Public Policy by Archaeology: Digging up failed ideas from the past

Legal dictionaries define the heralded “Reasonable” man or woman as, “A fictional person with an ordinary degree of reason, prudence, care, foresight, or intelligence whose conduct, conclusion, or expectation in relation to a particular circumstance or fact is used as an objective standard by which to measure or determine something (as the existence of negligence).”

Some who know me might disagree, but I’ve always considered myself a sensible person – an ordinary everyman – neither always right, nor always wrong – but with the innate ability to detect when I’m being victimized by big money interests who are rigging our system of local governance and recognize no reasonable limits in their quest for power – or more of our hard-earned tax dollars. . .

Look, God knows I have my warts – but, like you, I truly care about this mosaic of communities that we call home.

While we may not agree on everything – reasonable people can learn from the honest debate of differing opinions so that solutions are based on an amalgam of ideas which consider the needs and wants of a diverse constituency.

Unfortunately, in Volusia County, many of the uninspired empty suits we have elected to represent our best interest have been bought-and-paid-for by those who stand at the nexus of public funds and private profits – so, unless you and I can pay-to-play – we are never afforded the opportunity to be heard.

As a result, our governmental processes have become so skewed, so patently unreasonable and fragmented; marked by a complete lack of strategic vision which has contributed to blight, dilapidation and an overwhelming sense of bleakness that has caused many of our neighbors to simply give up hope and is destroying our once vibrant tourism and hospitality industry.

Don’t take my word for it:

Take the family down to the Daytona Beach Boardwalk, stroll through the “attractions” near Main Street and A-1-A – the epicenter of our core tourist area – or spend some time on the beach, where for $25.00 a day, visitors can drive through a forest of ugly wooden poles and the omnipresent sign pollution that marks what passes for “beach management” – and you’ll get a pretty good idea what I’m talking about.

Consider how many of our hard-earned tax dollars have been lavished on the needs of a few uber-wealthy political insiders while other areas of our county are allowed to languish as compromised elected officials enjoy the political insulation of their benefactors while sticking to a failed strategy of publicly underwritten panacea projects – the “next big thing” – that never seem to be the “game changer” we were promised.

Contemplate the reasoning behind the “Us vs. Them” mentality that pervades the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building in DeLand – where individual municipalities are routinely victimized by a bullying county government – where taxpayers are sued by a weaponized county attorney with their own money – and the very idea of self-determination and “home rule” goes out the window when Volusia County wants to impose it’s imperial will within a municipal jurisdiction.

Reflect on the voracious appetite of Volusia County government for more tax dollars – the seeming inability to live within their means despite the dire financial situation of the many residents living at or below the poverty line – trapped in a whirlpool of low wage, service industry jobs – a land of haves-and-have-nots – where those who truly make the rules build shrines to their own self-importance and go home to gated communities, while seeking even more tax dollars from tens-of-thousands of families who fend for themselves in an unsustainable artificial economy.

After you have sufficiently reviewed these intractable issues, ask yourself why our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – and many of those dullards at the Roundtable of Elected Officials (where county and municipal elected officials take marching orders from their handlers at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance) – are actively exhuming the corpses of long-dead “studies,” political insulation reports and other failed ideas – which didn’t work a decade ago, and won’t work now?

I call it “public policy by archaeology” and it evidences the fact these wholly-owned chattel of our ‘Rich & Powerful’ have lost the ability to think for themselves – and exposes the fact these visionless churls haven’t had an original thought since they accepted their first campaign contribution. . .

Has Big Money clouded their ability to even consider the myriad social, economic and civic issues we face and develop fresh, innovative ideas to limit bureaucratic inefficiencies, right size government and respect the traditions and unique independence of the cities?

For weeks, we’ve heard that Old Ed, freshman Councilman Ben Johnson and a few other sitting political hacks have been trying to breath new life into outdated consultant reports, reviews, antique “studies” and pitifully ineffective “smart growth” committees – all failed “plans” that have been collecting dust for years on the groaning credenzas of county bureaucrats – yellowing monuments to a politicians natural instinct to protect themselves from criticism with the best “expert” opinion they can buy.

In my view, it doesn’t help when our newspaper of record buys into the cockamamie ideas proposed by perennial politicians who have demonstrated where their true allegiance lies.

The Daytona Beach News-Journals editorial board must understand that Volusia County government has lost the trust and confidence of their constituents – which also happens to represent their readership?

After all, they have written multiple articles and opinion pieces on our basic distrust of Old Ed and the Funky Bunch – the lies, deceit, backroom deals, gross mismanagement and haughty sense of infallibility no matter how foolish the decision – and the incredible impact our collective cynicism is having on their shameless half-cent sales tax money grab.

Yet, inexplicably, on Sunday the News-Journal once again floated Old Ed’s tired question of whether taxpayers living comfortably in the various municipalities want to – for the umpteenth time in our history – consider consolidating critical governmental services under Volusia County’s threadbare Big Top.

Although each and every time politicians use this ruse as a faint maneuver to deflect attention from much darker questions, We, The People have screamed a resounding “No!” – somehow now, with confidence in Volusia County government at whale shit depths – the newspaper lends credence to this perpetual smokescreen?

Why? 

Shouldn’t Volusia County residents have a reasonable expectation that their hard-earned tax dollars won’t be squandered on yet another horseshit “consolidation study” – especially at a time our elected officials are dunning us for even more tax dollars?

My God.

When will our newspaper join the growing chorus of taxpayers who are screaming for our elected officials to get their heads out of their ass and develop a strategic vision for our future that doesn’t include ancient concepts or taxing the eyeballs out of every man, woman and child in Volusia County?

How about the New-Journal’s editorial board allow their staff to examine the important question no one in a position of power in DeLand wants to discuss:

How can we pare down this bloated, parasitic bureaucracy that is Volusia County government and eliminate its meddling involvement and influence in the business of well-managed and well-funded municipal governments who are providing quality core services to residents and visitors?

When will we stop allowing this insatiable machine to grow even larger, more unresponsive as it justifies its own moribund existence – and underwrite its own failing services – by attempting to absorb functioning municipal assets?

Despite what some highly paid shill might have said in some archaic “study” – I seriously doubt the citizens of Ponce Inlet, New Smyrna Beach, Holly Hill, Daytona Beach Shores, Ormond Beach, DeLand – or any other small community that honorably serves, protects and enhances the quality of life of its residents – want anything to do with a “three city concept” – or, God forbid – another massive, unaccountable, unresponsive, self-perpetuating bureaucratic quagmire that invariably increases costs while diminishing service delivery.

In my view, it is time the News-Journal – and elected municipal officials who know better – stop being complicit in this cheap diversionary tactic repeatedly foisted by a few horribly compromised petty politicians behind the tattered curtain who have lost the trust and confidence of those they swore an oath to serve.

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for April 12, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Knights of the Roundtable

One of the more painful aspects of this ham-handed process to force a half-cent sales tax increase down the throat of every man, woman and child in Volusia County has been watching the scheming and cheap maneuvers of our elected and appointed officials and their handlers at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance.

As I’ve said before, from its inception, the marketing strategy for this shameless sales tax increase has been a discombobulated mess – a slapstick of errors, missteps and good old-fashioned fuck-ups that resulted in the measure being pulled from the general election ballot last year in the eleventh-hour.

The initiative was resurrected only after the CEO Business Alliance determined that a sufficient majority of their shills had been returned to office, then set about saddling residents with a $490,000 special election – a first of its kind “mail in” ballot with “secure” drop off locations at area city halls and so many other irregularities that many are already calling the referendum a bald-faced sham.

Add to that the revelation that the much-ballyhooed citizen oversight committee – the cleverly added regulatory provision that we were promised would ensure our compromised elected officials allocate funds appropriately by “holding their feet to the fire” – is no more than a toothless watchdog, with “no decision-making authority,” comprised of political appointees who will serve at the pleasure of the very politicians they were commissioned to regulate.

Earlier this week, something called the Roundtable of Elected Officials – a weird public/private consortium of area mayors, city managers and their Big Money handlers from the CEO Alliance – huddled over a lunch you and I paid for to discuss their on-going efforts to take even more money out of our pockets and transfer it to political insiders and government contractors in the name of “better roads and clean water.” 

My ass.

In typical fashion, reports from the confab resulted in more questions than answers. . .

For instance, many question why Dr. Kent Sharples – the infamous president of the Volusia CEO Alliance – is within a hundred miles of a government tax initiative?

In my view, if we’ve learned anything about Dr. Sharples, it’s that he could screw up a wet dream. . .

From the mysterious $1.4 million American Music Festival fiasco at Daytona State College to his questionable “service” on the Board of Trustees of beleaguered Bethune-Cookman University – which now stands at the very precipice of catastrophic financial failure after gross mismanagement and a series of internal and external scams – I wonder just how many more bites at the apple Dr. Sharples should be permitted?

Eventually, one would think our elected and appointed officials might concede that Volusia County taxpayers have a right to be suspicious of ol’ Kent’s capabilities, involvement and motivations, right?

In my view, here on the Fun Coast – piss poor performance and abject ineptitude has long been handsomely rewarded by those who stand at the nexus of public funds and private interests – so long as their situational ethics remain malleable and the patency of the public tit is assured.

Let’s face it, during Dr. Sharples’ tenure at the Alliance, millions of our hard-earned tax dollars have been shunted to senior members of that camarilla of millionaires under cover of dubious “public/private” partnerships, incentives and government contracts.

Don’t take my word for it – read the newspaper. . .

That makes the good Doctor a valuable asset for those greedheads who see this sales-tax increase for what it is – a multi-million dollar pass-through from our pocket to theirs.

In my view, this slimy confederation between those who were elected to high office by their neighbors and swore an oath to “well and faithfully” execute their fiduciary responsibilities to We, The People – and a secret society of uber-wealthy, oligarchical insiders – represents our worst fears of quid pro quo corruption run amok.

Trust me.  The Volusia CEO Business Alliance – and their paid shills at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building and city halls throughout Volusia County – do not have your family’s best interest at heart.

Now, after approving unchecked sprawl from Farmton to the Flagler County line – in some weird “Fool me once, shame on me.  Fool me twice, shame on me again.  Fool me three times and one of us is an exploitative sneak thief,” strategy – the Knights of the Roundtable would now have us believe they are interested in smart growth initiatives.

Bullshit.

Following a flim-flam presentation by Clay Ervin, Volusia County’s director of the farcical “Growth and Resource Management Division” – essentially a make-work comparative analysis of nearly two-decade old residential construction permit issuance with today’s numbers – several of our local elected tools thought it would be a good idea to resurrect a do-nothing “Smart Growth Committee” circa 2005.

I dunno, maybe because the first one had such a tremendous influence on our ability to, as the News-Journal reported, “combat growth to sustain quality of life for residents”?

Whatever.

While the grown-ups in the room were discussing topical issues of growth management and out-of-control taxation – real conundrums that threaten to crush their collective political careers – our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, kept jabbering like a deranged macaque about bringing back a failed 2011 “study” which suggested that blending the 13 well-managed and well-staffed municipal fire departments with Volusia County’s mishmash of failing, overpriced emergency services would somehow “save tax dollars” (because, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that Volusia County is all about saving tax dollars. . .)

Jesus.

This awkward roundtable meeting sounds like some weird Antique Roadshow episode where our uninspired and totally visionless politicians trot out musty old studies – the ghosts of bad ideas past –  tired notions that are no longer relevant to the conversation or the festering problems we face.

I’ve got a suggestion!  It’s also an oldie but goodie!

How about these shameless political hacks pull their head out of their ass, forget the empty exercise of yet another political insulation committee, come face-to-face with the very real challenges of 2019, and develop a strategic vision for Volusia County’s future?

Good luck.

Angel              FAITH – Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony

On Monday evening, I joined with over 1,500 of the faithful at Peabody Auditorium for the 2019 FAITH Action Assembly.

The active coalition of over 30 area faith-based organizations is tackling some of the most intractable social, economic and civic issues of our generation and valiantly fighting for social justice here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

It was a real learning experience on a number of fronts.

For instance, FAITH’s initiatives designed to bring restorative practices to Volusia County Schools and reform failed disciplinary protocols, which some believe contribute to lower academic performance, higher rates of dropout and the so-called “school to prison” pipeline really opened my eyes.

According to the FAITH Education Committee, of the 67 counties in Florida, Volusia ranks 7th highest in school arrests, 5th highest in out-of-school suspensions, and 57th in overall graduation rate – with minority students and those with disabilities most affected.

This informative segment was attended by members of the Volusia County School Board – to include Chairman Carl Persis, Ruben Colon, Jamie Hayes and Ida Wright – along with District Superintendent Tom Russell.

Only board member Linda Cuthbert was absent.

In addition, Sheriff Mike Chitwood and Dan Merrithew, chief probation officer for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, spoke about their support for a local Juvenile Assessment Center – and agreed to work cooperatively with FAITH to ensure the appropriate use of civil citations to avoid the life-altering consequences of physical arrest for juveniles accused of minor, non-violent offenses.

While I didn’t agree with everything the group advocated for – the energy in the room was contagious – with a palpable sense that faith truly can move mountains.

In addition to their on-going efforts to reform juvenile justice programs, this year, FAITH leaders sought commitments from area officials to address the growing problem of affordable housing options in Volusia County.

According to a FAITH Housing Committee report, 6 out of 10 renters in Volusia County pay more than 30% of their income on rent – with some 21,000 households paying over half of their monthly take home pay for housing alone – which means a single-parent making minimum wage would have to work 72-hours a week simply to afford a one bedroom apartment.

“The situation is most dire for the 45,000+ households in our county earning less than 50% of Area Median Income (less than $26,000 for a family of three).  For them, hardly any affordable options exist.”

Wow.

In turn, FAITH asked for the development of a countywide affordable housing fund – a dedicated revenue source to help “create, rehabilitate and preserve” affordable units for the tens-of-thousands of Volusia County families who make less than 50% of our area’s median income.

Sounds like a noble endeavor, right?

I think we can all agree that finding affordable housing solutions for thousands of hard-working Volusia County families trapped in a service-based economy – many of whom are being driven to homelessness or forced into the destructive cycle of week-to-week substandard motels or long daily commutes just to keep a roof over their head should be a priority?

Apparently, County Chairman Ed Kelley could give two-shits about the basic shelter needs of over 45,000 of his financially strapped constituents. . .

That’s right – Old Ed couldn’t be bothered to attend the largest gathering of civically-active, socially conscious citizens in Volusia County – or even sit down with FAITH leadership to discuss possible solutions to one of the most pressing social issues of our time.

Cowardly asshole. . .

To their credit, Volusia County Councilwomen Heather Post, Billie Wheeler and Barbara Girtman joined Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry and Commissioners Paula Reed and Quanita May as they stood tall and represented their constituents with honor, answering the difficult questions and concurring with those assembled that affordable housing is a true crisis in Volusia County – then pledged to help identify funding sources and opportunities to fill this growing need countywide.

Although freshman At-Large Councilman Ben Johnson met with FAITH leaders to discuss the issue, he was not present at the assembly.  However, at least Mr. Johnson had the common decency to answer the hard questions and engage in a meaningful dialog that can lead to innovative solutions – even if we don’t always agree on the path forward.

Unfortunately, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys and The Very Reverend Fred Lowry joined Old Ed in boycotting this important event – openly refusing to even discuss these important issues with FAITH – let alone attend the assembly – and their noticeable absence spoke to the condescending attitude that permeates this cabal of dullards and perpetuates the civic and economic stagnation that contributes to the very issues FAITH is fighting against.

Frankly, if it doesn’t directly benefit their ‘Rich & Powerful’ overseers – these craven assholes could care less.

How terribly sad.  For all of us.

Angel              Hy’s Toggery of One Daytona

Farewell, Hy – We hardly knew ye. . .

In what everyone hopes isn’t a harbinger of a mass exodus to come, Hy’s Toggery at One Daytona – the first expansion location of the popular casual wear shop which was established in Panama City Beach in the 1960’s – will close its doors tomorrow less than one-year after opening to much fanfare.

This represents the first high profile establishment to go out of business at the International Speedway Corporation’s publicly underwritten “synergistic” shopping center.

In June 2018, The Daytona Beach News-Journal quoted Gentry Baumline-Robinson, communications director for ISC, as she gushed about the shop’s “fit” for the “destination”:

“This is a great addition to the retail businesses at One Daytona.  They have a selection unlike any other retail store in the area. With our outdoor lifestyle here in Daytona Beach, with the beach and the fishing, Hy’s Toggery is a natural fit for the destination.”

Earlier this week, Ms. Baumline-Robinson wasn’t quite so bubbly when contacted by New-Journal business reporter Clayton Park, “We don’t discuss tenant/landlord matters so nothing to add here.”

Wow.

Look, I wish the best for any business or entrepreneur with the courage to throw the dice and take a chance in our weird local economy – which is based upon the same five uber-wealthy oligarchs passing the same nickel around. . .

Unfortunately, business closures in cloistered environments like One Daytona often come in clusters as the toxic effects of the “Retail Apocalypse” and a substantial drop in tourism conspire with low regional wages to form the perfect storm.

Or is something else stirring at One Daytona? 

Last year, I wrote a widely read opinion piece on the sales-tax-by-another-name known as an “Enhanced Amenity Fee” which shoppers began to notice last year when a placard was posted at the point-of-sale of One Daytona retailers:

Notice of EAF – All retail purchases at One Daytona are subject to an Enhanced Amenity Fee (EAF).”

“The EAF is an additional one percent added to the total amount due before sales tax.”

“The EAF will not exceed $350 for any applicable purchase.”

“The EAF will be reinvested to continually enhance the center, including its public space, mobile technology, entertainment options and public art program.”

“Thank you for your patronage of One Daytona.

At that time, I opined:

“ACHTUNG!  You hapless piss-ants – It’s not enough that we extracted $40-million dollars in public funds, tax abatement, infrastructure improvements and other “incentives” from you star-crossed fools to reduce our financial exposure and enhance our languishing motorsports business – now, we are going to wring an additional 1% from your skinny little wallet every fucking time you dare to shop here!”

Oh, you don’t want to support our entertainment options and public art program?

Tough shit.  Not an option.

You want to patronize the shopping center that you rubes subsidized?  Pay-up at the register, asshole.

When does a “public/private” partnership turn into a usurious victimization – a parasitic exsanguination of the very people who were previously tapped to fund a private project with their hard-earned tax dollars?

As I understand it, the One Daytona Community Development District – the governing body which manages “community development services in the area” –  does not have the authority to levy an additional sales tax – but the board can charge dubious “assessments” which are tied to properties within the District’s boundaries.

(As it happens, the Chairman of this quasi-governmental community development district is the penultimate political insider, Glenn Ritchey – whose daughter-in-law, Cyndi Ritchey, was recently hired to serve as chair of the Political Action Committee funded by members of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance (where Mr. Ritchey is a sitting board member) – which is actively ramrodding the half-cent sales tax increase. . . I don’t make this shit up, folks.) 

Look, you can call this polished turd whatever you want – but this sales-related “EAF” is nothing more than a money-grubbing tax by any other name.

I, for one, refuse to shop at One Daytona out of a highly developed sense of self-preservation.

You see, I try to avoid being fleeced at the point-of-sale whenever possible – especially at a shopping center that was underwritten with my tax dollars.

Now, I wonder how many other local consumers feel the same way I do – and what effect that may be having on the future of One Daytona?   

The fact is, my money spends anywhere – so does yours – and I choose to purchase goods and services at small, privately owned retailers in our community who eke out a living despite the unfair advantage of their competitors at places like One Daytona who keep 1% of every purchase to cover their overhead.

In my view, whenever government entities artificially skew the playing field in a free and open market place bad things happen – it is unnatural and defies the laws of supply and demand – and it is unsustainable over time.

Let’s hope that ISC can turn the tide at One Daytona before our $40 million public investment becomes another empty shell. . .

Quote of the Week

“There is a dark gloom on this (B-CU) campus. We are losing students daily transferring to other schools in fear.  And lastly, someone needs to be held accountable, and go to jail.  There are others who bear responsibility for this fiscal malfeasance, not just Dr. Edison Jackson.  We also need to have a forensic handwriting expert to test all of those who were employed, sitting on the board to actually see who signed off on that dorm deal.  At this point, our university could have been run by Boo Boo the Clown, and his board. I’m just saying.”

–Norma Bland, second degree master’s student at Bethune-Cookman University, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Students unfairly caught in B-CU mess,” April 11, 2019

Well said, Ms. Bland.

And infinitely, horrifically and painfully true. . .

And Another Thing! 

It is increasingly clear that we have serious issues at Volusia County District Schools – not the least of which is the School Board’s complete unwillingness to listen to the needs and substantive input of classroom teachers, staff members and parents.

Earlier this week, the Volusia County School Board approved a suppressive measure which will relegate public participation to two time-certain windows at the beginning and end of meetings during which citizens may address their elected officials on items of importance that are not on the agenda.

The vote came amid public condemnation of the board’s failure to listen to its constituents when they arbitrarily changed the bell schedule a few weeks ago after ignoring citizen survey results – and a request by teachers and staff to delay the new schedule for a year.

Only board member Linda Cuthbert took issue with the actions, rightly calling the measure “censorship.”

“I am vehemently against this policy as written,” Cuthbert said at Tuesday night’s meeting, “If someone takes the time to come and speak, they should have the time to speak.”

Screw John Q. Public’s asinine input on their child’s primary education – pay the bills and shut your pie-hole. . .

According to a report by the News-Journal’s outstanding education reporter Cassidy Alexander, Elizabeth Albert, president of Volusia United Educators – the collective bargaining unit representing our hard-working teachers:

“. . .told board members they lost the trust of teachers after they didn’t listen to them.  They approved a schedule that wasn’t in the survey for the public to vote on and isn’t similar to the option that received the most votes. They also decided to implement the changes in August, despite the survey showing that about 60 percent of district employees wanted to wait a year.”

Which brings me to my point – last week, I was taken to the woodshed by area high school teacher and school board apologist Kate Cumiskey, who took exception to my characterization of the School Board’s vote to change start times:

I wrote, “In an inexplicably weird reversal – after first seeking public input through a survey on preferred school start times that was answered by some 24,054 teachers, students and community members – ultimately, the School Board voted 3-2 last week to adopt a schedule no one had ever seen before.”

According to Ms. Cumiskey:  “How about you start with getting your facts straight. The school board voted unanimously 5-0, to implement start times that were a vast improvement, according to Elizabeth Albert who was sitting with me, on the three options we the committee came up with. Five-zip, not 3-2. Three-two was against the delay. I was on the committee. The board and committee worked on this for months, the survey was just a survey, not a vote, and only about 10% of the stakeholders took the survey.  Facts matter.”

So, I stand corrected – and suitably admonished.

The fact is, I was wrong.

The 3-2 vote had nothing to do with the board’s unanimous decision to ignore the input of those affected when they arbitrarily changed school start times – the 3-2 split occurred when a majority of the board chose to also ignore the wishes of some 61% of their teaching staff who asked in vain that the measure be delayed, allowing more time for proper implementation.

Don’t I feel like an asshole. . .

In my view, given the myriad problems that continue to plague Volusia County Schools, perhaps it’s time our school board members come to the realization that they don’t have all the answers – and neither does Superintendent Tom Russell and his goofy “Cabinet.”

I’ve said this before – during a crisis, I’ve found it beneficial to seek input from all stakeholders – to open lines of traditional and non-traditional communication, seek alternative opinions, get out and knock on doors and put an emphasis on developing collaborative, broad-based solutions that simply cannot be arrived at in this vacuum of arrogance.

That’s all for me!

Barker’s View will be on hiatus for the next two-weeks as I take a long-anticipated sabbatical to the United Kingdom – a chance to rest, relax and enjoy the sights of Jolly Olde London – and quaff a few proper pours of Guinness in Dublin.

Yep!  The Original Ugly American will be traveling abroad. . .

While I’m ‘across the pond,’ I also thought it might be a good idea to share my opinions on the Brexit quagmire with members of Parliament.  After all, as a Volusia County resident, I’m a veteran of pig-headed political shit shows – and you know me – I’m always willing to lend a hand. . .

Angels & Assholes will be back next month with my strange thoughts and goofy opinions on the half-cent sales tax referendum and much more!

In the interim, if you feel strongly that this shameless money grab is yet another low blow for long-suffering, tax-strapped Volusia County residents who can ill afford an increase at the point-of-sale – please join with like-minded friends and neighbors for sign waving and demonstrations of civic solidarity at:

Ormond Beach – Southwest Corner of Nova Road and Granada Boulevard – Monday, April 15 – 5:00-6:00pm

Ormond Beach – Granada Bridge at Beach Street 5:30-6:30pm – Wednesday, April 17, Wednesday, April 24 and Wednesday, May 1.

For additional information – follow Sons of the Beach and Friends on Facebook – or donate to the cause at: http://tinyurl.com/yy6cf4fs

Cheerio, everyone!

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Deluge has Begun

Most days I tend to agree with The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial take on the issues of the day – but Sunday’s no-holds-barred endorsement of the proposed half-cent sales tax increase was over-the-top.

Especially in light of their recent spot-on assessments of exactly why Volusia County voters have lost trust in the very governmental institutions that ostensibly exist to serve their best interests. . .

I mean, how can you shine a bright light on the backroom wrangling, the mini-moves and the sweetheart deals, then concede – “A “yes” vote is the best chance Volusia County has to get on track and work toward a better future for everyone. It’s an opportunity the county can’t afford to miss” – without any call for accountability or fiscal responsibility from those who got us into this mess in the first place?

“The plan is not perfect, but we don’t see a better alternative”?

Say what?

Bullshit.

Somehow, I knew in my heart-of-hearts it was coming – but when I actually saw it in print, with “‘Yes’ on sales tax” blaring in bold typeface – my heart sank, and, like many of you, I was overcome by a sense of melancholy with the realization that “independent” journalism and editorial freedom is a fallacy in this bastardized oligarchy that has replaced our sacred representative democracy here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

I could be wrong (and I sincerely hope I am) but with all 16 municipalities in lockstep and everyone who is anyone in Volusia County business and industry champing at the bit for the big payday they just know is coming – did anyone think our newspaper of record wouldn’t eventually be onboard as well?

I get it.  The News-Journal supports this tax scam for the same reason the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce does – because, what the hell else are they going to do?

Speak truth to power?

Question the true motivations of the infamous Dr. Kent Sharples and his cabal of billionaires?

Whip the disillusioned villagers into a hysterical frenzy with a bold headline reporting that our local system of governance has been hijacked by a passel of incompetent shitheels with no strategic vision beyond lining the pockets of their political benefactors?

Right. . .

Expect to see more of the same when the deluge of social media and direct mail campaigns heat up in coming weeks – agitprop paid for by the very same people who stand to benefit most from this tax pass-through when the proposed tax funds filter from our pocket to theirs.

Trust me.  This wave of misinformation and empty promises is just getting started.

From its inception, the marketing strategy for this shameless sales tax increase has been a discombobulated mess – a slapstick of errors, missteps and good old-fashioned fuck-ups that resulted in the measure being pulled from the general election ballot last year in the eleventh-hour.

The initiative was resurrected after the Volusia CEO Business Alliance determined that a sufficient majority of their shills had been returned to office after the election, then set about saddling residents with a $490,000 special election – a first of its kind “mail in” ballot with “secure” drop off locations at area city halls – and so many other irregularities that many are already calling the referendum a bald-faced sham.

Add to that the revelation that the much-ballyhooed citizen oversight committee – the strategically added regulatory provision that we were promised would ensure our compromised elected officials allocate taxpayer funds appropriately by “holding their feet to the fire” – is no more than a toothless watchdog, with “no decision-making authority,” who will serve at the pleasure of the very politicians they were commissioned to regulate.

Don’t take my word for it – read the proposed ordinance.

Now, we’re supposed to be fooled by the reappearance of the long-dead, highly controversial  push to consolidate municipal fire department’s under Volusia County’s tattered umbrella of overpriced and understaffed emergency services – and not recognize this as a patented feint maneuver designed to distract us from these horribly telegraphed final efforts to get this tax increase across the goal line?

How dumb do they think we are?   

Smart people have come to the realization that Volusia County is the realm of a few ‘Rich & Powerful’ insiders who maintain their grip on power by underwriting the political campaigns of hand-select candidates for local office – then controlling them like the wooden puppets they are.

It’s sad to watch once proud “public servants” prostrate themselves before their masters like the slavish tools they are – wallowing in mediocrity, pissing good money after bad to all the right last names, giving away our traditional natural amenities and destroying our quality of life in the name of greed.

If nothing else, this wholly mismanaged shit show has served as a tableau of ineptitude – a gross representation of why much of the Halifax area remains a quagmire of blight, dilapidation and hopelessness – and why the wild, unchecked growth underway in “new” Daytona west of I-95 exemplifies how political insiders are allowed to haul massive profits out of the pine scrub – while you and I pay for the predictable impacts.

In my view, most thinking people are coming to the realization that this grossly expensive special election will be about much more than a money-grubbing sales tax.

It will be a referendum on the future direction of Volusia County – to include our compromised elected officials, the way our local governments are administered and the influence of special interests in the political process – a final demarcation from the ‘business as usual’ that has seen the needs of the many brutally sacrificed for the benefit of the few.

In the end, many budding political careers will be steaming wreckage in the political fast lane – written off by their uber-wealthy manipulators as collateral damage of a failed attempt to get their grubby hands on a $42-million annual windfall. . .

At the end of the day, I believe this vote will be a resounding indictment of those individuals and institutions who ignored their best instincts and succumbed to the slimy motivations of a few well-heeled insiders with a profit motive – who sold out their constituents for the promise of a few crumbs of a much larger pie – and destroyed the public’s trust in the process.

 

I hope you will join me this afternoon on GovStuff Live with Big John – 1380am The Cat – or on-line at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).  We’ll be discussing the proposed half-cent sales tax and taking your calls on other issues of vital importance to our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Religion and Politics

Smart people know that it’s best to avoid discussions of politics and religion – especially in the office or during family gatherings – because of how volatile these sensitive topics can become.

Not me, of course.

Whenever I meet someone new – I instinctively bring up local politics and get their unique take on the issues of the day – the more inflammatory the better. . .

That’s how I learn.

We all have our own beliefs – religious and political – and it is that diversity of thought that keeps things interesting and allows the healthy debate of ideas in a free and open society from which all good public policies flow.

I was raised in the Episcopal church, often referred to as “Protestant, yet Catholic.”

The Episcopal Church of America separated from the Church of England following the American Revolution.  As a point of trivia – nearly one quarter of U. S. Presidents have been members of the church – from George Washington to George H. W. Bush – eleven presidents have identified as Episcopalians.

I like the fact that the Episcopal church affirms the dignity and equality of all human beings and welcomes all people without any exceptions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, orientation, age, or any other reason.

After all, isn’t that what organized religion should be about? 

(Feel free to argue among yourselves. . .)

Unfortunately, that inclusiveness has not always been accepted by the greater Christian community – and, in 2016, the Anglican Communion suspended the Episcopal Church of America after years of debate over same-sex marriage and our practice of accepting women and LGBT people into the Ordained Ministry.

I also have some strange beliefs on the power of the metaphysical and the magical.

Even as a young child, I have always kept a variety of amulets, good luck charms and mojo bags about – talismans that protect me from harm, bring good fortune, physical healing, prosperity and a sense of well-being – and I was once told by an old woman, a spiritualist who claims to see these things, that I have a weird aura around me, a strong vibrating energy field she couldn’t quite explain. . .

I keep a small home altar here at Barker’s View HQ – a Butsudan of sorts – a place of good energy adorned with votive candles, a cross and a few items of spiritual importance to me.  In an Abalone shell I keep a few Tonka beans, a gris-gris bag containing High John the Conqueror root, a piece of Palo Santo wood and a wishbone for good luck.

The tiny rubber chicken is a reminder to keep a good sense of humor during difficult times – and never take yourself too seriously – and the baby is from a Mardi Gras King Cake, a symbol of the Christ Child, which is said to bring luck and prosperity to whoever receives it.

Strange?  Probably.  But I like to cover all bases. . .

Admittedly, I’m the King of the Weirdos – but I’ve been granted special powers by the one Grantland Rice called,  “The Great Scorer” – the ability to smell political bullshit from a mile away – and the good instinct to protect the vulnerable from exploitation by a system they can neither understand nor escape.

During my professional life, an old school police chief once told me that I could never leave police work, because those he called “my people” – the ones I truly cared about – the stumble drunks, drug addicts and downtrodden, the crippled and the crazy – the lesser among us – truly needed my help and protection from those who would prey upon them.

I never forgot that.

And, in retirement – when I lost a sense of purpose and came to a very low point in my life – I found through divine enlightenment that I could help alert my neighbors, friends and enemies to the entrenched social, economic, civic and political issues that threaten our quality of life and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast through these goofy screeds on the news and newsmakers of the day.

Like some demented Paul Revere character with a blogsite. . .

Whether religion or politics, we’ve come to a place in this country where everyone self-identifies – a nation of warring tribes – factions that automatically dismiss the thoughts and ideas of others simply because they don’t hold the same myopic view.

But here in Volusia County – we’re beginning to see a unique unity of thought – the rise of a righteous “Us vs. Them” mentality – born of the idea that the motivations of those We, The People have elected to represent our best interests can no longer be trusted by the majority who pay the bills and look on as political insiders are rewarded – time and again – by those on the dais of power.

The public trust is an incredibly fragile commodity.

I’ve said this before, but central to the idea of our representative democracy is that a small group of politically accountable people will represent the collective interest of thousands of others.  For this system to work, it requires a foundation of trust – a belief that what our elected and appointed officials tell us is true and that their motivations are pure.

When we sense that our system of governance has become biased – and our representatives more interested in promoting their own self-interests or those of their political benefactors – cynicism sets in, an inherent distrust that spreads like wildfire, destroying community cohesion and institutional credibility.

In her book “Political Tribes,” lawyer, academic and writer Amy Chua said, “When groups feel threatened, they retreat into tribalism. When groups feel mistreated and disrespected, they close ranks and become more insular, more defensive, more punitive, more us-versus-them.”

I believe that is true.

So, when you hear our ‘powers that be’ yammering about how angry their disenfranchised constituency has become – totally resistant to the idea that handing even more of our hard-earned tax dollars over to the same dullards while expecting a different result is somehow good public policy – please remember that this utter lack of fundamental trust is their fault, not ours.

Recently, a long-time Volusia County politico was asked publicly about their thoughts on the influence of Barker’s View in driving a larger discussion of the issues – and they responded that this forum doesn’t deserve the dignity of an answer.

Maybe not.

But any smart politician or senior administrator – at least those with the ability to think beyond their own thin-skinned self-interests – knows that blogs and social media posts can be used to gauge public sentiment on the important issues of the day.

But I suppose one has to care about what their constituents think in the first place for that to be effective. . .

Unfortunately, we have reached a bitter place here in Volusia County – a sense that the governmental institutions we once trusted no longer have our best interests at heart.

Sad, but true.

In coming weeks, we will begin to see a concerted effort – on social media and by direct mail – orchestrated by our elected officials and their handlers at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance to sell us on the idea that a self-inflected sales tax increase is the only thing standing between our quality of life and a transportation infrastructure Armageddon.

I hope you will consider the source – and, as Big John likes to say – say a prayer to “all the Gods and Goddesses” for strength and wisdom as we individually and collectively stand firm to our basic belief in governmental fairness and transparency and say “No” to this shameless money grab.

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for April 5, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel              Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County

I have a soft spot in my heart for the underdog.

Otherwise, this would have been a completely different piece on the abysmal state of the tourism industry in the Daytona Beach Resort Area as evidenced by months of declining occupancy at area hotels during what should have been our busiest time of the year.

Despite the fact our ‘powers that be’ seem intent on morphing our local economy from travel and tourism to one supported exclusively by warehouse drones and retail sales jobs – the fact remains that many families in the Halifax area depend on a vibrant tourist and convention trade for their survival.

Clearly, Central Florida remains an international beacon for vacationers – in fact, the Orlando Metro welcomes an estimated 43 million visitors annually – generating some $260 million in Tourist Development Taxes each year.

These funds are being reinvested in state-of-the-art amenities, sports complexes, cultural initiatives and world class recreation venues for the benefit of residents and visitors alike – you know, spending on things that actually provide a return on investment by keeping people coming back for more.

Look, I understand we’re not Orlando – but the trend in Volusia County is grim. . .

It should be clear to anyone watching that Volusia County has become the pariah of regional tourism – written off as a wasteland – with millions being invested in Central Florida commuter-transit systems that include Port Canaveral and Brevard County beaches without a mention of adding lines to the Fun Coast anytime in the next millennium.

I don’t know him personally, but I admire Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County.

For years, Mr. Davis has been a staunch cheerleader for our area – and he continues to use his vast institutional knowledge of Volusia tourism trends as a bellwether of things to come.

It’s a hard dollar in a crumbling market – but Mr. Davis never gives up.

Unfortunately, I always felt that our “tourism leaders” put a rather Pollyannaish spin on the malignant issues that our ‘powers that be’ simply prefer to ignore.

In my uneducated view, people quickly learn that their scarce disposable income and vacation time spend anywhere – and they don’t have to subject their family to wandering hoards of Boardwalk zombies, down-at-the-heel “attractions” and the abject blight that permeates large areas of our core tourist area.

Add to that the near-constant drumbeat of paid shills – long-term consultants who receive public funds to put a happy face on a horribly disfigured and dying industry – and it is difficult to know what to believe.

After all, the “new” Daytona Beach is taking shape in the pine scrub west of town – and “Boomtown Boulevard” on LPGA is shaping up as a shopping mecca – drawing established retailers from International Speedway Boulevard to homogenized centers near I-95 and the growing sprawl of Latitudes Margaritaville and Mosaic.

But, with the slow death of NASCAR playing out weekly – and special events attendance at all-time lows – will “synergistic” shopping centers and one really nice downtown park be enough to breath life into the Daytona Beach Resort Area?

And where is the collective vision of our elected and appointed officials to revitalize and redevelop our failing beachside – where massive hotels and convention centers are rising from the sand in some weird “build it and they will come” scheme  – even as the once heralded “brand” slowly gives up the ghost?

I fear they don’t have one – because if they do – now is the time for a “Grand Reveal” of their strategic plan to make the Halifax area attractive to visitors.

If not now, when? 

With the dwindling numbers playing out on the front page of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, anecdotal reviews pointing out the obvious – and those dubious on-line lists consistently placing us among the “Worst Place to (insert life activity here)” – when will those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest get off their collective ass and start doing something – anything – to help Mr. Davis and those with a true stake in our future save this incredibly important industry?

Does touting how we’re going to put the arm on tourists for some 35% of the proposed sales tax increase do anything to restore our image?

How about charging out-of-towners $25.00 to participate in our century-old tradition of beach driving and access?

Is erecting more ugly wooden poles, putting parking meters in public lots, as has been suggested by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, or erecting even more signage on the strand to detract from the natural beauty helping to market our area?

As they demand more from you and I – how long is Volusia County going to shun tourist development tax payments from short-term rental provider Airbnb – even as 40 counties in Florida with the tax now accept automated remittance – yet, our Dullards in DeLand still demand that property owners submit the tax themselves?

Are any of these current tactics helping turn things around?      

Look, Volusia County will never be the “Theme Park Capital of the World” – but we are still recognized as the “World’s Most Famous Beach,” and with a little luck and hard work, we always will be.

Perhaps now is the time for those whose voices and vision matter to change tack and begin the process of reclaiming our once bright spot as a premiere seaside destination before it’s too late.

Angel              The Terribly Confused Citizens of the Halifax Area

The fading number of well-meaning people who support the proposed half-cent sales tax citing the “what else are we going to do?” argument, are finding it increasingly hard to defend the initiative after a series of revelations that continue to erode the public’s faith in their local government.

Frankly, I think we’re all a little confused by the rhetoric and bullshit being spewed by our ‘powers that be.’

At the end of the day, when we consider handing over our hard-earned money to others – be it a personal or public investment – it becomes a matter of trust.

In matters of government, transactional ethics require that those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest speak the truth and conduct the “people’s business” in an open, transparent and inclusive way.

Anything less undermines the legitimacy of our system of governance.

In places like the City of Daytona Beach, where a supreme senior executive maintains almost omnipotent power over the operational and administrative functions of local government – and has for many years – a sense of arrogance and infallibility can take hold.

Absent a lack of strong political oversight, over time, entrenched bureaucrats feel they can act independent of public input – and come to consider the natural give-and-take of a healthy representative democracy to be an impediment to civic progress.

That’s when the insidious practice of secrecy and backroom deals becomes the norm.

When the idea of isonomy becomes skewed, and what passes for “governance” begins to exclusively serve the needs, wants and whims those few who have the financial wherewithal to influence outcomes – the oligarchs – who have a chip in the game by virtue of their ability to pay-to-play.

In an excellent piece by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal this week, “Riverfront effort done quietly,” we learned that the pernicious move to remove deed restrictions and privatize public land on City Island has been an on-going, behind-the-scenes effort since at least March 2017.

Now, bureaucrats will say that the matter went before a publicly scheduled meeting of the Daytona Beach Planning Board – and it certainly did – but how many of us actually read the agenda of every civic advisory board – or follow the daily machinations of senior planners and “economic development” staffers?

In fact, it appears the Daytona Beach City Commission simply relied on individual private briefings by City Manager Jim Chisholm – rather than demand public hearings or open discussions on the highly controversial removal of state restrictions that held the land for public use in perpetuity.

Given the fact we live in Florida – arguably the biggest whorehouse in the world – under former Governor Slick Rick Scott, Daytona Beach was offered the opportunity to, in effect, purchase the public use protections and open the island and adjacent properties for private development for $8.77 million.

Many residents are rightfully pissed off – citizens who can’t yet picture a City Island bristling with half-empty high-rise condominiums where their County Library once stood – or vacant storefronts occupying the historic footprint of Jackie Robinson Ballpark. . .

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you and I think.  If it ever did.

The Big Money is moving now, and those who have a chip in the game are working themselves into an onanistic frenzy – like a troop of frantically masturbating monkeys – over the very thought of developing our riverfront property for private profit.

To salve the community’s loss, our Philanthropic Savior J. Hyatt Brown, is bringing us a really nice consolation prize in the form of a quasi-public park – which will proudly bear his name and stand as yet another monument to the Brown Dynasty – yet cost Volusia County taxpayers $800,000 to $1 million annually. . .

This phenomenon isn’t limited to the City of Daytona Beach – local governments from Ormond Beach to Edgewater are demonstrating in the most extraordinary ways just how dysfunctional things become when private interests win out over the public good.

Smart people are beginning to speculate that as more of these toxic revelations and behind-the-scenes maneuverings come to light, the more We, The People begin to question the true motivations of those who are demanding even more of our hard-earned tax dollars.

The public trust is an incredibly fragile commodity.

Central to the idea of our representative democracy is that a small group of politically accountable people will represent the collective interest of thousands of others.  For this system to work, it requires a foundation of trust – a belief that what our elected and appointed officials tell us is true and that their motivations are pure.

When we sense that our system of governance has become biased – and our representatives more interested in promoting their own self-interests or those of their political benefactors – cynicism sets in, an inherent distrust that spreads like wildfire, destroying community cohesion and institutional credibility.

In my view, the malignant suspicion that permeates every aspect of Volusia County government – and that is quickly taking hold in the City of Daytona Beach and elsewhere – is infinitely more detrimental to our civic viability than any contrived infrastructure emergency or dubious tax grab.

My sincere hope is that those who have taken an oath to serve in the public interest come to the realization that our government exists to serve the needs of everyone – that they take a step back and rediscover the best impulses that brought them to the dais of power in the first place – honor, integrity and selflessness – rather than merely working in the shadows to facilitate the profit motives of greedheads and the insiders who perpetuate this bastardized oligarchy that is ruining our quality of life and crushing public confidence in the process.

Angel               City of Daytona Beach  

I recently read a post on social media by my smart friend Steve Koenig – a veteran civic activist whose tireless work with The Bellaire Community Group, Sons of the Beach and other grassroots organizations continues to enhance the quality of life of all Halifax area residents.

Steve reported that while traveling to a meeting this week, he was forced to swerve his vehicle to avoid a pothole on Halifax Avenue just north of University Boulevard.  Clearly, Steve was concerned about the safety hazard and decided to contact the City of Daytona Beach for assistance.

Not sure who to call – Steve reached out to Frank VanPelt, the Technical Services Project Director for the Daytona Beach Public Works Department – a true gentleman who is widely known as one of the most caring and responsive civil servants in the business.

According to Steve’s very appreciative post:

“By the time I got to the office, I had an email from Frank copying me on an email he had sent to the right people. Just then I got a call from Steve Doherty from Public Works thanking me for reporting this and he was sending a crew out there to check it out and take care of it. He told me they accept calls 24 hours a day just for such situations. He can be reached at 386-671-8815.  Catching our city doing the right thing is a good feeling.”

Despite my frequent gripes about the state of political affairs in Daytona Beach and elsewhere, the fact is, the community is blessed with many incredibly talented public servants across all disciplines and departments, who perform the thankless work of providing quality core services to thousands of residents and visitors.

Kudos to Mr. VanPelt, Steve Doherty and the hardworking public servants in the City of Daytona Beach – and all of our local governments – who are committed to providing responsive, high-quality services to the mosaic of communities that make up Volusia County.

Thank you for a job well done!

Asshole           Volusia County School Board  

Our elected dullards over at the Volusia County School Board are giving Nero a bad name. . .

While our failing district continues its deleterious spiral – with some seventeen schools dropping one or more letter grades last year – and others, like the languishing Palm Terrace Elementary, recording it’s third “D” in a row – the Volusia County School Board busies itself with arbitrarily changing school start times and ignoring the recommendations of long-suffering teachers who are actually delivering the district’s curriculum in the classroom.

In an inexplicably weird reversal – after first seeking public input through a survey on preferred school start times that was answered by some 24,054 teachers, students and community members – ultimately, the School Board voted 3-2 last week to adopt a schedule no one had ever seen before.

Then, the board opted to ignore a request by some 61 percent of district staff who asked that the new start times be postponed.

Rather than listen to our hardworking teachers when they express real concerns over increasing workloads and decreased planning time – and the destabilizing effect of capriciously changing school start times – once again, their pleas fall on deaf ears, dismissed by an arrogant top down decision-making process and asinine internal policies that place Volusia County Schools statistically among the rock bottom of similar sized districts around the state in several important categories.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s education reporter Cassidy Alexander, attempted to explain the inexplicable in an outstanding article entitled, “Against teachers’ wishes, Volusia School Board picks new school schedules to start in August”:

“The School Board unanimously approved the schedule, which was not included on the survey it used to gauge the public’s opinion and doesn’t resemble the schedule option that got the majority of the votes. Instead it’s one they came up with at their workshop, after asking the transportation department to be flexible in the amount of time it needed to bus students to and from school.”

 As apparent punishment for their impudence in demanding fundamental changes to a failing curriculum that is turning our precious children into victims of system they cannot escape – Volusia County teachers are now being forced to implement long-requested math and language arts textbooks, navigate new computer systems for student data and human resources processes and complete extra state-mandated in-service training – all on top of the new bell schedule – in just four short months.

Volusia United Educators President Elizabeth Albert said, “I am extremely disappointed that the will of the employees was overlooked.  The most concerning part is there are so many changes heading to VCS employees next year. We have reached the saturation point.”

Who does that to their employees?

Who does that to our children?

In my view, Superintendent Tom Russell and his coterie of star-crossed senior administrators seem utterly tone-deaf to the troubling issues faced by our hard-working teachers and families –  a group devoid of imagination and innovative thought who clearly value mediocrity over the smart work and collaborative strategic vision required to fundamentally change this incredibly flawed system.

Now, it is readily apparent that the majority of our School Board seem intent on punishing teachers – and innocent families who must now juggle their busy lives, jobs and after school activities to fit the new bell schedule – while making a total farce of one of the most critical decisions of the past decade.

Angel              Volusia County Councilwoman Barbara Girtman

I wrote about this disturbing series of events in a post earlier in the week – but it bears repeating.

Frankly, the tone and tenor of the raucous free-for-all that passed for a “public meeting” of the Volusia County Council – a parliamentary nightmare that shocked and embarrassed bewildered constituents – has bothered me since I listened to it.

Like many of you, I am still staggered by the open disrespect shown to District 1 Councilwoman Barbara Girtman – and the crushing political dysfunction that exemplifies everything wrong with our county government.

At this weeks Volusia County Council meeting, the Minority Elected Officials of Volusia County proposed a $5,000 public sponsorship for the upcoming “Dreams Do Come True” celebration recognizing the lifetime achievements of former Councilwoman Joyce Cusack and the groundbreaking of the Spring Hill Resource Center which will bear her name.

The event will be hosted by the MEO, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization comprised of current and former minority government representatives – dedicated to developing resources for disadvantaged communities and ensuring fair treatment of historically underrepresented constituencies (which, at this point, includes every taxpayer in Volusia County).

From the outset, it was clear the seemingly routine request had an uphill battle.

In what will go down as one of the worst moments of Councilwoman Weak Billie Wheeler’s lackluster political career – she immediately went on the attack – politicizing the request by accusing the MEO of fielding a candidate to run against her in the next election and labeling the nonprofit as a “political action committee.”

It was ugly – and wrong.

Not to be upstaged, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, joined Weak Billie in a tag-team match, besmirching the MEO as a PAC, and claiming that county sponsorship of Ms. Cusack’s much-deserved recognition was akin to a “political endorsement.” 

Bullshit.

Only Councilwoman Heather Post and Councilwoman Barbara Girtman – who serves as co-chair of the MEO – voted to approve the measure.

I found the whole dynamic strange – given the fact that the Volusia County Council annually gives away a small fortune to every pet cause, rubber chicken banquet and not-for-profit with their hand out.

For instance, just last year, you and I were the unwitting benefactors of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Blue and Gold Gala – benefiting the athletic programs of the prestigious private university that is virtually owned and operated by the capo di tutti capi of political benefactors, Mori Hossieni.

Then, we gave $3,000 to sponsor the 2018 Herbert M. Davidson Memorial Award for Community Service – which just happened to go to Lesa France-Kennedy – who is arguably no slouch when it comes to financially underwriting the political careers of hand-select politicians (or receiving a return on that investment. . .)

Maybe it’s me – but I thought it sounded more than a little disingenuous when Old Ed and the Funky Bunch mewed and whined about how cautious they have suddenly become when  stewarding the public’s money.

Since when? 

In a very poignant moment, Councilwoman Girtman showed incredible poise and true leadership when she eloquently called for “inclusiveness,” and thoughtfully explained to her “colleagues” on the dais of power, “I think it’s really important to understand the reason there’s a minority elected officials group is because there needs to be. There needs to be someone who looks out for communities that have a lesser voice — that have always had a lesser voice.”

In a painful reminder of the obvious, Ms. Girtman enlightened her dimwitted fellow elected officials about what her service to Volusia County truly represents.

“We’re a diverse county that should be evolving in a very different way, and the issues that you bring to the table are not the issues that are the affecting a total community.”

 Then, as Chairman Kelley lectured Ms. Girtman about his everlasting love for Ms. Cusack – the intrepid Councilwoman stopped the doddering dipshit in his patronizing tracks – explaining that, “It goes beyond that individual.  That’s the part that none of you are connecting to.”

Rather than listen to the erudite advice of someone who understands the depths of the social, civic and economic issues that plague Volusia County – Old Ed interrupted Ms. Girtman, insolently gaveling her down – before essentially clarifying in his own haughty way that he was talking at the Councilwoman, not to her.

Although I don’t always agree with her politically, in my view, Barbara Girtman represents the fundamental change and fresh eyes Volusia County desperately needs.

In her short tenure, Ms. Girtman has been thoughtful, engaged and incredibly well-informed on the myriad issues we face here on the Fun Coast, and she routinely runs mental laps around Ed Kelley – something I take an almost perverse pleasure in watching. . .

Thank you, Ms. Girtman, for reminding your listless “colleagues” – and the rest of us – of the importance of inclusion and leveraging the power of our diversity to improving the quality of life for all Volusia County residents.

Quote of the Week

“City leaders can’t defuse suspicions — much less generate public excitement and buy-in — by opting to do the bare minimum required to comply with open-government law. In an undertaking that (City Manager) Chisholm rightly described as “transformative,” they should be engaging the public at every opportunity, and making their case in an open, collaborative (and yes, sometimes raucous) discussion of City Island’s future.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Our View column, “Daytona’s City Island deal sparked suspicion,” Thursday, April 4, 2019

In my view, when the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – our ‘Rich & Powerful’ political insiders who stand to benefit most – gather to perform an autopsy to determine the manner and cause of death of their half-cent sales tax increase, they need look no further than this editorial, and the hundreds of anecdotal experiences and perceptions of area residents who have learned the hard way that the motivations of their elected representatives can no longer be trusted.

In short, they have no one to blame but themselves. . .

Not once during the ham-handed and incredibly convoluted process of “re-educating” the public on why self-inflicting a sales tax increase is a “good thing” have our ‘powers that be’ even suggested a governmental austerity program – a reduction of the shit-through-a-goose spending strategy that has seen millions in public funds funneled to the for-profit projects of political insiders.

Instead, we are told horror stories about what our very quality of life will look like if we vote down the measure – even as local governments continue to demand more, fritter away some $50 million over time on a really nice downtown park and press to allow speculative developers to run wild on our beautiful City Island.

In Ormond Beach, residents have watched as elected officials ignore their own planning board and staff recommendations – then prostrate themselves before their almighty benefactors in the real estate development industry – destroying our lifestyle and even more of our natural places in the process.

Trust me.  There is some shit we won’t eat.

And it is becoming increasingly obvious to anyone paying attention that this ill-fated money grab will be dead-on-arrival – the victim of public distrust in this terribly flawed oligarchical system that no longer bears any resemblance to a representative democracy.

And Another Thing!

The Helping Hands Thru Arts in partnership with the City of Holly Hill presents the first ever Holly Hill Art Festival!

The festival will be held on the spacious front lawn of historic Holly Hill City Hall, 1065 Ridgewood Avenue, and will feature over 70 juried works of fine art and innovative crafts.

The show will run Saturday, April 6 from 9:00am to 5:00pm and Sunday from 9:00am to 4:00pm.

A portion of the proceeds from the inaugural festival will help support arts and music programs at Holly Hill School.

Helping Hands Thru Arts works with local communities and organizations to support fundraising through the arts to benefit local needs.

I hope you will join me for a wonderful weekend of art and culture – and experience the unique vibe and civic pride of this very special small community.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Last Straw?

I take a lot of heat for my often-irreverent take on the state of our political “leadership” here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

Admittedly – I deserve most of it.

But no one with two synapses still firing can argue that what transpired at this weeks Volusia County Council meeting was anything less than a good old-fashioned shit show.

In fact, it was an embarrassment to good governance everywhere – a parliamentary nightmare that marks the nadir of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley’s, abysmal reign at the helm of this rudderless ship of fools.

Don’t take my word for it – take a strong antiemetic and listen to the archived recording online.

After all, you paid for the entertainment. . .

From Councilwoman Weak Billie Wheeler’s cheap politicization of a request by the Minority Elected Officials of Volusia County for sponsorship of a gala honoring long-time public servant Joyce Cusack – which included much-needed financial assistance for the future Joyce M. Cusack Spring Hill Resource Center in DeLand – to Old Ed’s mean-spirited spitting and sparring with Councilwoman Heather Post over his repeated attempts to avoid even discussing improving pay and benefits for our hard-working Emergency Telecommunicators, it was one for the record books.

The Cusack sponsorship motion failed 5-2 after Weak Billie accused the MEO of fielding a candidate to run against her during the next election – before suggesting that the non-profit organization that focuses on developing resources for disadvantaged communities and ensuring fair treatment of historically underrepresented constituencies (which, at this point, includes every taxpayer in Volusia County) is a “political action committee.”

Not to be upstaged, Chairman Kelley was quick to pile-on, besmirching the MEO as a PAC and claiming that county sponsorship of Ms. Cusack’s much-deserved recognition – and public support of the good work of the Spring Hill Resource Center – was akin to a “political endorsement.” 

My ass.

Only Ms. Post and Councilwoman Girtman – who serves as co-chair of the MEO – voted to approve the measure.

I found the whole dynamic strange – given the fact that the Volusia County Council annually gives away a small fortune of our money to every pet cause, rubber chicken banquet and not-for-profit with their hand out.

For instance, just last year, you and I were unwitting “Coach Level” sponsors of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Blue and Gold Gala – complete with a reserved table for 10 – benefiting the athletic programs of the prestigious private university that is virtually owned and operated by the capo di tutti capi of political benefactors, Mori Hossieni.

Then, we gave $3,000 to help finance the 2018 Herbert M. Davidson Memorial Award for Community Service – which just happened to go to Lesa France-Kennedy – who is arguably no slouch when it comes to financially underwriting the political careers of hand-select Volusia County politicians (or receiving a return on that investment. . .)

Just sayin’.

Maybe it’s me – but I thought it sounded more than a little disingenuous when Old Ed and the Funky Bunch mewed and whined about how cautious they have suddenly become when stewarding the public’s money.

Since when? 

And why is lavishing Mr. Hossieni’s alma mater with public funds okay – but recognizing Ms. Cusack’s lifetime of civic service and helping a fledgling community resource center somehow crosses a line?  

In a very poignant moment, Councilwoman Girtman showed incredible poise and true leadership when she eloquently called for “inclusiveness,” and thoughtfully explained to her “colleagues” on the dais of power, “I think it’s really important to understand the reason there’s a minority elected officials group is because there needs to be.  There needs to be someone who looks out for communities that have a lesser voice — that have always had a lesser voice.”

As a painful reminder of the obvious, Ms. Girtman enlightened her dimwitted fellow elected officials about what her service to Volusia County truly represents.

“We’re a diverse county that should be evolving in a very different way, and the issues that you bring to the table are not the issues that are the affecting a total community.”

The point was lost on most of them. . .

Then, as Chairman Kelley gushed ad nauseum – lecturing Ms. Girtman about his everlasting love for Ms. Cusack – the intrepid Councilwoman stopped the doddering dipshit in his patronizing tracks – explaining that, “It goes beyond that individual.  That’s the part that none of you are connecting to.”

Rather than listen to the erudite advice of someone who understands the depths of the social, civic and economic issues that plague Volusia County – Old Ed interrupted Ms. Girtman, insolently gaveling her down – before essentially clarifying in his own haughty way that he was talking at the Councilwoman, not to her.

Chairman Kelley ended the raucous free-for-all by taking yet another swipe at Councilwoman Heather Post – claiming that she violated some obscure “policy” by attending the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference in Washington, DC last month.

(Apparently, when Deb Denys jets off to Washington for a commercial space conference (?) with a dubious connection to Volusia County it is unquestionably beneficial – after all, you can’t swing a dead cat on the Fun Coast without hitting another defense contractor or aerospace company – but when Ms. Post represents her constituents as a sitting sub-committee member of a national governmental organization it’s a junket. . .?)

To add dramatic effect – Old Ed directed County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert to get involved in his one-man inquisition of Ms. Post – before claiming he wouldn’t “waste the money of this council” to travel to a National Association of Counties meeting.

(He apparently doesn’t have the same qualms about frittering away our money. . .)

His personal attack on Ms. Post was cheap and small – totally unbecoming of his important office – and it exposed Ed Kelley’s true character under pressure.

Add to these goofy theatrics Mr. Kelley’s ridiculous yammering and stammering through various iterations of Roberts Rules of Order – almost verbalizing his mental calculations of how he can use them offensively to limit council discussions, a move that made even Cujo Eckert blush – his painful misunderstanding of a simple workshop schedule, The Very Reverend Fred Lowry’s snooty call for “decorum” (read: “shut these mutineers up and protect the status quo at all cost”) – and the entire ugly affair had the appearance of some bizarre Carnival of the Absurd.

Hell, all that wacky sideshow lacked was Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy and the Bearded Lady. . .

In my view, this out-of-control shit storm – that was legally advertised as a public meeting – represents the final straw in a haystack full of them.

Perhaps it’s time for the Volusia CEO Business Alliance to cut the strings on this demented puppet while there is still a shred of credibility left in this elected body that seemingly exists to ensure the patency of the public tit. . .

How long can this Parade of Dysfunction continue?

Regardless, in my view, it is time for Chairman Kelley to hang-up his officious gavel and slither off to wherever batty old politicians go when they become a total embarrassment to their constituents, an impediment to reasonable civic progress and a liability to the orderly administration of government.

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for March 29, 2019

Hi, kids!

An interesting phenomenon emerged this week in the shameless push by Volusia County politicians to separate your family and mine from more of our hard-earned tax dollars.

With just weeks remaining before the weird $490,000 “mail in” referendum to decide if We, The People want to self-inflict a half-cent sales tax increase – in effect, giving even more money to the same incompetent assholes whose ineptitude got us into this mess in the first place – our ‘powers that be’ are taking to social media.

Once the forbidden lair of nasty nay-sayers, gadflies and misanthropes – a dark place where most self-respecting politicians fear to tread – it looks like the interwebz has now become the latest battleground in the sales tax push.

This week, my goofy screeds were answered by two of our ‘movers & shakers’ who chimed in on Facebook, and we’ve been besieged by a preeminent economist with a case of logorrhea even worse than mine, who has regaled us for days with rambling dissertations explaining (I think) why we’re all too stupid to accept that higher taxes are somehow a “good thing” – all while touting his own accomplishments – like most PhD’s are wont to do. . .

I found that interesting.

In my experience, you know sitting politicians are getting desperate when they start feigning interest in the thoughts and opinions of their constituents – even more so when they actually come down out of the ivory tower and interact with us. . .

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

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

Asshole           Volusia County Council

At a recent Volusia County Council meeting, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, joined several of his “colleagues” in hatching the cockamamie idea of consolidating municipal fire departments under one “unified umbrella.”

Which is to say they are coming for our municipal fire departments after making a gruesome mess of their own emergency services. . .

Of course, as always, they couch it as a way to, “. . .cut cost and improve service to residents,” because if we’ve learned anything about Volusia County – they’re all about cutting costs and improving service delivery. . .    

The same shitheels who brought you a $25.00 day at the beach (which has deteriorated into little more than an inaccessible sandy forest of wooden poles and ugly signs saying “do this, don’t do that”), allowed public infrastructure and utilities to reach an estimated $1.5 billion crisis-point requiring a sales tax increase to solve, set astronomical fire district fees, permitted unchecked growth along the spine of Volusia County, sat idle while publicly-owned structures and facilities rotted from neglect and contributed to a sense of blight in places like Ormond Beach and Downtown DeLand and levied exorbitant fees and taxes for essential public services – now want to takeover well-managed, well-equipped and well-staffed municipal fire departments in a bald-face power grab that made even veteran political observers blush.

In typical fashion, Volusia County is grasping for a way to bolster their own horribly compromised emergency services by wrapping them with well-funded municipal services before a catastrophe befalls its own wholly understaffed and underfunded fire/rescue department.

What happened to the notion that small, accountable essential public services are the most manageable, responsive and community-centric – while large, unwieldy, centralized government entities become grossly inefficient and impassive with a corresponding loss of services?

On the very day the Volusia County Council smugly patted themselves on the back for “fixing” our horribly broken Volusia County emergency medical and fire services by throwing a collective $17 million of our money to repair the damage inflicted under the reign of former County Manager Jim Dinneen and rebuild a marginally efficient service that the Old Guard of Ed Kelley, Fred Lowry and Deb Denys helped destroy, they announce plans to push for consolidation of municipal fire departments?

My ass.

Once again, this diabolical clown troupe has been caught out – now, they’re scrambling for a solution that transfers even more of the burden to the long-suffering municipalities.

I wrote about this earlier in the week, but it bears repeating:

The men and women of EVAC and Volusia County Fire/Rescue are dedicated professionals who have performed with incredible professionalism despite being trapped in a poorly funded and terribly managed system that has long been treated like the red-headed step child of county government.

For years, VCFR and EVAC suffered service and staffing reductions – despite increasing service demand due to unchecked development – which is slowly choking area roadways and stressing public infrastructure, utilities and essential services.

At their own professional peril, members of the Volusia Professional Firefighters Association were among the first to sound the klaxon on the life-threatening issues with staffing at EVAC that led Councilwoman Heather Post to fight for substantive change.

During the height of the EVAC debacle – when your family and mine were placed at grave risk by the horrific mismanagement and understaffing that caused large population centers in Volusia County to go unprotected – municipal fire chiefs did their level best to ensure that their citizens were protected.

Now, it appears those same chiefs are about to reap the whirlwind of their courageous effort to protect their citizens and speak truth to power.

If history repeats, no one who dares bring to light the almost criminally negligent machinations of county government leaves the field unscathed – so, the county council trots out the specter of consolidation to destabilize and demoralize area fire service professionals.

According to the incredibly mean-spirited Chairman Ed Kelley, “We’d be far better served with a unified, consolidated form of fire service than having it all split up,” he said.  “Do we need 13 fire chiefs?  Sorry fire chiefs out there.  Maybe you could be a different chief in a bigger system.”

Apparently after realizing the fallacy of his insensitive public comment, Old Ed responded to my criticism on social media:

“Wow, I brought up the subject for discussion that could lead to better service for our residents and might be more efficient, (could even lead to lower property taxes) but it seems Mark just wants to continue doing the same thing and expecting a different result. We know the definition of that.”

Yeah.  That’s what I want, Ed – more of the same. . .

My God.

It seems when Chairman Kelley receives any criticism of his delusional musings, he instinctively squawks, “I just brought the subject up for discussion!” as though that cowardly walk-back makes everything right again. . .

Anyone remember Mr. Kelley’s weird Freudian slip in December 2017, when he “suggested” moving the City Island library and privatizing our public land?

“It could be a private use that could generate jobs or provide residences, but it’s not up to me to say what should go there. … We (the council) should evaluate the situation.”

Then, just weeks later, Old Ed did his level best to explain what he didn’t say in his premature revelation, “I never, ever once said to tear the library down.  I said we should look at possibly relocating it, and if I didn’t say ‘possibly,’ that’s what I meant.”

Even Councilwoman Weak Billie Wheeler got in on the cover-up, mewing in the newspaper in January 2018, “. . .all the negative comments and false rumors give the appearance that the council is “planning something under the curtain” when it isn’t.”

Guess what?

Last week, we learned the City of Daytona Beach and state legislators are actively working “behind the scenes” to have century-old deed restrictions lifted which will pave the way for the commercial development of City Island – and, trust me, there will be no room for a public library, or a historic ballpark, once the greed-heads are allowed to run wild. . .

With much of City Island currently hosting county facilities, it’s boggles the mind to think that Weak Billie, Old Ed and our other elected dullards on the VCC didn’t know about the city’s mini-moves to legislatively lift stipulations that the property be held for “public purposes forever,” so why lie when the truth would serve them better?

Weird.

Given our dismal past history, you can bet your bippy Chairman Kelley is doing more than floating the idea for discussion when he says he supports the consolidation of the fire service – and that should send a shiver down the spine of every resident and visitor who relies on these life-saving services in an emergency.

Asshole     Ormond Beach “Deputy Mayor” Troy Kent

Why is it that perennial politicians get so damned offended when their double-dealing and abhorrent official behavior is memorialized in print?

Just curious. . .

Two-weeks ago, the City of Ormond Beach Planning Board – a group that must be developing a hellish inferiority complex after repeatedly being reversed, chided and blatantly ignored by the very politicians who appointed them – voted to allow our new Lucky’s Market to have daily outdoor displays of fresh produce when the much-anticipated store opens this spring.

I happen to think Lucky’s will be a wonderful addition to East Granada Boulevard – an area that is actively taking shape as an upscale shopping and dining area after years of chronic stagnation.

In addition, I am impressed by the chain’s “Community Project” strategy, described as “. . .an ongoing endeavor to create lasting change in the communities we serve. This means we support projects, organizations, and initiatives that focus on healthy communities, youth & education, sustainability and resilience.”  

That’s a noble enterprise – but if Lucky’s wants to “create lasting change” here in the Halifax area – they’ve got their work cut out for them. . .

Unfortunately, another struggling local business wasn’t as lucky as, well, Lucky’s Market and other beneficiaries of the City’s subjective benevolence when they asked for the same consideration.

The Ormond Beach Observer recently ran a touching piece on the demise of Woodstock South – a well-kept storefront located in an abysmally distressed area of South Young Street – that features “tie-dyed shirts and other vibrant clothing along with jewelry and metal yard art.  Music from the 1960s and a mild aroma of incense waft through the store.

A whimsical place that catered to the sartorial needs of the aging hippie set. . .

Like most entrepreneurs, owners David Oshman and his wife, Kamonkwan Tongmusick, were excited about their new venture when they opened in December 2016 – making a home with their small child in a modest apartment attached to the building – and becoming an active part of their new community.

Woodstock South

“Our desire was to brighten up U.S. 1 in Ormond Beach and create some excitement and self-expression in a very bland and overlooked area, Tongmusick said.”

According to the report, last fall, the couple requested to have outdoor displays and music as a means of attracting customers after several hiccups.

Apparently, the owners made a mistake and placed some wares near a roadside monument sign, a U.S. 1 motel complained that music from Woodstock South was disturbing their guests and there was a signage dispute with the city – issues which resulted in a code enforcement action.

So, they tried to do things the right way.

When they approached the City of Ormond Beach, the owners were told by staff they would be required to pay $1,650 to have the special exception considered.

Wow.

Ultimately, the request was approved by the city’s planning board on a six-to-one vote – with the outdoor music (subject to provisions) approved five-to-two.

Then, the matter was sent to the elected panjandrums for consideration.

At the September 19, 2018, City Commission meeting, the city’s planning director, Steve Spraker, spoke in favor of the special exception – explaining that testing was performed for the outdoor music and it met the decibel level required by ordinance – suggesting that music be allowed Saturday and Sunday from noon to 7:00pm.

Other reasonable stipulations included rescinding the external music exception if the store received more than two noise complaints.  That’s fair.

It appeared as if the little shop who risked it all to make an investment in Ormond Beach – and jumped through all the onerous hoops required by the city’s bureaucracy – would receive the meager concessions they sought.

Not so fast. . .

Inexplicably, the uber-arrogant Commissioner/”Deputy Mayor” Troy Kent – a middle-school middle-manager with a raging  God complex – set about destroying the hopes and dreams of the small business owners with an incredibly officious tirade normally reserved for zoning disputes with whorehouses, coal-fired medical waste incinerators and commercial meth labs. . .

(Unless the campaign contributions are right, anyway. . .)

The always overbearing Kent crowed, “There is a reason we have rules against outdoor storage in Ormond Beach,” before besmirching a piece of the store’s yard art depicted in a supporting photograph.

He then turned his bitter bile toward city staff and our all-volunteer planning board members:

I can’t believe staff has given approval for this,” Kent said. “This is not what I believe the residents of Ormond Beach want to see.”

Interestingly, the owners of Woodstock South were not asked any questions – or given a chance to explain their simple needs – instead, they were required to absorb Mr. Kent’s vile verbal abuse and made to feel unwelcome in the very community where they make their home.

Ultimately, Commissioners Dwight Selby and Rick Boehm joined Kent in voting to reject the shop’s special exception – with Mayor Bill Partington and Commissioner Rob Littleton voting to approve.  (The meeting was held before the last election.)

In “Deputy Mayor” Kent’s patented style – the rejection of the couple’s simple request was contrived, pretentious and hyper-dramatic.

Don’t take my word for it, listen to the archived meeting. . .

According to the Observer, Oshman and Tongmusick shed a few tears when they returned home from the meeting – then, they decided to close their business and move out of Ormond Beach.

“The main theme was that our store just didn’t belong on U.S.-1,” Tongmusick said recently.”

“We’re a blight and an eyesore to the neighborhood.”

When it became apparent that they were no longer welcome in their adopted hometown, the couple put the building up for sale and have decided to move their home and store to Massachusetts.

According to Tongmusick, “The air may be colder, but we believe their hearts will be warmer.”

Indeed.

How terribly sad that any taxpaying citizen would be made to feel that their quaint boutique is considered a nuisance by their own elected representatives.

Then – to add insult to injury – Commissioner Kent, that mean-spirited asswipe who has no problem verbally castigating defenseless entrepreneurs whose only crime was thinking they were competing on a level playing field – cried like a whimpering simp when his abhorrent actions were accurately portrayed in the Observer.

During the comments period of last week’s City Commission meeting – when our elected potentates are allowed to drone-on, ad nauseum – Mr. Kent took the small newspaper to task in his condescending, sing-song manner, for reporting the obvious.

“Deputy Mayor” Kent puffed up like a rabid toad and howled maniacally about enforcing “the rules” – while pounding on the people’s dais like some demented Nikita Khrushchev character – describing the reportage as “slanted” and made to sound like the city put Woodstock South out of business.

Well, ultimately, they did. . .

Guess ol’ Troy Boy steams-up his ten-gallon hat and goes all apoplectic when the working press exposes him for the petty tyrant that he is, eh? 

So, why is it that other businesses – like upscale grocery stores, produce markets, home furnishing retailers and other enterprises can openly display their goods outdoors – but Woodstock South is publicly humiliated and run out-of-town for even asking?

What did those who successfully received the commission’s blessing for a special exception do that Woodstock South didn’t? 

And why is it that our ‘powers that be’ repeatedly ignore the carefully considered recommendation of their own advisory board – and our professional planning director – unless it comports with the needs, wants and whims of an influential real estate developer or political benefactor with a profit motive?

Again, just curious.

So, we say Goodbye to another Ormond Beach small business – better luck elsewhere. . .

Quote of the Week

“I have yet to hear any official vow that these incremental taxes will be spent incrementally on infrastructure. Each year every town and the county spend money to build and repair roads, sewers, water supplies and the like. Now, they’ll have more than $40 million more to spend. Will they vow that this will be spent on top of the current spending?  Perhaps incremental to the last five-year average?

 Will they commit to this formula for the next 20 years until the tax sunsets?

 If not, then the money currently spent on roads, water and infrastructure projects will simply move to other pet projects at the whim of the elected officials. In the meantime, we, the taxpayers, will be left with less money in our pockets and the same road and water conditions that we have today.”

–Robert Giebel, Ormond Beach, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Build on base,” March 25, 2019

Like Mr. Giebel, many of us have serious trust issues with the proposed sales tax increase – and, unfortunately – the recent Town Hall infomercials starring our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and “new” County Manager Georgie Recktenwald – did little to allay our growing concerns.

In fact, many of my neighbors say that the repetitive nature of the non-answers provided to wary taxpayers – the monotonous, loop-like talking points that were so carefully crafted by the Volusia CEO Business Alliance’s hired shill – left them feeling like victims of an elaborate sham.

For instance, when we review the still incomplete list of “sales tax projects” compiled by Volusia County and the municipalities (many of which will receive so few dollars back they are hard to discern on the colorful “revenue distribution” graph), we find nice-to-have terms like “asphalt resurfacing,” “road rehabilitation,” “multipurpose trail” and “dirt road reduction,” rather than must-have congestion reduction projects.

How in the hell is a “multipurpose trail” from Valentine Park to Blue Spring Park in Orange City going to help stave off the terrifying specter of a “No Plan B” infrastructure Armageddon?

Or keep my grandchildren and yours from having to subsist by drinking their own recycled sewage?

How do these catch-all aesthetic improvements fit into a larger, comprehensive transportation strategy that will alleviate the gridlock we all know is coming once all these goofy “theme communities” are built out along the spine of east Volusia County?

Do we even have a comprehensive transportation strategy?

The fact is, no new information came from these dog-and-pony shows that toured Volusia County like a bad Vaudeville act for the last two-weeks.

And it shows.

Our ‘powers that be,’ and their nervous handlers at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, realize they are running out of time to convince their long-suffering constituents that throwing good money after bad at the same incompetents who got us into this crisis in the first place is a good idea.

Yet, they seem wholly incapable of explaining how this hodgepodge of “wish lists” interrelate to form a strategic countywide plan?

That’s because they don’t have one. . .

And Another Thing!

Last week, I wrote a little ditty questioning if the recent $15 million “gift” from our own philanthropic savior, J. Hyatt Brown, could actually be a “give with one hand, take with the other” scenario in disguise.

Is it really a gift horse – or a swayback nag that requires constant attention and can eat its weight in tax dollars? 

You may recall that Mr. Brown’s munificence came with a $40-$50 million commitment from struggling taxpayers for upkeep of his really nice park – even as we are being asked to pony-up an additional half-cent sales tax to cover a burgeoning infrastructure and utilities emergency that threatens our very quality of life.

Like many, I am concerned that the grand Brown Riverfront Esplanade may be part of a much larger puzzle – one that remains too fragmented to see the end result – which has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with facilitating a self-serving plan that will ultimately allow developers with all the right last names to exploit even more public land for private profit.

My fears were stoked by the intrepid reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s excellent exposé, “Jewel for Sale? Daytona Beach looks to clear way for private development on City Island,” who broke the shocking news that city officials have been “quietly working behind the scenes to get state restrictions on downtown riverfront property removed so they can ink deals with private developers interested in the public land.”

Clearly, there is money to be made off the moldering remains of Downtown Daytona – and you can bet your ass those who stand to profit won’t let us hapless yokels stand in the way of “progress.”

So, I asked the legitimate question:  Will J. Hyatt’s park and $60 million Brown & Brown headquarters complex anchor a privatized City Island and obscenely expensive courthouse on Beach Street? 

Is the Brown Riverfront Esplanade the sweetener that helps ‘what comes next’ become more palatable to a citizenry that can’t yet imagine half-empty condominiums and more vacant storefronts where our library and historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark once stood? 

After all – some might think it’s easier for all the right last names to steal and develop public land when you’ve got a multi-million-dollar quasi-public park to replace it, right?

Earlier this week, Tony Grippa, a local ‘Mover & Shaker’ and former Brown & Brown senior executive, who last year chaired the disastrously underwhelming Beachside Redevelopment Committee – a political insulation ploy comprised of our best and brightest minds, born in the aftermath of the News-Journal’s scathing “Pockmarked Paradise” series which exposed the years of blight and dilapidation that are slowly strangling our beachside – took me to the woodshed on social media for having the temerity to question the altruistic motivations of King J. Hyatt Brown:

“The Brown family has done so much for this community that your thoughts are really silly. It is okay to question many things, but the generosity and commitment of the Brown’s to this area is one that should NEVER be questioned. Sounds like you should either run for office, rethink your negativity, or Mark, give some time (or money) to the community. Please tell me you are not just the “critic”?  As President Theodore Roosevelt said: “the credit belongs to the man in (woman) the arena.” Not critic (sic) Usually enjoy your comments. (Even when I am the asshole of the week). But this time I think you are off base.”

 Look, I really enjoy digesting dissenting opinions from those with a take different from mine.

That’s how I learn.

And I am most definitively a “critic.”

But being lectured on what I “should” do by Mr. Grippa was a little hard to swallow. . .

At the risk of sounding maudlin, I dedicated my life to a cause greater than my own self-interests, something that remains a great source of personal pride.

My service, such as it was, to our nation as a member of the military – and in over three-decades as a career law enforcement officer – may have been relatively unremarkable compared to some, but I always tried to serve with honor.

I like to think that I’ve paid my dues in blood, sweat and tears – which, in my view, gives me the right to complain about the entrenched civic, economic and social issues that continue to plague much of the Halifax area – my home – even as Mr. Grippa’s fellow Illuminati ignore the past and busy themselves building a “new” Daytona Beach in the pine scrub west of town.

And, for the record, I have no desire to run for high office (for the same reason I don’t wallow with pigs) and, unlike Messrs. Grippa and Brown – I don’t have any money to “give to the community.”

What I do have is one man’s cynical opinion on the important issues of the day – something I hope drives a larger discussion of the problems we face.

Here’s a little hard-earned advice for Mr. Grippa – and anyone else who consciously choses to blindly accept the murky motivations of our ‘Rich & Powerful’ and NEVER question the true intentions of those who use immense wealth to seek power and influence over the will of others:

In my view, a healthy representative democracy, where the seat of power still resides in the will of the people, requires freedom of thought, varied viewpoints – and, as C. Wright Mills described, “The ebb and flow of discussion,” where citizens are free to think things out for themselves, form their own point of view and join the debate of competing ideas – or even write goofy opinion blogs to vent their spleen.

Then, through the competition of varied ideas, one opinion wins out – usually at the ballot box – and our duly elected representatives are duty-bound to turn thought into action in the form of public policy.

Unfortunately, in my view, what happens in Volusia County is the antithesis of this model – and it is due, in no small part, to the infusion of massive amounts of money into the political process by influential oligarchs whose often mercenary motivations dominate because they own the hearts, minds and loyalties of policymakers.

In my view, that’s not healthy in a representative democracy – and often skews the playing field in a free and open market.  The grim results of this broken system are all around us – some of which Mr. Grippa’s ill-fated committee tried valiantly to solve.

I don’t know J. Hyatt Brown personally.

I’m pretty sure we run in different social circles – because I never see him at the local watering hole I frequent to drink whiskey, swap tall tales and solve the problems of the world with hardworking men and women – many of whom feel disenfranchised by a system they can neither understand nor escape.

Those who do know Mr. Brown tell me he’s a good guy.

I sure hope so – for all our sake.

There is a maxim, often credited to Benjamin Franklin, which says, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” 

In my jaded view, ol’ Ben was right.

So, Mr. Grippa, I’ll embrace my “negativity,” hyper-critical suspicions and “silly” notions of the news and newsmakers of the day – and I will wear them proudly, like a badge of honor – just as I will continue to respect and defend your inalienable right to form your own opinions as well.

‘Merica.  That’s what it’s all about. . .

Rock on, my friends.  Have a great weekend, everyone.

 

Photo Credit: Ormond Beach Observer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Is it time to “right size” county government?

Wait a minute?

What happened to the champions of Home Rule?

What became of the whole idea that the right to self-determination in local governance is omnipotent?

What happened to the notion that small, accountable essential public services are the most manageable, responsive and community-focused – while large, unwieldy, centralized government entities become grossly inefficient and impassive with a corresponding loss of services?

And what in God’s name would make our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and freshman Councilman Ben Johnson, think that anyone would want Volusia County government to take over municipal fire services – or anything else for that matter?

On the very day the Volusia County Council smugly patted themselves on the back for “fixing” our horribly broken Volusia County emergency medical and fire services by throwing a collective $17 million of our money to repair the damage and rebuild a marginally efficient service they allowed to crumble, they announce a shameless power-grab in the form of a consolidation of municipal fire departments.

My ass.

Frankly, as a resident of an east Volusia municipality, I wouldn’t let Volusia County government within arms reach of any essential service my family and I rely on – especially in a life-and-death emergency.

The men and women of EVAC and Volusia County Fire/Rescue are dedicated professionals who have performed with incredible professionalism despite being trapped in a poorly funded and terribly managed system that has long been treated like the red-headed stepchild of county government.

For years, VCFR and EVAC suffered service and staffing reductions – despite increasing service demand due to unchecked development – which is slowly choking area roadways and stressing public infrastructure, utilities and essential services.

At their own professional peril, members of the Volusia Professional Firefighters Association were among the first to sound the klaxon on the life-threatening issues with staffing at EVAC that led Councilwoman Heather Post to fight for substantive change.

In my view, Volusia County government has a very high opinion of itself.

Considering Old Ed Kelley and his cronies are actively traveling the width and breadth of Volusia County trying their level best to convince us to take even more money out of our pockets and transfer it to government coffers as a means of correcting an infrastructure emergency that – under their watch – has been allowed to grow to an estimated $1.5 billion countywide – I’m not sure I want them anywhere near emergency services.

No thanks.

In my view, Ed Kelley couldn’t manage a goat rope. . .

During the height of the EVAC debacle – when your family and mine were placed at grave risk by the horrific mismanagement and under-staffing that caused large population centers in Volusia County to go completely unprotected for hours at a time – Volusia County fire chiefs did their level best to ensure that their citizens were protected.

For instance, Port Orange opted to purchase its own ambulance last summer after that community lost faith in the county’s system.

In addition, the Volusia County Fire Chief’s Association made countless attempts to bring substantive change and suggest solutions to critical issues in Volusia County EMS – only to be met with callous resistance and an unwillingness to address significant issues.

Now, it appears our municipal fire chiefs are about to reap the whirlwind of their valiant effort to protect their citizens and speak truth to power.

If history repeats, no one who dares bring to light the almost criminally negligent machinations of county government leaves the field unscathed – but don’t take my word for it.

Ask former Volusia County Medical Examiner Dr. Sara Zydowicz how bringing forward issues worked out for her – or former federal lobbyist Jamie Pericola – who saw his reputation besmirched by our ‘powers that be’ when he sounded the alarm on internal turmoil and abject corruption of the system by entrenched insiders.

According to reports, the Volusia County Council has asked our “new” County Manager Georgie Recktenwald to begin riding the circuit – talking to city managers about the possibility of consolidating municipal fire departments under the county’s tattered “umbrella” as a way to, “. . .cut costs and improve service to residents.”

Bullshit.

(Hey, Georgie – don’t you have an infrastructure “emergency” to manage?)

According to the incredibly mean-spirited Chairman Ed Kelley, “We’d be far better served with a unified, consolidated form of fire service than having it all split up,” he said.  “Do we need 13 fire chiefs?  Sorry fire chiefs out there.  Maybe you could be a different chief in a bigger system.”

And maybe Ed Kelley could pull his head out of his ass – but I don’t see either happening anytime soon. . .

I have a question:

Do we really need this massive, bloated and wholly unaccountable county government?

One that long-ago lost any touch with its constituents and now serves exclusively as a cheap facilitator for the transfer of tax dollars to underwrite the for-profit schemes of political insiders who perpetuate the fraud with massive campaign contributions to their bought-and-paid-for puppets on the dais of power?

How about we start the process of “right-sizing” this swollen bureaucracy that – in its purest form – should exist only to serve the needs of those living in unincorporated areas not covered by municipal services and our judicial system, tax collection and elections services?

Imagine how We, The People could lower our tax burden, improve service delivery and regain control of our county government if we simply whittled this behemoth down to its brass tacks – limiting its reach to essential services and allowing our elected officials – such as Sheriff Mike Chitwood – to have the constitutionally ordained independence to manage and administer their respective departments in a manner reflective of their political accountability to the people they serve?

Its something to think about. . .

 

 

On Volusia: The Big Whammy

There’s an old adage, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” 

Quite simply, the expression means its bad manners to inspect the teeth of a horse someone has given you – better to just say ‘thank you’ and be grateful to have received the gift.  After all, only an inconsiderate asshole would rob someone of the joy giving, right?

Well, call me an inconsiderate asshole – because I’m not sure I buy that analogy.

Especially when you are the one responsible for the care, feeding and upkeep of that horse for the next 50 years. . .

You see, I’m the naturally suspicious type – always questioning the why of things.

I also happen to believe that gifts that come with strings attached aren’t gifts at all – they are contractual agreements – a narcissistic power-play which ultimately benefits the ‘gifter’ more than the hapless recipient.

As Rachelle Sanders, producer and host of the “Science for the People” podcast wrote, “Giving can be an altruistic act, sure. But it can also be a symbol of power, dominance, and economic disparity.”

In my view, it can also be a thinly camouflaged “give with one hand, take with the other” scenario. . .

Of course, I’m talking about the recent $15 million “gift” from our own philanthropic savior, J. Hyatt Brown, who has been working overtime just to give us ill-mannered muzhiks a really nice park, which is guaranteed to salve all the civic, social and economic issues that have haunted Downtrodden Downtown Daytona like a golem – and deliver us from the squalor and desperation that has (strategically?) suppressed real estate prices in the area over decades.

A “gift” that comes with a $40-$50 million commitment from struggling taxpayers – who are currently being asked to pony-up an additional half-cent sales tax to cover a burgeoning infrastructure and utilities emergency that threatens to have us all drinking our own recycled sewage if we don’t agree to throw even more money at the same local governments that got us into this crisis in the first place. . .

“What are you talking about, Barker?”

“What brand of paranoid lunatic turns down a $15 million gift – you inconsiderate, shitheel!”

“J. Hyatt and Cici are like the Halifax area’s benevolent grandparents – they just want what’s best for us!”

“Like a loyal supporter said, “Where we’re headed is a place few of us can even dream about.”

Maybe so.

Or, just maybe, the grand Brown Riverfront Esplanade is simply a piece of a much larger puzzle, one that remains too fragmented to see the end result, which has nothing to do with us – and everything to do with facilitating a self-serving plan that will ultimately allow developers with all the right last names to exploit even more public land for private profit?

Don’t take my weird skepticism at face value – read the newspaper.

Last week, the intrepid reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s excellent exposé, “Jewel for Sale? Daytona Beach looks to clear way for private development on City Island,” broke the shocking news that city officials have been “quietly working behind the scenes to get state restrictions on downtown riverfront property removed so they can ink deals with private developers interested in the public land.”

In my warped view, I believe forces well outside of our political control have been preparing the battlefield for years – beginning with the strategic rot and lack of substantive code enforcement that allowed large swaths of downtown to fall victim to blight.

Just look at a smattering of the evidence, and decide for yourself:

In December 2017, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm sent a letter to the city’s current host for itinerant vendors during Bike Week, informing them that their contract would not be renewed after Biketoberfest that fall.

Then, in January 2018, the Daytona Beach City Commission voted to terminate the agreement, which sounded the death knell for biker-related festivities on Beach Street – killing several local small motorcycle businesses in the process.

Places like the Lynnhurst Hotel – which for much of its 121 years – stood as a dilapidated flophouse, advantageously lowering property values next to the perennially vacant overgrown lot that would become the $60 million glass and steel headquarters campus of J. Hyatt’s billion-dollar insurance intermediary.

Then, days after the city’s chief building official issued an emergency condemnation order – just as ground was being broken on the Brown & Brown edifice – the Lynnhurst was quickly demolished and hauled off.

Just like it never even existed. . .

And remember when an obscure option by a third-party consultant to raze the City Island Court House (which was billed as an uninhabitable shithole, so inherently “dangerous” it can’t possible serve as a public facility) suddenly transformed into an off-the-agenda plan to build a $260-million Taj Mahal courthouse/office complex on Beach Street without any public input?

I do.

Then, last month, we learned of plans by the good ol’ boys investment club over at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company for their mysterious Project Delta “. . .a five-story “Class A” apartment building on the corner of Bay and Palmetto as well as a multi-story parking garage at Ridgewood and Bay, with both structures connected by a covered pedestrian overpass. The buildings would include street-level retail shops.”

Now, the citizens of Daytona Beach are on the hook for $800,000 annually for maintenance and upkeep of the Brown’s Esplanade – the gift that keeps on giving – which will serve as the perfect natural buffer between the ghastly condominiums, commercial shopping and office space that will flood City Island – once that deathtrap courthouse has been demolished, our historic ballpark “The Jack” has been bulldozed and those pesky “public purposes forever” deed restrictions are legislatively removed.

Like they never even existed. . .

In my view, this secretive “Grand Plan” formulated by what the News-Journal has described as our “Rich & Powerful” is being aggressively executed in an environment where our elected officials – in some disgusting Faustian bargain with their wealthy political benefactors – stand idle while those with a profit motive are allowed to do what they wish – while We, The People underwrite it all.

After some members of the Daytona Beach City Commission had the temerity to ask questions on behalf of their constituents – for the appearance, if nothing else – Mr. Brown testily quipped, “This is the most difficult time we’ve ever had giving away $15 million.”

“We’re willing to put our ass on the line to bring back downtown Daytona Beach.”

In my view, it’s us who are putting our ass on the line – and the very future of the Halifax area hangs in the balance – yet public input in this incredibly murky plan has been nonexistent.

At the end of the day, it’s not about us.

Clearly, there is money to be made off the moldering remains of Downtown Daytona – and you can bet your ass those who stand to profit won’t let us hapless yokels stand in the way of “progress.”

So, be prepared to pay the bills and keep your pie-hole shut.  The Big Boys don’t need our participation – just our money. . .

Trust me.  The Big Whammy is coming – and the anchor will take the form of a privatized City Island and an obscenely expensive courthouse complex near J. Hyatt’s monument to his own self-importance on Beach Street.

And there’s not a damned thing you or I can do about it. . .

How long will it take the electorate of Volusia County to realize who ultimately benefits – and who pays the bills – in this oligarchical system where public input in the future of our area is neither solicited nor wanted?

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for March 22, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley

Regardless of the topic, you can always count on our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, to have a flaky take on the important issues of the day.

And by “flaky,” I mean Old Ed’s abject stupidity is as thick and dense as a buttermilk biscuit. . .

Whether he’s bashing Councilwoman Heather Post for challenging the status quo – or yammering incoherently like some demented ventriloquist’s dummy about things he doesn’t have a clue about – Old Ed’s wacky soundbites never fail to disappoint.

Normally, I find Mr. Kelley’s unique brand of political slapstick humorous – who doesn’t – but this time he crossed the line, and once again exposed himself as the meanspirited churl he’s always been.

There’s nothing funny about that.

Last November, Joel Price of Daytona Beach, a veteran of the United States Navy who describes himself as legally blind – filed suit against Volusia County, and other political jurisdictions around the state, under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, after his attempts to learn more about local government were hampered by the fact many documents available for review were incompatible with his screen reading software.

Most people who pay attention know that this has been a long-standing issue for the visually impaired as screen reader software cannot translate portable document format while many government websites use PDF to display content.

Since the ADA passed in 1990, the public and private sector have worked hard to ensure that buildings, parks and other public spaces are readily accessible to persons with disabilities – not because it’s the right thing to do – but because it’s the law.

Unfortunately, in many cases it took the force of law to ensure compliance – and I applaud Mr. Price’s efforts to make the services and information provided by government websites equally accessible to all citizens.

Many local communities have taken this movement seriously and are researching technology that will make their web content available to everyone.  For instance, to their credit, the City of Deltona has formed an ADA Compliance Committee that is studying ways to make the city’s online documents and media more accessible.

That’s a big step – especially for Deltona – a city government that isn’t exactly known for its openness and transparency. . .

Trust me – Mr. Price isn’t doing this for the money.

For instance, in a compromise agreement with Flagler County, Price will receive just a fraction of the $15,700 settlement, with the bulk going to pay legal fees.

Clearly, Mr. Price is fighting valiantly for accessibility and reasonable accommodation for all citizens attempting to interface with their government because, as his important lawsuit pointed out, “One must be informed to understand their peril. . .”   

Unfortunately, Chairman Kelley doesn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of ensuring that the visually impaired have the same right to meaningful participation in the political process as everyone else.

That’s not unusual.

There are a lot of things Mr. Kelley doesn’t understand – but that never stops his incessant slack-jawed jabbering – which always serves to expose just how far he missed the point.

Earlier this week, Chairman Kelley responded to Mr. Price’s legal action in The Daytona Beach News-Journal with his usual gracelessness, “This just makes the cost of conversion a lot more expensive,” Kelley said, adding that documents on Volusia’s website are rarely explored and that it’s unlikely Price has been truly interested in records from 137 jurisdictions. “It seems like a frivolous lawsuit.”

Jesus.  What a blathering dipshit. . .

According to experts, “In law, frivolous litigation is the practice of starting or carrying on lawsuits that, due to their lack of legal merit, have little to no chance of being won,”  and are usually filed with the intent to harass, annoy or disturb an opposing party.

In this case, Mr. Price attempted to make governments around the state aware of the accessibility issue – and gave them ample opportunity to correct the problem.

In most cases, they blatantly ignored him.

Only when his pleas for help in accessing these web-based community services, programs and public information afforded to those who are not sight impaired were disregarded did he use the Americans with Disabilities Act for its intended purpose.

I am convinced Mr. Price’s lawsuit was anything but frivolous.

In my opinion, Mr. Kelley’s crude comments and brazen indifference to the very real needs and motivations of the blind and visually impaired in their struggle for reasonable access and inclusion is a new low – even for this callous twit.

Angel              Deltona Strong

 One of my favorite quotes comes from the late cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 A sentiment embodied by those intrepid souls of Deltona Strong.

The community-based organization bills itself as a “…grassroots citizens action coalition located in Deltona, Florida.  As non-partisan non-profit, we strive to break down barriers to achieving an inclusive and engaged community. We research issues that have a negative impact to our community and strategize to identify solutions to challenges for Deltona residents.”

Formed over a year ago by a group of concerned residents, the group’s president, Dana McCool is famous for taking a courageous stand against the city’s grossly unfair and wildly fluctuating water billing policy by paying her utility bill with $500 in pennies – all while livestreaming her simple, but effective, protest on social media.

I loved it.

The effort is guided by McCool, the group’s president; Troy Shimkus, vice president; and Terri Ellis, the communications director. The group’s advisory board includes veteran civic activists Brandy White, Dayle Whitman and Christina Larsen.

Since its inception, Deltona Strong has demanded government accountability, remained focused on building a stronger, more cohesive community through outreach and ambassadorships, and partnered with elected and appointed officials to address lingering civic problems.

In my view, any community activist seeking to make a transformational change at the local level need look no further than the hardworking members of Deltona Strong for example and inspiration.

Through a core commitment to building a better community, Deltona Strong has become an important voice in the life of Volusia County’s largest city.

Tomorrow morning, beginning at 9:00am, Deltona Strong – in cooperation with Mayor Heidi Herzberg – will host a water, septic and sewer forum at City Hall Chambers, 2345 Providence Boulevard.

During the meeting, residents will be invited to participate in an in-depth discussion of public utilities issues, and Ms. McCool will provide an update on the audit of the Deltona Water Department.

Kudos to Deltona Strong for your quality efforts to make a positive difference.

Angel              The Daytona Beach News-Journal

This might sound like a backhanded compliment, but I’m going to say it anyway.

In my view, the News-Journal has taken the lead on public education campaigns on every important civic and social issue facing Volusia County from beachside blight and dilapidation to this goofy half-cent sales tax money grab.

I’m glad they stepped up to the plate to provide a forum for a meaningful exchange of information – especially when those who should have, didn’t.

Where I take exception is the one-sided composition of the presenters – which appears to be limited to those lock-step cheerleaders for a higher sales tax – including our addled County Chair Ed Kelley, Volusia’s “new” County Manager Georgie Recktenwald and usually a few yokels from the respective city crying the poor-mouth blues.

To many, given the make-up of the dais, these forums appear to be little more than a propaganda organ of the pro-tax crowd – a cheap infomercial for all the wonderful things that will come our way if we just rollover and take it like good little taxpaying drones.

At a recent Town Hall forum sponsored by the News-Journal in West Volusia, citizen-activist Keith Chester – who is rapidly emerging as an important voice of opposition to the tax hike – stood before this “Phalanx of Positivity” (a performance expertly choreographed by Sales Tax Guru Steve Vancore of Clearview Research) and asked the hard questions.

According to reports, Old Ed patronized Mr. Chester, and the assembled citizens, with his ridiculous “trust me” promises and empty guarantees:

“County Chair Ed Kelley assured Chester that state law mandates the tax to sunset in 20 years. And while the money is coming in, it would be put to good use, Kelley said.

“I can guarantee you while I’m here we will not waste your money,” Kelley promised.”

“I can assure you the money will be used for these purposes and you can hold your local elected officials accountable,” Kelley said.”

Then, in perhaps the most bald-faced ruse in the short history of this clumsy shit-show, Old Ed tugged at the heartstrings of citizens desperate for hard answers by using the fallback “It’s for the kids” argument, “A lot of this half-cent sales tax is about tomorrow,” he said. “It’s for our children and grandchildren. A lot of its longer-term issues.”

Bullshit.

It’s about the children alright.

Many of us are working hard to spread the word that if these gluttonous bastards have their way, our children and grandchildren will be saddled with a crippling gas, property and sales tax burden that will make living in Volusia County all but impossible for many struggling families.

Then, Chairman Kelley attempted to convince the crowd that the much-ballyhooed Advisory Review Committee “will make sure each half-cent sales tax dollar is spent as pledged.”

The problem is – that’s not what the actual ordinance says – and Ed Kelley damn well knows it.

Carefully constructed language in the ordinance makes the oversight committee little more than a toothless watchdog – with “no decision-making authority” – whose members are merely “nominated” by the municipalities, but “appointed” by royal edict of the county council – and serve completely at the whim and “will of the county council?

So, how is this neutered “review board” supposed to “make sure each half-cent sales tax dollar is spent as pledged,” when the members can be terminated with extreme prejudice anytime they make an advisory recommendation contrary to the shady intrigues of county council members and their uber-wealthy handlers?

That’s not autonomous oversight.  That’s a rubber-stamp.

In my view, News-Journal Editor Pat Rice should consider reaching out to local dissidents – those who have a well-researched opinion on this shameless scam – such as Daytona Beach activists Ken Strickland and Greg Gimbert, former county council candidate Jeff Brower or the well-informed Keith Chester.

(Anyone but me – I have to wash my beard that night. . .)

By doing so, these important discussions would offer a point/counterpoint alternative to the carefully crafted pap, fluff and talking points – and help challenge the well-heeled power structure that is spending lavishly to see this sales tax increase become a reality for hard-working Volusia County families who can least afford it.

Asshole           Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler

When it came down to standing up for the fundamental principles of American democracy – Weak Billie Wheeler proved, once again, that she simply does not possess the backbone and strength of character to stand with her constituents against the entrenched oligarchy that passes for governance in Volusia County.

At Tuesday’s county council meeting, our dullards on the dais of power decided on a 4-3 split vote to continue the county’s expensive, and incredibly divisive, challenge to Amendment 10 – a measure passed by 53% of Volusia County voters which returns constitutional authority to the office of sheriff, property appraiser and elections supervisor.

Why?

Because when Volusia County’s power elite decide they don’t agree with a decision of the voters – they unleash the full might of County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert to overturn the majority decision of We, The People as they maintain a death grip on the status quo.

In my view, this is the antithesis of a functional democracy – one accountable to the supreme power of the people – and represents an insidious form of subjugation, where our vote only counts if it meets the approval and serves the needs of the ruling class.

It may be a benevolent form of tyranny – the direct oppression of the will of the people cloaked in the velvet glove of protecting our “Home Rule” – but it reeks with the stench of dictatorial rule.

When it came to the nut cutting hour, Weak Billie Wheeler changed her stated goal of dropping the suit to “get on with business,” and joined the always arrogant Deb Denys, the Very Reverend Fred Lowry and our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, in the majority vote to permit Cujo Eckert to continue this sinister push to overturn our sacred vote.

Apparently, Weak Billie was swayed by Councilman Lowry’s patented argument that you and I are too damn stupid to understand what we were voting for in the first place – which, you may recall – was the same spiteful reasoning the Old Guard used when they attempted to suppress transportation impact fees for their benefactors in the real estate development industry.

In his typically condescending  way, Rev. Lowry said, “Do you like babies, puppies and cats, and by the way, we are going to change your charter.  I found not one single person who understood we were changing the charter. That’s why I’m supportive of this. People just weren’t aware of what they were voting for with this measure.”

Bullshit.

Once again, the Vicar of Verbosity – the Bishop of Bullshit – proves that he will say anything to protect the status quo – even if it means trampling the rights of those he has sworn to serve. . .

Not to be outdone, Councilwoman Deb Denys once again lectured her long-suffering colleagues on her unique brand of “leadership” when she crowed, “We started this, and we need to finish this. That’s what leaders do.  We’ve come this far, so I think we need to see it all the way through to the Supreme Court and get a final determination.”

(Hey, Deb – you are not a leader – you’re a dull tool of special interests that are slowly exsanguinating Volusia County – you know it, and we know it – so stop the Dale Carnegie routine and stay in your lane. . .)

Just for the record, what true leaders do is understand and respect that all governmental power derives from the will of the people – as expressed through our sacred vote – in fact, it is what members of the United States Military have fought and died to preserve for 238 years – and anything less is an affront to all we hold dear in this country.

In fact, what we are witnessing here bears no resemblance to leadership.

As a smart friend said, “This fight isn’t about Home Rule.  It’s about who rules.”

In my view, council members Ben Johnson, Heather Post and Barbara Girtman demonstrated incredible statesmanship – and acted in the highest traditions of our system of representative democracy – when, despite their personal reservations, they stood tall in support of the will of the majority of Volusia County voters and voted to uphold our hallowed right to self-determination.

“This will rewrite our government and it will create a cost to us,” Councilman Johnson said. “And even though we can second guess and say this would not have passed if it wasn’t for the bundling…I’m going to have to go with 53 percent and it’s one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make.”

Folks, that’s what unselfish service to a cause greater than one’s own self-interest looks like.

That’s true leadership in action.

Asshole           City of Ormond Beach

Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse – the City of Ormond Beach goes and lowers the bar – completing its noxious transition from local government to cheap facilitator.

This week we learned the incredibly disturbing news that the Ormond Beach Police Department on West Granada Boulevard is apparently in grave danger of flooding in the event of a catastrophic hurricane – and the building, which was built just 18-years ago at a cost of $1.3 million, has been allowed to fall into such disastrous disrepair that our City Commission was recently forced to commission a $30,000 “feasibility study” which will list at least three alternatives to occupying this toxic site.

Bullshit.

I’ll bet you a Donnie’s Donut that whatever this “study” ultimately shows – it will result in the Ormond Beach Police Department being displaced – and it has absolutely nothing to do with hurricanes and roof repairs – and everything to do with ensuring that the incredibly desirable real estate it sits on becomes accessible to local developers.

There is nothing wrong with the building that cannot be repaired or mitigated – and the facility has never flooded.  Ever.

For over 30-years I served in a local government that was housed in a City Hall facility built in 1940 by the Works Progress Administration – and has now been in continuous service to the citizens of Holly Hill for some 77-years.

It proves what can be accomplished with an attention to preventive maintenance, by living within the community’s means – and building upon an indomitable spirit of civic pride and sense of tradition that has been lost in places like Ormond Beach that value political power and greed over quality of life.

Now, we live in an era where local governments routinely employ the malicious tactic of creating faux emergencies to facilitate the transfer of public assets to private interests with a profit motive.

These ploys usually begin by allowing publicly-owned facilities to strategically rot through lack of maintenance or repair – or a potentially “dangerous” condition is suddenly discovered, usually supported by the “expert” opinions of flexible professionals on the public payroll who go along to get along – which leaves taxpayers with few options beyond building a Taj Mahal replacement.

In this case, the Ormond Beach Main Street project has made wonderful changes to Granada Boulevard – and it is transforming our community’s downtown into something incredibly special.

Why not simply tell citizens of Ormond Beach that the Police Department is sitting on valuable land that could be used to enhance and expand the mixed-use streetscape?

Why ruin it with the stench of lies? 

This blatant deception speaks to how far removed our elected and appointed officials in Ormond Beach have become from the citizens they serve.

Rather than represent our best interests – the City Commission now perpetrates a gross fraud against their constituents – creating fantastic stories of how a relatively new public facility has become all but uninhabitable – as a cheap means of facilitating the transfer of the property to those who would develop it for private gain.

My God.

What have we become? 

Angel               Bethune-Cookman Lady Wildcats

The Bethune-Cookman Lady Wildcats are going to the Big Dance!

Last Saturday, Bethune-Cookman took Norfolk State 57-45 to claim the 2019 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) women’s basketball championship at Scope Arena.  This huge win represents the Wildcats second ever MEAC tournament title and earned the team an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

Here’s a special Barker’s View “Angel Status” to B-CU Senior Angel Golden, and the Lady Wildcat’s fantastic coach, Vanessa Blair-Lewis, who took home the Tournament’s Outstanding Player and Outstanding Coach honors respectively.

Tomorrow morning, B-CU will take on arguably the best team in woman’s college basketball when they face defending champion Notre Dame to kick off March Madness!

You can watch the action on ESPN-2 beginning at 11:00am.

I hope you’ll join me in cheering on our own Lady Wildcat’s on their fist ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament!

Way to go, lady’s!

Win or lose, you have made us incredibly proud!

 Quote of the Week

“Since companies supporting the PAC (Volusia Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water) are convinced that more funds are so critically needed, I will wait for the Speedway and Brown & Brown, as well as Tanger Outlets, to return public money given to them, and voluntarily rescind any future incentives. This would be done in the spirit of being good corporate citizens, and to lead by their example. In addition, all amenity fees, that fake tax-like charge added to all purchases at The Pavilion, One Daytona and Tanger Outlets, should now be remitted to local governments for infrastructure needs. I did not need government corporate welfare money in my 41 years in business in Volusia County, so why do these very successful private enterprises require it?”

–Bernard Baran, Port Orange, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “Writers weigh in on sales tax hike,” Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Well said, sir.  But don’t hold your breath. . .

When it comes to the stream of public funds – that’s a one way spigot – with a built-in backflow preventer that ensures We, The People, whose sole role in the process is to feed an insatiable machine, rarely, if ever, see a return on the massive investments we make in the for-profit schemes of the ‘Rich & Powerful.’

But Mr. Baran makes an excellent point.

Thousands of local small businesses struggle to survive in this artificial economy, where our politicians pick winners and losers by skewing the playing field with an infusion of public funds whenever the right last names need us to cover their overhead and reduce risk with tax abatement ploys, infrastructure improvements and other quid pro quo corporate welfare scams.

All while the little guy never sees a dime. . .

When that isn’t enough – politicians permit developers to keep the flow going with “enhanced amenity fees” – a sales tax by any other name – on purchases we make at the very shopping centers we helped to underwrite in the first place.

Then, like the greed-crazed tax-suckers they are, these same “corporate citizens” have the impudence to demand that their elected intermediaries return to the well and demand even more of our hard-earned cash at the point-of-sale with a sales tax increase?

That takes balls. . .

And Another Thing!

 Next week, I will have been a member of the leisure class for five years.

Wow.  How time flies.

During my professional life, I had the opportunity to work on some of the most entrenched civic issues of our time – working with stakeholders in the public, private and faith communities to solve problems and bring about positive change.

I enjoyed that part of the job.

In my view, no issue was more important than juvenile justice reforms designed to protect vulnerable young people from being taken into the gaping maw of the criminal justice system – which invariably led to children leaving school and becoming part of what some refer to as the “School-to-Prison Pipeline.”

One local organization has been at the forefront of the effort to institute a civil citation program in Volusia County

In an excellent editorial authored by the inspirational co-leaders of Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony (F.A.I.T.H.) – the Rev. Kathy Tew-Ricky of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ormond Beach and Pedro Dash of Tubman-King Community Church wrote:

“F.A.I.T.H. found evidence that Volusia County indeed tops not only Florida but our nation in out-of-school suspensions and juvenile arrests. A corresponding low graduation rate is not surprising. With this information, F.A.I.T.H. began to research solutions that would keep our communities and schools safer while also correcting misbehavior. The solutions proved to be civil citations in lieu of arrests and restorative practices in our schools. Each of these solutions assures accountability and restitution by juvenile offenders.”

I can assure you that – unless things have drastically changed in the five years since I retired – local law enforcement executives wholeheartedly support reasonable alternatives to arrest and incarceration for young, non-violent offenders – and many are long-term partners with F.A.I.T.H. in supporting the civil citation and other diversion programs in Volusia County.

Now, F.A.I.T.H. is taking on the difficult problem of student discipline.

The organization of 28 inter-faith congregations will hold its 2019 Action Assembly on Monday, April 8th at 6:30pm at Peabody Auditorium.  Last years meeting was attended by nearly 2,000 people who collectively asked for a commitment from our elected and appointed officials to help bring positive change to often broken systems.

This year, School Board members Ida Wright, Carl Persis and Ruben Colon will appear, along with Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood, Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri, Chief Probation Officer Dan Merrithew and Volusia County Council members Heather Post, Billie Wheeler and Barbara Girtman.

I hope you will take the opportunity to join me for a wonderful evening as we join with “good people doing good work” to ensure a bright future for the youth of our communities.

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