Headline Surfer photos / New Smyrna Beach Mayor Adam Barringer, shown here on the dais with then-City Commissioner Jim Hathaway in 2012, is the subject of multiple investigations by the Florida Commission on Ethics, including hosting a private retirement party for Hathaway a year ago this month, at Barringer's SoNapa Grille wine-bar restaurant for 45 guests with a city credit card used to pick up the $1,200-plus tab.
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Embattled New Smyrna Beach Mayor Adam Barringer tells everyone who will listen that coverage that doesn't favor him or his insider friends is nothing more than the work of a blogger. Headline Surfer's answer to this corrupt politician is simple. He can run his mouth all he wants, but the reporting of his municipal affairs is accurate, fair and backed up by public records, audio and video recordings.
This year's Florida Press Club awards are a testament to the quality and importance of the coverage and the journalistic integrity that comes with it. In short, the journalism wins. It always does when supported by sound investigative reporting. An award or awards reflect that coverage are the journalist's coat of arms.
Yes, it's true, the publisher has a blog called "People, Places & Things," but that is only one aspect of Headline Surfer®, the 24/7 internet newspaper launched April 7, 2008 in New Smyrna Beach initially as NSBNews.net.
What Barringer dismisses as a blog is actually "new media" as opposed to his friends in the print media -- namely the Daytona Beach News-Journal, which provides favorable coverage and just happens to be the recipient of a network of taxpayer-supported advertising from the City of New Smyrna Beach's municipal budget (general fund and CRA), Bert Fish Medical Center (of which the mayor & several of his friends are on the hospital's foundation board) and funding from Barringer's colleagues in the Volusia Council of Governments, which he heads.
Headline Surfer's coverage of Barringer and the less-than-stellar municipal affairs under his leadership in our ongoing investigative reports, "Show Me the Money: New Smyrna Beach," was recognized in the 2013 Florida Press Club's journalism competition, the only contest statewide contest that considers the best work of Florida's journalists.
Four stories related to the "Show Me the Money" coverage were recognized in two of three awards won by the publisher/reporter, more than any other reporter for the second year in a row (four awards in 2012).
One of the 2013 Florida Press awards was for "General News," with the following three headlines, lead paragraphs, dates and links:
The second 2013 Florida Press award was in the category of "Public Safety" for another of the "Show Me the Money" stories:
That Barringer and City Manager Pamela Brangaccio are both facing multiple investigations with the Florida Commission on Ethics is news regardless of the mayor's name calling, his contempt for legitimate media coverage and his consistent lack of transparency.
Whether the mayor escapes the ethics complaints is immaterial to his established track record of corruption as the city's lead elected official and face of New Smyrna Beach government.
For the record, Barringer is accused of hosting a private retirement party for former Commissioner Jim Hathaway last Nov. 19 at his SoNapa Grille wine-bar restaurant with a city credit card used to pay the $1,200-plus tab for 45 guests.
Citizen watchdog Bob Tolley filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics against the mayor and City Manager Pamela Brangaccio alleging they violated Florida statutes because the party was funded with taxpayer monies regardless of whether some of the costs were later reimbursed. Tolley also stated he believed Barringer's role in hosting the party constituted a "prohibitive conflict of interest as stated in Florida statutes112.313 (3), doing business with one's agency, in this case the Mayor's restaurant."
Tolley filed a second ethics complaint against Barringer for cursing out a city cop before the start of the 2012 New Smyrna Beach Christmas Parade. The mayor tried to drive through a barricaded side street, but was waved off by police officer Ralph Hunnefeld.
Barringer got out of his "Barringer Construction" pick-up truck, walked up to the cop and reached for a handshake. But it wasn't a conciliatory gesture. According to the cop who filed a complaint with his supervisor, the mayor allegedly told him, "Thanks for being a pr-ck!" He then got back in his vehicle and drove off.
The state ethics commission informed Tolley in an April 9 letter that his complaints against the mayor have been "found sufficient for investigation" and "have been forwarded to the Investigative Section of the Commission on Ethics."
Trying to get the Florida Commission on Ethics to rule against a politician is an uphill battle. Still, even if Barringer escapes these charges, his record is replete with acts of taking care of himself and his friends as our reporting has demonstrated over the past five-plus years he's been in office.
Barringer has led the expenditure of upwards of $2 million in taxpayer-supported Community Redevelopment Agency funds for the rehabbing of bars and restaurants and advertising for alcohol-fueled street festivals sponsored by the Merchants of Flagler Hospitality Group.
It was at one of those events, the Cinco de Mayo, that a 34-year-old Port Orange mother of three, Riccilynn Rigoli, was partying at in a bar on Flagler Avenue before she crashed her Ford pick-up on the South Causeway Bridge.
She lost control of the vehicle, slammed into the concrete median and in the subsequent rollover, she was ejected and the vehicle landed on top of her, crushing her to death. She was nearly three times the legal limit for intoxication.
Last Fall, Barringer secured $60,000 in CRA funding for improvements to Traders bar on Flagler Avenue owned by his boyhood friend, Dave Fernandez, who is well known to police and the criminal courts.
The mayor last Fall also got another of his longtime friends, Steve Sather, appointed to the city's planning & zoning board. Sather pleaded no contest to a circuit judge 20 years ago to attempted sale and delivery of cocaine from an undercover cop posing as a drug dealer so he could re-sell the product locally.
Though adjudication of guilt was withheld because sentencing was more lenient back then and Sather cooperated with the authorities, he nevertheless received substantial probation and home confinement and the sentence remains part of his record to this day.
The issue came to light in 2009, when Sather finished last in a three-way race for city commissioner against incumbent Jack Grasty.
Barringer also was instrumental in seeing to it last summer that longtime Utilities Commission Chairman Walter Allen was not re-appointed in favor of Lee Griffith, a chamber insider and more recently, getting another chamber friend, Kenneth Bohannon appointed to the board, too. Allen had 30-plus years o experience working for the utility prior to his appointment, but Barringer didn't like him.
Another of Barringer's friends on the five-member board is Oscar Zeller, who like the mayor, is a member of the all-male, all-white Anglers Club of New Smyrna Beach, which enjoys a longtime lease with the city for primate waterfront docking for four dozen boat slips on the Intracoastal Waterway.
The City of New Smyrna Beach receives a whopping 15 percent of the gross tax proceeds from utility services provide to customers.
Two years ago, Barringer found himself trying to squirm out of an ugly situation where he was caught lining his pockets by virtue of appointing yet another friend to the CRA commission.
That CRA commissioner, Chad Schilsky applied for a matching $10,000 grant to fix up his That's Amore restaurant with Barringer Construction hired to do remodeling. The grant was approved after City Attorney Frank Gummey ruled the arrangement was proper so long as Schilsky and Barringer abstained in their respective votes. The expenditure had to come before the City Commission for final approval.
After both commissions unanimously approved the grant for Schilsky, CRA consulting attorney Mark Hall wrote a letter to the city stating that not only was the arrangement improper; it also was against the law.
Schilsky was summoned to City Hall to sign a letter he didn't even write, that stated he would not accept the funds. He ended up having to pay for the entire amount out of his own pocket since most of the work had already been done. Schilsky said Barringer was paid, though he declined to say how much.
Schilsky was among several CRA commission members who ended up resigning, but not before Barringer and the city commissioners acted as a de facto CRA and approved $50,000 in rent for "The Hub" on Canal Street organized by former Mayor Sally Mackay, whom Barringer narrowly defeated in 2009.
Mackay had planned to try and win her seat back, but changed her mind prior to the Hub funding. Because she was expected to run, nobody else put in qualifying papers and Barringer got a second term by default.
Mackay got another $50,000 in rent subsidies for the Hub this year from Barringer and company. And Mackay's 2009 campaign manager, Gerard J. Pendergast, was given exclusive rights to serve as a paid architect consultant on all CRA projects without competitive bidding.
Barringer said from the dais he felt bad about Schilsky's situation, but refused to accept responsibility for his role in it as well as the financial gain from it. When Headline Surfer's publisher confronted the mayor at the end of a commission meeting, he mouthed under his breath: "He's just a blogger."
The internet newspaper actually endorsed Barringer for mayor in his 2009 campaign and he had two stints with as an occasional contributor to a "Mayor's Message" blog.
But after Headline Surfer® learned that a city credit card had been used to pay for the private party at Barringer's restaurant, he was informed him in writing and the city as well that his blog was no longer welcomed, especially since this was not the first time he stood to gain privately from his public position.
Last Spring Barringer got his friends in the Volusia League of Cities to give him the organization's top award and subsequently had its organizers ban Headline Surfer® from covering the annual dinner and his receiving the Blaine O'Neal award for Excellence" despite the specter of the looming ethics investigations.
The internet newspaper was issued a trespass warning midway through the dinner, even though never stepped onto private property and informed Daytona Beach cops it would not do so.
On his way to his vehicle, Barringer thrust his award up in the air with his left hand as though he was an Olympic champion.
As Headline Surfer intensified its coverage of the insider politics of Barringer and Brangaccio, the mayor contacted several of the internet newspaper's advertisers who are friends of his in the Angler's Club that had been with the internet newspaper since its launch in April 2008.
The loss in revenue forced Headline Surfer to leave its home base operation in the Sugar Mill Country Club in New Smyrna Beach and a move to Lake Mary in September.
Weeks earlier after learning Headline Surfer had inked a $10,000 contract with the Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority to market its Beach Weeks campaign to tourists outside Volusia County, Barringer led a letter-writing campaign to try and get the contract nullified.
Among those Barringer enlisted were Steve Sather, the former drug dealer, City Commissioner Judy Reiker and her husband, Guy Mariande, who actually wrote under a fake name.
Barringer turned to the News-Journal where he went on the offensive in a story headlined, "New Smyrna Beach mayor raises questions about $10,000 tourism agreement." Barringer insisted the marketing agreement with HeadlineSurfer.com would not further the ad authority's mission of enhancing the area's image as a tourism destination.
“This advertising with (HeadlineSurfer.com publisher) Henry Frederick doesn't enhance the image of Southeast Volusia," Barringer was quoted as saying in the Aug. 7 story, by the Daytona print paper regarding Headline Surfer's contract.
Barringer also was quoted in an e-mail to county council officials and printed in the same story as stating in part, In his email, Barringer wrote Frederick is “the owner of a website who has been a reckless and unethical (journalistically speaking) critic of New Smyrna Beach."
The mayor also made a defamatory statement regarding Headline Surfer® that the internet newspaper told the News-Journal was not true and why, but that representation was not included in the published story.
Headline Surfer® is reviewing its options regarding possible litigation on that defamatory statement and other factual errors not corrected by the the News-Journal, which has published 14 stories on Headline Surfer's lawful SVAA contract.
The News-Journal in recent weeks has since become fixated on Waverly Media, a far greater advertising threat.
Barringer has not spoken to Headline Surfer nor has he responded to voice mail, text and e-mail messages since the private party at his restaurant for Hathaway that led to the first ethics complaint against him.