A Deafening Silence

I am frequently asked to publish a Barker’s View “voter’s guide” – a list of those candidates and ballot measures I think you should vote for.    

Not gonna happen. 

Some will disagree with this, but I’m not running a pseudo-campaign site here. I don’t accept advertising and I’m too stupid to take money. 

Trust me – there are enough of those sites out there if that is what you are looking for.

Besides, I assume if you or someone you care about is standing knee-deep in fetid floodwater and still hear the sound of a bulldozer filling in a wetland nearby – you already know who to vote for. . . 

The fact is these long-winded jeremiads of mine are simply one man’s jaded opinion on the issues of the day – neither always right, nor always wrong.  

I have known some truly outstanding elected servant-leaders – but by repeatedly touching a hot stove, I have also learned that there are politicians I believed in and rallied for who eventually disappointed me once they became enamored with the trappings and perquisites of office, the schmoozing and backslapping of their “new friends,” and finally transmogrified into everything they hated when they got into politics.   

Because that is how the system works, and it is why I don’t get close with those running for high office. 

That said, it should be clear to anyone who reads these screeds which way I swing on the myriad issues we face – and those candidates I feel best represent (at least in their campaign rhetoric) the values and substantive change that we so desperately need in Volusia County government – and which represent more of the same. 

Or worse.

In my view, anyone who remains undecided on what that “substantive change” I crow about should look like owes it to themselves to watch the pernicious actions of the obstructionist majority during last week’s farcical Volusia County Council meeting – the culmination of a malicious campaign by influential insiders and their meat puppets on the dais of power to consolidate power and preserve the stagnant status quo.

In my view, just days before early voting begins, the suppression of open debate on an issue of critical concern represents the final return on investment for those well-heeled insiders who, through massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates, have controlled everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

As anyone paying attention knows, the State of Florida is actively pursuing the implementation of potable reuse – the use of treated sewage to augment our dwindling drinking water supply in the face of massive overdevelopment – a process colloquially known as “toilet to tap” or “flush to faucet.” 

The legislature has already passed rules preempting local government regulation of treated wastewater based upon a 2020 report by the Florida Potable Reuse Commission and is now actively building a framework for implementation across the Sunshine State.  

According to the report, following evaluation of the process – including a standalone test project in Daytona Beach – the critical factor in implementation is “…public understanding that potable reuse is a safe and sustainable alternative water source.” 

So, how do they plan to convince wary Floridians that drinking our own recycled sewage is a good idea? 

Through publicly funded agitprop (“public outreach”) supported by “…increased experience and advancements in technology.” 

In other words, they plan to shove it down our throats (literally) – whether we like it or not.   

Last week, Chairman Jeff Brower rightfully asked that discussion of an ordinance or charter amendment limiting blackwater reuse be placed on the council agenda to stimulate action on this critical issue ahead of pending legislation. 

According to Mr. Brower, instead of artificially augmenting our drinking water supply, “…our focus needs to be on conservation, on the way that we grow, where we’re growing, preserving our water.” 

Unfortunately, conservation, environmental protections, or limiting growth – even in the face the statewide engineering and planning disaster that facilitated unchecked sprawl and contributed to the horrific flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian – are considered radical concepts by Volusia’s Old Guard.

In August, a similar measure brought forth by Councilwoman Heather Post (who, along with Councilman Danny Robins, was absent last week) died for lack of a second. . .

In an act of political cowardice that, in my view, represents the very antithesis of contemplative deliberation, citizen input, and the open competition of ideas that forms the basis of sound public policy – lame duck At-Large Councilman Ben Johnson made a motion to prohibit any further discussion of potable reuse by the current council. 

You read that right. 

Our sitting at-large representative moved to forever forbid discussion of an issue critical to the future of every man, woman, and child in Volusia County – an authoritarian move commonly associated with tinpot dictatorial regimes, co-opted political stooges, and oppressive oligarchies.

Sound familiar?  It should.   

I cannot think of anything more antidemocratic – more un-American – than suppressing open and honest discussion by policymakers as a means of protecting a bought-and-paid-for political agenda.      

When Chairman Brower asked our bootlicking County Attorney Mike Dyer for clarification on the legality of limiting discussion on issues of public concern – Dyer fell back on his obsequious talent for always knowing which way the political wind is blowing – and mewled something about the council having the ability to select which issues it wants to address. 

Bullshit. 

In turn, The Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry seconded Councilman Johnson’s motion – with Councilwoman Barbara Girtman joining Johnson, Lowry, and Billie Wheeler to pass the repressive measure on a 4-1 vote. (Et tu, Barb?)

Let’s call it what it is – the silencing of substantive debate by a majority vote of those whose “Toilet to Tap?  Never heard of it…” argument cannot stand up to the light of day – kicking the can even further down the dusty political trail – more concerned about protecting the profit motives of their well-heeled political benefactors than the potential health and safety of their worried constituents.   

In doing so, the Old Guard continued its weird Conspiracy of Silence – where certain elected officials choose to crush discussion on critical issues when they believe the personal/profit motives of their political donors differ from those of their long-suffering constituents.   

And the silence is deafening.   

In pursuing this continuing course of conduct, the Volusia County Council has lost its legitimacy as a governing body as these sullied sellouts expose themselves for the compromised shills they are. 

I cannot guarantee you that things will change if we elect the current slate of grassroot candidates who have pledged to support initiatives that slow out-of-control growth, set commonsense environmental regulations, and establish low-impact development measures to protect what remains of our natural places and our quality of life.

But I can assure you nothing will change if we don’t.

Like Thomas Jefferson said, “The government we elect is the government we deserve.”

Angels & Assholes for October 21, 2022

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               Hometown Heroes Pat Northey and Steve Parker

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council honored Pat Northey for her long-time advocacy of the arts and our fragile environment as she rightfully received the prestigious 2022 Tippen Davidson Award from the Volusia County Cultural Alliance. 

According to the VCCA, “The Annual Tippen Davidson Award for the Arts was established to recognize leadership and long-standing support by individuals of cultural endeavors in Volusia County by the Volusia County Cultural Alliance.”

After more than 20-years of elected service – her continuing contributions as Chair of the Volusia ECHO Advisory Committee – and enduring commitment to promoting the county’s network of nature trails (which now span more than 67-miles) the County Council acknowledged that, “…at the heart of her community service is the desire to create a better quality of life for Volusia County residents, ensuring they have a clean and natural place to live with access to a variety of arts and cultural facilities,” in proclaiming October 18, 2022, as Pat Northey Day in Volusia County.

Well deserved, Pat!

Thank you for your significant contributions and tireless efforts to improve our quality of life and safeguard our environment. 

In the brutal aftermath of Hurricane Ian, true “hometown heroes” have emerged on both sides of Volusia’s Palmetto Curtain – resolute servant-leaders lending a hand when and where they can – working hard to keep their neighbors informed of available resources and inspiring a spark of hope in those who have lost so much.   

In my view, Steve Parker – moderator of the incredibly popular social media site “What’s Happening in Port Orange” and the local public affairs podcast, “What’s Happening Live!” – does more than just talk about the issues we face, he gives generously of his time, talents, and sweat to help make life easier for his neighbors in need.

This week, a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe let me know that Steve has been working tirelessly in the heavily impacted Summer Trees subdivision, a 55+ community in Port Orange – helping elderly and disabled residents in removing flood damaged furniture, cabinets, floors, and fixtures – doing the heavy lifting for those unable to recover from the devastating effects of this disaster on their own.  

God’s work, Steve.

I have always taken comfort in a quote by the great Fred Rogers – better known as children’s television host Mister Rogers, who said:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Our ‘hometown heroes’ Pat Northey and Steve Parker are two of those intrepid helpers who, through their selfless service to others, bring optimism for our collective future in Volusia County. 

Thank you, both. 

We’re glad you passed our way. 

Angel               New Smyrna Beach Resident Sharon Adams

It is no secret we live in a time when political affiliations are hurled like vile epithets – another sign of our horrible national divide – where even local candidates and their supporters launch the terms “Democrat” and “Republican” like boiling oil at their opponents, as though these labels alone will tell voters all they need to know about a candidate’s character and lineage.    

Us vs. Them.  Red vs. Blue.  Good vs. Evil.  Compromise is weakness.   

Earlier this week, a report by Mark Harper writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Candidates in NSB race trade barbs after illegal partisan ad,” caught my jaundiced eye.

In the nonpartisan New Smyrna Beach District One race – a contest populated by incumbent Commissioner Mike Kolody and his opponent, Valli Perrine, both of whom “identify” as Republicans – a dust-up occurred earlier this month when a glossy mailer sent to potential voters by the Kolody campaign noted his political affiliation.

That is a violation of state election laws.

Mr. Kolody blamed the error on the printing company – which may be factual – however; according to the News-Journal’s report, Ms. Perrine alleges that Commissioner Kolody has also been “going door-to-door telling (voters) I’m a Democrat. Which is insane in a nonpartisan race.”

The accusations, misinformation, and petty politics did not end there:

I approached him at a farmer’s market,” Perrine said. “I said, ‘What you’re doing is in violation of state law.”

“And he says, ‘You’re a Democrat.’ He started yelling at me … which is crazy because we were standing next to the Democratic Party tent. He’s not really a rational person.”

Kolody didn’t have nice things to say about Perrine.

“I have an opponent who is a very nasty person,” he said. “I sent an email to her saying we should have a face-to-face debate. She refused, saying, ‘You’ve had four years. Go live in the mountains and don’t ever email me again.’” Kolody accused Perrine’s camp of taking some of his yard signs down.

Perrine said her supporters didn’t remove his signs. She said it was Republican Party officials who took them down from in front of the GOP headquarters.

She accused him of parking a vehicle in front of her house displaying campaign messages.

“She is telling people I’m a nasty person who hates women,” Kolody said. “She’s not the type of person you want to have running for public office.”

In a most worthy act, Sharon Adams, a resident of New Smyrna Beach who describes herself as a registered Democrat who claims she does not support either Kolody or Perrine, filed a formal complaint with the Florida Elections Commission.

According to the report, Adams told the News-Journal that she “…isn’t a supporter of either candidate but believes public officials ought to know and follow laws.”

“I do think it’s a big deal,” she said. “Because with everything going on in our country, every little violation matters.”

The notion of nonpartisanship in local races might seem antiquated to some, but Adams said an embrace of the concept is the best way to govern locally.

“I think people ought to be judged not on the party affiliation. They ought to be judged on their qualities.”

Look, I don’t know Ms. Adams personally, and I certainly have no idea about her politics, but I respect the fact that a lone citizen saw fit to stand on principle – and take action to preserve that which is right and fair at a time when local political contests have become a blood sport.

Thomas Jefferson said, “The government you elect is the government you deserve.”

Thank you, Ms. Adams, for having the courage of your convictions.   

Asshole           Volusia County Council

Heliograph signals.

Semaphore lines.

The Cooke and Wheatstone electrical telegraph.

Apollo’s S-Band Transponder that transmitted Neil Armstrong’s first words from the moon.

Hell, last week, I watched a spaceship intentionally crash into the side of an asteroid 6.7 million miles from my Barcalounger in Ormond Beachand the pictures beamed to my television moments before impact were so clear I could count the pea-sized pebbles on its rocky surface. 

Advances in long-distance communications continue to evolve at the speed of technology, but in 2022, I still cannot watch a bimonthly meeting of that shambolic hootenanny that passes for a Volusia County Council meeting without an ear trumpet and an oral transliterator. . .

What gives?

For years I have poked fun at the sound quality of broadcasts from the gilded Volusia County Council chamber – which have a pitch, tone, and consistency just shy of Alexander Graham Bell’s harmonic telegraph – as a way of calling attention to the embarrassing lack of reliable technology (that you and I paid for) at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building in DeLand. (Admittedly, the place is often reminiscent of the dark side of the moon, but still. . .)

After struggling through Tuesday’s indecipherable shitshow – which saw our elected dullards, participating residents, and disinterested staff members straining to be heard due to “audio/visual difficulties” that disrupted the meetings live feed – it has become evident that these chronic communications failures simply must be a strategic maneuver to keep Volusia County residents in the dark on the important issues we face.

Is there another explanation? 

I’m asking.

With a recently approved budget topping $1.06 Billion and a long history of technological disruptions – along with the asinine refusal of our elected officials to embrace a public access television channel to allow residents the opportunity to observe their county government in all its glorious inaction – it is patently clear that our elected officials want to make it so onerous for us to watch the sausage being made that We, The Little People get frustrated and go away. 

Jesus.  Enough already. 

What has been a chronic annoyance is now empirical evidence of the gross mediocrity and lack of attention to detail that pervades the executive suites at the TCK building.

Regardless of whether they have the self-awareness to notice, it also reflects poorly on our elected officials, who are left looking like addled buffoons every time a microphone fails, and a flummoxed staff member is forced to equip Chairman Brower with two tin cans and a waxed string. . .

What little I was able to decrypt on Tuesday involved a weird appearance by Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu, who took to the podium to lambast Chairman Jeff Brower for “playing politics” when he appeared at a meeting in Daytona Beach and explained how overdevelopment contributed to post-Ian inundation during a discussion of issues surrounding recurrent flooding in perennially neglected Midtown neighborhoods.   

Yeah.  It’s Brower’s fault. . .    

From the first days of his campaign, Mr. Brower has decried the pace and magnitude of malignant sprawl across Volusia County and has spoken of its detrimental effects on our water quality and insufficient utilities infrastructure.  In fact, controlling explosive growth has been Chairman Brower’s cause célèbre – and his controversial stance has brought the wrath of his compromised colleagues – who are desperate to maintain the status quo for their political benefactors. 

Given the fact Commissioner Cantu has a sworn obligation to address the issues affecting Midtown residents, in my view, her odd performance on Tuesday was the textbook example of political deflection – something not lost on long-time political watchdog John Nicholson. 

When Mr. Nicholson spoke, he pointed out the absurdity of Ms. Cantu’s accusation, saying “She (Cantu) plays politics all the time,” before rightfully calling for politicians to stop placing blame and support a unified effort by the City of Daytona Beach and Volusia County to find a solution to the repeat flooding in Midtown – a recurring disaster which Mr. Nicholson noted has been going for “forty years.” 

I don’t always agree with John Nicholson – but I have long admired his thoughtful take on the issues of the day and near-constant presence at public meetings. 

On this issue we are of a like mind: The good residents of Midtown deserve better.

Later in the meeting, I was shocked (but not surprised) by the result of a tepid and one-sided discussion of a “Toilet to Tap” measure previously proposed by Chairman Jeff Brower in the face of pending state mandates which will forever limit local governments regulation of recycled sewage to augment our dwindling drinking water supply – bureaucratically known as “potable reuse water.”

In the view of many environmentalists, the disgusting process of using treated wastewater to alleviate increasing pressure on the aquifer due to overdevelopment will allow even more unchecked sprawl across the width and breadth of Florida.   

In August, a similar request for action on this critical issue supported by Chairman Brower died for lack of a second. 

To ensure that a wooden stake was driven through the heart of any substantive action that would in any way impede the ability of their well-heeled political benefactors in the real estate development community to haul untold millions out of our paved over pine scrub – lame duck At-Large Councilman Ben Johnson made a motion that the topic of potable reuse water never be discussed by this iteration of the Volusia County Council again.   

You read that right.

Of course, The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry dutifully genuflected – kissed the sizeable asses of his political masters – and seconded Old Ben’s motion. 

With Danny Robins and Heather Post absent, Councilwoman Barb Girtman once again ensured a majority for Volusia’s stodgy Old Guard when she voted to ensure the status quo, joining Johnson, Lowry, and Billie Wheeler in effectively quashing any further consideration of protecting our threatened drinking water supply until at least January. 

My God.

By way of explanation for her vote, Ms. Girtman said she could not understand why Chairman Brower chose to bring the matter back up at this time?  (Obviously insinuating he was staging a political stunt ahead of the election.)

Because acting proactively and getting ahead of an approaching issue that will soon affect every man, woman, and child in Volusia County is anathema in a place that now exists to dally, defer, and dawdle. . . 

If that isn’t playing politics with our future – with the health and safety of our children and grandchildren – I don’t know what is.

No wonder our elected dullards don’t want anyone watching. . .

I hope you will remember this perpetual block and stall strategy at the ballot box next month.

Quote of the Week

“Twenty years ago, Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company proposed the annexation on the condition we abolish our city’s strict wetland protection rules. I and other commissioners voted against the annexation when it became clear the will of the people of Ormond Beach demanded we keep the wetland rules to preserve trees, greenspace and flood control. Aware that growth does not pay for itself, our citizens overwhelmingly rejected a massive expansion of our city.

The land would be ultimately sold by Consolidated-Tomoka to unknown developers. Once annexed, the Ormond Beach brand would drive up the price. So would eliminating our wetland rules and allowing a much higher development density. Daytona Beach annexed the Consolidated-Tomoka acres and broke a long-standing boundary agreement with Ormond Beach to do so. Twenty years and two resales later, the current owner of the proposed Avalon Park property will construct 10,000 homes, large water retention ponds and extensive commercial development.

Even if the city had annexed the land, Ormond Beach would now have little or no control over how Avalon Park is developed. We gave up our only effective protection against overdevelopment when the city abolished our model wetland rules in 2010. Then-Commissioner Bill Partington joined a 5-0 vote to adopt the more liberal St. Johns Water District rules, which allow urban wetlands to be destroyed if the developer will purchase mitigation acres for conservation in a distant, rural ecosystem.

As for Consolidated-Tomoka, in 2016, the land company paid a $187,500 fine to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency to resolve allegations that the company, over seven years, illegally dredged and filled 163 acres of wetlands west of I-95 and north of LPGA Boulevard. The EPA concluded Consolidated violated the federal Clean Water Act by altering and filling wetlands adjacent to tributaries of the Tomoka River. The wetland restoration cost was estimated at $1.7 to $1.9 million and Consolidated agreed to the fine with no admission of wrongdoing.

The commission now plans to sell Ormond water and sewer services to Avalon Park. The deal will require Ormond Beach to construct a second sewer plant and will enable high-impact development on our doorstep by a city that reneged on our last agreement.

Twenty years ago, I kept an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the laws of my city in voting against annexing the Consolidated-Tomoka land. I would cast the same “no” vote today.”

–Former Ormond Beach City Commissioner and Civic Activist Jeff Boyle, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “Truth Retold,” Monday, October 17, 2022

Earlier this week – despite the serious concerns of residents still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian – the Ormond Beach City Commission approved by majority vote the controversial Tattersall at Tymber Creek project – described as a 129-home subdivision located on 84-acres at the northwest corner of Tymber Creek Road and Airport Road. 

On Tuesday, the first reading of the development order passed following five previous denials on a 3-2 vote with Mayor Bill Partington and Commissioner Troy Kent voting to deny the request.

Whatever.

The next time you find yourself sitting through three cycles of a traffic light on Granada Boulevard, ask yourself – if the roles of power were reversed – with the specter of Avalon Park, that gargantuan “City within a city” looming on the horizon, and numerous high-density sticks-and-glue apartment complexes already approved – would you rubberstamp another development in Ormond Beach?

Me neither.

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

And Another Thing!

“Beach driving is one of Volusia County’s most distinct features. It’s also one of its most enduring controversies. Larry Arrington, who as Volusia County manager in the late 1990s oversaw the establishment of no-driving sections of the beach, died Oct. 5 at age 72 after an illness.”

–Reporter Mark Harper writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Larry Arrington, former Volusia County manager and consultant, dies at age 72,” Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Following his retirement from a life in public service, Larry Arrington understood the growing animus and “trust issues” facing local government when he admirably founded The Civitas Project, which he described as:

“The mission of The Civitas Project is to help create a sustainable, good society to the extent humanly possible. This is done by building civitas through quality initiatives including education, leadership development, conflict resolution, informed research and commentary, and well-designed and facilitated collaborative labs that bring people together to develop strategic consensus about responses to complex public problems.

Our main goal is to practice deliberative democracy and to promote balanced and informed public reason about the collective challenges we face. We seek to build moral and transformational leadership capacity and quality political institutions.”

Earlier this week, I found the project’s website has been abandoned – I assume because the lofty goals and principals Mr. Arrington envisioned are no longer “humanly possible” in this fetid slit trench that passes for “governance” in Volusia County. 

To be clear, I did not agree with what is now being touted as Mr. Arrington’s “biggest accomplishment” – the removal of vehicles from sections of Daytona Beach – something I still view as craven capitulation to what the Orlando Sentinel described at the time as, “…the ambitions of deep-pocketed developers and powerful business interests.”

Mr. Arrington pushed the removal of beach driving by labeling our long-standing local tradition as “dirty, dangerous, and damaging,” – then drummed up support for his “beach driving is bad for tourism” push by using the same marketing research firm that has received public funds to tell our policy makers what they want to hear for decades.

In my view, the campaign crafted by Mr. Arrington was complete bullshit – but it was supported by all the right last names – and served as effective camouflage for the real reason our movers-and-shakers wanted vehicles off Volusia County beaches. 

In reality, limiting beach driving and access was a well-orchestrated plan by a few influential insiders – some of whom long ago declared bankruptcy and fled the Daytona Beach Resort Area with a sack full of cash and broken dreams in their wake – to establish a de facto private beach for the Ocean Walk development, which was among the first “panacea projects” we were told would cure all our civic and social ills from malignant blight to head lice and pave the way for a “new Daytona Beach.”

Remember? 

I do. 

How has that worked out for us nearly 23-years on?

Well, much of the East ISB gateway still has the appearance of a stagnant third-world shithole (I know, I know, change is coming, just wait another year or two…), the long-neglected Main Street entertainment district hasn’t significantly changed in decades, and what remained of the iconic Daytona Beach Boardwalk will soon be leveled to make way for another “luxury” hotel.

Whatever.

Although we disagreed on beach driving, I admired Mr. Arrington’s efforts to establish The Civitas Project and his ardent promotion of contemplative deliberation by policymakers, inclusiveness, and citizen involvement in our democracy to foster a more “balanced and informed public reason about the collective challenges we face.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Arrington’s vision of moral and transformational leadership no longer has a place in Volusia County government – replaced by a politicized farse of a policymaking process – a dysfunctional shitshow – controlled by compromised sellouts incapable of compromise or consensus, an ongoing embarrassment to the residents of Volusia County and a cautionary tale for our more successful neighbors in Central Florida. 

Rather than live up the values and vision Mr. Arrington championed, it is increasingly evident that the raison d’être of Volusia County’s controlling Old Guard is to strategically procrastinate on the pressing issues of the day while a select few feed greedily on what remains of our natural places – then fight like rabid badgers to remain in power.

Rather than govern, these hacks now exist to kick the can down the dusty political trail – and block substantive discussion of the intractable issues we face – putting time and distance between meaningful public policies and commonsense regulations to allow maximum profit for those influential insiders who hold the paper on their political souls.

Now, Larry Arrington – a statesman, leader, and important voice for good governance – has been silenced too soon.

That’s all for me.  Have a great ‘Unsanctioned Truck Event’ weekend, y’all! 

Hard Lessons Learned.

Last week, the horribly conflicted Deltona City Commission held a sham “Special City Commission Meeting” during which they went through a time-wasting “process” of asking fourteen finalists for the interim city manager role a series of softball questions via Zoom ahead of an obviously orchestrated vote. 

Against all reason, controversial former Daytona Beach City Manager Jim “The Chiseler” Chisholm was tapped for the acting role on a typical 4-2 majority vote (Commissioner David Sosa was absent) putting one of the most polarizing political figures in Volusia County in charge of the most dysfunctional and wholly compromised local “government” in Florida. 

That low whirring you hear is Big John spinning in his urn. . . 

Despite my best instincts, I watched as much of the weird Kabuki as I could stomach. 

During my productive life, I served in positions of increasing responsibility in the long-established City of Holly Hill, a quaint slice of Old Florida on the banks of the beautiful Halifax River.  My long tenure included a stint as Interim City Manager following a tumultuous period of political upheaval.   

It’s a hard dollar. 

Although much smaller than the City of Deltona, the political pressures in a small town are often amplified, and dealing with the various factions, internal and external influences, and the challenges of an aging infrastructure made it both the best, and worst, assignment of my career. 

Although I had no formal training in public administration, through the years I worked for a series of chief executives whose leadership styles ranged from itinerant narcissistic nutjobs to the absolute best in the business – which meant I had a good idea what not to do. 

During my mercifully short appointment to the Cat Bird seat, I tried my best to calm the seas and return a sense of trust to citizens and staff after the bull left what remained of the china shop. 

With the help of a wonderful group of professionals and the support of our elected officials, I managed to keep the ship off the rocks until a replacement could be found, then I returned to my role as Chief of Police where I could at least fake a semblance of competency. . . 

As an uneducated bumpkin, what I know of leadership was gained from experiential learning, observing those skills, abilities, and personality characteristics I respected in others – dismissing their bad behaviors, faults, and foibles – then working hard to emulate those admirable traits as I clawed my way up the ladder to middle management (then hung on by my fingernails until retirement. . .)

Trust me. I made my share of mistakes – valuable lessons that served me well.

Unfortunately, the Deltona City Commission did not display any of those attributes I came to recognize as “good governance” during their cockamamie selection process last week. 

In fact, it felt like the appointment of Jim Chisholm was a foregone conclusion. . .

After years of internecine warfare, secretiveness, political chicanery, and “Us vs. Them” divisiveness that has plagued Deltona, in my view, the most pertinent question asked of the applicants was perhaps the simplest:

“As a newly appointed interim city manager of Deltona, what are some techniques you would employ to create an atmosphere of trust and unity within the city administration or government and the community?  What experience will you draw upon to assist you in the transition?”

Clearly, trust and unity are in short supply at Deltona City Hall – and it appears some of those on the dais of power are beginning to recognize that fact as the general election draws near.  

Hard lessons learned on both sides of Deltona’s Great Divide.   

Given Mr. Chisholm’s notorious lack of transparency and sycophantic deference to influential insiders in the City of Daytona Beach – I was convinced his well-publicized track record would be a dealbreaker once commissioners got passed the stilted “interviews,” performed due diligence, spoke to other elected and appointed officials in East Volusia, met with former rank-and-file employees, or reviewed open-source information regarding Chisholm’s often contentious reign.  

As I listened to the question repeated to each of the finalists, I thought:

“Surely Deltona’s elected officials have families, and, at some point, they had friends and enjoyed the trust of at least 51% of their district’s electorate.  On some level, they must understand the interpersonal dynamics of uniting their community and developing trust, right?”

Unfortunately, I was wrong in my stupid assumption.

My life is blessed with a small handful of dear friends – close intimates I have known and loved most of my life.

I maintain these important relationships by being trustworthy, keeping promises, being open, honest, and sensitive to their feelings, always present during times of crisis, being communicative, sharing, and open to constructive criticism, truly listening to their needs and concerns, being a cheerleader, celebrating accomplishments and sharing defeat – I have their back and trust they have mine – being respectful of their priorities, admitting mistakes and offering sincere apologies, and always striving to be loyal, forgiving, compassionate, and trusting with those I care about.

Over time, a mutual trust develops – the bond strengthens – and I know my efforts and feelings will be reciprocated in an authentic way.   

Through these enduring personal connections, I learned that when we put the needs of others ahead of our own self-interests, good things result as people respond in kind, giving their trust and respect when it is earned.   

In my view, the same characteristics that form the basis of close friendships work equally well in developing strong professional relationships – qualities that carryover to the administration of government – and help build organizational confidence during labor negotiations, management decisions, budget allocations, staff recruitment and retention, and assist in returning the public’s trust in their municipal government.      

Because the foundation of true servant leadership is putting the needs of others first – a selflessness that creates an inspirational workplace where people take pride in doing work worth doing – it improves essential service delivery, empowers a “people-first” atmosphere where excellence is valued, and breaks down internal and external barriers.

Perhaps most important, these principles help nurture an organizational culture where passionate professionals can debate differing ideas then try new and innovative strategies without fear of failure, reprisal, or political meddling.   

With many Deltona residents still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian and a municipal election less than a month away – it seemed suspiciously urgent that this iteration of the commission ramrod The Chiseler’s appointment – something that has added to the instability and left people much smarter than me asking what influential faction has set their sights on exploiting Deltona this time?

Time will tell.

Unfortunately, it looks like Deltona government has more hard lessons ahead. . .

Angels & Assholes for October 14, 2022

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               Volusia County Sheriff’s Office  

I cannot think of a greater calling – or responsibility – than protecting vulnerable children, teachers, and staff from unthinkable evil. 

Following the 2018 tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I repeatedly urged members of the Volusia County School Board to employ a recognized school protection specialist – an experienced professional with the tactical, technical, strategic, and administrative skills to plan for, staff, equip, train, and respond to active assailants on school campuses with the sole focus of neutralizing the threat and saving lives.

Instead, in February 2020, the School Board appointed controversial retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant Michelle Newman to serve as Director of Safety and Security – a post Newman held until just after classes began in August when she abruptly resigned and followed equally contentious former Volusia County School Superintendent Scott Fritz to the Early Learning Coalition of Central Florida where she is now listed as “Chief Operating Officer.” 

Whatever.

Rather than seek an experienced school security expert, following “Chief” Newman’s departure, Chastity Burke – a former Sheriff’s detective who has been with the district since last year – was tapped to fill what I believe is the most sensitive, responsible, and highly technical position in Volusia County.

Following the Robb Elementary massacre in Uvalde, Texas, school administrators around the nation began reassessing internal and external response protocols and the importance of strong leadership before, during, and after an active threat. 

On Tuesday, our school board rightfully voted to approve an Interlocal Agreement with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office which will appoint a sworn law enforcement executive – along with sufficient operational and administrative support – to take the lead in securing campuses, protecting students and staff, and address the rise in violent criminal activity in Volusia County Schools.

I applaud Sheriff Mike Chitwood for having the courage to wade into the namby-pamby fantasyland that passes for reality in the Ivory Tower of Power at Volusia County District Schools – a realm where at least one board member, Linda Cuthbert, seemed to view lifesaving security drills as an inconvenience and disruption – while the remainder of our elected officials came off as uncomfortably clueless to the stark realities of the safety and security function. 

Under the terms of the agreement, a senior member (Captain) of the Sheriff’s command staff will be appointed to coordinate with Superintendent Carmen Balgobin and her cabinet supported by a Lieutenant and Administrative Assistant.  

Now, a qualified law enforcement professional will oversee this vital role – with access to all resources of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – and the authority to develop countywide emergency response protocols, standardize training, and improve coordination and preventive intelligence sharing between Guardians, School Resource Officers, and other agencies.      

During his presentation to the board, Sheriff Chitwood explained how having a VCSO commander embedded with the district’s administration will increase communications and the effectiveness of the long-anticipated Volusia County Juvenile Assessment Center. 

The JAC will screen juvenile offenders for a variety of threats and factors – to include mental health, family, and substance abuse issues – and will house a range of assessment and intervention services, to include officials from the Department of Juvenile Justice, Halifax Behavioral Services, SMA Healthcare, and social workers from Volusia County Schools.   

Kudos to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office for assuming this important responsibility in service to the students, teachers, and staff of Volusia County District Schools.    

Asshole           Deltona City Commission

“More controversy in Deltona this week. . .”

Volusia’s largest city descended further into civic chaos this week after what many consider a sham “process” brought controversial former Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm out of hibernation – selected as the city’s latest acting manager by a 4-2 majority vote of a horribly conflicted City Commission after nonsensical “interviews” with fourteen applicants.

You read that right.  Jim “The Chiseler” Chisholm will now serve as Deltona’s interim city manager.   

Last week, the obvious choice for the acting role – Deltona’s deputy city manager Stacey Kifolo – was conveniently “suspended with pay” after an apparent contretemps with current Acting City Manager/City Attorney Marsha Segal-George. 

Ms. Kifolo now joins former Interim City Manager John Peters on Deltona’s growing “getting paid for sitting on one’s ass” roster. 

On September 19, Peters was sent packing on a typical 4-3 vote when he submitted his resignation from the acting top spot with a request to return to his former role as Public Works Director.

During that marathon shitshow, a Pandora’s box of ugly issues came to light – including raw political friction, the power and influence of Deltona’s fire union (especially during an election year/contract negotiation), whale shit level morale, and a veiled reference to sealed ‘secret files’ apparently related to former Human Resources Director Richard Adams and his recently settled lawsuit alleging retaliation and discrimination by Mr. Peters.  

As an outsider looking in, to me, Ms. Segal-George always comes across as a discombobulated spectator – too busy fidgeting with her phone to get ahead of the gross dysfunction happening around her – a mental disengagement (or self-defense mechanism?) best exemplified by a recent controversy surrounding Mr. Peters’ unsigned employment agreement, which left Segal-George rewinding video of a past meeting in an attempt to determine the Commission’s “intent” – followed by another gaffe that called the legitimacy of her appointment to the interim role into question when Mayor Heidi Herzberg failed to call for a vote to extend her reign. 

Yeah.  I know. . .

This isn’t Marsha’s first rodeo. 

Ms. Segal-George has bounced around local governments in various roles for the past 40-years – including stints as manager in Lee County, Florida, and Ft. Meyers Beach – and she now serves with Fowler, O’Quinn, Feeney & Sneed, the firm who contracts legal services with Deltona. 

When Peters was effectively fired in September, City Attorney/Interim Manager Segal-George agreed to mind the switch for no more than two-weeks.  When that time expired, she was (apparently) magically anointed to remain in the role by a weird “silent consent” of the Commission – rather than a formal vote – that kept her in the wheelhouse until a poorly thought quizzing of potential victims, er, “interim candidates” could be held on Wednesday.

Jesus.  What a frigging mess.

According to a recent report by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s intrepid Wild West Volusia reporter Katie Kustura, “…the city had received 15 applications for the role of interim city manager…”

Interestingly, during a September 26 meeting, Commissioner Anita Bradford mysteriously validated a rumor that had been swirling around Deltona like an unpleasant odor when she confirmed interest from the clairvoyant Jim Chisholm, who by then was already measuring the drapes in the city manager’s office. . . 

This week, residents and interested onlookers had access to the resumes of those vying for the interim position – and I was surprised (not really) to learn that Mr. Chisholm’s submission was dated September 13, 2022 – six-days before Mr. Peters was effectively terminated by the majority of the City Commission (and two-days before Peters announced his intent on the commission agenda. . .)

Wow. 

Look, Deltona has never been known as a beacon of openness and transparency – now many are speculating whether someone ‘in the know’ was talking out-of-school to Mr. Chisholm – or if Peters’ ouster was an orchestrated coup arranged in advance of the public meeting?       

Interesting. 

For many, Deltona City Hall has become a cloistered fortress – a place where citizens and elected officials who find themselves outside the tightknit circle of trust are required to jump through hoops and pay exorbitant fees for simple public records requests – and civically active citizens have felony charges referred against them, their lives turned upside-down, for merely participating in their city government. 

Now, more shadowy internal “investigations” are in the works, more political intrigue afoot, more stealthy power-plays, deck stacking, and behind the scenes manipulation during the city’s caustic negotiations with its influential fire union – and questions about who wants to take advantage of the chaos and malleable majority to exploit Deltona next?

In my view, Mayor Herzberg now has the dubious distinction of presiding over the most dysfunctional and compromised local “government” in Central Florida – if not the entire State of Florida.

A shambolic trainwreck that desperately needs outside inquiry and oversight to protect the integrity of statutorily required processes, the stewardship and protection of public funds, and restoration of government in the sunshine as the distrust and frustration of Deltona residents continues to grow. 

Just don’t expect things to change under Mr. Chisholm’s administration.

In a March 2020 editorial reminiscing on Mr. Chisholm’s retirement, The Daytona Beach News-Journal said, in part:

“For all his accomplishments, Chisholm has drawn criticism for a close-to-the-vest decision-making style. While he has been sporadically available to the public — as when he appeared to answer questions recently at The News-Journal’s forum on the decay along East International Speedway Boulevard — his natural habitat is behind closed doors.

It’s an approach that has blindsided potential allies, cut off the city from benefits of wider partnerships and new information, and more often looks to outmaneuver rather than convert critics.

For the next phase of the city’s evolution to be successful, City Hall will need to be a more open place.”

Now, one of the most polarizing figures in Volusia County politics is at the helm of this desperately divided and vulnerable community.

To the good citizens of Deltona: Welcome from the frying pan into the fire. . .

Angel               Daytona Beach Shores Director of Public Safety Stephan Dembinsky

Last week, the grateful residents and officials of Daytona Beach Shores celebrated the honorable retirement of my friend and former colleague Director of Public Safety Stephan Dembinsky – a true professional who embodies the best attributes of a community-focused servant/leader – following his 25-years of exceptional service. 

Director Dembinsky was born in northern Canada and moved to South Florida when he was a teen.  He graduated from Florida International University 1977 and began his law enforcement career in Dade County, retiring as assistant chief of police for the City of North Miami Beach in 1998. 

He is a graduate of the prestigious FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia. 

Fortunately, Director Dembinsky continued his impressive service with the City of Daytona Beach Shores where he transformed the agency into a modern, fully accredited, public safety agency. 

In addition, Director Dembinsky provided his outstanding leadership at the state level serving as President of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.   

In a beautifully written article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal this week, reporter Patricio Balona explained how Director Dembinsky was instrumental in changing the culture of his highly respected agency through the implementation of written policies and the development of a “succession strategy” that prepared members of the agency for promotion within the department. 

With Director Dembinsky’s retirement, the very capable Mike Fowler will now lead the agency – a veteran public safety officer who has served in every operational and administrative role in the department during his long and honorable career with the Daytona Beach Shores Department of Public Safety. 

Congratulations and all best wishes to Director Dembinsky and his lovely wife Sandi on their well-deserved retirement!

Thanks.  We’re glad you passed our way. 

Quote of the Week

“Young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults,” the EPA states. “A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child.”

Low levels of lead in blood for children can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. Low exposure has also been linked to central and peripheral nervous system damage.

In adults, it can cause cardiovascular effects, decreased kidney function and reproductive problems.”

–Reporter Danielle Johnson, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia elementary school tests for high lead levels in water; extent of exposure unclear,” Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Late last month, the Volusia County School Board adopted an emergency declaration based upon a disturbing single page memorandum by the district’s Coordinator of Design and Construction Thomas Brown, which read:

RE:       Sugar Mill Elementary – Potable Water Lines

“After investigation, it has been determined that water at some fixtures have above normal levels of lead that exceed EPA permissible limits.  Due to suspected piping issues, water to these areas have been temporarily shut off.  This piping needs immediate replacement or relining to ensure that water being distributed is within required limits when restored.

In order to avoid potential health/safety issues, I am recommending that the Board declare an emergency and expedite the process of securing a contractor to perform the necessary work.  The estimated cost of the work at this time is $350,000.00.”

Equally disturbing was that the expenditure was couched on the Board’s consent agenda and approved without discussion.

On Tuesday, we learned in an informative article by News-Journal reporter Danielle Johnson that drinking water samples taken from various Volusia County schools earlier this year found lead levels which exceeded United States Environmental Protection Agency standards at more than twenty other schools throughout the district.

“Testing from Sugar Mill in April returned 13 samples over the action level. Spruce Creek High School also had 10 high samples from April. More than 20 other Volusia County schools have had one to five samples above the EPA action level during 2022.”

Damn.  If officials knew about the contamination in April, why are they just getting around to addressing this incredibly dangerous issue in September? 

And is this the first time water samples have been tested at Volusia County schools? 

I’m asking, because when I read the News-Journal’s report, the first thing that came to mind was the 2014 travesty in Flint, Michigan, where thousands of residents were exposed to lead contaminated drinking water following a change in the city’s water supply during a budget crunch. 

Flint’s public health crisis is still being felt – and several high-profile elected officials have been charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice, misconduct in office, and neglect of duty – in addition to scores of civil lawsuits.

According to studies, children are particularly at risk from the long-term effects of lead poisoning, which can include a reduction in intellectual functioning and IQ, and an increased chance of Alzheimer’s disease.

In my view, the Volusia County School Board’s typical ‘whistling past the graveyard’ response does not begin to address the potential health affects to some six hundred students and 130 teachers and staff at Sugar Mill Elementary – or the thousands of children and adults who may have been exposed at other schools identified during the investigation. 

And it damn sure does not explain how these unwitting victims will be cared for and compensated now that lead exposure has been confirmed and documented by independent testing.   

According to an asinine official comment provided to the News-Journal by the district’s communications department:

“When compared to other counties or school districts that have conducted similar testing, these samples are relatively low,” the statement said.”

My God. 

In other words, ‘We may be poisoning your kids, but when compared to other Florida counties and school districts, we’re poisoning them at a far slower rate. . .’ 

Take comfort in that.

Now is not the time for Volusia County District School’s patented strategy of responding to crisis situations with canned press releases and dodgy soundbites.

Not this time. 

In my view, parents, students, teachers, and staff affected by this startling revelation deserve hard answers – and a comprehensive plan to protect their health going forward.   

This one warrants your attention. . .

And Another Thing! 

“Disengaged Industry and Community:  . . .A very real current threat is the consistent indication of being uniformed and having no understanding of the effectiveness of current tourism initiatives. An aggressive and effective communication plan featuring understandable, measurable results is critical for the long-term support and success of tourism.  An additional theme in SAG’s meetings was the sense that it is going to be difficult to instill broad based confidence that is vital toward improved collaboration.”

“Product Deterioration: . . .Without resources – leadership and economic – the overall tourism experience in Volusia County will decline.  An overall collaborative strategy is needed.”

– “An analysis of Volusia County tourism marketing,” Strategic Advisory Group, (Final Report to the Volusia County Council – now moldering in a dusty records morgue in DeLand) issued April 8, 2013, at a cost of $100,000.

Almost a decade later, anyone see any substantive change in our tourism and marketing strategy based upon the incredibly expensive recommendations offered by the county’s consultant? 

Me neither.

With the “Daytona Beach Resort Area” locked in its perpetual identity crisis, like clockwork, on October 1 we got a fresh marketing slogan (and new advertising agency) and, once again, “rebranded” how we present ourselves to potential visitors around the globe. 

Doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different result is the textbook definition of insanity – and the entrenched policy of the Halifax Area Advertising Authority. 

Because I am an infernal optimist (or maybe a masochist who takes pleasure in having the rug pulled out from under me), I maintain perpetual hope that one day our hospitality guru’s will realize that “The World’s Most Famous Beach” is universally embraced as our signature slogan – one that has brought families to our area for generations

Maybe next year. . .

Now, the widely panned “Wide. Open. Fun.” has been replaced by the equally weird catchphrase “Beach on” (excuse me?) – the product of our newest tourism advocate, Tallahassee-based marketing firm The Zimmerman Agency – who took over from The Brandon Agency, the Myrtle Beach-based company whose contract expired September 30. 

Whatever.

Yeah.  I didn’t notice either – another lucrative contract cycle, another quirky marketing campaign adopted by those oddballs at the HAAA board. . .

In another hit to area tourism, this week the News-Journal reported the fate of longtime Daytona Beach Boardwalk concessionaires Dino Paspalakis and Lisa Psaros following a protracted 20-year legal battle with developer George Anderson and investors seeking to put a hotel complex on the site:

“A Volusia County Circuit Court judge has ordered the operators of Lisa’s Gift Shop and the Joyland arcade, two kitschy tourist draws that reach back to the days when Daytona Beach was a top destination for family vacations, to pack up and move out within 30 days.”

I guess that sounds the death knell for the iconic boardwalk attractions – the sounds, aromas, games, and confections – that locals and visitors have known for decades. 

Also, yesterday marked the official beginning of Biketoberfest 2022 – the 30th iteration of the annual rally that brings thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts and millions of dollars into our community each fall. 

With many homes and businesses still drying out in the horrible aftermath of Hurricane Ian – I have heard some grumbling if this is the right time to host hordes of bikers on our still soggy streets and roadways?

My response is to take a long swig of whiskey and groan, “What the hell else are we gonna do?”

The fact is, many of our neighbors are reliant on the revenue generated by these annual events to feed their families and it is important to the economic health of our region to put our best face forward and make hay while the sun shines in hopes the much-needed income will help those who were devastated by Ian’s floodwaters. 

On Wednesday, I was perched on a barstool at my favorite watering hole and was heartened to see so many early bird out-of-town bikers enjoying some wings and spending money around town.

Besides, our options are limited. . .   

Perhaps it is time we simply admit we are what we are – a slightly down-at-the-heels resort area, a past its prime beach town, totally reliant on a continuing cycle of boom/bust “special events” – doomed to repeat the sins and mistakes of the past as the smart money continues to ignore our downtrodden beachside for the promise of “New Daytona” along LPGA’s Boomtown Boulevard.

Then, let’s demand that our elected representatives finally do something to improve our tourism product – and our collective quality of life.

Keep the faith – and Beach on, y’all. . .

That’s all for me.  Here’s wishing everyone a happy, safe, and prosperous Biketoberfest!

Angels & Assholes for October 7, 2022

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               Hometown Heroes  

The courageous response of our law enforcement, fire, EMS, public works, emergency management personnel, and hundreds of volunteers to the catastrophic events of last week proves once again these lifesaving heroes represent the very best of us. 

In my view, Volusia County and the municipalities did a fantastic job of keeping residents safe and informed before, during, and after the storm.   

I am normally not complimentary of the Volusia County School Board, but during this “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, district officials made complex decisions under pressure and on the side of caution.

In the aftermath of any disaster there will be criticism of those making the tough calls, a perfectly natural reaction, and one that can lead to improvement if the right people have the capacity to put ego aside and listen

But what about those decision-makers that couldn’t be bothered to show up?

Last Friday morning with winds still raging, I received a message from a Barker’s View reader who was rightfully mad-as-a-hornet over tone-deaf Ormond Beach Vice Mayor Susan Persis, and her husband, Volusia County School Board member Carl Persis, actively posting their European vacation photographs on social media while their frightened constituents were weathering the howling onslaught of Hurricane Ian here at home.

What I found most cringeworthy was that Vice Mayor Persis doubled-down on her cluelessness by marking herself safe from Hurricane Ian – from Europe. . .

Really? 

Yeah.  I know.   

In my view, some of our elected elite live in a weird parallel universe that has nothing in common with those who eke out a living here on what remains of the Fun Coast – a life of extraordinary social and political privilege that We, The Little People will never know – and that’s okay. 

But when you accept public funds to serve in the public interest and your constituents and community are under threat, we expect those we elect to be there for us. 

Anything less is unacceptable. 

From the vantagepoint of three decades in public service, it is a moral obligation – a willingness to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who are suffering – and demonstrate strong leadership when it is needed most.

In my view, the many elected officials throughout Volusia County who exemplified service above self under dangerous and difficult circumstances, joined with volunteers to help in recovery efforts, worked to feed hard-hit residents, and pushed information to constituents deserve our praise and respect.     

Meanwhile, our brave first responders and emergency management personnel were away from their families – living in austere conditions, working long hours, staffing emergency operations centers, assisting at shelters, filling sandbags, and bravely preparing to go in harm’s way and save lives when the relentless winds subsided. 

When the tragic extent of the storm’s wrath became evident, those brave men and women boldly ventured into flooded neighborhoods – repeatedly wading into the foul soup to physically carry victims to safety – willingly putting their own health and safety at risk to protect the lives of others.

Within hours of Ian moving offshore, power restoration crews fanned out across the region – linemen and electrical technicians from across the nation – working under dangerous conditions to return power to area homes and businesses while heavy equipment operators cleared debris to open blocked roadways.    

In addition, numerous area restaurants have donated meals to those in need.

Heroes all.

During times of calm, those who live under the blanket of safety and security these brave souls provide are often hyper-critical of those who serve and protect.     

In recent years, we have heard asinine calls to “defund the police,” and vocal criticism of the specialized equipment necessary to preserve life when the chips are down, such as high wheelbase former military vehicles that can safely enter flooded streets to access trapped residents.    

The fact is, if we paid these men and women their true worth, we couldn’t afford them.

Unfortunately, when the floodwaters recede and politicians return to the primping, preening, and self-promotion of an election year, I fear the uncommon heroism of these brave souls will be forgotten – leaving them to process the mental and physical impacts of the things they have done and observed while protecting others – even as their own families and property were at risk. 

With many leaving the police, fire, and EMS services for greener pastures, it is heartening to know that the best-of-the-best stayed – holding the line like generations before – true to the finest traditions of their service. 

In the military and law enforcement, there is a custom of decorating those brave men and women who perform with distinction under extraordinary circumstances – a grateful recognition of their bravery, service, and sacrifice. 

While these heroes do not put their lives on the line for ribbons; I believe we have an obligation to honor their conspicuous gallantry. 

If you are an elected or appointed official at any level of government, my sincere hope is that you will recognize the courage and commitment of those officers, firefighters, EMS personnel, emergency management personnel, utilities workers, equipment operators, public information professionals, support staff, volunteers and the other unsung heroes in your organization who responded when we needed them most.    

On behalf of a grateful Barker family – Thank you all.

Your courageous service and sacrifice under life-threatening conditions will never be forgotten

Angel               Dana McCool and Eric Raimundo  

I have a kinship with those who further a larger discussion of the issues in Volusia County and beyond.  Those bold few who express an authentic opinion, put themselves out there, and speak truth to power – whether we agree or disagree – especially in an environment where the rods and strings of public policy are manipulated by very influential insiders with a profit motive.

Because the vigorous exercise of our First Amendment right is vitally important to the cause of democracy. 

I realize my neighbors don’t need to hear more of my bloviating and bullshit – but we desperately need more avenues for community dialog in a place where our newspaper of record is now unrecognizable.

In my view, a greater conversation of the issues is critical at a time when politics has dissolved into “Us vs. Them” partisan warfare – each side retreating further into their respective echo chambers – and I am blessed to have friends who I disagree with politically but can count on for a spirited and good-natured debate. 

That’s how I learn.

Recently, Deltona City Commissioner and longtime civic activist Dana McCool – a left-leaning Democrat – joined forces with Republican and longtime Tallahassee hand Eric Raimundo to produce The Smoking Truth podcast, two strong personalities with diverse opinions who find common ground over good cigars.   

Before Ian, I had the pleasure of spending time with Dana and Eric at Mike & Mike Productions – a professional sound studio located downstairs of The Cigar Hustler – a phenomenal cigar and craft beer lounge in Deltona, Florida. 

I appreciate their hospitality. 

If I am ever invited to your home or business, I will arrive self-contained in a cloud of cigarette smoke – complete with a designated driver and my “travel bar” – which always includes a fine whiskey, a couple of beers, Topo Chico, a bag of fresh ice, limes, my trusty Zippo, and a pack of Marlboros – all the ephemera and security blankets I need when away from homebase.   

During our fast-paced episode, my hosts more than accommodated my eccentricities and I felt right at home, sipping Power’s Irish Whiskey while talking issues in comfortable surroundings with these two very smart people.

Trust me.  Dana and Eric do not disappoint. 

Past episodes are available and include lively discussions with great personalities like Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacey Cantu, Congressional Candidate Joe Hannoush, and others. 

I hope you will tune in here: https://tinyurl.com/3hdfhkwv

Quote of the Week

“Bryan Collyer of Crunch Construction said a lot of people were trying to figure out what to do with the 121 E. Granada Blvd. site. The solution came as he drove past and thought about the city’s goal to add residential downtown.

“If we can’t go around it, let’s go over it,” Mr. Collyer said. “Let’s put a condo on it.”

William Chapin, architect for the proposed six-story condominium, said the design is a unique mix of styles to solve the problems posed by the site.

“We came up with really what amounts to two buildings, one on the north end, which faces the golf course (Oceanside Country Club) and one on the south end which is right on Granada (Boulevard),” Mr. Chapin said.”

–Reporter John Bozzo writing in Hometown News Volusia, “Condo planned for ‘challenging’ site in Ormond Beach,” Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The vacant lot at 121 East Granada Boulevard in Ormond Beach – a 100’ by 350’ sliver of land that once held the defunct JC’s Lobster Pot and is now home to a Florida Power & Light utility vault – is slated to become a two building six-story condominium complex shoehorned between an office strip center and a Starbucks drive-thru. 

You read that right.

With the scarcity of available greenspace, many communities throughout the nation are embracing the concept of “pocket parks” – publicly accessible spaces that turn small or irregular shaped lots into a place of refuge and relaxation that softens the urban landscape, increases walkability and value, while providing character to the community. 

But not here. 

In Ormond Beach, rather than consider innovative environmentally friendly alternatives to increased density and impact, our sitting officials allow developers to “put a condo on it.”   

According to the report, meetings to allow public input on the future of the land have not been scheduled – although Ormond Beach Planning Director Stephen Spraker told Hometown News the “project is under review.”

Hey John Q.: 

In Ormond Beach, so long as this current crop of developer shills are in control, your thoughts on the future of your community will always be an afterthought.

Bullshit.

In my view, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, city planners and the elected officials who provide direction should reevaluate when, where, and why we develop – moving away from the build at all cost strategy of increasing density and filling every available open space.

When will we get beyond the notion that a few well-heeled developers should get fat while those malleable politicians they control piss away our quality of life for another campaign donation?   

And Another Thing!

I have been accused by a few defenders of Volusia County’s status quo of politicizing the effects of Hurricane Ian – “…playing politics and blaming developers for a natural disaster.” 

Damn right I am. 

With five of our neighbors confirmed dead and preliminary damage estimates now topping $156 million in Volusia County, on Tuesday, the spineless Gang of Four – Volusia County Councilmembers Ben Johnson, Danny Robins, Billie Wheeler, and The Very Revered “Dr.” Fred Lowry – were joined by Councilwoman Barb Girtman in blocking a courageous push by Chair Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post for discussion of a temporary moratorium on future growth and development.

Rather than perform their sworn duty and act decisively, the Gang of Four opted to wait for an unwieldy 14-member Environment and Natural Resources Advisory Committee to debate the obvious while putting more time and distance between this devastation and reasonable growth management initiatives. 

With thousands of Volusia County residents still impacted by persistent floodwaters, millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses, our coastal dunes destroyed, and sections of area roadways compromised by erosion and standing water, experts agree that paving over natural buffers and wetlands significantly contributed to the horrific damage seen across the breadth of Central Florida. 

Now that Florida’s insurance apparatus is insolvent – with homeowners bracing for astronomical increases in the cost of coverage (if they can get it) – many responsible local governments are actively discussing limiting future growth until existing infrastructure and mitigation initiatives can be discussed. 

But not in Volusia County.

Look, it doesn’t take an environmental engineer to see that artificially changing the topography of the land, filling wetlands in an asinine “help here/hurt there” mitigation strategy, raising the elevation of massive developments, and paving over recharge areas with impervious surfaces that increase the speed and volume of stormwater runoff without adequate retention or utilities infrastructure is a calculated gamble that increases profits for real estate developers while leaving new and existing residents vulnerable to catastrophic flooding.

Guess who lost that bet? 

Rather than accept the fact their failed “cram ten-pounds of shit in a five-pound bag” growth management strategy bit them on the ass when Mother Nature demonstrated the fragility of our inadequate infrastructure – these sycophantic marionettes revert to their worst instincts and remain beholden to their well-heeled political benefactors – running interference and quashing any reasonable effort to stop the spread until commonsense low-impact development initiatives and infrastructure improvements can be implemented.

My God.

Inconceivably, with many of their constituents still suffering, these craven tools stood firm with their “Rich & Powerful” overlords in the real estate development community and (per usual) opted to kick the can down the eroded and debris-strewn road – diverting and procrastinating, falling back on another meaningless political insulation committee to do their thinking for them.

This week, “Mad Mike” Panaggio – the raving social media maven of that secret Camera Stellata over at the CEO Business Alliance – has taken to Facebook with another of his rambling grammatical nightmares to blame We, The Little People for our own victimization – once again lecturing in his condescending way that we should have stood aside while he and his cronies ramrodded a sales tax increase down our throats:

“Again Brower and Barker are playing politics and blaming developers for a natural disaster. Hate to tell you but our county needs better storm water systems. Jeff has had two years to get something done. However it’s easier to blame others for not allowing him to lead. Jeff leadership is not based on your business card it’s earned.

Success is a choice and it’s time to get along and get something done. If you notice where the biggest problems occurred it was not at Margaritaville. It was in Holly Hill and South Daytona where storm water systems are badly in need of upgrades. New construction fared pretty well.

The measly half cent sales tax increase promised upgraded roads and storm water improvements. 30% of the tax being paid by non residents. But no Jeff and his gang of discontents said we don’t believe we need to pay that extra 50.00 a year for these much needed services.

Well we are paying.

Look this was an unavoidable disaster. It was natural not created by the bogeyman or developers. Let’s stop overdevelopment. Let’s elect people that can lead. By suggesting a total moratorium is just cowardly. The County will continue to grow. Let’s find leaders that have some brains and can lead us when things get tough.”

In his patented “blame the victim” strategy, once again Mad Mike trots out his panacea – a “…measly half cent sales tax increase” – while conveniently ignoring the “trust issue” and gross political cowardice that continues to plague Volusia County government – always sidestepping the fact that, for years, taxpayers have watched helplessly while these same compromised shills showered public funds on private interests with a profit motive and intentionally suppressed impact fees while ignoring our transportation and utility needs. 

And I’m politicizing a natural disaster? 

Bullshit.

As these stalwarts of the stagnant status quo watch the chances of their pro-development candidates (funded by the same influential insiders that brought us the current crop of malleable do-nothings) swirl down the storm drain (literally), they are scrambling to deflect blame for the obvious.  

It’s not working.

In my view, a month before election day, Volusia County voters have come to the hard-earned realization that the political cowardice, strategic foot-dragging, rubber-stamped zoning changes, and abject obstructionism must end – and this collective demand for a responsive government of the people, by the people, and for the people is going through Volusia’s Old Guard like an ice water enema.

I’ve said it before – vote like your quality of life depends upon it.

Because it does.  

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

The Consequences of Political Cowardice

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, it is becoming increasingly clear that this natural disaster was turned into a catastrophe by base political cowardice. 

With at least five of our neighbors dead and preliminary damage estimates pushing $131 million in Volusia County, on Tuesday, the spineless Gang of Four – Volusia County Councilmembers Ben Johnson, Danny Robins, Billie Wheeler, and The Very Revered “Dr.” Fred Lowry – were joined by Councilwoman Barb Girtman in blocking a courageous push by Chair Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post for consideration of a temporary moratorium on future growth and development.

Instead, these craven tools stood firm for their “Rich & Powerful” overlords in the real estate development community and (per usual) opted to kick the can down the eroded and debris-strewn road – once again, falling back on another meaningless political insulation committee to do their thinking for them.

My God.

Secreted on the Council’s “consent agenda,” was the rubber stamp of the final plat of eighteen townhomes and three single family lots as requested by our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hosseini, at his oceanfront Verona subdivision just west of A-1-A in Ormond-by-the-Sea.

To his credit, with contaminated water still standing in many homes throughout Volusia County, Chair Jeff Brower suggested a conscientious pause on new development until decisions can be made on growth management and flood control.   

After our Growth and Resource Mismanagement Director Clay Ervin explained to our elected dullards that lockstep approval of the Verona plat was a formality required by state law (?) – a forced “Yes” vote under an unspoken threat of a potential lawsuit – The Very Reverend “Dr.” Lowry tut-tutted that he didn’t want to be “unfair” to the developer before moving to approve the request.  

Unfair?  A mere tap of the brakes to discuss the issues we collectively face is “unfair”?

Really?

With people’s lives at stake? 

With residents of Lowry’s own district having food delivered by airboat?   

Whatever.

In a valiant (if futile) effort to advance the conversation, Councilwoman Post moved to discuss a potential moratorium on future development at their next meeting.

Crickets. 

The only sound emanating from the dais were the squeaks of the clenched assholes of those compromised shills who have, for years, accepted massive campaign contributions from developers, as they nervously gnawed the Naugahyde from the seats of their wingback chairs. . . 

Of course, Ms. Post’s motion died for lack of a second. 

The mere suggestion went through the craven Gang of Four like an ice water enema. 

According to an excellent report by Senior Editor Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Her (Post’s) motion, despite pleas from Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower to give them an opportunity to discuss this, died for lack of a second.

The remainder of the council felt that this was an issue they should first hear from the recently formed Environment and Natural Resources Advisory Committee.”

In keeping with his role as the Old Guard’s Chief Deflector and Procrastinator – the now wholly compromised Councilman Ben Johnson covered the bright yellow stripe down his back using the current iteration of the Environmental and Natural Resources Advisory Committee – crowing that even discussing a moratorium would be “usurping” the committee’s authority (only the committee doesn’t have any “authority.”)

See how the game is played, folks? 

There will always be one more roadblock, one more postponement, one more study, one more expensive consultant, one more hoop to jump through, one more bullshit “committee” to hear from, one more nonsensical reason why doing the right and honorable thing is prohibited by state law, one more motion that dies for lack of a second – and years pass as the bulldozers roar without any substantive movement on the most pressing issues of our time: Malignant sprawl, environmental destruction, and overdevelopment.

With thousands of Volusia County residents displaced due to persistent floodwaters, millions in damage to homes and businesses, and experts in agreement that paving over the natural buffers and wetlands has significantly contributed to the horrific flood damage and deaths seen across the breadth of Central Florida – these sycophantic marionettes remain beholden to their well-heeled political benefactors – running interference and quashing any reasonable effort to stop the spread until commonsense low-impact development initiatives can be implemented.

In my experience, these sellouts have repeatedly proven – in both word and deed – that they don’t give two-shits what We, The Little People have to say. 

In my view, with so many of their neighbors suffering, those recent political appointees to the advisory committee should resign – en masse – and tell our gutless elected officials to own their dirty work and foot-dragging.

Why?

Because with fetid piles of trash, standing water with the rotting carcasses of wild hogs floating in the swollen swales, and vegetative debris lining residential streets, it is disingenuous to trot out an unwieldy 14-member committee to put more time and distance between this death and destruction and the profit motives of influential insiders who have controlled Volusia County government for far too long.  

In my view, this is the textbook example of a morally corrupt and dysfunctional system – and the Gang of Four’s political legacies will forever be tainted with a whiff of the shit.   

How do these shameless assholes sleep at night? 

My hope is that those incumbents standing for reelection feel the consequences of their abject cowardice at the polls next month.

Don’t take my word for it.  Watch the archived video of Tuesday’s meeting – then vote like your children and grandchildren’s quality of life depends upon it. 

Because it does.

Too Soon or Too Late?

“What this is basically showing us is that developers, if there’s money to be made, they will develop it,” said Stephen Strader, an associate professor at Villanova University who studies the societal forces behind disasters. “You have a natural wetland marsh … the primary function of those regions is to protect the inland areas from things like storm surge. You’re building on top of it, you’re replacing it with subdivisions and homes. What do we expect to see?”

–Dr. Stephen Strader, as quoted by Jake Bittle writing in Grist, “Hurricane Ian was a powerful storm. Real estate developers made it a catastrophe,” September 30, 2022

What?  Too soon?

Screw that.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, many believe it is too late.

Floridians can’t say we weren’t warned. 

For decades, Florida environmentalists have sounded the klaxon on natural hazard vulnerability and overdevelopment in a place where greed knows no boundaries, nothing is sacred, and the only thing that matters is profit.

In turn, our elected dullards and those uber-wealthy insiders who own the paper on their political souls, have marginalized those voices of reason – flippantly dismissing concerns while facilitating explosive development across the width and breadth of this sensitive spit of sand – even concocting non-sensical laws in Tallahassee that give large tract land owners/speculative developers carte blanche (while providing political insulation to local elected officials) to do anything they damn well want – wherever they feel like doing it.

Even if it means slash-and-burn clear-cutting, artificially changing the topography of the land, threatening our finite supply of clean water, or drowning their neighbor.

In the fallout of Ian, horror stories are beginning to emerge of entire neighborhoods inundated with water after wetlands were filled under an idiotic “hurt here/help there” mitigation strategy – and existing residents saw the runoff from nearby new development sitting atop what was once our aquifer recharge areas – while underwater residents of Midtown continue to suffer from years of neglect when civic attention turned to “New Daytona” west of I-95. . .  

Now that our worst fears have been realized – with thousands of our neighbors sitting in the dark, their homes, cars, and worldly belongings ruined by standing floodwater, the death toll rising, and thousands across Central Florida left homeless – perhaps it is time we reevaluate our priorities in the Sunshine State?

Politicians tell us that some 1,100 new residents move to Florida everyday – therefore, existing residents are told we have some cockamamie obligation to squeeze-in and make room – sacrifice our quality of life (and our very lives) to accommodate the asinine “build it and they will come” mentality that continues to pave over our wetlands, wildlife habitat, and natural buffers.  

Why? 

So that some fat cat real estate developer can buy another vacation home in North Carolina or Snowmass?   

In my view, Hurricane Ian should be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

Now that the results are undeniable, more development in areas where fill is required – or allowing multi-story buildings east of A-1-A where coastal erosion is already threatening existing structures – isn’t just risky, it should be criminal.     

Mother Nature has exposed the fallacy we have been fed – stripped away the cheap façade – countered the political rhetoric of those cheap tools who accept thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from developers – then look us in the eye, shrug their shoulders, and tell us “Nuttin’ we can do, hands are tied – If you’re not growing, you’re dying!” – while dragging their leaden feet on reasonable low-impact development strategies, wildlife protections, and impact fee increases. 

Bullshit.   

With the core of our state in tatters and our insurance apparatus insolvent – who will stand up and accept responsibility for the cowardly chain of events that led to one of the most expensive catastrophes in the history of the world?   

Nobody.  That’s who.

With elections approaching, the federal government will print more money (during the worst economy in years) and shower cash on the state of Florida.  What is not gobbled up by recovery contractors, misspent by local governments, (or outright stolen) will trickledown to those who need it. 

But it will take time.

The ugly fact is, most victims will be left to hire bloodsucking lawyers to haggle with what remains of their parasitic insurance company who will lowball them, quibble claims, and dodge responsibility for years

And we’re all victims. . .

My hope is that the November elections come before “Disaster Amnesia” returns – before the glossy mailers convince us to doubt what we see with our own eyes – before we forget the fear and trepidation many of our neighbors’ felt as the floodwaters continued to rise.   

Santayana was right – “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

Of Mice and Men. . .

And I feel a storm, all wet and warm, not ten miles away. . .

–John Prine

We Floridian’s are a hardy bunch – and those of us who have been here awhile understand the annual anxieties of living in the National Hurricane Center’s “Cone of Confusion.”

During my productive life, the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association bestowed the Professional Emergency Manager designation on me.  It was a point of pride – a wonderful accomplishment for this uneducated bumpkin – and required years of preparation, study, and the accumulation of hard-earned practical experience to achieve. 

In addition to my duties as Chief of Police for the City of Holly Hill, I had ancillary responsibilities as the city’s Emergency Management Coordinator.  When I retired, I was honored to remain as a reserve police officer, assisting with emergency management logistics and operations during storms until I hung-up my spurs for good last year.

During my long career, I was witness to natures wrath from inside numerous Emergency Operations Centers and Command Posts – including Hurricane Andrew, numerous tropical storms, the “Florida Fire Storms,” the 2004 Florida Hurricane Season, the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, historic Halifax area flooding in 2009, the drenching scrape of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and others long forgotten.   

No matter how much you learn about mitigation efforts, best practices, and the disaster recovery cycle, I have always stood in utter awe of the incredible power and cruel efficiency of these extreme weather systems – and their ability to bring out the best, and worst, in all of us.

There are a lot of things that divide us here on the Fun Coast – and sometimes, Volusia County takes on the appearance of a weird caste system.

But Mother Nature is the great equalizer.

She doesn’t give a Tinker’s damn who we are or the size of our bank account.

The awesome power of nature’s magnificently efficient processes serves the earth – not us – yet our very survival depends upon them.

Periodically, nature reminds us in the most extraordinary way that there are some things our “advanced” intellect simply cannot control.

Even though we’ve developed sophisticated insurance and financial safety nets that allow us to build homes and pursue our livelihoods where we probably shouldn’t – and to repeatedly rebuild them in the same vulnerable places – the power of nature can be difficult to comprehend when we’re face-to-face with it.

As I write this, Hurricane Ian – with its ferocious winds and torrential rains – has just become a 140-mph Category 4 major storm and is bearing down on Florida’s west coast.  Our not-so-perfect forecasting models say will be paying us a visit here on the Fun Coast tonight and tomorrow.  

Great. 

With Florida’s property-insurance industry in shambles – with a sixth insurer recently declared insolvent – this is the last thing we need. . .

Remember what Rabbie Burns said about “…the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men”?

As a relatively quiet Hurricane Season roars back with a vengeance, mice and men are actively preparing to ‘hunker down,’ clearing store shelves as our 24/7 media fans the flames of fear and speculation – shamelessly working worried viewers into a frenzy, as everything from toilet paper to bottled water becomes scarce.   

They use terms like ‘catastrophic,’ ‘total devastation,’ and ‘generational storm,’ then panic buying ensues at the Big Box stores of their advertisers – almost as if that’s the plan. . .

The fact is all we really need is a sound plan and a common-sense willingness to evacuate if asked and get out of harm’s way.  In the aftermath, practice commonsense generator safety – avoid standing water and downed powerlines – and take caution using chainsaws and power tools, because the deadliest part of a hurricane is after the storm passes. . .    

That planning includes the ability to self-sustain our family for at least three-days with non-perishable food and one gallon of water per person, per day – along with adequate prescription medications, personal comfort items, and hygiene products.

A pallet of Charmin Ultra is not necessary.      

In the aftermath of devastating floods that left much of central Appalachia underwater earlier this year – with its heartbreaking scenes of the very young, the very old, and pets who suffer the consequences of these catastrophes most – raging fires in the west, and now the impacts of Ian across Central Florida – I’ve heard some ask why God would allow this trepidation, destruction, and suffering? 

The answer is – I don’t know.

What I do know is that humans are strange little creatures – odd sentient beings that have harnessed many natural powers, developed complex civilizations, split the atom, and even transported ourselves to other planets – yet we still need the essential elements, clean water, seasonal changes, and temperate air to survive.

Look, I’m not an overly religious sort, but even a sinner like me can see that a power greater than all of us has developed a wonderful natural order – systems and patterns that constantly supply us with the fundamentals necessary to sustain and propagate life on Earth – despite our strange desire to kill one another with mindless efficiency, pave over our greenspaces, and pollute our only environment like a foul bird shitting in its own nest.

Meteorologists tell us that hurricanes are the earth’s air conditioner – very capably transporting warm air from the mid-latitudes to the colder polar regions.

They also serve to move warmth from the lower levels of the atmosphere vertically, conducting solar heat from the surface to the top of the troposphere, mixing the atmosphere and ensuring a temperate balance and climate.

This natural quest for global horizontal and vertical thermal equilibrium requires a powerful force to transport all that latent heat produced by the Sun – and that is the exact purpose of these storms.

We just happen to get in the way sometimes.

According to scientists, hurricanes also oxygenate seawater, help replenish barrier islands, and deposit a huge amount of quantifiable energy into other parts of the globe.

While we can measure it, the purpose of this energy exchange isn’t fully understood.

I suspect it has something to do with Mother Nature’s constant search for balance.

During a career where you typically see people on the worst day of their life, I learned that under the worst of conditions – when we are tired, scared, wet, and hungry – when we collectively breakdown the social barriers and realize that we are all in this together – that our inherent goodness shines brightest.

I have seen the incredible power and resilience of the human spirit under difficult circumstances – and I am very proud to see the way effected communities are responding to help one another in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

In my view, Volusia County Emergency Management has done an outstanding job of keeping residents updated – and it was heartening to see sitting officials and candidates of elected office helping citizens fill sandbags and sharing preparation information on social media. 

I think that’s what it’s all about. 

let’s take this opportunity to show compassion and kindness, to help our neighbors and the less fortunate prepare for what comes next and recover when the storm has safely moved away.    

Look, I complain a lot about politics – but trust me – our local, county, state, and federal government officials are experienced and well-equipped to deal with the planning, response, and recovery of any eventuality.    

Let’s quibble over our myriad differences later. 

Now is the time for what Lincoln called, “…the better angels of our nature.”

Courage, unity, compassion, and generosity of spirit. 

Hunker down and stay safe, y’all. 

Find up-to-date information on Hurricane Ian from Volusia County Emergency Management here: https://tinyurl.com/bdd3f4kd

(Barker’s View will return next week!) 

Angels & Assholes for September 23, 2022

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           City of New Smyrna Beach

As someone who spent a lifetime serving in a municipal government – and an ardent watcher of the fascinating intrigues of local politics – I often hold out the quaint seaside community of New Smyrna Beach as the one city on the Fun Coast that “got it right.” 

Unfortunately, last week many observers were disappointed when the City Commission gifted a hefty pay increase of up to 27% for the top three municipal employees – in an era where it is increasingly difficult to find entry level personnel willing to provide critical public services – to include law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical professionals. 

In an informative article by reporter Brenno Carillo writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned that New Smyrna Beach is lavishing cash on its already comfortably compensated administrators simply to keep up with the Joneses:

“City Manager Khalid Resheidat’s salary increased by 16%, from $158,908 to $185,676; City Attorney Carrie Avallone’s salary increased by 18%, from $151,410 to $179,000; and City Clerk Kelly McQuillen’s salary increased by 27.8%, from $76,693 to $97,988.

Heather Kidd, the city’s human resources director, conducted a survey on the current salaries for the same positions in other Volusia County cities. She presented her findings before the City Commission on Tuesday.

Kidd explained that the proposed compression adjustments for the fiscal year 2022-23 budget for the city manager and city attorney salaries (an increase of 3%) would not be sufficient to put the city among the top-paying cities in the county.

With the 3% increase, the $163,676 city manager salary would rank 11th out of 14, behind Holly Hill’s $163,738. The city attorney’s $155,952 would be fourth behind Ormond Beach’s $182,686.”

So what?

In a 2021 comparative analysis of area salaries and benefit packages by the City of Deltona, the News-Journal reported that Mr. Resheidat’s annual salary was $165,280 (that’s $6,372 more than reported by the city’s HR Director this week) with a total compensation package of $190,347.

Look, as an uneducated thirty-year bureaucrat who clawed my way to middle-management and hung on by my fingernails, I don’t begrudge any of my former ilk who take every nickel they can off the table, but I happen to know the magicians’ tricks – and which senior positions should be considered “essential,” and which are more fluff and puff than substance. . .

As I see it, the problem for New Smyrna Beach taxpayers comes when one looks at the salary range for the city’s other 340 employees – a place where the top nine department heads and senior appointed officials each make over $100,000 annually – while the median salary for those who perform essential services is just $41,662 (according to 2021 GovSalaries.com) – some 4% lower than the national average for public employees. 

Now, Mr. Resheidat will command over four-times the average salary of his employees. 

Much to my wife’s consternation – and because I rank just below “imbecile” on the Goddard Intelligence Scale – during my senior public service I never accepted a pay increase unless my subordinates were granted an equal raise. 

It was the right thing to do. 

Although I never commanded a six-figure salary, and my wife and I couldn’t afford an ostentatious house, or the trappings and toys of success, we adopted a comfortable lifestyle in keeping with a police officer’s salary.   

I knew when I entered the civil service I was never going to get “rich.”

In my view, public service is an honor and a sacred privilege – one with benefits that pay incredible dividends many in the private sector will never know – such as defined benefit pensions, premium health insurance, job protections, and a sense of serving something greater than one’s own self-interests.

In my view, those perquisites more than compensate for the traditionally low wages of the civil service.

Unfortunately, that customary tradeoff is quickly evolving for some at the top of the public pyramid.    

Now, senior administrators command all these privileges – as well as astronomical salary packages that rival anything in local business and industry – often with extras that include car allowances, cellular phone stipends, supplemental insurance, and additional private pension contributions.   

Where does it end? 

Just because city and county managers now command exorbitant salaries, benefits, and lucrative “golden parachutes” (always citing the volatility inherent to the job while ignoring their own political meddling) does not mean elected officials are dutybound to meet these extortionate demands simply to keep up with a regional ranking.

Especially in a beautiful beachfront destination. 

In my view, if the job pays $190,347 with bennies in New Smyrna, then that is what it pays (which is three times the $61,885 median household income of this upscale community) – and there are plenty of professional managers out there willing to accept this lucrative package to live in the relative paradise of what remains of this quaint slice of Old Florida.

Perhaps it is time for that political insulation consortium comprised of our “best and brightest” – known as the exalted Volusia Round Table of Elected Officials, who periodically assemble in effective darkness to work the Ouija board and solve the most pressing issues of our time – to set reasonable limits on these extravagant executive salaries until some of the quality-of-life issues you and I deal with daily are resolved.

In my view, this game of setting unreasonably high pay and benefits packages to attract potential suitors to the executive suite is unsustainable, and it is high time our elected officials stop allowing the tail to wag the dog. 

Asshole           Deltona City Commission

Let’s face facts. 

After twenty-seven controversial years, it is now safe to say – based on the empirical evidence – that the City of Deltona has been a failed experiment, a cartoonish sideshow that has destroyed the public trust and organizational effectiveness of the local government. 

Prove me wrong?  

Deltona did not spring organically from an old-timey railroad stop or ferry crossing – the sprawling city began as a modern “planned” community – the brainchild of the Mackle brothers, one of the most prolific real estate development corporations in the state’s sleazy history. 

According to a 2017 article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“The Mackle family, consisting of brothers Frank Jr., Robert and Elliott, forever altered the landscape and demographics of Florida.

Their General Development Corp. was the largest land development company in Florida for a time, and they turned thousands of square miles of swampland and thick woodland into sprawling residential communities for the middle class. One of the Mackle brothers’ biggest achievements was Deltona, the community they created in 1962. They also developed Marco Island and Port St. Lucie, among others.

They had high hopes for Deltona from the outset, said author-historian Jason Vuic, a Florida native who is writing a book about Florida’s land development giants from the early second half of the 20th century.

“They had this wonderful stretch of beautiful oak land … with lakes,” Vuic said. “It was completely virgin land, and they built this entire community known as Deltona.”

Originally known as Deltona Lakes, some well-meaning residents attempted to incorporate as a city in 1987, and again in 1990, but were unsuccessful until 1995.  The city’s charter was adopted on September 9, 1995, and a seven-member city commission was elected, operating under a commission-manager form of government.  

According to reports, Deltona Lakes was incorporated on New Year’s Eve 1995, with its name shortened to Deltona – a contraction of DeLand and Daytona – or, as some suspect, an ancient Timucua word meaning “accursed shit show.”

For instance, the municipality has had at least a dozen city managers or acting city managers since its incorporation just 27-years ago.  The longest serving manager was Fritz Behring who held the volatile post from 1999 to 2005. 

Smarter people than me have tried to figure out why Deltona is so hard on chief executives – but no one in their right mind would willingly enter a political meatgrinder – which is why they have such poor luck finding quality talent from outside the organization.

Or inside, for that matter. . .

For instance, anyone remember the horrific five-year régime of Jane Shang, who damn near destroyed the municipality from the inside out? 

I won’t rehash all the injuries and absurdities that Ms. Shang inflicted on the good citizens of Deltona – there is nothing to be gained from that.  Besides, anyone who witnessed Shang’s abusive and vindictive reign of terror, even from a distance, will never forget what they saw.

In Shang’s tumultuous wake, Deputy City Manager Marc-Antonie Cooper was tapped in January 2020 by unanimous vote of the City Commission to serve in the acting role – then, just ten-months later, he was unceremoniously sent back to his former position on a 4-3 vote. 

Cooper subsequently left for the top job in Forest Park, Georgia – and recently settled a discrimination suit he filed against Deltona for a reported $45,000. . .

In turn, the city’s Public Works Director, John Peters III, was elevated to Acting City Manager. 

Although Peters received high marks from the elected officials and enjoyed the support of many residents, in June 2021, things hit the skids when he publicly threatened (in the media) to take his football and go home, citing allegations that two commissioners were treading into day-to-day operations in contravention of Deltona’s charter. 

Like much of the city’s political history – the episode was ugly and shambolic – adding to the sense of dysfunction and instability that has shrouded Deltona City Hall for years.   

The melodrama ended in an emotional meeting, with Peters breaking down on the dais, wailing “I am damned principled!” before putting his threat on hold when everyone agreed to play nice going forward.

That ploy only works once. . . 

Just one-month later, Peters received his second $2,500 bump following a satisfactory performance review – and in November 2021, he asked for a 2.8% pay raise, a phone allowance, and an increase to the car allowance. 

Then, during a May meeting, Peters requested a severance package be added to his employment agreement after he hired a full-time public works director – essentially eliminating his lifeboat should he decide to return to that position. 

Interestingly, the current public works director has submitted his resignation effective October 6 – which Commissioner Anita Bradford accusatorially found “convenient.” 

Equally interesting was the fact Peters amended contract had not been signed – which prompted the city attorney to spit-and-sputter about reviewing the meeting audio to deduce the commission’s intent at the time. 

Weird.

I mean, what city attorney worth their exorbitant salary cannot pull up the municipality’s formally executed or amended contractual obligations at the push of a button?

Whatever.

In my view, the unaddressed issue that has tainted Mr. Peters tenure is that, from the outset, his appointment was based on an unspoken workaround.  A convenient means of circumventing the City’s charter, which requires the manager live within the city limits of Deltona. 

For the uninitiated, Mr. Peters’ resides in neighboring DeBary and had no known plans to uproot and move to the community he manages – thus, the perennial “acting” status. 

In my view, that arrangement is disingenuous and does nothing to promote stability in a place that desperately needs it.

In recent weeks, residents of Deltona were rightly taken aback when a commission agenda item announced:

“Please accept this Agenda Item as my Notice of Resignation as Acting City Manager for the City of Deltona effective November 17, 2022, in accordance with my Employment Contract. I have met with each Commissioner over the last week and a half to discuss the reasons for my resignation. In closing, I want to thank you for the opportunity to lead the incredible team of Deltona employees in a positive direction through all aspects of City governance for the citizens of Deltona.”

On Monday evening, as per usual, the Deltona City Commission meeting fell into confusing disarray – stretching into the early hours of the morning – ultimately concluding with the elected official’s voting 4-3 to accept Peters’ resignation “effective immediately” – with the majority rejecting his request to return as Director of Public Works.

During the often-rambling debate, a Pandora’s Box of issues eerily emerged – to include raw political friction, the power and influence of Deltona’s fire union (especially during an election year/contract negotiation), staff morale, a job search, tales of private conversations being intercepted from outside the City Manager’s office, and a veiled reference to sealed ‘secret files’ held on a city hard drive apparently related to former Human Resources Director Richard Adams and his recently settled lawsuit alleging retaliation and discrimination by John Peters.   

Ultimately, Commissioner Bradford made it clear that she did not want Peters back in City Hall – period – and fanatically hammered away at both Peters and those colleagues pushing for a more measured resolution to avoid payment of another enormous severance package. 

Essentially, the final vote put Peters out on his ass with full pay and benefits until November 17 – jumped the Deputy City Manager – and shoved the city’s contracted attorney, Marsha Segal-George, into the wheelhouse for at least the next two-weeks.

I don’t understand it either.

A special meeting to seek a way forward has been scheduled for Monday, September 26 – and the rumor mill is swirling.  I’ve even heard wild speculation that Jim Chisholm, the controversial former Daytona Beach city manager – now very comfortably retired – is being considered by Deltona’s ruling junta. . .

Yeah.  That.  

Look, a city manager’s job of juggling the wants and whims of the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker who were each elected to make difficult decisions for their neighbors – while keeping the pitchfork wielding villagers marginally content – is a damn hard dollar.

Not for the faint of heart.

In my experience, Mr. Peters should have known the pitfalls going in – and realized that after 20-months at the helm – you cannot go home again. . .

The frenzy on the dais resulted in one citizen suggesting that the commission-manager form of government be abolished, and the Fire Department given to Volusia County, in favor of hiring a contract manager to juggle consultant fees and service agreements. 

Something to consider. . .

If the City of Deltona is to remain a legitimate entity – then the elected officials must begin the painful process of sorting through the divisive baggage and set a collective vision, putting aside the meanspirited “gotcha” politics, collusions, and accusatory maneuvers – to find a means of working cooperatively with community stakeholders to achieve civic equilibrium.  

That doesn’t come from a consultant’s expensive attaché case – it is crafted by people who care – and begins with listening to constituents and learning what is important to them.

The good citizens of Deltona deserve better.

Stay tuned, this is about to get interesting. . . 

Quote of the Week

“A state audit report has identified a series of blunders at Volusia County Schools, including flawed implementation of a multimillion-dollar software program, insufficient accounting of district resources, and a security breach that sent hundreds of thousands of district dollars to a bank account that appears to be linked to an overseas fraud scheme. “District security management needs improvement,” the report states.

The district told the Observer that it has learned from the errors and has made changes to prevent similar problems in the future.”

–Senior Editor Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, “State audit details financial, IT missteps at Volusia County Schools,” Wednesday, September 21, 2022

I published my thoughts on this scandalous situation at Volusia County Schools last month. 

It bears repeating.

In July 2022, the Volusia County School Board took delivery of a shocking report detailing the results of an operational audit of district processes and administrative activities conducted by Florida’s Auditor General during fiscal year 2019-20.

The summary findings were a guided tour through a disturbingly dysfunctional organization where the concept of accountability commensurate with responsibility is a cudgel reserved for silencing whistleblowers who point out the flagrant waste and incompetence all around them.

For instance, the audit’s first significant finding explained:

“District personnel did not always verify vendor bank accounts before electronic payments were made to those accounts and, as a result, electronic payments totaling $359,566 for vendor services were made to a wrong bank account.”

According to the report, due in part to lackadaisical security and independent vendor verification procedures, the district fell victim to what the DeLand Police Department later described as an “overseas fraud scheme,” which resulted in some vendor service payments being routed to an unverified account.

Fortunately, $193,869 of the theft was recovered from the “District’s bank” and the remainder – $140,697 – was paid by the district’s cyber insurance company.

Volusia County taxpayers were on the hook for the $25,000 deductible. . .

Most telling, the report detailed the massive waste of time, money, and resources related to the district’s horribly compromised software program – something former Assistant Director of Applications and Infrastructure Alex Kennedy tried multiple times to warn key decisionmakers about until he was suddenly fired in 2020. . .

Auditors determined that the installation and implementation of the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system was beset with issues from the beginning – complicated by the district’s failure to keep minutes of “steering committee” meetings when the software was selected – with little effort to ensure that the project progressed through implementation according to the terms of the contract.

Then the committee was disbanded without explanation – which destroyed any institutional knowledge or project continuity – leading to even more expensive delays due to personnel changes.

Ultimately, the program cost Volusia County taxpayers millions of dollars in cost overruns and functionality issues.

It also cost the only person in the district who gave a damn his livelihood. . .

From the outset, Mr. Kennedy raised concerns about the School Board’s adoption of the financial software because it was not designed for use in a K-12 setting, which required that the district spend millions re-engineering the program – explaining that no other K-12 school system had successfully adopted the program and there were other software options that cost less.

In August 2018, Mr. Kennedy authored an email to the highest echelon of district leadership, which ended with the dire warning:

“More importantly, if we are ever lucky enough to “make” this software work it will most likely be the most expensive ERP solution ever brought forward to a K12 institution with both the minimal and most complicated functionality. As an employee and tax paying citizen I strongly recommend putting this project on hold and having it reassessed by a third party state agency such as DMS (Department of Management Services).”

Unfortunately, his expert opinion was ignored.

Had district leadership listened to Mr. Kennedy instead of acquiescing to those who told them what they wanted to hear; it is estimated taxpayers could have saved over $4 million on the project.

On May 14, 2020, without warning that his employment was in jeopardy, Mr. Kennedy was abruptly terminated – because that is the fate that befalls anyone who breaks the sacred Code of Omerta in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand and sounds the klaxon on misfeasance, the gross waste of funds, or the organizational incompetence that permits it. 

In a recent appeal of his previously dismissed whistleblower lawsuit, Mr. Kennedy’s attorney wrote:

“His repeated complaints resulted in his termination, so Mr. Kennedy brought a claim under the FWA (Federal Whistleblower Act).  The FWA protects public employees from retaliation when they raise allegations of government negligence and waste.”

Considering the findings of state auditors – I wish Mr. Kennedy the best of luck.

In my view, the audit was a scathing indictment of a cloistered system that now commands an annual budget in excess of $1 Billion – now the largest public budget in Volusia County – with little oversight or answerability.

In addition to these serious issues, the audit also uncovered a lack of accountability in the disposal of tangible personal property (fixtures, furniture, equipment, and motor vehicles), lax access privileges to sensitive student data that could result in fraud and other financial crimes against individuals, the fact 5% of employees with direct contact with children had not received a required five-year background check, and a history of weak information technology security training, authentication procedures, and written guidelines which could further compromise sensitive data.

My God.

In this week’s exposé in the Ormond Beach Observer, School Board member “Clueless Carl” Persis overlooked the fact that Mr. Kennedy tried valiantly to warn anyone and everyone at Volusia County Schools of the extraordinarily expensive ERP implementation:

“These issues show why it’s important to have audits, Persis said: Now the board knows about the errors and what must be done to ensure that they are not repeated.

“We can’t change what has occurred, and the people who were in charge of it at that time are no longer here,” Persis said. “… Everyone who is in charge now will nod their head and say, ‘Yeah, we agree. Mistakes were made, but this is what we’re doing now and this is how we can assure you we’re on the right track.’”

Mistakes?  My ass. 

In my view, a courageous whistleblower’s livelihood and reputation have been maliciously destroyed – a chilling warning to anyone in the organization who would dare expose waste and wrongdoing – and that fact should not be flippantly dismissed as a mere slip-up.  

As I have said before, these appalling revelations should send a shudder through parents, teachers, students, and staff – and enrage Volusia County taxpayers who are forced to pay for this continuing institutional incompetence.

And Another Thing!

Something remarkable happened at the Volusia County Council meeting this week.  

Or so our elected dullards would have us believe. . .

After years of kicking the can down the dusty political trail on the pressing issue of increasing impact fees on new development to mitigate the corrosive effect of massive sprawl on our inadequate infrastructure and understaffed essential services across Volusia County – on Tuesday, the County Council voted unanimously to update formulas and fees for fire, parks & recreation, thoroughfare roads, and a new fee for Emergency Medical Services effective immediately. 

Yep.  Heroes all. 

Just ask them.  

What a crock o’ shit.   

Now that many population centers in Volusia County are reaching build-out – with our natural places and aquifer recharge areas blanketed by ugly zero-lot-line cracker box “theme” communities and sticks-and-glue apartment complexes – our courageous caped crusaders on the dais of power now turn from years of strategic procrastination to emerge as Champions of the People!    

All while those fat cats in the real estate development community – uber-wealthy insiders who bankroll the political campaigns of those malleable sock puppets who have done everything in their power to drag their leaden feet on impact fees while their benefactors slashed, burned, clear-cut, and hauled untold millions out of the pine scrub – then left current residents to deal with the gridlock and fallout. 

Look around, that’s a pretty good return on investment, wouldn’t you say? 

On Tuesday, District 5 Councilman The Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry moved to accept increases proposed in a consultant’s study effective immediately – which means Director of Growth and Resource Management Clay Ervin can now take his sweet time preparing ordinance amendments for a future vote by the council. 

Whatever.

Anyone remember way back in June 2018 when we awoke to the revelation of a mysterious “Secret Study” exposed by The Daytona Beach News-Journal?

I do.

After 15-years of suppressing impact fees, we learned the results of a $50,000 publicly funded study conducted in 2016 – “…that recommended fees almost three times higher in some categories and a change to a county ordinance the consultants deemed overly generous to developers…”

The report had been intentionally hidden from council members and the public during impact fee discussions.   

You read that right.

At the time, Mr. Ervin mewled to his shocked constituents:

“It was not final; it was still a draft … and we felt it was incorrect,” said Clay Ervin, the county’s director of growth and resource management, adding that traffic analyses like these are always done in phases and are never aired until they’re complete. “Whenever you go out for public review, you want to make sure the documentation is accurate and reflects the intent and purpose.”

My ass. 

That final deception cost former County Manager Jim Dinneen his job – and it should have been Clay Ervin’s last bite at that rotten apple – but as an entrenched member of Volusia County’s “Good ol’ Boys Network,” I’m sure he was ‘just following orders.’

Then, in October 2021 – after months of timewasting twaddle – the current iteration of the Volusia County Council agreed to pay $134,360 to a Tampa-based consultant, now known as Benesch, to review impact fees.

Although growth will never pay for itself – and government refuses to use the increase in tax revenues to pay for the infrastructure necessary to accommodate it – had Volusia County accepted the results of the “secret” 2016 impact fee study and captured revenue during the ensuing boom cycle we may have been able to salve some of the growing pains that are quickly destroying our quality of life.

Now, that’s water (and millions of dollars) under the bridge. . . 

Sad.

Four years ago, in a prescient statement to former reporter Dustin Wyatt writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Proposal to double Volusia County’s impact fees stirs support, concern,” the late great political watchdog Big John opined:

“They’ve lost millions of dollars in impact fees that should have been earned in the past five years and that’s a gigantic number that we gave away to the development community,” he said, adding that the full recommendation by the consultant represents the only way to gain some ground.

“Better late than never,” Big added.

Better late than never. . . 

I hope you will remember this long and sordid travesty at the ballot box in November.

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

Angels & Assholes for September 16, 2022

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               Children’s Advocate Linda Merrell

I attended elementary school at St. James Episcopal Day School in Ormond Beach. 

The class sizes were small, and classmates remained together as they advanced, an experience that formed the foundation of lifelong friendships that endure to this day. 

It was at St. James that I came to know the wonderful Merrell family – the children of Dr. Robert Merrell and his beautiful wife Linda – and I have known few people longer than my childhood friend, the renowned Cobb Cole land use attorney Rob Merrell.

This week, I received word that Rob’s dear mother, the legendary Linda Merrell – a tireless advocate for abused and disadvantaged children – has transitioned to life everlasting at 83.

I won’t say “passed away,” because Mrs. Merrell’s half-century of selfless advocacy on behalf of those least able to defend themselves from abuse, neglect, and victimization will not be forgotten.    

In an exceptional commemoration of Mrs. Merrell’s many accomplishments in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean gave readers a glimpse at her 50-years of noble activism, as told by some of Volusia County’s most civically engaged dignitaries:

“Former County Councilwoman Pat Northey first met Merrell decades ago when they both got involved in a county PTA organization.

“I was a young thing just getting started in PTA, and Linda was like the icon,” said Northey, who served on the County Council from 1993-2004 and again from 2007-2014. “We wanted to be Linda Merrell when we grew up. She was very caring and very loving, never threatening. But she also knew her way around Tallahassee. She knew everybody and she knew how to get it done.”

In addition:

“J. Hyatt Brown, chairman of Daytona Beach-based Brown & Brown insurance company, and his wife, Cici, have known different generations of the Merrell family back to the 1950s. Brown got to know Linda Merrell better around the time he was Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives from 1978– 1980.

“She was always involved in good things in the community,” he said. “She would come to Tallahassee on her child and medical issues, and she was very persistent.”

Brown said he remembers her as “a wonderful person” who was always smiling and upbeat.”

Me too.

During her storied work as a champion for children, Mrs. Merrell served as coordinator of the Florida Governor’s Constituency for Children, helped found the Florida Children’s Health Insurance Program, which now provides insurance to some 2.6 million disadvantaged kids across Florida, co-founder of the Florida CHAIN and Florida Child Health Coalition “…which subsequently became a bedrock of support for the Children’s Movement of Florida and the Florida KidsWell project.”

In addition, Mrs. Merrell served with the Developmental Disabilities Council, Healthy Start Coalition, various children’s hospitals, and child advocacies across the state on programs such as Early Steps and Healthy Start and served as a member of the Florida Medical Association Alliance. 

Through it all, Linda Merrell served devotedly as a loving mother to her five incredibly gifted children. 

A life of dedicated service, truly well-lived.

Thank you, Mrs. Merrell. 

Your service and advocacy are measured in lives saved – the lives of our most vulnerable – the very essence of God’s work.    

(Services for Linda Merrell will be held at 1:00pm, Saturday, October 8 at St. James Episcopal Church, 44 South Halifax Drive, Ormond Beach.  A reception will follow at the church. The public is invited to attend both the service and reception.)

Angel               Volusia School Board Member Anita Burnette

Normally, the Volusia County School Board finds a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Every.  Damn.  Time.

But on Tuesday, board member Anita Burnette raised the bar and demonstrated her commitment to the best interests of her constituents and Volusia County Schools when she made two motions to end the legal services contract with controversial board attorney Ted Doran’s law firm.   

With cause. 

Unfortunately, Burnette’s courageous first motion died for lack of a second.  Her follow-up motion was seconded by Jamie Haynes; however, the measure failed on a 3-2 vote.

At the beginning of a workshop to discuss Mr. Doran’s recent performance evaluation, Chair Ruben Colon announced that the board had received notice that Doran was being replaced by Aaron Wolfe, a partner with Doran, Sims, Wolfe, and Yoon. 

Last month, Doran received an abysmal performance review from board members – receiving a score of just 45 of a possible 95 – along with cutting remarks from Burnette and Haynes, who spoke of distrust, disparate treatment, and intimidation.    

In the most telling moment of that process, lame duck board member Linda Cuthbert held true to the abject absurdity that has marked her tenure by giving Doran a perfect score (?), kowtowing to the internal and external forces that have kept the polarizing Doran in the catbird seat for the past two-decades.

For reasons that remain murky, last year, the School Board approved a three-year contract for Doran’s firm just one week before his previous agreement was set to expire, seemingly in contravention of a long-standing School Board policy requiring that the attorney be reviewed and retained annually.   

According to a June 2021 article by Cassidy Alexander writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“The timeline put the pressure on board members to make a decision at their meeting on Tuesday or risk losing legal counsel, although some board members were interested in exploring other options.

The new contract included a 25% raise for the attorney who’s been representing the School Board since 2002.”

During Tuesday’s workshop, Jamie Haynes suggested changes to the legal services policy – to include a provision that any future contract be written and reviewed by an independent attorney.

“I don’t think the contract should be written by the person that the contract is for.”

Yeah.  Wow.

In addition, earlier this week the board approved a $1.36 billion budget.

The district’s groaning pot o’ taxpayer gold is now larger that the county’s obscenely bloated budget (preliminarily set at $1.06 billion) and now takes the cake as the largest public budget in Volusia County.

Which, as The Stranger said, “…places it high in the running for the largest public-school budget worldwide.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it made me laugh to beat the band.  Parts, anyway. . .

This week the spotlight returned to the shambolic dysfunction that plagues Volusia County Schools when a group of students reportedly played a sick “prank” at Mainland High School resulting in mass panic and a wildfire of misinformation that rapidly spread throughout the community.

To his enormous credit, the incident was expertly managed by Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young and his officers with assistance from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and school authorities.    

Last Friday, a baggie containing what was later determined to be the deadly substance Fentanyl was discovered near lockers at Atlantic High School in Port Orange.  In a snippet of chilling body worn camera footage from Atlantic’s School Resource Officer as released by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, a clearly clueless school employee is seen holding the packet with his bare hands before raising it close to his face. . .

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

The mayhem did not end there. 

According to a release from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office:

“On Friday at Atlantic High School in Port Orange, a teacher asked the School Resource Deputy for assistance with a small packet of unknown powder turned in by a student. The student found the packet on the floor near the senior locker bay restrooms. The SRD tested the powder and observed a presumptive positive result for fentanyl.

Also Friday, at Pine Ridge High School in Deltona, deputies responded to a report of a possible weapon displayed during an altercation on campus. During a search of a student’s backpack, deputies recovered a replica Glock BB gun. The 16-year-old student violently resisted deputies and attempted to fight them but was taken into custody on charges of campus disruption, resisting an officer with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer.”

Jesus.

In my view, in the wake of former Director of Safety and Security Michelle Newman’s abrupt departure earlier this month, these recurring incidents have exposed the urgency of recruiting an experienced security professional to set policy, establish training protocols, and coordinate protection efforts for a district serving some 64,000 students and 7,400 teachers and staff across the width and breadth of Volusia County. 

Fortunately, Volusia County Schools has a cadre of highly trained School Resource Officers from various jurisdictions and a compliment of armed Guardians dedicated to protecting the lives of students and staff from the unthinkable. 

However, as district campuses become more reminiscent of a dystopian Mad Max Thunderdome than places of learning, in my view, the elected and appointed administration needs to rethink a comprehensive disciplinary plan to regain control and foster a change of culture.   

When school started last month, our “new” Superintendent Dr. Carmen Balgobin issued a statement which said, in part, “We are committed to leading with grace and respect and ensuring that every single campus is safe, and that learning is engaging for every student.”

What happened?

The events of last week have proven that it is time Dr. Balgobin, and the School Board, change tack and begin leading with discipline, accountability, and strict consequences for student/criminals who engage in violent or disruptive behavior and work to return sanity to the learning environment. 

By any metric, stopping dangerous criminal activity on school campuses and providing a safe and secure learning environment for students, teachers, and staff should be Dr. Balgobin’s highest priority. 

Anything less is unacceptable.  And dangerous.   

Asshole           Ormond Beach City Commission

Obviously taking their cue from another local government I know; the City of Ormond Beach has not updated municipal service impact fees on new development in over a quarter-century

Now, these pro-development shills appear to be balking at the substantial fee increases their own consultant has recommended.

A $99,000 study paid for by taxpayers and conducted by Raftelis, a government and utilities management consultancy, determined that for some land uses – like single-family residential – road impact fees alone should be increased by 400%

The study also suggested that impact fees for trip generating fast-food restaurants and convenience stores should now be over $25,000 per 1,000 square feet.  (By comparison, current fees for a new convenience store run $1,355.44 per 1,000 square feet.)     

According to an excellent article by Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer:

“According to a city memo, Ormond Beach has assessed impact fees for water and sewer since 1974. An impact fee for recreational facilities was added in 1987, and an impact fee ordinance was adopted in 1990, and later amended in 1996. In 2010, a mobility fee replaced concurrency and road impact fees were imposed on certain state roads in the Transportation Concurrency Exception Areas.

Per the study by Raftelis, the city last updated its municipal services impact fees — which include parks and recreation, stormwater, local roads, and mobility fees — in 1996, though it has indexed rates annually.”

Now, after 19-years on the Ormond Beach City Commission, Troy Kent, who is also a current candidate for the Volusia County Council District 4 seat, has finally recognized that residents are wise to this perennial foot-dragging:

“Ormond Beach voters know growth doesn’t pay for itself, said Commissioner Troy Kent at their meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 7, where they were given an overview of proposed impact fee increases. They know impact fees aren’t enough.

“That being said, this increase for fast food restaurants is outrageous at 1,000 square feet,” Kent said.  “… Convenience store (impact fees)? Outrageous. So, if you’re late to the party, and you’re a fast-food restaurant or convenience store, you’re going to get hammered.”

Wait.  “Outrageous”?

Do you want to know what most people consider a frigging outrage?

Compromised politicians rubberstamping density increases and development at a rate that has outpaced our transportation and utilities infrastructure – and the lack of planning and foresight that will now have the deleterious impacts of Avalon Park – a “City within a City” – encroaching on Ormond Beach’s southern border.     

Or the frustration of waiting three cycles of a traffic signal at Granada Boulevard and (insert cross street here), weed-strewed lots that were once pristine suburban forest and wildlife habit which fell victim to slash-and-burn clearcutting to make way for another convenience store, and the exorbitant cost of expanding infrastructure now that paving and utilities contractors have local governments over a barrel. 

Welcome to the reality of having shoved ten-pounds of shit into a five-pound bag, Mr. Kent. . .

If you are a speculative developer who is still snout-deep in the boom cycle – please do not be concerned.  Your malleable sock puppets on the dais of power in Ormond Beach have you covered.   

According to the Observer’s report, “…discussion during the meeting was the first step in an update process that will stretch through 2023 and will include future public input.”

So, with $99,000 in study costs over the transom, now we are going to clack and jabber about the expert’s recommendations for another year

Bullshit.

When it comes to seeking ways of having development mitigate its impact on our quality of life nothing happens fast. . . 

I hope you will remember this bid’ness as usual procrastination at the ballot box in November.

Angel               City of Daytona Beach

Will wonders never cease?   

Back in March, I would not have given you a plug nickel for the life expectancy of the City Island Recreation Center, a World War II era structure overlooking the city’s beautiful Yacht Basin.

The unique building is of great historical significance to the Halifax area’s ties to the war effort – another connection to our past that fell victim to intentional neglect – a tactic that withholds preventative maintenance at certain publicly owned facilities – allowing them to rot until reaching such a deplorable state of dilapidation that demolition becomes the only viable option.

Sound familiar?

Earlier this year, Daytona Beach City Commissioners Ruth Trager and Ken Strickland were the only two elected officials who joined local historians and residents concerned about the loss of another community landmark in calling for a short reprieve while a citizen committee could study potential uses for the recreation center. 

Last week, civic activist and committee chair Anne Ruby presented the group’s findings to the Daytona Beach City Commission. 

Ideas included a state-of-the-art learning center, event space, a museum and art displays, as well as traditional community center amenities, such as a banquet hall, performing arts stage, and space for community meetings and celebrations.    

According to an informative report by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “The committee also recommends opening a small restaurant in the structure and creating an outdoor deck overlooking the Halifax River where people could dine, enjoy a glass of lemonade and take in the view.”

Other thoughtful suggestions included the use of a “HistoBot” – described as an interactive mobile teaching station – which would provide information on the building’s connection to the Woman’s Army Corps in Daytona Beach.

The committee’s report was well-received by both elected officials and citizens concerned about the 80-year-old structure’s future.   

According to the News-Journal’s report:

“This plain, boxy building started out as a simple place for recreation,” Ruby said. “With a revival that would take it well into the future, the rec center would be a place for us to understand the importance of the past, the importance of community and the importance of working together to create a better tomorrow.”

Commissioners were impressed by the committee’s presentation.

“It’s almost as if you can feel yourself being there,” said City Commissioner Dannette Henry. “The presentation was very thorough. There’s nothing you left out.”

In addition, Mayor Derrick Henry applauded the committee’s efforts:

“I think you did an amazing job,” Mayor Derrick Henry told the seven recreation center committee members gathered at City Hall. “From my perspective, you all have hit a grand slam.”

The City Commission will take a formal vote to safeguard the structure on October 19.  If approved, the City of Daytona Beach can begin the process of finding historic preservation grants to renovate the structure. 

Kudos to Anne Ruby and those intrepid members of the rec center committee who showed the value of civic participation – the power of a collaborative charrette to foster citizen engagement and transform communities – and to the members of the Daytona Beach City Commission who took the time to listen to the recommendations of their constituents for the future of this historic community asset. 

Well done.

Quote of the Week

“On Aug. 9, the Florida Department of Transportation presented a $1.36 million design for “improvements” to Granada Boulevard. FDOT’s goal for the $5.38 million reconstruction: Slow down traffic with additional medians, lanes narrowed to ten feet, and four raised pedestrian crosswalks.

Slower speeds were the goal when a previous City Commission narrowed downtown Granada traffic lanes and added medians with medjool palm trees. Though Granada pedestrians are scarce, the new FDOT design will include four raised pedestrian crossings. Twelve to 20 foot-wide medians will squeeze narrowed traffic lanes closer to sidewalks.

Bike lanes end abruptly at each end of the Granada Bridge. The FDOT plan shows exiting bicycles sharing right-hand Granada traffic lanes with cars, Votran buses, grocery tractor-trailers, trash trucks, U.S. Mail semis, delivery trucks, and yard maintenance pickups pulling wide trailers. At the Granada traffic light, one of the two A1A southbound stacking lanes will be eliminated to make room for island medians, palm trees, and enhanced landscaping.

Granada Boulevard is already gridlocked at peak hours by four traffic lights between U.S. 1 and A1A and by the railroad and two traffic signals to the west. FDOT’s redesign will further slow traffic on the city’s lone hurricane evacuation route and lengthen emergency response times. Compressed traffic volumes will create longer lines of idling cars, wasted fuel, and more exhaust fumes.

The Granada repaving and redesign will begin in the summer of 2023. The presentation can be viewed at the project website at www.cflroads.com/project/447105-1. Project manager Ty Garner can be reached at ty.garner@dot.state.fl.us.

FDOT has partnered with the city and county on a second project, a 3.6 mile A1A stretch of Ocean Shore Boulevard from Granada north to Sandra Drive. Two raised pedestrian crossings with palm trees will be installed at both the Granada light and a hundred yards north. New east side sidewalks will be constructed in front of residences along most of the project length.

Between Neptune and Sandra, a “chicane” curve, more raised pedestrian crossings with refuge islands, center medians with palm trees, various bike lane options, and more enhanced landscaping. These features will implement FDOT goals to slow down A1A traffic while creating a “community vision” and “sense of place.” Unknown? Whether the proposed changes will have the unintended consequence of diverting north peninsula traffic onto John Anderson Drive, a narrow, tree canopied residential roadway.

View the A1A project online at www.cflroads.com/project/962200-2. Project manager Steven Buck can be reached at steven.buck@dot.state.fl.us.”

–Former Ormond Beach City Commissioner Jeff Boyle, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “FDOT redesigns: Granada Boulevard and North A1A Monday,” September 12, 2022

And Another Thing!

The Volusia County Council has lost legitimacy.

There.  I said what many residents have been thinking for months.

Our policymaking process has become an irretrievably politicized farce – a dysfunctional shitshow – incapable of compromise or consensus, an ongoing embarrassment to the residents of Volusia County and a cautionary tale for our more successful neighbors in Central Florida.  

Rather than steward public funds, ensure efficient essential services, bring accessible government to the people they serve, and advance our quality of life, it is increasingly evident that the Volusia County Council’s raison d’être is to procrastinate on the pressing issues of the day.  

Rather than govern, these hacks exist to deftly kick the can down the dusty political trail and put time and distance between meaningful policies and commonsense regulations to allow maximum profit for those who hold the paper on their craven political souls.

I am referring to the seminal issue of our time: Overdevelopment

The ghastly slash-and-burn clearcutting that facilitates the malignant sprawl – the massive zero-lot-line “theme” subdivisions, cookie cutter strip centers, and abhorrent sticks-and-glue apartment complexes – the perpetual foot-dragging on reasonable and responsible impact fees, environmental regulations, low-impact practices, and commonsense protections for our dwindling natural resources. 

Trust me.  Most of the municipalities in Volusia County – and the whole of state government – are equally as culpable, and history will not be kind to these compromised shitheels who were elected to serve the best interests of their constituents during what has arguably been the most prolific boom cycle in the history of the Sunshine State.

Now, during this unique election cycle the balance of power is at stake and it has become evident the Gang of Four – Councilmembers Ben Johnson, Danny Robins, Billie Wheeler, and The Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry – plan to play politics from the dais to ensure nothing of substance happens until January. 

If ever.

Finding long-term solutions to the myriad problems we face is not important to them – the “people’s business” now replaced by time-wasting accusations that Chairman Jeff Brower once double-parked near the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building. . . 

If you don’t think there is a lot on the table, look at the depths to which some will go to marginalize and destroy any elected official who seeks to live up to their sacred oath and represent the needs of We, The Little People – rather than further the mercenary motivations of their political benefactors – the elite Old Guard who underwrite the campaigns of those malleable politicians who so willingly do their bidding. 

Last week, the true motivations of those cheap facilitators became clear when Councilwoman Heather Post took another choreographed public flogging – this time by former at-large candidate Sherrise Boyd – who put forth a contrived scenario about the disposition of Ms. Post’s personal firearm following an April fall at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building.

For the record, Ms. Post’s accident occurred five-months ago. . .

County Manager George Recktenwald and Director of Public Protection Mark Swanson refuted Ms. Boyd’s version of events, but that did not stop the feeding frenzy that ensued. 

I agree that the laws govern all of us – even sitting elected officials – and Ms. Post has repeatedly assured that she did not possess a firearm inside the gilded council chamber.  But this was not about soliciting clarification of a rumor, it was a shoddy attempt to publicly demean Councilwoman Post.

Unsubstantiated rumors and bogus calls for “investigations” are classic election year diversions – which serve the purposes of those working the rods and strings behind the scenes who support candidates bankrolled by an entrenched power structure desperate to maintain a majority vote on the dais of power.

The fact is, Ms. Post isn’t running for anything – but her independent thought and willingness to challenge the lockstep conformity is anathema to those stalwarts of the stagnant status quo – and her support of Chairman Brower in a long series of 5-2 votes has left her open to this bullying and intimidation.   

In Volusia County, if you cannot get your candidate elected on the strength of their pro-development platform, then destroy the character and reputation of those duly elected officials who have the courage to buck this compromised system and run them out of office. 

Frankly, this disgusting powerplay should be roundly condemned by every sitting incumbent and candidate for public office – and remembered by every voter in Volusia County.   

Instead of rising to his role as senior statesman, lame duck Councilman Ben Johnson piles on at every opportunity – playing his supporting role in this orchestrated political hit job like the obsequious minion he has become – hammering away at Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post at every meeting with base accusations and loaded questions to the delight of his party bosses and “Rich & Powerful” benefactors.

What a sad way for Mr. Johnson to end a lifetime of service to the citizens of Volusia County. 

Unfortunately, most politicians who enter the Faustian bargain that comes with accepting massive campaign contributions from special interests invariably become everything they hated when they first ran for office.

It is now clear Ben Johnson is no exception. . . 

In my view, the “trust issue” that has plagued the Volusia County Council for years has now dissolved into a true crisis of confidence – a feeling by the governed that that this rudderless ship of fools is more interested in consolidating power for mysterious shot-callers with no-holds-barred attacks designed to protect the status quo than effectively dealing with the issues. 

More interested in protecting and perpetuating this bloated bureaucracy and keeping the public teat patent for all the right last names than progressing our civic, social, environmental, and economic needs – more focused on holding onto power than fixing the growing problems that threaten the quality of life for future generations. 

And these malleable marionettes have no one to blame but themselves.

The one irrefutable fact of good governance is that once the public trust has been lost – when elected and appointed officials no longer possess the moral authority to lead – constituent confidence is impossible to restore.

That is when fundamental change will (and must) occur at the ballot box – and I believe Volusia County voters see right through this not-so-subtle diversionary charade. 

I don’t know about you, but November can’t get here soon enough. . . 

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