Angels & Assholes for October 26, 2018

Hi, kids!

Everyone has a story to tell.

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

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

Why is that?

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

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

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

But all is not gloom and doom.

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

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

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

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

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

Trust me.  I’ve been waiting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really?

I’ll bet she likes ice cream, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I’m not hearing it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asshole:          Volusia County School Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not in Volusia County.

Here, we extend their contract.

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

God help us.

Angel:             Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County

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

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

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

Bravo.

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Week:

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

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

Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

Why is that? 

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

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

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

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

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

My God.

You know what disgusts me?

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

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

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

And Another Thing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

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

With me, what you see is what you get.

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

The weirdness in me honors the weirdness in you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bullshit.

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

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

Remember?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you won’t either.

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

It still doesn’t, Ms. Denys.

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

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

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

Sound familiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was right.  Then, and now.

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

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

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

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

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

At least I hope they don’t. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for October 19, 2018

Hey, kids!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, other crops didn’t fare much better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to our first winner of the week:

Asshole:          Volusia County Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson

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

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

It baffles me.

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

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

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

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

Worthless cowards.

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

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

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

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

Say what?

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

Hammer, meet nail.

Folks, Barbara Girtman gets it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My God.

Angel:             Opinion Editor Krys Fluker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations and best of luck, Krys!

Quote of the Week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not in Volusia County.

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

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

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

My ass.

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

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

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

 And Another Thing!

 A Barker’s View Prediction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus.

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

See what I mean? 

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

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

So much for the transparency, eh?

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

They are aware that he works for them, right? 

Right. . .

Have a fun and safe Biketoberfest, kids!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Benefits of a Bloody Nose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lamar immediately accepted the pugilistic solution.

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

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

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

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

We did.

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

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

There is no honor in that – only cruelty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Godspeed old friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Heroism takes many forms

James M. Pericola is a hero.

He may never have stormed a hostile beach under fire – or hit the game-winning home run to clench the World Series – but, in my eyes, he is a hometown hero nonetheless.

That may sound strange coming from me – your always cantankerous scribe siding with a K Street insider?

But, if heroism is defined as a person of courage, who stands tall and does the right thing for the right reasons, despite the very real possibility of personal or professional harm – then I believe Mr. Pericola meets that high standard.

During my long career in municipal government, I witnessed, time and again, instances where good and inherently honest colleagues throughout the Halifax area remained silent or turned a blind eye in the face of inefficiency, corruption and ineptitude because they were seized by fear.

The fear of being ostracized and marginalized; of having their personal and professional reputation sacrificed on the altar of bureaucratic conformance.

The fear of being labeled “not a team player” – then watch as opportunities pass to those who are.

The fear of losing one’s livelihood and becoming collateral damage in petty political skirmishes between small-minded people intent on benefiting themselves and their friends, rather than serving the higher, greater needs of the community.

I was guilty of it myself – and the base cowardice I exhibited during some dark periods through the years when my beloved community was seized by a few unscrupulous assholes masquerading as public executives – ‘managers’ in title only – continues to be a source of great personal shame.

Only after my retirement was in reach, and my family’s financial future secure, did I develop a reputation for having ‘sharp elbows’ – for speaking truth to power – and calling bullshit whenever I suspected that someone in a position of trust was taking personal advantage of those they were sworn to serve and protect.

Not so much a whistle blower as a very vocal witness with an explosive temper and many friends in the working press. . .

I was certainly no hero.  Not by any stretch.

The fact is, many elected bodies will intuitively ignore internal issues in government operations – go out of their way to keep things ‘under the rug’ as long as possible – rather than face the often-painful and politically embarrassing process of admitting a mistake, or, God forbid, actually hold appointed leaders accountable for internal dysfunction, waste and good old-fashioned incompetence.

As a result, conditions are allowed to fester until the situation reaches a crisis point – or the avoidance of responsibility and accountability becomes institutionalized – embraced by elected and appointed officials throughout the organization as a means of political self-preservation.

It becomes a dull, ineffective place where symbolism and posturing become more important than accomplishment, lockstep conformity takes the place of innovation, transparency is replaced by the internal manipulation and hording of information, power is consolidated and, over time, local government dissolves into the exclusivity of a private club for those who can pay to play.

Sound familiar?

Fortunately, that shabby strategy only works until someone inside the tent breaks the culture of silence and obfuscation.

In Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, Mr. Pericola – who served as Volusia County’s federal lobbyist in Washington, D.C. until his firm was unceremoniously ousted on a 5-2 vote of the County Council earlier this month – took the opportunity to defend his honor and reputation in an essay entitled, “Lobbying inaction is costing Volusia County millions.”

For anyone paying attention, it was a scathing indictment of what Volusia County government has become under the utter mismanagement and dreadful idiocy of those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests.

After months of paralytic inaction by county officials that resulted in a host of lost federal funding opportunities for citizens of Volusia County, in August, Mr. Pericola did what any ethical recipient of public funds should do and penned a confidential letter to our elected dullards in DeLand exposing the systemic dysfunction and complete lack of transparency that became the hallmark of former County Manager Jim Dinneen’s administration.

Apparently, Mr. Pericola’s letter memorialized an earlier telephone conversation he initiated with each member of the County Council wherein he provided a clear explanation as to why he would not be submitting a bid to renew his firms lobbying contract in 2019.

According to Mr. Pericola, during the calls, “I articulated many of the same issues related to his (Dinneen’s) departure, including the lack of transparency, openness, limits on collaboration and  communication and how the overall culture was limiting our ability to communicate with and assist our client.”

On September 14, the intrepid News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt published an explosive exposé detailing the contents of Pericola’s memo – a document that exposed the depth and complexity of the internal issues and bureaucratic negligence that has brought us to this dismal place in history.

In my view, the most substantive allegations brought by Mr. Pericola, based upon his direct experience with the Dinneen administration, revealed that senior officials with absolutely no political accountability were “filtering” information to elected policymakers.

In my view, manipulating information and withholding the results of publicly-funded studies as a means of directing public policy is dangerous – and counter to our democratic principles.

It’s just one of many reasons why I strongly support Sheriff Mike Chitwood in his valiant fight to return constitutional sovereignty to his important elective office – and distance his department from the pernicious actions of entrenched bureaucrats and their lackeys on the dais of power in DeLand.

Unfortunately, in this illegitimate Oligarchy that exists to protect and sustain itself from all external oversight, the response to Mr. Pericola’s letter was predictable.

Rather than take swift and decisive action to investigate Mr. Pericola’s claims and hold anyone responsible accountable for their acts and omissions, our Volusia County Council did what they receive massive campaign contributions to do:  Protect the system at all costs.

I disagree with Mr. Pericola on one point.  His pleas didn’t fall on deaf ears.

They were heard loud and clear in the halls of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration building – and the coordinated response by those with much to lose was swift.

In perfect form, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, ordered the wagons circled and immediately went on the offensive – belittling Pericola’s service and dismissing him as a “one-man band” – the tried and true tactic of marginalizing the message by destroying the credibility of the messenger.

In turn, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys played her defensive role on cue – calling Pericola’s concerns a “misrepresentation” that was “blown out of proportion.”

My God.  How do these shit-heels sleep at night? 

In perhaps the most cogent paragraph ever written concerning the current sorry state of affairs in Volusia County government, Mr. Pericola wrote:

“What I did not fully appreciate was how dangerously uninformed, incurious and uninterested in solving complex problems so many of the council members were. For far too long they not only operated exactly in the system I warned against, but through years of conditioning have become dangerously subservient to it.”

That’s a powerful statement – and infinitely true.

In most places, any elected public official with a modicum of self-respect, or sense of personal accountability, would immediately resign and slither-off to wherever ineffectual political hacks go when they are exposed – but not here.

Now, let’s honor Mr. Pericola’s courage – and that of other Volusia County whistle blowers who have bravely come before him – and use their keen insight to our civic advantage at the ballot box.

Volusia County truly does deserve better.

 

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Cost of Betrayal

I’m not a lawyer – hell, I can barely read – let alone interpret and apply anti-competition laws as they relate to billionaire intermediaries in the insurance industry.

Besides, ‘high finance’ to me is figuring out how I’m going to make the mortgage payment on this cracker box, pay my bar tab and cover the car note all in the same month.  Sometimes it works out – and sometimes a guy in India calls asking me where the money went. . .

So, the recent revelation by The Daytona Beach News-Journal that insurance mogul and supreme political insider J. Hyatt Brown, is suing a group of former Brown & Brown executives who left the firm in 2016 and have formed a competing insurance and employee benefits company was really no skin off my nose.

But, as a resident of Volusia County, I know something about betrayal.

To hear J. Hyatt and his high-powered attorneys tell it, his former protégé Charlie Lydecker, and Thomas Tinsley, the former chief financial officer of Brown & Brown’s retail division, along with several other executives “conspired” to create a competing insurance company while still employed by Brown & Brown.

According to reports, the “plot” reads like a John Grisham novel – complete with “clandestine meetings,” the use of non-traceable ‘burner’ phones, secretly recorded telephone conversations between senior executives – real cloak-and-dagger skulduggery that gives this Clash of the Titans a classic Dirty Daytona feel.

For instance, the lawsuit alleges that Lydecker once said with regards to his former mentor, J. Hyatt Brown, “’Why won’t the old fucker just die?’”

Jesus.

The more I thought about it – I got to wondering:  Is this really a Clash of the Titans?  Or a David and Goliath tale as old as the ages?

In his excellent exposé, News-Journal business writer Clayton Park revealed that the companies formed by Lydecker and the others – Foundation Risk Partners and Halifax Insurance Partners – employ some 750 people collectively, with 40 of those based at their Daytona Beach headquarters.

The companies currently operate in eight states with annual revenues of approximately $155 million.

Not too shabby, eh?

I can almost hear J. Hyatt saying, “Hold my beer. . .”

Brown & Brown – one of the world’s ten largest insurance intermediaries – was formed in Daytona Beach in 1939.  The self-described “Meritocracy” is now led by the third generation of Browns – J. Hyatt and J. Powell – and operates “. . .throughout the United States, in England and Bermuda providing a variety of insurance products and services to general businesses, corporations, governmental and quasi-governmental institutions, professional organizations, trade associations, families and individuals.”

Last year, Brown & Brown generated a record $1.88 billion in revenues and currently employs more than 8,600 workers, “including more than 300 in Daytona Beach.”

Whoa. 

In my view, the proper analogy is the proverbial ant crawling up an elephant’s backside with love on his mind – no real threat to Brown & Brown’s hold on the market – so why is a behemoth like Brown & Brown so intent on crushing anyone or anything that stands in their way?

Because that’s exactly how J. Hyatt and company dominate the industry and control their environment.

Last year, Brown & Brown sued the eyeballs out of Assured-Partners, a rival Lake Mary-based company formed in 2011 by several of its former executives for “violating employment contracts by recruiting Brown & Brown employees and clients.”

Don’t worry – in the end – everyone landed on their feet with Assured-Partners becoming the 13th largest broker of United States business with more than $800 million in annual revenues.  It sold to a private equity firm in 2015.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, this recent lawsuit began with the ominous sentence, “This is a case of betrayal.”

Look, I don’t know Charlie Lydecker or J. Hyatt Brown personally.

We run in different social circles I think – and I never see either of them in the saloons I haunt from time-to-time.  However, I’ve heard from mutual friends that Mr. Lydecker is a nice guy – very smart and civic-minded – while other’s have told me that Mr. Brown can be mean-spirited and very aggressive with people who piss him off – I don’t know.

But I’ll just bet J. Hyatt didn’t become a billionaire by being a patsy.

I also don’t have a clue about who’s right and who’s wrong in this case – I suppose a judge will ultimately decide.

But, I know how Mr. Brown must feel.

It hurts when people you trust and rely on to have your best interests at heart expose themselves as disloyal shit-heels – feathering their own nest at the expense of those who put their faith in them.

In my view – J. Hyatt Brown has emerged as the poster boy for all that’s wrong with our bastardized campaign finance system that allows a few uber-wealthy insiders to shovel cash into the campaign coffers of their hand-select candidates for local public office – then reap the return on that investment in massive ‘economic development incentives,’ tax breaks, infrastructure for private projects, etc., etc. – from city, county and state government.

The incredible power of the almighty dollar permits our “Rich & Powerful” to manipulate public policy simply by their physical presence in the County Council chambers – and in my opinion – that’s dangerous, and counter to our democratic principles.

But that’s not J. Hyatt’s fault – it’s the political cowardice and gross subservience of our craven elected officials who cling to power by the financial wherewithal of a few incredibly influential people who unofficially control Volusia County through deft control of these gutless elected marionettes on the dais of power in DeLand.

It’s a Faustian bargain as old as politics itself.

And if you don’t think this directly affects your lives and livelihoods – think again.

We stand idle while our century-old heritage of beach driving and access is slowly taken away and traded as a cheap incentive for speculative developers – and families struggle to survive in an artificial economy which has resulted in widespread poverty, left our core tourist areas in tatters, and fostered a growing sense of hopelessness – all while insiders get even wealthier.

Why?

Because guys like J. Hyatt Brown know what’s best for us – and for their bottom line – and they have more money than you do.  That’s why.

Yep.  The long-suffering residents of Volusia County know something about betrayal. . .

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for October 12, 2018

Hey, Kids!

Loyal readers of these often-irreverent screeds know that if you analyze them with the right kind of eyes, hold your nose and suspend disbelief for a brief moment – you can often find a kernel of truth – an almost precognitive foresight that gives a glimpse of our future here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

I don’t know where it comes from. . .  Some divine gift of political clairvoyance, I suppose.

Or maybe, like you, I’ve just seen it all before?

Way back in those heady days of 2017, I wrote a prescient little ditty about a mysterious “Russian” developer – d/b/a Protogroup, Inc. – a company owned by Alexey Lysich, currently of Palm Coast by way of St. Petersburg (and I don’t mean ‘heaven’s waiting room’ over in Hillsborough County), who everyone who is anyone in the Halifax area pinned their hopes on to build the next big thing on our beleaguered beachside.

Last June I said, “Anyone who has driven down A-1-A recently has seen the gash in the sand that we are told will be the foundation of the towering twin-spires of the Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominiums – a $185 million beachfront monstrosity that is being constructed by Russian developer Alexey Lysich’s Protogroup.

The ground has been cleared and the pilings driven into place – the foundation of this spectacular new addition is ready to go – and everything is in place.

Except the financing.”

At the time, according to a very informative article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“In a 2012 foreclosure sale, Florida-company Protogroup, which lists Lysich as vice president and his brother as president, bought 4.5 acres, just south of Seabreeze Boulevard, for $6.3 million. Protogroup’s vision for the property is a massive 1.1 million-square-foot complex with two 300-foot-plus oceanfront towers connected by a catwalk suspended over the Oakridge Boulevard beach approach to maintain public access to the sand.”

The original plan called for the convention center and condominiums to be open for business by the fall of 2015, but, like most ambitious projects here on the Fun Coast – from Rock-n-Roll hotels to homeless shelters – months dragged into years and, well, here we are. . .

It was – as our ‘Rich & Powerful’ like to say – the latest, greatest “Game Changer” – the panacea project that would save us rubes from ourselves and cure every ill we face from crippling economic blight to head lice.

Of course, former Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey got in on the act and took personal credit for bringing the project to life after he single-handedly negotiated the deal with Mr. Lysich through the aid of a Russian translator. . .

At the time, we read that Mr. Lysich and his family sunk a ton of their own money into the project – which I found most admirable.  After all, most developers would have just thrown some money around the right political campaigns and reaped the largesse of their elected hired hands.

Hell, if Mr. Lysich had played his cards right, I’ll bet Volusia County and the City of Daytona Beach would have thrown enough money at him to more than cover his overhead and reduce his personal liability in the project to a few rubles.

But not Protogroup.

Apparently, they wanted to finance their development the old-fashioned way:  By borrowing the money from uber-wealthy foreign nationals seeking resident alien status in the United States. . .

Protogroup was said to be seeking investors under the EB-5 visa program, which some described as “murky, loosely regulated, and prone to abuse.” 

Then, the News-Journal revealed some disturbing information that an Alexey Lysich of St. Petersburg, Russia may have been involved with an off-shore bank account in the Seychelles  – a practice which is perfectly legal in some countries.

Unfortunately – and I know this is incredibly hard to believe – off-shore banking is sometimes used by unscrupulous people and businesses as a mechanism to launder money, hide assets and avoid the payment of U.S. taxes. . .

But none of that worried our ‘powers that be’ because our collective fears were assuaged when Mr. Lysich said that “. . . he doesn’t think it’s him, and that it could be anyone because “it’s a leak.” He had no further comment about it. He also said his family has no connection with the Russian government or contact with President Vladimir Putin.”

“Money is money. It’s U.S. dollars that I pay to the general contractor,” he said.”

Except, according to Protogroup’s general contractor, W.G. Yates Construction – they haven’t been paid by Mr. Lysich’s company in over three-months. . .

Well, money being money and all, last week the City of Daytona Beach saw fit to slap a Stop Work Order on the project – effectively putting the brakes on the spires that now sit like a whistling ghost tower – a gray monolithic monument to everything that’s wrong with our struggling core tourist area.

For a few anxious days, Fun Coasters were riveted by headlines such as “Stalled $192 million project causes worry,” as we sat in the shadow of the dull gray skeleton of the half-finished project.

Even our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, felt the need to insinuate himself into the discussion (?) by doing what our elected county officials do best – taking sides in matters that don’t concern them.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Old Ed said, “. . .he placed his faith in the statements by Protogroup’s Lysich that contractors had been paid, that a new, yet-to-be-named contractor was in the area and that new permits would be issued soon.”

“I have no reason to doubt that,” Kelley said. “I’d rather be optimistic about it than to say that it’s gloom and doom. I don’t believe they would have gone this far, put this much effort into the project, just to stop right now. Who are you going to believe? If they were paid in advance why would there be outstanding invoices? One of them is misstating something.”

Because – even if only two entities on earth know the facts – as a sitting member of the Volusia County Council, Old Ed Kelley is genetically programmed to immediately side with the “developer du jour” in all matters large and small.

That’s what passes for effective leadership here, folks.

The one person in our community who explained this dismal situation with perfect clarity was Tony Grippa – former chairman of that time-buying exercise known as the ‘Beachside Redevelopment Committee’ – whose bureaucratically neutered recommendations are now growing a thick patina of dust on executive credenza’s in city and county offices up-and-down A-1-A – called for an investigation by the Daytona Beach City Commission.

“I have real concerns, given what I know about Yates Construction’s reputation,” Grippa said. “If they were willing to continue the work, it’s troubling that the investors are not moving forward with the project. The city still lacks an overall strategy as it relates to A1A and the beachside corridor, and this is what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket.”

Amen.

Make no mistake, it’s not just the City of Daytona Beach that lacks a clear strategy for the revitalization of our beleaguered beachside – our most important economic engine.  When it comes to “vision” – our current crop of elected officials on the dais of power in DeLand (with the lone exception of Councilwoman Heather Post) have the foresight of one of those cave-dwelling salamanders who spend their slimy little lives in total darkness, slithering around in a dark hole in the ground.

After all, Old Ed and the Funky Bunch have uber-wealthy insiders with an obscene profit motive to do their thinking for them.

I ended my 2017 piece entitled “Money is money, Fuggedaboutit…,” with the following ominous statement, “Look, I wish Mr. Lysich well – and I hope his mega-project does everything for Daytona Beach that Mayor Ritchey promises it will – but we’ve been fooled before – and I’m not sure we can afford another boondoggle on the beach.”

But I think Mr. Grippa summed it up better when he said earlier this week, “It would be absolutely devastating to have, in addition to all the old boarded-up buildings, now a new partially completed building,” Grippa said. “That sitting vacant and empty would really hurt the beachside, optically, economically and emotionally.”

Gentle reader, the stakes are high.  Just don’t look for clarity anytime soon – because things just got murkier. . .

On Wednesday, we learned that Protogroup – now d/b/a PDA Trading Inc. – owned by Alexey Lysich and his father, Petr, has hired a new general contractor – currently known as Gryffin Construction Corporation.

Even with a new contractor selected, given the questions that remain about on-going lawsuits, past performance claims and other issues  – we now have no confidence that the same thing won’t happen again a few days, weeks or months from now.

And that could have a devastating impact on a core tourist area clinging to life by what’s left of its fingernails. . .

I, for one, join with Mr. Grippa in calling for an immediate investigation of the circumstances that led to this abrupt work stoppage – and the subsequent hiring of a company that apparently reactivated the corporation with the State of Florida just three days after the stop work order was issued – so that wary citizens, potential beachside investors and entrepreneurs can have some assurance that this project won’t wither and die like so many “game changers” before it.

Like a smart friend of mine recently said, “Get out the popcorn.  This ones going to have a lot of twists and turns. . .”

Indeed.

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:             Cici Brown

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual international campaign to increase awareness and raise funds for research, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.

Last week, Cici Brown – wife of Brown & Brown board chairman J. Hyatt Brown – bravely spoke about her battle with breast cancer at a wellness luncheon hosted by Halifax Health.

I learned something from Mrs. Brown’s experience:  Some 85% of women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.  I also learned that 90% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer survive due to technological advances in treatment and care methodologies.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Halifax Health now offers the 3-D mammogram, which has allowed doctors to discover 40% more early stage breast cancers by permitting them a view of layers of breast tissue instead of a single image provided by standard two-dimensional mammograms.

The Center for Disease Control’s United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that “. . .if you are 50 to 74 years old, be sure to have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are 40 to 49 years old, talk to your doctor about when to start and how often to get a screening mammogram.”

Kudos to Mrs. Brown for having the courage to speak out as a cancer survivor and educate other women on the importance of getting regular screening.

Asshole:          Daytona Beach International Airport

Look, there’s enough blame to go around on this one – but DIA shill Jay Cassens just happened to become the face of this latest ‘economic development’ boondoggle – so that county-funded bunch takes the cake this week.

Just three-years after Volusia County economic development types ponied up some $2.3 million in public incentives to lure JetBlue to Daytona “International” Airport – the carrier has announced plans to give area residents the slip as it moves to more lucrative markets and works to consolidate “underperforming” routes.

In luring the airline to Daytona Beach, our “movers & shakers” went so far as to develop a “travel bank” among local companies – to include Brown & Brown, Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company, International Speedway Corporation and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – which agreed to spend over a quarter-million dollars over two-years with JetBlue if they agreed to grace us with a one flight per day to New York’s JFK.

Add to that some $25,000 in free upgrades to the airlines gate location at DIA (that you and I paid for) and it was a pretty good deal – for JetBlue anyway.

Now, in typical Volusia County fashion, those of us who pay the bills and suffer in utter silence are left holding the bag on another disappointing “investment” that never seemed to live up the hype. . .

Not to worry – according to the always optimistic Chamber of Commerce set – you and I got a fantastic return on our multi-million-dollar outlay in “landing fees, facility charges, concessions such as airport parking fees, rental cars, food and beverage purchases at the airport’s restaurants (they have more than one?), and purchases at the airport’s gift shop. . .”  

My ass.

Look, I’m just spit-balling here, but that’s a butt-load of magazines, Tic-Tacs and bottled water. . .

Why is it that DIA officials crow, ad nauseum – month-in-month-out – that passenger traffic at DIA looks like some out-of-control airlift with hundreds-of-thousands of people flying in and out of Daytona Beach (which essentially consists of Delta and American giving folks a lift to and from their regional hubs).

Riddle me this:

If DIA is such a major success – with demand set to increase year-over-year –  then why in the hell can’t we attract national air carriers without pissing away millions in public funds, private pledges and other over-the-top incentives then demanding that our business community get down on their hands-and-knees to beg them to service our feeble market?

And what’s to prohibit Mr. Cassens and the crew at DIA from ramming yet another ‘next big thing’ down our throats with tall-tales of all the ways you and I will “benefit” from throwing good money after bad in the latest, greatest corporate welfare giveaway?

Angel:             Eddie Hennessy

 I often pick on The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s business writer Clayton Park for his near-constant cheer leading efforts on behalf of our ‘movers & shakers’ as he continues to throw Chanel No. 5 on the hog.

But when he’s right – he’s right.

In this mornings paper is a wonderful article about one man’s efforts to almost single-handedly bring positive change to our beleaguered beachside.

By any measure, the multi-million-dollar restoration of the Streamline Hotel is a visual metaphor for the rest of the Halifax area – a dilapidated blight generator that then Chief Mike Chitwood once referred to as a “Den of Iniquity” – a once grand art deco style hotel which holds the distinction as the “Birthplace of NASCAR” after Bill France and friends met in the rooftop bar to hammer-out details of what would become racings sanctioning body.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of decrepitude, local entrepreneur Eddie Hennessy turned his vision into reality when he spent some $6 million to completely gut and rebuild this grand hotel – opening to great fanfare and success last year.

In the process, Hennessy generated some much-needed publicity for the “World’s Most Famous Beach” when the hotel’s renovation was prominently featured on a nationally televised reality show.

Now, Hennessy is breathing new life into areas surrounding his signature project.

Earlier this week plans were released for the imminent demolition of the former Shell’s restaurant property – another blighted shithole that has sat vacant for years.

According to Clayton Park’s excellent piece, “Streamline owner looks to ‘revitalize’ beachside”:

“He (Hennessy) confirmed that he is demolishing the long vacant former Shells seafood restaurant directly south of the Streamline to make way for a yet-to-be announced beachside redevelopment project.

The development will include most of that block as well as the block immediately west of it which fronts East International Speedway Boulevard.

It’s all part of his plan to “clean up the town,” he said, declining to divulge further details at this time.

“Streamline is the catalyst to the vision that I have,” he said. “I want to give Daytona Beach what it deserves as the World’s Most Famous Beach. It needs to look like it.”

 From the “No Shit?” file, Nancy Keefer, CEO of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, said of Hennessy’s bold plans, “It is important for the private sector to step up,” when it comes to effecting positive change on the besieged beachside.

Who else is going to do it, Nancy? 

Our ‘powers that be’ in Ormond Beach?

Those dullards on the Volusia County Council?

The Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce?

These ineffectual do-nothings have had decades to do something – anything – to fundamentally change the cycle of blight, dilapidation and hopelessness that has left our core tourist area in tatters, created an artificial economy of haves-and-have-nots and perpetuated this shit-show of abject corruption and neglect that has crippled a once great tourist destination.

Don’t take my word for it – take a leisurely drive down A-1-A from Ormond Beach to Daytona Beach Shores.  It’ll open your eyes.

Now, I join the growing chorus of concerned citizens who are begging the City of Daytona Beach and other beachside communities to get the hell out of Mr. Hennessy’s way, remove all bureaucratic impediments standing in the way of his bold vision and do everything possible to support entrepreneurial efforts to bring real economic development to the Halifax area.

Trust me.  It’s now or never.

Asshole:          Daytona Beach City Commission – First Step Project

Like everything else in Volusia County, we can’t even build and operate a homeless shelter without some weird sleight-of-hand between a public entity and an uber-wealthy government insider.

In fact, I’ve made a game out of it based upon the old “Six Degrees of Separation” theory that claims any two people on earth are just six or fewer acquaintance links apart.

I call it One Degree of Volusia.

Invariably, a curious citizen can link most any corporate handout or sweetheart deal involving the massive transfer of public funds or assets to a private, for-profit interest with any member of our secret camera stellate at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance with just one move.

Try it sometime.

Last week, Daytona Beach City Commissioners moved to sell fill dirt from the 626-acre publicly-owned site in the pine scrub off ISB where the new First Step homeless assistance center is ostensibly going to be built sometime in the next decade.

In keeping with what city officials have described as “value engineering,” by unanimous vote, last week the City Commission approved an amended agreement with P$S Paving which allows the contractor to dig two or more “retention ponds” with a “target volume” of 40-acres (by comparison, the First Step site sits on about 10-acres?) for an estimated haul of 1.4 million cubic yards of extremely lucrative fill dirt.

You see, quality dirt is important to Florida developers – especially during periods of explosive growth.

It’s called supply and demand, baby.

Given our sensitive topography, dirt is necessary for filling, stabilizing and raising the grade of building sites.  With the current sprawl of residential developments that have been approved along the spine of east Volusia from Farmton to the Flagler County line – suitable fill dirt is in short supply – and he who controls a massive quantity of it can, in essence, set the market and become incredibly wealthy in the process.

Under the terms of the arrangement, P$S Paving will pay the citizens of Daytona Beach just $1.50 per cubic yard – or $2.00 per cubic yard if they are permitted to dig more ponds on the city land.

Now, city officials and other “experts” they spoke with claim that after permitting and overhead, fill dirt excavators net just a couple bucks per cubic yard.  Hell, to hear them tell it – it’s hardly worth the effort. . .

Bullshit.

Look, don’t take my word for it.  Do a quick Google search on what you would pay per cubic yard for fill dirt on the open market.

Go ahead – I found it selling locally for as high as $25.33 per cubic yard.

As I understand it, once permits are obtained, P$S Paving will pay the City of Daytona Beach $1.06 million – and an additional $1.06 million once the dirt is excavated.  To facilitate the deal, P$S Paving also agreed to knock $1.06 million off the $1.62 million it was charging the City for “site preparation work.”

The City of Daytona Beach is claiming that the deal will reduce the stratospheric cost of the shelter project by as much as $2 million.

At the rate costs on this mismanaged boondoggle have been rising – that’s like throwing a deckchair off the Queen Mary. . .

Ultimately, under the terms of this arrangement, which, in my opinion, has absolutely nothing to do with the “site preparation work” the company was originally contracted for – P$S Paving stands to pocket between $7 million and $14 million on the deal.

Now, way back when I accepted public funds and served in the public interest, I always felt that government had both a moral and legal obligation to sell public assets to the “highest and best” bidder, or at public auction, following a statutorily mandated publication process set in the best interest of the community.

Why?  Because its good public policy, that’s why.

It’s also the law.

When you factor in the massive lift station, with a capacity hundreds of times more than what would be required for the First Step project, and one gets the sneaking suspicion that the remaining 616-acres of property – which will ultimately have some 40-acres of retention and water features – is being groomed for another, more lucrative, use that has absolutely noting to do with warehousing the homeless?

I do.

In my view, it has all the earmarks of another “lifestyle” community.

Time will tell.

It’s this messy blend of public/private – a shell game that involves hiring a prolific government contractor for one purpose, then conveniently “amending” the agreement to include the potential of a multi-million-dollar windfall for that same contractor – without any competitive process to ensure that the long-suffering citizens of Daytona Beach are receiving anything close to fair market value for their property.

It stinks.

Add to that City Manager Jim Chisholm’s arbitrary decisions to “value engineer” this out-of-control debacle by simply transferring construction costs to the First Step Shelter Board – a multi-disciplinary group of volunteers who are working diligently to raise operating funds, yet have been treated like mushrooms by the City since its inception – and you get the idea that things may well be worse than any of us know.

I guess it’s good to be connected.

It’s even better to be a sitting member of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – like Tim Phillips, president of P$S Paving. . .

See what I mean?

I’m just spit-balling here – but aren’t we supposed to have an Attorney General in this state charged with investigating public/private partnerships when they detect a whiff of shit? 

What happened?

Quote of the Week:

“It is time to stop approving further residential development on the city’s west side until we understand all the consequences and create a long-term strategy for responsible development. Developers should not be the only people who will benefit from the growth in our community, while the rest of us pay the price.”

–Linda Smiley, president of Citizens 4 Responsible Development, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Letters to the Editor, “Put the brakes on intense growth,” Tuesday, October 9, 2018

And Another Thing!

Eventually, the Volusia County Council is going to have to make a decision.

Recently, those dullards we elected to represent our interests on the dais of power in DeLand kicked the can a little further down the road on perhaps the most import decision of their tenure – the selection of our next county manager.

But rather than show bold leadership and move forward with efforts to select the best and brightest executive we can afford – there is “disagreement” among our elected officials as to how best to simply begin the process.

In my view, Volusia County employs some incredibly smart people who are infinitely capable of gathering a comprehensive list of qualified candidates.

We also have very talented public servants in every municipality in the county who routinely perform complex background investigations, gather open source information, interview former employers, character references, perform neighborhood canvasses and learn everything humanly possible about potential public employees.

Instead, the Volusia County Council has chosen to employ their patented political insulation tactic of paying thousands of taxpayer dollars to a contractor to do what they are infinitely capable of doing for themselves.

Now, council members will hear pitches from two headhunter firms before selecting one to represent our collective interests for around $25,000.

In turn, the winning consultant will trot out the usual list of “Managers in Transition” and a few from the Great Frozen North who are looking for a retirement gig in the Sunshine State.

The Intrepid Councilwoman Heather Post is right – this is the most important decision the council will make.

But why not make it an open, transparent and inclusive process – conducted in the bright light that only open government laws can ensure – then remove the middleman and make this a countywide selection that we can all be proud of?

Or, maybe they should just cut the shim-sham and do what will ultimately happen anyway = Just put it to a secret vote of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance and be done with it. . .

Here’s hoping that all members of the loyal Barker’s View Tribe will take a minute this weekend to make a donation to the American Red Cross or the relief and recovery organization of your choice in support of those affected by Hurricane Michael.

You’ll be glad you did – and God knows they need the help.  Thank you.

Looks like we may have our first touch of “Fall Weather” on Saturday morning!  I don’t know about you – but I’m ready for it. . .

Barker’s View will be on a brief hiatus next week, taking a short ‘pause for the cause’ as Patti and I take a few days away.

As always, have a great weekend, kids!

 

 

 

 

Part I: Touring Florida’s “Forgotten Coast”

In September 2016, a friend and I set off to explore the coastal panhandle from Panama City Beach east to the quaint fishing community of St. Marks, then south to Steinhatchee. 

With Hurricane Michael set to impact the area sometime tomorrow, I was reminded of that remarkable trip – and the beauty of Florida’s Forgotten Coast. . .

Originally published September 2016:

How about we ease off government and politics for a minute and have a little adventure to clear our mind, eh?

Last weekend, my best friend of 50 years and I took off on a lark.

Just bugged out.

I threw a comfortable pair of shorts, a well-worn fishing shirt, and my toothbrush in a Goruck SD-15 rucksack, packed the Yeti Hopper with a half-case of iced-down Tecate and a few soft drinks, filled up with a full tank of freedom then pointed the SUV northwest.

Our loose mission was to explore Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” – roughly the undeveloped area between Mexico Beach on the Gulf of Mexico to St. Marks on Apalachee Bay – see the sights along the way and assess the damage from Hurricane Hermine.

Our trip to the panhandle took us around Jacksonville on I-295, through Orange Park, then west on the terribly monotonous I-10.  Once past Tallahassee, and a few miles west of Marianna, we steered south on Highway 231 through Alford and Youngstown, not much more than dips in the road – dots on the map, really.

The drive along 231 was very reminiscent of some of the back-roads I’ve traveled in my native east Tennessee – collapsing clapboard buildings, an occasional pecan orchard, and rural frontage dotted with small roadside vendors selling local honey, homemade quilts, and hanging dried gourd birdhouses.

We spent Saturday night in Panama City – a tacky, slightly down-at-the-heels beachside “resort” community which reminded me a whole lot of Daytona Beach.

A town that is obviously facing some of the same issues we experience here.

For instance, one of the first things you notice driving south over the causeway – because its literally all you can see – is the colossal, monolithic masonry wall that is the 765 unit Laketown Warf condominiums.

This immense structure looks like one of those massive collective housing projects from the former Soviet Union – gray, bland, and so incredibly vast it completely obscures everything around it.

laketown
Laketown Warf

So big that the tourists that inhabit it look like ants crawling along its dreadful exterior catwalks.

Interestingly, the history of the project is not unlike what we routinely experience here:  A big-talking, ego-maniacal developer rides into town fancying himself a southern-fried Donald Trump, throws money around until he gets what he wants, then goes broke mid-stream.

Eventually, someone else comes along and fashions, on-the-cheap, a toned-down version of the Bellagio-style opulence the original speculator promised everyone was coming before he went bankrupt and fled back to the outskirts of Destin.

The developer – a shameless self-promoter named Jerry L. Wallace – even published an autobiography entitled, “Dealmaker: A Billionaire’s Blueprint for Success” in which he refers to himself as the “consummate dealmaker,” a “pioneer and trendsetter,” etc.

Unfortunately, the book had to be reissued when Forbes reported that Wallace’s actual net worth was substantially south of a billion dollars. . .

Like any good “tell ‘em what they want to hear” speculative developer, Wallace countered that the book’s re-release was simply to generate “a broader appeal.”

Indeed.

As for Panama City Beach, the extreme density of beachfront development, rundown goofy golf links, cheap t-shirt stores, a smattering of theme hotels and a few weird Styrofoam sculpted gift shops stand shoulder-to-shoulder making it impossible to see the beach, or even the wide expanse of the Gulf, until you get a glimpse driving past one of the small public beach walkovers with even smaller public parking areas.

We’re here.  L.A. – Lower Alabama – the original “Redneck Riviera.”

What they don’t have is a lack of occupancy.  Things are booming in PCB, even after Labor Day.

After several attempts to find a room on the beach – which were selling for $185 per night with a two-night minimum – we found that the beachside was almost completely sold out, so, we found a comfortable chain hotel approximately 15-minutes inland.

I’m not sure what they’re doing right, but I suspect Panama City’s close proximity to south Alabama and Georgia is the difference between here and there.  Most of the visitors we saw hailed from the deep south and families with small children made up the bulk of a very diverse demographic who appeared to be spending freely at the hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops both on and off Front Beach Road.

We stopped at a sprawling restaurant just off the main tourist drag called Angelo’s Steak Pit for a couple of drinks, a huge 32-ounce Porterhouse, and a thick Ribeye of dubious pedigree.  Let’s just say when you leave a steakhouse lamenting, “Something’s up?  Was that beef?”  Seriously.  You’re in for a long evening. . .

On Sunday morning we got up early on Central Time and began moving east along US Route 98, the longest US road in Florida, stretching along the southern coast of the panhandle with some of the most spectacular views in the state.

Across the East Bay bridge and through the sprawling Tyndall Air Force Base, home of the 325th Fighter Wing and First Air Force.

The base is bisected by Route 98, allowing interesting views of a variety of military infrastructure and glimpses of the flight line through the trees with gray fighter jets and expansive maintenance hangers; then farther along we pass a cool target drone launch site with UAV’s on pads in a tight semicircle facing aerial gunnery ranges over the Gulf of Mexico.

The easternmost sections of Tyndall AFB include long stretches of heavy pine scrub marked with ominous signs announcing “Ordnance Disposal Area – Keep Out.”

We did.

Along the way we stopped and explored the town of Port St. Joe – a small beach community that is doing it right – with charming shops in the historic downtown, ample parks and playgrounds, and a great public marina on St. Joseph Bay that bills itself as the ‘Friendliest Marina in Florida.”

I found a great fly rod and reel at Port St. Joe’s Bluewater Outfitters – a small, but overstocked, all-things-fishing shop centrally located in the Piggly-Wiggly Plaza.

Interestingly, it’s also where we did some gift-shopping for the wives at home. . .

Moving east, we toured Cape San Blas, a seventeen-mile strand on the barrier peninsula with considerable stretches of open, pet-friendly white sand beach culminating in the beautiful St. Joseph State Park and Bay Aquatic Preserve, known locally as “The Point.”

cape san blas
Cape San Blas

The area has a very casual, laid back feel populated by pastel rental homes, vacation bungalows and those weird geodesic domes, all built on stilts along beautiful Highway 30E.

We stopped at the Cape Trading Post, a small family-owned store offering a limited grocery selection, local souvenirs and a fully stocked liquor store with a very friendly staff, impeccably clean restrooms and cold refreshments.

Leaving the Cape’s thin spit of land, we observed an incredibly unique ecosystem that brought the slash pine scrub right up to the soft white sands of the Gulf of Mexico.  Similar to what you would see on the banks of a freshwater lake in Central Florida.

We both agreed – well worth the drive.

We continued along the coast passing St. Vincent Sound and into the quaint village of Apalachicola, a community of 2,200 with that true “Old Florida” feel of a small coastal town.

Now, everyone has heard of Florida’s “Oyster Capital of the World.”  But until you visit it’s hard to image just what a beautiful, unrefined pearl the City of Apalachicola truly is.

Remnants of the past are evident in the community’s beautiful Victorian homes and the shacks housing rough, hardworking oystermen and other maritime businesses operating along the expansive waterfront.

Apalachicola’s historic downtown, featuring small shops and fashionable boutiques, is an active participant of Florida’s Main Street Program, a technical assistance service managed by the Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources.

Everywhere you look leaves the unmistakable impression that Apalachicola is intent on building their brand by fiercely protecting that which makes the area so unique.  They are doing this by following the highly successful “Main Street” philosophy that has been so transformative in the City of Deland and elsewhere.

The Mayor of Americus, Georgia, Russell Thomas said of this collaborative effort, “For the longest time, we all waited for a white knight to ride into town and fix the problems.  But the Main Street people made us realize that the only way to get it done right was to do it ourselves.”

Sound familiar?

After our windshield assessment of Apalachicola’s beautiful downtown and scenic neighborhoods, we stopped off at the Boss Oyster, a funky little seafood shack which, according to the menu, reassures that your oysters are chilled from “bay to belly.”

Incredibly, the menu offers oysters 29 ways – from Oyster St. George, featuring asparagus, garlic, shallots and Colby cheese, to Oyster Monterrey topped with hand-picked blue crab, sherry, and jack cheese.

oyster boss

Unfortunately, due to the effects of Hurricane Hermine, the Boss Oyster was serving only Louisiana oysters during our visit.

That said, we each had a bowl of some of the most exquisite oyster stew I’ve ever eaten with no less than a half-dozen of the tasty saltwater bivalves swimming in a luscious, heavy cream-based broth.

While my buddy enjoyed a dozen more steamed, I devoured a lightly dressed fried oyster Po-Boy washed down with a cold glass of proper sweet tea.  The great food and scenic location made for a memorable lunch overlooking the beautiful Apalachee Bay at the western extent of the “Big Bend” coastline.

Apalachicola is one of those places that you simply can’t forget.

As we prepared to head across the bridge to Eastpoint and on to St. George Island, we took a quick look back for a nice hotel the girls would enjoy on our inevitable return to this unspoiled hideaway.

 

Next – Part II: St. George Lighthouse, Cold Beers in St. Marks, then south to Steinhatchee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opinion in the Age of “Unfriending”

Social media continues to amaze and confound me.

My presence on various sites has given me the opportunity to remain in contact with long-lost friends, distant family, former colleagues, Army buddies and school chums – and allowed me to meet some really neat people from all walks of life and diverse interests.

Some of us push really personal things out to our ‘friends’ here in the great ether of the internet via social media – births, deaths, weddings, serious illness, hiring, firing, break-ups, make-ups, family issues, etc.

In fact, I’ve learned more about some people I’m scarcely acquainted with than I wanted to. . .

Many people I know are protective of their space – only letting family and close friends into their ‘inner-circle’ and perhaps that’s sound personal policy in this day and age.  In reality, I have a small handful of long-time friends in my ‘real life’ – tried, true and trusted members of my tribe who I’ve known all my life – wonderful souls who I trust exclusively and who have my best interests at heart despite my many faults and foibles.

I never lose sight of the fact that social media has nothing to do with real friendship, nor, I hope, will it ever.

When I receive requests I tend to take all comers – if you want to be ‘friends’ with me, well, I’m just appreciative of the fact someone took the time to reach out and share whatever their online persona may be with me (you know, that “face” people put forward on Facebook that makes us stars of our own reality show – then, when you meet them in person, you realize just how big the difference can be between someone’s ‘online’ and ‘offline’ personalities. . .)

Whatever.  We all do it.

I assume when I invite you into my online home that you will accept me for who and what I am – warts and all.

My ‘real’ friends can attest that I find humor and irony in most everything – the good, the bad and the ugly – perhaps a holdover from my days in law enforcement where we psychologically dealt with (often unsuccessfully) the tragic consequences of mans inhumanity to man with inappropriate jokes – we laughed rather than cry.

If we ever have the opportunity to meet, you will find that I am exactly what you get on the pages of this blog – a weird prophet with booze on his breath – profane, confused, concerned, irreverent, socially inept and always perplexed by the machinations of government and the gross betrayal of those we elect to look out for us.

Earlier this week, I posted a crude joke (admittedly meant in poor taste) dealing with the Kavanaugh appointment.  It was based upon a vulgar t-shirt slogan that some internet entrepreneur is hawking in the immediate wake of one of the most divisive two-week periods in the history of our nation.

I didn’t make and market the t-shirt – it was being advertised on Facebook! 

Most of my ‘friends’ took this stupid attempt at off-color humor in the spirit in which it was posted.

Others were so profoundly offended by my base political incorrectness that they blasted me with bitter contempt and angry vitriol – then immediately ‘unfriended’ me (something only possible in the digital age), banishing me to that dark place where anyone who challenges our sensibilities or – God forbid –  disagrees with us on the issues of the day are flushed from our lives with the click of a button.

What I found most unfortunate was that some of those who expelled me to social media purgatory are folks I’ve known and cared about for a very long time – before there even was a Facebook or Twitter – or internet, for that matter.

I removed the post.

Not because some overly sensitive social media ‘friend’ was unrealistically offended by something stupid I wrote – but because the thought of legitimately offending someone I have known most of my life was more distressing to me than any attempt to express the irony of this hyper-partisan shit show our nation has endured through a bad joke.

Taking it down was the right thing to do.  But it hurt that we are losing our freedom of expression at the altar of political and social correctness.

I hope whichever side of the political spectrum you fall – we can all agree that what the world witnessed during the Kavanaugh confirmation process was a national embarrassment – shamelessly perpetrated equally by both Republicans and Democrats.

Somewhere along the way we’ve become a nation of professional victims – with every issue, large and small, dissolving into a polarizing political nightmare of accusations and counter-accusations – the politics of personal destruction – coupled with the ability to turn off unpleasant people with differing opinions at the speed of a mouse click.

Nobody laughs anymore.

We are a people who have lost their sense of humor – divided cleanly along ideological lines and physically incapable of accepting any views different from our own or that of whichever political party we identify with.

For those who have threatened to never read these screeds again, I say good – given the circumstances we find ourselves in – you are doing yourself a favor by closing your mind, battening down the hatches, and shielding your personal sensitivities from my silly rants.

I don’t write them for a larger audience anyway – and, believe it or not, my opinion is no more valid or invalid than yours.

Even when Barker’s View began reaching thousands of people each month, I never once accepted advertising on this site, or, God forbid, charged for the feeble content – and I have never forced anyone at anytime to access this site.

I welcome everyone equally.

I’ve always considered Barker’s View a modern-day salon where people of all political persuasions can come and discuss the issues we all face in a safe and comfortable ‘no judgement’ environment.  In fact, I have only censored the views of readers once or twice – when the posts were physically threatening to someone else.

That has no place here.

The fact is, I would write these opinion pieces on our collective experience here on Florida’s Fun Coast if no one read them at all.  The writing is cathartic for me – a tonic to salve my anger, disgust and disbelief – and purge my own irreverent thoughts on the news and newsmakers of the day.

This blog site just happens to be a convenient place to park them.

I appreciate that so many wonderful friends and neighbors take time from their busy lives to stop by and consider my alternative opinion on the issues – and I really enjoy the larger debate and discussion these posts drive in the community.

In my view, to be offended by the goofy opinions of someone else is preposterous.

We live in an era where we can ‘unfriend’ each other at will – that is our right as denizens of the murky world of the internet – but I worry when we attempt to silence the views of others through blind rage and keystrokes.

Trust me.  In today’s political climate, at all levels of government, there is more than enough intrigue and machinations to be actually shocked and offended by without fighting among ourselves because our sense of humor or political opinions differ.

How were we able to live peacefully together as friends and family with differing viewpoints before the advent of the internet? 

How did we maintain quality interpersonal relationships before the Age of Unfriending? 

At what point did we dissolve into 326 million individual victims with political opinions so incredibly strong that they can destroy long-term human bonds in a digital nanosecond?

God help us. . .

 

Photo Credit: Toronto Sun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for October 5, 2018

Hi, kids!

That wise old sage Abraham Lincoln once said, “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.”

We cannot predict where our life’s path will lead – or begin to know what tragic circumstance – or wonderful opportunities – lay ahead of us.  It’s that mystery and anticipatory sense of ‘what will be’ that makes the trajectory of our lives such a rich and beautiful experience.

Without that element of the unknown, there would be no risk, no excitement – no sense of adventure.

For instance, when I began this little experiment in alternative opinion blogging, I could not have imagined the many wonderful people I would meet – civically active citizens who work hard to improve our lives here on Florida’s Fun Coast.  The insiders and outsides who care deeply about our future and take the time to read and analyze all aspects of the important issues of the day.

Nor could I have imagined the places Barker’s View would take me.

On Tuesday, I had the distinct honor of serving as a guest speaker at the prestigious Stetson University in DeLand, where I spoke to journalism students on the topic of opinion writing.

Wow.  What an incredible experience!

Regular readers of this forum know that I have no formal education.  When I was a young man I just never had the smarts or perseverance for it.  Perhaps that’s why I was so touched to have been invited to this esteemed campus to impart some hard-earned wisdom to Professor Mike Lafferty’s incredibly gifted students.

I like to say that I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the School of Hard Knocks – and experiential learning is the most expensive education you will ever earn.  As a result, through the many years and trials of my life, I have become a good mimic, with a finely tuned ability to recognize quality traits and skills I admire in others, then attempt to emulate them in my own life.

It’s how I learn.

That’s why it was so special just to be in the presence of Mr. Lafferty (an accomplished veteran journalist and opinion writer with the Orlando Sentinel) and his inquisitive students, as they explored this segment of the art of journalism – a pursuit vitally important to the health of our Republic and society.

For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed spending time in historic Elizabeth Hall – described as Stetson’s “signature building” – named for founder John B. Stetson’s wife.

It is exactly what I think of whenever I envision what a college classroom should look like.

I arrived for the 8:30am class early, admired the impressive Holler Fountain and Palm Court, before exploring the inside of Elizabeth Hall.  After I climbed the grand staircase, a very kind lady from the University’s History Department rose from her desk and warmly greeted me, then unlocked the old wooden door with an antique transom window from the days before air conditioning and escorted me into room 313.

As we made small talk, she explained a little about the history of the building, then asked, “Are you a guest lecturer this morning?”

Confident that my long white beard was enough to camouflage my inherent ignorance and present at least the appearance of the professorial wisdom one expects of an esteemed academic “lecturer,” I confidently puffed out my chest, casually slid my Saddleback satchel onto the floor, and proudly explained that I was to be interviewed by Mr. Lafferty’s journalism students.

She immediately responded, “Oh, have you done something worthy of being interviewed?”

 I was dumbstruck.

It felt like a scene out of “Shemp Goes to College” – the forgotten Stooge lost on a renowned university campus – crippled by acute onset Imposter Syndrome – a fish out of water.

I was a yammering, stammering mess.  A soup sandwich.

Desperately sputtering and searching my feeble mind for the right answer (“What in the hell have I done with my life that would warrant being interviewed by these smart people?”)

Think, Barker! 

I furiously struggled for any intelligent response that might explain why a schlub like me would be standing in this hallowed hall – and nothing came to mind.

My chance had come – and I drew a blank. . .

My utter lack of academic preparation had been exposed.

That’s when I came to the stark realization that I had just failed my first and only college exam. . .

Oh, well – as a wise friend of mine likes to say – “We can’t all be astronauts.”

I guess not.

But for one brief moment, I had the distinct privilege of spending quality time in a beautiful setting discussing issues important to me with a wonderful group of bright and intuitive young people – each of whom were incredibly kind, intellectually challenging, and made this old man feel most welcome in that special place.

Thanks for making this uneducated bumkin feel like I had something to contribute.

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:

There was a whole lot of Volusia County in the news this week, so let’s dig in, shall we?

Angel:             Former Holly Hill City Manager Russell Smith

It was 1985 and I was a young patrol officer with the Holly Hill Police Department.

At that time, I was so far down the totem pole that I was essentially subordinate to everyone in the building.  While I didn’t know who he was, or quite what he did, I knew that the City Manager carried a lot of weight.

When I was hired two-years before, I had been briefly introduced to then City Manager Charles McCool, who shook my hand and welcomed me to the community.

Beyond that, all I knew was the CM was my bosses, bosses, boss – and something best avoided if at all possible.

Russell Smith was appointed City Manager in 1985 – one of many who would hold the job during my long career in the often-volatile atmosphere of small-town politics.

Needless to say, I was shocked, and more than a little frightened, when one day I was called in off the road and told by Chief Pat Finn to report to the City Manager’s office.

I was equally surprised that Mr. Smith was so incredibly warm and welcoming to this young nobody.

During our short meeting, he explained that I had been selected to receive an award for some long-forgotten deed that someone, somewhere thought worthy of recognizing, and asked if I would mind if he and his wife joined me at the banquet?

Wow.  For a 24-year old flatfoot cop, that was more of an honor than any plaque or accolade I could ever hang on the wall.

It may have been just another rubber-chicken dinner for a veteran city administrator – but it stands out as a very special memory in a career full of special memories.

By taking the time to break bread and learn about me as a person – not just an employee – he humanized the role, and, through his example, showed me that the person at the very top of the organization truly cared about the person at the very bottom of it.

I never forgot that.

Last week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal featured Mr. Smith – also a decorated World War II veteran who is now in Hospice care – in a wonderful piece written by Jim Abbott detailing what he considered his life’s most meaningful accomplishment.

The establishment of Holly Hill’s beautiful Sunrise Park.

As a career civil servant I was far removed from the politics of the day, but I vividly recall the turmoil that surrounded a sandy spit of land near the intersection of what is now LPGA Boulevard and Riverside Drive – at the time known only as “Sandy Point” – where a high-powered developer planned to build riverfront luxury housing and rope off this very special area for the privileged few.

With the help of then City Attorney Butch Simpson – who, in my view, epitomizes the character, values and calm sense of contemplative patience that made him one of the best municipal lawyers, and men, I ever knew – Mr. Smith battled the developer for control of the property and ultimately secured it for public recreation.

Today, Sunrise Park provides generations of Halifax area residents direct access to the river for fishing, exercise, family celebrations, picnicking and community festivals.  In my view, it is a very special place, with one of the most beautiful views of the Halifax River anywhere.

It also stands as a fitting tribute to Mr. Smith’s dedication to improving the quality of life of his constituents.

In a lifetime of memories from The City with a Heart – a very special community that had such an indelible impact on my life – Russell Smith’s innate kindness, vision and willingness to hold firm to his principles in the best interests of those he served taught me a lot about what public service should be.

Godspeed, Mr. Smith.  We need more like you.

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

Even when they are given the opportunity – and political insulation – to do the right thing, Old Ed and the Funky Bunch prove once again they are physically incapable of doing right by their long-suffering constituents.

After multiple publicly-funded studies proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that current impact fees – which have remained relatively constant since 2003 – should be more than doubled in certain categories, this week we heard from the usual suspects why asking developers to assist with critical infrastructure improvements is verboten in this bastardized oligarchy.

According to our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, “When you look at some of those costs, when you look at what they are proposing us to charge, why would developers pay that much?” he said. “I’m totally opposed to impact fees (being so high) that they prevent the job growth that we need or raise the price of homes out of the affordability to some people.”

Instead, Old Ed would have you and I sit in gridlock traffic – sipping our own recycled sewerage – rather than even suggest that this upside-down strategy of suppressing impact fees to 2003 levels while permitting developers lucrative “credits” for certain transportation infrastructure improvements benefitting their projects in 2018 dollars –  credits they can turn around and use to “pay” impact fees – has left you and I, the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County, holding the bag.

At Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting, our elected officials once again prostrated themselves before their masters and proved, once and for all, exactly who they work for.

Earlier this year, for the first time in a long time, every municipality agreed with Volusia County in collectively pushing for a half-cent sales tax increase for long-overdue transportation infrastructure improvements.

For some reason, every elected and appointed official in the county (with one or two notable exceptions) believed that it was essential to increase the sales tax burden on every man, woman and child to pay for transportation enhancements – yet, the mere suggestion that impact fees should be substantially increased has resulted in absolute paralysis in DeLand.

During the meeting, those cowardly assholes on the dais of power didn’t have the political acumen to even feign interest and ask questions of the consultant we paid handsomely to tell us the obvious.

Really?  

To add insult to injury, at the same meeting, an attorney for Minto Communities – the Canadian developer who has partnered with gazillionaire entertainer Jimmy Buffett to plop a faux beach community directly on top of our aquifer recharge area adjacent to municipal potable water wells off LPGA Boulevard (even as a true beach community just a few miles east on A-1-A is allowed to wither and die from civic neglect) cried the blues to the County Council about how their flip-flop shod residents (who are scooping up those $200,000 – $400,000 cracker boxes in the pine scrub west of town at an alarming rate) deserve a break on impact fees because they are an older population.

Excuse me?

You don’t think an additional 12,000 to 16,000 Parrotheads unleashed on area roadways isn’t going to have a massive impact on our already overcrowded transportation infrastructure, water usage and other essential services?

Whatever.

In turn, Old Ed and the Funky Bunch did what they do best: Absolutely nothing.

Stall.  Delay.  Complicate.

Now, in the most poorly executed prevarication in the history of local politics, the Volusia County Council would have us believe that they want our “help” with this growing debacle.

According to Dustin Wyatt’s excellent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ed Kelley said, “Here it is,” referring to the latest 44-page study. “We want you to see it. We want you to weigh in. We are asking for your help.”

He added: “It’s very important that we get as much information to the public as we possibly can.”

 Yeah, right.

Remember last spring when Old Ed crowed, “I don’t need a consultant to tell me what we should charge,” braying that he didn’t want a consultant involved in the process at all?

I do.

And guess what?  He doesn’t want our “help” now either.

So, now our elected dullards in DeLand want to hold a “series” of Town Hall circle jerks across the width and breadth of Volusia County – dog and pony shows where they can trot out a few shills for the real estate development industry and try and convince We, The People that good folks like King Mori Hosseini and other uber-rich tycoons shouldn’t pay their fair share for the growth that’s making them even wealthier – but you and I should.

Even as more and more building permits are issued under the current wholly inadequate impact fee structure. . .

My ass.

What more is there to talk about?

Folks – make no mistake – in my view, Chairman Kelley, the always arrogant Deb Denys, the Right Reverend Dr. Fred Lowry and his sidekick, the Rip Van Winkle of county politics, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, have, once and for all, exposed themselves as manipulative strawmen – totally beholden to their political benefactors and steadfast in their collective resolve that you and I should pay – not those who stand to profit most.

“I think we need to take as much time as required to have these community conversations and with the organizations and get as much input as we can and discussion,” Councilwoman Denys said. “We need to do this well and thorough and be as transparent as we possibly can.”

Bullshit.

The very concept of honesty and openness in government is anathema in Volusia County government – a dark place that values secrecy, subterfuge and cover-up to protect the status quo at all costs.

One bright spot during an otherwise dismal meeting was when the intrepid civic activist, Ken Strickland, spoke bold truth to power:

“If you think you’re going to get that sales tax passed without a serious increase in impact fees, you will be sadly mistaken.”

Damn straight.

If you think this problem is going to resolve by reelecting these cowardly sell-outs who have no problem hawking our best interests to the highest bidder, you are sadly mistaken.

It is what it is.

In my view, it smells a whole lot like quid pro quo corruption.

Asshole:          Volusia County Council – Deuxième Partie

“Killing the messenger” is a metaphorical phrase used to describe the act of blaming the bearer of bad news.

Unfortunately, it has also become active public policy in the halls of power in Volusia County government.

The Volusia County Council has sent a stark message to any public employee or contractor that anyone who dares expose evidence of fraud, corruption, dysfunction or mismanagement does so at great peril to their job and professional reputation.

The latest casualty of this War on Truth is James Pericola, who, until last Tuesday, served as Volusia County’s federal lobbyist in Washington D.C.

In August, Mr. Pericola did what any ethical recipient of public funds would when he wrote a scathing letter to the county council and staff alerting them to the abject dysfunction, a ‘filtering’ of information by jackleg bureaucrats before it was provided to policymakers and the complete “lack of transparency” that pervades literally every function of county government.

He also had the courage to notify our ‘powers that be’ that overpaid county staffers are too damn lazy to get off their ass and actually engage with federal authorities who hold the purse strings on millions in federal grant funds.

In my view, it was one of the most revelatory and important pieces ever written about the machinations of Volusia County government.

In typical fashion, rather than immediately investigate Mr. Pericola’s credible claims of a highjacked system that seemingly serves itself, rather than its constituents who pay the freight, our elected dullards circled the wagons and launched a vicious attack on Pericola – and anyone else who would dare move to challenge the status quo.

Old Ed claimed the allegations were no more than ‘sour grapes’ after the county made a $90,000 ‘make-work’ job for a former Congressional staffer to handle “government relations” – then opted to go out to bid on the federal lobbying contract at less than half of what Mr. Pericola’s firm was being paid.

The coup de grace came this week when the county council voted 5-2 (with Council members Post and Joyce Cusack on the side of right) to terminate Mr. Pericola’s firm  with just two short months remaining on his contract.

Talk about petty.

Talk about ‘sour grapes.’

Talk about a chilling atmosphere for anyone who seeks to expose the truth.

Now that he is free from the iron shackles of a shadow government bent on secrecy and behind-the-scene intrigues, I sincerely hope Mr. Pericola will speak out and tell long-suffering Volusia County taxpayers ‘the rest of the story.’

We deserve to know the truth.

Quote of the Week:

 “Are you going to take your information from some EMTs or some firefighters?” Kelley said. “Or are you going to take your information from the people that administer the system?”

–Volusia County Council Chair and Congenital Fraudster Ed Kelley, speaking on Councilwoman Heather Post’s attempt to shed light on our mismanaged and overburdened emergency medical transport system in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley talks EMS after using it himself,” Monday, September 24, 2018

While driving across the Palmetto Curtain on his way to what passes for a public meeting of the Volusia County Council, Chairman Kelley rightly sensed he was having a cardiac episode.

Once he arrived at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration building, Chairman Kelley was attended by Volusia EMS Medical Director Dr. Peter Springer, who was there to address growing constituent concerns about response times and the availability of ambulances in the wake of revelations by EMT’s and firefighters that there are periods when no emergency transport service is available due to understaffing and system mismanagement.

Those concerns have been repeatedly echoed by municipal fire chiefs and public safety unions – including the Volusia County Professional Firefighters Association.

According to Old Ed, at the time he was taken ill, Dr. Springer apparently gave his patient in the throws of a cardiac event (which ultimately resulted in the placement of a stent) the option of having the EVAC unit respond, “hot and fast,” which I assume means a Code 3 response with lights and siren?

The alternative response being, I suppose, “cold and slow” like you and I can expect. . .

(It’s funny, but my doctor never gives me those options.  You know, like, “Hey, Mark, do you want to take those blood pressure pills I prescribed – or would you rather have a stroke?  Your call, old buddy.”  No.  He pretty much tells me what’s best and I do as I’m told – after all, he’s a learned doctor and I’m a hypertensive time bomb. . . them’s the rules in the real world.)

Oh, well.

We’re told Chairman Kelley bravely refused the “hot and fast” treatment apparently reserved for the political elite – then twiddled his nibs for some 18-minutes while the lone available ambulance trundled its way back from Sanford.

Add to that the time it took to actually transport Chairman Kelley to the hospital and you get some idea what local first responders are concerned about.

District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post – demonstrably the only sitting elected official on the Volusia County Council who is dedicated to representing her constituents rather than the all-powerful special interests – recently met with County fire and EMS officials to discuss the issue and came away with the view that Volusia EMS staffing levels are “scary.”

(Imagine that.  A sitting County Council member sitting down with those who actually provide services to get their first-hand take on the issues?)

Almost immediately, Old Ed went on the attack – calling Ms. Post’s educated opinion “reckless” and, as usual, completely dismissed any reasonable calls for oversight and accountability of this critical service.

When Post gave repeat examples of EVAC runs that showed response times of 30-minutes or more during a one-week period – including a case on August 8th where it took an ambulance some 36-minutes to reach a stroke victim – her credibility was immediately assailed by Dr. Springer and those arrogant dolts on the dais of power.

Incredibly, our Emergency Medical Services Director had the chutzpah to challenge Ms. Post with the inane query,  “Do we know if there were any bad outcomes from that?”

My God.

No worries.  It’s become great sport for Post’s “colleagues” to snicker and watch as staff, senior administrators and contractors approach the podium and verbally abuse, challenge and marginalize her – or anyone else who attempts to expose gross mismanagement or abject corruption in County government.

Look, don’t take my word for it – or even Councilwoman Post’s.

Call your Fire Chief – or speak with those brave men and women who are actually in the field providing this critical services to our community – and ask them if everything is hunky-dory with Volusia County EMS.

You might be surprised what you hear. . .

And Another Thing!

More dismal news out of DeLand this week.

Here, take it straight from the intrepid Paul Zimmerman, who, along with those dedicated grassroots advocates at Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premier beach driving and access advocacy – is actually in the arena, fighting hard to protect and preserve our most precious natural and economic resource:

Wednesday, October 3, 2018 – 8:25pm:

“Judge Randal Rowe ruled in favor of Volusia County today granting their motion for dismissal of the Sons of the Beach case challenging the Hard Rock Hotel developer’s compliance with ordinance 2015-07.

Judge Rowe granted the SOBs the opportunity to file an amended complaint within 20 days. The Sons of the Beach will sit down with our attorney, David Vukelja, and discuss our options moving forward.

Judge Rowe recognized the distinction between the basis of this case and the previous SOB cases.

Judge Rowe ruled in favor of the county based on his interpretation of case law regarding the issue of “STANDING.” To have “standing” in a case, one must prove that they are damaged in a unique and specific way. If the county government passes a bad law that damages ALL of the residents in the county equally, there is no recourse through the court system.  If everybody is equally damaged no one has “standing” – this is the law in Florida.

The county council, as elected representatives, are supposed to be the WatchGuard in such matters, not the courts. So, for all intent and purposes, it is the responsibility of the voters to elect – or vote out of office – those representatives that pass bad laws.  This is how our current system operates – the citizens are at the mercy of those they elect.

Stay tuned for a list of candidates that will be endorsed by the Sons of the Beach and Friends for this November’s election. The Sons of the Beach will never give up and we will continue to fight to Save Beach Driving.

Damn right.

If you believe, as I do, that beach driving and unfettered access to our public beach is paramount to our unique social and economic heritage as a world-class destination, please join us on Sunday afternoon for a Sons of the Beach and Friends Fundraiser from 1:00pm to 4:00pm at Lost Lagoon, 2004 North Dixie Freeway (US-1), New Smyrna Beach (located at the beautiful New Smyrna Beach Municipal Airport).

A great lunch buffet will be available – and you can purchase some cool SOB swag, including T-shirts and other logo merch.  While you’re there, please participate in fun 50/50 raffles and enter to win some neat door prizes.

I encourage all members of the Barker’s View Tribe to come by for a cold beverage and good times with some of the coolest, most civically engaged people I know!

Your totally uncool scribe hopes to be there as well.

I always enjoy meeting those who support this blog and talk about the issues that are important to you.

If you are new to the Halifax area – or just care about our collective future here on the beleaguered Fun Coast – come out and meet some new like-minded friends – or catch up with old friends who are actively fighting the good fight against government overreach and corporate thievery of our beach.

Trust me – you’ll be glad you did.

All proceeds go to local political candidates who support YOUR RIGHT to beach driving and returning sanity to beach management and access for everyone.

Beach Driving IS Beach Access! 

Up next week:  The dirty business of selling dirt at the languishing First Step Shelter.  Open and transparent bid process?  Fair market value for a public asset paid for with public funds?  Skyrocketing costs?  And whose getting rich warehousing the homeless?  You be the judge. . .

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