The News-Journal last week notched a new record of ignoring Flagler County so many days in a row (it wasn’t worth keeping track after the third day, and this week is looking no different judging from Monday’s paper), but if you’re into Volusia vittles, there was a Sunday surprise: two good front-page stories getting behind the politics and personalities that shape the county.
The first is a long piece on the feud between two of Volusia’s biggest egos: Kent Sharples, the president at Daytona State College, and Mori Hosseini, president of ICI Homes and a one-man Tammany Hall with hands, feet and especially elbows on every other local board of consequence. (No relation to Khaled of Kite Runner fame: Mori is of Iranian origin, Khaled is Afghan). When he’s not serving on a board, Hosseini’s wife Fourough is. When she’s not serving, there’s always Mary Ann Haas, wife of David Haas, the Flagler County administrator fired in one of those late-night ambushes sprang for him by Hershel King, in a 3-2 vote, four days before Christmas 2005. (Haas’ Christmas present that year, according to King: a $180,000 severance package.) The two women serve as a block on the Daytona State College Board of Trustees.
In 2009, Hosseini flexed his muscle northward: He got Crist to appoint his sister, Maryan Ghyabi, to the powerful nine-member board of the St. Johns River Water Management District, which serves as Northeast Florida’s spigot to development. Ghyabi replaced Ann Moore, who had been Flagler County’s only voice on the water management board.
Hosseini is also Volusia’s Republican kingmaker, with aspirations beyond his ample local girth. In 2004 he donated thousands of dollars to Republican parties in Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Ohio and Minnesota, among others–all the swing states, in other words: the sign of a man who really thinks he can swing things his way. He didn’t repeat the stunt in 2008, when he must’ve seen the writing on Wall Street, but his wife donated to Bill Nelson and Suzanne Kosmas, two Republicans who wear Democratic toupees in Congress. In all, the Hosseinis have contributed $176,000 merely to federal races since 1994, $117,000 of it since 2006. Their state and local contributions are in the multiple zeros too.
Kent Sharples has his share of Republican donations too (Johnny Byrd, the former speaker-zealot of the Florida House, George W. Bush, Bill McCollum, Charlie Crist, Tom Feeney, plus Kozmas and Nelson just in case).
So last year Sharples concocts a careless student-housing deal that could have exposed the college to big liabilities. Forough Hosseinin objected and managed to stop the deal. Sharples initially agreed to a state audit. He then pulled a Mel-Gibson-in-Passion-of-the-Christ act at a February board meeting, reacting to a News-Journal story that essentially laid out his questionable concoctions and invoking hell’s sanctimony to reject any suggestion that his deal should be audited (an audit he’d agreed to earlier). The board mostly supported him, and Forough resigned as chairwoman, seeing the board’s oversight thrown out the window.
The News-Journal’s Derek Catron and Mark Harper do a fine job laying out the damage, including good, authoritative reporting backing up the damning portraits of the two men. Nothing suprising, to be sure: these are the stories everyone knew, but had trouble making it into print. Mori is “drunk on power,” a doctor who serves on the Halifax Hospital board Mori controls, but it’s difficult to tell from the story who between Mori and Kent could use the greater intervention. They’re both power mad, and the college is their field of battle. The story is significant because Crist, who’s rolling in Hosseini’s money, is about to make three appointments to the college board, with Hosseini, Volusia’s reigning champion of the disingenuous, claiming that he has no more influence in Crist than anyone else who contributes to his eternal campaigns. Those appointments could swing the board against Sharples. And guess whose name is on the list of potential appointees: Blair Kanbar, the former Flagler County Commissioner who was the third vote to oust Haas. You can pretty much strike that possibility off the list (unless Blair wants to make amends with Haas now and return the firing favor at Sharples’ expense).
Curiously, the newspaper shut down comments on the story: an indication that while the NJ’s reporters can handle the truth, their editors (or, more certainly, their editor) will still condescend to readers as their gatekeepers even as he pretends to be tearing down walls. The walls are being torn down, but only between the paper’s news and advertising operations.
Dinah Voyles Pulver wrote the second worthy piece on Sunday’s front page, a run-down of Volusia’s pathetic “debate” over how to spend environmental millions raised by a special levy, the kind of debate that wouldn’t exist if local governments didn’t strap themselves to their own Kierkegardian either-or obsessions when it comes to tax dollars. Summaries don’t do Pulver’s stories credit, so read it for yourself.
The rest of the paper was reliably forgettable, including the fiction at the top of the front page that it consisted of nine sections and 110 pages. Someone at the $218-a-year News-Journal isn’t very good at math, though that, too, isn’t news under the new regime. And Monday’s version, aside from an interesting story on the new generation of police-scanner junkies (and another insight into Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood’s East German fetish–he blames scanner-auditors for having access to “too much information”–) is back to its new provincial self.
Previous edition of the NJ in 5 Minutes of Less.