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Mark Barker

Did you watch the State of the County address this week? Me neither.

I just couldn’t bring myself to waste another hour of my life being schmoozed by smiling elected and appointed public officials, who, after gorging themselves on a “free lunch” paid for by government contractors (hoping We, The Little People won’t notice how badly it reeks of reciprocation), try to convince us how great we all have it here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

From what I’ve read in the funny papers, it sounds like County Chair Jeff Brower expended a lot of hot air trying to convince himself (because none of the “Who’s Who” of Volusia County give two-s**** what he has to say) that after being publicly humiliated and politically castrated by Volusia’s Old Guard for the past three years, somehow he still holds out hope for “working cooperatively for positive change” (?).

Of course, the spectacle was punctuated by an incredibly expensive choreographed production emphasizing how this wholly compromised system somehow “works for us.”

Honestly, I just could not do it this year…

According to reports, Chairman Brower went on one of his ineffective but passionate rants about “controlling growth” — now that malignant sprawl has all but overtaken the width and breadth of Volusia County. And you can bet there was happy talk of “responsible development” — a subjective term that, to many sitting politicians, means it is irresponsible not to monetize every square inch of this sandy piece of land, flora, fauna, and existing residents be damned.

I think I would have had greater respect for Chairman Brower if he had simply approached the podium, held his head in his hands, and openly wept for three minutes…

I was also baffled by a section in the pageant’s 45-page glossy program that clearly misplaced low-impact development under the “Protecting natural resources” section. Volusia County government has been kicking the rusty low-impact development can down the dusty political road for years — no closer to requiring developers to adopt runoff management, pollution control, and effective flood protection measures now than they were five years ago when our Director of Growth and Resource Mismanagement Clay Ervin first hit the trail with his dog-and-pony shows.

In keeping with the redundant (and repugnant) year-over-year smoke screen of “Things are looking up!” Brower ended with the sanguine trope:

“That’s who we are. We are a special place and a special people. It is that love for place and neighbors that can make our county — with God’s help — the best place to live, work and blah, blah, blah…”

Sadly, we’ve heard it all before.

I prefer to trust that which I see with my own eyes, rather than what some slick tax-funded agitprop would have me believe.

As someone who pays attention to our deteriorating surroundings, ruminates on the effects of uncontrolled sprawl while trapped in four light cycles at (insert East Volusia intersection here), sees the abysmal condition of our beach and core tourist area, stands slack-jawed amid reports that inmates have been tacked out nude in the inner recesses of the county jail, drives by massive glass-and-steel monuments to corporate welfare, reviews campaign finance reports to identify who (and what) is controlling my destiny, watches as residents are bled dry with fees and taxes while humbly begging permission for a three-minute audience with their exalted monarchy, and looks on helplessly while what remains of our wildlife habitat and green space is slashed-and-burned to satiate some greedhead’s perverse idea of “progress” as hundreds of our neighbors’ homes repeatedly flood due to overdevelopment. It takes a lot more than a slick video and a neutered politician in a garish necktie to change my perceptions.

In my jaded view, the true state of Volusia County is a harsh reality for those working hard to feed and house families in this artificial economy, and the daily experience of many of our neighbors is a far cry from the shameless puffery and hoopla staged on Tuesday.

Better luck next year.

— Barker writes a blog, usually about local government, at A retired police chief, Barker says he lives as a semi-recluse in an arrogantly shabby home in coastal Central Florida, with his wife and two dogs. This is excerpted from his blog, lightly edited (he swears a lot) and reprinted with his permission.


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