Today We Remember: The Men of Spike Team Asp

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance traditionally observed on May 30, now officially established as the last Monday in May.  It is the day we honor and memorialize those brave men and women who have given their lives in defense of our nation.

Each Memorial Day, Barker’s View publishes the remarkable story of Spike Team ASP – an incredible tale of the heroism and ultimate sacrifice of three United States Army Special Forces soldiers on a covert mission in the Laotian countryside on March 28, 1968 – and their enduring legacy of service and devotion.

Never forget.

________________________________________________________

In late March 1968, United States Army Sergeant First Class George “Ron” Brown of Holly Hill, Florida, Sergeant Alan Boyer of Missoula, Montana, and Sergeant Greg Huston of Shelby County, Ohio, along with six indigenous personnel – collectively known as “Spike Team Asp” – conducted a top-secret intelligence operation behind enemy lines approximately 12-miles northeast of Tchepone, Laos.

tchepone

Assigned to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam/Studies and Observation Group (MACV/SOG) this team of elite Special Forces soldiers was tasked with setting Air Force wire-tapping equipment and sensors along the labyrinthine Ho Chi Minh trail system, the main north-south supply line for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.

The men had been covertly inserted into the area after launching from Nakon Phanom, Thailand aboard a CH-3 from the Air Force’s 20th Helicopter Squadron call sign “Pony Express.”

More than 25 special forces soldiers and many indigenous troops had already been killed or gone missing in our deadly secret war in Laos.

At approximately 11:00am on the morning of March 28, the team reported that they were in contact with an enemy force and requested an immediate emergency extraction from the area.

A helicopter arrived in the area a short time later and quickly located the team on the ground.

Due to thick canopy jungle and rough terrain the pilot was unable to land so a rope ladder was dropped from the open doorway of the aircraft to the men below.  Five of the six indigenous troops climbed the ladder and were safely taken into the helicopter.

As the sixth was going up, Sergeant Boyer was seen beginning his ascent on the bottom rung of the ladder.

Al Boyer
Alan Boyer

Just as Boyer started climbing, one of the rope’s mounting brackets either broke free or was shot away by heavy enemy ground fire.  Personnel on the helicopter reported observing the indigenous soldier and Sgt. Boyer falling to the ground.

According to reports, Sgt. Dave Mayberry, who served as the chase medic on the extraction helicopter, observed the Green Berets still very much alive and heroically returning fire and defending their position.

When Sgt. Mayberry turned to treat one of the wounded he lost sight of the men on the ground.

Brown, Huston and Boyer were never seen again.

Numerous air assets were diverted to the area and a rescue team was assembled, but the mission was called off later that afternoon when there were no further communications from the men.

On April 1, 1968, Special Forces Sergeant Chuck Feller, along with several indigenous soldiers, launched on a mission to locate the lost men of Spike Team Asp.  After just six hours on the ground, Sgt. Feller and his team came into direct contact with the enemy and called for an emergency extraction.

Ron 3
Ron Brown

Again, a rope ladder had to be dropped and one of the indigenous soldiers was forced to dangle from the rungs as the helicopter returned to the airbase in Thailand.  Sgt. Feller later reported that his search found no evidence of Spike Team Asp.

Interestingly, after Al Boyer went missing in action, his best friend since childhood, Doug Hagen, was attending North Dakota State University when he heard the news.  He decided he needed to find out what happened to his friend, and enlisted in the Army, ultimately joining the 5th Special Forces Group, just as Boyer had done.

On August 7, 1971, 1st Lieutenant Doug Hagen was killed during heavy fighting while leading a reconnaissance team – RT Kansas – on a secret mission deep within enemy controlled territory.

For his heroism, Doug received the Medal of Honor, the United States highest decoration for valor.  He was the last United States Army soldier to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam war.

In January 2000, a team from the former Joint POW/MIA Accounting Office conducted extensive excavations of the Laotian countryside near where Spike Team Asp was last seen.

During the latter part of the war, the Ho Chi Minh trail was heavily bombed leaving the earth deeply cratered and much of the topography completely different than it had been in 1968, making search and recovery efforts extremely difficult.

However, the archaeological excavation uncovered several personal artifacts attributable to U.S. military personnel, to include a metal boot insert and several uniform buttons.

In addition, a single human tooth was recovered at the site.

The tooth was later linked to Ron Brown through dental x-rays at the Department of Defense Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.

In May 2003, Sergeant Brown’s daughter, Ronda Brown-Pitts, was notified by the Army that her father’s remains had been found in Laos.  Unfortunately, dental records provided to her showed that her father’s tooth had a filling – and the tooth recovered did not.

Due to the confusion, Ronda demanded a DNA test, but it was refused based on the Army’s policy of “body desecration.” A DNA test would have destroyed “all of the remains.”

In 2006, a casket containing the remains of Master Sergeant George “Ron” Brown was delivered to his daughter and later interred with full military honors in Dayton, Texas.

Many years ago, I received a POW/MIA bracelet bearing Ron’s name.

When I was a young boy growing up during the Vietnam era, these bracelets were a fairly common sight, but not so much anymore.  In the 1970’s many school children wore the bracelet as a means of ensuring that the POW/MIA issue remained a priority until they all came home.

For those whose adopted POW didn’t come home, the bracelet holder became the keeper of the eternal memory of one man’s sacrifice.

The silver band has become both a personal memorial, and a public reminder, that there are some debts of gratitude that cannot be repaid.

This small token has allowed me to learn about Ron’s military career and his incredible heroism; and I have had the honor of speaking with his friends and family, and to meet and correspond with some of the men he served with on Okinawa and in Vietnam.

He was a husband, a father, a former member of the U.S. Army Parachute Team “The Golden Knights,” and a professional soldier of incredible skill and dedication.

Even though Ron’s “remains” have been repatriated, I still wear his bracelet as a personal remembrance of one man’s sacrifice to the high cost of freedom – and in memory of Greg Huston, who remains missing.

Incredibly, the story of Spike Team Asp continues.

greg huston
Greg Huston

On March 7, 2016, one day before what would have been Sergeant Alan Boyer’s 70th birthday, United States Army and DOD officials presented his sister with Alan’s military decorations, to include the Silver Star and Purple Heart.

During the visit, Judi Boyer Bouchard, now of Leesburg, Florida, was notified that a single leg bone fragment had been located by the Defense Department POW/MIA Accounting Office.  The bone shard was apparently purchased by a Laotian activist from Lao nationals described as “remains dealers,” and later positively identified through mitochondrial DNA analysis.

On June 22, 2016, Sergeant Alan Boyer was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 28.

He was laid to rest just 15-feet from his best friend, Doug Hagen.

hagen
Doug Hagen

Currently, more than 1,500 Americans remain missing after the Vietnam War.

Overall, there are more than 81,600 missing personnel from past conflicts, including World War II, Korea, the Cold War and the Global War on Terror.

On this Memorial Day, and every day, let us remember the extraordinary service of men like Ron Brown, Al Boyer, Greg Huston and Doug Hagen – and all those brave souls who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our great nation.

Never forgotten.

Angels & Assholes for May 27, 2022

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               Barker’s View Readers

My beat-up old heart is the size, shape, and consistency of a Honey Baked Ham, but from the bottom of what is left of it:  Thank you!    

In recent weeks, the Barker’s View tribe has grown leaps and bounds with so many of my fellow rubes (read: local taxpayers) reaching out with questions, comments, compliments, and complaints regarding my cockeyed views on the prominent issues of the day.

I suppose this growing readership is the result of a dwindling number of outlets for political commentary – especially now that the extraordinary voices of Marc Bernier and Big John have been silenced far too soon – and the News-Journal’s intrepid columnist Mark Lane has taken up the rocking chair.

Perhaps it is just a seasonal surge in folk’s searching for an alternative view during what will be a sizzling summer of local political warfare as election year shenanigans always bring out those on the periphery of politics.  I don’t know.    

But I believe those who take the time to search out, read, and digest these long-winded jeremiads are what I call informed voters – the tens of thousands of good citizens who use this space to gain situational awareness on both the mechanics and machinations of their local government – then vote with their conscience

Regardless, I would like to welcome readers old and new to Barker’s View!

For the uninitiated, I like to think of this blogsite as a modern-day salon where people can come together – agree or disagree – and further a discussion of our civic and societal problems, debate solutions, then influence political action.  But at its core, Barker’s View is simply one man’s jaded opinion on the myriad issues of the day – neither always right, nor always wrong – and should never be mistaken for fact-based reporting.

I am certainly not a “journalist” by any stretch of the modern definition – far too leaky a vessel to adhere to journalistic standards, grammatical structure, and professional practices – and too easily distracted by my many vices, demons, faults, and foibles. . . 

But on occasion – thanks to some incredibly smart inside sources – these screeds provide a peek through the greasy pane in the portcullis of the Ivory Tower of Power where the decisions that affect our lives and livelihoods are made.  That shadowy place behind closed doors, where information is power, and those we elect to represent our interests go out of their way to exclude our input.    

In the information vacuum that has been created by the secretive nature of “The System,” it is only natural that many taxpayers take to blogsites and social media for answers as they seek clarity and validation of their suspicions – speculating on the who, what, why, when, and how of policy decisions – and trying desperately to determine who ultimately benefits? 

It also gets confusing when elected officials (or their proxies) wade into the contentious swamp of social media to harangue their confused constituents for taking a position contrary to the carefully crafted official narrative – odd behavior from those holding positions of trust – that breeds more questions and solidifies the notion that citizen input in the process is universally despised by decisionmakers.

Now, with our quality of life being eroded by for-profit interests/political insiders who influence our elections, exploit our natural places, and overburden our public infrastructure with out-of-control sprawl – the illusion of truth is no longer enough. 

If any of this sounds like what you are searching for:  Welcome Home

Whether we agree on the issues of the day, or you hate everything I stand for – please know that I appreciate your interest, your participation, and your friendship.   

Thank you for reading Barker’s View.

Asshole           Volusia County Politics and Politicians  

I typically don’t wade into the political slit trench until after the qualifying period ends in June – when things become reasonably clear – as county and municipal contests begin to take shape. 

Not this year. . .

The unbridled shitshow that marks a typical Volusia County election season began last Sunday with a controversial “debate” organized by something called the Volusia Teenage Republicans (oddly abbreviated TAR?) held at DeLand City Hall. 

As I understand it, the TAR “board” – comprised of partisan youth chaperoned by Terri Brower, the wife of Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower, and overseen by the Brower’s teenaged son – invited Volusia County Council At-Large candidates Jake Johansson, Doug Pettit, and Andy Kelly (a registered Democrat) to participate in the weird Q and A.

However, the TAR organization failed to ask candidate Sherrise Boyd, who is also a Democrat, and the lone female African American in the race.   

Now, shit has rightfully hit the fan. . .because omitting Ms. Boyd from the discussion – regardless of the reason – was patently wrong.

For the record, Volusia County Council races are nonpartisan, but that does nothing to discourage the partisan eye-gouging that marks every campaign season.     

It is no secret that Chairman Brower has grown tired of being on the losing end of 5-2 votes for, oh, the entirety of his term – which is why he is desperately trying to recruit like-minded candidates in a year when every seat is up for grabs but his.    

Conversely, to maintain the stagnant status quo, the top tier of the horribly fractured local Republican apparatus (and the uber-wealthy insiders they represent) drafted Mr. Johansson (the darling of the Donor Class with a current war chest totaling nearly $61,000) to ensure a continuation of the same obstructionist strategy that has left Mr. Brower as ineffectual as a neutered dog since he took office.    

Chairman Brower has enthusiastically endorsed Doug Pettit for the At-Large seat as he seeks to stack the deck going into the second half – and Mr. Pettit has eagerly piggybacked on Brower’s popularity – essentially running on a promise of becoming the Chairman’s rubberstamp. . .    

After the “debate,” once the Little Republican’s omission was pointed out to him, Mr. Johansson published a sanctimonious screed on the popular Facebook forum, Volusia Issues, broadsiding Brower with a thinly veiled insinuation regarding the “motivations” behind why Boyd was not invited, which read, in part:

“I am a person of integrity and ethical values. My integrity is not for sale either.  I find it appalling that Chair Brower, and Terri Brower, who were both in attendance, advised or otherwise allowed the TARS to have a debate that included Doug Pettit, Andy Kelly and myself while choosing to omit Candidate Sherrise Boyd. The reasoning was not explained when asked by a citizen at the event, which further puts into question the motivation for excluding one candidate while including the others.

We talk about transparency in government, trust in government and voting for people who will do the right thing. I choose to do the right thing and call it like I see it.

This was either a gross misjudgment or a blatant omission and a poor example of leadership for our youth. I don’t blame the kids. It became obvious after the event this was not the doing of the young adults but a call by the advisors. I leave it to the voters to judge who and what motivated the exclusion of Ms. Boyd.”

Appalling I say!  (Please read using your best Claude Rains impersonation. . .)

Bullshit. 

I don’t know about you, but – as a fellow sinner – I am always suspicious of anyone who feels the need to remind me of their “…integrity and ethical values.”

So, why didn’t the righteously indignant Johansson hike up his skirt and flee the dais in all his pious outrage once he became aware that the Junior GOP had snubbed Ms. Boyd?

My ass.   

In my view, if elected, Jake “The Snake” Johansson will fit right in with his fellow marionettes of the “Rich & Powerful” on the dais of power in DeLand. . . 

At one fell swoop, Johansson exposed who, and what, he truly is – and I suspect the vast majority of Volusia County voters who elevated Chairman Brower to power over another entrenched (and incredibly well-financed) establishment backed opponent do not like what they see.

Unfortunately, rather than remain above the fray, Chairman Brower – the senior elected leader of Volusia County government – succumbed to the mindless urge to respond to Johansson’s opportunistic tripe with his own grammatical nightmare on Volusia Issues:

“Jake it is interesting to see your strategy as a bully and a liar laid out all over Facebook. Interesting team you have. It was obvious in the forum you were desperate rude and uneasy, calling your opponents jokers and informing the crowd you wanted to get in the britches of Tom Leek and Tom Wright, whatever that means.  (Wait?  Excuse me?)

But when you attack my wife, son, and the rest of the teenagers on the board I will not let it stand. These young people are not on Facebook, they are busy studying, working, and taking action. You are clearly the candidate of big government republicans led by Paul Deering and Vic Baker who accompanied you to video your performance.

The adult who invited you was my wife the Student Advisor. She did so at the request of the TAR’s board. I know that doesn’t sit well with Deering or Baker because they can not control her or the board. However, this is not about the adults. TAR’s is about the teenagers learning about civics and government. Sadly they are learning about the corruption in government at all levels. Thank you for your instruction.”

(“And the Academy Award for the most Bombastic Pettifoggery by a Sitting Elected Official not officially in the race goes to. . .”)

The fact is, Ms. Boyd should have been invited to participate in the debate – because excluding her is patently unfair – both to the candidate, and the public.

And Mr. Brower should know that.

In my view, if Mr. Johansson was truly offended, he should have taken his leave – not sat through the “debate” gaining whatever horseshit advantage is transferred by a group of politically exploited teenagers (who, in my view, should spend more time in an English class and less debating the fine points of local partisan politics. . .)

Unfortunately, rather than seize the opportunity to be the adult in the room, rise above the bickering and demonstrate true leadership, Sherrise Boyd – someone I consider a politically astute influencer, advocate, and civic activist – also went on a self-serving Facebook rip that, in my view, has bruised her image and credibility. 

In her wide-ranging, numbered, collated, and itemized rant, Ms. Boyd – who, according to reports, had already been heard by the TAR’s group before Kelly entered the race – accused Chairman Brower of colluding with Pettit, feeding him “notes” ahead of the event, and encouraging Andy Kelly to run as a means of shunting votes away from her, before questioning the Volusia Teenage Republicans lineage:

“As for the hosting group, they knew I was a candidate and I was not invited, which was 100% intentional and morally disgusting. Future leaders already being ethically corrupted… inbred may be a better terminology.”

Whoa. 

Unfortunately, rather than exemplifying the sangfroid the citizens of Volusia County are desperately seeking in our elected leadership, Ms. Boyd opted to wallow in the muck with an emotional overreaction:

“F*ck Jeff Brower and his ENTIRE cheating ass assembly team.  People are seeing Jeff for what he really is.”

How sad.

The fact is, I like Ms. Boyd. 

She has invited me on her social media forum in the past and clearly has some important things to add to the conversation.  In my experience, Ms. Boyd is a person of great poise and grace – and she has become well respected in Volusia County for her community advocacy role.

While I am a leading proponent of the inspirational “votes beat money” chantey – with just $2,280 in the bank less than three-months ahead of the August primary election – it does not appear Ms. Boyd’s message is resonating with grassroots voters this year. 

Unless she is running for the name recognition alone, perhaps it is time for Ms. Boyd to resume her important work as an influential voice in Volusia County civic affairs and leave this unbecoming mudslinging to the professionals?     

Look, I realize we live in a time when anything goes in the political arena, but many I have spoken with were taken aback by Ms. Boyd’s response.  Regardless, I hope she feels better after venting her spleen, because following that over-the-top diatribe she has as much chance of winning this election as I do. . . 

In my view, Jake Johansson – who started this silly brouhaha like the cheap shot artist he has now proven himself to be – has some significant questions of his own to answer:

Like what he knew, and when, about the raging scandals that rocked the Port Orange Police Department during his tenure as City Manager – to include what role, if any, Johansson played in trashing the courageous young whistleblower who brought to light serious allegations of corruption by a former member of the department’s command staff?   

What exactly did Mr. Johansson mean in his mysterious memorandum of resignation to the Port Orange City Council less than two years ago, when he cryptically limped away:

“After many hours of thought as well as discussions with family and friends I have decided to resign as the City Manager of Port Orange to concentrate on my family, my health and explore new opportunities.”

“My current situation precludes me from devoting the time necessary to adequately concentrate on the city in the manner that is enough to meet the needs of our citizens and at the level that you and I both expect.”

And why are Volusia County’s influential insiders – those oligarchs with a real chip in the game – making massive contributions to Mr. Johansson’s campaign if he isn’t of a like mind with those who seek to cram more overdevelop into our dwindling natural places, expect a Pavlovian response to their every want and whim, and have a demonstrated need for keeping the public teat patent for all the right last names? 

Don’t take my word for it – enjoy the “Who’s Who” of Volusia County here: https://tinyurl.com/ypn454y5

Voters have a right to know. 

In my view, it is also time for Chairman Brower to stop embarrassing himself (and us) with these desperate political blunders that undermine the public confidence. 

Didn’t he learn anything from Old Ed Kelley’s near-constant bloopers, gaffes, and five-alarm foul-ups? 

Jesus. 

Frankly, this weird Siamese Twin sideshow act that Brower and Doug Pettit are staging is wearing thin with a bone-weary constituency desperate for change.   

By all accounts, Mr. Pettit is a good guy – a political outsider and a viable candidate – perfectly capable of presenting his own views on the issues of the day without Jeff Brower manipulating him through his lower colon like a sock puppet. 

At least I hope he is. . .

Regardless, whatever the Volusia Teenage Republicans represent, in my view, a youth organization should never be used as a dull political tool – especially one less than arms-length from the sitting Volusia County Council Chair.

The reasons for that should now be self-evident. 

I don’t make this shit up, folks.  

This is the type of abject buffoonery that deflects from the issues and passes for political discourse in Volusia County – and why we remain the laughingstock of other Central Florida communities who rightfully view the eastern terminus of I-4 as a cautionary tale. . .   

With all the issues we face in Volusia County, this is what its come to?

Sadly, I am not sure why I expected better of the current crop of candidates – but I did. 

Screw it.  Let the games begin. . .

Quote of the Week

“Even with two adults in the household working, large numbers of Volusia County families — about 45 percent — are struggling to afford housing, food and health care.”

–Noah Hertz, writing in the West Volusia Beacon, “Report paints grim picture of local families,” Saturday, May 21, 2022

Recently, residents of Volusia County received grim confirmation of what nearly half of working families here on the Fun Coast already know:  Someone you know is struggling mightily to meet basic living expenses. 

“Essentially what it means is our community’s working poor,” United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties President Courtney Edgcomb told The Beacon. “They might have a car, own their own home, they have assets of their own. They, however, are not making enough to survive in this community.”

Unfortunately, the data compiled in the United Way’s recent ALICE statistics (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) is from 2019, which means current impacts (did I mention I paid $4.49 a gallon to fill up the Lone Eagle this week?) may be worse than reported. . .

In other “News of the Absurd” – with tens-of-thousands of local families fighting to stay off the street (literally) – in December, the Volusia County Council – who continues to drag their clay feet on doing anything of substance to address the affordable housing crisis – voted to give County Manager George “The Wreck” Rectenwald and County Attorney Mike “Nuttin’ to Hide” Dyer a generous 4% pay increase, bringing their annual salaries to $237,217 and $221,738 respectively.

These people work for you and me.  How do you think they are doing? 

Last week, our tone-deaf elected dullards on the Volusia County School Board opted to gift our “new” Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Carmen Balgobin, a $245,000 salary, a district-owned car, and other lucrative perks that bring the total package to a whopping $283,583. . .

This extravagance in a place where the median household income is $52,407 – while the required living wage (2 adults both working/1 child) is now estimated at $63,537 annually – with over 82,000 Volusia County families living below the poverty level?    

You read that right.

What?  You didn’t receive the same consideration for your arduous work schlepping boxes from A to B at (enter warehouse/distribution center/big-box store here)?  

Guess what? 

Despite what we will be told on the dusty campaign trail this summer, no one on the dais of power in DeLand gives two-shits. . .

Vote like your quality of life depends upon it.

And Another Thing!

Happy Days are here again!  Again! 

For some, anyway. . . 

This week another top-secret enterprise – code named Project Success (of course) – was unveiled as a “massive members-only” Costco Wholesale to be constructed at the publicly underwritten One Daytona shopping and entertainment complex. 

As I’m sure you know, One Daytona is owned by the billionaires at NASCAR – and was the beneficiary of some $40 million in taxpayer-funded “incentives” – lucrative spiffs and props that I just bet your mom-and-pop wasn’t offered when you were jumping through the myriad bureaucratic hoops required to start a small business in these parts. . . 

According to an excellent report by business editor Clayton Park writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal this week, we learned the 150,000 square foot behemoth will be built on 17-acres west of the CMX multiplex.

“They’re coming to One Daytona and more importantly they’re coming to Volusia County,” said Roxanne Ribakoff, the president of the One Daytona entertainment/retail complex.”

Well, yes.  Costco is coming to One Daytona, ipso facto, they are coming to Volusia County – but, when touting another “win-win” from Team Volusia, I suppose no point is too insignificant not to blow out of proportion, eh? 

Once again ignoring the potential unintended consequences of “progress,” Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu was in an absolute swoon over the news, apparently because it will benefit her personally:

“I’m happy we’re going to have a Costco here so I don’t have to drive to Orlando,” she said. Cantu is a past member of the chain, but switched to the Sam’s Club wholesale store on LPGA Boulevard because she got tired of making the long drive to the Costco at Altamonte Springs.

“I’m a member of Sam’s, but I prefer Costco,” Cantu said. “I think they have a better quality of stuff.”

Cantu said the city planning staff has had preliminary discussions with One Daytona for a prospective tenant identified by the codename “Project Success” but didn’t know that it was going to be a Costco store. “All they knew was that it would be a big box store with a gas station,” she said.”

Look, I think it’s swell that Commissioner Cantu took to the front page to educate us on her brand loyalty, but what about:

The city’s consideration and mitigation of potential impacts to area small businesses? 

Strategies for dealing with increased regional traffic on International Speedway Boulevard?

The continuing lack of public input and transparency in the development approval the process?

Whatever. 

Well, unlike the rest of us rubes, at least city planners had a heads-up that it was a “big box store” and not, oh, a medical waste incinerator, right?  Because ‘jobs-are-jobs’ in the fast and loose game of “economic development” here on Florida’s Fun Coast, where anything is possible. . . 

Courageously, those who have rolled the dice, met the exorbitant lease requirements, and located small boutiques and specialty shops in the One Daytona complex (where many others have failed and fled) appear to be masking their trepidation with faux-excitement – the same fear a guppy must feel right before it is swallowed whole by a Great White Shark – as the fifth largest retailer in the solar system prepares to plant itself next door.

“Nicole Mabry, owner of the Ashley Lane Boutique women’s apparel shop at One Daytona, said she was thrilled to learn that Costco is coming.

“I hope it makes One Daytona even more of a destination than it already is,” said Mabry. “I think it will help draw shoppers from an even wider area.”

Mabry opened her store at One Daytona in August of last year. “We’re doing good,” she said.”

Thrilled?  Wow. 

I would be scared shitless – screaming through my tears to anyone who would listen, “Who thought it was a good idea to locate a warehouse club selling bulk merchandise at rock bottom prices in my parking lot?”    

Whatever.  

Look, I’m not an expert like those “planners” at the City of Daytona Beach and Team Volusia’s self-perpetuating “economic development” shim-sham – but I wonder if our mystics have factored the fallout of locating a big-box retailer in the “symbiotic” setting of the One Daytona campus – and its unavoidable impact on the interdependent relationships of its much smaller tenants as Costco naturally absorbs sales? 

In addition, the question for many remains – will the usurious “Enhanced Amenity Fee,” a one percent before sales tax levy on all goods and services purchased at One Daytona, also apply to Costco? 

And whatever became of all the “amenities” we were told this tax by another name was supposed to provide?

Look, despite the enraptured cooing from our elected dullards, we all knew it was coming.

After all, those Parrotheads moving into the gazillion zero lot-line cracker boxes crammed into the faux-beach community of Margaritaville, and the thousands locating to the “lifestyle” subdivision of Mosaic, the future residents of the “city within a city” at Avalon, our new neighbors in those sticks-and-glue “lux apartments” on Boomtown Boulevard, and the. . . (you get the picture) expect things like Costco, right?

Given our newfound demographical cachet, I’ll just bet Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and other “upscale” retail concerns will be sniffing around as well. 

Times, they are a changing’ – and if you own or are employed by a small business in Volusia County – welcome to the “progress” we were promised. . .    

I hate to be the proverbial turd in the punch bowl but be careful what you wish for.

You just might get it. . .

That’s all for me. 

I hope you will join me in taking a solemn moment this Memorial Day weekend to remember those brave souls who secured our freedom by making the ultimate sacrifice in service to our great nation.    

A Hero Remembered Never Dies. . .

Slopping the Hogs

“Over the past decade, the county has paid out tens of millions of dollars in grants to new business ventures hoped to generate large amounts of jobs and property taxes.

So did it work? An internal audit the county performed this year found big developments such as the One Daytona shops and restaurants, Trader Joe’s distribution center and Tanger Outlets mall did indeed deliver with hundreds of jobs and tens of thousands of dollars in property tax payments.

The private companies met the terms of their economic development incentives awarded by the County Council, Jonathan Edwards, the county’s internal auditor, told Council members during their meeting Tuesday.

“I believe our incentive program has done what it’s supposed to do,” said County Council member Ben Johnson. “We need to make sure we have checks and balances in it to make sure it stays that way. But overall it’s done a lot for Volusia County.”

–Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Have millions in Volusia business grants paid off?” Thursday, May 19, 2022

Following a recent in-house review of Volusia County’s lucrative corporate welfare scheme – excuse me, “economic development incentive” program – At-Large Councilman Ben Johnson and I agree on one thing:

The program has done exactly “what it’s supposed to do.” 

Which, in my jaded view, is to keep the public trough slopped for the political benefactors of sitting elected officials who receive millions of dollars in tax incentives, infrastructure, and other publicly funded artificial props in exchange for massive campaign contributions – a weird, and completely legal, something-for-something that keeps the whole shebang going round-and-round.

Am I wrong? 

Prove it. 

And I don’t mean by anesthetizing taxpayers with a boring PowerPoint presentation explaining how property values increased because some mega-corporation built a shopping center on a vacant parcel of previously “agriculturally exempt” land.

That’s a given.   

We are told, ad nauseum, by those wooden puppets on the dais of power – and their bagmen over at Team Volusia – that if Volusia County is to remain ‘competitive,’ we must shower public funds and economic “incentives” on certain businesses and industries to convince them to locate or remain here. 

In my view, the idea of local government – lavish and bloated bureaucracies – skewing the free marketplace, picking winners and losers by gifting them our tax dollars, is a shameless example of the cronyism that has ruled Volusia County for decades – a practice that is patently unfair to thousands of small businesses, creates an artificial economy, and is detrimental to the concept of free enterprise.

Anyone else find it funny that the Gang of Four – Council members Johnson, Danny Robins, Fred Lowry, and Billie Wheeler – portray themselves as “conservatives,” the darlings of the local Republican apparatus, each election cycle – while openly shilling for corporate socialism even as they shamelessly raise our property taxes?  

In my view, the opulence of government offices, massive executive salaries, the gilded council chamber where citizens are ignored while what passes for the “public business” is conducted – along with the millions in incentives, subsidies, and tax breaks available for those with a chip in the game – is a classic sign of waste and over-taxation. 

When will We, The Little People say, “enough is enough” and begin the arduous process of rightsizing Volusia County government? 

I find it telling that after public protection, essential services, and emergency reserves are covered – bureaucrats still have piles of excess public funds to speculate in the free market and bankroll the for-profit endeavors of many of the same “movers & shakers” whose names and corporate entities often appear on the campaign finance reports of those same craven elected officials who handed them a big bag of “incentives.”

Sound familiar?  It should.   

In the view of many, that’s not fair competition in a free and open marketplace – that’s classic quid pro quo collusion between business insiders and their elected marionettes – cloaked as “economic opportunity.” 

In response to the News-Journal’s recent exposé, Have millions in Volusia business grants paid off?  They have become common lure for development,” Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower took to social media to clarify his position, explaining:

“I am glad the Volusia Economic Development department has moved to performance-based incentives, but we are still limiting ourselves while picking winners and losers.

Every person and business is taxed in Volusia County. They all expect to reap the benefits that help make them more productive. What are the things every business needs to thrive and how do we attract good new high-tech companies? Volusia should be known as the place taxes are affordable and tangible benefits are received for paying those taxes. We need vibrant downtowns where there are great events for employees, owners, and customers. Public safety, good schools and clean water are essential. Open beaches, outdoor recreation areas, bike lanes, and hiking trails should be our reputation.

That’s not something I made up. That is what research says young people and entrepreneurs require. That is what our own children want. Let’s give them a chance to stay in Volusia to work or start businesses.”

I agree.

Imagine a place where the quality of life, low taxes, stable government, location, schools of excellence, top-tier research universities, adequate infrastructure, and diverse recreation opportunities were so attractive that it was no longer necessary to provide handouts to billionaires and mega-corporations as “incentives” to locate here?

A place with public swimming pools, multi-purpose parks, greenbelts, beach amenities, and eclectic leisure activities – all donated and maintained by business and industry – as an inducement for allowing them the advantage of establishing their enterprises at the strategic crossroads of Central Florida.    

An environment where our contributions, sacrifices, and inconveniences are appreciated and collectively compensated – and we are not expected to give deference and kiss the sizeable asses of astronomically successful billionaires who prospered here – groveling for every giveback as though someone is doing us pissants a favor. . . 

The fact is companies like specialty grocer Trader Joe’s and Amazon – the largest online retailer in the known universe – relocated their warehouse operations here because it was logistically advantageous – not because local governments handed them some $6 million collectively.

Had someone at Team Volusia bothered to think outside the box and seek agreements beneficial to the community, I wonder what corporate concessions could have been secured during negotiations for high-volume commercial warehouse operations at the nexus of I-95 and I-4 – with direct access to ports at Tampa, Jacksonville, Canaveral,  Everglades, and Miami, a Class II regional railroad providing intermodal service to the east coast of Florida and the Southeast, located immediately adjacent to an “international” airport capable of heavy cargo operations with room to expand in the fastest growing region in the world?   

We will never know – because that is not how the game is played. . .

Here, our tax dollars, natural amenities, geographical location, and quality of life is frittered away for the benefit of the few – gifted as cheap spiffs to all the right last names – while the rest of us are forced to deal with the aftermath, traffic congestion, out-of-control sprawl, destruction of greenspace, degradation of our water, springs, rivers, and lakes, and “trickle-down” nickels and dimes – as our elected officials tell us how fortunate we are to have landed more warehouse scutwork and retail jobs at another big box store paying wages that won’t cover basic living expenses.  

Bullshit.

In my view, it is time We, The Little People learn our worth, and use the power of the ballot box to elect representatives who will stop the pernicious practice of gifting millions in corporate welfare to those who are quick to remind us how fortunate we are to have them – not the other way around.   

Angels & Assholes for May 20, 2022

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               Big John and GovStuff Live!

As regular readers of these screeds know, I am not given to sentimental puling, but the passing of my friend Big John last Sunday morning has brought a flood of emotions – not the least of which is fear for the future of political discourse in Volusia County. 

In my view, the great kick in the gut that marks the passing of this Icon of Volusia County – our area’s preeminent commentator on regional issues, someone who devoted himself and his encyclopedic knowledge to furthering our collective understanding of local government – is that he took his leave just when we need him most.    

After a lifetime of service to others, Big John became the political conscience of Volusia County, and informing the discussion of the civic, social, economic, and environmental issues was important to him. 

In fact, he devoted the bulk of his interesting life to educating the public on the bureaucratic machinations and policy decisions that affect our lives and livelihoods, always lamenting the fact that when it comes to local government, “Nobody knows nothing.”   

He knew of which he spoke. 

During his long public life, in addition to service on various boards and commissions, Big spent a total of twelve-years as an elected member of the Volusia County Council, including a stint as chair – his tenure marked by colorful antics and confrontations with his colleagues and detractors alike – well-crafted theater purposely designed to bring public attention to the pressing matters of the day. 

As evidence that Big never shied away from controversy, when this blogsite was in its infancy, he asked if I would appear as a regular guest of his radio forum GovStuff Live! 

He recognized Barker’s View as another means of furthering the discussion, questioning the motivations of the local power structure, and poking fun at the snobbishness that has become commonplace in politics and those who practice it. 

When well-meaning people feared these posts were pissing off some very important people – strongly suggesting that I tone it down – Big John encouraged me to speak my mind and gave this blog a larger voice in the community. 

He “got it” when others did not, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity and inspiration he provided.    

This year Barker’s View celebrated its seventh anniversary as a monthly contributor to GovStuff Live! – and I will miss my frequent interaction with Big John as we prepared for the forum or just hashed over the news of the day.     

To his credit, Big John never demanded fealty to his point of view and abhorred an echo chamber. 

He welcomed all opinions, and if he disagreed, worked to change your mind using facts, logic, a rapier-like wit, and the open competition of ideas – always employing his exhaustive understanding of the players and issues to great advantage in any debate.

In the often-cloistered environment of local government, Big was able to glean inside information from his extensive network of trusted sources, both inside government and out, and used it to shine a bright light and keep us informed.    

For good reason, many of our local “movers & shakers” were fearful of engaging in open debate with Big on the radio – but as a long-time listener, I never heard him treat an in-studio guest in an unfriendly manner.  In fact, he was hyper-protective of those who joined him, and he made everyone feel welcome regardless of status or stature.   

Yet, Big enjoyed sticking his thumb squarely in the eye of pompous politicians, bringing their outsized egos down to earth where they could be examined and better understood by voters. 

Now, that incredible resource is gone forever – and We, The Little People he championed so long and so well have lost a fierce advocate, teacher, and friend. 

On a personal note, I want to thank Big’s long-suffering producer Larry Steele, at WELE “The Cat” – and the incomparable Jeff Boyle – who so admirably stepped in and kept the forum on the air for the last few weeks.

I will also miss hearing the views and asides of that loyal and eclectic group of callers who contributed so much to the color and commentary of GovStuff Live!

This afternoon I hope you will join me in listening to the final broadcast of GovStuff Live! beginning at 4:00pm.

As this once bright stage goes dark, I am filled with a profound sadness for the future of local political discourse in the wake of Big John’s passing. 

My hope is that the citizens of Volusia County will honor Big’s extraordinary legacy by becoming informed voters

Take the time to learn all you can about the issues and those we elect to implement public policy, set tax rates, and allocate public funds – then elect servant-leaders who genuinely care about preserving and enhancing the unique character of Volusia County. 

Get informed.  Get involved.  Vote like your quality of life depends upon it.   

I can think of no greater tribute to this unique soul who dedicated his life to making Volusia County a better place to live, work, play, and learn.

Thank you, Big.  We are glad you passed our way.    

May God bless and keep you.      

A nondenominational celebration of Big John’s extraordinary life will be held tomorrow at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 201 University Boulevard in Daytona Beach, beginning at 10:00am. 

Angel               Ron Rice, Requiescat in Pace

The legendary Ron Rice passed this week at his oceanfront home in Ormond Beach. 

A self-made man of humble beginnings who, through his own hard work and promotional genius, became a titan of the sun care industry after forming the globally recognized Hawaiian Tropic brand in Daytona Beach 50-years ago.

According to a report by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s business editor Clayton Park:

“Rice incorporated Hawaiian Tropic as a company in 1969 and grew it to become the nation’s fifth-best selling line of sun care products, employing 500 people, most of whom worked at his headquarters plant at 1190 U.S. 1 in Ormond Beach. He sold the company to Playtex for $83 million in April 2007.”

Ron Rice was 81-years old. 

Asshole           Volusia County Council

If you live and pay exorbitant taxes here on Florida’s Fun Coast and still believe your input is valued by our elected dullards on the Volusia County Council, look no further than Tuesday’s edition of this bimonthly promenade of pomposity for evidence to the contrary. 

In keeping with their foul tradition of exclusion, prior to what passes for “public participation,” Council member Barbara Girtman asked Chairman Jeff Brower to explain to their assembled subjects – taxpayers like you and me, many of whom took time away from work, raising families, and their busy lives to appear in council chambers at 9:30am on a weekday – that The Monarchy never acknowledges the presence of serfs who prostrate themselves at the podium to seek redress of grievances, ask questions, or provide input on public policy. 

In turn, Chairman Brower essentially explained that the Exalted Ones never respond to the great unwashed hordes who come before them, explaining that if they were to actually listen and consider the frivolous wants of the underclass – then the Ruling Class would be spending an inordinate of their extremely valuable time on the nonsensical, irrational, and foolish notions of the villeins – rather than focusing on the important issues of the day.

Bullshit.

As the campaign season heats up, I urge all voters to attend candidate forums and ask incumbents seeking reelection why they refuse to answer constituent questions in open public meetings? 

Then, look them in the eye as they mewl and coo about all the reasons responding to your frivolous concerns is a timewaster for these self-important assholes. . .   

I can assure Chairman Brower and his “colleagues” on the dais of power that nothing they fritter, bicker, and bitch about during these stilted shitshows they call the “people’s business” is more important than addressing the thoughts, concerns, and input of those citizens who pay the bills and have been expected to suffer in silence. 

Frankly, I don’t give two-shits if their “meeting” drags on until midnight – nothing is more important than addressing the needs of their constituents from whom all political power originates. 

For those elected officials George Mason described as our “trustees and servants” to deny We, The Little People our right to meaningful participation in our government and receive answers to our inquiries in an open, honest, and transparent way is, at best, political cowardice – and, at worst, the arrogance of power run amok.      

To add insult, on Tuesday, when a citizen asked to project a PowerPoint presentation during his allotted three-minute audience – technology that is used, ad nauseum, by every entrenched bureaucrat who drones on before the council – to illustrate the problems inherent to administrative zoning changes, he was denied the opportunity.

Instead, the gentleman was ordered to hold up his laptop computer in a clumsy, and wholly embarrassing, move clearly designed to humiliate the speaker.

In another slap, when Councilwoman Heather Post questioned what could be done to make it easier for John Q. to research and find content in meeting minutes – such as correlating the times on archived video with discussion items – (specifically those related to American Rescue Plan Act spending) she received the usual tut-tutting from Councilman Ben Johnson about overworking “staff” and the disconnected excuse that “not a lot of people look at it” (excuse me?) – along with the usual arrogant obstructionism from our self-anointed Éminence Grise, The Very Reverend and Meanspirited “Dr.” Fred Lowry. 

Sickening.

The very idea of anyone elected to represent the best interests of Volusia County residents asking the county’s ample “staff” to make things easier for us by better memorializing meetings, workshops, and the various hot air generators where our money is being spent is anathema in the cloistered halls of power in DeLand.    

Clearly, the operative ethic at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Complex is to treat citizens like mushrooms – keep them in the dark and feed them horseshit.  

Add to that “Dr.” Lowry’s aggressive (and annoying) one-upmanship of Councilwoman Post and the omnipresent parliamentary disorder and legislatorial confusion – which this week included a runaway microphone that had Ms. Post (who, once again, joined the meeting virtually) loudly broadcasting what sounded like an off-the-record sidebar conversation regarding injuries sustained during a terrible fall in a county-owned building (Ms. Post – I say again, its spelled: Morgan & Morgan, For the People) – and you get the picture that all three rings of this cirque de l’absurde were in play on Tuesday.

But it didn’t stop with ignoring the concerns of their long-suffering constituents.  

In my view, the most shocking moment came during a public hearing on a convoluted rezoning application for a single-family home that is currently being built partially inside an Environmental Systems Corridor – a conservation zone that provides linkage and protection for areas of pristine natural space near the threatened Spruce Creek.    

According to At-Large Councilman Ben Johnson, the property owners engaged in a series of “…blatant violations of the rules…” – to include the corridor infringement and desecration of sensitive vegetation on the property among other “mistakes.”     

The item drew public comment from concerned neighbors and environmentalists, one decrying the “death by a thousand cuts” that occurs when encroachment on wildlife corridors and environmental setbacks are accommodated, ignored, or result in a slap on the wrist for those responsible.   

Unfortunately, rather than set an example, it became evident that our elected representatives were more concerned with assisting the needs of the applicant in getting their new house out of the ground (regardless of where it sat) than the very real threat posed to the enforcement of future environmental violations by setting flawed conservation policy (because fish, raccoons, squirrels, whitetail deer, and Outstanding Florida Waterways don’t vote). 

In an incredibly weird move, during the “public” hearing, much of the senior staff of Volusia County government – to include County Attorney Mike Dyer – scurried off the dais with Councilman Ben Johnson to conduct the “people’s business” in some anteroom outside the prying eyes of, well, the public.  

You read that right. 

Just up, turned their ass to the audience, and dashed for the Bat Cave where the magic happens.

To his credit, Chairman Brower was as perplexed as the rest of us slack jawed rubes when he inquired, “What happened to the county staff?” (laughter) “I’m serious, when I see the County Attorney or Clay go out with one of the council, I want to know what’s being said, um, this is a public hearing and it needs to be publicly presented, not behind a closed door.”

An awkward silence ensued before Councilman Danny Robins interjected, “…before we know what’s going on…,” as Brower continued, “I’m not making an assumption, I’m making an observation that Clay went in the hall with a county council member to speak about something, and I think in an important public hearing like this it needs to be public.” 

A rightfully perturbed Brower went on to say, “We’ve got the entire county staff debating this in the hallway, perhaps. . .”

When Johnson and County Attorney Dyer sauntered back into the chamber – his terse exchange with Brower put everyone on notice that the Anointed Ones do exactly as they please.

In keeping with their complete dismissal of citizens, as Dyer took his seat following the backroom tête-à-tête, he blithely interrupted a citizen who was standing at the podium preparing to speak with, “Sorry Mr. Chair, I understand there was a concern?”

Chairman Brower asked, “Yeah, I just wondered why everyone was in the hall when I saw Clay go out with Mr. Johnson, possibly to discuss this.  This is a public hearing, and I want the public to have the benefit of that information, whatever it was.”

In turn, Dyer openly lectured Mr. Brower with a hyper-defensive response, “Okay, I’m happy to speak to it.  Any member of the council can ask me a question at any time; and they may do so privately or publicly.  Mr. Johnson is free to address the comment.  I have nothing to hide.  Just doing my job.”

Whoa.  “The counselor doth protest too much, methinks…”  (With sincere apologies to Bill Shakespeare…)

I must admit, I did not see the dismissive “Just doing my yob, man” retort coming from the County Attorney in response to a legitimate question of procedure and transparency from the Chairman of the County Council during an active public hearing.

In my view, the response was rude and insubordinate, but it got Mr. Dyer’s message across loud and clear – and now we know who wields the power during these hoedowns – and who does not.

Unbelievable. 

My God, how embarrassing to watch the county’s senior elected representative being dressed down on the dais by his subordinate, “I have nothing to hide.  Just doing my job,” thankfully saving Mr. Brower the embarrassment of adding the obvious, “…you inconsequential eunuch.”  

Really?   

Following his explanation, it appeared to me that Ben Johnson was merely ducking into a phone booth to don his Superman costume – turned up the Beltones so he could feign listening to the silly “official” proceedings in the chamber – then singlehandedly searched for a “mutual solution,” outside the confines of the public eye:

“I’ve listened to everything that’s been said, we also hear it back there (back where?) but the idea is I’m trying to find a mutual solution all the way around to make sure we do what’s right for all the general public, ‘cause this is a very serious situation, has long-term impacts, as a matter of fact I heard from our attorney that whatever we do here could affect us at future times in other court actions.  But I’m trying to find a mutual way that we can do something, and I don’t know yet.  I think most everybody knows which way I’ m leaning, but I still would like to take and see if there are other solutions.”  

Local environmental advocate Suzanne Scheiber then approached the podium and accurately called the backroom conference “really troubling” – before returning focus to the proceeding and expressing her concerns for the patency of Florida’s wildlife corridor.   

When Ms. Scheiber was finished making sense of the nonsensical, Councilman Johnson apologized if he “offended anyone,” brushing off the unusual confab as “not unusual” before launching into some cornpone bibble-babble about his intentions. . .

In my past life in public service, the Florida League of Cities was fond of trotting out a line from some long-forgotten court decision when discussing the importance of adhering to statutes that keep all aspects of governmental meetings open and accessible to the public at all times:

“Every thought, as well as every affirmative act, of a public official as it relates to and is within the scope of his official duties, is a matter of public concern; and it is the entire decision-making process that the legislature intended to affect by the enactment of the statute before us. This act is a declaration of public policy, the frustration of which constitutes irreparable injury to the public interest.” Times Publishing Company, etc. v. Williams

One would think our erudite (and highly self-protective) County Attorney would have heard of this concept before, eh? 

Whatever.

Ms. Scheiber was right. 

It is troubling when senior staff, the county attorney, and an elected official abruptly dart from the chamber during the middle of a public hearing to discuss “mutually advantageous solutions” (whatever that means) totally outside the view of the public, as it reinforces our worst fears of backroom shenanigans. 

Please don’t take my word for any of this.  Watch the antics here:  https://tinyurl.com/4nwnenyv   

Trust me.  Once you’ve seen it for yourself, it cannot be ‘unseen.’

In my jaded view, this continuing dysfunction and obstructionism is something that should not be forgotten at the ballot box this year. . .

Quote of the Week

To whom it may concern:

John W. Brower a/k/a Big John wishes all his friends and enemies the best in their life to come.

Those of you who were my friends, I hope the best for. Those of you who were my enemies, I hope you see the light. Most of us were not friends or enemies — we just had different opinions — a shade right, or a shade left.

Volusia County is a beautiful place. As I told you in my tribute to Sweetie, I really loved it. I was the luckiest guy in the world to have spent 18 years in a row with a beautiful woman, smart and sharp. She made me look real good.

Moving on to the next chapter, my best friend Reva and her current husband Ben, who have been taking care of me, will take over the Big House, and the best lawyer in Volusia County, Mel Stack, will take over all legal matters.

I want to especially thank my friends: Chad, Mary and Mark of the Beach, for the many hours spent helping Reva and Ben care for me. Some of you will be remembered with special gifts and charities will not be forgotten (Jerry Doliner Food Bank, Father Phil’s school, Someone Cares, endowment for Gloria and Ray Max and Sophie’s Circle). My funeral will be done by Father Phil at Our Lady of Lourdes.

Over and Out.

Big John

–Big John’s heartfelt message to the community as published by Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas in the Ormond Beach Observer, “He was Big: Longtime radio host, former county councilman, is one to be remembered,” Wednesday, May 18, 2022

And Another Thing!  

Sometimes I question whether we are living in an alternate reality – a parallel universe where nothing is as it seems – a place where concepts like, institutional knowledge, recall, and the human emotion of shame no longer exists.  

Earlier this week, Volusia County government issued a press release announcing:

“The National Association of Counties (NACo) has given an achievement award to Volusia County Government for its rapid and comprehensive implementation of changes required by the passage of Amendment 10 in 2018. The voter-approved ballot measure created constitutional elected offices for the sheriff, tax collector, supervisor of elections and property appraiser.”

My God. . .

I guess the NACo forgot the ugly, time-consuming, and incredibly divisive lawsuit authorized by the Volusia County Council, then prosecuted by former County Attorney Dan Eckert, against the will of 63% of Florida voters (and 54% of Volusia County voters) who approved the measure returning constitutional sovereignty to certain elected offices.

Of course, the Volusia County Council’s vote to spend tax dollars to contest the results of a fair and lawful election came during a typical off-the-agenda ambush. . . 

The ill-advised challenge was based upon a non-existent threat to Volusia’s sacred charter which, prior to Amendment 10, consolidated power in the hands of a politically unaccountable county manager (and insiders with the wherewithal to influence public policy).

Only Councilwoman Heather Post opposed the lawsuit. 

At the time, Sheriff Mike Chitwood rightfully named the County Council “Scumbags of the Week,” accurately explaining, “Volusia County is a sunny place for shady people.”

In addition, Sheriff Chitwood wrote, “…violating the public’s trust and circumventing the will of the people who voted to restore the ability of constitutional officers to answer directly to voters instead of county bureaucracy,” and called on then Chair Ed Kelley to resign, correctly describing him as “…an abysmal failure as county chair.”

Then, after all this disruption and internecine warfare – an incredibly expensive waste of time, money, and effort – after two court rulings against the challenge, in 2020, the Volusia County Council finally voted to drop the asinine suit.

Now, two-years on, NACo is lavishing accolades on Volusia County? 

“When the amendment took effect on Jan. 5, 2021, Volusia County was the first county out of the starting gate. Since then, the team has shared its documents and process with other counties that needed assistance.

NACo President Larry Johnson said: “All across the country, counties are working tirelessly to support residents and drive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s achievement award winning programs showcase how counties work every day to build healthy, safe and thriving communities”

Only in the Twilight Zone of government can what started as an abject disaster – an afront to the voters of Volusia County and the state of Florida – later be painted as an award-winning effort.

Look, my hat is off to Volusia County’s Business Services Director Jeaniene Jennings and her team of department heads and others who worked diligently to develop plans for the smooth transition in adherence with the Will of the People – solutions that were later used as a template for other counties. 

An impressive effort and yeoman’s work by all involved.  

But I’m not sure anyone who paid for the council’s expensive folly is ready to forgive and forget just yet. . .

In my view, the initial reaction of those Stalwarts of the Status Quo who arrogantly appropriated public funds and delegated staff time to circling the wagons and undermining the decision of Florida voters in a craven attempt to consolidate power should be long remembered – and condemned by freedom loving people everywhere.  

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

The Best Our Money Can Buy?

From “The Rich Get Richer” column. . . 

On Tuesday afternoon, during a special meeting of the Volusia County School Board, our elected dullards ratified a hastily cobbled together employment contract which will return Dr. Carmen Balgobin back to the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand as our new Superintendent of Schools.

But Barker, isn’t she the same Carmen Balgobin that created hell and havoc during the pandemic, alienated teachers and staff, created an ‘information black hole’ that frustrated students, parents, teachers, and staff, then fled for more money in Broward County Public Schools?”

Yes.  One in the same.   

Just rest comfortable in the knowledge that there is (apparently) new information which totally vindicates “Dr. B” – secret atrocities committed by an unidentified ogre that only our elected officials know the details of – which, we are told, once revealed will explain the real reason why she fled the district for greener pastures in South Florida.

Unfortunately, those we elected to serve our interests aren’t saying – so, feel free to fume, speculate, and hypothesize all you want. . . 

God knows I am.

According to reports, Balgobin will begin her new job July 1 with a whopping salary of $245,000 – an increase of $31,718 over what former Superintendent Scott Fritz commanded. 

Not to worry, School Board Attorney Ted “Sleepy Potato” Doran tells us that because Balgobin’s rehoming cost, health insurance (?), and use of a vehicle will be less, which (abracadabra-alakazam!) means Balgobin will cost us $9,074.38 less for a 3.1% decrease over what we were paying Dr. Fritz. 

What a bargain. . .

According to the terms of the initial contract – the agreement was to have been self-renewing – which means if the School Board were to take no official action to either extend or decline Dr. Balgobin’s employment – the agreement would automatically extend for three-years

How convenient.  But for who?

According to member Linda Cuthbert, the auto-renewal was a “just in case” failsafe, you know just in case the Volusia County School Board and its huge administrative network should ‘forget’ to renew their Superintendent’s contract (?)

Unfortunately, she was right. 

It would not be the first time a senior executive’s agreement was rushed and renewed at the eleventh-hour with little time for a performance review or informed discussion following an ‘oversight.’   

You read that right. . . 

As I understand it (and, as usual, I’m not sure I do) the board will remove the auto-renew clause and develop some type of tickler system to remind all five of them when one of their two direct reports (the board’s attorney being the other) comes up for renewal. 

In addition, you and I will be paying some $5,500 toward settlement of Dr. Balbobin’s residential lease in Broward County, along with gifting “Dr. B” the use of a district-owned vehicle which, according to member Jamie Haynes, “…we can’t really put a price tag on right now…” citing soaring gas prices, etc. 

(I’ll just bet the IRS can put a value on it, eh?  I’m just spit balling here, but someone (perhaps Mr. Doran?) should ask them what the use of a government vehicle is worth.) 

Oh, I almost forgot, the agreement also calls for an Annual Formal Evaluation. . . 

(Sorry, I just shot a sip of Café Bustelo through my nose. . .I hate it when that happens.)

I also found it strange that neither Dr. Balgobin – nor her legal representative – attended a meeting where her employment agreement, a binding contract that should clearly articulate the terms and conditions of her life for the next three-years, would be set in stone.   

Clearly, I shouldn’t have worried about her.  In the end, Mr. Doran and our elected officials did an outstanding job of representing her interests. . . 

Then, in a weird Great and Powerful Oz-like moment, the screen went black and a prerecorded video message from Dr. Balgobin appeared from the ether – although she “couldn’t be there” in person to answer questions from stakeholders as her contract was approved, instead “Dr. B” beamed from afar, “Good evening, Volusia County – my home away from home.”  

As if approval of the agreement was a foregone conclusion, Dr. Balgobin proceeded to read a pre-prepared message to the faithful in front of a “Volusia County Schools” themed photo backdrop (?)

Of course, when “Dr. B” was finished addressing her giddy subjects, Chairman Ruben Colon signed off by looking around the dais and noting “I see tears!” – because no meeting of this showboat full of hyper-dramatic and overemotional fools is complete without the waterworks.

Answers to the hard questions We, The Little People who pay the bills demand?

No, just more “happy tears” from our elected “leadership.” How inspirational. . .

Good luck, Volusia County District Schools – something tells me your’re going to need it. . .

Big John, 1945-2022 Requiescat in Pace

If you ever attended some obscure government committee meeting or neighborhood confab anywhere in Volusia County – I don’t mean the scripted pageantry of some stilted city commission or county council meeting – but those seemingly insignificant advisory boards or off-the-radar discussions where the real work gets done, you likely overlooked the smartest, most influential person in the room.

Trust me.  It was not the powerful chairperson or any of those self-important elected and appointed officials primping and peacocking on the dais of power.

Somewhere in the back of the room, usually noshing on a plate of complimentary hors d’oeuvres, would be a bearded man clad in a rumpled cap, omnipresent shorts, wrinkled shirt, and scuffed Crocs, an overstuffed notebook in hand with a wry smile; quietly, almost distractedly, taking it all in.

A disheveled character silently working the mental gymnastics required to link the intricate puzzle pieces with the swirling rumors and insider backstories inherent to local politics.  Using his decades of hard-earned experience and well-honed instincts to winnow the wheat from the chaff and make sense of the nonsensical.

Then promptly at 4:00pm each weekday, Big John – Volusia County’s unlikely political conscience – took to the airwaves for a “strenuous two-hours” of radio, distilling all he gleaned from the countless meetings and far-flung sources down to something us rubes who comprise his loyal “21 listeners” could understand – trying valiantly to educate the masses on the bureaucratic maneuvers and governmental intrigue that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

Because, according to Volusia County’s preeminent political pundit, when it comes to local government, “Nobody knows nothing.”

He was right.

Born John Walter Brower (no relation), a New Jersey native, raised in a diverse neighborhood in Asbury Park, John received a degree in political science from prestigious Rutgers University (“Rahway State” as he liked to joke) before going to work for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company following graduation.

Upon earning his “Ph.D in Tireology,” John moved to Florida in 1972.

For many years, Big John – to which he legally changed his name in 1979 – operated three successful tire and muffler stores throughout Volusia County – his lively persona made famous by humorous television, radio, and newspaper commercials featuring Big in his trademark blue work shirt.

I first met Big at his “Lubritorium” on Mason Avenue in Holly Hill when I was a young and idealistic police officer.

He called the police department after discovering that someone had tied a string to a set of shock absorbers, running the line through an open window of a storage room in an obvious attempt to steal the items after the business closed.

After dark, I concealed myself in a good vantage point and waited – for hours – finally catching the thief (a down-on-his-luck employee) red-handed. 

Rather than seek retribution, in his own benevolent way, Big John was more interested in the why – seeking to understand the personal issues that led his desperate employee to take from him – then determine ways he could help.

I have never forgotten that incredible display of compassion.

Ultimately, Big John found his way into local politics – serving an impressive (and always colorful) twelve-years on the Volusia County Council, including one term as Council Chair – during an incredibly productive period which saw the modernization of the Daytona Beach International Airport, creation of the Ocean Center, and other important civic accomplishments.  

As a continuation of his public service, the community affairs forum “Big Talk with Big John” premiered on WEDG-FM beginning as a Saturday morning talk show before moving to WELE-AM.

In 2009, Big John took ownership of WELE, later generously donating the radio station to Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.

GovStuff Live! served our community as “an educational, informational, inspirational local forum” the perfect medium that allowed Big John to fulfil his passion for the study, analysis, and teaching of local government – a tireless champion of We, The Little People – always providing his entertaining and informative take on the prominent issues of the day.

To his credit, regardless of whether he agreed with a guest’s position, in all the years I listened and learned, not once did I ever hear Big John come off rude or aggressive on the air – always hyper-protective of anyone who participated in the forum.

In addition to his long-suffering producer, Larry Steele, Big John’s eclectic cadre of regular contributors included an esteemed retired United States Ambassador, former elected officials, medical professionals, political candidates, civic activists, philanthropists, animal rights advocates, horticulturists, small business owners, government officials, respected members of the legal community, Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Jeffrey Boyle, who so valiantly kept things moving in Big’s recent absence, and an ever-expanding cast of colorful characters who regularly called-in to add their unique take.   

Even me.

Recently, Big and I spoke about the importance of always “reinventing” oneself – finding purpose once retirement replaces professional pursuits.  Thanks to his encouragement, this blogsite, along with my monthly appearances on GovStuff Live!, gave a renewed meaning to my life – something I did not think possible when I finished a career spanning over three-decades in public service.

I am forever grateful that Big John gave Barker’s View a larger voice.

In my view, the incomparable Big John represented the quintessence of community service – giving selflessly, striving again-and-again to right wrongs, expose the phonies and absurdity, speaking truth to power, unraveling the mysteries, and bringing a greater understanding of the often-insulated world of local government.

He loathed the stench of lies in the public discourse and took pleasure in deflating the pomposity that often accompanies politics and those who practice it. . .

As those endowed with pure genius often are, Big John could be cantankerous, irreverent, acerbic, opinionated, egoistic, with a larger-than-life personality.  

He had sharp elbows, always challenging the official narrative, and he didn’t suffer fools – with an incredibly sharp mind, quick wit, and well-honed ability to see through the murk and mire to find that kernel of truth that escaped the rest of us. 

We desperately need more like him. 

This wonderfully complex personality – this icon of Volusia County – a deep thinker and dedicated doer who enriched our community with his remarkable insight and deep understanding “passed on to glory” (as Big liked to say) this morning, joining his beloved “Sweetie” in that place where great souls receive their reward. 

In a 1998 “man behind the name” article in the Orlando Sentinel, Big said that he wanted “…to be remembered not as the guy with the funny name and the blue work shirt, but someone who made Volusia a better place to live.”

Mission accomplished, my friend.

Your wisdom, insight, mentorship, and friendship to so many will be missed, immeasurably.   

Angels & Assholes for May 13, 2022

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Deltona City Commission

The word “Interim” is defined as “in or for the intervening period; provisional or temporary,” a “brief interval” between one event and another. 

Except in the Dysfunctional Duchy of Deltona.

There, the term “Interim City Manager” is accepted to mean an indefinite decree – a Royal Diktat allowing an individual to receive all the salary, benefits, perquisites, and severance protections of a lawfully appointed charter officer without requiring that he or she conform to the requirements of the city’s governing document.   

Last week, Deltona’s perennial Acting City Manager John “I’m Damn Principled” Peters added 20-weeks of severance pay to his lucrative contract on a 4-2 vote (with Commissioner Dana McCool off the dais dealing with a medical issue) – another infamous Deltona “golden parachute” worth some $63,000 plus other benefits if the commission votes to fire his ass “without cause.” 

According to the provisions of the city’s charter, once appointed to the full-time role, the city manager must reside in the city within six-months.  Mr. Peters lives in DeBary – not Deltona – and clearly has no intention of moving to a place that has gone through some twelve chief executives in twenty-five years. . . 

In an excellent article by the News-Journal’s Wild West Volusia reporter Katie Kustura, “Peters, who lives in DeBary, said it’d be possible to get around that by paying to rent a room, without even living there, and having his mail sent to the address, which wouldn’t be a first for a Deltona charter officer.”

“I’m not going to insult people by doing that,” Peters said.”

When asked by Commissioner Anita Bradford what the charter requires, Mr. Peters explained the section governing charter officers, “The charter states the commission “shall begin the process to fill a vacancy in the Charter Office of the City Manager or the City Attorney within 90 days of the vacancy.”

Then quibbled the intent, “Peters said one of the charter’s problems is “it doesn’t say you have to complete the search.”

Bullshit. 

Any reasonable person – even an overpaid career bureaucrat trying desperately to have their cake and eat it too – understands that a search typically ends with the vetting and selection of a qualified candidate willing to follow the letter and spirit of the charter.

And 90-days means 90-days. . .

Look, I am not suggesting that Mr. Peters, and his supporters on the City Commission, are usurping the provisions of the charter because he is chary of moving to a community (one that he manages) with a notorious history of going through City Managers like shit through a dyspeptic goose – but this “acting” charade cannot continue ad infinitum.

The good people of Deltona deserve stability.

In my view, the reign of John Peters has not been without controversy – some warranted, some not – to include that time he crowed to the news media that he was planning to take his football and go home after accusing several sitting elected officials of exerting influence over day-to-day operations.   

If proven true, Mr. Peter’s scandalous allegations would have constituted a serious violation of the same charter that Peters and his enablers have been ignoring for the many months since his appointment to the “acting” role. . .          

In August 2021, a report in the News-Journal aired claims by the city’s former Human Resources Director that Peters “…made sexually harassing comments toward another employee … specifically … suggesting that he is a product of incest” and “Peters also made discriminatory comments about minorities” during a meeting of directors, “suggesting that minorities do not have a lot to look forward to in life and do not take care of their homes which is why there is so much crime around rental buildings,” according to the lawsuit.”

According to the report, “…in July 2020 he (the former HR director) received a complaint that on two separate occasions, Peters, who was then the director of public works for the city, “used offensive, sexually harassing language. Peters admitted to using ‘questionable’ language and indicated he would discontinue such behavior moving forward.”

Yeah. . .

Then, in a November 2021 News-Journal article announcing yet another pay increase, it was noted that Peters has a current total compensation package commanding $217,666 a year – which includes a base salary of $169,680 and a car allowance of some $6,269

You read that right.

At the time, when asked what he considered his “biggest accomplishment” while in the acting role, “Peter’s chuckled, “I’ve survived…”

Whatever.

This week the City of Deltona settled a lawsuit alleging unlawful discrimination and retaliation filed by former Interim City Manager Marc-Antonie Cooper (who apparently didn’t have the same survival instincts as his replacement, John Peters) for a reported $45,000

According to a News-Journal report announcing the settlement, “Cooper’s attorney, Mitchell Feldman, of the Tampa-based Feldman Legal Group, sent a letter to commissioners in May 2021 informing them of the possibility of a lawsuit for demoting his client and promoting Peters, “an older white male, with less qualifications,” who was at the time serving as the city’s public works director.”

In addition, the report states, “Deltona’s acting city manager, John Peters III, said while he disagrees with the basis of Cooper’s lawsuit, he is glad it’s now resolved.”

I’ll bet he is. . .

You know, “principles.”

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

I ruminated on this building shitstorm earlier in the week, but it bears repeating. . .

On Tuesday evening, following an eleventh-hour manipulation of the public agenda, the Volusia County School Board voted unanimously to appoint former Deputy Superintendent Dr. Carmen Balgobin, who mysteriously fled Volusia County for a similar post with Broward County Schools, “…as Superintendent of the School Board” (whatever that means) in the foul wake of Dr. Scott Fritz, who fled with a sack full of severance following a tumultuous resignation/termination last month.

No announcement.  No competitive process.  No transparency.  And no public or staff input. 

Why?  Because rules, process, and procedure are there to control the Little People, not to incumber the wants and whims of tinpot despots convinced of their own divine infallibility. 

It was clear to everyone watching that School Board members had made up their minds well in advance, and the decision to hire “Dr. B” was a foregone conclusion – helped along by the appearance of former Board Chair Ida Wright – who spoke glowingly of Dr. Balgobin, which, inadvertently, raised the ugly specter of controversy during her previous tenure as Interim Superintendent.

While I realize most current and former politicians have a high opinion of themselves and the influence they wield – Ms. Wright should understand sometimes the less said the better. 

According to reports, during Ms. Wright’s final meeting after losing re-election, Wright and board attorney Ted Doran negotiated a 34% pay increase for Balgobin as she served in the interim superintendent role.

In turn, Balgobin hired Ms. Wright immediately after she left office for an unadvertised and uncompetitive part-time position paying $35 an hour under a federal grant program to help Human Resources develop equity and diversity practices. . . 

That all-to-cozy arrangement had a whiff of the shit about it and that did not sit well with some. 

Including me.

Although our elected officials telegraphed their support for bringing Dr. Balgobin back to the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand, that didn’t stop them from indulging in their interminable hyper-dramatic soliloquies – the lachrymose mewling and melodrama this iteration of the School Board has become infamous for – as they gushed, ad nauseum, on all the reasons why Dr. Balgobin was the best and brightest we could hope for (in a field of one?).

Oddly, during her long-winded oration, member Jamie Haynes repeatedly alluded to some cryptic harm that drove Dr. Balgobin from Volusia County Schools – an overemotional yarn that suggested Balgobin did not take the job in Broward County (and the massive pay increase it provided) by choice.

Frustratingly, Ms. Haynes stopped short of explaining what she was tiptoeing around – leaving her audience to conjure the atrocities Dr. Balgobin may or may not have endured in the workplace – and speculating on who, or what, was responsible for the monstrous treatment Balgobin was forced to endure before fleeing to the safety of Broward County Schools.

“You don’t know the true story of why she left,” Haynes warbled. “You don’t know what happened. I know what happened and I know why she left, and I said to her, ‘You have to go’ when she told me what was happening because no one deserves to be harmed or hurt. We’re here to educate kids and take care of people.”

Wait – “…harmed or hurt”

Then, in similar dramatic fashion, during his monotonous monologue, Chairman Ruben Colon alluded to similar mistreatment. 

Like Haynes, Colon also stopped maddeningly shy of the complete transparency that may have garnered public support for Dr. Balgobin – robbing her of that “Ah-ha! That explains it!” moment that could have turned the widespread internal and external perception that sees her as an extension of Dr. Fritz, a mercenary, or both – and explain the reason(s) why she jumped ship in the first place.

Inconceivably, like some bumbling, near-sighted wrestling referee – it appears the Volusia County School Board was caught flatfooted – completely oblivious to the interoffice mayhem and hostility going on around them – a horrific situation that (we are led to believe) caused Dr. Balgobin to flee Volusia County to avoid being “harmed or hurt.” 

Wow. 

According to Chairman Colon, “Unfortunately procedurally, we did not have the time to do what we needed to do…”

Yes, they did. 

But that requires a board with situational awareness, an attorney willing to do more than loudly apologize for his Scrivener’s errors, and agile enough to react. 

That’s water under the bridge.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s debacle, stakeholders are left to speculate on the who, what, when, where, why, and how of Dr. Balgobin’s mysterious victimization – and, most important – why no one has been held accountable? 

Stay tuned, folks.

Time will tell.  It always does. 

Angel               Daytona Beach City Commissioner Ken Strickland

Last week I received an apoplectic email from a friend and fellow rube (read: local taxpayer) who was seething over the inexplicable extension of a seeming sweetheart deal between the City of Daytona Beach and the influential P$S Paving – a government contractor that has been gifted the right to haul millions-of-dollars in publicly owned dirt off publicly owned land in a weird arrangement ostensibly designed to pay for that money pit known as the First Step Shelter in the hinterlands off International Speedway Boulevard. 

As I understand it (and I’m not sure I do) in 2018, P$S Paving was prepared to charge the City of Daytona Beach some $1.62 million for site work performed at the First Step Shelter. 

However, when the total cost of construction soared to an astronomical $6 million – the city agreed to allow P$S to sell lucrative publicly owned dirt (used as fill for new construction) which allowed Daytona Beach to take $2.13 million off the obscene shelter costs.   

The controversial “deal” was supposed to terminate next month, but P$S Paving recently claimed the COVID-19 pandemic put them behind schedule (?) and asked for a 21-month extension. 

Whoa.  21-months?

Really?

According to an excellent piece by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“At Wednesday night’s meeting, City Commissioner Ken Strickland said if P&S Paving was going to get the 21-month extension it was requesting, then the city should escalate its charge for the dirt. City Commissioner Stacy Cantu wanted to negotiate something shorter than 21 months.

But in the end P&S Paving was granted the 21-month extension without a price hike on a 6-1 vote that chalked up Strickland as the lone no vote.”    

Thank you, Commissioner Strickland.  I admire your political courage.

And your conscience. . .

During the Commission meeting, it appears some Daytona Beach elected and appointed officials ran interference for P$S Paving – including their political beneficiary, Mayor Derrick Henry – who cautioned his colleagues on the dais of power, “We have to decide whether we want to penalize a partner of ours.”

Partner of ours?

In my jaded view, the most incredulous statement of the evening was offered by Public Works Director Andrew Holmes, who said (with an apparent straight face):

“They’ve fronted a considerable amount of expense and I’d be surprised if they’ve recovered that yet.” 

(Sorry, I just shot a hot sip of fortified Café Bustelo through my nose, dammit. . .)

According to the News-Journal’s report, in a memorandum to City Manager Derek Feacher, Holmes explained:

“The contract was developed so (P&S Paving) could excavate and market the material to the developing public, much of which was in Daytona Beach and surrounding communities,” Holmes wrote. “The uncertainty brought many of the projects to a halt. The economy appeared to be making a turn for the better, but still not as robust as it was at the onset of the contract.”

Has anyone seen a tap-‘o-the-brakes on commercial or residential development in Daytona Beach and beyond in the last year or so, let alone a “halt” on projects?

Me neither.

These are questions I ask myself when I am sitting through three-cycles of a traffic light on Granada Boulevard and (you name the cross street).

How about you? 

And while we’re spit balling among friends, what the hell happened to that whole “things are changing at Daytona Beach City Hall!” – or the encouragement and hope Mr. Feacher stirred throughout the Halifax area when the News-Journal reported he “…vowed to steer clear of any “under-the-table deals” and clandestine conversations.”

Remember?  I do. 

To Mr. Feacher’s credit he inherited this controversy.  The “dirt deal” was hatched under the Chisholm regime. 

However, according to reports, Feacher will soon be asked to determine if P$S Paving will be permitted to dig an additional “retention pond” on the property and pay the city the laughably higher rate of $2.00 per cubic yard.

Again, time will tell. . .

In my view, if the good citizens of Daytona Beach want to get into the commercial fill dirt business, there are fair and competitive processes enshrined in state law and city ordinances that ensure contractual agreements are equally advantageous to taxpayers – not just those Mayor Henry considers “partners.”

You know that whole “…protecting public funds and resources from being exploited in assisting or promoting private ventures when the public would be at most only incidentally benefited…” thing I once read about, back when I was playing government and spending other people’s money.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?    

Kudos to Commissioner Ken Strickland for having the courage of his convictions – and for keeping a watchful eye on the rights, assets, and interests of his long-suffering constituents.    

Quote of the Week

“Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington was in favor of delaying the (transportation) subcommittee issue, not only because of the elections, but also because he said he felt this was a “precursor to a one-cent sales tax.”

In May 2019, Volusia held a special election for a half-cent sales tax referendum for infrastructure projects; it failed by 55% of the vote. Partington questioned why some would think a one-cent sales tax would be passed by voters. Some, he explained, may feel like the half-cent sales tax referendum failed because “it wasn’t enough to meet the needs,” and a one-cent sales tax will pass because it might be deemed enough.

“That makes no sense to me,” he said. “I think there will be double the opposition to a one-cent sales tax than there was to a half-cent sales tax, and that half-cent effort started out well but it just turned into a disaster at the end whenever everybody piled in their special interests.”

–Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington, as quoted by Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas, Ormond Beach Observer, “Volusia elected officials to hold off on forming a transportation subcommittee,” Monday, May 9, 2022

And Another Thing!

I have an often-hypocritical sense of right and wrong – but a well-developed conscience just the same.  An inner guide that lets me know when my ethical compass has precessed in time to reverse course and avoid the consequences. 

Sometimes I listen, and sometimes I don’t. . . 

Some call personal integrity the “voice within” or our “inner light” – an instinct psychologists and sociologists tell us enables people to form cohesive societies and resolve conflict by allowing members to recognize behaviors destructive to that order as “bad” or “evil.”   

I’m certainly not perfect, just another unrepentant sinner – a confused pain-in-the-ass with a highly tuned Bullshit Detector and a goofy opinion on everything – neither always right, nor always wrong, with the age, experience, and hard-earned insight to recognize those traits, trends, and ethical lapses that are robbing We, The Little People of our confidence in local government – a corrosive process whose cumulative affect is detrimental to our civic, social, and economic future here on Florida’s Fun Coast.  

Although I am not sure why – that erosion of trust bothers me.

Earlier this week, Flagler County Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart joined Palm Coast City Clerk Virginia Smith in asking the Palm Coast City Council for a resolution supporting a voluntary, unenforceable “Statement of Ethical Campaign Practices for City Candidates,” a simple reminder for local political candidates of the importance of running clean, issues-based campaigns, free of untruths, innuendos, or ad hominem attacks.    

How do you think that went?

According to an article in FlaglerLive!:

“I would suggest you crumble it up and toss it in the garbage can,” Council member Ed Danko said, with Lenhart, author of the statement, standing a few feet from him at the podium, when Mayor David Alfin asked his colleagues what they wished to do with the resolution and if it should come back to them for a vote next week.”

“The resolution will be scrapped and return to the council as what Alfin described as “a proclamation type statement that would encapsulate the theme of ethical campaigning.”

Bullshit.

In my view, the always cantankerous Councilman Ed Danko could serve as the poster boy for this ethical guide. . .

Look, this isn’t some draconian edict insinuating government overreach into the political process – or an arbiter of what constitutes “The Truth” from a campaign fabrication – rather, it is an outline for candidates, a form they can choose to sign or not.

According to FlaglerLive! editor and publisher Pierre Tristam, “The council’s decision was the latest example of a fractured and chronically uncivil local political landscape where even getting elected officials to agree on voluntary civility standards is out of reach.”

How sad. 

It seems odd that elected officials everywhere seem capable of setting “civility standards” controlling the tone of citizens who approach the gilded dais to ask questions or express an opinion on public policy; yet, when it comes to regulating the no-holds-barred shitshow that passes for modern political campaigns, the concept is dismissed as “garbage.” 

Apparently, suggestions like, “I will provide campaign finance reports which accurately reflect the contributions received and expenditures made,” and “I will not permit members or volunteers of my campaign organization to engage in activities designed to destroy or remove campaign signs lawfully displayed on public or private property,” or “I will at all times tell the truth, with complete documentation from legitimate, verifiable sources for any charges against my opponent(s), and substantiate claims about my own record by using the same standard,” are simply too burdensome – so at least one Palm Coast official suggested changing the term “I will not permit” to a more palatable (and hedging) “I will make every effort to.”

My God.

In my view, as the campaign season begins to boil, it is time We, The Little People view those seeking high office through the prism of our own moral and ethical values.

Including doing the work to become everything perennial politicians fear: An informed voter.

This includes an examination of campaign finance reports to see which candidates are being bankrolled by those industries and individuals with a chip in the game, reviewing the past voting records and the true motivations of incumbents, and studying their fiscal policies and growth management strategies (the Number One issue this election year).

Ask questions, demand answers, listen to their platforms, promises, and “accomplishments,” then determine if they comport with what you see with your own eyes. 

Do they have a history of listening and responding to the concerns of constituents – not just the special interests and uber-wealthy insiders who use massive campaign donations to purchase the loyalties of malleable politicians who seem more interested in feathering their own nest (and that of their benefactors)?

Ask yourself – are they more interested in massaging their outsized egos by having their picture taken with the next echelon of stuffed-shirt C-List politicians and posting their backslapping antics on social media – or do they use their time to learn about and address the issues important to your family and mine? 

Then you can use that valuable knowledge to sort the phonies, flunkies, and stalwarts of the status quo from those servant-leaders with a sincere desire to advance the civic, social, economic, and environmental interests of everyone

This ones important, folks. 

Get informed.  Get involved.  Refuse to be a victim to the ongoing subversion of our local political process.

We deserve better.

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

A Foregone Conclusion

As regular readers of these jeremiads know, each Friday, Barker’s View hosts something I like to call “Angels & Assholes” – a jaded look at who tried to screw us, and who tried to save us, during the week that was.

Guess which column the Volusia County School Board will appear in this week?

On Tuesday evening, stakeholders sat slack jawed as they realized just how far afield the Volusia County School Board has strayed from the fundamental principles of our democratic system – now charging headlong into the realm of tinpot despots convinced of their own infallibility – as they arrogantly ignored the fervent pleas of their staff, constituents – even their own written rules and policies.

With a wave of their gilded scepter, our elected dullards unanimously appointed a controversial chief executive with no identifiable public process or input.

The move came following an eleventh-hour manipulation of the public agenda telegraphing that former Deputy Superintendent Dr. Carmen Balgobin, who mysteriously fled Volusia County for a similar post with Broward County Schools, would be appointed “…as Superintendent of the School Board” (whatever that means) in the wake of Dr. Scott Fritz, who left the helm with a sack full of severance following a tumultuous resignation/termination last month.

From the outset, it was clear that School Board members had made up their minds well in advance and the decision to hire “Dr. B” was a foregone conclusion – full-speed ahead, damn the torpedo’s, and to hell with anyone aboard this foundering ship of fools who disagreed with their absolute authority to do as they wish. . .

Unfortunately, their determination to ramrod Dr. Balgobin’s appointment didn’t stop our elected officials from indulging in their interminable hyper-dramatic soliloquies – the lachrymose mewling and cooing that left one keen observer equating School Board member Jamie Haynes to actress Amber Heard – openly weeping, but no tears. . .

An absurd, round robin whine ensued as they explained, ad nauseum, why Dr. Balgobin was the best and brightest we could hope for (in a field of one?) – a weird, overacted melodrama that had many asking:

“Who are they trying to convince?  You? Me? Themselves?

Or Dr. Balgobin?   

My God.

In my view, the Volusia County School Board did not do their unanimous choice any favors. 

During her sermon to fellow board members, Ms. Haynes repeatedly alluded to some cryptic atrocity that drove Dr. Balgobin from Volusia County Schools – a yarn that conjured scenes of horrific barbarism (personal or professional?) – that suggested Balgobin did not take the job in Broward County (and the massive pay increase it provided) by choice.

In a strange dance, Ms. Haynes stopped just short of spilling the beans like a scene from some M. Night Shyamalan movie – warily glancing at board attorney Ted Doran like he was waiting to slap her with a ruler if she crossed some invisible line – giving less than the full story, which diminished her credibility and frustrated those of us waiting for the other shoe to drop.

This same muddy storyline played out during Chairman Ruben Colon’s monotonous monologue – yet, each time, the story stopped maddeningly shy of the complete transparency that may have garnered public support for Dr. Balgobin – robbing her of that “Ah-ha! That explains it!” moment that could have turned the widespread internal and external perception that sees Balgobin as an extension of Dr. Fritz, a mercenary, or both – and explain the reason(s) why she jumped ship in the first place.

Now, with the haste of recalcitrant children hellbent on getting their way, that opportunity is lost forever.   

In an informative article by education reporter Nikki Ross writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Volusia United Educators president Elizabeth Albert said what many were thinking:

“Albert said the decision Tuesday sent a “very strong message” to employees on whether or not they valued their input.

“There will forever be a connection between Balgobin and Fritz,” Albert said, noting that Balgobin’s departure from the district was abrupt and without explanation. “How can you bring her back to an environment that won’t be open to her? You would be disadvantaging her by appointing her now.”

How terribly unfortunate. . .

So, where do we go from here?

Apparently, the only thing left is for Chairman Colon and Mr. Doran to cobble together a contract (hopeful devoid of the confusion found in the Fritz agreement) which will offer Dr. Balgobin no more than a 3% increase in total compensation over what Dr. Fritz was commanding. 

We will see. . . 

As I understand it, a special meeting will be noticed for Tuesday, May 17, which will allow School Board members to rubberstamp what will no doubt be a very lucrative contract designed to lure Dr. Balgobin back into the turbulent waters of the Fun Coast.

In my view, Tuesday’s decision was an ill-thought gamble during an election year – the age-old roll of the dice by our elected dullards which speculates, “Will the Little People remember how we ignored them – shoved our choice down their throats over an open, transparent, and competitive process – or will their apathy and short memory prevail again this election season?”

Well, will it?

This hasty decision by the Volusia County School Board is crying out for political accountability: The obligation of those elected to high office to serve in the best interest of the public through strict adherence to established policies and transparent processes – or be held liable for their acts and omissions at the ballot box. 

Now, that responsibility lies with the voters of Volusia County.

Meet the New Boss. Same as the Old Boss.

“Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss. . .”

–The Who – Won’t Get Fooled Again, 1971

Experts who study behavioral decision-making tell us that – while our brain is capable of learning from mistakes – unless we adapt and use hard-earned knowledge to our advantage, most often, what we learn is how to make more mistakes. 

They say the counterintuitive reason is the time spent not remembering reinforces the “mistake pathway.”  The brain, much like a complex bureaucracy, reinforces whatever it does, and mistakes beget mistakes, leading to what scientists call “trial and error learning.” 

Through repeated ordeals, and the resultant pain or disastrous implications of our actions, over time, errors reduce as we become more risk-adverse, using experience to our advantage, and begin to factor alternatives, possibilities, and an analysis of potential outcomes into the process.

This “experiential learning” is the most expensive education one can achieve – and not the preferred method if you perform intricate surgical procedures, operate a nuclear powerplant, or cross Granada Boulevard on a regular basis. . .

And it should not be used when selecting a suitable superintendent for a school district with a budget over $1 billion simoleons and growing ‘trust issues’ with students, teachers, parents, staff, and taxpayers.

In recent days, an item was quietly added to the Volusia County School Board’s agenda by attorney Ted Doran, which said:  

“Appointment of former Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Carmen Balgobin, as Superintendent of the School Board of Volusia County, Florida for a three year term, subject to negotiation of mutually agreeable employment contract(.)”

You read that right.

Yes, it’s a grammatical nightmare.  And the title doesn’t match the job description – but its “…close enough for government work,” as we used to say when I was spending other people’s money. . .

For background, Mr. Doran added:

“Dr. Scott Fritz served as a Superintendent of Volusia County schools from December 1, 2019 to April 12, 2022 at which time he left the School District. Dr. Carmen Balgobin served as Deputy Superintendent for the vast majority of Dr. Fritz’s tenure. Dr. Carmen Balgobin possesses a considerable and comprehensive knowledge of the School District and, if appointed, would serve as Superintendent for a minimum of three years.”

Ahhh, if it were all that simple, eh? 

While our elected dullards on the School Board may not have the capacity to recall past mistakes – those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence certainly remember the disastrous reign of Dr. Scott Fritz, the blustery former superintendent who stormed out of our lives last month following a behind-the-scenes dustup with Chairman Ruben Colon.

Of course, Dr. Fritz’ theatrical departure was quickly followed by Mr. Doran ramrodding a lucrative severance package – a move which seemed to reinforce our worst expectations – and put a cherry on top of Fritz’ tumultuous tenure.

In the immediate aftermath, Chairman Colon began murmuring about the possibility of bringing Dr. Carmen Balgobin back to the helm. 

In July 2020, Dr. Balgobin served as interim superintendent while Dr. Fritz recovered from cancer treatments – a tumultuous time that raised questions about Balgobin’s leadership and decision-making (something she later brushed off as “inaccurate narratives”).

For instance, during the pandemic – rather than adopt a transparent two-way public communications strategy to open a dialog with worried parents and keep stakeholders up to date on the myriad delays, quarantine rumors, and issues related to their children’s education – instead, Dr. Balgobin’s administration chose to muzzle district staff, requiring that “all media communications need to be facilitated through” the district’s official mouthpiece.   

Because during a crisis, what passes for “the truth” lies with those who control the narrative. . .

In addition, the controversies included Balgobin’s off-the-agenda 34% pay increase, which brought her interim salary to a whopping $195,000

Remember?  I do.

According to reports, Balgobin’s massive increase was negotiated between Mr. Doran and then Chairwoman Ida Wright at a time when teachers and support staff were groveling for a paltry 2.5% to 3% pay increase – and the district’s Chief Financial Officer was sounding the klaxon on “…millions of dollars in lost funding: from fluctuations in student numbers compared to last year; from steady or rising operational costs; from the cost associated with personal protective equipment; and from future unknowns.”  

The vote to increase Balgobin’s salary was taken during Chairwoman Wright’s last meeting after losing her re-election bid.

In a November 2020 article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Volusia United Educators president Elizabeth Albert described the off-the-agenda ambush as:

“It’s just hypocrisy at the greatest level,” Albert said. “I think there was a desire to slide this through, in an underhanded and deceptive way.”

Then, many taxpayers questioned Balgobin’s oddly timed decision to hire Ms. Wright immediately after she left office for an unadvertised and uncompetitive part-time job paying $35 an hour, ostensibly under a federal grant program to help Human Resources develop equity and diversity practices. . .  

You read that right. . . 

In another questionable role, as Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Balgobin was assigned by Dr. Fritz to oversee a  contracted services agreement with Ormond Beach City Commissioner Susan Persis, a retired district employee and wife of current School Board member (and Fritz cheerleader) Carl Persis, which pays her $82.00 an hour (not to exceed $23,616.00 over the life of the contract) to provide “coaching services” to principals at select schools – another questionable expense that did not come before the School Board for approval.

All perfectly legal and within Dr. Fritz’ discretionary spending authority. . .

Did I mention that questions continue to swirl around the appointment of Dr. Balgobin’s husband – Mr. Thomas Soli – who previously served as an assistant principal in Orange County Public Schools – and was appointed Principal of Riverview Learning Center in Daytona Beach over several qualified internal candidates?

Yeah.  That. 

Then, without explanation, Dr. Balgobin mysteriously jumped ship in late March when she was appointed Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning for Broward County Public Schools – a move which increased her Volusia County salary of $162,363 to $220,000. . .

So, I’m going to spitball here and say “Dr. B” won’t be returning to the Fun Coast for less than that, eh?

Whatever.

In the aftermath of the abrupt departures of Fritz and Balgobin, many were hoping for a transparent and inclusive process, one which would solicit and consider the invested recommendations of parents, teachers, and staff – with fair consideration given to qualified internal candidates with a demonstrated commitment to the education of our children – and a real connection with those dedicated educators who present the curriculum in the classroom.

It’s called building confidence in the process and fostering a sense of internal and external buy-in – something that is desperately lacking in Volusia County District Schools.

I guess not. . .

Apparently, our elected officials could give two-shits what you think – they will make the decision for us – and our input in the process is neither wanted, nor welcome. 

According to the Volusia County District School’s official job description for the Superintendent, the sole “Position Goal” is, “To provide the leadership necessary to successfully achieve the mission of the Volusia County Schools.”  

Anyone think we have seen this goal accomplished under the Fritz/Balgobin administration?

I’m asking.

Because, it looks like in this anything goes environment in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand, its possible We do get fooled again. . .

How tragic. And completely avoidable.

Angels & Assholes for May 6, 2022

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               Columnist Mark Lane

Whether we agree on the politics of the day or not, if you are reading this I’ll bet we have one thing in common:  Like me, you are a perpetual page turner. 

I read everything I get my hands on. 

From novels, to newspapers, what remains of magazines in this online age – even the back of the shampoo bottle in a pinch – and when I’m not repeatedly touching a hot stove, reading is how this uneducated rube learns

I grew up with the Daytona Beach Morning Journal and Evening News, then The Daytona Beach News-Journal when the papers merged in the mid-1980’s.  The great columnists of the News-Journal – Bob Desiderio, John “Gonzo” Carter, Kathy Kelly, and Margie Schlageter to name a few – taught me how to read critically and develop a situational awareness of the civic and social issues of the day.

None did it better than the incomparable Mark Lane. 

This week, Mr. Lane announced his retirement after 41-years of full-time newspapering. 

Fortunately, in his poignant sign-off we learned that Mr. Lane will contribute a weekly column starting in June and continue his interesting local history page in the News-Journal’s Sunday edition. 

I do not know Mark personally (we met once, which is to say I introduced myself, and he good-naturedly humored me for a moment) but having enjoyed his thoughts and asides three days each week, I feel like we are friends. 

As a dilettante editorialist, I found it interesting to watch a true master of the craft work his magic – how the turn of a phrase could help shine a light on the important and mundane – and his Darwinian Gardner segments balanced Mark’s self-effacing humor with sound information for amateur horticulturists.     

While it is wonderful to see anyone reach this well-deserved reward following a successful and satisfying career – as a longtime fan of Mr. Lane’s wit and style – I will miss his observations of our life and times here on Florida’s Fun Coast

Like everything else, print media is changing.  Fast. 

In my view, not for the better. . .

As The Daytona Beach News-Journal continues its inexorable slide toward a homogenized and regionalized shadow of its former self, Mr. Lane represented a final connection with what once was my hometown paper – he lived where we live, he enjoyed baseball at The Jack, he was ‘one of us.’  

I always respected the fact that Mark Lane held true to the columnist’s charge – to observe and provoke thought – in a well-researched way that challenged the ideas and decisions that affect our lives and livelihoods while fostering a larger discussion of the issues. 

And he did it with great balance, fairness, accuracy, and fun. 

Kudos on the culmination of an extraordinary and important career, Mr. Lane.  Your insight and creativity will be missed by your legions of loyal readers.   

Angel               Jeep Beach 2022  

Another Jeep Beach is in the books! 

The festival of all-things-Jeep lived up its stellar reputation as one of the most anticipated – and universally welcomed – special events of the season. 

Unlike many “pop-up” invasions and “truck meets” – insanity that can leave area residents trapped in their homes as rowdy (insert motorized conveyance here) enthusiasts turn our streets into a congested dragstrip and our beachside neighborhoods into Party Central during three days/two nights of gridlocked debauchery – Jeep Beach brings thousands of visitors to our area for a great week of fun at various venues throughout the area. 

According to a recent report by Jim Abbott writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, since incorporating as a non-profit in 2017, “Jeep Beach has donated over $2.8 million to area charities over the past decade through the event’s annual weeklong fund-raising efforts. Recipients include the Boys & Girls Clubs of Volusia & Flagler Counties; the NASCAR Foundation; the Childhood Cancer Foundation, as well as more than 30 additional nonprofit groups.”

I was also impressed by the annual beach clean-up that coincides with a beautiful parade of custom Jeeps that culminates the week-long event.  It is called leaving it better than you found it – the benchmark of a good guest – one our residents will welcome back with open arms.

The festivities are expertly managed by Charlene Greer, Jeep Beach’s executive director, who this year led a team of some three hundred volunteers to produce an event that benefited the Halifax area hospitality industry as well as businesses, shopping venues, and non-profit organizations throughout Volusia County. 

Kudos to Ms. Greer and her many wonderful volunteers, sponsors, and partners for setting a shining example of how a well-managed draw – one that works hand-in-glove with city officials and business interests – can elevate our areas reputation as a tourist destination while showcasing the generosity and community spirit of Jeep enthusiasts! 

See you next year! 

Asshole           Volusia County Council

As the bimonthly hootenanny that passes for a meeting of the Volusia County Council got underway this week, a concerned citizen approached the podium with two profound questions for our assembled brain trust:

When will Volusia County address impact fees on new and proposed development in the face of “unsustainable growth”?

Given that Volusia County has been in a “water crisis” for over twenty-years – how does county government plan to supply water as this massive development continues to spread?   

As the speaker began to explain the obvious water demands inherent to the “thousands” of new homes and apartments that are sprouting up across the width and breadth of Volusia County – her microphone stopped working – a not unusual embarrassment in the gilded chamber where the tone and quality of the audio/visual component is just shy of Alexander Graham Bell’s harmonic telegraph. . . 

After an uncomfortable pause, the resident was handed another rusty soup can with more wax on the string so she could communicate with our stone-faced elected representatives, but at the end of her three-minutes, none of it mattered.

After a silent (and awkward) wait for an explanation, the citizen begged, “Does anyone have an answer for that?”

Of course, they didn’t. . .

After waiting for answers to questions that are on the minds of everyone in Volusia County – our elected dullards sat on the dais of power staring into space like scarecrows stuffed with dry manure – until Chairman Jeff Brower broke the tension by explaining the obvious, “Our policy is we don’t answer questions…” assuring that the citizen’s contact information would be provided to his fellow council members who could “share with her privately” if they are so inclined. . . 

Bullshit.

Each election cycle, we listen to stuffed-shirt politicians tell us they value our input and participation in the ‘people’s business,’ then, once elected, acquiesce to the stagnant status quo, willingly accepting asinine internal policies that limit public participation and prevent elected officials from addressing the concerns of worried constituents.

Somehow, We, The Little People – from which all political power is derived – have come to accept this exclusion from the process as business as usual.    

In this case, their utter disregard was laid bare in striking fashion – and the deafening silence spoke volumes – as a lone citizen bravely stood firm in front of the assembled Monarchy waiting for an answer to her urgent questions regarding the out-of-control growth and resource mismanagement that is rapidly threatening our quality of life. 

Unfortunately, our elected officials are far too self-absorbed to understand the optics of the moment – but it was a powerful scene.   

I hope you will remember it at the ballot box this year. . .

Then, during the consent agenda, we watched the Council unanimously approve a one-year extension of a contract for a loosely defined “advertising and marketing service” with no list of previous expenditures, prices, budget impact, or associated costs noted in the agenda item.

None.

Oh, Councilman Danny Robins asked a cursory question to get on the record and was assured by Community Information Director Kevin Captain that he can produce an accounting of the funds if needed – just not right then, I guess. . .

Whatever. 

Yet, when talked turned to the expenditure of a paltry $240,000 (of the $107.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act manna the county received) to improve domestic violence services – Mr. Robins and others broke out the microscope, sharpened their pencils, and began a molecular dissection of a beneficial program proposed by the Beacon Center that would use just $60,000 each year over the next four-years to fund its Safe at Home project.

According to the funding request, the program would “…monitor perpetrator compliance, review current practices, identify areas of improvement and offer accountability solutions that support survivor safety.”

The Beacon Center is the only certified domestic violence service provider in Volusia County.

With little, if any, guidance from county staff on how to properly format the funding proposal – it was clear the Beacon Center did its level best to address pressing needs with the “piecemeal” direction received from those high-paid bureaucrats who make their living, well, determining how to spend ARPA funds – who apparently couldn’t be bothered to set spending priorities or provide substantial assistance to a service provider.    

(Was anyone held accountable internally?  Nah.  Again, bid’ness as usual in DeLand. . .)

Our election year watchdogs seemed hung-up on a line item for a proposed annual statewide conference to be held in Volusia County which would bring together experts on intimate partner violence to provide training and information sharing with first responders and others on recognizing and addressing pre-incident indicators to domestic homicide.

Important stuff.  But not here. . .  

Because in the Land of Mediocrity, why would Volusia County take a leadership role on anything, let alone saving the lives of domestic violence victims?   

Besides, there’s probably a quilting bee booked for the Ocean Center that weekend. . .

For the record, according to the Beacon Center, Volusia County ranks 10th in the State of Florida for incidents of domestic violence – yet, we have no certified Batterer Accountability Specialists to provide expert testimony or monitor perpetrator compliance. 

You read that right.

At the end of a confusing discussion (with Mr. Robins still “drilling down” on the project’s limited budget, whatever in the bureaucratic hell that means?) our elected dullards voted 6-1 (with Councilwoman Post the lone “No” vote) opting to kick the can down the road, issue a two-week notice of funding availability, effectively tabling further discussion of the Safe at Home project until the council reconvenes on June 7. 

That way, the limited ARPA funds allocated to domestic violence services can be spread among other providers – diluted to the point of ineffectiveness – while ensuring that each councilmember currently running for re-election can beat their chest and take credit for “doing good” in their district while the lives of at-risk women and children hang in the balance.   

Disgusting.  

You’re right.  That is called putting politics over public safety – the worst form of showboating – something those shameless self-promoters indignantly denied when they were rightfully called out by an unbowed Councilwoman Post.

And please don’t give me any of that mewling election year horseshit about “This is the oversight people demanded after we raised their taxes last year, Barker.”

This is political posturing – not stewardship. 

In typical fashion, our self-anointed Éminence grise, The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry, took a cheap swipe at Councilwoman Post when she had the courage to call this shoddy political grandstanding what it is when he crowed, “…it’s only political people that think everything is political.”

Jesus.  That coming from the most grotesque political animal in this fetid swamp. . .

To be clear, Ms. Post is not running for re-election – while “Dr.” Lowry is currently begging voters to let him to take his unique brand of pompous douchebaggery to the Volusia County School Board.

God help us. . .  

If you needed any additional evidence of why voters should not return any sitting incumbent to the Volusia County Council – these glaring examples should put your frayed mind at rest. 

They certainly cemented it for me.

Please don’t take my word for it.  Watch it all here and form your own conclusions: https://tinyurl.com/yn5nx5pr

Then vote like your quality of life depends upon it.

Quote of the Week

“Our officials are not taking us seriously,” said (Rev. Phil) Egitto, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Daytona Beach. “It is unconscionable that our elected officials are ignoring us.”

–Rev. Phil Egitto, as quoted by reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “FAITH group continues its push for affordable housing in Volusia County,” Wednesday, May 4, 2022

On Tuesday morning, dozens of the faithful representing Fighting Against Injustice Towards Harmony (FAITH) held a prayer vigil before entering the Volusia County Council chambers to present a petition signed by some 1,200 area residents urging the creation of an affordable housing trust fund.

The initiative hopes to assist the thousands of local families who cannot afford safe housing in an economic environment where the average wage for area renters is just $13.35 per hour while a two-bedroom apartment now commands $1,488 a month.  

So, what do our elected officials on the dais of power think about the idea of using $2.5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds as seed money for an affordable housing trust fund?

Where do our representatives fall on the establishment of “linkage fees” – a type of development impact fee assessed on new construction to mitigate the impact of the additional demand for affordable housing – as a means of addressing an issue that has left some 2,465 school children in Volusia County without a stable place to lay their heads? 

Well, we just don’t know. . . 

In keeping with the Council’s astronomically stupid policy of refusing to acknowledge the physical presence of any serf who takes time off of work and travels to DeLand to participate in their government – our elected elite sat like wooden gargoyles – as Chairman Brower silently handed off the thick stack of petitions to a clerk like the political hot potato they are. . .

In my view, Rev. Phil is right. 

It is unconscionable that our elected officials continue to ignore one of the most pressing civic and social issues of our time – while their political benefactors bank millions of dollars slashing and burning our natural places to make way for more, more, more wood-frame cracker boxes “starting in the $300’s.” 

And Another Thing!

As an uneducated bumpkin, I understood early the importance of becoming a good impressionist – observing people I hold in high regard and parroting their positives – listening, watching, learning, then embodying those attributes I respect. 

For instance, early in my law enforcement career, I admired a Florida Highway Patrol trooper who was always immaculately uniformed – spotless in appearance and grooming, shoes buffed to a high shine, trousers pressed to a razor-sharp crease, his gunleather and brass polished to perfection. 

He had “the look” of a consummate professional who radiated a command presence just by his impeccable appearance. 

And I learned to write by plagiarizing police reports written by a fellow officer who had previously served as creative director for J. Walter Thompson in New York, one of the most prestigious marketing firms in the world. 

Following a mid-life career change, Officer Elliott Anderson took this illiterate fledgling under his wing and taught me the art of technical writing – an invaluable skill that helped me build a solid professional reputation in the criminal justice community – and still serves as a cathartic and creative outlet with this blogsite.

Admittedly, I am no Hemingway – but I can get the point across.  With knobs on it. . .

As things heat up on the political front, I have noticed some candidates in county and municipal elections adopting a similar ‘mirroring strategy’ with their campaigns – championing issues that resonated with voters and helped catapult Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower to the catbird seat over a well-financed member of the entrenched Old Guard following a hotly contested race in 2020. 

Issues that many obstructionist incumbents refused to acknowledge before now.

Look, most of these candidates are no smarter than you or I.  In fact, many are led around like addled oxen with a ring in their nose by their political benefactors and party bosses who tell them which side of any issue to come down on.

But those behind-the-scenes operatives that candidates hire to stage-manage their campaigns and ensure maximum return on groaning war chests – a few already brimming with cash from uber-wealthy insiders who control their environment by trading in malleable politicians like livestock each election year – are incredibly smart strategists who understand the art of telling We, The Little People exactly what they think we want to hear. 

For the past year-and-a-half, I have watched some of these same incumbents kneecap Chairman Brower at every turn – belittling his initiatives, questioning his motivations, marginalizing his suggestions and campaign promises, while viciously attacking every parliamentary misstep and rookie mistake – a textbook example of the same political gaslighting used against District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post when she refused to be pounded into the round hole of lockstep conformity. 

So, be wary of sudden transformations this election cycle. 

With a little information, it is easy to differentiate true grassroots candidates – our friends and neighbors with a fire in the belly to serve our communities with selflessness and honor – from those co-opted perennial politicians, stooges, figureheads, and seat fillers who know intuitively which side their political bread is buttered on – where that butter originated – and why. . .

If you need a playbook, you can learn who is financing who here: https://www.voterfocus.com/CampaignFinance/candidate_pr.php?c=volusia

In Volusia County politics, the devil is always in the details. 

For instance, when I read glossy mailers and carefully crafted campaign literature that screams, “I’m for responsible growth!” – I naturally question what they mean by that?

You should too.   

Because terms like “responsible growth,” “low-impact development,” and “environmental protection” mean something different to those elected marionettes who continue to rubberstamp malignant growth and density increases at a rate that has far outpaced our ability to accommodate it.

With no end in sight. 

Or, does the popular rallying cry “I’m for beach access!” mean the candidate supports removing onerous beach tolls for Volusia County residents and revamping the overpriced mismanagement of our most precious natural resource – or do they want to stop beach driving and spend money purchasing off-beach parking lots west of A-1-A so you and I can schlep our kids and gear across a congested highway while more of the stand is given away as a cheap spiff for beachfront developers?    

Recently, several candidates touted the fact they signed a “pledge” supporting something called the “Volusia Wildlife Corridor” – which many believe is yet another “conservation” ruse – one which allows developers to shoehorn even more zero lot line cracker boxes into what remains of our natural places on a promise of leaving a thin contiguous path so displaced wildlife can thread the needle through the sprawl that was once their habitat. 

That’s like saying “I like ice cream!” 

In my view, that’s not conservation – it is feelgood eyewash wrapped in a hollow promise.  

I’ve got an idea: How about candidates and incumbents running for re-election swear an oath to support a moratorium on planned unit developments and zoning changes that increase density until such time actual low-impact development regulations and common-sense environmental protections can be incorporated, impact fees brought to effective levels, the affordable housing crunch addressed, and adequate infrastructure identified, funded, and built to accommodate it? 

Don’t hold your breath. . .

In my view, the protection of our quality of life, and the future health and safety of our children and grandchildren, are moral imperatives that require immediate attention – not cheap political posturing that further undermines the integrity of this horribly tainted system – one fueled by massive amounts of money from those with a chip in the game.   

Pay attention, folks.  Ask questions.  Demand hard answers.  This one’s important.

That’s all for me.  Here’s wishing everyone a great weekend and a Happy Mother’s Day