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 School Board
With all deference to the great Alice Cooper, as of today, school’s out for summer in Volusia County.
Unfortunately, the district administration’s fierce dedication to mediocrity and strict adherence to the stagnant status quo continues…
During the May 23 meeting of the Volusia County School Board, parents, students, and staff looked on in sadness as Superintendent Carmen Balgobin announced the transfer of thirteen school principals and sixteen assistant principals from across the district.
This nonsensical upheaval was ordered by Balgobin’s bureaucratic fiat – then blindly blessed by the School Board…
Amidst the embarrassing distraction of Chief Human Resources Officer Mark West’s cell phone interrupting his presentation to the board – we were told that the retirement of five principals triggered the transfer of 29 school administrators districtwide?
(For the record, Chief West should not be confused with the district’s Human Resources Director, Professional Standards Manager, Human Resources Coordinator, Employee Performance Coordinator, Employee and Leadership Development Coordinator, Recruitment and Retention Coordinator, or Professional Learning Coordinator…whew.)
Following Superintendent Balgobin’s diktat – and Mr. West’s tepid explanation – two parents from Orange City Elementary School spoke for many across Volusia County as they begged board members to keep their beloved principal in place.
In fact, one parent advised that Orange City stakeholders have collected over 500 signatures on a petition to retain Principal Charlie Bynum – who now faces a cross-county transfer to Pine Trail Elementary School in Ormond Beach.
Another parent openly wept.
Per usual, these emotional entreaties were callously ignored…
The questions – and utter absurdity – did not end there.
In another case, Troy Kent, a veteran assistant principal who currently serves as an elected member of the Volusia County Council, has been transferred from his current position as AP of Sugar Mill Elementary in Port Orange to an “Alternative Education” facility in Deltona that deals exclusively with Exceptional Education Students.
He resides in Ormond Beach…
As I understand it (and I’m not sure I do), although Mr. Kent has extensive credentials and administrative experience, a search of the Florida Department of Education’s database finds that he does not currently possess an Exceptional Education qualification on his teaching certificate.
You may recall that in 2021, Volusia County District Schools entered into an agreement with the United States Department of Justice following sustained allegations that ESE students were arbitrarily excluded from programs, while the district failed to implement necessary behavioral supports, and lacked training on how to properly respond to students’ disability-related behavior – to include the trauma of removing children with disabilities from school through improper use of the state’s Baker Act.
I’m no expert – but one might think with an HR bench this deep and the Department of Justice looking over their shoulder – someone in the byzantine hierarchy at Volusia County Schools either knew or should have known that Mr. Kent’s appointment to an ESE post was, at best, inappropriate – and, at worst, setting both him and the school up for failure.
Look, I don’t always agree with Mr. Kent’s politics – but this smells like an old-fashioned screw job to me. In my view, a 24-year Volusia County educator and administrator deserves better.
I also found it interesting that Dr. Balgobin’s husband – Thomas Soli – who previously served as an assistant principal in Orange County Public Schools before being appointed principal of Riverview Learning Center in Daytona Beach (over several qualified internal candidates), was spared from the transfer list?
Yeah. I know…
In response to the very real concerns expressed by parents – both during the board meeting and on the district’s official Facebook page (criticisms that were summarily censored and hidden from public view by staff) – School Board member Carl “Namby-Pamby” Persis gave his patented “I feel your pain” soliloquy (trust me, he doesn’t), always deferring to the omnipotent bureaucracy, rather than represent the needs of those who elected him.
Why is that?
I found it telling that at the same meeting in which Superintendent Balgobin announced her administrative musical chairs – the district reported over 700 vacancies in both instructional and support roles – with 97 in the critical area of Exceptional Student Education, and 74 in core teaching assignments.
That should shock the conscience of every taxpayer in Volusia County…
Recently, a self-described “new teacher” in Volusia County Schools reported leaving the district citing a lack of support and mentorship, explaining that many opportunities which had been promised never materialized.
In most organizations, this critical information would be considered vital to future retention initiatives – yet it was dismissed with a terse, “I wished we could have helped you earlier. I’m sorry you had this experience,” as if the teacher were sending back an overdone porterhouse at a Golden Corral…
According to an informative report by Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer:
“So far, 756 people have separated from VCS, including 106 employees who retired.
A total of 102 reported finding employment outside of education as their reason for separation, while 169 listed personal reasons and 72 listed finding a job in education somewhere else in the state.”
Frighteningly, those in the know expect that number to increase over the summer as more teachers and staff decide to flee this sinking ship…
According to the report, School Board Chair Jamie Haynes (who always sounds completely exasperated to me) said she wants to see the district’s gargantuan Human Resources apparatus reach more potential candidates who are willing to take a ride in the meatgrinder…
“We need more options,” she said. “We need more options, because I don’t see my families in Seville or Pierson — that very well could want to be working at one of those schools — having the ability to get to Deltona. That’s a long way.”
Of course, Chief HR Officer Mark West obsequiously agreed (because, what else is he going to do, tell the unvarnished truth?) and advised Haynes, “those factors are part of the conversation at the district level.”
Whatever that means…
“Haynes also suggested the district go beyond advertising employment on social media, and spread the word to local chambers of commerce, churches, doctor’s offices and community centers.
“There are people out there that will work,” Haynes said. “We just have to find them.”
Prison work release inmates?
Indentured foreign nationals shipped in to teach in Volu…oh, wait…
Because whatever it is Volusia County District Schools are doing to retain professional educators isn’t working – and our children are suffering the consequences of this institutional incompetence.
Hey! I’ve got a few ideas!
How about Superintendent Balgobin, and her throng of bureaucratic sycophants in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand, come to the realization that asinine practices like the haphazard transfer of principals and assistant principals – despite the pleas and protestations of students, parents, and staff – moves that in some cases result in onerous cross-county commutes – are counterproductive, ruin any sense of continuity or community, and destroy morale?
How about listening to the concerns of teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff members then provide them with the support and mentorship they deserve?
How about getting serious about addressing the raging “behavioral issues” that are turning our schools into a dystopian “Thunder Dome” of violence, bullying, criminality, and chaos?
How about replacing whatever passes for the senior executive ranks in Deland with professionals who understand the need for responsive, transparent, and participatory leadership that values the contributions and suggestions of those who present the curriculum in the classroom?
That’s a good start.
In my view, it is high time Volusia County District Schools stopped using “Leading with Grace and Respect” as a sick punchline and got serious about righting that foundering ship of fools in Deland.
I think that process starts at the ballot box…
Angel City of Ormond Beach Police Officers
You know how they say, “Growth doesn’t pay for itself?”
Here’s Exhibit A…
Having spent the bulk of my adult life in public service – an uneducated bumpkin who clawed my way to middle management and hung on by my fingernails – I rarely criticize government salaries or the lucrative perquisites that many in the private sector will never know.
It seems sanctimonious for someone who drug on the public teat for over three-decades to carp about the current salaries of those still in the arena.
Because it is.
But as regular readers of these screeds know – my hypocrisy knows no bounds…
In my view, when it comes to the salaries and “Golden Parachutes” enjoyed by some local senior government administrators, we’ve gone from the irrational to the irresponsible, while those who deliver essential services – like law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, water distribution and wastewater treatment personnel, or serve at the interface of the bureaucracy and those it ostensibly exists to serve – continue to work for far less than their contemporaries in other areas of the state.
That’s a problem.
Especially when you consider that some municipal and county governments now have more executive levels than a sfogliatelle…
Recently, the Ormond Beach Observer reported on the testy negotiations between the City of Ormond Beach and the International Union of Police Associations, which represents Ormond Beach police officers, who are seeking reasonable increases in salary and retirement benefits in an era where it is increasingly difficult to recruit and retain qualified law enforcement officers.
In fact, in 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis enacted a $13.5 million cash incentive program to attract out-of-state officers to meet Florida’s growing need.
In my view, if we paid police officers what they are worth in our society – we couldn’t afford them – and given the social and civic upheaval that continues to drive many from the profession, now is not the time for municipal leaders in one of the most affluent communities in Volusia County to cry the Poormouth Blues as they continue to rubber stamp more, more, more development.
According to reports, the city is being represented during the negotiations by Assistant City Manager Claire Whitley – who was recently captured on video making what many mistook for a slight against Ormond Beach police officers at the bargaining table.
The out-of-context clip made the rounds on social media and rightfully angered residents who saw it, which mistakenly appeared to show Whitley commenting to union representatives, “If you were top officers, you’d go and get the top dollar.”
What Ms. Whitley actually said was, “We all know there’s lots of reasons you work here, we’re not the top paid. You are the best officers. You could go get the top top dollar, right.”
Yeah. I’m not sure where she was going with that either…
Regardless, I found it absurd that the City of Ormond Beach would have an “Assistant City Manager” – a redundant senior management position that epitomizes Parkinson’s Law of bureaucratic expansion – sitting across the bargaining table facing brave men and women who put themselves in harm’s way, yet make thousands of dollars less than Ms. Whitley commands for polishing a wingback chair at City Hall…
A search of salary information for the top five senior positions in Ormond Beach government finds a combined publicly funded annual nut of $813,740 – not including benefits – which includes Ms. Whitley’s handsome salary of $146,540 (according to govsalaries.com for 2021).
For the record, at present, the starting salary of an Ormond Beach Police Officer is advertised at $46,468 – about $100,000 less than Assistant City Manager Whitley commands…
You wouldn’t know it by driving down Granada Boulevard in Ormond Beach (or any other congested thoroughfare in Volusia County) but Florida law dictates “concurrency” – land use regulations that require local governments ensure that new development does not outpace their ability to manage it.
For a development to “meet concurrency” the local government must have enough infrastructure capacity and facilities to serve each proposed development. These requirements include roads, stormwater drainage, parks, solid waste, potable water, sanitary sewer, and mass transit facilities.
Commonsense says that those we elect and appoint to represent our interests should also consider our growing public safety needs – especially in this rapidly expanding community that is slowly being pinched from all sides by explosive growth.
That begins by setting priorities – like determining “must haves” from “nice to haves.”
In my view, community-based police, fire, and emergency medical services are mandatory for any full-service incorporated municipality. These highly visible, accessible, and responsive essential services provide a sense of place – a true civic identity – that results in deep bonds of loyalty between citizens and those who serve and protect them.
Those brave souls who are willing to lay their lives down to protect your family and mine deserve our respect – and that begins with a competitive wage and benefits package in the face of unprecedented social, civic, and political challenges – and the malignant sprawl that continues to increase pressure on public infrastructure and emergency services.
In my view, tone-deaf Ormond Beach “leaders” should stand united in support of our officers – and direct staff to ensure these brave men and women receive the compensation and benefits they deserve – because given the increasing demands on law enforcement and first responders – having a superfluous “Assistant City Manager” and various high-paid labor attorneys nickel and dime our dedicated first responders is the height of hypocrisy.
Quote of the Week
“A brief history of the proposed Tymber Creek Apartments project: The developer’s initial request was for 299 units, which is the density granted with a PBD (Planned Business Development) waiver.
Straight zoning would’ve been around 164 units.
In December 2022, the Planning Board unanimously voted down the newly-proposed 270 units. In March of this year, the Florida Senate Bill 102 “Live Local Act” was signed into law, which basically overrides local decisions regarding rental properties if the property falls within certain “affordable” parameters. The law goes into effect on July 1.
Because of this law, the developer threatened to build even more apartments if the 270-unit project was not approved, claiming he could build over 500 units under the new law. On May 16, the commission approved the 270-unit project with a 4-1 vote.
On Tuesday, June 6, there will be a second reading before final approval of the Tymber Creek Apartments proposal.
We realize that the state law has put the commission in a tight spot. However, most laws are tested in court before they can be enforced. This law will likely be challenged and therefore we believe the commission should wait before giving in to the developer.
Even lobbyist Jeff Sharkey, CEO of Capitol Alliance Group, Inc., admitted the law was an “experiment” and that Ormond is likely among the first municipal governments impacted by the law. He also acknowledged there would be pushback because the law “may not work in Community X, but it will in Community Y.”
There’s also a question if the developer’s threat of 500 units would clear the concurrency requirements, anyway. Note that an affordable housing requirement involves nearby public transportation. We all know there is no Votran service west of I-95 in Ormond Beach, and that area will not see bus service for years to come. So technically, under the law, the applicant would not qualify for a higher density granted by the state.
People should write and come out expressing that the commission not approve the project until the law’s been tested. Most of us are aware of the multiple reasons apartments — whether they be 160, 270, or 500 — are wrong for this area.”
–Julie and Ken Sipes, Ormond Beach, Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “Tymber Creek Apartments,” Tuesday, May 30, 2023
And Another Thing!
I’m not one to give unsolicited advice. Because I don’t take it well myself.
But sometimes you see a trainwreck looming on the horizon and feel a sense of responsibility to offer a word to the wise…
Take it or leave it.
Let’s face it, most politicians are a different breed.
They possess a weird compulsion to hold themselves out – to fight tooth-and-nail through the gristmill of a modern campaign – putting their reputation on the line, scraping and groveling, selling their political souls to the highest bidder while desperately trying to convince themselves (and us) that they won’t compromise our trust – knowing deep in their hearts the ‘big bucks’ come with an expected return on investment.
Now the money is omnipotent, and rarely does the best man or woman win the day…
Like Dr. Thompson so eloquently said, “That is the nature of professional politics. Many are called, but few survive the nut-cutting hour…”
When the majority of their neighbors elevate them to high office, most politicians are quickly taken into “the system” – the once square peg of independent thought we voted for is quickly pounded into the round hole of bureaucratic conformity – and those who refuse to comply are just as quickly marginalized and vilified by their malleable “colleagues.”
What remains is a neutered wooden figurehead trying desperately to remain relevant – painting themselves as an iconoclastic “everyman” – standing on the outside looking in – hoping they can convince us to give them another bite at the apple so they can “finish the job” when it comes time for reelection.
Last Friday, beleaguered Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower stood before a small group of supporters at Common Ground Farm in DeLand to announce he has filed to run for reelection in 2024.
He joins Port Orange Mayor Don Burnette and car-guy Randy Dye in a race that is sure to attract more hopefuls in the weeks/months to come.
I like Jeff Brower. He is a good and decent man.
Unfortunately, as a politician, his vision, span of attention, and strategies can be, well, shambolic.
That is not completely his fault.
When he ran for elective office in 2020, I went well outside my comfort zone to endorse his candidacy and spoke on his behalf at a campaign gathering in West Volusia.
At the time, I naïvely convinced myself that Mr. Brower could deliver on his much ballyhooed (but never fully explained) “Plan B” – and he truly wanted to be the voice of a silent majority desperate for change. In my feeble mind, he represented our last/best hope to transform the stagnant status quo – someone willing to fight for our dwindling environment and quality of life in the face of massive overdevelopment.
Unfortunately, once elected, Volusia’s influential Old Guard crushed his every effort…
Out of frustration, I suppose – during the 2022 elections, Chairman Brower wallowed in the ugly internecine local Republican wars – fielding and openly supporting a slate of likeminded (if unknown) candidates that he hoped would break the voting bloc that had openly shit on his every campaign promise and turned council meetings into chaotic shit shows that often dissolved into little more than timewasting one-upmanship and pettifoggery.
Rather than get out of the way and allow the grassroots candidates to run their own race – Brower came off like a domineering puppeteer – something that ultimately exuded weakness and desperation.
When the openly hostile Volusia Republican Executive Committee unanimously rejected Brower’s “Volusia Values” slate – it resulted in Brower and Volusia REC chair Paul Deering publicly locking horns.
It was ‘poor optics,’ as they say, for both sides.
But Mr. Deering had nothing to lose…
Since the “new” Volusia County Council took their seats in January, the open hostility that was the hallmark of the “old” council has given way to a more genteel and polished suppression of Chairman Brower’s initiatives.
But make no mistake, most of Brower’s “colleagues” will never allow his priorities a chance – at least not if they want Paul Deering and his powerful VREC to pat them on their pointy little heads and offer their endorsement again…
Now, over halfway through his first four-year term – and facing a daunting reelection campaign – Chairman Brower tells us he is now ready to “…take the gloves off.”
Better late than never, I suppose…
In my view, Mr. Brower began his campaign kickoff last week by saying all the right things, speaking passionately about patriotism, sacrifice, and the purest motivations of public service.
During his stump speech, Brower asked his supporters to stop looking at developers and their attorneys as “evil” (I guess, like SunRail, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, eh?) – and implored residents to “come together as a community” to collectively solve the problems we face.
Once again, Chairman Brower promised to be “our voice” to reign in the overdevelopment that many believe has contributed to widespread flooding, taxed our insufficient infrastructure, and adversely affected our quality of life.
It was inspiring.
Then it wasn’t…
As Chairman Brower is inclined to do, the cheese slowly slipped off his cracker, as his speech veered into the weeds of weirdness when he began cryptically hinting at two mysterious companies he is courting to bring those elusive “high paying jobs” we hear so much about to Volusia County.
Of course, like most “economic development” shim-shams we’ve become leery of – absolute secrecy is paramount – and our Chairman was not at liberty to give us the name of the companies – other than teasing that one magically cleans septic systems – while the other plans to revolutionize energy production using – wait for it – “algae.”
Call me a cynic, and I could be wrong, but it sounded an awful lot like Mr. Brower’s unilateral business recruitment efforts will somehow involve expending county staff time, and, ultimately, our tax dollars?
According to an article by Sheldon Gardner and Mark Harper in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“Brower talked about an effort he’s working on with county staff to bring in a business that he said would change lives and how energy is used.
“I want that company here in Volusia County because it will create hundreds, maybe thousands, of high-tech, high-paying jobs that change the energy consumption of what drives our economy all over the world … using algae,” he said.
He said he’s not ready to reveal the details of the potential project yet.”
There you have it.
Perhaps his campaign slogan should be, “Brower ’24: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous…you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
In my view, Mr. Brower should realize that as we anxiously face the start of the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season, Volusia County residents are not so much concerned about heating our homes with algae farts as we are about hardening and insuring our properties, even as many of our neighbors are still completing repairs from last season – rightfully worried about the threat of more devastating floods – and county government’s unwillingness to determine its cause or mitigate the risk.
Here’s my sliver of unsolicited advice to Mr. Brower as he throws what’s left of his hat in the ring:
“Keep the crazy to a minimum.”
Sorry. But someone had to say what everyone is thinking…
We, The Little People, who pay the exorbitant bills and suffer in silence are seeking substantive answers to the serious issues that affect our lives and livelihoods here on the “Fun Coast,” starting with a Volusia County Council that is capable of building consensus and collaborating with policymakers in the municipalities to develop comprehensive solutions and rebuild public trust.
If Chairman Brower hopes to regain the respect and confidence of Volusia County residents in 2024, he must demonstrate substantive progress on the serious issues we face. That will require strong and decisive leadership and a laser focus on finding solutions – not more pie-in-the-sky horseshit, partisan bitchery, and political hoopla…
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!
Angels & Assholes will be on hiatus next week while your intrepid scribe goes under-the-knife once again to correct the final cataract plaguing my foggy right eye.
As always, thanks for your understanding and support.
“See” you real soon!