Angels & Assholes for December 17, 2021

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               “Entitled Daytonans”  

Look, I am not the most educated guy you know. 

The only thing that kept me out of college was high school. . . 

Fact is, I was given the best educational opportunities one could imagine – but things went south for me around the eighth grade when it became glaringly obvious that I was an unfocused daydreamer and mathematical illiterate – ill-suited for the rigors of academia.  

I am still incapable of doing even basic arithmetic without counting on my fingers, and, to this day, our postprandial ritual involves me staring confusedly at the bill until Patti takes it from me to calculate the tip.  

While I may be an uneducated bumpkin, I have been around long enough to know that even academics and intellectuals with advanced degrees are often full of shit – and, in my unschooled view, this week the venerable economist, Dr. Mark Soskin, got it wrong.   

Recently, the retired professor of Economics at the University of Central Florida chimed in on the outstanding exposé in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “New Daytona fulfillment center: Why will Amazon’s tax bill be over $1 million when NASCAR’s was $7,100?,” which pointed out some local applications of Florida’s dubious “Greenbelt Law” that allows developers and commercial property owners to park vacant land under lucrative agricultural exemptions by establishing a “good faith commercial agricultural use of the land.” 

The tax savings are enormous.

Writing on the Facebook public affairs forum Developing Daytona Beach, which is moderated by the articles author, News-Journal business editor Clayton Park, Soskin said:

“Yeah, let’s beat up on NASCAR (the only big player totally loyal to Daytona for 60 years) for the zillionth time. Nascar never took a dime from Daytona for it’s many upgrades of their track facilities, unlike every OTHER sports billionaire getting taxpayer paid-for stadiums, arenas, spring training while team owners get huge share of concessions and parking revenue. But ENTITLED Daytonans revile their friends instead of bribing some Race Teams to move down from the Carolinas to provide year-round revenue to the region.

It’s Daytona that FAILED Nascar, not the reverse; every other race track in the U.S. has been funded by state and local taxpayers EXCEPT Daytona’s!!! Hotel stock is so substandard that a large share of attendees stay in Orange Co. or Brevard. I long ago told Nascar they’re irrational to remain in Daytona: locals too are poor or disinterested to afford tickets, so most attendees travel from out of state; PLUS who else hold’s mega tourism events during off-seasons when Daytona is dead? My scientific study found its the primary or sole destination, has the most repeat visitors, longest length of stay, and most spent per visitor (as opposed to “family” visitors, spring break, and equal to bikers’).”

Guess what? 

A “scientific study” by The Amazing Soskin shows it’s all our fault. 

You ungrateful bastards. . .

According to the News-Journal’s report, “In 2021, NASCAR will pay just $7,100 on the 211 acres of property where Amazon plans to build its fulfillment center, records show. That rate is 27 times lower than the property tax rate for a vacant lot in the Midtown neighborhood, The News-Journal found.

The reason for NASCAR’s low taxes: the land is currently zoned agricultural as a result of a “Greenbelt Exemption” Florida law that originally passed to help farmers in the late 1950s.”

Apparently, NASCAR uses the acreage – and others like it – for off-site parking during events at Daytona International Speedway – then transitions the land back to a commercial hay operation to claim the lucrative agricultural emption.

Is that within the letter and spirit of the law? 

I don’t know – but it works.

According to a quote in the News-Journal’s article attributed to local blowhole and direct marketing magnate “Mad Mike” Panaggio, a self-anointed civic do-gooder and member of the mysterious CEO Business Alliance, skirting the spirit of the exemption is just “good business”:

“I don’t know for sure, but let’s face it, it’s a prime piece of parking for when they have the Daytona 500,” said Panaggio. “(NASCAR has) been looking for ways to maximize their return. You can’t blame them for making a good business move (by taking advantage of the state’s greenbelt exemption). It’s just a loophole.” 

Wow.

According to the News-Journal report:

“In Volusia County, a number of other companies have also taken advantage of the greenbelt exemption, including CTO Realty Growth Inc., the Daytona Beach-based real estate investment trust formerly known as Consolidated-Tomoka Land Co.

After benefitting from the greenbelt exemption tax break for many years, CTO sold off more than 10,500 acres of former agricultural land in Daytona Beach over the past decade.

Today, those properties are home to several commercial developments, including Tanger Outlets and Tomoka Town Center shopping centers, the new super-sized Buc-ee’s gas station next to the Interstate 95/LPGA Boulevard interchange, as well as the rapidly growing Jimmy Buffett-themed Latitude Margaritaville 55-and-older community, and numerous luxury apartment complexes.”

Don’t you remember those massive commercial farming operations on LPGA Boulevard east of I-95? 

Me neither. . .

According to Volusia County Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett – “The system is the system.” 

Whatever.

Now, The Amazing Soskin would have us believe his cyphering has determined it’s all our fault – those “entitled Daytonans” – who haven’t handed over near enough of their hard-earned tax dollars to ensure the astronomical success of NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway – totally ignoring the $40 million in city/county incentives we gifted to DIS for construction of their “synergistic” One Daytona retail and entertainment complex.

Now, to show their appreciation, our friends on the Board of Supervisors at the One Daytona Community Development District shove a one percent “enhanced amenity fee” (a money-grubbing sales-related tax by another name) down our throats on each purchase we make at the publicly funded complex. 

What, you don’t want to support One Daytona’s “enhanced amenities”?

Tough shit.  Not an option.

If you want to patronize the shopping center that we subsidized – then pay-up at the register, rube.

My God.  When will we ever finish paying for this thing?

Yet, according to the esteemed Dr. Soskin, it is all our fault – the “poor and disinterested” taxpayers of Daytona Beach and Volusia County – the great unwashed hordes of asset limited/income constrained drones who fill the warehouse jobs and minimum wage scut work they are forced to underwrite with their hard-earned tax dollars – further strapped by incessant tax increases – hapless victims of an inescapable artificial economy who have “failed” their all-knowing and all-seeing benevolent benefactors who comprise our economic upper crust. 

Bullshit.

Folks, our ‘powers that be’ are continuing their campaign to convince us that We, The Little People – the disenfranchised residents, the “discontents” and skeptics who question why what we see with our own eyes doesn’t comport with what we are told, the overburdened taxpayers who are expected to pay the bills and keep our mouths shut – are the problem, as they force feed us their horribly skewed version of our reality. 

Anyone who holds an opinion contrary to the party line is accused of using “half-truths” and “tainted facts” – discredited with claims our views are not grounded in “facts based in science.”

On Tuesday, just before gifting County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and County Attorney Mike Dyer a 4% retroactive pay raise – Councilman Danny Robins urged both men to become more active on social media, “Get more involved on social media.  You guys do so much behind the scenes and we have to get out the facts and the truth and present it to the people so they can give us direction.”

So, get ready for more official “facts and truth” oozing from the gilded Tower of Power in DeLand in 2022.

It’s called political gaslighting, designed to make us doubt our collective reality, and it is wrong. 

These self-important poohbahs malign and marginalize anyone who calls out the civic stagnation, secret backroom deals, and the incestuous political relationships that perpetuate the problem – with any public dissent or challenge to the status quo viewed as a violation of the law of lèse-majesté

Don’t take my word for it. 

I encourage you to read “Mad Mike” Panaggio’s late-night tirade I republished in last week’s Angels & Assholes for a prime example of how the Halifax area’s Monarchy view us lowly malcontents here on the Fun Coast.    

I don’t buy any of it – and neither should you. 

In my view, it is time to take local government back, to slow the out-of-control growth and bureaucratic swell, then return competence, collegiality, and citizen input to the process. 

Only Volusia County voters can curb the rapacious greed and insider influence that is threatening our quality of life, destroying our environment, and jeopardizing our grandchildren’s future. 

I hope you will remember that at the ballot box next year. . .  

Asshole           Volusia County Council

On Tuesday, your elected officials on the dais of power in DeLand voted unanimously to gift County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and County Manager Mike Dyer (the Council’s only direct reports) a generous 4% pay increase bringing their annual salary to $237,217 and $221,738, respectively. 

Oh, to add insult to the thousands of families in Volusia County who are considered asset limited/income constrained (read: Poor) – many struggling to make ends meet this Holiday Season as they languish at or below the poverty line, suffering under massive inflation, low paying jobs, and a dearth of affordable housing – Councilman Ben Johnson ensured that Recktenwald and Dyer will have very Merry Christmas by moving to make their raise retroactive to October 2. 

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

My God.  Shameless. 

The generous increase comes on the heels of a highly contentious budget cycle, with long-suffering taxpayers reeling from yet another hike in ad valorem taxes and fees – a well-choreographed charade where our craven elected officials wring their hands with faux-urgency and fan fears over what will become of us if we fail to feed the voracious bureaucratic machine – despite the fervent pleas of tax-strapped citizens and small businesses who begged for relief. 

In my view, meeting-to-meeting, Attorney Dyer sits quietly like a frightened little boy trying desperately to avoid the tumult and dysfunction at the adult table – as Mr. Recktenwald practices the art and science of selective communication (using indecipherable bureaucratese to mystify his bosses on the dais, who are too embarrassed to admit they have no idea what he’s talking about) and running interference for senior administrators whose contributions are limited to canned PowerPoint presentations – ensuring nothing of substance happens for months on end – always buying time using complex foot-dragging techniques. 

For instance, ever wonder what happened to the impact fee study Chairman Jeff Brower asked for a year ago while the bulldozers continue to roar?  Me too. . .

Conveniently, on Tuesday, Mr. Recktenwald used the tried-and-true “selective memory trick” to disabuse rank-and-file county employees – those who are actually in the trenches providing essential services – of the notion they will be receiving a $1,000 bonus like the council suggested they would in July.

I wonder what that takeback does for the ‘morale and retention’ of county employees?

Unfortunately, one of Mr. Recktenwald’s direct reports – Chief Financial Officer Ryan Ossowski – used “creative accounting” to lead our elected dullards into believing federal CARES Act funding would total a whopping $77 million – an enormous pile of unrestricted funny money that could be lavished on nice-to-have projects, including employee bonuses.   

Remember the time-wasting roundtable where the elected officials salivated over the federal manna and dreamed up a lengthy list of all the pie-in-the-sky pork and projects they could fund with the windfall?

Then, in November, Ossowski pulled the rug out from under them by revising his initial wild ass guess downward to between $33 to $65 million.

How embarrassing. . .and confusing.  

I guess that’s what happens when the fox outfoxes himself, eh? 

No harm/no foul. 

Because in Volusia County government, the idea of accountability commensurate with responsibility (you know, the very concept that justifies these astronomical salary and benefit packages?) is anathema.

Why?

Because when push comes to shove – those we elect to represent our interests can simply fall back on the political insulation provided by Mr. Recktenwald’s discerning amnesia. 

A talent which now commands $237,217 annually. . .  

Angel              Sweetie & Big John

I normally stick to original thoughts and opinions here in the wide-open space of Barker’s View, but this week, Volusia County icon – my friend Big John – penned an eloquent eulogy published in The Daytona Beach News-Journal honoring his beloved “Sweetie,” Barbara Ann Kincade – a fitting tribute to an extraordinary lady who lost her fight with pulmonary fibrosis in October:

“You all know a lot about me. I’ve been a lucky guy. News-Journal writers covered many of my exploits during 12 years on the Volusia County Council, serving as both chair and vice-chair. I was able to build, with the great Dennis McGee, Daytona International Airport which opened in 1992. I was involved in the original Ocean Center construction, rode a Barnum & Bailey elephant to the Ocean Center, served on the Serenity House Board for over 20 years, and saw a road named for me. I have done two strenuous hours a day on the radio for 20 years, earned a 30-year Ph.D. in Tireology, won Modern Tire Dealer’s Best Advertiser in the World and an Addy Award, and once welcomed a quarter of a million people to the Daytona International Speedway.

But my luckiest day was in May 2003, when I met Barbara Ann Kincade, aka Sweetie. Pretty, smart and strong-willed, she liked me despite my many idiosyncrasies. Her hard work writing and polishing speeches made her a distinguished toastmaster, one who mentored others and made many lifelong friends like Jean Linder Jones. When the roof blew off my home, Sweetie moved me into her apartment, saw me through two bouts of prostate cancer, and helped me build the Big House. She counseled me on my radio broadcasts and became my biggest cheerleader.

An excellent tennis player, Sweetie encouraged me to play and get in better shape, and she loved playing with Johnny, Manny, and Demetrius. A koi fish person of the year, she helped create our pond and wondrous natural garden. She worked with the Native Plant Society and volunteered at the Rose Marie Bryan Child Care Center on South Street, advocating for poor kids in the school system. Our property was honored as a National Wildlife Federal Certified Habitat, a University of Florida Friendly Yard and received a City of Holly Hill beautification award, all earned by my humble Sweetie’s hard work. Her fun bridge games included Weegie, Shelia, and Alice.

Sweetie loved her autistic nephew, Kevin, with her whole heart and soul. She was his No. 1 advocate when he attended Deltona High School. At home, she was his teacher and best friend, bringing him self-improvement tools and taking him to evaluations by Dr. Joellen Rogers and Easter Seals. When Kevin stayed with us at the Big House, he went everywhere with us as Sweetie loved to take him shopping and loved him for who he was, her inseparable companion. She loved her family, devoted to her two brothers, Ralph and Barry, two children Brent and CJ, four grandkids, April, Carlie, Tyler, Charlie, niece Lesley, nephews Austin, Chris, and David, cousin Duane, and great-grandchild Gabriel.

Spending 18 years of life with this fabulous woman made me the luckiest guy in the world, inspiring me to be a better man. In return, I did everything in my power to bring her happiness and a really good life. She saw the best in people, spent little money on herself, and gave her entire $1,200 stimulus check to the Jerry Doliner Food Bank.

Her dollars supported numerous other agencies to help anyone she could, encouraging me to do good deeds I might not otherwise have done. She fed and cared for our two giant Great Pyrenees dogs, Goliath and Major.

Sadly, she struggled with pulmonary fibrosis. Prescribed steroids led to steroid psychosis and exacerbated her lung problems. My Sweetie passed away at 10:30 p.m., Oct. 14, 2021.

Her care at Halifax Hospice was exceptional. They called to tell me she wasn’t doing well, and I was able to get there to spend her last hour holding her hand and letting her know how important she was.

I really miss my Sweetie, who had a great belief in God and succeeded in her mission to educate me about Him. Please forgive me for not mentioning all of her friends, she had so many that she loved and cared for.

I hope people who knew and loved her will be able to come to Our Lady of Lourdes Dec. 18 at 11 a.m., when Father Phil will perform a memorial service for Barbara Ann Kincade.”

Thank you, my friend, for gifting us with this touching tribute to a life well lived.    

We should all be so loved. . .

Quote of the Week

“There were two similar stories in the News-Journal this morning that got my attention: The first was about the Amazon fulfillment center proposed for Daytona Beach and supported by a city council that approved a $4 million rebate to Amazon and the second story was about the Toyota electric battery plant to be built in North Carolina with tax and infrastructure rebates from the state worth $430 million.

The Daytona Beach project promises 1,000 jobs and the battery plant promises 1,750 jobs. Some simple math says that we are paying $4,000 per job for Amazon and North Carolina is paying $245,000 per job to Toyota. While I must admit that makes the Daytona Beach investment a real bargain, I do not condone the secret proceedings that brought in more low skilled lower-wage jobs instead of high-tech jobs to significantly lift the average wage scale in our area and keep our graduates from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and Daytona State College in our community.”

–Jim Kotas, Daytona Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “A tale of two cities,” Wednesday, December 15, 2021

And Another Thing!

Tampa-based developer Framework Group returned to the trough this week – this time seeking $7.5 million in tax breaks for a 300-unit apartment complex and parking garage on north Beach Street.

Sound familiar?

By unanimous vote of the Daytona Beach City Commission, on Wednesday evening they got exactly what they wanted. . . 

Per the usual, Daytona Beach Deputy City Manager/Fire Chief/Developer Shill Dru Driscoll represented Framework Group – the multi-functional bureaucratic Swiss Army knife and in-house pseudo-expert on downtown placemaking – who never met an “incentive grant” or corporate welfare scheme he didn’t like. 

Apparently, Mr. Driscoll spends most of his day concocting reasons why the residents he ostensibly works for should gift the developer du jour, or next super-secret “economic development” enigma, a multi-million-dollar spiff – drumming up elaborate memorandums to City Manager Deric Feacher selling the idea with stories of “untested” markets and super-secret projects that we later learn involve handing $4 million in tax incentives to the wealthiest online retailer in the known universe. . .

Whatever.

Last year it became apparent that Framework Group – along with Sir John Albright and our old friends at CTO Realty Growth (formerly known as the good ol’ boys investment club Consolidated Tomoka Land Company) – had a powerful advocate in the bowels of Daytona Beach City Hall.

In October 2020, Mr. Driscoll was taken to the woodshed by that iteration of the Daytona Beach City Commission for dragging a half-baked incentive plan into the light of day – with out-of-date support materials provided just six-hours before the elected officials were expected to vote on a plan that would have citizens gifting the Framework Group $10.5 million in property tax breaks for a proposed apartment complex and hybrid public/private parking garage on the long-vacant site of the former First Baptist Church at ISB and Ridgewood Avenue.   

Then City Commissioner Rob Gilliland described the rushed incentive shim-sham as “haphazard” – while The Daytona Beach News-Journal rightfully decried the lack of transparency and internal pressure to force a decision in effective darkness – placing blame squarely on former City Manager Jim Chisholm. 

At the time, News-Journal editor Pat Rice wrote:

“As the City Commission seeks Chisholm’s replacement, here’s hoping they look for someone who understands the need to communicate, the need for transparency, and the need to visibly be a cheerleader on behalf of the citizens.”   

Remember? 

I do.

To their credit, the Daytona Beach City Commission rightfully decided to take a deep breath and directed city staff to go back to the drawing board and develop hard answers to puzzling questions.

Ultimately, Framework Group dropped the project.

I guess the “Project Delta” apartment/garage was undoable without millions in public incentives to ensure a profit margin?    

Now, in selling the “new” north Beach Street plan (which looks a whole lot like the “old” plan) Mr. Driscoll had the brass huevos to blame Framework Group’s decision to abandon the project on an “untested market”:

“Assisting in furthering the City’s vision this is Framework Group’s second attempt to bring housing to the downtown market as they previously were under contract for the downtown property known as Project Delta. Unfortunately the challenges of the untested market didn’t allow for the project to come to fruition.”

Say what?

Things are different this time around?

Bullshit.

In my view, Driskoll’s highly polished embroidery doesn’t do anything for the Framework Group’s credibility (who are returning to the same untested market?) with suspicious residents who are tired of seeing their hard-earned tax dollars used to underwrite the private, for-profit projects of out-of-town developers. 

What became of the “domino effect” we were all told to expect when we helped Brown & Brown locate its world headquarters downtown on promises a glass and steel insurance office would “…catapult the heart of downtown into a new stratosphere” – what former City Manager Jim Chisholm called “a game changer for the downtown area”?     

Now, we are being told downtown remains an “untested market” where potential developers struggle to get financing for the next game changing “catalyst in downtown”?

According to Driscoll’s memorandum to Mr. Feacher:

“The Downtown Redevelopment Area has not experienced a surge of new residential units on this scale in modern times, making it (an) untested market. Standard speculator developers are limited in their abilities to demonstrate financial viability to their financial partners in the untested market of downtown.”

My ass.

Now that Daytona Beach has a new City Manager in the effervescent Deric Feacher – why is he allowing senior bureaucrats to play the same tired games with the same tired players while expecting a different result? 

And why do Daytona Beach elected officials continue to rubber stamp them?   

Perhaps most important: Where do these tax giveaways end?

Eventually, many hope the City of Daytona Beach will come to the realization that the design and planning of public space is best accomplished with the input of citizens and stakeholders in an open, inventive, and transparent process – free of the hype and horseshit that breaks the community’s spirit time-and-again with the latest panacea project. 

In my view, if city government plans to continue meddling in the marketplace, then it is time to change a system where projects are hidden behind goofy cryptonyms and Secret Squirrel gameplaying – a patently unfair process that continues to erode public confidence and demands policymakers form decisions without adequate information or due diligence. 

While transparency might hamper the outsized “I know something you don’t know” advantage of a few local powerbrokers, it will ultimately produce something we can all take ownership of, while fostering a creative atmosphere and collective vision for the future of the Halifax area that backroom machinations and lucrative corporate welfare schemes can never produce.

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

“The System is the System”

Taxation – as the principal source of government funding which pays for essential services like roads, utilities, and public protection – should be based on the concept of basic fairness – an equitable process of valuation and assessment which treats everyone equally – with impartiality and due process – each property owner paying their fair share, guided by rules which neither “soak the rich,” punish the poor, or allow unenforced “loopholes” to provide a lucrative advantage to some.    

Determining what constitutes ones “fair share” is why we have lawyers and tax accountants who specialize in navigating the maze of ever-changing codes and policies to ensure their client is taking advantage of all legal deductions and exemptions – because even proponents of ‘Big Government’ rarely say they want to contribute more in local, state, and federal taxes than they are required. 

Then there are the blatant abuses of the tax code that allow corporations and major commercial landowners to dodge their burden by parking large tracts under a questionable “agricultural exemption” until the market is conducive for developing the property.

A situation that happens far more than we might expect in Florida. 

On Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s business editor Clayton Park wrote perhaps the most important article you will read all year, an eye-opening exposé on the local application of Florida’s dubious “Greenbelt Law” – which was originally designed to protect farmers engaged in bona fide agricultural operations by taxing their land at a lower rate – an exemption now used as a flagrant tax dodge by some land holders who manipulate the system for personal and corporate advantage. 

This isn’t new – it has gone on for years.

For instance, according to the News-Journal’s report, “In 2021, NASCAR will pay just $7,100 on the 211 acres of property where Amazon plans to build its fulfillment center, records show. That rate is 27 times lower than the property tax rate for a vacant lot in the Midtown neighborhood, The News-Journal found.

The reason for NASCAR’s low taxes: the land is currently zoned agricultural as a result of a “Greenbelt Exemption” Florida law that originally passed to help farmers in the late 1950s.”

By comparison, once the Amazon Fulfilment Center is constructed, property taxes will skyrocket to an estimated $1 million annually.

Apparently NASCAR uses the acreage – and others like it – for off-site parking during races and events at Daytona International Speedway – then transitions the land back to a “bone fide” hay operation operated under a subsidiary in order to claim the agricultural emption. 

According to a quote in the News-Journal’s article attributed to local blowhard and direct marketing magnate “Mad Mike” Panaggio, a member of the mysterious CEO Business Alliance, skirting the letter of the exemption is just “good business”:

“I don’t know for sure, but let’s face it, it’s a prime piece of parking for when they have the Daytona 500,” said Panaggio. “(NASCAR has) been looking for ways to maximize their return. You can’t blame them for making a good business move (by taking advantage of the state’s greenbelt exemption). It’s just a loophole.”  

Wow.

Trust me.  This “good business move” is not limited to NASCAR. 

A few minutes of research on the Volusia County Property Appraisers website found numerous parcels in areas awaiting development currently enjoying the ag exemption – with one parcel off Boomtown Boulevard showing a land value of $503,000 (held by an “equity land trust” which protects the owner’s true identity) that will pay just $158.87 in ad valorem taxes based upon a “timberland” exemption.

You read that right. 

Something I found most shocking in the News-Journal’s informative piece was the involvement of some very big local “movers & shakers”:

“In Volusia County, a number of other companies have also taken advantage of the greenbelt exemption, including CTO Realty Growth Inc., the Daytona Beach-based real estate investment trust formerly known as Consolidated-Tomoka Land Co.

After benefitting from the greenbelt exemption tax break for many years, CTO sold off more than 10,500 acres of former agricultural land in Daytona Beach over the past decade.

Today, those properties are home to several commercial developments, including Tanger Outlets and Tomoka Town Center shopping centers, the new super-sized Buc-ee’s gas station next to the Interstate 95/LPGA Boulevard interchange, as well as the rapidly growing Jimmy Buffett-themed Latitude Margaritaville 55-and-older community, and numerous luxury apartment complexes.”

I find that disturbing. You should, too.    

Anyone remember seeing large scale commercial agriculture operations along Boomtown Boulevard before Tanger, Tomoka Town Center, or Buc-ees came to be? 

I’m asking, because other than a few haybales rotting into the ground, I don’t remember commercial farming and ranching taking place on LPGA east of I-95 either. . . 

So, what are those in a position of power doing to ensure that We, The Little People who shoulder the bulk of the tax-and-spend bureaucratic gluttony in Volusia County are protected from the abuse of “loopholes” and tax breaks that our small businesses will never know? 

Not much. . .

When asked by the News-Journal why the property taxes for the future Amazon site are so low, Volusia County Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett, said:

“The system is the system,” he said of the greenbelt exemption that gives a tax break to owners of agricultural land.”

Like so much of the inequity inherent to Volusia County government and taxation, “it is what it is,” I guess. . . 

My ass.

According to Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida and co-author of a book titled “Politics in Florida” (I’ll bet that’s a frightening tome, eh?) who was quoted by Mr. Park for his informative piece:

“The bad part about this for the average taxpayer is that it means there’s less money for much needed services such as roads, fire and police, and that the tax burden falls more on other commercial property owners as well as homeowners,” said Jewett. “After all, somebody has to pay for these services.”

In Volusia County, want to guess who that “somebody” is?

Each year come budget time, taxpayers watch helplessly as our elected and appointed officials on the dais of power wring their hands and conjure the apocalyptic consequences that will rain down on us like a horde of locusts if they fail to raise our property taxes to feed the voracious bureaucratic excess. 

Then they cry the Poormouth Blues – wailing scary stories of how we are all doomed to snarl and gridlock unless we vote to increase the sales tax to pay for improved transportation infrastructure – as they incessantly approve more, more, more development – adding to the groaning burden while expecting you and I to bail out their asinine “cart before the horse” growth at all cost strategy. 

At election time, we witness real estate development interests skew the political playing field with massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates who rubberstamp rezoning requests and keep impact fees low while placing the burden squarely on voiceless residents – who are expected to pay the bills and keep our pie holes shut – as our elected officials increasingly shut us out with little substantive input or access.    

In turn, we pay and struggle under the increasing burden while receiving little, if anything, in return – because, what else are we going to do – watch from the sidelines as our homes and property are ripped from our hands and sold to the highest bidder on the courthouse steps?

In my view, it is time for Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett and Tax Collector Will Roberts, as politically accountable constitutional officers, to commission an outside independent audit of previous and current agricultural exemptions in Volusia County with stiff tax levies and applicable penalties for any entity found guilty of submitting false applications, fraudulent claims, or fails to maintain a “good faith commercial agricultural use of the land.”

We should also demand that our legislators stop this pernicious practice of allowing developers to dodge millions in property taxes across the state by skirting the intent of the law using what has become known as the “Rent-a-Cow” scam.    

Who knows, with everyone paying their legitimate fair share, we might be able to build roads and improve infrastructure for a hundred years here on the Fun Coast, right?

Right.

Don’t hold your breath. 

According to Professor Jewett, speaking in the News-Journal, “It’s unlikely that we’re going to see any big changes because closing this loophole would affect some very powerful interest groups.”

My God.

Unfortunately, it appears no one who should has any interest in rocking the boat, closing lucrative loopholes, or disturbing ‘bidness as usual’ when the interests of our “Rich & Powerful” donor class are at stake.

And that, dear readers, is all ye know and all ye need to know about how things work here in the Sunshine State – the biggest whorehouse in the world. . .

_____________________________________

Join Barker’s View this afternoon on GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm as we discuss the local issues and take your calls on the fastest two-hours in radio!

Tune-in locally at 1380am “The CAT” or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

Thanks! 

Angels & Assholes for December 10, 2021

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               DeLand Community Activist Dr. Wendy Anderson

How many ways does the DeLand City Commission need to hear it? 

Last month – during the fourth ‘first reading’ of a developer’s request for rezoning of the former Sandhill Golf Course – the DeLand City Commission listened to more than four-hours of testimony from area residents and environmental experts over fears of ground contamination at the proposed site of the 615 unit “Beresford Reserve” project.

At issue are very real concerns about pesticides and other contaminates found in the soil of the former golf course that also served as a municipal waste dump in the 1940’s and 50’s. 

Fortunately, DeLand residents have a champion in the impressive community activist Wendy Anderson Ph.D., Professor of Environmental Science and Studies at Stetson University, a member of both the City of DeLand’s economic development and brownfield program advisory boards, who also serves as chair of the Volusia County Soil & Water Conservation District.

As an environmental scientist, activist, and educator, Dr. Anderson has devoted her life to researching and improving sustainability and water quality practices, with a focus on promoting environmental education, natural resource conservation, and sustainable foods systems.

In a candidate statement supporting her 2020 run for the Volusia County Soil & Water Conservation District, Dr. Anderson said she “..believes that soil, water, and food are the foundation of all of society, and that protecting those resources to ensure food and water security for all people now and into the future is the most important work she needs to be doing.”

In my view, Dr. Anderson’s valiant effort to educate citizens and policymakers on the potential health and safety issues surrounding the proposed development of a former golf course, sitting atop a buried dump, is a testament to her personal and professional commitment to our environment and quality of life.

In an excellent piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Old golf course’s past as dump stymies plans,” business editor Clayton Park quoted Dr. Anderson as she implored the elected officials to postpone the rezoning request until further tests can be performed:

“Tonight is about history,” Anderson told the commissioners at the meeting. “It’s about the history of our city and the 20th century and the history that we’re making and recording tonight. The decisions you all make here tonight will have consequences (for current and future generations). This is not a perfunctory rezoning hearing for yet another green space, for yet more houses.”

Attorney Mark Watts, who specializes in land use issues for the venerable Cobb Cole and represents developer Elevation Development, countered that his client has voluntarily “…agreed to hold off on breaking ground until a more comprehensive and thorough environmental study can be done on the former Sandhill golf course site.”

That’s a good thing.

Because during the meeting, elected officials heard input from various environmental experts on both sides of the issue – to include the results of soil testing which showed the presence of “arsenic, barium, chromium, gasoline, a series of heavy metals including lead, copper, nickel, cadmium, mercury, silver, zirconium, nitrates, oils, solid waste (and) pesticides.”

Damn.  Has it come to this?

First, we foul our nest with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, toxic chemicals, and other hazardous waste – then set about transferring the contamination to another site in something called an “environmental cleanup” – all so the lucrative land can be developed with a clean conscience – permitting single-family homes to be built and sold where these poisonous substances once lay, hoping against hope we get them all.

My God. 

Why is it we never err on the side of caution – or learn from previous mistakes?    

According to the News-Journal report, during the meeting, officials heard chilling anecdotal evidence from Donna Pepin, a resident of DeLand and member of the West Volusia Hospital Authority Board, who told a horror story of her service as a Hospice nurse treating terminally ill cancer patients living in Country Club Estates – a subdivision built on the site of the former DeLand Country Club. 

“The reason soon became apparent when several homeowners in that community filed a lawsuit after learning that their wells had become contaminated from pesticides used on the old golf course.”

Wow.

Reports from the Volusia County Department of Health show that in 2011 and 2012 testing found that 116 wells in Country Club Estates were positive for the now-banned insecticide Dieldrin while 171 wells were found to have no detectable levels of the substance.    

At the time, internationally recognized environmental activist Erin Brockovich spoke to concerned residents in DeLand about the contamination found at Country Club Estates which ultimately resulted in a class-action lawsuit.    

Conversely, at the time, some in the golf industry referred to concerned residents as “enviro-lunatic homeowners” set on destroying a golf facility with “anti-pesticide nonsense,” citing the “miniscule” amounts of Dieldrin found in the water wells.   

Look, I’m no expert – but I know what I want, and don’t want, in my drinking water.

In 2019, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry listed Dieldrin at 18 on their Substance Priority List of 275 toxins commonly found at facilities on the National Priorities List, “…which are determined to pose the most significant potential threat to human health due to their known or suspected toxicity and potential for human exposure…”

Scary stuff. 

At the end of the day, the DeLand City Commission directed Mr. Watts and Elevation Development to return for a fifth “first reading” next month.

I applaud the excellent work of Dr. Wendy Anderson.  Her firm stand and dedication to protecting Volusia County residents from potential environmental contaminants is important. 

The decisions made by the DeLand City Commission, and other elective bodies throughout Volusia County, will have profound consequences on the health of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren – and those impacts will be the metric by which they measure the safety and sustainability of the environment, water quality, and natural resources we leave behind.   

In my view, that generational responsibility – our legacy of environmental stewardship – is all too often compromised by the insatiable greed of speculative developers who now see even toxic waste sites as an opportunity.   

Angel               City of Holly Hill and Pictona II

One year ago, over 70% of voters reauthorized the Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO programs – initiatives funded by a capped ad valorem property tax that supports land preservation efforts and environmental, cultural, historic, and outdoor recreational facilities.

Last week, the ECHO Advisory Board – an oversight committee which reviews grant requests for applicability then makes funding recommendations to the Volusia County Council – approved an “exceptional grant” valued at $2.5 million to assist the expansion of Pictona at Holly Hill.

By any metric, this incredibly successful recreational and fitness draw is quickly putting Holly Hill – and Volusia County – back on the map.

The $6.3 million facility that opened in July 2020 is the exceptional vision of Rainer and Julie Martens of Ormond Beach – and has quickly developed a reputation as the epicenter of the fastest growing sport in America.

The ECHO grant will pave the way for the estimated $6 million addition to the facility, doubling the number of courts and adding a 10,000-square foot clubhouse, to include a championship stadium complete with a skybox and seating for 1,200 spectators.

In addition to hosting international pickleball tournaments, this multifunctional facility will be configured to accommodate stage shows as well.  Under the partnership, the City of Holly Hill will host monthly concerts and community events at the new stadium.      

In September, the Holly Hill City Commission approved $1 million in public funds to assist the expansion – just under the $1.2 million the community contributed to the initial plan last year – with construction of that facility assisted by a $400,000 standard ECHO grant and the bulk provided by the Marten’s charitable foundation. 

In my view, this represents the epitome of a positive public/private partnership – a project that has proven its success before additional funds were invested – a true community asset that will pay economic, recreational, and wellness dividends to citizens of Volusia County while providing a quality tourism product beyond the quick-buck “special events” strategy our hospitality gurus have relied on for decades.

Rather than the typical corporate welfare schemes foisted on Volusia County taxpayers under a cloak of secrecy – investment in regional recreational amenities like Pictona provides a demonstrable and sustainable public benefit beyond propping up some corporate bottom-line and skewing the playing field to the disadvantage of small local businesses.      

In fact, Pictona has had the opposite effect. 

For instance, the advent of Pictona II has spurred interest from local investors who are actively considering a luxury recreational vehicle resort for the former Bishop’s Dairy site off Flomich Avenue – vacant pastureland at the virtual center of the US-1 commercial corridor.

I understand the exclusive RV resort will cater specifically to motorcoach owners drawn to events at Pictona – in a natural setting uniquely situated to provide direct access to the Daytona Beach Resort Area – with the upscale comforts and amenities that will keep visitors returning to our area year-after-year.     

Kudos to the City of Holly Hill and Pictona II for raising the bar!

And special thanks to the Volusia ECHO Advisory Board for seeing the continuing civic and economic benefit in assisting the expansion of this extraordinary community recreational and fitness complex. 

Remarkable things are happening in The City with a Heart!          

Quote of the Week

“Mike Panaggio

When it comes to First Step Shelter thankfully we do not listen to the experts on Volusia Issues that make up the majority of our Volusia Discontents in the Daytona area. You know the ones who are constantly negative about everything. They rarely take the time to get the facts. Criticize everything and rarely give to any charity. Real warm Helpful people. Never offer any kind of solutions. Just talk about their hard earned tax money. They are forever upset that they have been left behind by those that actually do something about the problems. The ones who actually try to make this a better place. I am sick of the partial facts. Yes FSS is operating at about 50 beds. Our plan is to raise the money to actually buy more quality beds and to increase occupancy. We need to buy 50 more beds and they have to be super supportive and specially made. Not cheap junk like was donated several years ago. DR. Victoria Falhberg continues to find the money to expand the operation. No one has done the job of finding money like she has. Over 1 million in new funds since she took over. Yet our Amazing Discontents who usually have 20-30% 0f the facts go off half cocked and criticize because that’s what they do best. Criticize without knowledge. It makes you guys feel better doesn’t it. So how about this. Prove me wrong. I will match every donation required to buy the beds so we can make your dream of having a full FSS happen. I am betting that I get a few dollars from the regulars that actually do care like Ann Ruby and John Nicholson and Maybe Ken Strickland but the majority, I mean the huge majority do not actually give a dam. They do not give to charity they offer nothing but unfounded criticism. How about you Mr. blogger, you say you care what’s your excuse for not taking my challenge. How about a real great facetious quote, something real colorful and meaningless. Just put down that beer and give a few dollars. I am willing to continue to work my tail off for FSS like very few others do. Here is where you go https://firststepshelterinc.kindful.com/ whatever you donate to bed sponsorships I will match. We need 50 more beds. Its a lot of dollars but I have half of it as my responsibility.”

–“Mad Mike” Panaggio, CEO of DME Holdings, member of the CEO Business Alliance, and First Step Shelter Board of Directors, writing on Facebook’s political affairs forum Volusia Issues, Friday, December 3, 2021, 11:38pm

Folks, I don’t make this stuff up. 

Couldn’t if I tried. . .

The above grammatical nightmare was recently posted by Mike Panaggio, the prominent CEO of DME Holdings, a Daytona Beach direct marketing firm/sports academy and member of the mysterious CEO Business Alliance – a shadowy organization that claims its “sole mission” is to “…stimulate new job creation and capital investment in Volusia County,” (that is, when they aren’t trying desperately to raise your sales tax) – and long-time member of the beleaguered First Step Shelter Board of Directors.

He is also given to composing meanspirited, late-night jeremiads berating We, The Ungrateful Little People, always reminding us of the scope and capabilities of his extraordinary wealth and success. . .

Since neither Mr. Panaggio, the CEO Alliance, or the First Step Shelter has publicly disavowed, removed, or apologized for his highly offensive and derogatory missive which alienated thousands of potential donors on social media – I must assume it is authentic – because this is not the first time us foul Fun Coast malcontents have been on the receiving end of a Panaggio rebuke.    

That is why his latest embarrassment deserved a larger audience – especially given my not-so-veiled honorable mention:

“How about you Mr. blogger, you say you care what’s your excuse for not taking my challenge.  How about a real great facetious quote, something real colorful and meaningless.  Just put down that beer and give a few dollars.”

My God. . . Cringeworthy, indeed.   

Here’s a pithy quote for you on behalf of my fellow Volusia Issues contributors:

“Up yours, Panaggio. . .”

Was that ‘colorful and meaningless’ enough for you?

Because it damn sure comes from the heart. . .

I left Mr. Panaggio’s latest crudity in its original, unedited form – a raw stream-of-conscience virtue signaling tirade – so you can judge for yourself how our social, civic, and economic elite go about soliciting donations, inspiring confidence, and building community support for our publicly funded – and desperately challenged – homeless assistance center. 

Wow.   

Apparently, it is not enough that Mr. Panaggio sees himself as a do-gooder – in his self-absorbed world, it is more important that others see Mr. Panaggio as a do-gooder – perhaps that is why he paints himself a Tier-1 philanthropist during this “season of giving” – and if he has to call you a liar, belittle your opinions, disparage previous donations as “cheap junk,” and marginalize anyone he disagrees with in a braggy harangue to get that point across, so be it.   

Is it possible the All-Knowing and All-Seeing Great Wizard of Weirdness telepathically knows which charitable organizations you and I (branded “Volusia Discontents”) choose to support – and which we do not?

Look, I won’t get into the litany of perception issues, waste, mismanagement, toxic politics, and old-fashioned foul-ups that have plagued the First Step concept (whatever that is) since its conflicted inception – serious organizational bungling – including the tragic death of a client for lack of a simple public transportation plan (at a homeless shelter?) – in my view, these poor optics (or gross incompetence) has kept many potential donors at arm’s length. 

Now, we are being harshly lectured by a self-centered First Step board member – told that the real reason the facility has failed to thrive is due to shoddy beds – “cheap junk” – bunks that were no-doubt gifted by a well-meaning donor whose generosity is now being badmouthed by the very person who failed to inspect the suitability of the beds before they were accepted and pressed into service.    

Who does that?

In my experience, the Mike Panaggio’s of the world – shameless show-boaters who stage a Broadway production whenever they write a check – always look down their long noses at those of us here in the real world who do not see things exactly as they do. . .   

Screw that.   

Given the well-publicized turmoil and controversy, many believe First Step has become little more than an income source for multiple layers of staff and management – with  little, if any, measurable impact on the still prevalent ‘homeless problem’ we were all promised was the “shelters” incredibly expensive raison d’être.

Those negative perceptions are to be expected, given the complete lack of an effective public communications plan, beyond Mr. Panaggio’s midnight ravings. . . 

Is there another explanation – or is it my fault for pointing out a pile of shit so my neighbors don’t step in it?  Again? 

Given the facility’s recurring $113,000 monthly nut (2020 figures) I am surprised the shelter’s charitable giving strategy seems limited to a sitting board member throwing angry insults on Facebook then groveling for handouts?

Weird approach, eh?            

In September 2020, the Volusia County Council directed some $1.09 million in CARES Act funding to the needy First Step shelter – a cash infusion of public funds that we were told would be used to hire even more staff, build a 1,000 square foot addition, dedicated computer room, a floor-to-ceiling partition for the multipurpose room, with the remainder of the federal manna being used to:

“…hang microfiber curtains around bunk beds to prevent germ transmission; install motion-activated faucets, urinals and toilets; add UV air disinfection units; build outdoor patio roofs; buy patio furniture; purchase high-grade washers and dryers; hire a housing coordinator who would help find residents places to live; and add another new full-time employee who would monitor residents for up to 12 months after they moved into permanent housing.”

Remember? 

I do.

So – just one year on – what happened

With all the brainpower we have purchased with our “hard-earned tax dollars,” you mean to tell me no one thought it might be smart to purchase replacement beds with the windfall? 

Really? Touchless toilets but no beds?

At a homeless shelter?

In my view, Volusia County taxpayers have continuously given much more than their fair share to support that expensive debacle in the hinterlands – a homeless “shelter” in name only – and it is high time for the First Step concept to stand or fall on its own two feet.

If not, let the City of Daytona Beach simply dissolve it – chalk it up to former City Manager Jim Chisholm’s promising, but financially unsustainable, idea that became a perpetual parasite on the neck of Volusia County taxpayers.

Then our ‘powers that be’ can use the land for what many believe was its intended purpose all along:

Allowing P$S Paving a lucrative source of fill dirt until the whole shebang can be sold to the developer du jour and developed into the next lakeside “lifestyle” community. . . 

And Another Thing!

Santa Claus came early for many on the Fun Coast when Pat Rice, editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal and Commissar of the Political Education and Propaganda organ of Volusia County’s Old Guard, announced his much anticipated retirement this week.    

Rather than doing what a conscientious captain should and go down with his ship and skeleton crew – after some 12-years at the helm – Mr. Rice is conveniently abandoning the flaming wreckage of the foundering daily after overseeing the outsourcing of editing, printing, inserting, etc., etc. – as the once bustling newsroom dwindled to a precious few after many talented journalists jumped ship – while others were summarily “downsized,” or simply run off, in an exsanguinating bloodletting Editor Rice dubbed “restructuring.”  

Right or wrong, Pat Rice became the area poster boy for all that is wrong with modern newspapers – willing victims of a decade-long corporate feeding frenzy when once hyper-local papers were gobbled up by hedge funds – traded like chattel – then homogenized, regionalized, and forced into the stable of faceless international media conglomerates who demand fealty to an increasingly progressive slant and a “profit over quality” ethos that continues to lower the bar industrywide.

Then they wallow in self-pity, lamenting the ‘death of print journalism.’ 

Bullshit. 

Rather than rage against the dying of the light, it seemed Mr. Rice simply acquiesced – becoming  a blunt tool of corporate greed – unable, unwilling, or incapable of producing a marketable product in an increasingly conservative and rapidly growing metropolitan statistical area with a resident population pushing 700,000 – a place desperate for an independent watchdog – an environment where our crude political system is fueled by a few uber-wealthy insiders, a “donor class” comprised of the same five people and industries who control our artificial economy and feed greedily at the public teat.

Unfortunately, those same “Rich and Powerful” (the News-Journal’s description, not mine) happen to be members of an exclusive club that became conversationally known around town as “Friends of Pat” – in my view, an unhealthy fraternization with newsmakers that Mr. Rice flagrantly flaunted – posting social media photographs rubbing the right shoulders, publicly enjoying his chummy relationships with politicians, power brokers, business leaders, and the crème de la crème of the Halifax area’s civic, social, and financial elite. 

You know, those who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast – the very set Mr. Rice should have been aggressively questioning and reporting on?

In my view, Pat’s convenient “friendships” demonstrated just how intertwined the Volusia County triumvirate of ‘Big Money’ donors, the malleable candidates they buy like cheap livestock through exorbitant campaign contributions, and the News-Journal – who always seemed too close to the other two legs of the stool for comfort – have become. 

Over time, disenfranchised News-Journal readers watched as their elected and appointed officials came to arrogantly ignore Mr. Rice’s toothless “watchdogs” (a/k/a the working press) – as they simply cut out the middleman and began communicating with us through in-house spinmeisters – highly paid public mouthpieces who tell us exactly what our government thinks we want to hear in canned press releases that are willingly regurgitated by the News-Journal.

All while good reporters – and the readership they serve – are left to endure the resultant coldshoulder routine, “Multiple attempts were made without success to get comments from (insert powerful public official/developer/powerbroker here).”

Whatever. 

I suppose the handwriting was on the wall.  It was clear to anyone paying attention that Mr. Rice has been phoning it in for a while now.  (Because what else is he going to do, now that the News-Journal offices are vacant and the building up for sale?) 

For instance, Mr. Rice recently used his prominent standing space in the Sunday News-Journal to call for even more censorship and infringement of our right to free expression on our last alternative voice – the wide-open space of social media.

I found it odd that a working journalist and self-described defender of our sacred First Amendment protections was openly lamenting the fact that since We, The Voiceless Little People have had our fill of being spoon-fed horseshit – and many have taken to the everyman’s soapbox of social media to rail against government overreach, the bureaucratic tax-and-spend gluttony, and out-of-control growth that is threatening our quality of life – more government regulation is required:    

“(Some blogger/trolls criticize me or The News-Journal in one paragraph while quoting our fine reporting in the next paragraph. I guess, deep down, they appreciate content built on facts.) But the unfair and grossly inaccurate and meanspirilted (sic) comments Facebook and other social media allow in the name of making us all “friends,” and the damaging tribalism they’re created at the community and national level, and their willingness to allow foreign adversaries to plant false information – all of it making the owners of Facebook and their investors billions of dollars every quarter – have convinced me that regulation is needed.”

Unless there is another “blogger/troll” on the Fun Coast that I am not aware of, I egomaniacally presumed Mr. Rice was referring to me and I have worn the disparaging moniker as a badge of honor ever sense. . .

What Mr. Rice failed to mention was the fact his newspaper – and its parent Gannett – have been on the frontlines, fanning the flames of the insane ‘culture wars’ – doing their level best to politicize the pandemic, further dividing us, pitting neighbor-against-neighbor along every perceived difference and viewpoint – then blaming long-suffering taxpayers for the Us vs. Them mentality and historic lack of trust in local government – blaming what he described as “social media pundits,” and maligning elected officials who live up to their promises as “misguided zealots” and liars who “fudge the facts.”   

Unfortunately, it always appeared to me that Mr. Rice was completely out-of-touch with our reality – and his quote in reporter Jim Abbot’s benevolent swansong, “Editor Pat Rice to retire this year,” sounded eerily as if he was having a sudden realization of his true purpose – perhaps a crisis of conscience after selling his once idealistic soul to the devil of corporate media in some weird Faustian bargain:

“A newspaper is really a public trust,” Rice said. “You can be owned by a company or individual, but I have always felt it’s a public trust to do the right thing for the community. A lot goes into that.

“You have to be watchdogs of government; you have to be fair and accurately cover all segments of community, no matter what. You have to cover both the good things as well as the things that need improvement. I don’t want to hold up a specific story other than to say we’ve fulfilled that obligation really well to our readers, and I know the staff will continue to do that.”

Better late than never, I suppose. . . 

Hey, just spit balling here, but perhaps Mr. Rice can find work crafting a more positive message for fellow civic do-gooder “Mad Mike” Panaggio and the struggling First Step Shelter?  

At the end of the day, I admire Mr. Rice’s decision to step aside – to move on to “something else” – because it is the right thing to do for News-Journal subscribers, employees, and the community.

As we watch the stern rise on the sinking SS News-Journal, don’t expect anything to fundamentally change. 

I expect the last act performed by Editor Rice will be to tamp down the grave of our once proud local newspaper, a crumbling pillar of this community now reduced to a bedraggled “holding” of a multinational media conglomerate – a previously trusted source that we have helplessly witnessed devolve into a regionalized rag – the unfortunate legacy of a principled newspaperman turned corporate shill.   

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

Past, Present, Future

This weekend an observant friend and I took advantage of this Chamber of Commerce “winter” weather and took a drive – getting lost in the very place we call home – exploring from Ormond Beach south to New Smyrna on South Williamson and Pioneer Trail, then southwest along 415 past Lake Ashby to Osteen, Enterprise, Deltona, and Deland – before looping home north on 17 to US 92. 

I’ve lived in Volusia County virtually my entire life – and I know the Halifax area and places east of the Palmetto Curtain like the back of my hand – but I must admit, when I get over to Wild West Volusia, I activate every electronic device and locator in the Lone Eagle – and even with the best of modern GPS navigation systems working in my favor – sometimes finding my bearings means driving aimlessly until I run into a familiar landmark, like the bumper-to-bumper parking lot that is I-4, then trundling northeast toward home.

To assist the cross-county economy, I picked up a new pair of Wrangler’s at Skip’s Boots in Osteen – and while in Deltona, we shopped Fresco y Más – the delightful Hispanic and Caribbean supermarket opened last month by Jacksonville-based Southeastern Grocers on Providence Boulevard, where I loaded up on my favorite refresher/mixer, Topo Chico, and rounds of delicious queso fresco

Moving north into Delightful Deland I guided east of 17 to avoid the closed streets and building traffic ahead of the 73rd Annual Downtown Christmas Parade – skirting the Holiday bustle of Woodland Boulevard along North Amelia Avenue to International Speedway Boulevard then LPGA Boulevard – passing the massive developments at Mosaic, Margaritaville, etc., etc., through the pinch-point at the Tomoka River bridge and up the causeway of the I-95 overpass where the sprawl of Boomtown Boulevard emerges like a tableau of retail and apartment complexes from AdventHealth Hospital near Ormond Beach to Daytona International Speedway and beyond – punctuated by the black muck of recently cleared pine scrub as developers make the wet earth ready to bring us more “progress.”

As we drove through what remains of the bucolic countryside of south Volusia – the working ranches, nurseries, and active agricultural areas that marked our rural past – then the hulking mega-warehouse that is Amazon’s Deltona “Fulfillment Center,” and a hideous string of under construction wood-frame apartment complexes and cookie cutter subdivisions that mark our future – I couldn’t help but wonder if our forefathers would approve of the voracious appetite of developers and complete lack of planning by our ‘powers that be’ that brought us to this dismal place in our interesting history.  

As we drove along, I felt increasingly like the introspective Marlow of Joseph Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness, traveling unavoidably toward the reality of our amoral and irrational decent to a place where our sensitive environment and quality of life is being bought, sold, and developed in an economy of greed. 

It is said ‘for an understanding of the future, look to the past,’ and ours is an interesting one.

Way back in December 1854, the Florida legislature split Orange County, leaving six hundred unfortunate souls languishing on a plot of sandy scrub about the size of Rhode Island, nestled between the St. John’s River and the Atlantic Ocean.

They named us after our largest city at the time, “Volusia,” with some historians claiming the Spanish dubbed us Volusio, after the famed Roman jurist who tutored Marcus Aurelius – others believe it derives from a 19th century B-list magician whose schtick was turning wetlands into money. . . 

Who knows? 

What we know for certain is that Orange County went on to enjoy the fruits of Disney World, theme parks, and metropolitan prosperity – with the rest of Central Florida dragging along on their lucrative coattails – while we became a cautionary tale, the weird drunk uncle who resides at the eastern terminus of the I-4 corridor. . .    

The fact is, we never quite “got our shit together” – falling victim to every rogue pirate in the world – some who brandished a tricorn hat, cutlass, and blunderbuss – now wielding gunslinging land use attorneys – but the rape and pillage of our natural places remains the same. . .    

Yep.  A lot of history here on the Fun Coast – good and bad. 

Many fear Volusia’s enduring legacy will be proving the axiom, “Failure to plan for known problems and predictable outcomes is planning to fail” – a disastrous civic strategy that has been fully embraced by our compromised elected and appointed officials who continue to ignore the natural limitations imposed by our finite water quantity and quality, the fact our transportation infrastructure is already woefully overstressed, or that our utilities and essential services have failed to keep pace with the out-of-control growth that is spreading like a greed-fueled malignancy along the spine of Volusia County – sprawl that will have us drinking our own recycled sewage in the not too distant future. 

Don’t take my word for it.

On Wednesday, December 8, beginning at 9:00am, the City of Daytona Beach will host a tour of the city’s “former direct potable reuse demonstration testing system” which recently complete two-years of testing what has become colloquially known as Toilet-to-Tap“…processed treated effluent and produced purified water, which was then returned to the wastewater treatment process and was not placed in the city’s drinking water supply.”  

“…the two-year data gathering effort of the system is complete and the results are being reviewed as a final report is being prepared” – whatever in hell that means. . .

While the bulldozers roar – the sound of money to a speculative developer’s ear – does anyone care to guess what the recommendations of the tests will be? 

Anyone?   

I am told by a reliable source that the City of Daytona Beach is having trouble finding enough interested residents to make a tour. 

Due to “limited space” at the facility, the event is capped at 15 people – with a minimum of 10 participants required (?) – which is strange, given the convenient scheduling of 9:00am in the middle of the workweek and requirement that anyone interested in visiting a glorified sewage treatment facility complete a “Educational Tour Registration Form” (Find it here: https://tinyurl.com/23jyzwnt ).    

Whatever.  

For anyone interested in the past, present, and future of Volusia County – might I suggest you take a few hours on a driving tour for an up close and personal look at where we came from, enjoy the last remnants of our pastoral beginnings, the beauty of our lakes, springs, and rivers – juxtaposed with the frightening reality of our present.

Then stop by the City of Daytona Beach’s “full-scale direct potable reuse demonstration testing site” for a cold glass of our grim future.   

Angels & Assholes for December 3, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post

When faced with challenge and adversity, many politicians opt for the comfort of conformism – the craven “go along and get along” strategy that avoids critical evaluation of the issues and an authentic debate of ideas – retreating from their campaign promises and core values for the protection of groupthink and obedience to the status quo.

Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post knows something about political adversity. 

Since Post took the District 4 seat in 2017 – winning reelection in 2020 – she has been the victim of a vicious gaslighting campaign by Volusia’s Old Guard, those stalwarts of the status quo, who have marginalized and discredited Ms. Post at every turn.    

It became apparent early in her first term that Ms. Post would not be beaten into the round hole of political conformity, and her staunch resistance made her the personal punching bag of craven politicians and their well-heeled puppet masters. 

Repeatedly, Ms. Post’s “colleagues” took great delight in verbally pummeling her from the dais – complete with dramatic eye-rolling, deep sighs, and other histrionics – as the lock-step majority opportunistically painted Councilwoman Post as an ineffectual nonconformist, alienating her with cheap parliamentary maneuvers, and denying her constituents the representation they deserved. 

(For a primer on how political shunning works – the physical and emotional rejection of a duly elected member of the Volusia County Council as a means of coercing behavior, limiting influence, and forcing allegiance to the status quo – just watch how this pernicious process is being wielded against Council Chair Jeff Brower.)

Look, I have not always agreed with Ms. Post – or been kind to her in this space.

But I have come to respect her independence, work ethic, political acumen, and willingness to hold senior bureaucrats accountable in an atmosphere where any elected official who dares question the “why” of things is ostracized – permanently relegated to the sidelines – while the entrenched Gang of Four run roughshod.   

Bullshit.

Last week, Ms. Post announced that she has filed to run for the at-large seat in 2022! 

That’s good news. 

It has been an open secret that current at-large Councilman Ben Johnson will not seek reelection next year – which resulted in backdoor speculation that at least one retread politician would climb down from the ash heap of history and make another run – a scary proposition that harkened back to the “bad old days” of Volusia County politics.

With Councilwoman Post running for the at-large spot, it was recently announced that (so far) Ormond Beach City Commissioner Rob Littleton will challenge local business owner Ken Smith for the District 4 seat. 

Mr. Smith ran unsuccessfully in 2020 against insider incumbent Troy Kent for the Ormond Beach City Commission.

In a recent interview with the Ormond Beach Observer, Smith said, “I wanted to work in the city level, but when that opportunity came up, I just couldn’t turn it down.  That’s my main motivation — to take the momentum Jeff (Brower) and Heather have made and carry through with it.”

Conversely, Commissioner Littleton has been part of the pro-growth Ormond Beach City Commission where, most recently, he ignored the impassioned pleas of his constituents and made the asinine decision to destroy the historic Union Church on North Beach Street.

Why?  To make way for a shell parking lot. . .

While campaigning in 2018, Mr. Littleton was quoted by the Observer at a candidate forum crowing about the city’s “smart and responsible” growth.

“Don’t allow the rhetoric to blind you to the facts,” Littleton said.

“He stated his priorities were keeping property taxes low, maintaining a responsible city budget and preserving “a great quality of life.”  

Which, as we now know, is complete bullshit – given that Mr. Littleton just voted to raise taxes for Ormond Beach residents. . .

I think we have had enough of perennial politicians climbing the ladder – slick hustlers who say one thing at election time and do another come budget time – all while reminding us not to listen to the “rhetoric” (which is defined as anything that contradicts their slash-and-burn growth strategy) as they try hard to convince us we should believe their spin over what we see with our own eyes and feel with our own pocketbook.     

Trust me. Our well-heeled ‘powers that be’ who, for far too long, have controlled everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on Florida’s Fun Coast are beginning to get nervous.

With the obstructionist Gang of Four under serious threat of being tossed out on their collective ass next year the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County have a real opportunity to take back our government and stop the insidious process of paying exorbitant taxes while receiving nothing in return. 

Exciting times are on the horizon, kids.  Stay tuned! 

Asshole           Team Volusia and the “Economic Development” Sham

“The City will pay the Annual Grant to the Company within 60-days after the Company has submitted a proper invoice. . .”  

–Boilerplate “Economic Development Agreement” by and between (ENTER CITY/COUNTY GOVERNMENT HERE) and (SECRET/REDACTED) in order to “…incentivize the Company to implement the project.”

The giveaway is always followed by a paragraph of carefully constructed legal drivel that defines the “public benefit” of gifting corporate welfare to massive conglomerates for allowing us the privilege of hosting their next warehouse:

“…will provide a public benefit to the City’s residents and businesses, including by generating significant new ad valorem taxes (including for the public school system); adding jobs to the local employment base; and creating induced and indirect jobs and other economic effects which will have a positive impact on local small businesses.”

Because without an identified “public benefit,” gifting incentives and siphoning our hard-earned tax dollars to a private for-profit entity would be considered undue government intervention in the marketplace, favoritism that creates a skewed playing field – if not organized fraud. . .   

So begins another incredibly expensive corporate welfare sham at the hands of those dullards over at Team Volusia – our publicly funded “economic development” facilitators that have made a cottage industry of bringing scut work and warehouse jobs to Volusia County by writing checks that you and I are responsible for cashing – then labeling it “progress.” 

Bullshit.

On Wednesday evening, the Daytona Beach City Commission was asked to vote on a resolution allowing $4 million in tax incentives cloaked as a “grant” for the mysterious Project Tarpon – a shadowy five-story, 2.8 million-square-foot distribution and logistics center to be developed near the Daytona Beach “International” Airport at the desirable nexus of I-95 and the I-4 corridor. 

In the most ludicrous scam of the night, the people’s elected representatives were also asked to vote on a future land use change to accommodate the secretive project – without being told why.

You read that right.

To their immense credit, Commissioners Ken Strickland, Quanita May, and Ruth Trager voted against the land use change, citing the fact they would be deciding in the blind, completely unaware of why – or for whom – the change was being enabled. 

“If you don’t want to tell us what you’re doing or what’s going to happen with that land, it doesn’t really make sense for us to vote to change it when we don’t know what we’re voting for,” Strickland said.

The Secret Squirrel shenanigans continued well into Wednesday’s meeting – with the company’s identity revealed just before Daytona Beach taxpayers were asked to gift the massive tax break spaced over five-years to what everyone correctly suspected was the on-line behemoth Amazon – which earned $21.3 billion in profit on more than $386 billion in annual sales last year. 

You read that right, too. 

The City of Daytona Beach just handed $4 million in incentives to the largest on-line retailer in the known universe while allowing them to build a gigantic warehouse immediately next to Daytona “International” Airport at the intersection of two major interstate highways which allow direct access to ports at Tampa, Canaveral, Miami, and Jacksonville – and the heart of Central Florida – on the promise of jobs paying an average of just $15.00 bucks an hour – which equates to an annual salary the astute watcher Anne Ruby noted falls short of current local rental rates, which are now skyward of $1,000 a month. 

My God.  

Given the many advantages of the location, you might think our “economic development” gurus would reverse the burden, you know, broker a “deal” beneficial to residents and existing businesses beyond promises of low-paying jobs servicing an automated “fulfilment center” – but not here. 

In Volusia County, the rules are different – depending upon who you are – and who is “negotiating” on your behalf. . .

For instance, it appears the true beneficiary of the project will be our friends at NASCAR (d/b/a Event Equipment Leasing, Inc. and Southeasern Hay & Nursery, Inc.) – who made the incredibly smart decision to maintain ownership of the land and ink a long-term lease with Amazon.    

Of course, the horseshit hype started well before the project stepped from behind its enigmatic cryptonym when Daytona Beach Deputy City Manager/Fire Chief/Economic Development Shill Dru Driscoll wrote in a highly embroidered memorandum to his boss, City Manager Deric Feacher, which read, in part, the “$200 million” facility “Complimenting the planned growth of the Embry-Riddle Research Park to the east, this proposed facility is anticipated to attract similar and/or ancillary businesses. . .” blah, blah, blah.   

Apparently, Mr. Driscoll forgot to reach out to Embry-Riddle for specifics on just how the project will “compliment” the university’s nearby business incubator, because in a recent guessing game played out on the frontpage of the News-Journal, Business Editor Clayton Park quoted Rodney Cruise, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Embry-Riddle, who seemed less convinced of Driscoll’s exaggerated assessment:

“We haven’t had any involvement (with Amazon) to this point, but we look forward to supporting any company that comes to the area.”

Wow.

Was this another embarrassing faux pas by a senior bureaucrat wearing too many hats – or simply more cheap hucksterism from City Hall – something we all hoped Mr. Feacher would put a stop to?

You be the judge.

Under the current shim-sham of statutorily assured corporate anonymity, the taxpayers who absorb the cost, tolerate the traffic, and shoulder inducements the average small business could never dream of must suffer the corporate intrigue that allows cheapjack hagglers like Team Volusia to “negotiate” our money away behind closed doors – while We, The Little People are left to guess if we are vying for another distribution center, a modern manufacturing operation, or a toxic waste incinerator – we simply don’t know until it’s a done deal – because in this Turkish bazar political environment everything is for sale and anything is possible. . .

It has become a bad “Let’s Make a Deal” episode – where elected officials are asked to make land use decisions and give away our money on dubious corporate welfare schemes with little, if any, advance knowledge of the surprise waiting behind door number three.

That’s wrong.

When the Amazon distribution center in Deltona was being “negotiated” by Team Volusia under a similar cloak of secrecy (which ultimately gifted Amazon $2.5 million in “incentives” from the citizens of Deltona in exchange for a promise of 500 warehouse jobs by the end of 2023) it resulted in civic turmoil when some elected and appointed officials were told of Amazon’s interest in putting a warehouse facility in the community, while others were treated like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed bullshit.

These secretive games rightfully concerned many Deltona residents – the natural result of keeping essential information from key decisionmakers – while allowing select insiders advanced knowledge that could be used for a variety of advantages.

By any metric, this backroom skullduggery is inherently unfair, the antithesis of true economic development, and counter to the concept of inclusiveness in the planning process and government in the sunshine.

In my view, any elected or appointed official who thinks it is a good idea to advocate or make public policy decisions in effective darkness – without any substantive review or due diligence – is either dumb, deluded, or guilty of gross nonfeasance. 

It is time to eliminate that expensive ruse over at Team Volusia in favor of supporting community-based economic development practitioners who will recruit diverse businesses and industry in an open, honest, and transparent way – based on a strategy that fosters a fair and competitive environment – putting the highest interests of residents over the depths of corporate greed. 

Quote of the Week

“My biggest concern is the 1,000-pound gorilla in the room: where is the water going to come from (for all the new homes and businesses)? Where are we going to get the clean water from?” Brower said.

Noting the surge in new homes, apartments and commercial developments that Volusia County is seeing, much of it in the nearby LPGA area directly south of the Avalon Park Daytona property, Brower said, “We’re pumping water out of the aquifer faster than it’s being replenished. At least with Avalon, you’re going to get a commitment to protect the environment, but some developers are simply building as many homes as they possibly can.”

“And if there’s enough water in the aquifer, why are Blue Springs and other springs in Florida pumping out less water?” Brower asked. “I think we’re on dangerous territory and that we need to pause and look at what is the projected outcome?”

–Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Business Editor Clayton Park, “Developer pushes back start date for 10,000-home Avalon Park Daytona to early 2022,” Sunday, November 28, 2021

A tip o’ the cap to Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower for continuing to ask the tough questions – and for holding true to the promises he made to the citizens of Volusia County.    

And Another Thing!

In W. W. Jacobs’ 1902 horror story “The Monkeys Paw” – a fairytale surrounding a mummified simian paw that grants three wishes to anyone who grasps it – the moral lesson is, “Be careful what you wish for – you may receive it.”

I was reminded of that age-old truism this week when newly minted Daytona Beach Zone 2 City Commissioner Ken Strickland appeared on the public affairs forum GovStuff Live! for a Q&A with the program’s razor-sharp moderator Big John – the most civically astute and influential pundit in Volusia County politics – one who does not suffer fools, or ill-prepared politicians, graciously.      

With just two-weeks on the job, chalk it up to the bustle of the Thanksgiving holiday, campaign fatigue, or the lack of situational awareness inherent to entering a fast-paced game already in progress – it became painfully apparent that Commissioner Strickland was not as prepared to discuss the nuances of current events as he should have been for his first public appearance. 

In my experience, Ken Strickland is an impressive guy. 

A long-time civic activist who has championed the cause of the little guy, fought for basic fairness in forgotten Midtown neighborhoods, spoke truth to power, and worked hard to protect our heritage of beach driving and preserve our unique quality of life here on the Fun Coast.

Regrettably, it was obvious that Commissioner Strickland had not done his homework.

Knowing Ken as I do – I would be willing to bet that will not happen again. . .

Let’s call it a well-deserved baptism by fire – or a ‘rookie mistake’ – but one that requires an immediate change of tack (tact?).   

During Big’s interview, Commissioner Strickland gave a telling anecdote about his recent trip to the Daytona International Speedway corporate offices to ask about another super-secret project (widely rumored to be Costco) slated for the publicly funded One Daytona – the retail and entertainment complex owned by DIS that you and I helped underwrite to the tune of some $40 million in county/city tax breaks, infrastructure, and lucrative incentives.  

Rather than brief a sitting elected official on the benefits and challenges of the proposed project – a reasonable inquiry given the scope and potential impacts of another megastore – Commissioner Strickland’s question was met with an arrogant “smile and grin” as DIS officials refused to identify the company involved. 

Frankly, I was shocked when Big John announced that other elected officials had already been briefed on details of the project – essential information that was apparently denied to Commissioner Strickland.  

If accurate, that represents a complete lack of respect – an obstinate slap in the face to both Commissioner Strickland and his long-suffering constituents – a risky strategy for a company with no qualms about asking for government handouts when it serves their needs. 

Given the insular nature of many local government bureaucracies, there is a steep learning curve for any neophyte elected official – good citizens who enter the arena for all the right reasons – who can quickly be taken into the maw of the system, flattered by obsequious senior staffers, and told exactly what insiders want them to hear – a slippery slope that often results in the same frustrating and ineffectual groupthink that prompted them to run for office in the first place.

Add to that the legions of “new friends” with all the right last names that convince newly elected politicians they know what is best for the rest of us and you have a tried-and-true formula for protecting and promoting the stagnant status quo.

On Wednesday evening, Commissioner Strickland proved his mettle when he said no to a land use change without first knowing why – then cast the lone vote against gifting Amazon $4 million in corporate welfare. 

That sends a strong message – and proves that Ken Strickland will not go along to get along.   

Elective service is a difficult role, and, despite my bluster and second-guessing, I have a great deal of admiration for Mr. Strickland and others with the courage to stand for high office – even those I consistently disagree with – who strive to vote their conscience despite the often-withering criticism of supporters and detractors alike. 

Because what they do is important.

It is nothing personal – its politics – and I understand better than most how the game is played.

During over thirty-years in government, I was often accused of being “sharp-elbowed” – a term found in political dictionaries that describes “…being aggressive and assertive when it comes to pursuing a legislative agenda or pushing one’s point of view.”

The term is said to have originated from a quote by the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle, who said, “No man lives without jostling and being jostled.  In all ways he has to elbow himself through the world, giving and receiving offense.”

Seeking the truth and working hard to represent the unique needs of one’s constituency is no place for the faint-of-heart. 

Standing up for those things you believe to be right and just is especially important in an era where local political contests have become more a blood sport than a democratic process – and public policy decisions are often made by compromised elected marionettes, beholden by massive campaign contributions – who cast votes on issues they rarely understand to placate their well-heeled benefactors.   

In my experience, there is a time for diplomacy, compromise, and acquiescence – and there is a time for those we have elected to represent our dwindling interests to take a bold stand, command respect, demand answers, make the tough decisions, and protect our hard-earned tax dollars and quality of life from those who seek to exploit both for personal and corporate profit – even when it means going against the established grain.

In time, Commissioner Strickland will find his footing – just as Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower has done, despite overwhelming opposition – and his important contributions will prove pivotal to reclaiming government for the people of Daytona Beach, not just the well-heeled few who have enjoyed far too much influence for far too long.

It is readily apparent that voters are demanding change across the width and breadth of Volusia County – and those we place our trust in should not let that energy go to waste.   

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

Here it comes again. . .

Don’t look now – but here it comes again. . . 

And by “it” I mean the macabre spectacle of Volusia’s half-cent sales tax money grab slowly clawing its way out of the mass grave of bad ideas after voters drove a stake through its greedy heart in 2019. 

Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise to those cynical observers of Volusia County politics who understand that no tax increase is ever dead – just lying in wait for its next rehashed opportunity to suck more blood out of this exsanguinated turnip.

In May 2019, following a protracted and incredibly expensive public/private marketing effort that culminated in a strange $490,000 special mail-in ballot scheme designed to give the proposed half-cent sales tax money grab its best chance of passage – Volusia County voters roundly rejected this strong push by a cabal of uber-wealthy opportunists and their hired chattel on the Volusia County Council and municipal elective bodies across the breadth of the Fun Coast.

That bungled initiative was spearheaded by the mysterious camera stellata over at the CEO Business Alliance – an elite galère of billionaires who seem to think they know what is best for us rabble outside their gilded tower of power – wealthy insiders who plotted the worst possible strategy for selling a sales tax increase to an already overburdened constituency.

It was an embarrassing abomination from the outset.    

There were weird “studies” paid for with private funds – a glib shill in former South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarborough (who now manages King of Kings Hyatt Brown’s Esplanade?) – a dubious pie-in-the-sky list of pressing transportation infrastructure projects that would benefit from the then estimated $42 million annual windfall to local governments – an expensive special election – and near-constant scary stories about the coming gridlock and snarl that awaits area residents, even as our elected dullards continue to approve land use amendments and “Planned Unit Developments” across the spine of Volusia County – shoving even more shit into the already bursting bag – with no relief in sight.  

In my view, when this tax grab went down in flames, it was a resounding indictment of those craven politicians and institutions who ignored their best instincts and succumbed to the slimy motivations of a few well-heeled insiders with a profit motive – who sold out their constituents for the promise of a few crumbs of a much larger pie – and destroyed the public’s trust in the process.

Unfortunately, our ‘powers that be’ never learn from previous mistakes – they just repackage them with a bigger bow. . .

In an excellent article this week by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean reporting in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned:

“…at least a few local leaders are interested in resurrecting the 2019 push to raise Volusia County’s sales tax an extra half-cent — or maybe even a full penny — for a decade or two. The idea would be to use the tens of millions of dollars that would be raised each year for road repairs and construction, and possibly to improve sidewalks, bridges, water quality, storm water systems and flood control.

“We don’t have any other way to keep up with roads,” said Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry. “These needs have not gone away.”

For the record, Mr. Mayor, the willy-nilly approval of more, more, more development throughout Daytona Beach and beyond hasn’t gone away either. . .

As in the past, this latest money grab is being billed as a way for local governments to pay for a weird retroactive transportation infrastructure ruse – where developers have been allowed to build thousands of new homes, apartments, and commercial centers – then worry about how we pay for the streets, roadways and utilities infrastructure required to support tens-of-thousands of new residents after-the-fact.

Bullshit. 

According to the News-Journal’s report, “Henry and other Volusia County leaders who are thinking about again pursuing a temporary sales tax for infrastructure believe 2024 would probably be the right year to put the tax proposal on the ballot.

That would give the effort three years to work through the process of lobbying the Volusia County Council to put the measure on the ballot, and persuading voters that the tax is needed.”

For this latest bite at the apple, supporters of the tax grab are going to change tack and develop an artificially contrived “grassroots” effort – complete with something called a “citizens education committee” (sounds eerily like a page out of a Khmer Rouge manifesto) – then “…a permanent citizens’ board (to) oversee expenditures of the levy.”

(Hide and watch: The “committee” will be comprised of the crème de la crème of our social and civic elite; very familiar last names who will naturally concoct some chilling doomsday scenarios for the politicos who appointed them – then shamelessly recommend a one-cent sales tax increase just about the time Avalon Park Daytona breaks ground. . .)

My God.  How stupid do they think we are? 

According to Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry, “Let the people determine it.”

We have.  Resoundingly.  With more than 55% of Volusia County voters saying, “Hell No!” just three-years ago.   

What part of that don’t they understand?

Recently, my friend Big John – a long-time civic activist, former multi-term member of the Volusia County Council, and current host of the Halifax area’s premiere public affairs forum GovStuff Live! – has been prodding area politicians and bureaucrats to consider resurrecting the sales tax.

He has been joined in the effort by the incredibly smart Maryam Ghyabi-White, CEO and President of Ghyabi Consulting and Management, a traffic engineering firm based in Ormond Beach, who is clearly thinking outside Volusia’s tax-and-spend paradigm when suggesting “…she would want the conversation to include impact fees and the idea of suspending Volusia County’s five cent gas tax if the temporary sales tax is adopted.”

Why are these dedicated community icons so passionate about a sales tax increase?   

Because they truly fear that out-of-control development has outpaced our transportation infrastructure and the outlook is grim – and they’re right

My fear is doing the same thing over-and-over again – pissing away good money after bad – and expecting a different result.

Like many of you, I am not ready to hand more of my hard-earned money over to the same shitheels who got us into this fetid mess in the first place – only to be force fed more of the same, i.e., increased development, corporate welfare for well-heeled insiders, cozy public/private partnerships that always use public funds to underwrite the private profit motives of a few, Volusia County’s bloated $1.1 Billion budget and supporting property tax increase, no identifiable transportation infrastructure program, sweetheart deals for roads-to-nowhere to support future development, increased fees, etc., etc., etc.    

Trust me.  It is one of the few issues that Big and I vehemently disagree on.

This time, proponents of the tax increase are using syrupy terms like “temporary” and “citizen-led” to grease our gullet before they shove the tax increase down the collective throat of every man, woman, and child in Volusia County.

Inconceivably, the Knights of the Roundtable – a silly pseudo-government comprised of local mayors, managers, county officials, and parasitic hangers-on – in reality, a do-nothing groupthink consortium which provides political insulation to Volusia County’s elected and appointed officials – have agreed to discuss this newest iteration of the sales tax grab at their January meeting. 

And the only thing We, The Little People who pay the bills and suffer in silence can do is gird our loins for more of the same. . .   

Once again, what we are witnessing is the antithesis of leadership, strategic vision, and participatory democracy – a further erosion of the people’s trust – a shim-sham scam pulled each time our ‘powers that be’ don’t get the answer they want at the ballot box – so, they simply bring it back, ad nauseam, until they do. 

My ass.

In my view, our elected officials should make growth attempt to pay for itself as out-of-town speculative developers continue to haul cash out of the pine scrub with their “theme communities” that have paved over what once constituted our aquifer recharge areas, sensitive wetlands, greenspace, and wildlife habitat. 

When will these greed-crazed bastards we have elected understand that continuing to increase taxes and fees on a population trapped in a service-based artificial economy of their making is morally, ethically, and economically wrong?   

No Vacancy

When a hotel reaches maximum occupancy, management hangs a “No Vacancy” sign to alert potential lodgers that the property has no available space. 

Because the alternative – packing guests like cordwood in every nook and cranny, placing cots in hallways and ballrooms, overburdening recreational amenities, gridlocked parking lots, and overcrowding limited facilities – is unsafe and unsanitary.

Letting potential customers know there is no room at the inn is a temporary measure that protects the property from the ravages of excess and overuse, frees staff to meet current needs, ensures existing guests have a quality experience, and allows management time to plan – and improve infrastructure to accommodate more customers within set parameters – so that expansion does not infringe on neighbors, current residents, or detract from the unique character of the hotel that attracted visitors to begin with. 

Unfortunately, our ‘powers that be’ in local governments here on Florida’s Fun Coast have failed to grasp (or manage) the myriad issues that occur when one attempts to shove ten pounds of shit into a five pound sack – a crude metaphor for the malignant growth that is rapidly metastasizing along the spine of Volusia County from Farmton to the Flagler County line – sprawl that is now threatening quaint communities like DeLand and rural West Volusia with high-density development and its detrimental impacts to our environment, infrastructure, and quality of life. 

With evidence mounting that unchecked growth is the principal concern of residents across Volusia County, why do those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests continue to ignore the fears of their constituents? 

I have a theory. . .    

When you consider that $1 of every $5 in recorded campaign contributions in recent Volusia County elections originated from developers and the building industry – you begin to understand just how cozy (and incredibly lucrative) the relationship has become – resulting in the approval of every want and whim of speculative developers, to include granting nonsensical land use amendments, our hurt here/help there strategy of environmental mitigation, the erosion of water quality regulations, squandering limited transportation infrastructure funds for “roads to nowhere” to support future development,  and the suppression of impact fees.

Earlier this month, Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower hosted a town hall meeting in DeLand where the bulk of the participant led discussion focused on the devastating impacts of the out-of-control growth that is threatening our water quality, destroying our natural places, taxing essential services, and placing increased pressure on our inadequate transportation and utilities infrastructure.

Some in attendance told horror stories of the direct impact of rapid growth on their quality of life while calling for a moratorium on development – including requiring low-impact strategies to help stem flooding, conserve community resources, and protect our limited water supply.

Real estate developers crow that building control measures should not take the place of land use and planning studies to determine a proper balance between growth and its negative impact on existing residents – claiming that moratoriums send the wrong message, curb “economic development” opportunities, and restrict inventory, which increases the price of residential and commercial space as demand continues to grow.     

Bullshit. 

What passes for “planning” is almost non-existent – and regulations that protect the quality and quantity of our water, natural places, and wildlife habitat have been gutted – sacrificed on the altar of greed – while Florida lawmakers continue to limit external state-level reviews of proposed projects while restricting the ability of local and county governments to raise impact fees to help growth pay for itself.   

The deck is stacked – and not in our favor.

In my view, the problem with that wink, wink/nudge, nudge time-buying strategy is that while compromised politicians and government officials throw even more of our hard-earned tax dollars at political insulation analysis and slow-walk land use and impact fee studies – the bulldozers continue to roar – churning our sensitive wetlands and wildlife habitat into a moonscape of black muck, all while the insatiable greed of speculative developers drives them to make hay while the sun shines – as they throw more financial support to candidates who are sympathetic to these slash-and-burn tactics.    

And the cycle repeats. 

Residents in Ormond Beach have serious concerns about the looming specter of Avalon Park Daytona – a massive development poised to put thousands of homes and commercial space south of Route 40 – while those in West Volusia are considering the long-term consequences of planned development at the Southridge Golf Course (the site of a former dump), hundreds of apartments being proposed near downtown, a 600-home subdivision threatening Lake Winnemissett, and a 648 unit ‘transit oriented development’ near the proposed SunRail station on 123 acres along Grand Avenue between State Road 44 and Old New York Avenue.

To name a few. . .

Add to that the churn of colossal developments already approved or underway in the pine scrub west of I-95 in Daytona Beach and you get the idea that – in the not too distant future – the limiting factor won’t have anything to do with neutered planning and zoning regulations and everything to do with our rapidly diminishing water supply – a violation of natural population limiters that has some politicians considering a “toilet to tap” scheme that will have us drinking our own recycled sewage.

As Chairman Brower recently said in a cogent social media post on the subject:

“These developments in DeLand, Avalon, Mosaic, Farmton, Latitudes, your town, they can all be beautiful developments but where is the water coming from? It is not endless. The water cycle has always had the same amount. But in any localized area, when withdraws outpace deposits, you go bankrupt. It seems few in government want to look at that ledger sheet. 

Growth at all costs is not making us richer. It is reducing our quality of life and requiring tax increases. In fact, “smart” growth is outpacing our ability to sustain healthy life. That is the 1000-pound elephant in the room all the developers, lawyers, and home builders with their pictures of beautiful neighborhoods don’t talk about.

Every land has its carrying capacity. Ours is clean water.”

And what about the dearth of “affordable housing” for the thousands of Volusia County residents that are considered asset limited/income restrained – many living at or below the poverty level with only scut work or warehouse jobs to bank their hopes on – families who are quickly being forced out of the housing market where the median listing price is now $320,000?

Rather than place reasonable restrictions on this cancerous sprawl of zero-lot-line wood frame cracker boxes and half-empty strip centers – politicians at all levels of government continue to turn a blind eye – even as our waterways suffer a painful death from development-related pollutants and runoff, our fish and wildlife vanish in a deadly guacamole of algal blooms, and our already overstretched infrastructure groans to a gridlocked halt.

I often say that people can forgive what they see themselves doing.   

If you were responsible for planning the future of Volusia County – to ensure that everyone has adequate roads, natural resources, utilities, amenities, and essential services – is this how you would go about it? 

I didn’t think so. 

Now is the time to let your voice be heard. 

Next year, thanks to redistricting, apart from Chairman Brower (a staunch advocate for low-impact growth and our sensitive environment), Volusia County voters have an opportunity to select new representatives in every district – with various seats up for grabs in many municipal elections on both sides of the rapidly diminishing Palmetto Curtain.   

In my view, we shouldn’t put the same foxes in charge of the hen house and expect a different result.  

I hope you will take this unique opportunity to identify candidates who share your values and concerns, demand answers to the tough questions regarding their stance on the way we plan, regulate, and execute future development, find where their true loyalties are centered by monitoring which industries and interests finance their campaigns – then hold their feet to the fire politically – demanding accountability and responsiveness on growth issues. 

It is time to let our elected officials know there is some shit we won’t eat.

Let’s take a bold stand to protect our unique quality of life while there is still something worth worrying about.

______________________________________  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Like many of you, I will be taking a few days off to enjoy time with family and dear friends this week, reflecting and giving thanks for the many blessings we have been gifted in this beautiful place we call home. 

Angels & Assholes will return for your listening and dancing pleasure next week. 

From my family to yours, here’s wishing a very Happy Thanksgiving to all loyal members of the Barker’s View tribe, the tens-of-thousands who read these often-irreverent screeds – regardless of whether we agree or disagree on the political issues of the day – who add so much to the ongoing discussion of our life and times here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast

A special thanks to our law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS first responders, medical professionals, and dedicated government officials and public servants who put it all on the line and give so much of themselves to protect and enhance our lives every day. 

May God bless each of you with joy, peace, and happiness. 

A Reason for Hope

Since The Daytona Beach News-Journal chose to (once again) ignore local political happenings – instead devoting a full-page of what passed for the Sunday Local section to a rehashed 1994 Palm Beach Post article telling us more than we ever wanted to know about a defunct South Florida tourist attraction – I thought I would talk about something more germane to our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

In a recent Angels & Assholes column – my weekly acerbic take on the ‘winners and losers’ from the week that was – I had the pleasure of crowing about the candidacy of the intrepid Paul Zimmerman for the Volusia County Council Zone 2 seat now occupied by that stodgy member of the obstinate Gang of Four, Volusia’s Old Guard lockstep majority of stagnant obstructionists, lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler. 

In my view, Paul’s entry into this important race changes everything – and gives us all a reason for hope going into the 2022 election cycle, a time when every seat except for County Chair Jeff Brower will be up for grabs after redistricting. 

In my experience, like Jeff Brower, Paul is an ‘everyman’ with a proven track record of fighting for the rights of residents who have become an afterthought in a political arena that looks more like a Turkish bazar than a democratic contest.   

As many already know, Paul is a true hometown guy whose family roots in Daytona Beach go back to the early 1900’s.  A graduate of Florida State University, Paul has spent his long professional career serving the needs of at-risk students in Volusia County Schools, while working tirelessly to improve our quality of life as the founder of the Bellaire Community Group.

He has been an avid surfer and beach lover for over 50-years. 

In addition, Paul was instrumental in Chairman Brower’s decisive win over an entrenched insider in last year’s Volusia County Council election – and assisted Daytona Beach City Commissioner Ken Strickland in his recent victory over his well-connected (and well-funded) opponent.    

Recently, Paul worked diligently behind the scenes to build a diverse consortium of groups and environmental activists pushing for an experimental trial of an innovative technology known as Biorock to help save and restore the endangered Mosquito Lagoon.    

Although heavily involved in beach and environmental issues, Paul is far from a one issue candidate – or a flash-in-the-pan partisan fanatic.  

For those who follow the ebb and flow of local politics, Paul is best known for his extensive civic activism as the long-time president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy – along with his efforts to protect our environment from overdevelopment – and leading the fight to save our unique lifestyle from the constant threat of government overreach, such as the insidious ‘privatization by proxy’ of our beach as craven politicians seek to give away our tradition of beach driving and public access as a cheap spiff for developers with a profit motive. 

In fact, in recent years, Paul has been the beachside’s de facto representative – doing what Councilwoman Wheeler should have done – with service on the Beachside Redevelopment Committee, and leading a very public effort to hold developers of the Hard Rock Daytona (who were gifted 410’ linear feet of traffic-free beach) and Protogroup, who is responsible for the controversial and still unfinished twin-span condominium/hotel complex at Oakridge Boulevard and A-1-A – accountable for performance, appearance, beach access, and building safety standards. 

While Ms. Wheeler mewled and cooed from her perch on the dais of power – Paul was down in the trenches – taking documentary photographs, speaking to reporters, contributing to public affairs forums, lobbying policymakers, updating civic organizations, holding bureaucrats responsible, and fighting for transparency and accountability.

But Paul isn’t running against Councilwoman Wheeler.

In my view, his campaign is against everything she represents – the lockstep conformity, stagnation, and slavish loyalty to the tired status quo – that unspoken, but painfully obvious, deference that allows well-heeled insiders with the wherewithal to underwrite hand-select candidates undue access and influence in a lopsided system that has permitted all the right last names to gorge at the public trough, reaping “economic development” incentives, tax breaks, cash infusions, deals on public property, infrastructure improvements for private projects, and the privilege of having their every want and whim assured by their mere presence in the Gilded Chamber

Publicly funded inducements that you and I – and our small businesses which struggle on an uneven playing field – could never dream of. 

In my view, it is time we return that same reverence to the civic, social, and economic needs of We, The Little People. . . 

Look, Paul is far from perfect – which of us are? 

(Hell, I’ve been married three times, suffer a well-earned reputation as a carouser, and have more skeletons in my closet than a haunted house – but polling shows most people instinctively hate my face, which is the real reason I won’t be running for any public office. . .)

If Volusia County politics holds true to form (which it will), expect to see Paul’s detractors trashing his character in some skeevy eleventh-hour “glossy mailer” – probably paid for by an equally repulsive Political Action Committee.

Clearly, Paul faces a formidable challenge in his already announced opponents, which currently include Port Orange City Councilman Chase Tramont – and the former co-chair of Daytona’s Midtown Redevelopment Board, Danny Fuqua – who gave Wheeler a run for her $82,000 war chest in 2020, losing by less than seven hundred votes.

And therein lies Barker’s Barometer – the one undeniable record that tells me where true loyalties lie in the fetid slit-trench of Volusia County politics – the cumulative list of massive campaign contributions from those insiders and industries seeking to control their environment or a lucrative return on investment.

As I have said previously, don’t expect to see Paul named in ebullient endorsements from The Daytona Beach News-Journal (he announced Wednesday evening and not a peep in the paper?) – or fêted by those uber-wealthy oligarchs who bankroll the perennial campaigns of their malleable sock puppets – because you won’t find Paul kissing the sizeable backsides of our social and economic elite, bestowing and receiving dubious “awards” and spewing platitudes at stilted galas (while Rome burns), or rubbing elbows at those partisan fishing camps that have reduced us to the mediocrity of groupthink gridlock.

Look, Paul Zimmerman didn’t ask me to write this – that’s not my style – and I tend to keep most politicians at arm’s length once they declare an intent to run.  In fact, previous candidates for various elective offices can report my hotheaded recalcitrance whenever I’m solicited for a canned endorsement. 

Besides, most people could care less what I think – nor should they.  Just one man’s opinions on the issues of the day which come from the heart – not someone’s pocketbook.   

This is something we should all feel strongly about.    

We, the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County, who have been repeatedly strong-armed by petty players and politicians who present themselves as fiscal conservatives at election time, then invariably raise our taxes and fees to support a swollen budget now topping $1.1 Billion annually – have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to regain control of this bloated and dysfunctional county government and change our dismal fate.

I can think of no one better prepared to represent the interests of all Volusia County residents than my friend Paul Zimmerman.  

Angels & Assholes for November 19, 2021

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               VCC Zone 2 Candidate Paul Zimmerman

During the Bellaire Community Group’s monthly meeting last evening – a grassroots organization dedicated to promoting and preserving our unique quality of life in the Halifax area – the intrepid Paul Zimmerman, long-time president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy – announced his candidacy for the Volusia County Council Zone 2 seat in 2022!

Running for elective office is not something to be taken lightly – especially in the meatgrinder of local politics – an endeavor that has become more of a blood sport than an honest path to public service – and Paul has committed to running on a straightforward platform of preserving our unique lifestyle, improving government services, and protecting our sensitive environment from the ravages of unchecked growth and the accompanying environmental atrocities that have become commonplace in an era where the abject greed of speculative developers eclipses our quality of life. 

It is now undeniable that there is a groundswell of civic activism sweeping Volusia County marked by a fervent desire for substantive change as evidenced by Chairman Jeff Brower’s decisive win over an entrenched insider in last year’s election – and civic activist Ken Strickland’s recent victory over the “establishments” well-financed candidate in the Daytona Beach City Commission race – this building wave is evident everywhere you look.

From the protection of threatened land along the Ormond Beach Scenic Loop to Chairman Brower’s recent town hall meeting, where residents raged against the unbridled sprawl that is destroying all we hold dear, to the nearly 300 Indigo Lakes residents who joined on Tuesday night to present a united front against a Chinese-Canadian developer’s plan to shoehorn hundreds of single-family homes, townhouses, commercial, and office space into their community on the site of a former golf course – there is an awakening taking place.       

Don’t expect Paul to receive support and ebullient endorsements from our local newspaper – or the massive financial backing of those uber-wealthy insiders who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast – because independent thinkers who remain true to their moral compass and committed to the promises made to their neighbors, are anathema to Volusia County’s stodgy Old Guard whose sole focus lies in protecting the status quo. 

It was fitting that Paul announced his candidacy at a community meeting, because you will never find him anywhere near those political fishing camps that have reduced many of our elected officials and cardboard candidates to sycophantic bootlickers – rubbing shoulders with our economic and social elite – or those brownnosed political hacks who are wholly-owned by the craven few with the financial wherewithal to pay-to-play. 

Trust me.  Paul’s announcement is swirling through our elected elite – and those who hold the paper on their political souls – like an ice water enema.

That’s a good thing.

In my view, Paul Zimmerman has proven his worth through personal dedication to worthwhile causes greater than his own self-interests – always willing to fight the good fight to protect and preserve the civic amenities and natural attributes that make Volusia County great – never accepting the mediocrity, tax-and-spend excess, and bureaucratic stagnation that has reduced Volusia County to a cautionary tale.    

I hope you will join me in supporting Paul Zimmerman as he launches this important campaign to return our government to the people – as we change the dismal tide that seems intent on sacrificing our unique lifestyle on the altar of greed.   

The 2022 Volusia County Council elections present a once-in-a-decade opportunity for We, The Little People to regain control of a dysfunctional county government run amok – and I can think of no one better suited to represent the interests of all Volusia County residents than my friend Paul Zimmerman. 

I hope you will share this good news with everyone you know!

Angel               Former News-Journal Opinion Editor Krys Fluker

On Monday morning I poured a steaming cup of Café Bustelo fortified with two-fingers of Tennessee Hills Pecan Pie whiskey, opened my daily e-edition of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, and turned to the Opinion page. 

I found it depressingly silent. . .   

Like many of you, I was pleased by the recent announcement that the incomparable Krys Fluker has been named Opinion Editor of the venerable Orlando Sentinel – the last real print media outlet in the region – but it saddens me to watch the continued degradation (and ultimate demise) of my hometown newspaper as another extraordinary talent flees the crumbling ruins for greener pastures.

Over the years, before I was branded a poisonous “blogger/troll” by Krys’ former boss – the increasingly confrontational News-Journal Editor Pat Rice – I had the pleasure of periodically corresponding with her on a few Community Voices columns usually addressing some topical law enforcement issue, always suggesting a “go with what you know” approach, rather than one of my long-winded jeremiads on local politics. 

Masterfully, Krys was able to take these rambling screeds and polish them into something lucid – and that, gentle readers, takes a true editorial gift.

Through the years, many News-Journal readers enjoyed Krys’ unique take on the news and newsmakers of the day – she has an inimitable style that deserves a larger audience – and I know her contributions will enhance the Orlando Sentinel’s already deep bench of wonderful editorial writers and reporters.    

I cannot wait to activate my new subscription! 

While I rarely agree with the News-Journal’s editorial board – on anything – Krys always crafted the argument in a way that examined the human component – how the issue affected us – a perspective I found most enlightening. 

Unfortunately, Ms. Fluker’s transition has left a vacuum in our community – with Editor Rice now further confining the already limited discussion to just Wednesdays and Sundays.

In announcing Krys’ escape from the sinking SS News-Journal in his standing Sunday op/ed, Mr. Rice explained his hairbrained plan of limiting the opinion page for the “…next few weeks”:

“Instead of opinion pages on the other days, we plan to devote that space to giving readers more news stories about the nation and world — something readers also want.”

Say what?

“Hey, Pat, we want more rehashed, three-day-old national and world news, thinly shrouded in Gannett’s progressive whole cloth – or maybe some more goofy dispatches from the frontlines of the ‘culture wars’ – where the “social engineer-turned-journalist” is the only one offended by the obscure non-issue being set up for ‘cancellation’ in our ‘local’ newspaper!” 

Said no reader of The Daytona Beach News-Journal.  Ever. 

Look, provoking a larger discussion on the important issues that impact our collective lives and livelihoods is, in my cockeyed view, what opinion writing is all about. 

We need more deliberative space in our community media – a no-holds-barred debate of all sides of the myriad issues – a trusted public forum beyond the Wild West atmosphere of social media where we can listen, consider, learn, and gain perspective.   

Look, Mr. Rice is right.  I’m not a journalist – just a blowhard “blogger/troll” – but the undeniable popularity of Barker’s View has taught me the importance of providing that desperately needed alternative opinion in a place where dissent is often crushed under the weight of a few well-heeled, and incredibly influential, powerbrokers and the malleable politicians they control like sock puppets. 

The fact is an echo chamber of immoderate voices like mine might be an effective way of venting steam – but it does nothing to foster a healthy democracy, offer solutions, or craft an inclusive vision for Volusia County’s future.

For that we need a reasonable, regular, and ongoing dialog on the issues that shape our community – including robust disagreement – in a space where the debate of opinions can help sort fact from fiction, challenge those in positions of power, and improve our civic, social, and economic understanding in a time when government is anything but transparent.

One would think the editor of our hometown newspaper would understand the importance of that. . .   

The excellent work of Krys Fluker gave us that crucial “marketplace of ideas” here on Florida’s uncultured Fun Coast – and her thought-provoking page will be sorely missed by those who value exceptional writing and the healthy competition of ideas.

With luck, Ms. Fluker will help push the Orlando Sentinel’s focus a little further east and help fill the unfortunate void left in her wake. 

Congratulations, Krys!  And best of luck on this exciting new chapter. 

Asshole           Palm Coast City Council

“Admit nothing. Deny everything. Make counter-accusations”

For decades, this mantra has been used by spies, “communications directors,” and public relations hacks who find themselves in a sticky situation – now increasingly adopted by politicians who, often due to their own abhorrent behavior, are forced to defend the indefensible. 

Is it effective?  You be the judge.

I like to say that if you care about good governance in your own hometown, you should care about good government everywhere – and the sprawling City of Palm Coast is the second largest city in the Deltona-Daytona-Ormond Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area and a major influence on the civic and economic future of our region. 

It is also a political shit-show of epic proportions – like a bad movie that most citizens would get up and walk out on – but they are trapped in a theater of the absurd. . .

Earlier this week, following an investigation by an Orlando-based law firm, we learned that embattled Palm Coast City Councilman Ed Danko (in my view, an angry little man who seems perpetually at odds with damn near everyone) was demonstrably “rude” to city employees – findings that stopped just short of determining that Danko created a hostile work environment or engaged in other legally prohibited conduct which may have been actionable by employees. 

Weird how that always happens, right?

According to reports, Danko, who was elected a year ago, faced allegations that he “bullied and harassed” several city employees and “inappropriately attempted to influence staff’s administrative duties,” actions which, if proven true, could constitute violations of the city’s charter. 

From the outset, a defiant Danko vehemently denied the charges, calling them a “political hit job” launched by former Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton – who was no stranger to internal conflict and controversy.     

This week, a report by the News-Journal’s Frank Fernandez explained:

“Several employees said they believed Danko treated female workers more harshly than males and used a “sharper” tone with women, the report stated.

But the report also found that it did not appear that Danko was targeting certain groups.

“It did not appear that Danko targeted employees due to any legally protected status, such as gender or race,” according to the report.”

Interesting. . .

Ultimately, the toothless investigative report suggests that Danko sit for “employee rights training,” and warned that the citizens of Palm Coast may well be liable for future acts by elected officials – citing that the city is “now on notice in regards to Danko.”

Unfortunately, Danko remains obstinate – outright refusing to attend the recommended training and suggesting the investigation was not worth the $12,347.50 it cost (he’s probably right about that). 

Councilman Danko continued to maintain he beat the rap in the News-Journal article, sounding eerily like an Edward G. Robinson monologue:  

“People can draw their own conclusions as to whether somebody is rude or not,” Danko said. “People are rude every day. The point is they had nothing to hold against me. None of these charges stuck. If you’re rude to someone, is that a crime?”

Danko also said that if he had treated females more harshly, he would have been targeting that class.

“I don’t know how you can have it both ways,” said Danko.”

Whatever.

In other News of the Weird from our neighbor to the north, on Wednesday, the outstanding online media outlet FlaglerLive.com announced that in a “stunner” on Tuesday night, former Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre made the “short list” of applicants for the vacant Palm Coast City Manager position after council members Victor Barbosa, Ed Danko and Nick Klufas included Manfre on their lists.

You read that right. 

According to FlaglerLive:

“A stunner, because in previous attempts at the city manager’s jobs, both in Palm Coast and Flagler Beach, Manfre had not been so much as short-listed, let alone interviewed. He also applied to be an appointed county judge in Flagler in 2019. He was interviewed, but not short-listed, and Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Andrea Totten.”

Again – I find that interesting. . .

Why?

Because in 2016 then Florida Governor Rick Scott signed an executive order publicly reprimanding Sheriff Manfre after the Florida Commission on Ethics found that he violated ethics laws and ordered him to pay a $6,200 fine.

According to a 2016 report by Jonathan Simmons writing in the Palm Coast Observer:

“The executive order states that Manfre “is hereby publicly censured and reprimanded” for using an agency credit card for personal use and for failing to report a gift in excess of $100. The gift in Manfre’s case was a five-night stay in then-undersheriff Rick Staly’s cabin in Tennessee. (Manfre did ultimately report the cabin stay after realizing after an ethics seminar that it was required, but the Ethics Commission stated that he had not done so properly.) The executive order gives Manfre 30 days to pay the fine.

“In an emailed statement concerning the executive order, Manfre wrote he that he had not violated agency policy or state law.”

The Commission also found probable cause that Manfre misused a publicly owned vehicle for his personal use – including out-of-state travel – but that charge was later dropped citing a lack of “corrupt intent.” 

In his response to the citizens who trusted him, then Sheriff Manfre wrote, in part:

“The administrative law judge (ALJ) has rendered her opinion in the 3 allegations filed against me. From the very beginning, I’ve stood firm in my position that I never intentionally violated Florida law, agency policy or used any public money for personal gain. The ALJ’s decision clearly shows that I never used corrupt intent in any decisions that I made or actions that I took. I sincerely apologize to the citizens of Flagler County and to the men and women of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office for making poor decisions as it relates to these incidents in my first few months in office and ask for your forgiveness.”

Now, he’s asking for another bite at the apple?  

Wow.   

With deference to the immortal Humphry Bogart, knowing what we do about the turmoil that already exists at Palm Coast City Hall, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. . .”

They say politics makes strange bedfellows, and this emerging Palm Coast saga bears watching. 

Angel               Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower

“Town Hall”

A way for local and national politicians to meet with their constituents either to hear from them on topics of interest or to discuss specific upcoming legislation or regulation. During periods of active political debate, town halls can be a locus for protest and more active debate.  A means for elected officials to connect with their constituents with origins going back to America’s earliest days.

One of the most acute symptoms of the abject dysfunction that permeates many local governments is the pomposity of power – the self-deification of/by the ruling class – and the resulting sense of overconfident infallibility that has built an impenetrable wall separating We, The Little People from those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests. 

I believe this haughty arrogance of ignorance is rooted in the fact government officials have lost the capacity to listen to the concerns of anyone other than their uber-wealthy political benefactors – leading to a sense of alienation as frustrated taxpayers no longer care to tread where they are clearly not wanted. 

When we enter the halls of power in that Citadel of Self-importance at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Complex – everyone understands the rules – and they are inviolate.

Unless, of course, our compromised elected elite want to indulge their frequent practice of “Public Policy by Ambush” – voting on critical issues after strategically leaving details off the printed agenda to prevent even the possibility of contention or public input.

Then its no harm, no foul.

So don’t even think about questioning it – or the underlying motivations.     

In my view, the rulebook reads different depending upon which side of the dais you are sitting on (or the size of your campaign contribution) – and that basic inequity breeds distrust. 

This aversion to citizen participation in our government is evidenced by the extraordinary lengths elected bodies will now go to limit our involvement in the process. 

From putting restrictions on public input, enacting “civility and decorum” ordinances that regulate emotional reactions to the often irrational diktats that effect our lives and livelihoods, prohibit signs or video presentations, limit a citizens ability to address their representatives for redress of grievances, hamstring dissent on the dais, and set tightly defined parameters for public participation – three-minutes only – without any expectation of an answer, or even a grunt of begrudging acknowledgement from The Monarchy, other than the stone-faced stare of the exalted anointed ones perched high above.

Don’t take my word for it.  

Check out the recent machinations of those dullards on the Volusia County School Board who are making it abundantly clear that they no longer want to be subjected to heated questions from the parents of their victims or district employees – including “loud abusive comments” or the caustic criticism that naturally accompanies the deliberation of important public policy – especially when those edicts shape the education of our children.

That’s why it was refreshing to see Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower host a Town Hall meeting at DeLand City Hall last week – with Mr. Brower paying for the rental of the meeting space out of his own pocket – and members of his family coordinating logistics for the event.

According to reports, the bulk of the participant led discussion focused on the devastating impacts of the out-of-control growth that is metastasizing like a malignant chancre along the spine of Volusia County – sprawl that is threatening our water quality, destroying our natural places, taxing essential services, and placing increased pressure on our inadequate transportation and utilities infrastructure.

Some residents told horror stories of the direct impact of unchecked growth on their quality of life while calling for a moratorium on development – including requiring low-impact strategies to help stem flooding, conserve community resources, and protect our limited water supply.

Good luck with that. . .

The meeting also touched on the thorny issue of Chairman Brower’s inability to break out of the cage stubbornly imposed by Volusia’s Old Guard – his “colleagues” on the dais of power – an entrenched voting bloc which ensures the status quo.

Chairman Brower also used the forum to express his now educated understanding of the innerworkings of Volusia County government, which has left Brower questioning if County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and County Attorney Michael Dyer truly answer to the council. 

An article written by the News-Journal’s Mary Helen Moore reported:

“Brower said he doesn’t trust the political system he has become a part of and claimed that the county manager and county attorney don’t “truly answer to the Volusia County Council.” He encouraged those present not to lose hope, however.”

“Everybody’s up for re-election,” he told the audience.”

In my view, Chairman Brower’s community outreach and willingness to listen to street level concerns sets a high bar for Volusia County Council members – those we have elected to represent our interests – and a quantum leap from the lockstep conformity and official “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” insulation tactics that protect a cloistered bureaucracy from any outside oversight or criticism.

At this week’s council meeting, at-large member Ben Johnson got it on record that he “highly disagreed” with Chairman Brower’s concerns regarding Recktenwald and Dyer – lecturing that the County Manager and County Attorney work for the “majority” (Read: the Gang of Four who insulate themselves with groupthink and viciously oppose everything Chairman Brower says or does) – a point quickly seconded by our self-anointed eminence grise, The Very Reverend and Completely Loony “Dr.” Fred Lowry.

In my view, Mr. Recktenwald senses that he has nothing to fear from Chairman Brower, so long as the Old Guard majority remains intact – a risky strategy that has been the professional demise of more than one County Manager when the tide inevitably changes. . . 

The pushback was expected.

This is the first time (in a long time) that a sitting County Chair has spoken from the heart – peeled back the political patina to reveal their inner-most fears about the health of our “system” – then took the time to consider the same concerns of those who are expected to pay the bills and suffer in silence. 

Unfortunately, neither Johnson nor Lowry said one word about the intrinsic benefits of engaging with the community outside the stilted environment of the Gilded Chamber. . .     

Whatever. 

In my view, the impact of Chairman Brower’s willingness to connect with constituents in an honest, open, and inclusive way – something obviously lost on the lockstep majority – was exemplified in a recent social media post from a thoughtful town hall attendee:

“Attended the meeting last night. Quite informative and it was refreshing to have a public official (Jeff Brower) actually listening to his constituents. Listening to my fellow citizens, it became obvious how important this next election is and the necessity to vet these candidates. All of the present county board representatives except the chair are up for re-election. This is the time for change. We only had two representatives vote against tax increase; Jeff Brower and Heather Post. Time for Volusia County to join the rest of the people who are finally speaking up and saying no more to the establishment, We The People have been shut out too long.”

I hope you will remember that wisdom at the ballot box next year: 

This is the time for change. . .”

Quote of the Week

“Mayor Partington and Commissioner Selby continue to blame “poor decisions” by “past commissions” for the Avalon Park mega-development on the city’s western doorstep.

Facts: The Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company leveraged one city against the other in 2003 and Daytona Beach broke a long agreement with Ormond Beach in annexing 3,000 acres west of our city. Consolidated-Tomoka demanded we weaken our wetland rules to bring them in.

Facts: “Past commissions” were elected by constituents who wanted to keep our wetland rules and who knew growth does not pay for itself. Bill Partington was part of the 2009 commission that abolished our wetland rules.

Mayor Partington says “past commissions” failed to “negotiate and reach a reasonable deal.”

Facts: Consolidated-Tomoka turned down a good faith offer to amend our density rules, allowing the same number of units condensed on higher ground while preserving low-ground wetlands, shortening the city’s lines of infrastructure. Three members of the 2002 City Commission appeared at a Daytona Beach commission meeting to ask them to honor the existing annexation agreements between our two cities.

Questions:  Why has the Ormond Beach commission agreed to provide water and sewer services to Avalon Park in Daytona Beach? Why did we annex Plantation Oaks, roughly 1,500 manufactured homes that will receive our water, sewer, police, and fire services with no city control over the development and little revenue in return? Lastly, given the commission’s track record, it is doubtful they would’ve held the developer to a higher standard.

Instead of finger-pointing at past commission decisions, the current city commission should re-examine its own decisions that will accelerate and enable the massive Avalon Park and Plantation Oaks over-developments west and north of our city.”

–Stacy Day, Ormond Beach, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “Avalon Park,” Monday, November 15, 2021

Well said, Ms. Day.

And Another Thing!

Depending upon who you talk to around town, last week’s multiday music fest “Welcome to Rockville” was either a Godsend or a demonic curse – and I suspect both sides of the argument have validity. 

While I was away enjoying the bucolic mountains and fiery fall foliage of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, I had a few phone calls from irate BV readers asking who in the hell (or government) they could contact to lodge complaints about the excessive noise emanating from the venue at Daytona International Speedway – including one from a friend who lives off Airport Road in north Ormond Beach – who reported that the walls of her home were juddering with every bass note.

I tried to explain that these things have a finite lifespan, and when the show closed on Sunday, peace and tranquility would return to River City.    

Then came the “Golden Shower” heard (literally) around the world when Sophia Urista, the vocalist for a previously unheard-of band (to me anyway) known as Brass Against, dropped trou and gushingly, effusively, volubly, urinated on a willing fan’s face as he sprawled on the stage.

I know. 

Hate to see it.  Just leaves a bad taste in your mouth, right?  (Okay, I’ll stop. . .)   

Apparently after screaming into the microphone, “I’ma piss in this motherf****er’s mouth!” – Urista did just that – to the delight/disgust of thousands of cheering metalheads (of all ages?) in a revolting, if well-timed, publicity stunt that catapulted the once unknown group – and the Daytona Beach Resort Area – into the headlines of newspapers across the breadth of the known universe. 

Admittedly, it was an attention-getter. 

(Hell, I haven’t seen a stream like that since my prostate reached the size and consistency of a honey baked ham. . .)

Wide.  Open.  Fun.  Indeed.      

Conversely, I saw several social media posts from area merchants reporting a strong increase in sales and full hotels – with many visitors in town for the concert asking locals for suggestions on area restaurants and shopping – a true synergistic effect that small business owners who eke out a living in east Volusia’s artificial economy rarely see during events like Truckmageddon or (enter obnoxious “invasion event” here).   

In fact, on Friday, James Sass, the civically astute owner of the wonderfully eclectic downtown shop Abraxas Books wrote on social media:

“SLAMMED today by people in town for the Rockville music festival at the racetrack. Lots of foot traffic on Beach Street. If people are fanning out in town as much as they are onto Beach Street this event is very good for the whole city. This is something that should have been doing all along for the last 40 years. People driving around in circles has a much narrower appeal. This is good stuff.”

He’s right. 

As for the resulting “image issue” so many are wringing their hands over – let’s face it, the Daytona Beach Resort Area’s “brand” could not get much worse.

Perhaps it is time we embrace the fact we have a darker side – a skewed self-image complicated by our age-old identity crisis – best evidenced in a recent article by the News-Journal’s Jim Abbott, wherein an Orlando bar owner was quoted making the unfortunate, but accurate, statement:

“Somebody got their face peed on in Daytona.  I don’t even know how this is news from Daytona.”

Let’s face it – the Fun Coast is a shit-magnet. 

A strange portal to an unknown dimension where the bizarre always becomes reality – a sandy realm where the good, the bad, and the weird coexist, and if something prurient or off-base can occur, it will.

And maybe that’s okay – perhaps we can play this creepy hand we were dealt, accept the occasional Naked Cowboy or incontinent rock star, and succeed despite our penchant for weirdness? 

At least someone in a position to effect change is finally acknowledging where we are as a community – and where we need to be.      

As regular readers of these rants know, I am not someone who uses hope as a strategy – but when you don’t have much else going for you – optimism can help foster a sense of what is possible, make space for ideas, and illuminate a pathway toward revitalization and prosperity. 

This week, Daytona’s impressive new City Manager Deric Feacher got his senior staff off their ass and on their feet when he led a series of walking tours of historically challenged areas around Daytona Beach.

Good stuff.

If you are a senior bureaucrat ensconced at City Hall and your new boss is traipsing around the remnants of your civic handwork – you are going to want to get some dust on the Florsheim Imperials and at least try to explain yourself, right?

The stroll gave area stakeholders an up-close and personal look at the blight, dilapidation, and personal struggles of area residents – our core tourist area and beyond laid bare – warts and all – but a tour tempered with encouraging talk of Daytona’s long-neglected potential – and the real possibility of rebirth and revitalization.     

Perhaps these walks will provide an opportunity for our ‘powers that be’ to listen to business owners like Mr. Sass, other committed entrepreneurs, civic activists, and area residents – those intrepid souls who are personally invested in areas like Downtown, Main Street, Seabreeze Boulevard, Midtown – and use their experience as a barometer when determining which “special events” add value and which do not – as we struggle to decide what we want this wonderful, but infinitely quirky, place to become.    

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

Between a rock and a hard place

On Monday, that political insulation consortium comprised of our “best and brightest” gathered at the slightly misleading Daytona Beach “International” Airport, as the exalted Volusia Round Table of Elected Officials assembled to solve the most pressing issues of our time.

“The group is composed of one elected official from each of Volusia’s cities, county government and school system. It meets every other month to discuss countywide issues and concerns. The Volusia County Council hosts the meetings.”   

Never heard of it? 

That’s okay.  Not much gets accomplished (as evidenced by our dismal civic, economic, and political condition).

The group’s seminal moment came several years ago when they were openly led around like a dazed bull with a ring its nose by that mysterious camera stellata over at the CEO Business Alliance, who tried desperately to use their hired hands to levy a half-cent sales tax on Volusia County residents ostensibly to fund transportation infrastructure projects, even as the bulldozers roared on more “theme” communities in a disastrous “putting the cart before the horse” growth strategy. 

Fortunately, Volusia County taxpayers overwhelmingly voted down the money grab – refusing to give even more of our hard-earned money to the same dullards who got us into this gridlocked mess in the first place – after we witnessed them lavish funds on the whims of their political benefactors, like the infamous “road to nowhere,” where $15.8 million was squandered extending South Williamson Boulevard to accommodate Florida’s King of Kings our own High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hosseini, and his Woodhaven development.

This month, our brain trust at Hooterville’s own Bilderberg Group assumed an exhausting agenda which included staying awake through a boilerplate Coronavirus update, a minutes long affordable housing update (what “affordable housing”?), and a riveting briefing on the foremost existential threat to our quality of life that is universal pet licensing. . .

You read that right. . .

Yep.  Heady stuff.  

According to our distinguished political watchdog, Big John – host of the daily political affairs radio forum GovStuff Live! – who took one for the team and valiantly sat through the confab so we didn’t have to – he waited patiently for someone, anyone, to address the fact Volusia County has no discernable transportation infrastructure plan in its $1.1 billion budget. 

When it was clear the meeting would adjourn without any substantive progress on the most critical issue facing Volusia County residents – Big John disbelievingly asked why the powerful group of preeminent politicos were not addressing the 800-pound gorilla in the room: Roads? 

No doubt begrudgingly, the esteemed group agreed to take up the issue at its January 2022 meeting. . .

My ass.

With unchecked growth continuing along the spine of Volusia County – including the malignant sprawl west of I-95, where the pinch point at the antiquated two-lane Tomoka River bridge tells us all we need to know about the level of strategic planning that went into preparing for these massive subdivisions and those yet to come – it is shockingly clear that our elected and appointed officials are now caught between a rock and a hard place with no identifiable plan.

Unfortunately, I’m not seeing much hope on our political horizon.

Are you?

For instance, this week, former Daytona Beach City Commission Zone 2 candidate Larry McDermott, who lost to Commissioner-elect Ken Strickland in a special election earlier this month, wrote a confusing Letter to the Editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal asking (I assume seriously?) the question, “Where the floods go.”

“During my campaign for the Daytona Beach City Commission Zone 2 seat, one of the planks in my platform was the efficiency (or lack thereof) in our community’s stormwater drainage system. The various canals and stormwater management lakes in our community cannot hold the water produced by a storm of the type that we had this weekend.

Previously, our whole premise was to move the water east into the Halifax River. But as this storm and previous storms have shown us, this does not work if the tide is high and the wind is blowing from the east. I am not an engineer, but my engineering advisors strongly believe that Daytona Beach (and its surrounding communities) should move the water west toward the recharge area.

Perhaps some of the COVID funds that the city has received could be spent to relieve our area from this nemesis. This could also have the added benefit of putting the water in the recharge area where it will filter back to our aquifer and provide much needed drinking water to our area.”

Hey, Lar – guess what? 

That aquifer recharge area where you want to pump the abundant stormwater that is inundating homes, businesses, and roadways in Old Daytona and beyond is now called New Daytona – the faux-beach community of Latitudes Margaritaville, Mori Hossieni’s Mosaic, and the looming monstrosity that will be Avalon Park.   

That’s why we’re soon to be drinking our own recycled sewage. Get it?

So please spare us that maudlin bullshit about what your “engineering advisors” believe – because here in the real world all that matters is what our incredibly influential and extremely wealthy insiders think. 

(Check your campaign contributor list for a few of their names. . .)

My God.  If you are going to be a political player – get your head in the game, Mr. McDermott.    

Unfortunately, it is abundantly clear to anyone paying attention that some very important people in our community believe the continued erosion of our land development codes, rolling over for speculative developers, and paving over our natural places to make way for more cookie cutter, zero-lot-line, cracker boxes that allow out-of-state developers to haul even more money out of the pine scrub constitutes the “highest and best use” for the thousands of sensitive acres that once comprised the source of our drinking water.  

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is time We, The Little People on Florida’s Fun Coast get comfortable with the fact we are hapless victims of a power dynamic that is defined by abject greed – and the strategic stupidity of those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests who populate do-nothing timewasters like the Volusia Round Table of Elected Officials – wholly compromised phonies who continue to fiddle while what’s left of paradise falls to slash-and-burn land clearing to make way for the next ‘game changer.’

Good luck. We’re going to need it.

See you next week, kids. 

Thanks for reading – and furthering the discussion of the important issues we face.