Volusia Sheriff Wants Feds Looking Into “Pay To Play”

By on July 9, 2018 in WNDB News

Daytona Beach, FL – Volusia County’s Sheriff wants federal investigators to look into “pay to play politics” involving members of Volusia County staff and the County Council, especially relating to a county-funded impact fee study which didn’t get in front of the council until after an orchestrated effort to have residents vote for a sales tax increase was pulled from this November’s ballot.

In his latest monthly in-studio interview with WNDB’s Marc Bernier (click above to hear it in its entirety), Mike Chitwood said someone with subpoena power has to step in if any evidence of impropriety is to be found regarding that 2016 study, which recommended substantially large increases to the fees paid by property developers, some by as much as 300%.

“We all know that Mori Hosseini does not want the impact fees to change,” Chitwood noted during the interview. “He clearly is against it, but who is the biggest supporter on that County Council?”

Hosseini – an Ormond Beach resident – is the Chairman of ICI Homes, one of the largest residential property development companies in the state. He was recently named Chairman of the University of Florida Board of Trustees and also has a building in his name at Daytona State College. His wife – Forough – is also on the DSC Board of Trustees.

Numerous county and city officials throughout the area were urging voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for infrastructure improvements until that study became public, at which point opponents cried that developers need to start paying more in impact fees.

Chitwood also made strong comments during the interview about several County Council members and his predecessor, some of which has since led the Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial board to ask the Sheriff to apologize.

If his social media accounts are any indication, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

In that interview, Chitwood urged Volusia County residents to “go to zero”, meaning to vote out all of the County Council incumbents running for election in November. Those would be Pat Patterson (District 1 – Pierson/Northwest), Deb Denys (District 3 – New Smyrna Beach/Southeast) and Fred Lowry (District 5 – Deltona/Southwest).

Chitwood’s “go to zero” references a phrase used by ex-Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen talking about the county having no debt in the general fund. The Sheriff was one of the loudest voices against Dinneen before he resigned last month, receiving over $400,000 in pay and benefits after the County Council refused to consider a motion from Heather Post (District 4 – Ormond Beach/Northeast) to terminate Dinneen for cause.

Also up for grabs this November is the At-Large Representative seat held by Joyce Cusack, who cannot run again due to term limits. One of the people running for that spot is former Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson, who Chitwood replaced as Sheriff in 2016 after Johnson chose not to run again.

Chitwood also went after Johnson during the interview numerous times, saying that putting him on the County Council dais would be a mistake.

“Let me tell you something,” Chitwood stated. “Ben Johnson’s an ass. Let’s call it what it is. Everybody needs to understand, Ben Johnson likes to think he’s the greatest thing since J. Edgar Hoover (former FBI Director). The guy’s not. The guy’s a liar and the guy took his hands off the administration for the last four years.”

The comment which seems to have drawn the most public outrage, however, was one Chitwood made about Denys. He was asked to respond to a claim she made during a recent in-studio interview with Bernier that VCSO is having a hard time attracting and retaining staff because of him.

“The only thing [Denys] knows about policing is where her fur-lined handcuffs are on her headboard,” Chitwood stated.

That comment has since drawn the ire of some community leaders for being sexist, including Maryam Ghyabi, the head of Ghyabi & Associates and Mori Hosseini’s sister.

Also responding on social media: Billie Wheeler, who represents District 2 (Daytona Beach) on the VCC and Post.

The VCC meets tomorrow in DeLand for the first time since Dinneen’s resignation, with talk about how to select his permanent replacement expected to be a focal point.

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