It’s not about you. . .

It was never about you. 

In keeping with tradition, Tuesday’s final hootenanny of this painfully dysfunctional iteration of the Volusia County Council dissolved into a self-lovefest – an onanistic last chance for outgoing members to lavish praise on themselves and “staff” in a weird egotistic and timewasting gush before slinking off to the political ash heap of history. 

It was also an opportunity for our elected dullards to obsequiously flatter (and handsomely reward) County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and County Attorney Mike Dyer, the true power duo that facilitate it all by crafting an agenda that first, last, and always protects and perpetuates the stagnant status quo.

During an unmarked agenda item mislabeled “Leadership,” council members took up the annual charade that has become the “evaluation” of the County Manager and County Attorney – a farcical shim-sham that bears no resemblance to a legitimate performance review – little more than a smokescreen of hollow accolades and baseless praise.   

In my view, it was a foregone conclusion – amid serious turmoil, controversy, and on-going investigations of alleged inmate abuse at the Volusia County Jail – that saw our elected officials (who are charged with providing politically accountable oversight) referring to their direct reports as beloved “friends.”

At the end of the day, like clockwork, both Recktenwald and Dyer were gifted a hefty 4% pay increase on the 5-1 vote – which equated to an approximate raise of $10,000 each. 

It’s nice to have friends. . .

Only Chairman Jeff Brower had the savvy to couch his lone “no” vote with, “For me, I think it’s premature to evaluate and discuss a raise until the results of that investigation are done, because I believe that the county manager and the county attorney are serious about having an independent, fair evaluation, and I believe that’s underway.”

Whatever.

If you are a struggling small business owner in Volusia County – or labor against massive inflation at a tax-supported industrial warehouse that our “economic development” types continue to spend public funds to attract – I wonder how your Christmas bonus was this year? 

What I found most telling (although not surprising) was how our elected representatives, in their final official addresses from the dais – droned on, ad nauseum, sugarcoating their “service” and “accomplishments,” rewriting recorded history, marginalizing detractors, labeling critics “liars,” and vehemently denying that their vote was influenced by the massive campaign contributions of those influential insiders that got them elected in the first place – all while heaping accolades on senior staff members who tell them exactly what they want to hear.

You and I – the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County who feed the machine – were an afterthought, if we were mentioned at all. . . 

That sense of elitism springs organically in the hallowed Halls of Power where the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker become convinced of their own infallibility – a cloistered environment where influential people (their “new friends”) who wouldn’t look twice at them outside of politics – suddenly laugh at their jokes, slap them on the back, and make them feel part of the snobbish social and economic inner-circle where you and I aren’t welcome – an ego-massage reinforced by fawning senior administrators who know which side their bread is buttered on. 

A weird Fantasy Land that exists only in the minds of these self-important dullards – a place of diversion and procrastination where that which is important is kicked down the dusty political trail while the non-sensical machinations of government and vicious personal attacks on their “colleagues” are passed off as the “people’s business.” 

Bullshit.

Look, I’m not some Cassadaga clairvoyant who saw this coming in a crystal ball.

I spent most of my life dragging on the public teat, and I have seen this all before, and human nature being what it is – most politicians fall victim to the trappings of office and perquisites of the monarchial system that fosters this Us vs. Them mentality – then, over time, become everything they hated when entering politics.

This lackluster group was no different.

If there is one positive to emerge from this self-congratulatory pageantry, it is that We, The Little People get a peek at how these political hacks see themselves in the mirror – and how little those of us they are sworn to serve matter to them personally, professionally, and politically.   

(This is where I normally say, “Don’t take my word for it” then link the archived meeting video. Apparently, the perennial audio/visual “difficulties” that constantly plague these meetings and effectively dissuade citizens from watching the sausage being made prevented Volusia County from posting the meeting video… Don’t worry, George – no one who should seems to give two-shits.)

As things come to an unceremonious end for this iteration of the Volusia County Council, like you, I contemplate how my life – and that of my grandchildren – is appreciably better (or worse) economically, environmentally, and civically for all the timewasting bickering and bitchery that marked their contentious reign? 

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, all we can do is lament what “could have been” had the spirt of cooperation and collegiality prevailed over meanspirited one-upmanship and this shameless self-promotion. 

Sadly, it was never about us.

In Volusia County, it never is.   

Who Knew What. . .

Tomorrow, while most of you are at work, raising a family, and stretching the household budget to make last-minute preparations for Christmas, County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and County Attorney Mike Dyer – two of the highest compensated public employees in Central Florida – are set to be “evaluated” by our elected representatives on the Volusia County Council. 

Although an annual review of salary requirements for these positions is established by Charter – there is no agenda item (that I can find) – and no record of an established performance review protocol for either the County Manager or County Attorney – beyond a cursory mention in previous minutes of an “accomplishments report” which was not attached to the publicly available minutes.

In fact, the only list of “accomplishments” I could find for Mr. Recktenwald were listed on the “County Manager” page of the Volusia County website where the second bullet point touted Mr. Recktenwald’s oversight of “…the construction of the $81 million Ocean Center expansion.”

That was “accomplished” in 2008. . .

Whatever.

For years, the process of evaluating these powerful positions that command more than $200,000 each in public funds, top shelf benefits, and lavish perquisites is a farcical sham – consisting of little more than a few minutes of idle prattle from the dais of power, saccharine praise, and empty accolades that invariably culminate in an obscene pay increase. 

Sound familiar?

In over three-decades in service to residents of a small municipality – a place that put customer satisfaction over the organizational arrogance that often develops in bloated bureaucracies where “bigger is always better” – each year, I received a written performance evaluation which included the observations of my superiors, and a review of both measurable accomplishments and “growth areas” where improvement was expected.

These reviews always involved a face-to-face meeting with my department head or city manager – a time to candidly discuss issues, receive constructive criticism, and a much-needed pat on the back (or a kick in the ass) – a conversation that was memorialized in writing as a roadmap for personal improvement and professional growth.  

Periodically, departments and divisions were subject to external management audits – a top to bottom analysis of operating protocols, procedures, staffing levels, technology, and systems – which included confidential interviews with staff members to provide a 360-degree review and ensure essential services were being provided in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Could these examinations be uncomfortable? Absolutely.

But we were ultimately better for the critique.

This oversight is just one of the benefits of smaller, more manageable governments – places where the concerns of taxpayers are considered, strong leadership is valued, and those who are politically accountable to their neighbors (rather than a handful of oligarchs) demand a high degree of personal and professional responsibility from those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest.

In Volusia County, accountability has become an afterthought – the final yearly postscript of that dysfunctional slapstick troupe on the dais of power – most of whom have committed themselves in thought, word, and deed to the protection of the stagnant status quo that serves the bureaucracy and those influential insiders who control the rods and strings of public policy. 

But how is it that We, The Little People – from which all political power is derived – allow this lopsided power structure to have such enormous control of our lives and livelihoods?

Why did we stand idle while Volusia County government transmogrified into a massive and unwieldy machine that greedily gorges on an ever-expanding annual budget now exceeding $1 Billion – and a legislative branch wholly controlled by a few extremely wealthy powerbrokers with a very expensive chip in the game?

And how is it – year in and year out – our elected representatives ignore the myriad issues and scandals that continue to playout on the frontpage of the newspaper – everything from a dangerously dysfunctional emergency medical system – staffed by a dwindling number of demoralized, disrespected, and overworked first responders, the strategic suppression of commonsense environmental protections and impact fees, the continuing lack of transparency, and now revelations of the horrific abuse of inmates at the Volusia County Jail, etc., etc., etc.?   

Good question. 

With damn few answers. . .

According to an outstanding report by Al Everson writing in the West Volusia Beacon, on Thursday, just two days after Dyer and Recktenwald will be “evaluated” – a secret meeting will be held behind closed doors to determine the fate of former Director of Corrections Mark Flowers – who requested a hearing to challenge his pending termination on charges of “…harassing employees, creating a hostile work environment, and ordering the possible abuse of jail inmates.”

According to Mr. Flowers’ attorney, he has been the victim of retaliation after blowing the whistle on abuse and misconduct at the jail.

A recently completed internal investigation conducted by Volusia County sustained serious allegations of misconduct against Flowers – to include that he ordered “…a difficult inmate placed in a special unit of the jail, where those held there may be restrained because they pose a danger to others or to themselves. The inmates sometimes are placed in four-point restraints, meaning both arms and both legs are tied down.”

According to the Beacon, when corrections officers advised that placing an inmate in four-point restraints, face down on a concrete slab, in the nude, did not “feel right” – they were told by Flowers that he had “clearance from legal” to engage in the dangerous practice. 

Whoa. 

Now, taxpayers have a right to know what County Attorney Mike Dyer knew, and when.

Because it is one thing for County Manager Recktenwald to be asleep at the switch, ignorant of systemic abuse at the Department of Corrections – it is quite another for the legal department to have authorized the effective torture of inmates in some fetid isolation chamber at the Volusia County Jail.   

In my view, tomorrow’s “evaluation” of Recktenwald and Dyer is, at best, premature – at worst, it gives tacit approval to this horrific mismanagement, gross negligence, and lack of situational awareness.

Given the expanding nature of the accusations and counteraccusations, it is time for a wider external investigation – not a “like it never even happened” sidestep. 

Unfortunately, a deeper dive is highly unlikely – because this iteration of the Volusia County Council embraces plausible deniability – rather than providing effective oversight and letting the disinfecting light of day shine into the inner-sanctum. 

As a result, the status quo prevails.

Why?  Because we have become conditioned to it.

That’s why.

And those who are elected based on the financial backing of influential insiders continue to signal that there isn’t a damn thing you or I can do to change this insulated system.   

In my view, this is exactly why this pervasive disempowerment is detrimental to our representative form of government, as citizens become increasingly apathetic over their lack of substantive input in decision-making, and ultimately refuse to participate in the process.

My hope is that when the “new” Volusia County Council is seated in January – they will have the courage to throw open the curtains at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building and get to the bottom of this on-going travesty – then hold highly paid senior administrators accountable for what has happened on their watch.

Those of us who pay the bills and are expected to suffer in silence deserve better.

Angels & Assholes for December 16, 2022

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               NBA Legend Charles Barkley

I’ve always been a fan of Charles Barkley. 

The 11-time NBA All-Star and always humorous, often controversial, commentator for TNT’s “Inside the NBA” keeps us coming back for more with a charm and charisma that has made the irrepressible “Sir Charles” one of the most successful personalities in all of sports. 

In October, a rumor had the NBA Hall of Famer signing a new 10-year contract with Turner worth an estimated $100 million (possibly closer to $200 million) – a deal Barkley described as “life-altering” in a recent interview with the New York Post.

Now, The Daytona Beach News-Journal is reporting that Mr. Barkley has generously pledged $1 million each to our own Bethune-Cookman University and Mississippi’s Jackson State. 

“Since 2016, Barkley has given $1 million to six other HBCUs in addition to Bethune-Cookman and Jackson State. Those schools include: Alabama A&M University, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Miles College, Tuskegee University and Spellman College.”

According to the report, the impetus for Mr. Barkley’s largesse was due to B-CU’s Athletic Director/Head Basketball Coach Reggie Theus – a fellow NBA alum – who also served as a commentator for TNT, and later coached the Sacramento Kings before coming to Bethune-Cookman in 2021. 

In the News-Journal report, Mr. Theus expressed his appreciation, “I’m just so incredibly humbled by what he’s done. It’s just a big thing. He’s my NBA brother. It’s a small fraternity,” Theus said. “I was actually surprised. I didn’t know this was coming.”

It is no secret that Bethune-Cookman University has seen its share of adversity in recent years – and this incredibly generous donation represents a much-needed shot-in-the-arm – and serves as an outstanding testament to Coach Theus’ efforts as he works to build a championship program at B-CU. 

In a recent interview with reporter Roy S. Johnson writing in AL.com, Mr. Barkley explained in his own inimitable way:

“I’m [expletive] sixty [years old] in a couple of months, which is crazy,” Barkley said. “All this [expletive] money is crazy. I’m gonna use the rest of my life to bless as many people as I possibly can.”

Many thanks to Mr. Barkley and Director Theus for their personal and professional commitment to Bethune-Cookman University and our community. 

We’re glad these two legends passed our way.

Angel               City of Ormond Beach Planning Board

No, I haven’t bumped my head. . .

As a self-anointed cretinous critic of local government, I call the balls and strikes as I see them – and, by any metric, the once quaint community of Ormond Beach (like much of the Halifax area) has unequivocally grown too far, too fast.

But last Thursday, the Planning Board listened to the very real concerns of existing residents when they unanimously denied a developer’s request for a 300-unit mega-apartment complex near the busy intersection of Tymber Creek Road and West Granada Boulevard.   

Anyone who has sat through three cycles of a traffic signal at Granada Boulevard and (insert any cross street here) is celebrating the board’s decision as a victory for our area’s quality of life. 

According to an excellent article by Senior Editor Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer:

“The developer first submitted a site plan for review in 2020 and resubmitted another plan in December 2021 after the first application expired. Ten residential buildings were initially proposed, though due to concerns from residents of the nearby Indian Springs subdivision, the developer agreed to remove one of the buildings facing the community.

Citizen concerns also included the worsening of traffic on Tymber Creek Road and West Granada Boulevard.

“Your decisions are permanent,” resident Mike Lambert said. “To say that the quality of life in the areas of Moss Point, Indian [Springs] or Tymber Creek will not change is absurd. The traffic already on Tymber Creek Road is horrific.”

In my view, Mr. Lambert is right – and it is refreshing to see stakeholders speaking truth to power at public meetings, fighting hard to limit the adverse impacts of development on existing residents and infrastructure – especially with the specter of Avalon Park looming dark on the horizon. 

Kudos to the Ormond Beach Planning Board for having the wisdom to discern between quality development that enhances the character of our community and that driven by voracious greed that increases density regardless of the long-term impacts. 

Now, the Planning Board’s recommendation will be sent to the newly constituted Ormond Beach City Commission on January 24 for review.    

Trust me.  The Commission’s decision on this issue will tell concerned citizens all they need to know about our path forward. . .

Asshole           County of Volusia

Something stinks at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building in DeLand. 

In what may well be the biggest scandal to rock Volusia County government since, oh, the last melodrama to befall this shadowy administration – late last week, we learned that county officials plan to fire besieged former Corrections Director Mark Flowers. 

Depending upon who you believe that action is either a retaliatory act by craven senior administrators to silence a whistleblower – or a long overdue comeuppance for a dictatorial and unpredictable ogre. 

The abrupt notice of termination came following competing allegations by Flowers attorney, Kelly Chanfrau, who claims Flowers was retaliated against after he came forward with information on the abuse of inmates at the jail – and the results of an internal investigation by Volusia County which sustained serious policy violations – including accusations that it was Flowers who ordered the abuse of inmates, along with anecdotal information leaking from the Department of Corrections that Flowers was a vacillating leader with the management skills of Atilla the Hun.

These diametrically opposed claims have left many wondering who to believe. . .   

According to a News-Journal report, Chanfrau alleged that Flowers repeatedly reported misconduct by corrections officers – including the abuse of an inmate identified as Justin Caruthers, who reportedly “…suffered two black eyes after a beating administered by correctional officers.”

Now, the findings of the county’s internal investigation have turned the tables – sustaining a laundry list of violations against Flowers – to include ordering the isolation of inmates, violating suicide protocols, creating a hostile workplace, and directing that corrections officers place an unidentified inmate in a “four-point restraint”naked – for days.

Damn. 

This week, Flowers appealed his termination and requested a hearing after it was determined Volusia County violated its own Human Resources protocols “…by not giving him enough time to appeal.”

Really? 

Good thing this outrage isn’t playing out on the frontpage of the newspaper, or that glaring oversight would be embarrassing for Volusia’s outside counsel and highly paid HR professionals, eh? 

Adding to the confusion, County Manager George Recktenwald said in a canned press release, “Any suggestion that the termination was retaliation or in any way related to Dr. Flowers filing the complaint is absolutely and unequivocally false,” then laid full responsibility for the abuse and mismanagement at the jail on his former subordinate:

“He (Flowers) was under investigation for three months before he ever filed the complaint. The reality is that the allegations that were substantiated during our investigation were so egregious that it was impossible for Dr. Flowers to continue in his job. His own actions and his mistreatment of his staff and inmates left us no choice.”

According to the News-Journal, “Flowers filed a complaint Monday with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations. Flowers has claims against the county related to failure to accommodate, veteran status and disability, Chanfrau said.”

Those complaints are in addition to “…a whistleblower claim, a Family Medical Leave Act claim and a First Amendment claim.”

Now, Chanfrau is actively preparing a lawsuit on Flowers behalf.  

Regardless of how this conflagration plays out, guess who is ultimately on the hook?

More important – who do we hold responsible for the on-going shitshow at the Volusia County Jail?

As the accusations and counteraccusations mount, one thing is clear – inmates have been subjected to horrible abuse inside the isolated walls of Volusia County’s Abu Ghraib – and a hostile workplace exists for an already demoralized and overworked corrections staff who perform a difficult and dangerous job for far less than they are worth. 

In my view, regardless of who is eventually found culpable for this abominable misconduct, County Manager George Recktenwald bears personal responsibility for the acts and omissions of his subordinates.

According to a recent News-Journal’s report:

“Councilman Danny Robins said the situation is under the purview of the county manager and that it was his understanding that Flowers would meet with Recktenwald Friday, though he wasn’t sure what would happen.

Councilman Ben Johnson and Vice Chair Barb Girtman declined to comment. Volusia County Council members Jeff Brower, Billie Wheeler and Heather Post couldn’t be reached.”

(God help me, I chuckle every time I read that last part as outgoing council members realize their political legacy will be the horrifying mental image of a secluded prisoner stripped nude and tacked-out prone in some fetid isolation unit of the Volusia County Jail. . . )

The fact is, Councilman Robins is right.

This repugnant scandal is directly under the “purview” of the County Manager – and the inviolate rule of command is that responsibility may be delegated, but ultimate accountability cannot be abdicated – and Mr. Recktenwald either knew, or should have known, what was going on at the Department of Corrections.

If history repeats, no one in that bloated maze of overlapping senior managers, department directors, division directors, a deputy county manager and beyond will ever be held to account – so long as an atmosphere of “admit nothing, deny everything, make counteraccusations” prevails.

But this is different.  

The Flowers debacle involves credible allegations of the sadistic physical and psychological abuse of inmates under the legal care, custody, and control of the Volusia County Department of Corrections – acts that, if proven true, would represent systemic civil rights violations that should send a chill up the spine of anyone who values the rule of law – or respects the time-honored obligations and responsibilities of leadership. 

This isn’t a wholesale indictment of the men and women of the Department of Corrections.  Rather, it speaks to the culture of Volusia County’s senior administration and the lack of politically accountable oversight that allows this shit to fester.   

(Speaking of indictments, where is the United States Department of Justice when we need them?)

Frankly, the old dodge, “I didn’t know what was happening,” is not a privilege afforded those who are held to exacting standards of professionalism and personal accountability – and as a chief executive commanding an annual salary of over $224,000, plus benefits and perquisites, The Wreck should understand that and step aside. 

He won’t – and here’s why:

In the waning minutes of next Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting, the final act of this slapstick comedy troupe will be to “evaluate” the performance of County Manager Recktenwald and County Attorney Mike Dyer – which, if precedence holds, will result in saccharin accolades and a massive pay increase for both. 

Perhaps those dullards on the dais of power should look up the definition of “Leadership, Responsibility, and Accountability” in their Elected Officials Handbook (I’m sure it’s in there, sandwiched between “ethics, negligent retention liability, and best practices”) before evaluating the highest paid public employees in Volusia County government? 

Even with this disturbing scandal still raging, something tells me Messrs. Recktenwald and Dyer will have a very, very Merry Christmas. . .

Quote of the Week

“Wilbur-by-the-Sea is a dream spot for those who want to wake up to the sound of waves, beautiful ocean views and the smell of salt air.

But Robert S. Young, a coastal geologist, views this picturesque seaside village south of Daytona Beach as a warning sign, a glimpse into the future. Beachside living will grow even riskier and more expensive as oceans rise and warming seas generate super-charged storms, he said.

“There will come a time, 10 years from now, who knows, 15 years from now, when you’re going to have lots of places like this all over Florida,” said Young, director of Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. “You’re not going to have enough money to save them all.”

–Reporter Skylar Swisher, writing in the Orlando Sentinel, “Not ‘enough money to save them all.’ Volusia grapples with double hurricane whammy,” Sunday, December 11, 2022

While serving as a law enforcement officer, I was lied to on a daily basis.   

In fact, I was told so many falsehoods and fabrications that I now live by the idiom, “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see. . .” 

Earlier this week, News-Journal business editor Clayton Park wrote an interesting piece entitled, ‘Daytona is catching up,’ – which included the obligatory fluff from a glib South Florida developer trying his best to convince leery locals that another monstrous 27-story 304-unit ‘condotel’ is what we need on our crumbling dune line. 

I wonder if Mr. Park ever feels like he’s “heard it all before” when interviewing the developer du jour? 

Way back in 2007, Miami-area Developer Eduardo Avila of Key Realty Advisors purchased a 2.8-acre site at the southeast corner of A-1-A and Silver Beach Avenue.  Now, Mr. Avila is planning to break ground (“a year from now”) on what is tentatively billed as the Silver Beach Condo-Hotel. 

According to the News-Journal’s report:

“Avila said his group kept waiting for market conditions in Daytona Beach to improve to where they could justify spending more than $100 million to build their planned luxury high-rise.

That time has finally come. “We feel Daytona is catching up with the rest of Florida,” he said.

(Sorry.  I just shot coffee through my nose, dammit. . .)

The “Silver Beach Condo-Hotel” name listed on preliminary plans submitted to the city is just a working title, said Avila. “Once we get it branded (as part of a hotel chain), then we’ll have it (officially) named.”

Avila said his group has already invested $11.5 million on the project, including buying the land as well as hiring Miami-based architectural firm Arquitectonica and Daytona Beach engineering firm The Performance Group.”

Yep!  Good times are here again!  Again. . .

Look, far be it from me to shit on the dreams of another out-of-town speculative developer looking to squeeze a profit from another “$100 million” investment on our dilapidated beachside (God knows others have tried) – and I certainly don’t want to squash the hopes of our giddy ‘powers that be’ who are still desperately searching for the “panacea project” that will save us yokels from ourselves. 

With much of our fragile oceanfront in ruins – I question whether permitting additional building east of A-1-A makes environmental and economic sense – especially with hodge-podge emergency mitigation efforts underway to save existing structures from toppling into the sea? 

According to Mr. Avila, “Some of those (damaged) buildings are from the 1950s and ’60s. They weren’t built with the knowledge we have today. Those pilings (for oceanfront high-rises) need to go down to the rock, at least 75 feet. If you look at Miami Beach, there are a lot of tall buildings and nothing happens to them.”

Say what?   

Is it possible Mr. Avila is unaware that last year – just 19-miles north of his office in Coconut Grove – the Champlain Towers condominium collapsed in a pile of rubble resulting in the tragic death of 98 people?

The exact cause of that disaster has yet to be identified; however, the wide-ranging investigation includes a geotechnical engineering component to study ground behavior at different depths to determine how the structure’s foundation interacted with subsurface soils.   

In my view, it is that hard-earned and incredibly expensive “knowledge we have today” that confirms why we should not be permitting new development east of the Coastal Construction Control Line until a comprehensive erosion control plan can be established and funded. 

Yeah.  Don’t hold your breath.

Because when the fears of We, The Little People come up against the for-profit motives of extremely wealthy developers – you and I lose.  Every. Damn. Time.

And Another Thing!

Another week, another glaring frontpage headline in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“More homes planned at LPGA”

And the frustration builds. . .

On Tuesday, we learned that the “out-of-state owners of the golf courses at LPGA International” have plans to pave over the golf community’s three-hole practice course and replace the popular amenity with 154 new single-family homes and forty townhouses in the proposed LPGA Golf Villas development.

This week, Virginia-based Fore Golf Partners LLC planned to hold one of those stilted “developer-initiated meetings” – where residents directly impacted by the increased density and resulting traffic are sold on the idea of more, more, more development at the epicenter of the already overstuffed LPGA Boulevard area – as Daytona Beach’s “shove ten-pounds of shit in a five-pound bag” growth-at-all-costs strategy continues. 

Too many people showed up and the meeting had to be rescheduled. Standing room only.

Naturally, residents of the LPGA community are concerned – especially since they are trapped west of that Monument to Mediocrity that is the two-lane pinch-point over the Tomoka River.

Guess what?  No one who should seems to care at Daytona Beach City Hall.  

According to the report, Daytona Beach Planning Director Dennis Mrozek concluded in an email to the News-Journal:

“The proposed development will be consistent with the area development patterns and use of residential…”

That’s all ye know, and all ye need to know.

Unfortunately, the residents of LPGA are not alone. 

Earlier this week, I spoke to a concerned citizen who owns property bordering the footprint of another colossal monstrosity – the Framework Group’s massive tax supported “luxury” apartment complex and parking garage proposed for downtrodden Downtown Daytona – who has repeatedly reported issues surrounding the development’s impact on his property to local leaders, including at least two sitting city commissioners, and the increasingly reclusive City Manager Deric Feacher.

I was told that while each of the city officials paid cursory lip-service – commiserating with the property owner over issues ranging from denied driveway access, parking encroachment, traffic issues, flooding concerns, and potential nuisance conditions during construction – once they left, the taxpayer’s concerns were completely ignored.

Crickets.  Not so much as a return phone call. . .

Yeah.  I know.    

I’ll have more thoughts on this growing North Beach Street fiasco later, but unlike Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry – who preened and fawned between backslapping with Framework Group executives at the premature “groundbreaking” ceremony last week – not everyone is “…elated for the future of Daytona Beach.”

In fact, many existing residents are sick and tired of having their concerns dismissed with the patented shoulder-shrug and “Nuttin’ we can do about it, rube. You’re either growin’ or you’re dyin’” sidestep that is gridlocking traffic and ruining the character of the Halifax area.

This quantum shift in the attitude toward additional development is best evidenced by the increasing number of people turning up at “developer-initiated meetings” to express their growing anger.

Now, add residents of the LPGA community to that growing list of victims of the old ‘golf course bait-and-switch.’

In my view, the lack of official action to address the adverse impacts of new development on long-time residents – even as city officials bend over backwards to accommodate the wants and whims of out-of-town developers – speaks volumes about the true loyalties of those we elect and appoint. 

Unfortunately, I do not see that changing anytime soon.  Do you?

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

______________________________________________

Merry Christmas!

Angels & Assholes will take a pause next week. 

Here’s wishing you – the loyal members of the Barker’s View Tribe – a healthy and joyous Christmas Season!

If There Be Justice

Few realize what little influence those we elect to represent our interests have on the day-to-day operations of the bureaucracy or those career civil servants who deliver essential governmental services.

It is a source of frustration, especially following elections, when a new slate of elected officials is elevated to high-office amid great pomp-and-circumstance – a time of anticipation – when we expect the ardent promises of the campaign season to come to fruition.

The fact is those self-aggrandizing stuffed-shirts who fill expensive wingback chairs on the dais of power are little more than wooden bowsprits – elaborate figureheads fixed at the prow of a large and often unwieldy ship – without any control over the speed, direction, or momentum of the vessel.

As the policymaking arm, at best, the council or commission may set the ultimate destination – but make no mistake, how the ship of government navigates, and when it arrives – will be determined by the omnipotent City or County Manager.

In this “Council/Manager” form of government, the inviolate pecking order is explained to newly elected officials before they take office – the “chain of command” – a hierarchy usually established by the jurisdiction’s governing charter which, in theory, protects public employees from the meddling of politically motivated elected officials using a sacrosanct “hands-off” policy that keeps the council or commission members away from the tiller.

Conversely, the city or county manager is appointed (and terminated) by majority vote of the elected body and granted the extraordinary authority and responsibility to administrate the daily operations of government, carryout the policies of the council or commission, hire, fire, and discipline employees, and given wide latitude to ensure efficient service delivery. 

Trust me.  It’s a hard dollar. 

Because with enormous authority comes incredible responsibility

Optimally, the chief executive employs strong leadership to maintain sound organizational discipline, respects the formidable power of government, identifies objectives, communicates effectively, provides equal and unbiased information to the policymakers, exercises judgment, builds esprit de corps, instills confidence in constituents, and effectively directs personnel and resources under his or her command to accomplish difficult goals important to our collective welfare.

Most important, the leader sets and demands high moral and ethical standards so subordinates will act honorably in the absence of direct supervision. 

The role is never static – constantly in flux – and it requires the ability to ‘multi-task,’ evaluate, consider variables, constantly monitor high-liability operations, adjust to changing conditions, and anticipate future challenges in time to adapt.

Regardless of the pursuit, a leader – public or private – must have the ability to maintain situational awareness at all times, even in the fog and confusion of stressful or rapidly changing conditions, and constantly evaluate Context, Circumstance, and Consequence.

What is happening.  What has happened.  What could happen.

You either have that three-dimensional mental picture or you don’t – and once lost, it is extremely difficult to recover in a dynamic environment – and nothing is more noticeable, or destructive to morale and public confidence, than a “leader” who has lost command and control of a situation or organization.

Initially, the crisis phase is marked by the element of surprise – horrible revelations “pop-up” out of nowhere, misperceptions drive the solution, the wagons are circled, established processes are manipulated to accommodate situations, and cracks begin to appear in the carefully constructed façade.

Often, people in the upper-echelons of government – senior leaders who should be “in the know” – appear to be caught unaware, resulting in a lack of faith in management and a growing sense of organizational confusion – with subordinates and constituents left flummoxed by the actions of those in positions of great responsibility.

Unfortunately, once this damaging process begins, it is often unrecoverable – resulting in systemic failures, finger-pointing, retaliation, “cover-ups,” misplacing blame on subordinates or “failed technology,” and a creeping atmosphere of suspicion and animosity ensues. 

Sound familiar?

In November, The Daytona Beach News-Journal published an in-depth look at another brewing scandal in the cloistered Halls of Power at the Thomas C. Kelly Administrative Building in DeLand, when reporter Frank Fernandez exposed allegations of “malicious and abusive behavior” toward inmates at the Volusia County Branch Jail…” and, more disturbing, a possible cover-up at the highest levels of county government.

According to the News-Journal’s exposé, now neutered Volusia County Department of Corrections Director Mark Flowers retained the venerable Daytona Beach attorney Kelly Chanfrau whose firm investigated claims that former Director Flowers was retaliated against after he blew the whistle on the physical abuse of inmates.

In turn, Chanfrau forwarded correspondence to County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald that included a memorandum headed “formal written complaint” that Flowers sent to the County Manager on August 6, just days before his suspension and isolation, wherein Flowers wrote that he has repeatedly reported unlawful actions at the jail and suggested a “cover up” surrounding a use-of-force incident against an inmate.

According to the report, against Flowers’ recommendation, Mark Swanson, who, rather than being relieved, was recently appointed Director of the Public Protection Department (?), “…reassigned the officers involved to other duties in the jail rather than removing them from the facility to prevent any possibility of witness intimidation or harassment.”

Ultimately, Flowers was removed from office, stripped of his responsibilities, and forced to work from the very public and humiliating pillory of a conference room. 

Last month, a Volusia County mouthpiece cryptically told us that “portions” of the investigation had been handed over to FDLE – then, with the investigation presumably still underway – late last week, we learned in an informative follow-up by the News-Journal:

“Volusia County filed a notice of intent to fire Corrections Director Mark Flowers, who has alleged the county is retaliating against him after he complained that corrections officers were abusing inmates. Volusia County fired back at Flowers, accusing him in its notice, among other things, of violating policies by ordering that an inmate be placed face-down in a four-point restraint and demanding that another inmate on non-active suicide watch be moved without medical clearance.”

According to the shocking report, senior Volusia County officials now say inmates were abused at Flowers direction – to include instances of prisoners being hog-tied – with “inmate(s) being four-pointed in a prone position naked for several days” – an incredibly dangerous and painful practice that even a rookie law enforcement or corrections officer knows can result in death by positional asphyxiation – and others left in a disciplinary unit ominously called “10-A” for extended periods without basic hygiene products.  

My God.

Who do we believe?

As the accusations and counteraccusations play out, one thing is clear – inmates have been subjected to abuse inside the isolated walls of the Volusia County Jail – and a hostile workplace exists for an already demoralized corrections staff.

In my view, regardless of who is ultimately found culpable for this abominable conduct, County Manager George Recktenwald bears ultimate responsibility for the acts and omissions of his subordinates. 

According to the News-Journal’s report:

“Councilman Danny Robins said the situation is under the purview of the county manager and that it was his understanding that Flowers would meet with Recktenwald Friday, though he wasn’t sure what would happen.

Councilman Ben Johnson and Vice Chair Barb Girtman declined to comment. Volusia County Council members Jeff Brower, Billie Wheeler and Heather Post couldn’t be reached.”

Councilman Robins is right. 

This repugnant scandal is directly under the “purview” of the County Manager – and the inviolate rule of command is that responsibility may be delegated, but ultimate accountability cannot be abdicated – and Mr. Recktenwald either knew, or should have known, what was going on at the Department of Corrections. 

Frankly, the old dodge, “I didn’t know what was happening,” is not a privilege afforded to those who are held to exacting standards of professionalism and personal accountability – and a chief executive commanding an annual salary of over $224,000 plus benefits and perquisites should understand that.

In my view, as an act of conscience – County Manager Recktenwald has a responsibility to step down and allow an external criminal investigation of abuses at the Volusia County Jail to proceed.   

Then, if there is any justice, let those who brutalized inmates – and those whose inaction facilitated it – find themselves in a similar predicament as their victims.      

Angels & Assholes for December 9, 2022

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               The Reconstituted Deltona City Commission

West Volusia Beacon reporter Al Everson said it best:

“What a difference an election makes!”

On November 28, the newly constituted Deltona City Commission voted unanimously to reject a rezoning request that would have permitted an additional 145 homes in Fernanda Place on Deltona’s east side. 

With recently elected Mayor Santiago Avila Jr. and three new commissioners on the dais, in a refreshing break from tradition, the elected officials listened to constituent concerns surrounding increased density, traffic, and inadequate parking – ignored attractive baubles, gewgaws, and developer incentives – such as a swimming pool, a dog park, enhanced tree preservation, and a $100,000 cash spiff to the City of Deltona “for affordable housing efforts” – and voted 7-0 to deny the zoning change from Agricultural to Residential Planned Unit Development (RPUD). 

The bold move to protect the quality of life for existing residents resulted in an ominous warning from the developer’s normally conciliatory attorney, Mark Watts:

“The property currently has rights.  There’s going to be development there.”

According to an excellent report by Al Everson writing in the West Volusia Beacon:

“After the commission voted down the ordinance to rezone the property for Phase 3 of Fernanda Place, Watts left the meeting, but he indicated he and his clients are not giving up.

“The property has rights to develop,” he said, adding he may submit a new request for Phase 3.

“We can file tomorrow,” he concluded.

In other words (in my best Schwarzenegger impression): “I’ll be bach.”

And you can bet your sweet bippy they will. . . 

In my view, for the first time in a long time, a local elected body put down the rubberstamp and held firm to existing zoning regulations to protect the character of their community from the rampant overdevelopment that has stressed existing transportation infrastructure, added to flooding concerns, and threatened the quantity and quality of our drinking water supply across Volusia County.

In addition, according to the Beacon’s report, in a refreshing about face from the “Us vs. Them” mentality that has gripped Deltona City Hall for years, Commissioners removed the “…cordons in the commission chambers that formed a sort of no man’s land between the audience and the dais.”

Bravo! 

First implemented by former Mayor Heidi Herzberg during the bad old days of 2019 when Deltona residents were rightfully up-in-arms over the direction of their community – the physical barrier separating citizens from those they elect to represent their interests was a bitter reminder of an ugly and divisive period in the city’s history.

Although the physical screening procedures at the entrance to the commission chamber will remain, Mayor Avila assured the citizens of Deltona that he is committed to representing all residents of Deltona – and extended an olive branch to wary citizens asking that they trust their city commission going forward. 

That’s going to take time – but this week’s meeting was good start toward mending fences. 

I have often said, if the City of Deltona is to remain a legitimate entity, then the elected officials must begin the painful process of sorting through the contentious baggage and set a collective vision, put aside the mean-spirited “gotcha” politics, collusions, and accusatory maneuvers, and work cooperatively with stakeholders to achieve civic equilibrium.

While it is too early to tell how things will shake out, in my view, Mayor Avila and the reconstituted Deltona City Commission is making great strides to reverse the sins of the past and restore public confidence at City Hall. 

Excellent work.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

Just one month ago, The Daytona Beach News-Journal published an in-depth look at another brewing scandal in the cloistered Halls of Power at the Thomas C. Kelly Administrative Building in DeLand, when reporter Frank Fernandez exposed allegations of “malicious and abusive behavior” toward inmates at the Volusia County Branch Jail…” and, more disturbing, a possible cover-up at the highest levels of county government.

According to the News-Journal’s exposé, now neutered Volusia County Department of Corrections Director Mark Flowers retained the venerable Daytona Beach attorney Kelly Chanfrau whose firm investigated claims that Director Flowers was retaliated against after he blew the whistle on the physical abuse of inmates. 

In turn, Chanfrau forwarded correspondence to County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald that included a memorandum headed “formal written complaint” that Flowers sent to the County Manager on August 6, just days before his suspension and isolation:

“In the memo, Flowers wrote that he has repeatedly reported unlawful actions that have occurred within the jail, but the issues have not been addressed. Flowers wrote there was a cover-up involving a use-of-force incident against an inmate named Justin Caruthers. He wrote that Caruthers reported that “Your correctional officers beat my ass.”

Flowers wrote that two correctional officers witnessed the incident and wrote statements. The two officers said that while they could not point to any individual officer, Caruthers was struck and punched numerous times in the head and body. A nurse at the jail said, “They beat his ass,” Flowers reported. Flowers wrote that nine days after the incident he interviewed Caruthers, who still had two black eyes.

Flowers said that against his recommendation, Mark Swanson, the interim director of the Public Protection Department, reassigned the officers involved to other duties in the jail rather than removing them from the facility to prevent any possibility of witness intimidation or harassment.”

In my experience, public and private organizations that value the public trust take credible allegations brought by a sitting department head seriously – and act upon them in an open and transparent way – to protect the integrity of the process.    

But not in Volusia County.

Here, the old “fire him or promote him” managerial style is clearly alive and well – cementing a culture of mediocrity that rewards those who toe the line, keep their mouth shut, and help marginalize anyone who dares blow the whistle on the dark side of this cloistered and opaque “government.” 

On Tuesday, rather than formally relieve Recktenwald and Swanson pending an independent external investigation into Flower’s serious accusations (we were told in November by a Volusia County mouthpiece that FDLE is handling a “portion of the investigation”) – the Volusia County Council (with Chairman Jeff Brower absent) voted 5-0 to reward Swanson by enshrining him as permanent director of the Public Protection Department. 

Really?

Look, I get it. 

No one gives two-shits about the physical abuse of inmates (unless and until you or a loved one get your teeth kicked in on the floor of some fetid jail cell).

Let’s face it, outside of their defense attorneys, incarcerated convicts don’t have a very good lobby – but the integrity of the system should matter to everyone who pays taxes and expects professionalism and accountability from those who accept public funds.

Instead, Volusia’s bloated bureaucracy continued its exponential expansion this week when Recktenwald announced the formation of the new Emergency Services Department – which transfers a few services from the existing Public Protection Department (emergency medical services, emergency management, emergency medical administration, and fire/rescue) – and places them under the Emergency Services Division’s new director, Jim Judge.

In perfect bureaucratese, The Wreck explained, “I think this puts us in a good position to capture efficiencies and to continue to evolve the department.”

(Yeah.  I know.  It’s the art of expending hot air while saying absolutely nothing of substance.)

No word yet on what those “efficiencies” will amount to in dollars saved – but according to a recent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal – prior to their promotions, Director Swanson commanded $144,592.88 annually while Director Judge enjoyed a handsome salary of $135,015.32, and that’s while they served in an interim status. . . 

Whatever.

Keep the faith, kids.  Help is on the way!   

Come January, when those we recently elevated to high office are sworn in, we will see them immediately roll up their sleeves and begin the process of right sizing this gluttonous bureaucracy – putting the fiscally conservative values that got them elected into action – and making good on their promises of cutting taxes, reducing costs, chopping the dead wood, and whittling things down to a “smaller, more efficient” government.    

Right. . .

Angel               L. Gale Lemerand

According to Merriam-Webster the word philanthropy means literally “love of mankind.”

In 2014, Halifax area business leader L. Gale Lemerand was rightfully named “Philanthropist of the Year” by the Volusia-Flagler chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

No one deserved that special recognition more. 

At the time, Mr. Lemerand said, “If someone’s living the American Dream as I have been, I believe it’s important to give back to the community and to help others who haven’t been as fortunate,” said Lemerand. “The community’s been good to me. I’m really happy to be in the position to give back.”

Before I retired as Chief of Police for the City of Holly Hill, our community was experiencing the disastrous effects of The Great Recession resulting in far-reaching funding cuts to programs and services our citizens had come to rely on. 

During those very dark days, quite unexpectedly, Mr. Lemerand appeared at City Hall and graciously offered to fund an important social program that benefited underserved families in our community. Without question, demands, or recognition – L. Gale Lemerand simply saw an unfulfilled need and selflessly donated the resources required to ensure those less fortunate were cared for.

I have never forgotten that.  How one man’s noble generosity in the face of terrible uncertainty gave hope to so many during that grim time. 

This week, it was announced that Mr. Lemerand has graciously pledged $100,000 to the challenged Palm Terrace Elementary School in Daytona Beach – a Title 1 school where 95% of students are living in poverty. 

According to an excellent article by education reporter Danielle Johnson writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “The donation will have an “immense impact” on the student body, Volusia County Schools shared on social media, especially given the makeup of Palm Terrace’s nearly 600 students.”

The school’s new Assistant Principal Madison Miller – an outstanding educator who was named 2022-23 Teacher of the Year while at Chisholm Elementary – was quoted, “We are notably one of the, if not the, highest-need schools in this county,” she said Monday.

“Without education, many do not have a ticket out of poverty and less-than-desirable situations, she noted.”

The News-Journal report explained that, although Mr. Lemerand has been a longtime supporter of higher education, this represents his first donation to an elementary school:

“I went over and I met the principal and some of the students and was even more impressed with everything that I saw than I was before I made the donation,” he said, adding that the school welcomed him with its drum corps, choir, and cheerleading team.

Lemerand, 88, also came from humble beginnings. He was raised in a “very poor” family in Michigan and graduated high school but did not go to college.

“I guess that’s one of the reasons I support education so much is because I had missed out on it myself,” he said.

Mr. Lemerand understands from personal experience that an investment in education is an investment in the future.

By any measure, Mr. Lemerand’s life-changing generosity will have a significant and sustainable impact on the lives of Palm Terrace students – and the civic, social, and economic health of our community. 

A lasting tribute to one man’s unconditional love of humanity.

Thank you, Mr. Lemerand.  We’re glad you passed our way. 

Quote of the Week

“Again, Town Council members and residents, we have heard you.  By voting down the lease, versus tabling the agenda item so the terms can be modified to the satisfaction of both parties, you decidedly elected not to negotiate with the FBH Community.  If this Council was serious in negotiating with a non-profit, you wouldn’t instruct us to, as one Council Member put it, “go and write a new lease” without any additional information or clarity.  A cold remark from a Council Member when asked by Mayor Bennett if they were willing to entertain a revised lease, of “well, I can’t stop them from bringing another lease,” rather than answering the question, was insulting and gave us a clear message of your intent.”

–Founder and Chair of Food Brings Hope Forough Hosseini writing to the residents and Town Council of Pierson, Florida, Thursday, December 1, 2022

Residents on both sides of Volusia County’s palmetto curtain were secretly aghast this week when Forough Hosseini’s Food Brings Hope made good on its threat to pull $250,000 in much-needed educational and nutritional services from the tiny Northwest Volusia hamlet of Pierson following a David & Goliath pissing match. 

I say secretly, because no one – and I mean no one – openly challenges the House of Hosseini, especially county and municipal elected officials who are expected to genuflect anytime one of Volusia’s High Panjandrums of Political Power enter a council or commission chamber then obsequiously acquiesce to their every want and whim.   

The spat began over reasonable differences surrounding a proposed lease agreement which would have allowed Food Brings Hope to occupy several rooms of the Pierson Town Center for a token $1 per year for the next decade – leaving townsfolk on the hook for recurring expenses like maintenance, utilities, and insurance coverage.

That did not sit well with taxpayers in the challenged community of 1,491 who sought a more equitable arrangement. 

Ultimately, the Pierson Town Council listened to the concerns of their constituents and rejected the lease.  

Why?  With a limited tax base, they couldn’t afford it.

During the heated public meeting in November, FBH attorney Nika Hosseini threatened:

“If the town would like Food Brings Hope to route every call that we get from your residents to the town itself, we’re happy to do that,” she said. “… If you don’t want these services, we will allocate the quarter of a million dollars to other jurisdictions that are actively asking for them.”

And that is exactly what they did.

To add insult, on December 1, Forough Hosseini fired off a two-page snark-filled comeback to residents and their Town Council essentially detailing the many ways she was “insulted” by the community’s cautious response – correspondence that some quietly felt was petty, small, and unbecoming someone of Ms. Hosseini’s stature. 

That’s unfortunate.

As I said earlier in the week, to prove a point, Food Brings Hope stormed out of the needy community in a snit – essentially weaponizing their charity by withholding much-needed humanitarian services from hungry children who have absolutely no influence over the town’s difficult decision.

I’m not sure who is advising Ms. Hosseini, but she is certainly smart enough to know that using the suffering of disadvantaged families for political leverage is cruel. 

Especially at the Holidays. 

In my view, this unfortunate brouhaha has nothing to do with bringing food stability and literacy resources to those who desperately need them in Northwest Volusia – and everything to do with power and control.

It is one thing to fill a very real need in a challenged community like Pierson – it is quite another to become a burden on limited public resources while touting your virtuous deeds to those who simply cannot afford to help – then taking personal offense when those responsible for stewarding scarce public funds are forced to look the gift horse in the mouth.

In the aftermath, this meanspirited and incredibly public powerplay has exposed something we all recognize but rarely discuss (at least not openly) – and it has cost Food Brings Hope and its leadership the admiration, respect, and trust of those now left to ponder what consequences the charity’s retreat will have on those unfortunate children who have come to rely on these charitable efforts for sustenance.   

Food Brings Hope will hold its final community activity in Pierson – the Hope for the Holidays event – at the Mission San José of St. Peter Catholic Church from 5-7 pm, Tuesday, Dec. 13.

Yeah.  Merry Christmas. . .

And Another Thing! 

Now that the elections are over and our “new” elected officials are preparing to take their seats on the dais of power in January, I have been thinking about how our entrenched power structure perpetuates itself, the insidious influence of partisan politics on local races, and the importance of dissent and accountability to good governance.   

The answer to the first question is relatively simple:  Money.    

Those who observe local politics with a critical eye have long understood that Volusia County’s artificial economy is based on the whims of a very exclusive club – a group of wealthy power brokers who pass the same nickel around – and, with increasing frequency, that nickel originates from our tax dollars in the form of lucrative “economic development” incentives, tax abatement schemes, infrastructure, land giveaways, and other spiffs. 

For instance, it is one thing to use publicly funded partnerships to lure business and industry to Volusia County – it is quite another to ensure these new enterprises benefit those select few with a chip in the game. 

Sound familiar? 

Maintaining one’s place in the suckling order begins each election cycle when these wealthy insiders inject huge sums of money into the campaigns of hand-select candidates for local offices through their countless corporate entities, political action committees, and shadowy business alliances.

Volusia’s Old Guard did not accumulate massive personal wealth without the ability to control their environment, and, in my view, that is exactly what the political influence they purchase provides.

I have said this before – you do not need an MBA from The Wharton School to understand the concept of ROI – Return on Investment – and the road to the poor house is paved with the bones of those who ignored the simple analytical formula: Net Profit v. Cost of Investment.

The fact is members of Volusia County’s camera stellata did not become incredibly successful by shoving money down a rabbit hole and expecting a magical bean stalk to rise into the heavens where the Golden Goose resides. 

So, they skew the playing field.

All perfectly legal – because our slanted campaign finance system allows it. 

In my jaded view, influence and access represent that return on investment – and given the astronomical amount of “economic incentives” that local governments have showered upon this exclusive group (and emerging players) – I would say they have done extremely well on the risk/reward scale.

The modus operandi for consolidating power rarely changes – because it works. 

Once the various courtiers and favorites are selected for advancement to high office, those powerful party bosses at the Volusia Republican Executive Committee insinuate partisan support into non-partisan local races through lopsided “voter guides,” endorsements, and coordinated smear campaigns – while “grassroots” candidates are labeled “RINO’s” (or worse), shut out, cash starved, and left to wither on the vine. 

Then, when the playing field is set, the pernicious “system” destroys any opposition – or independent thought – while rewarding those obsequious toadies who perpetuate the stagnant status quo. 

Don’t take my word for it.     

Ask Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower or Councilwoman Heather Post how it feels to be on the outside looking in and have your every initiative marginalized and invalidated – to be snickered about in the cloakrooms of haughty “civic” clubs and cliquish political fishing camps – while being publicly beaten like a square peg into the round hole of conformity. 

If you think it is bad now – wait until January when the real bloodletting begins. 

Is what we experience in Volusia County quid pro quo corruption?

I don’t know. 

But in my jaded view, it has a whiff of the shit about it.

What I do know is that when these powerful insiders appear in various council and commission chambers, invariably – I mean 100% of the time – the issue, project, incentive, or development they support is handed to them on a gilded platter, while We, The Little People are left on the outside looking in – expected to pay the bills and keep our pie holes shut.

Am I wrong?

As a result, these omnipotent power players have assumed an almost mythical stature in a place where thousands live at or below the poverty level – with more than 45,000 working households considered asset limited/income constrained in Volusia County – with the only possibility of escaping the vicious cycle now limited to $15 an hour scutwork in an industrial warehouse.     

So, what can we do about it?  

Given the apathy of most registered voters on the Fun Coast – not much.

But substantive change – and a government of the people, by the people, and for the people – is worth striving for.

Even when the odds seem insurmountable. 

We can start by reminding our neighbors, children, and grandchildren that all political power springs from the will and consent of the governed – not the wallet of some Fat Cat with a profit motive and an outsized sense of entitlement – or the compromised yammering of their hired marionettes on the dais of power who work hard to convince us this stagnant oligarchical rule is the best we can hope for.  

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

The Power and the Glory

“Food Brings Hope founder Forough Hosseini informed Pierson Town Council members Thursday she will be pulling the organization’s nutrition and educational programs from northwest Volusia County.

The council rejected a proposed low-cost lease of space in a town owned building last week in an episode that demonstrated a culture clash and left people on both sides suggesting a negotiation doesn’t appear to be in the works.

“By voting down the lease agreement, versus tabling the agenda item as recommended by your town attorney, we realized you are not interested in working with (Food Brings Hope),” Hosseini wrote in a letter to the Town Council. “We understand and appreciate that it’s your town and you know what is best for your community.”

–Reporter Mark Harper, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Food Brings Hope to pull programs from Pierson,” Monday, December 5, 2022

Look, I need to preface this preachy screed by telling you: I’m not the most philanthropic person you know.

Like my tightwad father before me, I believe in the adage, “Charity begins at home” – which means I am a cheap bastard who only begrudgingly bails out my own ungrateful family, let alone perfect strangers. . .

Besides, while I can regularly pay my sizeable bar tab (which is no small feat), all of my money is tied up in what chartered accountant’s call “liabilities.”

Which is why I have such a soft spot in my beat-up old heart for those successful individuals and entities in our community who give of themselves and their fortunes for the common good – and why I have been so terribly disappointed in the unfortunate (and avoidable) rift that developed between one of our areas most generous charities and the small town of Pierson.

At the end of the day, Food Brings Hope made good on its threat, took its football, and went home after the strapped townsfolk of the rural West Volusia community had the abject temerity to deny the philanthropic arm of the omnipotent House of Hosseini lease space in the Town Center.

Late last week, FBH founder Forough Hosseini fired off a snarky note to the recalcitrant villagers announcing she is pulling some $250,000 in charitable resources from the community. 

That’ll teach ‘em. 

In my view, this became a David and Goliath powerplay – a shoving match between a tiny town of 1,491 and Volusia’s undisputed High Panjandrums of Political Power – when FBH sought to lease several rooms in the Town Center after space ran out in a local mission owned by the Catholic Diocese of Orlando.

As I understand it (and I’m not sure I do), under preliminary terms, the town would have been responsible for monthly utility bills and insurance coverage on the space leased by FBH (for $1 per year for the next decade) – which some citizens saw as a recurring drain on tight public resources.

Ultimately, the elected officials rightfully felt Food Brings Hope’s monthly nut was prohibitive in a community with a per capita income of just $20,000.

In November, things turned heated when Pierson officials balked at the lease arrangement and the sharp-elbowed FBH attorney Nika Hosseini sent a shot across the town’s bow by threatening to pull charitable programs out of the community:

“If the town would like Food Brings Hope to route every call that we get from your residents to the town itself, we’re happy to do that,” she said. “… If you don’t want these services, we will allocate the quarter of a million dollars to other jurisdictions that are actively asking for them.”

And that is exactly what they did.

According to a recent frontpage story in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Forough Hosseini left open the possibility of returning services to needy children in Pierson – so long as the townsfolk are willing to prostrate themselves – hat in hand – and ask for them:

“Please note that we are true to our mission of eradicating hunger amongst children in our community; so, if you start a food pantry and would like us to bring groceries for the townspeople to distribute, please let us know,” Hosseini wrote. “If the residents are in need of cleaning products, diapers, etc. to distribute, we are happy to deliver. If a storm happens and there are leaks and your residents need tarps again, please contact us. If school supplies are needed throughout the year, we will be happy to provide.”

Yeah.  That’s called L’esprit de l’escalier – the perfect comeback that occurs to you only after reaching the bottom of the staircase, that you might have said to overwhelm your opponent in an argument. 

Happens to me all the time.

But I’m not running a successful charity who has assumed responsibility for feeding underprivileged families in the most vulnerable small town in Volusia County.

That’s like taking in a puppy, then abandoning it when he can’t substantially contribute to his own upkeep.

Now, in a weird twist on the Law of Reciprocity – a social phenomenon where people feel obliged to give back to someone who gave them something – Food Brings Hope storms out of the needy community in a snooty snit, weaponizing the charity by withholding services from innocent children who have no influence over the town’s difficult decision.

That’s unfortunate.    

Frankly, its cruel.

In my view, this unfortunate brouhaha has nothing to do with bringing much-needed food stability and literacy resources to those who desperately need these services in Northwest Volusia – and everything to do with power and control.

And when you are the biggest kid in the sandbox, it never hurts to bring an obstinate elected official or two to heel as an example to the others. . .

If the leadership of FBH were truly altruistic, wild horses couldn’t prevent the powerful non-profit – which is backed by the enormous resources of the Hosseini Family Foundation – from feeding the hungry in Volusia’s most challenged community – a foundation which, euphemistically, could fund the Pierson programs, rental, and overhead in perpetuity from the spare change found in its gilded couch cushions. . .

The fact is, it is one thing to fill a very real need in a challenged community like Pierson – it is quite another to become a burden on limited public resources while touting your virtuous deeds to those who simply cannot afford to help – then taking personal offense when those responsible for stewarding scarce public funds are forced to look the gift horse in the mouth. 

Perhaps in the true spirit of selfless and philanthropic giving, Ms. Hosseini and the powerful leadership of Food Brings Hope – who are actively soliciting private donations by showcasing their many good deeds in The Daytona Beach News-Journal this Holiday Season – could find their way to reconsider – allow the citizens of Pierson to maintain their civic pride and sense of independence – and use their resources and influence to seek an alternate means of funding a permanent presence in the community.

I hope so.

Sometimes being the bigger person means putting ego aside – remembering what is important – and what is not.

Angels & Assholes for December 2, 2022

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:

For the record, I have been virtually bedridden since Thanksgiving with the most virulent and debilitating of all known maladies:

The dreaded “Man Cold.”

Perhaps the worst in recorded medical history.  Whoa.

Today’s feeble installment of Angels & Assholes represents my courageous ‘best effort’ at the nexus of this relentless and incapacitating illness and my pathological need to point out where the doer of deeds could have done them better or condescendingly say, “See, I told you so…”

Despite my weakened state, through Herculean effort, I was somehow able to lift my groggy head, turn a jaundiced and bloodshot eye toward the newsmakers of the day, and bring you my goofy take on the myriad issues we face here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.   

I share my suffering – and ultimate triumph over adversity – in hopes my extraordinary civic sacrifice in the face of acute discomfort (cough) won’t be lost on the exalted nomination committees for the prestigious J. Hyatt Brown Enterprise Award, the Glenn Ritchey Leadership Award, the J. Saxon Lloyd Distinguished Community Service Award, or the (insert Halifax area ‘mover & shaker’ here) Lifetime Achievement Award as things firm up for the annual rubber-chicken banquet season just around the corner! 

Look, this fever has me teetering on the edge of lucidity and hallucination, but I’ve got a feeling this is the year, tribe! 

Whatever.

And, yes, I am an insufferable asshole when I’m under-the-weather.

Just ask my long-suffering wife. . . 

In all seriousness, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who reached out this week to wish Patti and I well as we recuperate from ‘whatever’s going around‘ – and thanks for all the great suggestions for beating it.

Trust me – we’ve got all the antibiotics, steroids, ointments, and unguents known to medical science working in our favor.  

Thank you for your kindness.

It’s cold and flu season out there, kids – avoid it if you can – and take care of yourselves and each other! 

Asshole           Volusia County Corporate Welfare Wonks  

‘Tis the Season of Giving and Joy. . .

No one should be happier as this foul year draws to a close than those real estate developers, e-commerce giants, and parasitic insiders who were showered with “economic incentives” this year – tax breaks, infrastructure, land giveaways, and other spiffs – by local governments and that continuing corporate welfare shim-sham over at Team Volusia

These public/private “partnerships” (which always use public funds to further private interests) have become so commonplace in Volusia County that handouts have become the rule rather than the exception.

Back in January, the Daytona Beach City Commission voted 4-3 in the blind to approve a land-use change for property owned by those heavy-hitters over at Daytona International Speedway – then promptly opted to gift Amazon – the largest e-commerce company in the known universe – with $4 million in tax incentives over five-years for the privilege of locating a “robotic fulfillment center” at the lucrative corner of I-95 and Interstate 4.

To make the wholesale waste of public funds more palatable, economic development shills always attach the political insulation phrase “performance based” to these extraordinary advantages to give the appearance of accountability. 

For instance, Amazon has agreed to create 1,000 warehouse jobs paying just $15.00 an hour by 2028. 

Bullshit.

No one I speak with is quite sure where those workers will live, because an annual pittance of $31,200 is well south of what is required to put even a rudimentary roof over one’s head (forget buying a home) on the Fun Coast – let alone afford groceries, gas, insurance, and the myriad other expenses required to survive – and everyone is nervous about the impact of heavy truck traffic on the quality of life for residents along Beville Road and beyond.

But no one who should seems to care. 

Damn the “unknowns” and mysterious cryptograms that hide these projects from the public (and our elected officials) – so long as the public teat remains patent for speculative developers and those with a chip in this expensive game.    

Last year, the City of Daytona Beach gifted Tampa-based real estate developer Framework Group a $7.5 million property tax break on a planned 300-unit “luxury” apartment and parking complex in downtrodden Downtown Daytona. 

Last month, in an informative article by Charles Guarria writing in Volusia Hometown News, we learned the Framework Group was recently gifted a parcel of publicly owned property valued at $310,000 in the horribly neglected Midtown neighborhood – coupled with a decade-long tax break not to exceed $655,000 over the life of the “agreement” – to facilitate construction of a 62-unit apartment complex. 

The catch? 

Framework Group will designate 24-units as “affordable rental units,” defined as “…monthly rent that doesn’t exceed 30% of a low-income or moderate-income household’s annual gross income.”

No word where the other 976 Amazonian warehouse drones will reside on their much-heralded $15 bucks an hour. . .

Then, last week, we learned in a puffy press release issued by Team Volusia that an out-of-town developer has purchased an 83-acre site on Parktowne Boulevard in Edgewater in hopes of bringing a piece of the commercial Space Race to the Fun Coast.

According to a report by business editor Clayton Park in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Team Volusia played a role in persuading Onicx Group to develop the Space Coast Industrial Park in Volusia County. “We introduced the developers to the site in Volusia County,” said Team Volusia CEO Keith Norden whose group works to recruit companies to expand and/or relocate to the county.

Onicx, under the name Parktowne Industrial LLC, paid $4.15 million to acquire the 83-acre wooded site on June 23, according to Volusia County property records. The seller was an entity called Edgewater Industrial Park LLC, which included Mike Panaggio, the founder of DME Holdings in Daytona Beach.”

Yeah.  I know. 

Some people just have an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time, I guess?

Now, Edgewater officials are telegraphing incentives out of one side of their mouth – while touting how infinitely desirable the speculative industrial park will be to aerospace manufacturers looking to locate their enterprise to Southeast Volusia.

(You know, as opposed to any of the vacant warehouse and commercial space literally in the shadow of the launch complex in Brevard County. . .)  

“Edgewater City Manager Glenn Irby said the Space Coast Industrial Park “is a huge deal” for his city. “We look forward to working with them (Onicx and Aries Capital) to make their future as bright as possible.”

I’ll bet. 

On the current Ye Olde Parktowne Industrial Center’s website, the generous City of Edgewater spells it out for potential tenants:

“Volusia County Department of Economic Development, assists the City in gathering resources as needed for incoming qualified businesses; incentives or financial resources may be available for qualified projects…”

Like Daytona Beach, who gifted $4 million to Amazon – and Deltona, who handed over $2.5 million – it seems the Edgewater is now falling in line with Team Volusia’s patented corporate welfare scheme that easily attracts the low-hanging fruit of industrial warehouses. 

Here in the land of mediocrity, where innovation and ingenuity have been replaced with lockstep conformity to the wants and whims of extremely wealthy insiders, it seems our local “economic development” brain trust is merely following the lead of other government entities across the nation.

According to Washington D.C.-based watchdog Good Jobs First, a nonprofit which exposes wasteful subsidies, Amazon has now squeezed $5.1 Billion in “…state and local economic development subsidy deals given to Amazon.com, Inc. for its warehouses, data centers, and film productions, and to its subsidiaries such as Whole Foods Market, Zappos and Audible.”

According to the Good Jobs First database, $43,239,475 of that came from Florida counties and municipalities.

(Read more for yourself here: www.goodjobsfirst.org )

While some half-bright local elected officials continue to tout the benefits of gifting the e-commerce behemoth millions in tax incentives to locate warehouses at the most desirable distribution hub in Florida (what else are they going to do now?) – over the busy Black Friday shopping period, thousands of Amazon employees around the globe staged walkouts to protest low pay and abysmal working conditions. 

In some places, smart people analyze drumbeats and industry volatility then negotiate from an educated position before gifting concessions – but not here.   

In my view, it is time for a reversal of this “give away other people’s money till it hurts” mentality that has our elected representatives gifting our hard-earned tax dollars, incentives, and infrastructure to private entities – rather than leverage our areas strategic worth and demand reasonable corporate concessions before allowing intrusive development in areas with direct and affordable access to the whole of Central Florida and beyond.

It is time we cut off the firehose of public funds and expensive spiffs that underwrite the for-profit projects of speculative developers, billionaires, and wealthy corporations who dictate demands behind confidentiality agreements while gorging greedily as government continues to skew the playing field by picking winners and losers in the marketplace.

Angel               Town Council of Pierson, Florida

Primum non nocere – “First, do no harm.”

This honorable dictum is said to come from the ancient Hippocratic Oath which says medical practitioners should avoid doing anything to bring physical or moral injury to their patients.

I’m not sure if charitable organizations adhere to a similar ethical maxim. 

But they should.

Food Brings Hope, a nonprofit founded by Forough Hosseini, is dedicated to giving every child the opportunity to succeed by removing the stress of “food insecurity” while providing literacy and afterschool programs for some 1,700 underprivileged students in Volusia and Flagler County Schools.

Since 2007, Food Brings Hope has brought much-needed social services, safe housing, and sustenance to those less fortunate throughout Volusia County in partnership with public, private, and corporate entities.

In my view, it is truly God’s work – and an excellent conduit for Volusia County’s most successful corporations and philanthropists to assist the hundreds of homeless and underserved families in area communities. 

Recently, an unfortunate bruhaha erupted in the rural northwest Volusia community of Pierson, when Food Brings Hope attempted to lease space at the Town Center, a vacant school now owned by the struggling township, after the charity outgrew its current space at Mission San Jose Church.   

Look, I am a huge fan of Food Brings Hope and other privately funded service agencies that fill the growing void between the haves and have-nots in Volusia County. 

I am also a proponent of small government. 

While I realize that some elected officials crow about “smaller government” during election time – then do everything possible to expand their bloated bureaucracy once elevated to high office – a nimble, responsive, and politically accountable stewardship of public funds and essential services should be the goal.    

If our local system of governance is to have a positive impact our lives and livelihoods – I believe those we elect and appoint to administrate it have an obligation to listen to those who pay the bills. 

In November, already strapped Pierson residents filled their council chamber and balked at the proposed lease, which would have Food Brings Hope renting the space for $1 annually for ten-years – with the townsfolk responsible for monthly utilities and insurance bills – in a community of 1,500 with a per capita income of just $20,000 and 35% of children living in poverty. . .   

To their credit, the Pierson Town Council listened to their concerned constituents and voted unanimously to turn down the request.

In an excellent article by Mark Harper in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Vice Mayor Robert Greenlund was quoted:

“I want you all to understand everybody on this council would not do anything to harm anybody in our community, especially. And we would do everything we can to help them, but I think you’re just asking a little too much for this small community simply because we don’t have the tax base,” he said.”

That’s understandable.   

But the incredibly powerful House of Hosseini is not accustomed to being told “No” in Volusia County – especially not by a group of yokels in some rural bump-in-the-road on Highway 17. . .

According to the News-Journal’s report:

“Nika Hosseini, an attorney representing FBH, said the organization might consider leaving Pierson without cooperation from the town.

“If the town would like Food Brings Hope to route every call that we get from your residents to the town itself, we’re happy to do that,” she said. “… If you don’t want these services, we will allocate the quarter of a million dollars to other jurisdictions that are actively asking for them.”

To that, some residents in the room applauded, with one responding: “Good, good.”

In my lifelong experience working in a “small town” municipal government, civic issues are often amplified, and nothing moves the villagers to obstinate rage – complete with torches and pitchforks – quicker than threats and intimidation from haughty out-of-town lawyers and self-righteous do-gooders.

I don’t care who you are – small town folks do not take kindly to perceived bullying. 

As these things often go, now members of the Pierson Town Council are pointing fingers at each other, questioning the origin of the FBH lease, and asking ‘who knew what, and when.’

Look, it’s one thing to fill a very real need in a challenged community like Pierson – it is quite another to become a burden on limited public resources while touting your virtuous deeds to those who simply cannot afford to help.

Interestingly, The Daytona Beach News-Journal is also running a series during the holidays devoted to the excellent work of Food Brings Hope and how their programs are changing lives in our community.   

In soliciting donations for FBH through its series entitled “Stories of Hope,” the News-Journal reported, “Overhead is covered by the Hosseini Family Foundation, so 100% of donations go directly to the programs and families.”

So, what’s different in Pierson?

In my view, this squabble over recurring costs associated with FBH’s lease of space in Pierson’s Town Center – and the charity’s aggressive response to the community’s reluctance to assume an unknown monthly debt for the next decade is off-putting – and takes away from the organizations important mission and accomplishments.    

That’s unfortunate.

My hope is that during this season of giving – those successful entities who have been given so much, by so many, in Volusia County – can find a way to assist the Hosseini Family Foundation to underwrite Food Brings Hope in Pierson by covering the necessary utilities, insurance, and logistical requirements that will allow the charity’s good work to continue in a place that desperately needs it. 

Angel               Halifax Humane Society and Bissell Pet Foundation

Once again, the Halifax Humane Society will partner with the BISSELL Pet Foundation to offer low-cost pet adoptions through its “Empty the Shelters — Holiday Hope” event now through December 11!

Thanks to the generous support of the BISSELL Pet Foundation, HHS will offer $15.00 adoptions for cats and $25.00 adoptions for dogs.

According to the foundation, “BISSELL Pet Foundation exists to support animal welfare organizations and provide resources to underserved communities. This includes helping to reduce the number of animals in shelters and rescues through pet adoption, spay/neuter programs, vaccinations, microchipping, and crisis and disaster response.”

The Halifax Humane Society has been serving the needs of Halifax area animals since 1937 as a full-service “open-door” animal shelter that helps over 30,000 animals annually.

I encourage you to make a tax-deductible donation to assist the many wonderful programs and education initiatives sponsored by the Halifax Humane Society.

To learn how you can help, please visit www.halifaxhumanesociety.org

Quote of the Week

“Instead of waiting until after the Nov. 8 general election, and letting their successors choose a caretaker manager, the lame-duck Deltona City Commission — on election eve — entered into an agreement with James Chisholm, former city manager of Daytona Beach, to run the city government for at least six months.

In fact, with a 4-3 vote, the commission rejected a motion to let the incoming reconstituted City Commission decide whether to hire Chisholm or someone else to handle Deltona’s day-to-day governance.

Chisholm has been at work in Deltona for more than a month. In a special meeting called Oct. 12 to interview 14 applicants for interim city manager, Chisholm was the first to be interviewed and the top choice of the field of prospects for the temporary position. He worked for more than three weeks without a contract. When the agreement came up for public discussion, critics strongly complained Chisholm was being overcompensated. Nevertheless, the City Commission ratified the contract with a 4-3 vote.”

–Reporter Al Everson, writing in the West Volusia Beacon, “Despite some flak, Deltona under new management,” Monday, November 28, 2022

“I’ll take things that make you go, hummmm for $200, Alex. . .”

And Another Thing!

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

Hell, it bears screaming from the rooftops. . .

On Wednesday evening, a “spirited” group of approximately 80 concerned residents attended what I am told was a raucous “developer initiated” meeting as neighbors stood together to oppose a monolithic 29-story, 267-unit condominium project “…planned on 500 ft of direct oceanfront in the heart of Daytona Beach” by Orlando area developer Gelcorp Industries.

To expand the project’s ominous footprint even more, a “sales office” is planned west of North Atlantic Avenue at the intersection of Brookline Avenue.

Now, it appears the developer – and Daytona Beach officials – are scrambling to get ahead of this brewing opposition. 

While I was not able to attend the meeting, I have been to these code mandated dog-and-pony shows before – where a land use attorney earns his or her fees fading the heat for the (insert latest obnoxious development here) from concerned “owners and occupants of nearby lands.”

Based upon citizen concerns, I understand the developer has determined another meeting will be required to answer the mounting questions surrounding the project and will consider “changes to the plan” before making formal application to the City of Daytona Beach. 

But make no mistake, the wheels are turning. . . 

According to an excellent article by business editor Clayton Park writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Susan Cerbone, a spokeswoman for the city, wrote in an email that Gelcorp as of Thursday had yet to submit a formal application for the project. “They came into City Hall to meet with staff for a ‘pre-application’ meeting to discuss development standards,” she wrote.”

In other words, ‘Nothing to see here, folks.  Keep moving. . .”

Conversely, former Daytona Beach City Commissioner Carl Lentz IV, who serves as managing partner of SVN Alliance Commercial Real Estate Advisors, and represented Gelcorp in its purchase of the former Beachcomber property, said:

“They (Gelcorp) have been working with the city on conceptual plans,” said Lentz of the proposed Daytona Beach Oceanfront Condominiums project. “They’re excited about it.”

Yeah.  Wow.

That competing ‘spin’ is why people no longer trust anything coming out of government offices. . .

In turn, Realtor Lentz sent subliminal reassurance to his current and former colleagues in the public and private sector:

“He (Lentz) said he was not surprised that people at the neighborhood meeting raised concerns about the project. “Inevitably, there will be a minority of the public who will object. That’s because they oppose change.”

That’s what our pro-development “movers & shakers” say when We, The Little People take notice and make them nervous. . .

Keep doing what you are doing, folks. 

While these “developer initiated” meetings rarely change the trajectory of things short-term – the vocal pushback on Wednesday evening has clearly shifted the official narrative.

It is heartening that so many concerned citizens turned out in force to protect what remains of our most precious natural resource and collective quality of life. 

But this fight (and others) is just beginning. 

For instance, there is another oceanfront high-rise condominium proposed south of Silver Beach – 300 units, 28 stories, and 295 feet tall – which is much closer to approval than the Gelcorp project.    

Like FDOT Secretary John Tyler recently reminded Flagler County officials concerned about beach erosion on A-1-A, “Doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different outcome, is the textbook example of insanity.”

In my view, that wisdom holds true for how, when, where, and if we develop east of the Coastal Construction Control line. 

Frankly, the mere thought of foisting more, more, more development east of A-1-A on shell-shocked residents is a cruel madness that only greed-crazed speculative developers and compromised politicians are capable of. . .

Now, citizens are rightly suggesting that government begin the process of obtaining remaining vacant beachfront properties, “rewilding” the dunes, and turning what remains of these undeveloped parcels into a “living shoreline,” natures protective barrier to erosion.

With several high-rise structures teetering on our unstable shoreline – and new beachfront development quickly working its way through the pipeline – the time has come for our elected officials to put their bickering and bitchery aside and work cooperatively to enact a reasonable moratorium on development east of the Coastal Construction Control Line until a viable erosion control program can be studied and implemented before the next “500-year storm” pays us a visit next year – or next month. . .

Unfortunately, that requires a degree of foresight and political courage that is sorely lacking in Volusia County.

And the clock is ticking.

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

The Definition of Insanity

Poor timing and optics? Tone deaf aggression?  Abject corporate stupidity?  Limitless greed? 

Hell, you pick one – because I’m at a loss. . .

Tomorrow evening at 7:00pm, a group of concerned residents will attend a neighborhood meeting at Steve’s Famous Diner on North Atlantic Avenue to oppose a monolithic 29-story, 267-unit condominium project “…planned on 500 ft of direct oceanfront in the heart of Daytona Beach” by out-of-town developer Gelcorp Industries. 

To expand the project’s ominous footprint even more, a “sales office” is planned west of North Atlantic Avenue at the intersection of Brookline Avenue.

Unfortunately, this week I have been virtually bedridden with the most virulent and debilitating of all known maladies: The dreaded “Man Cold” – perhaps the worst in recorded medical history – and will not be capable of physically dragging myself there.  (Although a steaming bowl of Christos’ delicious soup with homemade bread would no doubt cure this thing in short-order. . .)

While I won’t be able to attend the meeting in person, I’ve been to these code mandated dog-and-pony shows before – where a glib and extremely well-coiffed land use attorney does his or her best to sell the (insert latest obnoxious development here) to “owners and occupants of nearby lands” (Read: Those poor saps who will be most affected by the monstrosity – for the rest of their natural lives – or until they sell-out and move. . .)

Given the disastrous effects of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole on all 47-miles of Volusia County beaches, that “most affected” category is rapidly expanding to everyone who lives and pays property insurance premiums in Florida.

While these “developer initiated” meetings rarely change the trajectory of things short-term – they are an excellent opportunity to let corporate greedheads, and our elected representatives, know there is some shit we won’t eat. . .

To show the lunacy of even considering putting another high-rise building on the unstable sand east of A-1-A until a contiguous long-term solution can be found (and funded), the photograph above was taken by the intrepid civic activist and president of Sons of the Beach, Paul Zimmerman, with the frightening caption:  

“This is a picture of the property for the proposed monstrosity after Hurricane Nicole. After this picture was taken there were two more high tides which actually took another 10-15 feet of the lot. It has become hazardous to build on the east side of A1A.”

From what I have seen of the project’s conceptual plans, in typical fashion, the pool deck will abut a proposed “seawall/retaining wall” built on the extreme eastern terminus of the property line.

Like many have repeated as we come to grips with our new reality on the beachside, “Doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different outcome, is the textbook example of insanity.”

And, in my view, the mere thought of foisting more development east of A-1-A on shell-shocked residents is a cruel madness that only faceless speculative developers and compromised politicians are capable of. . .

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why Gelcorp is trying to ramrod a rezoning and comp plan amendment at this precarious time – especially when one civically attuned resident counted ten properties in the same general area (from Oakridge Boulevard north to Bellaire Plaza) that are either vacant, abandoned, or slowly under construction – who speculated the developer merely wants to secure the planned development designation then hope pre-sales of the proposed units provide funding for construction.

Sound familiar? 

It should.

Other concerned citizens are rightly suggesting that government begin the process of obtaining these vacant beachfront properties, “rewilding” the dunes, and turning what remains of these undeveloped parcels into a “living shoreline,” the natural protective barrier to erosion. 

I don’t have the answers. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest do either.  

In my view, with several high-rise structures and numerous residential properties teetering precariously on what remains of the dunes in Wilber-by-the-sea and beyond, it is time for our beach management experts and “planning and zoning” types to begin the long (and extremely expensive) process of determining how we live symbiotically with the forces of Mother Nature in a coastal community with a history of rubberstamping every new development that comes down the sandy pike.

Don’t hold your breath.

When are city, county, and state officials going to get off their sizeable asses and enact a reasonable moratorium on development east of the Coastal Construction Control Line until a viable erosion control program can be studied and implemented that will protect existing residential and commercial structures and public infrastructure before the next “500-year storm” pays us a visit next year – or next month

If you live in the Ortona area – or simply care about good government and smart development on our fragile barrier island – I encourage you to attend the neighborhood meeting and let your voice be heard. 

For more information, please go to the informative Facebook site: https://tinyurl.com/4m9zmutp where you can stay abreast of developments and communicate with likeminded neighbors. 

Trust me.  This one’s important. 

Stay tuned.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I always try to keep my gas tank full. 

It’s the Boy Scout in me, I guess – “Be Prepared.” 

Last Saturday I was out running errands ahead of the hustle and bustle of the Thanksgiving holiday and pulled into a Wawa in Ormond Beach to top off my tank.  As I finished and turned to get in my truck, I heard a voice behind me say, “Excuse me, sir.” 

Unfortunately, it is common in the Halifax area to be approached by homeless people or ambulatory street drunks asking for a handout, or a confrontation – and being a curmudgeon who long-ago lost all faith in humanity – I let out a long audible expletive and began going through the catalog of well-worn answers in my head:

“No, I don’t have an extra cigarette.” 

“No, I don’t have any spare change.”

“No, I don’t believe you need help getting home for the holidays.”

As I turned, the haggard vagrant I had pictured in my mind’s eye was replaced by a smiling, well-dressed gentleman who stuck out his hand and introduced himself, gave the name of the church he attends, and explained that he was out in the community “blessing people.”

Then he handed me a $10 gas card. 

It set me back a moment. 

I was mentally prepared for everything except kindness.

Thoughts began racing through my mind: 

Was it the fact I only pumped a few dollars worth of gas? 

Did my scruffy beard, faded t-shirt and jeans make me look like a charity case? 

Why would someone I had never met offer me a “blessing”?   

I explained to my benefactor that, although I may look like a bum, I was the most blessed person he could have selected – and asked that he give the card to someone less fortunate who could really use it. 

He understood. 

As I turned to go, he asked if he could pray with me for anything I may need in my life, and I declined.  (You see, I long-ago expended all my IOUs with the man upstairs – now, me and Jesus have our own thing going, and I try not to bother him on weekends. . .)

While I may be the proverbial sheep that got lost – this simple act of unexpected generosity made my beat-up old heart feel full knowing that there are people during this time of Thanksgiving offering random blessings to those who need it most. 

That includes thawing my cynical heart and helping me remember the true reason for this glorious season. 

My wish this Thanksgiving is that you and yours receive a similar blessing of the heart.   

Thanks, Pal.  Whoever you are. 

God’s work. 

___________________________

Here’s wishing blessings on each of you, your families, and our men and women in uniform at home and abroad – our brave military, law enforcement, and first responders – who go in harm’s way to keep us safe.

I’ll be back next week with my goofy thoughts on the news, newsmakers, and the issues we face here in this beautiful place we call home.

I hope you will join me.

From the Barker family to yours – Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! 

Things I learned in a bar…

Look, I am not a political scientist – just an uneducated rube peering through that greasy pane that separates We, The Little People from the innerworkings of our local government – trying desperately to figure who is manipulating the rods and strings, and why. . .   

As a law enforcement officer, I became a lifelong student of human nature – often observing people on the worst day of their lives – gaining insight into the good, the bad, and the ugly of our collective experience, determining motivations, and anticipating reactions. 

In retirement, I spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on a barstool, sipping highballs, and talking about the issues of the day – mostly with apolitical working folks who are far too busy earning a living and raising families to focus on the machinations of government. 

Since I started writing this opinion blog, neighbors sometimes stop me in the grocery store or drop by my favorite watering hole to talk politics, share a laugh, or take me to the woodshed for goring some sacred ox or another.   

I enjoy that.  It’s how I learn. 

During these interactions, I like to indulge in a social experiment developed by the late great political observer, Big John, who asked first-time callers to his radio forum if they knew their mayor’s name?

I also inquire if they have ever attended a city or county council meeting?

I hate to break it to those egomaniacal “don’t you know who I am?” elected dullards who wrap their personal identity in a haughty “title” – but most people do not have a clue who their mayor or council/commission members are – and I rarely speak to anyone who has attended a public meeting.

Ever.    

Which is telling.

These questions are not meant to embarrass anyone – but to show how little most people pay attention to local government – and how alienated they feel from the policymaking process. 

This barroom banter has taught me that we have common hopes and fears, the universal importance we place on those moral imperatives that contribute to a just and civil society, and how easily politicians and their benefactors manipulate emotions, apathy, and societal expectations of the masses for personal and political gain.    

And many openly wonder why the same last names always seem to be on the receiving end of publicly funded corporate welfare schemes or some inside business/land/development “deal” – usually hidden behind a secret cryptonym – that the rest of us knew nothing about. . . 

Invariably, those I speak with describe elected officials as, “arrogant,” “deceitful,” “snobbish,” “greedy,” “disconnected” and “hypocritical” – but still want to believe that those who hold themselves out for positions of power and high responsibility have our best interests at heart – but the common denominator seems to be how completely disconnected from the political process most people feel.

Which is why many laugh at me when I mention asinine concepts like “…all power is derived from the will of the people.”   

Yeah.  Right.  Sober-up, Barker. . .

Another universal gripe I hear concerns the adverse effects of overdevelopment – mostly traffic congestion and fears for the quality and quantity of our potable water supply – and the sense of helplessness that comes when massive amounts of money are strategically infused into the political process to skew the playing field and ensure the public teat remains patent for those who can pay-to-play.  

One thing I never hear (other than from real estate developers and their bought-and-paid-for shills on the dais of power) is how existing residents have an obligation to tighten up and make room for new transplants filling another “theme” community west of I-95. . .  

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, many of my neighbors have lamented the horrible condition of our beach (before and after the storms) – and expressed concern for those whose homes were lost, the future of beach driving, and what lucrative mitigation strategy our ‘powers that be’ will gift to their political benefactors once the money starts flowing from on high.

One crusty old local I recently spoke with described Volusia County’s response to the devastation in Wilber-by-the-Sea and beyond as akin to a “deer caught in the headlights,” explaining “This is what happens when politicians ignore a problem long enough – eventually Mother Nature figures it out for them…and it is always more expensive to repair, than prepare.”   

What I find most interesting is when I ask my neighbors how they go about selecting candidates in local races.

Many tell me that, while they agree with non-partisan city and county contests, most tend to vote in lockstep with party endorsements – often using those horribly skewed “voter guides” that omit the names of grassroots candidates who refuse to toe the party line – even as they decry the horrible partisan warfare that has divided the nation. 

A politically astute friend of mine recently remarked that the problem is: “Most people just don’t give a shit – and those who purchase the loyalties of politicians at election time exploit that apathy.” 

Sad. But true.

As evidence, they mentioned that people increasingly complain about the malignant growth that is covering the width and breadth of Volusia County – yet the majority of voters returned the same mindset and loyalties to the County Council this election cycle.

And the bulldozers continue to roar. 

Go figure.

Despite our challenges, I am always heartened to hear how optimistic most are for the future – the importance they place on good schools, our environment, and creating protections so our children and grandchildren can enjoy the same natural amenities and traditions that attracted so many to the Fun Coast in the first place. 

We all want the same things – and a better future for those who will come behind us.

In my view, we deserve better from those who control our destiny.

It seems that so long as our trash is picked up, reasonably clean water flows from the tap, and we feel marginally safe in our homes – those essential services we have come to rely on government to provide – most citizens are content to pay their taxes, cuss their arrogant elected representatives, and ignore how a few well-heeled insiders influence the political process each election season. 

How do we change that?

I don’t have a clue.

But if you figure it out, pull up a barstool and let’s talk about it. . . 

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.