Jon Kaney granted subpoena powers in Waverly probe; tells News-Journal: 'I don’t have to ask quite so nicely now'

Waverly Park benches / Headline Surfer®Jon Kaney, attorney in Waverly investigation / Headline Surfer®Photos for Headline Surfer® /
Fresh off receiving subpoena authority as the lead investigator in the County Council probe of political advertising with Waverly Media, Jonathan Kaney, Jr., former general counsel to the Daytona Beach News-Journal under its previous ownership, was flapping his gums for the broadsheet Thursday about his new-found power, thanks to a 5-2 vote earlier in the day in DeLand. 

DAYTONA BEACH -- Even though he pledged to act with honor and integrity in carrying out an investigation of Waverly Media on behalf of the Volusia County Council, Jonathan Kaney, Jr. who didn't attend Thursday's meeting where he was granted subpoena powerss, boasted in a subsequent story published in the Daytona Beach News-Journal: “I don’t have to ask quite so nicely now."

The snide remark by the former general counsel to the News-Journal's previuous owners, demonstrated he had plenty to say, even if it was mostly self-aggrandizing.

While it is common practice for state's attorney's offices not to speak with or show any hint of media favoritism to influence public opinion during an active investigation, Kaney was not bashful in his quotes with the newspaper.

In the News-Journal story headlined, "Volusia council approves subpoena power for Waverly investigators," Kaney said he was making inroads in his investigation while adding coyly, "There are clear indications to me that some people know some things, and I’m not sure they’re going to tell me."

In the News-Journal story headlined, "Volusia council approves subpoena power for Waverly investigators," Kaney said he was making inroads in his investigation while adding, "There are clear indications to me that some people know some things, and I’m not sure they’re going to tell me."

Kaney continued, "I’m right in the middle of it. … There are people I have been talking to who have spotty memories,” that he's he's made progress interviewing people, while stressing, "I've got a long way to go."

Though Kaney did not attend Thursday's County Council session because he was reportedly out of town conducting a deposition, but subpoena powers for himself and colleague Noah McKinnon were approved in a 5-2 vote.

Ormond Beach's Doug Daniels, DeLand's Pat Patterson, New Smyrna Beach's Deb Denys, Deltona's Pat Northey and a reluctant Joshua Wagner of Daytona Beach voted in the affirmative while County Chair Jason Davis of Edgewater and At-Large Council member Joyce Cusack of DeLand remained steadfastly opposed.

Even armed with the power of subpoena, that doesn't mean Kaney is guaranteed full cooperation, which Wagner said he had a "hunch" could dog him should he run into resistance with the matter then having to be decided by a circuit judge.

“I think every attorney in the county would have that hunch, that it’ll happen,” Wagner said.

The push for the County Council probe of Waverly, which provides roadside advertising on park benches in hundreds of locations, was spearheaded in November by Daniels, midway through his first term, saying the county had to "lance the boil" from any potential issues arising from contracts between Waverly and the county and with numerous candidates accepting in-kind campaign contributions for ad space on Waverly benches in the 2012 elections, Gibson included.

Daniels, a former law partner of Kaney's, lobbied his elected colleagues to give Kaney the job.

That Daniels and Kaney were law partners has raised eyebrows as to ethics and potential conflicts of interests. There are other troubling aspects as well.

There's no clear answer as to what exactly Kaney is investigationg, considering the State Attorney's Office launched its own investigation months ago and has made clear its position of autonomy.

And with Kaney and McKinnon being paid $290 per hour to investigate with no ceiling as to the final cost, Cusack has dismissed Kaney was given formal approval Dec. 12, after making a brief presentation, during which he said he would complete his investigation within 90 days of this date.

What is is that he hopes to find, even Kaney couldn't explain in the Frank T. Bruno Council Chambers, making reference to the language approve by the council in November.

Kaney, general manager to the News-Journal's former owners, the Davidson family, with Kaney's wife, Georgia Kaney, serving as the longtime publisher, until she and other corporate officers were fired, after the newspaper lost a federal lawsuit in Orlando as well as appeals with Cox Enterprises of Atlannta, which owned roughly 45% of the shares.

Davidson patriarch Tippen Davidson spent $13 million in naming rights to the $27 million Lively Arts Center on Beach Street, the pre-cursor to the "News-Journal Center" without Cox's knowledge or consent.estimated worth of Cox's former shares.

The News-Journal changed ownership in 2010 under a court-supervised firesale of $19 million, a fraction of the $129 million Cox's 45% shares alone was worth, the court determined.  Before, during and after the sale, half of the newspaper's 800-plus employees were jettisoned and its bureaus in New Smyrna Beach, DeLand, Orange City, Bunnell and Tallahassee all closed.

And the newspaper, a bonafide metro on the tail-end of the Top 100 daily circulation newspapers in 2001, has plummeted to near half for the latter part of of a decade. The Halifax Media business modicum is pro-chamber news with emphasis on CRAs, ad authorities, indigent-care hospitals and public colleges where promoting activities typically means inflated attendance hype.

Headline Surfer® estimates the Daytiona Beach News-Journal receives upwards of $1.5 million annually in taxpayer-supported revenue, with much of it coming from Volusia County government, the publicly-subsidized hospitals, state college and municipal governments and their Community Redevelopment Agencies.

And while the newspaper may not be getting revenue directly from the the county's three regional advertising authorities, advertising comes indirectly through vendors and local grants obtained by merchant groups from the tourism boards, who in turn, advertise the events in the newspaper. 

The News-Journal has previously boasted of exclusive marketing agreements with Daytona International Speedway and Daytona State College, along with exclusive use of the News-Journal Center now owned by the college during last year's election season.

Requests by Headline Surfer® to hold a public candidate debate there was refused by the college's public relations staff, citing marketing partnerships with Halifax Media.

And the News-Journal has been aggressive in focusing on any taxpayer-supported advertising going to newer media outlets, Headline Surfer® included.

In fact, Headline Surfer® entered into a lawful agreement with the Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority in mid-August for $10,000 to market the SVAA to tourists outside Volusia County. The News-Journal published 14 stories, all presenting Headline Surfer® in a negative and adversarial position.

The onslaught against Waverly has been even more intense, especially in recent months, leading to County Council member Doug Daniels pushing his colleagues to investigate Waverly Media, which provides park bench advertising throughout Volusia County.

And while the News-Journal has portrayed Waverly's advertising as primarily political in nature, such advertising constitutes a minute fraction of advertising for medical services, plumbing, air conditioning, lawn care, cosmetics and numerous other products, at hundreds of locations.

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.