Barker’s View Honor Roll 2019

Hi, kids!

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

Let’s look at everyone who helped foster the success of this blog site during the past year as we proudly unveil the 2019 Barker’s View Honor Roll – the only award in Volusia County you can’t buy!

I’m fond of an expression that some purport to be an ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

Be it a blessing or a bane, we long-suffering denizens of Florida’s fabled Fun Coast most definitely live in a fascinating era – something akin to the old Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disney World – careening through a political maze, white knuckled, only to find the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train. . .

Whatever.

But the one constant on this wacky political thrill ride is that, regardless of our unique hopes, dreams and vision, we all coexist on this salty piece of land, and, each in our own way, want what’s best for the place we call home.

From what The Daytona Beach News-Journal have dubbed our “Rich & Powerful,” the movers and shakers with infinite power and influence – to those of us who struggle mightily just to eke out a living in this weird economy – all while coughing up exorbitant taxes and fees – we are all collectively dedicated to the proposition that we can be better, that we deserve better.

So, it’s my pleasure to honor all those who fight the good fight – who persevere, overcome and make a life here in Volusia County – those who courageously stand for public office and endure the slings and arrows of harsh criticism – those who have devoted their professional lives to public service – and those who pay the bills and suffer in silence.

This includes those hardworking civic activists who fight valiantly, time and again, to protect our quality of life – from beach driving to environmental advocacy and beyond.  In my view, these grassroots efforts form the very backbone of our community.

When I began trying to provide a genuine alternative opinion four years ago, I could not have imagined how many of you would take the time to read, to welcome my perspective and consider these diatribes for what they are – and what they are not.

Thanks to your engagement, this blog continues to open doors and influence opinion – and I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people – including a few of our “movers & shakers,” some of whom still have the humility and sense of humor to laugh at themselves and our situation.

Invariably, whenever I meet people who are familiar with Barker’s View, including those in powerful public positions who I frequently write about – they are incredibly kind to me – and take the time to offer their own unique opinions of the issues, point out where we differ or agree and provide constructive criticism for the blog.

So, it is appropriate that as we start a new decade, we recognize those who have impacted our civic lives – positively or negatively – in a significant way over the past year.

The problem with lists is you will invariably miss someone important – and if I have overlooked your contribution, please forgive me.  It was not intentional.

While this Honor Roll isn’t all inclusive, it begins and ends with YOU – those who read, contribute, opine, comment, argue, agree, disagree, disparage, elevate, share, find solutions, think deeply, offer criticism, offer hope, offer a word of encouragement – political allies and foes alike – especially the one’s who “get it,” and can still be my friend when the debate is over.

All of you.

But most of all, the faithful readers of Barker’s View – the independent thinkers who analyze and contemplate my often warped thoughts on the issues and newsmakers of the day – often vehemently disagreeing with my assertions – and use these screeds to continue a larger discussion in the community, an important exercise that can lead to new ideas and solutions to the myriad problems we face.

With over 382,000 page views since our inception – including readers from 81 countries from around the globe in 2019 alone – I couldn’t possibly know everyone who regularly accesses this site, but it is important to me that you know how much I appreciate your interest.

Whether you hate everything I stand for – or support an alternative point of view in a place that desperately needs someone to question the status quo – I am forever thankful for your attention, insight and critique.

You are making a difference in our beautiful community.

The only thing I can promise you is that, in the coming year, I’ll be here, watching from the cheap seats – a rheumy-eyed witness to the machinations of our local governments – providing you, the devoted members of the Barker’s View Tribe, with my jaded opinions and skewed perspective on the issues of the day.

As always, I appreciate your taking the time to read and consider.

And for your support and friendship.

That’s all for me – here’s wishing everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

2019 Barker’s View Honor Roll

Patti Barker

Ed Kelley

Ben Johnson

Billie Wheeler

Deb Denys

Rev. Fred Lowry

Heather Post

Barb Girtman

Governor Ron DeSantis

The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Mayor Bill Partington

Dwight Selbey

Troy Kent

Susan Persis

Rob Littleton

George Recktenwald

Travis Hudson

Mayor Chris Via

CiCi and J. Hyatt Brown

Deltona City Commission

City of Holly Hill

Sheriff Michael Chitwood

Josh Vedder

Jane Shang

Scott Markham

Kelly Joyce Schulz

David Isenberg

Hubert Grimes

Mark Harper

Joe Petrock

Mori & Forough Hossieni

Dr. Kent Sharples

Hon. Chris Miller

Maryam Ghyabi

Jenny Nazak

Harvey Morse

Bethune Cookman University

Big John

John Penny

Jane Glover

Greg Akin

Ginny Maccio

Volusia CEO Business Alliance

Dana McCool

Elaine Barnicle

David Simmons

Marilyn Stumpf

Jim Chisholm

John Miklos

Chris Nabicht

Kelly McGee

Steve Ridder

Ryan Ridder

Florida Legislature

Mayor Derrick Henry

Ruben Colon

Carl Persis

Sophie’s Circle Dog Rescue

Tom A. Wright

Clayton Park

Cyndi Ritchey

Paul Renner

Don Shinnamon

Sheriff Rick Staly

Dan Eckert

Mayor Bill Hall

Pat Rice

Mike Scudiero

Tom Leek

Tony Ledbetter

Dana Paige-Pender

Roundtable of Elected Officials

Elizabeth Fetterhoff

Stetson University

Chief Craig Capri

David Santiago

Richard Myers

Bob Davis

Evelyn Fine

Brown & Brown

Mayor Heidi Herzberg

Clay Ervin

Hope Place

Dustin Wyatt

Tim Curtis

Mike Springer

Ida Wright

Linda Cuthbert

Jamie Haynes

Minto Communities

Volusia Building Industry Association

Rob Merrell

P&S Paving

Robert Giebel

Root Family Foundation

Eileen Zaffiro-Kean

Jimmy Buffett

Jewish Federation

Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company

Deltona Strong

L. Gale Lemerand

ERAU

Jeff Feasel

Dan Ryan

Volusia Issues

ICI Homes

Bellaire Community Group

Eddie Hennessey

Steve Koenig

Riverside Conservancy

Volusia County Government Forum

James S. Purdy

Lisa Lewis

Hard Rock Daytona

FAITH

Larry Bartlett

Rev. Kathy Tew-Ricky

First Step Shelter

FREE Daytona Beach

Tanger Outlets

Dinah Voyles-Pulver

Foundation Risk Partners

Daytona Tortugas

The Civitas Project

Deltona – A City on the Move?

Volusia Politics

Larry Arrington

Joe Forte

Steve Vancore

Joe Yarbrough

Volusia County Schools

Glenn & Connie Ritchey

Daytona Beach Regional Chamber

Jerry Cameron

Security First Insurance

Dr. Sandford Kinne III

Bob Lloyd

Arthur J. Byrnes

Jameson Distillery

Libby Ann Higbee

Elaine Stewart

Anne Ruby

Bryon White

Karen Jans

Kevin Wallace

Babe’s Blue Room

Weegie Kuendig

Amy Pyle

Greg “F-ing” Smith

Krista Dowling Goodrich

Roland Via

Joe Hannoush

Ormond Einsteins

Marc Bernier

Jim Cameron

Norma Bland

Randy Dye

Dan Merrithew

Frank Fabrizio

Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia

Ormond Issues

Helping Hands Through Arts

Frank Van Pelt

France Family

Joyce Cusack

Debbie Darino & Justice for Ponce

Tony Grippa

Jeff Brower

Linda Williams

Sheila Hancock

Keith Chester

Barry Chantler

Ron Wright

Paul Rice

W. R. Dalla Rosa

Daytona International Speedway

Elizabeth Albert

Martin J. Favis

Tom Russell

Pat Northey

County of Volusia

Eric & Vanessa Lewis

Mayor Russ Owen

Mark Watts

Chief Stephen Aldrich

GateHouse Media

Volusia County Voters

Michael Booker

St. John’s River Water Management District

Mark Geallis

Nancy and Lowell Lohman

Rainer and Julie Martens

E. LaBrent Chrite

Theresa Doan

Jim Dinneen

Rob Gilliland

Kevin Bowler

Charlie Lydecker

The Sheltering Tree

GovStuff.org

One Daytona

William Jones, Jr.

North Turn Beach Bar & Grille

Jason Davis

Stephan Dembinsky

George Anderson

Tito’s Vodka

Clay Henderson

The West Volusia Beacon

Rev. Ronald Durham

Daytona International Airport

James Pericola

West Volusia Hospital Authority

Brian Soukup

Ken Strickland

Halifax Health

Gary Conroy

Derek Catron

Sandi Snodgrass

Jayson Meyer

Quanita May

Claire Metz

Deputy Frank Scofield

Rick Karl

Gloria Max

Rep. Michael Waltz

Mainland High School

Coach Morris Small, Jr.

Protogroup

John Albright

Cassidy Alexander

Roy Johnson

Joe Pozzo

First Step Shelter Board

Robin Hanger

Sons of the Beach

Daytona Beach Police Department

Chief James Bland

Ed Connor

Synergy Billing

Nancy Keefer

EVAC

Chuck Duva, M.D.

Sen. Rick Scott

Taxpayers of Volusia County

AdventHealth

Saralee Morrissey

Tom and Kayti Caffrey

Krys Fluker

Colleen & Rob Corrozza

Paul Zimmerman

Tim Egnor

Penny Currie

Jane Bloom

Sonya Wiles

Doug Quartier

Volusia County Sheriff’s Office

Bill Bernardo

Reed Berger

Casmira Harrison

Daytona State College

Catholic Charities

Kurt Ardaman

Bill Milano

Bob Jagger

Gina and Dan Farmer

Chase Tramont

Rep. Bill Posey

Spencer Stratton Hathaway

Judy Rock Bergevine

John Danio

Rhonda and Walter Glasnak

Lori Campbell Baker

Jamie Seaman

Tanner Andrews

Mike Panaggio

HAAA

Mary Synk

City of DeBary

Ormond-by-the-Sea Association

Buc-ee’s

Ted Doran

Joyce Shanahan

R. J. Larizza

Victoria Fahlberg

Team Volusia

Glenn Ring

Nick Conte

Daytona Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau

Josh Wagner

Jonathan Edwards

Paula Reed

Matt Metz

Patrick Gavin

Betty Goodman

Flagler County Sheriff’s Office

Dr. Ronald Fritz

Ruth Trager

Jeaneen Witt

Shelley Szafraniec

Rose Schuhmacher

James D. Sass

Robert Sprouse

Elliott Hagood

Michael Mc Bride

Bill Partington II

Linda Ann Brownlee

Henry Wolfond

Aaron Delgado

Mark Lane

Larry Steele

David Lamotte

Alexey Lysich

Keith Norden

Dannette Henry

Claudia Archer

Jason Greene

Tony Walsh

Julie Sipes

Stan Schmidt

Ray Hill

Kevin Gelnaw

Edward Gist

Linda Gatewood

Alicia Page

Nancy Epps

Liz Wade

Michael L. Young

Ted Hordecky

Iron Head

Claudia Vanderhorst

Sandra Walters

Zetta Baker

Liz Murdoch

Paul Skinner

Thomas Akin, Sr.

Sam Bell

Ron Andersen

Julie Hart Lantier

Christina Gerson

Katherine Wanamaker

Sandy Walters

Frank Sawyer

Psycho Magnet

Diane Reynolds

Niki Yanakou

Lori Bennett

Yogi Martin

Gary Mostert

Billie Barker

Barry du Moulin

Barb Shepherd

Gus Massfeller

Robin Michaels

Charles Pickens

Michael Harley

Joel Paige

Laurel Foley

Chris Belflower

Dawn Starr

Kat Brown

Jared Crawford

Sherry Purdy

Phyllis C. Hogan

Chuck Siple

Mark Annitto

Susan Barrie

Jeffery P. Terzini

Suzanne Scheiber

Brian Smith

Sandy Coffman

Linda Parkin

“T” & Bill Lawson

Don Bok

Melissa Lammers

Linda Leary

Al Smith

Eric Breitenbach

Beth and Jim Legary

Ron Martin

Rob Hougham

Robert Augusto

John Lawrence

Maritza Avila-Vazquez

Deana Sallee

Victor Ramos

Jeff White

Dr. John Hill

Linda Smiley

Rich Waters

Lisa Martin

Kayleen Garcia

Noreen Morris

Cheryl Reed

Andy Grosso

Rob Bridger

John Difiore

Kevin Callahan

Jerry Ficco

James Alford

Don Burnette

Loren King

Bob Apgar

Diane Clow

Pete Lynch

Brian

Pam Lawler

Anita Bradford

Dan Luby

Pat Katzenstein

Dr. Fred Costello

Dave Seyse

Richard Kane

Mike Denis

William Sell

Linda White

Karen Waters

Robert D. McFall

Sherry Huskey-Hopson

Fredrik Coulter

Steve Weaver

Kevin Duffy

Bill Barber

Michael Pleus

Steve Thomas

Dorothy A. Fogg

Jim Fogg

Leo J. Vidal

Bill Boots Bouthillette

Noel Bickford

Dayle Whitman

Roberta Richardson

Vicky Jackson

Alycia Severson

Joe Balona

John and Sue Lyle Reynolds

Ruth Norman

Dede Siebenaler

Luke Zona

Judge David Hood

Katherine Hurst Miller

Linda Morse Dixon

Volusia School Parents Forum

Greg Gimbert

Ted Teschner

Randy Cadenhead

Bud Baldwin

Katy Kustura

Robert Stolpmann

Flaglerlive.com

Amazon

Michael J. Arminio

Richard Waters

Jack Jarrell

Ormond Beach Observer

City of Flagler Beach

Volusia County Deputies Association

Frank Thomas Graham

Volusia County School Forum

All who contribute and wish to remain nameless

And,

Well, you know who you are. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas from Barker’s View

And she brought forth her firstborn son, 
and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; 
because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, 
keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, 
and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2

Here’s wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and all best wishes for a healthy, happy and most prosperous 2020!

Mark & Patti

The Birth of “Hyattona” or just history repeating?

The Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” 

As we grow older, some of us gain perspective as well – a civic point of view based upon our memories of the past.

On Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board took a long reach in a piece entitled, “Beach Street renaissance,” which began:

“There was a time when Beach Street was the thriving heart of Daytona Beach — a place where people could live, work, shop, eat and have fun, all within walking distance.

 And that time is … about five years from now.”

 The fact is, when I was a young boy, downtown was exactly as described.

A flourishing place – anchored by the major retailers of the day – with a plethora of boutiques, restaurants, specialty shops, upscale clothing stores, a movie theater and rows of beautifully appointed windows displaying the merchandise within.

At the end of any shopping trip, if you were “good,” your mom would take you to the toy store at Dunn Brothers.  Extraordinary.

Across the street was an attractive park, complete with landscaped greenspace, interesting monuments, a bubbling artesian spring which flowed cool sulfurous water into ponds surrounded by inviting benches – all interconnected by meandering walkways.

An almost universally shared experience enjoyed by everyone who came of age in the Halifax area in the 1960’s and early 70’s.

Suddenly, everything changed.

In the fall of 1974, for what I’m sure was the best of intentions, our ‘powers that be’ welcomed the Volusia Mall on what is now  West International Speedway Boulevard – and, within the year, both Sears and JC Penny closed up shop and relocated to shiny new stores at opposite ends of the mall.

And, downtown Daytona Beach joined thousands of other traditional Main Streets and business districts across the nation in a slow, but steady, descent into neglect and squalor.

Once bustling sidewalks became the realm of homeless mendicants – with the accompanying sights, sounds and smells that registered the death knell of a once proud and prosperous civic core – while dying shops who were left behind tried in vain to remain relevant in a disloyal retail environment they couldn’t possibly understand or change.

Despite fits and starts, Beach Street would never again see the level of success it enjoyed prior to the day the fabric of our community changed forever.

However, the bones of something great remained.

A beautiful riverfront with beachside access, ample natural spaces, a historic baseball park, a nearby marina and fashionable buildings which retain the class and appeal of a time that simply cannot be recreated.

It was the perfect canvas for a resurgent effort to rebuild and revitalize downtown – and perhaps the rest of our beleaguered community – with a ‘whole community’ vision that would incorporate the best ideas, efforts and input from those of us who call the Halifax area home.

Those who remember what was, and envision what could be. . .

Something we could collectively take credit for with “Look what we did!” buy in.

A collaborative process that allows residents to take ownership and build pride in place as they help revitalize a civically important area following years of strategic rot.

But that’s not how things work here.

Screw your “community building” bullshit, Barker.

We know what’s best for you – and we have the money to prove it. . .

So, we are forced to watch the behind-closed-doors birth of “Hyattona” – a contrived community center all built to adorn an out-of-place, unimaginative glass and steel monument to one man’s self-importance – a classless modern monolith that will house operations for His Majesty King J. Hyatt Brown’s billion-dollar insurance intermediary.

Once again, our elected and appointed officials are following in lockstep conformity – oohing and ahhing with each new reveal – acting as though they haven’t been given the script in advance as they rubber stamp the next demand and acquiesce to secretive projects proposed by Consolidated Tomoka, pushing ahead with plans for P$S Paving to narrow Beach Street while developers announce yet another “dense cluster” of hotels, boutiques, parking garages and specialty shops which will, of course, compliment the Brown & Brown headquarters.

Back in the spring of 2017, I explained a theory based upon mounting evidence that our ‘powers that be’ secretly constructed a “Grand Plan” for the future of the Halifax area – something those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence knew nothing about.

In my warped mind, this well-orchestrated blueprint was hatched by a few of Volusia’s powerful political insiders – the uber-wealthy donor class who have gained near total control of our democratic processes through massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates – and are using the resultant political clout to craft our community in their image.

As the onion is slowly peeled on what our future will look like – I hate to say I told you so – but it looks like my weird suspicions were true – and I suspect we will see City Island in play soon. . .

No one really cares what you and I think about the revitalization of our downtown.

Because it’s not about us.

In my view, the new concept community of “Hyattona” was set in stone the minute Mr. Brown stood before the Daytona Beach City Commission last week, and, for the umpteenth time, arrogantly waved his money under their noses (“We don’t view the $18.3 million as a gift, we view it as an investment”), after all it’s one thing to “gift” a park to the residents of Daytona, but quite another to use that “gift” to demand tax funded maintenance, ramrod an intrusive road project and procure other expensive public concessions and ancillary development to benefit your new office building.

Word to the wise:  Whenever someone repeatedly reminds you, to the penny, how much he or she has “gifted” you, it comes with strings attached. . .

Interestingly, the same area of downtown currently being developed in honor of one man’s legacy is set atop the ruins of another man’s search for civic immortality.

Way back in 1914, Charles Burgoyne, an uber-wealthy Daytona Beach printer, paid for street lighting and contributed money for many civic improvements – including a 10-foot-wide paved sidewalk known as the “Burgoyne Esplanade” – between Orange Avenue and Bay Street, along with a thriving music venue, a park pavilion and free concerts at his mansion.

Following Mr. Burgoyne’s death in 1916, his wife, Mary, lived in the rambling mansion – “The Castle” – for another 25 years until she and two servants were unceremoniously evicted by the new property owner, a Jacksonville businessman, and moved to a beachside apartment.

Then, the mansion, with its ornate wall and outbuildings, was demolished and hauled away – while property developer, Burgoyne Properties, built and leased twenty commercial buildings on the site of Mr. Burgoyne’s legacy. . .

Perhaps Mr. Brown, and the other ‘movers & shakers’ who are forcing their self-serving vision on the rest of us in downtown Daytona and beyond should realize that, in the end, all fame is fleeting – and forcing change on a suspicious and unwilling constituency only lasts as long as voters permit it.

 

Angels & Assholes for December 20, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Before we get this weekly hayride started, I want to take a minute to say thank you to every member of the tribe who rode to my aid during a pretty dark week here at Barker’s View HQ.

As most of you know, I was recently named in a spurious complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics – false allegations which specifically targeted Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte – accusations which were summarily dismissed following a preliminary investigation by state officials.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal and other local media outlets responsibly covered this ugly issue – but it didn’t help salve the heartbreaking reality of being wrongly accused.

I’m all washed up – a retired has-been with no relevance – but Mr. Forte remains very much in the fray.

Knowing the depth of his character and commitment to good governance, the fact Mr. Forte will be forced to forever explain this senseless stain on his otherwise stellar record of honest and ethical public service troubles me to the core.

While the experience only served to further harden my manners – and lower my already whale shit opinion of mankind – I know this unfortunate episode truly weighed heavy on a man of Joe Forte’s integrity.

My spirits were buoyed beyond belief by the response of Barker’s View readers – even from some of you who abhor these screeds and despise everything I stand for – who raced to defend my honor.

When the chips were down, you showed up.

I’m humbled by that.

As the great Texas folklorist J. Frank “Pancho” Dobie said, “You’ll do to ride the river with. . .” 

Thank you all from the bottom of my beat-up old heart.

Enough of that maudlin crap – let’s get things started, shall we? 

Look, this week’s A&A is a long one – so don’t think you have to eat it all in one sitting.

This isn’t “Mrs. Petrie’s Rum Nut Plum Raisin Cake of the Season” – just my goofy views on life here on the Fun Coast – so feel free to savor it, in moderation, throughout the Holidays. . .

Angel             Deltona City Commission

Well, the hyper-dramatic Grande Révélation didn’t quite go as planned. . .

Just yesterday, antsy taxpayers in Deltona were all set to learn the identity of the company they are gifting massive “economic development” incentives to – but, alas, secrecy prevailed as Team Volusia announced that, because of “unforeseen delays,” the mysterious “client” has opted to remain in the shadows.

Unfortunately, the ham-handed “emergency meeting” on Thursday left the Deltona City Commission looking like a troupe of buffoons as the rug was pulled out from under them – and exposed Team Volusia president and CEO Keith Norden as an addled, ill-informed stooge. . .

But, at the end of the day, the Deltona City Commission did the right thing.

Look, I get it.

I don’t agree with it.  But I understand the pressures.

Earlier this week, members of the Deltona City Commission preliminarily ponied up some $2.5 million in tax incentives for an entity that hasn’t even been identified yet. . .

What else were they going to do? 

Call it a sign of the times, I guess.

We live in an era when local governments are asked to handover hard-earned tax dollars to a mysterious business enterprise, shrouded in secrecy, and touted by “economic development” types as the next best thing to sliced cheese – a one-sided transaction long on faith, but with very little hard information – other than a promise of storehouse jobs paying around $32,000 annually.

That’s hardly the “high paying” careers we are promised, ad nauseum, by those who are paid handsomely to separate us from our tax dollars in the name of business recruitment.

In my view, those who the good people of Deltona have elected to represent their interests were right to wait until the operator of the massive distribution center is ready to reveal their true identity – and prove their corporate commitment to seeing the project to fruition – before final authorization of $2,479,966 in ad velorem tax rebates for the still undisclosed company.

In my view, companies like Amazon, and other mega-online retailers, didn’t dominate the marketplace by selecting locations for their logistics and distribution centers by throwing darts at a map – or listening to the pap and fluff of some Team Volusia shill. . .

I suspect, under the right circumstances, whomever this secret enterprise is would pay the City of Deltona if it meant getting a profitable location in the very epicenter of Central Florida.

But that’s not how the game works. . .

Now, people like Chris Wimsatt, vice president of business development at Team Volusia – who makes a fine living getting politicians to throw our money around – will paint a rosy picture of all the wonderful things Deltona can expect once they host a massive industrial warehouse.

In an article heralding Deltona’s incredibly expensive corporate welfare offer, Wimsatt said, “Clearly it’s something that is a game-changer for the county and the city, and we think a wonderful catalyst for further development.”

My ass.

“Game-changer,” “springboard” and “wonderful catalyst” – all the bullshit adjectives and contrivances from the Team Volusia playbook were trotted out for the benefit of elected officials and their constituents – who are only now coming to the realization they are being asked to give massive tax breaks to someone who hasn’t even introduced themselves.

Trust me.  It’s a frigging warehouse – not a panacea for all the social, civic and economic ills that continue to plague Volusia County like a grotesque disease – and I hope everyone keeps that in mind.

Clearly, questions are beginning to outnumber answers – and this shell game isn’t exclusive to Deltona. . .

In my view, it should be criminal for any government entity to give away millions in public funds, tax incentives and infrastructure improvements unless and until all the players have been properly identified, and those of us who pay the bills know exactly who – and what – we are being saddled with.

If we’ve learned anything this year, it is the importance of transparency in maintaining the public trust – and these Secret Squirrel “nondisclosure” games which statutorily cloak negotiations involving millions-of-dollars of OUR money don’t instill confidence in those of us who pay the bills.

I don’t know about you, but I’m damn tired of Team Volusia and others pissing my money away on project’s that would have naturally settled here without their insidious meddling and horseshit hype.

Angel               First Step Shelter

After a decade of anguish, political posturing, back-biting and intrigue, this week the beleaguered First Step Shelter – the Halifax areas premiere life enrichment and personal development seminar for the urban outdoorsman – opened to much fanfare in the hinterlands west of I-95.

Here’s wishing the shelter’s convoluted “leadership” conglomerate – a weird amalgam of the First Step Shelter Board, Catholic Charities, an Executive Director, etc., etc. (all of which are totally subservient to Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm) – a hearty congratulations and best of luck going forward.

They’re going to need it. . .

My sincere hope is that First Step is a rousing success, because, God knows, the homeless population that has besieged our core tourist area and beyond – and the long-suffering residents and businesses that have been forced to tolerate it – deserve a break.

We need these community-based services desperately – and I encourage everyone who can to donate whatever possible to the effort – because failure is not an option.

However, I’ll withhold judgement until we see the tangible results of our already sizeable investment. . .

This week, as everyone who is anyone was backslapping, cutting festive ribbons and celebrating the Grand Opening; I was quietly reminded of the story of the boy and the Zen Master:

On his sixteenth birthday the boy gets a horse as a present. All of the people in the village say, “Oh, how wonderful!”

The Zen master says, “We’ll see.”

One day, the boy is riding and gets thrown off the horse and hurts his leg. He’s no longer able to walk, so all of the villagers say, “How terrible!”

The Zen master says, “We’ll see.”

Some time passes and the village goes to war. All of the other young men get sent off to fight, but this boy can’t fight because his leg is injured. All of the villagers say, “How wonderful!”

The Zen master says, “We’ll see.”

Angel              International Speedway Boulevard

“It’s not me.  It’s you. . .”

Like some faithful but aging lover who has been kicked to the curb in favor of a younger, more attractive flame – watching the abandonment, and ultimate demise, of our main thoroughfare saddens me.

Recently, News-Journal Business reporter Clayton Park published an excellent piece entitled, “Ale House eyes Tomoka,” reporting efforts by the chain to potentially relocate its Daytona Beach eatery from its long-established location on ISB to a “new standalone” restaurant at the now fashionable Tomoka Town Center.

If things gel, Ale House will join a host of other former ISB residents – from Ross to Barnes & Noble and Hobby Lobby – that have left their roots and moved to the bustling 170-acre mixed-use development on Boomtown Boulevard near the LPGA/I-95 interchange.

If you ever question why I read and digest everything I can get my hands on regarding Halifax area business and politics, it is because sometimes I find a pearl in the remains of this rotting oyster of ours – an insight so profound that it speaks to the very heart of the myriad issues facing Daytona Beach and beyond.

In this case, Mr. Park included a very revealing quote by Dick McNerney, a clearly astute commercial realtor with Adams, Cameron & Co., who remarked that the restaurants move “makes perfect sense.”

“Everything around there is old and tired,” he said of the area next to the I-95/International Speedway Boulevard interchange. “By moving to Tomoka Town Center, they’d be getting a nice clean new facility.”

Wow.

I understand that no one wants to be left behind when the Gold Rush starts, but at the end of the day, what are we becoming?

As “New Daytona” continues to emerge from the pine scrub west of town – with elegant gated developments and a “theme” subdivision which has created a vast faux-beach community – coupled with a surfeit of restaurants and retail on the frontage road just east of our sparkly new Tanger Outlet – one gets the idea that New Daytona’s sandy Phoenix remains on the rise.

Yet, a short drive east finds the rust and rot of our once vibrant beachside – the grim and very visible consequence of multi-layered political dysfunction, gross mismanagement of public funds and resources, and a wanton neglect by greedy property owners who consistently put profits over progress.

And don’t forget the serious issues facing Midtown – which has, for years, suffered from inattention – virtually deserted by those who are elected and appointed to help solve the acute needs of its long-suffering residents.

Now, ISB has been formally identified as “old and tired” by those in the know.

As the burial shroud is slowly wound round our once grand gateway (just as our never-ending I-95 interchange is coming to completion) we can fondly remember west ISB in her heyday, when she was once new and vibrant. . .

As the big money continues its rapid move west, so does the focus and attention of our “movers-and-shakers” – you know, the Chamber of Commerce set, our goofy elected officials and their friends in high places, like the CEO Business Alliance, etc.

Like victims of a contagious pandemic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, city and county officials – and those who make their living grubbing from government coffers – will conveniently forget the fetid mess on what remains of the beachside and beyond as developers continue churning ecologically sensitive land west of the Interstate into the “Next big thing.”

 For now, we can just be comfortably anesthetized by the ‘big doing’s’ on Beach Street – pie-in-the-sky plans for a “dense cluster” of retail shops, a hotel (with rooftop pool!), parking garage, plazas and multi-family housing between ISB and Bay Street – as our “Rich & Powerful” tell us what our tawdry little lives will look like in the future. . .

Your input wasn’t needed, so tough shit, you nay-saying residents and business owners.

(Don’t take my word for it, look at the beautiful architectural renderings, with happy shadow people idling away the afternoon, strolling among posh boutiques and palm-lined boulevards – “doing lunch” and spending their disposable income from those good “high paying” warehouse jobs on wine, cheese and tchotchkes.)

Whatever.

I just wonder, in the aftermath of this Bacchanalia of Building in the hinterlands west of town, if any thought or planning has been given to what the rest of our beleaguered community – and our dying tourism and hospitality industry – will look like when the party’s over?

Asshole           Team Volusia

Sometimes I wonder if those who have been elected and appointed to represent Volusia County municipalities – the mosaic of unique communities that make us such a special and eclectic place to live, work and play – remember who they work for?

Earlier this month, our soi-disant Gurus of Economic Development over at the taxpayer funded Team Volusia – that laggardly camarilla that seemingly exists as an international travel agency for president and CEO Keith Norden and his coterie of high flying bon vivants – exerted their power with what amounts to a hostile takeover of the local Economic Development Practitioners Council.

In Volusia’s labyrinth of redundant “economic development” teams, councils, chambers, millionaire cabals, cliques and committees, the Practitioners Council is comprised of business recruitment professionals who are actually employed by the municipalities – those who are truly engaged in bringing new enterprises and encouraging capital investment in your community and mine – a heretofore independent arm of “Investor” cities who contribute heavily to keep Team Volusia alive.

Now, following a curious near unanimous vote of our municipal practitioners – the Vice Chair of Team Volusia will serve as “Co-Chair” of the Practitioners Council, to, among other demands, “facilitate the mutual exchange of information between our investors and staff of Team Volusia Economic Development Corporation, including without limitation information regarding potential prospects, sites, and opportunities.” 

Co-Chair?

Am I the only one who sees these shameless power-plays for what they are?

I mean, why can’t our highly-compensated and ostensibly smart city managers recognize Team Volusia’s strategic overreach for what it is – then put their foot down and say, “enough is enough”?

And why do our elected municipal officials continue to throw good money after bad subsidizing this unnecessary sham?

In my view, so long as one red cent of public funds is being spent on this charade (Ormond Beach alone spends some $25,000 annually, which, as a citizen, makes me an “Executive Level Investor”) then Team Volusia works for us – the long-suffering taxpayers of the municipalities who contribute – and this aggressive takeover of our independent local practitioners should not stand.

I guess it makes things infinitely easier when every local practitioner is required by committee bylaws to share their leads and prospects with the Team Volusia staff (who always seem to play things close to the vest) so that Norden and Company can take credit at the eleventh hour. . .

Bullshit.

Look, I don’t know about you, but I tend to judge organizations by their attention to the small, but infinitely important, aspects of their business – elements that demonstrate the groups professionalism and commitment to their stated mission.

For instance, a cursory glance at the Team Volusia website finds that substantive information hasn’t been updated since 2018 – nearly two-years – which immediately telegraphs to me, and any site selector who stumbles over it, that Team Volusia could care less. . .

I defy you to find any summary of meeting agendas or minutes for the Team Volusia Economic Development Corporation – a “public/private” partnership that is subject to Florida’s open meetings law – on the website, or anywhere else for that matter.

And don’t get me started on the false narrative created by the “Volusia’s Largest Employers” list in the Site Selection area – or the fumbling, stumbling performance of senior Team Volusia officials before the Deltona City Commission yesterday. . .

Why would our municipal officials continue to invest in a “corporation” that can’t muster the ‘management and leadership’ to maintain a professional web presence? 

In total, Team Volusia has proven, time and again, that it is more interested in lavishing the VIP treatment on its upper echelon – and hosting elegant soirees for all the right last names – rather than focusing on the job at hand.

To show you just how incestuous things have gotten here in Fantasyland – the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce is set to bestow its contrived “Enterprise Award” – this year obsequiously renamed in honor of His Magnificence King J. Hyatt Brown – on Team Volusia at the Chamber’s Annual Celebration of Mediocrity gala next month.

Yeah.  You read that right.    

Criteria to be determined, I guess. . .

If you are a dues paying member of the Regional Chamber of Commerce – a business owner who contributes to our local economy with your hard work, sacrifice and creativity – maybe your company should analyze the return on investment?

Perhaps it’s time to ask, “What have you done for me lately?” or why your hard-earned membership fees are being spent on frivolous cocktail parties – where sycophants and politicians laugh at rich people’s jokes – and dubious awards for wholly ineffective publicly funded economic development shills?

Major Award
“A Major Award”

I mean, our Regional Chamber of Commerce couldn’t find one private employer in all of Volusia County to honor?

Really?

Not Foundation Risk Partners (having Charlie Lydecker carry home the J. Hyatt Brown Award would be rich, right?)  Not Security First Insurance?  Not Synergy Billing?  Not B. Braun?  Not Costa Del M- (oh, sorry. . .)

Hell, not one established business which employs our residents, supports the tax base and forms the backbone of our local economy?    

Wow.

Look, if any Chamber member is interested – save your $125 per seat fee for the gala.  Instead, you can join me at my local watering hole and buy me highballs while I get sloppy drunk and humiliate your staff and openly disrespect your contributions to our local economy.

Hell, we’ll make a night of it!

In my view, that would be less embarrassing than sitting in an elegant banquet hall being publicly slapped in the face by the Chamber’s leadership as they present a fabricated award to a quasi-governmental agency and openly ignore the efforts of struggling local businesses trying to stay afloat in this terribly difficult marketplace.

And people still wonder why Volusia County remains a cautionary tale among the real players in Central Florida business and industry? 

My God.

Get rid of this shameless scam.  Now.

Quote of the Week

“Finally — what the heck?! Why can’t the Volusia County Council get it together and find out why we don’t have a bus going to the Tanger Mall and shops?

 If the council and cities are going to keep giving builders the go ahead to keep building more and more houses then they had better start giving people more options for riding the buses. Oh, by the way, when people keep building more houses, apartments, condos and businesses this becomes a big city complex and that’s what we are becoming so leaders better adjust their outlook for public transportation.”

–Joy Putnum, Ormond Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “Growth brings big changes to Daytona,” Saturday, December 14, 2019

I’m afraid, Ms. Putnam, despite your spot-on appraisal of our bleak future, that the Volusia County Council doesn’t give a damn about your valid concerns – or the general public’s ability to access the very shopping and entertainment venues they helped pay for with their hard-earned tax dollars.

You see, when developer shills have their hand out – the rallying cry is “high paying jobs!” – but once the check is cashed, no one really want’s you to have public transportation to those retail positions – because they fear a bus will also bring “undesirables” to their idea of a tony shopping experience.

We can’t have the Great Unwashed Hordes mingling amongst the gilded ones, now can we?

To his credit, Volusia County’s preeminent political pundit, Big John, has worked diligently to see public transportation extended to Tanger Outlets and beyond – and I have it on good authority that County Manager George Recktenwald is actively working behind the scenes to bring a Votran bus to the Tomoka Town Center area early next year. . .

Keep your fingers crossed.

And Another Thing!

Please join Barker’s View on GovStuff Live with Big John today beginning at 4:00pm!

We’ll be talking local politics – and taking your questions on the issues of the day – on “The fastest two-hours in radio!”

 Listen locally at 1380am “The Cat” – or worldwide at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

If you would like to participate in this wide-ranging forum, please call in at 386-523-1380!

I would really enjoy hearing from you – and learning your unique perspective on the issues that effect our lives and livelihoods here on the Fun Coast.

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

Lives are at stake. Dammit.

“I think we here in Volusia are in compliance today, it’s a good learning opportunity for us to take a look at where we can improve, and by all means we’re going to make sure we always meet the mandates that are set forth through policy.”

Greg Akin, Chief Operating Officer, Volusia County Schools, as quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Grand jury slams school safety,” December 16, 2019

“I think”?

You think our schools are in compliance with the mandatory safety and security provisions set forth in the aftermath of the atrocity at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas?

My God. . .what the hell is he blathering about? 

Last week, a report was released by the statewide grand jury impaneled in February and charged with investigating the implementation of legislative recommendations and physical security mandates contained in the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Safety Act.

According to the report, the panel heard evidence of widespread noncompliance in school districts around the state, describing some security plans as being, “held together with nothing more than chewing gum, duct tape and hope.”

Sound familiar?

It should.

Because recent violent incidents at several Volusia County schools, including an ambulatory drunk, armed with a pocket knife, that penetrated the gauze-like security protocols at a local high school before taking a seat in an occupied classroom – and the frequent no-holds-barred brawls among students that turn a “learning environment” into a prison riot – and you get the idea Mr. Akin, and the other unqualified jack-legs responsible for our children’s safety, are clueless.

Social media is abuzz with horror stories of bullying and violent physical altercations – to include anecdotal tales of headlocks, choke-holds and students dragging other students across under-supervised lunchrooms by their hair – closed-door interrogations of victims by administrators, and a host of other frightening scenarios that play out daily on school campuses across Volusia County.

The fact is, even the best safety and security measures are only as good as the professionals who develop, test and implement them.

In my view, here in Volusia County Schools, the legally-defined security specialist role has become a catchall – a negligent afterthought – and the glaring lack of leadership and expertise is self-evident.

This lack of professional competence and concern is exemplified in Mr. Akin’s nonsensical, CYA statement to The Daytona Beach News-Journal.  It seems no one at Volusia County Schools understands that doing the bare minimum to meet what they think the standard may be isn’t enough.

Lives are a stake.  Dammit. 

One would have thought that given the grave urgency of protecting our schools our new Superintendent, Dr. Scott Fritz, would have made immediate modifications to the district’s seemingly non-existent safety and security function.

It’s called hitting the ground running – prioritizing urgent issues before an emergency – and taking bold, decisive action to establish a culture of accountability and telegraph what is important to students, teachers and staff.

He didn’t.

Instead, following Dr. Fritz’ first goal setting session, the News-Journal reports that we can expect three priorities in the new year – in-house vaccinations for middle schoolers, the possible consolidation of the historic Osceola and Ortona elementary schools (leaving the beachside with a K-8, similar to what Holly Hill residents were saddled with), and the expansion of the bureaucracy with a “Deputy Superintendent” and “Chief Information Technology” position. . .

Not one word in the newspaper about our immediate need for the restoration of order on our school campuses or implementing something that vaguely resembles a security and safety program manager.

Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss?   

I have publicly asked Volusia County School Board chairman Carl Persis to take official action to recruit a professional security expert with the training and experience to secure the high-risk, dynamic environment of a school campus – someone with a proven track record of developing the passive and active safety and security procedures necessary to protect the thousands of lives placed in the district’s care each day.

And the mettle to enforce them. . .

To date, Chairman Persis has proven a massive disappointment – a perennial politician who plays lip service to concerned constituents – and I have seen absolutely no substantive progress on this most important issue since my reasonable request weeks ago.

In my view, it is time the statewide grand jury starts handing down criminal indictments of any senior administrator, or elected school board member, in any district in the State of Florida who fails to thoroughly implement the essential statutory mandates of the MSD Public Safety Act.

These do-nothing incompetents – as recipients of public funds – should be held personally responsible for the reprehensible environment we are forced to subject vulnerable children to each day.

We simply cannot wait for the unthinkable before Volusia County – and other districts around the Sunshine State – pull their collective head out of their ass and do their jobs.     

The tools are in place – the strategies have been clearly spelled out in state law – and these best practices have been paid for and sanctified with the blood of innocents.

This simply cannot continue.

   

 

On Volusia: “It’s all good news” Until it isn’t.

I always enjoy reading Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice’s take on topical issues in his standing column in Sunday’s paper.

He always has a unique perspective – but his question this week, “Why, in Daytona Beach, does it take way longer than expected to build roads and bridges and buildings?” – I’m going to assume was rhetorical.

Because, in my view, the answer is painfully obvious to anyone who has been paying attention for, oh, the past decade or so. . .

The reason speculative developers, government contractors and sundry greed-heads take so damnably long to complete projects – regardless of scope or inconvenience – is because they can.

If the long and varied saga that ultimately became the Daytona Beach Hard Rock taught us anything, it is that, even on the extremely rare occasion where performance bonds or contractual guarantees are used to ensure compliance with governmental concessions, or the release of public funds to underwrite various aspects of the project, those charged with looking after our interests are asleep at the switch.

Or they become wholly complicit in ensuring completion and quality obligations are overlooked or ignored entirely.

For instance, in February 2018, Volusia County officials realized that Summit Hospitality, the developer of Hard Rock, would be hard pressed to meet the drop-dead date for completion as established by county ordinance – which would have jeopardized the Volusia County Council’s over-the-top concession to essentially privatize some 410’ linear feet of OUR beach by removing traffic and ease of public access behind the hotel.

The real problem came when long-suffering residents realized – based upon their personal observation of deplorable conditions on the external seawall, photographs depicting structural integrity concerns in a subterranean parking garage and an unfinished pool deck – that no governmental entity worth its integrity and standing could possibly risk their reputation by certifying an incomplete renovation as meeting the exacting standards set forth by ordinance.

Yet, that is exactly what happened.

Now, Halifax area residents are standing in the shadow of an ugly concrete monolith in the very heart of our core tourist area – the multi-story shell of a highly-touted “$192 million” hotel/condo project, complete with the rusting shoots of the “north tower” which never seemed to germinate – a project that was billed as the biggest and best by our local ‘movers & shakers,’ who never seem to look past the hype and fluff of some marketing hack, or ask the darker questions, like – “What if. . .”

Way back in 2017, former Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey told us he personally negotiated the terms of the project with principals of Russian developer Protogroup – then he fired up the Allstar Goodtime Band and played a rosy tune for all us skeptical rubes who couldn’t seem to recognize a good thing when we see it, remember:

“It’s great to see it finally happen,” said Ritchey, who has a riverfront home on the beachside. “It seems like it has the potential to be something really great. I’m just really excited that it’s going to be a linchpin and an encouragement for other development on the beachside. It’s all good news.”

Then, in typical Daytona Beach style, the public was given a glimpse of some beautiful architectural renderings – complete with pixilated little cars and happy shadow people frolicking about – and our hopes were buoyed by some preliminary construction activity at the site and completion of the parking garage across A-1-A.

Unfortunately, at that time, Protogroup had apparently yet to secure the cash necessary to see the project completed.

At the time, I thought it admirable that Protogroup’s Alexey Lysich and his family dropped some serious personal coin to see the project come out of the ground.

It demonstrated a level of personal commitment that was refreshing in the weird history of the Halifax area’s here today/gone tomorrow oceanfront developers.

Then came a disturbing report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal which exposed some potentially uncomfortable information that was found during a review of the “Panama Papers” – leaked documents that contained personal financial information regarding the offshore bank accounts of uber-wealthy individuals and public officials from around the globe.

Although offshore business entities and banking is legal where permitted – from the “who’d a thunk it” file – some shell corporations and offshore accounts are used for fraud, tax evasion, and the avoidance of international sanctions.

Really.  I’m not making that up. . .

Apparently – according to the Panama Papers – a guy by the name of Alexey Lysich of St. Petersburg, Russia was associated with an offshore bank account in the Seychelles.

In his defense, at the time, Mr. Lysich told the News-Journal he – “doesn’t think it’s him” – and assured us all that neither he, nor his family, has any connection to the Russian government.

After all, “Money is money” Lysich said.

I don’t know about you, but that bold statement never sat well with me. . .

You see, us denizens of this salty piece of land have been screwed so frequently by developers with dubious financing that we walk with a permanent limp – and we learned a long time ago that, when the chips are down, our elected and appointed government officials will side with the “next big thing” over their constituents every time.

Now, with a January construction deadline imminent, on Tuesday, Protogroup will hold a neighborhood meeting in the parking garage (?) at Oakridge Boulevard and North Atlantic Avenue, ahead of a request to the City of Daytona Beach for a three-year extension to the completion requirement.

My God.

What does this mean for our fading tourism and hospitality industry, who continue see occupancy, revenue and bed tax collections for area hotels plummet year-over-year?

How does having a perpetually under construction hulk in the epicenter of our beachside encourage entrepreneurial investment?

And how long should the incredibly courageous owners of the Sea Dunes Motel – who took a bold stand to hold firm to their roots as a family-oriented seaside retreat – have to live in the shadow of a construction crane that rarely moves?

In my view, Paul Zimmerman, lifelong resident and president of Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, Sons of the Beach, recently posed a commonsense approach to this perplexing issue on social media:

“Given Protogroup’s failure to comply with past agreements and their lack of transparency and forthrightness.  We, the citizens, should demand at least four major terms prior to any extension.

  1. A requirement of a performance bond or an escrow account with at least 20% of the cost of project deposited with a structured timeline of milestones to be met with penalties withdrawn from the escrow for FURTHER non-compliance.
  1. A schedule of periodic citizen walk-through’s of the project to determine progress and the degree of completion at the time – without the walk-through – there is no accountability.
  1. An acceptable and required beach access which has not been consistently provided in the previous three years, and,
  1. Abandonment of the wrong way valet traffic lane on Oakridge Boulevard. There are more but these four should be non-negotiable. There is not only an agreement with the City, but with Volusia County (abandonment of the approach and air rights for the connecting walkway) as well.”

I think we’re well-passed the idea of asking residents to give up even more of our vanishing quality of life to accommodate the exalted developer du jour, don’t you?

At least I hope we are.

In my view, it is time our elected and appointed officials begin representing those of us who pay the bills and demand that the provisions of performance assurances and completion deadlines are enforced.

The economic future of our beleaguered beachside depends upon it.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

Angels & Assholes for December 13, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Mark D. Barker

I’m an unabashed troublemaker.

An unrepentant sinner who heaps harsh criticism on those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest, yet consistently put their own self-interests – or those of their political benefactors – ahead of the wants and needs of their long-suffering constituents.

Certainly not an angel.  And, let’s face it, the asshole moniker fits best. . .

If you’re a loyal reader of these screeds, my guess is you’ve figured that out by now.

The one thing I got right in life was a wonderful 31-year career in law enforcement.  If someone had asked me to sit down and write out the perfect career track – I could not have imagined a more fulfilling or personally rewarding endeavor than my three-decades with the City of Holly Hill.

Was it perfect?  No.

During a 31-year career in municipal government, I made my share of operational, administrative and personal mistakes.  Misjudgments, omissions and strategic errors that cost taxpayer dollars, diminished service delivery and, I’m sure, confounded senior administrators, elected officials and my long-suffering constituents.

Fortunately, I worked for some truly remarkable servant-leaders along the way who allowed me to learn from my mistakes, took the time and effort to point out the error of my ways and ensure that I didn’t repeat the same blunder twice.

I worked hard every day to set a professional example by never compromising my personal or professional integrity, to always tell the truth to citizens, subordinates and superiors – even when it was unpopular – and, when it came to putting young men and women in harms way, I never asked anyone to do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself.

And I never shirked my sworn responsibility to uphold the law without fear or favor.

I’m proud of that.

Now, I don’t give a Tinker’s damn about any “legacy” of service – but my professional reputation remains important to me – that’s why what I have to tell you is so difficult for me.

This summer a complaint was brought against Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte to the Florida Commission on Ethics by a long-time resident who, around 2007, embarked on something of a personal crusade to implement aggressive code enforcement.

Unfortunately, the accuser made up baseless allegations against me as a means to an end.

According to the complainant’s “Statement of Facts,” after making a personal “survey” of the city between 2007 and 2008:

“I began to notice that certain property owners, who I later determined to be longtime friends of former chief of police Mark Barker had major violations ignored by police officers.”

The complaint also alleged that when City Manager Forte returned to office in 2014 after a seven-year stint as Assistant County Manager in Seminole County:

“He immediately began adopting the same behaviors as former chief of police Mark Barker who retired just months earlier that same year.  Property owners, known to be close friends with former chief Barker, continued to repeat violations at their properties as police officers and Joseph Forte refused to report those to the special master.”

The complaint contained a smattering of photographs and email exchanges between the complainant and city code enforcement officials regarding reports and enforcement actions dating to 2008.

While I was not formally named as a respondent in the complaint – the foundation of these spurious allegations was that, during my service as Chief of Police, I showed favoritism or gave preferential treatment to unidentified “longtime friends” who were also “major violators” of city codes – and follows with the ludicrous notion that Mr. Forte, after a seven-year absence from Holly Hill, carried on this preferential treatment for my unidentified “friends” after I retired.

The accusations also included an absurd assertion that my officers and I were untrained and incapable of conducting code enforcement activities.

Bullshit.

On October 17, 2019, a preliminary investigation by the Commission on Ethics was completed and sent to the full commission for review and formal determination.

Earlier this week, the Commission issued a formal finding of “No Probable Cause” in the matter and dismissed the complaint against Mr. Forte – official action which exonerated him of all charges – while also making the original complaint and subsequent investigative report a matter of public record. . .

For the record, I was never interviewed – or even noticed – during the course of the Commission’s inquiry.

When I learned about the investigation following its conclusion, I reached out to the Commission’s investigator personally to ask how – in the absence of any opportunity to participate and provide sworn testimony or exculpatory evidence – would I be able to clear my name of these utterly baseless accusations?

I was told that the five-year statute of limitations on ethics violations had run since my retirement, and there was no evidence found to corroborate the complainant’s allegations, so, the Commission saw no need to interview me.

I also learned that the subject apparently became uncommunicative with investigators as the inquiry moved forward:

“The Complainant did not respond to telephone voice mail messages or an email message seeking further information relative to the complaint during the investigation of this matter.  However, prior to the finalization of the Report of Investigation, he provided an email response referencing alleged code violations he had noted dating back to 2007, while acknowledging that the Respondent (Mr. Forte) who previously left the City’s employ in 2007, did not return as City Manager until late 2014.”   

The investigator suggested I obtain a copy of the investigative report and use the findings as I saw fit to defend myself.

In other words, just deny it.

That should satisfy my detractor’s curiosity, right?

The fact is – I don’t have many friends – and none of them would ever compromise my professional ethics or personal integrity by asking me to intervene in a petty code enforcement matter.

And I have never insinuated myself into the code enforcement process, or the investigation and criminal prosecution of anyone, beyond what was necessary to provide supervision and oversight of an operation that was my legal responsibility.

In addition, I categorically reject the complainant’s notion that I, and the officers assigned to conduct code enforcement operations during my tenure, had “no certifications in code enforcement and routinely showed little knowledge of city codes/ordinances.” 

The fact is, during my long career I conducted and supervised complex, long-term investigations of homicides (literally from crime scene to courtroom), narcotics trafficking operations, financial exploitation, and major criminal offenses – to include successful prosecutions under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act – and have partnered with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies on large scale investigations and long-term operations to uncover and prosecute criminal activity.

In addition, I authored the Volusia/Flagler Police Chief’s Association’s emergency management protocol for multi-jurisdictional incidents – held the Florida Professional Emergency Manager designation – and am a graduate of the 187th Session of the globally prestigious FBI National Academy.

And the sworn law enforcement officers I assigned to administrate the code enforcement function were also extremely well-trained and experienced professionals who worked diligently at a thankless job to make a positive difference in the community.

Look, I hate to congratulate my own accomplishments, but I think my training and experience qualifies me – or any other sworn law enforcement officer – to investigate The Great Garbage Can on City Right-of-Way Case of 2008. . .

The only cognitive recollection I have of the complainant is his incessant reports of residential garbage cans not being removed from curbside in a timely manner, junk cars in driveways, parking of RV’s, storage of goods in carports, etc., etc. – and I always considered him a frustrated, if somewhat overzealous, resident who wanted to better his community.

While a I bear no animosity toward my accuser, in my view, the lack of material evidence and extreme nature of this official action is over the top.

While I support the accuser’s right to complain about his government – perhaps the bar for destroying lives and careers with a frivolous public integrity complaint should be a tad higher?

Admittedly, code enforcement has never been a political priority in the City with a Heart – and most of our efforts during my time in command were complaint driven.  Let’s face it, given the civic challenges facing a city approaching 120 years old, issues must be triaged, and limited resources expended judiciously.

Perhaps that doesn’t sit well with everyone – but it’s a fact of life in many small towns.

I have grown some hard bark over the years, and, in retirement, I really don’t give a rat’s ass what people think of me personally.

I am what I am – a washed-up hack, a warrior with no more battles to fight, a pathetic irrelevant who spends his time jousting with political windmills and sharing my jaded opinions with you.

Whatever.

But what’s left of my tattered reputation is still important to me – and I wanted you, my loyal readers, to know about these ugly allegations, as I suspect The Daytona Beach News-Journal will rightfully report on the matter soon enough.

I also want you to know that, regardless of what you think of me, Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte is one of the most decent, honorable and values-oriented public servants I know.

His reputation speaks for itself – and it is above reproach.

Although Mr. Forte didn’t serve as city manager during my tenure as police chief, I had the pleasure of working with him for many years and in various capacities – literally from the time he was a firefighter with Holly Hill Fire/Rescue through his early service as the chief executive.

Through the years, Mr. Forte has demonstrated the strength of character and professional competence that has made him one of the most highly respected managers in Central Florida.

His vision, creativity and strict attention to stewarding public funds have set the City of Holly Hill on a path of restoration and renewal.

The fact his good name has been besmirched by these pernicious and wholly false allegations sickens me.  My career is over – while his continues to blossom, and he will forever after have to answer ‘yes’ when asked if he has been investigated for an ethics complaint.

That’s wrong.

This wasn’t just some overbearing neighborhood snoop taking swipes at a public official for their failure to enforce municipal code – this was a formal sworn complaint alleging violations of Florida’s public integrity statute that resulted in official proceedings by the Commission on Ethics.

I’ve never been a fan of our state ethics apparatus – a weird process where the best the innocent can hope for is a finding of no probable cause – before being spit out the other side of the machine to rebuild their tarnished reputation.

And those who are found guilty of breaching the public trust often receive a slap on wrist.

When I complain about local government – or make snide remarks about sitting officials who I feel have sold us out – I try and explain the mini-moves and political machinations that led me to that opinion in my own off-color way.

I don’t make it personal because it isn’t to me.

And I can take it as good as I give it.

From that point of view, I have no idea why the person who submitted these demonstrably false allegations tried to personally and professionally destroy a good man like Mr. Forte – or why the individual chose to drag my washed-up ass through the fire five-years after my retirement from public service – but I have some damn fine attorneys who are champing at the bit to find out. . .

I didn’t quite know how to tell you about this – or how any subsequent media treatment will be received by my associates and political enemies – but we’ve been together too long for me to hide something from you.

Look, I’m not looking for sympathy – but I would have thought less of myself if you didn’t hear this from me.

As I ponder how best to proceed – how to restore my bruised reputation in this frightful era of guilt by accusation – I have come to the opinion that, if I am going to take an indignant public stand against perceived injustice, political malfeasance and the corruption of our democratic system – then I should work equally hard to protect myself, and those I respect, from bullies and cowards who use our public integrity law as a cudgel.

When I figure out how best to do that, you’ll be the first to know.

Thank you for your incredible support and friendship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: A Warrior Leaves the Field

About the time I graduated from high school, Dan “Cujo” Eckert went to work as a staff attorney for Volusia County, then clawed his way to senior management and hung on by his fingernails.

For 41-years. . . 

During this week’s County Council meeting, in a clearly prearranged and highly orchestrated maneuver, Mr. Eckert announced his retirement as Volusia County Attorney.

While I admire Mr. Eckert’s decades long loyalty and dedication to the public service (and the public teat – impressive), like many long-term bureaucrats in county government and beyond, in my view, Dan Eckert became an acute symptom of a systemic sclerosis on the body politic – a malignancy that is consuming Volusia County government in vivo.

In my experience, no one enters the civil service with the idea their contributions will be solely focused on meeting the needs of the few at the expense of many – just as most government professionals don’t begin their career imbued with an innate sixth sense for anticipating and facilitating the wants and whims of their master’s oligarchical masters.

Yet, in Volusia County government, this malevolent culture which protects the status quo and demands fealty to a system that bears no resemblance to a representative democracy, has resulted in a complete lack of transparency and accountability – a self-perpetuating scheme which totally ignores public input in favor of backroom deals, political choreography and public policy by ambush.

Couple that with the dearth of leadership and parliamentary acumen repeatedly demonstrated by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – a perennial politician who has made a mockery of the local legislative process – and continues to personify the adage that diapers and politicians should be changed regularly and for the same reason – and you begin to see the depth of the problem we face.

In my view, Mr. Eckert seemed to make his bones late in his career by building a cottage industry suing his own constituents whenever We, The People exhibited the temerity to seek substantive input into the pressing issues of our time – such as protecting our century old heritage of beach driving and access.

He fought, tooth-and-nail, and the ferocity of his litigation against resident’s and grassroots activists was legendary – always geared toward meeting the subliminal mandate of the uber-wealthy political contributors who seem to control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tides here in Volusia County – real puppet masters with the ability to sway legislation by their mere presence in the Council chamber.

Don’t get me started on Amendment 10 and the Volusia County Council’s use of Mr. Eckert’s mind and muscle to undermine the sacred will of the voters. . .

The viciousness and aggression with which he came after Volusia County residents in matters large and small is why I gave Mr. Eckert the moniker “Cujo” – because he fought with the tenacity of a mad dog whenever the true seat of power was challenged.

Then came the beginning of the end, when, like Kipling’s Tommy Adkins before him, politicians find it easy to sacrifice their warriors when they become a political embarrassment. . .

This summer, for reasons known only to him, Mr. Eckert became entangled in an ugly quagmire after providing the organizers of a nearly decade old racing heritage parade in Ponce Inlet a demonstrably erroneous legal opinion on the viability of next years event – then stood firmly by his weird recommendation, even after his judgement was challenged by Councilwoman Billie Wheeler and Florida’s premiere beach driving advocacy Sons of the Beach, along with a sitting United States Congressman and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In fact, Mr. Eckert’s move to stop the parade was so unilateral – and so blatantly wrong – that it caused many to question his motivations and stirred rabid controversy among citizens and sitting politicians alike.

Inexplicably, Dan didn’t seem to care.

So, for what he must have thought was the best of reasons, on Tuesday, just before he was set to be verbally “evaluated” by the Volusia County Council, Dan announced (in what was supposed to be some hyper-dramatic reveal) that he would be retiring effective next month.

It took the form of a two-line resignation that said nothing.  Meant nothing.

In doing so, “Cujo” allowed freshman County Manager George Recktenwald to bask in the universal glory and accolades that showered him from the dais during what passed for a verbal review of his performance – safe in the knowledge that the “system” was intact – and his annual retirement income will far exceed the average income of most Volusia County residents. . .

Given Old Ed’s daft handling of the moment, it became clear to everyone – including The Daytona Beach News-Journal – that Mr. Eckert’s departure had been orchestrated well in advance.

It was typical.  And no one paying attention expected anything different.

Only the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys even attempted to feign surprise following the ham-handed announcement – then acted as if finding a replacement for their retiring advocatus diaboli would be tantamount to walking on the planet Mars. . .

To his credit, like all well-entrenched bureaucrats, Mr. Eckert instinctively knew which side his bread was buttered in any situation – and, when needed, he fought tenaciously to keep this dysfunctional and ineffective ship of fools afloat – even after the bilge rats took the helm.

I suspect under different leadership and different circumstances, Mr. Eckert could have served the people’s needs with great enthusiasm and professionalism at times when we needed his best.

But Dan’s motivations were not in our interest – he advocated for a petty, self-justifying and belligerent beast – and it showed.

In my view, at the end of the day, Dan Eckert completed his lycanthropic transformation into what, I’m sure, was everything he hated when he entered public service and the law – a good man, ultimately compromised by a culture that abhors transparency and accountability – while championing the continued paralytic dysfunction that has hampered any substantive progress on the serious issues we face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for December 6, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel              Daytona Beach Police Department

It’s been a tough few weeks for the City of Daytona Beach.

For all of us, really.

A spate of violent crime – including nine deaths – has radiated through the community and galvanized the Halifax area – teaching us all a brutal lesson of just how cheap life has become to the criminal element.

By the grace of God and their superior skill, on Monday, Daytona Beach police officers successfully defended themselves against an armed and dangerous suspect who had fatally wounded a neighbor before attempting to murder responding officers.

Some might say these incidents illustrate just how close the line between order and utter chaos truly is. . .

Young men argue, angry words turn to unspeakable violence. Scores are settled with heartbreaking permanence.  Debts are paid in blood.  Revenge becomes the operative ethic.  The cycle of drugs and despair turn to aggression and cruelty.  Lives – and the peace of a community – tragically destroyed.

Madness.

The truth is, these senseless crimes of violence are almost impossible to prevent.

Unlike property crimes, where removing either the desire, opportunity or ability to commit the act can markedly reduce the occurrence – these despicable acts of gun violence we’ve experienced speak to something infinitely more difficult to protect against.

Because this evil manifests in the human heart and soul.

Standing courageous and firm in the breach between the timeless forces of good and evil are the incredible men and women of the Daytona Beach Police Department.

These hard-charging public servants continue to put themselves in harm’s way – again and again – working diligently and heroically to keep the peace, protect the innocent and bring those responsible for these horrific acts to justice.

In my view, the leadership, officers and staff of the Daytona Beach Police Department have acted in the finest traditions of the police service to reduce tensions, ease our fears and protect the vulnerable.

It takes a special breed to work the streets during these difficult and dangerous times – and I sincerely appreciate the extraordinary service of these brave souls who respond to our desperate calls for help and work so diligently to serve the community.

Their valor brings us hope.

I am especially proud of the way Chief Craig Capri has responded to this unusual eruption of violence – providing reassurance and a calming presence to his worried constituents, becoming the face of the city’s active response, and demonstrating the guts and leadership we’ve come to expect from this consummate law enforcement professional.

On Tuesday, Daytona Beach City Commissioner Paula Reed organized a candlelight vigil to honor those killed in Midtown violence and foster unity among her grieving constituency.

Some 200 people attended the service at the Dickerson Center, including Chief Capri and Sheriff Michael Chitwood, who, in both word and deed, have demonstrated their unyielding support for justice – and the citizens of Daytona Beach.

In my view, events like this bring healing and understanding during troubled times, and I applaud Commissioner Reed’s concern, activism and leadership.

Angels indeed.

Sometimes it is during our darkest hours when our community shines brightest.

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

 Weeks ago, Volusia County School Board Chairman Carl Persis made a personal commitment to me that he would consider hiring a competent and credentialed security professional to oversee the safety of children who attend district schools.

As of this writing, it is increasingly apparent that Chairman Persis is a damnable bullshit artist – a polished politician, schooled in the dark art of telling concerned constituents exactly what they want to hear. . .

Thanks for nothing, Carl.

Misleading a rube like me is one thing – but standing idle while our schools dissolve into a Guyanese penal colony (think Papillion, only more depraved) is morally reprehensible. . .

What has to happen before someone – anyone – in a position of responsibility gets off their ass and does something in this district? 

Last month, we learned through an investigative report in the West Volusia Beacon that, during a five-week period in October and early November, members of the DeLand Police Department responded to at least eight fights on the campus of DeLand Middle School – and arrested some 14 children, ages 11 to 14.

Yesterday, social media was ablaze as worried parents literally begged for information following reports of multiple brawls in the courtyard of Atlantic High School in Port Orange – a violent melee that took multiple law enforcement officers from three jurisdictions and the physical arrest of 12 students to suppress – including that of an adult who penetrated the thin slice of Swiss cheese that passes for campus security protocols armed with a pair of brass knuckles.

In my view, forcing terrified parents to send their vulnerable children into these deplorable and dangerous conditions is a travesty.

Monday, our new superintendent, Ronald “Scott” Fritz, signed for this godforsaken mess.

Welcome to Thunderdome, Scotty. . .

I understand that Dr. Fritz began his tenure this week by stroking stakeholders with frivolous questions such as, “What is your greatest concern with Volusia County Schools?” and “What should we stop doing because it’s not working?”

Does he take the paper? 

In my view, when the physical security of our children and teachers is in immediate jeopardy –  time is of the essence – and passing this off as “something going on in the community” won’t fly this time.

Hey, Doc – let’s agree that we can all sit cross-legged on the floor, sing Kumbaya, and mew over what our favorite color is when safety and sanity is restored, okay?

Look, I’m more than willing to give Dr. Fritz the benefit of the doubt – after all, he’s barely taken his seat, but quelling chaos and violent clashes in Volusia County schools should have been priority one – day one.

Perhaps Dr. Fritz should hit the ground running and start firing these incompetent posers that continue to masquerade as “security specialists” – callously accepting public funds for a role they are flagrantly unqualified for – then work to return a sense of order and decency to this post-apocalyptic cage match that passes for a public school system.

Because – for $205,000 a year – this violent and wholly dysfunctional quagmire is his personal and professional responsibility now. . .

In my view, the utter outrage expressed by many parents is more than justified.

It’s time for the Volusia County School Board to admit they are desperately incapable of restoring order, ensuring accountability or bringing a modicum of security to the learning environment – then they should do the honorable thing and resign, en masse, and allow their frightened constituents to elect strong, authoritative and responsive representation who will work in the best interests of our besieged children.

My God.  This cannot continue.

Our students, parents, teachers and staff deserve better.

Angel              Stephen Elliott, Warner Christian Academy 

“A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.”

–Author Unknown

A loyal Barker’s View reader and successful Warner Christian alumnus reports the untimely passing of the extraordinary educator, Stephen Elliott, who served WCA students for nearly 40-years.

According to Steve’s touching obituary, he estimated having taught over 4,000 students during his wonderful career – and remained a friend, mentor and confidant to many through the years.

In an era when the worth of teachers is quantified by the sterile statistics of standardized tests – clearly, Steve Elliott’s profound contributions to his profession, and our community, can be measured by the lives he touched in such a brilliantly positive way.

The calling to prepare young minds for a rich and fulfilling life is an infinitely important one, and true educators like Steve leave an indelible part of themselves with each pupil – each future leader.  In turn, their legacy of service to others endures.

Steve Elliott passed into the loving arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Tuesday.  He was 64 years old.

A memorial service celebrating Mr. Elliott’s life will be held at White Chapel Church of God, South Daytona, tomorrow morning at 11:00am.

Visitation will be prior to the memorial at 10:00am.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Warner Christian Academy, 1730 S. Ridgewood Avenue, South Daytona, Florida, earmarked for the “Steve Elliott Memorial” which will be used for the improvement of the school library.

Angel               County of Volusia Environmental Management Division    

Throughout December, Volusia County environmental specialists will lead a series of outdoor events which provide an opportunity for citizens to explore the unique ecosystems and natural places right in our own backyard.

These free Explore Volusia programs include insights into the unique biological processes of the Indian River Lagoon, an eco-buggy tour of Deep Creek Preserve, bicycle excursions, informative discussions of native flora and fauna, a look at land management practices and opportunities to paddle the backwaters of our sensitive local estuaries to observe birds and wildlife in their natural habitat.

These exciting explorations of our areas sensitive bio-systems is sponsored by Volusia County’s Environmental Management Division.

Kudos to Volusia County government for educating residents on the diverse ecology where we call home in such a fun and immersive way.

For dates, times and reservations, please call 386-736-5927.

Asshole           Team Volusia

Look, I get it.

I’m the antithesis of our always ebullient Chamber of Commerce types who continue to put a cheerful face on the struggling Halifax area – while seemingly ignoring the myriad problems that have an economic stranglehold on our core tourist area, the marked decrease in special event attendance, plummeting occupancy rates, blight and dilapidation, tone deaf politicians and an artificial economy based solely on the same five people passing the same nickel around.

No, I’m an insufferable critic – a nay-saying blowhard who points out the worst in everything.

However, my fervid hope remains that, with the right kind of ears, even those infernal optimists at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce might occasionally discern a kernel of truth in these crude rants. . .

I can assure you the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County are listening – intently – because the things we see with our own bloodshot eyes no longer comport with what we are being told by our ‘powers that be’ – and that is not helping our growing social stratification and festering “trust issues” one damn bit.

Case in point – the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce produces a glossy quarterly “business and professional” magazine known as Evolve, which features self-aggrandizing puff pieces on our local ‘movers and shakers,’ complete with flattering photographic spreads and high-priced advertisements featuring the smiling visages of everyone who is anyone on the Fun Coast.

Far be it from me to tell the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce how to spend their members money, but when I repeatedly see Team Volusia – our tax supported “public/private” economic development corporation, ostensibly funded to recruit new businesses from outside the area – emblazoned prominently on the front page of Evolve magazine, I get pissed off.

You should too.

You see, as a resident of Ormond Beach, I happen to be an “Executive Level Investor” in Team Volusia – which means my local government slips $25,000 in public funds to Team Volusia annually so the Team can do whatever it is they do.

Which generally involves jetting the group’s big shots to national and international destinations – like the Farnborough International Airshow (?) and symposiums in Tokyo – as they apparently bird dog more of those coveted warehouse jobs we’re so proud of. . .

My ass.

As an Executive Level Investor, I have purchased the right to know how public funds are being spent.

You have to.

Because in addition to our own in-house economic development practitioners who actually serve our individual communities – virtually every municipality in Volusia County also contributes to this redundant farce.

Why?

When I see our hard-earned tax dollars being wasted sponsoring some regional pap and fluff publication – little more than a slick ego massage for all the right last names (don’t take my word for it, read it yourself at https://tinyurl.com/rrmtchg ) – it makes me question how this misuse of our money will help recruit external enterprises to Volusia County?

How in the hell does purchasing expensive advertising in a local Chamber of Commerce rag further the goals of Team Volusia when absolutely no one outside greater Daytona Beach will see it?   

By the magazines own marketing materials, its distribution is almost exclusive to east Volusia (with 4% sent to Flagler County).

So, how will multiple full-page advertisements (complete with front page logo placement) in a hyper-local Chamber publication grab the attention of a site selector in Birmingham, New York, Fort Worth or Omaha?

How do the thousands of dollars in commingled public and private funds used to subsidize Evolve further the strategic goals of Team Volusia and encourage outside capital investment, when its readership is almost entirely comprised of Chamber members?

I’m asking.  Because smarter people than me are equally stumped.

When you consider that just weeks ago I angrily pointed out to the Regional Chamber that information provided them by Team Volusia listing our areas “largest employers” was demonstrably inaccurate – yet prominently listed in the Chamber’s 2019 members guide – one would have thought the Chamber’s leadership, as taxpayers, would have seen this as yet another potential embarrassment and questioned Team Volusia’s use of public funds to underwrite their magazine.

Not hardly.

Inexplicably, a check of Team Volusia’s own website finds the same erroneous 2017 employment statistics still conspicuously touted in the “Site Selection” section.  (It also still refuses to list tourism and hospitality as a “key industry.”  Whatever.)

It’s a small oversight, but infinitely disingenuous, considering new business recruitment is Team Volusia’s chartered purpose.

And it’s wrong.

In my view, perhaps it’s time we, the long-suffering taxpayers, evolve past this absurd money pit – and demand that our municipal governments stop underwriting this ridiculous waste of public funds.

Perhaps then we can relegate Team Volusia to the smoldering ash heap where do-nothing tax wasters go when the sham is ultimately exposed.

Angel               The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Recently, I’ve been hypercritical of some of the views expressed by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board – especially when their opinions seem deliberately contrary to those of the average citizen in the Halifax area who feel marginalized and alienated by the very officials they elected to serve their interests.

That said, I wholeheartedly agree with the paper’s November editorial, “Too soon for sales tax redo.”

At a recent conclave of that shadow government known as the Roundtable of Elected Officials – a political insulation committee comprised of mayors and managers from area municipalities and a few high-level Volusia County officials – the specter of the once dead half-cent sales tax referendum was resurrected from its freshly tamped grave after being soundly defeated by voters just last spring.

In a cogent autopsy of the failed referendum, the News-Journal opined:

“What was lacking? The trust. Vocal opponents successfully tied the vote to dissatisfaction with elected officials — primarily the County Council, though half the money would have been spent on priorities generated by municipalities. There was a lot of anger over perceived giveaways to wealthy developers, and a persistent belief that the tax revenue would be spent on infrastructure improvements tied to recent and future growth, not existing needs.”

In my view, the “trust issue” that our elected and appointed representatives are trying so hard to minimize is exacerbated by their continued refusal to accept the will of the people whenever our sacred vote is contrary to the objectives of our ‘powers that be’ and their wealthy handlers and contractors who ultimately stand to benefit.

They say that extraordinary problems require extraordinary solutions, and our areas preeminent political analyst, Big John – who served on the Volusia County Council for 12-years, back when something actually got accomplished – has a potential solution that is gaining steam.

Although the fine points are still being honed, Big John has proposed a citizen select committee comprised of residents who would oversee revenues, set funding priorities for both transportation infrastructure and water quality projects and provide a much-needed buffer between mercenary politicians and our hard-earned tax dollars.

In my view, that’s an uphill battle with a lot of moving parts, both legislative and procedural, and will require that sitting officials relinquish control of multi-million-dollar allocations to a politically unaccountable grassroots committee – something virtually unprecedented in government.

But it speaks to one man’s ardent fight for our collective right to self-determination and a return to a system that values public input and participation.

As I understand it, the key players have tentatively agreed to postpone their attempt to force this issue until the 2022 election.

However, the trust issue remains – and I don’t see much changing in two short years – except the continued explosive growth and resultant transportation and water quality needs that are reaching a crisis point.

As the News-Journal opined, “The need for more revenue for roads, water quality and other infrastructure is real. But the sales-tax proposal appears to be dead, at least for now. Dragging it back to life is likely to do more harm than good.”

This one bears watching.

Quote of the Week

“They have tried to move the evening activities (Bellair Plaza Cruise) to a center right across from the Speedway, but it is nowhere near the same as the traditional one at Bellair, we only went there one time, never again.

Also, at one time you could not find a hotel room to stay at on N. Atlantic, but this year almost every one of them had big red “VACANCY” signs flashing all week long. This has to be hurting the economy of Daytona Beach, and the hotel owners.

 Now, all we do is eat dinner and head back to our hotel to watch TV.  I think Daytona Beach officials shot themselves in the foot by making this terrible choice.”

–Don Hulgas, Ft. Myers, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “Missing the fun from Turkey Rod Run,” Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Mr. Hulgas is right.

I’m not a car guy, but since I was a little kid growing up here in God’s Country, my family and I always looked forward to the week of Thanksgiving when antique cars came to town for the famous Gaslight Parade and Car Show at the Birthplace of Speed.

For over 60-years, classic car enthusiasts have flocked to the Halifax area for one of the largest shows and swap meets in the world, with thousands of vintage cars and trucks on display for both show and sale.

For a destination that long-ago sold its soul to short-term/high gain special events – the Turkey Rod Run and its ancillary activities quickly became an important part of our local economy – especially for those in our beleaguered tourist and hospitality industry.

Like most successful events, the various automotive events tended to meld and evolve naturally over time.

Because the Gaslight Parade didn’t allow Hot Rods, in 1974, a father and son began the Turkey Rod Run at the old Howard Johnson hotel near Bellair Plaza.  As it grew, the show moved to nearby Seabreeze High School, ultimately relocating to Daytona International Airport, and now Daytona International Speedway.

Throughout the years, the one constant was the annual impromptu show and meeting of the minds in the parking lot of Bellair Plaza.

Unfortunately, beginning nearly a decade ago – the management of Bellair Plaza began forcing the car show out of the lot, threatening to tow displayed vehicles, then prohibiting portable toilets and generally making classic car owners feel they were no longer welcome at the unofficial epicenter of the annual event.

A 2011 News-Journal article explained that Publix was enforcing a covenant of their contract which prohibits car shows, something they feel impacts customer parking. Others claimed the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was commercial car carriers associated with the event that took multiple spaces in the lot.

Not all stores in the plaza balked, with many welcoming participants as an important draw to their businesses.

Regardless, last year officially marked the death of the Bellair Plaza Cruise. . .

The vintage car show has recently become a rather forced fixture at One Daytona (complete with its own contrived Facebook page and associated marketing) and many regulars are complaining the event just isn’t the same spontaneous get-together it used to be.

I spoke with some visitors from the Midwest this week – regulars at the Turkey Rod Run – who complained about the event’s move away from the beachside to almost exclusively a “speedway” event.

I got the feeling they won’t be back.

Perhaps this should be an early warning for our tourism maharishi’s and redundant “convention and visitor” gurus that the Daytona Beach Resort Area is slowly succumbing to years of neglect and a lack of comprehensive leadership – clueless stooges who can’t seem to cut a path forward, despite the fact our economic lives depend upon it.

Mr. Hulgas’ observations were spot-on.

The ever-present “vacancy” signs and lack of visitors is indicative of much larger civic and economic problems that reveal themselves in declining occupancy and room rates – market indicators that can no longer be brushed off by tax supported visitors bureaus – or attributed to foul weather or the whims of a growing list of air carriers that have deserted us.

In my view, it’s time for those who influence our elected officials to take direct action and save our languishing tourism industry before it’s too late.

We need a comprehensive strategy for the revitalization of our languishing beachside.  Now.

Otherwise, let’s just write it off altogether – and join the real money who continue to look for opportunities in the pine scrub west of I-95 in New Daytona. . .

And Another Thing!

Want to experience a true slice of Americana as we usher in the most wonderful time of the year?

Join with friends, family and neighbors for an evening of Christmas cheer at the Holly Hill Tree Lighting Ceremony on the front steps of historic City Hall beginning at 6:00pm tonight!

This annual community event heralds the start of the most joyous season in true small-town fashion.

Live entertainment includes performances by local school bands, dancers and carolers.

This year, Miss Florida USA 2019 Nicolette Jennings and Miss Florida Teen USA Katia Gerry will assist Mayor Chris Via with the much-anticipated countdown before illuminating the city’s festive Christmas Tree and spectacular lawn display.

I happen to have it on good authority that the Jolly Old Fat ManSanta Claus himself – will be making his 2019 Yuletide appearance during the festivities!

Then, on Saturday morning, children of all ages will enjoy the 60th Annual Holly Hill Christmas Parade as it rolls on the traditional Ridgewood Avenue route starting at 10:00am.

It’s a wonderful way to welcome the holiday season and support the City with a Heart! 

Hope to see you there!

 

 

On Volusia: A Time of Crisis

It’s been a tough couple of weeks.

The Holiday’s can be like that.  But this was different.

In the past few days, three current and former law enforcement officers died by their own hand – and a Halifax Health security officer was the tragic victim of a murder/suicide.

One of the victims I knew personally.

In a mix of shock and anger, after contemplating the loss of these bright young people with so much life ahead of them, I recently posted a heartfelt request on social media asking that my active and retired law enforcement brothers and sisters reach out to me if they need help dealing with the demons that can inhabit our psyches after repeatedly being subjected to traumatic events.

I quickly realized, this epidemic isn’t limited to the emergency services.

For instance, it is estimated that 22 military veterans take their own lives each day in the United States – that’s one every 65-minutes.

In Volusia County, our suicide rate significantly outpaces the state average – and this grim statistic has held firm for a long time.

Last year alone, some 125 of our neighbors took their own lives.

Perhaps we should elevate the conversation on what is quickly becoming a public health crisis here on Florida’s Fun Coast and beyond?

I suspect if over one-hundred people died of spinal meningitis this year in Volusia County, the Centers for Disease Control would have a command post established.

Today, I want to address my beloved brothers and sisters in the emergency services.

Since I was a kid, cops have always been my heroes – they still are.

In my 31-years in law enforcement, I saw these extraordinary human beings do some truly heroic things.

Stuff that leaves a physical and emotional mark.

I also saw the devastating physical and emotional aftermath of suicide up close and personal – and while I always struggled to understand the why – the commonalities included addiction, mental illness and a lack of adequate services for both.

Not much has changed since I retired.

After years of ignoring the issue, a recent spate of officer-involved deaths nationwide prompted a study by the Police Executive Research Forum which listed police suicide as a national crisis and occupational hazard – with law enforcement officers at a 54% greater risk than the general public.

Look, I’m not a mental health expert – and I’m certainly no stronger than anyone else – but I know that permanent solutions to temporary problems are never the answer.

I also know that life is infinitely precious.  It’s why first responders go into harms way to protect it.

When cops need assistance dealing with a dangerous situation on the street – we know that a call for backup can give us the tactical advantage.

In my day, there was a discrete code that signaled that an officer was in trouble – and once it was broadcast over the radio – it brought immediate help from every officer within range, regardless of jurisdiction.

We know that calling for backup during an emergency is not a sign of weakness – rather, a strategic decision to increase safety and improve the odds of successfully resolving the issue – and the same should apply when the old memories of traumatic experiences come calling and the black dog starts growling. . .

In my view, the emergency services are making strides to break down the old barriers and stigma of asking for help, but, obviously, we’re not there yet.

Many agencies offer employee assistance programs that work with insurance carriers and service providers to meet the unique needs of first responders.  I happen to believe that some of the most effective prevention programs involve confidential peer support policies that provide a lifeline for members in crisis.

Regardless, it’s time we develop a comprehensive national strategy for effectively dealing with this growing crisis and assist first responders with healing, advocate for benefits for those suffering with PTSD, and acknowledge the service and sacrifice of these brave men and women in our community.

That includes our dispatchers and emergency communications professionals whose needs have been overlooked for far too long.

In my view, it’s also time that, as a family, we admit that we are all equally screwed up – nothing about this job is “normal” and on some days it can be a real bitch – situations that are difficult, if not impossible, to forget.

Add the cumulative effects of shift work, stress, trauma, the sights, sounds and smells, the aftermath of accidents, death notifications, the constant exposure to man’s inhumanity, public perceptions and a thousand other job-related risks and you realize that none of us get out completely unscathed.

As a result, we all carry the scars.

Since 2016, nearly 600 law enforcement officers have taken their lives in the US.

This has to stop.  Now.

If you need help – you damn well better reach out to me and let’s do whatever it takes to get over the hump.

Please know there are credible outside resources available that can help you work through a crisis – or provide treatment to help support your physical, mental and emotional health long-term.

At the end of the day – we’re all we have – so let’s take care of each other.  Dammit.

Let’s also consider the needs of family members and our neighbors, especially during the holidays.

I love first responders – you’re the only people I ever really related to – and I’m here for you.

Always.

 

Photo Credit: WFTV