Angels & Assholes for December 2, 2022

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

For the record, I have been virtually bedridden since Thanksgiving with the most virulent and debilitating of all known maladies:

The dreaded “Man Cold.”

Perhaps the worst in recorded medical history.  Whoa.

Today’s feeble installment of Angels & Assholes represents my courageous ‘best effort’ at the nexus of this relentless and incapacitating illness and my pathological need to point out where the doer of deeds could have done them better or condescendingly say, “See, I told you so…”

Despite my weakened state, through Herculean effort, I was somehow able to lift my groggy head, turn a jaundiced and bloodshot eye toward the newsmakers of the day, and bring you my goofy take on the myriad issues we face here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.   

I share my suffering – and ultimate triumph over adversity – in hopes my extraordinary civic sacrifice in the face of acute discomfort (cough) won’t be lost on the exalted nomination committees for the prestigious J. Hyatt Brown Enterprise Award, the Glenn Ritchey Leadership Award, the J. Saxon Lloyd Distinguished Community Service Award, or the (insert Halifax area ‘mover & shaker’ here) Lifetime Achievement Award as things firm up for the annual rubber-chicken banquet season just around the corner! 

Look, this fever has me teetering on the edge of lucidity and hallucination, but I’ve got a feeling this is the year, tribe! 

Whatever.

And, yes, I am an insufferable asshole when I’m under-the-weather.

Just ask my long-suffering wife. . . 

In all seriousness, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who reached out this week to wish Patti and I well as we recuperate from ‘whatever’s going around‘ – and thanks for all the great suggestions for beating it.

Trust me – we’ve got all the antibiotics, steroids, ointments, and unguents known to medical science working in our favor.  

Thank you for your kindness.

It’s cold and flu season out there, kids – avoid it if you can – and take care of yourselves and each other! 

Asshole           Volusia County Corporate Welfare Wonks  

‘Tis the Season of Giving and Joy. . .

No one should be happier as this foul year draws to a close than those real estate developers, e-commerce giants, and parasitic insiders who were showered with “economic incentives” this year – tax breaks, infrastructure, land giveaways, and other spiffs – by local governments and that continuing corporate welfare shim-sham over at Team Volusia

These public/private “partnerships” (which always use public funds to further private interests) have become so commonplace in Volusia County that handouts have become the rule rather than the exception.

Back in January, the Daytona Beach City Commission voted 4-3 in the blind to approve a land-use change for property owned by those heavy-hitters over at Daytona International Speedway – then promptly opted to gift Amazon – the largest e-commerce company in the known universe – with $4 million in tax incentives over five-years for the privilege of locating a “robotic fulfillment center” at the lucrative corner of I-95 and Interstate 4.

To make the wholesale waste of public funds more palatable, economic development shills always attach the political insulation phrase “performance based” to these extraordinary advantages to give the appearance of accountability. 

For instance, Amazon has agreed to create 1,000 warehouse jobs paying just $15.00 an hour by 2028. 

Bullshit.

No one I speak with is quite sure where those workers will live, because an annual pittance of $31,200 is well south of what is required to put even a rudimentary roof over one’s head (forget buying a home) on the Fun Coast – let alone afford groceries, gas, insurance, and the myriad other expenses required to survive – and everyone is nervous about the impact of heavy truck traffic on the quality of life for residents along Beville Road and beyond.

But no one who should seems to care. 

Damn the “unknowns” and mysterious cryptograms that hide these projects from the public (and our elected officials) – so long as the public teat remains patent for speculative developers and those with a chip in this expensive game.    

Last year, the City of Daytona Beach gifted Tampa-based real estate developer Framework Group a $7.5 million property tax break on a planned 300-unit “luxury” apartment and parking complex in downtrodden Downtown Daytona. 

Last month, in an informative article by Charles Guarria writing in Volusia Hometown News, we learned the Framework Group was recently gifted a parcel of publicly owned property valued at $310,000 in the horribly neglected Midtown neighborhood – coupled with a decade-long tax break not to exceed $655,000 over the life of the “agreement” – to facilitate construction of a 62-unit apartment complex. 

The catch? 

Framework Group will designate 24-units as “affordable rental units,” defined as “…monthly rent that doesn’t exceed 30% of a low-income or moderate-income household’s annual gross income.”

No word where the other 976 Amazonian warehouse drones will reside on their much-heralded $15 bucks an hour. . .

Then, last week, we learned in a puffy press release issued by Team Volusia that an out-of-town developer has purchased an 83-acre site on Parktowne Boulevard in Edgewater in hopes of bringing a piece of the commercial Space Race to the Fun Coast.

According to a report by business editor Clayton Park in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Team Volusia played a role in persuading Onicx Group to develop the Space Coast Industrial Park in Volusia County. “We introduced the developers to the site in Volusia County,” said Team Volusia CEO Keith Norden whose group works to recruit companies to expand and/or relocate to the county.

Onicx, under the name Parktowne Industrial LLC, paid $4.15 million to acquire the 83-acre wooded site on June 23, according to Volusia County property records. The seller was an entity called Edgewater Industrial Park LLC, which included Mike Panaggio, the founder of DME Holdings in Daytona Beach.”

Yeah.  I know. 

Some people just have an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time, I guess?

Now, Edgewater officials are telegraphing incentives out of one side of their mouth – while touting how infinitely desirable the speculative industrial park will be to aerospace manufacturers looking to locate their enterprise to Southeast Volusia.

(You know, as opposed to any of the vacant warehouse and commercial space literally in the shadow of the launch complex in Brevard County. . .)  

“Edgewater City Manager Glenn Irby said the Space Coast Industrial Park “is a huge deal” for his city. “We look forward to working with them (Onicx and Aries Capital) to make their future as bright as possible.”

I’ll bet. 

On the current Ye Olde Parktowne Industrial Center’s website, the generous City of Edgewater spells it out for potential tenants:

“Volusia County Department of Economic Development, assists the City in gathering resources as needed for incoming qualified businesses; incentives or financial resources may be available for qualified projects…”

Like Daytona Beach, who gifted $4 million to Amazon – and Deltona, who handed over $2.5 million – it seems the Edgewater is now falling in line with Team Volusia’s patented corporate welfare scheme that easily attracts the low-hanging fruit of industrial warehouses. 

Here in the land of mediocrity, where innovation and ingenuity have been replaced with lockstep conformity to the wants and whims of extremely wealthy insiders, it seems our local “economic development” brain trust is merely following the lead of other government entities across the nation.

According to Washington D.C.-based watchdog Good Jobs First, a nonprofit which exposes wasteful subsidies, Amazon has now squeezed $5.1 Billion in “…state and local economic development subsidy deals given to Amazon.com, Inc. for its warehouses, data centers, and film productions, and to its subsidiaries such as Whole Foods Market, Zappos and Audible.”

According to the Good Jobs First database, $43,239,475 of that came from Florida counties and municipalities.

(Read more for yourself here: www.goodjobsfirst.org )

While some half-bright local elected officials continue to tout the benefits of gifting the e-commerce behemoth millions in tax incentives to locate warehouses at the most desirable distribution hub in Florida (what else are they going to do now?) – over the busy Black Friday shopping period, thousands of Amazon employees around the globe staged walkouts to protest low pay and abysmal working conditions. 

In some places, smart people analyze drumbeats and industry volatility then negotiate from an educated position before gifting concessions – but not here.   

In my view, it is time for a reversal of this “give away other people’s money till it hurts” mentality that has our elected representatives gifting our hard-earned tax dollars, incentives, and infrastructure to private entities – rather than leverage our areas strategic worth and demand reasonable corporate concessions before allowing intrusive development in areas with direct and affordable access to the whole of Central Florida and beyond.

It is time we cut off the firehose of public funds and expensive spiffs that underwrite the for-profit projects of speculative developers, billionaires, and wealthy corporations who dictate demands behind confidentiality agreements while gorging greedily as government continues to skew the playing field by picking winners and losers in the marketplace.

Angel               Town Council of Pierson, Florida

Primum non nocere – “First, do no harm.”

This honorable dictum is said to come from the ancient Hippocratic Oath which says medical practitioners should avoid doing anything to bring physical or moral injury to their patients.

I’m not sure if charitable organizations adhere to a similar ethical maxim. 

But they should.

Food Brings Hope, a nonprofit founded by Forough Hosseini, is dedicated to giving every child the opportunity to succeed by removing the stress of “food insecurity” while providing literacy and afterschool programs for some 1,700 underprivileged students in Volusia and Flagler County Schools.

Since 2007, Food Brings Hope has brought much-needed social services, safe housing, and sustenance to those less fortunate throughout Volusia County in partnership with public, private, and corporate entities.

In my view, it is truly God’s work – and an excellent conduit for Volusia County’s most successful corporations and philanthropists to assist the hundreds of homeless and underserved families in area communities. 

Recently, an unfortunate bruhaha erupted in the rural northwest Volusia community of Pierson, when Food Brings Hope attempted to lease space at the Town Center, a vacant school now owned by the struggling township, after the charity outgrew its current space at Mission San Jose Church.   

Look, I am a huge fan of Food Brings Hope and other privately funded service agencies that fill the growing void between the haves and have-nots in Volusia County. 

I am also a proponent of small government. 

While I realize that some elected officials crow about “smaller government” during election time – then do everything possible to expand their bloated bureaucracy once elevated to high office – a nimble, responsive, and politically accountable stewardship of public funds and essential services should be the goal.    

If our local system of governance is to have a positive impact our lives and livelihoods – I believe those we elect and appoint to administrate it have an obligation to listen to those who pay the bills. 

In November, already strapped Pierson residents filled their council chamber and balked at the proposed lease, which would have Food Brings Hope renting the space for $1 annually for ten-years – with the townsfolk responsible for monthly utilities and insurance bills – in a community of 1,500 with a per capita income of just $20,000 and 35% of children living in poverty. . .   

To their credit, the Pierson Town Council listened to their concerned constituents and voted unanimously to turn down the request.

In an excellent article by Mark Harper in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Vice Mayor Robert Greenlund was quoted:

“I want you all to understand everybody on this council would not do anything to harm anybody in our community, especially. And we would do everything we can to help them, but I think you’re just asking a little too much for this small community simply because we don’t have the tax base,” he said.”

That’s understandable.   

But the incredibly powerful House of Hosseini is not accustomed to being told “No” in Volusia County – especially not by a group of yokels in some rural bump-in-the-road on Highway 17. . .

According to the News-Journal’s report:

“Nika Hosseini, an attorney representing FBH, said the organization might consider leaving Pierson without cooperation from the town.

“If the town would like Food Brings Hope to route every call that we get from your residents to the town itself, we’re happy to do that,” she said. “… If you don’t want these services, we will allocate the quarter of a million dollars to other jurisdictions that are actively asking for them.”

To that, some residents in the room applauded, with one responding: “Good, good.”

In my lifelong experience working in a “small town” municipal government, civic issues are often amplified, and nothing moves the villagers to obstinate rage – complete with torches and pitchforks – quicker than threats and intimidation from haughty out-of-town lawyers and self-righteous do-gooders.

I don’t care who you are – small town folks do not take kindly to perceived bullying. 

As these things often go, now members of the Pierson Town Council are pointing fingers at each other, questioning the origin of the FBH lease, and asking ‘who knew what, and when.’

Look, it’s one thing to fill a very real need in a challenged community like Pierson – it is quite another to become a burden on limited public resources while touting your virtuous deeds to those who simply cannot afford to help.

Interestingly, The Daytona Beach News-Journal is also running a series during the holidays devoted to the excellent work of Food Brings Hope and how their programs are changing lives in our community.   

In soliciting donations for FBH through its series entitled “Stories of Hope,” the News-Journal reported, “Overhead is covered by the Hosseini Family Foundation, so 100% of donations go directly to the programs and families.”

So, what’s different in Pierson?

In my view, this squabble over recurring costs associated with FBH’s lease of space in Pierson’s Town Center – and the charity’s aggressive response to the community’s reluctance to assume an unknown monthly debt for the next decade is off-putting – and takes away from the organizations important mission and accomplishments.    

That’s unfortunate.

My hope is that during this season of giving – those successful entities who have been given so much, by so many, in Volusia County – can find a way to assist the Hosseini Family Foundation to underwrite Food Brings Hope in Pierson by covering the necessary utilities, insurance, and logistical requirements that will allow the charity’s good work to continue in a place that desperately needs it. 

Angel               Halifax Humane Society and Bissell Pet Foundation

Once again, the Halifax Humane Society will partner with the BISSELL Pet Foundation to offer low-cost pet adoptions through its “Empty the Shelters — Holiday Hope” event now through December 11!

Thanks to the generous support of the BISSELL Pet Foundation, HHS will offer $15.00 adoptions for cats and $25.00 adoptions for dogs.

According to the foundation, “BISSELL Pet Foundation exists to support animal welfare organizations and provide resources to underserved communities. This includes helping to reduce the number of animals in shelters and rescues through pet adoption, spay/neuter programs, vaccinations, microchipping, and crisis and disaster response.”

The Halifax Humane Society has been serving the needs of Halifax area animals since 1937 as a full-service “open-door” animal shelter that helps over 30,000 animals annually.

I encourage you to make a tax-deductible donation to assist the many wonderful programs and education initiatives sponsored by the Halifax Humane Society.

To learn how you can help, please visit www.halifaxhumanesociety.org

Quote of the Week

“Instead of waiting until after the Nov. 8 general election, and letting their successors choose a caretaker manager, the lame-duck Deltona City Commission — on election eve — entered into an agreement with James Chisholm, former city manager of Daytona Beach, to run the city government for at least six months.

In fact, with a 4-3 vote, the commission rejected a motion to let the incoming reconstituted City Commission decide whether to hire Chisholm or someone else to handle Deltona’s day-to-day governance.

Chisholm has been at work in Deltona for more than a month. In a special meeting called Oct. 12 to interview 14 applicants for interim city manager, Chisholm was the first to be interviewed and the top choice of the field of prospects for the temporary position. He worked for more than three weeks without a contract. When the agreement came up for public discussion, critics strongly complained Chisholm was being overcompensated. Nevertheless, the City Commission ratified the contract with a 4-3 vote.”

–Reporter Al Everson, writing in the West Volusia Beacon, “Despite some flak, Deltona under new management,” Monday, November 28, 2022

“I’ll take things that make you go, hummmm for $200, Alex. . .”

And Another Thing!

I wrote about this earlier in the week, but it bears repeating.

Hell, it bears screaming from the rooftops. . .

On Wednesday evening, a “spirited” group of approximately 80 concerned residents attended what I am told was a raucous “developer initiated” meeting as neighbors stood together to oppose a monolithic 29-story, 267-unit condominium project “…planned on 500 ft of direct oceanfront in the heart of Daytona Beach” by Orlando area developer Gelcorp Industries.

To expand the project’s ominous footprint even more, a “sales office” is planned west of North Atlantic Avenue at the intersection of Brookline Avenue.

Now, it appears the developer – and Daytona Beach officials – are scrambling to get ahead of this brewing opposition. 

While I was not able to attend the meeting, I have been to these code mandated dog-and-pony shows before – where a land use attorney earns his or her fees fading the heat for the (insert latest obnoxious development here) from concerned “owners and occupants of nearby lands.”

Based upon citizen concerns, I understand the developer has determined another meeting will be required to answer the mounting questions surrounding the project and will consider “changes to the plan” before making formal application to the City of Daytona Beach. 

But make no mistake, the wheels are turning. . . 

According to an excellent article by business editor Clayton Park writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Susan Cerbone, a spokeswoman for the city, wrote in an email that Gelcorp as of Thursday had yet to submit a formal application for the project. “They came into City Hall to meet with staff for a ‘pre-application’ meeting to discuss development standards,” she wrote.”

In other words, ‘Nothing to see here, folks.  Keep moving. . .”

Conversely, former Daytona Beach City Commissioner Carl Lentz IV, who serves as managing partner of SVN Alliance Commercial Real Estate Advisors, and represented Gelcorp in its purchase of the former Beachcomber property, said:

“They (Gelcorp) have been working with the city on conceptual plans,” said Lentz of the proposed Daytona Beach Oceanfront Condominiums project. “They’re excited about it.”

Yeah.  Wow.

That competing ‘spin’ is why people no longer trust anything coming out of government offices. . .

In turn, Realtor Lentz sent subliminal reassurance to his current and former colleagues in the public and private sector:

“He (Lentz) said he was not surprised that people at the neighborhood meeting raised concerns about the project. “Inevitably, there will be a minority of the public who will object. That’s because they oppose change.”

That’s what our pro-development “movers & shakers” say when We, The Little People take notice and make them nervous. . .

Keep doing what you are doing, folks. 

While these “developer initiated” meetings rarely change the trajectory of things short-term – the vocal pushback on Wednesday evening has clearly shifted the official narrative.

It is heartening that so many concerned citizens turned out in force to protect what remains of our most precious natural resource and collective quality of life. 

But this fight (and others) is just beginning. 

For instance, there is another oceanfront high-rise condominium proposed south of Silver Beach – 300 units, 28 stories, and 295 feet tall – which is much closer to approval than the Gelcorp project.    

Like FDOT Secretary John Tyler recently reminded Flagler County officials concerned about beach erosion on A-1-A, “Doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different outcome, is the textbook example of insanity.”

In my view, that wisdom holds true for how, when, where, and if we develop east of the Coastal Construction Control line. 

Frankly, the mere thought of foisting more, more, more development east of A-1-A on shell-shocked residents is a cruel madness that only greed-crazed speculative developers and compromised politicians are capable of. . .

Now, citizens are rightly suggesting that government begin the process of obtaining remaining vacant beachfront properties, “rewilding” the dunes, and turning what remains of these undeveloped parcels into a “living shoreline,” natures protective barrier to erosion.

With several high-rise structures teetering on our unstable shoreline – and new beachfront development quickly working its way through the pipeline – the time has come for our elected officials to put their bickering and bitchery aside and work cooperatively to enact a reasonable moratorium on development east of the Coastal Construction Control Line until a viable erosion control program can be studied and implemented before the next “500-year storm” pays us a visit next year – or next month. . .

Unfortunately, that requires a degree of foresight and political courage that is sorely lacking in Volusia County.

And the clock is ticking.

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, y’all!

The Definition of Insanity

Poor timing and optics? Tone deaf aggression?  Abject corporate stupidity?  Limitless greed? 

Hell, you pick one – because I’m at a loss. . .

Tomorrow evening at 7:00pm, a group of concerned residents will attend a neighborhood meeting at Steve’s Famous Diner on North Atlantic Avenue to oppose a monolithic 29-story, 267-unit condominium project “…planned on 500 ft of direct oceanfront in the heart of Daytona Beach” by out-of-town developer Gelcorp Industries. 

To expand the project’s ominous footprint even more, a “sales office” is planned west of North Atlantic Avenue at the intersection of Brookline Avenue.

Unfortunately, this week I have been virtually bedridden with the most virulent and debilitating of all known maladies: The dreaded “Man Cold” – perhaps the worst in recorded medical history – and will not be capable of physically dragging myself there.  (Although a steaming bowl of Christos’ delicious soup with homemade bread would no doubt cure this thing in short-order. . .)

While I won’t be able to attend the meeting in person, I’ve been to these code mandated dog-and-pony shows before – where a glib and extremely well-coiffed land use attorney does his or her best to sell the (insert latest obnoxious development here) to “owners and occupants of nearby lands” (Read: Those poor saps who will be most affected by the monstrosity – for the rest of their natural lives – or until they sell-out and move. . .)

Given the disastrous effects of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole on all 47-miles of Volusia County beaches, that “most affected” category is rapidly expanding to everyone who lives and pays property insurance premiums in Florida.

While these “developer initiated” meetings rarely change the trajectory of things short-term – they are an excellent opportunity to let corporate greedheads, and our elected representatives, know there is some shit we won’t eat. . .

To show the lunacy of even considering putting another high-rise building on the unstable sand east of A-1-A until a contiguous long-term solution can be found (and funded), the photograph above was taken by the intrepid civic activist and president of Sons of the Beach, Paul Zimmerman, with the frightening caption:  

“This is a picture of the property for the proposed monstrosity after Hurricane Nicole. After this picture was taken there were two more high tides which actually took another 10-15 feet of the lot. It has become hazardous to build on the east side of A1A.”

From what I have seen of the project’s conceptual plans, in typical fashion, the pool deck will abut a proposed “seawall/retaining wall” built on the extreme eastern terminus of the property line.

Like many have repeated as we come to grips with our new reality on the beachside, “Doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different outcome, is the textbook example of insanity.”

And, in my view, the mere thought of foisting more development east of A-1-A on shell-shocked residents is a cruel madness that only faceless speculative developers and compromised politicians are capable of. . .

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why Gelcorp is trying to ramrod a rezoning and comp plan amendment at this precarious time – especially when one civically attuned resident counted ten properties in the same general area (from Oakridge Boulevard north to Bellaire Plaza) that are either vacant, abandoned, or slowly under construction – who speculated the developer merely wants to secure the planned development designation then hope pre-sales of the proposed units provide funding for construction.

Sound familiar? 

It should.

Other concerned citizens are rightly suggesting that government begin the process of obtaining these vacant beachfront properties, “rewilding” the dunes, and turning what remains of these undeveloped parcels into a “living shoreline,” the natural protective barrier to erosion. 

I don’t have the answers. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest do either.  

In my view, with several high-rise structures and numerous residential properties teetering precariously on what remains of the dunes in Wilber-by-the-sea and beyond, it is time for our beach management experts and “planning and zoning” types to begin the long (and extremely expensive) process of determining how we live symbiotically with the forces of Mother Nature in a coastal community with a history of rubberstamping every new development that comes down the sandy pike.

Don’t hold your breath.

When are city, county, and state officials going to get off their sizeable asses and enact a reasonable moratorium on development east of the Coastal Construction Control Line until a viable erosion control program can be studied and implemented that will protect existing residential and commercial structures and public infrastructure before the next “500-year storm” pays us a visit next year – or next month

If you live in the Ortona area – or simply care about good government and smart development on our fragile barrier island – I encourage you to attend the neighborhood meeting and let your voice be heard. 

For more information, please go to the informative Facebook site: https://tinyurl.com/4m9zmutp where you can stay abreast of developments and communicate with likeminded neighbors. 

Trust me.  This one’s important. 

Stay tuned.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I always try to keep my gas tank full. 

It’s the Boy Scout in me, I guess – “Be Prepared.” 

Last Saturday I was out running errands ahead of the hustle and bustle of the Thanksgiving holiday and pulled into a Wawa in Ormond Beach to top off my tank.  As I finished and turned to get in my truck, I heard a voice behind me say, “Excuse me, sir.” 

Unfortunately, it is common in the Halifax area to be approached by homeless people or ambulatory street drunks asking for a handout, or a confrontation – and being a curmudgeon who long-ago lost all faith in humanity – I let out a long audible expletive and began going through the catalog of well-worn answers in my head:

“No, I don’t have an extra cigarette.” 

“No, I don’t have any spare change.”

“No, I don’t believe you need help getting home for the holidays.”

As I turned, the haggard vagrant I had pictured in my mind’s eye was replaced by a smiling, well-dressed gentleman who stuck out his hand and introduced himself, gave the name of the church he attends, and explained that he was out in the community “blessing people.”

Then he handed me a $10 gas card. 

It set me back a moment. 

I was mentally prepared for everything except kindness.

Thoughts began racing through my mind: 

Was it the fact I only pumped a few dollars worth of gas? 

Did my scruffy beard, faded t-shirt and jeans make me look like a charity case? 

Why would someone I had never met offer me a “blessing”?   

I explained to my benefactor that, although I may look like a bum, I was the most blessed person he could have selected – and asked that he give the card to someone less fortunate who could really use it. 

He understood. 

As I turned to go, he asked if he could pray with me for anything I may need in my life, and I declined.  (You see, I long-ago expended all my IOUs with the man upstairs – now, me and Jesus have our own thing going, and I try not to bother him on weekends. . .)

While I may be the proverbial sheep that got lost – this simple act of unexpected generosity made my beat-up old heart feel full knowing that there are people during this time of Thanksgiving offering random blessings to those who need it most. 

That includes thawing my cynical heart and helping me remember the true reason for this glorious season. 

My wish this Thanksgiving is that you and yours receive a similar blessing of the heart.   

Thanks, Pal.  Whoever you are. 

God’s work. 

___________________________

Here’s wishing blessings on each of you, your families, and our men and women in uniform at home and abroad – our brave military, law enforcement, and first responders – who go in harm’s way to keep us safe.

I’ll be back next week with my goofy thoughts on the news, newsmakers, and the issues we face here in this beautiful place we call home.

I hope you will join me.

From the Barker family to yours – Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! 

Things I learned in a bar…

Look, I am not a political scientist – just an uneducated rube peering through that greasy pane that separates We, The Little People from the innerworkings of our local government – trying desperately to figure who is manipulating the rods and strings, and why. . .   

As a law enforcement officer, I became a lifelong student of human nature – often observing people on the worst day of their lives – gaining insight into the good, the bad, and the ugly of our collective experience, determining motivations, and anticipating reactions. 

In retirement, I spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on a barstool, sipping highballs, and talking about the issues of the day – mostly with apolitical working folks who are far too busy earning a living and raising families to focus on the machinations of government. 

Since I started writing this opinion blog, neighbors sometimes stop me in the grocery store or drop by my favorite watering hole to talk politics, share a laugh, or take me to the woodshed for goring some sacred ox or another.   

I enjoy that.  It’s how I learn. 

During these interactions, I like to indulge in a social experiment developed by the late great political observer, Big John, who asked first-time callers to his radio forum if they knew their mayor’s name?

I also inquire if they have ever attended a city or county council meeting?

I hate to break it to those egomaniacal “don’t you know who I am?” elected dullards who wrap their personal identity in a haughty “title” – but most people do not have a clue who their mayor or council/commission members are – and I rarely speak to anyone who has attended a public meeting.

Ever.    

Which is telling.

These questions are not meant to embarrass anyone – but to show how little most people pay attention to local government – and how alienated they feel from the policymaking process. 

This barroom banter has taught me that we have common hopes and fears, the universal importance we place on those moral imperatives that contribute to a just and civil society, and how easily politicians and their benefactors manipulate emotions, apathy, and societal expectations of the masses for personal and political gain.    

And many openly wonder why the same last names always seem to be on the receiving end of publicly funded corporate welfare schemes or some inside business/land/development “deal” – usually hidden behind a secret cryptonym – that the rest of us knew nothing about. . . 

Invariably, those I speak with describe elected officials as, “arrogant,” “deceitful,” “snobbish,” “greedy,” “disconnected” and “hypocritical” – but still want to believe that those who hold themselves out for positions of power and high responsibility have our best interests at heart – but the common denominator seems to be how completely disconnected from the political process most people feel.

Which is why many laugh at me when I mention asinine concepts like “…all power is derived from the will of the people.”   

Yeah.  Right.  Sober-up, Barker. . .

Another universal gripe I hear concerns the adverse effects of overdevelopment – mostly traffic congestion and fears for the quality and quantity of our potable water supply – and the sense of helplessness that comes when massive amounts of money are strategically infused into the political process to skew the playing field and ensure the public teat remains patent for those who can pay-to-play.  

One thing I never hear (other than from real estate developers and their bought-and-paid-for shills on the dais of power) is how existing residents have an obligation to tighten up and make room for new transplants filling another “theme” community west of I-95. . .  

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, many of my neighbors have lamented the horrible condition of our beach (before and after the storms) – and expressed concern for those whose homes were lost, the future of beach driving, and what lucrative mitigation strategy our ‘powers that be’ will gift to their political benefactors once the money starts flowing from on high.

One crusty old local I recently spoke with described Volusia County’s response to the devastation in Wilber-by-the-Sea and beyond as akin to a “deer caught in the headlights,” explaining “This is what happens when politicians ignore a problem long enough – eventually Mother Nature figures it out for them…and it is always more expensive to repair, than prepare.”   

What I find most interesting is when I ask my neighbors how they go about selecting candidates in local races.

Many tell me that, while they agree with non-partisan city and county contests, most tend to vote in lockstep with party endorsements – often using those horribly skewed “voter guides” that omit the names of grassroots candidates who refuse to toe the party line – even as they decry the horrible partisan warfare that has divided the nation. 

A politically astute friend of mine recently remarked that the problem is: “Most people just don’t give a shit – and those who purchase the loyalties of politicians at election time exploit that apathy.” 

Sad. But true.

As evidence, they mentioned that people increasingly complain about the malignant growth that is covering the width and breadth of Volusia County – yet the majority of voters returned the same mindset and loyalties to the County Council this election cycle.

And the bulldozers continue to roar. 

Go figure.

Despite our challenges, I am always heartened to hear how optimistic most are for the future – the importance they place on good schools, our environment, and creating protections so our children and grandchildren can enjoy the same natural amenities and traditions that attracted so many to the Fun Coast in the first place. 

We all want the same things – and a better future for those who will come behind us.

In my view, we deserve better from those who control our destiny.

It seems that so long as our trash is picked up, reasonably clean water flows from the tap, and we feel marginally safe in our homes – those essential services we have come to rely on government to provide – most citizens are content to pay their taxes, cuss their arrogant elected representatives, and ignore how a few well-heeled insiders influence the political process each election season. 

How do we change that?

I don’t have a clue.

But if you figure it out, pull up a barstool and let’s talk about it. . . 

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Angels & Assholes for November 18, 2022

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole           Volusia County Council

The consolidated power of Volusia’s Old Guard was in full flex this week when just five members of the Volusia County Council – three of whom are lame ducks preparing to shuffle-off to the ash heap of history in January – determined the grim future of Southeast Volusia County and beyond for generations to come.

On Tuesday, the extension of Williamson Boulevard south of S.R. 44 to Indian River Boulevard west of I-95 – a raised thoroughfare with median bisecting an environmentally sensitive area of identified wetlands to facilitate the massive development at Farmton – was ramrodded through on a 4-1 vote with Chairman Jeff Brower voting against another ecological atrocity in the making.  

The final act of political prostitution by this dysfunctional iteration of the County Council was ushered in on a gilded lectica – supported by an “economic development” shill from the Southeast Volusia Chamber of Commerce who had the shameless pluck to refer to the encroachment on threatened wetlands as an “essential strategic corridor,” before trotting out the old “good, high-paying jobs” canard, a representative from the City of Edgewater (that has already approved the adjacent development knowing the fix was in), and a traffic engineer who mumbled something about, well, traffic. . .

Then – with Old Ben Johnson running effective interference – the venerable land use attorney Glenn Storch used his considerable skills and razzle-dazzle to effectively duck any serious questions or opposition before carrying the measure comfortably across the goal line for his client. 

Because that is how things work here in the Kingdom of the Almighty Dollar, where the needs of real estate developers are omnipotent – and the flora and fauna don’t buy zero-lot-line cracker boxes “starting in the mid $300’s”. . .

I found it interesting that when it came time to declare ex parte communications (a Latin term meaning “on behalf of one side or party only”) three of the five sitting Council members – Johnson, Robins, and Wheeler – stated Mr. Storch had contacted them prior to the meeting to see if they had any questions. 

According to Storch, he was too busy to contact the others. . .   

In my jaded view, the approval was a foregone conclusion.   

In short, the “process” worked as designed, and the voices of those concerned about the potential environmental consequences who equated the roadway to a levee blocking the free flow of water and restricting the movement of wildlife were wholly ignored

Of course, Old Ben Johnson and his fawning acolyte, Councilman Danny Robins, used the opportunity to take Chairman Brower out behind the woodshed one last time before Ben heads out to pasture, his dedicated service to the Fathers of Farmton now complete. . .

Whatever.

What I found most disgusting was when these same bought-and-paid-for marionettes – who have dragged their leaden feet on impact fees, environmental protections, and low impact development regulations for years while their political benefactors hauled untold millions out of the pine scrub – spoke of the importance of ensuring adequate transportation infrastructure to reduce traffic on surface roads and I-95 before development occurs. 

Yeah.  I know.  It’s called gaslighting – get used to it. 

In Volusia County politics, it is universally accepted ‘to the victor go the spoils’ – and those rewards have nothing to do with those compromised tools whose asses polish those expensive wingback chairs on the dais twice a month – and everything to do with the wants, whims, and profit motives of those uber-wealthy insiders who actually control public policy in Volusia County. 

In my view, this return on investment is why our oligarchical overseers spend tens-of-thousands of dollars on hand-select candidates, skew the electoral playing field, and ensure their needs are effectively and efficiently facilitated.    

I don’t make this shit up, folks. 

Please take a strong antiemetic and watch this travesty for yourself here: https://tinyurl.com/muc4r8em

Tuesday’s meanspirited shitshow gave anyone paying attention a ringside seat to the political emasculation of Chairman Jeff Brower that will play out over the next two-years – perpetrated by a firmly entrenched power structure – now an autocratic junta no longer hindered by political accountability or human decency.

Because that is what it means to “win” in Volusia County politics.

Be careful what you wish for, neighbors.   

Sometimes you get it. . .

Angel              Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower

During the November 1 Volusia County Council meeting, the Orthodox Jewish community of Deleon Springs turned out in force to seek help from their elected representatives in resolving persistent nuisance conditions near their homes.

One by one, members of the Hassidic community – many of whom relocated to West Volusia from New York and New Jersey – explained how happy they were with their new home, and how different the tranquility of Deleon Springs is from the challenges of living and working in big city chaos.

Since moving here, buying homes, and starting businesses – the City Limits Taproom & Grille opened along US-17 abutting their rural residential area.  Each of the resident’s described noise and other persistent annoyances originating from the establishment which have had a detrimental impact on their quality of life.

Unfortunately, rather than receive answers and explanations to their entreaties – those who approached the dais of power were met with typical taciturn silence – that awkward catatonic gaze that greets taxpayers with the temerity to prostrate themselves before the Monarchy and request answers to civic concerns.

It appeared that most of the sitting elected officials wanted to say something – anything – in response to the impassioned pleas of their constituents but were clearly hamstrung by the asinine and inviolate “rule” that elected officials never acknowledge the existence of citizens who participate in their government. 

A few weeks back I lamented the fact that, rather than engage with constituents at a public meeting on issues of community concern, the elected elite would rather turn even a routine noise complaint over to the bureaucracy where it can languish in the warren of the code enforcement process while frustrations build on all sides of the issue.

To his credit, Chairman Jeff Brower took the issue to heart and later brokered a face-to-face meeting between the owner of the establishment and leaders from the Hassidic community to find commonsense solutions.     

According to a report by Al Everson writing in the West Volusia Beacon:

“At the urging of Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower, the two sides met on the grounds of City Limits Taproom & Grille Nov. 6 to discuss the situation. Members of the Jewish community also had attended the Nov. 1 County Council meeting to voice their concerns.

“We heard all of you at the County Council meeting,” Brower told the Jewish neighbors. “Hopefully from this we will get some good suggestions.” Goodwill prevailed. City Limits owner Pete Ferrentino said he wished such a meeting had happened before the matter was aired before the County Council.”

To their credit, Councilwoman Billie Wheeler and Vice Chair Barb Girtman also attended the confab – breaking with tradition to support Chairman Brower’s problem-solving initiative – as they worked cooperatively to express concern and find an amicable answer without time-consuming monitoring, fees, and fines. 

I have no doubt that Chairman Brower will receive the rebuke and retribution of those stalwarts of the stagnant status quo who are opposed to any original idea or solution that falls outside the box of lockstep conformity – that tradition of dullness that permeates the executive suites at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building – where innovation and ingenuity go to die, and mediocrity is the operative ethic.

Like you, during the recent campaign season, I heard a lot of pap and fluff from those groveling for our vote about “approachable leadership,” “ethical, transparent leadership that respects the voices of all citizens,” “building collaboration and consensus,” “listening to ideas and issues that matter in our community,” and “ensuring residents know we work for them,” yadda, yadda, yadda.

It was typical election-year twaddle – but it makes me feel all warm-n-fuzzy reminiscing on those heady days when politicians feigned interest in the concerns of We, The Little People and gave Oscar-winning performances pretending they gave two-shits about our collective future and quality of life. . . 

Perhaps as a sign of that “transparency” we heard so much about, the “new” puppets who will take their seats on the dais in January will reconsider the simple act of acknowledging the presence of citizens who come before them – stop the silent treatment and cold shoulder routine that paints them as aloof assholes – and actually engage with the constituents they swore an oath to serve.

Don’t hold your breath. 

Unfortunately, if history repeats (and it always does here on the Fun Coast), that will not happen. 

At least not until the next election cycle demands that politicians come down from the Ivory Tower of Power and reluctantly mix with the Great Unwashed hordes. . .  

Kudos to Chairman Brower, Vice Chair Girtman, and Councilwoman Wheeler for stepping outside the box of conventionality to help foster a person-to-person solution to a festering community issue. 

My only wish is they could have found this spirit of cooperation and collegiality sooner. . . 

Asshole           Volusia County District Schools

Once again, Volusia County District Schools made headlines – and became the embarrassing butt of a joke on Saturday Night Live – following an incident at Holly Hill School wherein a district mental health counselor filed a report with police alleging a 10-year-old child “cupped” her breast during a hug she shared with the student in a classroom on October 24.

The child faced expulsion from district schools, ultimately serving a 10-day suspension for the as-yet unproven accusation.   

Now, the student’s family has retained high-profile Miami attorney Rawsi Williams and the West Volusia NAACP to address issues surrounding the suspension and criminal prosecution of the child – and to bring attention to persistent similar allegations of discrimination and disparate treatment at Volusia County Schools.  

According to an excellent report by education reporter Danielle Johnson writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“A suspension letter sent to the boy’s guardians stated the counselor was in the student’s classroom discussing another student when the class returned from lunch and the child “approached (the counselor) to hug her.”

“(The counselor) turned sideways to give a side hug,” the report stated. “(The student) put his left arm around her shoulder and then with his right hand he reached and grabbed her left breast in which she had to grab his wrist and remove his hand.”

The explanation states that the student “proceeded to smirk and walk away” and later “began yelling and kicking things and stormed off” when his primary teacher called him to ask about the incident.

The Holly Hill Police Department report, which the employee subsequently filed, stated that the incident, which was reported as a simple battery, happened around 11:30 a.m. to noon.

That report states that the counselor saw the student running toward her and turned her body. The student hugged her and then “cupped her left breast in a disrespectful way,” and she had to “forcibly remove his hand,” she told police.

The report also notes that the primary teacher in the classroom did not witness the incident, but tried to talk to the student about it afterward.”

The student’s family vehemently disputes the counselor’s version of the incident.

In an all-to-familiar assertion, Ms. Williams is claiming that Volusia County District Schools failed to follow its own policies during the disciplinary process: “…the School, in violation of its own policy — held a meeting to uphold he suspension without even giving notice of the meeting to (name redacted) dad and grandparents, with whom he and brother live. The School told them AFTER the Meeting that they’d met and upheld this awful and unlawful suspension. And that was a downgrade, they were trying to EXPEL him at the meeting.”

Apparently, based on little more than the employee’s description of the event, Volusia County Schools convened a secret tribunal known as a “District Student Placement Committee” – a camera stellata that meets in effective seclusion to determine the fate of students facing expulsion with a defense and appeal available only after the edict has been handed down. . .

You read that right. 

A mysterious “committee” comprised exclusively of district employees meets behind closed doors to make decisions that will have catastrophic impacts on a child’s life and education.  

That is what passes for “due process” in Volusia County Schools?    

According to Ms. Williams’ website, “By its own policy, the Final levels of decision makers must be included in a 10-day suspension, so these actions are attributable to the Board/School District and they are liable. Further, Volusia has a pervasive pattern of discrimination, due process violations, and unequal treatment under the law against its black and other minority children.”

Unfortunately, this appears to be a disturbing pattern. . . 

Last August, the United States Department of Justice reached a settlement with Volusia County Schools after finding the district’s “systemic and discriminatory practices” were punishing students with disabilities for behaviors the students couldn’t control.”

That investigation began in 2017 after an attorney representing eleven students – nine of whom were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder – filed complaints on their behalf with the DOJ.

According to a 2021 News-Journal report:

“The DOJ found the students’ claims to be true. The district relied on overly punitive disciplinary tactics and law enforcement to address behaviors that are known or should be known manifestations of the students’ disabilities. The district also “routinely sought to exclude these students by removing them,” by asking parents to pick children up from school or asking them to keep the children home, by suspending the children, or by using Baker Act procedures to involuntarily hold children at hospitals.” 

The resulting settlement gives Volusia County Schools three-years to revise discriminatory policies and procedures. . .

In October, parents of special-needs students filed state and federal complaints alleging discrimination against students with disabilities at Seabreeze High School. 

The allegations claim, among other things, that students with disabilities are essentially warehoused on campus in the ominous “Building 15” – and routinely deprived of general education opportunities and the ability to participate in electives.  

When you consider the debacle surrounding the recent auditors report detailing the massive waste of time, money, and resources related to the district’s horribly compromised software program – something former Assistant Director of Applications and Infrastructure Alex Kennedy tried valiantly to warn key decisionmakers about until he met the fate of most whistleblowers and was terminated in 2020 – or the shitshow that was the evaluation of former School Board attorney Ted Doran, you get the idea that things are not what they seem in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand. . . 

As you may recall, in May – without the benefit of a national search – the Volusia County School Board brought back Superintendent Carmen Balgobin with an annual salary of $245,000 plus benefits – yet the gross mismanagement and credible allegations of discrimination and a failure to follow established policies and procedures continue. 

What gives?

When will the United States Department of Justice finally have their fill of this ongoing course of conduct and take definitive action to provide strong external oversight of the administration of Volusia County Schools?

Quote of the Week

“Greg Knapp, another resident affected by the erosion damage, said he and his neighbors have been sharing contact information for contractors and “trying to get stuff done for five weeks.”

“We have gotten the biggest runaround,” Knapp said. “I’m sorry, but I’m telling it like it is. I’m getting the biggest run-around from permitting, from inspections, zoning. There is no consistency of communication from the county. And that’s not fair to us.”

He asked officials at the meeting that the county provide residents with consistent information to avoid confusion and try to clear the path ahead. He said even contractors are struggling to find out what they can and can’t do.

“We’re desperate to do something,” Knapp added. “I know the intentions are good, but the actions are horrible. We’re immobilized. Not one person in this room knows what to do next.”

–Wilber-by-the-Sea resident Greg Knapp, as quoted by reporter Brenno Carillo writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Wilbur residents tired of getting ‘run-around’: Meet to demand faster response to destruction from Nicole,” Wednesday, November 16, 2022

And Another Thing!

While watching Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting, I shook my head as outgoing Councilwoman Billie Wheeler mewled and cooed about the grim fate of her desperate constituents in Daytona Beach Shores and Wilber-by-the-Sea now that many of their homes have been consumed by the sea or remain at grave risk in the aftermath of Hurricane Nicole.

It was all a shameless set-up to allow County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald the opportunity to remind suffering residents in his patented bureaucratic monotone that nothing of substance will happen fast. . .

However, as their homes and condominiums teeter on the brink, coastal property owners can rest assured that everyone who is anyone in local and state government are actively expending volumes of hot air talking about it.

Cold comfort. 

Where was Ms. Wheeler and Volusia County’s senior executives – those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – for the past decade when residents asked them to limit red tape on mitigation efforts, screamed about the gross mismanagement of our beach, and begged for effective erosion control? 

The fact is, Volusia County – who has exclusive control of all 47-miles of our Atlantic coastline – has been caught flatfooted, painfully exposed as having no prior plan in place for this eventuality – now that our worst fears have been realized. 

Tragically, rather than receiving help with temporary protections, the residents of Wilber-by-the-Sea are hearing asinine “suggestions” bandied about by their clueless elected officials (like Councilman Danny Robins’ Google search of beach replenishment measures in New Jersey?) who are scrambling for answers now that they are being held accountable for the gross lack of planning that may have mitigated this disastrous outcome. 

Unfortunately, at a time when we need decisive leadership – we are stuck in that phase of the emergency where local officials are hoping the next level of bureaucratic incompetence will provide the answers (and money) they so desperately seek as the tough questions mount. . .

For now, residents are being asked to fill out applications with Florida Department of Environmental Protection and wait – uncomfortable in the knowledge that ‘time and tide wait for no man.’

In an act of political courage that I am sure will make victims of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole feel infinitely better about their calamitous situation – on Tuesday, after much consternation and hand-wringing – your elected representatives on the Volusia County Council unanimously authorized a letter to the State of Florida asking that they do something. . .

Oh, and if you live in waterlogged Daytona Beach, you will be happy to know that The Daytona Beach News-Journal is reporting an act of extraordinary political daring-do by Mayor Derrick Henry in a frontpage article titled, “Residents fed up”:

“Mayor Derrick Henry is sending a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis this week asking Florida’s top elected official to visit Daytona Beach soon to see what the city suffered on both sides of the Halifax River.”

Rest easy.  The letters are flying, folks. . .

Good luck.

Unfortunately, something tells me luck is all we have going for us now. . .  

That’s all for me.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Angels & Assholes will take a pause and return on December 2nd

A Trial by Fire

“Who knows how long this will last

Now we’ve come so far, so fast

But, somewhere back there in the dust

That same small town in each of us

I need to remember this

So baby give me just one kiss

Come and take a long last look,

Before we say goodbye…”

— Don Henley, The End of the Innocence”

Something about that old tune came back to haunt me this week when Hurricane Nicole’s fierce winds subsided and our worst fears were realized – “…armchair warriors often fail, and we’ve been poisoned by these fairytales, the lawyer’s dwell on small details, since daddy had to lie…”

Yeah.

One thing I learned during three-decades in municipal government is the bureaucracy must keep the boogeyman alive.  The golem that is always just around the corner – the specter that fuels training and equipment budgets, supports the reasoning for sitting on massive reserves, and is trotted out on non-election years to frighten constituents and anesthetize the pain of tax increases. 

But what happens when the monster comes to call? 

A “trial by fire” is a test of one’s ability to perform effectively under stress – to make timely and accurate decisions in a dynamic environment and quickly establish short, intermediate, and long-term goals – then work the plan and get every tool in the box working toward a solution without delay.    

Some theorize that the phrase alludes to the medieval practice of determining a person’s guilt by having them undergo a crucible, such as walking barefoot through a fire. It is also a painfully efficient way of exposing weakness and ineptitude when gale-force winds peel back the thin façade of competence of those we rely on when the chips are down.

By any metric, our first responders – area law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel have acquitted themselves as true heroes during both Ian and Nicole – a testament to their dedication to the mission of serving and protecting. 

How our senior bureaucrats will respond to the challenge of recovery and mitigation remains to be seen. . .

In government and politics, these tests represent a critical time when elected and appointed officials must effectively coordinate the various arms of an unwieldy bureaucracy, live up to the hype and pomposity that elevated them to high office, and effectively protect life and property. 

It’s not Rocket Science. We write Comprehensive Emergency Management Plans well ahead of threats – when things are calm – an all-hazards approach so that we have a roadmap for response and recovery operations post-incident.

Following the one/two punch of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, residents on both sides of Volusia’s “palmetto curtain” are beginning to question whether Volusia County officials have done everything possible to mitigate our vulnerability to natural disasters – and effectively respond to the grave and ongoing threat to homes and high-rise condominiums – some of which have already collapsed into the sea.

As politicians perversely pose for photo-ops with damaged homes as a backdrop – and some senior government officials step down from the Ivory Tower of Power to tour the devastation, get a little dust on the spit-shine, (and have their picture taken doing it) – frustration increases, and tempers are rightfully beginning to rise.  

Unfortunately, at a time when we need decisive leadership – we have entered that phase of the emergency where local officials look to county officials, county officials look to state officials, and state officials look to federal officials – hoping against hope the next level of bureaucratic incompetence will be marginally more effective than their own and provide the answers (and political insulation) they so desperately crave as the questions mount. . .

For instance, one resident of a teetering home in Wilber-by-the-Sea reported that Volusia County previously denied a request for a rock stabilization project behind her property – and others question why, in the wake of a personal inspection by Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday – what remains of the beach isn’t crawling with “200 dump trucks” replenishing sand and fortifying what remains of their foundations.  

Good question. . .

By contrast, within 24-hours post-Nicole, Flagler officials had already made temporary repairs to heavily damaged sections of A-1-A – yeoman’s work – that exemplifies the importance of a rapid and coordinated response to infrastructure restoration.

Now, we are being told by Florida Director of Emergency Management Kevin Guthrie that preliminary damage assessments won’t begin until Monday morning – yet, Volusia County has already released loss estimates north of $481 million.

Don’t worry, eventually everyone will get on the same page. I hope.

On Saturday, I mixed a strong Irish coffee and watched news coverage of the devastation on the south peninsula where beachfront property owners are beginning to point fingers and ask the hard questions – like why wasn’t more done to adequately manage beach erosion and stabilize protective barriers – while many residents are openly speculating whether building should be permitted east of Florida’s Coastal Construction Control Line.

Of course, some of those perennial politicians who cut their teeth weakening environmental protections and facilitating malignant growth across the width and breadth of Volusia County are tut-tutting that any consideration of limiting development east of crumbling A-1-A is an “overreaction” – while other pseudo-experts are telling me that the $20 million Governor DeSantis has earmarked for sand replenishment won’t work and more “strategizing” is needed (no doubt to determine who will get the lucrative contract to haul and push the sand around). . .

Bullshit. 

Frankly, these incompetent shitheels should be hanging their heads in shame – now that their cowardly handiwork has come home to roost. . .

Others are wondering what Volusia County’s “beach mismanagement” apparatus has been doing with the millions in public funds they have been given – and why those “experts” who staff our Coastal Division seem content to do the same thing over-and-over again while naïvely expecting a different result? 

In my view, the real focus of this growing scrutiny should rightfully be on Volusia County’s senior management – those overpaid Oz-like figures behind the curtain – like County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and Coastal Division Director Jessica Fentress – and others in this bloated bureaucracy who have sat on their thumbs while environmentalists, property owners, and civic activists begged for a proactive approach to beach stabilization for years

Surely, they had a plan in the books for this eventuality, right?

Right. . .

In many ways, those self-important dullards on the dais of power in DeLand are mere wooden figureheads who, truth be told, are just as frightened and clueless as the rest of us. 

That is why things happen despite them, not because of them.

The real power remains in the hands of an omnipotent County Manager – granted godlike powers by our sacrosanct county charter that was crafted in the craven image of the extremely wealthy insiders who created it – a single-point of almighty control that is easily influenced by external factions. 

This is Volusia County government’s “trial by fire.”

As a better picture begins to emerge of the true scope of coastal damage, we must demand answers – and accountability – from those politicians, planners, and professional engineers who convinced us that allowing their political benefactors to build shoulder-to-shoulder east of A-1-A on a fragile barrier island – directly on top of the stabilizing dunes and coastal vegetation – represented the “highest and best” use of that natural coastal erosion control system now that our worst fears have been realized.    

And in the view of shellshocked residents who are watching their homes consumed by the sea, it is time for our elected and appointed officials take immediate steps to protect and preserve what remains of our most precious natural resource as the clock ominously ticks toward the next monster. . .

Angels & Assholes for November 11, 2022

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Before we get into this week’s thoughts, I want to send my heartfelt thoughts and prayers to everyone who has been affected by Hurricane Nicole – a storm that has forever changed the landscape of our beach – as Mother Nature reclaimed that which is hers. 

This may come as a surprise, but politics isn’t personal for me, and I have dear friends on all sides of the political spectrum. 

From wild-eyed conservatives to moon-bat liberals, political strategists, elected officials, “movers & shakers,” developers, environmentalists, and dedicated civic activists – unlikely friends up-and-down the local power totem pole. We can vehemently disagree and actively work different sides of the street – then meet in the middle for a beer and a laugh. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of dyed-in-the-wool assholes in politics – but they tend to be suppurating assholes in ‘real life’ as well. 

You know who you are. . .

But during times of crisis, it is important that we put our political differences aside and work together to end the suffering and help our neighbors become whole again.

As I write this at a thankfully unscathed Barker’s View HQ, the news is bleak for coastal areas of Volusia and Flagler Counties, with reports that multiple homes have collapsed into the sea with severe beach erosion now threatening many other structures and public infrastructure, to include high-rise hotels, condominiums, and sections of A-1-A.

Tragically, the storm has also resulted in at least two deaths in Orange County.

This transcends petty politics.

Now is the time to pull together as a community – to support one another, encourage the work of our elected and appointed leaders, and heed the directives of our emergency management experts as they work to assess the impacts and determine a way forward as we work cooperatively to build a more resilient beachside. 

My hope is that as we recover from the utter devastation on the beachside, we can learn how best to live in this fragile coastal environment and better serve our most precious natural asset by guarding what remains of the dunes and coastal vegetation that protect our shoreline from erosion.   

Make no mistake, we are a strong community – better together – and we will recover. 

Now, for a bit of a diversion, here are my bleary-eyed views on the week that was in Fun Coast politics:

I try to keep my ear to the ground, especially in the aftermath of elections in Volusia County – a place where the more things change, the more they stay the same – and a palpable melancholy has swept across many concerned citizens and environmental activists who were hoping for substantive change and a true voice in their County government on Tuesday. 

That didn’t happen. 

The apathy that has gripped Volusia County for years was apparent when a majority of the 55% of Volusia’s registered voters who bothered to participate sent five fresh faces to the Volusia County Council – four political newcomers and a perennial retread from Ormond Beach – most possessing the same mercenary loyalties as their predecessors.

Look, I don’t want to lump District 1 Councilman-elect Don Dempsey into my jaded preconceived notions of what will be. 

I must have been washing my beard the day Mr. Dempsey campaigned for office, because what I know of his platform is limited to a blurb in The Daytona Beach News-Journal – some pie-in-the-sky goal of “reducing the size of government and lowering taxes” – in an environment where all our elected dullards seem capable of is growing the bureaucracy and insidiously increasing taxes and fees.   

As a regular Barker’s View commenter pointed out earlier this week, the good news is the election was free, open, and well-managed by Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis.  Whether or not you agree the electoral process was “fair” depends upon what side of the skewed campaign finance scheme you find yourself on. . .  

Unfortunately, as the victory celebrations wind down (and Volusia’s wealthy overseers allow their newly purchased livestock to disillusion themselves into thinking they won on their own merits), we are left with the realization that Volusia County has once again cemented its foul reputation as the poster child for political dysfunction – a cautionary tale for our more successful neighbors in Central Florida – and a laughingstock to the real players in places like Tampa and Orlando.

A skewed political system, wholly controlled by a closed oligarchy and divided by a clear line of demarcation between those who have, and those who don’t – victims of an artificial economy created by a select few uber-rich insiders who continue to stack the deck using massive campaign contributions to their malleable handmaidens to reduce regulatory incumbrances and secure their permanent place at the public trough.

And the stagnant status quo continues. . .

Whatever. 

The terrible kernel of truth I divined from Tuesday’s bloodletting is that we live in a time of diminishing expectations.   

Get used to it. 

So, my dear friends and neighbors, with apologies to Keats: That is all Ye know on the Fun Coast, and all Ye need to know. . .

Asshole           County of Volusia

Last week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal published an in-depth look at another brewing scandal in the cloistered Halls of Power at the Thomas C. Kelly Administrative Building in DeLand, when reporter Frank Fernandez flashed open the expensive drapery in the executive suite to expose allegations of “malicious and abusive behavior” toward inmates at the Volusia County Branch Jail…” and a possible cover-up at the highest levels of county government.

Whoa.

According to the News-Journal’s exposé, now neutered Volusia County Department of Corrections Director Mark Flowers has retained the venerable Daytona Beach attorney Kelly Chanfrau, whose firm has investigated claims that Director Flowers was retaliated against after he blew the whistle on the physical abuse of inmates.  

Chanfrau recently forwarded correspondence to County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald, which included a memorandum headed “formal written complaint” that Flowers sent to the County Manager on August 6.

It read like a scene out of “Brubaker”:

“In the memo, Flowers wrote that he has repeatedly reported unlawful actions that have occurred within the jail, but the issues have not been addressed. Flowers wrote there was a cover-up involving a use-of-force incident against an inmate named Justin Caruthers. He wrote that Caruthers reported that “Your correctional officers beat my ass.”

Flowers wrote that two correctional officers witnessed the incident and wrote statements. The two officers said that while they could not point to any individual officer, Caruthers was struck and punched numerous times in the head and body. A nurse at the jail said “They beat his ass,” Flowers reported. Flowers wrote that nine days after the incident he interviewed Caruthers, who still had two black eyes.

Flowers said that against his recommendation, Mark Swanson, the interim director of the Public Protection Department, reassigned the officers involved to other duties in the jail rather than removing them from the facility to prevent any possibility of witness intimidation or harassment.”

The report claims that Flowers received at least two emails from judges asking him to investigate use of force incidents at the jail.

According to the News-Journal, Director Flowers was concerned about the “use of sadistic and malicious force for sport,” and on May 10, sent an email to all staff members directing that they “…not strike inmates in the face or head unless it was a last resort.”

Jesus.

According to Flowers, as a result, he was subject to bullying and intimidation – and it was reported that the nurse in the Caruthers case later asked to be transferred to another facility due to harassment. 

Since submitting his memorandum alerting Volusia County’s senior elected and appointed officials of potential misconduct at the jail, Flowers has experienced the fate of most whistleblowers in government – watching helplessly as his career dissipation light began to flash, the wagons circled, and the bureaucracy entered self-protection mode.

According to the News-Journal report, when Flowers returned from medical leave on August 2, he was removed from his office, relieved of his duties, and “…told to work out of a conference room.” 

If publicly stripping a senior director of their workspace and duties – then placing them in the pillory of a conference room as a visible example – does not have a chilling effect on any potential whistleblower considering coming forward with allegations of misconduct in County government, I don’t know what would. . . 

According to Chanfrau’s letter, after submitting his memorandum to the County Manager, Flowers reported that Recktenwald told him, “I don’t know what I am going to do with you now. You have put me in a difficult position now that you have sent your (formal complaint) to all my bosses. The jury is still out.”

Flowers’ banishment included being placed on “administrative leave with pay” on August 15. . .

 In response to a News-Journal inquiry, Volusia County’s paid mouthpiece Kevin Captain used his bureaucratic superpower of expending copious amounts of hot-air without communicating anything of substance:

“Due to the nature and complexity of the circumstances, the County has referred a portion of the investigation to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The County will continue to investigate all matters pertaining to this inquiry with objectivity and impartiality and we look forward to releasing all of the relevant information at the appropriate time.”

A “…portion of the investigation”

Say what? 

Trust me – given the shady ‘nature and complexity’ of these disturbing allegations – absolutely nothing about this raging shit show should be investigated in-house. . .

Interestingly, during the November 1 Volusia County Council meeting, the wife of a Department of Corrections Sergeant approached the dais during public participation and passionately reported low morale and other issues within the department – specifically the plight of jail employees who have been denied a Coronavirus stipend that similarly situated coworkers were afforded after working under difficult and dangerous conditions during the pandemic. 

Troubling.

From my earliest days in law enforcement, it was drilled into me that the health and safety of a prisoner in my custody remained my personal and legal responsibility until I properly remanded them to the care and control of the Volusia County Jail. 

During my productive life as a police administrator, I referred criminal charges and terminated the employment of officers who intentionally mistreated prisoners in their care – and in my experience, the way in which senior elected and appointed officials respond to these serious issues tells you everything you need to know about the values and principles of an organization. 

If there is a modicum of accuracy to these serious allegations, perhaps it is time those at the top of this steaming dung heap learn that the cover-up is always worse than the crime.  

My sincere hope is that Director Flowers is not the latest victim of Volusia County’s insular culture of concealment – the entrenched lack of transparency that has destroyed the public trust and created a needless “Us vs. Them” divide that continues to impede progress on the myriad issues we face.

In my view, while Volusia County residents await the results of FDLE’s investigation into “a portion” of these allegations (?) – the internal issues surrounding the professional crucifixion of Director Flowers ostensibly for having the courage to come forward and report suspected criminal mistreatment of inmates also deserves an external review – by the United States Department of Justice.

Given the grave nature of these allegations – both at the jail and in the executive suite of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building – I believe the Volusia County Council should convene in special session to address the News-Journal’s report, ensure that inmates are protected from alleged “sadistic and malicious” abuse, and temporarily relieve both County Manager Recktenwald and Interim Director of Public Protection Mark Swanson until their official actions can be thoroughly investigated and confidence restored.

This is just one example of why so many were hoping for a culture change in the hallowed Halls of Power in Deland on Tuesday.

Because the citizens of Volusia County – who will ultimately pay dearly for this continuing gross ineptitude – deserve better.

Angels             Residents of Daytona Beach’s Midtown

I often wonder how some elected officials sleep at night – let alone look their weary constituents in the eye. . .

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian – residents of the historically neglected Midtown neighborhood of Daytona Beach continued to suffer helplessly as floodwaters filled their homes – again. 

A regular and incredibly expensive occurrence that happens every time heavy rains pay them a visit.  In fact, a friend of mine who lives in Midtown told me that, in the wake of Ian, the fetid water rose until it was nearly knee-deep – marking the fourth time his home has flooded.

Last Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal published a report by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean which had officials claiming the lack of effective mitigation efforts in the low-lying Midtown neighborhood is due to a “shortage of funds.” 

My ass.

In my view, more like a lack of priorities.

And a dearth of political courage. . .

For instance, anyone recall the official answer from the City of Daytona Beach when the intrepid WFTV reporter Mike Springer cornered City Manager Jim “The Chiseler” Chisholm in a parking lot and asked about the plight of Midtown residents?

I do.  The Chiseler’s arrogant response to his suffering citizens:“Move.”   

(Did I mention that The Chiseler is now the Interim City Manager for the waterlogged City of Deltona?  Because he is. . .)

According to the News-Journal’s report, “While people in Pelican Bay and Indigo Lakes were shocked to see their neighborhoods inundated, longtime Midtown residents were not. It’s happened in the historically Black community before – again and again, for many decades. The crushing poverty throughout Midtown and its already beat-up homes and businesses make recovery especially hard. It’s where about 500 public housing units are located, and it’s home to many of Daytona Beach’s poorest residents.”

The flooding problem has lingered for decades, and in the view of many affected residents, city and county officials have intentionally neglected Midtown and surrounding flood prone areas while lavishing public funds on the various private for-profit projects of those who can afford to pay-to-play, all while rubberstamping the sprawling fill-and-build development that some experts believe has contributed to flooding in established neighborhoods from Ormond Beach to New Smyrna Beach to Deltona and beyond.   

“The city made a push to tackle the flooding problem in 2009, when more than 20 inches of rain fell over a six-day period. But so far Daytona Beach hasn’t been able to pull together $3 million for the in-depth study needed to come up with a flood mitigation plan, much less the tens of millions of dollars needed to create a new drainage system.

The city is willing to put up $1.5 million for the study, and has made requests in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., for the other $1.5 million every year since 2009. Thirteen years later, the city still doesn’t have the money to get out of the starting blocks. But after watching the devastation and trauma Ian inflicted on Midtown, a nerve has been struck and city leaders have a new determination to make this time different.”

Time will tell.

If we use history as our guide, in just the past few years, Daytona Beach and Volusia County have found tens-of-millions in tax incentives, infrastructure improvements, and cash infusions to underwrite private projects like One Daytona, Tanger Outlets, the Brown & Brown building, and an $800,000 annual burden to cover maintenance on the much heralded 22-acre Brown Esplanade in downtrodden downtown Daytona, to name a few.

And don’t get me started on the $15.8 million Williamson Boulevard extension – colloquially known as the “road to nowhere” – that opened access to more, more, more planned developments, to include our High Panjandrum of Political Power Mori Hosseini’s sprawling Woodhaven project.   

Which makes it disingenuous for the City of Daytona Beach and Volusia County to cry the Poormouth Blues when it comes time to fund solutions to chronic public infrastructure issues – like recurrent flooding – and that monument to mediocrity at the two-lane pinch-point on Boomtown Boulevard.     

Many believe these corporate welfare projects are nice-to-haves – but not while our neighbors in Midtown and beyond are being forced out of their inundated homes every time it rains. 

Quote of the Week

“It’s just like the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on me when I’m not even running, and on a private senior citizen (Collins) who dares express his opinion on the corruption in local politics,” Brower wrote. “Vic Baker is a corrupt bully doing the bidding of the REC’s biggest donors who will do anything to win.”

–Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia Republican boss files elections complaint,” Election Day, November 8, 2022

I know, I know – enough with the sour grapes, Barker. 

Just indulge me one more political pity party, then I’ll move along. 

(No, I won’t – you know me better than that.)     

The fact is nothing surprises me anymore. 

Especially when it comes to Volusia County politics – or the unvarnished “Us vs. Them” hatred and divisiveness that now controls the political discourse everywhere

On Election Day, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a frontpage report airing the dirty laundry of Volusia’s fractured Republican apparatus and the ugly internecine warfare that has resulted from the Republican Executive Committee of Volusia endorsing those hand-select candidates underwritten by our “Rich & Powerful” oligarchs – while doing everything possible to destroy any “grassroots” candidate who vowed to represent We, The Little People over the wants, whims, and profit motives of those with a chip in the game.  

According to the report, the RECV, led by the meanspirited Paul Deering and his toady, Volusia GOP State Committeeman Vic Baker – threw more dust in the air by filing a complaint with state elections officials against a political action committee that supported those “Volusia Values” candidates who were backed by Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower, just before election day. 

The strategy gave ample opportunity for Deering/Baker and Company to further villainize Brower (who was not running for anything). 

Why? 

In my view, to effectively boost those RECV meat puppets who were financed by the Big Money donors – all of whom were scared shitless they would lose their iron-grip on power.   

According to the report, “The Brower-backed candidates have signed a pledge not to raise taxes and have campaigned on protecting the environment from overdevelopment, taking issue with candidates who have accepted contributions from developers.”

At the end of the day, none of it mattered.    

Look, I have come to accept that Volusia County elections are now a partisan blood sport – and I’m not talking Red v. Blue here. 

The Republican apparatus on Florida’s Fun Coast is horribly fractured with so many clubs, caucuses, conclaves, federations, and covens – that you need a program to keep up with the players – and what remains of the Volusia County Democratic party has become so irrelevant that it is rarely mentioned in serious political conversations.

At the end of the day, we have arrived at the bottom – where nothing matters except winning at all costs – a place where the ends always justify the means and those who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic Tides here in Volusia County have, once again, succeeded in diverting our attention from the myriad issues we face with more, more, more distraction and obstructionism. 

We have no one to blame but ourselves.

Thomas Jefferson was right – “The government you elect, is the government you deserve.”

Unfortunately, something tells me our way will be dark and slippery for the foreseeable future. 

I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

And Another Thing!

Psst.  Wanna hear a rumor? 

I live by the adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, sit next to me,” because much of the behind-the-scenes (and it is all behind-the-scenes) machinations of the political and legislative process is cloaked in intrigue and speculation.    

Frankly, if I printed half of the insider tips, salacious rumors, and political hypotheses that come into the Barker’s View mailbox it would scare the pants off most Fun Coast residents, most of whom now take an out of sight, out of mine stance on local government. 

That indifference is just fine with most elected and appointed officials. . .

What frightens me is how many of these rumors and innuendo invariably prove true. 

Last week in this space, I voiced my cynical opinion on the unearned accolades being draped on The Very Revered “Dr.” Fred Lowry last week as he slinked off the dais of power after resigning the District 5 Volusia County Council seat to run for the School Board. 

Because “resign-to-run” is the law, and Lowry’s last official day in office is Monday. 

In Florida, an elected or appointed “officer” may not qualify as a candidate for another state, district, county, or municipal public office if the terms, or any part of the terms, overlap with each other should the candidate be elected or appointed and did not resign from the office they presently hold. 

According to state statute, once submitted, the resignation is irrevocable.

Or is it? 

After publishing last week’s Angels & Assholes, I received several disturbing messages from some very smart and civically in-tune readers who said – “rumor has it” – Governor Ron DeSantis will reappoint The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry to the District 5 seat until January 2023, when Councilman-elect David Santiago, who was duly elected to the office on Tuesday, is sworn it. 

Say what?

Hell, even The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently ran with a story headlined, “Volusia County Council District 5 seat to be vacant until January,” so I naturally assumed “Dr.” Lowry had finally shuffled off to the political ash heap where all perennial politicians ultimately land.

It would be the first time (in anyone’s memory) that an incumbent who resigned-to-run was reappointed to office over his or her duly elected successor – and without any input from the residents of District 5.

Other than their majority vote for Santiago on Tuesday, that is. . .

Look, I respect Governor DeSantis and have championed his initiatives to support law enforcement in Florida – and I appreciate the fact he has worked hard to keep the Sunshine State free of the asinine policies that have brought many major metropolitan areas around the nation to their knees.   

I do not agree with his every thought and stance like some partisan automatons I know – but in politics you take the good with the bad – and Governor DeSantis’ enormous popularity is undeniable. 

However, the foundational principle of our Constitutional system is nemo est supra legem – “no one is above the law” – and in all matters, the law should be the governing edict. Because intentionally circumventing the rules to reward political loyalty, or worse, is autocratic at best and despotic at worst. 

As a Harvard educated lawyer, I suspect Governor DeSantis is better acquainted with that noble concept than I am. 

At least I hope he is. . .

During “Dr.” Lowry’s run for the Volusia County School Board, he was the recipient of an odd endorsement from Governor DeSantis – no doubt the result of an entreaty from the local Republican hierarchy or some “Rich & Powerful” member of Volusia’s Old Guard – because, in my view, no one in their right mind could support Lowry’s ravings from the lunatic fringe or his obstructionist antics that have sacrificed the public trust to the profit motives of his political benefactors.  

Despite Governor DeSantis’ huge popularity – his support of “Dr.” Lowry did not help as incumbent School Board Chair Ruben Colon won that race in an unreasonably close contest in August.

If my information is wrong – and this is all wild speculation during the turbulence of a chaotic political season – then we can chalk it up to baseless gossip and move along.

But if this ugly rumor proves true, in my view, it lends credence to the jaundiced belief of many Fun Coast residents that the stagnant status quo rewards its own – a spurious circumvention of the rules that will further exacerbate the “trust issue” – a malignancy that continues to spread across the body politic in Volusia County and beyond.   

Again, time will tell. . .

Keep the faith, friends. 

That’s all for me.  Here’s wishing all my brothers and sisters who served in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces a Happy Veteran’s Day!

Have a great weekend, y’all! 

Know your role

So, how’d the election turn out for you?

Yeah.  Me too. 

Tuesday’s results had something for everyone, I guess.

Fortunately, we have some new faces on the Volusia County Council – unfortunately, they have the same old, same old loyalties and mindset – and like other recent elections, these contests were a testament to the power of money in skewing the playing field in a hyper-partisan environment where anything goes, and the ends always justify the means.

As a result, Volusia County’s reputation as the poster child for political dysfunction remains intact – a cautionary tale for our more successful neighbors in Central Florida, and a laughing stock to the real players in places like Tampa and Orlando – an oligarchy divided by a clear line of demarcation between those who have, and those who don’t – victims of an artificial economy created by a select few political insiders who continue to stack the deck using massive campaign contributions to reduce regulatory incumbrances and secure their permanent place at the public trough.

You don’t have to agree with that – but it is the ugly truth. 

That’s why I laugh whenever I hear these D-list politicians – many of whom have done everything possible to alienate large segments of their constituencies during the campaign – now whining about “mending fences,” “stopping the negativity,” and “bringing collaboration” to that foundering ship of fools in DeLand. 

Bullshit.

In my view, it is time for Chairman Jeff Brower to step down, return to the farm, and do whatever it is he does when he’s not jousting at windmills. 

Like the now defeated Councilwoman Barbara Girtman, Mr. Brower played it too nice – even with a public mandate in his pocket, Brower never developed a taste for the cut-throat politics that has left him a battered and bruised martyr to some archaic notion of a local government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Once his enemies on the Gang of Four smelled blood in the water and knew they could turn Brower’s inherent decency against him – they marginalized his initiatives at every turn and beat him like a borrowed mule. 

Why?  Because they could.

That’s the way things work now. 

To quote a line from a long-forgotten movie, Brower is not a wolf.  “And this is a land of wolves now.”  

Note to those giddy new marionettes who were elected to high office yesterday – your job is not to bring cohesion and collaboration to the dais of power – it is to ensure that every want, whim, and profit motive of those uber-wealthy insiders who brought you to the dance are protected at all costs. 

Know your role.

Am I bitter? Nah. I would be if I actually had a chip in game – but I don’t. Neither do you.

Just disappointed.

Here’s a promise: I’ll lick my wounds, take stock of what it all means, and meet all you cool dudes and dudettes back here for Angels & Assholes on Friday.

Hunker down, y’all. . .

Angels & Assholes for November 4, 2022

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Angel               Volusia County Voters  

In every political contest there is courage and cowardice, honor, and ignominy – and in Volusia County – some very important people spend incredible sums of money each election season to ensure their hand-picked candidates for public office prevail. 

Unfortunately, that pattern of stuffing the war chests of select sock puppets with artificially high contributions continued unabated this year. 

Now, many voters are asking: 

Do these massive expenditures represent a campaign contribution, or an investment? 

Given the strange state of affairs on the Volusia County Council, it is a legitimate question – and the answer is increasingly obvious.  

To We, The Little People on the outside looking in, it appears this pay-to-play system places intense pressure on the beneficiaries of this well-connected largesse to win at all costs – then do that which they were hired to do – and serve the wants, whims, and profit motives of those who own the paper on their political souls.

Is there another answer?

If I sound cynical – that’s because I am. . .     

Elections stir strong emotions because the outcomes have profound consequences on our lives and livelihoods, and these contests bring out the best – and worst – in candidates and their camps.    

As a result, many see our local democratic process as a blood sport – a pitched battle between good and evil – an arduous and polarizing exercise pitting neighbor against neighbor, fueled by hyper-partisan rhetoric, outright lies, and dark money infusions from shadowy ‘political action committees,’ open warfare marked by scorched earth tactics designed to annihilate one’s opponent through the ruthless politics of personal destruction, rather than championing innovative solutions. 

Unfortunately, that divisiveness and acrimony now carry over to the dais of power once the victors assume high office – and absolutely nothing of substance is accomplished – beyond more obstruction, bickering, and procrastination. 

Gone is the time when local elections focused on the competition of ideas and well-thought platforms served as a showcase for a candidate’s unique vision for the future – a demarcation between what is and what could be. 

Not anymore. 

This cut-throat chicanery is turning more voters away from the polls as apathetic citizens throw up their hands and adopt the late great P. J. O’rourke’s philosophy:

“Don’t vote – It just encourages the bastards…” 

As election day approaches, I have spoken to several well-respected civic activists – good citizens who have devoted themselves to serving others, protecting our environment, and bettering our quality of life in Volusia County and beyond – who have vowed to leave the public arena if certain candidates are elected, and the stagnant status quo prevails. 

Others lament the fact that we have entered an era where the best we can hope for is to replace one robotic lockstep voting bloc with another – and to hell with old-fashioned notions of deliberation, compromise, and collegiality. 

I get it.  It is tiresome – and tempting as hell to throw up one’s hands and say to hell with it – and the palpable weariness and frustration of many civically active residents saddens me. 

Keep the faith. 

Fostering substantive change – building an inclusive representative democracy on both sides of the Palmetto Curtain that values the input of all residents and works toward a system of good governance based upon collaborative policymaking and the thoughtful stewardship of public resources is a marathon, not a sprint.

An admirable work-in-progress that transcends any one race, ideology, or political season.   

Being an active and involved citizen means accepting political victory and defeat – then persevering – never losing sight of that which is important, just, and fair – never forgetting that, irrespective of our status or political persuasion, we are all in this together.

At least we should be.   

Thank for taking the time to educate yourself on the issues – and for casting your sacred vote. 

It’s important.

Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome – I hope everyone continues the good fight to return a government of the people, by the people, and for the people to Volusia County.

Asshole           Deltona City Commission

“The pending contract for Chisholm’s services as Deltona’s temporary manager awaits ratification by the Deltona City Commission. When the City Commission approved the tentative appointment of Chisholm to the post Oct. 12, the elected body named City Commissioner Dana McCool as its negotiator with Chisholm. McCool declined to give specifics about the draft contract, saying only that the agreement will be released later this week.

“Yes, a salary was negotiated,” she told The Beacon. “He didn’t get the salary he asked for.”

For comparison, former Acting City Manager John Peters received an annual salary of $165,000. Deltona’s last permanent manager, Jane Shang, was paid a salary of $175,000 per year.

McCool also said Chisholm will receive no deferred compensation, sometimes called “a golden parachute.”

“Absolutely not,” she added.”

–Deltona City Commissioner Dana McCool as quoted by The West Volusia Beacon, “Deltona reaches tentative pact for temporary chief,” Monday, October 31, 2022

Last month, against all reason, controversial former Daytona Beach City Manager Jim “The Chiseler” Chisholm was brought out of hibernation to assume the acting role in Deltona on a 4-2 majority vote (Commissioner David Sosa was absent) with Commissioner’s McCool and Loren King rightfully voting against. 

The vote – which felt like a foregone conclusion by a terribly fractured City Commission – placed one of the most polarizing political figures in Volusia County in charge of the most dysfunctional local “government” in Florida.

Then, the good citizens of Deltona waited to see how much this latest crap shoot would cost them, and Commissioner McCool was tapped to look out for their interests during the city’s contract negotiations with The Chiseler.   

Late this week, Deltona taxpayers learned that a tentative agreement has been reached which will have Mr. Chisholm (and his wife) farting through silk for the foreseeable future.

The incredibly lucrative package includes:

Compensation of $87,400 for each six-month term, paid in equal weekly payments of $3,361.54, (that’s $174,800 a year – equal to former full-time City Manager Jane Shang – and about $10,000 more than John Peters received for the same work), along with top-shelf perquisites that include full health, dental, and vision coverage for Chisholm and his wife – publicly funded private pension contributions – and a vehicle, paid for by the citizens of Deltona, which includes insurance, maintenance, repair, and fuel expenses with no restriction on personal use. . .

Yeah.  Wow. 

The Chiseler’s employment agreement will be voted on by the City Commission on Monday evening. 

I found it interesting that Mr. Chisholm took the helm of that crippled ship of fools that is Deltona City Hall without having a formal employment agreement in place. 

Interesting.  But not surprising.

In my view, there is a reason Jim Chisholm (and those external forces that influence the city’s elected officials) set his sights on Deltona – and I don’t think it has anything to do with “helping out” during the community’s latest tumultuous transition – and everything to do with some mysterious opportunist(s) who wants to take advantage of a bad situation in Wild West Volusia. 

I could be wrong. 

But based on Mr. Chisholm’s readily available history, I don’t think so. . .

If you live or do business in the City of Deltona, let me leave you with a parable:

“There once was a tender-hearted woman who rescued a poor, half-frozen snake from near death in the winter cold. “Take me in, oh tender woman,” the snake cries out. “Take me in, for heaven’s sake.”

So, the tender-hearted woman takes the snake into her own home, warms it by the fire and feeds it milk and honey: “If I hadn’t brought you in, by now you might have died.” But instead of saying thanks, the snake gave her a vicious bite.

“I saved you,” cried the woman. “And you’ve bitten me, but why? You know your bite is poisonous, and now I’m going to die.” “Oh, shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin. “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

Don’t say you weren’t warned. . .

Angel               City of New Smyrna Beach

On Monday, the City of New Smyrna Beach’s Planning and Zoning Board will meet to discuss a temporary moratorium on land use rezonings, including Master Plan amendments, site plan approvals, plats, and variances on residential subdivisions of ten acres or more. 

The measure is being taken in the wake (literally) of Hurricane Ian’s floodwaters as planners seek time to study whether existing land use regulations are appropriate, “…or whether improvements should be made to the Land Development Regulations and/or the Code of Ordinances should be revised relating to the regulation of stormwater management and drainage or floodplain management…”

I think anyone who spent the last three-weeks ripping moldering drywall out of what was once their living room already knows the answer to that question. . . 

If the ordinance is approved by the City Commission, the moratorium would remain in effect until February 23, 2023. 

For decades, Florida environmentalists have sounded the klaxon on overdevelopment’s effect on natural hazard vulnerability in a place where greed knows no boundaries, nothing is sacred, and the only thing that matters is money – and we are now reaping the whirlwind of this growth-at-all-cost strategy that has drastically changed the topography of the land and paved over the natural recharge areas and wetlands that protect inland areas from storm surge and flooding. 

Recently, the regressive Volusia County Council voted on a formal policy that forbids this cowardly iteration of the elective body from even discussing the idea of protecting the quantity and quality of our drinking water supply – choosing instead to protect the greed-crazed profit motives of well-heeled insiders in the development industry over the health and safety of our children and grandchildren.

Why is that?

Look, I am not “anti-development” – but like most thinking people, I am against a continuation of this shove ten-pounds of shit into a five-pound bag strategy that has allowed malignant growth to far outpace our aging and inadequate transportation and utilities infrastructure. 

Unlike certain sitting politicians who kowtow to their political benefactors using the “property rights” argument – speculative developers have no more right to flood neighboring properties than I have a right to build an industrial waste incinerator in my backyard. 

That is why we have land use, engineering, and zoning requirements. 

As I have crowed, ad nauseam – Mother Nature has now countered the political rhetoric of those cheap tools who accept thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from developers – then look us in the eye, shrug their shoulders, and tell us “Nuttin’ we can do, hands are tied – If you’re not growing, you’re dying!”

All while dragging their leaden feet on reasonable low-impact development strategies, environmental protections, and impact fee increases.

While some cynics believe building moratoriums like that proposed by New Smyrna Beach are mere political insulators for vulnerable incumbents who fear their constituents are preparing to clap back on the wholesale rubberstamping of more, more, more development – in my view, this tap of the brakes represents a common-sense approach to determining the effects of massive growth on flooding and our environment – and how we can better plan to protect existing residents.

Quote of the Week      

“My job is to get entitlements,” Jay Livingston, the Palm Coast attorney representing the developer, said today in response to a question about rising interest rates’ effect on the project. “The guys that ultimately figure out how to build things are concerned with that. If it becomes a reality, a long term reality, we’re going to have to to learn how to live with it. We can’t stop building houses.”

–Land Use Attorney Jay Livingston as quoted by FlaglerLive!, “Developer Planning 750-Home Subdivision, One of Palm Coast’s Largest, at SR100 and Old Kings Road,” Wednesday, October 26, 2022

According to the FlaglerLive! report, current plans for the massive development known as Coquina Shores call for minimum lot sizes of 40 feet wide on 4,800 square-foot lots and homes of 1,200 square feet – with side-yard setbacks of just five feet

All regular traffic from the development will be channeled onto SR-100. . . 

And Another Thing!

When it comes to Volusia County government, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

This morning, The Daytona Beach News-Journal is running a front-page/above the fold story headlined, “Abuse of Volusia jail inmates alleged,” – an investigative expose by Frank Fernandez with disturbing details alleging that inmates have been physically beaten – and evidence that the one person who tried to stop it, Corrections Director Mark Flowers, is now being retaliated against for blowing the whistle.

Damn. Not pretty.

Sounds like County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald has some explaining to do, eh?

Let’s take a look at what else happened (or didn’t happen) in the cloistered Halls of Power in Deland this week:

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council was visited by what must have been the entire Orthodox Jewish community of West Volusia who approached those elected dullards on the dais of power and very respectfully asked for their help with a chronic nuisance in their neighborhood. 

One by one, the concerned citizens spoke of their love for the safety and solitude they found in West Volusia after moving from New York City. 

Each speaker explained how happy they were with their new home, how different the tranquility of Deleon Springs is from the challenges of living and working in big city chaos, and of their significant contributions to the local economy through business interests, educational pursuits, and real estate acquisitions.     

Since the community relocated here, a bar has been allowed to open along US-17 abutting their rural residential area. 

They described the cacophony of music and raucousness inherent to a busy night club (especially one with an outdoor bandstand) that has brought persistent noise, trash, and other nuisance conditions which has had a detrimental impact on the community’s quality of life.

In short, it was a typical noise complaint – obviously long-simmering – a problem common when commercial areas closely interface with residential neighborhoods. 

As members of the community repeated their collective concerns, the councilmember’s sat taciturn and motionless, gazing down from their monarchical perch like straw-stuffed scarecrows.

When the group was finished voicing their concerns, our elected officials sat slack-jawed – physiologically incapable of addressing a matter of community concern – struck mute by a pathological need to ignore their constituents and avoid even the appearance of an open, responsive, and representative elective body.   

What must this group of obviously well-intentioned citizens have thought when their sincere entreaty was effectively ignored by the one group they put their faith in?   

Rather than offer a brief explanation of the code enforcement process – or simply acknowledge their constituents concerns – the Volusia County Council maintained lockstep conformity with their asinine diktat of refusing to interact with taxpayers, sidestepping any direct communication with those who elected them, even when addressing a run-of-the-mill code enforcement issue in chambers would take far less time than turning it over to the bureaucracy. 

In fact, after an awkward back-and-forth between our elected elite on why they cannot speak directly to citizens, County Attorney Mike Dyer explained that someone would contact a representative for the group and explain how they can contact someone else so a formal noise complaint can be filed. 

Then the matter can be investigated by a separate entity, decibel readings taken and analyzed, the subsequent report reviewed and approved by a supervisor, the nuances discussed in a staff meeting, an explanatory email sent to the County Manager and County Attorney, the County Council briefed on progress sometime after the Holidays – then another staffer can be assigned to stop by the bar and ask if they can keep it down. . .   

Good luck, folks – you’re going to need it.

In another welcomed development on Tuesday, I upchucked in my mouth a little as undeserved laurels were draped on The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry by his “colleagues” as he announced his departure from elective service after “resigning to run” for the Volusia County School Board earlier this year. 

Mercifully, incumbent School Board Chair Ruben Colón beat Lowry in an unreasonably close election this summer. 

When Lowry first took the District 5 Volusia County Council seat in 2014, he quickly solidified his reputation as a benign lump – rarely weighing in on the issues – more of a phantasmic presence in the gilded chamber than an active participant, another stalwart of the stagnant status quo, and a reliable rubberstamp for Volusia’s Old Guard.  

Then, Chairman Jeff Brower was elected in direct contravention of our “Rich & Powerful” oligarch’s efforts to return their hand-select marionette to the dais – and everything changed.

Suddenly the dynamics shifted, and Lowry’s ‘Caspar Milquetoast’ persona metamorphosed into an aggressive attack dog – cutting into Brower at every opportunity, openly shitting on the Chair’s initiatives and campaign promises – while he led the charge to marginalize Councilwoman Heather Post, denying her constituents in District 4 proper representation.     

Magically, Lowry blossomed into an expert parliamentarian who took delight in pointing out the Chair’s every procedural fumble – tut-tutting along with the craven Gang of Four with his annoying habit of grunting “hear-hear!” as his confederates put the boots to Brower tag-team style.

His hubristic horseshit reached its nadir last year when Lowry stood before his congregation at a Deltona church and gave an unhinged sermon – a widely circulated diatribe from the political lunatic fringe – ranting about bizarre conspiracy theories and claiming the pandemic was a hoax.   

In a scathing op/ed by the Orlando Sentinel in June 2021, the editorial board brought national attention (and embarrassment) to Volusia in rightfully calling for Lowry’s resignation.

Look, I don’t give a damn what The Very Reverend “Dr.” Lowry preaches from the sanctity of his pulpit, which is his right, (just as it is mine to tune him out) and how he chooses to tend his flock is only limited by his conscience and the collection plate.   

But as an elected representative serving the citizens of Deltona and parts of West Volusia, many felt Lowry crossed a very bright line at the nexus of politics and religion. 

At the time, Rev. L. Ron Durham, a Deltona resident, joined concerned citizens from across the political spectrum in expressing the community’s outrage. 

Speaking to the blank stares of the Volusia County Council, Rev. Durham said:

“When any of your councilmembers take a detour from sanity, it behooves all of you to step in and take action to save our community from disastrous consequences,” he said. “The council should be enraged.”

They weren’t. . .

The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry did his best to serve a higher power during his uninspired and unaccomplished tenure – not a heavenly deity – but a lockstep fealty to those influential power brokers who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast by purchasing the loyalties of malleable politicians like him with massive campaign contributions each election season.

Sorry, but I’m not sorry.

In my view, Fred Lowry represented everything wrong with Volusia County’s stagnant status quo, and I hope he finds redemption in his new role as a dilettante farmer. . .

On Tuesday, our collective way forward is back in the hands of Volusia County voters.   

Vote like your quality of life depends upon it. 

Because it does.

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, y’all!

Angels & Assholes for October 28, 2022

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole           Edgewater Mayoral Candidate Mike Ignasiak

Earlier this week, I watched a typical election season brouhaha erupt into a scandalous conflagration that resulted in criminal charges being filed against a well-known political candidate after incriminatory photographs were published on social media depicting Edgewater mayoral candidate (and the city’s former mayor and police chief) Mike Ignasiak removing campaign signs belonging to his young opponent, Diezel Depew, and Volusia County Council District 3 candidate Ted Noftall.

The video clearly shows Ignasiak placing both signs in his personal vehicle while leaving his own campaign sign standing at an intersection on South Ridgewood Avenue in Edgewater.   

Whoa. 

According to reports, Mr. Ignasiak apparently felt justified in removing the signs because they were blocking his own (?) – and he claimed to have permission from a nearby business to place his sign on what was later identified as the public right-of-way – which is prohibited by city code. 

Bullshit. 

Regardless of his intent, it certainly looked to this old flatfoot like Mr. Ignasiak was caught in flagrante delicto – and all the yammering, stammering, avoiding media interviews, and after-the-fact “written permission” slips cannot erase that jarring image from the minds of Edgewater voters.   

In my view, by his actions, Mike Ignasiak has embarrassed himself, his family, his former profession – and the City of Edgewater.   

To show how ill-conceived personal attacks can come back to bite a not-so-bright candidate in the ass, back on September 20, Mr. Ignasiak posted a sanctimonious screed to his campaign’s Facebook page.

The grammatical nightmare came complete with a photograph he claimed was an illegally placed Depew sign:

This is an illegal/prohibited political campaign sign. My opponent has either chosen to deliberately ignore the Edgewater regulations regarding political signs or is plain stupid.

Every candidate received and agreed to follow Edgewater guidelines when they paid for their campaign sign permit and were given a handout of does and don’ts. All other candidates have complied and are/have operated within these guidelines. These prohibited signs are up at multiple locations within Edgewater proper.

Code enforcement has issued notices of violation for six different locations and ordered the property owners to immediately take them down or face fines. Removals are in process.

This is the third time Edgewater’s city clerk has had to issue notices of potential campaign violations and warnings over prohibited activities. Once, for a prohibited illegal campaign fund raising activity, once for illegal signage, and once for failure to place proper notices.

The self proclaimed boast of Ethics, Honesty, Integrity, all ring hollow by actions observed and not words said. Some believe that the rules don’t apply to them, those rules are for other people. As I have continued to state, Don’t listen to what they tell you, look at what they’re doing “. The proof is in the deed not the word.

Can you imagine if someone is deliberately ignoring our rules now what will happen they actually got elected to office?”

Wow.

“Actions observed. . .”

“Some believe that the rules don’t apply to them, those rules are for other people.”

That didn’t age well. 

“Plain stupid,” is right.     

As a former law enforcement executive and veteran politician, Mr. Ignasiak understands the proper method of reporting illegally placed campaign signs – and knows he has absolutely no authority to enforce the codes and ordinances of the City of Edgewater.

I am equally certain he is familiar with Florida statutes governing theft – and as the city’s former mayor – he must know the importance of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety when seeking the public’s confidence.    

On Tuesday, the great Claire Metz, the grande dame of Volusia County newsgathering and a Central Florida treasure, reported on WESH-2 that the Edgewater Police Department has referred criminal charges against Ignasiak to the Office of the State Attorney for review.    

Mike Ignasiak has no one to blame but himself. 

In my view, a candidate’s honor and self-respect are usually the first casualties of modern political campaigns, and through his extraordinarily poor judgement, Mr. Ignasiak has violated the public trust and no longer possesses the moral authority to stand for high office. 

With his last shred of dignity, he should immediately withdraw from the Edgewater mayoral race – and those influential groups and individuals who have endorsed his candidacy should rescind their support and roundly condemn Ignasiak’s deplorable actions.   

Unfortunately, the theft of campaign advertisements (and general assholery) is a widespread problem in Volusia County elections.  This despicable trend is not limited to one race or campaign and is being experienced by most (if not all) candidates throughout Volusia County. 

Jesus.

How low does one have to stoop to get elected to a county or municipal office in Volusia County? 

And what power and prestige (or something much more lucrative?) is at stake that would drive someone to dishonor everything they once held dear to be elected “King Shit” in Edgewater, Florida?    

In my view, it is time for law enforcement and prosecutors to take a zero-tolerance stance to protect the public trust – including exposing, prosecuting, and punishing those contemptuous assholes who engage in political subterfuge.

Enough is enough. 

Those loyal Barker’s View readers who vent to me are tired of these bloody, arduous, and dirty campaigns – now complete with ‘glossy mailers’ bypassing candidates and trashing various party honchos – furthering the petty internecine wars the local partisan factions are famous for.

Citizens are rightfully sick of the threats and insults that camouflage the fabricated alternate reality painted by compromised incumbents with nowhere to hide from their abysmal record, other than the apathy displayed by far too many voters.   

It is time for We, The Little People to begin a discussion of returning a sense of honor and fair play to our democratic process – where a candidate’s character and willingness to follow the rule of law holds more sway than a well-placed political placard.    

Angel               Volusia County Special-Needs Students

The discriminatory policies and practices of Volusia County District Schools were back in the news this week.

Per usual, the revelations are disturbing.   

In an outstanding exposé by education reporter Danielle Johnson writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned that the parent of a student with Down syndrome who attends Seabreeze High School under a deferred graduation program has filed state and federal complaints alleging discrimination against her son and other students with disabilities.

According to the report, “Anni Suadi says the district “warehouses” students with disabilities in segregated “building 15” at the high school “like it used to be back in 1950,” and that Volusia County Schools has not followed her son Lance Avery’s legally binding individualized education plan (IEP).

The actions, which she calls “immoral,” “unethical” and “illegal” in her complaint, have deprived him of opportunities to participate in electives and be included with general education students. She’s pulled him out of school until a change is made to include her son and other students.”   

My God. 

In my view, isolating students with disabilities in ominous sounding places like “Building 15” flies in the face of decades of research proving the benefits of students of all capabilities learning and interacting together in an inclusive environment – especially true for those with Down syndrome who are visual learners and thrive when in the company of typically developing students. 

This forced separation also promotes ugly stereotypes that children with physical and learning disabilities are somehow ‘different,’ or someone to be feared, which can lead to bullying and ostracization.   

Unfortunately, the story of Lance Avery is not unique in Volusia County Schools.

Before my retirement from law enforcement, I once responded to Holly Hill School where an 8th grade student was alleged to have made a veiled threat of violence.  When I arrived, I found the boy – who appeared slightly older than his classmates – dressed in all black, with a long overcoat inappropriate to the season. 

The young man was sitting with his head buried in his arms at a desk sequestered in a rear corner of the room away from his classmates.

After going through the formalities, I escorted the young man to a nearby administrative office to notify his parent (he was being raised by his father) and determine what was going on with him.

To make a long story short, the boy was having a bad day and had made confrontational statements to his teacher.

I asked him why he was sleeping at a desk set apart from the rest of the class?

He explained that due to learning and behavioral issues he was physically segregated from the other students and made to sit (literally) in the corner of the room.  As a result, the child simply accepted the figurative scarlet letter school administrators had placed on him and refused to participate in learning activities.

Would you? 

My blood boiled. . .  

Here was a child intentionally made to feel different, alienated, and set apart – physically and socially – someone best avoided during the most impressionable and formative years of his young life, labeled a misfit by trained school administrators who knew better – handmaidens of a bloated bureaucracy that claimed to spend over $11,000 in federal, state, and local educational funding per pupil each year. 

Bullshit.  

That kid should get his money back. . .     

I can assure you this was not the only child who was branded and allowed to fall through the proverbial cracks in Volusia County District Schools. 

Last August, the United States Department of Justice reached a settlement with Volusia County Schools after finding the district’s “systemic and discriminatory practices” were punishing students with disabilities for behaviors the students couldn’t control.”

That investigation began in 2017 after an attorney representing eleven students – nine of whom were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder – filed complaints on their behalf with the DOJ. 

According to a 2021 News-Journal report:

“The DOJ found the students’ claims to be true. The district relied on overly punitive disciplinary tactics and law enforcement to address behaviors that are known or should be known manifestations of the students’ disabilities. The district also “routinely sought to exclude these students by removing them,” by asking parents to pick children up from school or asking them to keep the children home, by suspending the children, or by using Baker Act procedures to involuntarily hold children at hospitals.”  

The resulting settlement gives Volusia County Schools three-years to revise discriminatory policies and procedures. . .

Among other protections, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that students with disabilities are entitled to learn in the least restrictive environment, which means, “…to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities including children in public or private institutions or care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled.” 

The IDEA act also requires parental participation in their child’s individualized education plan (IEP) – along with written notice of changes to the IEP and the right to due process in mediating disputes.

That’s the law – not a suggestion.

According to Ms. Johnson reportage, “Other parents and a former teacher have also voiced concerns over the district’s handling of special-needs students. Pushing back against the complaints, the district says it complies with disability laws and that class placements vary based on individual student needs and abilities rather than systemic exclusion, as Suadi suggests.”

The district also reported that of the 243 students participating in Exceptional Student Education programs at Seabreeze High School, 82% of them spend 85% of their time in a general education setting. 

As usual, something stinks in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand. . .

In my view, it is time the Department of Justice and Florida Department of Education stop mollycoddling these habitual offenders at Volusia County District Schools – entering into meaningless multi-year settlement agreements that allow these discriminatory practices to continue year-after-year – and establish strong in-house monitoring and enforcement to ensure Volusia County students with special-needs are no longer subjected to this ongoing institutional discrimination. 

Quote of the Week

With early voting now underway in Volusia County – and the wide disparity in campaign donations to certain candidates – I thought we would trot out this oldie but goodie:

“…politicians don’t beg for money; they sell a service: namely, use of government’s coercive power to achieve for interest groups what these groups cannot or will not achieve peacefully on the market. A politician seeking office gets his funds by begging no more than an accountant or an architect gets his funds by begging.

Like the accountant and architect, the politician offers a quid pro quo in exchange for campaign contributions. The difference, of course, is that the quid pro quo supplied by the accountant or architect—unlike that supplied by most politicians—isn’t a promise to reduce the liberties or confiscate the wealth of innocent third parties.”

–Dr. Donald J. Boudreaux, senior fellow of the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.  Boudreaux is also an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.

They say money can’t buy happiness.

But in Volusia County it can buy an election for those candidates who have been hand-selected by extremely wealthy insiders’ intent on furthering the slimy transactional politics that ensure the stagnant status quo. 

Don’t take my word for it.

Before casting your sacred vote, I encourage everyone to review campaign finance reports and see which candidates for public office in Volusia County are being groomed by our “Rich & Powerful” – those influential few who are spending heavily to ensure the public teat remains patent for all the right last names.

Please find those enlightening reports here: https://tinyurl.com/4jtaapbf

Then pick your poison – and vote like your quality of life depends on it. 

Because it does.

And Another Thing!

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. . .”

I am of the belief that many of the world’s problems could be solved if people kept their hands to themselves.  The simple act of respecting the personal space and property of others is a moral imperative in a civil society and the foundational principle of being a good person and good citizen.

I was reminded of that this week when I read several reports on social media regarding the theft of campaign signs and the resulting finger pointing and counteraccusations between camps that detract from the significant issues we face. 

Unfortunately, during what passes for political campaigns in 2022 – a no-holds-barred blood sport where the politics of personal destruction and wholesale character assassination have replaced the debate of competing ideas and thoughtful discussion of the issues – anything goes, and the end always justifies the means.

For months, we have been inundated by political advertisements, unsolicited robocalls, silly glossy mailers, and the most visually revolting of all – the ubiquitous political yard sign.

Those friggin’ things have sprouted everywhere. . .  

I live up here in God’s Country – Ormond Beach – a place the late great Big John facetiously referred to as “The Fingerbowl District.”

It’s not, but our politicos have a pretty high opinion of themselves – now that they have succeeded in turning this once quaint jewel into just another mishmash of sticks-n-glue apartment complexes, zero-lot-line cracker box subdivisions, and the traffic congestion that naturally follows. 

However, our Chamber of Commerce-types are rightly proud of our “upscale” downtown – and local elected officials often point to the time, money, and effort that has gone into the revitalization of Granada Boulevard – transforming our once blighted “Mainstreet” into a “…vibrant, beautiful, and livable” space. 

Yet each election season we allow those same politicians and their hopeful opponents to trash our beautiful downtown with cheap campaign posters – sometimes multiple signs for the same candidate crowded onto one small spot – resulting in a repulsive patchwork of political placards littering the front of restaurants and shops creating a visual nuisance for residents and visitors.  

Screw it. 

I certainly don’t make the rules around here – but those who do could clearly give two-shits – because they are the same egomaniacal assholes trying get their names in front of voters before election time. 

In my view, any dipshit who casts their sacred vote based upon the number of political signs a candidate hammers onto a vacant lot should be frog-walked before Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis and have their voter registration card permanently revoked for terminal stupidity. . .

______________________________________________ 

I recently had the pleasure of appearing on The Smoking Truth podcast – sitting in with the incredibly smart Eric Raimundo while co-host Dana McCool took a much-deserved few days off. 

Although I prefer to express my goofy thoughts in writing, I enjoy the broadcast medium – and the lively back-and-forth with Eric and Dana is a great learning experience for me. 

Besides, they allow me to smoke Marlboros and drink Irish whiskey, which keeps my mind reasonably limber, and makes for a fast-paced discussion on the issues of the day.

Please find Episode 10 of The Smoking Truth here:  https://tinyurl.com/3txw5s39

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend and Happy Halloween, y’all!