On Volusia: A Bridge Too Far

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

President George W. Bush, 2002

Yeah.  What he said. . .

On Tuesday, Halifax area residents and business owners had the rug pulled out from under them once again.

The long-anticipated May 19 opening date for the interminably delayed Orange Avenue Bridge came and went – and, for the umpteenth time, that red-faced rube, Volusia County Engineer Tadd Kasbeer, was forced to stare at his shoes, shuffle his feet, and sheepishly announce that Orlando-based contractor Johnson Bros. Corporation fooled him again.  Again.

If you ask me, that joke is getting old. . .

Apparently, the Johnson brothers are a couple of fun-loving guys who build high-level concrete arch bridges on weekends in their spare time – then entertain themselves by pulling arbitrary completion dates out of thin air and watching government engineers squirm.

According to a report by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, it has now taken almost as long to construct the Orange Avenue span as it took to complete the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco – which is four times longer. . .

Our project began way back in June 2016 with an initial estimated completion date of December 2018.

Whoa.

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

So, now the ‘he said/she said’ finger-pointing has begun in earnest – with Johnson Bros. telling us the bridge is ready to go – they’re just waiting on the high sign from Volusia County – while Kasbeer claims another Florida Department of Transportation structural inspection is required.

As a result, estimates for opening day range from next week to August or beyond.

The only thing for certain is, like a guy who finally discerned the connection between a hot stove and his singed finger, Tadd Kasbeer has given his last hard date for opening.

I guess after being publicly humiliated time-and-again Volusia County has decided it is infinitely easier to just stop communicating with their constituents altogether.

“We’re not giving out any more dates,” said Kasbeer, the county’s director of engineering and construction. “It’s up to the contractor to tell us when they’ll open.”

Whatever.

Look, watching Tadd Kasbeer get pranked never gets old.

But waiting for the Orange Avenue Bridge to open does.

Now that we’ve all had another good belly laugh at Volusia County’s expense – perhaps the Johnson Bros. and FDOT will open the bridge?

Please?

Happy motoring, y’all!

 

Rise Up and Be Heard You Uneducated, Misinformed Knuckleheads!

We all have an emotional breaking point, a place where situations and circumstances become so dark and disturbing that they overwhelm the better elements of our character – causing us to throw off the traces of civility – and surrender to the purely human ability to override one’s conscience.

God knows, I lost it a long time ago. . .

Let’s face it – these are trying times – and not all of us, or the institutions we once relied on, will be the same on the other side.

In my view, it’s becoming clear Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice is beginning to crack. . .

On Sunday, Mr. Rice published his weekly op/ed column – an often wispy look the issues of the day – and, sometimes, an esoteric message only understood by a select group of well-connected intimates who’s gilded view of the Halifax area is completely different from those of us who try desperately to make a living, educate their children and make a life here. . .

The gist of Mr. Rice’s missive (I think) was his inability to grasp how anyone could have an opinion that contrasts with his elitist view of the world – specifically, how thinking citizens could question the merits of the national vote-by-mail initiative that has been contrived in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

What clued me into Pat’s mental meltdown was when he referred to those who use Facebook – which has become every man’s soapbox – to voice a dissenting opinion as “misinformed, uneducated knuckleheads.”

“…Facebook can be a cesspool where any knucklehead with a misinformed or uneducated political point of view can regurgitate it at the rest of us.

I know, there are also informed people who use Facebook to thoughtfully weigh in on local, state and national issues.  Let’s be honest: Those people are a distinct minority who are often drowned out by people who drink and post, or who serial-post truly fake news and opinion from clearly biased sources, or who share spurious conspiracy theories for partisan reasons.

It’s ugly on Facebook, and it’s only going to get uglier between now and the November general election.  My advice to everyone is to stop using Facebook altogether.”

(“Drink and post”?  Hummmm. . .)

Well, speaking for the rest of us, Mr. Rice, your unsolicited “advice” – which positions your media outlet as the only viable and informed viewpoint – goes against everything we know about the importance of competing ideas in a free and open society.

A smart friend of mine, and long-time News-Journal subscriber, who took righteous offense to being labeled an uneducated knucklehead by the editor of our local newspaper reminded me of a December 2019 editorial by Mr. Rice in which he arrogantly lectured Sheriff Michael Chitwood for accurately referring to the Volusia County Council as “scumbags.”

At the time, Mr. Rice was apparently apoplectic when Sheriff Chitwood’s gave an incredibly honest description of those misfits on the dais of power – who have subverted the democratic process and kowtowed to every want and whim of their political benefactors – when he called for the resignation of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and identified a “ruling class that will do anything to hold on to power.”  

During his vehement defense of his friends in high places, Mr. Rice went on to remind the Sheriff that our “ruling class” have a first amendment right to “…persuade elected officials to see things their way.”

You and I don’t, because in Mr. Rice’s eyes we’re clueless assholes – but his clubby chums that comprise our social and financial elite – do.

Look, Sheriff Chitwood is universally known as a straight-shooter who calls it like he sees it – he doesn’t suffer fools – and his brash assessments often cut through the political pap and fluff to expose the heart of a situation or conflict – allowing for positive change.

I like that.

What I don’t care for is condescending “do as I say, not as I do” twaddle from a clearly frightened and wholly compromised newspaper editor who’s allegiances have clouded his judgement – and reduced him to the same name-calling he claims to despise.

In my view, it is important to what remains of our democracy that we keep making our diverse opinions known on social media and beyond – scream it from the rooftops – until those we have elected to represent our interests realize there is some shit we won’t eat.

Perhaps Mr. Rice should take the same unsolicited “advice” he heaped on Sheriff Chitwood:

“Don’t stop being colorful.  Just stop being mean.  Stop going nuclear.  Volusia County deserves that much.”

 

 

 

On Volusia: Finding our Center of Gravity

Military strategists know the importance of probing defenses – analyzing the enemy’s capabilities and response – then targeting critical vulnerabilities for maximum effectiveness.

The Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, in his seminal work “On War” spoke of identifying “Centers of Gravity” – which modern warfighters have doctrinally identified as “any important sources of strength” – values, mental toughness, moral resilience, physical strength, power of will – that if exploited “will do the most significant damage to an adversaries ability to resist.”

These centers of gravity exist in all organizations – including government bureaucracies.

The mandate for leadership is to identify these sources of strength, protect them, continuously improve them, and use these strategic and operational assets to full advantage.

Unfortunately, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic at all levels of government has exposed our greatest vulnerabilities to both the citizens it ostensibly exists to serve – and potential bad actors around the world.

Historically, when threats are identified, government plans and prepares, then provides citizens the best information and recommendations possible – a tempered approach that protects the vulnerable while respecting the rights and livelihoods of the many.

That didn’t happen when coronavirus came calling – and, as a result, we are beginning to see widespread outrage and even greater political polarization.  (If that’s possible.)

When you add the ongoing frenzy of media hype and hysteria that continues to focus on the prurient elements – ignoring any hopeful trend in favor of flogging negativity and engaging in the vilest form of fear-mongering in history – it becomes clear why we are experiencing this national nervous breakdown.

Hysteria and misinformation have spread much faster than the virus – and with politicians in the mix – panic has resulted in this whole-of-society response that is destroying our economy, leaving families in financial ruin, and caused many to question how this could have possibly happened here in the “Land of the Free?” 

Then, there is the “kick them when their down” syndrome that some media outlets have embraced – the nonstop lecturing and divisive browbeating that was once the exclusive domain of blowhards like me. . .

For instance, I think everyone has had quite enough of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s corona-cut-and-paste editorials – which recently preached the gospel according to some Treasure Coast hack – insinuating that “Floridians are idiots” and “Floridians are botching this (recovery)” based on some provocative tripe in the UK’s Daily Mail about people returning to restaurants. . .

Quickly followed by a blast from editor Pat Rice which shit on the opinions of citizens who have taken to social media – every man’s soapbox – to voice their views on vote by mail and other virus-related contrivances.

In his Sunday claptrap entitled, “Facebook, and the bizarre vote-by-mail opponents,” he said:

“We also all know that Facebook can be a cesspool where any knucklehead with a misinformed or uneducated political point of view can regurgitate it at the rest of us.”

That’s right, Pat.  Make room for the rest of us.

Why should you corner the market on knucklehead, misinformed and uneducated political views?

Oh, he went on to tidy things up a bit, but you get the idea.

Mr. Rice – who long ago lost credibility by exposing his own partisan views and associations – like many in the media and government, feels that his elitist viewpoint is the only one that matters.

Over the past nine weeks or so, we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of local governance – and the media that has influenced its clumsy response – elected and appointed officials who were clearly bested by the complexity of the situation, flailing desperately to keep pace with ever-changing state “executive orders” – then enacting public policy on the fly; protocols which had drastic impacts on our lives and changed almost hourly.

While others on the dais of power turned insular, more self-serving, hyper-focused on their need for political exposure in an election year – going so far as exaggerating their dubious connection to White House policymakers (which turned out to be nothing more than cattle call teleconferences) – publishing weird manifestos on social media, mandating weekly “special meetings,” demanding input in the decision-making process during a declared state of emergency and doing everything possible to remain visible and relevant.

In my view, this has not been Volusia County government’s finest hour. . .

So, where do we go from here?  

I long ago came to the conclusion that our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, doesn’t have the mental capacity for self-reflection, but I sincerely hope that in the quiet hours, when County Manager George Recktenwald ponders his administrations accomplishments and growth areas – he considers what this botched response, and equally shaky “recovery,” is having on the foundational elements of our community – the civic, social and economic mainstays we rely on during times of crisis.

My hope is that Mr. Recktenwald will ask himself the question:

“Is this still about a virus?”

In my view, there is little motivation for state and local government to stop the endless – and wholly unconstitutional – limitations on our movement, ability to peaceably assemble for lawful purposes, worship in accordance with the practices of our faith and engage in the pursuit of our business or profession without government interference – so long as the tsunami of federal funds continues unabated.

Experts tell me that this disjointed response and recovery is essentially a political problem that requires a political solution – and these constitutional insults will result in numerous lawsuits – and the ultimate removal of many overweening politicians who pushed governmental overreach and control over the needs of their suffering constituents at the polls this fall.

I agree with that to a point.

Despite Pat Rice’s condescending horseshit – I encourage everyone to voice your opinion, on social media or elsewhere – scream it from the rooftops – and let our elected and appointed officials in the Ivory Tower of Power know exactly how you feel about their definition of the “new normal” they are hoping against hope we will all embrace without push-back.

Perhaps its time We, The People find our “center of gravity” – the awesome power of the ballot box – and demand a return to that omnipotent democratic principle that mandates all political power is derived from the will of the governed.

 

 

 

Archangels: Reflections on Law Enforcement Memorial Day 2020

On Monday, members of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office stood face-to-face with evil after an armed and dangerous assailant fled from a traffic stop in the City of DeLand – reminding us, once again, of the extreme threats faced by law enforcement officers every day.

A stark reminder indeed – and all thoughts and prayers are with the deputies involved as we reflect on the sacrifice of the courageous men and women who ‘serve and protect.’  

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week.  This national day of remembrance pays tribute to law enforcement officers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Law enforcement nationwide is well-worthy of our admiration and unending respect as they go in harm’s way to protect your family and mine.

Last year, 146 law enforcement officers lost their lives in the line of duty in the United States.

So far, 72 have paid the ultimate sacrifice in 2020.

To all those serving or who have served – thank you for holding the line.

We stand alone, together.

Daytona Beach Police Department

Officer Kevin John Fischer, September 4, 1998

Officer Gregory J. Sorenson, July 26, 1982

Deputy Sheriff Frank Dean Genovese, June 3, 1982

Officer Sam Etheredge, Jr., December 25, 1980

Detective Harry F. Raines, January 13, 1945

Officer Willie R. Denson, April 30, 1937

Officer Lawrence B. Hall, August 28, 1932

Officer Benny P. Stricklin, January 23, 1931

Officer Lewis Tanner, October 26, 1930

 

DeLand Police Department

Sergeant George Tinsley, May 7, 1979

Patrolman Elmer L. Michael, February 17, 1942

 

Flagler County Sheriff’s Office

Sergeant Frank “Frankie” Celico, September 9, 2011

Deputy Sheriff Charles T. “Chuck” Sease, July 5, 2003

Deputy Sheriff George W. “Son” Durrance, August 25, 1927

Sheriff Perry Hall, August 21, 1927

 

Florida Dept. of Corrections

Officer Donna Fitzgerald, June 25, 2008

 

Florida Highway Patrol

Trooper Darryl Louis Haywood, Sr., October 2, 2004

Trooper Edwin J. Gasque, October 26, 1961

 

New Smyrna Beach Police Department

Officer Roy Lundell Nelson, Jr., August 13, 2005

K9 Caeser, August 13, 2005

 

Ormond Beach Police Department

Officer Robert Francis “Bob” Grim, Sr., November 13, 2004

 

Ponce Inlet Police Department

Officer Timothy Thomas Pollard, September 22, 1987

 

Volusia County Beach Patrol

Captain John Irwin “Jay” McDonough, II, February 16, 2011

 

Volusia County Sheriff’s Department

Deputy Sheriff Frank Scofield, June 2, 2019

K9 Forest, November 22, 2016

Deputy Sheriff Stephen Saboda, November 6, 1982

Donald Shackleford, 1979

Alva Hayman, 1974

Frank Smith, 1927

Chief Deputy Sheriff William Park Edwards, November 5, 1907

Deputy Sheriff Charles Mortimer Kurtz, September 3, 1907

Deputy Sheriff William Kurtz Kremer, December 10, 1898

Sheriff Jefferson Davis Kurtz, April 25, 1895

 

_______________________________

 

Archangels

From my earliest memories, law enforcement officers have always been my heroes.

They still are.

Today marks National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day 2020.

A time for reflection on the incredible contributions of the men and women who so courageously serve and protect us all – and an opportunity to honor those brave souls who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

In what is proving to be a particularly deadly period in our history for line of duty deaths, it is important that we remember those officers who, as Lincoln said, gave “The last full measure of devotion.” 

It is also fitting that we take this opportunity to consider the greater question of the role of the police in a free and open society – and the importance of citizen support for their indispensable work in preserving our way of life in America.

The great privilege of my life was the opportunity to serve in law enforcement with some of the most dedicated and talented public servants I have ever known.

For thirty-one years I had the distinct honor of standing with strong men and women who hold a thin blue line between order and chaos, between good and evil, between you and I and the predatory criminals who prey on that which we love most.

In my long career, I learned something about law enforcement officers and what these extraordinary people are made of.  I have always thought that any contribution I made was just a function of the job at hand, but I am extremely proud just to have been associated with people I consider true American heroes.

Brevard County Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was one of them.

In early 1986, I was a young officer with the Holly Hill Police Department assigned to the Uniformed Patrol Division.

Bob 1
Bob Nicol, Jr.

At that time, I had been on the job for about three years (in other words, I had just learned how to write a traffic ticket the same way twice) and I was working the “Midnight shift” – 11:00pm to 7:00am – answering calls for service from an old Dodge Aspen patrol car with a single blue light on the roof, and a Motorola “Mocom” radio, equipped with a green light to let you know it was on and a red light to let you know it was transmitting when you keyed the microphone.

A quaint antique by today’s standards.

Today, a patrol vehicle’s interior looks more like the flight deck of the Space Shuttle, with mobile data units, stolen vehicle trackers, tag readers, electronic citation systems, digital video cameras and multi-channel 800MHz radios.

It is amazing how advances in technology transformed policing during my career.

One night I arrived at the police department for briefing, got a cup of coffee from Dispatch, and took my seat at the long wooden table where officers gathered before and after each tour to pass-on important and not-so-important information, listen to the sergeant give duty assignments, gossip, tell wholly inappropriate jokes, and bitch and moan about, well, everything.

(One of the first things you learn as a police chief is that cops complain – that’s how they “deal” with the horrific and unnatural things the job brings them in contact with.  It’s when they stop complaining that you have a problem on your hands.)

That night my sergeant introduced me to the “FNG,” a “f—g new guy,” sitting by himself at the end of the desk.

He was a short, stocky blond with big 80’s-style aviator glasses who thrust out his hand and eagerly introduced himself with a big grin and a heavy Western New York accent, “Howyadoin’, I’m Bob!”

At the time, many police departments didn’t have the formal field training and evaluation programs of today, and most in-service training was conducted by senior officers teaching their juniors the ropes through experiential learning and anecdotal information.

That night I was assigned to show our newest officer the city limits and get him familiar with the streets, point out the hot spots, and generally indoctrinate him on how to survive the physical and political hazards of small-town Florida.

If you’ve ever shared the confines of a patrol unit for hours-on-end with another officer then you know how fast, and how strong, a bond develops between partners in a business where you put your life in another person’s hands and promise to do the same for them.

Robert Nicol, Jr. was born in Coatbridge, Scotland, in 1948.

He was a former deputy with the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office in Canadaigua, New York, a small community in the Finger Lakes region.

Escaping the aftermath of a messy divorce, Bob fled New York as a newly minted single-father with three young children – two boys and a girl – and his mom in tow.

Settling in Holly Hill, Bob soon applied to the police department and was hired almost immediately by Chief Pat Finn, who was extremely impressed by Bob’s military background and his previous law enforcement experience.

During four-years in the U.S. Army, Bob served proudly in some of the most fierce fighting in Vietnam and was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat, the Bronze Star for valor and the Army Commendation Medal for his extraordinary service to our nation.

Bob Nicol was an American hero before he ever pinned on a badge.

Although twelve-years my senior, he had an energetic personality, contagious laugh and a great sense of humor that impressed me right away.  We quickly became friends, and since Bob didn’t know many people here, he and I spent a lot of time together talking, drinking, and inhabiting the bars and nightclubs of Daytona Beach.

When we weren’t working, you could find us perched at Club Mocambo, the Beachcomber, Silver Bucket, Full House or any of a dozen other illustrious local night spots, quite stylish in our leather Member’s Only jackets.

Unlike me, Bob was an affable, good-looking guy who always had a way with the ladies – and I benefited more times than I care to admit just from my association with him.

The stories and escapades are legendary, but perhaps better left for a different forum. . .

I learned a lot from Bob – personally and professionally.

He was a great father to his two young sons and beautiful daughter – and he doted on his mother, a brash Scot who spoke with a thick brogue and frequently made Shortbread cookies that I miss to this day.

Most of all, Bob was a damn good cop – smart, dedicated and tenacious.

It didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself in the local law enforcement community and, in May 1987, he was offered a sworn position as a deputy with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

It was a great professional development opportunity, and the job offered more money to support his children.

We discussed the pro’s and con’s, and late one shift Bob and I met door-to-door in our patrol cars in some parking lot near Ridgewood Avenue.  He told me he was going to take the job.  I congratulated him, we shook hands, then immediately began making plans to facilitate his move to Port St. John.

Bob and I remained great friends, even though our schedules and the hour-drive between us put a dent in our nightlife.

Probably for the best.

It wasn’t long before Bob proved himself a true asset to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.  He was respected and very well-liked by everyone who knew him.

He was a cops-cop, and the epitome of who you wanted stepping out of a police car in a dark alley when you really need help.

At approximately 4:00am on Saturday, September 19, 1987, Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was on patrol on U.S. 1, just south of State Road 405, when he made a “routine” (if there is such a thing) traffic stop.

During the encounter, Bob arrested the driver, Scott Roberts, 21, on traffic-related charges.

Further investigation found that one of the five passengers in the vehicle, later identified as Jeffrey Mason, a 24-year old landscaper living in Orlando, was in possession of less than 20-grams of marijuana.

Bob arrested him on the misdemeanor charge.

While Bob was securing Roberts in his patrol car and attempting to control the four others still inside the vehicle, Jeffrey Mason broke free and escaped custody – running across the divided highway with Deputy Nicol in close foot pursuit.

As they ran into the roadway, a vehicle traveling north swerved to avoid Mason and inadvertently struck Bob at high speed.

The force of the impact sent his body crashing into the windshield, catapulted him over the top of the moving car before throwing him to the pavement, witnesses said.

His neck was broken, and the base of his skull was crushed.

Bob was transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center where he remained in Intensive Care with severe traumatic brain damage.

After a manhunt involving some thirty law enforcement officers, Jeffrey Mason was found cowering in a wooded area near S.R. 405 and taken into custody without incident.

It was later determined that he was on probation in the State of Ohio for involuntary manslaughter stemming from a 1983 traffic crash which killed the passenger in his car.

On Wednesday, September 30, 1987, my friend Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. lost his courageous battle and died from injuries sustained in the line of duty twelve days earlier.

He left behind his mother, Pat Skindzier, and three children, ages 15, 8, and 5.

Brevard County Sheriff Jake Miller posthumously awarded Deputy Nicol the Medal of Valor for his actions that fateful morning – the highest honor bestowed on a law enforcement officer.

I will never forget the enormous number of law enforcement officers – all of us shining and resplendent in our Class A dress uniforms – who gathered for his funeral with full honors at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Titusville.

I openly wept for the first time in my young career over the flag-draped coffin of a fallen brother and friend.

Later, Nicol Park on US-1 in Port St. John was named in Bob’s honor.

A fitting tribute to a hero – but a tragic waste of an incredible soul.

It is a tradition in law enforcement and the military for brothers and sisters in arms to join in remembrance of our fallen comrades on days such as this to honor their service, sacrifice and friendship.

The name of Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. is inscribed on memorial panel 35-E: 8 at the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

robert_nicol_rubbing

“Remember! All who have served alongside them; we who have donned the same proud uniform, being sworn to the same faith and allegiance — We will never forget their sacrifice. Remember!”

On this Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day, I remember my friend Bob – and his great devotion and sacrifice –  along with all the men and women of law enforcement who have laid down their lives so that we may live in peace.

I hope you will too.

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: We’re not in this together

First, we were told the shutdown was about “flattening the curve.”

Now, it’s about “finding the cure.” 

The goalpost keeps moving.

In my view, it is not about a virus anymore – it’s about the money. . .

Earlier this week, the Volusia County Council took steps to accept $96,543,792 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds – and applied for an additional $1,021,988 from the Florida Department of Transportation for Votran’s Gold Paratransit services – along with $21,218,428 in Federal Transit Administration CARES Act relief for our public transportation provider.

I found it interesting that the resolution supporting the application and acceptance of these funds doesn’t include a factual basis of need, a breakdown of how these funds will be spent, who will oversee and audit the allocation, etc. – only that Volusia County “has the authority” to apply.

Look, I’m mathematically illiterate, but by my ciphering that’s $118,784,208 and we’re not even through “Phase 1” of something called “Relaunch Volusia.”

Earlier this week, I tried to read the glossy supplement touting the Relaunch Volusia program – I felt it important to learn the intricacies of how county government plans to use this cascade of federal dollars to breathe life into our local economy – and get the thousands of area residents who have been financially devastated by draconian local, state and federal response protocols back to work.

I turned to page one – “A Message from the Volusia County Council” – which began:

“The Volusia County Council is working tirelessly during these extraordinary times to address the unprecedented challenges we face as County Government and as a community. We’ve enacted policies to protect the public and our employees and ensure that critical services continue with little or no interruption.”

Then, I retched into my wastebasket and poured three-fingers of Irish Whiskey in my coffee cup. . .

I just couldn’t stomach that load of tripe.

In my view, it is telling when an elected body puts their own dubious “contributions” above the hardship and sacrifice of those they serve – and any bureaucrat with two synapses still firing knows the pitfalls of openly whining about how “tirelessly” elected officials (who haven’t lost a dime in salary or benefits since this shit show started) are “working,” while those they were elected to serve are suffering mightily.

Perhaps those clueless dullards on the Volusia County Council should have flipped the text of their staff-contrived narrative, which ended with the glaring afterthought:

“We also would like to thank the public for its cooperation, understanding and patience. We are truly all in this together, and we will make it through together to a better tomorrow!”

Bullshit.

From what I could gather, the remainder of the “Relaunch Volusia” plan contained loose metrics for reopening county government – you know, getting bureaucrats comfortably back in their cubicles – while creating more questions than answers on when you and I can expect our lives, businesses and livelihoods to return to whatever passes for “normal” in the aftermath of this debacle.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of the “we’re all in this together,” feel-good gibberish. . .

Because we’re not.

While Volusia County government takes delivery of some $119 million in federal aid, small businesses, hospitality workers, home-based enterprises, personal service professionals, etc., who have unfairly carried this lopsided response on their shoulders continue to suffer while waiting for benefits.

I recently saw a post on social media where a business-owner announced that the company she built with her own hands was closing permanently due to the financial pressures of the government-imposed shutdown.

Admittedly, I got emotional watching the now unemployed entrepreneur (who won’t qualify for assistance) explain how she was taking a “day for grieving” before deciding what comes next.

How terribly sad. . .

This week, during yet another “special” meeting, the Volusia County Council finally approved a program that applies a paltry $10 million – divided into $3,000 grants – to struggling small businesses who meet ever-changing government-mandated criteria and can “document” an economic loss of $3K or more – although a week ago we were warned that grant funds could not be used for lost wages or revenue – so, I guess the actual permitted use will remain a mystery for now.

If you think your small business qualifies, the first-come-first-served Thunderdome competition begins this morning at http://www.volusiabusinessresources.com

As I understand it, the current version of the program limits “assistance” – whatever that ultimately means – to just 3,300 small businesses out of the 12,000 currently struggling to do business in Volusia County.

I found it interesting that the same explanation of need and other documentary requirements don’t apply equally to the avalanche of federal dollars Volusia County is receiving now that county staffers have interpreted CARES Act guidelines to mean the funds can be used for just about anything creative bureaucrats can link to COVID-19. . .

Still think any of this is about us?     

In my view, the needs of those who pay the bills and attempt to “communicate” our concerns to our elected representatives through email messages and video technology – artificial input that is openly dismissed as an annoyance as they legally flaunt the spirit of our open meeting law – are unimportant to our elected and appointed officials.

Apparently, so long as The Monarchy continues to greedily extend the “State of Emergency” every seven-days – anything goes.

Meanwhile, as Volusia County officials continue to stuff the coffers with federal funds – thousands of area residents continue to languish in breadlines, seeking sustenance for their hungry families, as many fall victim to a “recovery” that is proving to be just as disjointed as the “response.”

Tragic.

Incredibly, in last Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, we were clued-in to a recent study that proved, “…among the most affected are income-constrained families who face a greater risk for financial ruin.”  

No kidding? 

Apparently, those who are living at or below the poverty line are at greater risk of financial disaster that those “essentials” who have experienced little, if any, inconvenience over the past eight-weeks.

Who would’ve thunk it?

Not surprisingly, that “study” also found that some 72,519 households in Volusia County met the textbook definition of “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” as of 2018, the last year data was available for review (say what?).

Collateral damage in the “war on an invisible enemy” that is proving incredibly lucrative for Volusia County government.

And don’t expect anyone currently in power to do anything about it – not so long as the bucket brigade of federal relief funds continues to consume our elected and appointed officials in the bunker at the “TCK” building in DeLand.

One thing remains clear – a self-serving bureaucracy will always take care of its own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Avalon Defined

Avalon

In Celtic mythology, the isle of the dead, an island paradise in the western seas where, according to Arthurian legend, King Arthur and other heroes are taken after death

In Volusia County, it’s a place where our quality of life goes to die. . .

Just five months ago, Volusia County residents awoke to an article by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s business reporter Clayton Park announcing “Latitude Margaritaville is about to get a big new neighbor.”  

We were told that an Orlando-based developer – a smiling Swiss named Beat Kahli – who does business as Avalon Park Group and the Switzerland-based SiteEx Properties Holding, was purchasing some 2,600 acres on the south side of State Road 40, west of Interstate 95, from Tymber Creek Road west to Tiger Bay State Forest.

The deal is being hashed out between Avalon Park Group, and the good ol’ boys investment club over at Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company, for an undisclosed amount.

The “plan” calls for building thousands of homes, townhouses and apartments, along with one million square feet of commercial space – immediately adjacent to the massive sprawl that is the faux beach community of Latitude Margaritaville and Mosaic – developments that have consumed thousands of acres atop our aquifer recharge areas (read: the source of our drinking water) off LPGA Boulevard.

Last December, our new friend the Smiling Swiss told Mr. Park, “We are not just developers, we’re town builders.”

Apparently, these “towns” conveniently fail to provide public infrastructure, emergency services and utilities – parasitically drawing off their neighbors existing resources while contributing to traffic and sprawl.

Instead, Avalon Park Group’s practice is to fund required infrastructure through “public/private partnerships,” which, in our experience here on the Fun Coast, typically means the use of public funds to underwrite a developer’s private profit motives.

That includes the variation on the theme proposed by Mr. Kahli, whereby a publicly backed bond would be repaid with property taxes and impact fees – leaving existing residents saddled with maintenance, upkeep and expansion in perpetuity.

I have a problem with that.

By any metric, the City of Daytona Beach has assumed a growth at all cost strategy that continues to place thousands of homes, apartments, shopping and businesses on “Boomtown Boulevard” – constructing “New Daytona” in the pine scrub west of I-95 – while ignoring the festering blight and dilapidation in Midtown, core tourist areas of the beachside and beyond.

Now, to sweeten the deal and make his “city within a city” more tempting to area politicians, Mr. Kahli is offering to replace the pinch-point on LPGA Boulevard – the two-lane bridge spanning the threatened Tomoka River – and construct an overpass at Hand Avenue.

In my view, last year’s no-holds-barred push for a half-cent sales tax increase, a shameless money grab that we all knew would be earmarked for more development, rather than existing transportation needs, should have told Mr. Kahli that we’re not ready for his aggressive style of development – despite what he may have been told by those lame ducks City Manager Jim Chisholm and our doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley. . .

Perhaps Mr. Kahli should understand that Volusia County has gotten development wrong for years.

Our politicians have kowtowed to every whim of developers and builders who own the paper on their political souls, including the almost criminal suppression of impact fees while squandering precious transportation infrastructure funds on ‘roads to nowhere’ and allowing massive growth with little planning, management or concern for our environment.

Now, residents of the Halifax area are legitimately concerned about what thousands of new residents and commercial space massed on the southern border of Ormond Beach will mean for our limited civic resources, roads and utilities – and how it will impact our dwindling quality of life.

For now, it seems only Mr. Chisholm and Mr. Kelley have been given direct access to the hard facts surrounding Avalon Park Daytona – the dynamic duo of deception – and this one is far too important for their unique brand of political chicanery.

Before this project takes one additional step forward, it is time for complete transparency on the development’s transportation planning, our future and existing needs – and clear guidance on how Mr. Kahli plans to pay for it all.

__________________________________

Please join me this afternoon as Barker’s View joins GovStuff Live with Big John beginning at 4:00pm!

We’ll be taking your calls and discussing the important issues facing us here on Florida’s Fun Coast on the fastest two-hours in radio!

Tune in locally at 1380am “The Cat” – or on the World Wide Web at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button)

Thanks in advance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Truth in Advertising?

When District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post first took office, I supported everything she represented – a counterpoint to the entrenched status quo, an emerging maverick who refused to be pigeonholed or forced into lockstep conformity by the ‘Good ol’ Boy’ network that has controlled everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast for decades.

I didn’t have much hope for the rest of those dullards on the dais – but I put a lot of faith in Ms. Post.

She became a political punching bag – the target of her “colleagues” political ire as they tried desperately to pound a square peg into the round hole of conformity – and a lightening rod for time-wasting controversy.

I am still enamored with the ideal Ms. Post represented to many – an independent voice who seeks the truth, serves in the public interest, stands up to political bullies, embraces the concept of fairness and fights mightily to give taxpayers a true voice in their government.

To many, she was our best hope for something resembling a representative democracy.

Then, I watched as she slowly changed into something different.

While continuing to mouth the words many of us wanted to hear, when it came down to it, Ms. Post invariably voted in mindless agreement with the majority – something that became hard for her supporters to swallow – especially when those votes helped take away more of our century old heritage of beach driving or involved development issues that adversely impact our quality of life.

Then, she stopped talking to the working press altogether – choosing instead to communicate with the world exclusively through a canned social media presence where she alone controls the message.

I found it reclusive and weird – a one-way barrier which protected her from political criticism by releasing only what she wanted her constituents to hear – using the distance to help cultivate the image of a professional political victim.

Initially, I chalked this chameleon-like ability to change with the prevailing winds up to inexperience – a desire to be all things to all voters – then, I recognized it for what it is:

Shameless self-promotion which plays on the average citizens short political memory.

Not that this peculiar personality trait hasn’t become a prerequisite for public office at all levels of government – it has.  But with Ms. Post, it quickly became so flagrant that it was repellent for the many long-suffering residents and civic activists who had hoped for more.

Frankly, the political posturing and preening by Ms. Post and other members up for reelection became a serious distraction during Volusia County’s response to COVID-19 – complete with Facebook manifestos, the release of half-baked information outside official public information protocols and insisting on weekly meetings to allow for political exposure – even if it undercut the authority granted to County Manager George Recktenwald by the emergency declaration.

I didn’t think this pretentious horseshit could get much deeper. . .

Then, earlier this week, a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe asked if I had seen a photograph Ms. Post published to her social media page on the National Day of Prayer – an annual event formally recognizing the importance of prayer by all faiths to the health, safety and cohesiveness of our nation.

The well-crafted photograph appears to depict The Very Reverend Heather Post standing dutifully in the pulpit – a heavenly light bathing her in a soft beatific glow from a stained-glass crucifix – giving the perfect impression to anyone observing that she was witnessing to devout congregants on our National Day of Prayer. . .

The only problem – it was a sham – in my view, the ecclesiastical equivalent of Stolen Valor.

The photograph appears to have been taken at the Riverview United Methodist Church during a September 6, 2019 town hall to discuss septic-to-sewer conversions in Ormond-by-the-Sea – not a National Day of Prayer event.

Don’t take my word for it – ask anyone who was there.

Or better yet, ask Ms. Post.

The concerned reader (who, by the way, is a confirmed supporter of the Councilwoman) was rightly offended by the fact Ms. Post used the photograph to insinuate she was engaged in a National Day of Prayer event – when others couldn’t – due to quarantine and social isolation.

Why? 

Because the sentiments that accompanied the ethereal photograph on Facebook said, “On this #NationalPrayerDay Whomever it is you pray to, join me in saying a prayer that our protectors be strong, our sick be healed, our children be loved, and that all be blessed. #VolusiaCountyDistrict4

The National Day of Prayer reference set the stage – and because this is an election year – the #VolusiaCountyDistrict4 made it political.

When I saw the misapplication for myself, I was stunned.

This was over-the-top.  Even for a Volusia County election season.

Look, I’m the sheep that got lost – an unrepentant sinner just trying to do the right thing in a world gone mad – but even a lowlife like me can see this self-serving stunt is wrong on a number of levels.

I don’t agree with District 5 representative Dr. Fred Lowry’s politics – but he holds advanced degrees in Religious Studies and New Testament Theology – and has actively and tended his flock at a Deltona church since 1993.

If Dr. Lowry wants to exploit his pastoral standing for political gain – that is his right as an active, long-time member of the clergy.  After all, he answered a higher calling and dedicated his life to the ministerial care of his congregation.

It is equally within bounds for former Volusia County Sheriff and current council member Ben Johnson to use his decades of honorable law enforcement service to his political advantage – because he has earned that privilege.

And, if the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys wants to hold herself out as a shameless developer’s shill – have at it!

She’s earned that right as well. . .

Unfortunately, when it comes to Volusia County government – Ms. Post isn’t the only poseur holding high positions of responsibility – and their ham-fisted official response to the coronavirus outbreak has exposed the depth of this ineptitude and dysfunction with horrifying regularity.

I don’t know why this campaign tactic bothers me – but it does.

Perhaps, like many of you, I’m sick and tired of those who were elected to represent our interests engaging in these clumsy attempts to pull the wool over our eyes with cheap political posturing – especially during a “State of Emergency” that is crushing small business and leaving thousands of hungry families standing in breadlines – grasping at any shred of truth they can find.

Welcome to the “new reality,” folks. . .

 

 

Angels & Assholes for May 8, 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           Gannett

Change is inevitable.  I get it.

But I don’t have to like it.

There is no denying that The Daytona Beach News-Journal is morphing into a weird amalgam of information and pap – something akin to a regionalized USA Today – which I’ve always considered news light – something to pass the time while waiting for your boarding call.

I suppose we should have expected it when our long-time local newspaper was caught up in the merger of two massive conglomerates – GateHouse Media and the Gannett Company – which created “…a nation-blanketing print and digital giant, with more than 260 daily newspapers and hundreds more websites and community and weekly newspapers stretching across 47 states.” 

When local newspapers are gobbled up by mass media holding companies, the community aspect is naturally replaced by something different – something homogenized and bland – as the immense talent of our hometown reporters and editorialists becomes diluted with pools, research groups, downsizing and weird computational reporting, where news stories emerge from a faceless database, eliminating the need for shoe leather journalism.

While I don’t always agree with News-Journal editor Pat Rice – or the views of his editorial board – this transformation is not his fault.

Sometimes, when I take a view which differs from the newspaper’s editorial stance, a few people misinterpret that to mean I dislike Mr. Rice – or the newspaper he runs – and that is simply not true.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal will always be “my newspaper.”

The daily broadsheet I grew up with that taught me to read critically and think analytically – the common denominator that allowed my late father and I to bond as we discussed our often-divergent thoughts on the issues of the day.

In my view, the purpose of the editorial page – and this blog site – is to provoke a larger discussion of the issues, to stimulate the debate of competing ideas, agitate, persuade, even “stir the pot” on occasion – or, in the case of the incomparable scribe Mark Lane, to use humor to enlighten us.

The fact is, I like disagreeing – even arguing – with people who are smarter than me.

That’s how I learn.

And I’m still of the shrinking view that we can have wildly conflicting opinions on politics – or the social, civic and economic challenges we face – and remain friends.

Last Friday, I took offense to a nationally distributed editorial which originated from some nameless editorialist at the Gannett flagship USA Today and republished in the News-Journal entitled, “Reverse the anti-science pandemic.”

“Of all the emotions, none motivates like fear. It is not reason or civic virtue that is keeping people indoors.

It is, rather, fear — fear of dying in a hospital without a ventilator or of spreading disease to a loved one.

Fear is also often behind big shifts in society and public policy. In fact, America’s future prosperity could well depend on its ability to use the coronavirus pandemic and the fear it engenders for positive results.”

Bullshit.

This ill-thought tripe began an essay which attempted to link the coronavirus outbreak with climate change – but what it ultimately achieved was to give readers an inadvertent glimpse into the mindset of our nation’s largest newspaper chain.

What a ghastly view of the human condition.

What telling insight into how this media behemoth thinks and the motivational forces it embraces.

The use of “fear” as a change agent for whatever the giant considers “positive results.”

In my view, that truly is terrifying.

I happen to believe that Americans have acquitted themselves admirably during this challenge – uniting in a common goal of “flattening the curve,” protecting those most vulnerable and taking steps to physically isolate while remaining socially and civically connected.

And we have found creative ways to support healthcare professionals and first responders serving and protecting at great personal risk – providing assistance to those on the front line in this “war on the invisible threat.”

When threatened – Americans fight to preserve our way of life – and our nationwide willingness to join together during times of emergency speaks to our unique sense of pride, patriotism and sacrifice – a willingness to protect something greater than our own self-interests.

And many have engaged in this struggle at dreadful cost to their personal finances and business interests.

Hold your heads high! 

Our individual and collective response to this pandemic has shown incredible courage – heroic personal and professional contributions, large and small, that represent the very antithesis of panic and trepidation.

In my view, no “positive result” was ever based on fear.

What truly frightens me is that, in the not to distant future, I may not have a local opinion to disagree with – an editor to bicker with over the issues of the day – or a “community” newspaper to call my own.

Replaced by a gargantuan fearmonger that pushes its version of the “news” to the masses through a lockstep network of hundreds of outlets across the nation – and shapes public policy, right down to the local level – with hyper-sensationalized horseshit designed to instill terror in the American heart and mind.

Angel               Consortium of Fitness Centers

Small businesses have taken the fight against COVID-19 squarely on the chin.

That includes fitness centers, personal trainers, martial arts studios and neighborhood micro-gyms have unduly shouldered much of the burden and suffered the economic ravages of our state and local governments biased response to the outbreak.

Last week, a consortium of fifteen local, privately owned businesses, who provide essential health and fitness services to our community, issued an open letter to the Volusia County Council on behalf of some 112 employees who were financially devastated when these small facilities were erroneously categorized under the same umbrella as massive corporate “gyms.”

During the lock-down, many of these companies attempted to safely provide for the health of their customers through virtual workouts and other online services – now, they are rightfully asking our ‘powers that be’ to allow them to initiate a well-thought step-by-step process for safely reopening their businesses in the face of “…losing thousands of dollars weekly with little-to-no rent abatement, delayed or denied federal loans, and mounting operating costs.”

Fortunately, it appears Volusia County is working on a program which will put some $10 million in federal relief funds, in the form of $3,000 grants, in the hands of strapped small businesses – many of which are on the ragged edge of closing their doors forever.

Of course, there will be government-defined parameters for how business-owners can spend the funds – but anything helps.

With luck, the Volusia County Council will vote to approve this much needed assistance during their “special meeting” on Tuesday.

In the groups cogent plea for help authored by Bobby Wise of Delta Life Fitness in Daytona Beach, the consortium summed up the frustrations of many:

“We ask the Volusia County Council to consider the damage caused to our civil liberties as business owners. The State has essentially decided that they know what is best for private industry and for consumers. This philosophy violates every American principle of self-determination, free market economics, and the Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Amen.    

In my view, these truths apply equally to bars, nightclubs, hair salons, barber shops, boutiques and specialty stores, restaurants and the many other businesses who were left to die a slow, painful death by tyrannical decrees.

Here’s hoping these desperate cries for help do not fall on deaf ears – and much-needed funds are quickly routed where they are needed most.

It’s time to get Volusia County back to work.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

I am getting tired of being lectured by compromised elected officials’ intent on telegraphing how they plan to vote on critical changes to comprehensive plans and zoning issues before We, The People have had a chance to provide required public input.

They puff out their pompous chests and crow about how their hand-picked appointees and hangers-on which occupy various “growth management” commissions and “land development” boards have unanimously approved modifications – a political insulation ploy that always includes the pernicious practice of ensuring the legitimate concerns of taxpayers are dismissed as “misinformation.”

These changes always place our sensitive environment and diminishing quality of life in jeopardy – while making it infinitely easier for developers to seek tax-based giveaways, publicly funded infrastructure improvements and engage in sham “hurt here, help there” programs to legally facilitate the destruction of our environment.

(Trust me – when “…it can be demonstrated to be in the overriding public interest,” (read: greed) some of the most threatened estuaries, wetlands, lagoons and wildlife habitats in the nation don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. . .)

All while kowtowing to the self-serving needs of phony-baloney “economic development” shills whose uninspired sleight-of-hand always includes the use of public funds to underwrite private profit motives.

On Tuesday, in her long-winded lead-up to a motion postponing a vote on the issue, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys droned on, ad nauseam, about the need to turn the whole of southwest Volusia into a Commercial Space Opportunity Overlay District.

The changes to the comp plan ostensibly serve to incentivize and expedite approval of a wide range of aerospace industries – and capture the accompanying “high paying jobs” we are always promised but never materialize – by ensuring our tax dollars fund the private infrastructure needs of Buck Rogers and Company.

In his cogent response during what passed for public input, Jeff Brower, who is aggressively challenging Ms. Denys for Volusia County Chair, spoke for many in Volusia when he said:

“What should be made clear is that limited tax dollars and infrastructure monies is not fast tracked to incentivize new businesses while Volusia residents and existing businesses continue to suffer from a lack of maintenance and upgrades.”

In response, the ultimate bureaucrat, Clay Ervin, our director of growth management (whose gross incompetence and malleability became evident when he told area mayors not to “reinvent the wheel” on smart growth), supported Old Ed’s predetermined position by quibbling that the changes do not necessarily promise incentives.

“There’s no formal commitment of any expenditure for money for any job at this point,” Ervin said.

At this point? 

No shit.  The proposed changes haven’t even gone through the eyewash/formality of a vote – but you can bet your bippy those who stand to benefit most are champing at the bit to get these changes in place so the incentivization of potential marks can begin. . .

Last year, in the frenzied drive for the failed half-cent sales tax increase, the star-crossed  municipalities identified hundreds of critical transportation infrastructure projects – current and future needs that remain stagnant and unfunded – pressing needs that represent a clear and present threat to our quality of life.

In my view, before we spend one more dime in public funds to support the infrastructure needs or offer tax abatement for “the next big thing,” perhaps our ‘powers that be’ should begin the difficult process of living within their means in this strange “new reality” they have created – and prioritizing existing resources to meet the needs of current residents.

Quote of the Week

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

–Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, responding to a question by WFTV reporter Mike Springer regarding the closure of public restrooms to beach goers, Monday, May 4, 2020

Last week, I took our doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley to the woodshed for his flippant answer to a logical question by the intrepid WFTV-9 investigative reporter Mike Springer, when he asked:

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

Now, Mr. Kelley claims his dim-witted remark was a joke – and Mr. Springer took the Chairman’s answer in jest – but I just could not let it go.

Look, I have the weirdest and broadest sense of humor anyone could imagine – and I can find something inappropriately funny in the darkest situation – but making light of a poorly thought official decision to open Volusia County beaches to thousands of visitors, while keeping public restrooms padlocked, was cruel – and exemplified the institutional ineptitude we’ve come to expect from our county government.

“Hey, let those hapless peons’ shit in the ocean.” 

What a knee-slapper, right?

I guess that’s why I didn’t find the situation quite as amusing as Chairman Kelley – and given his propensity for making mean-spirited declarations at the most inopportune time – anything is possible. . .

Then, rather than admit a mistake and move on, our resident beach safety “expert,” Chief Ray Manchester, barefacedly tried to cover Kelley’s ass when he said, “Due to challenges with decontamination, the public restrooms remain closed.  These facilities present a challenge because they create an opportunity for the easy spread of germs and bacteria.”

Say what?

According to photographs that readers have sent me in the past, these off-beach restrooms typically look like a fetid Third-World squat-hole, where you take your health and safety in your own hands on a good day. . .

Now, they’re worried about cleanliness? 

Look, Votran, our county’s public transportation service, has been operating with minimal precautionary measures – no hand sanitizer or wipes available to riders, no enforcement of social distancing requirements, etc. – while countless “essential” businesses, like groceries, big box stores and gas stations have kept their restrooms open since the COVID-19 lock-down began.

These companies didn’t turn their facilities into some posh Ritz-Carlton style toilette, with a washroom attendant to freshen things up and offer a spritz of cologne, mouthwash and mints – they simply opened for business and expected customers to wash their hands and practice good personal hygiene.

So, I asked the logical question:

Why can’t ostensibly bright people – who County Manager George Recktenwald has held out as the “best team in the state” – professionals who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – find a way to open public restrooms for the personal convenience of beach goers?

Then – suddenly – in the great tradition of exploration and discovery of Pasteur, Edison, Newton and Einstein – midweek we witnessed a monumental breakthrough! 

On Wednesday afternoon, Old Ed stood proudly at a lectern in the bowels of the Volusia County Emergency Operations Center and belched his way through a prepared statement – congratulating his own performance for ramrodding the opening of off-beach restrooms (effective tomorrow) – complete with paid “porters” who, I guess, will loiter around bathrooms wiping things down when you’re done wiping things down. . .

Whatever.

Kudos to those dedicated county executives and elected officials who boldly went above and beyond the call, spending countless hours and sparing no expense in researching, brainstorming and burning the midnight oil to devise a solution to this conundrum wrapped in an enigma – ultimately solving the infinite mystery of how to turn the key on an outhouse door.

And Another Thing!

Unlike her cantankerous son, if anyone has ever spoken a bad word about my mother – I have never heard it.

Admittedly, I’m biased – but she’s hard not to like.

An authentic free spirit with a quick laugh and comedic sense of humor that draws people like moths to a bright, inviting light.

Standing five-foot-nothing at an incredibly young 85 – she tools around town in her wholly inappropriate jet-black pick-up truck like some diminutive badass – and her mind remains much sharper than what remains of my own hop-laden gray matter.

Billie Mae Barker is a world-class raconteur, who loves regaling everyone she meets with stories of when she dated Elvis Presley in the 1950’s, holding her audience in awe with a thick hillbilly accent and a razor wit that perfectly complements an encyclopedic memory.

Like my grandmother before her, my mom is the funniest person I know – a personality that finds the lighter side of any situation – and makes you feel better just being in her presence through an innate ability to find the silver lining.

Something I find both interesting, and infinitely confounding, is the depth and eclectic variety of those she counts among her countless friends.

I know like five people.  She knows everyone!

In fact, many of the politicians and ‘movers and shakers’ I take to the woodshed on this site count my mother among their friends – and always ask for her with genuine interest, or relate a funny story, whenever I speak with them.

Then, they invariably question how a daft asshole like me could possibly have originated from that wonderful woman.

I must admit – that remains a mystery to me too. . .

Fortunately, through the gift of time, my mom has had the chance to enjoy her many grandchildren – and now, great grandchildren – imprinting upon each of them the same depth of love, pursuit of fun and zest for life my sister and I inherited.

I am forever grateful for that gift.

Throughout the incalculability of space and time, God found the perfect mother for me.

And that is why I can never repay him for the enormous favors and blessings he has brought to my life through her presence.

I also want to wish my long-suffering wife, Patti, a very Happy Birthday this weekend!

Trust me.  If there was ever a living saint, she’s it.

And I love her beyond words. . .

Here’s wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to my wife and mom – and all mothers out there as we approach their special day.

That includes all those loving moms who care for their precious fur babies!

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

 

 

On Volusia: Don’t Forget to Flush!

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, I did my best to sound the klaxon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It defies reason.    

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

What gives? 

This couldn’t have been intentional, right?  

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

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

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

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

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

They got the ocean?

Let that sink in for a moment. . .

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

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

Seriously?

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

My God.

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

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

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

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

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

What a shit show.  (Literally.)

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

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

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

 

 

On Volusia: Sorting Fact from Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scary, right? 

Well, welcome to our collective nightmare. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off beach parking remains restricted.

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

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

You read that right.

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

What a crock of shit (literally).