Category Archives: politics

DeBary defends $4M in drainage upgrades targeted by Stephen Bacon

DeBary’s long-established drainage campaign will continue for now after a failed attempt by City Council member Stephen Bacon to seek a referendum on $4 million of expenditures.

Stephen Bacon
Stephen Bacon
Lita Handy Peters
Lita Handy Peters

“This issue has been discussed and reviewed enough … This is ridiculous,” Vice Mayor Lita Handy-Peters said of Bacon’s concerns.

Bacon on Wednesday frustrated his colleagues as the only member to raise concerns about an issue called he called “contingent liabilities” that he feared could interfere with DeBary’s ability to borrow money.

“You do not have contingent liabilities,” interim City Manager Ron McLemore assured council members. City auditors have no concerns, and DeBary’s financial position, including borrowing ability, remains strong, he said.

A majority of council members, including Bacon, on Wednesday eventually voted to table his concerns indefinitely.

A contingent liability, according to Investopedia, “is a potential liability that may occur, depending on the outcome of an uncertain future event.”

Bacon is the only council member to consider the $4 million package of roughly 36 projects separate from the overall effort to improve DeBary’s drainage launched more than a decade ago.

Drainage woes

DeBary voters in 2006 approved bonds to upgrade stormwater after widespread flooding in 2004 and 2008.

DeBary flooding
DeBary flooding

The floods destroyed property, causing millions in damage, and revealed dramatically inadequate, incomplete, broken and non-existent drainage citywide.

They happened in new and old areas alike, sending water into homes that were not in flood zones or wetlands.

Some blamed the county, which approved growth in DeBary before it became a city on Jan. 1, 1994. DeBary was criticized, as well as regional water managers and other agencies.

DeBary flooding
Torrential rain from Tropical Storm Fay flooded this neighborhood lake, forcing many people from their homes in DeBary. George Armstrong/FEMA

Others blamed unusually heavy rainfall, including a tropical storm, that would have overwhelmed even the best drainage system.

Some say it was a complex problem with multiple contributing factors.

The most important takeaway, most city officials have said consistently, is to make reasonable drainage upgrades to prevent floods in the future.

“The city assumed the responsibility to protect its citizens from damage like this. Nobody’s built houses in wetlands. Nobody’s built houses in unimproved areas,” DeBary resident Howard Gates told council members. The projects questioned by Bacon are largely located in sections of the city build years ago without modern drainage systems.

“To suggest the city should not take this on is preposterous,” Gates added.

‘They should make the decision’

Bacon is the first DeBary City Council member to publicly question the program to this degree.

Stephen Bacon
Stephen Bacon

Bacon, who took office in January 2017, said he consulted with a certified public accounting firm and “they say we should not touch this project unless we are liable for this situation.”

He had planned to have a representative from the firm attend Wednesday’s meeting but that didn’t happen.

“It’s a contingent liability,” Bacon insisted. “It wasn’t a contingent liability when it wasn’t defined but now it’s defined and the accountant can give an opinion. That’s why I asked for him to be here. Our city manager is not an accountant. He can’t give a professional opinion [about] how it’s going to be reflected on the financial statement. So this is not a small-change item. It’s $4 million. The people – this is the people’s money. They should make the decision.  Not five of us on the council. They should make the decision. That’s what this is all about.”

2006 voter approval

Other council members say they are simply following through on an existing voter mandate, previous City Council policies and DeBary’s state-approved growth plan calling for adequate drainage.

They said voters already voiced support for stormwater upgrades when they voted to tax themselves for a drainage-improvement campaign in 2006.

That vote approved $10 million in bonds specifically for stormwater upgrades.

Those funds, along with grants and other sources of revenue, have been combined over the years, resulting in roughly $30 million worth of projects and better drainage.

Homeowners in DeBary pay $192 annually for stormwater for homes on public roads.

The fee was enacted in 2005 at $84 per home and raised to its current level in 2015.

‘Bean counter’ concerns

The city has completed most of its major drainage projects and it is now focusing on a collection of smaller projects, mostly clustered in DeBary’s oldest neighborhoods in the southeast area.

About nine of those 36 smaller projects have been completed.

McLemore told council members it wouldn’t be fair to stop the program now.

In fact, it would require a change to DeBary’s adequate-drainage policy in its growth plan.

Moreover, some people have paid into the program for years and have yet to get the benefit. Many of the uncompleted projects are in lower-value, older homes occupied by seniors, said McLemore, dismissing Bacon’s “bean counter” concerns.

Moral responsibility

Ron McLemore
Ron McLemore

“Millions of dollars have been spent on it. Most of the job has been done. This is to finish up the program with smaller less expensive projects. But if it’s your house involved, it’s important,” McLemore said. “You do it as a matter of a moral responsibility and to treat people in your city equally.”

City officials say all the work they’ve done so far has helped prevent flooding.

Nearly 12 inches of rain fell during Hurricane Irma last year and no homes flooded.

Tropical Storm Fay in 2008 dumped close to 24 inches of rain in 24 hours on parts of West Volusia in 2008, overflowing lakes, putting streets underwater and flooding 130 homes in DeBary.

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DeBary mayoral race wide open with Bob Garcia’s departure

Kind words and gratitude followed after Bob Garcia announced his political retirement last week.

But the full impact of his move on DeBary’s election landscape remained unclear this weekend.

Political newcomer Louis Sweet of DeBary-based Sweets PC Consulting launched his campaign for mayor last year and remains the lone announced candidate.

Louis Sweet
Louis Sweet

However, a few other unspecified names are “floating around,” according to DeBary resident Patricia Stevenson, who ran unsuccessfully for Seat 2 in 2016.

Hopefuls should announce soon.

“It shouldn’t be long now that Garcia has bowed out,” Stevenson said.

DeBary City Council member Mike Brady said he has not heard of any other possible candidates but noted that it is a bit early to commit.

Garcia, most recently elected in January 2017, said he will serve the remainder of his term, which expires on Dec. 31.

He previously served from 2009 to 2014.

Mike Brady
Mike Brady

“Bob represented our city very well for many years and he will be missed,” Brady noted. “He is someone I am proud to call my friend.”

Asked if he had heard of any other mayoral hopefuls, DeBary City Council member Stephan Bacon said:  “An organization is

Stephen Bacon
Stephen Bacon

only as good as it’s leadership and at this time I have no prospects in mind that I would endorse for Mayor.”

Candidates have until June to officially qualify, and open seats generally draw multiple competitors.

The next mayor will most certainly play a key role in shaping the future of DeBary.

It’s a city that’s been bruised by small-town political scandals and lawsuits amid unresolved financial challenges and increasingly intense growth pressure from Central Florida.

Some have speculated that former Mayor Clint Johnson – ousted by his colleagues in 2016 – will attempt to retake his seat this year.

Clint JohnsonHe hasn’t responded to messages about his political future.

Two other positions – Seats 3 and 4 – are up for grabs this year.  Phyllis Butlien and  William Sell are running for Seat 4. No one is running for Seat 3 right now.

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DeBary Mayor Bob Garcia: I’m not running again

This year’s election season just took a surprise turn after Mayor Bob Garcia announced his political retirement.

Bob Garcia
Bob Garcia

During Wednesday’ s City Council meeting — the first of the New Year — Garcia revealed he would not seek another term.

“It’s been wonderful serving you,” Garcia said. The move leaves only one officially declared candidate – Louis Sweet — though an open seat will likely draw more hopefuls with months before the election.

Garcia, 67, was most recently elected a year ago, defeating two other challengers for the vacancy created by Clint Johnson’s removal from office.

Johnson was removed after four other City Council members said he violated the charter by trying to direct staffers. Johnson lost an appeal to overturn the decision and return to office.

Garcia said he will serve the remainder of his term, which ends on Dec. 31.

Garcia previously served as mayor from 2009 to 2014.

He resigned effective June 2014 to run an unsuccessful bid for the state House.

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DeBary, other cities eye e-filing option for candidates

In DeBary’s early days, you had to comb through candidates’ campaign reports by hand if you wanted to know about their finances.

You could only do it in person at City Hall during regular business hours.

Now the reports are online.

But the documents are in a clunky format – PDFs – making them harder to digest than streamlined electronic reports provided by county, state and federal officials.

Now, for the first time, Volusia County’s supervisor of elections is inviting cities to share her modern reporting system to track donations and expenditures in their local elections.

DeBary, Deltona, Orange City and several eastside cities are interested in the offer from Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis.

“This is the first time the supervisor of elections has opened it up to the cities,” DeBary City Clerk Warren Graham told Council members at Dec. 6 meeting.

After a brief discussion, City Council members gave staffers the OK to begin the process to use the county’s system.

Erika Benfield
Erika Benfield

“I think this is a good thing,” said City Council member Erika Benfield. “because I like to do all of my filing electronically and I think it’s just bringing us up to date.”

It requires changing DeBary’s charter. Do do that, the City Council must approve an ordinance, which requires an initial vote and final approval, both during public hearings.

A tentative timetable was not discussed. DeBary has three seats up for grabs in 2018: Mayor and seats 3 and 4. Under the law, candidates are required to disclose sources of their political donations and recipients of campaign expenditures.

Graham said the debate in other cities considering the change involves the possibility of computerless candidates.

“Some of the other clerks are saying, [if] you don’t have a computer, go to the library” to use public computers, Graham said. “I can’t imagine anybody in today’s environment not having access to a computer that’s running for an election, especially.”

City Council member Mike Brady agreed, saying candidates without computers also would have the option of using someone else’s computer for filing reports.

“I don’t think this is a new concept,” added City Council member Stephen Bacon.

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Dwayne L. Taylor fraud conviction: Volusia pol faces possible prison sentence

 

Today’s wire-fraud conviction of Volusia County politician Dwayne L. Taylor shows federal officials are taking a tough stance against corruption, officials said.
The 49-year-old former state representative from Daytona Beach used $60,000 in re-election campaign donations for personal expenses, a federal indictment said.
“These types of crimes erode the public trust in our elected officials,” Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Muldrow said in a statement. “This conviction sends a clear message that such acts will not be tolerated and that we will hold anyone who breaks the law accountable for their actions.”
Taylor is a former member of the Florida House of Representatives and Daytona Beach City Commission.
A federal jury in Orlando convicted Taylor today on nine counts of wire fraud.
He faces as much as 20 years in prison per count. His sentencing is set for Nov. 16.
“According to evidence presented at trial, during Taylor’s 2012 and 2014 reelection campaigns, he falsely reported thousands of dollars of expenditures to the State of Florida in order to conceal his misappropriation of over $60,000 in campaign funds through a series of unreported cash withdrawals, checks written to himself, and checks written to petty cash, in violation of Florida law. Taylor then used the misappropriated funds for personal expenditures unrelated to his re-election campaigns,” a news release from Muldrow’s office says.
Candidates are not allowed to use campaign donations for personal expenses other than “expenses actually incurred for transportation, meals, and lodging during travel in the course of the campaign.”
Taylor left the state House last year because of term limits, sunshinestatenews.com said.
His district spanned a section of Volusia County between DeLand and Daytona Beach.
Taylor lost in the Democratic primary for District 6 in Congress in 2016, according to the Palm Beach Post.
The FBI investigated his spending for his 2012 and 2014 reelection campaigns.
“It is disappointing that an elected official would exploit the generosity of his constituents to advance his personal lifestyle,” said Charles P. Spencer, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division. “Corrupt public officials undermine the integrity of our government and violate the public’s trust, which is why combating public corruption remains the FBI’s top criminal priority.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Roger B. Handberg and Embry J. Kidd are prosecuting Taylor.

20170309_taylor_indictment_0

 

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