Surprise!

Late last month, residents of Ormond-by-the-Sea became shockingly aware of a plan – apparently hatched by the Florida Department of Transportation in cooperation with the County of Volusia – to erect a hideous erosion control fence along sections of the dune line from Spanish Waters Drive to High Bridge Road on the North Peninsula.

How did they learn of it?

Public hearings?  No.

Information sharing sessions?  No.

A meeting to educate concerned residents on the importance of erosion control?  No.

A glossy mailer?  No.

Like most things that affect our lives and livelihoods here on the Fun Coast, the word spread like wildfire, neighbor-to-neighbor, and raced across social media when area residents awoke to crews driving chemically treated poles into the sand just feet from A-1-A, directly on top of what remains of the natural dunes.

Fence poles

Suddenly, a storage pile of what appeared to be toxic wooden poles and rolls of slat-fencing took shape nearby, while a backhoe roared atop what remains of the natural dunes near traditional parking and beach access areas – crushing the coastal vegetation that serves to stabilize the sand – apparently to make a level surface for those godawful poles. . .

I guess statutory protections against harming sea oats don’t apply when the native plants are destroyed by a state agency, eh?

Look, I’m no expert on dune restoration – but I can read reports, diagrams and suggestions from those who are – and many residents believe these ugly poles and slat-fencing are being installed incorrectly.

If the idea is to build dunes by catching and holding wind driven sand, then everything I’ve seen on the subject suggests the fencing be placed seaward of the crest of the primary dune in ten-foot long spurs spaced seven-feet apart – facing the primary wind direction – with ample consideration given for the protection of nesting sea turtles and wildlife.

In turn, once the barrier becomes 50% buried, the fence material is raised – or another strand affixed to the pole (which is impossible, now that the current poles have been cut level with the sand fence) because, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection guidelines, “If the sand is allowed to accumulate, the fence will not only become difficult to remove but will also lose its ability to collect sand.”

So, why is FDOT actively placing 1.8 miles of sand fencing parallel to the beach, literally on the shoulder of a scenic state road with little, if any, notice – or apparent adherence to established FDEP guidelines? 

And why would a state agency, ostensibly accountable to the taxpayers who fund it, tell members of the media that “…workers are working cautiously so native plants aren’t lost,” even as locals stand slack-jawed, watching heavy equipment remove sea grasses and other native plants whose root systems naturally anchor dunes?

Fence Backhoe

It seems counterproductive.

And untrue. . .

Adding to the mystery is the fact work appears to have started near the new ICI Homes Verona development on the North Peninsula – an area which, before a phalanx of “No Parking” signs were erected – historically served as a pull-off for visitors to the Ormond Beach Watchtower site.

According to reports, FDOT officials were blindsided by the outpouring of criticism over the fencing (?) – which, based upon its placement, appears to be more of a physical barrier to public beach access and parking than an erosion control fence – and they may be “taking another look” at the project going forward.

As usual, the questions continue to mount. . .   

While many coastal communities are considering proven erosion control techniques – such as Geotube technology and innovative near-shore reefs, constructed of living material, which have proven effective as a sustainable, cost-effective means of shore protection – Volusia County residents continue to be ambushed by dubious projects which appear overnight.

In my view, before even more of these chemically treated poles are pounded into the dune line – and the wholesale destruction of native plants continues – perhaps we should have a larger discussion among residents, our elected officials, scientists and erosion control experts on how to best protect our shoreline and coastal roads long-term.

Look, I realize the concept of actually communicating with constituents is anathema to Volusia County beach managers who consistently operate in the shadows while our once beautiful shoreline becomes a forest of ugly poisoned poles and sign pollution – something that bears no resemblance to what many of us who grew up here knew before.

Fence

Now, it appears Volusia County Beach Management has teamed with the Florida Department of Transportation for a “maintenance project” that will effectively destroy the character and scenic value of the North Peninsula.

Make no mistake, erosion control and dune restoration are incredibly important – but many agree that a more comprehensive approach will be required to ultimately stop threats to A-1-A and beachfront development.

This isn’t it.

In the meantime, perhaps our ‘powers that be’ could learn a valuable lesson from the public outrage that, once again, results from yet another shocking “surprise project” of uncertain efficacy and purpose – one that will fundamentally change the physical appearance and accessibility of our most precious natural amenity.

Don’t hold your breath. . .

——————————————-

Join Barker’s View tomorrow afternoon, Monday, March 9, 2020, from 4:00pm to 6:00pm  on GovStuff Live! with Big John!

We’ll be talking local issues and taking your phone calls on the “Fastest two-hours in radio!”

Listen locally on 1380am The CAT – or on the web at http://www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button)

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for March 6, 2020

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.

It’s been quite a week here on Florida’s Fabled Fun Coast – a time of ups-and-downs – that has left me feeling a bit uneasy.

One recurring theme in my often jumbled take on local governance, and the weird conundrums that result, is the ancient and honorable concept of responsibility and accountability.

Admitting mistakes.  Accepting blame.  Righting wrongs.  Changing course when necessary.

Building trust.

In government, as in most progressive private organizations, accountability exists when a responsible individual, and the services they provide, are subject to critical oversight.  This occurs when the responsible party is required to provide articulable justification for their actions, omissions, expenditures, planning, and performance.

A practice especially important for government officials at the executive level whose decisions can have wide-ranging and very expensive implications.

And there is overwhelming evidence that many of our public, private and non-profit organizations are incapable of holding senior staff responsible for a continuing pattern of gross mismanagement.

I think you’ll find that recurring theme in the odds-and-ends of our local life and times below. . .

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

Asshole           Deltona City Commission

I’m fond of the old maxim that, when it comes to local governance, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It seems our decision-makers never embrace the expensive benefit of experience – boldly stumbling forward, openly repeating the mistakes of the past, with no recollection of how the crisis du jour germinated.

It’s like watching them touch a hot stove over-and-over with a complete cognitive disconnect as to why their fingers look like burnt sausage. . .

Regardless of jurisdiction, the one constant in local governance is that, for a variety of reasons, appointed senior officials, like city and county managers, enjoy an incredible level of professional protections that those in the private sector will never know – even when their decisions and behavior are far from professional.

This week, the Deltona City Commission blundered on with a disjointed discussion of how best to compensate their clearly financially savvy interim City Manager, even as their former chief executive, Jane Shang, drags a massive sack of severance cash out of City Hall and transitions to whatever comes next.

(Which, you can bet your bottom dollar, will be a seat on the dais of yet another hapless municipal government who has no idea what’s coming their way. . .)

On Monday, the commission approved a salary agreement with deputy city manager Marc-Antonie Cooper, who was appointed to the interim Catbird Seat in January.  Under the terms, Mr. Cooper will be paid $150,000 annually for his temporary services.

Inexplicably, Cooper asked for a whopping $175,000 – matching Shang’s lucrative compensation package – a move that may have telegraphed he is more interested in the trappings than the needs of a community still reeling from years of civic dysfunction and infighting.

Apparently, clarification of the terms was required after a ham-handed previous agreement would have resulted in Cooper suffering a pay decrease if he were to return to the deputy city manager role.

Jesus.

Now, as I understand it, if/when Mr. Cooper returns to his enviable former role – not quite the boss/not quite staff – he will receive a $15,000 pay increase bumping his annual salary to $135,000 – apparently as weird recompense for doing what deputy city managers do and filling in until Shang’s permanent replacement can be found (?)

Oh, if he should resign, retire or be terminated, Cooper will receive “…all accrued and unused vacation and sick time, per the contract.”

Wow.

 Why is it that elected officials – usually the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker – who, in real life, make far less than the base salary of most municipal and county managers – invariably “negotiate” massive compensation packages, complete with a Golden Parachute that provides the executive with a gentle, and very lucrative, landing when the inevitable occurs leaving taxpayers holding the proverbial bag?

Bizarre.

In a telephone interview this week with the intrepid Wild West Volusia News-Journal reporter, Katie Kustura, “Cooper said he hasn’t yet decided whether or not he’ll apply for the city manager position.”

I find that odd at a time when the long-suffering community is begging for stability.

In my view, if a city manager doesn’t have a burning desire to fill the role, lead boldly, be part of the solution, enhance service delivery and move the community that employs him or her forward with a strong civic and personal commitment – a drive that extends beyond the mercenary goal of self-enrichment and advantageous employment agreements – then, perhaps the city commission has already learned all they need to know about Mr. Cooper’s motivations going forward?

I doubt it.  The Deltona City Commission just doesn’t seem that quick on the uptake.

Which means history will repeat. . .

Angel               Volusia County Council

No, I haven’t bumped my head. . .

Look, I give that Carnival of the Absurd in DeLand the what for on a near daily basis.

Because they deserve it.

But this week, the council got one right when they agreed on ballot language that puts our previously voter-approved cultural, environmental and recreation grant programs – Volusia ECHO and Volusia Forever – on the ballot for a 20-year renewal this fall.

Absent some minor housekeeping, in what must be a historic first, our elected officials somehow found the common sense to leave the program language basically intact – after countless citizens spoke to the council or wrote passionately on social media touting the important benefits of these property tax programs to maintaining our quality of life.

Kudos to Councilman Ben Johnson for having the compassion and forethought to call for increased flexibility in the grant match requirement.

During the meeting, Mr. Johnson was joined by Council members Billie Wheeler and Barb Girtman in standing up for small communities and non-profits who could best benefit from grant funds, yet don’t have the financial wherewithal to meet the current 50% match requirement.

Of course, our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, argued against a reduction, adamant that applicants should have “skin in the game,” which means Volusia County can continue to gorge while many less wealthy municipalities and environmental organizations continue to suck hind teat.

Whatever. . .

In an excellent example of how ECHO funds enhance our lives in unique ways, during the meeting, the council approved a $400,000 ECHO grant request from the City of Holly Hill to complete the exciting Pictona pickleball sports complex, which is currently under construction in beautiful Hollyland Park across from the community’s historic City Hall.

Here’s hoping the Volusia County Council can overcome their natural tendency to get snout-deep in any pot of funds, regardless of earmark, and keep their grubby hands out of the pie.

This would include cockamamie ideas like hoarding funds to extend the Boardwalk (?) or redirecting money to public works projects and parking lots. . .

In my view, returning these important funding programs to the ballot is a very positive sign.

Frankly, it’s nice to see our elected officials actually listen to the concerns of their constituents for a change.

Now, keep up the good work. . .

Angel               Bethune-Cookman University

I was truly moved by retired Vice Admiral David L. Brewer’s recent Community Voices column, “Why historically black schools are important to save.”

Because I’m a cynical asshole, hardened by years of witnessing mans inhumanity to man up-close and personal – coupled with the natural pessimism and institutionalized suspicion that a lifetime in the Halifax Area can bring – that doesn’t happen often.   

While Admiral Brewer serves Bethune-Cookman University as a member of the Board of Trustees, he is perhaps best known for his monumental efforts leading the Military Sealift Command’s disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina – and his later service as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he stewarded a $7.5 billion budget.

In his thoughtful piece, Admiral Brewer recalled the important role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune’s personal contribution to education, when she gathered $1.50 to open the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls.

Bookending Brewer’s Community Voices essay was a well-written editorial positing The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board’s view that it’s “Make or break for Bethune-Cookman” – a grim, but very real, prospect for Dr. Bethune’s legacy.

In fact, if B-CU president Brent Chrite can’t close an $8 million operating deficit within days – later this month the university will lose its all-important academic accreditation – which will signal the death knell for this important institution and further fray the very fabric of our challenged community.

The News-Journal is advocating that, just like Dr. Bethune’s fidelity to her dream way back in 1904, “It’s time, then, for another leap of faith,” encouraging local donors to give like never before as Dr. Chrite and others work diligently, against all odds, to ensure that the university does not perish under almost insurmountable obstacles.

I agree.

Because I’ve become a hardened ‘civic cynic,’ I’m always looking for the scam – the confidence game – sniffing out the phony-baloney shtick and sleight-of-hand that seek to take advantage of our natural willingness to trust.

And to say B-CU suffers from a lack of internal and external trust is an understatement – but, in my view, Chrite is the real deal – a man of honor on a mission to save Dr. Bethune’s dream.

Make no mistake, B-CU is the victim of a long line of grifters, thieves and the deaf, dumb and blind watchdogs who inexplicably stood idle while the university’s coffers were looted, and greed-crazed insiders lashed the struggling school to a mountain of crippling debt with reckless dormitory “deals” and a mysterious luxury apartment project that still hasn’t been fully explored or explained. . .

The problem is, many in our community still recognize some of the exalted local last names who, while serving as members of the B-CU Board of Trustees, ignored their sacred duty to the institution – even as nervous alumni sounded the tocsin and begged for someone with a fiduciary responsibility to rise in defense of the university while there was still something worth worrying about.

Instead, for reasons known only to those craven few, they accepted exaggerated praise, honorary degrees and the other trimmings of their dubious “service” – even as the school was being  financially exsanguinated.

Once this immediate crisis has been met – and the parasitic lawsuits that continue to hamstring the university are settled – in my view, it is vitally important that Dr. Chrite begin the process of holding those who stood idle accountable for their sins to restore credibility to the process and start over with a clean slate.

That won’t happen.  But it should.

In my view, donors and potential endowments require strong assurance that the administration has been purged of these foul balls and can be trusted to steward these important gifts going forward.

It’s now, or never.

Angel               Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the Volusia Legislative Delegation

Kudos to Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Representative Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach) and Senator Tom Wright (R-Port Orange) for their outstanding efforts to keep convicted child sex offenders in jail pending appeal.

Earlier this week, the House approved Mr. Leek’s bill prohibiting judges from granting supersedeas bonds to anyone convicted of a crime requiring that they register as a sex offender or sexual predator when the offender is over 18 and the victim is a minor.

On Monday, the Senate Rules Committee approved the measure on a vote of 16 to 1.

The lone opposition came from the reality-challenged Senator Perry Thurston, Jr. (D-Fort Lauderdale) – who yammered some incoherent nonsense that those who are found guilty of sexually abusing children should “have the same chance as some other first-time offenders” to remain free while challenging their convictions.

Whatever.

In my view, this is an excellent example of law enforcement and our state legislators working cooperatively to improve our criminal justice system, close loopholes and protect innocent victims from further predation.

I can’t think of anything more important.

Congratulations to everyone involved on the expedient passage of this important law – and thank you all for a job well done!

Asshole           City of Ormond Beach

“In the past year or two, more than one Ormond Beach city commissioner used our Tree City USA designation as a defense when confronted by citizens voicing concern about increased clear-cutting in our area for development. So, it was particularly surprising to hear Commissioner Troy Kent say he is “so pleased that at this moment in time we don’t have a tree board” at the City Commission meeting on Feb. 4.”

–Georgann Meadows, Ormond Beach, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer Letters to the Editor, “Two Tree Committee members explain their group’s proposal,” Monday, March 2, 2020

Last year, I wrote a blog post entitled, “An Arbor Day Insult,” which took Ormond Beach officials  to task for the city commission’s weird ability to turn off their sense of shame and accept a Tree City USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation – after standing idle for the environmental massacre on Granada Boulevard which saw some 2,061 old growth trees – including specimen hardwoods and majestic oaks – wantonly churned into a muddy moonscape to make way for another WaWa.

That abomination on Granada Boulevard resulted in a visceral reaction by many in the community that continues to resonate.

Now, a small group of concerned citizens are holding the city’s feet to the fire, demanding that city officials actually live up to the mandates of the Arbor Day Foundation, which requires the city have a designated board to promote the welfare of trees and help preserve the urban forest.

Given the commission’s propensity for ignoring the suggestions of their own Planning Board and other senior advisory committees, no one had much hope that the current eyewash employed by city officials – lumping tree protections with some nonsensical hooey called the “Quality of Life Board” – would have the clout (or teeth) required to protect our historic trees.

Not surprisingly, City Commissioner Troy Kent was opposed to the very idea of increased oversight and protection of our greenspace.

In fact, at a recent commission meeting where establishment of the tree board was discussed, he arrogantly tut-tutted that the board would cost the city money by requiring staff time, required announcements and publications.

My ass.

In turn, he suggested having an arborist attend Quality of Life meetings whenever the fate of trees is at issue.

“The city is a great steward of trees, and quite frankly, I want less government in my life,” Kent said. “I don’t want more government, and I just think creating yet another board that we don’t need — because we already have a board that is doing the job — is not helping government run more efficiently.”

Right.

What a shameless sellout Mr. Kent has become, eh?

According to a recent article in the Ormond Beach Observer, the Tree Committee was recently formed by a group of concerned residents seeking a nonpolitical solution to preserving the character of the community through, “…more native plants, hardier landscaping and preservation of mature trees and wetlands on both city property and new development, whenever possible.”

How anyone – especially a sitting elected official – can fail to show respect for that incredibly noble goal is a mystery. . .

I suppose, like many grassroots efforts that conflict with a politicians natural proclivity to meet every want and whim of the speculative developers that hold the paper on their political lives – the very idea of allowing citizens direct input in protecting civic attributes that may well conflict with the slash-and-burn strategies of their political benefactors is anathema to the current growth at all cost philosophy.

What a damnable shame.

Quote of the Week

“It seems that City of Daytona Beach and the Volusia County have been up to no good in misrepresenting the ISB project. The repaving and improvements on East ISB are not contingent on the building of the roundabout despite what we have been told. According to DOT the improvements will actually occur, and will occur quicker, with a traffic light at ISB and AIA…so why then are some in our governments lying to us?

The plan is to close the ISB ramp and force all traffic to enter the beach at Silver Beach (that should be a real mess) and then exit only at ISB.  And when that idiocy doesn’t work, they will close ISB ramp totally.

They have had this plan in place but have been lying about it for a while including lying to some or our elected officials. Evidently the cleaning house in Deland’s Administration Building was not thorough enough. Check out who owns the property south of ISB and those that would benefit from a private beach. We will have a chance to let DOT know how we feel at the end of the month…in the meantime let your elected official know how you feel about this slimy action.

–Paul Zimmerman, President of Sons of the Beach, writing on Facebook’s The V.C.C. Page – Volusia County Concerns, ahead of the March 31, 2020, FDOT Public Hearing on ISB Corridor Improvements, 5:30pm to 7:30pm, Midtown Cultural and Educational Center Gymnasium, 925 George W. Engram Boulevard, Daytona Beach

I shared my thoughts on this important issue earlier in the week – and I’m glad Paul Zimmerman, who heads Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy – weighed in on what many feel is one of the most pressing issues in the Halifax area.

The fact is, the proposed roundabout at A-1-A and East ISB is a nightmare in the making – one any experienced traffic engineer will tell you is tailor-made for gridlock – coupled with the fact the project could be moved up from the current three-year start date if a signalized intersection were authorized.

But, given the perennial foot dragging and civic hand-wringing that continues to waste precious time, I’m left wondering if its all part of a larger “vision” that We, The Little People, know nothing about?

For some two-years now, our ‘economic development’ gurus over at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce have had a video on their website which shows renderings and animation of happy people strolling a promenade of high-rise buildings and quaint shops on East ISB – complete with an overlay of the new development – hailed as “An investor tool designed to showcase recent development along International Speedway Boulevard (ISB) and the future vision for East ISB.”

The video, produced circa February 2018, features the crystal ball prescience of a traffic roundabout at Atlantic Avenue by the way. . .

My ass.

(Don’t take my word for it, find it here: https://tinyurl.com/ttz2wvh  – it’s located directly under the greasy marketing brands for Team Volusia, the CEO Business Alliance and Volusia County Economic Development Division.)

Then, last year, the Florida Department of Transportation held informational meetings – complete with conceptual plans for a complete overhaul of East ISB – where residents were adamant that they didn’t want a roundabout at the intersection of A-1-A and ISB.

Naturally, plans call for a roundabout. . .

I’m being told it is because senior officials at the City of Daytona Beach – spurred on by the wants of our secret society over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – are demanding it.  (Along with even more money from FDOT for right-of-way. . .)

Now that Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm has begun his excruciatingly long goodbye – giving a full-year notice of his desire to retire in March 2021 – how that oddly-timed  announcement will ultimately affect current traffic plans remains to be seen.

But I doubt anything of substance will change until our civic elite reach their ultimate goal of eliminating our century-old heritage of beach driving altogether – which is clearly their intent with this godforsaken roundabout that will effectively block the busiest beach access point in Volusia County.       

In my view, it’s time the long-suffering residents and business owners who hitched their wagon to the promised “beachside redevelopment” start getting hard answers to these important questions – and a solution to the stagnation that is actively killing our core tourist area.

And Another Thing!

The unthinkable happened today.

For over 40-years, The Conklin Center for the Blind served the needs of the visually impaired – including providing independent living skills, the use of assistive technology and orientation & mobility training – along with awareness and outreach programs to educate the sighted community on the capabilities and contributions of the blind and those with additional disabilities.

Tragically, those incredibly important services come to an end this morning.

According to reports, state inspectors recently found discrepancies in the physical condition of the center – along with serious inconsistencies in contractual requirements and obligations that placed the facility “…in a state of material breach and non-compliance.”

 A disturbing report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal pointed out a laundry list of material violations of state standards that resulted in suspension of some 60% of Conklin Center’s funding.

 Apparently, the only remedy was the complete closure of the facility – leaving its clients – and our community – without this vital resource.

Look, I don’t know who is ultimately responsible – but this shit happens much too frequently in the Halifax Area.

We are being told that Conklin CEO Kelly Harris was summarily terminated earlier this week by the Board of Directors, bringing her 16-month tenure to a close in the midst of this maelstrom that brought the center to its knees.

Of course, Harris feels she should have received a commendation for her work to right the ship since she learned of the state inquiry last November:

“I was excited and thought they would come back with glowing statements about the amazing work we were doing.”

However, the News-Journal reports that Conklin board chair and former Ponce Inlet Mayor Nancy Epps isn’t buying any of it – taking a firm stand in support of Harris’ dismissal – saying the report from the Florida Division of Blind Services speaks for itself.

She’s right.

But I’m still curious when the wheel came off the cart?

Because the Conklin Center ran like clockwork under the outstanding stewardship of former  Executive Director Robert Kelly, who gave more than 31-years of faithful service to the center until his retirement in 2018.

In fact, Ms. Harris was hired to replace Kelly.

In my view, it’s important to identify the people and processes that led to this catastrophe – one that has adversely affected the lives and livelihoods of 50 clients and some 40 staff members who lost their jobs today – because this scenario should never be allowed to happen again.

Yet, just like the still unfolding disaster at Bethune-Cookman University, these scandals occur here with frightening regularity.

If our local system of “forgive and forget” holds true – I doubt we will ever learn the whole truth.

We’re just not real big on the whole concept of accountability here on the Fun Coast.

When I was writing and managing state and federal grants, the mandate to meet and adhere to programmatic standards was a big deal – one that I, and others, took extremely seriously, because anything less would erode the public’s trust and undermine our efforts to leverage grant funds for the enhancement of community programs.

So, as we say goodbye to what the Conklin Center meant to many in this community – an institution that served thousands of clients over four-decades – I hope our ‘powers that be’ in the public, private and non-profit sectors will use this unfolding tragedy as a stark reminder of the importance of oversight and management – and the fragility of publicly funded services when those who accept high responsibilities fail to live up to their sacred charge.

That’s all for me.  Have a safe and fun Bike Week 2020!

 

 

 

More Coffee, Please!

Earlier this week, News-Journal editor Pat Rice held one of the paper’s recurring coffee klatches to permit long-suffering residents another opportunity to vent on the perennial issue of blight and dilapidation on East International Speedway Boulevard – the main gateway to what was once The World’s Most Famous Beach.  

Look, I like everything about these informal community get-togethers.

In my view, Mr. Rice’s meetings provide residents an opportunity to join together, talk issues, and provide grassroots suggestions – a rarity in Volusia County, where many municipal governments have joined county officials in creating an information black hole – where elected officials and senior administrators hide behind paid mouthpieces and anything of substance is cloaked in pithy releases or an institutional policy of never communicating with the working press.

Frankly, when it comes to the horrors of our languishing beachside, the sights, sounds and smells of our core tourist area that are slowly destroying our hospitality industry and driving long-suffering property owners out of the area – we’ve heard it all before.

That’s why I didn’t bother attending the News-Journal’s coffee on Tuesday.

Like many of you, I’ve talked myself hoarse – and nothing has changed.

And this recurrent civic disappointment is driving many more away from the discussion as well.

The end of my innocence began when the Volusia County Council brought our ‘best and brightest’ from the public and private sectors to the table for the ill-fated Beachside Redevelopment Committee – a Blue Ribbon task force comprised of everyone who is anyone in our social, civic and economic elite – with a firm mandate to find workable solutions to the malignant blight and dilapidation that was so desperately exposed in the News-Journal’s 2017 “Tarnished Jewel” series.

After nearly a year of hearings, substantive discussions and three-hour-plus information sharing sessions – Volusia County officials stepped in (literally at the eleventh hour) and neutered the committee’s recommendations with obscure, non-committal bureaucratese, such as, “Expand the opportunities to make the beach a year-round destination for all visitors,” and “Utilize prior redevelopment efforts to determine the feasibility and viability of new efforts…”  

It took the wind out of my sails – and deflated the hopes of thousands of residents and business owners who put their faith in the personal and professional credibility of the committee members.

Instead, our fervent hope for substantive change was replaced with another worthless “See, we did something” political insulation report that now collects dust in Volusia County’s already groaning library of consultant reports, master plans and other expensive “recommendations.”

And, the idle coffee-talk and hand-wringing continues. . .

Along with the unanswered questions that naturally result in widespread frustration.

For some two-years now, our ‘economic development’ gurus over at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce have had a tantalizing video on their website which shows renderings and animation of happy people strolling a promenade of high-rise buildings and quaint shops on a futuristic East ISB – complete with an overlay of the new development – hailed as “An investor tool designed to showcase recent development along International Speedway Boulevard (ISB) and the future vision for East ISB.”

The video, produced circa February 2018, even features the crystal ball prescience of a traffic roundabout at Atlantic Avenue, by the way. . .

Yet, no one seems to mention this “future vision” whenever talk turns to East ISB.

Why is that?

(Don’t take my word for it, find it here: https://tinyurl.com/ttz2wvh – it’s located directly under the greasy, horribly redundant, marketing brands of Team Volusia, the CEO Business Alliance and Volusia County Economic Development Division.)

In addition, last year, the Florida Department of Transportation held informational meetings – complete with conceptual plans for a complete overhaul of East ISB – where residents were adamant that no one wanted a roundabout at the intersection of A-1-A and ISB – which just happens to be one of the busiest beach access points in the Halifax Area.

Now, we’re being told that plans are underway to build a roundabout. . .

In my view, it’s a nightmare in the making – one seasoned traffic engineers will tell you is tailor-made for gridlock – coupled with the fact the project could be moved up from the interminable three-year start date if a signalized intersection were authorized.

Why?

I don’t know – but I’m being told its because senior officials at the City of Daytona Beach – spurred on by our secret society over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – want it.  (Along with even more money from FDOT for right-of-way. . .)    

That’s why.

Another question is why Pat Rice is content to ignore these historical facts and topical developments while continuing to talk these tired issues to death – rather than holding those in a position of power responsible for this continuing debacle on the beachside?

For many who have hitched their wagon to the promise of “beachside redevelopment,” these hot air generators are becoming a waste of precious time. . .

In an October 2019 editorial, Mr. Rice wrote:

“It takes time to remedy the decades of neglect and problems that have allowed the beachside to become decrepit and crime ridden. Raggedy rental housing doesn’t improve overnight. Shops and restaurants don’t just sprout up because people wish for them. Everyone gets that.  But there is such a thing as not trying hard enough. There is such a thing as flying too below the public’s radar.  There is such a thing as not banging the drum loudly.”  

How much more time do we have?   

 

 

 

Let’s Make a Deal!

Here we go again. . .

It appears our Volusia County “economic development” shills are at it again – teasing us underemployed rubes here on the Fun Coast with another corporate thriller right out of the mind of John le Carré – complete with tantalizing clues, clandestine negotiations, a super-secret protagonist and, if we find our way through this byzantine maze of intrigue – the promise of “55 high wage jobs.”

That’s if you consider an “average” salary of $43, 401 “high wage”. . .

In typical fashion, last week we learned through a cryptic agenda item for Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting that another mysterious enterprise – code named Project Ocean – is considering locating here – so long as our elected officials agree to cough up a local match of $55K in public funds to qualify the company for a state corporate welfare program called the “High Impact Performance Incentive Grant” that, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “…could provide an additional $2,000 for each new job created.”

In total, the enigmatic company would qualify for tax incentives worth some $275,000 – a lure designed to woo the operation away from suitors in Mississippi and Georgia who are also vying for the company’s favors.

Whatever.

Look, like most of you, I would love to see these fabled “high paying jobs” come to Volusia County.

Given the trifecta of cheap land, the county’s casual attitude toward environmental protection and four colleges and universities producing an educated workforce champing at the bit for opportunities outside the warehouse industry – any corporation looking for a competitive edge should be paying us to move here.

Yet, our ‘powers that be’ continue to play this bullshit game of corporate hide-n-seek which requires the allocation of public funds with no substantive information, public debate or transparency.

Somehow, this statutorily protected anonymity that allows negotiations with code protected companies outside the public view – to include individual meetings with elected officials – has become accepted practice in local government, leaving more questions than answers from those who are expected to pay these dubious inducements.

For instance, how are we supposed to know if the tax breaks and cash incentives are relevant to the needs of the business – and the community – or just bureaucrats seeing who can shovel the most money to land a project?

Do we have a legitimate compliance apparatus in place to monitor actual job creation and ensure that We, The Little People, are getting maximum benefit from the incentives our elected officials authorized?

Look, we’ve been fooled before.

Don’t forget that both Team Volusia, and the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, still tout Blue Coast Bakers as employing 300 people – listing it as one of Volusia County’s “Largest Employers” – even though the now defunct operation never employed much more than a baker’s dozen during its short and mysterious existence.

Yet, the shim-sham continues on the official web pages of our publicly funded “economic development partners.”   

Why is that?   

Under the current process, we may be vying for a massive distribution center, a modern manufacturing operation or a toxic waste incinerator, we simply don’t know – and in this political environment – anything is possible. . .

It’s become a bad “Let’s Make a Deal” episode – where elected officials are asked to give away our money on dubious corporate welfare schemes with little, if any, knowledge of what’s behind door number three.

That’s wrong.

In this case, all we know is that, “The company has grown to become a multi-national, global industry leader in delivering the highest quality products and service, with 37 production facilities in 22 countries around the world.”

But what the hell does that mean? 

What ‘products and services’? 

That could be anything from enriched uranium to wooden spoons.

We’re told that the company will make its Grande Révélation at the County Council meeting this week – which is a damn sight better than the grab bag scenario we’ve become accustomed to.

For instance, the Deltona City Commission is still simmering over the fact some elected and appointed officials were told of Amazon’s interest in putting a distribution and logistics center in the community – while others were kept totally in the dark.

Earlier this month the News-Journal reported that during a testy exchange on the dais, City Commissioner Chris Nabicht angrily confronted Mayor Heidi Herzberg:

“Who authorized you to go in and speak to Amazon and the developers with regard to the incentive package when the only one that signed a non-disclosure agreement and was crucified about it was (Commissioner) Anita (Bradford)?” Nabicht said. “Who authorized you to do that, because the commission didn’t.”

Now there are calls for a formal investigation to determine if Mayor Herzberg overstepped her bounds by negotiating incentives with Amazon with no outside oversight or commission authorization – and former City Manager Jane Shang has fled City Hall like a scalded dog. . .

This unnecessary instability is the natural result of keeping important information from decision-makers while allowing select insiders advanced knowledge that can be used for a variety of advantages.

That’s unfair.

And counterproductive to true economic development – and government in the Sunshine.

 

Angels & Assholes for February 28, 2020

Hey, kids!

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

Before we get started, I want to thank everyone who took the time to send well-wishes to Patti and I on our 25th wedding anniversary last week.

Look, I’m as shocked as you are – but, somehow, Patti has found a way to tolerate my many quirks, faults and foibles for a quarter century now – which should satisfy all the rites and proof of heroic virtue required for formal canonization. . .

Last week, we celebrated with our dearest friends in New Orleans – continuing a thirty-year love affair with that beautiful, battered, troubled, magical, mythical place that, in my view, remains the most unique and exotic city in the nation.

In fact, Patti and I were married there on a crisp February evening by the captain of a paddle-wheel riverboat plying the muddy Mississippi – standing arm-in-arm under a bright Louisiana moon that cast a protective spell over our marriage and guided our union through the tumultuous and turbulent times.

On our wedding night, a silver haired lady – a native New Orleanian with a distinctive “Yat” accent – approached us and pressed a silver dime in my hand.  She claimed tradition dictated that any couple married in the Crescent City should make a wish, then toss the coin into the river to ensure good luck and a happy life.

So, we did.

Our wish came true – and the love affair continues. . .

Over the years, we’ve developed a system of sorts by planning our trips to the Big Easy the week before Mardi Gras Day.

I suppose it’s like jumping off a roller-coaster mid-ride – but, as we get older, it’s increasingly difficult to navigate the crowds, the crime and the conspicuous consumption of Carnival Season.

You don’t visit New Orleans – you live it, with all your senses.

It’s not for the faint of heart.

As the incomparable New Orleans scribe and Pulitzer Prize winning storyteller, Chris Rose, describes the world-famous Bourbon Street:

 “Where karaoke and bad Jimmy Buffett cover bands provide the soundtrack of the city and the night air smells like sweet olive, night blooming jasmine, crab boil, weed, coffee, dead crustaceans, mule shit and sex.”

I would add the distinct odor of stale beer and its byproduct to that aromatic mix as well. . .

The cobblestone streets of this ancient city are a purgatory for the lost, the dopesick and the downtrodden, a bacchanalia for the drunken college crowd and a living antique shop for the young at heart, all set amongst the opulence of old-world hotels, dive bars and incredible restaurants where your server has been working the same room for 40-years.

A place where old money and the uptown mansions it inhabits are slowly being surrounded by young professionals in jogging shorts pushing baby carriages and walking expensive dogs around recently gentrified neighborhoods.

A city of fierce traditions and untold tragedy, all lit by the soft glow of a flickering gas streetlamp.

But once you hear the mournful wail of a baritone saxophone wafting through a nearly deserted French Quarter on a foggy midnight – the deep sound reverberating off damp brick walls and a slate banquette – well, you’re never quite the same again.

And the love affair continues. . .

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

Angel               Civic Activist Anne Ruby

I’ve had the privilege of meeting some remarkable people through this blogsite – citizens who truly care about the preservation and protection of those things that make the Halifax Area such a special place.

None more knowledgeable – or committed to resolving the difficult issues of the day – than the intrepid Anne Ruby.

Recently, Anne wrote passionately in The Daytona Beach News-Journal regarding the eminent demise of the City Island Rec Center – the 1920’s community amenity that has, like many publicly-owned facilities before it, been allowed to decompose into total disrepair under the absurd policy of  “Condemnation by neglect” – or, as I call it, the complete abdication by our elected officials of their fiduciary responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the people’s property.

(Hey, I’ve got an idea!  How about we start holding elected and appointed officials criminally liable for maintaining the value of public assets – rather than permitting this institutionalized malfeasance that allows them to escape responsibility by saying, as the News-Journal’s Mark Lane aptly put it, “Such a shame. Gotta take this down for safety reasons.”)

Now it appears the debate – if there ever was a legitimate one – is over.

Once again, the only ones who matter got their way – and you can bet your bottom dollar this irreplaceable piece of our local heritage will soon be demolished and hauled away – making space for some chain restaurant/bar with a life expectancy of about 14-months. . .

In my view, our elected officials, at all levels of local government, seem to find funding for every pet project and corporate welfare scheme concocted by our oligarchical overseers – political insiders who are busy rebuilding downtown Daytona in their own craven image – yet, when residents demand that historic structures (that happen to occupy some coveted riverfront real estate) be saved, they suddenly develop a weird fiscal conscience that says it’s ‘too expensive to restore.’

Yet, none of their malleable “funding priorities” seem important when some rich old man with a legacy complex makes a demand.

Why is that?

In her piece advocating for the refurbishment of the City Island Rec, Anne said:

“The city is making a big investment of our tax dollars to bring business to Beach Street. Owning and operating an event venue, a public meeting space, so close to the new walkable Beach Street would give us a powerful tool to help meet that goal.”

“It is time for the very same City Commission that voted to invest so much in the Beach Street roadway project to also get serious about revitalizing The Rec Center as a city facility. Not only would it be good for business, preserving our history is the right thing to do. A city that doesn’t value its past, has no future.”

Well said.

In my view, Anne Ruby remains an important voice in our community – one our elected and appointed officials should listen to.

They won’t.  But they should.

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

Why is it that no one in Volusia County Schools asks the important questions? 

This week, we learned the dirty little secret that the classrooms and facilities used by our children have become so filthy – so “absolutely disgusting” – that some members of the School Board fear for the safety of students who sit on the carpet during educational activities.

My God.

And why are those highly compensated posers in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand just learning about this latest crisis du jour?

Look, as someone who has been personally responsible for the management of public assets, I can assure you these facilities didn’t fall into this deplorable condition overnight.

So, when is someone, anyone, going to be held accountable by those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests?

Way back in 2013, when your loyal scribe was still wearing the ball-gag that accompanies a job in the public sector – I had personal reservations about the School Board’s misguided decision to toss long-time district custodians on the ash heap in favor of outsourcing janitorial services to the out-of-state Aramark Management Services.

We were sold a bill of goods that going outside would save taxpayers millions while providing more efficient services.

Despite efforts to save the jobs, healthcare and pensions of loyal district employees who were set to be absorbed by Aramark (oddly, even the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce openly supported the move) it was clear that the decision was a foregone conclusion.

At the time, the president of the union which represented the former custodians said in a prescient statement to the News-Journal following the ill-fated vote:

“I just hope they fall on their face. I hope the custodians treat them with the same respect they were treated with.”

 And, fall on their ass they did. . .

Just two-years after signing the five-year $57.8 million contract with Aramark, then Superintendent Tom Russell recommended terminating the agreement.

As the News-Journal reported, “Since the district inked the deal with Aramark two years ago, school employees have complained about myriad problems such as dirty floors, dusty shelves and restrooms that lack toilet paper, towels and soap.”

Sound familiar?

Undeterred by the fact that contracting this important service to a relatively unaccountable third party might not be the best way to go, Volusia County Schools simply opted to switch providers, you know, hoping against hope for a different outcome. . .

To his credit, Superintendent Scott Fritz is now studying alternatives – including bringing janitorial services back in-house.

During my three-decades in public service, I worked for a local government who understood the intrinsic value of loyalty – that sense of professional dedication that comes when public employees feel a personal connection to those they serve.

Countless times I have seen employees at all levels of the organization go the extra mile – far exceeding that which is expected of them to ensure continuity of operations, even placing themselves in harms way to provide essential services – not because they were being paid to do it, but because they truly cared about the health, safety and welfare of their constituents.

I’m not sure you find that level of commitment in the four corners of a service contract.

In my view, there are prudent and appropriate ways to save money in the massive bureaucracy that is Volusia County Schools – and, perhaps, a good place to start would be purging some of that top heavy, do-nothing wad of incompetents who have attached themselves like ticks to the public teat for years?

I’m just not sure doing the same thing again and again while expecting a different result from the same people is the best use of public funds – and, as evidence suggests, our current course is certainly not improving the lot of vulnerable students and teachers who are forced to work and learn in a grossly unsanitary environment.

We are witnessing the textbook definition of insanity. . .

Quote of the Week

“Let me, again, quote Abraham Lincoln: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.” Government in Ormond Beach has not lived up to Mr. Lincoln’s principle.  The way we have existed here over the past several years has not been “of, by, and/or for” the people.”

“This city is governed in a manner that, although the residents appear to have a say on topics, their voices are ignored. Where is the “of, by and for” in that type of government? I, and many, many others have addressed topics over the past several years only to have our pleas and appeals squashed by the power of a few. That “power” is called the “last word” — the final vote, so, basically pleas and appeals do not mean squat.”

–Ed Kolaska, Ormond Beach, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “What happened to “of, by and for the people”?” Monday, February 24, 2020

Like many East Volusia communities, my hometown – the City of Ormond Beach – is difficult to figure sometimes.

In my view, we have exceptional management in Joyce Shanahan – yet, our City Commission seems far too flighty and inconsistent – almost distracted – when it comes to crafting effective public policy in furtherance of a coherent civic vision.

Like a demented kitten playing with some glittery gimcrack – our elected officials frequently hare off down nonsensical roads – like suddenly deciding they want to convert every septic system on the unincorporated North Peninsula to municipal sewer without a shred of scientific evidence of need beyond a Health Department suggestion – or the fatuous purchase of a church without the first clue how the property will ultimately serve a pressing public need, etc., etc.

And don’t get me started on the complete lack of strategic vision that has left us outflanked by our behemoth neighbor to the south, who is quickly approving massive development on our environmentally sensitive western border, unchecked sprawl which will drastically impact our already over-stressed transportation infrastructure.

Make no mistake, I believe that Ormond Beach is one of the most exceptional communities in the Halifax Area.

But how long will that last?

Perhaps its time for Ormond Beach officials to come to the realization that we’re all in this together – and the residents they were elected to represent have solid ideas for what they want their community to look like in the next, 10, 20, 30 years.

That important process begins with actually listening to their concerns – and remembering that the ultimate power of all government is derived from the will of the governed – not the haughty whims of  wealthy real estate developers with a profit motive.

And Another Thing!

When it comes to Volusia County politics – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Same tired names with the same tired “ideas.”

Same wealthy insiders with the same lust for power and influence.

And, just like campaigns past, these two factions will join at elegant receptions and “meet-n-greets,” stilted soirees which blunt the filth and embarrassment of the candidate having to physically grovel before their campaign contributors in public.

Nothing really changes.

This week, the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys – who recently announced her run for the Catbird Seat during a horribly choreographed hand-off with our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – was feted at a reception hosted by all the right last names in Southeast Volusia real estate and politics.

In fact, when I read some of the names on the “Host Committee” list, I initially thought it was a meeting of the Angler’s Club – but then I remembered, Ms. Denys is a prohibited female – meaning, she can only accept campaign contributions from men associated with the organization, not be a member of it. . .

Then, rounding out the team was the lame duck “County Chairman Ed Kelley.”

I guess Old Ed plans to wring as much political clout out of that torn and tattered moniker as he can, eh?

If guilt by association means anything in this day and age (and I don’t think it does), I find it hard to believe that Councilwoman Denys would want Ed Kelley within a country mile of her campaign.

After all, with Ms. Denys whispering direction in his ear, Chairman Kelley has lorded over perhaps the most dysfunctional reign of any iteration of the Volusia County Council in memory – and that’s saying something.

When you consider the laundry list of five alarm foul-ups, gaffes, howlers, political deceit, public policy by ambush, cronyism, citizen suppression, corporate welfare, civic mediocrity, environmental exploitation and lockstep conformity with a system that values the status quo over the needs of its constituents – why anyone other than a political retread with no real ideas other than raising taxes, redirecting voter-approved initiatives and kowtowing to uber-wealthy insiders would want to be associated with Chairman Kelley remains a mystery – but I suppose that’s how the game is played in those circles.

It’s why I continue to support Jeff Brower’s campaign for Volusia County Chair.

You won’t find him hovering around the political fishing camps or gilded offices of our exalted ‘Kingmakers,’ sycophantically begging for another bite at the apple.

Rather, Jeff is more at home holding information sharing sessions at community picnics or in living rooms – talking real issues with real people at small businesses and neighborhood forums.

I don’t take these stark differences lightly.  And neither should you.

In fact, I encourage you to call or sit down with Jeff Brower and listen to his thoughts on environmental protection, education, infrastructure, water quality and increasing property values while fundamentally changing the “growth at all cost” philosophy that is threatening our very quality of life.

Then, ask the hard questions.

I guarantee you won’t hear defeatist terms like “regionalism” – or be fed Buck Rogers bullshit about hitching our collective wagon to Brevard County’s commercial space industry.

You will find that Mr. Brower is more down to earth – a straight shooter with something original and significant to say on the challenges that affect us, our children and grandchildren – and, more important – he has a viable plan to move Volusia County onto a new, prosperous and infinitely more inclusive path forward.

This one’s important.

I encourage everyone to vote like our quality of life and livelihoods depend upon it – because they do.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Daytona Beach: Are our “Tourism Gurus” finally getting in the game?

Last week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal continued their role as Wet Nurse to the People – a weird liaison between the speculative developers who are salivating over their lucrative involvement in the “rebirth” of Downtown Daytona – and the long-suffering citizens who are being asked to underwrite it with absolutely no input in the final product.

In dribs and drabs, we are being force-fed a rotten pablum of conceptual renderings (which some developer’s shill repeatedly reminds us not to take “too literally”) wrapped in artfully crafted soundbites and enthusiastic half-assurances that are supposed to leave us rubes giddy with anticipation.

My ass.

In my view, the real players in this speculative game know the advantage of strategic rot to their bottom line – and that tactic continues to rule the day in much of the Halifax Area.

As residents become increasingly desensitized to the stagnation and decay all around them – our oligarchical insiders patiently wait for property values to reach bargain basement levels, knowing that, eventually, anything they do to turn a profit for all the right last names will be perceived by the neglected masses as “progress.”

And the ability to purchase select politicians through massive campaign contributions, mere puppets who tacitly permit important areas of our community – such as our core tourist area and downtown – to remain a blighted wasteland for decades, before allowing their political benefactors to paint themselves as Knights in Shining Armor who rescue us from the resultant degradation, is obvious to anyone paying attention.

Yet, it seems our struggling newspaper of record remains oblivious to the role they have been forced to play – or the fact so much of the dramatic splendor they are reporting will come still relies almost exclusively on the proposition that the glass and steel catalyst – the new Brown & Brown headquarters – won’t be just another insurance building. . .

However, it looks like we’ve finally got a new (and long-awaited) player in the game.

On Sunday, we got a glimpse into the refreshing new mindset of our “Tourism Gurus” in the form of a Community Voices column by Bob Davis, President for Life of the Lodging and Hospitality Association of Volusia County.

In Mr. Davis’ thoughtful piece, “Give Daytona Beach a grand entrance to be proud of,” he speaks to the interminable wait of residents and small business owners who have suffered with the abject blight and dilapidation that is our main gateway – East International Speedway Boulevard.

While I disagree with Davis’ assertion that “We have a top product,” I wholeheartedly concur that the “vision” which allows the City of Daytona Beach to spend millions of dollars tearing up one traffic lane on Beach Street – while remaining totally blind to the immediate need to do something, anything, to improve East ISB, at least until the long-promised revitalization begins, seems incomprehensible.

In my view, what Mr. Davis has (no doubt inadvertently) called out is the Halifax areas continuing problem with economic favoritism – and this patently unfair “system” goes far beyond Beach Street or the ruins of East ISB.

Because what His Royal Highness King J. Hyatt Brown and the other uber-wealthy insiders want, they get.

Now.

But it’s a different story when We, The Little People attempt to have any substantive input into the future composition and economic viability of our area.

We didn’t want a roundabout at A-1-A and East ISB – but we’re getting one.  Eventually. . .

We said no development on the scenic Loop – but Toscana and Plantation Oaks are now a reality.

We said no to a half-cent sales tax increase because we didn’t trust our current powers that be to live up to their fiduciary responsibility to administrate the windfall in a manner that would improve our wholly inadequate transportation infrastructure and utilities in the face of crushing sprawl – yet, our elected elite and their handlers continue to push for a new referendum.

We asked that our sensitive wetlands, aquifer recharge areas and threatened natural water supply be protected – even as the bulldozers roared to bring Mosaic and the faux beach community, Latitudes at Margaritaville, out of the pine scrub.

All while the future of our voter-approved Volusia ECHO and Volusia Forever environmental, heritage and cultural protection programs are used like bartering chips by our elected officials.

And the list continues. . .

I doubt President Davis and I see eye-to-eye on much of anything.

But it is refreshing to see our languishing hospitality industry finally asking the difficult questions on why the greater needs of many – like civic beautification and improving the “brand” – are consistently subservient to the wants and whims of a few well-heeled opportunists with a profit motive.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

Hello? Is anyone there?

I’m on vacation – enjoying a 30-year love affair with New Orleans – the “The City that Care Forgot.”

But Pat Rice’s column in today’s News-Journal “A Daytona Beach primer for President Trump” really got my alcohol-infused blood boiling.

After going through a laundry list of reasons why we no longer trust government here on the Fun Coast – he accuses those who use social media as the only effective means of communicating with those in power of being “nasty and mean spirited.”

That’s like saying, “You’ve been socked in the eye, punched in the mouth and kicked in the groin – what are you sore about?”

Here’s a post from last November that, in my jaded view, explains part of the story…

Now, I’m going back to vacation mode – have a great week everyone!

If I didn’t know better, one might think I’m suffering from some weird persecutory delusion of late – an irrational fear that my progeny, this humble blog site, has become the object of collective hostility by our ‘movers & shakers’ – who seem increasingly worried by this lone voice in the wilderness.

On occasion, well-meaning members of the Halifax area Illuminati will sit me down and point out where I erred on one civic issue or another – or try and persuade me to change my opinion on some important project or asinine development that stands to benefit the few at the expense of many.

Sometimes these arguments are compelling – other times they speak to the mercenary needs of those who seek an advantage – and, over time, I’ve developed the unique ability to differentiate the two within nanoseconds. . .

I understand the motivation – and I do my level best to explain to members of this clique, ostensibly bright people who continue to mistake the size of someone’s bank account with their level of intelligence and civic vision – that Barker’s View is simply one man’s jaded opinion on the vexing issues of our time, and it’s popularity speaks to the growing number of citizens who no longer feel any connection to their local government.

It’s good to know that I am not alone in this dreaded feeling of alienation, marginalization and suppression of substantive public input – or my fervent desire to see a fundamental change in the manner and means by which uber-wealthy oligarchs and their hangers-on control their environment, and our lives and livelihoods, by purchasing political loyalty through our perverse campaign finance system.

This increasingly cloistered and enigmatic society of those who have influence, was evident in Sunday’s The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

In a telling piece by reporter Jim Abbott, which explored the looming January deadline for the languishing “$192 million” beachfront condominium and convention center being developed by the Russian-owned Protogroup, a project which remains painfully ‘under construction’ near Oakridge Boulevard and North Atlantic Avenue in the heart of our core tourist area.

In fact, even casual watchers are stunned by the cadaverous appearance of the site – and many are concerned about the fate of the towers – and the $1.6 million in CRA funds the City of Daytona Beach is slated to release to Protogroup for a beach approach and utility work as outlined in a “loose” public/private “agreement.”

Unfortunately, Protogroup, and the City of Daytona Beach, have both become equally (and suspiciously) uncommunicative – leaving the rest of us to suffer in fear and speculation of what will become of our beachside if this key section of real estate is abandoned mid-construction.

In fact, according to reports, Protogroup hasn’t responded to requests from the News-Journal “for months,” and calls seeking comment from the construction contractor “weren’t returned.”

In my view, perhaps more disturbing is the fact that Daytona Beach officials – those elected to represent the interests of their constituents – are also actively avoiding mounting questions from the press on the fate of what is quickly morphing into a grotesque white elephant.

In a weird twist, Mr. Abbott reports that, “Multiple attempts were made without success to get comments from Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry as well as Commissioner Rob Gilliland.”

Then, a full week after emailed questions regarding the state of the towers were sent to Commissioner Quanita May (as she requested?), the News-Journal received a series of one-word non-answers apparently compiled by municipal mouthpiece, Shelley Szafraniec:

“Are you satisfied with the progress of the construction to this point? Yes.”

“Are you concerned about the project not making this deadline? No.”

Jesus.  How can a sitting public official be so patently out-of-touch – or unresponsive?

In my view, this clumsy dodge by the Daytona Beach City Commission is cowardly, and speaks to the isolation many residents rightly feel from elected officials with a sworn personal and fiduciary responsibility to those who pay the bills.

Interestingly, on Sunday’s editorial page, the News-Journal asked why more residents aren’t “lending their voice” to local governments on environmental issues and resiliency:

“What too many aren’t seeing is their place in the discussion. They don’t see opportunities to adapt to changing conditions. They aren’t speaking out to demand their leaders do a better job of managing threats to the way of life they treasure. Many — make that most — don’t even vote in local elections.”

Perhaps the answer is that average citizens no longer see their “place” in anything local government does.

Long-suffering constituents watch as their elected and appointed officials openly ignore the working press – communicating with us through spinmeisters – highly paid public mouthpieces who tell us exactly what our government thinks we want to hear.

Citizens stand helpless while even more environmentally sensitive lands are rezoned and more “planned unit developments,” often owned by campaign contributors, are permitted and the bulldozers roar over a slash-and-burn moonscape, paving over aquifer recharge areas and planting more gaudy “theme” communities on wetlands and wildlife habitat that are never coming back.

Residents watch in horror as those same compromised politicians pay mumbling lip service to things like resiliency, concurrency and sustainability – while hiding and suppressing publicly funded studies recommending higher impact fees for speculative real estate developers.

When outlets like this blog site – or courageous civic activists – speak out and demand answers, our ‘powers that be’ do their level best to marginalize our collective voice and persuade us their rotten “vision” is more important than our own, all while suppressing dissent and alternative opinion by extraordinary measures.

For instance, when we try and participate during county and municipal governmental meetings, citizens are regularly harangued by their mayor, or our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, to remain courteous and professional when they prostrate themselves before the Monarchy and seek their benevolence.

At “public meetings,” politically accountable elected officials have purposely severed the television feed during the “public comment forum” – which has been relegated to the bitter end of the meeting and allows taxpayers just 2.5 minutes to address their exalted “representatives” – ensuring that their constituents concerns and criticisms are contained within the four walls of the chamber.

And they do so with the confidence that, come election time, they’ll simply outspend their challengers with money taken directly from the pockets of those who stand at the nexus of public funds and private interests.

All while reminding us Dalits how “responsive” they are to our needs. . .

Things have gotten so bad that, in Daytona Beach, intrepid activists are now demanding a municipal charter amendment to ensure that those who pay the bills are afforded at least 3-minutes to address civic issues and provide input at public meetings.

My God. 

Perhaps its time The Daytona Beach News-Journal stop asking muted citizens why they refuse to engage with their local governments – and start asking these arrogant “public servants” who are clearly no longer accountable to anyone other than their wealthy handlers – why they have effectively walled themselves off from their constituents and the media?

Just make sure you’re courteous and professional when you do it. . .

 

 

Angels & Assholes for February 14, 2020

Hey, kids!

Welcome to our Valentine’s Day Special – All love, all the time!

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 International Speedway & NASCAR  

We’ve had quite a few issues on our plate in the early days of 2020 – from the machinations in the county attorney’s office, to East ISB, the continuing debacle at First Step Shelter, the breech birth of Hyattona with its wholesale destruction of our downtown streetscape, upheaval in Deltona and the first salvos in this year’s election cycle – so it’s refreshing to have a distraction now that the most exciting weekend in motorsports has returned to Daytona International Speedway.

Last year was a time of transition and contraction for our friends over at DIS and NASCAR as they continue the fight to remain relevant and find a place for their struggling product in the ever-evolving world of sports entertainment.

In Daytona Beach, racing will always be our raison d’être – one man’s extraordinary vision that helped build our community and continues to sustain it – a massive undertaking that remains vitally important to our regional economy.

Here’s wishing everyone at NASCAR a prosperous, safe and exiting weekend as the sport kicks off its 2020 season with the Great American Race – the one and only Daytona 500 – on Sunday.

Let’s hope our local hospitality industry sees a much-needed boost from the event as well.

Despite what we are repeatedly told is a “healthy economic outlook” for Volusia County – many in our community remain dependent on a robust special events season to keep their heads above water – and we really need race fans, spring breakers, motorcycle enthusiasts and anyone else we can lure to our slightly down-at-the-heels destination – to come visit us in droves over the next few weeks.

Like many of you, I fear our hospitality industry, and those ancillary businesses that rely on it,  are standing at a dire crossroads – and a few more seasons of reduced occupancy won’t bode well for struggling families who depend on service industry jobs to make a life.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurial start-ups and established small businesses receive very little in the way of assistance or financial incentives in Volusia County.

It seems our Regional Chamber of Commerce has become perpetually starstruck by the “Rich & Powerful” oligarchs who control our lives and livelihoods here on the Fun Coast – and corporate welfare is exclusively reserved for those who have the wherewithal to purchase it through a massive return on their investment in the campaign coffers of perennial politicians with a certain “flexibility” on issues that affect their bottom line. . .

Look, I spend an inordinate amount of time opining on the myriad social and economic issues that are dragging our core tourist area and beyond into a festering quagmire of blight and despair – something I believe is fundamentally damaging our sense of place, civic pride and international reputation.

However, each year about this time, with spring in the air and the roar of stock car racing on the breeze – I get a renewed enthusiasm for what our future could hold under the right circumstances.

Thanks to everyone at DIS, NASCAR and the various service providers and first responders who worked so hard to make Speed Weeks such a rousing success!

When I was growing up, the speedway had bumper stickers that said, “If you wanna race, Daytona is the place!”

Here’s hoping it always will be.

Keep the faith, baby.

Angel              New Smyrna Beach Police Department

Earlier this week, we learned that the New Smyrna Beach Police Department is exploring the use of small Unmanned Aerial Systems – commonly referred to as “drones” – to assist public safety efforts and better serve the needs of their residents.

At present, just three Volusia County law enforcement agencies employ this emerging technology – Daytona Beach, Holly Hill and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.

I’m proud to report that late last year I helped seven Holly Hill police officers prepare for the rigorous Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 written examination; a comprehensive knowledge test covering various regulatory, safety and decision-making aspects of unmanned flight that certifies them to act as commercial UAS pilots.

As a certificated flight instructor and retired law enforcement officer, this volunteer opportunity allowed me to give back to my department, community and profession in a meaningful way – and, I must admit – it is exciting to play a small role in bringing this amazing asset into service locally.

Just as the Wright Brother’s 1903 flight changed our world forever – rapid advances in the public and commercial use of unmanned systems will improve our daily lives in ways once reserved for science fiction novels – and define this century as the dawn of a new age in aviation advancements.

UAS technology is bringing cost effective aerial capabilities to local, state and federal government agencies for improved search and rescue, law enforcement, disaster recovery, firefighting, inspection, spectrometry, security operations and more.

In fact, advanced payloads are available to assist in a variety of public safety applications – and whenever a drone successfully locates a missing Alzheimer’s victim, allows a safe and efficient damage assessment following a natural disaster or helps contain a raging brush fire – the benefit of this equipment becomes self-evident.

Unfortunately, despite clear rules regulating the use of drones, some still harbor significant concerns that these systems will be misused for surveillance activities or other operations that invade a citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy, or endanger the safety of persons and property on the ground.

While privacy concerns are important to all Americans – unfortunately, the concept, as our parents and grandparents knew it – no longer exists in modern society.

Whenever we go out in public, technology is capturing images and data all around us as business and industry use our personal information for a variety of purposes – and the use of cell phone cameras, CCTV monitors and security sensors is omnipresent.

Just consider the amount of overt and covert scanning and monitoring that occurs during a trip through any airport in the world and you begin to understand how far down that road we are.

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t demand that government agencies act responsibly in the deployment of unmanned systems – and it is important that local departments use sound command and control strategies to ensure these extraordinary devices are properly employed for their intended purpose as a means of building public trust in the technology.

I applaud NSB Police Chief Mike Coffins’ efforts to provide advance information to residents on the laws regulating UAS operations in the public airspace – and his department’s internal policies which will govern the use of drones in police operations.

Kudos to the New Smyrna Beach Police Department for embracing the use of small Unmanned Aerial Systems to enhance and improve service delivery.

Welcome to the 21st Century, y’all.

Quote of the Week

“I’ve lived in DeLand for 67 years. I remember the Daytona from many years back. I worked on the Boardwalk for 7 1/2 in the early 80’s repairing the arcade games. The big money seemed to never like what it was then. Now I drive down A1A and it is like canyon in that area. Horrible!”

 “There is no flavor of a seaside town and will never be again. New Smyrna is making some of the same mistakes, but not as quickly. There never should have been high rise buildings on the east side of A1A. I kinda wish there was a hall of shame for the officials responsible for this spoiling of the beach area. May their legacy be recorded for all to know.”

–Doug Bell, DeLand, writing in Facebook’s Volusia Issues public forum, Monday, February 10, 2020

According to Mr. Bell, he placed the above anecdote in the comments section of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s social media page last week in response to a recent announcement that the newspaper will be hosting yet another community coffee klatch to discuss the malignant blight and dilapidation that has all but consumed East ISB and much of our languishing beachside.

I don’t know Mr. Bell personally, but I’m told his opinion was “deleted” from the site – so, I thought I would give him a well-deserved voice on this important issue.

(Note: After I posted this blog, I received word from the News-Journal that the omission of Mr. Bell’s post must have been in error.  In my experience, the N-J is good about accepting all points-of-view, even those hypercritical of the newspaper.  I’m sure if Mr. Bell is so inclined, he could resubmit his piece for publication.)

While I admire the News-Journal’s persistence in attempting to stimulate a continuing dialog  – the fact is, we’ve talked these specific issues to death – and there is still no substantive plan for turning the tide and revitalizing our core tourist area and beyond.

In my view, the time for idle chit-chat on these important issues has come and gone.

Now, it is time for direct action at the ballot box.

Unless and until those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests actually listen to our concerns – all the “Town Hall” meetings and neighborhood coffees the News-Journal can muster will remain little more than hot air generators for citizens who have been marginalized and ignored by their own representatives.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Bell.

Perhaps it is time to enshrine these do-nothing buffoons that hold high public office in a place of dishonor – the Volusia County Hall of Shame.

Let it serve as a terrible reminder to future generations of the corrosive effect consolidating power in the hands of a few greedy bastards had on a once world-class destination. . .

And Another Thing!

Ready to attend some exciting candidate “grip-n-grins” as the 2020 election season heats up?

Yeah, me neither. . .

But this one sounds like it will be fun – and informative.

 From Jeff “Plan B” Brower, Candidate for Volusia County Chair:

“Come on out for happy hour on your way home and meet the real Plan B – Volusia County Chair 2020 candidate Jeff Brower.  Enjoy some great snacks and/or buy a delicious meal from this local favorite restaurant over the World’s Most Famous Beach.  Ask Jeff questions, meet our volunteers, sign a petition to get Jeff on the ballot and just enjoy the beautiful setting and great food and drinks. Make a donation and get a Plan B tee shirt as a thank you!”

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 – 4:00pm to 7:00pm

Crabby Joe’s Deck & Grill – 3701 South Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach Shores, Florida

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Barker’s View will be on hiatus next week – taking some much-needed time away, a different perspective and a chance to become somebody else’s problem for a while. . .

I know some of you political junkies, sitting politicians, entrenched bureaucrats, uber-wealthy insiders and die-hard members of the BV Tribe miss my weekly take on the news and newsmakers who influence public policy in Volusia County whenever I’m away.

(I have to admit – because I’m a degenerate masochist – I also long for the froth and fray of local politics whenever I’m away. . .)

Have no fear!

Because my views on our place and time are nothing if not prolific – there are over 500 posts archived by month and year on this blog site that will give you a unique historical perspective on the myriad problems we face.

If you want to feed your need for an alternative point-of-view – and take a disturbing glimpse into my quirky mind and the weird forces that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast – go crazy with it!

Fair warning: I’ll be back in a week or so. . .

As always, thanks for reading – and have a great weekend, my Valentines!

 

On Volusia: Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance

Sometimes, in the quiet of the evening, when I’m sipping aged whiskey and cogitating on the signs and wonders – I question if we’re living in some parallel dimension here on the Fun Coast?

Because, of the hundreds-of-trillions of galaxies out there in the infinite expanse of the universe – you’d be hard pressed to find a more surreal political “reality” than what we experience here on this salty piece of land.

A place where, no matter how utterly dysfunctional things may get, our ‘powers that be’ always muster the hubris to stand before their long-suffering subjects, smile broadly, and paint a rosy picture using a dull palette of half-truths, feint maneuvers and old-fashioned political horseshit.

Once again, when it came time to do the right thing, our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, couldn’t rise to it.

On Tuesday, Old Ed stood before a fawning coterie of insiders, political benefactors, government contractors, political candidates, a handful of municipal officials (who, given their historic poor treatment by county government, would have preferred to be anywhere else) and a few suspicious citizens – to deliver the annual “State of the County” address.

(I would have been there, but I wash my beard on Tuesdays and can’t do a thing with it. . .)

So, I watched the oddly produced video on the County website afterward – the first ten-minutes of which was a rolling advertisement for the event’s (wink,wink) “sponsors.”

As usual, I was immediately struck by the fact that every elected official and bureaucrat in the room was acknowledged and thanked during the lengthy introduction – not one mention of the hard-working and overtaxed residents of Volusia County who pay the bills and suffer in silence.

After all, it’s not about us.  It never has been.

During the opening segment of the canned video, county employees were shown sampling water quality on the St. John’s River – before a Volusia County environmental specialist took the opportunity to scold residents:

“If people really knew why we did this and rather than just complaining about the water looking so bad or being concerned about whether the fish are edible or not, if they really understood why things get so bad and took more care of what they do we might not have to be out here quite as much.”

So, the fact our water quality is in serious decline – with wild fish showing signs of tumors and lesions – is our fault?

If only we took more care, it would lighten the load on Volusia County Environmental Management and clean-up our increasingly polluted rivers, estuaries and sensitive wetlands. . .

Remember: The state of our environment has nothing to do with the residential and commercial sprawl our elected officials continue to permit – while their political benefactors in the real estate development industry line their groaning pockets – understand?

So, stop your bitching about whether the fish are edible, or why the water looks so bad, and change your heathen ways.  Got it?

That’s when I turned it off.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of being blamed and lectured by the very elected officials and entrenched bureaucrats who got us into this damnable condition in the first place. . .

Whatever.

 It was an ostentatious affair – political vanity run amok – complete with a “free lunch” provided by several companies that do business with Volusia County (?) – and held at the county owned Ocean Center, which stands at the epicenter of our crumbling core tourist area.

How appropriate.  How completely appropriate. . .

One would have thought that as he sang his swansong before a roomful of like types, Chairman Kelley would have, for once, told the truth – you know, sail off into the sunset with a clear conscience – while challenging the next iteration of our county council to begin the monumental process of rebuilding the public trust.

Nah.

Instead, Chairman Kelley dutifully recognized the assembled nabobs, then flogged some ridiculous narrative to shore up his heir apparent – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys – clumsily touting her weird obsession with “space jobs” – while their “colleagues” provided video evidence of their own ill-informed perception of the state of things here on the beleaguered Fun Coast.

According to the agitprop that was provided to attendees:

“Government, business and education leaders also are coordinating like never before to ensure that Volusia County – squarely within the so-called Space Triangle – has the regulatory climate and educated workforce necessary to broadcast its message to the aerospace industry: Volusia County is ready, and Volusia County is right!”

Say what?

The fictitious Space Triangle is “so called” because it doesn’t exist.

And the fact of the matter is, we are nowhere near ready. . .

Just for the record – I didn’t say that.  Dr. Kent Sharples, the Enlightened One of the exalted CEO Business Alliance did.

Remember?

During his flashlight-under-the-chin apocalyptic prognostication at the November 2019 meeting of the Knights of the Roundtable, describing our horrific fate if we don’t increase the sales tax, Sharples said of roads, infrastructure and “shovel-ready” sites to attract aerospace companies:

“Until we get that infrastructure in place, we’re not going to be successful.  If we’re not ready in 12 to 18 months to be able to start construction, we’re not even in the competition anymore.”

My ass.

In my view, this shim-sham of aerospace manufacturing in Volusia County continues to serve as a convenient diversion to the fact we don’t have the infrastructure, workforce or ancillary services to support these industries, and, at present, we simply cannot compete with Brevard County – who continues to recover from the economic disaster resulting from the loss of the shuttle program – not to mention that the vacant infrastructure which pockmarks the Titusville, Cocoa, Melbourne metroplex sits literally on the doorstep of the commercial launch complex.

While Volusia County’s potential role in the space industry remains decades away – if ever – those we have elected to meet our current economic and employment needs continue to feed us this pie-in-the-sky pap as though we’re ready to start launching rockets from the old Home Depot parking lot next month.

Bullshit.

The constant drumbeat from Denys and our shameless “economic development” shills is cruel comfort to some 43% of our county’s population who struggle to meet monthly living expenses – and the thousands more living below the poverty line – who are begging for more opportunities than $32,000 a year storehouse jobs.

In my view, Dr. Sharples was right about one thing – if these half-wits who hold high office don’t put a moratorium on this massive sprawl and begin the process of improving our transportation, water quality and utilities infrastructure in the next 12 to 18 months – we’re all screwed. . .

But wait, there was more “good news” from Old Ed and the Funky Bunch on Tuesday.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Among other things, Kelley touted major upgrades to the Ocean Center and Daytona Beach International Airport, new routes for Votran buses, the hiring of a long-awaited internal auditor and giving County Manager George Recktenwald the permanent job as a few of the year’s highlights, adding that the State of the County video may have shown a lot of progress and accomplishments some residents might not know about.”

Tragically, bus routes and new carpet in an airport terminal are what pass for civic “accomplishments” in Volusia County.

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

To take this abject absurdity to the ragged edge – let’s look at a few of the “Goals and Objectives” that, according to the soiree’s glossy program, have been proposed by county government – which, by any metric, remain a figment of our county councils very vivid imagination:

“Maintain and foster productive relationships with public and private partners.”

If maintaining “productive relationships” with “private partners” means funneling public funds to underwrite the private, for-profit projects of their political benefactors – mission accomplished!

“Demonstrate leadership in decisions and actions.”

Does anything about this perpetual shitshow in DeLand resemble strong “leadership”?

“Meet community expectations for quality.”

Please.  The community quit expecting anything from Volusia County government years ago – and we collectively spoke volumes about this continuing “trust issue” during last year’s half-cent sales tax referendum.

Now, let’s hope the long-suffering voters of Volusia County continue that positive momentum and demand servant-leadership that will bring true accomplishments we can all be proud of at the ballot box this fall.

 

 

Talked to Death

“If officials listen, people will talk”

“Residents question if city is listening”

“Residents raise concerns over growth”

“Mayor gets earful at community meeting”

“Since the Fall of 2006, more than 1,800 citizens, residents, persons with a place of employment, business owners or full-time students in Daytona Beach have actively participated in public visioning meetings”

“Panel set for News-Journal meeting focused on homeless”

“A meeting at the Ocean Center on Tuesday night drew a standing room only crowd of local residents who discussed the challenges and opportunities on Daytona Beach’s Main Street”

“Passionate Debate: Meeting on Daytona’s beachside draws large crowd”

“Consider this your personal invitation to attend a “town hall” meeting focused on Daytona Beach’s core beachside area”

“Blighted Corridor: Daytona’s East ISB is broken. Can $25.75M fix it?”

“Daytona readers speak up at ‘Coffee with the News-Journal”

“PAT RICE: Coffee‘s on. Let‘s talk East ISB, Daytona’s beachside”

Is it just me, or does anyone else see a pattern here?

On Sunday, the editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Pat Rice, announced that the newspaper will be hosting yet another community coffee klatch to discuss the malignant blight and dilapidation that has all but consumed East ISB and much of our languishing beachside.

According to Mr. Rice, “The lack of progress is discouraging. But things won’t change without dialogue and ideas.”

It doesn’t appear to those paying attention that much changes with dialogue and ideas, either. . .

They say the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.” 

In Volusia County, we call that process “developing a strategic vision.”

While I admire the News-Journal’s persistence in attempting to stimulate a continuing dialog  – the fact is, we’ve talked these specific issues to death – and there is still no substantive plan for turning the dismal tide and revitalizing our core tourist area and beyond.

In my view, the time for idle talk has come and gone.

Now, it is time for direct action at the ballot box.

The fact is, We, The People, have talked about the myriad problems on the beachside until we’re blue in the face.

Unless and until those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests actually listen to our concerns – all the “Town Hall” meetings and neighborhood coffees the News-Journal can muster will remain little more than hot air generators for citizens who have been marginalized and ignored by their own representatives.

For example, a year ago, some 75 people attended a meeting at the Peninsula Club where they “vehemently opposed” the construction of a roundabout at East ISB and A-1-A.

Then, last month, residents and business owners were told the Florida Department of Transportation would hold a meeting to provide information and solicit input on the very roundabout we resisted since it was a mere suggestion – only to have the session cancelled when it conflicted with the Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual soiree for our social and civic elite. . .

That meeting has been moved to late March when it’s more convenient for politicians who won’t attend it anyway. . .

Still, the problem remains – residents talk, commiserate, provide input, discuss, debate, argue, question, deliberate, weigh options, reflect, ponder and plan – but our fervent desire to be part of the solution, and have our concerns taken seriously, is invariably ignored by the decision-makers.

Every time.

Why is it that you never see a widespread turnout of those we have elected and appointed to serve our interests at these “visioning sessions,” Town Hall meetings and coffee talks?

The fact is, they just don’t give a damn what you and I have to say – and it shows.

While East ISB – the gateway to what was once the World’s Most Famous Beach – continues to crumble, and we learn it will be at least three-years until the promised revitalization project gets underway, millions are being spent on a weird rework of the perfectly serviceable and eye-catching streetscape in Downtown Daytona. . .

Why? 

Because His Exalted Highness J. Hyatt Brown recently lorded over his bought-and-paid-for minions at a Daytona Beach City Commission meeting and demanded it, that’s why.

In fact, he cruelly threatened to remove a children’s splash park from the Brown Esplanade if anyone had the audacity to cross him.

They didn’t. . .

In turn, last week, the City of Daytona Beach spent some $100,000 to move the historic (if not itinerant) Josie Rogers House from its spot across Beach Street from the Brown & Brown headquarters to the western end of the Main Street Bridge.

Why?

We are told the move was necessary to make way for renovations to Riverside Park – which is being hailed as the Crown Jewel of Hyattona – something Daytona Beach taxpayers will be responsible for maintaining for the next 50-years – all while our core tourist area continues to openly decompose.

(Besides, you can’t have some claptrap house in view whenever Hyatt paces the gilded ramparts of his glass and steel monument and settles his gaze across the width and breadth of his kingdom, right?) 

Whatever. . .

Talk is cheap.

So is beachside real estate, once you let it rot into a decrepit hole of blight and dilapidation.

Perhaps that’s been the plan all along, eh?

The News-Journal’s meeting is set for 7:30 to 9:00 a.m., Tuesday, February 25, at Henry’s Pizza, 336 East ISB, Daytona Beach.

Normally, you won’t find an elected official within a mile of any event where their constituents might voice their views – or, God forbid – ask the difficult questions about how we got to this dismal place in our history. . .

However, this is an election year – so, I’ll bet you won’t be able to swing a dead cat inside that pizzeria without hitting a sitting politician who is busy shaking your hand, slapping your back and begging for one more bite at this rotten apple.

Hey, never hurts to talk, right? 

Unfortunately, when it comes to fundamentally changing the beachside’s death spiral, rescuing our imperiled hospitality industry and protecting our very quality of life – voicing our concerns  doesn’t seem to help, either. . .

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal

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Join Barker’s View this afternoon on Gov Stuff Live with Big John! beginning at 4:00pm.

Please tune in locally at 1380am “The CAT” – or on the web at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

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We’ll be talking the issues of the day and taking your calls at 386-523-1380 – I hope you’ll join us for the Fastest two-hours in Radio!