On Volusia: Time to make nice? I don’t think so. . .

We remain a nation divided.

Separated by ideology, race, sex, national origin, culture, socio-economic status, political party – you name it – even professional sports, once something we could all rally around with a sense of regional pride, has now dissolved into a place of bitter political divisiveness.

In Florida – which has always been considered the “drunk uncle” to the rest of the United States – we are still squabbling, filing law suits and recounting ballots more than a week after the general election.

We’re like some weird Banana Republic – an utter embarrassment to democracies everywhere – and we deserve the barbs and zingers thrown at us by political pundits and stand-up comedians.

The margins in key races – like who will serve as our next Governor or United States Senator, even Agriculture Secretary – are razor thin; now complicated by the typically Floridian response of multiple law suits and wild allegations of voter fraud. . .

Truly a house divided.

In Volusia County, things aren’t much better – in fact, we could be considered the poster children for political dysfunction – divided by a clear line demarcation between those who have, and those who don’t – victims of an artificial economy created by a select few political insiders who have stacked the deck and used massive campaign contributions to reduce regulatory and impact overhead – and ensure their permanent place at the public trough.

That’s why I laugh whenever I hear politicians – many of whom have done everything possible to alienate and marginalize large segments of their constituencies – now whining about “mending fences” and “stopping the negativity.”

Bullshit.

For instance, outgoing Volusia County School Board Member Melody Johnson used her final meeting to plead for civility and positivity.  “I asked (Superintendent Tom Russell) more than once how do you change perceptions?  Because perceptions are truth even if they’re not really true, we’ve got to stop fussing at every level.  Divisiveness will never bring VCS to greatness.”

Neither will the asinine policies and utter dysfunction that has plagued Superintendent Russell’s tenure – but that didn’t seem to bother Ms. Johnson in late October – when she joined the Troika of Ida Wright and Linda Cuthbert in a mean-spirited, cheap-jack move to defy the teacher’s union call for new leadership by extending Mr. Russell’s contract just ahead of the general election.

Fortunately, Volusia County voters sent Ms. Johnson to the ash heap of history where small-minded politicians who place their loyalty with an ingrained power structure – rather than working in the best interests of students, faculty, staff – and taxpayers – go following their bite at the apple.

Then, in Ormond Beach, where the sight of an environmental atrocity on Granada Boulevard galvanized a large segment of residents who were horrified as slash and burn land clearing operations turned a very visible segment of our community’s greenspace into ugly black muck.

In February, Developer Paul Holub, Jr. eradicated some 2,061 trees – many of them century old hardwoods – and churned approximately 20-acres of natural buffer and wildlife habitat into a muddy gash, while area residents looked on as displaced wildlife attempted to flee the carnage.

Tragic.

What followed was a hard-fought campaign for the future of Ormond Beach – fought by uber-wealthy developers and those who make their living building and selling commercial real estate – and grassroots activists and environmentalists dedicated to smart growth initiatives.

In total, over a quarter-million dollars was spent on a local City Commission race.

Still think the stakes aren’t high?

Now, after incumbents returned to office on a green wave of cash provided by these special interests who feed themselves well transforming our natural places into obscene “theme” communities and half-empty strip centers – a large segment of the population is coming to the realization that their perceptions just became reality.

On election night, our tone-deaf incumbent Mayor and Commissioners posed for a picture on the dance floor of the Rockin’ Ranch – epitomizing the back slappin’ good ol’ boy network they represent – holding a filthy push broom to signify their unanimous “clean sweep.”

To add insult to injury, the most vocal of the bunch – City Commissioner Troy Kent – who long ago became the mouthpiece and chief apologist for speculative developers – was costumed, cap-a-pie, in a ten-gallon cowboy hat and boots – personifying the chummy Old South crony politics many of us have worked hard to escape.

Simultaneous to the Hootenanny over at the Rockin’ Ranch – those aligned with Mr. Kent and his buddies – placed an industrial highway sign on Granada Boulevard in the shadow of the moonscape that will become our new WaWa – blazing antagonistic one-liners (“THANKS ORMOND NO-CANDO”) and other juvenile slogans – as a direct thumb-in-the-eye to a very committed segment of their constituency who fought hard for what they thought was right for their quality of life.

Now – incredibly – Commissioner Kent was quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal decrying how divisive the election was and vowing to start “mending fences” with his neighbors whose worst fears were realized in a photograph of four arrogant assholes –  and a cheap low-blow from a non-permitted electronic sign that shit on everything they stood for.

Mr. Kent has a strange way of knitting the torn fabric of his horribly torn community back together:  First engage in antagonistic gloating – then feign reconciliation?

My ass.

Now, we live in different times – and, unfortunately, we’ve gone too far down the road to turn back now.

Many have come to the realization that our quality of life here on Florida’s Fun Coast is under siege by greed-heads and others who would see us drink our own sewerage and sit in gridlock traffic while they throw up even more cracker boxes in “lifestyle communities” while paying little, if anything, in the way of impact fees with absolutely no idea what “growth management” even means.

It’s the Wild West – a gold rush in the pine scrub – and now that all the right facilitators are in place – it won’t end until everyone who is anyone is fat and happy.

As for me and mine – I plan to stand firm in my conviction that clean water, greenspace, wildlife and natural places are more important to the lives of our children and grandchildren – than the overstuffed pocketbooks of uber-wealthy land speculators and the sutlers who make their living on the crumbs of what’s left in their wake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 9, 2018

Hi, kids!

There are three perplexities of life that I’ll never understand – women, long division and the reasoning of the Volusia County electorate.

Just when I think I’ve got any one of those enigmatic conundrums figured out – whammo – I realize just how galactically uniformed I truly am.

Such was the case on Tuesday evening as local election returns began to trickle in.

As usual, I spent a very anxious evening sitting in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke, drinking heavily – ear to the radio – listening to Marc Bernier, Mike Scuidero and Pat Northey call the game.

The margins were, by and large, razor thin.

And, three days after the fact – in typical Florida fashion – we still don’t have a clear winner in key races, like the Governor’s office – or know with certainty who our new United States Senator may be. . .

Jesus – does this dysfunction ever end? 

Regular readers of this forum know that I consider myself something of a dilettante editorialist and political critic – which means I’m essentially a self-righteous blowhard who snipes at those actually in the arena from the sidelines.

Let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it might seem. . .

In order to form critical opinions on the issues of the day, it’s important to stay abreast of current affairs (in other words, ‘I read the paper’), occasionally have a cold beer with a few of our ‘movers & shakers’ for an inside peek at what may be happening behind the bureaucratic curtain, and put myself into a coma of boredom skimming consultant reports and studies to get at that kernel of truth our powers-that-be might not want us to know.

But, no matter how hard I try, I cannot predict the outcome of local political races.

For instance, in the Volusia County Council races – “Sleepy” Pat Patterson might be out on his narcoleptic ass (pending a recount) – while the always arrogant District 3 Councilwoman Deb Denys was returned to office.  Handily.

Go figure.

It’s just one reason why Barker’s View stopped making political endorsements – not that most serious candidates for public office want to be associated with these screeds – but, more often than you might think, various candidates for high office  confidentially reach out for my support and advise.

It’s incredibly flattering to be asked.  Foolish and wrong-headed, but flattering. . .

I tell them, if you really want to get elected in Volusia County, you are far better served groveling at the expensively shod feet of billionaire insurance magnate J. Hyatt Brown – or kissing the sizeable backside of the All-Powerful High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mortenza “Mori” Hosseini – than asking a shitheel like me to navigate your budding political career.

The only thing I know with absolute certainty is that candidates bankrolled by Hyatt, Mori and other “Rich & Powerful” Fun Coast insiders rise like fine cream – regardless of how impossibly compromised, incompetent or ethically challenged they may be – while truly good people, like Daytona Beach’s intrepid neighborhood activist, Amy Pyle, come up short despite their incredibly hard work and true commitment to improving their community.

Why is that?

Where is the inherent fairness in a system that allows oligarchs and the corporations and shell companies they control to funnel cash into the campaign coffers of hand-select candidates and compromised incumbents – providing them the financial wherewithal to gain name recognition and regional exposure through incredibly expensive strategic advertising – while grassroots political newcomers (or those who refuse to toe the party line) invariably become also-rans?

I’m asking. . . because it has become incredibly frustrating to watch – and disheartening to those who have the courage to stand for elective office, face the fickle whims of an often-uninformed electorate, and put it all on the line for a chance to serve.

If you figure it out, let me know.

Regardless, here’s a hearty congratulations to those incumbents and newcomers who won on Tuesday – and my sincere appreciation to everyone who worked so hard, endured the slings-and-arrows of political rhetoric, walked hundreds of miles knocking on doors and spent their days and nights meeting with fellow citizens to explain their unique path forward.

It is those who actually participate – as candidates and voters – that make our democracy work.

Regardless of whether or not we agree on the issues – if you stood tall and said “send me” – I am incredibly thankful for your personal commitment to this important process – and for your willingness to serve a cause greater than your own self-interest.

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:             Our Local Journalism Community

Although I write about the news and newsmakers here on Florida’s Fun Coast, I’m certainly not a journalist.

Far from it.

I lack any of those important attributes that separate opinionated hacks like me from those who report on the issues of the day – things like professionalism, integrity, fairness, objectivity and the communication skills to explain complex issues to an often-skeptical and wholly uninformed public.

We have more than our share of self-inflicted problems in Volusia County – but one of our most cherished blessings is the quality of the hard-working reporters and editorialists in our local print and electronic media.

During a long career in public service, I had the pleasure of serving with some incredibly talented reporters, journalists and photojournalists – true professionals who have dedicated themselves to bringing the stories that affect our lives and livelihoods into our homes, and, in the process, enrich our lives and educate our opinions through their work.

When you stand around crime scenes together at three o’ clock in the morning, drinking coffee and swapping stories, you develop working relationships with reporters.

In time, a sense of trust develops that creates a professional bond which allows those who make the news to discuss intimate details “off the record” with those who report it – safe in the knowledge that the integrity of the issue won’t be compromised – while allowing the working press the background knowledge they need to flesh out the story.

In time, if you’re fortunate like I was, lifelong friendships develop.

Last weekend, ‘the best of the best’ in local media joined together in Mt. Dora for the 68th annual Florida Press Club banquet.  In total, The Daytona Beach News-Journal took home an incredible 25 awards for excellence in journalism – including the prestigious Lucy Morgan Award for In-depth Reporting.

News-Journal honorees include:

Suzanne Hirt, Seth Robbins, Tony Jarmusz, Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, Dinah Voyles Pulver, Jim Abbott, Ken Willis,  Mark Lane, Chris Bridges, Lola Gomez, Jim Tiller, David Tucker, and Tony Holt.

Other local winners include the talented Dan Ryan – Historian and Senior Writer for Bethune-Cookman University Athletics – who received First Place in the Class C-D Sports Column section!

In addition to being one of the best collegiate sports writers in the business, Dan is a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe who frequently contributes content ideas for this segment.

I am forever grateful for his spot-on analysis, tough criticism, and, most of all, for his consistent and passionate advocacy for the Wildcat Nation.

I also want to recognize the exceptional work of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s very talented young reporter, Dustin Wyatt – who brings life to the important issues of the day in the difficult arena of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building in DeLand – a tough beat where openness, cooperation and transparency is almost non-existent.

A place where, more often than not, what passes for a “press release” is trotted out by professional mouthpieces – and more than once a senior administrator has been filmed skedaddling away from the glare of a news camera like a diseased rat. . .

And kudos to gifted journalists like Katie Kustura and Patricio Balona – who cover Wild West Volusia for the News-Journal – working reporters who are actually down in the trenches where the news happens, covering accident and crime scenes, working the phones, tracking down stories in the Halls of Power and living rooms of victims and witnesses – to bring us the stories that touch our lives.

Here’s a tip o’ the Barker’s View scally cap to all the reporters and photojournalists whose work is so vitally important to our republic, and our society, as they report the news and hold the powerful accountable.

So, if you’re a working journalist who wasn’t duly honored by your peers in the Florida Press Club last week – give yourself a Barker’s View Gold Star!

Well deserved.

Asshole:          The Baffling Bullshit of “Project Palm”

 I wrote about this earlier in the week in a post entitled, “On Volusia: Keeping Secrets,” but it bears repeating:

Perhaps the most important contribution of this opinion blog in driving a larger discussion of the issues is my intimate familiarity with the inner-workings of municipal government.

I lived it my entire adult life.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

I’m not talking about the mechanics of essential service delivery, budgets, or the benefits and challenges of the Council/Manager form of government – I’m talking about the crap that binds up the wheels, gears and pinions from time-to-time – the internecine wars, the personal vendettas, the backbiting, the political machinations, the petty power grabs and how some unscrupulous managers and elected officials use information rationing, fear and internal intimidation to control the political and legislative processes in the often cloistered environment of a City Hall.

I lived through some truly strange times during my career – and I’ve come within a hair’s breadth of being sacrificed on the altar of small-town, and small-minded, politics.

That’s why I wasn’t too surprised when I read of the intrigues that lead to the ham-handed coup d’état in the City of Edgewater last week.

The unceremonious firing of City Manager Tracy Barlow had everything a good political thriller should have, a surprise attack at a seemingly innocuous public meeting – a bold move either orchestrated in advance or the result of mob mentality – the “blood in the water” syndrome that drives the sharks on the dais of power into a frenzy.

Before you know it – the voice of the people is silenced or ignored, angry motions are made, votes are taken, and the professional lifecycle of the City Manager comes full circle.

Then, like the song says, it’s all over but the crying.

Nothing left to do but write the massive severance check that normally stands as a deterrent to these knee-jerk reactions. . .

What followed was a hyper-dramatic threat by now lame duck Mayor Mike Ignasiak to step-down – claiming that he would refuse to serve even if the citizens of Edgewater return him to office during the general election.

Turns out Hizzoner didn’t need to worry about it.  The voters sent him packing on Tuesday. . .

What made the Edgewater bloodletting unique is that it exposed something truly disturbing – the all too frequent practice of a local government negotiating public/private partnerships in utter secrecy.

Using the cloak of “non-disclosure agreements” to thwart transparency, and the notion of “open government,” elected and appointed officials hammer out lucrative incentive packages to feather the nests of corporations who blow into town with the promise of “jobs” and leave with wheelbarrows full of tax abatements, infrastructure and financial subsidies.

Clearly, this spurious strategy is alive and well in the City of Edgewater.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Now, some leaders say the mystery project known only as “Project Palm” — which people close to the project say would be “worth hundreds of millions of dollars” to the local economy — seems to be in peril because of the recent upheaval at City Hall. Meanwhile, others say there is still hope for the deal that could bring more than 500 jobs to the city.”

From the little we can glean; the project involves a massive automated distribution center for an unnamed retailer which would be built on 300-acres owned by the Miami Corporation just west of Interstate 95 off State Road 442.

According to Ignasiak, following the council’s tumultuous meeting, he received a message from the Memphis-based site selection firm who has been helping the mysterious company evaluate the Edgewater location – and others – announcing that the deal was off and that the distribution center would be moving “outside of Gainesville.”

Oddly, when the News-Journal reached the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys for comment – she contradicted Mayor Ignasiak – claiming “we are still in play, the deal is still very much alive.” 

“We think this is just a political posturing thing by the site selector to get into a better position,” Denys said. “We don’t want to say it’s dead because it’s not.”

Whoever “We” is apparently includes our own Camera Stellata, known colloquially as the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, who is elbow deep in yet another burgeoning fiasco.

Speaking in the News-Journal, president of the CEO Business Alliance, Dr. Kent Sharples (who’s “leadership” has brought us the American Music Festival debacle and assisted in the unraveling of Bethune-Cookman University) told reporters Casmira Harrison and Clayton Park:

“Tracey Barlow was instrumental as a member of our collaborative team,” said Sharples, adding that the team includes the city, county, Team Volusia, CEO Business Alliance and Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm. “Taking him out of the equation on Friday didn’t help but Mayor Ignasiak (in a conference call on Saturday) agreed to stay the course. We were able to reassure the client (Project Palm) that the city would fulfill its obligations,” Sharples said.

And herein lies the problem – it seems everyone who is anyone in the Fun Coast Economic Development apparatus is “on the team” – except the long-suffering taxpayers of Edgewater and Volusia County?

Why is it that only those who stand to make a quick buck through the liberal application of public funds to underwrite a for-profit private project are privy to watching the sausage being made?

What about us?  The hapless rubes who pay the bills?

Well, we’re apparently prohibited from participating in the super-secret negotiations – or even being made aware of the existence of this surreptitious $300 million game changer until some small-town political shit show exposed it – under the guise of compromising some competitive advantage.

Bullshit.

Exactly what “obligations” are We, the People required to fulfill?

How will Volusia County ultimately sweeten the deal?

How many tax dollars is a warehouse job worth?

And who the hell is Kent Sharples to speak for the City of Edgewater? 

 Now, Denise Mott, vice president of the Tennessee-based site selection firm J. M. Mullis, Inc., is claiming that Councilwoman Denys’ comments to the News-Journal on the status of the deal were “completely false.”

According to Mott, Ms. Denys’ reckless yammering about things she knows nothing about “. . .caused our Firm to make the decision to remove any other potential sites in Volusia County which could have been considered for this project.”

(That’s why we can’t have nice things. . .)

Apparently, Deb was using the “Royal We” – the majestic plural – when she was spouting off in the newspaper about political posturing, because, come to find out, she didn’t have a damn thing to do with the direct negotiations of this deal at all – now modestly describing her role as more “behind the scenes.”

Right.

Which, given the way our Volusia County Council members are historically kept in the dark and fed on horseshit by senior administrators – Deb probably read about “Project Palm” in the newspaper just like the rest of us. . .

At the end of the day, Mike Mullis, president of the site selection firm, advised that it was Miami Corporations refusal to budge on the price that killed the deal – and assured us they were not posturing and maneuvering to leverage incentives.

(Sorry, I just shot coffee out of my nose. . .)

In my view, this is another prime example why local governments have no business insinuating themselves into the private marketplace – picking winners and losers and skewing the playing field by negotiating bullshit “job growing” subsidies and incentives behind the backs of their constituents in secretive bartering sessions – then writing checks that you and I will ultimately be forced to cash.

 Asshole:          Daytona Beach City Commission

 To his credit, when it came right down to it – Daytona Beach City Commissioner Rob “Gilligan” Gilliland had a crisis of conscience and did the right thing.

On Wednesday evening in a 6-1 vote, with Mr. Gilliland casting the lone “No,”  the Daytona Beach City Commission approved a contract with APM Construction Corporation of New Smyrna Beach to build the languishing First Step Shelter on public land west of I-95 for an estimated $4.3 million.

That’s obscene.

Three years ago when publicly funded solutions to the “homeless problem” were still being debated ad nauseum (back before the Volusia County Council simply threw $2.5 million of our money at the very complex issue and walked away, leaving Daytona Beach holding the bag) I made the prescient prediction that the long-suffering citizens of the Halifax area would get a homeless assistance center the exact minute our ‘movers & shakers’ decided who gets a slice of the pie.

Just as I foretold, a weird ‘cart before the horse’ strategy was set in motion which saw the site prep, foundation and footers being completed before a general contractor was even identified.

In turn, this debacle degenerated into a convoluted scheme that allows P&S Paving – a member in good standing of the camarilla of uber-wealthy insiders over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – to extract and sell lucrative fill dirt from the massive 626-acre site – essentially setting the market during perhaps the biggest development surge in Volusia County history.

What 20-acre lakes and fill dirt mining on public property have to do with getting the First Step shelter out of the ground is beyond me – but this confounding arrangement with P&S Paving stands to benefit the prolific government contractor to the tune of an estimated $14 million – over three-times the contracted construction costs for the completed facility. . .

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, citizen activist Anne Ruby all but begged commissioners to abandon the current plan in favor of a less expensive tensile fabric option, “We need a homeless shelter, but this escalating cost requires a review.” 

 I agree with Anne.

Unfortunately, the only ones that seem to matter – the Daytona Beach City Commission – have committed themselves (and our tax dollars) to the rigid view that we’re too far down the trail to turn around now.

According to Mayor Derrick Henry, “I don’t like the price, but we’ve already paid the price as a community,” Henry said. “I’m not prepared to take a road that takes us backwards.”

I have a hobby-job in the flight training industry where mitigating risk is all we do.

We teach fledgling pilots who get themselves into trouble by inadvertently flying into instrument conditions – where the risk of spatial disorientation is incredibly high – to recognize their predicament quickly and initiate a standard rate 180-degree turn, essentially go back the way they came, until they get themselves out of danger.

Because blundering further into the storm is guaranteed to have catastrophic results.

Sound familiar? 

Here endeth the lesson. . .

Quote of the Week:

“This is one of the most divisive races I have ever seen in Ormond Beach,” Kent said. “I look forward to mending fences and bringing our community back together.”

–Ormond Beach City Commissioner and Craven Developer’s Shill Troy Kent, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal following the Grand Slam by the Good ol’ Boy’s Club, “Ormond incumbents fend off growth critics,” Wednesday, November 7, 2018

In a very telling photograph – obviously taken at the victory soiree for the horribly compromised clique of unanimously re-elected incumbents on the Ormond Beach City Commission – Commissioner Troy Kent apparently started “mending fences” with his hopelessly divided community by posing with his back-slappin’ buddies on the dais of power in a goofy cowboy costume – complete with ten-gallon hat and boots – looking for all the world like some self-important “Boss Hogg” cartoon character – brandishing a filthy broom to signify their ‘clean sweep.’

Troy and the boys

 Yep.  Looked like a regular Hootenanny over at the Rockin’ Ranch. . .

In order to sooth the still raw emotions of many of his constituents who value quality of life over the wealth-building strategies of the privileged few, Mr. Kent’s supporters placed a massive electronic highway sign near the right-of-way on Granada Boulevard – near the scene of the environmental abattoir known as “Granada Pointe” – blazing away with a crude swipe at those dedicated civic activists known as Citizens and Neighbors Devoted to Ormond:

“THANKS ORMOND – NO CANDO”

So much for the old “magnanimous in victory, gracious in defeat” thing, eh?

Cando Sign.png

Great way to start the healing, Commissioner. . .

You know what I found interesting?

Following Tuesday’s election – just for grins – I contacted Ormond Beach City Clerk Lisa Dahme to ask for a copy of the permit for the massive digital sign that also flashed the names of Ormond’s anointed incumbent politicians for days before the election.

I mean, if you or I want to establish temporary advertising or political signage in Ormond Beach – we would expect to submit an application for review, pay the required fee, then receive a formal permit from the Chief Building Official before erecting a lighted industrial sign on the shoulder of a State Road.

That’s why I found Ms. Dhame’s concise response to my inquiry so odd:

“There are no records associated with this request. There was not a sign permit applied for or issued.”

 I guess the rules are different for ol’ Troy and the Boys, eh?

Now, before you wild-eyed members of the new “Ormond In-Crowd” get your ass on your shoulders and start screaming – “We didn’t need a permit, asshole!”

  1. Yes, you did.
  2. I don’t care.

At the end of the day, Ormond Beach residents got a good look at what passes for the democratic process in our beautiful community – and even if your particular candidate won the day – most will admit it wasn’t pretty.

Boss Hogg

I’m afraid the rancor and political acrimony from both camps has dramatically frayed the fabric of Ormond Beach – and the cost is still being tabulated.  In addition to seeing our once-respected elected officials sell their very souls to speculative developers and others who make their living churning greenspace into strip malls – we watched as the Ormond Beach Observer imploded in a foul gray fog of political favoritism after getting so deliriously involved with the re-election of incumbent candidates that the community broadsheet took on the appearance of a cheap political propaganda machine.

 

Now, the Observer’s publisher, John Walsh, stands before us like some half-repentant Jimmy Swaggart, begging forgiveness for his transgressions: “Allow me to be straight-forward and brutally honest: We did give the Ormond Proud PAC a discount on our full-page rate. That was wrong, and I take responsibility.”

Mr. Walsh is apologizing to anyone who will listen for the blatant political partisanship that relegated his paper to the driveway litter category – the birdcage liner of hometown news – after having lost the only thing that matters in his business:  Credibility.

In the aftermath of this shit show that pitted uber-wealthy insiders against their environmentally concerned neighbors – good people who simply want common sense growth management and a modicum of impartiality by those who are elected to represent our interests – we are left with the sobering realization that as much as we try and deny it – money and greed remain the controlling factors at City Hall – and the rest of us are a mere nuisance to their twisted idea of “progress.”

I hope it was worth it.

 

And Another Thing!

There is absolutely nothing more important to me than the safety and security of our precious children and grandchildren.

The tragic events in Tallahassee have turned a very bright light on the hiring practices of the Volusia County School District.

I have some experience with the Districts pre-employment process – because earlier this year I answered a call to service from Sheriff Michael Chitwood to stand as an armed “School Guardian” in the aftermath of the Parkland atrocity.

With over 31-years of law enforcement and military training, I felt my unique qualifications and skill set would be a perfect complement to the Guardian program – after all, the management of critical incidents and response to life-threatening emergencies is all I know.

Apparently, I didn’t cut the mustard. . .

For reasons known only to administrators, after a series of very active communications with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – when my application and qualifications were sent to the School District – I never received so much as a call back.

I was shocked and disappointed (although not surprised) that I wasn’t afforded so much as an interview.  After all, who wants a politically active blogger on the payroll?

I get it.  I don’t agree with it.  But I get it.

What I don’t understand is how Deltona coward, Scott Paul Beierle – the scumbag with an incredibly checkered past – who shot and killed two innocent people and wounded five others in a Tallahassee yoga studio last week, was hired as a full-time teacher at Hinson Middle School before being terminated less than three-weeks later.

Then, inexplicably, he was apparently re-hired and allowed to serve as a substitute in various elementary, middle and high school classrooms some 187 times before again being fired earlier this year after inappropriately touching a female student.

WTF?

But here’s where things really get disturbing:

According to a report by WFTV, “The year before going to the Volusia County School District, officials with Leon County Schools said Beierle was fired from his substitute teaching job in Leon County after looking at porn during class.”

Jesus.

Now, as Beierle rots in hell, School Board member Carl Persis and area media outlets are rightly asking the difficult question – Why wasn’t this information obtained and evaluated before Beierle was allowed unfettered access to vulnerable children in the ostensibly safe environment of the Volusia County School System?

The Channel 9 report claims, “The district says Beierle passed a federal and state criminal background check. Police reports show Beierle was arrested and charged with battery after allegedly groping women at least twice. The charges were later dropped, so there were no convictions to show up on the background checks.”

Perhaps most disturbing – had Volusia human resources and safety managers bothered to ask – they would have learned that when Beierle applied for a substitute teaching position in Leon County, employees reported that he was acting “extremely nervous, was rude, and had a scary and angry look on his face.”

In fact, they were so frightened of this creepy bastard that administrators locked the doors when he left and suggested that he not be hired after learning his on-line application password was “carnifex” – which translates to “executioner.”  Chilling.

The district hired him anyway.

As often happens after-the-fact, within hours of the tragic events in Tallahassee, details of Beierle’s fucked-up life began to emerge – including the fact he had been banned from the Florida State University campus and accused of “grabbing” women.

Clearly, had someone at Volusia County Schools put in the effort they might have learned these minor details about the applicant – like, as a substitute teacher, he likes to pass the time watching porn in the classroom – and sitting around with his hand down his pants – but that would require a genuine dedication to vetting those who have contact with children beyond a simple criminal history check.

Legitimate investigators call it GOYAKOD – “Get off your ass and knock on doors.”

In my view, the professional competency and hiring practices of Superintendent Tom Russell and his “Cabinet” need an immediate top-to-bottom review – including the purge of any senior administrator who failed to have the foresight and good judgement to recognize that this monster was unfit to be in the same room with our children and grandchildren.

To the extent humanly possible, when parents pack their children off to the care of Volusia County Schools, they should be able to do so with a modicum of confidence that administrators have acted in their best interest – rather than just going through the motions – and it is becoming increasingly obvious that they did not.

That’s unacceptable.

Guess what?

Thanks to a petty move by our current Volusia County School Board designed to stick a thumb in the eye of the teacher’s union – we’re stuck with Mr. Russell’s unique brand of “leadership” for another two-years. . .

That’s all for me – have a great weekend my friends. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Keeping Secrets

Perhaps the most important contribution of this opinion blog in driving a larger discussion of the issues is my intimate familiarity with the inner-workings of municipal government.

I lived it my entire adult life.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

I’m not talking about the mechanics of essential service delivery, budgets, or the benefits and challenges of the Council/Manager form of government – I’m talking about the crap that binds-up the wheels, gears and pinions from time-to-time – the internecine wars, the personal vendettas, the backbiting, the political machinations, the petty power grabs and how some unscrupulous managers and elected officials use information rationing, fear and internal intimidation to control the political and legislative processes in the often cloistered environment of a City Hall.

I lived through some truly strange times during my career – and I’ve come within a hair’s breadth of being sacrificed on the altar of small-town, and small-minded, politics.

That’s why I wasn’t too surprised when I read of the intrigues that lead to the ham-handed coup d’état in the City of Edgewater last week.

The unceremonious firing of City Manager Tracy Barlow had everything a good political thriller should have, a surprise attack at a seemingly innocuous public meeting – a bold move either orchestrated in advance or the result of a mob mentality – the “blood in the water” syndrome that drives the sharks on the dais of power into a frenzy.

Before you know it – the voice of the people is silenced or ignored, angry motions are made, votes are taken, and the professional life-cycle of the City Manager comes full circle.

Then, like the song says, it’s all over but the crying.

Nothing left to do but write the massive severance check that normally stands as a deterrent to these knee-jerk reactions. . .

What followed was a hyper-dramatic threat by Mayor Mike Ignasiak to step-down – claiming that he would refuse to serve even if the citizens of Edgewater return him to office during the general election – a clearly emotional response that he walked back at warp speed.

It was all pretty standard political posturing.

However, what made the Edgewater bloodletting unique is that it exposed something truly disturbing – the all too frequent practice of a local government negotiating public/private partnerships in utter secrecy.

Using the cloak of “non-disclosure agreements” to thwart transparency, and the quaint notion of “open government,” elected and appointed officials hammer out lucrative incentive packages to feather the nests of corporations who blow into town with the promise of “jobs” and leave with wheelbarrows full of tax abatements, infrastructure and financial subsidies.

Clearly, this spurious strategy is alive and well in the City of Edgewater.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Now, some leaders say the mystery project known only as “Project Palm” — which people close to the project say would be “worth hundreds of millions of dollars” to the local economy — seems to be in peril because of the recent upheaval at City Hall. Meanwhile, others say there is still hope for the deal that could bring more than 500 jobs to the city.”

From the little we can glean; the project involves a massive automated distribution center for an unnamed retailer which would be built on 300-acres owned by the Miami Corporation just west of Interstate 95 off State Road 442.

According to Mayor Ignasiak, following the council’s tumultuous meeting, he received a message from the Memphis-based site selection firm who has been helping the mysterious company evaluate the Edgewater location – and others – announcing that the deal was off and that the distribution center would be moving “outside of Gainesville.”

Oddly, when the News-Journal reached the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys for comment – she contradicted Mayor Ignasiak – claiming “we are still in play, the deal is still very much alive.” 

Apparently, Councilwoman Denys, who is currently in a political knife fight with challenger Michael Arminio for the District 3 seat representing Southeast Volusia – has also been muzzled by “privacy agreements” – but that didn’t stop her from blathering about this deteriorating situation:

“We think this is just a political posturing thing by the site selector to get into a better position,” Denys said. “We don’t want to say it’s dead because it’s not.”

Whoever “We” is apparently includes our own Camera Stellata, known colloquially as the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, who is elbow deep in yet another burgeoning fiasco.

Speaking in the News-Journal, president of the CEO Business Alliance, Dr. Kent Sharples (who’s “leadership” has brought us the American Music Festival debacle and assisted in the unraveling of Bethune-Cookman University) told reporters Casmira Harrison and Clayton Park:

“Tracey Barlow was instrumental as a member of our collaborative team,” said Sharples, adding that the team includes the city, county, Team Volusia, CEO Business Alliance and Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm. “Taking him out of the equation on Friday didn’t help but Mayor Ignasiak (in a conference call on Saturday) agreed to stay the course. We were able to reassure the client (Project Palm) that the city would fulfill its obligations,” Sharples said.

And herein lies the rub – it seems everyone who is anyone in the Fun Coast Economic Development apparatus is “on the team” – except the long-suffering taxpayers of Edgewater and Volusia County?

Why is it that only those who stand to make a quick buck through the liberal application of public funds to underwrite a for-profit private project are privy to watching the sausage being made?

What about us?  The hapless rubes who pay the bills?

Well, we’re apparently prohibited from participating in the super-secret negotiations – or even being made aware of the existence of this surreptitious $300 million game changer until some small-town political shit show exposed it – under the guise of compromising some competitive advantage.

Bullshit.

Exactly what “obligations” are We, the People required to fulfill?

How will Volusia County ultimately sweeten the deal?

How many tax dollars is a warehouse job worth?

And who the hell is Kent Sharples to speak for the City of Edgewater? 

Trust me – we will never know the answers to these questions until the “deal” appears as a foregone conclusion on the consent agenda of an Edgewater City Council meeting – followed by an off-the-agenda ambush by the Volusia County Council.

Something doesn’t smell right about this. . .

Why is Ms. Denys wasting time in sketchy negotiations with a private company while the citizens of District 3 are repeatedly treated like the red-headed stepchildren of Volusia County?

Her constituents have been repeatedly ignored while more-and-more essential government services are ripped away from them – from the New Smyrna Courthouse to much-needed drug treatment services – all while their inept representative, Councilwoman Denys, is busy championing the cause of her “Rich & Powerful” political benefactors in Daytona Beach.

Or helping to negotiate secret deals for Edgewater warehouse jobs. . .

Perhaps most disturbing, last week, President Trump signed a package of bills to help communities deal with the raging opioid epidemic which provides significant funding for improving access to addiction treatment programs and other community-based interventions.

Our former federal lobbyist, James Pericola, had been begging anyone in Volusia County government who would listen to get serious and participate in this important program for the past year.

Unfortunately, Councilwoman Denys joined with the super-majority of her “colleagues” in firing and marginalizing Mr. Pericola after he brought allegations of almost criminal neglect in Volusia County’s failure to secure federal funding and loan opportunities to help address serious social and environmental issues.

Then, on Friday, the chickens came home to roost when Stewart-Marchman announced that, due to state funding cuts, it would be forced to “consolidate” some Southeast Volusia services with its outpatient clinic in Daytona Beach.

This change forces some 400 of Denys’ suffering constituents to make their way to Daytona Beach or DeLand for treatment.

My God.

When is Councilwoman Denys going to explain why those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest failed to engage?

Why hasn’t anyone been held responsible for failing to secure our fair share of the $500 million just released by the federal government, particularly when places like Stewart-Marchman were being cut and our bloated bureaucracy in DeLand did absolutely nothing to help them?

I suppose the tragic issue of the ongoing civic abandonment of the good citizens of Southeast Volusia is up to them to decide at the polls tomorrow – but, eventually, Ms. Denys’ reign of incompetence must end.

Hey, Deb – trust me on this:  The mystery company our ‘movers & shakers’ are fawning over will eventually build their distribution center exactly where they believe it will best serve their order-fulfillment needs in the most economically efficient manner possible – and they don’t need your goofy input – or our dollars – to do it.

In my view, local governments have no business insinuating themselves into the private marketplace – picking winners and losers and skewing the playing field by negotiating bullshit “job growing” subsidies and incentives  behind the backs of their constituents in secretive bartering sessions – then writing checks that you and I will ultimately be forced to cash.

It’s also time that political hacks like Dr. Kent Sharples and Councilwoman Deb Denys were put out to pasture.

I’m not sure how much more of their unique brand of “leadership” we can stand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 2, 2018

Hi, kids!

I hope everyone had a Happy Halloween!

For good or for ill, ghosts and goblins don’t scare me – I was a Holly Hill cop for over 30-years, and have been a life-long resident of Volusia County – so I’m comfortable with the macabre.  Suffice it to say, it takes more than a haunted house to raise the hair on the back of my neck.

Anyone who has witnessed the wild machinations of a Volusia County election season knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, this year’s carnival of the absurd in no different – with the exception that it appears area residents are beginning to pay attention – and are increasingly screaming for justice when they see what Daytona Beach civic activist Ken Strickland accurately refers to as “corruption in plain sight.”

As a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe, I naturally assume you are a ‘high-information’ voter – regardless of your political persuasion.

Well, this is where the rubber meets the road.

I don’t care if you’re a tree-hugging dirt worshiper, a flaming liberal or a meat-eating, knuckle-dragging uber-conservative – in this space we can all agree to disagree and remain supportive friends and neighbors.

The only thing I ask to secure your membership in this special salon of alternative opinion is this: VOTE.

I’m not going to tell you who or what to vote for or against – regular readers of this forum know my thoughts – all I am going to ask is that you take the time to participate in the most meaningful part of this process – do your ‘civic duty,’ as they say – and VOTE!

Please.

Take advantage of early voting while it lasts – or stand proud on election day and vote like your quality of life depends upon it.  Because it does.

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

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

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

I recently jotted down my thoughts on the importance of creating a sense of ownership and buy-in to building strong communities.

My naive thought was that, following the upcoming election, our politicians – new and old – could work toward a goal of “whole community” decision-making and develop a process that engages the needs, wants and dreams of all stakeholders – not just those of our “Rich & Powerful.”

My head must be getting soft.

I forgot.

In Volusia County, elections are little more than annoying formalities – a legally mandated hurdle that our oligarchical ‘movers & shakers’ see as a hindrance – knowing well that the political process is nothing the right application of large sums of money can’t fix.

You and I – the voting public – are merely something to be manipulated with glossy mailers, ads and fancy signage, most of it paid for by special interests who lavish their hand-select candidates with massive campaign contributions in a perfectly legal quid pro quo scheme that results in a lucrative return on investment for those who can pay to play.

In the extremely rare event that a true outsider is elected to the Volusia County Council, our ‘powers that be’ have a patented process in place that molds newly elected and appointed “leaders” into lock-step marionettes – pounding square pegs into the round hole of legislative and administrative conformity to ensure the survival of the “system” at all costs.

It seems most of our dull-witted politicians, who are selected for high office by the Donor Class due to their malleability – the plasticity of their loyalties, ethics and moral justification when acting contrary to the needs of their constituents – understand up-front where their loyalties lay when they accept tens-of-thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from influential individuals and corporations under their control.

They don’t have to be told.

Most recipients of enormous campaign contributions instinctively understand that the financial advantage granted by their political benefactors comes with certain strings and expectations attached.

Fortunately, a precious few try and live up to the letter and spirit of their oath of office.

A prime example of just how ugly things can get when the super-majority of our wholly compromised Volusia County Council encounters a “colleague” who won’t join them at the hip in service to uber-wealthy insiders and ingrained bureaucrats who use our elected officials like dull farm implements is the case of District Four Councilwoman Heather Post.

Since taking office last January, Post has been beaten like a borrowed mule by her fellow council members; repeatedly marginalized, laughed at, maligned and discredited – and now denied a senior leadership role in a statewide organization.

Why?

Because she had the temerity to buck an entrenched power structure that provides political insulation and protection to those who get along and go along in favor of serving her constituents with a refreshing sense of independence rarely seen in DeLand – that’s why.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, earlier this month when the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys made the announcement that she would be serving as chairwoman of the Central Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization, the result was a foregone conclusion.

Deb Denys didn’t ask – she announced.

It wasn’t a request – it was Deb’s right as a member of the club in good standing.

Conversely, when Ms. Post sought a letter of support for an appointment to the Florida Association of Counties executive board, her “colleagues” first voted to spend $62,000 of our hard-earned tax dollars to “stay engaged” with the association – then, flat-out denied Post’s respectful request to assume a leadership role with the same organization.

It seems our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, “doesn’t trust” Ms. Post and – even though she was duly elected by the people to represent their interests – would never support her for a statewide role representing Volusia County citizens because she all too often eschews groupthink in favor of standing for the best interests of her constituents.

Did anyone expect anything different? 

History tells us that independent thought and working to expose institutionalized ineptitude are cardinal sins at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center – punishable by personal and professional destruction.

Look, I’m the first to admit – I haven’t always been kind to Ms. Post on the pages of this blog site.

In my view, it took her a long time to find her own voice – and some of Ms. Post’s early stumbles and foibles were truly cringe-worthy.

But, in time, Councilwoman Post rose to her calling and demonstrated true statesmanship during several controversial issues that most of her “colleagues” would have preferred to sweep under the political rug.

Specifically, her courageous challenge to former County Manager Jim Dinneen’s farcical reign was truly impressive – and she valiantly championed the citizens right to know – exposing serious issues with essential county services and facilities.

In my view, she demonstrated the ability to give as good as she got – and had the fortitude and perseverance to keep up the pressure in the face of withering apathy in a room full of insouciant assholes who just knew their well-protected facilitator had nothing to worry about – until he did.

And it ultimately cost Ms. Post the ability to serve her constituents on a larger stage, all because a demonstrably mendacious churl like Old Ed Kelley doesn’t “trust” her.

How unfortunate.

How typical. . .

Angel:             State Attorney R. J. Larizza

 Kudos to State Attorney R. J. Larizza and his incredibly talented staff for having the wisdom to see Deltona City Manager Jane Shang’s misuse of law enforcement for what it was – a mean-spirited, spurious and clearly retaliatory attack designed to suppress lawful citizen dissent.

Earlier this year, Shang ordered the city’s finance director, Tracy Hooper, to sign a formal affidavit charging Brandy White, a concerned citizen and civic activist who has worked tirelessly to expose the abject dysfunction and ineptitude of the Shang administration, with a serious felony crime.

According to reports, in April, Ms. White went to City Hall to obtain the results of a public records request regarding the city’s controversial civic center.  To document the encounter with public officials, White used her cellular phone to record her interaction with Hooper in a public area of the building.

In turn, Shang – apparently with the full knowledge and acquiescence of Deltona’s horribly broken City Commission – directed Hooper to provide a sworn complaint to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office alleging intentional interception of oral communications.

When this serious charge had the desired effect of silencing Ms. White – in May, Shang used the same appalling tactic against another critic – Patricia Gibson – when she rightfully pointed out state licensing issues with a caterer hired by the City of Deltona.

According to the intrepid Katie Kustura, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “In a memo issued late last week, Assistant State Attorney Christopher Indelicato wrote that the state wouldn’t be able to prove even a “prima facie” case against Brandy White on a charge of intentional interception of oral communication.”

 In typical fashion, the City of Deltona failed to respond to Reporter Kustura’s request for comment earlier this week.

Of course, they didn’t.  Responding to the questions of the working press would show a modicum of respect for the normal checks and balances of civic accountability by people who accept public funds to serve in the public interest.

In Deltona, the Shang administration does what it wants – when it wants – and if that takes the form of a bull in a china shop – using the full might of government to suppress citizen dissent – then so be it.

As I have previously written on this disgusting matter, if you’re not moved to seething rage – perhaps you need to rethink what’s at stake here.

I write this blog to bring attention to shit like this – a wholly dysfunctional and completely compromised pseudo-government run amok – public officials (in the loosest sense of the term) who set upon outspoken critics like a pack of rabid wolves and crush opposition under the iron boot of an incestuous system intent on preserving the status quo regardless of who or what they have to destroy in the process.

Screw that.

Now that Ms. White has been spared the personal terror and life altering mutilation of her character and good name that the threat of a felony charge brings, it’s time for Governor Rick Scott, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of the State Attorney to turn their focus to the likes of Jane Shang and those elected officials who have repeatedly abused their constituents, flagrantly violated both the letter and spirit of our sacred open records law and blatantly misused the omnipotent power of the law to secure an advantage over the citizens they ostensibly exist to serve.

If he hasn’t already done so, I hope Sheriff Mike Chitwood will clearly explain to Jane Shang that the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office isn’t her personal Tonton Macoute.

It’s wrong, dammit – and this gross intimidation cannot stand.

Angel:             Robert Baumer, Ormond Beach

Several weeks ago, while doing the monthly Barker’s View appearance on the GovStuff Live radio forum with Big John, the host and I were lamenting the fact that the weekly driveway litter known as the Ormond Beach Observer has become an organ of incumbent City Commission candidates and the darling of the big money developers who are underwriting them.

Our prescient discussion was validated this week with an excellent piece by T. S. Jarmusz, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, who exposed the intricacies of a complaint recently filed with the Florida Elections Commission by Ormond Beach resident Robert Baumer.

According to reports, Mr. Baumer alleges that Ormond Proud, a political action committee apparently formed to support incumbent candidates, violated state spending laws.

The situation doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of the political bent and business practices of the Ormond Beach Observer. . .

Earlier this year, a grassroots advocacy known as Citizens and Neighbors Dedicated to Ormond II, sprung from the environmental atrocity on Granada Boulevard where some 2,061 trees, including old-growth hardwoods, were churned into an ugly black muck to make way for what we would later learn was a WaWa convenience store and a third-tier discount grocery.

The sight of wildlife fleeing the scene of this ecological insult shocked our collective conscience – and set in motion a larger discussion about how much our quality of life is worth – compared to the profit potential of wealthy developers who are intent on building something, anything, on every square inch of natural space.

It became a Tale of Two Cities – a population divided by the simple belief that planned, sustainable growth that respects the quality of life for all residents is preferable to slash and burn land clearing operations and suburban sprawl.

In time, CANDO II came to the realization that the only way to truly protect the rights and vision of citizens was to become actively involved in the city’s political process – which has become so stagnant that a few incumbent politicians have held office for years – and they formed a PAC to support smart growth alternative candidates.

Naturally, this didn’t sit well with the entrenched power structure of speculative developers and the hangers-on who get rich transforming greenspace into half-empty strip centers.

The battle lines were drawn.

In my view, the Ormond Beach Observer became little more than the propaganda arm of the Ormond Proud camp – printing a series of full-page advertisements touting incumbent commissioners, and new comer Susan Persis, a Big Money shill – and running a slew of lop-sided editorials virtually deifying Granada Pointe developer Paul Holub.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a few counter-arguments on the Op/Ed page, but it became readily apparent, even to a dunce like me, which side of the political fence the Observer fell on.

As I understand it, the problem came when Ormond Proud – the PAC who ostensibly took out those massive advertisements – failed to report the cost associated with Observer ads until mid-October when reports show a $5,000 expenditure on October 11 for “September 2018 ads.”

The expenditure entry came after The News-Journal began questioning five Ormond Proud ads published in September.

Current state election laws require that candidates book expenditures for political advertisements before they run – and strictly prohibits a newspaper or media outlet from charging one candidate more for ads than they do another.

According to the News-Journal, “Ormond Proud Treasurer Sheriff Guindi (a commercial and residential real estate agent) said he didn’t pay for the ads until then because the Observer had not yet invoiced the PAC for them and that he had to call the paper to request an invoice.”

 “Guindi said Ormond Proud had the funds by the time they were billed to pay for the Observer ads, but “I just don’t know how you pay a bill before you receive it.”

I don’t know either – but I do know the treasurer of a political action committee should have a working understanding of the already lax rules and regulations governing campaign finance reporting – especially in an environment where literally anything goes.

“Apparently, the $5,000 the Observer charged Ormond Proud for the PAC’s five September ads differs from the advertising rates the Observer quoted CANDO2 organizers.”

However, Ormond Beach Observer Publisher John Walsh flatly denied that Ormond Proud was given any special consideration.

Mr. Walsh’s assurances aside – CANDO II organizer Julie Sipes said her PAC was quoted substantially higher rates for ads they ran – costs which would run some $775.00 more than that paid by Ormond Proud, with an additional 20% for a back-page spread.

Sipes also said CANDO II paid for advertising in advance – which is common practice with The Daytona Beach News-Journal and other reputable media organizations.

Interestingly, the prices quoted by CANDO II matched those received by a News-Journal staffer who contacted the Observer to obtain weekly fees for political ads.

“In either case, at that rate the Ormond Proud ads would have cost $9,230.”

To make matters worse, in recent correspondence, Ormond Proud Chairman Scott Edwards claimed that Volusia County Elections Supervisor Lisa Lewis “cleared” Ormond Proud of the allegations.

That’s weird? 

Because Ms. Lewis, speaking in the News-Journal, “. . .said that while she didn’t discuss laws or statutes, she couldn’t fathom how Edwards could’ve left the call thinking what he was doing was OK.”

In my view, this is a perfect example of how low one is forced to stoop in order to hold office in Ormond Beach.  It’s dirty tricks – and when the unscrupulous practices of a widely distributed community newspaper benefit one political candidate or issue over another it skews the playing field and bleeds hard-won donations.

That’s wrong.

Now, the Florida Elections Commission will sort the wheat from the chaff in this case – but I want to send a tip ‘o the Barker’s View scally cap to Robert Baumer for standing firm to the principles of fair play and exposing this potential violation to the proper authorities.

It’s heartening to know that concerned citizens are engaging in the process and holding political action committees, candidates and their financial supporters accountable for the false manipulation of the political process – a scourge that has plagued Volusia County for decades.

 Quote of the Week:

“We the elected council represent you and your will,” Kelley said. “We’re the ones that determine where your money is spent.”

–Volusia County Council Chair and Poster Boy for Convenient Memory Disorder Ed Kelley, as quoted in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Amendment 10: Sheriff in favor, Volusia County Council Chair says vote no.”

Wow.  Anyone else with two-synapses still firing shocked by that statement?

Just me?

Okay.  How about Old Ed’s even more disturbing comment marginalizing Councilwoman Heather Post’s concerns in the News-Journal this week when he gushed, “Six of us are not going to make a decision that is detrimental to the people. Everything we have done is in the best interest of the public.”?

 (Sorry.  I just upchucked in my mouth a little. . .)

 My God. 

When I first read these whoppers, I paused (quite literally stunned), “He can’t possibly be serious?”

Then, I read it again – thinking it was one of those weird Zen koans – some paradoxical riddle, an enigmatic and seemingly unsolvable word puzzle that is so abstract – so inherently opposite to our known base of knowledge and grasp on reality that it challenges our inner-most rational mind and causes us to push past ordinary logic into the realm of the metaphysical.

Then I thought, “Is Chairman Kelley really that delusional?” 

Look, like all of us, I’m getting older – and I find myself falling victim to the many mental frailties of age – including the curse (and blessing) of a convenient memory.  That means I pay intense attention to the hedonistic pleasures of the semi-retired life  – while completely ignoring the list of boring housekeeping chores and errands orchestrated by my long-suffering wife.

But I never intentionally deceive myself into thinking that I am incapable of making poor choices – the evidence suggests I’ve been doing that quite successfully for the past 58-years.  In fact, in the unlikely event someone erects a monument to my life and times, the simple phrase “Whiskey and Bad Decisions” will be indelibly engraved upon it. . .

As an observer of Volusia County politics, I am consistently amazed by the stratospheric level of hubris – the unmitigated arrogance – that pervades the halls of power in DeLand – never better exemplified than by Chairman Kelley’s fallacious belief in his own infallibility.

In my view, this unique ability of our elected officials to create a false reality in their own cloudy minds is most glaring in nonsensical statements like Mr. Kelley’s “will of the people” gibberish (which I have no doubt was completely heartfelt and uttered with that slack-jawed, slightly vacant visage Mr. Kelley is widely known for.)

Over time, we’ve simply come to expect that politicians will blatantly lie to us when it serves their purpose.

But I’ve always felt it dangerous when powerful public officials engage in the self-indulgent pursuit of lying to themselves.

That’s a slippery slope.

And Another Thing!

In Volusia County, residents know that no bad idea ever really goes away.

In fact, the timing of plans for spending huge sums of money to replace existing county facilities that have been allowed to strategically rot due to a lack of care and maintenance are so consistent you can set your watch by them.

In March 2016, I was asked to write a piece for the News-Journal’s Community Voices column detailing the efforts of former County Manager Jim Dinneen to frighten taxpayers into footing the bill on a Taj Mahal-like $19 million consolidated public works facility near Samsula.

Given the public outcry over this flawed plan to merge and centralize essential services in a county the size of Rhode Island – even our elected dullards on the Volusia County Council had the good sense to call bullshit.

Then, in December 2017, Dinneen’s ham-handed attempt to repackage the purchase of 132 acres off State Road 44 – for more than twice its appraised value – somehow got put on the Council’s agenda “by accident.”

Yeah, right. . .

Now, just like clockwork, the idea has been resurrected by county road and bridge director Judy Grim, who’s telling anyone who’ll listen scary stories about flooding and other issues at the county’s Holly Hill facility – which has been serving the needs of area residents in one form or another for over 30-years.

In the latest iteration of the Grand Plan, Grim wants to build a brand-new facility on Indian Lake Road, so, naturally, this week the Council was asked to approve a $285,000 land purchase to make way for a structure with an estimated cost of $9 million.

Anyone familiar with the Holly Hill Road & Bridge facility knows that, for years, the compound was allowed to rot under Mr. Dinneen’s practice of “strategic neglect” – where county-owned buildings and facilities were allowed to become blighted, overgrown shitholes so he could later claim a pseudo-emergency and demonstrate the need for yet another luxury facility.

For most of my adult life I worked for a small municipal government in Volusia County.  Our core services were housed in a City Hall that is now some 75-years old and going strong.

How, you may ask, could a government building possibly remain serviceable for three-quarters of a century?  It’s called ‘preventive maintenance’ – much like your own home may require – and when spread over time is an economical way of ensuring public assets remain efficient and effective.

It’s also called taking pride in public service.

This was a bad idea in 2016 – and, even though its been pared down a bit, it’s still a bad idea today.

Perhaps entrenched senior bureaucrats like Judy Grim should spend more time focused on providing quality services to residents in the most effective and efficient means possible with the plentiful resources available – rather than constantly wringing their hands and lamenting all the things they don’t have (like a luxurious new $9 million facility on even more acreage that’s now off the tax rolls).

In my view, it’s the staggering level of incompetence, government waste and resource mismanagement in Volusia County government – and a continuing, almost institutionalized, lack of substantive oversight by our elected officials – that allows this atrocious cycle to continue.

Our elected officials never seem to understand that the money these facilities are purchased with represent the very real sacrifices of their constituents – young families, business owners, elderly residents living on fixed incomes – and I couldn’t care less if County bureaucrats are inconvenienced by being asked to make do with the ample facilities and resources already allocated.

That’s all for me, folks!

Have a great fall weekend, kids!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Return to DeBary

“An old woman was walking down the road when she saw a gang of thugs beating a poisonous snake.  She rescued the snake and carried it back to her home, where she nursed it back to health.  They became friends and lived together for many months.  One day they were going into town, and the old woman picked him up and the snake bit her.  Repeatedly.  “O God,” she screamed, “I am dying!  Why?  I was your friend.  I saved your life!  I trusted you!  Why did you bite me?”

“The snake looked up at her and said, “Lady, you knew I was a snake when you first picked me up.”

(Excerpt from Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie (Gonzo Papers vol. 4) by Hunter S. Thompson.)

Wow.  The more things change, the more they stay the same. . .

My old friends at the City of DeBary are back in the news again – and they rarely disappoint when it comes to good, old-fashioned small-town political intrigue.

This time City Councilwoman Erika Benfield has come forward with credible allegations that City Manager Ron McLemore (the disgraced former Daytona Beach deputy city manager who fled a sexual harassment allegation to the shit-show that is DeBary politics) has been working for a political action committee known as Living Waters, to urge residents of the small west Volusia community to support a bond issue to subsidize a $12.5 million civic center.

The problem?

He was apparently being paid by the citizens of DeBary when he did it. . .

According to one of my favorite community-based newspapers, The West Volusia Beacon, Ms. Benfield alleges that McLemore and other city staff helped design a trifold mailer and postcards which were sent to some 3,700 DeBary voters urging a “yes” vote on the bond referendum.

She believes city employees provided the PAC the voter list as well. . .

Of course, McLemore – being the stand-up guy that he is – denied Councilwoman Benfield’s allegations, crowing “This city has not spent one penny on that PAC.” 

 Not to be dissuaded by Mr. McLemore s semantics, Ms. Benfield countered, “It (the mailer) was reviewed and critiqued by staff on city time. City time is city funds. They’re not volunteering their own time.”

Amen, sister.

For the record, Florida law prohibits local governments and state agencies from active involvement for or against candidates or causes.

According to the Beacon, Benfield also voiced concern “about the cost of the proposed community center. While the bond issue is $12.5 million, the total cost — including interest — will amount to almost $24 million, spread over the 30-year debt period.”

Jesus.

I may be a mathematical illiterate – but that’s damn near double the original construction cost, isn’t it?

To their credit, Councilwoman Benfield’s colleagues agreed to an investigation (conducted by yet another “independent counsel” hired by the city attorney. . .)  which will review the “concerns and allegations” and present their findings at a special meeting on November 14th – well after the matter has been decided at the polls.

I have a special place in my heart for the long-suffering residents of DeBary.

In many ways, Barker’s View cut its teeth on what I dubbed “The Debacle in DeBary” during the ugly quagmire of corruption, environment exploitation and political deceit that was the fallout from the city’s failed Gemini Springs Annex transportation-oriented development scheme.

That horrific civic tragedy galvanized in my mind the fact that if you care about good governance in your own hometown, then you should care about good governance everywhere.

At that time, I came to believe that DeBary was best described as 20,000 people who deserved better.

They still do. . .

On Volusia: What do you think?

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

–Dr. Seuss

Regardless of how busy you are – how full and interesting life may be – if you are not reading for pleasure, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re reading this, chances are you understand the importance of researching and analyzing differing points of view on the local political spectrum before coming down on a particular side of an issue.

I do the same thing – weighing the information provided by powerful politicians or appointees against my base of knowledge on the issues – then consider all sides of the argument before forming an opinion.

That involves reading everything I can, including reams of boring agendas and meeting minutes, consultant reports, budgets and newspaper articles, to gain better insight into a particular public policy or political decision.

I’m talking about the importance of reading for the shear fun of it – to, as someone recently put it, “expand the horizons of your mind.”

In case broadening your cultural perspective isn’t enough, researchers have found that reading for both leisure and understanding has substantial neurological benefits as well.

My nightstand is virtually groaning with books.

Everything from Mary Welsh Hemingway’s fascinating story of her life with Ernest, to John H. Cunningham’s light “Buck Reilly” adventures (Buck want’s only three things in life: A plane to fly, a treasure to find, and a beautiful woman to rescue.  My kind of guy. . .)

I tend to slip into and out of various reads – an interesting combination of fiction, non-fiction and historical biographies – which usually means I have two or three books in rotation at any given time.

In addition, I have a core group of old friends I keep on my Kindle – an Amazon-based E-reader that stores hundreds of books, yet saves each one at the exact place I left off.

This device holds most everything Dr. Hunter S. Thompson ever published (at least everything that is currently available in electronic format), works that I re-read constantly as a source of writing inspiration and a completely different perspective on national politics – one man’s opinion on the issues of his day that are as prescient today as they were when the great man wrote them.

Dr. Thompson’s writing isn’t for everyone.  Like many of my own screeds, you are often forced down a wild and circuitous path before getting to the kernel – but, in my view, we often learn more from the journey than the destination. . .

I have just started two wonderful books, both by local authors, on two very different subjects.

Paradise Interrupted by Tom Levine, described by the Orlando Sentinel as a “cross between a stand-up comic and a political gadfly,” is a colorful novel right up my alley.

 “Disney World arrives and the transformation of Central Florida begins.  Twenty years later note everybody appreciates the new look.  Developers continue to salivate, locals cringe out of habit, rabbits try to adapt; and then someone draws a line in the sand.”  

The other, a work by Palm Coast writer C. K. McKenna, entitled Poppa: A fictional Biography of Joseph of Nazareth” was a loan from a dear friend. 

“Rather than have his pregnant fiancée stoned to death, a devout tekton marries her, and becomes “Poppa” to a son with a mysterious mission. Remaining true to the gospel narrative, this account shows us what scripture omits. McKenna offers a glimpse of Joseph and Mary’s relationship; what Joseph does to deal with her pregnancy and the extreme measures he takes to preserve the son for his divine mission.”

On the non-fiction side, I recently finished a great read by former CIA officer T. J. Waters, “Class 11: My Story Inside the CIA’s First Post-9-11 Spy Class,” an important look at the motivations and training of the largest class in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service.

For me, perhaps the most important aspect of reading is that I learn something new every time I open a book – be it for the first time, or the hundredth time – invariably I expand my vocabulary, open my mind, and oftentimes discover how people in other parts of the country are using innovative ideas to build stronger communities.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to return to the wonderful City of Thomasville – an historic community of approximately 20,000 in southwest Georgia – that, in my view, serves as the finest example of how whole community decision-making allows good ideas to rise and form the foundation for something better – and has resulted in the economic and cultural resurgence of the town.

During a previous visit, I became captivated by an incredibly unique biannual publication of the Thomasville Center for the Arts, “Thom” – in my view, the best community-based magazine anywhere.  (You can find it at www.thomasvillearts.org – Creative Economy drop-down.)

In the most recent edition – the 10th volume published – I read an interesting piece on the community-wide belief that “any town’s strong future largely depends upon its thinkers, innovators, explorers and artists,” which resulted in the magazine reaching out to ten local trailblazers in a project they dubbed, “Project X: The Power of 10.”

The editorial staff imagined that if they could “get into the minds of 10 local leaders, we might stumble on a common thought that, if harnessed and developed, could be the start of something big.”

In turn, they selected an eclectic group of local visionaries – not just the thoughts and opinions of the “Rich & Powerful” –  and asked that they take photographs of things that represented their concerns and ideas for the future of the community.

The magazine received over forty compelling images, along with the heartfelt thoughts and suggestions of those who captured them.

What resulted was an almost universal desire to create a bright future for the children of Thomasville.

Most important, Project X began a larger discussion in the community by challenging residents (“the collective power of our community”) to think about what they could do, individually and collectively, to move the project forward and see their creative suggestions become a reality.

With election day quickly approaching, we have an opportunity for new beginnings.

I challenge our ‘movers & shakers’ – our policymakers and politicians, newcomers and incumbents alike, to consider tapping the creativity of residents of Volusia County in the decision-making process.

Encourage all constituents – from young people just starting out, entrepreneurs beginning enterprises, the arts community, established small business owners, retired persons and those who are engaged in our areas various grassroots advocacies – to express their thoughts and opinions on how we move forward to create a more vibrant, inclusive and stronger community – then factor those suggestions into public policy.

Something beyond a “Town Hall” meeting where pseudo-experts and government wonks talk at us – I’m suggesting a real effort to encourage creativity, innovation and involvement by all stakeholders by asking the question, “What do you think?”

When people feel that their opinions matter, you would be amazed at the contributions they can make to organizations, governments and their own neighborhood.

It’s called creating buy-in and ownership – something desperately lacking on Florida’s Fun Coast – and sometimes it’s as simple as asking those most affected about their needs, wants and dreams for the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for October 26, 2018

Hi, kids!

Everyone has a story to tell.

I use this space to spin yarns and pontificate on the news and issues that affect our lives here on Florida’s Fun Coast.  I’ve got an opinion on just about everything – and I’m not shy about sharing them.

The problem is – the people whose opinions matter – those we elect to high office and grant the authority to fundamentally change our dismal trajectory, establish sound public policies, serve as good stewards of our hard-earned tax dollars and formulate a comprehensive plan for our collective future seem mute when it comes to a strategic vision.

Why is that?

Especially during an election year when we expect incumbents and newcomers alike to explain how their unique brand of leadership will benefit us and display their roadmap for improving our lives and livelihoods?

Because most don’t have one.  That’s why.

That may sound like a blanket indictment of our local political field – because it is.

But all is not gloom and doom.

In fact, we are fortunate to have a very active election cycle with a variety of inspiring challengers to the status quo in virtually every race in Volusia County – and my hat’s off to anyone with the intestinal fortitude to actually get down in the trenches and hold themselves out for public office.

It takes a special breed to participate in that process and I certainly don’t have the moxie.

Besides, everyone knows I’m more of a complainer than a ‘doer.’

That said – with a very few exceptions – I’m not hearing many candidates set a clear direction forward.

Especially not from incumbents, political retreads who have had the last four-to-eight-years to bring substantive change and have squandered the opportunity on lock-step conformity to the “system” and a perverse fealty to the almighty campaign contribution – rather than formulating goals and setting a strategy for meeting them.

Trust me.  I’ve been waiting.

If leadership truly is the ability to set a vision then guide individuals, governments and communities to a better place – then where are we going?

Perhaps most important – how are we going to get there? 

Where is the “Grand Plan” being put forth by our entrenched politicians – or their challengers, for that matter?

With a few precious days left before election day, if you are a candidate for public office, I encourage you to do everything possible to differentiate your thoughts, views and ideas from those of your opponent.

Tell us why we should follow you down the path to a better, brighter place.

If you are a newcomer to politics, that shouldn’t be difficult to do – especially in County Council races populated by horribly compromised, do-nothing incumbents like the always arrogant Deb Denys, or our own Rip Van Winkle of local politics, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson.

It’s easy for candidates to agree on the problems – it’s not like any of us can ignore them.

In fact, the blight, stagnation and economic challenges are up close and personal issues for most Volusia County residents.

Some local candidates, like Daytona Beach Zone 1 City Commissioner Ruth Trager, who is seeking a second four-year term, recently said in the News-Journal that she wants to see “clean well-lit streets, activities for all ages, good sufficient infrastructure and roads, and good-paying jobs for our residents.” Trager’s wish list also includes “easy public access to our beach, no off-shore oil drilling, no panhandling and no sleeping in public places after First Step Shelter is built.”

Really?

I’ll bet she likes ice cream, too.

Because I like all the things Aunty Ruth likes, and I really enjoy ice cream – but, just like me – she doesn’t have a clue how to get us there (at least none that I’ve heard her clearly explain in the past four years. . .)

Fortunately, some candidates have built their campaigns on a true strategic vision for our future – good people like Daytona Beach’s Amy Pyle – who has detailed incredibly innovative plans for improving neighborhoods, saving our history, fostering true economic development and enhancing the quality of life for her future constituents.

Pyle’s Zone 3 challenger, Quanita May, recently said, “In four years I would like to be remembered as the commissioner who involved herself in the fabric of the community, the person who created solutions to existing and new problems.”

I have no idea what that means. . .  Do you?

I have also been impressed by those who are challenging the status quo in the Ormond Beach and New Smyrna Beach City Commission races – places where unchecked growth has devastated greenspace and  galvanized grassroots efforts to force their elected officials to consider quality of life for all over the abject greed of a few.

Look, I’ve spoken to a few candidates who I felt had something interesting to say, and I consider myself relatively attune to the issues – but I don’t attend “hob nobs” or what passes for “debates” – I’ve had a root canal and these orchestrated non-events sound about as much fun. . .

So, maybe our current field of politicians – old and new – are out there setting a consistent message and outlining their unique approach for delivering positive outcomes and solving the entrenched problems that have brought us to this dark place in Volusia County history.

But I’m not hearing it.

Given our current condition, it won’t take much to convince me (or the vast majority of other Volusia County residents I speak with) to vote out the political cowards responsible for miring us in this fetid bog of short-term, incredibly expensive, “game changing” quick-fixes that always seem to benefit all the right last names.

All we want is substantive change from the administrative failures, lack of trust and transparency, the entrenched bureaucratic ineptitude, inconsistent policies and stubborn insistence that there is victory in mediocrity – so long as the “system” remains intact.

I believe We, The People are desperately seeking consistent advocacy for those of us who pay the bills – just like the big money insiders enjoy – servant-leaders with a strategic vision that we can all take ownership in regardless of our social status or economic standing.

We desperately need dynamic, values-based governance that gets everyone pulling in the same direction to bring long-term, lasting solutions to the intractable challenges that have crushed our community spirit and all but destroyed a once world-famous destination.

It’s called strong, disciplined and proactive leadership – and if anyone finds it – let me know before November 6th. . .

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

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

Asshole:          Volusia County School Board

I’ve seen some underhanded shit in my day, but this week’s Volusia County School Board meeting rests at the nadir of whale-dung-level revenge politics.

Just days after Volusia United Educators, the union representing our hard-working teachers, valiantly called for a “leadership change,” our elected representatives pulled an off the agenda sleight-of-hand and actually voted to extend beleaguered Superintendent Tom Russell’s contract by one year.

According to reports, Russell sat slack jawed as board member Ida Wright dropped the obviously orchestrated bombshell at the end of a typically uneventful meeting.

To their credit, Carl Persis and Dr. John Hill cast dissenting votes while wasting their time attempting to convince the haughty Chairperson Cuthbert, Ida Wright and Melody Johnson that – with just days until the general election – perhaps extending the tenure of the district’s compromised leadership is a decision best made by the people’s new representatives.

Former principal Carl Persis tried his best to talk sense to the unbridled power of the Terrible Trio who are intent on punishing union members for having the temerity to suggest a change in leadership.

Rightfully, Persis explained that the new board could have kept Russell – or voted to terminate his lucrative contract when it expires in just nine months – without exposing Volusia County taxpayers to some $70,000 in severance pay.

Now, we’re stuck with this clueless do-nothing well into 2020. . .

In a vain attempt to support Mr. Persis’ common sense approach, Dr. Hill said before the vote, “I think this is terrible timing to be discussing this, I’m sure myself and Carl will lose, but I want to make it publicly clear that I do not think this was right tonight.”

You’re not the only one who lost Tuesday night, Dr. Hill.

In my view, this travesty is a mean-spirited thumb in the eye to our long-suffering teachers who have, for years, been denied a living wage, competitive benefits, an effective curriculum and the strong leadership and support they so desperately deserve.

This provocative insult by our elected officials is exactly what it appears to be – a cheap-jack low blow designed to break the spirit of our classroom teachers and support staff who have demonstrated the courage to stand united and fight for our children’s education – and their collective future.

I’m proud to call the newly elected president of Volusia United Educators, Elizabeth Albert, my friend.

She is razor sharp, incredibly smart and dedicated to the idea that good people working hard in a common cause can change lives.

In my view, her experience in local politics and the classroom make Mrs. Albert a natural fit for this important role.

Now, will the Volusia County School Board meet her halfway?

I think we got the answer to that question on Tuesday. . .

As I’ve previously written, by any metric – Volusia County Schools are failing miserably – and this farce of a School Board can’t seem to grasp that ineffective leadership just might have something to do with that. . .

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

Unfortunately, Superintendent Russell’s legacy of ineptitude and mediocrity will continue to cast a long shadow.  If the Terrible Trio of Cuthbert, Wright and Johnson truly believe that Tom Russell and his “Cabinet” represent stability, leadership and a “resurgence of energy” – then they are demonstrable liars or callous fools blinded by their collective hatred of our teachers.

Under the circumstances, one might think that those we elect to represent our interests, and those of our children, might demand accountability from those responsible for improving these dismal marks and ending continuing controversies.

Not in Volusia County.

Here, we extend their contract.

Why is it we never seem to get enough of a bad thing? 

God help us.

Angel:             Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County

I’ve got to hand it to them – give credit where credit is due.

Regardless of circumstance – and despite all evidence that the Daytona Beach Resort Area is finally succumbing to the cumulative effects of decades of blight, dilapidation, economic stagnation, abject greed, political corruption, social dysfunction and a complete lack of any strategic vision by our “Rich & Powerful” – cheap money grubbers who are infinitely more interested in lining their pockets than protecting the “brand” – the long-suffering Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County always seems to find a silver lining.

This week, when it became evident that one of Volusia County’s premiere draws – Biketoberfest – failed to meet economic expectations, with average daily room rates down 20% over last year, and a clear “visual softness” in the market – our hospitality “experts” blamed the downturn on the effects of hurricanes in Panama City and the Carolinas.

Bravo.

I could not have polished this turd any better had you paid me Mid-Florida Marketing & Research money to do it!

According to the intrepid Bob Davis, president of the association, “Initially, I didn’t believe that the storms would have much impact, but now I do believe that a lot of people who come down from the Carolinas and Georgia were affected by the hurricanes and they did stay home, and rightly so, to take care of their dwellings, their families and their careers. I absolutely agree with that.”

“Initially,” I didn’t believe it either, Bob.  I still don’t.

But, hey, it beats admitting the alternative, right? 

Nothing to see here, folks.  Move along. . .

Quote of the Week:

“The thought is disgusting to me, there’s no price tag on Troy Kent. I could never, ever be bought. It’s called with capital letters, integrity.”

–Ormond Beach Deputy Mayor and Hyper-Dramatic Shitheel, Troy Kent, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Developer donations flow to incumbents in Ormond Beach growth fight,” Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Jesus.

At what point do incumbent politicians finally throw off the traces of self-respect or calling and transmogrify into everything they hated?

I’m asking, because it seems to happen with frightening frequency in local politics.

For some, it begins when they accept their first campaign contribution – others seem to lose any sense of independent thought (and common decency) the moment some uber-wealthy developer or insurance magnate strategically plants a smooch on their sizable ass and shows deference to their lofty position of political power – all while hauling “economic development incentives” off in wheelbarrows.

Earlier this week, in an incredibly insightful article by T.S. Jarmusz writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal – the extent of financial and political influence by real estate developers and the hangers-on who make a fine living churning greenspace into half-empty strip centers – in Ormond Beach City Commission races became abundantly evident.

I found it interesting that while the likes of Deputy Mayor Troy Kent – the Golden Child of big money interests – and his cronies on the dais of power crow about how impartial they are, Reporter Jarmusz was forced to comb through reams of off-line campaign finance reports as Ormond Beach remains one of only two Volusia County municipalities that refuse to electronically post campaign donation reports on the Supervisor of Election website. . .

Why is that? 

In my view, if the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County have learned anything over the years, its that the first casualty of this bastardized Oligarchy on Florida’s Fun Coast is truth and transparency.

It’s almost as if they’re saying, “If the little people want to know what special interests are controlling their government with lavish campaign contributions – let the bastards dig for it. . .”

The fact is, battle lines were drawn earlier this year when area residents literally awoke to a moonscape on Granada Boulevard – an environmental abattoir – where some 2,061 trees, including historic old-growth hardwoods, were churned into an ugly black muck to make way for what we would later learn is a fucking WaWa convenience store and a third-tier discount grocery.

The sight of wildlife fleeing the scene of this ecological insult shocked our collective conscience – and set in motion a larger discussion about how much our quality of life is worth – compared to the profit potential of wealthy developers who are intent on building something, anything, on every square inch of natural space.

Trees, wildlife habitat and natural buffers be damned – the flora and fauna of what used to be historic oak hammocks don’t rent storefronts – and they damn sure don’t make massive campaign contributions to incumbent facilitators who have become so compromised by the process they make non-sensical statements in newspapers like, “. . .there’s no price tag on Troy Kent.”

My God.

You know what disgusts me?

The fact Troy Kent, and the rest of these compromised incumbents, sold what passes for a politician’s definition of “integrity” for a fucking city commission seat.

Let that soak in for a minute – then remind me again how money isn’t a factor in Ormond Beach politics. . . 

 Folks, if you live in Ormond Beach I encourage you to vote like your quality of life depends upon it – because it does.

And Another Thing!

This week the County of Volusia began a series of dog-and-pony shows designed to prolong the process of increasing impact fees on their friends and campaign contributors in the real estate development community – a blatant stall tactic that isn’t fooling anyone.

In fact, I’m surprised anyone has attended these smoke-generating sessions at all?

In my world, once I’ve been lied to – that’s pretty much your one bite at the apple – I rarely go back for more.  I’m funny that way.

If we’ve learned one thing from this expanding debacle its that our elected officials in DeLand simply cannot be trusted to provide competent, truthful and comprehensive information on the issues of the day – because chances are high that they don’t know the full story themselves.

When our former federal lobbyist Jamie Pericola exposed what is tantamount to a shadow government operating outside any politically accountable realm of government – I stopped listening to anything our incumbent County Council members had to say.

If these dullards can’t understand the importance and necessity of increasing transportation and infrastructure fees – which haven’t been substantially addressed since 2003 – to help offset the overwhelming impact of massive growth and sprawl along the spine of East Volusia – then they are either grossly disingenuous or just plain stupid.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “. . .by not raising impact fees in 15 years, the county has lost out on revenue as growth and development swells. A consultant’s recommendation to double impact fees in most categories would bring in an extra $7 million a year for the county. If these fees were adjusted immediately following the Great Recession in 2014, the county would have pocketed an additional $35 million.”

 Instead of listening to their highly-compensated consultant and raise impact fees on their sugar daddies in the real estate development industry, the Volusia County Council (with the support of the municipalities and the CEO Business Alliance) made a very real attempt to force a half-cent sales tax down the throats of every man, woman and child – all while we lost out on an estimated $35 million in potential revenue?    

 So, yeah, I won’t be attending any of these Town Hall bullshit sessions designed to delay action on this important issue – all while the bulldozers continue to roar west of I-95.

Trust me.  These assholes know exactly what they are doing – and it has nothing to do with “educating” the public.

Besides, I’m not sure I could take two hours of the likes of “growth and resource management” director Clay Ervin telling me all the things increased impact fees can’t do. . .

That’s it for me – have a great weekend, kids!

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

On Volusia: Where the sun don’t shine. . .

With me, what you see is what you get.

I have no need for posturing or pretense and tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve.  Regardless of position or social status, I pretty much take people at face value and hope they do the same with me.

The weirdness in me honors the weirdness in you.

If we should have the chance to meet, you will find that I can be almost syrupy in my feelings toward ideas and people that move me – an unrepentant sinner with a rigid sense of honor – and I am unabashedly passionate in my assessment of the issues that affect me, my family and our community.

Regular readers of these often-mordant screeds know that I expose a lot of myself in these posts – my thoughts, fears, innermost beliefs and personal experiences that combine to form a worldview as unique from yours as our fingerprints.

There are many theories about how the human personality forms – from inborn traits to social interaction and environmental factors.  I’m certainly no sociologist, but I suspect our political leanings are probably formed in similar fashion.

In my view, it is our differences – our distinctive opinions on the issues of the day – that make our lives so interesting.  Our dissimilarities allow for passionate debate, the competition of ideas and airing of grievances – all uniquely American pursuits – that strengthen communities and build civic involvement.

But what happens when local government – what should be our most accessible and responsive level of governance – turns insular and values secrecy over the open exchange of ideas and constituent input?

And why is it that we keep re-electing these unaccountable shitheels like a demented rube who repeatedly touches a hot stove – never realizing the correlation between the source and our perpetually burn’t fingers?

I found it interesting that Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys, who is currently standing for re-election against Michael Arminio, has suddenly turned tack and is now blaming former County Manager Jim Dinneen for single handedly creating the current atmosphere of secrecy and distrust.

Bullshit.

In the immediate aftermath of Mr. Dinneen’s abrupt departure, Councilwoman Denys wanted him to stay on for another six months – per the terms of his lopsided contract – through yet another budget cycle.

In June, Denys said, “I think he (Dinneen ) should only stay until Oct. 1, after we set the budget, then it would be time for him to move on.”

Remember?

Now that transparency and public trust has become the Number One issue in her race for yet another bite at the apple, Ms. Denys has changed her tune – claiming that the Council “stepped in” to cure the ills and relieve us of Mr. Dinneen.

In my view, Councilwoman Heather Post might have something to say about that, considering she was the only sitting member of the Volusia County Council to call for Dinneen’s termination and immediate departure.

Speaking on the issue this week in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the always arrogant Denys crowed, “You have to have complete faith and trust in your county manager.  When that is gone, then it’s up to the council to step in, and the council stepped in. And now you are seeing a complete shift in Volusia County.”

I think the same holds true when citizens lose faith in their elected officials. . .

I would also like to know how Ms. Deny’s and Company “stepped in” to help their long-suffering constituents – considering she joined her ‘colleagues’ in openly berating and chastising her constituents from the dais for creating an atmosphere on social media that forced Dinneen out of office and damaged our chances for attracting an “A-lister” for the county manager position.

It was ugly.  Mean-spirited.  And, as usual, our fault. . .

And it was a shameful example of what happens when self-absorbed political elites don’t get exactly what they want – a petty hissy-fit at our expense – marked by vicious rhetoric and cutting personal attacks as they worked desperately to marginalize those they perceived responsible for Mr. Dinneen’s demise.

It was a shit-show of epic proportions – and something I’ll never forget.

I hope you won’t either.

At the risk of sounding cruel – racking sobs, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth by those in a position of leadership while mourning the messy departure of a grossly overpaid public executive – whose growing list of five-alarm fuck-ups became too flagrant to ignore – didn’t engender public confidence.

It still doesn’t, Ms. Denys.

I recently had an interesting discussion with a former colleague about the importance of an ‘outsiders’ view to the development and sustainability of any organization.  Specifically, we were talking about how law enforcement agencies can often benefit from outside evaluations and leadership – especially following periods of controversy.

Don’t get me wrong, institutional knowledge, tradition and operational continuity play an important role – but a ‘fresh set of eyes’ following troubled times can often bring positive change – a break from the “this is how we’ve always done it” mindset that eschews any modification to the status quo.

In a representative democracy,  regular elections serve that purpose in terms of breathing new life and transparency into governmental organizations that have, over time, become paralyzed by entrenched political arrogance – wholly controlled by those whose only goal is to hang on to power (and access to the public trough) at all costs.

Sound familiar?

I recently read an interesting editorial in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Let Sun Shine,” which gave a frightening overview of the innumerable recent instances where our elected and appointed officials have allowed a “cloak of secrecy” to replace open government and transparency in the development of important public policy.

When viewed collectively, it becomes evident we’ve got a real problem here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

Trust me, concerns about government secrecy and the importance of conducting the people’s business in the light of day is nothing new.

Remember Patrick Henry, the “Give me liberty or give me death” guy?

Way back in 1788 when delegates met at the Virginia Federal Convention to ratify or reject the United States Constitution, Henry came out against it.  Among other things, he didn’t care for the fact that there was nothing in our founding document prohibiting Congress from meeting in secret.

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them,” Henry said.

He was right.  Then, and now.

And so was the News-Journal when they cogently explained how this growing lack of transparency in local and county government is having a detrimental impact on our communities:

“Sooner or later, things come out. When they do, nuances of issues that could have been explored in a reasonable, reflective way become lost in a blast of angry suspicion. The blowout is never confined to a single issue. Distrust keeps building.”

 When elected and appointed officials lose the confidence of those they represent – then they no longer enjoy the moral authority to lead.

Regardless of the pursuit – public or private – it is easy for an organization to lose its moral compass when the arrogance of power and the hubris of high position overtakes the idea of service over self-interest.

I don’t believe that many people enter local politics to cheat, conceal and abuse the public trust.

At least I hope they don’t. . .

I think that somewhere along the way, long-term, entrenched politicians simply succumb to the seduction of power – the trappings of high office and the social status it provides.

It’s then that many fall victim to the motivations of those with the financial wherewithal and political influence to keep them in their lofty position.

That process often comes with implied stipulations – things best kept out of the public eye.

In my view, it is time our elected and appointed officials come to the understanding that We, The People respect values-oriented public service – and we can be extremely forgiving of honest mistakes made in the best interest of improving our lives and livelihoods.

We value openness, honesty and transparency from our neighbors that we elect to represent our collective interest on the dais of power.

What we cannot – and will not – tolerate is when those we have elected to serve in the public interest stand idle while entrenched bureaucrats and uber-wealthy insiders operate what amounts to a shadow government – a bastardized oligarchy where those with the gold makes the rules.

A dark place where wealthy campaign contributors influence important public policy by their mere presence in Council chambers – while our elected officials funnel our hard-earned tax dollars to private, for-profit interests and allow politically unaccountable bureaucrats to make decisions that directly affect our quality of life without our knowledge or input.

And I, for one, will not stand idle while the likes of Deb Denys re-writes history on the pages of the News-Journal.

With election day approaching, perhaps its time we vote some new blood into office – a fresh set of eyes – and take back our system of county governance.

In my view, it’s time We, The People put the public treasure to work for all of us – not just the privileged few – while there is still something worth worrying about.

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for October 19, 2018

Hey, 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.

This week my wife and I joined our dear friends at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Georgia.

Known as “North America’s Premier Farm Show,” this massive annual exposition hosts over 1,200 vendors spread across 100-acres of exhibition area adjoining a 600-acre working research farm.

Each fall we travel to the greater Valdosta/Moultrie/Thomasville area – an incredibly beautiful part of rural South Georgia – replete with acres of snow-like cotton, soybeans, peanuts, cabbage and vast stands of pecan trees ready for the annual harvest – to take in this truly incredible trade show.

You might be curious why a “city guy” like me would have an interest in farming and commercial agriculture?  After all, I don’t know a combine from a canoe – but that’s the draw: I enjoy learning about things I know nothing about and expanding my worldview – like getting an insider’s education on this incredibly demanding industry that feeds 330-million Americans and sustains most of the world. 

For instance, during our visit I learned about the intricacies of the cotton industry from some very informative representatives of the Georgia Cotton Commission and United States Department of Agriculture.  These experts on the business of agriculture explained that this year was shaping up to be an incredibly good yield – and cotton farmers were eager to go to market and make up for several years of financial setbacks.

Then, during the overnight hours of October 10th Hurricane Michael paid a visit and took an incredible toll on Georgia’s agriculture economy – with cotton producers experiencing losses anywhere from 25% to total loss.

Unfortunately, other crops didn’t fare much better.

According to reports, “The latest estimates of hurricane damage to Georgia ag is at a heavy $2 billion, with cotton, peanuts and pecans – and poultry – suffering as much as 90 percent losses in some areas.”

During our visit, I learned firsthand how cotton is cultivated, irrigated, fertilized, harvested and processed – how various grades are classified, bought, and sold  – and the myriad variables that determine whether a farmer will eke out a profit or suffer a loss season-to-season.

I felt the difference between “seed cotton” – a combination of unginned felt and cottonseed – and high-grade processed fiber ready for use by textile mills.

I spoke to experts about how crop insurance and federal subsidies work, and how technological advances and social concerns are rapidly changing how we produce and process food – such as the growing farm-to-table movement which pairs local producers with chefs, restaurateurs and school cafeterias to provide fresh, seasonal fruits, vegetables and meats to the economic benefit of all involved.

A professor from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia, showed me how they teach school children about how erosion and flooding threatens farms using an innovative sand table complete with flowing water – and I watched as a beef cattle producer demonstrated to members of a high school FFA chapter how to properly assist in the birth of a calf.

Speaking with vendors and agricultural scientists, I learned the importance of water conservation and the effect of seasonal weather conditions, eco-friendly fertilizers and nutrients, innovative irrigation techniques and state-of-the-art nozzles which take advantage of every drop of the farmer’s precious water supply, and the massive machinery that farmers use for the heavy lifting from tillage to harvest.

I also saw how unmanned aerial vehicles, equipped with sophisticated sensor arrays that can transmit a variety of crop information, are beginning to play a huge role in modern agriculture.

Look, I still don’t have a clue about the demanding life of a farmer – but because I took the time to learn, speak with experts, and gain a better understanding of this incredibly complicated and scientifically advanced pursuit – my experience in Moultrie renewed my pride in the American farmer and gave me a greater appreciation for the invaluable service they perform in providing sustainable food and nourishment for our nation and the world.

It’s pretty clear I’m not a smart man, but I am inquisitive.  And I believe that before one complains about goods and services – perhaps there is value in understanding something about the supply chain, or what it takes to provide that service where the rubber meets the road.

As a lifelong learner, I’m savvy enough to grasp the fact that I don’t know everything.

But I have never forgotten those important lessons learned early in my life that continue to serve me well – things a few of our elected officials seem to have forgotten on their way to the top:

Be resourceful.  Mind your manners.  Show kindness.  Care for the things you are responsible for.  Clean up your mess.  Consider the needs of others and our environment.  Play fair.  Never stop learning.

Don’t be afraid to apologize when you’re wrong.

Which brings us to our first winner of the week:

Asshole:          Volusia County Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson

Sometimes I question the mental stability of sitting members of the Volusia County Council.

Never their motivations (those are always perfectly clear) – but their irrational inability to accept facts – the pathological need to ignore all material evidence and defend mediocrity, holding firm to the status quo and protecting the “system” at all cost really concerns me.

It baffles me.

I am convinced there is a Curse of Cowardice haunting the Thomas C. Kelly Administration building – a tragic jinx that compels our elected and appointed officials to turn on those who serve in the best interests of the public – their long-suffering subordinates who are actually in the arena performing the essential services we rely on – even as they obsequiously kowtow at the feet of those ‘Rich & Powerful’ few who line their campaign coffers with cold hard cash each election cycle.

These mean-spirited dullards aren’t too fond of fellow elected and appointed officials, like Councilwoman Heather Post, who throw off the traces, step out of the lock-step mold of political conformity, and actually talk to the men and women who perform essential government services and get their informed take on the situation, or, God forbid, actually educate themselves on the process or operation they are being asked to make decisions about.

No, no, no.  Learning about the issues limits plausible deniability – the “I didn’t know” defense.

It’s much easier just to vote as you are told. . . and it’s infinitely easier to disguise mismanagement and abject corruption by projecting blame on those at the bottom of the organizational chart who cannot defend themselves from the exalted elected elites.

Worthless cowards.

In my view, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson – that sanctimonious Rip Van Winkle of Volusia County politics – epitomizes the strategic ignorance and oddball view of the important issues repeatedly exhibited by our addle-brained elected officials in DeLand.

Earlier this week, Councilman Patterson sat for something of a quasi-debate with his opponent, Barbara Girtman, a real estate agent from DeLand who’s served on the West Volusia Hospital Authority since 2016, on WNDB’s Marc Bernier Show.

The format was straightforward – Mr. Bernier asked “Sleepy” Pat his take on the myriad crises that have besieged Volusia County residents under this congregate of dipshits who have completely ignored the very real concerns of their constituents – then sat back and let the narcoleptic old windbag pontificate.

When talk turned to the festering problem of Volusia County emergency medical service response times – and the inability of our seriously understaffed EVAC ambulance to provide adequate coverage during peak demand – “Sleepy” Pat took the opportunity to besmirch the character, motivations and professional reputation of our hardworking paramedics and emergency medical technicians by arrogantly chirping that our “EMS people” would rather be “sitting in a fire station watching T.V.” than in the field performing their lifesaving calling.

Say what?

Rightly, Ms. Girtman took exception – and the opportunity to point out the obvious: Whenever important issues are brought to the attention of this clown troop (my words, not hers) invariably the people’s concerns are “discounted” before the allegations can be researched and properly responded to.

Hammer, meet nail.

Folks, Barbara Girtman gets it.

In my view, Ms. Girtman’s observations on the Council’s pathological refusal listen to the fears and concerns of their constituents – yet readily accept the repeated denials and bullshit explanations of entrenched bureaucrats and political insiders – is in keeping with their tried and true modus operandi of marginalizing the message by destroying the messenger.    

At best, Pat Patterson is talking out of his sizable ass about something he has no real understanding of in a vain attempt to save political face in an election year.

At worst, he actually believes that our brave men and women of the emergency medical service – committed, compassionate public servants who have dedicated their lives to protecting and serving others – would prefer to sit in front of a television rather than perform their lifesaving service with the courage and professionalism it demands.

Trust me – when it comes to this perennial political sluggard – both explanations are frightening possibilities.

I guess what pisses me off the most is – like the guy who complains about the farmer with his mouth full of food, Councilman Patterson has the unmitigated gall to sully the good work of Volusia County EMS personnel who perform this vital service – often under dark and dangerous conditions – even as he sleeps under the cloak of vigilance and protection they provide.

The Pat Patterson’s of the world will never know, or fully appreciate, what it takes to serve the community as a first responder:  The physical toll and the unseen mental scars of every life that you tried to save and lost – the battered children – the accident victims – the helpless – the elderly – the confused – the drunk – the forgotten – the cries of the family – the screams of the injured – the abused – the dead and the dying – the long hours – the low pay – the sights, the sounds and the smells – the nightmares and the thoughts that can never be forgotten. . .

A thankless, dangerous and dirty job made more so by the tactless remarks of a sitting elected official.

My God.

Angel:             Opinion Editor Krys Fluker

I was incredibly pleased by the recent announcement that Krys Fluker has been named Opinion Editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal!

For the past several years, I have had the distinct pleasure of periodically corresponding with Krys on a couple Community Voices columns I submitted.  Without fail, Krys was able to take my mordant screeds and condense them into something cogent – and that, gentle readers, takes a true gift.

I have enjoyed Krys’ unique take on the news and newsmakers of the day these past few weeks – she has a unique style, and I like it.

While I don’t always agree with the editorial board’s slant on the issues – Krys crafts the argument in a way that examines the human component – how it affects me – and that’s something I find most refreshing.

In fact, provoking larger community discussions on the things that impact our collective lives and livelihoods is, in my jaded view, what opinion writing is all about.

I’m certainly not a journalist – just a blowhard with a blog – but I understand a smidgen of what it takes to put thoughts down on paper in a way that both entertains and enlightens.  While I fall short time-and-again, I learn and improve from reading the good work of talented editorialists like Krys Fluker and Pat Rice.

We’re lucky to have them covering our beat here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

Congratulations and best of luck, Krys!

Quote of the Week:

“We feel like we’ve been attacked from the inside.  We are calling for the School Board to step up and to bring about a leadership change in Volusia County schools. We can’t wait anymore.”

 –Andrew Spar, outgoing president of Volusia United Educators, calling on the Volusia County School Board to launch Superintendent Tom Russell and restore strong leadership to our failing district

In an anger-fueled response to the very real concerns of Volusia County teachers and parents, Her Excellency, School Board Chairwoman Linda Cuthbert, a former teacher who rode to power following an endorsement by the union in her August re-election bid – then became everything she hated – turned on her former peers, calling the union’s demand for a leadership change “unprofessional.”

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

“We have to be responsible to the entire school district and to the taxpayer.”

 I think we all agree that you have a responsibility, Ms. Cuthbert – so when do you plan to get off your collective asses and live up to it?

By any metric – Volusia County Schools are failing miserably – and this farce of a School Board can’t seem to grasp that ineffective leadership just might have something to do with that. . .

According to reports, 72% of the district’s elementary schools are ranked as hopelessly mediocre C or D schools.

Under the circumstances, one might think that those we elect to represent our interests, and those of our children, might demand accountability for those dismal marks from our appointed Superintendent?

Not in Volusia County.

Here, the mere thought of holding senior officials responsible for their performance and that of their subordinate “Cabinet” members is anathema.

From the ham-handed “secret negotiations” that resulted in our elected officials approving a lopsided five-year contract with Florida Hospital – naming the healthcare provider the “exclusive student education and student wellness partner of the School Board for all purposes and on all levels” giving AdventHealth direct marketing access to thousands of Volusia County families for a paltry $200,000 a year – to the sight of School Board members begging the municipalities for spare change like some street-corner mendicant to pay for basic security measures – to continuously ignoring the needs and suggestions of classroom teachers – to senior administrators grossly inflating the qualifications of high-paid senior officials who have been elevated to positions they are wholly unqualified for – to a lack of an adequate curriculum or even proper textbooks for core subjects – the list goes on-and-on.

Yet, our long-suffering teachers can’t negotiate a reasonable agreement for salary, benefits and working conditions without talks dissolving into the third consecutive impasse in the past four years?

My ass.

Given the abject turmoil that continues to surround literally every operational and administrative area of the district – if Chairwoman Cuthbert and Company truly believe Russell is making “reasonable progress” then they are quite obviously delusional.

In my view – and that of the men and women who are actually in the classroom teaching our children – it is past time for Superintendent Tom Russell to go.

How long are we expected to accept this level of dysfunction in a major taxing authority?

 And Another Thing!

 A Barker’s View Prediction:

When it comes to the growing First Step Shelter construction debacle, the Daytona Beach City Commission is just one more gaff away from losing momentum – one more five-alarm fuck-up – from the breakpoint where long-suffering taxpayers scream, “No More!”

I hear talk on the street – you know, down here where us common folk live, work and play – and it isn’t positive. . .

Inexplicably, on Wednesday evening City Manager Jim Chisholm pulled the proposed contract with APM Construction Corporation off the agenda, apparently because the long-anticipated agreement was “still being worked on.” 

That’s a non-explanation that signals there may be serious trouble ahead.

But we can’t know with any reasonable certainty – because even Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, who serves as president of the all-volunteer First Step Shelter Board – admitted this week that the city’s stall tactics and complete lack of transparency has already “hampered the fundraising ability of First Step.” 

 “When you have a building and you don’t know when it’s going to be finished … potential investors are afraid of really making the contributions we had hoped they would make,’ the mayor said.”

Clearly, Mayor Henry is just as bewildered as everyone else; but why won’t he – or his colleagues on the dais of power – demand hard answers from Mr. Chisholm?

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Henry made a lukewarm demand for information – even setting a deadline of 30-days – something Mr. Chisholm dismissed out-of-hand – telling Mayor Henry he will get information whenever negotiations with “whoever the contractor is” are complete.

Jesus.

Wait?  What happened to our friends at APM Construction Corporation who signed the contract back on September 25th?

See what I mean? 

Adding to the confusion, Mr. Chisholm continues to “value engineer” the First Step Shelter Board’s eyeballs out – transferring internal and external construction costs and operational equipment needs to the volunteer fundraising group.

So much for the turn-key operation we were promised, eh?

So much for the transparency, eh?

In my view, it’s high time the Daytona Beach City Commission start asking the difficult questions of Mr. Chisholm, and anyone else associated with this shit-show, and determine when – or if – this proposed homeless assistance center we’ve put all our hopes into will come to fruition.

They are aware that he works for them, right? 

Right. . .

Have a fun and safe Biketoberfest, kids!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Benefits of a Bloody Nose

A lot of life’s lessons aren’t taught in school.  I wish they were.

Like the importance of kindness – and the fact things like marriages and careers tend to work out the way they are supposed to – so long as you are willing to work hard to cultivate and sustain them.

When I was in the 7th grade our educational system was a lot different than today.

Having come from the small, relatively cloistered environment of a parochial elementary school – where I went from Kindergarten to 6th grade with the same few faces – as a new student at Ormond Beach Junior High School, I was just beginning to learn the valuable social skills that allow us to “fit in,” get along in large groups and deal with different personalities.

I was never very coordinated – and I lacked the speed and strength to play sports – something that could be infinitely frustrating for any intramural team who had the poor fortune to end up with me as a member.

As a result, I was often the weak-link that resulted in the missed basket or strikeout that cost the game – and at 13-years old, that can be a big deal for precocious youngsters.

After one particularly egregious athletic blunder, a kid much bigger than I named Lamar Burch walked up to me, pushed me down on the ground, and said something akin to “get your head in the game, dummy.”  

Well, at that point my incendiary temper was still in its infancy – and I took offense to Lamar’s schoolyard shove – so I pushed back – resulting in a brief skirmish that was quickly broken up by the legendary Coach Plemon Hill – who reminded us that our wrestling match was wasting, “your time, my time and everybody’s time.”  

In turn, Coach explained that if we were going to fight – then we could work out our differences with the gloves on – but we weren’t going to disrupt his class by tussling on the field.

Lamar immediately accepted the pugilistic solution.

Given that Lamar was much bigger and stronger than I was, I was somewhat reluctant to pick up the gauntlet – but I didn’t want to look like a coward either – so, I puffed out my chest and readily agreed to settle our score in the boxing ring – which was no more than the confines of an old WWII Quonset hut that served as our locker room back before the extravagance of modern Taj Mahal public schools.

In the waning moments of class, Coach Hill gave us each a pair of oversize boxing gloves and head protection and set the rules – then Lamar Burch set about beating the hell out of me.

Once he bloodied my nose, Lamar stopped punching and basically kept me away from him with a series of soft jabs that put me at arm’s length – occasionally connecting to let me know that as far as he was concerned the fight was over.

To say he wiped the floor with me is an understatement – he won the fight fair-and-square – and when Coach saw that I had been bested he immediately stopped the bout and directed that we shake hands and leave our personal differences in the ring.

We did.

After putting things to rest in a way that would be unheard of today, Lamar and I became lifelong friends.

From him, I learned the all-important lesson of settling disputes in an honorable way – and never punching past the blow that renders your opponent incapable of defending himself.

There is no honor in that – only cruelty.

I also learned that it is possible to survive a bloody nose, to turn enemies into friends, and that we sometimes have more in common with those we disagree with than we realize.

As things happen, we went our separate ways after high school.  I made a career in local law enforcement and Lamar made his living in the family car business – buying, selling and trading used cars.

Lamar loved everything about the automobile business – not because he particularly liked selling cars – but because it gave him the opportunity to work closely with his father, George, a man he loved very dearly and credited with teaching him the nuances of that very competitive pursuit – and the important lessons of living a good life.

We saw each other on occasion, usually in bars – and later in life – Lamar fell on hard times.  But whenever we had a chance to meet, regardless of his circumstances, he greeted me with a huge smile, a great bear hug and hearty handshake.

He would invariably retell the story of our boxing match – each time putting his arm around my shoulder and explaining to anyone who would listen how I mopped the floor with him, the tenacity I exhibited during our match and what a tough competitor I had been in the ring. . .

To say he was an incredibly kind and gentle soul is an understatement, and he had a true gift for making others feel special.

The last time we met, I could tell something was wrong and that things weren’t well with him.

I bought us a round of beers – and a few more – as we talked about old times and commiserated on the fragility of relationships and life.  He talked about the depth of his love for his daughter and family – and of his unrelenting grief over the loss of his father.

And we laughed as only old school chums can over old times and old people long past.

My friend Lamar Burch passed away this week.  He was 59 years old.

Thank you for the bloody nose that taught me a valuable lesson about kindness and compassion and the wonderful, life-long benefits of putting petty differences aside.

Godspeed old friend.