piper – $63K – and up to 20-years in federal prison.

Kudos to U.S. District Judge Carlos Mendoza for sending a strong message to other Central Florida politicos that there will be consequences for violating the law – and the public trust.

Angel:             Rep. Tom Leek & Justice for Ponce

 Many thanks to State Representative Tom Leek, and those kind souls who joined forces in the Justice for Ponce organization, for taking up the worthy cause of abused animals and seeking to increase penalties and pet bans for those sub-humans convicted of cruelty.

The bill is named in remembrance of Ponce, a Labrador puppy that was found brutally beaten to death in the Ponce Inlet backyard of Travis Archer – who stands charged with the heinous crime.

This is just one man’s disturbed opinion – but regardless of how Mr. Archer’s case fares in our criminal justice system – my personal hope is that the remainder of his miserable life is spent in grim retrospection – contemplating in his diseased dreams, and upon waking each day – what a monstrous and truly contemptible asshole he is.

I hope the shame and disgrace of that brutal night consumes him.

I hope it runs through his depraved mind like a horror film-loop.  Constantly.

I hope the blood of that innocent dog remains on his hands, no matter how hard he tries to wash it away.

That’s just my demented view – I tend to be a vengeful asshole, especially when God’s helpless creatures are tortured and killed by sadistic assholes.

Perhaps it is also time that our judicial system takes a hard look at the cockamamie “sentencing guidelines” that hamstring the process and make it difficult for truly bad people who are convicted of these and other atrocious crimes to be sent to jail.

If our legislators can’t support elevating animal cruelty to a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15-years in prison, perhaps we need new law makers?

Thank you, Rep. Leek – and Justice for Ponce.

Good work, neighbors.

Angel:             Chief Craig Capri & the City of Daytona Beach

Kudos to Chief Capri and the City of Daytona Beach for their efforts in cleaning up Ridgewood Avenue and returning sanity to that incredibly challenged area.

In recent months, Chief Capri and his outstanding staff have worked cooperatively with the City’s Nuisance Abatement Board and elected officials to bring the infamous J’s Food Store at 600 North Ridgewood Avenue to heel.

The property has, for years, epitomized the “crime incubator” theory, and taken on the appearance of a Zombie Zone, a festering sore that has brought down the neighborhood and contributed to the open blight that continues to plague one of Daytona’s most heavily traveled thoroughfares.

From effective crime prevention and community relations activities, to aggressive drug enforcement initiatives, Chief Capri and his officers are working hard to make a positive difference.

And more important – they’re succeeding.

These professionals deserve our continued support – and ultimate respect – for their incredibly noble efforts.

Quote of the Week:

“They (the judges) followed the ruling in the lower court, and I think it was the right decision.”

–Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, opining on the 5th District Court of Appeals ruling which stripped We, The People of standing in any case involving beach access and driving issues.

According to our doddering dupe of a Council Chairman, Ed Kelley – the appeals court ruling was “not unexpected.” 

 I wish Old Ed would explain what he meant by that.  But he won’t.

One, because he doesn’t understand any of it – and Two, because he doesn’t understand any of it.

Trust me.  Ed Kelley continues to prove – time and again – that he’s just not that bright.

All he knows is who stands to benefit – and in Volusia County government – that’s all that matters.

I find it interesting that the outcome of this important case was a foregone conclusion in the halls of power at the Volusia County administration building.

Because a lot – and I mean A LOT – of questions remain about how power was ultimately stripped from the citizens of Volusia County and placed firmly in the lap of a cabal of elected and appointed marionettes and their uber-wealthy handlers with a profit motive.

That includes Volusia County voter’s growing suspicion over the now undeniable appearance of transactional campaign donations and the allocation of public funds – or the wholesale giveaway of our heritage of beach driving to speculative developers – all negotiated outside the public view and without substantive public input.

Very interesting, indeed.

Well, that does it for me.

I hope you will join me this weekend at the 55th Annual Halifax Art Festival on Beach Street in Downtown Daytona!

While you’re there, please take a moment to shop with local merchants – you’ll be glad you did.

Also, take the whole family to the 73rd Annual Volusia County Fair and Youth Show!  The fair runs through November 12th.

Have a great weekend!

 

 

On Volusia: “We’re Number Seven!”

Some might disagree, but I’ve always considered myself reasonably “tuned-in” to local current events, and sensitive to the shifting winds of life here on the Fun Coast.

Hey, it’s not rocket surgery – I just read the paper and bitch.

What else do I have to do?

Having made a life in the Daytona Beach Resort Area for over 55-years, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly – and you don’t need a study from Harvard University to get the idea that things are increasingly “challenged” here.

That’s why I was surprised by the recent announcement in U. S. News & World Report – a “recognized leader” in rating everything from colleges to cars – that Daytona Beach ranked #7 on their “Best Places to Retire list.”

Interesting.

Obviously, our beleaguered Chamber of Commerce-types seized the news like a famished rat on a moldy piece of cheddar.

After all, they haven’t had much to feel good about for, oh, the last 30 years.

Then, our local “movers & shakers” got on board – patting each other on the back, beaming with pride, and performing their best “We’re Number Seven!” rah-rah routine for the always easy to please Clayton Park, business writer for the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

According to reports, the U. S. News & World Report listing was based on an analysis of housing affordability, retiree taxes, quality of health care and overall happiness of each area’s residents.”

Generally, I take these “best of” lists with a grain of salt.

When I served as a Chief of Police, I always downplayed the importance of crime statistics and our community’s per capita ratings – given the fact that law enforcement has very little influence on the civic issues (local economy, social disorganization, etc.) that contribute to crime, blight and dilapidation – it just didn’t pay to get excited about it.

I tried not to fret when rates were high – or take undue credit when reported crime dropped – and simply focused on ensuring that my department was operating as effectively and efficiently as possible while developing strategic crime prevention and enforcement programs to address emerging threats.

In government, it is generally best to be responsive to the needs of your constituents, control what you can, and not beat your chest when the very next “study” might have a whole different outcome.

For instance, last year, CBS Money Watch listed Daytona Beach as the 3rd Worst Real Estate Market in the United States (Buffalo was #1) – and the online site Homesnacks ranked us 6th in their “10 Worst Places to Live in Florida.”

(See why it’s never good to cherry-pick statistical lists?)

In addition, the international travel website Smart Travel Tips ranked Daytona Beach #3 on the “10 Worst Neighborhoods in Florida” list – with Roadsnacks placing us in the #1 slot for the “10 Most Ghetto Cities in Florida” (I don’t know what that means, but it can’t be good. . .)

In 2016, Bankrate.com – a trusted source of financial planning information – listed Daytona Beach among the worst places to retire in the nation – 144 out of 194 – with a “cultural vitality” rating of “poor.”

Considering the Daytona Beach News-Journal recently reported that our area’s median income for renters, and the availability of affordable housing, are among the worst in Florida (15th in the nation) – and our property taxes are the second highest in the state, with residents packing town hall meetings to voice their frustrations over abject blight and economic stagnation – I wonder if whoever researched these statistics bothered to visit Volusia County – or read the local newspaper for that matter.

In this week’s Volusia/Flagler Business Report’s “The Buzz” column, Clayton reminded us of the #7 ranking – and tapped the always over-enthusiastic Wild Bill Bullock, Senior Vice President at Minto Communities for comment.

Wild Bill linked the news to a recent Bloomberg article which described Minto’s “Latitudes at Margaritaville” as “the future of retirement.”   (God, I hope not. . .)

Trust me.  Our doddering fool of a county chairman, Ed Kelley, will dutifully parrot these dubious accolades during his next “State of the County” address – and the U.S. News & World Report listing will be distributed like confetti at every rubber chicken banquet and “economic development” gala in town for the next decade.

Mind you, Old Ed won’t understand the statistical analysis, or how these debatable rankings were arrived at (no one else does either), but he will regurgitate the “We’re Number Seven!” chant for the benefit of our “movers & shakers” who have towed the party line and kept their head comfortably in their collective ass for decades.

It’s a big part of why we’re in this condition, but nobody who should seems to care – even as the social crevasse dividing us continues to grow.

Depending upon who you talk to, life on the Fun Coast is either the best – or the worst.

How’s things by you?

On Volusia: The Dark Path Ahead

As regular readers of these goofy screeds know, I tend to brood on the darker issues facing us here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

I’m the glass half-empty guy – the infernal pessimist – always staring balefully at the distasteful realities – and increasing divide – of our collective experience in Volusia County; always irrationally suspicious of the optimistic merry-making by our power structure that constantly seeks to assure us that Happy Days are Here Again.

Again.

That makes Barker’s View generally, and its author specifically, a burr under the saddle of our established “system” – and an unremitting irritant to those who stand to profit from it.

Good.  Because that’s the goal.

When I meet readers of this forum, they are invariably gracious and encourage me to continue this experiment in alternative opinion – because what they see with their own eyes does not always comport with what they are told by their elected and appointed officials.

Or our local media outlets.

It appears the Daytona Beach News-Journal has developed an almost schizophrenic malady, wherein our newspaper of record is forced to alternately feature “rah-rah feel-good” stories which desperately try to convince the masses that relocating thousands of aging Parrotheads to an artificial utopia on the outskirts of a challenged municipality without the benefit of transportation infrastructure or adequate services is “progress” – while also acknowledging the abysmal state of local wages, poverty, blight and malignant hopelessness.

We open our daily paper and read fairy tale fables spouted by straight-faced, highly paid public employees who tell us that the temporary relocation of carnival midway rides is the panacea for decades of crushing neglect and dilapidation on the scar that is our Boardwalk (been down there lately?) – or that the westward migration away from the stain of our decrepit beachside is somehow best for the collective future of Daytona Beach.

For instance, on Friday, the News-Journal published yet another puff-piece entitled, “Parrothead Paradise,” which included a front-page photograph of Bill Bullock, Senior Vice-President for Minto Communities (the developer du jour), with hands raised in over-the-top exuberance – like he was babbling in tongues and rebuking the devil of economic stagnation at one of those backwoods tent crusades.

The article went on to feature sanguine quotes by local “movers and shakers,” and descriptions of cute signage, such as, “If Life Gives You Limes, Make Margaritas!”

The fluff included upbeat ditty’s like, “Latitude Margaritaville also heavily promotes the advantages of living in Daytona Beach,” “Of all the places to retire, we believe Daytona Beach is at the top,” “a phenomenal success.”

Our own newly crowned Great and Powerful Oracle, John Albright, CEO of Consolidated-Tomoka, said, “With Latitude Margaritaville, I think they hit a gusher!” 

He’s right.

They did hit a gusher – unfortunately, I suspect it’s coming from our over-stressed aquifer – our singular source of drinking water – as the development is taking place right on top of sensitive recharge areas.

I think Sir Albright was referring to the gazillions of dollars Minto Communities will make on homes that will be built at a reported rate of one per day. . .

Seriously, “We expect to build 300-plan homes in Year One,” said Bullock, adding, “That’s basically a home a day.”

(Wow.  I’m just spit-balling here, but what kind of quality can Frank and Lola Parrothead expect for their $230,000 to $340,000 at that pace of construction?  Just asking. . .)

Then, on Sunday, we read a heartbreaking exposé in the News-Journal disclosing the devastating problem of severely cost-burdened residents – with Volusia and Flagler Counties having the second lowest median income for renters in Florida (15th in the nation out of 382 metropolitan statistical areas).

Contributing to the problem are historically low wages, a high number of service industry jobs and the lack of affordable housing here on the Fun Coast.

The not-so-fun quips in this article weren’t nearly as optimistic as Mr. Bullock’s assessment of things from his perch inside the recently opened Latitude at Margaritaville sales office:

“Trying to Survive.”

 “Everybody’s in Debt.”

 “A Complex Problem.”

 “It’s always been a struggle; some people just slip through the cracks.”

Incredibly depressing, really.

But don’t fret – I’m sure tomorrow will bring a new and uplifting report on progress at an outlet mall, mega-convenience store or chain restaurant.

So keep your chin up, people.

Hey, you 16% of the population living in poverty – and the thousands more living paycheck-to-paycheck – haven’t you heard?

When life gives you limes, make margaritas!

In my view, these polar opposite news stories provide more evidence of the weird civic and social dichotomy in Volusia County – the contrast of experiences between the haves and have-nots – the increasing divide between the corporate Cheetahs who feed greedily at the public trough, and us lame Wildebeests who seemingly exist only to feed the machine.

The problem is growing, and this near constant grandstanding by corporate real estate marketing departments won’t fundamentally change the fact that our unfortunate dearth of leadership and strategic vision is taking Volusia County residents down a very dark path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for October 27, 2017

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:          John Miklos & Governor Rick Scott  

Earlier this month, the St. John’s River Water Management District – Florida’s powerful regulatory agency charged with protecting our aquifer (read: drinking water) – levied a $200,000 fine on an Orlando parking lot operator.

Seems the owner of the lot cleared two-acres of land without proper permits (sound familiar Debary?), and paved over an environmentally sensitive area.

It took some 12-years of litigation to get it done, but the SJRWMD persevered and held the offending business to account.

Awesome, right?

Finally, a Central Florida environmental offender brought to “justice.”

Not so fast.

Now, the same parking lot operator is back before the SJRWMD requesting permission to destroy 30-additional acres of wetlands – and by all accounts, the district is ready to permit it.

Why?

I mean, what changed?

The land is either environmentally sensitive and in need of conservation or it isn’t?

Right?

Well, it appears the business has finally come to its senses and hired Orlando-based Bio-Tech Consulting – which happens to be owned by Governor Rick Scott’s hand-selected chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board – Long John Miklos.

That’s right.

The Chairman of the SJRWMD is still making money off private interests coming before the very public regulatory agency he oversees.

As the Orlando Sentinel recently opined, “I think that, in a state with more than 20 million people, we should be able to find someone to run the agency who doesn’t make money dealing with it.”

Now, there’s something the Constitution Revision Commission should consider. . .

Yeah, right.

This is Florida.  The rules are different here.

Angel:             David Vukelja, Esq. 

Thank you, sir.

This week, I watched the intrepid David Vukelja’s outstanding oral argument before the 5th District Court of Appeal in the matters of Sons of the Beach and International Beach Club vs. County of Volusia.

The proceedings might as well have been titled “Us vs. Them” – because that is exactly what it is.

Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach advocacy, and the International Beach Club have fought valiantly to protect our heritage of beach driving – even as our appointed and elected officials continue to barter away large swaths of the strand to private developers – and use the power and resources of the County Attorney’s Office to batter and bash We, The People into submission.

Mr. Vukelja’s very cogent argument, supported by well-researched case law, was artfully presented – and he provided persuasive answers to the staccato of legal questions posed by the three-judge panel.

Again, our highly compensated County Attorney, Dan Eckert, stammered and hawed through his presentation like Jed Clampett trying to order soup in a French restaurant.

In my view, Dan’s not a very good presenter – however, he has no problem using the full might and treasury of county government to legally crush the will of his own constituents – and that is exactly what our elected officials have directed.

Apparently, Mr. Eckert’s ability to ignore political motivations and follow superior orders more than makes up for his abysmal courtroom skills.

Look, the judges of the 5th District have a difficult task before them, and they must work within the confines of the law.

Unfortunately, laws are made by politicians who don’t always represent the best interests of their constituents – and sometimes they construct legislation outside the limits of the charter, or the constitution, as a means of protecting power.

There are many legal questions surrounding these important issues – and the way this case was abruptly dismissed by the courts – that demand answers.

I hope the 5th District allows this matter to proceed.

Regardless of the appellate court’s ruling – the fight to preserve the people’s right to beach access and limit government overreach must continue.

Aside from the artificial infusion of cash by wealthy political insiders, we still have the essential framework of a democratic process that allows 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 public office, we can once again balance political power and restore transparency, fairness and the spirit of fair play in Volusia County government.

Asshole:          County of Volusia

Much of what I go on about in this space is done tongue in cheek – a goofy attempt to embroider my cockeyed opinions on the important issues of the day with a heavy dose of sarcasm.

This piece isn’t one of those.

Last week, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company agreed to pay Volusia County some $85,000 in replacement costs for a dump truck that was destroyed in a 2014 crash that took the life of a young mother and her newborn baby.

The family of those lost also received compensation from both Volusia County and Goodyear – small comfort for a tragedy of such magnitude.

The investigation of this unspeakable tragedy by the Florida Highway Patrol and independent traffic accident reconstruction experts were typically contradictory.

Some investigators found that Volusia County violated safety protocols – something county officials denied – then county attorneys deflected blame on a defective tire and the whole ugly mess dissolved into civil litigation.

Whatever.  Nothing can bring back that precious mother and baby.

In my view, now that this heartbreaking affair has been legally settled by all parties, perhaps our elected officials should demand an outside, independent audit of all county maintenance and repair operations?

An internal review and a policy change or two just won’t cut it.

It is common for progressive, transparent public and private organizations to conduct an impartial safety review of both administrative and operational practices following an unthinkable tragedy.

It just makes sense.

And it should not stop there.

Given the very public and on-going interpersonal and professional conflicts between County Manager Jim Dinneen and Sheriff Chitwood, and Councilwoman Heather Post, and the councils constituents, and the municipalities, and . . . (you get the picture), perhaps those we have elected to represent our interests should commission a thorough independent management audit of the entire senior administration?

It will never happen, but it’s past time for a top-to-bottom review of the County Manager’s office.

Every resident of Volusia County is intimately familiar with Volusia County’s obscenely lax approach to preventive maintenance, or even basic upkeep, of publicly owned facilities – and the non-stop series of bloopers, missteps, political gaffes and “public policy by ambush” that has left our elected officials looking like out-of-touch buffoons – is corrosive and erodes the public’s trust in county government.

If you want a prime example of what passes for property management in county government, take a pass by the “proposed” off-beach parking lot at the west corner of Cardinal Drive and SR A-1-A in Ormond Beach.

It is deplorable.

A boarded up, weed-strewn eyesore that is actively contributing to the proliferation of blight in the center of the city’s main tourist corridor – and immediately adjacent to a long-suffering residential area.

Or, how about the deplorable condition of the former Hurst Elementary School?

A property previously owned by Volusia County that was recently sold/transferred/given (I dunno) to Halifax Urban Ministries for development of the Hope Place homeless shelter?

My God.  Have you driven by that mess recently?

I have.  And it appears the worst fears of area residents are already coming true.

HUM hurst

Roofing material blowing in the wind, twisted chain-link fencing, unsecured doors and a general appearance of dilapidation, etc.

Did the county just wash its hands of the former school once it was transferred to HUM?

Is the soul-crushing blight that area residents said would bring down property values and destroy their neighborhood coming true before Hope Place has even opened its doors?

For that matter, are renovations to Mrs. Forough Hosseini’s signature assistance center for homeless families and children being completed by two guys on weekends?

 What gives? 

 In my view, it’s gross negligence.

As usual, more questions than answers.

Look, nothing takes the wind out of blowhards like me quite like an independent management audit.

Perhaps the study will find that Mr. Dinneen is the best thing since sliced bread – or perhaps it will expose a dysfunctional autocracy which actively subverts the will and needs of its constituents as it consolidates power in a small cabal of wealthy political insiders?

I think we deserve answers.

Angel:             Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly

I’ve said this before – Sheriff Rick Staly is a breath of fresh air in Flagler County.

Through innovative programs and a personal commitment to strong law enforcement and community improvement initiatives, Sheriff Staly is setting the example for modern problem-oriented policing.

Last week, we learned that judges in Flagler County will now have the option of ordering domestic violence offenders to attend in-county battery intervention courses.

This important new resource is a direct result of suggestions brought by Sheriff Staly’s Domestic Violence Task Force – good ideas which include adding a domestic violence investigator and seeking more effective ways to serve the vulnerable victims of this deadly epidemic.

The 29-week program will be offered at the Flagler County Emergency Operations Center – and will be paid for by the offender.

In addition, Flagler Undersheriff Jack Bisland – one of the singularly finest law enforcement officers I’ve ever known – has suggested a unique monitoring program for repeat and violent offenders.

Speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Undersheriff Bisland said, “Offenders get power from the anonymity of these offenses.  It happens behind closed doors and they hide behind the secrecy – one persona publicly, and behind closed doors they act differently.  The more people know about that behavior, the more power it takes from that offender.” 

He’s right.

Kudos to Sheriff Staly and his outstanding team of caring professionals who are working hard to open the right doors and develop inventive solutions to this difficult problem.

Asshole:          Brown & Brown

 “On behalf of our teammates across the country and around the world, those of us that work every day out of 220 South Ridgewood Ave. and call Daytona Beach home want to express our sincere thanks and appreciation to the city of Daytona Beach and Volusia County for their votes in support of the future.”

 –J. Powell Brown, CEO of Brown & Brown, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Community Voices column last week.

What are we, chopped liver? 

In perhaps the most self-serving, backhanded “thank you” note ever inflicted upon a still sore community, Powell Brown (and, I assume, his corporate communications division) openly snubbed taxpayers while fawning over his paid minions – our elected officials – in Daytona Beach and Volusia County who bestowed a collective $15-million in publicly funded incentives for construction of the company’s new corporate headquarters.

I’m not sure that Mr. Brown fully understands (or cares) how angry and bitter a large segment of the local population remains over this carefully orchestrated giveaway.

The problem with being “Rich & Powerful” is that no one wants to tell you the truth.

I do.

Trust me, Mr. Brown, you are not doing your hired chattel on the dais of power any favors by openly praising this reverse Robin Hood maneuver – a scheme that culminated in a vote that made it rain public funds on your privately held billion-dollar insurance conglomerate in an environment where a sizeable segment of the population is really suffering.

I thought you should know.

Something else you should know – in my view, if your company fails to make good on its trusted promise of a $237-million-dollar annual economic impact to the Halifax area, your family name will be mud in this town – and your hand-selected elected officials who facilitated this cash-grab will have a very difficult time returning to the halls of power come election time.

We are counting on you.

Quote of the Week:

 “It’s not that we aren’t trying, you just can’t snap your fingers and make it happen.”

 —Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, as quoted in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, speaking condescendingly to his long-suffering constituents who simply questioned the length of time required for repairs to existing beach walkovers over one-year after Hurricane Matthew

Geez.  Why so defensive, Ed?

Whenever We, The People, have the temerity to question the machinations of County Manager Jim Dinneen and our elected marionettes on the dais of power, they get their knickers in a twist.

“You have to get permits. You can’t just go in and rebuild the walkovers,” County Chair Ed Kelley said. “We had to get reassured from FEMA that we’d get reimbursed. I know everyone wants everything done at once, but we can’t just put it back up the next day.”

 Whoa.  Easy, man.

 Look, we understand that rebuilding public amenities is infinitely more difficult and time-consuming than, say, giving away millions in public funds to a billionaire insurance conglomerate (an extraordinary feat that took just 35-working days from the date of the public announcement) but should it take a year to replace some walkovers?

And why three contractors?  You’re saying FEMA’s on-board with that? 

 Just asking. . .

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of being lectured by these doddering, out-of-the-loop meatballs we elected; these sycophantic lumps who parrot only what they are told by Little Jimmy Dinneen.

Because that’s all they know.

In my view, the defensiveness and open condescension by those who ostensibly work in the public interest is a mere smokescreen for their bizarre move to hire multiple contractors at a cost of $1.3 million taxpayer dollars – something county officials claim will speed-up the repairs.

Something doesn’t smell right.

For instance, when questioned by the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Coastal Divisions Director Jessica Winterwerp, “. . .said she didn’t know how the cost of hiring one contractor to fix the remaining 21 walkovers would compare with the coast of three. (?) “But I can tell you it definitely would have taken longer,” she said.”

Wait a minute.

The Coastal Divisions Director – the highly-compensated senior administration official responsible for all beach-related operations – cannot tell us the simple net difference in price between hiring one contractor or three?

Bullshit.

Is it possible that the entire senior staff, and our elected officials, are completely out of the loop?

You bet it is.

But don’t take my word for it.

The next time our cantankerous County Chair, Ed Kelley – or any of those other arrogant gasbags in DeLand – spout off regarding things they haven’t a clue about – call them on it.

For instance, ask Old Ed to explain the permitting process.  Ask him to discuss his direct understanding of the “complexities” of an issue that has resulted in beach access disruptions for over a year.

Trust me.  You’ll be sadly surprised.

That’s all for me – but before I go, I want to tell you about a cool event this weekend:

The First Annual Mid-Town Barbecue Championship hosted by the City of Daytona Beach!

The event will be held at Daisy Stocking Park, 550 3rd Avenue, from 10:00am to 2:00pm.

Best of all – Admission is free!  Sounds like fun!

Have a great weekend!

 

On Volusia: Never Apologize, Never Explain

The 19th century Oxford scholar Benjamin Jowett is credited with the adage, “Never apologize, never explain.”

He supposedly added, “Get it over with and let them howl.”

There was a lot of howling in Volusia County last week when the City of Daytona Beach and Volusia County Council expeditiously authorized the expenditure of some $15-million of our hard-earned tax dollars to cover a mega-insurance conglomerate’s overhead and infrastructure costs associated with their new $30-million office complex in Downtown Daytona.

It was quick, precise and expertly choreographed.

A fait accompli.

In Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, J. Powell Brown, CEO of Brown & Brown, took the opportunity to openly thank our elected city and county officials for their votes authorizing the incentives – yet completely ignored those of us who will ultimately sacrifice to pay for them.

In my view, Mr. Brown would have been better off sending a private note to his corporate chattel – or maybe just bestowing a surreptitious wink outside council chambers – because his glaring omission in failing to recognize where the millions in public largesse will originate is infuriating to a growing segment of us long-suffering plow mules who exist solely to generate the funding.

During his gushing “attaboy” to his hired-hands on the dais of power, Mr. Brown assured us unsophisticated naïfs that their votes came, “. . .not from a feeling of gratitude for past contributions, but from conviction about the benefits we will bring to the community for generations to come.”

Well.  I feel better, how about you?

We desperately needed to hear what was in the hearts of those we elected to high public office when they voted unanimously to give multi-millions in tax-funded incentives to a company with annual revenues of more than $1.7 billion dollars – because every shred of evidence suggests that the Browns – personally and through their many intermediary companies – have infused tens-of-thousands of dollars into local political campaigns for the sole purpose of influencing outcomes.

In his piece, Mr. Brown took credit for his family’s business having helped “shape” our community.

Given the widespread visibility of the serious issues facing us here on the Fun Coast, I’m not sure that’s something to be proud of.

But he’s right.

Corporate welfare for a privileged few, abject personal and corporate greed and quid pro quo “economic development” schemes that have seen hundreds-of-millions evaporate into thin air have helped turn the Halifax area into a mire of squalor and blight that has reduced a once premier tourist destination into a washed-up dump – and resulted in some 16% of our population living in poverty.

We suffer the highest taxes and lowest wages anywhere.

We stand in slack-jawed disbelief while those our local newspaper calls the “Rich & Powerful” exploit environmentally sensitive lands, receive cash giveaways, lobby for the half-price sale of public land to private interests, enjoy dubious “agriculture” property tax exemptions, obtain obscene tax abatement’s and infrastructure improvements – all while permitting and encouraging massive residential and commercial development without any strategic planning or forethought beyond raising the sales tax.

So, please don’t blow smoke up our collective ass about your publicly traded, billion-dollar conglomerates “steadfast commitment to be a good corporate citizen.”

Apparently, Brown & Brown’s 75-year “commitment” to Daytona Beach is as superficially thin as a one-dollar bill.

According to Mr. Brown, “The insightful leaders at the Daytona Beach City Commission and Volusia County Council did an excellent job of showcasing both Daytona Beach’s strengths and opportunities in the face of strong competition.”

How telling.  We were in a contest.

Apparently, Brown & Brown’s true loyalty to the Halifax area is a simple matter of dollars and cents.

The suggestion being that had our elected officials questioned the expenditure – or failed to meet the Brown’s corporate demands (I know, laughable, right?) then J. Hyatt and company would have packed up and moved to Atlanta – or some other place that offered a better prize package than Daytona Beach – and left us hapless rubes squatting in this fetid mess they helped “shape.” 

Mr. Brown, I’m certainly no corporate communications expert, but in my view – never apologize, never explain.

And never sell past the close.

Publicly congratulating your own performance – and that of your hired marionettes – is poor form.  Especially after pocketing $15-million of our hard-earned tax dollars by winning some weird public/private game of chicken.

Here’s another venerable adage I’m openly fond of:

Communities get the leaders they deserve.

 

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal