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 Ghost of the Orange Avenue Bridge
“On the northeast side of the Orange Avenue Bridge, just at the bridge approach, there have been many reports of a cloaked young woman with long, dark hair over the past few decades. No one is quite sure who this young woman was, but her spirit is very active, and sometimes violent.”
—Doris “Dusty” Smith Founder & Chief Researcher, Daytona Beach Paranormal Research Group, Inc., “Encyclopedia of Haunted Places – Ghostly Locales from around the World”
Last summer, just before those of us who paid for it could use it (“…after you, my liege”), the first vehicles trundled across the “new” Tom Staed Veterans Memorial Bridge carrying our best and brightest from the Daytona Beach City Commission and Volusia County Council.
Our political elite, all resplendent in their finery, were so busy patting themselves on the back (after nearly five-years of crippling delays and public disappointments) they were willing to ignore the cosmetic punch list items that remained incomplete.
After the umpteenth setback, the point man for this debacle, Volusia County Engineer Tad Kasbeer, had become the punchline of a very bad joke – and Mr. Kasbeer stopped making scientific wild-ass guesses in public about when the bridge would finally open.
“It’s up to the contractor to tell us when they’ll open,” a clearly annoyed Kasbeer said in May 2020.
And time marched on. . .
So, soon after the bridge was determined to be structurally sound by the Florida Department of Transportation – it became clear the span was going to open to traffic come hell or highwater – and the surface warts and blemishes could be addressed later.
In the contractor’s defense, they weathered three hurricanes, a lightning strike, unstable ground, a toppled crane, bad engineering advice, and at least one blooper where the old “measure twice – cut once” apprentice rule was apparently ignored resulting in the height of the bridge railing being “miscalculated.”
Sorry, that should read “at least two bloopers” involving that old craftsman’s axiom.
It seems after the structure was complete, an inspection found that the slope of the bridge exceeded limits set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. . .
You read that right.
The bridge had become our own “I-4 eyesore” – a perpetual ‘pardon our progress’ behemoth, an absurd comedy of errors, beset by an embarrassing series of construction missteps (for which the contractor was ultimately fined some $2.28 million) – all while Beach Street merchants continued to grin and bear it – waiting patiently while even more customer access to their struggling businesses was detoured or blocked in keeping with “the plan.”
It was the final insult in this farcical slapstick that left concerned onlookers scratching our heads.
Or was it?
Earlier this week, according to an article by the exceptional investigative reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, nearly a year later there are still “a few loose ends” being addressed:
“Before the bridge straddling the Halifax River opened to the public on Aug. 6 last year, there were sporadic cracks in the sidewalks that line both sides of the bridge. The cracks lingered over the past year, and it was just three weeks ago that the contractor covered one small section of the narrow voids with a black sealant as a test to see how that would work.”
Wait. Did she say Cracks?
“…test to see how that would work?”
According to the News-Journal’s report, Mr. Kasbeer has assured us the “cracks” are more aesthetic than structural (thank God), but to his trained eye, the black sealant used to fill the voids takes away from the overall appearance of the structure.
Unfortunately, nobody ‘in the know’ sounds completely convinced the goo will ultimately solve the problem.
Hey, what do you want for ~$45 million?
So, what is the explanation for all this?
Is the span really cursed by a poltergeist?
Look, I don’t put much stock in the “supernatural.”
When I was a small boy, my mountain granny, an old soul from the dark hills and hollows of southern Appalachia, explained to me, “It’s not dead people you have to worry about – it’s the live one’s that will get you every time. . .”
She was right.
Interestingly, a recent Google search led me to a fascinating märchen by Doris “Dusty” Smith, founder of something called the Daytona Beach Paranormal Research Group, a spooky yarn about a mysterious shrouded phantasm who haunts the approach to the Orange Avenue bridge.
According to the campfire tale, “No one is quite sure who this young woman was, but her spirit is very active, and sometimes violent.”
I got to thinking – perhaps this ethereal specter is not malevolent at all – just the righteously pissed-off lost spirit of the long-suffering Volusia County taxpayer?
A troubled soul, forever doomed to wander the ramparts of the bridge – cloaked in the shame, embarrassment, and outrage our elected and appointed officials seem incapable of – inescapably trapped on a weird astral plane marked by bureaucratic ineptitude, unaccountability, and waste.
An otherworldly reminder to those of us who are expected to pay the bills and suffer in silence that our role will forever be to stoke the insatiable furnace of these do-nothing bureaucracies and accept gross mediocrity as our destiny.
Hell, even a dubious ghost story makes more sense than the ‘he said/she said’ finger-pointing and lame excuses proffered by contractors and government entities as to why our long overdue Veteran’s Memorial Bridge remains substandard five-years on.
Rock on, ghost girl.
We need your haunting reminder of the grim fate that awaits when we keep electing and appointing the same dullards to positions of power and expecting a different result.
Angel Beach Clean-Up Volunteers
When I was a wayward child, I loved fireworks.
On our frequent family trips to visit my grandparents in East Tennessee, we would pass those garish roadside stands that dotted old highway 221 in South Carolina – wooden open-air markets with names like “Pyro Joe’s Fireworks & Peaches” painted with kitschy scenes advertising Black Cat firecrackers, Atomic Howlers, Sonic Screechers, and Volcanic Fizz-Bangs.
A twelve-year-old boys dream. . .
For the rest of the trip, I would sit in the backseat meticulously inspecting my pyrotechnic treasure trove – waiting for that moment I could borrow my dad’s Zippo and let ‘em blast among the big black walnut trees that shaded the backyard.
Poppers and boom-booms, flying saucer-like things gloriously spewing showers of fire as they arced through the night sky – the rockets’ red glare the whizzers bursting in air.
It was magnificent!
Right up until my goofy little sister would invariably step on a hot sparkler wire – hopping around and screeching like she had been branded by Beelzebub’s own iron – then, my fun was over as quickly as it began. . .
As I approach 61-years-old next month – now the quintessential ‘crotchety old bastard’ – I am no longer a fan of fireworks.
My two shell-shocked dogs will second that emotion.
But we suffer in silence. Even a cantankerous crank like me can tolerate anything for a few days – and I didn’t want to spoil the fun on our nation’s 245th birthday – but what I cannot abide is personal irresponsibility, especially when it endangers wildlife and disrespects our most precious natural asset.
As in years past, last weekend’s Independence Day holiday saw thousands of revelers take to Volusia County beaches to celebrate with heavy artillery (loosely termed “fireworks”) of all calibers and types.
Unfortunately, when the party was over, some careless beachgoers left tons of debris behind.
Just walked off and left the smoldering mess for someone else to worry about.
It happens every year.
Who does that?
Most of us who call this salty piece of paradise home were disgusted by the sight – a job which always seems insurmountable in the light of day.
I was reminded of a quote by the great Fred Rogers who once said his mother reacted to disturbing news by telling him, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’
On Monday morning, dedicated volunteers from all walks of life assembled along the width and breadth of our coastline to assist waste management contractors and Volusia County employees with the monumental task of collecting and disposing of trailer loads of trash – dangerous debris which poses a threat to sea life and shorebirds that can ingest or become entangled in it.
In addition, these selfless citizens smoothed divots and trenches in the sand that can be deathtraps for endangered sea turtles.
A special thanks to the groups, individuals, elected officials, and beach management personnel from throughout Volusia County and beyond – the helpers – who so graciously donated their time to help clean our beautiful beach and protect this sensitive environment.
Once again, you have filled my beat-up old heart and restored my faith in the basic goodness of Fun Coast residents.
Quote of the Week
“This week I got the unfortunate privilege of being the target of Barker’s Angels and rearends. Barker appears to be a wannabe reporter or columnist that could not procure gainful employment with a legitimate news organization so he made up his own little space.
On one hand he touts his humility as a member of the Peanut gallery, in the next paragraph he brags about taking the News Journal to task.
If one were to assess what Barker really thinks of himself, it would be a safe bet that he thinks pretty highly of himself.
Barker try’s to defend and deflect from his unwarranted attacks on elected officials by insisting that they are getting down in the mud with him which is really a deflection from the fact that he doesn’t like to be challenged, so he uses this fake humble persona to try to make the target appear petty for addressing his diatribe. Barker seems to delight in his comments being controversial, as if he is stirring up some huge clandestine hornet’s nest, further making my point that he is eat up with his own self importance.
Barker seems to have the world view that it’s us against them or in other words the rich against the poor, and that the wealthy and powerful are all out to get people in the “Peanut gallery” as he puts it, a world view that I find narrow and paranoid.
Barker has tried to paint suspicion around my intentions as a city commissioner because I attended a meeting with what he appears to suggest are the wealthy oligarchs of Volusia county. This gesture on my part was the act of a neophyte in his opinion, and points out that no other elected official was there. It’s a good thing that guilty by association isn’t a flogging offense because Barker would have me tied to the whipping post.
I feel that it is in the best interest of my constituents that I know what’s going on in our community. I have attended many events since I have taken office and this is just one of the many. If that means that I must suffer the fate of criticism from wannabe reporters that don’t even live in my district and have never held public office, so be it.
If my constituents are happy with the job I am doing, that’s all I need to worry about, but Barker doesn’t live in my zone, he doesn’t even live in Daytona Beach, so if I appear to be a bit insensitive to his personal observation, he’ll just have to get over it. But I found his indictment of my accepting an invitation to the welcoming of our new city manager unwarranted and unsolicited.
I have no problem with criticism when it is justified, but making predictions or indictments based on conjecture and paranoia don’t pass the smell test. If someone wants to make themselves look more important by criticizing an elected official, then at least have something of substance to criticize them on. Trying to create suspicion based on some false perception of something as harmless as an invitation to a welcoming of a city employee is the work of a neophyte.
My intentions and world view doesn’t change with the direction of the political winds, and I am not easily manipulated. So my advice to Barker is to chill, and if you want to criticize me in the future, feel free, but know this, I won’t resist the temptation to get down in the mud as you call it, if I think the charge is unfounded, petty, or silly. Just my view.”
–District 4 Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu, writing on Facebook, Friday, July 2, 2021
I like freshman Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu.
She’s got spunk.
And clearly a good judge of character. . .
But Chill? Nah.
Regrettably, I am everything she claimed: Brash, opinionated, crude, a vainglorious and egomaniacal blowhard who enjoys kicking the hornet’s nest of local politics, prying open backroom doors, and pointing out where those who are actually in the arena stumbled.
A crass critic of the status quo – a wary observer of the issues and newsmakers of the day.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I will accept Ms. Cantu’s pleonastic flogging in the spirit in which it was offered.
The fact of the matter is – it does not matter who, or what, I am.
Because my decisions do not affect the lives and livelihoods of 70,000 residents and countless small business owners who eke out a living in the City of Daytona Beach – or the thousands more in the Halifax area who depend upon a level social, civic, and economic playing field.
During my many years in government, I knew more than a few who assumed elected leadership positions and subscribed to the “A lion doesn’t explain themselves to a sheep” philosophy, which means they do and say whatever they want, when they want.
Damn the perceptions.
The potential downside to that extraordinary level of self-confidence and sense of infallibility often comes during times of crisis, when hubristic elected officials are left adrift as staff, gadflies, and constituents come to realize their input is neither welcome nor considered.
It can be hard to watch.
In my experience, smart elected officials use criticism, disapproval, even unwarranted blame, to their strategic advantage, and realize early that the slings and arrows of harsh criticism comes with the territory.
Being a good listener is a universal quality of exceptional servant-leaders – a learned skill that requires they develop some hard bark – and the humility to not take themselves too seriously.
They know that listening to detractors and civic naysayers provides a unique educational opportunity that many of their thin-skinned colleagues miss – a window into the thoughts and opinions of those they serve – a practice that builds trust as citizens realize their voices are being heard.
I hope my previous assessment of Commissioner Cantu’s appearance at a private soiree held by our “Rich & Powerful” to “welcome” Daytona Beach City Manager Deric Feacher to the ways and means of how things are done here on the Fun Coast is wrong.
In my view, Commissioner Cantu’s grit is refreshing – and she has real potential to help foster the positive transformation everyone in the Halifax area has waited patiently for.
My hope is that she will remain focused on the myriad issues facing her challenged community – and remember that it is not windy magpies like me that she must concern herself with.
Rather, the real threat to Commissioner Cantu’s political effectiveness and longevity – and that of her colleagues on the dais of power – remains with the legions of long-suffering Daytona Beach residents who have become so disillusioned that they no longer complain out loud to politicians who seem to take their marching orders from a few insiders with a chip in the game.
Instead, they make their voice heard at the ballot box.
If memory serves, I think that is how she came to this important seat in the first place. . .
And Another Thing!
In 1854, Abraham Lincoln wrote the “…object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.”
In my view, this includes providing for the protection of life and property by ensuring compliance with codes governing the construction and maintenance of buildings and facilities where we live, work, and learn – laws that are typically passed in the horrific aftermath of fires, floods, and failures that take human life in often predictable incidents that ‘should have, could have, would have,’ been addressed long before tragedy struck.
During my working life, I was once a guest at the Hyatt Regency Kansas City – a beautiful downtown hotel and convention center that had an eerie feel of familiarity to it.
While having a cocktail on a mezzanine overlooking the lobby, I realized that this was the site of the 1981 collapse of two overhead walkways that took the lives of 114 people and injured 216 more – at the time, the deadliest non-deliberate structural failure in American history.
I later spoke with a Kansas City police officer who had been a first responder and his vivid recollections of that warm July evening when a tea dance turned to tragedy were the stuff of nightmares. . .
After an exhaustive investigation, it was concluded that the cause of the collapse was a lack of communication between architects, engineers, and the materials manufacturer following a simple design change.
The original structural engineer later remarked, “Any first-year engineering student could figure it out, if only it had been checked.”
Earlier this week in the beachside community of Surfside, the catastrophic results of what happens when greed, poor maintenance practices, and lackadaisical government oversight combine, as the teetering ruins of the disastrous Champlain Towers South condominium were demolished to make safe the grim chore of recovering the remains of victims.
Trust me – when the finger-pointing is done – there will be enough internal and external blame to go around – cold comfort for the loved ones of the 159 souls reported missing and now presumed dead.
Following the unfathomable disaster in Surfside, many Volusia County residents became rightfully concerned about the age and condition of our own beachside construction – after all, we face the same corrosive environmental conditions here – and, in my view, the same bureaucratic mediocrity. . .
For instance, the intrepid civic activist Paul Zimmerman, president of Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, Sons of the Beach, recently took to social media to post disturbing photographs he took three-years ago of what appear to be crumbling concrete support columns in the underground garage of the Hard Rock Daytona – a hotel that was built on the bones of the former Desert Inn Resort – which once held the dubious distinction as one of the dirtiest hotels in America.
In February 2018, Mr. Zimmerman first brought the photos to light as the newly renovated hotel raced to meet a completion deadline which would ensure 410’ linear feet of traffic-free beach behind the property.
At the time, in a News-Journal article by former reporter Dustin Wyatt, Abbas Abdulhussein, CEO of Summit Hospitality Management Group, assured everyone, “There were some cosmetic failings, which we repaired,” he said. “The building’s not going anywhere.”
Earlier this month, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that Paulita Kundid, the owner of the two-story Sea Dunes, which sits in the shadow of the Protogroup’s towering Daytona Grande hotel, filed a short-lived code enforcement complaint concerning the unsightly condition of rusted and corroded reinforcing steel supporting what will be the foundation of the North Tower.
According to the News-Journal’s report, the code enforcement investigation was closed the following day when it was determined the area is an “active construction site”:
“The inspector observed rust on the rebar, but since it is an active construction site, with a current building permit, any inspection, violation or monitoring of the project falls under the jurisdiction of the city’s building department,” Susan Cerbone, city spokeswoman, said by email. “The contractor, as well as the owner Alexey Petrovich Lysich, are well aware that before they go vertical on the north tower, a structural certification needs to be performed by an engineer and submitted to the city.”
Let’s hope so. . .
Last week, Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower proactively reached out to Governor Ron DeSantis detailing his efforts to stiffen inspection requirements for beachside structures:
“We inspect our own bridges every two years but there are no requirements to re-inspect multilevel beachside structures – at any time after construction – in the Florida Building Code or by County Ordinance. In Volusia, most of the condominiums, hotels, and motels are within the city limits of our municipalities but there are also a number in unincorporated Volusia County.
This is a potential hazard, as we have all seen, that I hope we can come together on as local governments.
Since the Florida legislature is not in session it will likely be faster to take precautions at the local level. That is also our responsibility. I am asking for a discussion to be placed on our July agenda so the Council can start creating a plan that is reasonable and productive for the safety of employees, residents, and guests who use these structures in unincorporated Volusia County. I have also brought this up to our Roundtable of Volusia County Elected Officials.”
On Wednesday, during an informative appearance on WNDB’s Marc Bernier Show, Chairman Brower indicated that he is already receiving “mind your own business” pushback from certain camps. . .
I hope you will join me in supporting Chairman Brower’s lifesaving push for heightened inspection requirements for aging high-rise properties during the Volusia County Council’s discussion on July 20th.
Let it never again be said, “If it had only been checked.”
This one is important.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!