On Volusia: Don’t Forget to Flush!

As I examine the machinations of Volusia County government, sometimes I wonder if my mind is playing tricks on me – like staring fixedly into one of those fun house mirrors.

The old, “That can’t be right, can it?” mental gymnastics that keep me guessing.

Then, I realize that fact really is stranger than fiction here on the Fun Coast. . .

Earlier this week, in a ditty entitled “Sorting Fact from Fiction,” I questioned the wholly confusing “do this, don’t do that – no more than six people in a group – maintain ten-foot intervals, park between the poles, not those poles, the new poles, etc., etc.” revised rules and regulations controlling otherwise lawful activities on Volusia County beaches.

Apparently, County Manager George Recktenwald and our doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley, concocted a poorly thought “half-opening” to keep up with Governor Ron DeSantis’ painfully slow restoration of our tattered economy – an edict which now permits the once verboten pleasures of sitting and sunbathing on the beach – without fear of arrest and prosecution for a second-degree misdemeanor. . .

Unfortunately, there were some glaring discrepancies surrounding the soft opening that no one on the dais of power in DeLand – or any of our highly paid “beach management” experts – bothered to ask before visitors flooded the shore on Saturday.

So, I did my best to sound the klaxon.

Last weekend, I issued a serious warning to the thousands of beachgoers – including the disabled and mobility impaired who were allowed vehicular access under strict controls – to consider where, exactly, they planned to exercise their “bodily functions,” considering the fact every off-beach public restroom remained inexplicably gated and padlocked.

“…if you do venture down to the beach, I hope you are close to home – or don’t have an aversion to emptying your bowels and bladder in the surf, among your friends, family and neighbors – because, for reasons known only to Volusia County officials, public restrooms remain closed to public use. . .

Hell, even I thought that one was over-the-top. . .

I mean, is it humanly possible that following weeks of forced isolation – with confined children unable to attend school, parents climbing the walls and thousands of out of work residents looking for a diversion – those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest could possibly allow unfettered beach access without considering the personal needs of visitors?

Like many of you, I initially thought, “This must have been an unfortunate oversight – another bungling bureaucratic mistake – eventually, our highly paid beach management experts will realize that, at some point in the day, people will need to pee and poop, and unlock the facilities.

Let’s face it – anything less would be cruel – or, at the very least, horrifically stupid, right?

Who in their right mind would suggest that throngs of beachgoers be forced to create unsafe and unsanitary conditions by relieving themselves in the crowded surf, exposing visitors and residents to serious gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses, infections and disease as raw sewage distributes fecal bacteria and viruses in the shallow the water.

Screw the gross-out factor – Is that even legal?

For years, our elected and appointed officials in county government have done everything in their power to discourage beach access and destroy the experience, to include using our century old heritage of beach driving as a bargaining chip for speculative developers seeking a quasi-private strand, charging obscene access fees, bullying tourists and residents with officious law enforcement and littering our most important natural amenity with countless poles, posts, cones and signage.

Regardless, I could never have imagined that our elected officials would open beaches to “all activities” – then attempt to control crowd behavior by manipulating the public’s right to urinate and defecate in sanitary facilities.

It defies reason.    

Just last week, Volusia County purchased some $30,000 in “utility markers” (not including installation) using CARE Act funds – a move ostensibly designed to force ridiculously wide social distance spacing between parked vehicles – yet, they couldn’t task a few maintenance personnel to open and supply public restrooms?

What gives? 

This couldn’t have been intentional, right?  

Fortunately, the intrepid investigative journalist Mike Springer of WFTV-9, reached out to Chairman Kelley for hard answers on how this colossal blunder happened.

Having reached Old Ed by phone, Mr. Springer inquired:

“We hear the importance of having good hygiene and being sanitary when you are out and about, but if we have thousands of people at the beach, how are we able to have good hygiene and sanitation if we can’t use the bathroom there to wash our hands and do other things?”

 Inconceivably – in the most classically daft response ever uttered by a sitting elected official – Chairman Kelley, the highest-ranking elected official in Volusia County, explained:

“That was a good question.  They got the ocean.  It’s one of those things where we just weren’t ready, but we wanted to get people back on the beach.  We could have put it off a week because I fully expect that this weekend.”

They got the ocean?

Let that sink in for a moment. . .

Sorry, but we are all adults here – and there is no delicate way to say this:

It is now the official policy of Volusia County for beachgoers to relieve themselves in the same surf-line where thousands of men, women and children – your friends, family and neighbors – are swimming, surfing, sitting and enjoying a day at the beach? 

Seriously?

Rather than simply open public restrooms – this dullard would rather we turn the Worlds Most Famous Beach into the River Ganges?

My God.

Then, rather than admit Chairman Kelley has lost his marbles, Ray Manchester, Chief of Volusia County beach safety, doubled down on Old Ed’s preposterous suggestion – and, in the process, destroyed any shred of professional credibility he had left – when he told The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Due to challenges with decontamination, the public restrooms remain closed,” said Manchester. “These facilities present a challenge because they create an opportunity for the easy spread of germs and bacteria.”

But forcing visitors to drop a deuce in the waves is perfectly acceptable?

Are you shitting me, Ray?  (Pun intended. . .)

In my view, this horrible miscalculation by senior officials is one thing, but the ridiculous, self-serving excuse provided by Kelley and Manchester epitomize the strange culture of this terribly compromised organization – a sick joke that insults the intelligence of taxpayers who look on as our most precious natural amenity is fouled and mismanaged – as the county’s official response to the Coronavirus outbreak is exposed for the inept sham it is.

What a shit show.  (Literally.)

(Sorry, I’ve got a million of them. . .)

But most important, please don’t forget to flush these turds this fall – and let’s begin the important process of restoring honor and credibility to Volusia County government.

Enjoy the beach, kids.  I think I’ll take a pass. . .

 

 

On Volusia: Sorting Fact from Fiction

As most of you have figured out – I tend to overthink things. . .

I invariably take a deep dive on the issues that bother me, then let my mind wander; always searching for the “why” of the situation, a brooding, ruminative process that often begets more darker questions.

Perhaps this weird contemplative personality quirk comes from decades in law enforcement, where we practice the art and science of forensic investigation – gathering and analyzing items of physical evidence – blood, hairs, fibers, latent fingerprints, ballistics, toolmarks etc. – interviewing witnesses, interrogating suspects, developing timelines and determining the “who, what, when, how and why” of a crime.

Deductive “fact-based” reasoning leading to a logical and legal conclusion.

I’ve found that here on the Fun Coast, it’s difficult for most to begin dissecting the machinations of government, because most people tend to base their examination on the “message” – the official narrative – which is typically pushed as a series of “reframed” facts designed to reduce any negative impact or political criticism.

We receive what passes for “news” from paid governmental mouthpieces – “public information” professionals who are experts in spin and obfuscation – who present a biased interpretation of events as a means of influencing public opinion – then speak “for” our elected and appointed officials when the questions get tricky using canned “talking points” and soundbites.

It is an effective political insulation practice – one that removes any requirement that those we elect to represent our interests should have to think for themselves, formulate cogent answers to our questions and actually communicate with worried constituents.

The process isolates elected officials – cementing the impenetrable wall that separates “us from them” – barriers that are bolstered by talk of further limiting public participation in government (during a time we can’t even be in the same room together), putting “decorum” over citizen input while limiting the competition of debate, extending even more physical and emotional distance between citizens and our increasingly monarchical office-bearers.

Then, there are individual politicians who – in an attempt to paint themselves as a “maverick” – focus on manipulating the minutia of the official message, arguing semantics and inflating their contribution while quibbling process – a dramatic performance that only serves to expose their own ignorance of what’s actually happening outside the Ivory Tower of Power – the things that truly matter to us, the Little People.

Now, imagine a scenario where, as our local, state and national political systems continue to contract and centralize power in external forces with no political accountability, professional journalists and “news organizations” increasingly accept (even reinforce) the official propaganda of government when it serves mutual goals.

Scary, right? 

Well, welcome to our collective nightmare. . .

If the Coronavirus craze has exposed anything, it’s that “media driven hype” has a synergistic effect on our politicians inability to think for themselves – creating a situation where public policy is formulated, changed, then changed yet again – as local government attempts to mitigate the worst case scenarios and subjective projections of those who make a living selling the news – driving reader/viewership with sensationalized versions of reality.

Then, some just get it wrong – because its easier (and cheaper) for a news agency to simply regurgitate an emailed press release than actually seek the unvarnished truth. . .

For instance, in a recent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal heralding the “opening” of Volusia County beaches, headlined: “Volusia beaches draw crowds:  Reopening of county sands, surf for all activities met with cheers by people, but hesitancy still looms,” didn’t tell the whole story.

The fact is – Volusia County beaches are not open for “all activities” – and any suggestion to the contrary is simply misleading.

For instance, with the exception of highly regulated parking for persons with disabilities, vehicular access to our beach – a century old tradition that defines the Worlds Most Famous Beach – remains completely closed.

To that end, some $30,000 in CARE Act funds have been squandered on 1,800 “utility markers” which will mandate where visitors and residents may park on driving areas of the beach to force separation – an expenditure that passed muster with the Volusia County Council, even as thousands of families seek sustenance at overburdened food banks and small businesses succumb to the unfair mandates of government officials who haven’t lost one dime in salary or benefits since this lock-down began.

Off beach parking remains restricted.

Our ability to peaceably assemble in groups over six – or use our own judgement to maintain adequate social distancing – is officially controlled by unilateral edict of (I think) County Manager George Recktenwald, who continues to remind us that any violation of his diktats carries the possibility of arrest and prosecution for a second-degree misdemeanor.

And, if you do venture down to the beach, I hope you are close to home – or don’t have an aversion to emptying your bowels and bladder in the surf, among your friends, family and neighbors – because, for reasons known only to Volusia County officials, public restrooms remain closed to public use. . .

You read that right.

And, so far, I haven’t heard any working journalist question the reason “why”. . .

What a crock of shit (literally).

Angels & Assholes for May 1, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Volusia County Government

On Wednesday, Volusia County residents were greeted with this provocative headline in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Coronavirus: Uncooperative beachgoers make reopening Volusia beaches difficult”

Bullshit.

Is anyone else sick and tired of being openly blamed and villainized by clueless elected and appointed officials who continue to project their clumsy mishandling of their “response” to the coronavirus outbreak on law-abiding citizens?

Yeah.  Me too. . .

After enacting arbitrary “rules” for beachgoers – a horribly confusing mishmash of “do this, don’t do that, no, you can do that but not this” regulations ostensibly designed to protect us from ourselves – we’re told that our Beach Safety personnel (which lost all objectivity and impartiality early when their union published a manifesto demanding the complete closure of our beach) have issued over 2,500 warnings and six citations to citizens who had the gall to sit on the sand.

Then, last week, persons with disabilities were allowed to drive onto the beach at designated approaches – but once they were there – yet another asinine “rule” prohibited the mobility-impaired from sitting outside their vehicle.

What gives?

Is this open shaming of disabled beach-goers the official policy of the Volusia County Council?

Or just the subjective enforcement of illogical, poorly planned pseudo-legislation by a slow-on-the-uptake Beach Safety Department who, according to County Manager George Recktenwald, is still “learning as they go”?

Trust me:  When over 2,500 citizens are found in “violation” of the rules – the problem lies in the terribly flawed and virtually unenforceable regulations – not with citizens engaged in otherwise lawful activities. 

In my view, if our elected representatives want to provoke civil disobedience and flagrant disregard of the “law” – keep suppressing our access to public beaches, amenities, trails and parks with draconian decrees and officious enforcement that turns good citizens into criminals for the heinous act of sitting down. . .

Effective tomorrow, we are being told that the beach is “open to all activities” – except driving, gathering in groups of more than six, being closer than ten-feet apart, etc., etc.

Which, I think, means you can now sit down on the beach without fear of being prosecuted for a second-degree misdemeanor – but that’s not “open” – not by a long shot. . .

Regular readers of these screeds know that I’ve never been a fan of the Volusia County Council – a stultified parody of an elected body that has mutated into a ridiculous theater of the absurd; a ham-fisted bully who long-ago lost the ability to think for itself or act with independence from its uber-wealthy overseers – that has, once again, exposed itself as a grossly inept hindrance during this endless “State of Emergency.”

However, during this weeks installment of what was either a faux public meeting – or another goofy political posturing session cloaked as a “briefing” – I heard a paid public official issue one of the most nonsensical, inappropriate and outrageously stupid ideas ever hatched by a local government.

With an apparent straight-face (we don’t know, we couldn’t see her on the “virtual” meeting screen), Mr. Recktenwald’s coadjutor, Suzanne Konchan, explained to our elected dullards that Volusia County has purchased some 1,800 “utility markers” (at $16.55 each) which will be installed at intervals on what remains of driving portions of the beach.

You read that right.

Apparently, our “beach management” experts plan to place even more hideous poles between the existing “conservation area” pillars to designate temporary socially distant parking spaces – a move which, when driving is allowed to return, will separate cars by 25-feet and limit beach access to approximately 210 cars per mile.     

My God. 

This disastrous plan – that adds even more ugly pole/sign pollution to the forest already in place – is so wrongheaded that it causes one to wonder how ostensibly smart people, who accept public funds to serve in the public interest, could possibly have dreamt it up?

Perhaps most disturbing – not one of our elected officials questioned this idiocy – or, to my knowledge, acted to formally approve the nearly $30,000 expenditure of CARES Act funds which we are told will be used to pay for this latest fiasco.

Really?

With tens-of-thousands of Volusia County residents out of work, area businesses closing and families standing in line for sustenance at strapped food banks – this is how our elected officials plan to use $30,000 of the $96.5 million in federal coronavirus relief? 

Unbelievable.

Look, whether you agree with my goofy opinions – or abhor everything blowhards like me stand for – know this:

None of this is our fault.

You are not to blame.  

Our community has done an incredible job of following guidelines and recommendations, practiced social distancing, worn masks, remained in isolation and done our level best to obey the rules, flatten the curve and limit the spread of COVID-19.

Now, remember this pretentious tut-tutting and godawful finger-pointing at the ballot box this fall.   

You do not have to stand idle and accept unwarranted blame – or fear “more strict action in the future” if you fail to conform to these convoluted, puzzling, self-serving and completely unconstitutional mandates from that ship of fools in DeLand – a troupe of elected and appointed jacklegs who have proven, through their own glaring ineptitude, just how utterly compromised Volusia County government truly is.

Angel              Local Musicians, Artists and Creatives

Throughout recorded history, we have used music and the arts to endure times of crisis, to protest, salve our fears, alleviate national sorrow, bolster our confidence and bond with one another.

Artists fill a vital role in protecting our mental and societal health during uncertain times.

In fact, one of the most enduring stories from the last hours of RMS Titanic was when the ship’s musicians gathered to play for frightened passengers and bring a sense of calm in the midst of certain disaster.

During this extended period of social confinement – a seemingly endless period of isolation that has had such a devastating impact on the psychological well-being of so many who feel lonely, increasingly anxious, forgotten and claustrophobic – several area musicians and entertainers have taken to social media to boost our flagging spirits in their own inimitable way.

Asking nothing in return, incredible local talent like my friend Reuben “The Lounge Lizard” Morgan, who, in addition to being an exceptional guitarist/singer/songwriter, just happens to be an all-around great human being – and the incomparable Mark “Muddyharp” Hodgson, New Smyrna’s own harmonica virtuoso – and many others who have regularly performed “virtual” concerts on Facebook to the absolute delight of so many in our community and beyond.

Add to that the incredible contributions of my dear friend Miguel “DJ Dynasty” Capellan, who has produced wonderful shows online – and all the chefs, artists, painters, radio hosts and other creatives who have brought light to this dark time.

In fact, some of my favorite nationally recognized performers – like the great Texas troubadours Pat Green and Ray Wylie Hubbard – have regularly performed songs in their living rooms, bringing a real personal connection that let’s everyone know we really are in this together.

It is truly something special when artists who are feeling the devastating financial impact of this economic crisis – missing scheduled performances and paying gigs while trying to keep their own small businesses afloat – put their own worries and fear aside to brighten the lives of others.

From the bottom of my beat-up old heart – thank you.

Thank you.

I have a request for all members of the Barker’s View Tribe:

When this mess is behind us, and we can once again join together and listen to live music, sing along and enjoy the incredible talents of our local musicians – please put an extra something in the tip jar to show your heartfelt appreciation for letting the music sooth our souls during this difficult time.

Quote of the Week

“It’s important that we heed the governor’s guidance and ensure our actions fall in line with the state,” Kelley said. “We want to open, for me the sooner the better, but safely.”

–Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, Wednesday, April 29, 2020

As Governor Ron DeSantis slowly peels the onion on his politically cautious “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step” plan for resurrecting the rotting remains of our state’s economy, the Volusia County Council is working on a similarly guarded strategy called “Relaunch Volusia.”

Whatever that means. . .

After all, now that the federal government has turned on the funding spigot, there’s no sense rushing into things, eh?

Even with “the curve” now flatter than a cheap pancake, state and local government officials continue to pick the winners and losers – placing absurd limits on how some businesses can operate – while keeping other industries closed altogether, almost ensuring the financial ruin of many small businesses in our community.

(How can anyone believe that a restaurant can survive with a forced occupancy of 25% of capacity?)

Now, these arrogant phonies on the dais of power – who haven’t lost a dime in salary or benefits during this hyper-extended “State of Emergency” – want to drag their clay feet on when the marketplace can open its doors – all to avoid even a hint of political criticism.

My ass.

Earlier this week, I listened, mouth agape, to a Special Meeting of the Volusia County Council as Councilwoman Heather Post argued semantics with Corrections officials – demanding that they stop saying there have been no coronavirus cases among inmates or staff (even though there haven’t been) – citing the fact no testing has been done.

Apparently, Ms. Post failed to grasp the fact no testing had been done because no inmates or staff members have exhibited symptoms of coronavirus. . .

That is the most pressing issue of our time?

This is what passes for leadership during a civic, social and economic crisis? 

When our elected and appointed officials should be burning the midnight oil determining how to get much-needed financial support to low/moderate income families who are out of work, assisting struggling small businesses and partnering with local governments to determine needs – they twiddle away precious time debating messaging? 

Then, I heard the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys all but burst into a rousing chorus of the Ray Stevens classic “Everything is Beautiful” – as she asked that the county’s website make room for “all good news, all the time” – while no doubt watching her political career dissipation light flicker in the corner of her eye.

During my long career in public service, I saw some in leadership positions come apart under pressure.

That painful process always manifested in repeatedly telling themselves things weren’t as bad as they seem – focusing only on the “good news” while consciously ignoring reality – hoping against hope someone, or something, will intervene to lessen their personal and professional responsibility for the outcome.

Sad.

As I observed Tuesday’s painful posturing and political grandstanding – a horror show of preening pomposity – I wondered if anyone on the dais had even once considered the pain many Volusia County families are feeling right now – or consider their important role in alleviating it?

So, in this leadership void, I suggest you be you – and I’m not being facetious.

Seriously – stay home if you feel vulnerable, continue to take reasonable precautions, wash your hands, avoid large groups, follow CDC distancing guidelines, don’t go to the beach if you feel it’s a threat, etc. – but now is the time to take back personal responsibility for our own health and safety, and stop looking to this out-of-control Nanny State for answers and solutions they don’t have.

You do not need to be told what to do by Governor DeSantis, Chairman Kelley or anyone else!

We must bring this absurd chapter of our national history to a close.

In my view, now that we have beaten the virus back to manageable levels, it’s time to stop this torturous seclusion that has stolen our basic liberties – end the arbitrary shutdowns that are crushing our economy – and get Volusia County residents back to work.

And Another Thing!

Because I am one of the vainest, most self-absorbed assholes you know, it pains me to say this – but, I’m tired.

I know you are too.

I’ve lost that ‘pep in my step’ – my sense of humor isn’t as elastic – and I find myself even more cantankerous, brooding and argumentative than normal (if that’s possible).

Worse yet, I see a similar change in friends and family who are closest to me – as “quarantine fatigue” combines with a raging case of Spring Fever and frustration born of an unsettling lack of transparency by those institutions we look to for answers during times of crisis.

I’ve convinced myself this isn’t going away anytime soon.

Because it’s not about a virus anymore.

As the media continues to flog the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak 24/7, unrelentingly harping on patently erroneous cumulative statistics and worst-case scenarios that mean nothing, all while the Florida Department of Health refuses to agree on a logical definition of “recovered,” I believe it’s important to begin rebuilding our lives – and start thinking for ourselves.

This week, an expose in the Tampa Bay Times uncovered a disturbing dust-up between Florida medical examiners and the Department of Health.

According to the informative report, “State officials have stopped releasing the list of coronavirus deaths being compiled by Florida’s medical examiners, which has at times shown a higher death toll than the state’s published count.”  

In fact, statistics previously released by the Florida Medical Examiner’s Commission were some 10% higher than those reported by the DOH – and, the redacted pathology reports contained demographic information, probable manner and cause of death, and pertinent information regarding the persons medical and travel history – while stopping short of identifying individual patients.

As I understand it, the discrepancy is due, in part, to the Department of Health’s weird policy of only counting Florida residents in the death count – while medical examiners include anyone who died in the state of the disease – as they are required to do by law.

Once again, the Department of Health used their tired argument of “privacy concerns” when it formally interfered and strong-armed medical examiners to stop reporting what is clearly public information compiled in the public interest.

According to Dr. Stephen Nelson, chairman of the state Medical Examiners Commission, “This is no different than any other public record we deal with,” Nelson said. “It’s paid for by taxpayer dollars and the taxpayers have a right to know.”

More important, the information represents an important piece of the puzzle – one that helps an anxious public understand the scope and impact of the epidemic and identify preexisting conditions that can exacerbate an infection.

I’m not an expert – but I can read and reason.

In my view, when our powerful public health apparatus starts influencing what information forensic pathologists, specialists in the processes of death and disease, may release concerning fatalities from a communicable illness that poses a threat to public health – perhaps its time for outside intervention.

What else is the DOH hiding from us?

Count my voice among the growing number of Florida residents who are calling on Governor Ron DeSantis to commission an independent top-to-bottom review of the Florida Department of Health, and its lockstep minions in county health departments statewide, who, by their almost pathological desire for secrecy have eroded the public trust and added to our government’s chaotic response, just when we needed them most.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Enough is Enough

Aren’t we stressed enough? 

I mean, for over a month, we’ve been involuntarily incarcerated in our homes, with many facing financial ruin, food banks overwhelmed by hungry families while businesses remain shuttered by our government’s ham-handed response to the coronavirus outbreak – seeking any ray of hope, wherever we can get it.

People are frustrated, anxious and increasingly impatient to restart their lives and livelihoods – and the more our ‘powers that be’ talk – the more we realize how little they actually say.        

While we’ve been shut-in, hoping against hope that our elected and appointed officials are squarely focused on preparing a plan to bring our local economy safely back to life, we learn that “for the past several months” Daytona Beach and Volusia County officials have been huddled with a developer, determining how best to use our money to underwrite the infrastructure needs of yet another sprawling project.

You read that right.

Earlier this week, Clayton Park, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s business reporter, published a piece on Avalon Park Daytona – a proposed development on 2,500+ acres west of I-95 on the border of Ormond Beach – north of the expansive Latitude Margaritaville – a report that left more questions than answers.

After announcing plans to foist 10,000 new homes and more than a million square feet of commercial space on our already overburdened transportation and utilities infrastructure – now, Orlando developer Avalon Park Group/sitEX USA appears to be adding insult to injury by asking that you and I “sign on” to a $75 million bond, ostensibly to pay for a controversial interstate overpass on Hand Avenue, including an extension to the south section of Tymber Creek Road with connectors to Margaritaville.

As I understand it (and I am not sure I do), plans are for the company to pay back the bond using impact fees and property taxes generated by Avalon Park Daytona.

Say what?   

We will have to wait until things are fleshed out, but it sounds like a classic win-win scenario for the “developer du jour.”

For now, it is being described as a “public/private” partnership by some sitting officials – which, in my experience, typically means the use of public funds to facilitate the private profits of a speculative developer. . .

Perhaps most disturbing, according to the News-Journal, the “…company wants to issue the bond without requiring a vote by Volusia County residents.”

Excuse me? 

Of course, lame duck Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm appears to be actively figuring out a way to do just that – while our lame duck County Chair Ed Kelley openly shills for the Hand Avenue overpass (which is being used as eye candy to lure easily swayed Ormond Beach politicians into the quagmire) – a span which will literally flood Ormond Beach with even more traffic.

What gives? 

 Are these compromised shitheels actively trying to destroy us all on their way out the door? 

According to Mr. Chisholm, “There’s a way to do it if the bond is paid for by the development itself,” he said. “They need to be willing to make the (road) improvements upfront. That’s going to be the key.”

My ass.

In my view, “the key” is to immediately stop this gross suburban sprawl and wholesale destruction of our environmentally sensitive wetlands while there’s still time.

In my view, wary citizens are sick and tired of underwriting the infrastructure needs of private development using our hard-earned tax dollars.

Look, Halifax area residents get it.

For years, many east-side governments have existed for the sole purpose of assisting speculative developers in hauling obscene profits out of our sensitive pine scrub – building tens-of-thousands of cracker boxes directly on top of our aquifer recharge areas – all while paying little or nothing for the devastating impacts on our quality of life in exchange for campaign contributions to hand-selected candidates who facilitate the process.

In my view, Margaritaville, Mosaic and now, Avalon Park Daytona, represent the malignant sprawl that is drastically affecting our wholly inadequate transportation infrastructure – and threatens to have us all drinking recycled sewage as our natural water supply is drained and destroyed.

Since the project’s inception, plans have called for the City of Ormond Beach to supply water and wastewater utilities to Avalon (at rates far less than what current residents pay) – and, in exchange, the development will supply its neighbor with even more traffic congestion and environmental pressure.

Where does this insanity end?

Clearly, our elected officials in Volusia County aren’t known for their ability to properly plan for growth – or, God forbid, ensure that those developers and builders who own the paper on their political souls – actually pay their fair share for new roads, utilities infrastructure, parks, fire services, law enforcement and schools necessitated by the industry’s insatiable appetite.

And the recklessness that allows Daytona Beach officials to give their middle finger to the needs of existing residents in favor of allowing out-of-control growth is self-evident.

Don’t take my word for it.

Take a drive out “Boomtown Boulevard” and see this “cart before the horse syndrome” in action.

Fortunately, Ormond Beach City Manager Joyce Shanahan has expressed “serious concerns” regarding the development, which will ultimately add some 20,000 residents to the area – nearly 50% of the current population of her community.

Speaking in the News-Journal, Ms. Shanahan said, “We’ve had one meeting with Avalon.  They seemed nice enough. They had a lot of passion. But I need to know that their project is not going to negatively impact the residents of Ormond Beach.”

I think the residents of Ormond Beach already know the answer to that question. . .

Enough is enough.

Folks, I hope you will remember this latest insult to our quality of life come election time.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Apologies

At some point, we all make mistakes.

Our fallibility is the quintessence of what it means to be human.

Suffice it to say, I’ve made my share of poor decisions, personally and professionally – gaffes that have formed the basis of a steep lifelong experiential learning curve – the trials and errors of a career in public service that spanned over three-decades.

Over time, I learned that the thrill and recognition of getting it right is fleeting – and acknowledging failures is not always fatal.

It’s how we learn from our mistakes that truly matters.

Unfortunately, the organizational culture of many local governments abjures the timeless concepts of accountability commensurate with responsibility – never admitting mistakes – and communicating with constituents in ambiguous sound bites and hollow releases, official claptrap that allows senior elected and appointed officials to take credit for successes and point the finger when errors occur.

(Tune into any governmental coronavirus “briefing” for an example. . .)

It’s a big part of the “trust issue” that has plagued Volusia County government for years.

Perhaps its time our elected leadership understand the power of an apology – and the importance of maintaining the organizational flexibility to change tack and alter critical decisions that may impact our quality of life for years to come.

Earlier this week, we learned that a combination of factors are beginning to merge on the long-anticipated East International Speedway Boulevard corridor project – one that promises to both improve the aesthetics of our horribly blighted main entrance to the “World’s Most Famous Beach” – and expedite traffic flow at the Halifax area’s busiest beach access point.

Everyone agrees:  This one’s important.

In fact, virtually every chair of the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce over the past decade has listed the revitalization of East ISB as a major civic and economic priority. . .

Since its inception, residents and traffic engineers have fought against the ludicrous idea of placing a traffic roundabout at the intersection of East ISB and A-1-A – a plan that was inexplicably supported by the City of Daytona Beach, despite all best evidence that it will result in a nightmare of gridlock during peak season and compromise traffic flow year-round.

It’s not that traffic circles don’t work – it’s that the dynamics of this particular intersection make a roundabout inappropriate.

This week, in an informative article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, we learned that – thanks to the unrelenting efforts of Maryam Ghyabi – a veteran traffic engineer who chairs an eclectic group of power-brokers known as the “ISB Coalition” – and the continuing protestations of concerned residents – there is now a glimmer of hope that the disastrous roundabout plan may be scrapped in favor of a signalized intersection.

Perhaps most impressive, during a recent ISB Coalition meeting attended by Florida Department of Transportation Interim District Secretary Jared Perdue, Daytona Beach City Commissioner Rob Gilliland “suggested the signalized intersection idea be dusted off and reconsidered.”

Commissioner Gilliland stopped short of issuing a public apology for blatantly ignoring our suggestions and concerns – then handing us the exact opposite (à la the Beach Street debacle)  – so, the ability to pause and consider alternatives represents a quantum leap for the City of Daytona Beach.

For years, the idea of improving the gateway has languished in a bureaucratic netherworld, and only recently did we learn that the $24 million project is expected to start in early 2023 – a timetable that is still possible even with significant changes to the intersection.

During the meeting, Secretary Perdue said,  “If the community is not wanting this roundabout, we’ll go back and look at that,” Perdue said at the ISB Coalition meeting. “We don’t want to deliver a project the community doesn’t want.”

 Isn’t that exactly what we’ve wanted to hear from the beginning of this saga?

In my view, Ms. Ghyabi’s hard work, including her behind-the-scenes efforts to educate our powers that be on this potential disaster in the making are laudable, and demonstrate that – when the hearts and minds of decision-makers remain open to new ideas and information – true progress is possible.

That’s refreshing.

Another incredible example of how humility, and a willingness to alter course, can bring about positive civic change is embodied in Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom.

Earlier this week, Mr. Newsom issued a formal apology to residents for the city’s mismanagement of a storm water project funded by a grant from the St. Johns River Water Management District.

The project was originally designed to reduce neighborhood flooding and the discharge of contaminants into local waters.

According to Mr. Newsom’s heartfelt mea culpa:

“Retrospectively, the flow of information from the City to our citizens on this project, both before the project started and during the project, could have and should have been much better. Communication and information from City Hall on activity in citizen’s front yards that could potentially impacted (sp) secondary parking in the right-of-way should have been distributed.”

Wow.

A true apology?  That’s unheard of.

In addition, Mr. Newsom demonstrated decisive leadership when he refused to pay any additional fees, and terminated the current contractor effective last Wednesday.

Work on the controversial project is expected to resume with a new contractor from the existing bid package on Monday.

“Once again, I apologize for the errors we as a City made during this swale project, and we have learned a hard lesson that the lowest bidder is not always the best selection.”

I’m pretty sure that’s what good governance looks like.

At some point, every governmental organization will make a mistake that requires it issue a well-intentioned ‘sorry’ – to an individual citizen, its employees or the public it exists to serve.

Unfortunately, those official apologies come around about as often as the Comet Kohoutek. . .

In my view, honest communication is the key to building a relationship of special trust and confidence between elected officials and their constituents – and the examples above give us all reason for hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for April 24, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

That’s right, my fellow shut-ins – it’s Friday Funday here at Barker’s View HQ!

I thought we might resurrect a little game I like to call, “What the Hell?”

Come on, it’ll be Wide. Open. Fun!

For those who haven’t played with us before, the rules are simple – study the photograph below and take a wild-ass guess if the scene depicted is:

time capsule

A. County workers explaining to Chairman Ed Kelley and County Manager George Recktenwald the difference between their ass and a hole in the ground?

B. Chairman Kelley and Mr. Recktenwald searching for the last vestiges of the Volusia County Council’s integrity and credibility?

C. Volusia County’s 2020 Earth Day celebration, which included exhuming and opening a time capsule planted 25-years ago?

Take your time.  (Cue the final Jeopardy theme music. . .)

If you selected “C” – give yourself a Gold Star!

Yep, earlier this week, Chairman Kelley and Mr. Recktenwald cracked the seal on the historic cache – removing old telephone books, a 1995 edition of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, and other archaic, now completely irrelevant, artifacts from our past. . .

Obviously, Volusia County officials put a lot of thought into what citizens of the future will find when their capsule is unearthed a quarter century from now – to include a roll of toilet paper made from recycled material, a copy of the county’s “pandemic response plan” (we have one of those?) and a pink flamingo.

I’m assuming the toilet paper represents how state and local officials used the United States Constitution during this time of crisis – and the Pink Flamingo is obviously a nod to the outrageous John Water’s film by the same name.

Right?  It’s perfect!

In his cult classic, Waters cast the late drag queen Divine as ‘Babs Johnson,’ an on-the-run criminal who is dubbed by a tabloid “The filthiest person alive.”  Babs lives in a trailer park with her ne’er-do-well son, ‘Crackers,’ and their “traveling companion,” ‘Cotton.’

Ultimately, Divine is harassed by Connie and Raymond Marbles, a couple of low-life crooks who run a black market “adoption clinic” and are openly envious of Babs’ title.

The film progresses with what one critic described as, “…every kind of cruelty, obscenity and freak show behavior you can imagine. . .”

However, there was one pivotal scene in the film that, in my view, serves as the perfect analogy for Volusia County government in 2020 – and I’m glad our county staff included the symbolism in our time capsule for future generations to interpret.

During the key segment of the film, Divine holds a kangaroo court after having charged the Marbles with, “first-degree stupidity” and “assholism.”

Sound familiar?  The perfect parallel indeed. . .

Kudos to all involved for including this classic representation of our current situation here on the Fun Coast!

Well done.

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

Asshole           Volusia County Health Department

I’m the first to admit, over the past several weeks these screeds have turned increasingly hypercritical of many of our senior elected officials who, in my view, failed us during this crisis.

One notable exception is Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood.

From the onset, Sheriff Chitwood has fought for our right to know – and, despite withering criticism from those who seek to protect the status quo – he boldly broke ranks with the forces of mediocrity and has provided his constituents with the commonsense information and recommendations they need to protect themselves.

In turn, the Volusia County Health Department and its overseers in Tallahassee have done everything in their power to withhold critical information on the geographic spread of COVID-19 – including nonsensical claims that providing the city in which cases originated somehow violated privacy laws, then blocking public access to information regarding skilled nursing facilities – locations that have turned out to be a hotbed of coronavirus cases locally.

Most shocking, weeks ago, Sheriff Chitwood told us that the Department of Health would no longer be providing the addresses of coronavirus victims, or residences being monitored as potential cases, to public safety agencies.

According to the Sheriff, it was his understanding that DOH attorneys felt, “…all first responders should be taking precautions when they respond to these locations anyway, so we don’t need access to the information.”

Unconscionable.

When Sheriff Chitwood spoke out, his efforts to seek this vital information were met with resistance from our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, who called the Sheriff’s work to inform his constituents “an injustice” (?).

Whatever.

Let’s face it, like the Department of Health, our county government abhors transparency – in fact, the people’s business has been conducted in the shadows for so long – with public policy crafted in those dark places where the external forces that control our lives and livelihoods can work their magic outside our prying eyes – that our ‘powers that be’ remain instinctively tight-lipped.

Frankly, it defies logic – but ‘them’s the rules’ here on the Fun Coast.

Why would a public health agency, ostensibly dedicated to providing the community with the best information available as it works to stop the spread of a communicable disease refuse to communicate information vital to our safety?

And, perhaps most disturbing, why would Volusia County – with a population of some 540,000 – not have a credentialed medical doctor in charge of our public health organization?   

You read that right.

The current administrator, Patricia Boswell, is not a doctor – nor is anyone currently on staff – with the exception of one who holds a Doctor of Chiropractic degree. . .

Wait.  Say what? 

In my view, Ms. Boswell is a master of bureaucratic bullshit, skilled in the fine art of telling elected officials exactly what they want to hear – but she’s not a doctor – or particularly forthcoming when it comes to public communications.

However, she has the unique ability to speak persuasively – while saying absolutely nothing – then, when the questions begin to expose the bureaucratic ruse – she instinctively ducks for cover behind “statutorial protections.”

Therein lies her value to the “system.”

Bullshit.  We deserve better.

Add this lack of substantive communication to the long list of gaffes, missteps, blunders and foul-ups by county leadership and public health officials – each of which can be linked directly to the lack of planning and preparation prior to the outbreak of this pandemic – serious issues that need to be adequately addressed as we hold these blathering pseudo-experts personally and politically responsible for their glaring ineptitude.

Angel               Civic Activists Brandy White & Dana McCool

Like many of you, I have long admired the grassroots civic activism of Brandy White and Dana McCool – women of extraordinary grit and courage – who have, at great personal risk, transformed Deltona politics and improved the lives of their neighbors.

I first became acquainted with Ms. McCool when she made a bold statement by paying a patently unjust $493 water bill with a wagon load of pennies – a move which brought national attention to the shit show that is Deltona utilities – and ultimately resulted in a top-to-bottom external audit that confirmed problems with “staffing, outdated technology and inefficient practices.”

In addition, Brandy White’s intrepid civic engagement put her square in the cross-hairs of Deltona’s entrenched cabal, then led by former City Manager Jane Shang, who ultimately made White’s life an unmitigated hell when they brought life-changing felony charges against her following an interaction with a city official.

Ultimately, the frivolous charges against White were rightfully dropped by the State Attorney’s Office; however, the ugly scenario brought to light the depths some in Deltona government would go to crush citizen dissent – and proved that Ms. White has the mettle and tenacity to stand her ground.

On March 17, Ms. White had the temerity to actually approach the Volusia County Council seeking redress for the horrific manner in which she was treated by Shang through a clear misuse of the Sheriff’s Office and our criminal justice system.

Her presentation included bringing a small poster into the exalted council chambers to help make her point.

Apparently, County Chair Ed Kelley’s enormous ego was challenged by the idea of a mere “citizen” violating the decorum of his sanctuary, and, in a pique of hubris, he arbitrarily ordered Ms. White to move her sign to the back of the nearly deserted chamber.

When White asked Kelley to explain the legal basis for his officious demand – His Royal Highness ordered she be physically removed from the gallery!

You read that right.

In a report by Casmira Harrison writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“When I asked for their basis to tell me to not display my sign, (Kelley) said it’s because he didn’t want to have to look at it,” said White in the video, arguing against the proposed rules and defending her choice to carry the sign. ”(Kelley said) that it’s his chambers, his rules and that’s how it goes.”

 My God.

Rather than let his heavy-handed horseshit stop there, Chairman Ed “Ceaușescu” Kelley took it upon himself to unilaterally ask County Attorney Mike Dyer to determine “where our decorum situation is” (?) – a “request” which prompted Dyer to  issue a four-page missive on how best to erode our First Amendment protections in the interest of not upsetting Kelley’s delicate sensibilities by controlling public participation in our government processes.

Either Chairman Kelley’s conversation went beyond a mere mention of the “decorum situation,” or Mr. Dyer is proving to be an obsequious asshole – more intent on protecting Mr. Kelley’s vanity with official resolutions and “rules” prohibiting self-expression and meaningful citizen input when the Chairman’s self-important sense of authority is openly challenged by a peasant. . .

Inexplicably, on Tuesday – during a declared state of emergency – when elected officials are literally phoning it in from their bunkers and citizens are required to address them from a video “kiosk” – Mr. Dyer followed through on Chairman Kelley’s overbearing directive by placing a formal resolution on the agenda limiting our ability to speak to  those we have elected during a public meeting – and formally prohibiting signs, banner, placards or “wearable signboards” outside an individual presentation.

In keeping with their proven dedication to good governance, Ms. White and Ms. McCool “virtually” addressed their elected officials from somewhere in the bowels of the “TCK building” (as its now euphemistically called by the county’s paid mouthpiece), denouncing Chairman Kelley’s attempt to suppress citizen participation and challenging the constitutionality of Attorney Dyer’s crude regulatory cudgel.

Additionally, White and McCool’s presentations were supported by numerous written opinions attached to the council’s public agenda.

To prove the power of public persuasion, when the agenda item was raised, Councilwoman Barb Girtman rightfully moved to table the oppressive resolution “until we’re back up live and can have public comment.”   

The motion was seconded by Councilwoman Billie Wheeler and passed unanimously.

In keeping with her inherent need for lockstep conformity and the political insulation of what “others” may do, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys quickly directed that We, The People pay for an outside attorney with more expertise in the First Amendment than Mr. Dyer – along with a comprehensive list of “decorum” rules in use by other governmental organizations.

In other words, if everyone’s doing it – they can’t be held politically accountable for suppressing public participation, right?

Whatever.

Perhaps Ms. Denys’ request should have included a comprehensive review of the County Attorney’s true motivations for bringing this nonsensical resolution to the table in the midst of this unprecedented crisis – a craven move that exposed Dyer as the consummate bootlicker – and Chairman Kelley for the elitist asshole he truly is.

 Angel              Harry L. Burney, III

Anyone who had the privilege of watching the incomparable Harry Burney perform was forever changed by the experience.

I am most fortunate to count myself in that number.

Mr. Burney graduated from Bethune-Cookman College in 1965, cementing a life-long connection to Daytona Beach and his beloved alma mater.

Following his service to our nation in the United States Army, Mr. Burney studied the performing arts, nurturing a natural talent for singing, acting and presenting – ultimately moving to New York where he became a highly sought-after actor whose incredible depth and range enhanced concert, opera and theater productions – both on and off Broadway.

In addition, Mr. Burney’s career included roles in popular movies – to include Autumn in New York starring Richard Gere and Winona Ryder – and recurrent parts on television shows, such as Kenan & Kel, Allegra’s Window and SuperBoy.

As a long-time supporter of Bethune-Cookman University, Mr. Burney brought his vast talent to numerous productions there, including the iconic 2016 production of Mary’s Gift, in which he was credited with having “…delivered one of the most powerful literary interpretations of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s last will and testament to date.”

In a touching remembrance, B-CU vice president of athletics, Lynn Thompson, who directed and collaborated with Mr. Burney on many productions said, “He was so full of passion and love for people and for the arts. We connected on so many levels including athletics because athletics is truly a form of the performing arts and he loved it.”

 Harry L. Burney, III was a humble man, a God-given talent of immense skill, who died last week due to complications of COVID-19.

May he rest in everlasting peace.

Quote of the Week

Was there an incident where someone with a sign hurt someone on the county council with a paper cut?

The fact here is that your ego was hurt, and you are using the “Peoples” power to silence someone that is criticizing you.

You’ve been around long enough to know that not everyone is going to like you Mr. Kelley.  Put your big boy pants on and act like an adult instead of try (sp) usurp powers that do not belong to you. 

Remember the government did not give us our rights therefore it can’t take them away.

Just like the U.S. Constitution isn’t there to tell us what our rights are.  The U.S. Constitution is there to tell tyrannical governments when they are infringing on our rights.  In other words, the U.S. Constitution is there to LIMIT YOUR POWERS.”

–Santiago Avila, Jr., Chairman, Republican National Hispanic Assembly, Public Comments to the April 21, 2020 Volusia County Council Meeting

And Another Thing!

To say we live in strange times is an understatement.

Fortunately, basic human kindness and acts of incredible compassion remain – and I have been encouraged by the many ways our brightest stars have shown us the way forward during these dark and difficult days.

Recently, Chief Craig Capri and the officers and staff of the Daytona Beach Police Department helped to brighten the day of an 8-year old boy whose parents, who are both healthcare workers, weren’t able to celebrate his birthday this year.

When the boy’s grandmother contacted the department for help, Chief Capri and his officers quickly pulled together a very special surprise the young man won’t soon forget.

Not only did they make a grand appearance at his home for birthday cake and party games – they brought United States Congressman Michael Waltz with them as well!

Earlier this week, I was equally moved when Sheriff Michael Chitwood and his deputies joined with members of the Holly Hill Police Department to provide a memorable birthday surprise for a boy who turned 10-years old, but obviously couldn’t celebrate with friends and family.

The impromptu event included an impressive parade of marked law enforcement units – complete with lights and sirens – and, I’m told Sheriff Chitwood provided the birthday boy with a gift bag!

What a beautiful gesture – one that brought great joy to these children on their special day.

Kudos to Congressman Waltz, Sheriff Chitwood, Chief Capri and Chief Stephen Aldrich and all the officers and deputies who participated.

Your good work defines community spirit.

In my view, these profound acts of kindness epitomize community-oriented policing – and the exemplify service above self.

Speaking of special days – I hope you will indulge a personal note:

Yesterday, my mom turned 85 years young (and anyone who knows her will tell you that’s an apt description of this very special, energetic and incredibly funny woman).

Once this microbial monster has run its course – I assure you we will join with family and friends to celebrate this milestone in high style!

Happy Birthday, Mom!  I love you!

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

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

A Difference of Opinion

Okay, Pat Rice.  I’m your huckleberry. . .

Each week, editor Pat Rice runs a regular column in The Daytona Beach News-Journal – and it’s normally the first thing I turn to in Sunday’s paper – because, as our local newspaper rapidly transmogrifies into a homogenized regional rag – I find it’s one of the few community-centric voices left.

Only after digesting Mr. Rice’s commentary do I turn to editorials from The Gainesville Sun or The Sarasota Herald-Tribune which regularly comprise the “Our View” column. . .

This week, in a piece entitled “Let’s get people back to work in Volusia-Flagler. Safely.” Pat began a cogent discussion on the processes and know-how required to get the tens of thousands of area workers and businesses adversely affected by the state’s coronavirus response back to work – with an eye to maintaining best practices that will keep us all safe.

After admitting that journalists don’t have the “expertise to gauge when or how to re-open a society in the midst of a pandemic,” (he forgot to mention that, in the lead up, media became amateur epidemiologists to drive fear and panic with 24/7 gloom and doom) – Pat also claimed that most government officials don’t “have the expertise to decide when it’s safe to get commerce and society up and running again,” either.   

Then, things turned dark. . .

“I disagree with certain social media pundits who have taken pleasure in skewering county, city, school and hospital officials for decisions they’ve made during this pandemic.  Our local elected and appointed officials have largely made sound decisions during this once-in-a-lifetime disaster.”

Since Barker’s View is the only alternative political opinion site that has taken decision-makers from “county, city, schools and hospitals” to the woodshed for the shit show that passes for their collective response to this crisis, I’m going to count myself as one of those giddy “social media pundits” Mr. Rice openly disparages in his obsequious pat-on-the-back to his friends in government.

First of all – I take no “pleasure” in any of this.

No sane person who has experienced this failure of leadership does – and even the suggestion is offensive, divisive and accomplishes everything Mr. Rice claims to abhor about the state of our civic discussion.

In fact, I want to bawl my eyes out in abject frustration at the ham-handed non-response of those in government who have made a mockery of our incident management system, worked opportunistically to further their political aspirations during a crisis, failed to establish an effective public communication campaign and engaged in formulating overreaching rules and crude diktats that change hourly.

Hell, most people serving in government who still have a working conscience will tell you they got it wrong.

Clearly, they were caught out by a failure to plan or prepare for the very real threat of a pandemic – and most thinking people are having a hard time discerning these “sound decisions” Mr. Rice claims our local elected and appointed officials have made during this evolving economic disaster.

For the uninitiated, Mr. Rice and I work different sides of the same street.

He’s a professional journalist and recognized community leader who makes a living charging for his news and opinion.

Conversely, I’m a dilettante blogger, a half-drunk blowhard with internet access – a retired career bureaucrat who broke the Magicians Code – and now opines on the news and newsmakers of the day here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

I would never presume to accept advertising dollars or subscriptions for these long-winded screeds, one man’s twisted opinions, which are neither always right nor always wrong.

Unfortunately, in my view, this weird yin-yang relationship – this cosmic editorial duality – became necessary when our newspaper of record slowly developed an all-to-cozy Country Club relationship with our elected officials and the uber-wealthy oligarchs who control them like cheap marionettes.

A civic atmosphere in which the editor feels comfortable publicly shitting on the views of those who use social media for what it is – an equal opportunity soapbox for the every-man – while fawning over the gross dysfunction and ineptitude that has been so painfully exposed during this “public health” crisis.

After admitting he’s no expert – Mr. Rice prattled on, lecturing us about what is “needed,” (social distancing and “obsessive hand washing”) before issuing a decree that large gatherings “like Bike Week, motor racing, and high school football games, and most likely traditional classrooms,” shouldn’t occur “anytime soon.”

Then, he concluded with the obvious:

“Let’s make decisions like lives depend on it. Because they do.”

In my view, what Mr. Rice fails to understand is that these life-and-death decisions will ultimately be made by his friends in government – you know, the same ones who refuse to so-much as return the phone calls of his reporters – and whose “sound decisions” have destroyed public confidence in the very institutions we should look to during times of crisis.

And no one takes pleasure in that. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: A Failure of Leadership

I’m neither a Republican nor a Democrat.

I’m a realist, a hopeless rube destined to instinctively recognize what is possible in a given situation – to immediately grasp the ugly backstory others pretend doesn’t exist – and see things as they truly are.

At heart, I’m a south Appalachian hillbilly – so, power, money and influence don’t impress me, they never have – and I still cling to the naive Myth of Fairness:

The old-fashioned notion that good citizens who contribute to our society, struggle to make a living in this artificial economy, pay increasingly onerous taxes, work hard to raise their families and follow the rules form the backbone of our community – and they deserve better from those who have been elected to represent their interests.

When it comes to politics, I am a true No Party Affiliate – with moderate, even apolitical, views on most issues – and I rarely involve myself in the terrible divisiveness of the national battle for partisan dominance.

That probably sounds odd coming from someone who churns out a political opinion blog, but, as you may have noticed, my screeds tend to take our local politicians to the woodshed for their assholery, ineptitude and posturing – not party politics.

In my view, we are now governed by a weird oligarchy which exists to serve itself – and continues to mark Volusia County as the ugly stepsister of Central Florida – a place best avoided – generally sidestepped by the real players in the region who treat us like something they don’t want to step in.

I know, it’s hard to swallow.

So, don’t take my word for it.

Just review any substantive local issue over the last decade or so – from SunRail, to the impact fee debacle, gross suburban sprawl, corporate welfare and cronyism, water quality, environmental carnage, our cruel average income and lack of affordable housing, transportation infrastructure, public utilities or the abject blight and dilapidation of our core tourist area, etc. – and you will find the same institutional and systematic fingerprints.

I mean, do you see any improvement?

No, no – not what we’re told to think by sitting elected officials – but our true condition, as evidenced by those tangible realities you see with your own eyes.

By any metric, this is the weirdest election year in history.

The “normal” campaign processes in Volusia County and beyond have been replaced by fear, lockdowns, physical isolation, mixed messages and the terrifying realization that the procedures we once trusted to protect our lives, liberties and livelihoods were myths – as our confidence was destroyed by tinpot politicians who wrote overreaching public policies from behind the eight ball as a bad situation turned worse.

Of course, there have been notable exceptions – those in county and municipal governments who showed true leadership by putting the needs of their emotionally and financially wounded constituents above their own craven self-interests – servant-leaders who sustained us, buoyed our flagging morale, brought a sense of certainty and provided us with the information and direction we needed during this dark and difficult time.

Others?  Not so much. . .

Consider the following:

The self-serving response of certain Volusia County Council members, who happen to be standing for reelection, and used the early days of this crisis to feather their own political nest – publishing foolish manifestos that called for more widespread business closures, even as thousands of out-of-work locals struggled to feed their families, and we watched the state’s intentionally fragile unemployment compensation system crash and burn as designed.

Their strange posturing and preening on social media that confused worried constituents – and the overweening hubris that demanded they insinuate themselves into the decision-making process – as the entire elected body gave their collective middle finger to established procedure while publicly neutering County Manager George Recktenwald.

The confusing non-response by those who positioned themselves as “emergency management experts,” who stood like a deer in the headlights when we needed their publicly acquired expertise the most.

The complete lack of an authentic public information and education strategy.

The childish spats and swipes between elected officials with competing motives.

The sudden onset of akinetic mutism in the Volusia County Health Department.

The series of miscommunications and arbitrary “do this, don’t do that, no, do this instead” decrees from on high, that insulted our intelligence and eroded our rights and liberties under the guise of “public safety,” all facilitated by the constitutionally corrosive autonomy of an “emergency declaration.”    

Then, when we needed a strong sense of stability – things went from bad to worse.

I don’t know Senator Tom Wright – the first term New Smyrna Beach Republican who was elected to state office in 2018 following the passing of Sen. Dorothy Hukill – but those who do tell me he’s an uber-successful businessman, a multimillionaire with a heart for public service and a genuinely nice guy.

However, last week, we learned of a petty interoffice contretemps that apparently resulted in Senator Wright tendering a written resignation to the President of the Florida Senate Bill Galvano.

Then, with the same impulsiveness, Sen. Wright changed his mind and decided he would still grace us with the benefit of his representation. . .

Say what?

In his clearly impetuous correspondence, Sen. Wright made his intentions perfectly clear:

“In the past you have expressed that our staff is our responsibility and our decision as to who works for us as Senators.  Today, I am told that I am wrong and that the (staffers) work at the pleasure of the President of the Senate.  I cannot and will not work for anyone this way.  Please accept my resignation as Senator District 14.”

Evidently, staff assistants assigned to various elected officials are at-will employees of the Senate president’s office – and while senators are given wide input into who works for them, ultimately personnel decisions remain with Galvano.

According to reports, following the internecine brouhaha, Edith Little, a long-time legislative assistant who also worked for Sen. Hukill, tendered her resignation. . .

My question is, why did Sen. Wright abandon us, even temporarily, over some horseshit power-spat with a state staffer while thousands of his constituents find themselves jobless, hungry and hopelessly groping for state unemployment benefits through a horribly broken system, while others remain locked in their homes, struggling through the fear and uncertainty of a pandemic?

Look, I get it.

Everyone handles stress differently – some rise to the occasion, others collapse in a heap of quivering gelatin – but for a sitting state senator to take his football and go home while those who elected him to high office are suffering is, in my view, unconscionable.

Its true.  Anyone can hold the wheel in fair winds and calm seas – but it takes courage to stand firm and establish a course forward when the going turns rough – and, unfortunately, Sen. Wright abandoned the helm like a hotheaded Captain Queeq at the worst possible moment in our state’s history.

Frankly, I think Sen. Wright – along with members of the Volusia County Council – and other state and local government officials who have fallen woefully short of this unprecedented challenge owe us all an apology for their role in this unmitigated shit show.

For their failure of leadership.

Then, they should do some deep soul-searching and think long and hard about their future in politics – and their true motivations for public service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for April 17, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Volusia County Council

Tone-Deaf

Having or showing an obtuse insensitivity or lack of perception particularly in matters of public sentiment, opinion, or taste.

–Merriam-Webster

The First Amendment be damned.

Next Tuesday, the Volusia County Council is set to pass a resolution cementing the idea that, by Royal Edict, they will continue to quash citizen participation and muffle unpopular messages that don’t conform to the status quo or further the popular agenda.

The Monarchical proclamation limits our ability to address those we have elected to represent out interests to one opportunity per meeting – for a maximum of three minutes only – and, to “reduce disruption,” no signs, banner, placards or “wearable signboards” (does that include printed t-shirts?) will be permitted outside an individual’s presentation.

Should a subject of the realm have the temerity to actually prostrate themselves before our Exalted Rulers, you will wait until summoned by the omnipotent County Chair, and only then will your paltry “comments” be heard from the podium – and only after you have properly identified yourself for the record.

And don’t even think about our elected officials actually responding to your annoying questions – or so much as acknowledge your bothersome presence in the gilded Council Chamber.

What an abomination.

What an absolute insult.

Since the founding of this nation, public discussion of the issues of the day has become part of our culture – and permitting taxpayers substantive input in their local governance is sacrosanct in our democracy.

But not here.

In my view, the idea of limiting public participation to preserve the subjective concept of “decorum” so that some tinpot politician isn’t offended by the angry voice of their exasperated constituents is counter to our constitutional principles – and speaks to the abject arrogance of power that permeates Volusia County government.

Perhaps the most disingenuous, mendacious and wholly presumptuous provision of this damnable sham is contained in the fictitious concoction:

“In conducting the public’s business, the County Council is committed to the principals of civility, honor, and dignity. Individuals appearing before the County Council are required to observe the same principles when making public comments.”

Bullshit.

In my view, as a long-time observer of this Theater of the Absurd, nothing about the means and manner in which the Volusia County Council conducts the “public’s business” has any semblance to civility, honor or dignity – and this “do as I say, not as I do” mandate is a personal affront to everyone who values the concept of good governance.

If our current experience with the coronavirus crisis has exposed anything, it is the tyrannical nature of our elected officials and those officious bureaucrats who do their bidding – small-minded dictators, some of which have shamefully put their political ambitions above the needs of the public – who are quick to seize our liberties as they continue to champion government overreach and suppression – because they know what’s best for the rest of us. . .

Now, with the worst possible timing, our “new” County Attorney Mike Dyer, who, “at the request of a Council Member” – issued a four-page communiqué on how best to erode our First Amendment protections in the interest of not upsetting the delicate sensibilities of elected officials by controlling participation in our government processes – presents this cockamamie resolution during a recognized State of Emergency.

We don’t have a pandemic response plan.

We don’t have a clear strategy for when/if people can emerge from their homes, open their businesses and resume some semblance of normalcy.

But we have a resolution outlining formal limitations on when and how we can address our haughty elected officials and “participate” in what passes for county government?

Now?

Really?  

How classically tone-deaf.

How terrifyingly inept.

For those taking notes – you might want to remember this come November. . .

Angel               Volusia County Business Community

I wanted to take a minute and give a well-deserved Barker’s View “Angel” to our friends and neighbors in the Volusia County business community for their efforts to provide meals and moral support to those who are bravely putting themselves in harm’s way during this crisis.

This week, Godwin Kelly, reporting in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, wrote:

“NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway started providing more than 700 complimentary meals to local frontline and essential employees, including education, government, health care, law enforcement and first responders across the Daytona Beach area.”  

According to NASCAR’s executive vice chair, Lesa France Kennedy, the meals represent “just a small token of our appreciation for their daily dedication to our community.”

During the week-long initiative, DIS employees have been working with local restaurants to provide nutritious meals to first responders during these unprecedented times.

In addition, employees of several automobile dealerships have teamed together to patronize struggling area restaurants during lunch each day – and our friend and civic activist, Luke Zona, owner of Crabby Joe’s on the Sunglow Pier, prepared delicious meals for Halifax Health employees and other first responders.

Beginning this week, Dominoes outlets throughout Volusia and Flagler will begin distributing free pizzas to hospitals, school children and others in need.

The always civic-minded Tim Curtis and L. Gale Lemerand at Houligans teamed with Food Supply, Inc. and the Daytona International Auto Mall to provide 1,000 meals for workers at Halifax Health and AdventHealth this week.

Food service provider Sodexo USA at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University also donated 300 meals to Advent Health.

According to the West Volusia Beacon, “The Elusive Grape donated some 3,600 pounds of chicken Tuesday to The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia, for use in the organization’s drive-thru food pantry program.”

To ensure healthcare professionals have the personal protective equipment they need, this week the Root Family Foundation in Ormond Beach graciously donated 500 face shields to Halifax Health – and have committed to supplying the lifesaving equipment to local hospitals for the duration of the crisis.

In my view, the many area businesses and industries who are actively contributing their time, talents and resources to supporting first responders and those who have been financially stressed is heartwarming.

If I failed to mention your business, please know it was unintentional – wear your “Angel” wings with pride – now, and always.

Well deserved.   

Asshole           Social Stool Pigeons aka “Spotters”

On Tuesday, during the hot air generator that was the Volusia County Council’s “virtual special meeting,” several of our elected and appointed officials used the term “spotter” to loosely identify those gossips and busybodies who find it necessary to inform the authorities of the otherwise lawful activities of their neighbors, who, in their officious view, have violated the terms of our government mandated social incarceration.

The specific examples cited were those who felt compelled to travel the beach and tattle on persons they thought were not social distancing – or, God forbid – those scofflaws who take a seat while suspiciously “fishing” in the surf. . .

These aren’t criminals engaged in nefarious pursuits – they are citizens trying desperately to find a brief escape within the confines of confusing and arbitrary government decrees, like “Beach is Closed!  Sort of. . .” or “Boat Ramps Open – To residents of certain geographical areas only.”

I have a problem with these do-gooder “stool pigeons” – because, neighbors-spying-on-neighbors involved in otherwise lawful activities has no place in a free and open society.

In fact, it destroys our civic bonds with suspicion and fear.

Unfortunately, the practice of neighborhood Tonton Macoute’s conducting surveillance and busying themselves ratting out anyone who violates the arbitrary six-foot spacing recommendation is growing across the nation.

For instance, in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric “Mao” Garcetti has openly advocated that residents snitch on their neighbors who violate his draconian stay-at-home order – even threatening to shut off water and power to taxpaying businesses he has branded “non-essential.”

“You know the old expression about snitches—well, in this cases, snitches get rewards,” he said. “we want to thank you for turning folks in and making sure we are all safe.”

My ass.

In other places, mayors have unilaterally used the broad power of emergency declarations to close drive-in religious services under penalty of arrest and criminal prosecution – constitutionally protected activities that require virtually no human contact – with some overbearing autocrats going so far as to place limitations on what citizens can, and cannot, purchase at a grocery store.

Other reports show parents being physically arrested for playing with their children in a public park, citations being issued for the use of publicly owned amenities, and even a viral video from Mississippi of a police officer telling the pastor of a church his “rights are suspended” by governor’s mandate.

Say what?

The problem is also increasingly prevalent in Europe (a place where the Gestapo once relied on neighborhood informers to identify those in opposition to the regime – a system that was often used as a means of revenge or to settle old scores).

According to a recent article in Politico, “…in European countries under coronavirus lockdowns, a multitude of aspiring watchmen seem to feel that their moment has finally come, with untold numbers whiling away the hours in self-isolation by keeping an eye on their neighbors’ every move — and reporting them to the authorities if they slip up.”

Add to that the growing phenomena of social media “shaming” of those who appear to be out of compliance with government diktats and you get a weird sense of how close we could (will?) come to Orwell’s Oceania, a place where individuality and independent thought are crushed for the collective good.

My God.   

Like most, I understand the dangers posed by COVID-19 – I also understand and follow, to the extent possible, the sound recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control – but how far are we willing to go as a society?

How many of our rights and social mores are we willing to sacrifice on the altar of “Public Safety” each time our government decides its time to shutdown our lives and livelihoods?

And, is it true, as ol’ Ben Franklin suggested, that those who would trade essential liberties to purchase temporary safety deserve neither?

I’m asking.

Because these are deep and disturbing conversations we are going to have in this country once this pandemic has run its course.

Clearly, everyday this lockdown continues, our social, civic and economic fabric continues to fray.

Look, my advice is follow the rules – try and stay abreast of the ever-changing and always puzzling decrees handed down by yet another political insulation committee – the “mandatory/now not mandatory” edicts that change hourly – and let’s all work together to stay healthy and keep our vulnerable family members and neighbors safe.

And for you “spotters” out there, lurking about like an owl in the ivy, so you can inform on “violators” and get Brownie points from some stuffed shirt bureaucrat or overbearing politician with a God complex – while we practice social distancing, how about we embrace civic unity as well?

Asshole           Volusia County District Schools

When I was an 18-year old kid undergoing training in the military, I often wondered why – just when you thought things couldn’t get more difficult – the cadre always found a way to kick things up a notch, challenging us mentally and physically beyond what we thought were our individual and collective capabilities.

I once saw a young soldier have a mental breakdown in our barracks.

The emotionally distraught recruit took his mess kit and filled the plate with a heaping mound of shaving cream and soap powder, before announcing to our drill sergeant that he planned to eat it as an attempt at suicide.

He ate it alright.

At the barrel-chested sergeant’s direct order – with our entire platoon looking on – not allowed to stop until he licked the metal pan clean.

Once the soldier had finished throwing up his foamy meal – he was labeled a “defect,” then whisked off to something our drill sergeant called “mental hygiene” – never to be seen again. . .

It seemed harsh at the moment.  (But something told me this wasn’t the first time our Senior Drill Sergeant had seen this particular less-than-lethal ploy. . .)

After graduation from U.S. Army Military Police School, I understood the tough training regimen was carefully orchestrated, in minute detail, skillfully designed to break us down in body, mind and spirit – then build us back up as a functional member of a cohesive team – stronger in every way – with the newfound ability to make difficult decisions, perform effectively and ignore physical discomfort in austere or dangerous conditions.

I realized there was a purpose to what once appeared to be madness.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any sense of reason in the weird and insensitive treatment of our over-stressed teachers by the administration of Volusia County District Schools during these difficult and trying times.

In an excellent piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, education reporter Cassidy Alexander reports that – during the heat of this crisis, with many teachers concerned about job security – Volusia County schools used the opportunity to notify over 100 teachers that they won’t be doing their current jobs next year – then demanding they act as if everything is normal.

What?

“Teachers are trying to tread water in the new remote learning environment that began March 30 as district leaders are emphasizing the importance of acting as close to normal as possible — and that’s where the friction starts.”

During the heart of this crisis, Superintendent Scotty Fritz is apparently sitting cross legged on the floor of his office, playing with the district’s organizational chart like a Tinker Toy set.

Why?

Because I’m told the district doesn’t have an organizational chart. . .

I’m also being told that 42 of the teachers who have been “displaced” were not currently serving in a classroom – with some in limbo because of a rezoning, reduced enrollment or assigned elsewhere – with some certified teachers apparently assigned to work the café and bus loop, while others may have been part of grants that expired years ago.

In a district currently carrying some 260 vacancies?

You read that right – and none of it makes sense to me either. . .

But is there a bigger question afoot?

Is it possible that – for years – Volusia County District Schools has had teachers and staff in non-functional positions that senior administrators and elected officials knew nothing about?

As of Monday afternoon, 109 teachers district wide have found themselves displaced.

I’m told that the oddball timing of the announcement had to do with a contractual obligation with the teacher’s union that required displaced teachers be notified by April 13.

My God.

“But miscommunication and unclear expectations — about time spent teaching, grading, training, which tools to use and what curriculum to teach — sent already-stressed teachers into a tailspin. That led to several apologies from Fritz and Deputy Superintendent of Teaching, Leading and Learning Carmen Balgobin, and an email to teachers letting them know that any communication from the district office will come from one of them “until this pandemic is over.”

Then, inexplicably, during this time of widespread uncertainty and upheaval that is adversely affecting students, parents, teachers and staff – on Tuesday, the Volusia County School Board saw fit to move forward with adding an even thicker layer of crust to this bloated bureaucracy with the appointment of six new “high level” (and highly paid) senior administrators.

Then they have the temerity to ask for our “patience”?

In her article, Ms. Alexander quoted the intrepid Elizabeth Albert, a veteran teacher and president of Volusia United Educators, who rightfully asked:

“In a time of uncertainty, in a time where we really need to be looking at things that truly are the most important.  Why would we choose to add this additional layer of stress and anxiety on the backs of our people?”

Why, indeed.

What purpose does any of this serve?

Unless there is something more suspicious at play, like an organization that has been paying teachers and staff it doesn’t know it has, or what in the hell they are doing in furtherance of educating our children at any given time. . .

This one bears watching.

Superintendent Fritz has been at the helm long enough to have developed a comprehensive assessment of the situation – personnel, operations, administration, curriculum, student services, facilities, safety and security, etc. – and it’s time the district comes clean with those of us who pay the bills.  

Quote of the Week

“Parking closures along public beaches is inherently discriminatory and exclusionary towards inland residents. How do you defend giving beachside residents/tourists preferential and near exclusive use of the beach for recreational activity while simultaneously penalizing everyone else not fortunate enough to afford beachside rent or property? This oversight, slight, or deliberate pandering does not promote either goodwill, or reasonable alternatives to enforced isolation. Beach access parking allotments should be added as an addendum to the general extension.”

–Edward Somers, DeLand, writing in the “Online Public Comments” section of the Volusia County Council’s special meeting of Tuesday, April 14, 2020

And Another Thing!

Speaking of basic equality and furthering the discussion about inherently discriminatory practices during a time of extreme government overreach, this week Mike Panaggio – who became deeply ingrained in local issues when he took contractual delivery of a publicly owned stadium in Daytona Beach – then, in February, suggested it be torn down and the property sold to developers so a “sports complex” could be built elsewhere – entered the beach driving debate.

On Thursday, Mr. Panaggio took to social media with a post claiming his once favorable view of beach driving had changed now that he has seen and used the beach without the presence of cars.

What ensued was an onslaught of differing opinions – with many (including me) taking Mr. Panaggio to task for sounding like an elitist who would gladly trade our unique traditions for his own self-interests.

Inexplicably, he promptly changed tack and removed the post altogether, claiming some were “offended” by it:

“Sorry if I offended any of our Volusia Issues people with my post about the beach. I’m not against beach driving. The Economy needs it. Our visitors love being able to park on our beach. My point was that seeing it without vehicles during this terrible crisis is a whole different viewpoint. Let’s continue to protect it any way we can. It’s an amazing natural resource.”

I’m not sure what that means. . .you support beach driving or you don’t?

I don’t think anyone was offended – just expressing a differing point of view on beach access – an emotionally charged issue for many long-time residents that is often referred to as the “third rail of Volusia County politics.”  

Many in our community are concerned that once our rights and liberties – including our century old heritage of beach driving and access – are removed by government overreach during this crisis, they won’t be returned with the same rapidity with which they were stolen.

Mr. Panaggio is a highly successful and very smart person who prompted a good discussion.

Too bad he didn’t stand his ground.

Let’s face it, wading into the hell-broth of opinions on social media takes courage – and a willingness to defend controversial opinions and ideas through the competition of public debate.

In my view, for a recognized community trailblazer to shut down public discussion with the stroke of a computer key when things get heated is more offensive than the original thought.

Just one mans opinion.  Yours may differ.

And that’s okay.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: 100 Million Questions

$96.5 Million.

On a normal day, that astronomical figure would have resulted in a front page/above the fold treatment with all the bells-n-whistles The Daytona Beach News-Journal could muster.

But not this week.  Times are different.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was the hotly contested $150 Billion federal relief program that, among a broad range of other entities, provides financial aid to local governments with populations exceeding 500,000.

According to the act, CARES is meant to cover “necessary expenditures” related to the COVID-19 response and recovery that were “not accounted for in that government’s budget.”

As one of the twelve counties in Florida with populations over 500K, earlier this week the Volusia County Council quietly voted on yet another off-the-agenda item during a “special meeting” authorizing County Manager George Recktenwald to apply for, and accept, the massive funding package.

According to a short blurb in the News-Journal, Mr. Recktenwald said, “We’re able to receive direct funding.  This is something very unprecedented.”

So, how will Volusia County – who has a history of going through our money like shit through a dyspeptic goose – spend this windfall? 

Will the municipalities, many of which have been hard hit by this crisis, be included in the distribution?

Will those local businesses and industries who traditionally secure their spot at the public teat with enormous campaign contributions be eligible to skim a little cream off the top in the name of an economic stimulus? 

Will small businesses and furloughed employees who are teetering on the brink of financial disaster be supported with these relief funds?

And, absent some donations to struggling food banks, what exactly has Volusia County spent outside that included in current budget allocations? 

Because they damn sure haven’t thrown anything at emergency management planning, preparation or the development of a cogent pandemic response. . .

Under the circumstance, these are legitimate questions – and, during an election year – we deserve answers sooner rather than later.

I remember a similar, no-questions-asked, flood of cash in the late 1990’s when Florida reached a massive settlement with cigarette producers – a time when untold billions of dollars were showered on local governments throughout the state in the form of smoking cessation programs for children.

It turned into a shit show of epic proportions.

In other words, it was exactly what one would expect when greed-crazed politicians get snout-deep in a trough groaning with unregulated cash.

In fact, at the time, I called a state agency charged with oversight to report what I believed was a misuse of settlement funds – a situation common in those times – where the state trust fund was being billed by a municipality at a rate higher than actual expenditures.

While I maintain a certain moral flexibility, I also have a finely honed conscience.

I thought it was wrong, so I spoke up.

Imagine my utter shock when the inspector literally laughed in my face – flippantly dismissing me with, “If you think that’s bad, you should see what’s happening in South Florida.”

Click.

According to reports, outlays under the CARES Act will be under the oversight of something called the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, formed from Inspector General from multiple federal agencies.

One can only guess what ‘oversight by committee’ will look like at the end of the day.

No word yet on what role, if any, Volusia County’s invisible “Internal Auditor” Jonathan Edwards – who, like the legendary Sasquatch, is rumored to exist but rarely seen – will have in ensuring that nearly $100 million in public funds is spent in accordance with programmatic goals.

Trust me – this one bears watching. . .

Please join me tomorrow for our weekly installment of “Angels & Assholes” an always irreverent look at who tried to save us – and who tried to screw us – during the week that was.