On Volusia: Sturm und Drang

“Engineers said the coaster’s design along with excessive speed and wear on the coaster were likely factors in the accident, according to reports. The engineers also said they found evidence that the coaster had traveled too fast many times and had an extended history of derailments.”

I found a loose analogy in News-Journal reporter Frank Fernandez’ informative article on efforts by Daytona Beach Boardwalk honcho George Anderson to have the hulk of the ill-fated “Sandblaster” roller coaster removed from the haunted ruins of the once popular tourist area.

Anyone paying attention to what passes for governance here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast will see it immediately. . .

The long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County have been trapped on this rickety chute-the-chute for years – nauseated by the constant ups, downs, twists, turns and loop-de-loops of an out-of-control bureaucracy operated by a troupe of clueless carnies drunk on greed and power.

The centerpiece of a Carnival of the Absurd that no longer bears any semblance to a participatory democracy.

Next week, the storm and stress that has marked the no-holds-barred push by that consortium of millionaires over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance to saddle every man, woman, child and visitor with a half-cent sales tax increase will come to an unceremonious end – as these things always do.

There will be no “winners and losers” on Tuesday.

So, put that quaint notion out of your mind and prepare yourself for the crushing realization that, whatever happens, the outcome will not be good for Volusia County residents.

If the tax increase passes, it is expected to result in a $42 million annual windfall to a horribly compromised county government (with a percentage broken off and hand-fed to the municipalities, who are barking like trained seals at the hand of their masters) – cold hard cash that will ultimately be encumbered then passed through to those individuals and corporations who concocted and funded this pernicious initiative from its inception.

Our bought-and-paid-for politicians, and their uber-wealthy political overseers, will crow long and loud about what a great “Victory” it will be if We, The People succumb to the scary stories, fear-mongering and half-truths that have been used to sell this shameless money grab to the masses and self-inflict a tax increase.

They will preen like peacocks – call the win a “mandate” to continue the status quo – then set about doing exactly what they have always done with our hard-earned tax dollars – following the same failed policies and corrupt processes that have brought us to this incredibly low point in our history.

A visionless “No Plan B” strategy in the face of unchecked sprawl along the spine of Volusia County, where speculative developers rape the land, ignore environmental regulations and the ecological impacts to our water supply and get wildly rich in the process – while hapless residents face the specter of gridlocked traffic, overloaded essential services and the very real prospect of consuming our own sewage in a few short years – a gluttonous all-or-nothing mindset that continues to ignore the myriad problems that got us here.

That’s why I voted “No” – and I hope you will too.  But, regardless of the outcome – I fear our near future is grim. . .

If voters reject doing the same thing over-and-over again while expecting a different outcome from these uninspired shitheels we elected to represent our best interests and deny the increase, where are we then?

Does anyone really think if this local option tax initiative fails our ‘powers that be’ will put a moratorium on new development – finally say “No” to the developers who feed their political campaigns – or implement austerity measures to shrink the size and scope of that grossly bloated bureaucracy in DeLand?

Do you think our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, has the strategic vision, leadership skills and basic intelligence to drive a workable solution to the crushing tsunami of infrastructure, utilities and environmental overburden that is just over the horizon?   

In my view, we – the long-suffering residents of Volusia County – are about to reap the whirlwind that invariably results when a disinterested electorate (where just less than one-in-four households could be bothered to check a box and drop a postage paid ballot in the mail) is set upon by greed-crazed oligarchs who use their massive resources to openly buy elections, corrupt the system of checks-and-balance and continue to openly control the destiny of this sandy piece of land like a fiefdom while you and I pay for it.

As my literary hero Hunter S. Thompson said, “In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught.  In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for May 17, 2019

Hi, kids!

I like to tell tall tales – and I enjoy listening to a good yarn, well told.

Storytelling is an art that dates to our earliest times when the news of the day traveled by word-of-mouth.

In fact, I was born just a few miles west of Jonesborough, a quaint community in east Tennessee, home to the International Storytelling Center – a beautiful campus which includes the historic Chester Inn and Mary B. Martin Hall and each October hosts the National Storytelling Festival.

I come from a long line of hillbilly raconteurs.

One of the funniest people I ever knew was my maternal grandmother.  I have watched in pure amazement as this diminutive lady, who stood four-foot-nothing, held the rapt attention of friends and neighbors who gathered among the fireflies in her back yard on Appalachian summer evenings as she told old-timey ghost stories or wove some circuitous joke that involved four or five side stories. . .

Author Edward Miller once said, “Stories are our primary tools of learning and teaching, the repositories of our lore and legends. They bring order into our confusing world. Think about how many times a day you use stories to pass along data, insights, memories or common-sense advice.”

 Because I lack a “formal education,” listening to the anecdotes and concerns of my neighbors and friends is how I learn – from bar stool chats and social media posts, to reading local stories in The Daytona Beach News-Journal or listening to Big John’s “snippets” on the radio – I keep abreast of daily happenings through the stories we share.

You must admit, these unfolding sagas we collectively follow here on Florida’s Fun Coast are rarely dull.

For instance, the narratives coming out of DeLand this week caused me more mood swings than my hops and barley-based “medication” could keep up with. . .

Like many of you, I was disappointed to see our incredibly popular Sheriff Mike Chitwood – who, to this point, has been a staunch advocate for changing the status quo and returning sanity and a sense of accountability to what passes for government in Volusia County – change tack and encourage voters to approve the proposed sales tax increase – a ravenous pass-through scheme that more efficiently transfers our hard-earned money to the groaning wallets of political insiders.

Considering Sheriff Chitwood’s open warfare with the Volusia County Council over allegations of quid pro quo corruption, pay-to-play politics, dishonesty and abject ineptitude – it was one of those Et tu, Brute? moments that left many sad and confused. . .

Then, my spirits were buoyed by the news that the Volusia County School Board has finally had their fill of beleaguered Superintendent Tom Russell amid an active federal investigation of the district and on-going “communications” issues between Russell and the intrepid freshman Ruben Colon.

Trust me.  That’s the least of it. . .

I’ve got a few other burrs under my saddle I’d like to tell you about – so draw close with the beverage of your choice and let’s try to bring some ‘order into our confusing world,’ shall we?

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

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

Angel               Volusia County School Board Member Ruben Colon  

 Someone once said, “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.”

It’s easy for mealy-mouthed critics like me to snipe from the cheap seats – to point out “how the doer of deeds could have done them better” – it’s something else to stand for high office and shoulder the mantle of responsibility for representing the best interests of your neighbors, often in the face of withering blame and condemnation.

That’s especially true for those who choose to serve our children and steward our schools.

Earlier this week, I was proud of freshman school board member Ruben Colon who made a motion to terminate the services of embattled Superintendent Tom Russell.

A subsequent 4-1 vote began the process. . .

I have a working theory that somewhere along the way Volusia County government services surrendered, en masse, to the forces of mediocrity.

When the people you serve stop expecting anything of substance from you – and your elected “leadership” embrace poor performance as public policy – then underachievement and shoddy standards become ingrained in the culture of the organization.

Let’s face it, it’s easier that way.

But the issues facing our school district represent something more disturbing.

When one considers the near-constant roil that defined the administration of Superintendent Russell and his clown troupe “Cabinet” – many of whom currently occupy roles they are wholly unqualified for and others who have created what some staff members have described to me as a “do as I say, not as I do” environment – those of us paying attention wonder what took so long?

As I’ve previously written, by any metric, Volusia County Schools are failing miserably – and for a long time our school board members couldn’t seem to grasp that ineffective leadership just might have something to do with that.

According to reports, last year 72% of the district’s elementary schools were ranked as C or D schools – trapped in a cycle of ‘averageness’ that is destroying the morale of our long-suffering teachers and robbing our children of the educational opportunities they deserve.

Add to that the fact Volusia County suffers one of the lowest graduation rates of any similar sized district in Florida, a cockamamie hiring process and an unstaunched hemorrhage of talent – made worse by an inexplicable refusal to listen to the needs of classroom teachers or pay a competitive wage – and you begin to see the true depth of the problem.

All on top of a $900 million annual budget that we are now being led to believe will see a nearly $10 million shortfall next year – resulting in vague, cowardly threats by some bureaucrats and school board members to eliminate positions and previously promised pay raises.

Now, we learn that the union and district have yet to finalize the hard-won salary plan that would have made Volusia more competitive and help retain teachers – and it appears the two sides are headed back to the bargaining table (?).

Perhaps most egregious, Superintendent Russell kept the School Board in the dark about an active United States Department of Justice investigation into the district’s treatment of student’s living with Autism Spectrum Disorder – all while some educators are set to be interrogated by DOJ investigators.

Jesus.  What a shit show. . .

In an explosive article by Cassidy Alexander writing in the News-Journal, we learned that Russell told board members earlier this week that he was clueless about the scope of the DOJ investigation – when, in fact, he had been briefed on the matter a year ago. . .

Hell, I learned about the problem last month at the F.A.I.T.H Action Assembly, when the father of a first grade student at Tomoka Elementary School told horror stories of the discrimination and humiliation his autistic son has endured – while Superintendent Russell stood slack-jawed just feet away from him.

Who does that? 

This latest series of blunders simply underscores the abject ineptitude that has permeated Russell’s administration – making victims of those unfortunate young people who rely on Volusia County Schools for their primary education.

Unfortunately, there were several key points when Russell’s reign could have been cut short before the train left the tracks.

Last October – following a long hot summer of intense negotiations – the leadership of Volusia United Educators called for Russell’s head, citing an “unsupportive” atmosphere that was failing teachers.

At the time, then Chairwoman Linda Cuthbert attacked her former classroom colleagues, calling the teachers reasonable demand to oust Russell “unprofessional.”

Cuthbert crowed, “They have every right to express their opinion, but they have absolutely no right to tell any School Board who they can hire and fire,” Cuthbert said. “We most certainly do not tell the union who they can elect as their president.  We have to be responsible to the entire school district and to the taxpayer.”

Yes, you do Ms. Cuthbert.

So, when do you plan to live up to that weighty responsibility?

I found it incredibly disturbing that – despite mounting evidence – Ms. Cuthbert was the lone vote this week to keep Superintendent Russell at the helm of this foundering ship. . .

In my view, its high time the Volusia County School Board acted to jettison Superintendent Russell and launch an inquiry to determine the true depth of issues facing our children’s education.

With luck, Russell will take a few other senior administrators with him who continue to prove the Peter Principle is alive and well in District offices – dullards who are actively killing ingenuity, morale and organizational effectiveness in this all-important public service.

Thank you, Mr. Colon.

You have proven a true commitment to your oath – and the best interests of Volusia County’s children.

Angel              City of Holly Hill and “Pictona”

Kudos to the City of Holly Hill on what is being hailed as the “Wimbledon of Pickleball” at beautiful Hollyland Park!

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held earlier this week – festivities I’m told drew nearly two hundred of the sports faithful.

In December, city officials made the visionary commitment to contribute $1 million in Community Redevelopment Funds to see the project become a reality.  The state-of-the-art sports complex is also being underwritten by the $3 million private investment of Rainer and Julie Martens of Ormond Beach.

Now that’s my kind of “public/private partnership”!

Once the facility is complete next spring, pickleball enthusiasts will have access to 24 open and covered courts – along with space for bocce ball and shuffleboard.

The facility’s clubhouse will include a pro shop, players lounge with video replay technology, training space, a fully appointed locker room and a restaurant, known as “The Kitchen,” which will offer skybox-style viewing of six covered pickleball courts.

I like the fact city officials were respectful of the park’s storied history as a place for youth and community sports activities.  In keeping with that tradition, at least one large baseball field will remain in place.

According to reports, Hollyland Park will also host a community garden and senior activity center offered as a free public resource to area residents!

After establishing itself as one of the most business-friendly locations in Volusia County – a hub of light industry and small manufacturing – “The City with a Heart” is working hard to show its larger neighbors what a true active lifestyle community can be.

With its quaint, tree lined streets, advanced wellness equipment at Sunrise Park and enduring community spirit, Holly Hill is coming into its own.

Now, we learn of an investment consortium who recently purchased some 150 vacant condominium units at Marine Grande – to include the long-dormant 11,000 square foot upscale retail center which fronts Riverside Drive.

Sales of the condo units and accompanying boat slips at the posh, resort-style marina will be conducted by Re/Max Signature, who will soon open an office in the Shops at Marine Grande.

In my view, this news adds fuel to a small community that is already on fire – actively reinventing itself – a second act that proves Holly Hill is ready to compete with any community in the Halifax area.

Congratulations to Nick Conte – one of the finest economic development directors in that difficult game – and the outstanding team at the City of Holly Hill!

Angel             New B-CU President E. LaBrent Chrite

They say anyone can hold the wheel when the sea is calm – but it takes real courage to leave the safety of shore and take the helm in the midst of a storm.

That’s true.

With remaining options to ensure the viability of Bethune-Cookman University quickly waning, we recently learned that what’s left of the historic institution’s beleaguered Board of Trustees has selected E. LaBrent Chrite to lead the university beginning July 1, 2019.

According to a release by B-CU, “I am tremendously honored to assume the presidency at Bethune-Cookman University, an academic institution with a storied history; great faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends; and a bright future,” Chrite said.

“We face some serious challenges, but we have so much that’s outstanding in our community and traditions—and I have every confidence that together we will make exciting things happen. I am passionate about Bethune-Cookman and am thrilled to be a part of its community.”

Hailed as a “truly exceptional and rare leader” by former colleagues, in my view, it appears Dr. Chrite has the preparation and business experience necessary to change tack and return financial viability and a sense of stability to the troubled school.

God, I hope so.

I’m not sure interim president Judge Hubert Grimes did himself – or the University – any favors when he recently launched a hyper-critical screed indicting The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s revealing coverage of this unfolding debacle – including a recent report on the school’s $17.5 million technical default on bonds the school borrowed on in 2010 to pay off old debts on campus buildings.

Citing “erroneous comments from local press,” Judge Grimes claimed that the newspapers “half-truths and negative spin” have resulted in a dramatic reduction in student applications and damaged the school’s reputation and brand.

Hardly. . .

Judge Grimes simply cannot blame The Daytona Beach News-Journal for this atrocity.

In my view, the blame for this unfolding outrage lies with a previous administration that, by all accounts, used university resources like a personal piggy bank, while an asleep-at-the-wheel board comprised of local ‘movers & shakers’ stood around with a thumb wedged firmly in their ass, lauding each other with honorary degrees and looking the other way while sneak thieves looted the place. . .

My hope is that federal authorities are actively investigating why ostensibly bright people – a Board of Trustees in name only with a sacred fiduciary responsibility to students, parents and staff – consciously abdicated their duty and stood idle while the very institution they were responsible for protecting was exsanguinated.

Asshole           Volusia County Tax Grabbers 

A version of this screed appeared earlier this week, but given the lingering questions of pay-to-play politics and the insidious influence of cronyism and corporate giveaways on Volusia’s artificial economy at a time when our ‘powers that be’ are actively flogging a sales tax increase, it bears repeating. . .

In his well-researched article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Will past deals hurt?” reporter Dustin Wyatt asked the important question:

“Will Volusia County’s insidious cronyism and malignant corporate welfare system play a role in the sales tax vote?”

 Now, I took some editorial liberty with the phrasing – but make no mistake – that is the question.

For years, the dirty little secret that has stifled true economic development – and created an artificial economy through unfair advantage in Volusia County – is that here, uber-wealthy political insiders truly can keep their cake and eat it too.

Don’t take my word for it.

Ask any of the countless small businesses that have withered on the vine of local government over-regulation, been asked to jump through onerous hoops by the very officials who are paid to foster entrepreneurial investment, fell victim to bait and switch promises, endured the insidious problems of blight, homelessness and hopelessness, or simply faded out of existence due to the economic realities of Main Street, Downtrodden Downtown Daytona or in our traditional tourist areas along Atlantic Avenue from Ormond Beach south.

Take a drive, see the sights, then consider where the tens-of-millions in redevelopment funds earmarked for these critical commercial areas ultimately ended up?

Speak to those who own restaurants, operate movie theaters, retail shops and other enterprises that don’t enjoy the buoyant effect of having their start-up costs, overhead and financial risk mitigated by massive infusions of public funds – or given the unfair advantage of charging “enhanced amenity fees” – a sales tax by another name – to cover maintenance, guest experience and marketing costs.

What? 

Your small business doesn’t enjoy the same infrastructure improvements, tax abatement, fee reductions and direct financial support from local government that, say, J. Hyatt Brown, the Forbes listed France family, or any number of real estate developers enjoy? 

Tough shit.  Here on Florida’s Fun Coast – you pay to play. . .

Despite what our “economic development” gurus over at Team Volusia tell themselves so they can sleep at night – a free market and strong local economy is not based upon which community can throw the most money and tax incentives at a corporation on the always flimsy, rarely fulfilled, promise of “high paying jobs.”

In my view, when done properly, visionary communities take a holistic approach – working with planners to carefully select, recruit and position businesses in a way that provides the company with the best opportunity for commercial success, while enhancing quality of life and building a distinctive civic brand by carefully shaping a physical and regulatory environment where people and businesses want to be.

Sound familiar?  I didn’t think so. . .

Here, our ‘powers that be’ simply turn a blind eye to the sins of the past – ignore long-neglected existing neighborhoods and dilapidated commercial corridors – then allow developers to build a sprawling “New Daytona” in the pine scrub west of town.

My God.   

There was a time when government assisted the development of a strong commercial tax base by identifying and reducing expensive permitting, onerous regulations and promoting fair practices for the benefit of consumers.

Local, state and federal government ensured that the playing field was level then allowed the natural competition of the free market to work without unnatural stimuli.  It meant that only the best ideas survived, and that prices for goods and services were controlled by marketplace factors, such as quality of service and the law of supply and demand.

Under Volusia County’s current economic development strategy, local governments have essentially become backhanded philanthropists – offering huge sums of public funds to private interests with a profit motive.

Whenever you are playing fast-and-loose with other people’s money, the risk for favoritism and corruption is high.

In my view, Volusia County has an abysmal track record of pissing away our hard-earned tax dollars to satiate the personal wants of entrenched power brokers which has perpetuated an out-of-control oligarchical system that no one trusts anymore.

Now – after lavishing millions of tax dollars on a few political insiders who fund the political campaigns of hand-select candidates for public office – their elected shills are asking every man, woman, child and visitor in Volusia County to self-inflect a sales tax increase – a move many are convinced is just another pass-through from our pockets to those of the wealthy government contractors and others who are pushing this shameless money grab.

Why?  Because Volusia County government – who will receive the bulk of funds generated – needs this tax increase like a parasitic insect needs the blood of its host.

All the right last names are working hard to see it pass – and even our daily newspaper has joined the bandwagon with not-so-subtle slants and editorial backing that have rubbed many loyal readers wrong.

For instance, supporters of this shameless money grab are glowingly described as “some of the largest, most influential countywide groups,” who make “surprise endorsements,” and care about our “quality of life” – while opponents of the scheme are painted as trolls out of some weird Norwegian fairy tale – “Citizens against virtually everything” who “. . .can largely be found leveling criticism against the county on social media or waving “Vote No” signs on some busy intersections.”

Friends and neighbors I speak with are tired of being marginalized and viewed as mere pawns in a darker game who exist for the sole purpose of generating tax dollars for an out-of-control bureaucracy.

I think Alycia Severson, a teacher and civic activist from Ormond Beach, said it best in last Sunday’s News-Journal, “Isn’t it strange to give away millions to friends and developers with one hand and extend the other (to residents) for a handout” in the form of a sales tax?

Trust me.  There is a reason why this tax increase is being ramrodded by that consortium of millionaires over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance through their dubious Political Action Committee – Volusia Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to VOTE NO! on the half-cent sales tax increase.

I assure you giving more of our hard-earned money to the same conniving assholes that got us into this festering quagmire in the first place is not the solution to Volusia County’s infrastructure and environmental needs.

Enough is enough.

In my view, it’s time we send a clear message to our elected officials and demand an end to these pernicious corporate giveaways, abject cronyism and unchecked growth that is replacing the stability of our long-term economic outlook with the constant expansion and contraction of the ‘boom/bust’ cycle.

It is time we demand that our elected and appointed officials get their fat hands out of our pockets – learn to live within their already sizable means – and work to build a sustainable tax base and thriving economy through a fair and competitive marketplace.

Angel              Nancy and Lowell Lohman

While many of our “Rich & Powerful” continue to belly up at the public trough – it’s refreshing to see successful local business owners giving back to the community in such a profound way.

Ormond Beach philanthropists Nancy and Lowell Lohman, former owners of Lohman Funeral Homes, recently gave a no-strings-attached check for $1 million to the Council on Aging to assist their good work in providing essential services to Volusia’s growing elderly population.

Once again, my hat’s off to Mr. & Mrs. Lohman for their kindness – and vision.

They simply saw a need in our community, engaged with those who are working hard in a good cause, then provided substantial, life-sustaining assistance where it is needed most.

A hearty Barker’s View “Thank You!” to the Lohman’s for their incredible generosity – and congratulations to the good folks at the Council on Aging for proving worthy of this very special gift – and for working hard to meet the needs of our most vulnerable population.

God’s work.

Quote of the Week

“Politicians leading the charge for development have proven they don’t have a clue. Rather than taxing new development in a thoughtful way, they have given free rein to explosive development and froth at their eagerness to provide tax dollars as incentives to developers eager to build. This is still a great place. Developers don’t need more incentive than that: “This is a great place to live”. And if withholding tax incentives slows development — well, I see that as a wonderful thing.”

 “More development and an increased sales tax is not the answer to our present infrastructure issues. Look to the politicians who brought us here to budget their spending and to control development in a way that will bring us out of this mess.”

–Mac Smith, Ormond Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor column, “Wrong people pay,” Wednesday, May 15, 2019

And Another Thing!

I want to say, ‘Thank You!’ to those wonderfully engaged citizens at the Bellaire Community Group for inviting me to speak with them last evening about local issues that affect our lives and livelihoods here in the Halifax area.

In my view, the essence of citizenship is coming together as neighbors in the common cause of making our community a better place to live, work and play.

In an era of decreasing participation in local elections, a gross lack of accountability by our elected officials, the marginalization of those with dissident viewpoints – and the personal destruction of whistle-blowers who attempt to expose corruption and inefficiencies in government – it is vitally important to have groups of well-meaning citizens who gather to observe, discuss and learn about the myriad issues we face.

In addition, in a place with troubling power relationships – where the needs, wants and whims of the donor class outweigh those of hard-working residents without a financial chip in the game every time – grassroots organizations like the Bellaire Community Group play an important social and political role in shaping change.

As author and anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

If you aren’t already involved in a neighborhood organization, I encourage you to seek one out and get involved – none better than Bellaire Community Group.

Have a great weekend everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Sheriff Chitwood, say it isn’t so?

In the waning days of one of the most divisive episodes in the history of Volusia County politics, the tax grabbers – Big Money insiders, their elected chattel on the dais of power and the cabal of millionaires over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance who have financed this pernicious money grab – are bringing out the Big Guns.

Like many of you, I was terribly disappointed to see our incredibly popular Sheriff Mike Chitwood – who, to this point, has been a staunch advocate for changing the status quo and returning sanity and a sense of accountability to what passes for government in Volusia County – change tack earlier this week when he issued a social media post encouraging voters to approve this ravenous pass-through scheme that more efficiently transfers our hard-earned money to the groaning wallets of political insiders.

As though it were previously orchestrated, within hours, The Daytona Beach News-Journal went to press with a front page/above the fold spread – “Volusia Sheriff backs sales tax” – clearly exploiting the incredible popularity of Volusia County’s chief lawman.

Frankly, I am mystified why Sheriff Mike Chitwood would wade into this galvanizing shit storm in the first place?

In the prominent piece by Dustin Wyatt in Tuesday’s News-Journal, the Sheriff is quoted:

He (Chitwood) said he wanted to vote no on the tax in protest of “all the damage” county leaders have caused.”

“Then I realized my no vote doesn’t punish the County Council. It punishes everyone else,” he wrote. “We didn’t ask to be put in this hole, but here we are. Let’s climb out first, and then deal with those who did the digging.”

Look, Sheriff Chitwood is no dummy – but in this instance, we are going to have to agree to disagree.

The fact is, if approved, this sales tax increase will have a debilitating impact on those Volusia County residents who can least afford it – the thousands currently living at or below the poverty line – the more than 21,000 local households paying over half of their monthly take-home pay for housing alone – the single-parent making minimum wage – and the 45,000+ families here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast who earn less than 50% of the area’s median income (south of $26,000 for a family of three).

This sales tax increase won’t help the growing number of families who eke out a living as warehouse drones, retail salesclerks or  work dead-end service jobs in a fading tourist economy.

It damn sure won’t benefit senior citizens on fixed incomes who struggle mightily to maintain a home under crushing property taxes, fees and exorbitant insurance rates – in one of the already highest taxed counties in Florida – or young families working hard to establish themselves who will now suffer the additional burden of increased taxes at the point-of-sale.

In my view, Sheriff Chitwood is going to have a hard time convincing the large segment of his constituency who will suffer the most under this shameless money grab that their “quality of life” is somehow going to improve by increasing their tax burden. . .

While I wholeheartedly support Sheriff Chitwood’s efforts to expose the ineptitude, quid pro quo corruption and institutional inefficiencies in that bloated bureaucracy in DeLand, in my view, his take on the half-cent sales tax is simply wrong.

I believe it’s time for long-suffering Volusia County residents to say, “enough is enough” and put an end to this greed-crazed, tax-fueled oligarchical system.

There is something Sheriff Chitwood wrote in his Facebook post that I can get behind:

“Whatever you decide on this tax, I ask you to vote for what you think is right. And if yours is a protest vote, I ask you to also show up at the ballot box when our failed County Council “leaders” are up for re-election in the future.”

Amen, Sheriff.

Folks, I hope you will join the growing number of family, friends and neighbors who are standing firm to the core belief that handing more of our hard-earned money to the same inept assholes that created this “infrastructure emergency” through unchecked sprawl and an exploitative corporate welfare culture is fundamentally wrong.

Refuse to be fleeced by millionaire insiders and their craven marionettes on the dais of power – VOTE NO!

It is the very essence of good citizenship to fightback against an insidious system that no longer represents the interests of We, The People – then begin the arduous process of reestablishing a government that serves all of its constituents as we work collaboratively to restore the public’s trust in our once-revered political processes.

In my view, that important process shouldn’t begin by throwing good money after bad.

 

On Volusia: A Difficult Question

In his well-researched article in Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, reporter Dustin Wyatt asked the important question:

“Will Volusia County’s insidious cronyism and malignant corporate welfare system play a role in the sales tax vote?”

Now, I took some editorial liberty with the phrasing – but make no mistake – that is the question.

For years, the dirty little secret that has stifled true economic development – and created an artificial economy through unfair advantage in Volusia County – is that here, uber-wealthy political insiders truly can keep their cake and eat it too.

Don’t take my word for it.

Ask any of the countless small businesses that have withered on the vine of local government over-regulation, been asked to jump through onerous hoops by the very officials who are paid to foster entrepreneurial investment, fell victim to bait and switch promises, endured the insidious problems of blight, homelessness and hopelessness, or simply faded out of existence due to the economic realities of Main Street, Downtrodden Downtown Daytona or in our traditional tourist areas along Atlantic Avenue from Ormond Beach south.

Take a drive, see the sights, then consider where the tens-of-millions in redevelopment funds earmarked for these critical commercial areas ultimately ended up?

Speak to those who own restaurants, operate movie theaters, retail shops and other enterprises that don’t enjoy the buoyant effect of having their start-up costs, overhead and financial risk mitigated by massive infusions of public funds – or given the unfair advantage of charging “enhanced amenity fees” – a sales tax by another name – to cover maintenance, guest experience and marketing costs.

What? 

Your small business doesn’t enjoy the same infrastructure improvements, tax abatement, fee reductions and direct financial support from local government that, say, J. Hyatt Brown, the Forbes listed France family, or any number of real estate developers enjoy? 

Tough shit.  Here on Florida’s Fun Coast – you pay to play. . .

In the News-Journal’s informative piece on the topic, we learned of the combined $58 million in infrastructure improvements that you and I paid to Big Money interests – like International Speedway Corporation, Brown & Brown, Tanger Outlets and Trader Joe’s  – not including the millions in tax breaks and other incentives – which, in my view, represent a handsome return on investment for those individuals and corporations who underwrite the political campaigns of sitting politicians across Volusia County.

What has been essentially left unsaid, by the News-Journal and those we elect to represent our interests, is that we live in a time and place where the rich get richer using our tax dollars to fund private, for-profit projects – while the poor and so-called “middle class” seemingly exist to pay the bills – then eat shit and die.

In my view, this bastardized system based upon lopsided “public-private partnerships” is antithetical to the idea of a free and open marketplace.

As the Canadian comic and politician Greg Malone put it, P3’s should be called “P-12’s” – “Public-Private Partnerships to Plunder the Public Purse to Pursue Policies of Peril to People and the Planet for all Posterity.”

Indeed.

Look, I can’t blame these out-of-state corporations – if relocation incentives are offered who wouldn’t accept them?

Where I draw the line is with established local companies who crow, ad nauseum, about being “good corporate citizens” while accepting millions in homegrown corporate welfare with the resulting long-term economic impacts.

For instance, I’m already hearing disturbing rumors about local small businesses who are being adversely affected by the much-heralded “Brown Esplanade” in Downtown Daytona – such as the abrupt cancellation of small, but important, contracts for river bank maintenance and other environmental services – as the once public Riverfront Park transitions to private control.

I believe that commercial, for-profit developments that are underwritten by massive infusions of public funds, tax breaks and infrastructure subsidies skew the playing field in a very tight market – essentially allowing government to pick winners and losers – by providing an unfair advantage that most small businesses and entrepreneurs who form the backbone of a local economy do not have equal access to.

That’s wrong.

According to the News-Journal, “Randall Holcombe, a professor of economics at Florida State University, takes a dim view of development incentives, calling them “counterproductive.”

“When (local governments) give one group or company a tax break or subsidy, everyone else is paying the cost. Why should some be asked to foot the bill for benefits that go to others?” he asked. “The best way to promote economic development is to have a business-friendly climate that makes businesses want to come without having to be bribed by targeted government incentives.”

Despite what our “economic development” gurus over at Team Volusia tell themselves so they can sleep at night – a free market and strong local economy is not based upon which community can throw the most money and tax incentives at incredibly profitable established local corporations on the always flimsy, rarely fulfilled, promise of “high paying jobs.” 

I mean, what became of the moral corporate imperative to stand on your own two feet or make way for those who can?  

In my view, when done properly, visionary communities take a holistic approach – working with planners to carefully select, recruit and position businesses in a way that provides the company with the best opportunity for commercial success, while enhancing quality of life and building a distinctive civic brand by carefully shaping a physical and regulatory environment where people and businesses want to be.

Here, our ‘powers that be’ simply turn a blind eye to the sins of the past – ignore long-neglected existing neighborhoods and dilapidated commercial corridors – then allow developers to build a sprawling “New Daytona” in the pine scrub west of town.

My God.    

There was a time when government assisted the development of a strong commercial tax base by identifying and reducing expensive permitting, onerous regulations and promoting fair practices for the benefit of consumers.

Local, state and federal government ensured that the playing field was level then allowed the natural competition of the free market to work without unnatural stimuli.  It meant that only the best ideas survived, and that prices for goods and services were controlled by marketplace factors, such as quality of service and the law of supply and demand.

Under Volusia County’s current economic development strategy, local governments have essentially become backhanded philanthropists – offering huge sums of public funds to private interests with a profit motive.

Whenever you are playing fast-and-loose with other people’s money, the risk for favoritism and corruption is high.

In my view, Volusia County has an abysmal track record of pissing away our hard-earned tax dollars to satiate the personal wants of entrenched power brokers which has perpetuated an out-of-control oligarchical system that no one trusts anymore.

And that’s just one reason why giving these sycophantic rubber-stamps more of our hard-earned money is just wrong. . .

Now – after lavishing millions of tax dollars on a few political insiders who fund the political campaigns of hand-select candidates for public office – their elected shills are asking every man, woman, child and visitor in Volusia County to self-inflect a sales tax increase – a move many are convinced is just another pass-through from our pockets to those of the wealthy government insiders and others who are pushing this shameless money grab.

I think Alycia Severson, a teacher and civic activist from Ormond Beach, said it best in Sunday’s News-Journal, “Isn’t it strange to give away millions to friends and developers with one hand and extend the other (to residents) for a handout” in the form of a sales tax?

Trust me.  There is a reason why this tax increase is being ramrodded by that consortium of millionaires over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance through their dubious Political Action Committee – Volusia Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to VOTE NO! on the half-cent sales tax increase.

I assure you giving more of our hard-earned money to the same conniving assholes that got us into this festering quagmire in the first place is not the solution to Volusia County’s infrastructure and environmental needs.

Enough is enough.

In my view, it’s time we send a clear message to our elected officials and demand an end to these pernicious corporate giveaways, abject cronyism and unchecked growth that is replacing the stability of our long-term economic outlook with the constant expansion and contraction of the ‘boom/bust’ cycle.

It is time we demand that our elected and appointed officials get their fat hands out of our pockets – learn to live within their already sizable means – and work to build a sustainable tax base and thriving economy through a fair and competitive marketplace.

Please join Barker’s View this afternoon beginning at 4:00pm on GovStuff Live with Big John, where we will discuss this issue and other pressing matters facing us here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast!

Please tune-in locally at 1380am “The Cat” – or online at www.govstuff.org – and join the forum!

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for May 10, 2019

Hi, kids!

Earlier this week, I had an unexpected encounter with an intrepid member of the Barker’s View tribe that made my heart feel good.

A few weeks ago, the windshield on the Lone Eagle developed a small nick which quickly developed into a foot-long serpentine crack.  So, I immediately contacted the great folks at USAA Insurance and they arranged to have the glass replaced by a local company.

When the piece was received, I drove to the Nova Road business at the appointed time, but became confused (as I often do) and inadvertently entered a neighboring business instead.  A lady and gentleman were seated behind the counter of the small automotive shop as I happened in, and kindly redirected me to the glass installation place next door.

While maneuvering out of the parking lot, I noticed that the man had followed me outside.

I pulled up and he introduced himself as Steve – then asked my name.

As we shook hands, he told me how much he enjoys reading Barker’s View!

Wow!

The support and encouragement offered by Steve was truly heartening – and I was incredibly humbled that he would take the opportunity to say hello and offer his thoughts on my often-weird take on current events.

I want to say a big “Thank You!” to Steve for being so gracious in his praise of these crude screeds – and  to let all loyal members of the BV tribe know how much I appreciate the fact you take time out of your busy day to read, consider and engage in a larger discussion of the issues that face us here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

I believe that, despite our differences, community engagement and neighbors taking the opportunity to exchange their diverse views develops cohesion and strengthens our community.

In my view, this chance meeting demonstrated in the most wonderful way how we can either agree or disagree, come at problems from similar or differing points of view – yet remain friends and neighbors – always seeking to enhance our common experience and improve the place we call home.

That’s special.

Whenever I get the opportunity to meet Barker’s View readers, you have been incredibly kind – and the feedback and creative suggestions you bring help make this space something unique – a salon, of sorts, for furthering the debate of entrenched civic and social issues facing our community.

Thank you for your thoughtfulness, civic involvement and continued support.

It means more to me than you know.

On Thursday, May 16th – I’ve been invited to talk issues with those good souls at the Bellaire Community Group!

Our discussion will be moderated by long-time grassroots activist and President of Sons of the Beach, Paul Zimmerman, and will cover a wide range of interests, topical concerns and opportunities facing the Halifax area and beyond.

The meeting will be held at Schnebly Center, 1101 North Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach.

A delicious meal is served at 6:00pm and the meeting gets underway at 6:30pm.

If you can make the time, please stop by and say hello – and spend time with some great people who are firmly committed to the betterment of the Halifax area.

I would love to say thank you in person – and hear your take on the many pressing issues we face.

I hope you’ll join us!

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

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

Asshole           Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys

In my view, the antithesis of leadership is exemplified when a sitting elected official makes political hay during an unfolding crisis – criticizing those who are desperately trying to find answers and make a difference – sniping from the cheap seats and piling on while offering no credible solution to perhaps the most malignant social issue of our time.

That’s my job. . .

Earlier this week, the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys took the opportunity to kick the beleaguered members of the First Step Shelter Board while they’re down – publicly putting the boots to her municipal colleagues who boldly stepped up to serve the effort to bring Volusia County’s first homeless assistance center to fruition despite years of political obstacles – many of which were erected by the Volusia County Council’s obstinate refusal to assist beyond throwing our money at the problem.

In an excellent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal penned by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, entitled “Shelter trudges through upheaval,” taxpayers got an up-close-and-personal view of the myriad problems that have plagued the First Step project since its inception – and a dire warning that this incredibly expensive option for reducing chronic homelessness may, once again, be headed for the rocks.

But rather than provide moral support for members of the executive board – or add constructive suggestions for bringing the board and the City of Daytona Beach together – the always arrogant Ms. Denys uses this low point to say “I told you so,” and tout her prognostication that the project (which is slowly, but surely, under construction in the hinterlands off US-92) was doomed to failure when she cast an obstructionist “No” vote two-years ago.

“Leadership starts at the top. You can’t cloak it anymore,” Denys said. “You’ve got a governing board whose hands are tied to govern.”

Look, Ms. Denys wouldn’t know decisive leadership if it bit her on the backside.

In fact, she remains a big part of perhaps the most dysfunctional and inept elected body in the history of Volusia County governance – and that’s saying something.  In my view, her near-constant self-serving antics and weird grandstanding in defense of this lopsided system she helped create says everything you need to know about Ms. Denys’ loyalties.

Many agree, the problem of chronic homelessness is a countywide issue that ultimately needs a countywide solution.  It’s part of why some municipalities are balking at throwing more money at First Step.

As board member Joe Forte recently pointed out – the First Step project and its board remains a wholly controlled entity of the City of Daytona Beach – and that gives some cities cause for pause.

While some may disagree, the City of Daytona Beach stepped up when Volusia County would not – and to their credit (or detriment) – the municipality has struggled to find a lasting solution to one of the most critical issues of our time.

During a recent meeting, First Step Executive Board Chair Mayor Derrick Henry, was quoted as saying, Daytona Beach “doesn’t want to be in the homeless business.”

I’m afraid it’s too late for that now, Mayor Henry – and its high time the CODB begins to play nice in the larger sandbox – which means sharing information and supporting the board’s important work.

It’s also time for the Volusia County Council to get off their sizable ass and help.

Unfortunately, several iterations of the Volusia County Council saw more political benefit in ignoring the issue – forcing the municipalities to cobble together fragmented solutions – with Daytona Beach ultimately stepping up to the plate to accept responsibility for developing a workable shelter.

Has it been a smooth ride?  Hell no.

But what alternative is Ms. Denys – or her “colleagues” on the dais of power in DeLand offering?

According to Ms. Denys, “. . .the shelter needs “a local champion” to get everyone excited and committed, as happened with Forough Hosseini leading the charge for the Hope Place family shelter.”

Hey, Deb – believe it or not – it is possible, with a modicum of leadership and vision, for our local elected and appointed officials to develop and implement workable solutions to entrenched civic, social and economic issues without the direct involvement of J. Hyatt Brown, Mori Hosseini or Lesa France-Kennedy.

Try it sometime – you might be surprised what you can accomplish.

When Ms. Denys received this dubious distinction in Barker’s View in 2017, I wrote:

If there is one consistent obstruction to substantive progress on the myriad issues facing residents of Volusia County, it is the abject arrogance of Councilwoman Deb Denys.

On issues large and small, Ms. Denys always finds a way to protect “the system” – to ensure the best interests of county government are protected, while the true needs and wants of her constituents are ignored or openly opposed.

From her bald-faced lie on preserving beach driving, to her blatant obstruction of a compassionate solution to homelessness, Deb Denys exemplifies all that’s wrong in Deland.

As Councilwoman Joyce Cusack led the majority vote approving county funding for the First Step shelter – an intractable Denys voted in opposition – then continued to grandstand with her self-important “prove me wrong” challenge.

Screw that.  How about helping for a change?

After countless years and setbacks, public, private and faith-based organizations came together to see a plan to fruition that will, for once, provide basic shelter for homeless persons and serve as a catalyst for alleviating an issue that has hampered true economic development and contributed to the malignant blight that effects all of us.

How do you oppose that?

In addition, at the same meeting, Ms. Denys gave us all a brief glimpse into the future when she openly voiced her support for increasing beach access fees for out-of-county visitors – you know, the “tourists” we’re always crowing about – and spending to attract.

How terribly sad.

As usual, Deb – thanks for nothing.”

What’s changed?

Angel               City of Palm Coast

Believe it or not – for a brief moment in my life I served as Interim City Manager for the City of Holly Hill during a dark and stormy period of the community’s history.

Truth be told, it was the worst experience of my professional life. . .

Within days of taking my place in the wing-back hot seat in the manager’s office, I began receiving laudatory notes and introductory phone calls from a few of the Halifax area’s ‘Rich & Powerful’ – and one prolific government contractor even sent a nice box of Belgian chocolates to congratulate my temporary promotion.

It was all pretty heady stuff for a flatfoot cop on a day pass.

But the chocolates bothered me. . .

Rather than do it myself, I thought I would turn it into a “teaching moment” and directed a junior staff member to return the sweets to the corporate office of the company that sent them as an example of the importance of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety.

You see, at my core, I’m an East Tennessee Hillbilly – which means I’m too stupid to take money and too prideful to let those who offer unethical incentives get away with it – and it was clear to me what the expensive goodies represented.

At times, I am also a raging hypocrite who holds others to extremely high standards while often overlooking my own faults and foibles. . .

Look, in a 31-year career in government, I made my share of procedural and ethical mistakes – God knows, I’m not perfect – and, as a functional binge drinker with a darkly cynical outlook – I struggle daily with life’s moral imperative of trying to be a better person today than we were yesterday.

For example, as a law enforcement officer, I have enjoyed countless cups of “free” coffee from local businesses – or half-price meals offered by restaurateurs who want to show their appreciation to local first responders.

It’s unavoidable (if you want to have meal on-duty, anyway) – an uncomfortable part of being a uniformed member of the most visible arm of local government – and, for me, the ethical antidote to this practice was to always leave a tip which covered both the gratuity, and the full cost of the coffee or meal.

Maybe that strategy falls short – but any law enforcement officer who has ever had the agonizingly embarrassing confrontation at the point of sale – refusing a discount, only to be told by the adamant clerk that it’s “company policy” to offer a public safety discount knows what I’m talking about.

Recognizing the sensitivity of this issue – and the fragility of the public’s trust in their government – I was incredibly proud of the City of Palm Coast’s strong stand in launching an investigation and taking decisive action after some seven municipal employees were suspected of accepting gifts of top-shelf whiskey and candies from a local government contractor.

As I understand it, last December, internal auditors from something called the Palm Coast “Internal Control Ethics Team – ICE” (I like that) interviewed employees in the planning, building and utilities departments after a security camera at City Hall captured a planning technician accepting gift sets of Crown Royal, a bottle of Jack Daniels and eight boxes of chocolate candy over the front counter.

Apparently, the improper gratuities were provided by Sergey Nevod – co-founder of Palm Coast residential developer Blue Crown Construction. . .

According to a report at www.flaglerlive.com (where you can read the ICE report in its entirety):

“The intended recipients, whom Nevod specified by name and type of gift to be handed, were mostly employees of Palm Coast’s building department, who work with builders and developers. Accepting gifts is a violation of policy as it sets up the potential for corruption. Most of the employees took the gifts, some of them hiding the booze in cabinets then dissimulating it out of City Hall under their clothes.”

One public employee – Ricky Lee – a Palm Coast building official, was “incensed” by the gift (apparently the Jack Daniels had Mr. Lee’s name on it), and when the booze was transmitted to him concealed in a box – he rightly refused it – and ordered it be returned to Nevod.

In my view, Mr. Lee’s actions in recognizing the ethical implications and doing the right thing stands as an outstanding example of the moral character of thousands of true civil servants who represent the very best the public service has to offer – dedicated government employees who accept public funds and serve admirably in the public interest – never using their position for personal gain or to benefit others with an ulterior motive.

I find that refreshing – and it restores my faith in the institution.

Thank you, Mr. Lee.

Your small act of courage in refusing to compromise your personal and professional ethics stands as an example of how we expect our elected and appointed public officials to conduct themselves when no one is looking.

Asshole           Former Florida Governor – now Senator – Slick Rick Scott

It appears Floridians are finally awakening to the inevitable environmental impacts of former Governor Rick Scott’s embrace of development-friendly policies and weakening of regulations –  while stripping state regulatory agencies of experienced staff and replacing them with industry insiders – then populating oversight boards with horribly conflicted shysters with a clear financial incentive to undermine rules protecting Florida’s sensitive natural resources.

It’s not like we weren’t warned. . .

We are extremely fortunate to have one of the finest environmental reporters in the nation working for us in the News-Journal’s Dinah Voyles-Pulver.

Since 2016, Dinah’s explosive articles have shone a very bright light on how the St. Johns River Water Management District, a wounded regulatory agency charged with protecting our precious water supply, dissolved into little more than a one-stop shop for greed-crazed developers and land-rapists seeking to subvert environmental regulations and make a quick buck.

Earlier this week, in her excellent piece entitled, “Investigation searches for cause of sick fish,” we learned that state officials are investigating reports of freshwater mullet suffering from lesions, open sores and scale loss – a horrific condition one observer equated to “zombie fish” – which coincides with a massive algae bloom in the St. Johns River, Lake George and a growing number of feeder springs.

Look, I’m no micro-biologist – but I am an aquarist – and keeping fish in the closed environment of an aquarium is a great way to learn the biological processes of natural filtration and the importance of the nitrogen cycle to a healthy ecosystem.

If you have children, I encourage you to establish an aquarium as a means of teaching them the extreme sensitivity of our own ecosystem.

Trust me, it doesn’t take the loss of too many $50 fish to gain a quick understanding of how the introduction of external contaminants and high nutrient loads contribute to a proliferation of nitrates, algae and aquatic plants resulting in anoxic water conditions that stress fish and wildlife making them susceptible to infections and parasites.

So, why in the world would any civilized society allow human waste sludge from water treatment plants in South Florida to be dumped anywhere near this sensitive and incredibly beneficial watershed – Florida’s only EPA-designated American Heritage River? 

Because that is exactly what has been allowed to happen.

In turn, rains allow the nutrient-rich runoff to enter the St. Johns River near its headwaters where it begins its 310-mile journey north to the Atlantic Ocean.

Inexplicably, with residents being told not to eat fish and crabs from the once bountiful river – and ostensibly smart state scientists seemingly baffled by the cause (?) – our elected representatives in the Florida legislature have gone home without any substantive effort to stop the statewide pollution of our sensitive waterways.

What gives?  

Fortunately, Governor Ron DeSantis has introduced new leadership in Florida’s water management districts – stopping the dangerous “fox in the hen house” strategy encouraged by Slick Rick Scott – and sending a clear message that the culture of Florida’s environmental protection apparatus is about to change.

In my view, that’s a good place to start.

Quote of the Week

“I just received my glossy color flyer implying tourists don’t pay their fair share of taxes and is one reason we should vote for the half-cent sales tax increase. Being in the tourist business for over 40 years, I find this flyer a slap in the face to every tourist that has ever visited this county.”

–David Lamotte, Ormond Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Sales tax flyer,” Wednesday, May 8, 2019

I commend Mr. Lamotte’s excellent commentary on the stated desire of those who support this shameless money grab to tax the eyeballs out of “visitors” to Volusia County – otherwise known as “tourists” (that we spend millions in public funds to attract) as they work overtime to ram this sales tax increase down our collective throat.

Interestingly, on the preceding page was a massive op/ed by Nicki Junkins, president of the League of Women Voters of Volusia County – a group that just exposed themselves as yet another apparatchick of the Big Money Consortium at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – rehashing the same tired laundry list of talking points cobbled together by a privately paid marketing consultant who specializes in selling local option sales tax increases throughout Florida.

We’ve heard it all before.

In fact, our elected officials have done an incredible job of toeing the party line, rarely venturing off-script – knowing well that any chink in the armor makes them all vulnerable – but it’s getting monotonous.

It also demonstrates, in a most disappointing way, the intellectual limitations of the “No Plan B” crowd we have elected to represent our interests – and the propensity of once politically savvy organizations to turn a blind eye to the abject mismanagement, cronyism, corporate welfare and wholesale giveaways of public funds and assets that has brought us to this dark place.

And Another Thing!

According to reports, as of mid-week, just 23,618 of the nearly 400,000 ballots mailed to Volusia County voters – both dead and alive – have been cast in the special half-cent sales tax referendum.

As we reach the halfway point in this first-of-its-kind mail-in election – voter participation in the process doesn’t impress. . .

Perhaps this was part of the tax grabbers strategy all along – or maybe things will turn around in coming days and Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis will be deluged by a wave of ballots in the mail – I don’t know.

But I can tell you that there was a clear method to the madness of those who have choreographed every step of this shameless pass-through – and the confusion many are experiencing is leading some to fear voter fraud.

Look, I trust Supervisor Lewis to do the right thing, and I’m not one of those who see a conspiracy afoot to manipulate the vote beyond an incredibly well-funded propaganda machine – but more disturbing – these misconceptions have once again mystified an important civic process and further eroded the public’s trust and confidence in this important function of local government.

If our ‘powers that be’ were counting on this chaos as part of their strategy to give the sales tax initiative it’s best chance of passage – mission accomplished.

I hope it was worth it.

Because many in Volusia County are beginning to question how much longer we can afford this level of external manipulation of our sacred systems of governance by uber-wealthy insiders who have clearly demonstrated just how pervasive their influence truly is.

In my view, the realization that Volusia County voters are slowly awakening to the real threat posed by this oligarchical control of our government processes should scare the living hell out of petty politicians – who have now been exposed as little more than two-bit shills for entrenched special interests – while blatantly ignoring the needs and wants of their long-suffering constituents.

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

 

On Volusia: To the victor belong the spoils

After reading The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s full-spread marketing campaign in Sunday’s edition flogging Volusia County’s half-cent sales tax increase – a shameless money grab that asks every man, woman, child and visitor to throw good money after bad to the same compromised politicians who got us into this quagmire in the first place – I thought long and hard about the Editorial Board’s almost condescending suggestion to Volusia taxpayers:

“Here’s what will help: Take a look at each of these politicians as they come up for re-election, decide whether or not they’ve done a good job, and vote accordingly. Look for those candidates who offer better decisions about growth management and fiscal stewardship, and then hold them to the promises they made.”

Really?

Isn’t that exactly what well-informed voters should do every election?

Unfortunately, here on the Fun Coast we live under a weird oligarchical system – driven solely by abject cronyism – the ritualistic worship of the ‘Rich & Powerful,’ and the resulting out-of-control corporate welfare which continues to drive an artificial economy designed to benefit the few who can pay-to-play.

A place where a handful of incredibly wealthy insiders artificially skew the political playing field with massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates – providing them an almost insurmountable advantage over grassroots challengers – or setting up a “best of two evils” choice.

As a result, these Big Money overseers now control votes on important public policy by the power of their mere presence in the gallery of council chambers.

Since early times, in war or politics, the winner of a contest not only vanquishes his or her opponent – but also receives the lucrative benefits of high office and political power.

For instance, in the early-1800’s many local governments in the United States operated under a “spoils” or patronage system where the party or individual winning an election would award lucrative civil service jobs and contracts to friends, family and financial supporters as a means of political recompense.

In 1883, the civil service system was reformed, strengthening security for public employees, and jobs and promotions were awarded based on a merit system.

These changes provided continuity and ensured a level of professional competence in the delivery of essential public services, while guarding against political interference at the operational level – but, unfortunately, wink-wink favoritism in government contracts and access to public funds continued.

What’s changed? 

In Volusia County’s no-holds-barred political environment, where a few wealthy individuals pick winners and losers – and perennial politicians essentially sell their very soul for elevation to positions of power – seeking a return on the resulting quid pro quo relationship has become the accepted norm.

After all, why wouldn’t powerful insiders and the corporations they control seek the incentives they have bought and paid for as long as they are being offered and routinely granted by their hired chattel on the dais of power? 

In my view, this symbiotic relationship between the donor class and our elected policy makers is at the epicenter of Volusia County’s proposed half-cent sales tax increase.

Something tells me the News-Journal’s editorial board understands this issue better than I do. . .

Yet, our newspaper of record – and many municipal officials – continue to dismiss the very real concerns of the much-maligned “vote no crowd” as though we haven’t been continually lied to, watched as impact fees were strategically suppressed for the benefit of campaign contributors in the development community, or suffered the years of abject blight and dilapidation in Downtown Daytona as the area decomposed into an economic wasteland until real estate prices made it advantageous for the Big Boys to buy it up – then ride in like heroes and build a publicly-funded high-rise insurance office that we’re told will solve all our problems.

And how long will those with the ability to sway public opinion and bring fundamental change stand idle for the utter buffoonery that has become our Volusia County Council under the abysmal “leadership” of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley?

Bullshit.

In recent days, residents of Volusia County have been bombarded with glossy fliers and a carefully contrived marketing campaign on local government websites (some funded by our own tax dollars – others by a pro-development PAC) touting the benefits of self-inflicting a sales tax increase, knowing well that many residents are struggling to make ends meet – living at or below the poverty line with precious few means of escape.

The full-court press is on – and it will only get worse with ballots now in the mail – before the May 21st deadline for this weird, $490,000 mail-in referendum that many are already befuddled by.

For instance, some folks are receiving ballots for family members or former residents that haven’t voted (or lived) in Volusia County for years – and social media posts are showing similar issues in other households countywide.

I don’t blame Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis.

Clearly, she’s doing her best – and this referendum is like walking on Mars – a mail-in ballot scheme has never been attempted in Volusia County before (which says something about the way this process been managed from the start.)

In my view, these issues add to the sense of confusion – and hopelessness – that has marked this incredibly clumsy initiative since its inception in the backroom of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance. . .

As a Charter Member of the VOTE NO! crowd, I encourage you to reject this shameless money grab for what it is – then negotiate the real issues of unchecked growth, environmental destruction and corporate favoritism from a position of power – and demand that our elected officials represent the best interests of all citizens.

I happen to agree with The Daytona Beach News-Journal on one point:

If not now – when will Volusia County voters finally say, “enough is enough”?   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for May 3, 2019

Hi, kids!

Daddy’s home!

A little jetlagged – a tad discombobulated from transatlantic flights, but glad to be back in the good ol’ U.S.A. – and the fray.

Over the last couple weeks, Patti and I finally did some of the much anticipated “travelling” we promised to do when I put my papers in five years ago – time away to recharge the batteries, a return on the investment of 31-years of service and sacrifice – a chance to get a different perspective through exploration and discovery.

Plus, we needed the break. . .

A dear friend and former colleague who recently entered retirement has embraced the wanderer’s motto, “Travel.  As much as you can.  As far as you can.  As long as you can.  Life is not meant to be lived in one place,” and she is now on the final legs of an adventurous around-the-world cruise.

That’s doing it right.

As we get older, there are very few “firsts” left in life – and ours was definitely a trip of firsts.

England and Ireland were the magical places I read about as a boy – realms of castles and knights – and these fascinating countries, and the wonderful people who inhabit them, were everything I hoped for and more.

From the bustle of London with all its pomp and circumstance (and protests, and people, and traffic…) – to the relaxed seaside villages of Folkestone, Sandgate and the famous White Cliffs of Dover in southern England, where on a clear day you can see the port city of Calais, France – the U.K. was a “bucket list” experience.

Then, a quick flight on Aer Lingus across the Irish Sea took us to the fun pace of Dublin and, later in the week, a beautiful train ride through the lush Irish midlands delivered us onto the quaint Medieval streets and stone alleyways of Galway – a magical place where we came away with wonderful new friends and memories to last a lifetime.

Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in the pubs of London and Dublin where talk invariably turned to American politics.

Like here, people seemed equally split on their support for President Trump – and most Londoners had a better grasp on current events in the United States than many of my fellow citizens – but they love talking issues.

When I arrived at Heathrow, all I knew about England was that I really enjoyed their muffins.

But after meeting the incredibly friendly people of the London suburbs, I learned a lot about the intricacies of the “Brexit” quagmire, and the proposed cradle-to-grave social policies that are causing concern throughout the European Union.

In a dark pub on Pearse Street in Dublin, I listened over a proper pint of Guinness as a local from the rough streets of the city’s public housing projects spoke painfully about the still raw feelings of many in Ireland regarding “The Troubles” in the north – the centuries-old, often bloody fight for Irish independence and a voice in the future of this beautiful island.

Regardless of where we visited, when talk turned to local politics, I was amazed at how similar the problems are to our own problems here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast. . .

To my new friends in Ireland – thank you for the warm hospitality and enlightening late-night conversation over good Irish whiskey.

You taught me that no matter where we live – everyone wants essentially the same good things – safety, security, the right to self-determination and a better life for our children – and that we all have the same frustrations with government, and a universal distain for petty politicians who have lost sight of their sworn duty to serve the needs of all constituents – not just the wealthy few who can benefit them personally and politically.

Like any hardened “news junkie,” while travelling I kept a close eye on The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s website and tried my best to make sense of current local events from afar.

I couldn’t help myself. . .it’s like trying to avert your eyes from a train wreck.

In an ever-changing world, it seems Volusia County is the one constant.

For instance, I was more than a little taken back last Sunday when I perused a piece by my normally reasonable friend, News-Journal editor Pat Rice, who took a page from my playbook and used an inordinate amount of space – going over-the-river and through the woods to explain the pleasures of a jog on our beach – just to take a cheap shot below the belt of my fellow residents and taxpayers over at the Volusia Issues Facebook page.

What gives, Pat? 

In his piece entitled, “Volusia beaches wash away the crazy,” Mr. Rice opined:

“On some Facebook pages, people will suggest things without any basis in reality, and then they’ll stake out positions as if they’re debating actual facts. Visit the “Volusia Issues” Facebook page, where those who seem to be against everything congregate. It’s bizarre.”

You know what I find ‘bizarre’?

The fact that our local newspaper of record repeatedly publishes stories flaunting everything Volusia taxpayers fear – including the all-too-cozy relationship of our elected officials with their uber-wealthy political benefactors who continue to receive millions in public funds to underwrite their personal for-profit projects and the resulting complete lack of public trust – then essentially rub our noses in it and belittle our passionate desire for fundamental change.

To add insult, the News-Journal routinely praises in print our elected officials historic lack of vision, unprecedented ineptitude and shit-through-a-goose spending policies that continue to benefit those who can pay-to-play – extolling the virtues of a dangerous pro-growth strategy that has solely benefited powerful real estate development interests – while leaving the rest of us facing the specter of gridlocked traffic and fouled drinking water if we refuse to self-inflict an obscene sales tax increase. . .

During the recent Volusia County sales tax push – the N-J provided a moderated forum which was heavy on local politicos spouting canned answers crafted by a marketing consultant – and light on those who oppose this shameless money grab.

On the very day the News-Journal ran an opinion piece lamenting the nightmare that has befallen the languishing First Step homeless shelter project – they printed a front page/above the fold swoon about the pompous groundbreaking ceremony for the exalted Brown & Brown headquarters building in downtrodden downtown Daytona – which is still being billed by our elected and appointed officials as yet another panacea for the years of strategic neglect that has reduced the area to a cesspool of blight – and incredibly cheap real estate. . .

The accompanying photograph depicted the Reigning Monarchs of Daytona Beach – J. Hyatt & CiCi Brown – perched resplendent upon their front-and-center thrones – surrounded by our preening political and oligarchical aristocracy and their respective hired political chattel – while Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry took the stage and soft-soaped this grand gathering of the only constituency our elected officials seem to care about anymore.

In my view, the juxtaposition of these articles perfectly exposes the divergent issues we continue to face – a hopelessly gridlocked shelter project originally designed to assist one of the most malignant social issues of our time, and the ease with which tens-of-millions our hard-earned tax dollars can be allocated to meet the profit motives of one incredibly wealthy political insider.

And no one who should seems to question that. . .

In an excerpt from his speech, I noted with interest that Mayor Henry said of the massive, publicly-underwritten glass-and-steel monument to J. Hyatt’s self-importance:

“This says more about how we should feel about ourselves.”

 Amen, Mayor.  Amen.

In my view, Mr. Rice should understand that what our ‘powers that be’ are experiencing on social media is the direct result of an information black hole they created – where those we elect and appoint to represent our interests communicate with working journalists through paid media hacks and canned, electronically transmitted press releases – and public tax policy is cobbled together behind the scenes by consultants paid for by millionaires – then the idea is rammed down our throats through direct mail and slick marketing campaigns underwritten by those who stand to benefit most.

When citizens rightly vent their growing frustrations through Facebook pages – ostensibly hosted by their own elected officials – they are blocked, deleted and marginalized as “citizens against virtually everything” – and now castigated as fools by their hometown paper. . .

In my view, it’s beginning to look like a bad tag team match.

Perhaps the News-Journal should look carefully at the very real concerns of their readership – rather than merely accepting the smoke and mirrors of those with demonstrably self-serving motivations.

Congratulations on finding your ‘Happy Place,’ Pat – I hope you enjoy zigging and zagging your way through the maze of wooden poles and ‘do this – don’t do that’ sign pollution that has turned the beach I grew up on into anything but the paradise it once was.

And while you’re busy rinsing out the “craziness” the rest of us have endured for decades – those who are expected to pay the bills and suffer in silence will remain here, in the trenches, screaming fervently to anyone who will listen, that we truly deserve better than this – from our elected officials – and our newspaper.

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           Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water 

At the end of the day, I hope it was worth it. . .

Somehow politicians have the unique ability to justify their decisions to voters – regardless of the ethical, moral or civic implications of their acts and omissions – by insulating themselves with consultant reports, dubious studies and group-think – then ensuring their political survival by invariably siding with their political benefactors on the important issues of the day.

In the case of Volusia’s money-grubbing half-cent sales tax initiative – win or lose – this asinine comedy of errors that has been wholly orchestrated by a passel of uber-wealthy political insiders and ramrodded by a politically unaccountable retired city manager – will have dire political ramifications for years to come.

Why?  Because it has further polarized an already fragmented Volusia electorate.  Despite the claims of those seeking to line their pockets with the windfall – a sales tax increase sold with threats to the safety of our very drinking water is not a unifying force. . .

In recent days, Volusia County residents have been targeted by a direct mail campaign pushed by a Political Action Committee known as Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water – comprised of millionaire government contractors and other members of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – who repeatedly benefit from their bought-and-paid-for place in the suckling order at the public teat.

A recent report provided the tale of the tape:

“The committee has raised $222,156 from donors such as Hyatt Brown, chairman of Brown & Brown Insurance, John Albright, the CEO of Consolidated-Tomoka Land Co., and Michael Panaggio, the owner of DME Sports Academy.

Former Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey has also contributed money through his business, John Hall Chevrolet. His daughter-in-law, Cyndi Ritchey, was tabbed to chair the committee after managing political campaigns for former sheriff turned Volusia County Councilman Ben Johnson and former state representative Fred Costello.”

Interesting.

I’ll bet if you review the campaign finance reports of the majority of sitting politicians on the Volusia County Council you just might find an interesting correlation between major league political donors and Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water. . .

In my view, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these entrenched political insiders have determined that Volusia County’s proposed sales tax increase will generate some $42-million annually – funds that their political marionettes will ensure ultimately passes from our wallet to theirs.

A recent professionally produced glossy mailer attributed to the pernicious PAC depicted a water-filled pothole with the tagline –  “Join local business leaders and community leaders who want to improve roads, sidewalks, and bridges in Volusia County by voting yes on May 1st.”

How dumb do these conniving shits think we are? 

Most thinking people rightfully see a gaping pothole in the road and immediately equate it to the abject neglect and abysmal attention to the repair and replacement of transportation infrastructure foisted on them by a disinterested local government.

Am I right?

I mean, who in their right mind spots a pock-marked roadway and immediately thinks – “Humm, maybe I should throw more money at the same people who ignored this problem in the first place, hoping against hope that they’ll be more responsible with my families hard-earned tax dollars the next time around. . .” 

Bullshit.

Please VOTE NO! on the Volusia County half-cent sales tax scam.

Let’s let our elected officials and their puppet masters know that there is some shit we won’t eat – and begin the important process of returning trust and accountability to local government.

Angel              Mark Geallis

Kudos to Mark Geallis, the former executive Director of the languishing First Step Shelter, for having the courage of his convictions, speaking the unvarnished truth and telling the shelter’s executive board – and the City of Daytona Beach (the real power behind this failed project) to – in the immortal words of Johnny Paycheck – Take this job and shove it.

Less than a year after taking the reigns of this catastrophically flawed plan to build a homeless assistance center in the hinterlands between Daytona Beach and DeLand – a weird social conglomerate somehow owned by the City of Daytona Beach, operated by Catholic Charities of Central Florida, administered by the First Step Executive Board (a body comprised of municipal representatives whose communities have pledged financial support and a few private sector participants) and operated by an Executive Director charged with begging operational funds with absolutely no guidance or real understanding of the projected financial requirements – Mr. Geallis has had enough.

I don’t blame him.

With the building still under construction, last week, Geallis notified members of the First Step Shelter Board that he would resign his position within the next 90-days.

Earlier this week, the board accepted his resignation – while lamenting whether or not to disband the advisory board altogether and turn the whole shit show back over to the City of Daytona Beach.

According to a reports, board members are becoming increasingly frustrated by the city’s total lack of substantive communication on key issues – such as exactly what the board will be required to fund – and other lingering operational and administrative questions that Daytona Beach officials seem unwilling or unable to answer.

Look, I know some of the board members personally – and I trust them implicitly.

For instance, Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte is one of the most inherently trustworthy men I know – and South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall is a man of incredible character and talent who has spent his life in service to the citizens of Volusia County.

Both men personify the best public service has to offer.

Earlier this year, we learned that the shelter project was hemorrhaging some $15,000 per month in salaries to Geallis, his assistant, and some weird vigorish to Catholic Charities (apparently for use of their name alone) – all of whom were hired to operate a facility that is still months away from opening.

Obviously, this instability and abject dysfunction made fundraising virtually impossible – especially when Mr. Geallis was denied a mark of passage for an audience with Daddy Warbucks himself.

When questioned about his difficulty raising funds to support this raging dumpster fire, Mr. Geallis lamented, “I can’t get a meeting with Hyatt,” Geallis said, referring to Hyatt Brown, chairman of insurance giant Brown & Brown Inc. “A nonprofit board opens those doors. I don’t run in those circles.”

Indeed. . .

Add to that the hell-broth of controversy over myriad operational issues – to include the basic question of which segment of the homeless population will be served and which will not.

Catholic Charities – who have been accepting some $7,500.00 a month to operate a facility still under construction (?) – wants the “First Step” for someone seeking shelter to be a formal background check by law enforcement. . .

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, on Monday evening, after accepting Mr. Geallis’ resignation, the executive board discussed their exasperation over  “…the limited power and crumbs of information they feel they’re getting from the city leaders who set up the board and appointed them.”

The board’s chair, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, was quoted as saying the project has been a “political nightmare,” before reassuring his frustrated colleagues that the board could “be as relevant as we decide to be.”

I think Mayor Henry better speak to his boss, City Manager Jim Chisholm, about just how “relevant” he wants the board to be. . .

On Wednesday, the Daytona Beach City Commission changed tack yet again, signaling they may not want the current board members involved at all going forward – probably in favor of turning control of the project over to some hand-select overseers, who would serve as “an executive fundraising commission” made up of non-elected, politically unaccountable players with all the right last names and a chip in the larger game.

After all, it seems the only entity to have been served by the shelter to-date is P$S Paving – a massively successful government contractor (whose owner just happens to be a member of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance) who is busy getting fat selling public dirt from the site for private profit. . .

Perhaps someone should remind the current members of the First Step Executive Board that you can’t pick up a turd by the clean end – and, with no plan, no policies and no hope – there is honor in distancing yourselves from this imminent catastrophe.

Quote of the Week

 “Voting yes to increase our sales tax gives a green light to business as usual. That means more mega developments in all the wrong places to add thousands more vehicles on our roads.

It means millions of gallons of polluted water dumped into our waterways that ultimately end up in the aquifer. It continues to send most of our West Volusia tax dollars to the east side.

A yes vote increases the likelihood we all drink and bathe in toilet-to-tap water. It is already being tested in Daytona Beach.

There is another solution, a sustainable Plan B. First, we have to vote no on the proposed sales-tax increase. If passed, it would be a green light to continue the same failed policies that got us into this mess.

Second, any politician who had the temerity to say he or she has no plan other than to raise your sales or property taxes must be voted out in 2020.

Only then can a real conversation about the kind of community we want to live in occur.”

–Civic Activist and former Volusia County Council candidate Jeff Brower, writing in The West Volusia Beacon, “Vote no on sales-tax hike; let’s have a real conversation about growth, instead,” May 2, 2019

In my view, Jeff Brower continues to be a strong voice for the citizens of Volusia County.

And he’s right – with ballots already in the mail for this $490,000 “special referendum” which asks We, The People self-impose a half-cent sales tax on every man, woman, child and visitor in Volusia County to pay for the continuing sins of those who long-ago abdicated their sworn responsibility to their constituents – it’s time to VOTE NO, and send a strong message in the process.

As I have previously written, the number of civically active citizens opposed to the Volusia County half-cent sales tax initiative is growing daily as our family, friends and neighbors – many of whom have never been politically active before – stand firm to the core belief that handing more of our hard-earned money to the same inept assholes that created this “infrastructure emergency” through unchecked sprawl and an exploitative corporate welfare culture is fundamentally wrong.

These active and engaged members of our community should be applauded for their efforts – not maligned and marginalized.

In my view, it is refreshing to see so many Volusia residents rising in unison against this bloated, plodding bureaucracy that now exists to serve the needs, wants and whims of millionaires who view our tax dollars not as a sacred responsibility, but as a means to an end.

It is the very essence of good citizenship to fightback – to scream ‘enough-is-enough’ – then begin the arduous process of reestablishing a government that serves all of its constituents as we work collaboratively to restore the public’s trust in our once-revered political processes.

And Another Thing!

I want to send a special Barker’s View “Thank You!” to the intrepid Dede Siebenaler – a staunch local civic activist who keeps our elected and appointed officials on their toes by voicing her opinion on the issues of the day and asking the hard questions – often in the wide-open badlands of the internet.

Trust me.  Politicians know the inherent value of social media.

From using various platforms for distributing their campaign message to posting self-aggrandizing photographs of themselves doing some contrived civic good or facilitating cheap fundraising efforts – social media sites are the 21st Century version of shaking hands and kissing babies – only at lightning speed with the ability to reach thousands of potential voters instantly.

But they can’t have it both ways.

Social media is not an amplified soapbox – it’s a two-way interactive platform – comment and response – and elected officials should understand the frustrations of their long-suffering constituents will often result in strong opinions.

If you need more proof of the political power of social media – subscribe to President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed – then hold on tight to your digital device. . .

In many ways, social media has made our elected representatives more accessible to the “little guy” – those of us who don’t have the money or political clout to get their civic concerns and issues in front of those with the power to affect change.

A few months ago, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, impudently blocked Ms. Siebenaler from his Facebook page.  After all, it’s infinitely easier for small-minded elected officials like Ed Kelley to simply block criticisms than form cogent explanations for the bizarre machinations of government.

Inexplicably, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post was recently found to have “blocked” News-Journal reporters from her Facebook page, effectively shutting the working press out of her official online presence – and the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys had blocked some 60 people from her personal page – while Old Ed now has a cheap disclaimer posted to his official Facebook site which states:

“For those few who continue to complain legal confirmed that having a page for information only is LEGAL. If you wish to share thoughts or information you can do so by email at: ekelley@volusia.org  I answer all emails that are received. Thanks.”

Whatever.

Thanks to Ms. Siebenaler’s questioning – Volusia County’s legal department recently agreed that the act of blocking constituents’ access to the social media sites of their elected representatives could be considered a violation of constitutionally protected rights and sent a letter of guidance advising against the practice.

In my view, it’s time our all-powerful ‘movers & shakers’ – those who hold themselves out for high office, campaign for our vote with firm promises, then do the exact opposite when it benefits a select few – come to the realization that We, The People are demanding transparency – and equal access.

We have a right and civic responsibility to hold those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest accountable – including voicing our critical opinions on the important issues of the day.

Thanks to galvanizing issues like this disastrous half-cent money grab, the decimation of our century-old tradition of beach driving – and a hundred other backhanded slights – more Volusia County residents than ever before are taking a true interest in the workings of their government – and demanding better from those who have sworn an oath and accepted the privilege of public service.

That’s all for me.

Have a great weekend, my friends!

 

On Volusia: PLEASE VOTE NO!

Earlier this week, in a social media post WNDB talk show host Marc Bernier referred to members of a growing grassroots effort to protect your family and mine from the predatory practices of this Oligarchy that passes for local governance here in Volusia County as CAVE People – Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

I happen to like Mr. Bernier, but we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one – because nothing could be further from the truth.

The number of civically active citizens opposed to the Volusia County half-cent sales tax initiative is growing daily as our family, friends and neighbors – many of whom have never been politically active before – stand firm to the core belief that handing more of our hard-earned money to the same inept assholes that created this “infrastructure emergency” through unchecked sprawl and an exploitative corporate welfare culture is fundamentally wrong.

These active and engaged members of our community should be applauded for their efforts – not maligned and marginalized.

In my view, it is refreshing to see so many Volusia residents rising in unison against this bloated, plodding bureaucracy that now exists to serve the needs, wants and whims of millionaires who view our tax dollars not as a sacred responsibility, but as a means to an end.

It is the very essence of good citizenship to fightback – to scream ‘enough-is-enough’ – then begin the arduous process of reestablishing a government that serves all of its constituents as we work collaboratively to restore the public’s trust in our once-revered political processes.

It’s easy for our ‘powers that be’ to be dismissive of those who speak truth to power – who call bullshit and point out the inherent danger to our representative democracy of having a clique of incredibly influential power brokers at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance ramrod a sales tax scheme that will ultimately serve as an efficient pass-through from our pockets to theirs.

Watching these greedheads manipulate our elected officials like Edger Bergen’s dummy is not only embarrassing – it’s scary.

Think about it.

Have you ever seen a local sales tax initiative directed, funded and promoted almost exclusively by uber-wealthy insiders with an established profit motive?   

Have you ever seen our local politicians engage in such open electioneering – taking their marching orders from a highly paid shill hired to run an “education and marketing campaign” –  and openly promoting this shameless money grab to their constituents? 

Then, ask yourself – Why?

In coming weeks, We, The People will see a no-holds-barred push on social media – supported by an aggressive direct mail offensive – designed to sell this expensive sham to the citizens of Volusia County.

Don’t be fooled.

If you feel as I do that this parasitic, unaccountable and seemingly insatiable contrivance – a “government” in name only – now wholly controlled by a few uber-wealthy individuals and their corporate cronies that have made a cottage industry out of funding their private projects with public funds – then let’s stop enabling and perpetuating our own victimization.

I rarely tell anyone how to vote – but this is different.

Please VOTE NO! on the Volusia County half-cent sales tax scam.

Let’s let our elected officials and their puppet masters know that there is some shit we won’t eat – and begin the important process of returning trust and accountability to local government.

Vote No

 

(Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal)

 

Public Policy by Archaeology: Digging up failed ideas from the past

Legal dictionaries define the heralded “Reasonable” man or woman as, “A fictional person with an ordinary degree of reason, prudence, care, foresight, or intelligence whose conduct, conclusion, or expectation in relation to a particular circumstance or fact is used as an objective standard by which to measure or determine something (as the existence of negligence).”

Some who know me might disagree, but I’ve always considered myself a sensible person – an ordinary everyman – neither always right, nor always wrong – but with the innate ability to detect when I’m being victimized by big money interests who are rigging our system of local governance and recognize no reasonable limits in their quest for power – or more of our hard-earned tax dollars. . .

Look, God knows I have my warts – but, like you, I truly care about this mosaic of communities that we call home.

While we may not agree on everything – reasonable people can learn from the honest debate of differing opinions so that solutions are based on an amalgam of ideas which consider the needs and wants of a diverse constituency.

Unfortunately, in Volusia County, many of the uninspired empty suits we have elected to represent our best interest have been bought-and-paid-for by those who stand at the nexus of public funds and private profits – so, unless you and I can pay-to-play – we are never afforded the opportunity to be heard.

As a result, our governmental processes have become so skewed, so patently unreasonable and fragmented; marked by a complete lack of strategic vision which has contributed to blight, dilapidation and an overwhelming sense of bleakness that has caused many of our neighbors to simply give up hope and is destroying our once vibrant tourism and hospitality industry.

Don’t take my word for it:

Take the family down to the Daytona Beach Boardwalk, stroll through the “attractions” near Main Street and A-1-A – the epicenter of our core tourist area – or spend some time on the beach, where for $25.00 a day, visitors can drive through a forest of ugly wooden poles and the omnipresent sign pollution that marks what passes for “beach management” – and you’ll get a pretty good idea what I’m talking about.

Consider how many of our hard-earned tax dollars have been lavished on the needs of a few uber-wealthy political insiders while other areas of our county are allowed to languish as compromised elected officials enjoy the political insulation of their benefactors while sticking to a failed strategy of publicly underwritten panacea projects – the “next big thing” – that never seem to be the “game changer” we were promised.

Contemplate the reasoning behind the “Us vs. Them” mentality that pervades the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building in DeLand – where individual municipalities are routinely victimized by a bullying county government – where taxpayers are sued by a weaponized county attorney with their own money – and the very idea of self-determination and “home rule” goes out the window when Volusia County wants to impose it’s imperial will within a municipal jurisdiction.

Reflect on the voracious appetite of Volusia County government for more tax dollars – the seeming inability to live within their means despite the dire financial situation of the many residents living at or below the poverty line – trapped in a whirlpool of low wage, service industry jobs – a land of haves-and-have-nots – where those who truly make the rules build shrines to their own self-importance and go home to gated communities, while seeking even more tax dollars from tens-of-thousands of families who fend for themselves in an unsustainable artificial economy.

After you have sufficiently reviewed these intractable issues, ask yourself why our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – and many of those dullards at the Roundtable of Elected Officials (where county and municipal elected officials take marching orders from their handlers at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance) – are actively exhuming the corpses of long-dead “studies,” political insulation reports and other failed ideas – which didn’t work a decade ago, and won’t work now?

I call it “public policy by archaeology” and it evidences the fact these wholly-owned chattel of our ‘Rich & Powerful’ have lost the ability to think for themselves – and exposes the fact these visionless churls haven’t had an original thought since they accepted their first campaign contribution. . .

Has Big Money clouded their ability to even consider the myriad social, economic and civic issues we face and develop fresh, innovative ideas to limit bureaucratic inefficiencies, right size government and respect the traditions and unique independence of the cities?

For weeks, we’ve heard that Old Ed, freshman Councilman Ben Johnson and a few other sitting political hacks have been trying to breath new life into outdated consultant reports, reviews, antique “studies” and pitifully ineffective “smart growth” committees – all failed “plans” that have been collecting dust for years on the groaning credenzas of county bureaucrats – yellowing monuments to a politicians natural instinct to protect themselves from criticism with the best “expert” opinion they can buy.

In my view, it doesn’t help when our newspaper of record buys into the cockamamie ideas proposed by perennial politicians who have demonstrated where their true allegiance lies.

The Daytona Beach News-Journals editorial board must understand that Volusia County government has lost the trust and confidence of their constituents – which also happens to represent their readership?

After all, they have written multiple articles and opinion pieces on our basic distrust of Old Ed and the Funky Bunch – the lies, deceit, backroom deals, gross mismanagement and haughty sense of infallibility no matter how foolish the decision – and the incredible impact our collective cynicism is having on their shameless half-cent sales tax money grab.

Yet, inexplicably, on Sunday the News-Journal once again floated Old Ed’s tired question of whether taxpayers living comfortably in the various municipalities want to – for the umpteenth time in our history – consider consolidating critical governmental services under Volusia County’s threadbare Big Top.

Although each and every time politicians use this ruse as a faint maneuver to deflect attention from much darker questions, We, The People have screamed a resounding “No!” – somehow now, with confidence in Volusia County government at whale shit depths – the newspaper lends credence to this perpetual smokescreen?

Why? 

Shouldn’t Volusia County residents have a reasonable expectation that their hard-earned tax dollars won’t be squandered on yet another horseshit “consolidation study” – especially at a time our elected officials are dunning us for even more tax dollars?

My God.

When will our newspaper join the growing chorus of taxpayers who are screaming for our elected officials to get their heads out of their ass and develop a strategic vision for our future that doesn’t include ancient concepts or taxing the eyeballs out of every man, woman and child in Volusia County?

How about the New-Journal’s editorial board allow their staff to examine the important question no one in a position of power in DeLand wants to discuss:

How can we pare down this bloated, parasitic bureaucracy that is Volusia County government and eliminate its meddling involvement and influence in the business of well-managed and well-funded municipal governments who are providing quality core services to residents and visitors?

When will we stop allowing this insatiable machine to grow even larger, more unresponsive as it justifies its own moribund existence – and underwrite its own failing services – by attempting to absorb functioning municipal assets?

Despite what some highly paid shill might have said in some archaic “study” – I seriously doubt the citizens of Ponce Inlet, New Smyrna Beach, Holly Hill, Daytona Beach Shores, Ormond Beach, DeLand – or any other small community that honorably serves, protects and enhances the quality of life of its residents – want anything to do with a “three city concept” – or, God forbid – another massive, unaccountable, unresponsive, self-perpetuating bureaucratic quagmire that invariably increases costs while diminishing service delivery.

In my view, it is time the News-Journal – and elected municipal officials who know better – stop being complicit in this cheap diversionary tactic repeatedly foisted by a few horribly compromised petty politicians behind the tattered curtain who have lost the trust and confidence of those they swore an oath to serve.

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for April 12, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Knights of the Roundtable

One of the more painful aspects of this ham-handed process to force a half-cent sales tax increase down the throat of every man, woman and child in Volusia County has been watching the scheming and cheap maneuvers of our elected and appointed officials and their handlers at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance.

As I’ve said before, from its inception, the marketing strategy for this shameless sales tax increase has been a discombobulated mess – a slapstick of errors, missteps and good old-fashioned fuck-ups that resulted in the measure being pulled from the general election ballot last year in the eleventh-hour.

The initiative was resurrected only after the CEO Business Alliance determined that a sufficient majority of their shills had been returned to office, then set about saddling residents with a $490,000 special election – a first of its kind “mail in” ballot with “secure” drop off locations at area city halls and so many other irregularities that many are already calling the referendum a bald-faced sham.

Add to that the revelation that the much-ballyhooed citizen oversight committee – the cleverly added regulatory provision that we were promised would ensure our compromised elected officials allocate funds appropriately by “holding their feet to the fire” – is no more than a toothless watchdog, with “no decision-making authority,” comprised of political appointees who will serve at the pleasure of the very politicians they were commissioned to regulate.

Earlier this week, something called the Roundtable of Elected Officials – a weird public/private consortium of area mayors, city managers and their Big Money handlers from the CEO Alliance – huddled over a lunch you and I paid for to discuss their on-going efforts to take even more money out of our pockets and transfer it to political insiders and government contractors in the name of “better roads and clean water.” 

My ass.

In typical fashion, reports from the confab resulted in more questions than answers. . .

For instance, many question why Dr. Kent Sharples – the infamous president of the Volusia CEO Alliance – is within a hundred miles of a government tax initiative?

In my view, if we’ve learned anything about Dr. Sharples, it’s that he could screw up a wet dream. . .

From the mysterious $1.4 million American Music Festival fiasco at Daytona State College to his questionable “service” on the Board of Trustees of beleaguered Bethune-Cookman University – which now stands at the very precipice of catastrophic financial failure after gross mismanagement and a series of internal and external scams – I wonder just how many more bites at the apple Dr. Sharples should be permitted?

Eventually, one would think our elected and appointed officials might concede that Volusia County taxpayers have a right to be suspicious of ol’ Kent’s capabilities, involvement and motivations, right?

In my view, here on the Fun Coast – piss poor performance and abject ineptitude has long been handsomely rewarded by those who stand at the nexus of public funds and private interests – so long as their situational ethics remain malleable and the patency of the public tit is assured.

Let’s face it, during Dr. Sharples’ tenure at the Alliance, millions of our hard-earned tax dollars have been shunted to senior members of that camarilla of millionaires under cover of dubious “public/private” partnerships, incentives and government contracts.

Don’t take my word for it – read the newspaper. . .

That makes the good Doctor a valuable asset for those greedheads who see this sales-tax increase for what it is – a multi-million dollar pass-through from our pocket to theirs.

In my view, this slimy confederation between those who were elected to high office by their neighbors and swore an oath to “well and faithfully” execute their fiduciary responsibilities to We, The People – and a secret society of uber-wealthy, oligarchical insiders – represents our worst fears of quid pro quo corruption run amok.

Trust me.  The Volusia CEO Business Alliance – and their paid shills at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building and city halls throughout Volusia County – do not have your family’s best interest at heart.

Now, after approving unchecked sprawl from Farmton to the Flagler County line – in some weird “Fool me once, shame on me.  Fool me twice, shame on me again.  Fool me three times and one of us is an exploitative sneak thief,” strategy – the Knights of the Roundtable would now have us believe they are interested in smart growth initiatives.

Bullshit.

Following a flim-flam presentation by Clay Ervin, Volusia County’s director of the farcical “Growth and Resource Management Division” – essentially a make-work comparative analysis of nearly two-decade old residential construction permit issuance with today’s numbers – several of our local elected tools thought it would be a good idea to resurrect a do-nothing “Smart Growth Committee” circa 2005.

I dunno, maybe because the first one had such a tremendous influence on our ability to, as the News-Journal reported, “combat growth to sustain quality of life for residents”?

Whatever.

While the grown-ups in the room were discussing topical issues of growth management and out-of-control taxation – real conundrums that threaten to crush their collective political careers – our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, kept jabbering like a deranged macaque about bringing back a failed 2011 “study” which suggested that blending the 13 well-managed and well-staffed municipal fire departments with Volusia County’s mishmash of failing, overpriced emergency services would somehow “save tax dollars” (because, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that Volusia County is all about saving tax dollars. . .)

Jesus.

This awkward roundtable meeting sounds like some weird Antique Roadshow episode where our uninspired and totally visionless politicians trot out musty old studies – the ghosts of bad ideas past –  tired notions that are no longer relevant to the conversation or the festering problems we face.

I’ve got a suggestion!  It’s also an oldie but goodie!

How about these shameless political hacks pull their head out of their ass, forget the empty exercise of yet another political insulation committee, come face-to-face with the very real challenges of 2019, and develop a strategic vision for Volusia County’s future?

Good luck.

Angel              FAITH – Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony

On Monday evening, I joined with over 1,500 of the faithful at Peabody Auditorium for the 2019 FAITH Action Assembly.

The active coalition of over 30 area faith-based organizations is tackling some of the most intractable social, economic and civic issues of our generation and valiantly fighting for social justice here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

It was a real learning experience on a number of fronts.

For instance, FAITH’s initiatives designed to bring restorative practices to Volusia County Schools and reform failed disciplinary protocols, which some believe contribute to lower academic performance, higher rates of dropout and the so-called “school to prison” pipeline really opened my eyes.

According to the FAITH Education Committee, of the 67 counties in Florida, Volusia ranks 7th highest in school arrests, 5th highest in out-of-school suspensions, and 57th in overall graduation rate – with minority students and those with disabilities most affected.

This informative segment was attended by members of the Volusia County School Board – to include Chairman Carl Persis, Ruben Colon, Jamie Hayes and Ida Wright – along with District Superintendent Tom Russell.

Only board member Linda Cuthbert was absent.

In addition, Sheriff Mike Chitwood and Dan Merrithew, chief probation officer for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, spoke about their support for a local Juvenile Assessment Center – and agreed to work cooperatively with FAITH to ensure the appropriate use of civil citations to avoid the life-altering consequences of physical arrest for juveniles accused of minor, non-violent offenses.

While I didn’t agree with everything the group advocated for – the energy in the room was contagious – with a palpable sense that faith truly can move mountains.

In addition to their on-going efforts to reform juvenile justice programs, this year, FAITH leaders sought commitments from area officials to address the growing problem of affordable housing options in Volusia County.

According to a FAITH Housing Committee report, 6 out of 10 renters in Volusia County pay more than 30% of their income on rent – with some 21,000 households paying over half of their monthly take home pay for housing alone – which means a single-parent making minimum wage would have to work 72-hours a week simply to afford a one bedroom apartment.

“The situation is most dire for the 45,000+ households in our county earning less than 50% of Area Median Income (less than $26,000 for a family of three).  For them, hardly any affordable options exist.”

Wow.

In turn, FAITH asked for the development of a countywide affordable housing fund – a dedicated revenue source to help “create, rehabilitate and preserve” affordable units for the tens-of-thousands of Volusia County families who make less than 50% of our area’s median income.

Sounds like a noble endeavor, right?

I think we can all agree that finding affordable housing solutions for thousands of hard-working Volusia County families trapped in a service-based economy – many of whom are being driven to homelessness or forced into the destructive cycle of week-to-week substandard motels or long daily commutes just to keep a roof over their head should be a priority?

Apparently, County Chairman Ed Kelley could give two-shits about the basic shelter needs of over 45,000 of his financially strapped constituents. . .

That’s right – Old Ed couldn’t be bothered to attend the largest gathering of civically-active, socially conscious citizens in Volusia County – or even sit down with FAITH leadership to discuss possible solutions to one of the most pressing social issues of our time.

Cowardly asshole. . .

To their credit, Volusia County Councilwomen Heather Post, Billie Wheeler and Barbara Girtman joined Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry and Commissioners Paula Reed and Quanita May as they stood tall and represented their constituents with honor, answering the difficult questions and concurring with those assembled that affordable housing is a true crisis in Volusia County – then pledged to help identify funding sources and opportunities to fill this growing need countywide.

Although freshman At-Large Councilman Ben Johnson met with FAITH leaders to discuss the issue, he was not present at the assembly.  However, at least Mr. Johnson had the common decency to answer the hard questions and engage in a meaningful dialog that can lead to innovative solutions – even if we don’t always agree on the path forward.

Unfortunately, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys and The Very Reverend Fred Lowry joined Old Ed in boycotting this important event – openly refusing to even discuss these important issues with FAITH – let alone attend the assembly – and their noticeable absence spoke to the condescending attitude that permeates this cabal of dullards and perpetuates the civic and economic stagnation that contributes to the very issues FAITH is fighting against.

Frankly, if it doesn’t directly benefit their ‘Rich & Powerful’ overseers – these craven assholes could care less.

How terribly sad.  For all of us.

Angel              Hy’s Toggery of One Daytona

Farewell, Hy – We hardly knew ye. . .

In what everyone hopes isn’t a harbinger of a mass exodus to come, Hy’s Toggery at One Daytona – the first expansion location of the popular casual wear shop which was established in Panama City Beach in the 1960’s – will close its doors tomorrow less than one-year after opening to much fanfare.

This represents the first high profile establishment to go out of business at the International Speedway Corporation’s publicly underwritten “synergistic” shopping center.

In June 2018, The Daytona Beach News-Journal quoted Gentry Baumline-Robinson, communications director for ISC, as she gushed about the shop’s “fit” for the “destination”:

“This is a great addition to the retail businesses at One Daytona.  They have a selection unlike any other retail store in the area. With our outdoor lifestyle here in Daytona Beach, with the beach and the fishing, Hy’s Toggery is a natural fit for the destination.”

Earlier this week, Ms. Baumline-Robinson wasn’t quite so bubbly when contacted by New-Journal business reporter Clayton Park, “We don’t discuss tenant/landlord matters so nothing to add here.”

Wow.

Look, I wish the best for any business or entrepreneur with the courage to throw the dice and take a chance in our weird local economy – which is based upon the same five uber-wealthy oligarchs passing the same nickel around. . .

Unfortunately, business closures in cloistered environments like One Daytona often come in clusters as the toxic effects of the “Retail Apocalypse” and a substantial drop in tourism conspire with low regional wages to form the perfect storm.

Or is something else stirring at One Daytona? 

Last year, I wrote a widely read opinion piece on the sales-tax-by-another-name known as an “Enhanced Amenity Fee” which shoppers began to notice last year when a placard was posted at the point-of-sale of One Daytona retailers:

Notice of EAF – All retail purchases at One Daytona are subject to an Enhanced Amenity Fee (EAF).”

“The EAF is an additional one percent added to the total amount due before sales tax.”

“The EAF will not exceed $350 for any applicable purchase.”

“The EAF will be reinvested to continually enhance the center, including its public space, mobile technology, entertainment options and public art program.”

“Thank you for your patronage of One Daytona.

At that time, I opined:

“ACHTUNG!  You hapless piss-ants – It’s not enough that we extracted $40-million dollars in public funds, tax abatement, infrastructure improvements and other “incentives” from you star-crossed fools to reduce our financial exposure and enhance our languishing motorsports business – now, we are going to wring an additional 1% from your skinny little wallet every fucking time you dare to shop here!”

Oh, you don’t want to support our entertainment options and public art program?

Tough shit.  Not an option.

You want to patronize the shopping center that you rubes subsidized?  Pay-up at the register, asshole.

When does a “public/private” partnership turn into a usurious victimization – a parasitic exsanguination of the very people who were previously tapped to fund a private project with their hard-earned tax dollars?

As I understand it, the One Daytona Community Development District – the governing body which manages “community development services in the area” –  does not have the authority to levy an additional sales tax – but the board can charge dubious “assessments” which are tied to properties within the District’s boundaries.

(As it happens, the Chairman of this quasi-governmental community development district is the penultimate political insider, Glenn Ritchey – whose daughter-in-law, Cyndi Ritchey, was recently hired to serve as chair of the Political Action Committee funded by members of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance (where Mr. Ritchey is a sitting board member) – which is actively ramrodding the half-cent sales tax increase. . . I don’t make this shit up, folks.) 

Look, you can call this polished turd whatever you want – but this sales-related “EAF” is nothing more than a money-grubbing tax by any other name.

I, for one, refuse to shop at One Daytona out of a highly developed sense of self-preservation.

You see, I try to avoid being fleeced at the point-of-sale whenever possible – especially at a shopping center that was underwritten with my tax dollars.

Now, I wonder how many other local consumers feel the same way I do – and what effect that may be having on the future of One Daytona?   

The fact is, my money spends anywhere – so does yours – and I choose to purchase goods and services at small, privately owned retailers in our community who eke out a living despite the unfair advantage of their competitors at places like One Daytona who keep 1% of every purchase to cover their overhead.

In my view, whenever government entities artificially skew the playing field in a free and open market place bad things happen – it is unnatural and defies the laws of supply and demand – and it is unsustainable over time.

Let’s hope that ISC can turn the tide at One Daytona before our $40 million public investment becomes another empty shell. . .

Quote of the Week

“There is a dark gloom on this (B-CU) campus. We are losing students daily transferring to other schools in fear.  And lastly, someone needs to be held accountable, and go to jail.  There are others who bear responsibility for this fiscal malfeasance, not just Dr. Edison Jackson.  We also need to have a forensic handwriting expert to test all of those who were employed, sitting on the board to actually see who signed off on that dorm deal.  At this point, our university could have been run by Boo Boo the Clown, and his board. I’m just saying.”

–Norma Bland, second degree master’s student at Bethune-Cookman University, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Students unfairly caught in B-CU mess,” April 11, 2019

Well said, Ms. Bland.

And infinitely, horrifically and painfully true. . .

And Another Thing! 

It is increasingly clear that we have serious issues at Volusia County District Schools – not the least of which is the School Board’s complete unwillingness to listen to the needs and substantive input of classroom teachers, staff members and parents.

Earlier this week, the Volusia County School Board approved a suppressive measure which will relegate public participation to two time-certain windows at the beginning and end of meetings during which citizens may address their elected officials on items of importance that are not on the agenda.

The vote came amid public condemnation of the board’s failure to listen to its constituents when they arbitrarily changed the bell schedule a few weeks ago after ignoring citizen survey results – and a request by teachers and staff to delay the new schedule for a year.

Only board member Linda Cuthbert took issue with the actions, rightly calling the measure “censorship.”

“I am vehemently against this policy as written,” Cuthbert said at Tuesday night’s meeting, “If someone takes the time to come and speak, they should have the time to speak.”

Screw John Q. Public’s asinine input on their child’s primary education – pay the bills and shut your pie-hole. . .

According to a report by the News-Journal’s outstanding education reporter Cassidy Alexander, Elizabeth Albert, president of Volusia United Educators – the collective bargaining unit representing our hard-working teachers:

“. . .told board members they lost the trust of teachers after they didn’t listen to them.  They approved a schedule that wasn’t in the survey for the public to vote on and isn’t similar to the option that received the most votes. They also decided to implement the changes in August, despite the survey showing that about 60 percent of district employees wanted to wait a year.”

Which brings me to my point – last week, I was taken to the woodshed by area high school teacher and school board apologist Kate Cumiskey, who took exception to my characterization of the School Board’s vote to change start times:

I wrote, “In an inexplicably weird reversal – after first seeking public input through a survey on preferred school start times that was answered by some 24,054 teachers, students and community members – ultimately, the School Board voted 3-2 last week to adopt a schedule no one had ever seen before.”

According to Ms. Cumiskey:  “How about you start with getting your facts straight. The school board voted unanimously 5-0, to implement start times that were a vast improvement, according to Elizabeth Albert who was sitting with me, on the three options we the committee came up with. Five-zip, not 3-2. Three-two was against the delay. I was on the committee. The board and committee worked on this for months, the survey was just a survey, not a vote, and only about 10% of the stakeholders took the survey.  Facts matter.”

So, I stand corrected – and suitably admonished.

The fact is, I was wrong.

The 3-2 vote had nothing to do with the board’s unanimous decision to ignore the input of those affected when they arbitrarily changed school start times – the 3-2 split occurred when a majority of the board chose to also ignore the wishes of some 61% of their teaching staff who asked in vain that the measure be delayed, allowing more time for proper implementation.

Don’t I feel like an asshole. . .

In my view, given the myriad problems that continue to plague Volusia County Schools, perhaps it’s time our school board members come to the realization that they don’t have all the answers – and neither does Superintendent Tom Russell and his goofy “Cabinet.”

I’ve said this before – during a crisis, I’ve found it beneficial to seek input from all stakeholders – to open lines of traditional and non-traditional communication, seek alternative opinions, get out and knock on doors and put an emphasis on developing collaborative, broad-based solutions that simply cannot be arrived at in this vacuum of arrogance.

That’s all for me!

Barker’s View will be on hiatus for the next two-weeks as I take a long-anticipated sabbatical to the United Kingdom – a chance to rest, relax and enjoy the sights of Jolly Olde London – and quaff a few proper pours of Guinness in Dublin.

Yep!  The Original Ugly American will be traveling abroad. . .

While I’m ‘across the pond,’ I also thought it might be a good idea to share my opinions on the Brexit quagmire with members of Parliament.  After all, as a Volusia County resident, I’m a veteran of pig-headed political shit shows – and you know me – I’m always willing to lend a hand. . .

Angels & Assholes will be back next month with my strange thoughts and goofy opinions on the half-cent sales tax referendum and much more!

In the interim, if you feel strongly that this shameless money grab is yet another low blow for long-suffering, tax-strapped Volusia County residents who can ill afford an increase at the point-of-sale – please join with like-minded friends and neighbors for sign waving and demonstrations of civic solidarity at:

Ormond Beach – Southwest Corner of Nova Road and Granada Boulevard – Monday, April 15 – 5:00-6:00pm

Ormond Beach – Granada Bridge at Beach Street 5:30-6:30pm – Wednesday, April 17, Wednesday, April 24 and Wednesday, May 1.

For additional information – follow Sons of the Beach and Friends on Facebook – or donate to the cause at: http://tinyurl.com/yy6cf4fs

Cheerio, everyone!