Death and Taxes. . .

“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

–Benjamin Franklin, 1789

You want an uplifting story of deliverance from the darkness – a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ feel-good fairytale of redemption and recovery?

Me too. 

Unfortunately, you are not going to find it here. 

Look, I am not a sociologist (I consider myself lucky to have escaped the Volusia County school system with a high school diploma) – just a cantankerous old crank who sits on the proverbial park bench of life watching the world go by.

What I’ve seen of late isn’t pretty. . .

I spent the bulk of my life in public service – studying, developing, and exercising the art and science of emergency management – determining best practices and protocols for protecting life and property during emergent situations, working from a multi-disciplinary approach, bringing experts together from law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, public works, civil engineers, and other government and private entities to plan for the worst when things were calm.

Then, when the chips are down and the wolf comes to call – hurricanes, hazardous materials incidents, wildfires, etc. – those responsible for emergency management, operations, logistics, finance, and their myriad support functions all work cooperatively – reacting almost instinctively in a dynamic environment, practiced to such a degree that even when we get small things wrong, nobody notices. 

Those times are where friendships, collegiality, and community partnerships prove their value. 

I knew my counterparts in other agencies, and they knew me. 

We spent time together at large-scale exercises, conferences, and advanced training programs at places like the National Emergency Management Training Center at Emmitsburg, Maryland, where we socialized together, traded ideas and experiences, broke down barriers, and developed confidence in one another’s abilities.

As a result, there were few offices at the local, state, or federal level of government that I couldn’t pick up the phone and reach a friend – someone who would drop everything to help solve a problem in my community – confident I would do the same for them.   

That included our partners in the media – who play such a crucial role in pushing time sensitive information during a crisis.    

Our success in the areas of disaster mitigation, response, and recovery developed internal and external confidence in the “system” – which is why in an emergency, the public has faith in their emergency management officials to do the right thing – a relationship that transcends their well-developed suspicions of general government. 

It is why we willingly make personal preparedness plans, heed official warnings, follow evacuation orders, and engage in mitigation efforts before disaster strikes.

It’s called hard-earned trust

When the coronavirus pandemic emerged early last year, I felt certain that our public health service and emergency management agencies would quickly have the task well in hand – providing proven prevention strategies, calming the fears of a worried public with a skillful and organized public information campaign – our political leadership taking a step back and allowing the experts to manage the crisis, media outlets working cooperatively to assuage fear with fact – and our friends, family, and neighbors coming together, putting our social and political differences aside, in a united effort to eradicate a dangerous scourge, just as we have done before.   

Yeah, right. . .    

Don’t get me wrong – there was a moment in time when the “we’re all in this together” mantra seemed to gain traction – but it was tragically short-lived – ending the exact second egomaniacal politicians began preening, posturing, and grandstanding in an election year – and corporate media conglomerates opted for sensationalism and speculation over fact-based reporting.

Like falling dominos, one-by-one our local elected and appointed “leadership” proved to be anything but – abdicating their sworn responsibility, some transforming into dictatorial tyrants, corrupting both the meaning and purpose of “local emergency declarations,” while trusted emergency management professionals were pushed aside, given little (if any) role, as our public health services became withdrawn and uncommunicative under orders from above.   

Then craven politicians sought to control the message with self-aggrandizing shills who took over our televisions – spouting conflicting recommendations peppered with wild political rhetoric cleverly designed to divide us along ideological lines – and any doctor, director, or scientist who didn’t toe the official line was discredited and destroyed.     

Widespread and wholly subjective “mandates” were implemented, state and local governments shuttered certain businesses while bolstering others, the newly unemployed forced into a demonstrably broken system, the core recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (which changed little since the early days of the outbreak) were ignored, schools were closed with a generation of students unable to read or write effectively, and many rightfully felt our foundational liberties were being eroded in exchange for a marginal degree of “safety.”

Because they are.    

All while the campaign season reached a fever pitch and Republicans and Democrats engaged in trench warfare – both sides using the abysmal response to the crisis as a weapon – rather than demonstrate unity and purpose of action in the public interest.

And the body count continued to mount.  

Then, it was every man, woman, and child for themselves. . . 

Instead of responding in accordance with established emergency management protocols governing mass immunizations – early distribution sites turned into disorganized cattle calls, with the elderly and infirm forced to sleep in their cars, enduring freezing temperatures on the shoulder of the road in the hinterlands, only to be turned away when supplies were exhausted. 

Then, young, healthy politicians (and their immediate family members) who were implementing draconian measures under emergency ordinances, bankrupting families, and destroying long established businesses, were seen sauntering past queues of senior citizens who were waiting for limited doses, literally pushing aside those with comorbidities who urgently needed the vaccine to survive, in the most grotesque display of political privilege in history.   

Quickly, trust in the process evaporated as the media opted to fan the culture wars – pitting the “vaxxed” against the “unvaxxed,” masked against unmasked, flaunting dubious daily statistics which were later proven to be weeks old or have no basis in fact – ultimately turning a public health crisis into an “Us v. Them” political battle royale divided along “blue” and “red” lines.

Now, as the Delta variant sweeps the nation, it is no longer about protecting the public and managing a crisis, and all about who can stoop lower to debase and dehumanize the “enemy” – and I’m not talking about the virus. . .    

Don’t believe me?

Last month, The Daytona Beach News-Journal lost its last shred of dignity when it ran a bold headline over an incredibly callous Letter to the Editor which announced, “It’s hard to feel sympathy for anti-vax, anti-mask people who get sick or die from COVID.”

Part of this heartless screed read:

“The first thing that actually comes to mind when I read articles about these folks is “good riddance.” That’s a horrible reaction for any fellow human to have, but it’s there. The sooner they leave, the sooner responsible people can get our society back to respecting one another and looking out for the common good.”

Say what?

“Responsible people”? 

“Respecting one another”? 

“Good riddance”?

It’s hard to feel sympathy for those who are sick and dying? 

My God. 

Was this the lowest of the low?

Hardly. 

To add insult, Volusia County officials are now meeting to discuss how they plan to spend millions-of-dollars in virtually “unrestricted” (thanks to what the News-Journal called “creative accounting”) federal coronavirus relief funds – so much “free” money floating down from on high that our politicians don’t have a clue how to squander it all.

For instance, of the $77 million being spent – with hundreds of our neighbors hospitalized or dead – just $1 million has been budgeted “…for remaining COVID-19 expenses, like PPE, testing and advertising.”

Of course, they kicked off the spending spree by showering the bureaucracy, top to bottom, with cash bonuses while maneuvering to raise property taxes on already strapped families desperately seeking a way out of a dark hole, in some obscene grab for more, more, more.

A recovery “plan” as disastrous as the response – guaranteeing even more death and taxes. . .

Let’s hope that when COVID-19 is finally curbed We, The People never forget how we were manipulated, and so horribly divided, by those in government and the media – the very foundational institutions of our democracy – who turned a viral public health threat into a political shitshow to further their own craven self-interests.   

_____________________________________________

This afternoon Barker’s View joins GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm. 

We’ll be taking your calls and talking local issues on the fastest two-hours in radio!

Join us at 1380am The Cat – or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button). 

Thanks!

Angels & Assholes for August 6, 2021

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

The Nobel prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein, widely considered the most influential mind of the 20th century, is credited with discovering the laws of thermodynamics – a series of complex equations which explain why energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only changed from one form to another.

Clearly, I’m no genius, but I beg to differ with Mr. Einstein’s theory. . . 

You see, Old Al never had the opportunity to sit through one of those interminable bimonthly hootenannies that pass for a Volusia County Council meeting – a soul crushing political black hole so dense that logic, purpose, and reason cannot escape – an exercise in utter ineptitude with the supernatural ability to convert useful energy into wasted time.

The only byproduct of this strange conversion of light into effective darkness being the lingering carnival-like odor of fresh horseshit and spent peanut shells on the floor of a big top.         

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council trudged through its longest meeting of the year – a painful exercise that stretched from 9:30am to its merciful adjournment around 7:15pm – an excruciating session, long on hot air and frustratingly short on substance.

I know.  I listened to every insufferable minute of it here at Barker’s View HQ. . .

Things got off to an odd start (weirder than usual, anyway) when Chairman Jeff Brower attempted to gavel the festivities to order, only to find the council did not have a quorum present, which sent him wandering across the dais, awkwardly attempting to roundup enough of our elected decision-makers to warrant a meeting.   

While Councilwoman Heather Post finally joined the fun – Councilman Ben Johnson and The Right Reverend Fred Lowry never made an appearance. . .

For the most part, the marathon meeting was rather benign. Then that omnipresent undercurrent of political intrigue slithered its way through the murk, setting off the passive-aggressive shitshow we have come to expect.    

That long denied and unseen demon that sows discontent in the chamber was working hard by the time Chairman Brower’s goofy “Bill of Rights” resolution was called – which, for reasons known only to Mr. Brower – sought to remind his “colleagues” of their oath of office, and assuage the fears of a few jittery constituents, by pointing out Volusia County’s fundamental duty to have unconstitutional actions of the executive and legislative branches of government reviewed by the judiciary.   

We needed a resolution to remind us of that?

I’m asking.  Because the whole thing had a weird vibe to it.   

Unfortunately, Chairman Brower played right into his detractor’s hands – and The Daytona Beach News-Journal took another opportunity to publicly spank him, labeling Mr. Brower an “oddball,” and wrongly blaming him for the divisiveness on the dais – all for the amusement of Volusia’s stodgy Old Guard – insiders who are desperate to rid themselves of Brower’s populism and return to the bad old days of good old boy cronyism.       

Whatever. 

Look, our inalienable rights and responsibilities ensured by the United States Constitution do not need a nonsensical resolution by some stunted backwater like Volusia County, Florida to survive.

They need to be exercised by We, The People.  Otherwise, our sacred protections will atrophy.   

Unfortunately, substantive participation in our government is not easy when politicians at all levels seem more interested in furthering their own self-interests, and those of their wealthy benefactors, than serving the needs of their long-suffering constituents. 

I think Mr. Brower’s heart was in the right place when he sought to reassure those who fear our liberties are being eroded – because in some cases they are – and I do not believe his symbolic gesture was meant to be contentious.   

However, like the majority of Brower’s “colleagues,” I could not for the life of me understand the purpose (or intent) of the resolution? 

That said, I found it laughable that lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler had the cheek to use Brower’s proposed resolution as cheap camouflage for her on-going role in the shit-slinging and marginalization that she and her “colleagues” who comprise the Praetorian Guard of Volusia County’s stagnant status quo – zealously protecting the interests of the emperors – while working overtime to freeze out Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post for having the temerity to think for themselves.

“I really pray that we stop this divisiveness,” Wheeler feebly puled. “I really don’t see the purpose in this.”

Bullshit.   

Anyone paying attention can see that Councilwoman Wheeler is a lockstep conformist with a mean streak a mile wide – a cunning political elitist who routinely joins with her confederates to put the proverbial knife in Chairman Brower’s back – just as she has done for Councilwoman Post for the past five-years – then mewls and coos like Aunt Martha Brewster when she gets called out.      

Don’t take my word for it. 

Take a strong antiemetic and watch any archived video of the tag team match that passes for “the people’s business” over the last eight-months and you will quickly get a feel for why votes on the issues that affect our lives and livelihood consistently fall 5-2. 

Just prior to The Great Bill of Rights kerfuffle came an issue I waited patiently for – not some boring budget discussion (trust me, your taxes are going up.  By how much?  TBD), or some monotone snooze-fest explaining the outcome of an internal audit – but the mysterious mechanics of “expanding” the rules of decorum for public meetings. 

At the last meeting in July, the item was abruptly postponed without explanation (I assumed the gabfest had gone well-past Rev. Lowry’s naptime?), a formally noticed item to begin preliminary discussion and staff direction on an amended ordinance which directly affects the who, what, when, where, why, and how you and I can publicly address our elected officials. 

That’s important to me.

Unfortunately, our ability to be heard – to personally appear, hat in hand – and reverently genuflect before the anointed ones to petition our government for the redress of grievances in a suitably docile and subservient manner, consistent with the sensitive decorum of their gilded chamber – is not all that important to those sitting in the catbird seats on the other side of the divide. 

It went much like I expected. Limiting public input while telling us they weren’t limiting public input. . .

According to the excellent live play-by-play offered by News-Journal reporter Mary Helen Moore – on the question, “Does the council wish to set aside a specific time for public comment on non-agenda matters?”

——————————————————— Cut Here ————————————————————

“Wheeler said she’d like to go back to limiting public comment at the beginning of the meeting to 30 minutes or an hour max. Girtman said she agreed. Post does not. She said she wants as much public comment at the beginning of the meeting as possible, and they can accommodate those with time constraints on an as-needed basis. Robins said they have a ton of ways to communicate with constituents. “This is not telling people we don’t want to hear them,” Wheeler said. Brower said he won’t vote for that. “I can’t support that. I think one of the most important things we do is listen to the public,” Brower said. Wheeler motioned for a one-hour time limit at the beginning of the meeting. Vote passes 3-2, with Brower and Post voting no.”

——————————————————— Cut Here ————————————————————

(Instructions: Cut this out.  Paste it on your refrigerator.  Remember it at the ballot box next year.)

Things went downhill from there. . .

I will not attempt to summarize the budget discussion, but the part where Councilman Robins (who knew exactly which buttons to push) “suggested” that if the council demands a 5% across the board budget reduction – then the elected officials should be required to take a commensurate pay cut and curtail spending for business-related travel – is Comedy Gold. 

If it weren’t so tragic. . .   

In my view, the near apoplectic response from Councilwoman Post – who has proven herself a full-time public servant, one who has sacrificed her professional pursuits (Read: personal income) in service to her constituents – exemplified how two elected officials can come at the same job with completely different priorities.

This isn’t the first time the issue of council member’s pay has been raised – but it was the only time in modern history that I have heard a sitting elected official recommend a reduction to show solidarity with a grossly bloated bureaucracy that Brower and Post have asked to tighten its belt a notch. . .      

In January 2020, (before Mr. Robins was elected) during a workshop to discuss proposed charter amendments, former Council Chair Ed Kelley grumbled:

“I’m trying to whittle away at some things that make no sense. And I’ll get crucified for saying this, but I’m going to say it.  We’re paid 50 percent of what is recommended that everybody else is paid, and that we’re not remunerated for anything else.”

Old Ed’s mournful rendition of the Poormouth Blues was immediately supported by Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, who, in a pique of jealousy, moaned (as quoted in a subsequent News-Journal article):

“We don’t get reimbursed for any of our expenses,” said Wheeler, going on to describe the travel across the county and state to attend meetings they say they are expected to attend.  Wheeler said when she goes to out-of-town meetings, the other elected officials share their salaries.

“They’re sitting there with their car allowance as well as their assistant with them, when we don’t have any of that,” said Wheeler. “I just think, all we can do is throw it out there.”

Hell, it was like listening to Ma and Pa Joad describe the depravities of poverty in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. . .

Interestingly, on Tuesday, only Councilwoman Barb Girtman came to Ms. Post’s aid:

“Don’t think someone’s taking advantage because they’re traveling or going to a (Florida Association of Counties) conference and spending their time getting educated about how to bring back more,” Girtman suggested. “It’s ridiculous for the amount of time, opportunity and resources that we have to pour into this position to do the job right.”

If anyone doubted that Councilman Robins’ virtue-cloaked “suggestion” wasn’t laser targeted at Ms. Post – that confusion evaporated when he posted an itemized accounting of all travel-related expenses for individual council members on social media – raw figures without context which show Post has far surpassed her colleagues in travel over the past four-years. 

So, is Ms. Post a spendthrift who wastes tax dollars on out-of-county junkets? 

Or are the others comfortable living in the “Volusia vacuum,” too damn lazy to get off their sorry ass and explore what is working elsewhere, attend training seminars, confer with other elected officials, or lobby for our collective interests in Washington and Tallahassee where the real decisions are made?

You be the judge.

Clearly, Mr. Robins is a bright boy who knows how to lob a loaded suggestion to provoke a desired effect in exchange for an affectionate pat on the head from those powerful external forces (many from their own political party) who are also working hard to see Brower and Post fail. 

I hope Councilman Robins understands that his constituents who pay attention (and vote) are savvy enough to tell when a politician is sincere – and when he is actively campaigning against a fellow elected official from that lofty perch on the dais of power.    

In my view, Mr. Robins misplaced guile exposes the depths to which he – and the other lockstep marionettes he aligns with – will go to gaslight Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post, marginalize their effectiveness, and torpedo their political future.    

By any metric, this chickenshit manipulation and petty finger-pointing is counterproductive – especially in an environment where long-suffering taxpayers are patiently waiting for a way out of this social, civic, and economic quagmire – demanding something in return for suffering under a growing weight of a tax burden that places Volusia County in the top 5% of counties nationwide and 6th on a list of the highest taxed counties in the state. 

My God.     

At the end of the day, in the maelstrom of the worst public health crisis since the pandemic began, did our exalted elected officials demonstrate unity, concern, and collegiality? 

No.

With discussions of a proposed $1.1 billion budget underway, did our representatives provide reassurance to weary taxpayers – or work cooperatively to find legitimate ways to conserve resources or make this massive bureaucratic behemoth slightly more efficient and effective?

No. 

Instead, they pissed in each other’s Wheaties – embarrassing themselves, and their constituents, with cheap parlor tricks and bickering – then tried to convince us it was something different. 

Mindboggling. 

With an election looming next year, our powers that be who smugly sit in the inner-circle should realize these contemptable tactics are a double-edged sword – politics as usual, played at close range – and times they are a-changin’.  

Angel               Volusia County Medical Professionals

We have a crisis at hand.

One that transcends the posturing of pandering politicians, fearmongering newspaper salesmen, and the cockamamie rumors of radical conspiracy theorists – a true emergency – and lives hang in the balance. 

The sobering fact is that a variant of COVID-19 has made a resurgence nationwide – and Volusia County has seen a dramatic increase in the number of very sick people requiring hospitalization – a situation that is taxing limited critical care resources and pushing those incredibly dedicated professionals who stand on the front line in the fight for life to the absolute limits of physical and emotional endurance.

This week, reporter Nikki Ross, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s front-page piece, ‘My dream is a living hell,’ told the chilling story of 26-year-old Lauren Anderson, an emergency room nurse at Halifax Health Medical Center, who attempted to communicate with a gravely ill COVID-19 patient last week by writing notes, trying desperately to convince her breathless patient they needed to be put on a ventilator – or they would die. 

Imagine the psychological toll that takes on a young caregiver?

Based upon the number of people I know personally who are currently hospitalized – and those I have become aware of through mutual friends and social media – I am quite certain Nurse Anderson’s story is not unique. 

The recent surge has resulted in the tragic loss of so many wonderful souls in our community – including the recent death of Justin White, a loving husband, father of four, and 15-year veteran of the Port Orange Police Department – who left an indelible mark on the lives of others through his tireless volunteerism and service to the community.   

(Please follow this link to help Officer White’s family: https://tinyurl.com/4x3frfvn )

Sadly, the losses continue to mount.   

The written word cannot adequately describe my enduring admiration and respect for the compassionate nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, first responders, technicians, pharmacists, food service workers, janitorial personnel, administrators, and the dedicated support staff working around-the-clock at hospitals and nursing facilities, serving our community under difficult and dangerous circumstances to heal the sick and comfort the dying.

In my view, these are the true angels among us – talented men and women who strive mightily to preserve life while putting their own health and safety at risk.    

God’s work. 

Healthcare choices are an intensely personal matter. 

For me, after much research, a consultation with my long-suffering physician, the intrepid Dr. Sandford Kinne, and careful contemplation, I received a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as it became available to my age group.

I continue to follow the commonsense recommendations of public health experts to protect myself and others – and I sincerely hope that you will do the same.   

Getting the jab was the right decision for me – but I refuse to participate in the debasement and dehumanization of those who, for myriad reasons, determine the vaccine is not right for them. 

But for those who are considering the vaccine – now is the time. 

Regardless of your choice, please remain vigilant – take care of yourself and each other – and formulate a responsible plan for protecting your family until this scourge has been eliminated. 

This one’s important. 

Quote of the Week

“The Justice Department announced today a settlement agreement with Florida’s Volusia County School District (VCS) to address the district’s systemic and discriminatory practices that punish students with disabilities for their disability-related behavior and deny them equal access to VCS’s programs and services.

The department conducted an investigation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida received a complaint from a local legal aid organization on behalf of several students, many of whom have Autism Spectrum Disorder. The complaint alleged that VCS unnecessarily excluded students with disabilities from the school’s education programs and services by regularly: (1) requiring parents or guardians to pick up their children with disabilities from school or to keep them home; (2) disciplining students for behavior resulting from their disability; and (3) engaging with law enforcement to remove students with disabilities, one as young as kindergarten age, from school.

The department’s investigation substantiated the allegations in the complaint, confirming that VCS had excluded students with disabilities from its programs and services through unnecessary removals from the classroom.  It also found that VCS staff often failed to implement necessary behavioral supports and lacked training on how to properly respond to students’ disability-related behavior. These issues led to the exclusion of students with disabilities from VCS’s programs and services and, at times, resulted in calls to law enforcement to remove students with disabilities from school, including through the misuse of Florida’s Baker Act procedures. . .

–United States Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, as excerpted from an official media release, “Justice Department Settles with Florida’s Volusia County School District to Protect Students with Disabilities from Classroom Removals and Other Discrimination,” Tuesday, August 3, 2021

And Another Thing!

Thanks for being here.  I appreciate it more than you know. 

Sometimes I must sound like a broken record – pointing out where the ‘strongman stumbled, or the doer of deeds could have done them better,’ illustrating the absurdity of it all– but Volusia County is a target rich environment for a dilettante political editorialist, and I am humbled by the fact so many take the time to read these screeds and further a larger discussion of the issues. 

This blogsite returned a much-needed purpose to my life in retirement – and whether we agree on the issues, or you abhor everything I represent – I thank you for indulging me.       

Believe it or not, I seek out positives to comment on in this space week-to-week – some act of civic ingenuity that results in an efficiency for taxpayers – or a case where elected officials took the time to listen to their constituents and work cooperatively to right a wrong or improve our quality of life. 

Trust me.  I get a lot of “suggestions” on what I should write about. 

Increasingly, I tend to sidestep requests from hyper-partisan political organizations and well-meaning citizens who ask that I take up the latest cause célèbre or stir the pot on some controversial bruhaha which always favors one of our horribly broken major political parties. 

No thanks.

I want this site to remain one man’s goofy opinion on the news and newsmakers of the day – neither always right, nor always wrong – but always fiercely independent.       

Despite the curmudgeonly asshole I play on this blogsite, those who know me well will tell you I am a closet optimist – a cheerleader for the underdog – someone who finds the good in most people and situations. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love to mix it up, poke the bear, and argue politics – and I’ve made a hobby of questioning the ancestry of those craven few who receive public funds to serve in the public interest, then violate the trust of those they are sworn to serve.

I suppose my infatuation is based on a lifelong addiction to the drama of political theater – and based upon the incredible popularity of Barker’s View – I am not alone. 

It is heartening that so many of you take time out of your day to join me in watching the sausage being made from here on the sidelines – hoping against hope our elected officials won’t revert to their base instincts – then reveling in that satisfying, yet disheartening, sense of “I told you so” when they inevitably do.   

Funny when you think how gullible we remain, even after having been burnt by the hot stove time and again. . .   

Tomorrow I will turn 61-years young. 

Seriously, I use that tired cliché because I don’t feel old. 

In many ways I am in the best shape of my life – working out at the gym, losing weight, getting stronger physically and mentally, recently curbing a near lifelong cigarette habit, and generally taking better care of myself.    

At this stage of my life, I feel like Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, finding fun and merriment in any circumstance – a genetic trait that I inherited from my 86-year-old mom – who is the youngest (and funniest) octogenarian I know. 

Growing up, my parents instilled a sense of possibility in me – a blessing and a curse – the ability to put the fear of the unknown aside, put it all on the line, trust my best instincts, and damn the consequences. 

With birthdays being a time for retrospection, I find that fascination with ‘what could be’ has been a guiding factor in my life – for good or for ill – everything-or-nothing, put it all on black and spin the wheel, laying it on the line for the thrill of high achievement or the agonizing disappointment of abject failure – nothing in between – a feeling that anything worth doing comes with a high degree of risk, or it is not worth doing at all.

So, what have I learned in sixty-one years of circling the sun?

Whether you are six or sixty – Dream big. Take chances. Set goals. Seek great adventures.

I’ve tried to live my life by that simple advise – and God smiled on me. 

I rolled the dice, and all my dreams came true. 

A beautiful family and a small circle of faithful friends who bring such happiness and meaning to my life with their incredible love, understanding, and encouragement.

Who could want for more? 

On my birthday – and everyday – I wish the same for each of you. 

Thanks for reading Barker’s View. 

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

Weaponized Ethics

Rancor between Republicans and Democrats is as old as the ages – an ideological split that has polarized our nation and gridlocked what remains of our system of governance – a selfish sociopolitical divide that would have both sides bring our great nation to its knees before ever considering compromise or collegiality. 

Literally everything – including the coronavirus pandemic – has been politicized by these warring factions. 

Even our once trusted media sources have joined the fight as cheap propaganda organs, losing any semblance of objectivity by choosing sides in the culture wars, further dividing us with sensationalism and hype, pitting neighbor against neighbor – “vaxxed vs. unvaxxed,” right vs. left, liberal vs. conservative, white vs. black, LGBTQ vs. straight – always laser focused on that which separates us.     

It is no longer about public health – or even national unity in a crisis – it is about politics.

And it is increasingly personal.    

Unfortunately, this scorched earth partisan hatred has permeated every stratum of politics.

Locally, the various Volusia County Republican and Democratic party affiliates, clubs, and committees have been horribly splintered – with various groups left bickering over fringe politics as the Old Fogeys of the Entrenched Establishment fight with young firebrands for influence and control – internecine rivalries exacerbated by party “rules” and edicts that appear good for some, but not for all. 

It is just one reason I remain a heathen No Party Affiliate – choosing to trust my own jaded instincts and sources of information (namely my highly attuned six senses) over the fear mongering and puffery that now passes for “news” – or the ravings of some ideologue with a God complex.     

Recently, Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post was taken into the maw of what passes for Florida’s ethics apparatus – a politically tainted shitshow that even those who work in it will tell you is a farce – when a local operative from Post’s own Republican party filed a petty, mean-spirited complaint that Ms. Post failed to list her mortgaged home as an “asset” and omitted her widely published stipend for elected service from a required financial disclosure form. 

According to an explanation published by Ms. Post on social media, the complaint against her was brought by Phyllis Stauffenberg, a long-time mover-and-shaker in local Republican politics, who is rarely seen at public meetings without her sidekick – Barbara Bonarrigo – a darling of the Volusia County Republican hierarchy who received Ms. Stauffenberg’s personal endorsement during her run against Ms. Post for the District 4 seat last year:

“It is very evident the ridiculous complaints were filed with the state ethics committee by this member of the RECVC (Republican Executive Committee of Volusia County) for the group and their handlers to be able to claim that I was “investigated for ethics violations” by the state in an attempt to continue to perpetuate the false, ill reputation they have worked so hard to portray me as.”

Of course, Ms. Stauffenberg defended her actions in the grammatical nightmare below, claiming Ms. Post is suffering some delusional paranoia (as excerpted):

“Most assuredly, Heather Post, I am NEVER, and I mean “NEVER” Prompted by ANYONE. Certainly NOT the RECVC. After all, isn’t that the party by which you stand? You, my dear, are “barking” up the wrong tree.  It is my habit to Critique candidates. It is what I do. If, in fact, there are discrepancies, I will, without doubt, pursue appropriate action. It matters NOT to me what platform or party candidates, or elected officials hold. I have, I fact, been in regular contact with the Ethics Commission.”

Bullshit. 

(Oddly, I have noticed that whenever anyone publicly challenges these partisan hacks – on either side of the aisle – or speaks out against the status quo, the immediate defense mechanism is to brand them a raving paranoiac in a weird form of political gaslighting.)

In my view, this was a classic example of the ethics process being weaponized – not to bring a scoundrel who uses their public office for personal gain to justice – but to smear a sitting politician and give a partisan candidate an advantage in a supposedly non-partisan election.

Look, its not like Councilwoman Post was hiding assets in some offshore account in the Seychelles, funneling ‘dark money’ to remunerate a “ghost” candidate, or paying off young “escorts” with no-show jobs, right?

She had a mix-up on a form – a scrivener’s error that she later corrected – but her oversight left an opening for a cheap shot, something you can set your watch by in Volusia County politics, and it appears Inspector Stauffenberg and, according to Ms. Post, the Republican Executive Committee of Volusia County, took full advantage of it. 

But why would a staunch Republican like Ms. Stauffenberg put a sitting elected official from her own party through the mill over a trivial clerical mistake? 

In my view, like Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower – Ms. Post is not who the gatekeepers in the local Republican power structure, and the uber-wealthy insiders they represent, wanted (or needed?) in office. 

While their opponents – perennial politicians and malleable candidates who were hand-selected from the ranks of the faithful (regardless of whether they knew a damn thing about local issues) – were gifted glowing endorsements at elegant fundraisers hosted by “Rich & Powerful” benefactors and B-list politicians, and received lavish campaign contributions from those who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast – Post and Brower were left to founder – shunned like political lepers, while their good names were besmirched with virulent attack ads and lies on glossy mailers paid for by mysterious political action committees (including one chaired by Brower’s incumbent opponent).

Anyone remember Volusia Citizens for Good Governance

I do.  

Ethics?  My ass.    

Fortunately, the grassroots voters and taxpayers had a better idea.

We made our voice heard, loud-and-clear, at the ballot box last year – and announced to those entrenched politicians who have repeatedly told us to shut-up and sit-down that it was time for a change in the civic, social, and economic stagnation that has made Volusia County a cautionary tale throughout Central Florida and beyond. 

Now, Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post are paying a heavy price for their independence – all while those darlings of the status quo primp and preen for their stodgy Old Guard puppeteers who are desperate to hang onto what little they still control, regardless of the means or methods required.     

Ethics?  Yeah, right.   

Angels & Assholes for July 30, 2021

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               Museum of Arts and Sciences at 50

In a 1966 opinion, Chief Justice Michael Musmanno of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania wrote:

“As man cannot live by bread alone, a city cannot endure on cement, asphalt and sewer pipes alone. A city must have a municipal spirit beyond its physical properties, it must be alive with an esprit de corps, its personality must be such that visitors—both business and tourist—are attracted to the city, pleased by it, and wish to return to it.”

For a half-century, the Museum of Arts and Sciences – along with the beautiful Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, the Lowell and Nancy Lohman Planetarium, The Root Family Museum, and the Charles and Linda Williams Children’s Museum – have helped shape the best of the Halifax area’s unique personality. 

As one of the few vestiges of arts and culture available to Halifax area residents, the museum has become the destination for school field trips, a memorable afternoon for visitors wishing to explore the rich history of our area, and a welcome respite for anyone with an appreciation for fine art.

In an area best known for wild nightlife and no-holds-barred events – the MOAS provides a much-needed oasis for locals and tourists alike – a special place that preserves our local culture and showcases the important influences that have shaped our history. 

I attended St. James School in Ormond Beach with several of Chapman and Susie Root’s children – a family of caring philanthropists with a generational commitment to improving our collective quality of life. 

As a child, we had the opportunity to travel together by rail on a class trip to Washington D.C., departing from the DeLand train station on the old Seaboard Coast Line. 

During our journey, Mr. Root had his personal observation car – the “Silver Holly” – a former passenger car converted into an elegant private coach, attached to the train and invited us kids to explore the beautiful liner with its kitchen, salon, and bedrooms, giving us the opportunity to watch the scenery go by from the car’s glass enclosed dome. 

I never forgot Mr. & Mrs. Root’s kindness and hospitality in extending that enriching and memorable experience.

Today, the Silver Holly is on display at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in the Root Train Station – which also includes the beautiful Dell Rapids Milwaukee Hiawatha sky-top lounge car – one of the last remaining liners built for the Milwaukee Railroad. 

The extraordinary Brown Museum of Art contains the largest selection of Florida art in the world – and the 94 seat Lohman Planetarium is a must-do, with fascinating science and astronomy programs, full-dome films, and laser concerts offering an unforgettable experience for all ages. 

Thanks to the continuing generosity of its many sponsors and local benefactors, the Museum of Arts and Sciences continues to be a world-class place of discovery, exploration, and preservation, “To inspire, cultivate curiosity, and promote lifelong learning in art, science, and history.”

Congratulations to the Museum of Arts and Sciences on 50 wonderful years! 

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

“The superintendent recommends approval of the purchase and sale agreement for the acquisition of 1.3 acre parcel adjacent to DAC for purposes of administrative office expansion.”

That’s it.

The above sentence represents the full notice and explanation to wary taxpayers of how, and why, Volusia County District Schools want to spend $995,000 for the purchase of the former Trinity Methodist Church in DeLand.

The Superintendent’s recommendation was accompanied by a boilerplate real estate contract. 

No appraisal. 

No cost/benefit analysis. 

No justification. 

In the days leading up to Tuesday evening’s School Board meeting, I began receiving inquiries from interested residents asking if I – or anyone outside the gilded Ivory Tower of Power on North Clara Avenue – knew why the board was being asked to approve nearly $1 million for the purchase of property adjacent to the DeLand Administrative Complex.

I hadn’t a clue. 

I’ll bet you didn’t either.

It was a typical wild goose chase for information that district staff, students, and parents have come to expect, another conundrum wrapped in an enigma, a weird jigsaw puzzle – where the gatekeepers make sport of shrouding substantive information in absolute darkness – withholding press releases past media deadlines, putting out dribs-and-drabs of pseudo-data on social media (sometimes on nights and weekends), actively stymying any reasonable attempt by the working press to report on the latest debacle in DeLand. 

For instance, on Tuesday morning (the day of the meeting), we were treated to a less-than-informative article by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s education reporter, Cassidy Alexander, which announced the pending purchase – without comment or explanation from anyone at Volusia County Schools – an article fluffed for publication with factoids about the historic Trinity Methodist Church and its pending move to a “smaller footprint” on Plymouth Avenue.

The only soupçon of substance?

“The Volusia County School Board is in the process of reviewing its budget for the next fiscal year. The $995,000 for the purchase of the church property comes from capital funds, which are separate from the general fund from which it pays salaries, bills and instructional costs.”

Look, it is not Ms. Alexander’s fault – she can only work with the information provided by school officials – or the tidbits she can ferret out from sources on the inside. 

In my view, Ms. Alexander has proven to be a tenacious journalist who has expertly covered the district’s on-going financial meltdown – most recently reporting that Volusia County Schools plan on using one-time federal coronavirus relief funds to cover a projected $46 million budget shortfall.

At the time, the News-Journal quoted Superintendent Scott Fritz’ take on the district’s grim financial outlook, “I hate to say a sinking ship, but that’s what you’re doing: you’re plugging those holes.”

Damn. “A sinking ship”?

So, what better time to purchase and renovate a $1 million property for “administrative office expansion,” eh?

My God. 

Adding insult, last month, the “communications team” at Volusia County Schools was honored with three “Publications and Digital Media Excellence Awards” from something called the National School Public Relations Association. 

With an apparent straight-face, Dr. Fritz wrote:

“These awards represent the innovation and dedication of our Community Information team to overcome hurdles in a very challenging year,” said VCS Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz. “At VCS we understand strong communication is critical to accelerating student achievement and our communications team works extremely hard year-round to keep our school families, staff and community informed in a constantly evolving environment. To be recognized for our district’s efforts is a testament to the outstanding work performed by our communication professionals.”  

Bullshit.

No offense to the “team” – but that self-congratulatory horseshit does not hold water in an environment where the Number One complaint regarding Volusia County Schools is the continuing lack of effective communication from senior administrators – leaving teachers, staff, board members, and baffled families to eke out information from a privately operated Facebook page or a handful of Twitter accounts.

On Wednesday, following the contentious meeting the evening before, when the School Board approved a tentative budget exceeding $1 Billion (you read that right), I searched far and wide for any shred of information regarding the relatively paltry $1 million purchase of the church property – hoping against hope that our award-winning “communications professionals” would have burned the midnight oil to update the website, issue a press release, spread the news on social media, etc., etc.

Nothing.  Zero, zip, zilch. 

Finally, I took to social media and privately asked the question of someone “in the know.”

I then went to YouTube and found a video of the School Board meeting. . . 

YouTube

Apparently, “preliminary negotiations” have been ongoing since “April or May” when church officials approached district honchos– but after several unanswered questions regarding appraisals, financial impacts, and the potential cost of renovating the church facilities – it became apparent most of the sitting members were as out-of-the-loop as I was. 

The one citizen who spoke on the issue – Kim Short, the moderator of the Volusia County School Forum on Facebook – described the proposed purchase of the property as a “terrible idea.”

I agree.   

Thankfully, the expenditure was postponed until August 10 when, perhaps, more answers are available. 

So much for that “strong communication” we keep hearing so much about. . . 

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

Angel               Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post

Any member of the Van Winkle clan needing additional evidence of the abject dysfunction that grips what passes for governance in Volusia County should look no further than Tuesday’s workshop.

The purpose of this stilted confab was to determine how to spend some $107 million in federal coronavirus relief funds under the American Rescue Plan Act.

During the meeting, our elected officials essentially rubberstamped the laundry list of “recommendations” presented by County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald – but when talk turned to building three “respite stations” intended to give paramedics and EMS personnel a much needed private space to rest and decontaminate after calls – the astute District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post pointed out that while the facilities are ultimately necessary – at this point, the proposal is merely masking the symptoms of a much more acute problem that exists within the horribly understaffed medical transport system itself. 

When Ms. Post advised she had spoken with the City of Daytona Beach regarding housing EMS personnel at city fire stations between calls – allowing these one-time federal dollars to be spent on fundamentally improving the way Volusia County deploys ambulances and provides essential critical care services – she was curtly blasted by a visibly angry Councilman Ben Johnson for “overstepping her boundaries.”

Wow.

To her credit, Ms. Post would not be silenced.

“I can see in five years building additional buildings, but how about we fix the actual system first so that we actually have the people to respond to these calls?” Post said. “I hate to see us be getting a lot of money from the federal government and us not using it to address that operational side.”

Following a testy exchange with our wholly ineffectual Director of Public Protection, Joe “Blue Falcon” Pozzo, wherein Ms. Post presented the obvious while Pozzo tap-danced around the issue – the lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler attempted to kick the can down the road and end the clearly uncomfortable conversation – explaining that she had a “previous commitment across town” (which was apparently more important than fulfilling her elective role in debating the expenditure of over $100 million in federal funds) resulting in an exasperated Ms. Post asking for a metaphorical two-minutes to finish her point.    

In a typical display of petty theatrics, the council’s self-anointed eminence grise, the uber-weird Right Reverend Fred Lowry, took out a timer and tut-tutted, “I’m gonna time it.  Two more minutes.” 

Bullshit.

As a resident of District 4 – my gut reaction was, “Who in the hell is this pompous ass to shut down substantive discussion by my elected representative on a matter of serious concern to all citizens of Volusia County?”

In a refreshing display of bold independence, Ms. Post held her ground, and made the most apt and cogent point of the meeting when she said, “So not only are we keeping the public from speaking today, but also one of our councilmembers. . .”

Bravo, Ms. Post.  Bravo.

Of course, Ms. Wheeler responded in her own hyper-dramatic style – brusquely leaving her seat before sweeping off the stage like some self-absorbed Bette Davis character – rather than remain at her duty station and participate in an important discussion of how to improve emergency medical services in Volusia County. 

Once again, Volusia County’s Old Guard – those stalwarts of the status quo – did everything in their considerable power to marginalize Councilwoman Post and punish her for deviating from the choreographed storyline.   

As Ms. Post undoubtedly learned during her first term, “mavericks” – freethinkers who dare consider solutions outside the aging box of conventionality – are not welcome in the inner sanctum at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Complex.

That is the domain of those who understand the benefit of getting along and going along – a cloistered place where toeing-the-line buys politicians admittance to a very exclusive club – and shuns anyone who dares to think for themselves or question the why of things.   

Quote of the Week

“The fate of the Ormond Beach Union Church (est. 1883) has been sealed. No matter how hard “we the people” tried to save it, the bulldozers are at the ready and soon will train their weaponry on this historic building, thus reducing it to rubble. Oh, why not! After all, the restaurants on Granada Boulevard are desperately in need of another 24 or so parking spaces for their customers! How can we possibly refuse their plaintive cries?

Perhaps the three commissioners who sounded the death knell for the Union Church would be interested in looking at others to condemn. Why stop with just one church, especially one with historical value? How about sending a couple of “experts” to other cherished places and have them dig up some convincing-sounding excuses for demolition? Besides, history no longer matters in Ormond Beach. It’s irrelevant. It’s not important anymore. Just ask City Hall — but don’t expect an answer. Common sense, innovation and creative thinking is a thing of the past.”

–Ormond Beach resident Cathy Wharton, as excerpted from her Letter to the Editor in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Ormond Beach Union Church: What’s next?” Monday, July 26, 2021

And Another Thing!

“Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage.”

–Dwight D. Eisenhower

I have a great deal of respect for our neighbors who stand for elective office – those with the fire in the belly to enter the arena, work hard in the public interest, giving their all in a service that is far from a part-time profession, all while subjecting themselves to the often-caustic criticism that naturally comes with setting public policy and allocating scarce resources.

When done right, those with the courage to stand for high office – who practice the art and science of local politics wanting only that which is best for their community and constituents, who dedicate themselves to a pursuit greater than their own self-interests or those of their political benefactors – can have an incredibly positive and lasting influence on the future.

In my view, two-term Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado was a member of that increasingly rare breed who enter public life with a clear mind and open heart – free of the divisive personal agendas and lockstep allegiances that always hamper substantive progress – committed to making his community a better place to live, work, learn, and play.

As a close observer, I found that Commissioner Delgado brought a calm, contemplative presence to the dais, with the innate ability to sense all sides of an issue then strategically consider the pros and cons of available solutions.

Like all good attorneys, he has the dexterity to play both offense and defense – yet remained sensitive to the unique needs of residents and stakeholders.   

I did not always agree with Commissioner Delgado – but I never doubted his heart was in the right place. 

When he wanted the unvarnished truth on the issues of the day – he reached out to his harshest critics – rather than listening to the glad-handers and lickspittles who loiter around the political watercooler and maintain relevance by telling elected officials what they want to hear. 

In my view, that willingness to put ego aside and hear a street-level appraisal of matters which affect the lives and livelihoods of Daytona Beach residents represents a level of political maturity, intellectual honesty, and quiet self-assurance that is solely lacking on many area councils, commissions, and advisory committees.

In a heartfelt letter to his constituents this week, Commissioner Delgado announced he would be stepping down now that his family is moving to their “dream home” in Ormond Beach – a personal decision no-doubt made in the best interests of his young wife and children. 

While he continues to have real estate interests in Zone 2, rather than quibble the residency issue – Commissioner Delgado acted in the spirit of transparency, and the best interests of the City of Daytona Beach, in protecting the integrity of the office and resigned – rightfully paving the way for a special election to allow the citizens to select a new representative.

I know that Commissioner Delgado is a fighter – quite literally a talented mixed martial artist and a fierce advocate for his clients in the courtroom – and I have no doubt it was difficult for him to walk away from the challenges and opportunities ahead. 

But it was the right thing to do.

I admire that.   

My hope is that Mr. Delgado will continue to be a persuasive and influential voice in Volusia County politics and consider future opportunities for elective service in Ormond Beach and beyond.    

Thanks for the good effort, Commissioner Delgado. 

Those of us who care about the future prosperity of the Halifax area are glad you passed our way. 

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

Ignoring the Obvious

Cheborneck

Come here.

(What?)

What that

(I don’t know)

Look like dog shit to me

(Yah.  Looks like dog shit to me too)

Hmm. Pick it up

(What?)

Pick up

Oh

Feel like dog shit?

(Yah.  Feels like dog shit)

Smell

(Hm?)

Smell

(*sniff* uh)

Smell like dog shit?

(It smell like dog shit)

Taste

(Huh?)

Taste

Taste like dog shit?

(Yah.  Tastes like dog shit)

Hmm.  Good thing we don’t step in it. . . 

–Cheech & Chong, Los Cochinos, 1973

The ability to form logical inferences from the characteristics of an object or situation is what separates human beings from beasts.

While most animal behaviors are instinctual – much of human behavior is learned – experiences and ideas passed down from generation to generation, our minds capable of abstract analysis, problem solving, imagination, powers of invention, and the ability to express ourselves through complex narratives.

For instance, most of us can readily identify an unknown by the sum of its parts using the simple Duck Test:

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

It is this ability to presume and interpret from our retained experiences that allows us to determine what is normal and what is not – and when viewed through the prism of our conscience and value system – reasoning informs our moral judgment and allows us to differentiate right from wrong, that which is positive from those things we have learned can cause us harm.

In other words, unless you are a member of the Halifax Area Advertising Authority – most of us do not require a highly paid consultant to point out those steaming piles of dog crap experience tells us to avoid. . .

Last week, the HAAA board decided that after decades of blight, neglect, and fast-buck events, now is the time to begin rehabilitating the Daytona Beach Resort Areas abysmal reputation as an anything goes party town, “elevate our customer base,” and “redefine” our image in Florida’s hyper-competitive tourism market. 

To accomplish that, our leaders in the hospitality industry feel the need to have an out-of-town expert tell them that abominations like truck meets and pop-up viral shitshows, events marked by gridlocked traffic, public urination, and drunken debauchery – a shock to the conscience that terrorize area residents, frighten trapped visitors, and destroy “the brand” – do nothing to promote quality tourism.

I guess the eyewitness account of Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young, his agency’s overtime bill, the horror stories told by local business owners, the fervent pleas of locals that the marketing slogan Wide. Open. Fun. sent the wrong message, and the abject disgust exhibited by guests who pledge never to return as they flee beachside hotels are not convincing – so, the search is on for another ‘consultant’ to conduct yet another study to tell ostensibly smart people what they should already know.   

Why ignore the obvious?

After decades of more of the same – our ‘powers that be’ in the convention and tourism industry still have their heads in the sand – hoping against hope that variations on the same outrageous marketing tactics will somehow result in a different outcome. 

For instance, in February 2020, the HAAA previewed a calamitous “new” advertising campaign by our out-of-town marketing shills dubbed – “Think You Know Daytona Beach?” – to replace the equally disastrous “Wide.  Open.  Fun.” debacle.

A strategy that continues to play on all the double-entendres and worst perceptions potential visitors have come to associate with the Fun Coast: “Endless Parties,” “Kids Getting Wild,” “Hitting the Clubs,” “Going Topless,” “All Day Beach Bashes,” and “Just a bunch of kids making pour decisions.”

This from the same agency who last year explained “We (Daytona Beach) have a perception issue and it’s a big one…”

Tragically, as of June, the ad is currently running in a virtual test market on social media under the tag “What do you think of our latest video for Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau?”

Well, if you really want to know – I think it sucks

I think it sends a conflicting message. 

I think it perpetuates all the worst stereotypes one associates with our unofficial slogan, “The Dirty.”

But who cares what I think?

Why don’t we listen to the experts?

A decade ago, the Volusia County Council commissioned a comprehensive analysis of area tourism marketing by a Georgia-based consultancy which concluded the condition of our beachside “tourism product” was a serious impediment to attracting visitors and economic development.

More ominously, the $100,000 study found, “…there is no “plan” for who is leading the effort and how these challenges can be improved.”

What’s changed?

Still not convinced?

In 2018, following The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s scathing exposé on the condition of our core tourist area, the Volusia County Council formed the Beachside Redevelopment Committee chaired by former Brown & Brown executive Tony Grippa – a Blue Ribbon think tank comprised of our best and brightest minds – the crème de la crème of our social, civic, business, and political elite – who, after months of deliberation, came up with the simple suggestion:

“Expand the opportunities to make the beach a year-round destination for all visitors.”

Among the panel’s wholly ignored recommendations was improving “…the perception of the entire region, with a focus on a variety of residential, recreational, cultural and entertainment opportunities in the area.”

So, how many more costly studies are required? 

 As I said in the aftermath of Truck Meet 2021:

“If we have repeatedly been warned by numerous high-priced marketing gurus – expensive out-of-town “experts” with a nice suit and briefcase – that the Daytona Beach Resort Area is widely perceived as a down-at-the-heels, anything goes, trash strewn honky tonk, then why are stalwarts like Daytona International Speedway and the Convention & Visitors Bureau (the event was listed on their website) still tacitly promoting these horribly corrosive three-day/two-night beer-soaked debauches that advance the very image everyone tells us must change if we want to survive as a tourist destination?”

My God.     

Studies and political insulation committees are as ubiquitous in Volusia County as grains of sand on the beach – each saying the same thing – yet, time-and-again, there seems to be something lacking between the recommendation and implementation. 

I think that missing link is called ‘leadership.’

Angels & Assholes for July 23, 2021

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

On Tuesday, I wasted another day – 7 or 8 hours of my life that I will never get back – listening to the monotonous drone of the Volusia County Council meeting and waiting patiently for an item of interest on the published agenda to be discussed – only to have the rug pulled out from under me when our elected representatives lost their stamina and postponed the issue.

I guess when it comes to Volusia County government, the best way to avoid disappointment is to expect the unexpected – and accept the unacceptable. . . 

The meeting had an undercurrent of the “tail wagging the dog” syndrome that sees senior staff making decisions ahead of scheduled workshops and hearings by setting policy and budgetary priorities in the cloistered environment of a bureaucratic office rather than a public meeting.

In other words, it was business as usual in Deland. 

Predictably, our elected officials had a testy chin-wagging session to telegraph how they plan to raise our taxes yet again – complete with the usual handwringing and scary stories of the cataclysmic fiscal destruction that awaits Volusia County if our elected officials fail to squeeze even more blood from us desiccated turnips to support a proposed $1.1 Billion budget.

You read that right.  $1.1 Billion – and not one penny can be cut from the encrusted fat that won’t result in financial Armageddon.

Now is the time for all good citizens to accept our punishment for voting against the proposed half-cent sales tax – and pay the piper for the precious few quality-of-life improvements we asked for last year – because in Volusia County, refusing to obey the powers that be always comes with a cost.  

During what passed for the millage rate “discussion,” the gang viciously bludgeoned Chairman Jeff Brower for attempting to hold true to his personal convictions – and campaign promise – of full rollback and a 5% across-the-board spending reduction in all areas except public safety. 

When Councilwoman Heather Post even suggested that her “colleagues” use this time to carefully examine operations, leverage federal coronavirus relief funds, and look for ways to save money – she was openly scoffed at and dismissed as a lunatic.   

It was interesting to watch the strange lycanthropic transformation of Ben Johnson, Danny Robins, Billie Wheeler and The Very Reverend Fred Lowry – each of whom hold themselves out as staunch Republicans 364-days a year – then morph into something completely different when it comes time to raise our property taxes – at which point they never met a massive bureaucracy or bloated budget they didn’t love. . . 

My ass.

Then, inexplicably, our self-anointed eminence grise, the uber-weird Dr. Fred Lowry, made the left field suggestion that agenda Item 19 – the innocuously titled (but incredibly important) “Discussion and direction regarding public meeting rule ordinance” governing such things as “decorum” and “public participation” – be moved to the next meeting.

They simply kicked a properly noticed agenda item down the road, apparently because they didn’t feel like dealing with it – and to hell with us lower caste members of the booboisie who waited patiently to learn what limitations will be placed on when, where, why, and how we will be permitted to participate in our government – and under what conditions we will be unceremoniously tossed out of the chamber on our ass should we insult the Monarchy’s sensitive feelings and sense of decorum.   

I guess they had done enough damage to their political futures for one day, eh?

Look, raising taxes is as foreseeable and expected as getting hit by an uninsured motorist in Volusia County – it happens all the time – but whenever a small group of hubristic dullards start manipulating our ability to seek redress of grievances before our government – or speak out on the issues important to us – that frightens me.  

Increasingly, small-minded politicians and entrenched bureaucrats attempt to quash dissent and civic activism by cloaking their overweening censorship in “civility ordinances,” “rules of decorum,” and other asinine suppressive measures not seen since Mao Zedong’s Double Ten Directive.

It has become obvious to most that some local governments would prefer taxpayers acquiesce to symbolic “meetings” – choreographed shams where predetermined policies and expenditures are rubber-stamped – while the ‘people’s business’ is hammered out behind closed doors and shaped by insider influence, far from the prying eyes of us rubes who are expected to pay the bills and keep our pieholes shut.    

In my experience, ministerial edicts designed to enforce a subjective notion of “decorum” is usually the first sign that an elected body is in serious trouble.

The symptoms begin with the discussion of a “civility ordinance” as a means of maintaining the dignity of public meetings – which, by their very nature, should be contentious, participative, and filled with the vigorous debate of competing ideas – because the lofty decisions that come from these deliberations directly affect our lives and livelihoods.

In January, when Chairman Jeff Brower gaveled to order the first meeting of the current iteration of the Volusia County Council, our elected representatives promised an unprecedented level of transparency and public involvement. 

Remember?

It represented a demarcation from the bad old days when former Chair Ed Kelley made sport of restricting public participation – lording over anyone with the temerity to approach his elite domain with petty problems, and brusquely dismissing citizens who overstayed their begrudged three-minute audience like the Great and Powerful Oz – all while marginalizing Councilwoman Post with eyerolling histrionics whenever she refused to go along with the lockstep majority.

Unfortunately, the openness and collegiality we were promised soon dissolved into the tired old harrumphing of perennial politician’s intent on protecting the status quo while seeking to neuter Chairman Brower at every turn. 

They don’t like applause.  They don’t like signs.  They don’t like videos.  And they don’t like you.

When will they learn that good governance does not occur in a vacuum?

Good citizenship is not silent subservience to an entrenched power structure convinced of its own infallibility – and the process of crafting inclusive public policies should not be at the comfort and convenience of a few hypersensitive prima donnas perched on the dais of power.

If citizens cannot make themselves heard before their elected representatives at a public meeting – in a building paid for with their own hard-earned tax dollars – among bureaucrats and senior staff who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – then where can they be heard on matters of civic importance?

In my view, it is time those who hold high elective office understand that all political power is derived from the consent of the people

This continuing undemocratic effort to alienate constituents and limit meaningful public participation – especially by curtailing the use of posters and video technology to get a point across (while staff relies almost exclusively on PowerPoint presentations that are more effective than sedative hypnotics) – is contributing to the lack of trust in government and fostering a malignant cynicism that continues to erode public confidence and hamper substantive progress. 

Angel               Port Orange Councilman Chase Tramont

Clearly, Chase Tramont is not averse to hard work or civic involvement, and the Port Orange city councilman, First Step Shelter board member, and announced candidate for the Volusia County Council won some hearts-and-minds this week.

At their recent meeting, the First Step Shelter board continued to cry the Poormouth Blues when it became apparent that another fiscal year has come and gone without adequate private funding to meet the annual operating needs of that elaborate self-esteem seminar in the hinterlands west of I-95.

That left some First Step board members instinctively returning to the public teat – that ever-flowing fount of tax dollars that the “shelter” drags its leaky bucket to, time-and-again, for its lifeblood – while many private donors continue to shy away from what has been an incredibly expensive and terribly confusing bait-and-switch scenario from its inception.

Unfortunately, the First Step’s governing board never reconciled the fact that what we were sold is not what we received – and all the fancy marketing videos and “look at our progress!” social media campaigns in Mike Panaggio’s extensive repertoire cannot change that. . .

This week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran an informative piece by reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean entitled, “Shelter relying on public dollars,” which opened:

“For now and the foreseeable future, the city-owned homeless shelter for adults run by a nonprofit will continue to get the vast majority of its funding from local governments.”

“In the current budget year, $975,754 of the $1.39 million annual budget is being covered by seven Volusia County governments. The balance comes from an array of private donations and grants.”

Wow.

The First Step board members quibbled about what each contributing municipality should pay for the privilege of attaching themselves to the “shelters” true raison d’être – the legal and political insulation that allows government entities to claim a dubious level of “compliance” with federal protections against criminalizing homelessness.  

A point not lost on Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry:

“Henry pointed out that a government’s ability to stay compliant by offering the shelter’s safe zone as an option to jail is a value for cities that should be adequately paid for, even if a city isn’t referring many of its homeless to the shelter residency program.”

But just how much of our hard-earned tax dollars is that protection racket worth?

According to the First Step board, the municipalities should be ponying up an amount equal to .258% of their 2016-2017 fiscal year fund balance – with some cities paying more, and others less, while the City of Daytona Beach and Volusia County have each promised $400,000 annually for the first five-years the “shelter” is in operation. 

To his credit, Chase Tramont stood firm – proving his worth as a good steward of the public treasury – when he rightfully declared that the “shelter” should not be perpetually carried “on the back of taxpayers.”

During the meeting, Mr. Tramont argued that governments should have the ability to contribute what the individual community feels it can afford – rather than be lashed to some arbitrary formula. 

According to the News-Journal’s report, “Tramont was the sole vote against continuing to make the fund balance percent the standard funding request.”

At the end of the day, the First Step board did what most elected and appointed governing bodies in Volusia County do and opted to maintain the status quo – using the fund balance formula as a “suggestion” while accepting whatever the municipalities agree to pay.

Because, what else are they going to do? 

In my view, “beggars cannot be choosers” – meaning one must accept that which is handed to them – especially if they do not have the means to acquire it themselves.  

Whatever.

I know it is gauche to bring up not-for-profit executive salaries, but when First Step director Victoria Fahlberg was hired in 2019 – with an annual salary totaling some $75,000 in wages and benefits – she told us the “shelter” would need to raise $500,000 each year on top of local government contributions – assuring us she would be “applying for grants,” working with foundations, and putting the arm on businesses and individuals to make ends meet. 

At the time, I thought, “That’s gonna take a lot of bake sales, raffles, and walkathons. . .” 

Along the same line, Ormond Beach City Commissioner Dwight Selby reasonably suggested a financial study to determine if the “shelter” had enough money coming in to meet its monthly nut, as quoted in the News-Journal:

“A cash flow analysis is of dire importance,” said Selby, an Ormond Beach city commissioner. “We need to clarify that the cash will flow in at least at a level equal to what we’re burning.”

Now, I am not sure if that basic budgetary examination ever happened – or if the board simply decided it wasn’t necessary, so long as it could count on City Hall to keep writing checks. . .

I have often wondered how Director Fahlberg and the First Step board members must feel as they stare out the window and watch P$S Paving – a private company – haul millions-of-dollars in publicly owned fill dirt from their backyard while they continue to hold the begging bowl? 

My God.

Kudos to Mr. Tramont for holding firm to the basic principle that the First Step Shelter should be required to stand, or fall, on its own merits by consistently demonstrating value to the citizens of communities from which it receives its funding.

But for now – and the foreseeable future – be prepared to keep hand-feeding this insatiable beast from the public trough. . . 

Quote of the Week

“As soon as you get off I-95, it’s impressive all the way down (International Speedway Boulevard) until you start to get to about U.S. 1, and then,” he said with a pause. “It’s dilapidated.”

–Daytona Beach resident Richard Martinez, as quoted by Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Mark Harper, “Public reacts to roadway proposals,” Saturday, July 17, 2021

I am a big fan of Maryam Ghyabi-White, CEO and president of Ghyabi Consulting and Management, a professional traffic engineering and transportation consultancy, who has put her time, talent, and considerable influence into developing workable solutions for our challenged beachside.

In a recent interview with The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ms. Ghyabi-White said, “Every project I’ve done with public input has been so much better. I truly believe in it.”

She understands the inherent benefit in listening to those who use our streets and roadways before millions in scarce public funds are literally set in concrete.   

Last week, a public charrette was held at The Plaza Resort and Spa attended by approximately 100 citizens desperate for substantive change in our core tourist areas of East International Speedway Boulevard, North Atlantic Avenue, Main Street, Oakridge and Seabreeze Boulevards. 

Now that the asinine suggestion of a traffic loop-de-loop at Volusia County’s busiest beach approach at East ISB and A-1-A has been put to rest, the Florida Department of Transportation is rightfully seeking public input on improvements to the long-neglected and desperately blighted gateway to the World’s Most Famous Beach. 

According to an informative report on the helpful suggestions received during last week’s planning session in the News-Journal, reporter Mark Harper wrote:

“The latest concepts will all be more fully developed for the September meeting, where public comment will also be sought, Ghyabi-White said.

“This is not going to solve all our problems. It’s not going to make it better 90%. Perhaps 70%,” she said. “But it’s better than what we’ve got.”

One thing I really liked was the idea of a bicycle lane physically separated from vehicular traffic using the Zicla Zipper system (look it up) – which will keep the bumper of my rig a safe distance from that peloton of middle-aged cyclists, dressed cap-a-pie in spandex (ugh), who compete for space in the right lane with that shirtless 48-year-old dude still doing nollie-heelflips and frontside shuvits on his skateboard during peak traffic hours. . . 

These solutions would not have been possible without Ms. Ghyabi-White’s tireless efforts to bring stakeholders together at the same table, a collaborative effort of citizens, business owners, and government entities, that demonstrates true progress is possible when the hearts and minds of decision-makers remain open to new ideas and information. 

Here’s to new beginnings – no matter how long overdue. 

And Another Thing!

While watching the Volusia County Council meeting this week, I got a troubling sense that all is not well in the exalted Halls of Power at the Thomas C. Kelly Administrative Complex. 

I could be wrong – but I’m not. 

There was a palpable strain in the air. 

It began with that abomination in New Smyrna Beach, where the family of Kenneth Parker was forced to spend an estimated $250,000 defending their beachfront home from the threat of a forced parking lot – a paved pad and accompaniments that would have destroyed sensitive dunes and protective vegetation – an expensive push that, in the end, no one, from New Smyrna Beach officials to the Volusia County Council, seemed to give two-shits about. 

According to an informative article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by reporter Mary Helen Moore, entitled “Off-beach parking lot plan dropped,” we learned:

“The county spent an estimated $110,000 on the plan for a parking lot, including more than $87,000 on designs, $2,600 on permitting and $20,300 on a court hearing.

“That does not include staff time. That’s checks cashed to consultants,” Coastal Director Jessica Winterwerp noted.  Staff have logged an estimated 2,525 hours on the project, including 325 from the legal department.”

My God.

It appears everyone ensconced in wingback swivel chairs in the executive offices in Deland were aware of what was going on – except those mushrooms we elected to represent our interests and steward our tax dollars.  

At the end of the day, the Parker’s were understandably left in tears – the good citizens of New Smyrna Beach are apparently getting a simple walkover – and Director Winterwerp went back to doing whatever it is she does at the Coastal Division, whose motto should forever be:

“We’re not happy until you’re not happy.”

Then, during the “preliminary” budget presentation, it appeared that Volusia County’s Chief Financial Officer Ryan Ossowski – an appointed department head with no political accountability – had already cobbled together next years budget.

It was all cleverly spelled out on a colorful PowerPoint tableau – complete with the various allocations and millage rates already decided upon – leaving little for our elected officials to do but stop meddling in the work of professional bureaucrats and rubber-stamp their “recommendations.”

It was obvious to anyone watching that Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post would prefer to think for themselves. 

They seemed absolutely stupefied that this granular level of budgetary detail would be presented one week before a workshop to allocate millions in federal American Rescue Plan Act Transition funds.   

In my view, it epitomized Volusia County’s historic problem of senior staff directing the outcome of important issues, and effectively taking those with political accountability out of the equation, by limiting options with forgone conclusions. 

It appears the majority of those impressive mimics on the dais of power won the day on a 5-2 vote – but I doubt Ossowski and Co. have heard the last from Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post. . .

Then, perhaps most disturbing, Councilwoman Post brought up a dangerous occurrence earlier this month, as reported by the Deltona firefighter’s union, after a city ambulance “…was denied the ability to transport a Trauma alert patient during a large motor vehicle accident” by Volusia County’s emergency services hierarchy.    

Why?

Because – who cares about your sucking chest wound, your child’s open head injury, or your mother’s stroke – the transport fell outside the arbitrary hours set by Deltona’s agreement with Volusia County. 

That’s why.

As the brave men and women of Deltona Fire Fighters Local 2913 so aptly put it:

“The time has come to revamp this outdated system that Evac ambulance uses (VCEMS) and grant the city fire departments the ability to have full transport. The Deltona fire stations in the city are strategically placed throughout the city to provide adequate coverage to the 100,000+ residents.”

Amen. 

Unfortunately, when former Port Orange Fire Chief Ken Fustin stood up for the safety of his residents and staff, proved his emotional investment, and demanded his department be permitted to transport residents in need – an act of impudence that gravely offended the delicate sensibilities of Volusia County’s Director of Public Protection Joe “Blue Falcon” Pozzo – he was summarily fired, drummed out of the corps, and had his professional reputation tarnished in the newspaper as an example to others who would raise their head.

Bullshit.

Under Ms. Post’s glare – Pozzo tap-danced in his own inimitable style – but I am not sure the Councilwoman got the answers she wanted – other than the tired old ditty, “change” is coming.

In turn, Chairman Brower asked why – with a dearth of paramedics in Volusia’s emergency medical service – 19 current vacancies – the Public Protection Division does not provide adequate facilities for these professionals to clean-up and decompress after handling calls for service?

A situation that now requires they use convenience store bathrooms for personal hygiene and pathogen decontamination – a point driven home by Mr. Brower’s disturbing visual of EMS personnel removing a dirty hypodermic syringe from a public sink before washing-up.

My God.

It was a simple request – a necessary convenience that would show first responders, who put it all on the line to protect and serve the public, that the Public Protection Division cares about their health, safety, and welfare. 

Again, Pozzo did his best soft-shoe – never seeming to grasp that recruitment and retention isn’t about throwing money at professionals – it is about strong leadership that values their contributions.  

In another weird moment, when Chairman Brower asked Growth and Resource Management Director Clay Ervin about the long overdue impact fee study – he got a song-and-dance that explained the study has not yet commenced, and ended with, “…we plan to have it ready to rock-and-roll in October.”

Say what?

Look, I like County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald – and he does an admirable job protecting his department heads from the heat.

He’s an old school manager and master of that weird language known as “bureaucratese” a persuasive (and equally confusing) dialect that keeps the uninitiated (including the elected officials) guessing.   

I may be the Carnival Barker but serving as Ringmaster of this Three Ring Shitshow is a hard dollar – something Mr. Recktenwald does extremely well.

However, I can tell you from experience that elected officials do not like to be embarrassed in front of their constituents by senior staff – and they aren’t big on surprises either. . . 

Ultimately, Mr. Recktenwald runs a fine line trying to orchestrate a modicum of progress despite the political dysfunction on the dais – especially during the budget cycle – all while his department head’s attempt ham-handed end-runs on those we have elected to make the difficult decisions. 

This bears watching. . .

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

The Way Things Work

A wise and weary Halifax area philosopher once explained to me the ‘way things work’ here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

The old sage concluded – with the hard-earned clarity of someone who has scratched out a living here for decades – that our incestuous artificial economy in Volusia County is based on “…the same five people passing the same nickel around…” 

Increasingly, that well-worn coin originates from the tattered pockets of struggling taxpayers in the form of “economic incentives,” tax credits, infrastructure improvements, and lucrative “job creation” refunds.

For instance, in 2014, the proposed Trader Joe’s distribution center in Daytona Beach garnered some $6.6 million in “economic incentives” from government entities – including $4.7 million from Volusia County and approximately $2 million from the City of Daytona Beach – for a warehouse serving a specialty grocery chain that will not locate a store in our area because our average annual salary is too low. . .

In 2015, Tanger Outlets received a combined $4.5 million from city and county coffers – for what The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported covered “everything from landscaping to sewer pipes” – and who can forget our collective investment in Daytona International Speedway’s One Daytona project, a combined $40 million from Volusia County and Daytona Beach taxpayers, which “…went to pay the bulk of the $53 million bill for roads, water and sewer pipes, sidewalks and retention ponds.”

In my view, it is the quintessence of corporate welfare – a dodgy system that reduces risk, creates an unlevel playing field for an influential few, and provides a competitive advantage to those with easy access to the public teat.

Then, in 2017, His Royal Highness King J. Hyatt Brown – our High Panjandrum of Political Power – gifted us rubes with the be-all and end-all ‘gamechanger of all gamechangers’ – when he announced at an invitation only gathering of our “Rich & Powerful” – that a long-neglected vacant lot on Beach Street would be the site of Brown & Brown’s new ten-story headquarters building. 

The relocation of the multi-billion-dollar insurance intermediary’s HQ was billed as the ultimate Halifax area panacea project – the providential answer to our fervent prayers – a glass-and-steel monolith with the supernatural power to transform our historically neglected downtown into an effervescent hub of tony retail, dining, and entertainment, all fueled by young, upwardly mobile, Brown & Brown executives and staffers brokering deals over a plate of chilled lemon and arugula capellini and a delightfully articulate Chablis in a Beach Street bistro.

All of this could be ours for the asking – but only if we agreed to pony up a combined $15.5 million in city, county, and state incentives – on the promise of “hundreds of jobs” paying an average of $41,300 annually. 

Otherwise, there was ominous rumblings that King J. Hyatt and his Knights of the Roundtable would uproot and move the whole kit-and-kaboodle to Atlanta, Georgia – effectively ending the behemoth’s 80-year presence in Daytona Beach on a sour note – and dooming our downtrodden downtown to decades of more dilapidation and strategic neglect. 

Remember? 

I do.  

In total, the City of Daytona Beach got down on their hands-and-knees and offered up millions-of-dollars for infrastructure improvements and property tax abatement – while Volusia County taxpayers provided some $4.5 million for infrastructure and $900,000 to help Brown & Brown qualify for an additional $4.58 million in state tax credits for new job creation – which, at the time, were reportedly worth an estimated $7,500 per job. . .

Look, my math could be off a million here or a million there, it all gets so confusing and convoluted that, after awhile, it becomes difficult to keep up with who is responsible for what, how many “new” jobs have been created and how many were shipped in from other areas, and how much money the public’s largesse ultimately created for the private beneficiary.       

Perhaps that’s the plan?

It seems our newspaper of record, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, is too busy fighting the culture wars – removing ancient statues, alienating the “unvaccinated” like social lepers, and giving national attention to some guy in Detroit who found 160 bowling balls behind his house (?) – yet precious few investigative pieces on our return on investment – the public benefit of these tax breaks, credits, and refunds.    

On Saturday, the News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean reported in a front-page article “Brown & Brown buys downtown buildings – 400 to 600 jobs expected to be created at three sites,” that King J. Hyatt has expanded his realm to include three office buildings formerly owned by the Ormond Beach-based Root Company. 

According to the report, Sir John Albright, President & CEO of CTO Realty Growth (formerly known as that good ol’ boys investment club Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company), “…whose company owns most of the block that fronts the east side of Ridgewood Avenue and runs between International Speedway Boulevard and Bay Street,” said the Brown & Brown purchase represents “…very good news for downtown as investors, developers and businesses will have confidence in Brown & Brown’s sizable presence and commitment to downtown.”

Now, everyone who is anyone is using extravagant descriptors like, “spectacular,” “fantastic,” “huge impact,” “ripple effect,” etc., etc.

What else are they going to say?

And why didn’t we see this Renaissance Effect before? 

I’m asking.

Because even the suggestion that Brown & Brown’s growing presence downtown may be overblown, or, God forbid, these edifices become just another 9-to-5 insurance or financial office building – one that captures employees with an internal restaurant operated by a France-based hospitality company, complete with a 24-hour self-checkout kiosk, even prepared meals that workers can bring home for dinner – is too grim to consider for Beach Street merchants who have hung on by their fingernails for decades

I am certain Brown & Brown’s real estate expansion is “great news” for those elite few with a chip in the game, and that mysterious Camera Stellata over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance (which King J. Hyatt chairs and Sir John Albright is a member) – but I am still trying to figure out what it cost us – you know, We, The Little People?

One jaded observer of our local political sleight-of-hand took to Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry’s Facebook page to question the cosmic irony that the $14 million Brown & Brown paid for the three commercial buildings closely matches the $15.5 million in public “incentives” Volusia County taxpayers gifted King J. Hyatt to lessen the burden on his Beach Street “Taj Mahal.” 

Apples and Oranges!  No direct nexus, Barker – you ungrateful asshole!  You blasphemous Esplanade denier!

Perhaps, but I found it funny as hell. . . 

I also found a glimmer of hope that long-suffering Volusia County taxpayers are beginning to question ‘how things work’ in this artificial economy, where the same players pass the same nickel around, while those of us who foot the bill are asked to expect a different outcome.      

Angels & Assholes for July 16, 2021

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           Palm Coast City Council

The City of Palm Coast was conceived in the mind of a marketing executive, a planned unit development funded by an international telecommunications corporation, meticulously laid out for maximum transportation efficiency, with neighborhoods designed in “sections” designated by roadways starting with letters of the alphabet – such as the “R” section or the “P” section – with feeders to major thoroughfares and a main commercial corridor known as Palm Coast Parkway.    

When I was a young boy, what would become the City of Palm Coast was 22,000 acres of unspoiled pine scrub and swamp in the hinterlands of Flagler County – at the time, a largely agrarian economy with commercial farms, lumber mills, and working cattle ranches surrounding the small town of Bunnell at the intersection of US Highway 1 and State Road 100. 

It was a sportsman’s paradise, with abundant whitetail deer and world-class fishing complimented by the ‘Old Florida’ charm of its quaint coastal communities like Flagler Beach. 

Given that the project was expertly marketed to residents of the Northeast Corridor, many wondered how the inevitable clash of cultures would affect the whole of Flagler County and beyond. 

As it turns out, given the massive influx into Palm Coast that continues to this day, the original settlers and those who made their life off the land were slowly displaced by a different kind of ‘pioneer,’ and, in recent years, the area was identified as the “fastest growing metropolitan area in the country” by the US Census Bureau.      

 According to the Palm Coast History Brief:

“From their start in 1969 until International Telephone & Telegraph (Development Corporation) withdrew, the corporation provided most of the services and leadership in Palm Coast. They had planned, built, and maintained a model environmental community. In a unique private/government relationship, ITT had financed Palm Coast’s most necessary improvements. The interchange at I-95 and the Hammock Dunes bridge were funded at relatively unnoticeable cost to local taxpayers and the state. As ITT withdrew from Palm Coast, the void left by its departure was increasingly felt in the community.

Then (in 1995) the complicated and often contentious process of incorporation began. Flagler County residents’ opposition groups debated. The county authorized a feasibility study, the state legislative delegation sponsored incorporation, the Florida state government approved the referendum and (in 1999) we elected our first City Council.”   

And Frankenstein’s monster has never been the same. . .

Whenever I get too close to a sensitive topic in this space, or ruffle the feathers of our ‘powers that be,’ some thin-skinned politician will puff up like a toad and not so subtly suggest that I shut up and mind my own business – usually in the form of “that blowhard doesn’t even live here,” etc. 

My response is if you care about good governance where you live and pay taxes – you should care about good government everywhere – because turbulence in one county or municipality directly impacts the social, civic, and economic stability of other communities that comprise the mosaic of east Central Florida.   

As a rabid observer of local politics – I equate the stability of local elective bodies to that plate spinning novelty act on the old Ed Sullivan Show. 

In my estimation, all government entities in the Deltona–Daytona Beach–Ormond Beach metropolitan statistical area (which includes Palm Coast) are just a few bad moves from total civic meltdown. 

Don’t take my word for it – tune into any “meeting” of the Deltona City Commission – or the Volusia County Council, for that matter – to confirm my weird theory. 

The grim consequences when “government” (in the loosest sense of the word) runs amok were emblazoned across the front page of The Daytona Beach News-Journal last Saturday – tragic tales of international intrigue, and how the lives of the governed can be turned upside down by the self-serving machinations of a few power-mad politicians and hangers-on desperate to maintain power.

In my view, the articles were perfectly juxtaposed. 

One told the unfolding story of the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse by what one state official described as “foreign mercenaries and professional killers,” a bungled coup d’état that has further destabilized a long-deteriorating internal situation and plunged the challenged nation into chaos.   

Now, acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph is fighting to prove his legitimacy, and calling for United States assistance in stabilizing the threatened nation at a time when Haiti’s Senate and Supreme Court both lack a majority of seated members.    

Then, above the fold, was a shocking piece by News-Journal reporter Frank Fernandez entitled, “Councilman called fugitive – Sheriff says Barbosa may be wanted in Costa Rica,” which detailed an investigation by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office into whether Palm Coast Councilman Victor Barbosa is an international fugitive from justice – and a request to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for an executive investigation. 

Councilman Barbosa claims its all a big mistake.

As what passes for governance in the City of Palm Coast continues to come apart like a cheap flywheel – an aimless Banana Republic wracked by partisan rancor and upheaval – this shocking revelation has further destabilized a long-deteriorating internal situation and threatens further chaos and confusion in one of the largest municipalities in our region.    

Wow.   

To say that Palm Coast, now a monstrosity of over 94,000 residents, is a shit show of epic proportions is an understatement – an atmosphere of perpetual dysfunction that recently saw the mysterious departure of embattled Mayor Melissa Holland and former City Manager Matt Morton – leaving the rudderless ship in turmoil with just four horribly conflicted members on the torn and hopelessly deadlocked City Council. 

Now, speculation over Councilman Barbosa’s status will no doubt inflame an already terrible situation going into the special mayoral election set for July 27, a race that has taken on the characteristics of a bad Twilight Zone episode.    

In a recent editorial by former Palm Coast City Council member Robert Cuff writing in FlaglerLive, the importance of avoiding voter apathy was evident:

“It is vital for all voters concerned for the future of the city to vote for the next mayor. Without a large turnout by voters who truly appreciate smoothly functioning government and who are concerned about the future of their city, there is an excellent chance that we will be saddled with partisanship, division, and dysfunction for the next three years.”

You can find the remainder of Mr. Cuff’s opinion here: https://flaglerlive.com/165524/robert-cuff-palm-coast-future/  

On Monday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal will host a mayoral debate moderated by editor Pat Rice featuring candidates Cornelia Manfre, Alan Lowe, Doug Courtney, Carol Bacha, Kathy Austrino, and David Alfin.

If you care about good governance – and the future of Palm Coast – this is a forum you will not want to miss.

The public is invited to attend the debate which will be held at Buddy Taylor Middle School, 4500 Belle Terre Parkway.

The shenanigans begin at 6:30 p.m. and doors will open at 5 p.m.

Asshole           Ormond Beach City Commission

On Tuesday evening, the Ormond Beach City Commission gave residents an opportunity to expend some useless hot air before their elected representatives as they sought a reasonable six-month moratorium on demolition of the historic Union Church on North Beach Street. 

Six-months.

In an informative article by Brian McMillan, executive editor of the Ormond Beach Observer entitled, “Kent, Littleton, Persis stand by decision to demolish church on Beach Street,” some 100 emails and 25 speakers – including a respected former member of its own planning board – could not convince the majority of elected officials to take a brief pause in their rash dash to destroy the building.

“Many in the audience saw the 1960 church as a historic asset for the city, comparing it with The Casements and the Anderson-Price Memorial Building next door. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever,” said former Planning Board member and longtime community activist Rita Press.”

Ms. Press is right. 

Historically, many municipalities in Volusia County could give two-shits about, well, our “history.” 

Structures of significance and sensitive greenspace are routinely razed and exploited to pave the way (literally) for a narrow version of “progress” with little, if any, input from those of us who see these tangible connections to our past as integral to our quality of life.

It seems we live in a time and place when a convenience store is considered preferable to 100-year-old specimen hardwoods, environmental buffers, and urban wildlife habitat – gaudy “theme” communities have become more important than the wellspring of our drinking water – a shell parking lot more desirable than one of the last remaining examples of mid-century architecture in the Halifax area.  

A previous church which stood on the property served the citizens of Ormond Beach – including the community’s most famous resident, John D. Rockefeller – since 1886, and the current building anchors the city’s last remaining historic district on Lincoln Avenue. 

As of 2009, the Ormond Beach Union Church was prominently featured on the city’s “Historic Landmark List.”

So, why did it become a mold-encrusted blot on the civic landscape when the city took ownership? A dilapidated eyesore of no viable use to the citizens of Ormond Beach?

According to the Observer’s report, Judith Stein, president of the Ormond Beach Arts District, announced that the Union Church building will be named among the ‘Eleven to Save,’ a list of the state’s most threatened historic properties, by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation at an awards ceremony next week – a distinction that will both increase public awareness and garner “assistance from the organization to identify custom solutions,” including the identification of funding sources. 

“Knowing this now, it would be even sadder if the building received this award ‘posthumously,’” Stein said.

Unfortunately, it appears the destiny of the Union Church has been written in an irrevocable agreement with a demolition contractor.   

Despite the fervent desire of many concerned residents – and the persuasive arguments of Commissioner Dwight Selby and Mayor Bill Partington – Commissioner Rob Littleton could not be swayed, calling even a short delay a “fool’s errand,” a sentiment clearly supported by Commissioner Susan Persis and the always obstinate Commissioner Troy Kent.  

Perhaps Commissioner Littleton is right – trying to communicate our thoughts and opinions to our elected officials on matters of civic importance has become a farce – a wasted effort that is infinitely frustrating for residents seeking input on the future of their community.    

With each disappointment, concerned citizens learn the terrible truth that their voices are meaningless to those we have elected to represent our interests. 

Citizens throughout Volusia County face almost insurmountable obstacles whenever they seek to make themselves heard – labeled cranks, naysayers, and paranoiacs – for having the temerity to question the motivations of an entrenched power structure with a preconceived agenda and behind-the-scenes “plan” that those of us on the outside looking in cannot begin to understand. 

Environmentalists who fight for the preservation of our dwindling greenspace are repeatedly stonewalled by this cloistered system – or have their motives questioned by powerful politicians who bend over backwards to accommodate every need and whim of speculative developers who just happen to be featured prominently on their campaign contributions list.    

Bullshit.

I find hope in the words of author and cultural anthropologist Margret 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.”   

To the members of the Ormond Beach Historical Society, the Ormond Beach Arts District, Ormond MainStreet, other civic organizations, and the committed residents who are trying desperately to save this important structure from destruction and preserve our unique quality of life here in Ormond Beach – I encourage you to keep the faith.

Never quit.

And, most important, please remember this latest insult at the ballot box. 

Angel               Volusia County Clerk of the Court Laura Roth

The Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers honored Volusia County Clerk of the Circuit Court Laura Roth, as their 2020-2021 Clerk of the Year at the organization’s annual installation banquet last month.

The Clerk of the Year Award is presented to an FCCC member who has demonstrated outstanding leadership skills and a commitment to improving the ability of clerks and comptrollers to serve Floridians through professional education, legislative action, and public awareness of the office.

According to a media release by the FCCC, the award was presented by outgoing FCCC President Tara S. Green, Clay County Clerk of Court and Comptroller:

“Clerk Laura Roth has been an instrumental voice in our plans and decision-making as an association, especially so during this last year,” said Green. “She’s a fierce advocate for her constituents, and she never shies away from taking on new responsibilities or initiatives for the benefit of all Clerks. Most recently she served as Chair of the Best Practices Committee and spearheaded our efforts to implement the new Best Practices Excellence Program swiftly and with consistent and clear direction. We thank Clerk Roth for her exceptional service and are proud to present her the 2020-2021 Clerk of the Year award.”

I cannot think of a more deserving recipient for this prestigious award. 

In December 2020, during a meeting of Volusia’s new independent constitutional officers – which include Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis, Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett, and Tax Collector Will Roberts – Ms. Roth suggested that the group form a charity drive to assist the needs of hundreds of homeless students in Volusia County.

In my view, Ms. Roth sets a shining example of true leadership and a welcome concern for the needs of those she serves. 

As the official custodian of court records, Ms. Roth has championed government transparency by hosting one of the most user-friendly public websites in the State of Florida – allowing her constituents easy access to thousands of public records, literally at the stroke of a key, at www.clerk.org .  

According to her impressive bio, Ms. Roth earned her bachelor’s degree from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, and her law degree from the University of Arizona. She became the Volusia County Clerk’s office first in-house legal counsel in 2004, and was appointed the Chief Deputy Clerk, the lead administrator, in 2011.

Ms. Roth first ran for office and became the Clerk of Court for Volusia County in 2016.

Clearly, Ms. Roth and her exceptional deputies work extremely hard each day to live up their motto: “We Love Helping People.”

Congratulations to Clerk Laura Roth on this well-deserved accolade!

Quote of the Week

“Ignoring the voice of the people, not listening to your residents, is a very dangerous, dangerous thing to do. … This is an opportunity to be a hero or not.”    

–Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington, from his closing comments at Tuesday’s controversial special meeting to discuss a delay in destroying the historic Ormond Beach Union Church, as quoted in the Ormond Beach Observer, Wednesday, July 14, 2021

And Another Thing!

I enjoy being around smart people with noble intentions in their heart – that is how I learn – and those good neighbors who comprise the Bellaire Community Group never disappoint. 

Last evening, I had the distinct pleasure of taking a break from the drudgery of politics and get myself some cultcha’ when I was invited to co-host a writer’s roundtable with the extraordinary civic activist Steve Koenig. 

The entertaining hour featured local authors Jeffrey Boyle and Derek Catron – two incredibly talented creatives and gifted storytellers who graciously took questions and gave the attentive audience a glimpse into the fascinating, and intensely personal, process of composing artistic works of fiction. 

A book signing followed the program. 

For anyone new to the Halifax area – or those looking for constructive insight into the civic, social, and economic issues facing Daytona Beach and beyond – I encourage you to attend a meeting of the Bellaire Community Group, which meets the third Thursday of every month at the Schnebly Recreation Center, 1101 N. Atlantic Avenue, beginning at 6:00pm.   

The evening starts with a delicious dinner ($5 donation suggested) and includes monthly reports on crime and safety from a member of the Daytona Beach Police Department’s command staff, followed by an enlightening program featuring topical civic issues which affect our lives and livelihoods on Florida’s Fun Coast.

The meeting ends promptly at 7:30pm. 

A special thanks to Chairman Koenig and everyone who made the Bellaire Community Group’s writers roundtable such an enjoyable experience!

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

Angels & Assholes for July 9, 2021

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             Ghost of the Orange Avenue Bridge  

“On the northeast side of the Orange Avenue Bridge, just at the bridge approach, there have been many reports of a cloaked young woman with long, dark hair over the past few decades. No one is quite sure who this young woman was, but her spirit is very active, and sometimes violent.”

Doris “Dusty” Smith Founder & Chief Researcher, Daytona Beach Paranormal Research Group, Inc., “Encyclopedia of Haunted Places – Ghostly Locales from around the World”

Last summer, just before those of us who paid for it could use it (“…after you, my liege”), the first vehicles trundled across the “new” Tom Staed Veterans Memorial Bridge carrying our best and brightest from the Daytona Beach City Commission and Volusia County Council.

Our political elite, all resplendent in their finery, were so busy patting themselves on the back (after nearly five-years of crippling delays and public disappointments) they were willing to ignore the cosmetic punch list items that remained incomplete.    

After the umpteenth setback, the point man for this debacle, Volusia County Engineer Tad Kasbeer, had become the punchline of a very bad joke – and Mr. Kasbeer stopped making scientific wild-ass guesses in public about when the bridge would finally open.

“It’s up to the contractor to tell us when they’ll open,” a clearly annoyed Kasbeer said in May 2020.

And time marched on. . . 

So, soon after the bridge was determined to be structurally sound by the Florida Department of Transportation – it became clear the span was going to open to traffic come hell or highwater – and the surface warts and blemishes could be addressed later.

In the contractor’s defense, they weathered three hurricanes, a lightning strike, unstable ground, a toppled crane, bad engineering advice, and at least one blooper where the old “measure twice – cut once” apprentice rule was apparently ignored resulting in the height of the bridge railing being “miscalculated.”

Sorry, that should read “at least two bloopers” involving that old craftsman’s axiom.

It seems after the structure was complete, an inspection found that the slope of the bridge exceeded limits set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. . .

You read that right.

The bridge had become our own “I-4 eyesore” – a perpetual ‘pardon our progress’ behemoth, an absurd comedy of errors, beset by an embarrassing series of construction missteps (for which the contractor was ultimately fined some $2.28 million) – all while Beach Street merchants continued to grin and bear it – waiting patiently while even more customer access to their struggling businesses was detoured or blocked in keeping with “the plan.”     

It was the final insult in this farcical slapstick that left concerned onlookers scratching our heads.

Or was it?

Earlier this week, according to an article by the exceptional investigative reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, nearly a year later there are still “a few loose ends” being addressed:

“Before the bridge straddling the Halifax River opened to the public on Aug. 6 last year, there were sporadic cracks in the sidewalks that line both sides of the bridge. The cracks lingered over the past year, and it was just three weeks ago that the contractor covered one small section of the narrow voids with a black sealant as a test to see how that would work.”

Wait.  Did she say Cracks?

“…narrow voids?”

“…test to see how that would work?”

Say what?

According to the News-Journal’s report, Mr. Kasbeer has assured us the “cracks” are more aesthetic than structural (thank God), but to his trained eye, the black sealant used to fill the voids takes away from the overall appearance of the structure. 

Unfortunately, nobody ‘in the know’ sounds completely convinced the goo will ultimately solve the problem.

Hey, what do you want for ~$45 million? 

So, what is the explanation for all this? 

Is the span really cursed by a poltergeist?

Look, I don’t put much stock in the “supernatural.” 

When I was a small boy, my mountain granny, an old soul from the dark hills and hollows of southern Appalachia, explained to me, “It’s not dead people you have to worry about – it’s the live one’s that will get you every time. . .”

She was right.    

Interestingly, a recent Google search led me to a fascinating märchen by Doris “Dusty” Smith, founder of something called the Daytona Beach Paranormal Research Group, a spooky yarn about a mysterious shrouded phantasm who haunts the approach to the Orange Avenue bridge.

According to the campfire tale, “No one is quite sure who this young woman was, but her spirit is very active, and sometimes violent.”

I got to thinking – perhaps this ethereal specter is not malevolent at all – just the righteously pissed-off lost spirit of the long-suffering Volusia County taxpayer? 

A troubled soul, forever doomed to wander the ramparts of the bridge – cloaked in the shame, embarrassment, and outrage our elected and appointed officials seem incapable of – inescapably trapped on a weird astral plane marked by bureaucratic ineptitude, unaccountability, and waste. 

An otherworldly reminder to those of us who are expected to pay the bills and suffer in silence that our role will forever be to stoke the insatiable furnace of these do-nothing bureaucracies and accept gross mediocrity as our destiny.   

Sound plausible? 

Hell, even a dubious ghost story makes more sense than the ‘he said/she said’ finger-pointing and lame excuses proffered by contractors and government entities as to why our long overdue Veteran’s Memorial Bridge remains substandard five-years on. 

Rock on, ghost girl. 

We need your haunting reminder of the grim fate that awaits when we keep electing and appointing the same dullards to positions of power and expecting a different result.

Angel               Beach Clean-Up Volunteers   

When I was a wayward child, I loved fireworks. 

On our frequent family trips to visit my grandparents in East Tennessee, we would pass those garish roadside stands that dotted old highway 221 in South Carolina – wooden open-air markets with names like “Pyro Joe’s Fireworks & Peaches” painted with kitschy scenes advertising Black Cat firecrackers, Atomic Howlers, Sonic Screechers, and Volcanic Fizz-Bangs.

A twelve-year-old boys dream. . .    

For the rest of the trip, I would sit in the backseat meticulously inspecting my pyrotechnic treasure trove – waiting for that moment I could borrow my dad’s Zippo and let ‘em blast among the big black walnut trees that shaded the backyard.  

Poppers and boom-booms, flying saucer-like things gloriously spewing showers of fire as they arced through the night sky – the rockets’ red glare the whizzers bursting in air.

It was magnificent! 

Right up until my goofy little sister would invariably step on a hot sparkler wire – hopping around and screeching like she had been branded by Beelzebub’s own iron – then, my fun was over as quickly as it began. . .  

As I approach 61-years-old next month – now the quintessential ‘crotchety old bastard’ – I am no longer a fan of fireworks.

My two shell-shocked dogs will second that emotion.

But we suffer in silence. Even a cantankerous crank like me can tolerate anything for a few days – and I didn’t want to spoil the fun on our nation’s 245th birthday – but what I cannot abide is personal irresponsibility, especially when it endangers wildlife and disrespects our most precious natural asset.    

As in years past, last weekend’s Independence Day holiday saw thousands of revelers take to Volusia County beaches to celebrate with heavy artillery (loosely termed “fireworks”) of all calibers and types. 

Unfortunately, when the party was over, some careless beachgoers left tons of debris behind. 

Just walked off and left the smoldering mess for someone else to worry about. 

It happens every year. 

Who does that?

Most of us who call this salty piece of paradise home were disgusted by the sight – a job which always seems insurmountable in the light of day.        

I was reminded of a quote by the great Fred Rogers who once said his mother reacted to disturbing news by telling him, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’

It’s true. 

On Monday morning, dedicated volunteers from all walks of life assembled along the width and breadth of our coastline to assist waste management contractors and Volusia County employees with the monumental task of collecting and disposing of trailer loads of trash – dangerous debris which poses a threat to sea life and shorebirds that can ingest or become entangled in it.

In addition, these selfless citizens smoothed divots and trenches in the sand that can be deathtraps for endangered sea turtles. 

A special thanks to the groups, individuals, elected officials, and beach management personnel from throughout Volusia County and beyond – the helpers – who so graciously donated their time to help clean our beautiful beach and protect this sensitive environment.

Once again, you have filled my beat-up old heart and restored my faith in the basic goodness of Fun Coast residents.    

Quote of the Week

“This week I got the unfortunate privilege of being the target of Barker’s Angels and rearends. Barker appears to be a wannabe reporter or columnist that could not procure gainful employment with a legitimate news organization so he made up his own little space.

On one hand he touts his humility as a member of the Peanut gallery, in the next paragraph he brags about taking the News Journal to task.

If one were to assess what Barker really thinks of himself, it would be a safe bet that he thinks pretty highly of himself.

Barker try’s to defend and deflect from his unwarranted attacks on elected officials by insisting that they are getting down in the mud with him which is really a deflection from the fact that he doesn’t like to be challenged, so he uses this fake humble persona to try to make the target appear petty for addressing his diatribe. Barker seems to delight in his comments being controversial, as if he is stirring up some huge clandestine hornet’s nest, further making my point that he is eat up with his own self importance.

Barker seems to have the world view that it’s us against them or in other words the rich against the poor, and that the wealthy and powerful are all out to get people in the “Peanut gallery” as he puts it, a world view that I find narrow and paranoid.

Barker has tried to paint suspicion around my intentions as a city commissioner because I attended a meeting with what he appears to suggest are the wealthy oligarchs of Volusia county. This gesture on my part was the act of a neophyte in his opinion, and points out that no other elected official was there. It’s a good thing that guilty by association isn’t a flogging offense because Barker would have me tied to the whipping post.

I feel that it is in the best interest of my constituents that I know what’s going on in our community. I have attended many events since I have taken office and this is just one of the many. If that means that I must suffer the fate of criticism from wannabe reporters that don’t even live in my district and have never held public office, so be it.

If my constituents are happy with the job I am doing, that’s all I need to worry about, but Barker doesn’t live in my zone, he doesn’t even live in Daytona Beach, so if I appear to be a bit insensitive to his personal observation, he’ll just have to get over it. But I found his indictment of my accepting an invitation to the welcoming of our new city manager unwarranted and unsolicited.

I have no problem with criticism when it is justified, but making predictions or indictments based on conjecture and paranoia don’t pass the smell test. If someone wants to make themselves look more important by criticizing an elected official, then at least have something of substance to criticize them on. Trying to create suspicion based on some false perception of something as harmless as an invitation to a welcoming of a city employee is the work of a neophyte.

My intentions and world view doesn’t change with the direction of the political winds, and I am not easily manipulated. So my advice to Barker is to chill, and if you want to criticize me in the future, feel free, but know this, I won’t resist the temptation to get down in the mud as you call it, if I think the charge is unfounded, petty, or silly. Just my view.”

–District 4 Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu, writing on Facebook, Friday, July 2, 2021

I like freshman Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu.

She’s got spunk. 

And clearly a good judge of character. . .

But Chill?  Nah.

Regrettably, I am everything she claimed: Brash, opinionated, crude, a vainglorious and egomaniacal blowhard who enjoys kicking the hornet’s nest of local politics, prying open backroom doors, and pointing out where those who are actually in the arena stumbled. 

A crass critic of the status quo – a wary observer of the issues and newsmakers of the day.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I will accept Ms. Cantu’s pleonastic flogging in the spirit in which it was offered.

The fact of the matter is – it does not matter who, or what, I am.

Because my decisions do not affect the lives and livelihoods of 70,000 residents and countless small business owners who eke out a living in the City of Daytona Beach – or the thousands more in the Halifax area who depend upon a level social, civic, and economic playing field.

During my many years in government, I knew more than a few who assumed elected leadership positions and subscribed to the “A lion doesn’t explain themselves to a sheep” philosophy, which means they do and say whatever they want, when they want.

Damn the perceptions. 

The potential downside to that extraordinary level of self-confidence and sense of infallibility often comes during times of crisis, when hubristic elected officials are left adrift as staff, gadflies, and constituents come to realize their input is neither welcome nor considered. 

It can be hard to watch.   

In my experience, smart elected officials use criticism, disapproval, even unwarranted blame, to their strategic advantage, and realize early that the slings and arrows of harsh criticism comes with the territory. 

Being a good listener is a universal quality of exceptional servant-leaders – a learned skill that requires they develop some hard bark – and the humility to not take themselves too seriously. 

They know that listening to detractors and civic naysayers provides a unique educational opportunity that many of their thin-skinned colleagues miss – a window into the thoughts and opinions of those they serve – a practice that builds trust as citizens realize their voices are being heard.   

I hope my previous assessment of Commissioner Cantu’s appearance at a private soiree held by our “Rich & Powerful” to “welcome” Daytona Beach City Manager Deric Feacher to the ways and means of how things are done here on the Fun Coast is wrong. 

In my view, Commissioner Cantu’s grit is refreshing – and she has real potential to help foster the positive transformation everyone in the Halifax area has waited patiently for. 

My hope is that she will remain focused on the myriad issues facing her challenged community – and remember that it is not windy magpies like me that she must concern herself with.

Rather, the real threat to Commissioner Cantu’s political effectiveness and longevity – and that of her colleagues on the dais of power – remains with the legions of long-suffering Daytona Beach residents who have become so disillusioned that they no longer complain out loud to politicians who seem to take their marching orders from a few insiders with a chip in the game.

Instead, they make their voice heard at the ballot box.

If memory serves, I think that is how she came to this important seat in the first place. . .  

And Another Thing!

In 1854, Abraham Lincoln wrote the “…object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.”

In my view, this includes providing for the protection of life and property by ensuring compliance with codes governing the construction and maintenance of buildings and facilities where we live, work, and learn – laws that are typically passed in the horrific aftermath of fires, floods, and failures that take human life in often predictable incidents that ‘should have, could have, would have,’ been addressed long before tragedy struck.   

During my working life, I was once a guest at the Hyatt Regency Kansas City – a beautiful downtown hotel and convention center that had an eerie feel of familiarity to it. 

While having a cocktail on a mezzanine overlooking the lobby, I realized that this was the site of the 1981 collapse of two overhead walkways that took the lives of 114 people and injured 216 more – at the time, the deadliest non-deliberate structural failure in American history. 

I later spoke with a Kansas City police officer who had been a first responder and his vivid recollections of that warm July evening when a tea dance turned to tragedy were the stuff of nightmares. . .    

After an exhaustive investigation, it was concluded that the cause of the collapse was a lack of communication between architects, engineers, and the materials manufacturer following a simple design change.

The original structural engineer later remarked, “Any first-year engineering student could figure it out, if only it had been checked.”

Damn.

Earlier this week in the beachside community of Surfside, the catastrophic results of what happens when greed, poor maintenance practices, and lackadaisical government oversight combine, as the teetering ruins of the disastrous Champlain Towers South condominium were demolished to make safe the grim chore of recovering the remains of victims. 

Trust me – when the finger-pointing is done – there will be enough internal and external blame to go around – cold comfort for the loved ones of the 159 souls reported missing and now presumed dead. 

Following the unfathomable disaster in Surfside, many Volusia County residents became rightfully concerned about the age and condition of our own beachside construction – after all, we face the same corrosive environmental conditions here – and, in my view, the same bureaucratic mediocrity. . .

For instance, the intrepid civic activist Paul Zimmerman, president of Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, Sons of the Beach, recently took to social media to post disturbing photographs he took three-years ago of what appear to be crumbling concrete support columns in the underground garage of the Hard Rock Daytona – a hotel that was built on the bones of the former Desert Inn Resort – which once held the dubious distinction as one of the dirtiest hotels in America.

In February 2018, Mr. Zimmerman first brought the photos to light as the newly renovated hotel raced to meet a completion deadline which would ensure 410’ linear feet of traffic-free beach behind the property. 

At the time, in a News-Journal article by former reporter Dustin Wyatt, Abbas Abdulhussein, CEO of Summit Hospitality Management Group, assured everyone, “There were some cosmetic failings, which we repaired,” he said. “The building’s not going anywhere.”  

Earlier this month, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that Paulita Kundid, the owner of the two-story Sea Dunes, which sits in the shadow of the Protogroup’s towering Daytona Grande hotel, filed a short-lived code enforcement complaint concerning the unsightly condition of rusted and corroded reinforcing steel supporting what will be the foundation of the North Tower. 

According to the News-Journal’s report, the code enforcement investigation was closed the following day when it was determined the area is an “active construction site”:

“The inspector observed rust on the rebar, but since it is an active construction site, with a current building permit, any inspection, violation or monitoring of the project falls under the jurisdiction of the city’s building department,” Susan Cerbone, city spokeswoman, said by email. “The contractor, as well as the owner Alexey Petrovich Lysich, are well aware that before they go vertical on the north tower, a structural certification needs to be performed by an engineer and submitted to the city.”   

Let’s hope so. . .

Last week, Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower proactively reached out to Governor Ron DeSantis detailing his efforts to stiffen inspection requirements for beachside structures:

“We inspect our own bridges every two years but there are no requirements to re-inspect multilevel beachside structures – at any time after construction – in the Florida Building Code or by County Ordinance. In Volusia, most of the condominiums, hotels, and motels are within the city limits of our municipalities but there are also a number in unincorporated Volusia County. 

This is a potential hazard, as we have all seen, that I hope we can come together on as local governments.

Since the Florida legislature is not in session it will likely be faster to take precautions at the local level. That is also our responsibility. I am asking for a discussion to be placed on our July agenda so the Council can start creating a plan that is reasonable and productive for the safety of employees, residents, and guests who use these structures in unincorporated Volusia County. I have also brought this up to our Roundtable of Volusia County Elected Officials.”

On Wednesday, during an informative appearance on WNDB’s Marc Bernier Show, Chairman Brower indicated that he is already receiving “mind your own business” pushback from certain camps. . .

Frightening. 

I hope you will join me in supporting Chairman Brower’s lifesaving push for heightened inspection requirements for aging high-rise properties during the Volusia County Council’s discussion on July 20th. 

Let it never again be said, “If it had only been checked.”

This one is important. 

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

Why Bother? Because it’s important.

“I need money

I need love

I need a Cadillac

To give me a shove

And get me out of this up-tight

Midnight

Into some limelight… Again

Yeah ’cause I know

My ego

Ain’t my amigo

Anymore…”

–Terry Allen, My Amigo, from the album Lubbock (on everything), 1979

Since retiring from municipal service, I have staggered through life like a demented Diogenes, my dim lamp in hand, always searching for an open and honest politician who puts their long-suffering constituents before their craven self-interests and those of the powerful forces who control them.    

Good luck with that, Barker. . .

I have learned a few things along the way. Such as the fact politicians seek high office for myriad reasons.

But the truth is, no one of sound mind enters that dark and bloody arena without a hunger for power and influence. 

Some find themselves drawn to elective service for purely altruistic reasons – a burning desire to effect positive change in their community, state, or nation – motivated by a pure, unadulterated sense of civic duty and a willingness to devote their time and talents to improving the quality of life of their neighbors. 

I think most neophyte politicians – those bright-eyed newcomers who, in their naivety, still believe they can be all things to all people without crossing lines – begin with the innocent notion that politics is a noble pursuit, an honorable means to a fair and just end. 

During my three-decades in government service, I had the pleasure of working with some genuinely good people who sought elective office for all the right reasons – open to constructive criticism, focused on the rules of quality governance and their fiduciary responsibility, always fighting against the forces of bureaucratic mediocrity, willing to put ego aside and practice the art of negotiation, never compromising their personal ethics or sense of fairness.

Fortunately, there are many of these selfless elected officials who work tirelessly on boards, councils, commissions, and committees throughout Volusia County.

Trust me.  That is not an easy proposition in an environment where well-heeled factions work hard – and spend exorbitant sums of money – to influence public policy to their advantage – and many local candidates are hand-selected by the fusty upper crust of various partisan fishing camps (and those they report to behind the scenes), chosen exclusively for their malleability, in a place where any grassroot candidate faces an uphill battle, often from their own party infrastructure. 

Don’t take my word for it, ask Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower how beating the Darling of the Donor Class by simply holding firm to his principles and running on a noble platform of serving the needs of We, The Little People has worked out for him?

I have also seen my share of well-meaning elected officials slowly succumb to the heady lies of their own inflated self-importance and surrender to the trappings and perquisites of office, finally becoming everything they despised upon entering politics, consumed by their own ego, as they are granted temporary membership in that very exclusive club – where important people fawn over them and laugh at their jokes – right up until the moment they are no longer of use to them.

That process typically starts when a D List politician develops an overweening sense of infallibility – convinced that those of us who point fingers and challenge their warped version of our grim reality have no right to criticize how the sausage is made.

Sound familiar?

So, they bleat and coo, posture, and preen – all while telling us commoners to ignore that little man behind the curtain – driven by the arrogance of power, immersing themselves in the ceremonial aspects of their “public service” – presenting puffy proclamations, rubbing elbows with the elite, and posing for pictures with “celebrity politicians” – while thousands of their constituents continue to live below the poverty line, work dead-end jobs, and suffer in silence while blight and dilapidation grips forgotten areas of the community and malignant sprawl threatens our sensitive green places and drinking water supply.

Then, rather than maintain laser focus on problem solving and developing a sustainable civic vision – they waste valuable time squabbling with their harshest critic (me), clowning for their supporters, painting a surreal picture of prosperity, and subliminally warning those who blow the whistle on this lopsided, incestuous, oligarchical system to keep their nose out of what should be the people’s business.

In my view, it is this abject arrogance that has brought us to this dim place in our history – and why many grassroots activists in the Halifax area are so passionate about changing the political culture and leveling the playing field. 

I am often accused of opining on issues that do not occur where I vote – marginalized by the narrowminded argument, “He doesn’t even live (insert city, district, or zone here),” dismissed as a malevolent outside agitator, even as they crow about spending millions in federal dollars, or approving massive developments that affect the lives of tens-of-thousands who live outside the jurisdictional boundaries of the community in question. 

Many ask why I bother. 

After all, what is there to be gained from constantly going against the grain, pushing back against an entrenched culture that has proven, time-and-again, that it abhors constructive criticism and outside input, then works overtime to demonize and dismiss anyone who points out the absurdities of government and politics here on the Fun Coast?

Because it is important that our local government not be the exclusive playground of what The Daytona Beach News-Journal has called our “Rich & Powerful” and those cowardly marionettes who serve them from the dais of power. 

That’s why. 

The fact is, if you care about good governance in the place you live, work, and pay taxes, you should care about good governance everywhere – because in the mosaic of communities that make up Volusia County – we are wholly interdependent, with more in common than not. 

Dysfunctional politics begets defective policy – and, perhaps worse, perpetuates the lack of vision and defined civic direction that has turned the World’s Most Famous Beach and beyond into a social, civic, and economic cautionary tale. . .    

Now is the time for civic minded people to begin the mental and physical process of considering a run for office in 2022 and 2024. 

Why bother?  Because its important. 

It is a sacred call to service that should not be taken lightly – especially when political contests here on Florida’s Fun Coast have taken on the characteristics of an industrial meatgrinder. 

But for those intrepid few with a fire in belly – with the courage to put ego and selfish motives aside and wield the enormous power and influence of high office to make a true difference in the life of your community – the opportunity to effect substantive change where we live, work, learn, and play is worthy of the effort and sacrifice.