Cinderella and the Ugly Stepsister

It’s no secret that we live in strange times.

And when the damage is done, the virus recedes, and things turn to some semblance of “normal,” I wonder how some of our overbearing elected officials will look at themselves in the mirror. . .

Local governments that once existed to squander our tax dollars on corporate welfare projects and cater to the whims of speculative developers – the same elected officials who gamble with our water supply, pay lip-service to the poisoning of our springs, lakes and rivers then ignore our civic needs and citizen input – have now become amateur public health experts.

That happens every time the federal government spews cash like a dyspeptic goose – showering funds on state and local governments – so long as they can “show a need” and create a roil that keeps the funding cycle running round.

Yet, these same local governments who have proven, time-and-again, that they can’t pour piss out of a boot with the instructions on the heel, suddenly know what’s best for the masses – and if it takes bankrupting every damn one of us to do it – so be it. . .

For example, the disparate treatment of bar owners is nothing short of state-sponsored discrimination – where the livelihoods of so many have been ruined – while others in hospitality businesses deemed “essential” by bureaucrats continue to operate successfully.

By government diktat, restaurants are arbitrarily allowed to thrive – while bars are doomed to insolvency – and, somehow, this official favoritism is considered moral, ethical, and constitutional under the law during Florida’s helter-skelter response to novel coronavirus?

Bullshit.

You don’t have to go far to find a restaurant with its adjacent bar area full of customers – ordering drinks, socializing and enjoying an evening out – while across the street, a stand-alone bar is shuttered, its owners and desperate employees contemplating how they will pay the rent, feed their children and survive in an era where their elected representatives callously pick winners and losers.

Unfortunately, under the reign of Monarchical Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry of the Duchy of Daytona Beach, its not enough to use the full-might of government to close bars – he finds the need to crush small businesses under the heel of his iron boot with draconian enforcement actions and fines for those he subjectively deems “socially irresponsible.”

As I understand it, during the height of Bike Week 2020, when Generalissimo Henry demanded the arbitrary closure of outside bars and vendors in an eleventh-hour act of flexing his muscles, the beloved Main Street Station – the hub of Main Street’s historic Bike Week festivities and Daytona’s premiere live entertainment venue – received a citation charging “No permit for outside activities.”

At that time, the intrepid Phaedra Lee, owner of Main Street Station, voiced her concern in The Daytona Beach News-Journal that the city’s action resulted in a loss of revenue.

“We are losing money,” she said. “We can open up our inside bars but it’s too high volume.”

“Lee said the permits were supposed to be pulled 9 a.m. Sunday.”

Meanwhile, to add to the confusion and misunderstanding of Henry’s edict (which may or may not have applied only to events drawing 100 participants or more?), it was Bike Week business as usual in Ormond Beach and other neighboring communities throughout the Halifax area. . .

In my view, if Mr. Henry were trying to limit the spread of COVID-19 as his commandment suggested, what kind of misdirected, power-crazed asshole would subjectively close outside activities, forcing the throngs of Bike Week attendees inside overcrowded buildings?

Now, the Main Street Station’s very existence is in jeopardy.

Tomorrow, Ms. Lee is being hauled before the Daytona Beach Special Master to answer the Bike Week permit violation – something she strongly denies – and is accumulating legal fees to defend.

That’s excessive for a small, family-owned business trying to survive these difficult times.

Adding insult to injury, Gov. Ron DeSantis closed all bars in early April – then allowed them a short ten-day window to open with safety measures in place – then shut them down yet again after many had spent thousands of dollars retrofitting their establishments, ordering product and bringing employees back.

Meanwhile, restaurants are allowed to operate while stand-alone bars starve.

It’s cruel – and patently unfair.

On the day of the largest surge in coronavirus infections anywhere – Florida allowed Disney World to open the theme park – demonstrating in the most perplexing way the complete failure at all levels of government to properly address this pandemic in a fair, impartial and effective way.

There is absolutely no coordination or uniformity to any of it.

Rather than establishing effective safety measures based upon CDC guidelines – then allowing business owners to open our economy and support themselves and their employees – state and local governments continue to persecute one industry while actively supporting others.

That’s wrong.

Fortunately, in Volusia County, two bar owners are boldly standing up to let Gov. DeSantis know there is some shit they won’t eat.

According to a News-Journal report:

“Gregory Trent, who owns the The Crooks Den and the Sports Den Billiards and Pub, both in South Daytona, and Patricia Miracle, who owns the Seaside Tavern in Ormond Beach, filed the lawsuit through their attorney on July 3 in Volusia County Circuit Court against DeSantis and Halsey Beshears, who is the secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.”

Good for them!

This isn’t about preventing the spread of disease – it’s about basic fairness – and the right of citizens to be free from arbitrary and capricious government decrees, openly discriminatory practices that pit neighbor against neighbor.

In my view, this is what happens when we begin trading away civil liberties for a false sense of safety.

I could be wrong.

But what’s happening to responsible bar owners isn’t right.

_____________________________________

Join Barker’s View on GovStuff Live! with Big John this afternoon beginning at 4:00pm!

Please join us locally at 1380am The Cat – or internationally on the web at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

Our guest this afternoon will be Volusia County Judge Chris Miller!

Judge Miller was appointed to the bench in 2018. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his juris doctor from Stetson University College of Law.

Admitted to the Florida Bar in 2006, he was a prosecutor in the State Attorney’s Office in the 7th Circuit and worked in several divisions, including the drug unit, the career criminal unit, and the homicide unit.

He also worked in a private law firm, litigating insurance claims, and interned for the Public Defender’s Office in the 6th Judicial Circuit while in law school. He currently presides over civil cases at the Volusia County Courthouse in DeLand.

Judge Miller is currently running to retain his seat in the County Judge Group 6 race.

Thanks in advance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for July 10, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Florida Department of Health

Confusion reigns supreme. . .

The COVID-19 pandemic has done more to expose the dysfunction and ineptitude of our local, state, and federal government than any investigative journalist or entrenched whistle blower in history.

And the optics of this ever-evolving shit show is only getting worse. . .

Many of our local elected officials have transmogrified from the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker into petty dictators – like Generalissimo Derrick “Il Duce” Henry, the Monarchical Mayor of the Duchy of Daytona Beach – who have called “special meetings” to mandate the wearing of masks.

Rather than simply supporting the innovative multi-jurisdictional public education campaign “Step Up Volusia” – Wash Up.  Back Up.  Mask Up. – several cities have staged their own theater of the absurd, meeting in melodramatic special session to, as Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg so oddly put it:

“This commission had to have a discussion with you the public as to what the pulse is on this.”

Whatever the hell that means. . .

She should have added, “…and we need to get our names in the newspaper doing it.”

Do these detached shitheads really think we need some city council sluggard with a nanny complex to tell us how to protect ourselves from coronavirus – or anything else?

Honestly.  The arrogance of these crowd-following political lemmings is astounding. . .

Fortunately, these troubled times have also placed a bright spotlight on those servant-leaders in our community who have gone above and beyond to provide their constituents with the information we need to educate and protect ourselves.

From the onset, Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood demonstrated exceptional leadership when he fought against the conventional ignorance of state health officials and began publishing hard data on the number of addresses being monitoring for novel coronavirus.

During the ensuing brouhaha – when state officials were accusing Sheriff Chitwood of violating patient confidentiality and other hogwash – neither the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee, or its subordinate minions in Volusia County, could provide one shred of credible evidence as to why citizens should not have access to statistical information showing the spread of the virus in their communities.

This week – during what we are told is the zenith of a statewide viral wildfire – the Florida Department of Health decided that it would no longer be releasing pertinent information on the community spread of coronavirus to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.

Why?  Because its “too time consuming.”

You read that right.

But it gets better. . .

In her informative article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, COVID-19 addresses cut off,” the intrepid Casmira Harrison attempted to get answers from our local public health officials:

“Asked why the Health Department stopped releasing the list of watched addresses to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Health in Volusia County spokeswoman Holly Smith did not answer.”

“Since this is a statewide directive that is not specific to Volusia County, our state office can answer this question,” Smith stated via email. “Please contact them (ESF 14) directly.”

Bullshit.

Rather than answer to the working press, the Florida Department of Health pulled a governmental Catch-22 – sending reporters, and taxpayers, into the byzantine maze of “public information offices” a labyrinth designed by hacks trained to play a round-robin game of “keep away” with information vital to the safety of our community.

Hell, I thought the collection, analysis, and timely dissemination of critical information during a pandemic was the Florida Department of Health’s raison d’etre? 

Am I wrong?

According to Sheriff Chitwood:

“From the beginning, we have all been getting limited information or conflicting information from our local, state and federal governments.”

 “I started posting numbers of locations flagged for covid in each Volusia city because I believe we all deserve access to info to make informed decisions,” said the sheriff. “Not everyone agreed w/ me. … It’s clear now that our government is so overwhelmed by this crisis, that it’s up to the people to solve it. I hope we are up to the task.”

Scary.

Our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, had to interject his always disconnected shit-eyed view of things when he querulously tut-tutted in the newspaper, “I didn’t see a real value in sharing the number (of addresses).”

“For first responders making calls, that was definitely a benefit and the way it should have been used,” said Kelley. “I didn’t think it was necessarily important to let the public know things that we didn’t necessarily have access to as a council directly.”

My God.

I don’t make this stuff up, folks. . . Ed Kelley really is that astronomically stupid.

Then – as if by magic – on Thursday afternoon, Sheriff Chitwood announced that the Florida Department of Health had mysteriously changed tack – and would resume sending flagged address data to his agency.  Wait.  What?

He calmly thanked Rep. David Santiago and Sen. Tom Wright “for stepping up to advocate for us,” and hailed the utterly confusing reversal as “…a win for all first responders and for every resident of Volusia County.”

I agree.

Even if the near overnight flip-flop of a major public policy decision by a major state agency during a major emergency declaration raises more questions than answers. . .

In my view, the damage is already done – more confusion and chaos added to the hellbroth of missteps, maladministration, and utter dysfunction that has marked our local, state, and federal response to this public health crisis.

Is this how government operates in this foul year 2020?

A state agency arbitrarily stops communicating with its constituents until Sheriff Chitwood is forced to publicly embarrass them on social media – then the local newspaper publishes a story they discovered on Facebook – exposing bureaucratic obstruction that make state legislators politically uncomfortable – and the whole sordid mess runs round for two-days until the obstinate state agency reverses itself?

Yeah.  We’re screwed. . .

Regardless, it is time for the bungling bureaucracy at the Florida Department of Health to be replaced.

In my view, when any organization that accepts public funds to serve in the public interest becomes so insular – so detached from their task and purpose – that it willingly places first responders, and the public it exists to serve, in danger – then it is time for that agency and the jackleg pseudo-experts associated with it to go away.

The fact that Governor Ron DeSantis allows these ridiculous public controversies and misunderstandings to fester is something that will define his administration for years to come – and history will not be kind.

Come on, Governor – start firing people, dammit!  Do it now.

As Sheriff Chitwood said, “With so many failures to effectively confront this crisis at so many levels of government, I really do believe individual Americans and the private sector are left to pick up the slack and get us through this pandemic.”

Despite the constant rallying cry “we’re all in this together,” at the end of the day, we truly are on our own. . .

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

SNAFU is an age-old military acronym meaning “situation normal – all f***ed up,” which aptly describes any bad situation that passes for a normal state of affairs.

If one needs a primer on the enduring dysfunction that is Volusia County Schools, look no further than the upheaval surrounding long-delayed high school graduations – ceremonies that finally kicked off yesterday.

A total of ten rites of passage will be held for area seniors in just three-days. . .

Look, given our current circumstances, I think everyone can agree that requiring face coverings for the fortunate few who will be allowed inside the Ocean Center to bear witness to their loved ones accomplishment is a good thing (just two guests per graduate – if they agree to pay $5 for parking and $3 for admittance. . .)

So why wasn’t the protective practice mandated from the beginning?

According to an informative piece by education reporter Cassidy Alexander writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, after originally announcing that masks would be optional, “The district made the switch late last week, and cited the city of Daytona Beach’s ordinance requiring face coverings in public as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise.”

That’s odd.  Because the Daytona Beach ordinance specifically exempts the Ocean Center, and other county owned properties, from the mask requirement.

Is it that big a deal to simply admit you made an error in not requiring masks at a large gathering and correct the mistake without coming up with another lame excuse for the oversight?

Whatever.

Granted – it’s a small SNAFU – but a SNAFU none-the-less – and given the angst and turmoil which has surrounded the lead-up to this year’s graduations (and just about every other aspect of the learning experience in Volusia County for the last decade) one would think the logistics would have been worked out well in advance to ease the minds of families and students and lend stability to this important ritual.

Not here.

In Volusia County Schools, things remain a convoluted mess – screwed to the nth degree – always ‘up in the air’ with little, if any, substantive information coming from highly paid mouthpieces in “Community Information Services,” beyond some weird social media post, or the dribs and drabs of confusing “facts” the News-Journal can pry out of the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand.

On a brighter note, rather than bring back some retired sluggo to run things while Superintendent Scott Fritz takes a short leave of absence, the School Board did the right thing this week and allowed Deputy Superintendent Carmen Balgobin to do what deputy administrators do and fill the void until the boss returns.

Originally, the board announced that it would appoint an “interim superintendent” through the end of July (?) – and I just knew that meant they planned to call some retired hack back to active duty to help pay off his or her vacation home. . .

To their credit, during a special meeting on Tuesday, the School Board unanimously voted to allow Ms. Balgobin to serve as acting superintendent through August 28.

According to a report in the News-Journal, “One of Fritz’s first acts as superintendent was to instate the role of deputy superintendent of teaching, leading and learning. Balgobin reports directly to Fritz, and was integral in establishing Volusia County’s instructional continuity plan during the pandemic.”

The News-Journal previously reported that Dr. Fritz has been diagnosed with cancer and will be taking a leave of absence to complete medical treatment.

Fortunately, our often-chaotic elected representatives on the Volusia County School Board had the presence of mind to allow Dr. Fritz’ hand-picked second in command to take the reins during this critical time as families, students and staff prepare to return to whatever the “new normal” will prove to be.

That’s going to require a deft and experienced hand on the tiller.

Good luck, Ms. Balgobin – you have your work cut out for you. . .

Angel              Volusia County Chair Candidate Jeff “Plan B” Brower

On Wednesday, I had the distinct pleasure of giving remarks at Jeff “Plan B” Brower’s West Volusia rally.

I don’t get out much, and I want to thank Mr. Brower for inviting me – and tell the many members of the Barker’s View tribe in attendance how much I appreciate their kindness and support.

It was a spirited affair – great fun – and I learned a lot about the passion Brower supporters have, both for their chosen candidate, and for returning ethical, responsive, and transparent governance to Volusia County.

His opponent, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys, is currently sitting on a pile of money in excess of $104,000 (for a county chair race?) bequeathed by wealthy political insiders who have historically swayed elections by infusing massive amounts of cash into the campaign coffers of hand-select marionettes who are a proven return on their investment.

Trust me, Dishonest Deb’s nose is so far up the backsides of her “Rich & Powerful” political benefactors they are at real risk of a punctured bowel. . .

Clearly, Jeff Brower won’t be able to outspend his opponent – but if the excitement and enthusiasm I felt Wednesday evening is any indication of the grassroots support he enjoys in neighborhoods across the width and breadth of Volusia County – I think Ol’ Deb might have her hands full.

I’m sorry, but I don’t like Dishonest Deb’s style – never have.

Her propensity for quibbling facts, flip-flopping on important issues, backroom deals, greasy backslapping politics and blatantly lying to her constituents have not garnered much respect from those of us paying attention.

During a pivotal February 2019 meeting of the Volusia County Council, our elected officials did what they were told by the CEO Business Alliance and other influential insiders and voted (with Heather Post the lone dissenter) to set an incredibly expensive special mail-in election to decide the issue of a money-grubbing half-cent sales tax increase.

That’s when Ms. Denys showed her true loyalties.

While telling a scary story round the political campfire designed to frighten voters and increase the burden on every man, woman and child in Volusia County, Deb terrified her worried constituents with a petrifying tale of failing bridges, putting critical infrastructure projects on hold (after the “explosive development” had already been approved), and mewling about the “limited amount of money” for transportation infrastructure in a county budget quickly approaching one billion dollars. . .

In typical fashion, Deb then put the proverbial flashlight under her chin for maximum dramatic effect, and, in her spine-chilling voice, growled,  “If it (sales tax) doesn’t pass there is no plan B. . .”

Well, guess what? 

Ol’ Dishonest Deb lied to us again.

Turns out, there is a “Plan B” after all – and his name is Jeff Brower – a gentleman farmer from DeLeon Springs who is standing tall for all we hold dear here in Volusia County!

In my view, Jeff represents The People’s Choice for County Chair, and he continues to speak out against aggressive threats to our environment from the current “growth at all costs” philosophy that is allowing speculative developers to get even richer exploiting our natural places – with a proven commitment to protecting our drinking water supply, curbing sales and property tax increases and safeguarding our God-given rights and liberties from government overreach.

In addition, Jeff has vowed to make public safety a top priority.

In recognition of his commitment, last month, Mr. Brower received the coveted endorsement of the Volusia County Deputies Association – the collective bargaining unit representing members of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Department!

In a statement released by VCD President Brodie Hughes:

“Your straightforward and positive insight into our community’s needs, coupled with your willingness to remain open-minded on the issues, sets you far ahead of the other candidates.  Additionally, your history of public service along with your unwavering support for public safety, exemplifies why you are the only reasonable choice for the Volusia County Chair.”

I am proud to support Jeff Brower for Volusia County Chair, and encourage all voters to take a minute to speak with Jeff about his vision for our future and a return to basic fairness – where all citizens have equal and honest input in our government – not just the well-heeled few.

Just like the popular effort that soundly defeated his opponent’s attempt to kowtow to the CEO Business Alliance and other big money manipulators to raise the sales tax last year – let’s pull together and do it again!

It is time to send Dishonest Deb to that smoldering ash heap where perennial politicians land when their long-suffering constituents have finally had enough.

This one’s important, folks.

Vote like your quality of life depends on it. . .

Angel               The Incomparable Mr. Charlie Daniels

“It’s a long road and a little wheel and it takes a lot of turns to get there. . .”

–Charlie Daniels, 1936 – 2020

Rest in Peace. . .

Quote of the Week

“Volusia County already has one of the top two tax rates out of 67 counties in Florida combined with a very tenuous commercial tax base. We cannot afford to be complacent with these purchases (ECHO/Volusia Forever). The cost of government has not gone down but the revenue to support it certainly has. A host of small business owners would dearly love to have the rolled back option to bring in the same revenue as last year, but that is not an option for those hurt the most by a shutdown. Many of these businesses will not re-open or will open at a reduced level.

In addition, there should be some logical explanation of why we need to bond these projects which adds to the cost. If property tax millage is paying for them, why incur the extra cost to bond?

It’s time for all citizens to pay attention.”

–Ed Connor, founder of Volusia Tax Reform, “Build accountability into Volusia Forever, ECHO programs,” The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Community Voices, Saturday, July 4, 2020

And Another Thing! 

Things in the City of Palm Coast continue to deteriorate at an alarming rate – and regardless of who is ultimately right – this epic shit show simply cannot continue. . .

Late yesterday, we learned the sad news that Palm Coast’s District 2 Councilman Col. Jack D. Howell, II, USMC (Ret.), submitted his resignation citing an unfortunate recurrence of cancer.

And nothing more.

I could be wrong, but I suspect the underlying reasons behind Col. Howell’s departure run deeper than that.

Col. Howell – Palm Coast’s own version of “The Great Santini” – the tough-talking, always acerbic, combat-wounded Marine was elected to the Palm Coast City Council in 2018.

He’s an impressive guy and represents the kind of no-nonsense, values-based leadership Palm Coast desperately needs.

In addition to his military and public service, Col. Howell is President and Chief Executive Officer of Teens-In-Flight, a national aviation charity that serves teens whose parents were killed or injured in the line of active duty in the armed forces and helps at-risk youth.

Last year, after he famously referred to his colleagues on the dais of power as “four idiots,” here’s how Col. Howell was described by FlaglerLive.com:

“Palm Coast City Council member Jack Howell speaks his mind. He can be undiplomatic, coarse and brutal. That’s his trademark, a manner leavened by sincerity and a complete absence of malice: his opponents or critics find themselves embracing him even as he plunges the bayonet in their chest. Inevitably, occasionally, he goes a stab too far.”

I like Col. Howell’s style. . .and his departure from Palm Coast government is a big loss.

According to a report by News-Journal investigative reporter Matt Bruce, Howell’s “…abrupt departure comes as state and federal investigations, public records violations and rumors of public corruption swirl around City Hall regarding Mayor Milissa Holland’s relationship with her employer, Palm Coast tech firm Coastal Cloud.”

In recent weeks, the News-Journal’s ongoing exposé has uncovered the ugly internecine warfare between Mayor Milissa Holland, the city’s internal compliance officer, Jay Maher, and City Manager Matt Morton – whose answer to any allegation of misconduct is to apparently use public funds to hire someone who will effectively neuter Maher’s investigative findings and tell him what he wants to hear. . .

In addition, we now know that Mr. Maher, former city manager Jim Landon, and Michael Schottey, the city’s former communications director who is now challenging Holland for mayor, have all been interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

However, according to Pierre Tristam of FlaglerLive, the allegations of misconduct and corruption are overblown – and “Schottey’s claims of a state criminal investigation have so far proved to be fabrications.”

Interesting.

In a recent “The Live” column entitled, Palm Coast Investigates Itself. The Result Is Not Impressive,”  Mr. Tristam writes, “It’s not much ado about nothing, but close. There are errors of judgment, stupid mistakes, misinterpretation–not misapplication–of law.”

Trust me.  His highly informative essay is well-worth a read.

(Please find it here: https://flaglerlive.com/155243/palm-coast-investigation/ )

In my view, the City of Palm Coast is far too important to the stability of our region to allow this dreadful distraction to continue.

When it comes to matters of government – even the appearance of corruption and impropriety by senior officials is corrosive to the public trust – and, as city manager, Mr. Morton should know that.

My hope is that some competent independent legal authority is actively investigating these allegations and can bring answers for the long-suffering citizens of Palm Coast.

Godspeed Col. Howell.  Your Old School wisdom and strong leadership will be sorely missed.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: History Repeating

“…politicians don’t beg for money; they sell a service: namely, use of government’s coercive power to achieve for interest groups what these groups cannot or will not achieve peacefully on the market. A politician seeking office gets his funds by begging no more than an accountant or an architect gets his funds by begging. Like the accountant and architect, the politician offers a quid pro quo in exchange for campaign contributions. The difference, of course, is that the quid pro quo supplied by the accountant or architect—unlike that supplied by most politicians—isn’t a promise to reduce the liberties or confiscate the wealth of innocent third parties.”

–Dr. Donald J. Boudreaux, a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.  Boudreaux is also an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.

They say money can’t buy happiness.

But, in Volusia County, it can buy an election for those candidates who have been hand-selected by uber-wealthy oligarchs intent on preserving the status quo, ensuring the slimy transactional politics that continue to shunt public funds to the for-profit projects of those who manipulate the process with massive campaign contributions.

Don’t take my word for it.

I encourage everyone to review campaign finance reports and see which candidates for public office in Volusia County are being groomed by big money developers, insurance executives, government contractors and others to ensure the public teat remains patent.

You can find those reports here: https://tinyurl.com/yc36vnj2

Once you identify the names – and  the corporations under their control (check the addresses) – research the direct link from those individuals and industries to the handouts, tax abatements, corporate welfare schemes, and “public/private partnerships” that use public funds to underwrite private projects for all the right last names.

I think you will be surprised by the similarities. . .

In Volusia’s County Chair race, the always arrogant perennial politician Councilwoman Deb Denys is facing off against Deleon Springs farmer Jeff “Plan B” Brower for the catbird seat.

Of course, some no-name has thrown his hat in the ring to muddy the waters – but many political prognosticators believe Jeff is poised to pull off an upset à la former Chairman Jason Davis in 2012.

I sure hope they’re right.

At last check, “Dishonest Deb” has accumulated a massive campaign war chest totaling over $104,000 (for a county chair race?) bequeathed by our wealthy overseers who have historically swayed elections by ensuring their handmaidens have the wherewithal to get their smiling visage on glossy mailers, television advertisements, and billboards – as their outspent opponents slog door-to-door in sweat soaked shoes trying desperately to make that all important physical connection with voters in a time of social distancing.

Clearly, the livestock auction that marks the start of the campaign season here on the Fun Coast is in full swing. . .

For instance, in the District 4 race, on just one day in June, political newcomer Barbara Bonarrigo – who is facing incumbent Councilwoman Heather Post – accepted some $10,000 from entities controlled by our High Panjandrum of Political Power Mori Hosseini and his ICI Homes empire.

Then, just days later, Ms. Bonarrigo hauled in $10,000 from Beat Khali, the Orlando-based developer who, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, is “proceeding full-speed ahead” with his Avalon Park Daytona – a gigantic project that will put some 10,000 new homes and over one-million square feet of commercial space adjacent to the malignant sprawl of Latitude Margaritaville and Mori’s Mosaic, near the southwest border of Ormond Beach.

Interestingly, when I went to Ms. Bonarrigo’s webpage (www.barbarabonarrigo.com) to learn more about her message, platform and vision for Volusia County – the only thing I found was a “Donate” button. . .

While Ms. Bonarrigo may not know squat about the topical issues facing Volusia County residents – she’s clearly mastered the act of wielding the political begging bowl – and, in this environment where winners and losers are picked well before a vote is ever cast, perhaps that’s enough. . .

Currently, Ms. Bonarrigo has accumulated some $60,000 from Volusia’s “Rich & Powerful” – while Ms. Post has garnered just $22,000 in contributions – most coming from individual donors contributing less than $100.00 each.

Anyone else see a pattern here?

Way back in 2017, I opined that you don’t need an MBA from Harvard Business School to understand that only rubes invest large sums of money without expecting a return.

After all, the road to the poorhouse is paved with the bones of those who failed to properly calculate ROI – Return on Investment – and, in my view, that is exactly what these colossal campaign contributions represent.

Trust me, these well-heeled insiders have not become incredibly successful by shoving money down a rabbit hole expecting a bean stalk to rise to the heavens where the Golden Goose resides.

These are extraordinarily smart and savvy businessmen and women who are very skilled at building – and keeping – personal and corporate wealth.

In short, they understand that you don’t last long in business throwing good money after bad.

Now, I don’t have J. Hyatt Brown’s money – but when I spend what little I have – I expect something in return.

I’ll just bet when Mr. Brown throws around $1,000 campaign contributions from any of the many corporate entities and limited liability companies he controls – like Zambezi LLC or Swakopmund Inc. (which, I think, in the Oshiwambo dialect means “You get what you pay for”) – he expects a return on that investment as well.

Let’s face facts:  The local donor class make massive campaign contributions with the full knowledge that their personal, civic, and professional interests will outweigh those of John Q. Public every damn time.

In the end, deferential treatment and immediate attention by their boot-licking sycophants on the dais of power is what they consider an appropriate return on money spent – and given the astronomical amount of “economic incentives” that our elected officials have showered upon this exclusive group in recent years – I would have to say they’ve done extremely well on the risk/reward scale.

Is what we experience in Volusia County quid pro quo corruption – something for something, give and take, tit for tat, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, one hand washes the other, an IOU?

I don’t know.

But it has a whiff of the shit about it – and it is painfully clear that our horribly broken campaign finance system must be overhauled if we ever hope to break this insidious cycle.

Don’t hold your breath. . .

What I do know is that when these very same powerful insiders appear – individually or en masse – in the Volusia County Council Chambers, invariably – and I mean 100% of the time – the issue, project, or development they support is obsequiously handed to them on a gilded platter – while you and I are treated like something they don’t want to step in.

Now, I may be crazy, but I’m not a fool.

And neither are you.

Why would a few influential power brokers spend a small fortune – tens-of-thousands of dollars – to support select candidates for local elective office?

Look, maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe everything is on the up-and-up – perhaps all is fair and bright here on Big Rock Candy mountain – after all, it is perfectly legal for individuals and the corporations under their control to make campaign donations to any candidate they want.

However, we – the voters of Volusia County – have the power to change this despicable and corrosive tradition at the ballot box.

If history is allowed to repeat, I fear We, The Little People, can expect (and deserve) more of the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for July 3, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

A few days ago, I made the all-to-frequent trek to my neighborhood convenience store for a carton of smokes and case of beer – shuffling through the godawful heat of the parking lot, dour look, eyes downcast, situationally depressed as we all are – wanting desperately for this insidious virus to go its course and allow a return to the ‘normalcy’ we once took for granted.

Just as I reached the door, a loyal member of the Barker’s View Tribe called my name – and quickly approached with a great smile, courteously asking if she could give me a hug – an everyday gesture of kindness.

Unfortunately, I was quick to demur – because, well, “you can’t be too careful these days” – and sheepishly extended my elbow for that socially distant bump-and-run that now combines a hug, high-five, and handshake into one brief, wholly impersonal, ‘greeting.’

I felt like a heel rejecting her spontaneous show of neighborly affection, awkwardly recoiling like some hypochondriacal shithead – but, you know. . .

This incredibly kind lady told me that during these dark and dangerous times, these pathetic screeds of mine have become something she looks forward to – a mental respite from the depressive reality of interminable days spent isolating from friends and family – a diversion from the omnipresent gloom and doom.

From the bottom of this beat-up old heart – thank you for making my day.  My year.

I’ll be honest.  When we said our goodbyes, her sincere appreciation of this blog brought up a lot of emotion in me – the good kind – something we all need more of right now. . .

Look, I realize that these weird, hypercritical missives of mine aren’t for everyone – and, in recent weeks, I’ve had more than a few readers take their pent-up frustrations out on me for voicing opinions they vehemently disagree with – and that’s okay.

Comes with the territory.

But this brief interaction with an exceptionally caring soul made up for all the bile and heartburn.

This fortuitous encounter was restorative – a kind word in troubled times – and reminded me in the most wonderful way of what is important.

Here’s to the day when we can once again unhesitatingly embrace each another – show genuine affection, shake hands and hug like friends and neighbors should – and return that all-important physical, civic, and social contact that is such a vitally important part of any community.

Wash up.  Back up.  Mask up.  Whatever works, dammit.

This isolation must end.   

We need to reconnect with family, friends, and neighbors on a basic physical level and breakdown the barriers of face masks, quarantines and social exclusion – now, more than ever.

Hang in there, y’all.  I’ll do the same. . .

Angel               Pictona at Holly Hill

When I was a kid I looked forward to the carefree days of summer.

I can’t tell you the excitement I felt receiving my final dismal report card of the school year – hesitantly peeking at the bottom to make sure it wasn’t stamped “Summer School” – then letting out a scream of relief knowing I would soon be on my way to the Appalachian foothills of East Tennessee to spend three blissful months with my fun-loving maternal grandparents!

I’m old and set in my ways now, and no longer experience the wild swings of strong emotion I enjoyed in my youth, but on rare occasion, something will take me back to those halcyon days – that fleeting thrill of pure fun and anticipation – the smell of Coppertone and chlorine, the angle of the sun, a whiff of salt air, the sultry evening perfume of jasmine and honeysuckle – that bring a rush of long forgotten memories.

Some little something that, just for a moment, turns back time to those warm days with friends, climbing trees, catching lightning bugs in a jelly jar, swimming holes, fireworks, camp outs and backyard bar-b-ques, complete with an ice-cold slice of those old-timey two-foot-long watermelons that are only sold out of the back of a rusty pick-up truck. . .

As adults, we forget the unadulterated delight – and incredible importance – of the fun and frivolous times of our lives.

Let’s face it, the coronavirus pandemic has put a serious crimp in our summer fun – in fact, it downright sucks – and we can all use a diversion from the near-constant barrage of bad news and universal contention that spew from what passes for “news,” 24/7.

We really need a healthy diversion right now. . .

Earlier this week, we learned the exciting news that Pictona at Holly Hill – a state-of-the-art pickleball and recreation complex – is just two-weeks from its grand opening!

On Wednesday, July 15, the 12-acre facility which dominates Holly Hill’s historic Hollyland Park will welcome the public with eight covered pickleball courts, an elevated viewing area, a restaurant known as The Kitchen – and for those who take advantage of annual memberships – a players lounge and locker room with showers, a massage area, and clubhouse shop with pickleball accessories and apparel.

In addition, Pictona will have an indoor activity area that can be converted into space for private parties – along with 16 outdoor pickleball courts and facilities for bocce ball, a croquet pitch, horseshoe pits and shuffleboard courts, with a pavilion that includes bleachers and restrooms.

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “On the west end of the complex will be the Florida Health Care Plans Senior Activity Center which will also be free and open to the public. It will offer a variety of workshops, classes and programs with an emphasis on promoting wellness and physical fitness.”

Impressive.

In a fantastic example of what a true public/private partnership should be, the Pictona complex – one of the largest in the nation – resulted from a $1.2 million contribution from the City of Holly Hill – bolstered by a $400,000 ECHO grant from Volusia County and $50,000 in sponsorships and private donations.

Incredibly, the bulk of the project – more than $4 million – came from the incredible generosity of Ranier and Julie Martens of Ormond Beach.

Once fully operational, Pictona at Holly Hill is expected to create 15 new jobs in the community.

According to the News-Journal, “The Martens said the Pictona complex will become the property of the City as soon as it is completed. The couple have also agreed to donate their time to oversee its operation for the first two years. The facility will then be turned over to be managed by the board of the not-for-profit Pictona at Holly Hill pickleball association.”

“All credit goes to Rainer and Julie Martens,” said Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte. “It’s their vision and mostly their money (that created Pictona). It’s really exceeded what I thought it would be. The City Commission and I, we’re all excited to see it open.”

Look, I’m not the most athletic guy you know – but I intend to learn how to play pickleball this summer – and take advantage of the Halifax areas most exciting new recreational opportunity in decades.

Thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Martens!

We really needed this.

Asshole           Flagler County School Board

I’ve said this ad nauseam, but here is a reason citizens no longer trust local government, or the myriad other taxing authorities that siphon our hard-earned dollars to inflate astronomical budgets, while inept administrators allow service delivery to recede into mediocrity.

In my view, the problem remains the complete lack of accountability for those who violate the public trust and compromise the integrity of institutions, coupled with the depressing absence of substantive oversight by those we elect to protect our interests.

In my experience, there comes a time when many publicly-funded bureaucracies transition from their core purpose of providing essential governmental services to a self-serving, and overtly defensive, ogre that exists to protect its weakest links while ignoring, marginalizing and destroying anyone – internal or external – that calls attention to the dysfunction.  (See Volusia County Government, City of Palm Coast, et al.)

Case in point:  This week, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on the tragic case of former Belle Terre Elementary School Principal Dr. Terrance Culver, who was accused way back in September 2019 by parents and staff of a bevy of horrific violations – including  “…misappropriation and/or embezzlement of funds, sexual harassment, race and gender discrimination, libel and defamation, gross mismanagement and repeated violation of whistleblower laws.”

According to reports, last year, the school district launched an investigation into a “compilation of claims” made by some 12 whistleblowers that were brought to light in a complaint filed by the intrepid Flagler Beach attorney Stephen Furnari.

In addition, in November 2019, the president of the Belle Terre Parent Teachers Association filed a criminal complaint with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office alleging “fraud and public corruption” at Belle Terre Elementary School that spanned three years.

Subsequently, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly rightly turned the investigation over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Among other revelations, in 2017, Dr. Culver misused federal funds allocated for the purchase of apples for the school cafeteria, some 206 of which were used by Culver’s daughter to create candy apples which she sold for a total of $824.00, “but the money did not go to the school.”

Apparently, Dr. Culver later reimbursed the district $63.70 for the apples. . .

Good return on investment, eh?

Since when is the clear misuse of federal food service funds, while leveraging the buying power of the district to underwrite a personal for-profit venture, pardonable by stroking a check?

The investigative findings issued by school board counsel Kristy Gavin to Dr. Culver’s attorney are dated April 13, 2020 – months after the initial December 14, 2019 completion deadline – and sustain a host of abhorrent charges, that, in my view, evidence a continuing pattern of bullying, preferential treatment, personal dishonesty, favoritism, gross mismanagement, and abuse of position resulting in a terribly hostile work environment.

Clearly, this was not a one-off lapse of judgment.

According to News-Journal reports, during Dr. Culver’s tenure with the Volusia County School District, he was investigated for the following allegations:

In 2000, while assistant principal at New Smyrna Middle School, he was said to have, “…sent an inappropriate email through his work email; used inappropriate language in class; ate food during class time; called students names and referred to them as being in “retarded classes;” paid a student to eat a roach; accused a student of being a thief; grabbed at a student; and did not follow repeated orders to stay away from a certain student, according to the professional standards investigation.”

 Then, in 2004, “…while Culver was assistant principal at Silver Sands Middle School, he was investigated for acting in an inappropriate manner by allegedly “grabbing an eighth-grade female student by the arm, spun her around, took her by the hips, bent her over and pressed (his) body against her backside to demonstrate inappropriate dancing,” according to the investigation.”

My God.

After leaving Volusia County following the 2006-2007 school year, Culver was hired by Flagler County Schools.

In 2012, Culver was investigated for “allegedly making unwanted advances on a female co-worker,” and, in 2019, Culver and three other staff members were the subject of a formal complaint alleging the mistreatment of an autistic child.

“While two staff members’ contracts were not renewed and another left the district following the complaint, Culver remained.”

Bullshit.

If ostensibly bright (and incredibly well-paid) superintendents and elected school board members can’t use this series of documented issues as an early warning system to identify potential misconduct and protect students, staff and teachers, in my view, they are just as culpable as the offender.

Unfortunately, justice delayed truly is justice denied.

According to the News-Journal report, the investigation of Dr. Culver was delayed on multiple occasions, “…due to time conflicts, the eventual involvement of the district’s legal team and a requested extension from Culver’s attorney the investigation wasn’t released to the public until June.”

I have a big problem with that.

In typical fashion, with an active internal investigation on-going, in November 2019, Dr. Culver simply submitted notice of his retirement with an effective date of January 3, 2020 – then escaped personal accountability for his repugnant behavior through the benefit of a very lucrative public pension.

In my view, that’s wrong.

And this isn’t the first time someone holding high office – who accepts public funds to serve in the public interest – effectively dodged culpability for gross misconduct by simply pulling the ripcord on their very lucrative golden parachute.

Anyone remember the despicable scandal at Mainland High School? 

I do.  

Inexplicably, in her April correspondence, attorney Gavin advised that there would be no further action taken by the Flagler County School Board against Culver, beyond accepting his retirement.

Say what?

Once again, a senior public official holding a position of great responsibility in the community – then violated a sacred public trust – has escaped accountability.

In my view, detached elected officials and arrogant superintendents who allow senior administrators – principals who have almost omnipotent power over the school and personnel under their command – to run amok, conduct themselves in a manner that brings discredit to themselves and the district, and ignore the fervent cries of whistleblowers – epitomize public misfeasance.

Asshole           Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland

It is a rare and coveted honor to have the dubious distinction of receiving a Barker’s View Asshole Award two-weeks running – a political merit badge earned by those in public office who, in my jaded view, put their own self-interests above the needs of their long-suffering constituents.

By any metric, the wheel has come off the cart in the City of Palm Coast.

Last week, we learned that Mayor Milissa Holland may be under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for her ties to what the News-Journal described as a “unique arrangement” between the city and her employer, Coastal Cloud, whose software provides a digital platform allowing the City of Palm Coast to communicate with citizens.

According to reports, former Palm Coast Communications Director, and current mayoral candidate, Michael Schottey, is alleging corruption by Holland and others – claims that were disputed by City Manager Matt Morton last month in a weird communique which besmirched Schottey, alleging he resigned his post “after multiple female directors complained about his treatment to them (?)”

As the plot thickened, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that a review of Schottey’s personnel file found no evidence to support Morton’s claim of harassment – and the former Human Resources Director (who is also suing the city) apparently stated Morton was not telling the truth about the nature of Schottey’s departure.

Now, we are learning that the ethical issues which have plagued Palm Coast City Hall may run far deeper than previously known.

Reports indicate that Palm Coast officials may have intentionally withheld two emails originating from Mayor Holland’s mayoral account – correspondence clearly covered by Florida’s open records law – from a public records request by the Palm Coast Observer.

It appears these damning emails were essentially a blatant sales pitch by Mayor Holland to the City of Orlando on behalf of her employer, Coastal Cloud, while acting in her official capacity and using a public email account.

On Tuesday, Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton released a weird report from an Orlando-based labor attorney he hired after becoming convinced city employees were “leaking emails to the media” (?) – including a review of the city’s internal processes for investigating questions surrounding how the Observer’s public records request was processed.

The report found no wrongdoing by either Mayor Holland, or the city clerk’s office, while laying fault with “…the city’s current way of investigating whistle blower complaints.”

Of course, Holland touted the findings as a complete vindication. . .

The report directly contradicted the findings of Palm Coast compliance manager Jay Maher, “…who oversaw the city’s internal investigation and concluded the emails were unlawfully withheld from the public, called the report the city manager released a “hit job.” Maher is the supervisor of the city’s Internal Controls, Ethics and Contractor Fraud Investigations unit, which handles internal investigations involving city employees.”

Wow.

This is clearly more than an inter-governmental contretemps.

In my view, it smacks of public corruption and the suppression of whistleblowers – and bears watching by anyone concerned about good governance.

Kudos to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, and its intrepid investigative reporter Matt Bruce, for their outstanding exposé, which is peeling this stinking onion, expertly revealing the depth of internal dysfunction and subterfuge that has clearly paralyzed Palm Coast government.

In my view, the City of Palm Coast is rotting from the head down – a growing malignancy that is threatening the public’s trust in their government – and it is high time for embattled Mayor Milissa Holland to resign – just clear the hell out – and take the wholly compromised City Manager with her.

Quote of the Week

“Voters have to look past catchphrases like “fiscally conservative,” promises of “smart growth” and pledges to be “responsive to your needs” to find specifics on each candidates’ platforms — and be wary of those who only traffic in vagaries. Voters deserve to know how their chosen candidates will govern once they are in office.”

–Editor Pat Rice, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Our View column, “Pay attention to local races,” Sunday, June 29, 2020

And Another Thing!

It is no secret that Pat Rice and I don’t agree on much – he is a learned journalist and I am a chronic bitcher with internet access – but his informative piece in last Sunday’s News-Journal is something we can all get behind.

I never knew a successful politician that wasn’t a polished bullshit artist – adept at the art and science of double-speak and political posturing – the ability to paint themselves as something likable and attentive to a voter’s individual wants and needs regardless of the situation or issue.

That’s how the game is played.

Let’s face it, spinning positions and platforms to a large number of people is their stock in trade – especially when a question catches them flatfooted – and they are required to immediately form a politically advantageous position on an issue without sealing themselves in a box.

The gift of extemporaneous bullshittery is what separates the pros from the pikers – and not everyone can pull it off when it counts.

That’s why candidates and their handlers employ meaningless descriptors, inane expressions and catchphrases as they work to craft a marketable product that can be sold to voters – and the true political beliefs, positions and principles of the empty suit are only revealed in time – post election – when the damage is done. . .

I believe the requirements of hard-fought campaigns changes some candidates at the molecular level.

The heat and tempo of modern political contests seems to cauterize that part of their prefrontal cortex that houses the base emotions of guilt and shame – allowing them to pose, preen, posture and attitudinize during what passes for communication with their constituents after the election is in the bag.

But every now and then, men and women of honor stand tall to serve and lead their community boldly into the future – and work diligently to achieve greater prosperity and enhance the quality of life for everyone.

These true servant-leaders are incredibly few and far between, but they are out there, running values-based campaigns and eager to share their passion.

That is why it is so important for voters to meet candidates one-on-one, to lock eyes and ask the hard questions on the issues that are important to you, your business and your family’s future.

Only then can you determine if their previous voting record, accessibility, agenda and method of governance comports with the image they are trying desperately to project – or if you are being played as a fool by some polished political hack with no qualms about telling you exactly what they think you want to hear.

On Wednesday evening, July 8, I hope you will join me at a campaign fundraiser for Jeff “Plan B” Brower, my candidate for Volusia County Chair, from 5:30pm to 8:00pm, at Pitmasters Bar-B-Que, 4425 North US-17 in Delightful Deland!

All proper health precautions will be taken – and for a modest contribution of just $30 – attendees will be treated to a delicious all-you-can-eat BBQ buffet, complete with ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken and all the trimmings.

I support Jeff Brower because I believe he is a man of his word who possesses the values, vision, and work ethic to fundamentally change the direction of Volusia County and return rightful focus on the needs of those who pay the bills – not the wants of uber-wealthy insiders with a profit motive.

This fundraiser is the perfect opportunity to speak directly with Jeff, learn about his positions on the important issues and see the many ways his vision for our future differs from his opponent – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys.

I look forward to seeing you next week as we come together to support Jeff Brower: The Peoples Candidate for Volusia County Chair!

That’s all for me!

Here’s wishing everyone a happy and safe Independence Day!

Let’s put aside our differences for just one day, and truly celebrate what it means to be an American!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Great Mask Debate

Eventually, politics creep into everything, as the need for a political party or candidate to position itself for maximum ‘likeability’ – to be seen as the “voice of reason,” more concerned about the welfare of the masses (potential voters) than their opposition.

To accomplish this, they employ professional strategists, political operatives and marketing experts to package and position their ideology as being so far removed from that of their opponent that concepts like rationality, practicality and common sense are no longer factors.

Especially during an election year.

Anyone who tells you the coronavirus outbreak has not been politicized clearly doesn’t read the newspaper, watch what passes for national “news,” or venture outside their hermetically sealed bubble.

From the earliest days of the pandemic, local politicians who are up for reelection took to social media – issuing rambling manifestos, pushing the latest pseudo “information” or governmental mandate, enacting endless “states of emergency” which facilitated draconian measures that were, in most instances, ill-thought and ineffective, beyond destroying our local economy by punishing small businesses for the “See, we’re doing something!” factor.

Then came the fire hose flow of cash from Washington that put $96.5 million into Volusia County government coffers, ostensibly to offset the loss of revenue and support citizens and businesses affected by the shutdown, but, in reality, turned into a series of carefully orchestrated campaign opportunities for the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys, who made hay over the fact a paltry $15 million was allocated for the municipalities – while Daytona International Airport alone received over $21 million (in a separate CARES Act allocation not from the $96.5 million.)

Say what?

In March, we were told by the Centers for Disease Control and National Institute of Health that surgical face masks should be reserved for healthcare workers on the front lines on the pandemic – with reminders that wearing masks are only effective in preventing community spread when worn by an infected individual.

Then, on April 3, when it became clear that the catastrophic run on hospital resources many feared would happen if we didn’t “flatten the curve” never materialized, we were warned of the danger of asymptomatic and presymptomatic vectors, and told to wear a mask or cloth face covering whenever we couldn’t “social distance.”

In turn, we watched as local, state, and national elected officials began using masks as a prop – a signal of virtue – with face coverings becoming yet another symbol of the nation’s partisan chasm that grows wider by the day.

In fact, a mid-April poll taken by the Gallup/Knight Foundation of mask usage by demographic subgroups found that 49% of those identifying as Democrats or Democrat leaning independents always wore face coverings outside the home – while just 26% of Republicans or Republican leaning independents reported consistently wearing coverings outside their home (46% of GOP respondents said they never do).

You’re telling me that’s a coincidence? 

A recent article in Politico by Ryan Lizza and Daniel Lippman entitled, “Wearing a mask is for smug liberals. Refusing to is for reckless Republicans,” spoke to our growing cultural and political divide:

“For progressives, masks have become a sign that you take the pandemic seriously and are willing to make a personal sacrifice to save lives. Prominent people who don’t wear them are shamed and dragged on Twitter by lefty accounts. On the right, where the mask is often seen as the symbol of a purported overreaction to the coronavirus, mask promotion is a target of ridicule, a sign that in a deeply polarized America almost anything can be politicized and turned into a token of tribal affiliation.”

As one who invariably sides with the protection of civil liberties, and the inalienable right of all American’s to remain free of tyrannical government overreach, I happen to believe that the idea of public education and consistent messaging should always take the place of harsh mandates, “executive orders,” and forced compliance.

Recently, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board, who long ago threw off the yoke of objective, middle-of-the-road reporting in favor of left-leaning sensationalism and partisanship, issued an editorial which, once again, insulted our intelligence with the headline, “Mask wearing isn’t political, it’s lifesaving.”

Of course its political!

The piece goes on to support the absolutely false narrative that, “Of the available antiinfection steps, face masks are the most effective and important.”

Don’t take my word for it, ask your doctor, or the Centers for Disease Control – proper hand-washing remains the most effective means of preventing individual infection – while face coverings are believed by many epidemiologists to be effective in stopping a percentage of community transmissions from an infected person to others.

One is no more “effective and important” than the other.

But hand-washing does not provide the all-important visual symbolism some are looking for. . .

Unfortunately, the News-Journal’s pompous screed descended into its tired bashing of the current administration, followed by a demand for states and communities to “require” the use of masks through, I assume, a rigorous application of government force and penalties on the non-compliant portion of an ostensibly free population.

At present, in Volusia County, only the City of Daytona Beach – on the executive suggestion of its tinpot tyrant Mayor Derrick Henry – has ordered its subjects to “get in line” (his words, not mine) and wear masks whenever they venture out – something that is impossible to enforce, but got Mayor Henry’s name in the newspaper during the campaign season by further exploiting community fear. . .

Like many perennial politicians, Mayor Henry has once again proven he has no qualms using the full might of government intervention for shameless self-promotion – and I hope Daytona Beach residents will remember that at the ballot box this fall.

Fortunately, an innovative new program was launched last week we can all embrace.

The public information practitioners of our county and municipal governments recently teamed up with their community partners for a novel approach to coronavirus awareness called Step Up Volusia, which asks residents to “Wash Up, Back Up, Mask Up.”

The program, which respects the rights, liberties and common sensibilities of those it serves, will use billboards, digital messaging, community influencers and celebrities to get the word out on the importance of proper hygiene, social distancing and masking to preventing the spread of disease.

Rather than mandate the wearing of masks, Step Up Volusia encourages taking personal responsibility for protecting the welfare of others around us from contracting COVID-19 in a way that depoliticizes the practice and fosters community acceptance.

I like that.

Look, I admit, I haven’t worn a mask much during the pandemic – I have seasonal asthma and the mask makes it difficult to exchange air (plus, it gets in the way of my ever-present Marlboro) – but I’m all about voluntary compliance and individual responsibility over draconian government mandates.

I’ll bet the vast majority of Volusia County residents are too.

Wash up.  Back up.  Mask up.  That’s something we can all support.

To learn more, please go to www.stepupvolusia.org

 

 

Angels & Assholes for June 26, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               Rhonda Kanan

Kudos to the intrepid Rhonda Kanan, the courageous New Smyrna Beach resident who continues to stand tall in her fight to right an injustice – and ensure basic fairness for residents of that quaint waterfront community – while securing a legitimate financial return on a prime riverfront asset for all taxpayers.

Earlier this year, Ms. Kanan filed a lawsuit alleging discriminatory practices by The Anglers Club – an all-male (and almost exclusively white) private club which leases incredibly valuable public land from the City of New Smyrna Beach.

The legal action attempted to correct what the city’s elected officials would not, challenging the validity of a 99-year agreement that allows the group exclusive access to the city-owned property for just $25 annually.

Unfortunately, the original suit was dismissed by a judge last month – who ruled Ms. Kanan did not have standing to bring the action – allowing her 20-days to refile the lawsuit.

And, by God, she did – filing a revised suit last week.

According to a recent report by WFTV:

“The lawsuit, filed by resident Rhonda Kanan, accuses the club of being an “exclusive, discriminatory fishing and boating white-boys club… engaging in numerous acts of racial, religious and sexual discrimination.”

The suit even accuses the private club of holding “Robert E. Lee parties.” The attorney representing the Anglers said he did not know if the claims of that theme party were true.

“I just feel like there’s no room for racism or discrimination in the world today,” Kanan said.  “I feel like the city of New Smyrna Beach and its leaders are actually supporting discrimination. They can say they’re not, but their actions are very clear, they speak volumes.”

An attorney for The Anglers asserts that, like fraternities, sororities or the “Junior League,” the organization should be permitted to make their own membership rules.

The club plans to file another motion to dismiss Ms. Kanan’s complaint.

Unfortunately, despite the 2009 opinion of outside legal counsel that disputed the validity of the lease and recommending the agreement be renegotiated or the club removed from the property altogether – nothing happened.

Inexplicably, the spineless New Smyrna Beach City Commission has refused to address the agreement which was last signed in the early 1940’s. . .

What a godawful embarrassment – shameful political cowardice run amok – and, in my opinion, a cruel slap in the face to women and persons of color in the community.

This week, Cynthia Slater, president of the Volusia County NAACP, weighed in on the club’s openly discriminatory practices on publicly owned property:

“In this day, with all of the things all these companies and organizations are looking at, the laws and rules and protocols, that needs to change. Shame on the city of New Smyrna Beach,” Slater said.”

As I’ve said before, in my view, if a group of ‘good ol’ boys’ want to purchase private property, build a meeting hall, and form the New Smyrna Beach chapter of the Lily-White Sausage Club, who cares?

Just get the hell off publicly owned land if you are not willing to welcome everyone.

Frankly, I cannot imagine anything more boring, more inherently dreary, than a “club” that arrogantly limits membership to like types – rejecting the rich cultural and social mix that makes a community great.

In my view, Ms. Kanan is right to scream “Not on my dime!” while standing firm for the rights of all New Smyrna Beach residents in opposing the gross practice of gender and racial discrimination on municipal property.

Shame on the City of New Smyrna Beach for turning a blind eye to this insult to the taxpayers.

Asshole           City of Daytona Beach

For a municipal government that already looks like it went twelve rounds with Conor McGregor, the City of Daytona Beach received yet another black eye this week when Deputy Utilities Director Jo Ann Macrina was indicted on federal charges of conspiratorial bribery, bribery, and tax evasion in connection with money and other items of value that she allegedly accepted while serving as Commissioner of Watershed Management for the City of Atlanta.

The criminal indictment stems from an extensive FBI investigation into the corrupt practice of circumventing established process and granting lucrative city contracts to a DeKalb County contractor.

According to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, while employed by the City of Atlanta, Macrina discussed potential employment with the contractor, and allegedly accepted items of value “in exchange for or as a reward for” providing access to information and preferential treatment with respect to City of Atlanta projects.

The indictment also alleges Macrina accepted $10,000 in cash, jewelry, a room at a luxury hotel in Dubai during a “speaking engagement” paid for by a private entity, and landscaping work at her home in exchange for two work orders – one valued at $9 million, the second valued at over $2 million. 

Damn.

In May 2016, just seven months before she was hired by the City of Daytona Beach, Macrina was summarily fired by then Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in a surprise Friday afternoon bloodletting at City Hall.

According to Alan Greenblatt, writing in a 2016 article for Governing, “Reed’s decision to fire Jo Ann Macrina, who’d been in charge of watershed management, was not terribly surprising. Her agency had suffered a slew of problems, including billing foul-ups, sewage spills and accusations of employee theft.”

Yet, despite this open source information that was readily available to anyone who cared to look (I found it with little more than two keystrokes), the City of Daytona Beach hired Ms. Macrina in January 2017 – most recently paying her $137,980 in public funds annually.

For a deputy department head with a sketchy work history?

According to reports, Macrina has now been suspended without pay. . .

During whatever may or may not have passed for a preemployment background investigation, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm either failed to notice, or simply ignored, the fact the City of Atlanta received a federal subpoena in September 2016 for records related to Macrina’s department seeking specific information on contracts issued to companies controlled by a co-defendant in the conspiratorial bribery case.

Perhaps more disturbing, in October 2019, while Macrina was actively employed with the City of Daytona Beach, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that federal investigators had issued subpoenas seeking “…Macrina’s travel expenses during her last five months on the job, the ethics pledges she signed, any requests she made to perform outside work and her financial disclosures.”

In addition, the AJC report waved red flags which should have provided advance warning to anyone paying attention that the character of Macrina’s service in Atlanta was clear cause for concern:

“City leaders discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in missing or stolen equipment in the department, including industrial water meters worth $5,200, copper and pipes. More than a dozen Watershed employees were fired and seven were later indicted for the thefts. One audit found security in Macrina’s department was so lax that it was impossible to know how much equipment was stolen or missing.”

Wow.

Why would anyone paid to protect the interests of the citizens of Daytona Beach take a chance on bringing that level of mismanagement and dysfunction to this community?

I have a problem with that.

Look, there is nothing I’m aware of to suggest Macrina was involved in similar conduct to that alleged in Atlanta during her employment with the City of Daytona Beach – and she is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law – but I question whether hiring an individual for a position of public trust commanding a six-figure salary was prudent under the circumstances of her termination from the City of Atlanta.

Mind-boggling.

Asshole           Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland

The roil in Palm Coast continues as former senior officials are reporting that Mayor Milissa Holland may be under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for her ties to what the News-Journal described as a “unique arrangement” between the city and her employer, Coastal Cloud.

According to reports, former Palm Coast Communications Director, and current mayoral candidate, Michael Schottey, is alleging corruption by Holland and others – claims that were disputed by City Manager Matt Morton on Monday in a weird email response which besmirched Schottey, alleging he resigned his post “after multiple female directors complained about his treatment to them (?)”

As the plot thickened, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported this week that a review of Schottey’s personnel file found no evidence to support Morton’s claim of harassment – and the former Human Resources Director (who is also suing the city) apparently stated Morton was not telling the truth about the nature of Schottey’s departure.

Mr. Schottey has also denied Morton’s allegations that he mistreated coworkers.

Whoa.

(Perhaps Mr. Morton should open his copy of the “City Managers Handbook” and flip to chapter on why its never a good idea to comment on personnel matters. . .)

Whatever.

It is apparent the federal government is finally recognizing that  We, The People are tired of the often loosie-goosy relationships between government and the private sector in Volusia and Flagler Counties – and the Department of Justice may well be acting on credible complaints from whistle blowers and others to preserve the integrity of our local governments.

Let’s hope so.

In a recent News-Journal article, former Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon said of Holland’s  involvement with Coastal Clouds effort to provide certain digital services to the city – an arrangement that was supposed to be cost neutral – yet, according to Landon, ultimately cost the city some $100,000 in “licensing fees”:

“This is what gives government a rotten name and that’s really just disappointing to me,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen that way. Once again, may not be criminal. But at least in this ex-city manager’s book, that’s definitely unethical.”

“Landon indicated that when Palm Coast first considered its arrangement with Coastal Cloud, he made clear that the arrangement would not lead to any cost for the city. But he said it ended up costing ‘big time,’ with more than $100,000 for annual licensing fees. Landon claimed he was terminated shortly after he raised concerns about the software costs, with Holland calling for his abrupt dismissal at the end of a Sept. 18, 2018 meeting. Landon’s possible dismissal was not part of that meeting’s agenda.”

“I made it very clear that the city would not be spending any money,’ he said. ‘The next thing I know, I’m not working there any longer.”

Wow.

Look, even if Mayor Holland’s seemingly conflicted roles are on the up-and-up – it smells like the proverbial rotten mackerel in the moonlight – and as a perennial politician she should understand that and step aside.

In my view, the murky suspicions, innuendo, backroom deals, eyebrow raising partnerships, creepy connections and apparent quid pro quo nods which always benefit those with the wherewithal to influence our “democratic” processes through a broken campaign finance system has left many in Volusia County with the well-founded fear that local governments have become a piggy bank for the “Rich and Powerful.”

In my experience, when it comes to protecting the public trust, even the appearance of impropriety is cause for concern.

It is time those who hold themselves out for high office understand the importance of preserving a fair and level playing field – stop the oh-so-cozy relationships with campaign donors and influential insiders – and remember their sacred oath to the people they serve.

Quote of the Week

“The city of Ormond Beach is for sale, and has been since we weakened our wetland and development rules in 2009 and began granting waivers and exceptions for huge multi-parcel planned business developments.  We’re selling out our environment and our city’s historic character for money, and we’re trampling the rights of adjacent property owners protesting each rezoning. These decisions are being made for us and not by us. Elections have produced tragic consequences.”

–Lori Bennett, Ormond Beach, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “Plantation Oaks Over-Development on the Loop,” Monday, June 22, 2020

Well said, Ms. Bennett.

And Another Thing!

The quadrennial livestock auction that selects the winners and losers of Volusia County elections is in full swing – with all the right last names injecting tens-of-thousands of dollars into the system to preserve the status quo and ensure a return on investment.

For instance, this evening – at a secret location revealed only to those willing to pay “$750 per couple or $500 per individual” the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys will grace you with her monarchical presence at an exclusive “VIP Reception” to support her candidacy for County Chair.

Or, for a mere “$350 per couple or $200 per individual” you can rub shoulders with Dishonest Deb at a “Party Barn” (“Wear your boots and jeans!”) for an open bar, buffet dinner and live entertainment.

According to the notice, your temperature will be taken at the door – but I’ll just bet your check will be welcomed into the party barn, regardless of its COVID status. . .

Oddly, if you want to put on your cowpoke costume and attend tonight’s super-secret hootenanny to add to Deb’s campaign war chest (that already tops $74,000 for a county chair race?) – you are asked to RSVP to an email account linked to our own State Senator Tom Wright, which makes sense, because the clandestine soiree is being hosted by Senator Wright, his wife Cindy, and Congressman Michael Waltz.

Wow.  Heavy hitters.

Must be super-important to some very prominent people that Dishonest Deb be reelected, eh?

Trust me.  This non-partisan election is about a core group of elite political power brokers’ who are intent on maintaining access to the public teat – and they are willing to spend whatever it takes to see Denys ascend to the catbird’s seat.

In other words, it’s business as usual, baby. . .and it is why your vote is so vitally important.

Now, let me tell you about my own involvement in this year’s County Chair race.

Despite my dire warnings, Jeff “Plan B” Brower has invited me to speak at his campaign fundraiser on Wednesday, July 8, from 5:30pm to 8:00pm, at Pitmasters Bar-B-Que, 4425 North US-17 in Delightful Deland!

For a contribution of just $30.00, you will enjoy a delicious, all you can eat, BBQ buffet of ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken and all the fixings!

Special guests include Robyn Collins, who sang with Pat Benatar, and, by special invitation, the incomparable Joann Gilmartin “The Glasgow Girl” – who has performed with many of the world’s leading orchestras.

Of course, I’ll be the fly in the ointment, uncomfortably pontificating and jabbering about local issues as we join together to support Jeff Brower: The People’s Choice for Volusia County Chair!

If you are so inclined, perhaps we can enjoy a beverage together at the cash bar (I tend to become exponentially more interesting with the liberal application of Irish Whiskey) and we can put a face to a name or get reacquainted.

Everyone is welcome!  Not just senators, congressmen, and well-heeled insiders. . .

At Jeff Brower’s fundraiser, working people don’t have to be reminded to wear their “boots and jeans.”

Most important, this fundraiser is the perfect opportunity to meet Jeff Brower and speak with him one-on-one regarding the issues that concern you and your family’s future.

This event is sponsored by Jeff Brower for Volusia County Chair.

For more information, find Jeff on Facebook (@RestoreTrustVolusia) or www.jeffbrowervcc1.com

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

Hope to see everyone July 8th!

 

 

NASCAR: A Rush to Judgment?

Anyone else get the sinking feeling that as NASCAR continues to founder it develops more sensational plot twists than a bad Peyton Place episode?

Yeah, me too. . .

The faux-fistfights in the pits, the goofy taunting of fans by contrived heels, the baby faces who preen and posture, the throwing of water and chest-bumping bravado of 20-something no-names – a script that tries hard to take fans back to a day when real men drove stock cars to their limit and bare-knuckle, helmet-throwing brawls often settled scores right on the apron.

Now, the modern storyline reads like a bad wrestling promotion.

But this latest drama resulted in a crash of epic proportions. . . 

What started out as a well-thought attempt to open the flagging sport to a more diverse demographic and show support for driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. – the only African-American competitor in the upper stratum of the Cup Series – NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation made the controversial decision to ban Confederate flags from all racetracks.

Then, just when it appeared NASCAR was making substantial progress on the issue of inclusiveness, sensitivity and furthering a greater discussion of diversity in a sport still very much entrenched in its Deep South roots, we learned the worst possible news.

Upon arrival at Talladega Superspeedway in preparation for last weekend’s GEICO 500, someone on Wallace’s race team discovered a rope “noose” hanging in their assigned garage stall – a despicable, racially charged symbol of terror  – a horrific hate crime that NASCAR immediately linked to Wallace’ advocacy for the Black Lives Matter movement – an act of divisiveness and intimidation that rightfully shocked the conscience of a nation.

In response, NASCAR instantaneously issued the following:

“Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”

Wallace was notified of his victimization by NASCAR President Steve Phelps – and Bubba immediately characterized the incident as a “painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society.”

The clearly embarrassed Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivy, accurately described the incident as a “vile act” and a “display of hatred” as the national media drew a direct line between the atrocities at Selma and Birmingham to a lone garage stall in Talladega.

And, with complete justification based upon published “facts”, the world seethed with rage.

On Monday, NASCAR President Steve Phelps angrily announced that if the person responsible were from the inside the sport – they would be “banned for life” – and the investigation of the crime was properly turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as the United States Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division offered every available resource – vowing to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice for Wallace.

During a press conference, Phelps bristled – then doubled-down – when some misfit reporter had the gall to question if the incident had been “staged.”

“I would say that is something that personally offends me,” Phelps said. “This is a terrible, terrible act that has happened.  For those who would think that this is staged, I wouldn’t know where to go with that.”

The drama became an international cause célèbre playing out on the front page of every newspaper in the world – and served as an incredibly provocative lead story for every network affiliate, online aggregate and news channel – complete with scenes of Bubba Wallace, overcome with emotion, as his car was escorted to the starting line by the massed compliment of Cup Series drivers, owners and crew in an amazing show of solidarity.

According to the Associated Press, “Wallace was joined by his team owner, Hall of Famer Richard Petty, who gently placed a hand on Wallace’s shoulder as he sobbed. Wallace after the race went to the fencing along the grandstands and greeted supporters. Many were Black and wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts.”

“It’s just been hectic, you know, carrying this weight,” he said. “I’m proud to stand where I’m at and carry a new face. Look at (these fans). Is this the first time you’re here? From Atlanta? That is so cool! The sport is changing.”

And, just like that, NASCAR suddenly became relevant again – a sport clearly capable of introspection and instantaneous cultural change – who corrected the institutional sins of the past in less than 24-hours and immediately began drawing a young, hip, racially diverse fan base at Talladega.

Then, NASCAR’s carefully orchestrated public relations/marketing strategy of “success from scandal” hit the skids when, apparently, an astute federal agent – one of 15 FBI agents who were redirected from ongoing federal investigations to the Superspeedway – noticed that every stall in the garage had a “noose” similar to the one discovered in Wallace’ space.

Yep.  The “noose” turned out to be no more than the “handle in the garage pull down rope.”

Damn. . .

It was a simple lanyard loop used to close the garage door – and it has been there since at least 2019.

As the news flashed ‘round the world at digital speed, and the narrative changed, you could almost hear Steve Phelps’ asshole slam shut as he came to the sudden realization the drama he churned into a frenzy – that kept the sport in worldwide headlines for 48-hours and exacerbated national tensions – wasn’t a heinous hate crime at all.

And it left the sport – including sponsors – with egg on their face as the natural reaction of fans turned from shock and unity to widespread anger.

Perhaps the FBI (not all 15 case agents, just one or two) should take a look at why, and how, this matter was reported to federal authorities – and, ultimately, used by NASCAR executives to exploit a young black driver who was convinced by the president of his sport that he is a victim.

How terribly corrosive to the frayed fabric of our society.

How horribly sad for this young man who will forever believe he was targeted.

In my view, NASCAR President Steve Phelps should go.

The “sport” owes Bubba Wallace – and all Americans – an immediate apology.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

The Loop: Let your voice be heard!

Inexplicably, Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington is telling us the encroachment of some 1,500 residential properties on what was once pristine old growth forest – clear cut impacts we can see with our own eyes beyond a thin veneer of spared trees – is a mass “misconception.”

In a recent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Developers’ plans spark concern over impact to Ormond Loop,” Partington once again suspended reality when he said, “There’s a misconception out there that a portion of the Loop is being bulldozed.  That’s just completely false.”

We know that, Mayor.

It’s already been bulldozed, you quibbling asshole!  

Now We, The People are worried about the repugnant impacts of increased traffic and toxic runoff that some 1,500 home sites will invariably bring once the Ormond Beach City Commission rubber stamps the zoning change approved by the so-called ‘Planning Board’ next month.

You may remember that this is the same Mayor Partington who gave us his twisted philosophy on over-development back in September when the sprawling Plantation Oaks subdivision was annexed into the City of Ormond Beach: “They (?) say if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

Well, I don’t give two-shits what “they” say.

Here in the real world, the tens-of-thousands of area residents who are concerned about our quality of life and environment – who can already see the devastating impacts of the Plantation Oaks development – feel like the victims of yet another governmental “bait and switch.”

Way back in 2002, when a horribly misguided Volusia County Council approved a 55+ manufactured home community on a 4-3 vote, we could not have imagined that, 18-years later, the developer would seek a zoning amendment permitting site-built homes – open to families of all ages – a change which will exponentially increase traffic along one of our most precious natural amenities.

In an effort to bring attention to the destruction of The Loop, a concerned area teenager started an online petition seeking protection for “…one of the most beautiful scenic spots in our county” – an entreaty that has garnered some 37,600 signatures (including mine) and galvanized an anxious community.

To show just how deeply the City of Ormond Beach has been infected by the influence of the real estate development community, Planning Board member G. G. Galloway, himself a commercial realtor, said in the newspaper, “The girl who did the petition didn’t do her homework.  They (the developers) have every right to do that (project).”

Of course they do!

In this utterly unbalanced environment – where the massive campaign contributions of builders and real estate speculators dominates, then skews, the political playing field – the little people, those of us who pay the bills and are expected to suffer in silence, are bulldozed like a majestic oak whenever we stand in the way of their obscene idea of “progress.”

In his sickening defense of the indefensible, Galloway goes on – alternately praising the contribution of developers, then claiming the board had “no choice” but to adopt Volusia County’s zoning approvals for Plantation Oaks.

Why is it that whenever citizens seek reasonable environmental protections and limitations on the devastating affects of sprawl, those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests always claim their hands are tied – yet, when a developer seeks changes to comprehensive plans, zoning amendments and other legislative sleight-of-hand designed to undermine safeguards and maximize profits – the process seems like a foregone conclusion?

Anyone who tells you that the deck isn’t stacked against the will of the people is lying.

For instance, earlier this month, the clearly compromised Ormond Beach planning department issued a staff report essentially supporting the Plantation Oaks zoning amendment which concluded:

“The proposed development will not adversely impact environmentally sensitive lands or natural resources.”

Unbelievable.

The fact that a municipal planning staff – individuals who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – could openly engage in the blatant falsehood that the deforestation, paving, development, use of fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides, septic, water and traffic impacts on over 1,000 acres of primordial, canopy forest ecology and wildlife habitat – will not drastically impact sensitive lands and natural resources defies logic.

Because it’s a damnable lie.

According to the News-Journal’s report, “The Ormond Beach City Commission will hold the first of two public hearings on the Plantation Oaks zoning amendment on July 28, starting at 7 p.m. The “socially distanced” meeting will be open to the public and will be held at City Hall.”

I hope you will add your voice to nearly 38,000 of your neighbors and let these developer’s shills on the dais of power in Ormond Beach know exactly how you feel.

Find the online petition here: https://tinyurl.com/yc7h4urv

Tell them you want Plantation Oaks to remain as it was when the developer foisted it upon us nearly two-decades ago – then demand that any vehicular access to Old Dixie Highway be forever blocked to prevent the beautiful Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail from becoming just another over-traveled thoroughfare.

Look, the Plantation Oaks debacle may be a lead-pipe cinch – an inescapable fait accompli for yet another developer intent on cashing in on the exploitation of our last remaining natural places – but we do not have to accept future environmental abominations as a sad fact of life here on the Fun Coast.

In my view, now is the time the silent majority of residents – those who have suffered the indignities of having our intelligence and environment repeatedly insulted by elected marionettes in municipal and county government, and the “staff” members who tell them exactly what they want to hear – begin the purge of these entrenched sellouts and return a sense of fairness, honor, access and accountability to the halls of power in Volusia County.

 

On Volusia: Let’s make them whole – not rich

After decades observing the inner-workings of local government, I don’t believe anything I hear and only half of what I see – never more evident than when I mix Kaopectate with three-fingers of strong Irish whiskey and gawp at what passes for a Volusia County Council meeting. . .

Over time, political power – whether elected or appointed – comes to see itself as infallible, unwilling to admit mistakes or accept responsibility for their individual and collective acts and oversights.

As an example, for years, Volusia County residents have warned their elected representatives of the inherent danger of over-development – inadequate transportation infrastructure, utilities, potable water, emergency services and the devastating impacts on our sensitive environment.

We have demanded moratoriums, asked them to stop making willy-nilly changes to comprehensive plans, sought adequate impact fees and a transparent permitting process.

Instead, our elected officials callously ignore our legitimate concerns for the future, and our diminishing quality of life, while flippantly approving any amendment to the rules and regulations that might benefit their campaign contributors in the real estate development industry – giving us the “Hear no evil.  See no evil.  Speak no evil.” treatment as thousands of new homes and commercial properties continue to sprout like weeds.

Then, when the effects can no longer be ignored, our omnipotent elected monarchy arrogantly tell us their idea of unrestrained growth is inevitable – so, get used to it.

Don’t take my word for it.

Examine the impacts of Margaritaville, the faux beach community in the pine scrub west of I-95 that sits directly atop our aquifer recharge area, the sprawling Mosaic, and the proposed Avalon Park Daytona – which plans to develop some 10,000 residential properties and massive commercial space literally on the southwest border of Ormond Beach – or drastic changes to the Plantation Oaks subdivision that threatens to forever alter our precious natural amenity known as The Loop.

When we attempt to provide input to our elected officials, we are marginalized, made to feel unwelcome in the people’s chamber, and curtly reminded of our station – where our remarks must be laser focused on one individual in a crowded room, and time limitations are placed on our ability to participate in government – while those who asked for our sacred vote haughtily ignore our questions, refusing to even acknowledge our presence.

Recently, I was disturbed by the Volusia County Council’s unanimous decision to promote Interim County Attorney Mike Dyer to the permanent position in that patented “tell ‘em one thing, do another” sleight of hand that always keeps their constituents guessing.

Look, I’m certain Mr. Dyer is capable of performing the role – after a lackluster tour at the Volusia County School Board – the lifelong member of Volusia’s good ‘ol boys club was welcomed back  to county government, got his nose firmly up all the right backsides, then embedded himself like a blacklegged tick.

In January, following a politically motivated bloodbath in the County Attorney’s Office, the council placed Dyer in the temporary role.  At that time, we were promised that the full-time position would only be filled following a transparent nationwide search.

To his credit, at the time, Councilman Ben Johnson shared concern that appointing Dyer as interim might give the impression that, if Dyer is eventually chosen as the permanent county attorney, that the decision was a “foregone conclusion.”

Of course, our concerns were assuaged by Councilwoman Deb Denys who assured us the process to select our new county attorney would by transparent – and “discussed publicly.”

She lied.

No search.  No discussion.  No transparency.  A foregone conclusion. 

On Tuesday, Mr. Dyer’s incredibly lucrative and open-ended contract – which was “negotiated” by an outside Orlando-based law firm which does contract legal work for Volusia County (?) – was unanimously approved by the council.

When Councilwoman Heather Post attempted to protect the interests of taxpayers by seeking the mere discussion of a salary cap to ensure that the other foregone conclusion inherent to the position – an automatic annual pay increase – doesn’t get out of control, the silence from her “colleagues” was deafening.

Now, the politicization of the County Attorney’s Office can begin in earnest. . .

Then talk turned to potential charter amendments – one of which could have resulted in a massive pay increase for our part-time elected officials – which I thought was unconscionable to even consider during an unprecedented election year when thousands of their constituents are out of work with businesses closing daily.

Again, to his credit, Councilman Ben Johnson stated unequivocally that he would not support the change – and suggested that any consideration of a pay increase should not benefit current sitting officials – while Ms. Post droned on about how a bump is ultimately necessary to attract “…the type of people willing to put in for these positions.”

What “type of people” is she referring to?

I assume she was referring to other mercenary assholes who are more interested in what an elected position can do for them, as opposed to honoring the sacred privilege of public service?

Ultimately, the motion to move the charter amendment forward died on a weird 4-3 vote – with our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, joining Councilman Fred Lowry and Councilwoman Barb Girtman in voting for the awkward measure that would theoretically see an elected council member hauling in some $361,920 over a four-year term.

In my view, we should not pay council members anything beyond reasonable reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses specifically related to their service – excluding their own shameless self-promotion and goofy junkets.

Let’s make them whole – not rich.

That’s fair.

And you can bet your sweet bippy this idea isn’t going away. . .

During this election season, perhaps it would be prudent for voters to ask incumbent politicians why We, The People, continue to be ignored in matters large and small – then demand an answer.

Attend candidate fundraisers, grip-n-grins, debates, and hobnobs – look them in the eye and ask why.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of being punished by these wholly compromised dullards who continue to congratulate their own performance, paint themselves as “good stewards” of our hard-earned tax dollars, then lie like a cheap rug when it suits their self-serving agenda.

We deserve better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: An Improbable Second Act

Now that my working life is over, I have time to contemplate and analyze my often-turbulent life and times – a life of incredibly good fortune that brought me everything I could have hoped for, personally and professionally.

Through the crystal prism of hindsight, and the bottom of a martini glass, I can see the spectrum of my good times and bad, and, because it is my life, if I chose to exaggerate the positives and accomplishments – and downplay the pain, weaknesses and dysfunction – well, that’s my prerogative.

Admittedly, it hasn’t been all peaches and cream – but what life worth living is?

In many ways, these often-snarky screeds are self-reflective – originating from the vantage point of my own mistakes from over thirty-years in municipal government – and incredibly cathartic.

These essays represent my attempt at a Second Act.

This weird path is nothing I could have imagined when I retired from a lifetime of government service – a dilettante citizen editorialist, a prolific blogger, a bloviating blowhard – an entrenched bureaucrat who found a post-public life voice.

When I review Barker’s View readership statistics each month and see that thousands of you actually took the time to read something I wrote – and consider my goofy alternative opinion on an issue – it massages my enormous ego and makes me feel like a pretentious Big Shot.

I’m not, of course.

But like Walter Mitty, throughout my life I have been gripped by a very active imagination that always seems to paint me as the valiant hero in my contrived contretemps.

You’ll notice that weird concept play out repeatedly in these posts of mine, and perhaps that’s my subliminal remuneration for the time spent – a renewed sense of purpose.

Just like my life in law enforcement, my new calling as a blogger doesn’t pay very well – in fact, like any hobby, it costs me money to pursue – but it fills a very large void in my life, and, I hope, drives a larger discussion of the issues.

Earlier this week, I received a statement from the Social Security Administration which provided an earnings record, a startling chronological tableau of the financial return for my life’s work.

Trust me, I did not enter the police service at age 22 with the goal of getting rich.

In fact, according to social security records, my starting salary in 1983 was just $13,752 annually – and I never made more than $80,470 after 31-years – even though most every police chief in Volusia County earned substantially more than I did.

I never complained.

For me, it wasn’t about the money.

During times of economic stress, I turned down pay increases if my subordinates couldn’t receive one – because that’s the right thing to do – and, given my level of talent and education, I felt fortunate just to have a job in the profession I loved.

Truth be told – and I can be honest now that I’ve secured a pension – I would have paid The City of Holly Hill for the privilege of serving a community that was so appreciative of my efforts, that embraced me, warts and all, and provided the opportunity to give the bulk of my life to work worth doing with people that I loved and respected.

In fact, I never met a true public servant that marked success by the size of their bank account.

Perhaps that is why the recent news that the Volusia County Council hasn’t given up on their cockamamie decision to pursue a change to the charter that would give them a substantial salary increase is so infuriating.

On Tuesday, our elected dullards will openly discuss the proposition of further feathering their own nests.

You may remember that during a “workshop” back in January, we got a disturbing glimpse at the thought process and true motivations of some of our elected officials when they mournfully cried the Poor Mouth Blues – then arbitrarily decided that the charter dictated term “Council” doesn’t carry the same ego-maniacal cachet as “Commission.”

Seriously.  That was their rationalization – and the reason they want to spend public funds to place this horseshit on the ballot this fall.

Then, our vainglorious elected elite had the unmitigated gall to publicly wallow in their own narcissistic angst over how terribly expensive self-promotion has become for politicians in this foul year 2020 – openly mewling about out-of-pocket expenses, a lack of personal assistants (?), the price of gasoline and high cost of automobile insurance – before determining how to best couch ballot language for a pay increase that gullible voters might actually swallow.

Until a recent article on the subject in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, I didn’t know exactly how much we pay our elected officials to sacrifice their valuable time and extraordinary talents for us ungrateful bastards who elected them – and I’ll just bet you didn’t either.

Based upon Volusia’s governing charter, our part-time elected officials are paid at a rate 50% of that paid in other Florida counties, while the county chair receives 60%.

“Council members are paid $45,240 annually and the council chair is paid $54,288 annually. . .”

Wow.

Which means, if we paid them at the rate authorized by state statute, council members (including the chair) would receive $90,480 annually – in a county where some 43% of Volusia households do not earn enough to consistently cover basic monthly living expenses.

Yet, even in these dire times, where small businesses are closing their doors at an alarming rate – and displaced workers are struggling to feed their families on a horribly broken unemployment system – these tone-deaf windbags continue to seek an exorbitant salary, “reimbursement for expenses,” fees for attendance at various self-congratulatory soirees and awards banquets, etc. – not to mention travel, hotel and dining expenses for do-nothing meetings, conferences, hobnobs, grip-n-grins and hot air generators in, Tallahassee, Washington D.C. and beyond.

For attending two meetings a month and schlepping around to a slate of officious time-wasters that never seem to improve our quality of life or lower our already exorbitant tax rate. . .

My God.

If our elected officials are convinced that a pay increase is truly the highest and best use of our hard earned tax dollars during these unprecedented times – then, by all means, they should put that question to the voters this fall.

Something tells me this is not going to bode well for incumbent council members seeking their own undeserved second act – nor should it.