Appointment of Indian hotel owner to HAAA board raises allegations of discrimination
BY JAMES HARPER
Comments made recently by Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood has upset Volusia County Councilwoman Joyce Cusack and she has the support of at least two of her colleagues on the board, including its chairman.
“It’s racist,” said Cusack after learning and reading about statements made by Chief Mike Chitwood about her appointment of Pravin “P.M.” Patel to the Halifax Area Advertising Authority (HAAA). Patel is the owner/operator of the Heritage Inn on Ridgewood Avenue in Daytona Beach.
Cusack felt she was being singled out by Chitwood because she is the only Black on the board and because she appointed Patel, who is Indian.
“Why is he (Patel) being judged differently for trying to clean up his hotels? We need appointments who will speak for everyone, not just a few hoteliers on the beach,” said Cusack.
Chitwood was quoted in the city’s daily paper saying, “Clearly, the County Council doesn’t really know what’s going on in Daytona Beach, or at least vet who they are applying to these boards. When they heard the address, 1100 South Ridgewood, if they knew their county, they would say, ‘I’ve got to call the police chief.’”
Cusack took the comments personally.
“I’m baffled and I’m upset. If Chitwood thinks I have to run every appointment by him, he is sadly mistaken. He should have called me if he wanted to work with me,” Cusack said.
Attempts were made by the Daytona Times to get comments from Chitwood and the police department’s spokesman, but calls were not returned by the newspaper’s Wednesday night press deadline.
“It is not the chief of police’s decision,” Cusack said about the appointment. “Does he want me to look at the background of all his police officers?” she asked.
Chitwood told the Daytona Beach News Journal the police department received 375 calls for service to the Heritage Inn at 1100 S. Ridgewood Ave., from April 1, 2010, through April 1, 2012. Those calls included eight for drugs and five for prostitution.
Too many calls?
Patel told the Daytona Times this week that there have been so many calls to his business because Chitwood asked him to do so.
“He gives me a card to call anytime I need him. We always respect police as a higher authority. Only 1 or 2 percent of calls resulted in arrest,” said Patel, adding that he didn’t think calls for help would result in Chitwood slamming his business.
“I call police regarding unlawful activity. Chitwood has come here undercover. We are ready to help clean up the area,” Patel continued.
Patel will be the only representative on the board who owns a hotel on the thoroughfare, also known as U.S. 1.The board in the past has only had hoteliers or others with links to hotels on A1A or Ormond Beach, said Patel in an interview with the Daytona Times.
Said Cusack, “Never in the history of the HAAA board has anyone from Ridgewood been represented on the HAAA board.’’
Cusack said it is her goal while serving on the county council to involve as many (different) people as possible, “to give everybody an opportunity to participate in the decisionmaking process using Advertising Authority dollars.”
Volusia County Chairman Frank Bruno supported Cusack’s nomination in a vote last Thursday at a County Council meeting in DeLand.
“I have always supported all appointments of my colleagues,” said Bruno, who considers Patel’s appointment to HAAA board a done deal.
Bruno says he and or the county manager have the authority to put items on the agenda without a majority vote, but he has no intention of suggesting it as an item on the agendas at future meetings.
Volusia County Spokesman Dave Byron said there is one other option for the matter to come up for a vote.
“The County Council voted in support of Ms. Cusack’s nomination of Mr. Patel for a HAAA position. That is the end of it unless four members of the county council vote to remove him,” said Byron.
But Bruno was concerned about Chitwood’s statements pertaining to Patel.
“I would rather have the city manager speak on a city employee speaking out like that,” said Bruno.
The HAAA board is an 11-member volunteer board appointed by the County Council that spends roughly $6 million on tourism advertising each year and advises the council. Last year, Cusack appointed the first Blacks ever on the board.
New chair coming
Next Wednesday, HAAA board members will vote to elect a new chair or re-elect HAAA board member Ted Doran as its chair.
Cusack said the election of the new chair may also be a reason for the fuss over her appointment. It was her appointment of Doran, an attorney, and hotel owner Amit Patel (no relation to Pravin Patel) and an appointment by Councilman Joshua Wagner which changed the makeup of the board upsetting the old guard.
Last year’s vote for chair was contentious. Bruno had to attend the meeting to oversee the election.
“I did that because there wasn’t a chairperson at that time. It’s not normally my responsibility to do that. It’s the responsibility of the board to elect officers and set direction,” said Bruno.
Doran won with a 6-5 vote, defeating HAAA board member Sean Belgrade, who works for the International Speedway Corporation.
Amit Patel participated in last year’s vote for the new chairman. He suggested that Pravin Patel fill out an application to become a member of HAAA since there was an opening and there were no Ridgewood hoteliers on the board the time.
Amit Patel said he was caught off-guard after reading the comments made by Chitwood concerning Pravin’s hotel.
“I feel someone was behind him (Chitwood). It was started by someone else. He should have been speaking up for Ridgewood hotel owners,” said Amit, who agreed with Cusack that the controversy surrounding her appointment of Pravin may be tied to the board’s vote for a new chair next week.
“I think there is discrimination against Ridgewood hotel owners. They are all Indian,” said Amit.
He backs Cusack appointing others who normally don’t get to serve on boards.
“She is supporting everybody. She is trying to help those who want a voice and want to serve. I can’t believe helping people is such a hard thing to do. Helping the ones asking for help is our duty,” concluded Amit.
Threats from hoteliers
Pravin Patel said he wants to be on the board to help get more business for hotel owners on Ridgewood Avenue.
“We want more business in Daytona Beach. They don’t put our hotels on Ridgewood in the visitors’ guide. They don’t have information about small hotels online. I’m doing my own booking. We all have to pay the bed tax,” he stressed.
Since Chitwood’s comments appeared in the News-Journal, Patel says he has received threats and calls from other hoteliers telling him not to accept the position.
“If there are problems on Ridgewood, these people need to be at the table. Must have inclusion in this good old (boy) network,” said Cusack.
Cusack said what also angers her is “there is not this same kind of scrutiny when other appointments were made by other councilmen.”
Cusack said the decisions she makes are in the best interest of everyone.
“If I can’t get re-elected on the decisions I make, I’ll make it OK,” said Cusack who prior to being elected to the at-large County Council position served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000-2008.
“I raise the conscious of all the people. We must be an inclusive county,” she concluded.
District 2 County Councilman Josh Wagner also weighed in, saying he thought Chitwood’s comments had created an issue.
“He works for (Daytona Beach City Manager) Jim Chisholm. He (Chitwood) has a right to say it, but it hurts relationships between city and county,” said Wagner.
Wagner said he supported Cusack’s appointment because he also believes there needs to be more diversity on the HAAA and other boards they oversee.