Angels & Assholes for December 21, 2018

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.

They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but I’ll be damned if I’ve ever experienced anything like the monstrous virus that swept through Barker’s View HQ last week.

I’m convinced it was some genetically modified mutant version of the 1918 H1N1 – a tubercular Mega-Bug – that has left my long-suffering wife, Patti, battling pneumonia and me flat on my back for many days.  Ugh.

Despite massive doses of over-the-counter medication, unguents, ointments, a trip to a Florida Health Care clinic and bombardment by the best modern pharmaceuticals my health plan can afford, this virulent organism has romped around my respiratory tract unfazed.

In fact, it has now hung around so long I’m going to claim it as a dependent.

Sometimes, I find the old ways are the best, and my long-standing tonic for the treatment of all illnesses – physical and mental – seems to have beaten the bugger back.  I’d be happy to share the patented Barker Cure-All with you (for medicinal purposes only):

Pour three-fingers of Wild Turkey 101-proof Kentucky bourbon into a sturdy earthen mug to ensure proper heat retention.

Add a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon and a dollop of good honey (the darker the better – I use a limited edition 17-year wild oak honey – a delicious multi-floral that had been aging deep inside the trunk of a century-old oak tree in Holly Hill.  It was only discovered during a freak overnight lightning storm which cleaved the tree in half, revealing the sweet treasure inside.  All the bees were saved, thanks to the wonderful work of a dedicated third-generation apiarist, and they continue to produce incredibly delicious honey to this day.  If you would like some truly fine locally produced honey, please contact my friend Michael Blauberg at Tomoka River Basin Honey, 386-451-8782).

Top this off with strong hot black tea (preferably a Bai Lin Gong Fu or properly steeped Darjeeling) – then take liberally, as needed.

It might not help, but it can’t hurt.

Fortunately, I’m feeling stronger every day, and Patti has returned to work, so she can keep me in the lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed as a semi-retired Gentleman of Leisure.  After doing hand-to-hand combat with the bastard for over a week, I’m happy to report the Barker’s appear on the road to recovery.

Tradition dictates that I devote the last Angels & Assholes column before Christmas to give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

It’s true – the Great Scorer has bestowed many good things on this salty piece of land we call home – including a wealth of philanthropic people and organizations who work hard in the best interest of the many less-fortunate individuals and families in our area who truly deserve a hand up.

Unfortunately, the good work of these unsung angels is too often overshadowed by the steady drumbeat of political rhetoric and virulent criticism.

The “good news” is drowned out by the plaintive cries of those of us who feel powerless to stop the slow erosion of those traditions and amenities that make the Halifax area such a beautiful and unique place to live, work and play – as we remain trapped in a cycle of low paying service jobs and an artificial economy totally controlled by the same five people passing the same nickel around.

Clearly, I’m guilty of focusing on the problems – rather than the many good people in both the public and private sector who are working hard to find solutions.

But I simply refuse to remain silent.  And I know you won’t either.

So, as the Christmas Spirit fills what’s left of my broken and battered old heart – I want to dedicate this edition to YOU – the loyal readers and ardent warriors of the Barker’s View tribe – Angels all – who have made this experiment in alternative opinion blogging such a rich and rewarding experience.

Since those early fits and starts in January 2016 – little more than written outbursts borne of a growing frustration over the deteriorating condition of our hometown that ultimately evolved into Barker’s View – these bitter diatribes and tales from the dark side have been viewed some 271,058 times and have attracted thousands of followers who regularly receive these blog posts by social media and email – including readers from 118 countries around the globe.

It is incredibly humbling – and the kindheartedness of readers continues to be a source of great happiness and personal pride.

Your continued engagement and active participation in the debate of competing ideas has returned a much-needed sense of purpose to my life, a desperately important part of my soul that I lost upon retirement from public service.

Earlier this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal described Barker’s View as  “a must-read for locals interested in county politics” in a cogent editorial on growing local political dissent – and a dedicated reader recently shared in a good note, “I (we), many people are so fortunate you found your calling of sharing your writing and critical thinking with us.”

Wow.  I’m not an emotional guy, but that one got me. . .

Look, I get it.  These often-maniacal ravings aren’t for everyone – and not all of the messages I receive from readers and leaders are as kind as the ones I shared above – but that comes with the territory.

A wise prophet once said that a man with a greed for the Truth should expect no mercy, and give none. . .

I often sound like a broken record – a serial grumbler – a contrarian with a chip on his shoulder and no workable remedies to contribute.  Some call that the textbook definition of “whining” and perhaps they’re right, but the alternative is to suffer in silence, and in my jaded view, that only perpetuates the problem(s).

At the end of the day, please know that these rambling jeremiads are the product of a frustrated “every man” – neither always right, nor always wrong – but the important wisdom I receive from the smart observations of my readers tells me that I am not alone in my basic belief that the citizens of Volusia County deserve better.

So, if you keep reading and driving a larger discussion of the issues that affect us all – I promise to keep adding fuel to the fire – and maybe, just maybe, we can foster the fundamental change in our sacred system of governance that levels the playing field for everyone, returns a sense of fair play that benefits all citizens, honors our natural places, helps those less fortunate, supports entrepreneurial investment, ensures unfettered access to the most beautiful beach in the world and restores the sense of fun and possibility that made our region a premiere destination for millions of visitors.

Here’s wishing all of you – family, friends and political foes alike – a very Merry Christmas and all best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Much love,

Mark

(Please join Barker’s View for a very special Christmas Eve appearance on GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm.  We’ll be discussing the important issues of the day – and I would love to take your calls and learn about what’s important to you as we face the challenges and opportunities of 2019.  Locally, please find us at 1380am The Cat – or online at www.govstuff.org Listen Live button!) 

On Volusia: The Political Personality

Most loyal readers of this alternative opinion forum know that I have a rather jaded view of local politics and those who practice it.

In reality, I have a great deal of respect for those who give of their time and talents to serve the highest and best interests of their neighbors – to hold themselves out for elective office and courageously participate in the knife fight that is modern politics.

It’s not for the weak at heart.  I get it.

But the process of governance sure seems to attract some interesting characters. . .

In over three decades serving and observing local government, I’ve seen every variety and subgenus of politician imaginable:

The “Glad-Hander”:  Tries desperately to be everything to everyone (all the time), seeking approval by flip-flopping positions depending upon their audience.  The backslapping ‘good ol’ boy’ who is always endearing, totally ineffectual and rarely on the wrong side of a controversial issue or majority vote.

Quick to compromise – or co-opt themselves – the glad-hander tends to enjoy the social aspect of elective service and can always be found front-and-center at those ubiquitous rubber-chicken banquets and award ceremonies where politicians go to congratulate their own performance.

The “Angry Warrior”:  Entered politics to settle a score or right a perceived wrong.  Incendiary by nature, focused on a single-issue and usually painfully ignorant of the larger processes, departments and services they are making funding and policy decisions about.

The warrior is often a one term wonder who quickly tires of the time-consuming ancillary duties expected of elected officials after becoming totally disillusioned by the effort required to advance even minor issues in the bureaucratic labyrinth they find themselves in.

The “Powermonger”:  Intent on building a political machine by using their domineering personality to seize control of external civic groups and unofficial power centers (social clubs, service organizations, local political party infrastructure, etc.) and aligning themselves with the ‘Rich & Powerful’ who set the backroom agenda.

These narcissistic shitheels could care less about the needs and wants of their constituency, and enjoy driving decisions behind-the-scenes by coercion and fear, usually developing a close personal relationship with the appointed chief executive and wealthy political insiders who control the campaign purse strings of their “colleagues” on the dais of power.

In Volusia County, we have an inordinate number of these power-hungry politicos who serve as perfect counterparts to our “Kingmakers” – uber-wealthy insiders who use their considerable influence to control political succession and further their own personal and professional agendas at the local, state and national levels.

The “Rookie”:  The newly minted council member or commissioner who is always dangerously close to meddling in operational issues because they are everywhere, all the time.

The bane of city and county managers everywhere.

These well-meaning greenhorns are always underfoot – like a rambunctious puppy seeking attention – wandering the halls of administrative offices and popping in on department heads just to “say hello,” normally drawn like a magnet to any Emergency Operations Center.

Often found sitting at a vacant desk in a dusty corner of City Hall pouring over budget reports, nodding contemplatively and acting like they actually understand the figures and analysis.  (Might as well be staring at War and Peace written in ancient Chinese characters. . .)

Can be easily identified by their long-winded soliloquies during the “commissioner comments” section of the agenda – regaling everyone with how much they learned this week about the nuances of the wastewater treatment process as their colleagues roll their eyes and stare at their wristwatches – before asking the police chief if they can have a “badge” to identify themselves to officers (who never seem to recognize them) whenever they suddenly appear at crime scenes. . .

The rookie will eventually transition into some combination of the other types mentioned.

The “Sellout”:  Typically, a second-year politician who started out as an angry warrior-type – or campaigned as a change agent – only to become a cog in the wheel once elected.

The sellout is usually wholly dependent on big money donors making them extremely susceptible to compromise by big money interests.  This dynamic makes the sellout a prime candidate for the all-too-frequent Faustian bargain that quickly removes any semblance of political independence.

Generally, the elective office may be the sellout’s only identifiable source of income – or their interests are heavily reliant on their political benefactors for success – and they become completely enamored by the symbols of wealth and the gilded trappings of office.

The sellout is easily swooned by wealthy special interests who lavish faux-praise and massage their fragile ego while providing access to a social circle they have never been part of – and will never be again.

The sellout quickly becomes everything he or she hated when they entered the political arena as they are slowly used like cheap tools, then casually discarded by the powerful interests who control them when they are no longer relevant.

The “Servant Leader”:  Increasingly rare in local politics – this is the individual who seeks elective office for all the right reasons.

Usually a local business owner, professional or long-time resident with a simple desire to build a better community.  The servant-leader can be counted on to do the homework, study the material, come prepared and make fact-based decisions.

These community leaders make themselves available to their constituents – return telephone calls and emails – and frequently meet informally with citizens and civic groups to gain a better understanding of the issues facing those they serve.

The servant-leader deliberates with an open mind and considers diverse opinions – men and women of vision who humble themselves to the role and wield political power in the public interest, never for personal gain.

This type is far from perfect, but when they make an honest mistake – personally or professionally – they speak the truth, admit the error and work hard to set things right.  They never quibble the facts or engage in cheap cover-ups that destroy organizational credibility – and understand the essential importance of honor, integrity and governmental ethics to maintaining the public’s trust in the system.

They take a holistic approach to governance, rather than focusing exclusively on meeting the needs of special interests, and they do not succumb to the cancer of political cowardice – relying on inane and incredibly expensive “studies” and “consultant reports” before making difficult decisions – unless absolutely necessary to developing a comprehensive view of complex issues.

Perhaps most important, the servant-leader fundamentally understands the role of local government and stewards tax dollars and public assets in a way that ensures a return on investment for all citizens

Not averse to controversy when its required to affect positive change, these leaders refrain from unnecessarily “stirring the pot” and work hard to bring a sense of stability and professionalism by setting a positive example, following the rules, and instinctively working to further the highest and best interest of their constituents.

As we enter the “out with the old, in with the new” period that marks the peaceful transition of power in our democratic system, where term-limited and defeated politicians ceremoniously exit the public stage and make way for newly elected officials, let’s demand that those who stand for elective office remain true to the promises they made during the long, hot summer that was.

Let’s demand accountability for the dismal state of our beach management, our emergency medical transport service, the revelatory exposures of whistle-blowers on everything from the “filtering” of information and withholding publicly-funded studies from decision-makers altogether – to the paralytic dysfunction that has hampered significant progress on the most intractable regional problems of our time.

With the new year upon us, let’s all vow to attend more public meetings, make yourself – and your opinion – known to those for whom you have cast your sacred vote, and let us collectively demand a return of “Servant-Leaders” to the halls of power throughout Volusia County while there is still something left to worry about.

If we truly deserve better – now is the time to demand it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for December 14, 2018

Hey, kids!

Your rambling scribe has returned to Barker’s View HQ following a brief sojourn!

It’s good to be back.

I’m here to report that despite the many political, social and economic woes that plague the Sunshine State like a golem – if you are lucky enough to live in Florida, then you are lucky enough.

During the recent visit to my ancestral home in Southern Appalachia, we experienced the heavily flogged “Snowpocalypse 2018” – the largest snowstorm to impact the Southeastern United States in over 20-years!

Trust me.  It lived up to the hype.

Some 15-inches of the white stuff fell in huge flakes for many hours – a beautiful sight while it flies – not so much when it quickly turns to a hellish slush that fills your Clark’s Desert Boot like a gray Margarita whenever you step off a curb. . .

I also learned the importance of not only clearing one’s car of the accumulated snow cornice before attempting to drive (not recommended – this Florida Fool looked like I was piloting an out-of-control Zamboni on sheet ice, but, the plus being I found the actual purpose of the “defrost” button on the Lone Eagle’s dashboard.)

(For the first time since I’ve owned the car, the heated seat function was nice too. . .)   

After dutifully scraping the windshield of snow and ice – I set off down the hill – only to have the remaining 500 pounds of rooftop snow come sliding down – completely obscuring my forward view and causing the wiper blades to stand straight up in mock exasperation at my abject winter-weather ignorance.

This was followed the next day by a meteorological phenomena known as “freezing fog” – a white cloud that descends on the countryside when the ambient temperature reaches 17-degrees or so – coating everything it touches in a shimmering, but potentially dangerous, patina of rime ice.  Ugh.

Don’t get me started on “black ice” – you don’t want to know. . .

As a result, I was “snowed in” for two-days – whiling away the hours sipping from a bottle of Japanese whisky that I wisely stocked before the storm – while local and state authorities did an excellent job of clearing clogged roadways and getting things moving again.

We may live in the most corrupt state in the union – but, By God, we don’t suffer the same fate as those poor saps who live in an icebox for six-months of the year.

There is victory in that.  I think.

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:             Sheriff Mike Chitwood

Once again, Volusia County is circling the wagons – and all the usual patsies are in play.

Whenever the status quo is threatened in a serious way, our ‘powers that be’ immediately unite in defense of their common interests and protect the “system” at all costs.  Unfortunately, well-meaning people often get caught in the fray, instinctively calling for calm and a mending of fences, even when fundamental change would serve us all better.

I’ve read a lot about the need for ‘civility’ lately.

Headlines scream “Sheriff Chitwood and the nuclear option,” “Sheriff Chitwood, reel it in,” and “Rift pushes Volusia into dangerous waters,” with learned men like Stetson University’s Dr. T. Wayne Bailey, and former Volusia County Manager Larry Arrington, wringing their hands about a return to the bad old days when Volusia County was a festering pit of open public corruption (rather than today’s thinly camouflaged version) should our sacrosanct county charter be amended to provide elected officials with a level of autonomy commensurate with their political accountability.

(I mean, the utter gall of Volusia County residents to seek the right to elect a Constitutional sheriff, rather than a department head wholly controlled by an appointed County Manager, as set in the Omnipotent Charter drafted by a bunch of rich old men with a chip in the game.  Yep.  A recipe for anarchy. . . )

According to Dr. Bailey and Mr. Arrington, once elected officials are released from the yoke of a godlike manager, our very system of governance will quickly dissolve into “Us vs. Them” warfare.

“The principles and values of democracy — civitas — are abandoned to tribalism. It’s not long before professional autonomy of public servants succumbs to cronyism.”

The problem is, that statement assumes that the high principles and values of democracy were ever taken seriously by this illegitimate oligarchy that passes for governance in the first place – or that cronyism isn’t the current controlling factor in everything Volusia County government does. . .

In fact, Sheriff Chitwood was one of the first elected officials in recent memory to break Volusia County’s long-standing  Code of Omerta and expose the “Good Ol’ Boy” shenanigans in DeLand when he said, “One of the first greetings I got when I was elected as your sheriff was a warning from our County Manager Jim Dinneen. The message was play nice or my time as sheriff would be brief.”

That’s frightening.

Make no mistake – while Mr. Dinneen may have fled the building with a sack full of severance cash – the “system” remains firmly entrenched – and if you think the big money interests who control our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast are simply going to acquiesce to the deconsolidation of power brought by the passage of Amendment 10, think again.

After all, people who have the chutzpah to spend $75 million dollars of other people’s money to erect a massive monument to their own self-grandeur at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – or accept public funds to underwrite infrastructure and construction costs for a new glass and steel headquarters building for their billion-dollar insurance intermediary (in a place with some 28% of the population listed as Asset Limited, Income Restrained, Employed – and thousands more at or below the poverty line) – aren’t going to give up their hard-bought spot at the public teat anytime soon.

In my view, perhaps it’s time that smart men like T. Wayne Bailey and Larry Arrington stop contemplating the theory of good governance in wing-back leather chairs and get in the game – down here in the trenches where citizens eke out a living in an artificial economy based upon the same five players passing the same nickel around.

Where blight, squalor and stagnation abound while “economic development” dollars are funneled to all the right last names and anyone who dares to stand up and expose the cyclical sham is marginalized and destroyed – personally and professionally – by elected marionettes who have been co-opted by an out-of-control campaign finance system tailor-made to legitimize quid pro quo corruption.

Here’s a legitimate question for those eggheads over at The Civitas Project: Is it better if someone sneaks up under cover of darkness and steals from you – or if they rob you while smiling, shaking your hand and slapping you on the back?

Frankly, of the two larcenous forms, I’d rather defend against the sneak thief – at least I know from the outset what I’m dealing with. . .

And make no mistake, the majority of our elected officials on the Volusia County Council are doing everything in their power to reverse the will of the people and ensure that the lucrative interests of their political benefactors are protected by using County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert – and our hard-earned tax dollars – to challenge Amendment 10.

“Screw your “Democratic principles and values” – We will respect your vote right up to the point it impacts our pocketbook – then we will sue your fucking eyeballs out to reverse it.”

I also find it interesting that these compromised assholes can act like unconscionable schoolyard bullies – bashing and minimalizing anyone or anything that dares to point out the myriad issues that have plagued our area for decades – then whimper like whipped pups whenever someone their own size stands up for themselves and their long-suffering constituents.

You know what I like about Sheriff Mike Chitwood?

He speaks his mind in an environment where candor has proven harmful to more than one dedicated public servant’s career track.

In my view, the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County need Sheriff Chitwood’s courage in the face of larger, more darker forces who are intent on maintaining the status quo regardless of cost.

When the will of the people is threatened – when those we have elected ostensibly to serve our highest and best interests attempt to subvert the majority vote with protracted and incredibly expensive legal maneuvering funded with our own tax dollars simply to maintain the patency of the cash funnel to special interests – it is time for boldness and audacity.

Civility be damned.

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

During the December 4, 2018, Volusia County Council meeting, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post attempted to move a substantive discussion of objectively evaluating the performance and professionalism of the County Manager and County Attorney, two of the most highly paid and professionally responsible positions on the public payroll.

As typically happens when Ms. Post seeks to advance an important issue of public concern – her “colleagues” on the dais immediately dismissed her suggestions in favor of the “let’s keep doing it the way we’ve always done it” strategies which all but ensure that history will repeat itself.

In fact, during what passed for public discussion on the matter, outgoing Councilwoman Joyce Cusack revealed that she had never completed a written evaluation of either position in her eight years in elective office.

Not once.

In my view, the County Council’s demonstrable political cowardice and complete abdication of their civic and fiduciary responsibility for ensuring the performance and professionalism of the only two public employees it is chartered to oversee speaks volumes about the age-old problem of the political protections afforded to those who stand at the lucrative nexus of public funds and private, for-profit projects.

As I’ve written before, regardless of the pursuit, a leader or elected body – political or otherwise – simply must have the ability to maintain sound situational awareness at all times – even in the fog and confusion of stressful or rapidly changing conditions.

Good leaders must constantly know and evaluate Context, Circumstance and Consequence.

What is happening.  What has happened.  What could happen.

You either have it, or you don’t – and once lost, like the public trust, it is extremely difficult to recover.

Nothing is more noticeable, or destructive to morale and public confidence, than a “leader” who has lost command of a situation or organization.

Initially, this phase is marked by the element of surprise – things “pop-up” out of nowhere, misperceptions drive the solution, established processes are manipulated to accommodate situations, and cracks begin to appear in the carefully constructed façade.

Often, people in the upper-echelons who should be “in the know” are caught unaware, resulting in a lack of faith in management and a growing sense of organizational confusion – and subordinates and constituents are left flummoxed by the actions and omissions of those in positions of great responsibility.

Sound familiar DeBary?  Deltona?

How about Volusia County government?

Unfortunately, once this damaging process begins, it is often unrecoverable – resulting in systemic failures, corresponding “cover-ups,” misplaced blame on people and failed technology, and an atmosphere of suspicion and animosity.

When those in positions of high responsibility know that those to whom they are responsible are actively monitoring their performance and professionalism – not meddling, but monitoring, evaluating and analyzing objective metrics – it builds transparency and trust, both in the organization, and with the constituency it serves.

Regular readers of these jeremiads know that I have little confidence in our entrenched appointed “leadership” in the halls of power in DeLand – or those we have elected to represent and protect our interests on the County Council.

Perhaps this latest missed opportunity can be corrected by the incoming council members when they take office in January.

In a social media post, Ms. Post noted, “I have yet to find another county in Florida that does not provide written evaluations for those positions. If not solely for common sense & professional business standards, I think that the turmoil surrounding the exit of our previous County Manager in June is plenty of reasoning to expect identified deliverables and goals.”

With a search firm actively scouring the countryside for a new County Manager who will command a six-figure salary and incredibly lucrative benefits package that the average Volusia County resident will never see – if this collective dereliction of a sworn duty doesn’t scare the hell out of you – it should.

Quote of the Week:

“Scientific facts prove that the ice caps are not melting due to global warming or climate change. If that statement is false how can you believe anything else that is included in the report?”

Volusia County Council Chair and Forth Stooge Ed Kelley, as quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia leader disputes climate report,” Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A recent federal report mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 paints a grim picture of the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels on coastal communities like ours.

Prior to publication, the Fourth National Climate Assessment was peer reviewed by a committee of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and was written to help inform decision-makers, utility and natural resource managers, public health officials, emergency planners, and other stakeholders by providing a thorough examination of the effects of climate change on the United States.

According to Old Ed Kelley – it’s all bullshit propaganda of the dirt-worshiping tree-huggers who oppose the wholesale development and wall-to-wall pavement of the Florida peninsula.

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

Despite the work of more than 300 preeminent government and private-sector scientists and climatologists – including experts from federal, state, and local governments, tribes and indigenous communities, national laboratories, universities and the private sector – our doddering fool of a County Chair is convinced its all hokum by “alarmist who want to stop, control development.”

In fact, Old Ed is so sure he’s right, and the rest of the world’s scientific community is wrong, that during a recent meeting on the impact of sea level rise at Stetson University, it was reported that he mockingly shook his head and openly laughed as an expert discussed regional impacts.

Jesus.

The fact is, Old Ed hasn’t had an original thought since he took his first campaign contribution – and he could give two-shits about the sustainability of this salty piece of land we call home – so long as it serves the insatiable greed of his political cronies.

This congenitally corrupt churl openly encourages the legislative weakening of environmental protections and turns a blind eye to the repetitive ecological atrocities committed by his buddies and benefactors in the real estate development community because that’s what slimy politicians do when they sell their very soul for a seat at the dais of power.

The Chairman’s dimwitted ignorance aside, read between the lines and you get a glimpse at what happens when the hubris and arrogance of power overcomes a public official’s natural instinct to listen, learn and seek solutions.

Once seduced by the trappings of office and the faux-praise of the suckfish who surround them, the Ed Kelley’s of the world come to believe they know what’s best, despite expert evidence to the contrary, and make a fool of themselves in the process.

Here’s another quote I’m openly fond of:

“Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”

–Proverbs 17:28

Hey, Eddie – Word to the wise: Shutteth thy lips. . .

And Another Thing!

Being the opinionated putz that I am, I want to join the growing chorus of concerned citizens who are calling for hard answers in the latest ethical debacle to rock the City of Deltona.

Why?

Although I don’t live in that community, I firmly believe that if you care about good governance in your own hometown – then you should care about good government everywhere – and given recent history, I happen to believe that the good citizens of Deltona deserve better.

Last week, the intrepid News-Journal reporter Katie Kustura broke an important story that City Manager Jane Shang – who has been under siege for numerous and frequent gaffs, howlers, lapses of judgement and general mismanagement of the sprawling West Volusia community literally since taking office – may have intentionally and illegally listed her residential address as Deltona City Hall, rather than her actual address on Mountain Ash Way, when completing an official voter registration form.

An oversight?  Maybe.

But if so, why didn’t Ms. Shang immediately correct the mistake when she found a permanent residence?

And more ominous – has Shang been intentionally voting outside her district?

I began to take notice of the Shang regime when she took to using the full might of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office to silence political criticism and intimidate anyone who dared question the political shit storm that has permeated every operational area of City Hall for years.

In fact, at Shang’s direction, and the former City Commission’s negligent acquiescence, at least two Deltona residents faced the life-changing horror of defending themselves against potential felony charges.  In my view, it was the most aggressive campaign to eradicate opposition and quash dissent since Mao Zedong’s Double Ten Directive. . .

Now, the shoe is on the other foot.

According to reports, Shang’s erroneous entry on a voter form may have violated Florida statutes prohibiting submitting false information – a 3rd degree felony – punishable by a $5,000 fine and/or 5-years in prison.

Wow.

In my view, it is imperative that the Deltona City Commission immediately terminate Shang’s reign of intimidation and order an independent investigation into this and other improprieties and unethical practices detailed by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s reporting – or at the very least – suspend her from office until this serious potential felony crime can be formally investigated by law enforcement.

Like I said, anyone who cares about good governance in their own hometown should care about good governance everywhere, and this necrotic situation in the Shang administration – a wholly dysfunctional and terribly expensive Carnival of the Absurd that has destroyed the public’s faith in their government – simply cannot continue.

If the “new” City Commission truly wants a fresh start and deliverance from the sins of the past – I believe that process begins in the City Manager’s office.

That’s all for me!

Have a great weekend, folks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snowmaggedon 2018!

Your faithful scribe is “snowed in” in East Tennessee – but while other fools were buying bread and milk – I laid in a supply of fine Japanese whisky.  Let it snow!

So much going on in Volusia County – I’ll be back in the fray when the thaw comes!

On Volusia: Once More, With Enthusiasm

Political cowardice, in all its ugly forms, has been a dominating factor in Volusia County governance for years – it is endemic in the “system” – and its metastatic spread affects many municipalities as well.

At best, this phenomenon is marked by a lack of backbone which prevents our elected officials from doing the right thing, for the right reasons, for fear of alienating their political benefactors – at worst, it is an avoidance mechanism that dodges accountability to their constituents through the use of intermediaries and mouthpieces who deliver a carefully crafted, if tough to hear, message.

In Volusia County, We, The People are a necessary nuisance.

Politicians need our vote to remain in the game – and the system needs our tax dollars to bankroll the private projects of insiders, cover exorbitant salaries and benefits packages of the senior executive class and perpetuate the ‘tax and spend’ cycle – beyond that, we don’t have any real influence on the process.

This scourge of cowardice was never more evident than last spring when, after years of massage and preparation, something called the Roundtable of Elected Officials – a weird consortium of political leaders who apparently take their marching orders from the millionaires of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – announced that the much-ballyhooed half-cent sales tax referendum would be pulled from the ballot.

After whipping their constituents into a lather of fear with scary stories about the self-created problem of allowing unchecked growth without adequate transportation infrastructure (and no way to pay for it) – we learned that Volusia County hadn’t raised transportation impact fees in 15-years.

In fact, local real estate developers – who donate heavily to local political campaigns – have been grossly underpaying impact fees, while receiving credits for  infrastructure improvements supporting a particular project in today’s dollars for years!

Initially, those dullards we elected to ostensibly represent our interests in DeLand wouldn’t even discuss the possibility of raising impact fees, preferring to “let sleeping dogs lie” – or insulting our intelligence by telling us we’re too stupid to understand the complex nature of impact fee calculations.

Then, we discovered the existence of a “secret study” – paid for with our tax dollars – that recommended raising impact fees in some categories by 300%.

In a poorly acted scene, South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarbrough – who emerged as the very visible voice of the sales tax initiative – exclaimed in his patented Tennessee cornpone, “Well, I’ll be gosh-darned.”

“If the report had been addressed sooner, maybe “we wouldn’t have gotten so side-tracked with the sales tax,” he said. “I wonder why it never surfaced.”

Really, Joe?  You really wondered why the study never surfaced?

My ass.

Then – We, The People got pissed.

The intentional suppression of a publicly funded study calling for impact fee increases spoke to everything we suspected – the greed of developers, shady backroom deals, the complete lack of transparency in County government, the lies and miscues by elected officials bent on protecting their benefactors at our expense, fake astonishment by the mouthpiece when the lie was exposed – it was a clear and continuing conspiracy to pull the wool over our eyes, and everyone who is anyone was in on the joke but us.

So, that Camera Stellata over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance directed their chattel on the dais of power to pull the plug, and just like that, the half-cent sales tax initiative faded into the ether.

In the meantime, the architect of this and so many other ethical debacles, former County Manager Jim Dinneen, fled the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building with a sack full of severance money, the election has come and gone, and Joe Yarbrough has announced his retirement from the City of South Daytona.

So, this afternoon the Volusia County Council will set about reanimating the corpse of the half-cent sales tax debacle – and all the former cast members are returning for the encore performance.

Of course, Mr. Yarbrough is staying on to serve as the now totally unaccountable flack for the renewed effort – after all, Joe has secured his extremely lucrative pension (he’s no longer accountable to anything but his own conscience) and he’s obtained a part-time gig shilling for a tax increase while remaining on the citizens of South Daytona’s dime.

Our powers-that-be have given Old Ed Kelley the simple, but effective, role of repeating – like a faulty phonograph – the silly phrase, “Our needs will not be met by impact fees alone – Our needs will not be met by impact fees alone – Our needs will not be met by impact fees alone. . .” 

And just like that, these cowards on the dais of power will permit their political benefactors more time to ramrod even more cracker box homes through in places like ICI Homes new “lifestyle” community, Mosaic – or Jimmy Buffett’s faux-beach playground in the pine scrub, Latitudes at Margaritaville. . . 

Under the plan – which completely ignores the urgent recommendations of their highly paid consultant and constituents to execute the increase immediately – the County Council will vote to implement 75% of the suggested impact fee increase within 90-days of adoption – and the remaining 25% in 2020.

It’s a compromised “phased” solution that, in my view, shows just how low our craven elected officials will stoop to please their puppet masters while attempting to lash a sales tax increase to the back of every man, woman and child in Volusia County.

It’s beyond cowardly – it is patently wrong.

In my view, the taxpayers of Volusia County are trapped in a pernicious system they neither understand nor can escape.

It revolves around money – big money – from those who stand at the incredibly lucrative nexus of private interests and public funds, and today’s Kabuki theater in DeLand will best illustrate just how far removed those of us who foot the bill are from those we have elected to serve our highest and best interests.

 

(Barker’s View will be on hiatus this week.  Angels & Assholes will return on December 14, 2018!)

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 30, 2018

Hi, kids!

Wow!  It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go!

It’s that time of the year when we can put our differences aside, be thankful for the many blessings in our lives, put joy in our hearts and try to forget one of the most divisive political seasons in recent memory – a contentious period that pitted neighbor-against-neighbor – with one of the largest voter turnouts for a midterm election on record.

Now that the interminable recounts are complete, and the carcasses have been cleared from the political fast lane, we will begin to see some of our wide-eyed “leaders” who successfully stood for public office begin the metamorphosis from citizen-servant to preening politician.

This isn’t universally true, of course.

I know some wonderful people who currently hold various elective offices throughout Volusia County and beyond – people I trust – true servant-leaders who work hard to represent their constituents with honor and an unwavering commitment to service above self.

Unfortunately, for many newly elected officials, the swearing-in ceremony marks the first step in becoming everything they hated.

After raising their hand and taking the sacred oath of office, the “system” begins the well-honed process of separating those we have elected to represent our best interests from those they are sworn to serve – painting constituents as an impediment, rather than partners – and conspiring to make our “commissioners” and “council members” increasingly reliant on appointed officials, well-heeled insiders and entrenched bureaucrats for information and acceptance.

The trappings of office – the power, status and perceived social standing – complete the self-aggrandizement and help confirm their outsized sense of superiority and infallibility.  Even before they realize it, the casual double-standard set for their political benefactors dissolves into gross hypocrisy.

This transformation is most evident in career politicians who glide into positions of increasing control based solely upon their demonstrated ability to serve the self-interests of their uber-wealthy masters.

Trust me.  Intelligence, vision and character don’t mean shit to those seeking a cheap means to a profitable end.

A prime example is our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – arguably one of the most painfully dull and blatantly compromised elected officials in a region rife with the breed – who routinely ignores the very real needs of his long-suffering constituents while flagrantly shilling for his ‘friends’ in the real estate development community.

He’s not alone.

For example, I recently came across an interesting letter from the Ormond Beach City Commission (speaking of compromised shitheels. . .) dated February 2, 2016, that told me all I needed to know about why speculative developers spent hundreds-of-thousands of dollars to ensure the return of incumbent politicians in Ormond Beach, Volusia County and elsewhere.

The correspondence was signed by then Mayor Kelley, and addressed to former County Manager Jim Dinneen, recommending that Volusia County eliminate its wetlands regulations like Ormond Beach did in 2010.

You read that right.

“In keeping with the County’s and the Cities efforts toward economic development and reduced regulation, we would urge the County Council to step away from additional and onerous regulations of wetlands that may inhibit future economic development of the region and let the Saint John’s regulations govern wetland impact for consistency throughout the region.”

All the “code words” are there – along with the abject arrogance that shines brightest when the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker become convinced they know what’s best for the rest of us.

Apparently, Old Ed forgot that the Chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District, Long John Miklos, has been widely exposed as a cheap huckster who, in the opinion of many, makes his living lobbying for paying customers in front of the very regulatory agency he oversees.

How dumb do they think we are? 

The fact is, Ed Kelley doesn’t know squat about the vital importance of Florida’s endangered wetlands and aquifer recharge areas to the overall health of our sensitive ecology, wildlife habitat and, ultimately, our own drinking water.

But that batty old coot and his greedy ilk can tell you everything you need to know about what it takes to get perennially elected to high office in this self-perpetuating oligarchy.

They’ve got that down to a science.

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:             Daytona Beach Police Officer Kevin Hird

 While responding to a call for service last Sunday evening, Daytona Beach Police Officer Kevin Hird was shot by a violent career criminal – aptly described by Chief Craig Capri as a “typical street maggot” – armed with an AK-47.

Although seriously wounded, thanks to his incredible courage and training, Officer Hird was able to place a radio call alerting other officers.

After exchanging gunfire with responding officers, ultimately, the piece of human excrement, later identified as Raymond Roberts, was tracked down and taken into custody.

Now, Officer Hird is recovering after two surgeries and has bravely vowed to overcome his physical injuries and return to duty once he is able.

According to Mike Scudiero of the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association, “In the meantime, this rising star within the agency will be placed on light duty, which means he will be unable to work outside details or voluntary overtime, which are things often important in the life of an officer. To that end, the Coastal Florida PBA is helping raise funds for Officer Hird to help offset the lost wages. His recovery is expected to take several months.”

In this season of giving, I can think of no greater way to honor the outstanding service and sacrifice of this brave law enforcement officer who put it all on the line to protect your family and mine.

A fundraising effort has been established to help Officer Hird and his family during what will be a long recovery.

Please find more information on how you can help here: https://tinyurl.com/y7yjd5ew

In addition, on Thursday, December 6th, Planet Smoothie, 2525 West International Speedway Boulevard, will donate 20% of all sales – and 100% of all raffle tickets sold – to Officer Hird and his family!

God Bless you, Officer Hird.  You are a Barker’s View Archangel and a fierce warrior in the fight for right and good.

You acted in the finest traditions of the police service, stayed in the fight, and did your very best to provide for the safety and security of Daytona Beach residents.

Thank you for your remarkable courage under fire.

Asshole:          Volusia County School District

I like words.

The great American author Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

It’s part of what I enjoy about writing.

I’m clearly not a “good” writer – but I write a lot – over 265,000 words this year alone – and nothing brings me more joy than discovering just the right descriptor or colorful phrase that brings depth and clarity to the point I’m struggling to make.

Whenever I read details of the latest five-alarm fuck-up at Volusia County Schools – one word continues to shine through: Asinine.

The Oxford English Dictionary claims the adjective originates from the Late 15th century: from the Latin asininus – or ‘ass’ – defined as something ‘extremely stupid or foolish.’

The word is apropos because invariably the manqué Superintendent Tom Russell and his goofy “Cabinet” seem to gravitate to the most imbecilic non-solution possible when reacting to the very real problems facing our seriously flawed educational system.

Our elected officials (at least on the previous Volusia County School Board) recognize the pervasive nature of the problem, yet they seem physically incapable of doing anything about it?

For instance, the Volusia County School District is an independent taxing authority with the responsibility and political accountability for managing public funds, organizing assets, preparing a budget and levying assessments to meet the needs of thousands of students, teachers and staff.

With a current budget approaching $900 million – the largest of any government entity in Volusia County – I find it incredulous that our elected officials on the School Board seem physically incapable of identifying curriculum modifications as part of a comprehensive strategic plan to provide a quality educational experience and set achievable goals for our precious children while paying our hard-working teachers a living wage?

Instead, the District is mired in glaring incompetence at the highest levels of the organization – anchored by pencil-pushers who speak in that weird patois known as “bureaucratese” that results in inane “Performance Targets” such as,  “Academic improvement for all students by enhancing academic relevance and rigor, measured by an increase in the Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) targets.”

I have no idea what that means.  But, more frightening – neither do the people who wrote it. . .

Whatever.

Now, with some three-quarters of Volusia County elementary schools languishing in hopeless mediocrity – rather than listen to the concerns of teachers who are actually in the classroom – District officials have opted to simply extend the student day by 30-minutes.

As one would expect, parents and stakeholders are beginning to question the necessity of this wholly disruptive measure – especially in the conspicuous absence of a larger strategy for turning around foundering schools.

In response to growing questions by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the district’s Executive Director of K-12 Curriculum Rachel Hazel said, “Change is inevitable, but pain is optional.”

There is another old axiom I’m quite fond of that says, “Change for change sake does not equal progress.” 

It means that making nonsensical, but highly visible, modifications – like lengthening the school day by a few minutes – as a cheap smokescreen to convince constituents, “Hey, look, we’re doing something!” – simply creates animosity and erodes confidence by adversely impacting family routines, working hours and transportation methods while driving up costs with no demonstrable benefit beyond bringing .5-hour parity to teachers in elementary, middle and high schools.

That’s asinine.

In my view, elementary teacher Amy Dorton said it best in a recent News-Journal treatment of the daily routine of Superintendent Russell,  “We’re putting out fires with water guns,” she said. “We have big problems.”

“Dorton cites the lack of textbooks available for elementary teachers and the district’s progress-monitoring tools as initiatives the district started “without having a plan to implement it properly.”

 I mean, this administration can’t even successfully work a “plan” to replace and consolidate office printers. . .

 How telling.  How terribly sad.

Now, I’m hearing some very disturbing, but unconfirmed, reports of serious problems in the District’s maintenance and operations department.  If that develops, you can rest assured I’ll have something to say about it. . .

In my view, it’s time Superintendent Russell admit that he doesn’t have a clue how to turn failing schools around – he’s clearly in over his head – and begin the process of receiving real-time advice and constructive criticism from active teachers and experienced staff on how best to fundamentally improve the core curriculum to better serve the educational needs of our children.

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

 I’ve said it before, but Volusia County needs a free-flow of our hard-earned cash like a parasitic insect needs the blood of its host – so, I’m not going to beat-around-the-bush:  The abject greed of County government has reached epic proportions. 

 It’s just one reason why I wasn’t surprised to see the glaring front page headline in The Daytona Beach News-Journal last week announcing, “Beach driving revenue soars.”

When the Volusia County Council voted to double beach access fees, the increase resulted in a nearly 50% decline in the number of daily passes sold this year – while allowing county bureaucrats to haul in some $1 million more than last year – when over 200,000 more passes were sold overall.

Now, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys wants to charge out-of-county beachgoers (you know, ‘tourists’) even more for enjoying our century old heritage of beach driving – the only amenity that makes Volusia County beaches unique from any other coastal destination in the state (other than the open blight, dilapidation and omnipresent feeling of hopelessness that recently saw the Halifax area listed #1 on the “Most Ghetto City in Florida” list. . .)

Our elected and appointed officials in DeLand never seem to understand that it is immoral and unethical for a government ostensibly of the people, by the people, and for the people, to place undue additional financial burdens on taxpayers (and the visitors we spend handsomely to attract) with little or no increase in amenities beyond a few extra trash barrels.

(Riddle me this:  Why is it whenever politicians are increasing revenue by raising access fees, visitors are derisively referred to as “non-residents” and “day trippers” – but when we are spending millions in public funds on the apparatus, personnel and goofy advertising campaigns to lure them here, they are affectionately called “tourists”?)

In my view, using financial leverage to price a day at a public beach out of the reach of many Central Florida families is simply wrong – and the adverse effect on our areas reputation will be long-term.

Especially when public funds seem to pass like shit through a dyspeptic goose directly into the hands of political insiders in the form of “economic development” incentives, tax breaks and other for-profit projects which use our hard-earned tax dollars to alleviate overhead.

Despite the fact that beachside businesses and neighborhoods are suffering the inevitable impacts of Volusia County’s failed beach policies – where ramps are arbitrarily closed, construction projects take precedence over public access, blighted areas are strategically ignored and there is seemingly no limit on stratospheric fee increases unless you are a member of a politically protected class – we continue to re-elect these same congenitally corrupt dullards with no strategic vision, no leadership and no qualms about raising taxes and fees on those who can least afford them.

Screw it.  I guess, at the end of the day, we truly do get the government we deserve.

Quote of the Week:

“It was as if commission incumbents were offended simply to have competition. Campaign advertising from the pro-growth side was mean-spirited to a fault. When the election was over and pro-growth commission candidates won, there seemed an unnecessary effort to rub it in.”

–Pat Rice, editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, highlighting the animus surrounding the recent Ormond Beach City Commission race in, “The steps toward a half-cent infrastructure tax,” Sunday, November 25, 2018

Let this cogent snippet of Pat Rice’s beautiful prose stand as the final epitaph on the death of political civility, unity and civic cohesiveness in Ormond Beach. . .  

And Another Thing!

Guilty as charged.  I’m an unabashed member of that weird tribe known as Cave People – Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

Admittedly, I routinely poo-poo government initiatives that seek to perpetuate the status quo in a region that seems intractably mired in an oscillating cycle of unbridled growth followed by paralytic stagnation.

The one step forward, two-steps back syndrome where we seem all too willing to give up our natural places and foul our own environmental nest simply for another horrific “theme” subdivision or ghastly strip center.

My reluctance to believe most anything a politician says comes from a Pavlovian conditioning resulting from repeated exposure to the machinations of government in Volusia County – a slow erosion of trust and the expectation that those who stand at the nexus of public funds and private interests will side with those who can pay-to-play every time.

Fortunately, there are bright spots.

It’s no secret that Holly Hill – “The City with a Heart” – holds a very special place in mine.

Last week, we learned of a plan to develop a state-of-the-art Pickleball center at beautiful Hollyland Park in Holly Hill.  Given the fact that the sport of pickleball – a sort of hybrid between tennis and paddle ball – is the fastest growing sport in the United States, this facility has the potential to become a huge draw for the Halifax area.

This unique project also represents one of the first new public recreation and sports facilities in recent memory.

According to the plan, Rainer and Julie Martens of Ormond Beach have donated some $3 million for construction of what’s being hailed the “Wimbledon of Pickleball,” with the city of Holly Hill providing $1 million to see the vision become reality.

In exchange, the citizens of Holly Hill will receive a return on their investment in the form of a new Senior Activity Center offering health, fitness and social activities, a player’s café serving refreshments, along with a clubhouse and retail center.

I’ve often said that no municipality routinely does more with less than Holly Hill.

That sense of community pride is evident in the many historic city facilities which have been thoughtfully cared for and curated – not knocked down so massively expensive Taj Mahal government buildings can be erected in their place.  This common sense practice has allowed the community to retain such beautiful architecture and maintain a true connection with our past.

Now, I’m proud to see community leaders doing something innovative for the future of this very special place.

Kudos to the officials and citizens of Holly Hill for bringing this exciting new amenity to the Halifax area!

I hope you’ll join me tonight beginning at 6:00pm on the front steps of Holly Hill City Hall, 1065 Ridgewood Avenue, for the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony!

It’s a true slice of Americana and a great way to kick off this most joyous season, and I have it on good authority that Santa Claus will make his grand appearance!

Then, on Saturday morning, the 59th Annual Holly Hill Christmas Parade will roll along the traditional Ridgewood Avenue route beginning at 10:00am!

More information on both of these great events is available at www.hollyhillfl.org

That’s all for me!  Have a great weekend!

 

 

 

On Volusia: Take a ride on “The Georgie Go-Round”

For some strange reason, in Volusia County, elections change the face of the Council, county managers come, and they go – but the fundamental symptoms of a much more virulent and deeply rooted disease remain.

My suspicion is that the political kabuki that passes for our manner and means of governance is deftly manipulated by shadowy outside forces – with the strings and cables only becoming visible during times when official leadership is required – or it becomes necessary to hold a political insider accountable.

Then, utter paralysis ensues.

Don’t believe me?

Then take a long look at how consecutive councils sidestepped the matter of raising impact fees on their political benefactors in the real estate development community – while attempting to place the financial burden for transportation infrastructure improvement on the backs of every man, woman and child in Volusia County in the form of a sales tax increase.

Earlier this year, those of us paying attention stood in shock as everyone who is anyone in the Volusia County Inner Circle joined for an invitation only cocktail party at then still very much under construction Hard Rock Hotel in Daytona Beach.

It was quite the soiree – replete with a live band, goofy ‘rock star’ laminates, a VIP “guitar smash” and an on-the-beach professional pyrotechnic display – all on the first evening of sea turtle nesting season. . .

The problem was, in the view of many locals, the hotel clearly failed to meet the performance standards set by Volusia County by the contractually set deadline.

On February 23, 2018, then County Manger Jim Dinneen accepted the following missive from Hard Rock International, which he claimed met the exacting standards required by Volusia County before the hotel took ‘410 linear feet of our century old heritage of beach driving and access:

“Please accept this letter as notice that the property at 900 N. Atlantic Avenue, is a beach side resort and full-service hotel under franchise agreement with Hard Rock International.  Moreover, the luxury design of the hotel meets, and upon opening the operation of the hotel will meet, Hard Rock International’s aforementioned brand standards and franchise requirements, and comply with all operations and service requirements of Hard Rock. . .”

 As evidence that this was a complete fabrication – and in no way depicted actual physical conditions on the property – I took the liberty of taking documentary photographs on February 24, 2018.  You can view those here:  https://tinyurl.com/yakpzluv

Yet, the party went on without us – even as our elected and appointed officials shit on every performance benchmark, date certain, and amenity standard they promised us before collectively kowtowing to the arbitrary whims and notions of the developer.

In Volusia County, the one certainty is that history always repeats itself.

Now, Volusia County has rolled-over and completely abdicated its enforcement responsibility as Russian developer Alexey Lysich and Protogroup (or whatever it’s called this week) continue to violate the terms of a “Use, Easement and Access” agreement with Volusia County which ensured public beach access during construction of the monstrous Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominiums project in exchange for closing the Oakridge Boulevard approach for construction purposes.

When the intrepid Paul Zimmerman, president of Son’s of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, brought the issue to the attention of Volusia County – his concerns were met with exactly what we have come to expect: Vociferous denials from the developer and complete paralytic inaction by our elected and appointed officials in DeLand – followed by a “Ah don’t know what yer talkin’ about” from our dimwitted County Council Chair, Ed Kelley.

Jesus.

Now, we’re seeing the classic Volusia County strategy of sidestepping responsibility by laying the blame on the municipalities.

Last week, the City of Daytona Beach wisely opposed a plan by Mr. Lysich to erect a weird pedestrian bridge over an active construction site, citing the very real public health and safety danger to the public that was apparently obvious to everyone but interim County Manager George Recktenwald.

After Councilwoman Billie Wheeler complained – for the third time in two months – to county staff about the clear breach of the access agreement, Recktenwald had the stones to tell her that it seems the city is “unwilling to work with the county” to resolve the issue.

Say what? 

According to Recktenwald, “The city, which we have partnered on for many projects, I don’t think has been much of a partner in this case here.  This is the first time in my 21 years (with the county) I’ve ever encountered that another government didn’t support us or work with us.”

I’m going to call this tactic taking elected officials for a ride on “The Georgie Go-Round.”

The fact is, Volusia County has been at war with the municipalities for over a decade – in fact, I cannot recall one “partnership” – from the issue of homelessness to the debacle in Daytona Beach Shores – that didn’t dissolve into a shit show of political bullying.

Can you? 

Now, County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert – who works like a rabid dog when he’s suing the eyeballs out of Volusia County taxpayers with our own money – has turned into a toothless lapdog when it comes to holding Protogroup to account.

According to a recent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, when pressed by Councilwoman Wheeler, Dan cooed, “. . .he understands the source of the aggravation and that he “wishes” the developers would have resolved the beach approach problem sooner.”

My ass.

Further, Mr. Eckert has virtually thrown up his hands, claiming that absent terminating the agreement, “the county has done all it can do.”

(Except issuance of a stop work order to demand compliance with the agreement.)

So, like clockwork, County Chair Ed Kelley has stepped forward and demonstrated that whale-turd level of whatever the antithesis of leadership is when he described the easement contract with Protogroup as a “poorly-worded, hastily written agreement.”

(If so, then who wrote it?  And more important – who do we hold accountable?)

Now, according to Old Ed, “The only thing we can do is kill the project and tell them they have to stop the building.”

 Hey, Eddie – we’ve had enough of your hillbilly hysterics.

The purpose of a contractual agreement is to establish legally enforceable provisions before things get started – like construction of a massive 30-story condominium project in the middle of our main tourist district – that will protect the public’s interest.

And if it takes a stop work order to make that happen – then it’s time Volusia County live up to their responsibility to their constituents, show some resolve, and protect our civic right to unfettered access to our most precious natural amenity.

Dammit.

 

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

Angels for November 23, 2018

Hi, kids!

It’s that time of the year when I am reminded of just how much I have to be thankful for.

Everyone who takes time from their busy lives to read these missives holds a very special place in my heart.  You returned a sense of purpose to my life when I really needed it, and you have shown me in the most remarkable way how the power of the written word can help motivate change and drive a larger discussion.

While we have many seemingly intractable problems here on Florida’s Fun Coast, we are also blessed with many grassroots advocates dedicated to protecting our environment, promoting responsible growth, maintaining beach driving and access, beautifying our community, preventing crime and victimization and ensuring a level playing field for everyone.

Unfortunately, all too often your activism and hard work is met with frustration – yet, you never quit standing tall for that which is right, and good and honorable.

I admire that.

Thank you for your service.

Thank you for helping.

Thank you for discussing the issues.

Thank you for standing for office.

Thank you for absorbing the slings and arrows of political criticism and pressing on.

Thank you for arguing with such passion and keeping me honest on the issues.

Thank you for your sense of humor.

Thank you for working hard to improve our quality of life.

Thank you for your kindness.

Thank you for your activism.

Thank you for never giving up on this beautiful place we call home.

Thank you for your friendship.

Thank you for reading Barker’s View.

I also want to thank all those who I’ve mentioned in these goofy essays over the past year – those, who in my warped view, tried to screw us and those who tried to save us this year.

While I realize it is a dubious distinction to appear in this space, please know that even if we disagree on the issues, in my view, you represent our “Movers & Shakers,” those who are actually in the arena striving hard to make a true difference in the life of our community – and I sincerely respect that.

If you didn’t make ‘the list’ this year – don’t worry, there’s always next year – and I’ve got an opinion on just about everything!

Just for today, you are all ‘angels’ in my book. . .

From Barker’s View HQ to all of you – here’s wishing all loyal readers and community leaders a very Happy Thanksgiving and a joyous Holiday Season!

2018 Barker’s View Honor Roll

Chairman Ed Kelley

Jim Chisholm

Patti Barker

Volusia United Educators

Dave Arcieri

Chief Craig Capri

Dan Eckert

Jeff Feasel

Paul Zimmerman

Larry Bartlett

Tom Leek

Tim Curtis

Gale Lemerand

Sheriff Michael Chitwood

Dr. Marie Herrmann

Jeff Boerger

Anne Ruby

International Speedway Corporation

Jim Dinneen

Pam Brangaccio

Fran Gordon

Claire Metz

Deb Denys

Pat Patterson

Chief Stephan Dembinsky

Rev. Fred Lowry

Billie Wheeler

Michael Arminio

Mike Scudiero

Amy Pyle

Brendan Hurley

Jane Shang

NASCAR

John Danio

The Root Family

Joe Petrock

Dr. Kent Sharples

Edison O. Jackson

Big John

Sheriff Rick Staley

Heather Post

Volusia CEO Business Alliance

Paul Holub, Jr.

Troy Kent

Charles Lichtigman

J. Hyatt & CiCi Brown

Mori & Forough Hossieni

Jim Purdy

Kevin Lowe

Marc Bernier

CANDO II

Susan Cerbone

Brian Pohl

Dustin Wyatt

Joanne Magley

Clay Ervin

Jim Morris

Rob Walsh

The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Abbas Abdulhussein

Brandy White

Penny Currie

Chris Nabicht

Ormond Proud

Ray Manchester

Summit Hospitality Group

Ric Goss

J. Powell Brown

Judge Angela Dempsey

Brown & Brown

Ofc. Kera Cantrell & River

First Step Shelter Board

Derrick Henry

Joe Forte

Sons of the Beach

Joyce Cusack

Joyce Shanahan

Pat Rice

Lewis Heaster

Dan Gaetz

Mike Dew

GeoSam Capital

Bob Dallari

Lesa France Kennedy

Tony Grippa

John Albright

Ormond Beach Observer

Maryam Ghyabi

Pat Northey

Ruth Trager

Joe Yarborough

Heidi Shipley

Roy Johnson

Don Miller

Jamie Seaman

Jim Landon

Bob Apgar

Thomas Kehoe

Mark Watts

Governor Rick Scott

Nick Conte

Judge Leah Case

Mary Synk

Sandy Kaufman

Bellaire Community Group

Steve Koenig

Weegie Kuendig

Clayton Park

Volusia County Professional Firefighters Association

Mike Springer

Chris Noe

Ray Shaffer, Jr.

Gus Massfeller

Gerald Monahan, Jr.

Ron Wright

Dr. Sara Zydowicz

Scott Kent

Mark Lane

Dan Parrott

Kurt Ardaman

John Miklos

Kassandra Blissett

Stacy Tebo

Greg Aiken

Dr. Jon Thogmartin

Richard Kelton

Bill Inklesbarger

Dennis Bayer

David A. Vukelja

George Recktenwald

Evelyn Fine

Lori Campbell Baker

Brownie the Town Dog

Peggy Belflower

Michael Booker

Lonnie Groot

Glen Storch

Glenn Ritchey

Henry Wolfond

Ted Doran

Carl Persis

Ida Wright

Pat & Chuck Gleichmann

Vanessa Blair-Lewis

Lyndsey Edwards

Christopher Durgin

Dr. Stephen Nelson

Patricia Nelson

Graig Pender

John Masiarczyk

Chris Via

Judge Dawn Fields

Paul Okumu

Jake Mays

Rosalyn Velasquez-Morales

Tom Russell

Judge Belle Schumann

Jennifer Chasteen

Clint Johnson

Richard Bryan

Anita Bradford

Mary McNally

Gwen Azama-Edwards

Mary G. Bennett

Chief Tomokie

Dr. Bud Fleuchaus

Art Giles

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Josh Wagner

Frank Bruno

Joie Alexander

Sandra Edmunds

Travis Hutson

Chief Frank Fabrizio

Dinah Voyles-Pulver

Linda Cuthbert

Rev. L. Ron Durham

Ben Johnson

John Penney

George Anderson

Ken Willis

Barbara Girtman

Jamie Pericola

Roger Edgcomb

Kimberly Aiken

The Taxpayers of Volusia County

Dan Hunt

Fred Costello

Lowell & Nancy Lohman

Anne Evans

Mark Geallis

Rob Merrell

Reed Berger

Jacob F. Bryan

Michelle Carter-Scott

Hubert Grimes

Mary Ann Trussell

Melody Johnson

Harry Jennings

Lisa Lewis

Troy Kent

Jim Tiller

Seth Robbins

Brian France

Elizabeth Albert

Tom Laputka

R. J. Larizza

Erika Benfield

Suzanne Hirt

Jon Cheney

Heidi Herzberg

Lola Gomez

Jim France

Theresa Doan

John Saunders

Chase Tramont

Tucker Harris

Dave Byron

Donald O. Burnette

Bob Ford

John Booker

Terry Sanders

Bill Hall

Dr. Kelly Long

Jason Yarborough

Mary Anne Connors

Ken Strickland

Jeff Brower

Luke Zona

Lee Rhyant

Allen Green

Gloria Max

Lynn Thompson

Sonja Wiles

Rob Gilliland

Aaron Delgado

Ron DeSantis

Tony Ledbetter

Ron McLemore

Lamar Burch

Ruben Colon

Mike Ignasiak

Thomas Tinsley

Krys Fluker

Charlie Lydecker

Alexey Lysich

Eddie Hennessey

Linda Smiley

Jay Cassens

Nancy Keefer

Jimmy Buffett

Jim Henderson

Teresa Rand

Gary Conroy

Katie Kustura

Mike Mullis

Bill Partington

Scott Edwards

Ken & Julie Sipes

Sheriff Guindi

Judy Grim

Sandy Kaufman

Kathy Maloney Johnson

Tracey Barlow

Amy Vogt

Megan O’Keefe

Joe Dugan

Dan Ryan

Chris Bridges

David Tucker

Tony Holt

Mark Lane

Jim Abbott

Tony Jarmusz

Eileen Zaffiro-Kean

Patricio Balona

Casmira Harrison

Denise Mott

Dwight Selby

Susan Persis

John Hill

Robert Baumer

John Walsh

Rob Littleton

David Glasser

Barry du Moulin

Those who cannot be named – you know who you are. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best of Barker’s View: Qui Bono? Redux

A version of this entitled “Qui Bono?” first appeared in Barker’s View in January 2016 when the effort to lash a half-cent sales tax to every man, woman and child in Volusia County was gaining traction.  

It was equally prescient in April 2017, when something called the Roundtable of Volusia County Elected Officials joined forces with the Star Chamber at the CEO Business Alliance to frighten us into passing the tax initiative – even as those compromised screw-job’s on the Volusia County Council repeatedly refused to increase impact fees on their sugar daddies in the real estate development community – – since 2003. . . 

Today, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a piece entitled “Volusia County sales tax talk returns.” 

This go-around features the same names – with South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarbrough serving as the chief mouthpiece and Dr. Kent Sharples, president of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, as his slack-jawed, yammering sidekick.  

In an ever-changing world, the gross money-grubbing of Volusia County government is the one constant.  So, I ask you again, “Qui Bono?”

Here’s my take on it: 

Way back in January 2016, when Barker’s View was still struggling to find its voice – and a regular audience – I penned the following screed on Volusia County’s efforts to move the proposed “half-cent” sales tax for transportation infrastructure:

“The Volusia County Council’s inability to sell the half-cent sales tax initiative this summer is indicative of a larger problem. 

 In my view, our elected officials are missing the key element of any successful marketing strategy – or tax proposal:  Trust.

 Oblivious to the fact that they have lost basic credibility, County officials are once again staging their tired Kabuki – dramatically performed with equal parts apocalyptic prophecy, name calling, and threats against municipalities – all designed to wring additional dollars from a tax-weary constituency.

(Former) Councilman Doug Daniels surmises that the cities hesitation (to fund a citizen survey) was the result of a “failure to communicate.”  Mr. Daniels and his fellow council members should understand – we read you loud and clear – we simply don’t trust you anymore. 

Given the number of grassroots efforts seeking accountability, it is increasingly clear to everyone but County officials that they no longer have the consent of the governed.

I believe the seeds of this institutional distrust germinate in the County Manager’s office. 

In my view, Jim Dinneen’s mismanagement of this and other important public policy issues best exemplify all that’s wrong with county government.  Team Dinneen wants higher taxes because they need higher taxes – and spending cuts, the reduction of exorbitant executive salaries or curbing insider handouts are inconceivable.

A bureaucracy – especially one as bloated as this – requires tax dollars like a parasitic insect needs the blood of its host. 

Its very life depends upon it.

Public confidence in County government has been slowly eroded by the steady flow of missteps, bullying and legislative slight-of-hand that invariably benefits a privileged few while laying the financial burden squarely on the back of Volusia County residents.

As a result, we no longer assume the county council’s decisions serve the common good.  Now, we instinctively ask ourselves the darker question, “Who benefits?”

Interesting how nothing really changes.

You may remember those heady days when the sales tax increase was all but put out of its misery – and everyone agreed that, given the state of the county’s relationship with the cities, and the increasing lack of public trust in the system – that selling this pig would be difficult, if not impossible.

You may also remember when the always diplomatic Councilwoman Deb Deny’s took a rolled-up newspaper and whacked municipal residents and elected officials across the nose while lecturing in her most condescending way, “I think the public will buy in once their elected leaders have a clear vision,” Denys said, something that’s been lacking in the past.

“There has been no clear vision.”

Deb Denys moralizing about vision?

That’s rich.

Regardless, in Volusia County, no tax increase is ever really dead – and now that the election cycle is over – it’s festering cadaver is crawling out of its sandy grave like Frankenstein’s monster on a stormy night.

In today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned that county and municipal officials sat down and cobbled together a $1.5 billion (with a “B”) wish list of bridges, roads, sidewalks, trails, intersections, traffic lights, spans, etc., etc. that could benefit from our collective acquiescence to their demand that we give government seven cents of every dollar we spend.

Clearly, our municipal and county officials have come to the stark realization that – as citizens of the third highest taxed county in the State of Florida – there is no way in hell we will buy their scary stories and Armageddon scenarios.

We don’t have to – we’re living it.

With planned residential developments stretching from Brevard to Flagler – we understand that developers are intent on putting the cart before the infrastructure horse – and those who know better are letting them do it.

Hell, Jimmy Buffett’s “Shangri-La in the Swamp” west of I-95 could bring as many as 15,000+ new Walmart shoppers to our area alone.

That’s a lot of traffic, kids.

But we need assurances that the increase in tax revenues will be used in the public interest – and therein lies the rub.

Our elected officials will now use the same marketing strategy that won the School Board approval of its “half-cent” – an itemized list of specific projects – a public indoctrination program – and a citizen committee to ensure oversight and coordination.

Will it succeed?  Who knows.

The good citizens of Volusia County have seen first-hand the inability of our elected and appointed officials to live within their means.

They have witnessed the mismanagement, exorbitant executive salaries, raises and benefit packages, the “Taj Mahal” construction projects, the half-price sale of public lands to private interests, the dubious “economic incentives” and cash giveaways, and the council’s almost supernatural ability to fund every pet project, infrastructure improvement and private venture of the uber-wealthy political insiders.

For instance, we watched intently as the $15.8 million-dollar extension of South Williamson Boulevard was completed, specifically to accommodate the High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hosseini’s, swansong – the Woodhaven development.

Weird how there is always money available to ensure the needs and wants of the “rich and powerful” (to use the News-Journal’s descriptor) are met, but that pothole on your street just gets bigger, eh?

In my view, that’s the problem.

When we reach the point where we demand ‘citizen oversight committees,’ and require that our elected officials demonstrate clearly defined ‘need vs. want’ lists of projects to keep them honest – can we truly say that we are better governed that the residents of Port-au-Prince?

Or any other Third World shithole?

These people should be ashamed of themselves.  But they’re not.

At the end of the day, I suspect that what passes for “local leadership” will get the tax increase they are so desperately begging for.

Anyone who drives in Volusia County understands the current and future needs we face, and we damn sure don’t need a $150,000 study to point it out (and I, for one, damn sure don’t need to hear that doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, crowing, ad nauseum, that “impact fees won’t cover our transportation infrastructure needs.”  Jesus.  We get it, Ed.)

In my view, the tragedy is that in 2017, we are still required to ask ourselves the dark question:  Qui bono?

Who stands to gain?

Who ultimately benefits from the estimated $42-million in annual revenue the sales tax is estimated to bring?

You?  Me?  P$S Paving?  ICI Homes?  ISC?

Who?  I’m asking.

Because we are forced to demand transparency – and clear accountability – from this pompous cabal of elected and appointed county officials before we throw good money after bad, knowing full well that in a few short years they will be crawling back with another dubious money grab.

Always demanding more, more, more.

Tragic indeed.

 

 

 

 

The Cost of Betrayal – Part Deux

By any metric, J. Hyatt Brown, the long-time Chairman of the billion-dollar insurance intermediary Brown & Brown, is a master of manipulating our system of governance to his personal advantage.

While I don’t know Mr. Brown personally, I know many people who do, and he is clearly a brilliant man, an expert tactician, with an aggressive business sense and no qualms about using his massive personal and professional assets to position his interests.

For instance, when J. Hyatt decided he wanted to build his corporate headquarters in Downtrodden Downtown Daytona, he carefully orchestrated an invitation only roll-out that had our “movers & shakers” eating out of his hand with tall tales of all the new Brown & Brown campus will do for us long-suffering denizens of the Halifax area.

In fact, at the time, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported, “The new Brown & Brown building, coupled with other new development being pursued for the riverfront, could catapult the heart of downtown into a new stratosphere.”

Wow.

Once he set the hook – Mr. Brown began reeling-in massive governmental incentives from his hired chattel on the Dais of Power – taking millions in infrastructure improvements and tax credits from both the City of Daytona Beach and the County of Volusia.

In my view, it was the perfect example of our legally approved quid pro quo campaign finance system in action – where those with the financial wherewithal to influence elections later reap the benefits of “corporate welfare” and skewed public policies which place the whims of the few over the needs of the many.

Recently, we learned that all is not as it seems in J. Hyatt’s kingdom – with allegations of corporate intrigue and betrayal – resulting in massive lawsuits and other punitive measures designed to bring former-executives-turned-competitors to heel.

According to reports, in October, Brown & Brown filed suit against several former executives – including Charlie Lydecker, a former regional president who left the company in 2016, before forming Foundation Risk Partners – alleging a “betrayal of executive loyalty” and conspiracy to create a competing insurance company.

(You can read my goofy take on it here: https://tinyurl.com/ycn7k53l )

I recently introduced myself to Mr. Lydecker when I ran into him at a local craft brewery.  While we didn’t discuss the Brown & Brown case directly – I found him to be a true gentleman – incredibly bright, personally engaging and, as one would expect, very well-versed in local civic issues.

In the few minutes we spent together, I came away with the impression that Mr. Lydecker is committed to building a better community – as evidenced by his service on the ill-fated Beachside Redevelopment Committee – and participation in other civic improvement efforts.

Although I doubt we agree on the mechanics of how best to alter the ugly trajectory of the Halifax area – I find it refreshing that an established business leader like Charlie Lydecker is focused on improving our collective future – not just his company’s bottom line.

At the end of our conversation, I came away with a completely different impression of Mr. Lydecker than the Machiavellian image of him crafted in the Brown & Brown lawsuit.

Now, thanks to the excellent reporting of the News-Journal’s Clayton Park, we’re getting the other side of the story as Mr. Lydecker and others defend their honor and good name with counter-accusations against the industry behemoth.

According to the legal response to Mr. Brown’s allegations, this may well be a case of corporate nepotism – where blood ultimately proves thicker than talent, effort or loyalty.

Apparently, in 2009, J. Hyatt promoted his son, J. Powell, to succeed him as CEO, over “longtime Hyatt loyalist Jim Henderson (Brown & Brown’s then vice chairman) to whom Hyatt had promised the promotion,” according to the legal response.

This flew in the face of J. Hyatt’s long-time leadership strategy which structured the company as a “meritocracy” – where the cream rose to the top based upon hard-work, talent and ability – rather than an employee’s surname.

According to the News-Journal’s report:

“The sudden elevation of the younger Brown to chief executive “created a crisis of confidence in the current and future leadership of (Brown & Brown) that, in one fell swoop, shattered the trust of a workforce who was led to believe in the meritocracy Hyatt had preached,” according to the legal response.”

“Right there, for the (Brown & Brown) world to see, merit and loyalty were discarded for nepotism,” the legal response states.”

“The executive ranks of the company soon became the Brown family employment center, with Brown family children and relations being elevated to the highest positions in the company regardless of the merit,” the legal response adds.”

According to Foundation Risk Partner’s rebuttal, J. Powell Brown brought a “new indecisive and odd leadership style” resulting in “internal strife and doubt” in the company’s sizable workforce.  In addition, there are allegations of “awkward and disconcerting behavior” by J. Powell as the President and CEO, along with a “disingenuous explanation of his sudden and extended leave of absence in 2012” that ultimately resulted in some 52 senior leaders jumping ship.

Damn.

In addition, the court filing alleges that Brown & Brown manipulated commission revenue “to show that the retail division was more profitable than it actually was, to meet the expectation of (stock) analysts” – and when Mr. Lydecker objected to the practice – he was “asked to leave because of his questioning the ethics of Powell’s management.” 

Wow.

I don’t know who is right and who is wrong – that’s for a judge to ultimately decide – but what I do know is that this clash of the titans isn’t good for the Halifax area.

For good or for ill, companies like Brown & Brown – and the successful newcomer, Foundation Risk Partners – form a sizable portion of our economic bedrock here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

With hundreds of people currently employed by Brown & Brown – and the promises of more jobs to come – along with the anticipation of the new headquarters campus and a symbiotic riverside park complex – Brown & Brown’s local expansion in downtown is bringing hope to an area that deeply needs something to look forward to.

The health and vitality of the insurance industry needs new and innovative companies, like Foundation Risk Partners, with the ability to contend on a level playing field, free from threats and intimidation from its much larger competitor.

In my view, perhaps Brown & Brown should stop bludgeoning former executives who have the courage to go forth and create a better product, provide a higher quality of service and bring spirited competition to the ultimate “meritocracy” – the free and open marketplace.

That’s good for everyone – and for the Halifax area.