Big John, 1945-2022 Requiescat in Pace

If you ever attended some obscure government committee meeting or neighborhood confab anywhere in Volusia County – I don’t mean the scripted pageantry of some stilted city commission or county council meeting – but those seemingly insignificant advisory boards or off-the-radar discussions where the real work gets done, you likely overlooked the smartest, most influential person in the room.

Trust me.  It was not the powerful chairperson or any of those self-important elected and appointed officials primping and peacocking on the dais of power.

Somewhere in the back of the room, usually noshing on a plate of complimentary hors d’oeuvres, would be a bearded man clad in a rumpled cap, omnipresent shorts, wrinkled shirt, and scuffed Crocs, an overstuffed notebook in hand with a wry smile; quietly, almost distractedly, taking it all in.

A disheveled character silently working the mental gymnastics required to link the intricate puzzle pieces with the swirling rumors and insider backstories inherent to local politics.  Using his decades of hard-earned experience and well-honed instincts to winnow the wheat from the chaff and make sense of the nonsensical.

Then promptly at 4:00pm each weekday, Big John – Volusia County’s unlikely political conscience – took to the airwaves for a “strenuous two-hours” of radio, distilling all he gleaned from the countless meetings and far-flung sources down to something us rubes who comprise his loyal “21 listeners” could understand – trying valiantly to educate the masses on the bureaucratic maneuvers and governmental intrigue that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

Because, according to Volusia County’s preeminent political pundit, when it comes to local government, “Nobody knows nothing.”

He was right.

Born John Walter Brower (no relation), a New Jersey native, raised in a diverse neighborhood in Asbury Park, John received a degree in political science from prestigious Rutgers University (“Rahway State” as he liked to joke) before going to work for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company following graduation.

Upon earning his “Ph.D in Tireology,” John moved to Florida in 1972.

For many years, Big John – to which he legally changed his name in 1979 – operated three successful tire and muffler stores throughout Volusia County – his lively persona made famous by humorous television, radio, and newspaper commercials featuring Big in his trademark blue work shirt.

I first met Big at his “Lubritorium” on Mason Avenue in Holly Hill when I was a young and idealistic police officer.

He called the police department after discovering that someone had tied a string to a set of shock absorbers, running the line through an open window of a storage room in an obvious attempt to steal the items after the business closed.

After dark, I concealed myself in a good vantage point and waited – for hours – finally catching the thief (a down-on-his-luck employee) red-handed. 

Rather than seek retribution, in his own benevolent way, Big John was more interested in the why – seeking to understand the personal issues that led his desperate employee to take from him – then determine ways he could help.

I have never forgotten that incredible display of compassion.

Ultimately, Big John found his way into local politics – serving an impressive (and always colorful) twelve-years on the Volusia County Council, including one term as Council Chair – during an incredibly productive period which saw the modernization of the Daytona Beach International Airport, creation of the Ocean Center, and other important civic accomplishments.  

As a continuation of his public service, the community affairs forum “Big Talk with Big John” premiered on WEDG-FM beginning as a Saturday morning talk show before moving to WELE-AM.

In 2009, Big John took ownership of WELE, later generously donating the radio station to Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.

GovStuff Live! served our community as “an educational, informational, inspirational local forum” the perfect medium that allowed Big John to fulfil his passion for the study, analysis, and teaching of local government – a tireless champion of We, The Little People – always providing his entertaining and informative take on the prominent issues of the day.

To his credit, regardless of whether he agreed with a guest’s position, in all the years I listened and learned, not once did I ever hear Big John come off rude or aggressive on the air – always hyper-protective of anyone who participated in the forum.

In addition to his long-suffering producer, Larry Steele, Big John’s eclectic cadre of regular contributors included an esteemed retired United States Ambassador, former elected officials, medical professionals, political candidates, civic activists, philanthropists, animal rights advocates, horticulturists, small business owners, government officials, respected members of the legal community, Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Jeffrey Boyle, who so valiantly kept things moving in Big’s recent absence, and an ever-expanding cast of colorful characters who regularly called-in to add their unique take.   

Even me.

Recently, Big and I spoke about the importance of always “reinventing” oneself – finding purpose once retirement replaces professional pursuits.  Thanks to his encouragement, this blogsite, along with my monthly appearances on GovStuff Live!, gave a renewed meaning to my life – something I did not think possible when I finished a career spanning over three-decades in public service.

I am forever grateful that Big John gave Barker’s View a larger voice.

In my view, the incomparable Big John represented the quintessence of community service – giving selflessly, striving again-and-again to right wrongs, expose the phonies and absurdity, speaking truth to power, unraveling the mysteries, and bringing a greater understanding of the often-insulated world of local government.

He loathed the stench of lies in the public discourse and took pleasure in deflating the pomposity that often accompanies politics and those who practice it. . .

As those endowed with pure genius often are, Big John could be cantankerous, irreverent, acerbic, opinionated, egoistic, with a larger-than-life personality.  

He had sharp elbows, always challenging the official narrative, and he didn’t suffer fools – with an incredibly sharp mind, quick wit, and well-honed ability to see through the murk and mire to find that kernel of truth that escaped the rest of us. 

We desperately need more like him. 

This wonderfully complex personality – this icon of Volusia County – a deep thinker and dedicated doer who enriched our community with his remarkable insight and deep understanding “passed on to glory” (as Big liked to say) this morning, joining his beloved “Sweetie” in that place where great souls receive their reward. 

In a 1998 “man behind the name” article in the Orlando Sentinel, Big said that he wanted “…to be remembered not as the guy with the funny name and the blue work shirt, but someone who made Volusia a better place to live.”

Mission accomplished, my friend.

Your wisdom, insight, mentorship, and friendship to so many will be missed, immeasurably.   

Angels & Assholes for May 13, 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           Deltona City Commission

The word “Interim” is defined as “in or for the intervening period; provisional or temporary,” a “brief interval” between one event and another. 

Except in the Dysfunctional Duchy of Deltona.

There, the term “Interim City Manager” is accepted to mean an indefinite decree – a Royal Diktat allowing an individual to receive all the salary, benefits, perquisites, and severance protections of a lawfully appointed charter officer without requiring that he or she conform to the requirements of the city’s governing document.   

Last week, Deltona’s perennial Acting City Manager John “I’m Damn Principled” Peters added 20-weeks of severance pay to his lucrative contract on a 4-2 vote (with Commissioner Dana McCool off the dais dealing with a medical issue) – another infamous Deltona “golden parachute” worth some $63,000 plus other benefits if the commission votes to fire his ass “without cause.” 

According to the provisions of the city’s charter, once appointed to the full-time role, the city manager must reside in the city within six-months.  Mr. Peters lives in DeBary – not Deltona – and clearly has no intention of moving to a place that has gone through some twelve chief executives in twenty-five years. . . 

In an excellent article by the News-Journal’s Wild West Volusia reporter Katie Kustura, “Peters, who lives in DeBary, said it’d be possible to get around that by paying to rent a room, without even living there, and having his mail sent to the address, which wouldn’t be a first for a Deltona charter officer.”

“I’m not going to insult people by doing that,” Peters said.”

When asked by Commissioner Anita Bradford what the charter requires, Mr. Peters explained the section governing charter officers, “The charter states the commission “shall begin the process to fill a vacancy in the Charter Office of the City Manager or the City Attorney within 90 days of the vacancy.”

Then quibbled the intent, “Peters said one of the charter’s problems is “it doesn’t say you have to complete the search.”

Bullshit. 

Any reasonable person – even an overpaid career bureaucrat trying desperately to have their cake and eat it too – understands that a search typically ends with the vetting and selection of a qualified candidate willing to follow the letter and spirit of the charter.

And 90-days means 90-days. . .

Look, I am not suggesting that Mr. Peters, and his supporters on the City Commission, are usurping the provisions of the charter because he is chary of moving to a community (one that he manages) with a notorious history of going through City Managers like shit through a dyspeptic goose – but this “acting” charade cannot continue ad infinitum.

The good people of Deltona deserve stability.

In my view, the reign of John Peters has not been without controversy – some warranted, some not – to include that time he crowed to the news media that he was planning to take his football and go home after accusing several sitting elected officials of exerting influence over day-to-day operations.   

If proven true, Mr. Peter’s scandalous allegations would have constituted a serious violation of the same charter that Peters and his enablers have been ignoring for the many months since his appointment to the “acting” role. . .          

In August 2021, a report in the News-Journal aired claims by the city’s former Human Resources Director that Peters “…made sexually harassing comments toward another employee … specifically … suggesting that he is a product of incest” and “Peters also made discriminatory comments about minorities” during a meeting of directors, “suggesting that minorities do not have a lot to look forward to in life and do not take care of their homes which is why there is so much crime around rental buildings,” according to the lawsuit.”

According to the report, “…in July 2020 he (the former HR director) received a complaint that on two separate occasions, Peters, who was then the director of public works for the city, “used offensive, sexually harassing language. Peters admitted to using ‘questionable’ language and indicated he would discontinue such behavior moving forward.”

Yeah. . .

Then, in a November 2021 News-Journal article announcing yet another pay increase, it was noted that Peters has a current total compensation package commanding $217,666 a year – which includes a base salary of $169,680 and a car allowance of some $6,269

You read that right.

At the time, when asked what he considered his “biggest accomplishment” while in the acting role, “Peter’s chuckled, “I’ve survived…”

Whatever.

This week the City of Deltona settled a lawsuit alleging unlawful discrimination and retaliation filed by former Interim City Manager Marc-Antonie Cooper (who apparently didn’t have the same survival instincts as his replacement, John Peters) for a reported $45,000

According to a News-Journal report announcing the settlement, “Cooper’s attorney, Mitchell Feldman, of the Tampa-based Feldman Legal Group, sent a letter to commissioners in May 2021 informing them of the possibility of a lawsuit for demoting his client and promoting Peters, “an older white male, with less qualifications,” who was at the time serving as the city’s public works director.”

In addition, the report states, “Deltona’s acting city manager, John Peters III, said while he disagrees with the basis of Cooper’s lawsuit, he is glad it’s now resolved.”

I’ll bet he is. . .

You know, “principles.”

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

I ruminated on this building shitstorm earlier in the week, but it bears repeating. . .

On Tuesday evening, following an eleventh-hour manipulation of the public agenda, the Volusia County School Board voted unanimously to appoint former Deputy Superintendent Dr. Carmen Balgobin, who mysteriously fled Volusia County for a similar post with Broward County Schools, “…as Superintendent of the School Board” (whatever that means) in the foul wake of Dr. Scott Fritz, who fled with a sack full of severance following a tumultuous resignation/termination last month.

No announcement.  No competitive process.  No transparency.  And no public or staff input. 

Why?  Because rules, process, and procedure are there to control the Little People, not to incumber the wants and whims of tinpot despots convinced of their own divine infallibility. 

It was clear to everyone watching that School Board members had made up their minds well in advance, and the decision to hire “Dr. B” was a foregone conclusion – helped along by the appearance of former Board Chair Ida Wright – who spoke glowingly of Dr. Balgobin, which, inadvertently, raised the ugly specter of controversy during her previous tenure as Interim Superintendent.

While I realize most current and former politicians have a high opinion of themselves and the influence they wield – Ms. Wright should understand sometimes the less said the better. 

According to reports, during Ms. Wright’s final meeting after losing re-election, Wright and board attorney Ted Doran negotiated a 34% pay increase for Balgobin as she served in the interim superintendent role.

In turn, Balgobin hired Ms. Wright immediately after she left office for an unadvertised and uncompetitive part-time position paying $35 an hour under a federal grant program to help Human Resources develop equity and diversity practices. . . 

That all-to-cozy arrangement had a whiff of the shit about it and that did not sit well with some. 

Including me.

Although our elected officials telegraphed their support for bringing Dr. Balgobin back to the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand, that didn’t stop them from indulging in their interminable hyper-dramatic soliloquies – the lachrymose mewling and melodrama this iteration of the School Board has become infamous for – as they gushed, ad nauseum, on all the reasons why Dr. Balgobin was the best and brightest we could hope for (in a field of one?).

Oddly, during her long-winded oration, member Jamie Haynes repeatedly alluded to some cryptic harm that drove Dr. Balgobin from Volusia County Schools – an overemotional yarn that suggested Balgobin did not take the job in Broward County (and the massive pay increase it provided) by choice.

Frustratingly, Ms. Haynes stopped short of explaining what she was tiptoeing around – leaving her audience to conjure the atrocities Dr. Balgobin may or may not have endured in the workplace – and speculating on who, or what, was responsible for the monstrous treatment Balgobin was forced to endure before fleeing to the safety of Broward County Schools.

“You don’t know the true story of why she left,” Haynes warbled. “You don’t know what happened. I know what happened and I know why she left, and I said to her, ‘You have to go’ when she told me what was happening because no one deserves to be harmed or hurt. We’re here to educate kids and take care of people.”

Wait – “…harmed or hurt”

Then, in similar dramatic fashion, during his monotonous monologue, Chairman Ruben Colon alluded to similar mistreatment. 

Like Haynes, Colon also stopped maddeningly shy of the complete transparency that may have garnered public support for Dr. Balgobin – robbing her of that “Ah-ha! That explains it!” moment that could have turned the widespread internal and external perception that sees her as an extension of Dr. Fritz, a mercenary, or both – and explain the reason(s) why she jumped ship in the first place.

Inconceivably, like some bumbling, near-sighted wrestling referee – it appears the Volusia County School Board was caught flatfooted – completely oblivious to the interoffice mayhem and hostility going on around them – a horrific situation that (we are led to believe) caused Dr. Balgobin to flee Volusia County to avoid being “harmed or hurt.” 

Wow. 

According to Chairman Colon, “Unfortunately procedurally, we did not have the time to do what we needed to do…”

Yes, they did. 

But that requires a board with situational awareness, an attorney willing to do more than loudly apologize for his Scrivener’s errors, and agile enough to react. 

That’s water under the bridge.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s debacle, stakeholders are left to speculate on the who, what, when, where, why, and how of Dr. Balgobin’s mysterious victimization – and, most important – why no one has been held accountable? 

Stay tuned, folks.

Time will tell.  It always does. 

Angel               Daytona Beach City Commissioner Ken Strickland

Last week I received an apoplectic email from a friend and fellow rube (read: local taxpayer) who was seething over the inexplicable extension of a seeming sweetheart deal between the City of Daytona Beach and the influential P$S Paving – a government contractor that has been gifted the right to haul millions-of-dollars in publicly owned dirt off publicly owned land in a weird arrangement ostensibly designed to pay for that money pit known as the First Step Shelter in the hinterlands off International Speedway Boulevard. 

As I understand it (and I’m not sure I do) in 2018, P$S Paving was prepared to charge the City of Daytona Beach some $1.62 million for site work performed at the First Step Shelter. 

However, when the total cost of construction soared to an astronomical $6 million – the city agreed to allow P$S to sell lucrative publicly owned dirt (used as fill for new construction) which allowed Daytona Beach to take $2.13 million off the obscene shelter costs.   

The controversial “deal” was supposed to terminate next month, but P$S Paving recently claimed the COVID-19 pandemic put them behind schedule (?) and asked for a 21-month extension. 

Whoa.  21-months?

Really?

According to an excellent piece by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“At Wednesday night’s meeting, City Commissioner Ken Strickland said if P&S Paving was going to get the 21-month extension it was requesting, then the city should escalate its charge for the dirt. City Commissioner Stacy Cantu wanted to negotiate something shorter than 21 months.

But in the end P&S Paving was granted the 21-month extension without a price hike on a 6-1 vote that chalked up Strickland as the lone no vote.”    

Thank you, Commissioner Strickland.  I admire your political courage.

And your conscience. . .

During the Commission meeting, it appears some Daytona Beach elected and appointed officials ran interference for P$S Paving – including their political beneficiary, Mayor Derrick Henry – who cautioned his colleagues on the dais of power, “We have to decide whether we want to penalize a partner of ours.”

Partner of ours?

In my jaded view, the most incredulous statement of the evening was offered by Public Works Director Andrew Holmes, who said (with an apparent straight face):

“They’ve fronted a considerable amount of expense and I’d be surprised if they’ve recovered that yet.” 

(Sorry, I just shot a hot sip of fortified Café Bustelo through my nose, dammit. . .)

According to the News-Journal’s report, in a memorandum to City Manager Derek Feacher, Holmes explained:

“The contract was developed so (P&S Paving) could excavate and market the material to the developing public, much of which was in Daytona Beach and surrounding communities,” Holmes wrote. “The uncertainty brought many of the projects to a halt. The economy appeared to be making a turn for the better, but still not as robust as it was at the onset of the contract.”

Has anyone seen a tap-‘o-the-brakes on commercial or residential development in Daytona Beach and beyond in the last year or so, let alone a “halt” on projects?

Me neither.

These are questions I ask myself when I am sitting through three-cycles of a traffic light on Granada Boulevard and (you name the cross street).

How about you? 

And while we’re spit balling among friends, what the hell happened to that whole “things are changing at Daytona Beach City Hall!” – or the encouragement and hope Mr. Feacher stirred throughout the Halifax area when the News-Journal reported he “…vowed to steer clear of any “under-the-table deals” and clandestine conversations.”

Remember?  I do. 

To Mr. Feacher’s credit he inherited this controversy.  The “dirt deal” was hatched under the Chisholm regime. 

However, according to reports, Feacher will soon be asked to determine if P$S Paving will be permitted to dig an additional “retention pond” on the property and pay the city the laughably higher rate of $2.00 per cubic yard.

Again, time will tell. . .

In my view, if the good citizens of Daytona Beach want to get into the commercial fill dirt business, there are fair and competitive processes enshrined in state law and city ordinances that ensure contractual agreements are equally advantageous to taxpayers – not just those Mayor Henry considers “partners.”

You know that whole “…protecting public funds and resources from being exploited in assisting or promoting private ventures when the public would be at most only incidentally benefited…” thing I once read about, back when I was playing government and spending other people’s money.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?    

Kudos to Commissioner Ken Strickland for having the courage of his convictions – and for keeping a watchful eye on the rights, assets, and interests of his long-suffering constituents.    

Quote of the Week

“Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington was in favor of delaying the (transportation) subcommittee issue, not only because of the elections, but also because he said he felt this was a “precursor to a one-cent sales tax.”

In May 2019, Volusia held a special election for a half-cent sales tax referendum for infrastructure projects; it failed by 55% of the vote. Partington questioned why some would think a one-cent sales tax would be passed by voters. Some, he explained, may feel like the half-cent sales tax referendum failed because “it wasn’t enough to meet the needs,” and a one-cent sales tax will pass because it might be deemed enough.

“That makes no sense to me,” he said. “I think there will be double the opposition to a one-cent sales tax than there was to a half-cent sales tax, and that half-cent effort started out well but it just turned into a disaster at the end whenever everybody piled in their special interests.”

–Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington, as quoted by Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas, Ormond Beach Observer, “Volusia elected officials to hold off on forming a transportation subcommittee,” Monday, May 9, 2022

And Another Thing!

I have an often-hypocritical sense of right and wrong – but a well-developed conscience just the same.  An inner guide that lets me know when my ethical compass has precessed in time to reverse course and avoid the consequences. 

Sometimes I listen, and sometimes I don’t. . . 

Some call personal integrity the “voice within” or our “inner light” – an instinct psychologists and sociologists tell us enables people to form cohesive societies and resolve conflict by allowing members to recognize behaviors destructive to that order as “bad” or “evil.”   

I’m certainly not perfect, just another unrepentant sinner – a confused pain-in-the-ass with a highly tuned Bullshit Detector and a goofy opinion on everything – neither always right, nor always wrong, with the age, experience, and hard-earned insight to recognize those traits, trends, and ethical lapses that are robbing We, The Little People of our confidence in local government – a corrosive process whose cumulative affect is detrimental to our civic, social, and economic future here on Florida’s Fun Coast.  

Although I am not sure why – that erosion of trust bothers me.

Earlier this week, Flagler County Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart joined Palm Coast City Clerk Virginia Smith in asking the Palm Coast City Council for a resolution supporting a voluntary, unenforceable “Statement of Ethical Campaign Practices for City Candidates,” a simple reminder for local political candidates of the importance of running clean, issues-based campaigns, free of untruths, innuendos, or ad hominem attacks.    

How do you think that went?

According to an article in FlaglerLive!:

“I would suggest you crumble it up and toss it in the garbage can,” Council member Ed Danko said, with Lenhart, author of the statement, standing a few feet from him at the podium, when Mayor David Alfin asked his colleagues what they wished to do with the resolution and if it should come back to them for a vote next week.”

“The resolution will be scrapped and return to the council as what Alfin described as “a proclamation type statement that would encapsulate the theme of ethical campaigning.”

Bullshit.

In my view, the always cantankerous Councilman Ed Danko could serve as the poster boy for this ethical guide. . .

Look, this isn’t some draconian edict insinuating government overreach into the political process – or an arbiter of what constitutes “The Truth” from a campaign fabrication – rather, it is an outline for candidates, a form they can choose to sign or not.

According to FlaglerLive! editor and publisher Pierre Tristam, “The council’s decision was the latest example of a fractured and chronically uncivil local political landscape where even getting elected officials to agree on voluntary civility standards is out of reach.”

How sad. 

It seems odd that elected officials everywhere seem capable of setting “civility standards” controlling the tone of citizens who approach the gilded dais to ask questions or express an opinion on public policy; yet, when it comes to regulating the no-holds-barred shitshow that passes for modern political campaigns, the concept is dismissed as “garbage.” 

Apparently, suggestions like, “I will provide campaign finance reports which accurately reflect the contributions received and expenditures made,” and “I will not permit members or volunteers of my campaign organization to engage in activities designed to destroy or remove campaign signs lawfully displayed on public or private property,” or “I will at all times tell the truth, with complete documentation from legitimate, verifiable sources for any charges against my opponent(s), and substantiate claims about my own record by using the same standard,” are simply too burdensome – so at least one Palm Coast official suggested changing the term “I will not permit” to a more palatable (and hedging) “I will make every effort to.”

My God.

In my view, as the campaign season begins to boil, it is time We, The Little People view those seeking high office through the prism of our own moral and ethical values.

Including doing the work to become everything perennial politicians fear: An informed voter.

This includes an examination of campaign finance reports to see which candidates are being bankrolled by those industries and individuals with a chip in the game, reviewing the past voting records and the true motivations of incumbents, and studying their fiscal policies and growth management strategies (the Number One issue this election year).

Ask questions, demand answers, listen to their platforms, promises, and “accomplishments,” then determine if they comport with what you see with your own eyes. 

Do they have a history of listening and responding to the concerns of constituents – not just the special interests and uber-wealthy insiders who use massive campaign donations to purchase the loyalties of malleable politicians who seem more interested in feathering their own nest (and that of their benefactors)?

Ask yourself – are they more interested in massaging their outsized egos by having their picture taken with the next echelon of stuffed-shirt C-List politicians and posting their backslapping antics on social media – or do they use their time to learn about and address the issues important to your family and mine? 

Then you can use that valuable knowledge to sort the phonies, flunkies, and stalwarts of the status quo from those servant-leaders with a sincere desire to advance the civic, social, economic, and environmental interests of everyone

This ones important, folks. 

Get informed.  Get involved.  Refuse to be a victim to the ongoing subversion of our local political process.

We deserve better.

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

A Foregone Conclusion

As regular readers of these jeremiads know, each Friday, Barker’s View hosts something I like to call “Angels & Assholes” – a jaded look at who tried to screw us, and who tried to save us, during the week that was.

Guess which column the Volusia County School Board will appear in this week?

On Tuesday evening, stakeholders sat slack jawed as they realized just how far afield the Volusia County School Board has strayed from the fundamental principles of our democratic system – now charging headlong into the realm of tinpot despots convinced of their own infallibility – as they arrogantly ignored the fervent pleas of their staff, constituents – even their own written rules and policies.

With a wave of their gilded scepter, our elected dullards unanimously appointed a controversial chief executive with no identifiable public process or input.

The move came following an eleventh-hour manipulation of the public agenda telegraphing that former Deputy Superintendent Dr. Carmen Balgobin, who mysteriously fled Volusia County for a similar post with Broward County Schools, would be appointed “…as Superintendent of the School Board” (whatever that means) in the wake of Dr. Scott Fritz, who left the helm with a sack full of severance following a tumultuous resignation/termination last month.

From the outset, it was clear that School Board members had made up their minds well in advance and the decision to hire “Dr. B” was a foregone conclusion – full-speed ahead, damn the torpedo’s, and to hell with anyone aboard this foundering ship of fools who disagreed with their absolute authority to do as they wish. . .

Unfortunately, their determination to ramrod Dr. Balgobin’s appointment didn’t stop our elected officials from indulging in their interminable hyper-dramatic soliloquies – the lachrymose mewling and cooing that left one keen observer equating School Board member Jamie Haynes to actress Amber Heard – openly weeping, but no tears. . .

An absurd, round robin whine ensued as they explained, ad nauseum, why Dr. Balgobin was the best and brightest we could hope for (in a field of one?) – a weird, overacted melodrama that had many asking:

“Who are they trying to convince?  You? Me? Themselves?

Or Dr. Balgobin?   

My God.

In my view, the Volusia County School Board did not do their unanimous choice any favors. 

During her sermon to fellow board members, Ms. Haynes repeatedly alluded to some cryptic atrocity that drove Dr. Balgobin from Volusia County Schools – a yarn that conjured scenes of horrific barbarism (personal or professional?) – that suggested Balgobin did not take the job in Broward County (and the massive pay increase it provided) by choice.

In a strange dance, Ms. Haynes stopped just short of spilling the beans like a scene from some M. Night Shyamalan movie – warily glancing at board attorney Ted Doran like he was waiting to slap her with a ruler if she crossed some invisible line – giving less than the full story, which diminished her credibility and frustrated those of us waiting for the other shoe to drop.

This same muddy storyline played out during Chairman Ruben Colon’s monotonous monologue – yet, each time, the story stopped maddeningly shy of the complete transparency that may have garnered public support for Dr. Balgobin – robbing her of that “Ah-ha! That explains it!” moment that could have turned the widespread internal and external perception that sees Balgobin as an extension of Dr. Fritz, a mercenary, or both – and explain the reason(s) why she jumped ship in the first place.

Now, with the haste of recalcitrant children hellbent on getting their way, that opportunity is lost forever.   

In an informative article by education reporter Nikki Ross writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Volusia United Educators president Elizabeth Albert said what many were thinking:

“Albert said the decision Tuesday sent a “very strong message” to employees on whether or not they valued their input.

“There will forever be a connection between Balgobin and Fritz,” Albert said, noting that Balgobin’s departure from the district was abrupt and without explanation. “How can you bring her back to an environment that won’t be open to her? You would be disadvantaging her by appointing her now.”

How terribly unfortunate. . .

So, where do we go from here?

Apparently, the only thing left is for Chairman Colon and Mr. Doran to cobble together a contract (hopeful devoid of the confusion found in the Fritz agreement) which will offer Dr. Balgobin no more than a 3% increase in total compensation over what Dr. Fritz was commanding. 

We will see. . . 

As I understand it, a special meeting will be noticed for Tuesday, May 17, which will allow School Board members to rubberstamp what will no doubt be a very lucrative contract designed to lure Dr. Balgobin back into the turbulent waters of the Fun Coast.

In my view, Tuesday’s decision was an ill-thought gamble during an election year – the age-old roll of the dice by our elected dullards which speculates, “Will the Little People remember how we ignored them – shoved our choice down their throats over an open, transparent, and competitive process – or will their apathy and short memory prevail again this election season?”

Well, will it?

This hasty decision by the Volusia County School Board is crying out for political accountability: The obligation of those elected to high office to serve in the best interest of the public through strict adherence to established policies and transparent processes – or be held liable for their acts and omissions at the ballot box. 

Now, that responsibility lies with the voters of Volusia County.

Meet the New Boss. Same as the Old Boss.

“Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss. . .”

–The Who – Won’t Get Fooled Again, 1971

Experts who study behavioral decision-making tell us that – while our brain is capable of learning from mistakes – unless we adapt and use hard-earned knowledge to our advantage, most often, what we learn is how to make more mistakes. 

They say the counterintuitive reason is the time spent not remembering reinforces the “mistake pathway.”  The brain, much like a complex bureaucracy, reinforces whatever it does, and mistakes beget mistakes, leading to what scientists call “trial and error learning.” 

Through repeated ordeals, and the resultant pain or disastrous implications of our actions, over time, errors reduce as we become more risk-adverse, using experience to our advantage, and begin to factor alternatives, possibilities, and an analysis of potential outcomes into the process.

This “experiential learning” is the most expensive education one can achieve – and not the preferred method if you perform intricate surgical procedures, operate a nuclear powerplant, or cross Granada Boulevard on a regular basis. . .

And it should not be used when selecting a suitable superintendent for a school district with a budget over $1 billion simoleons and growing ‘trust issues’ with students, teachers, parents, staff, and taxpayers.

In recent days, an item was quietly added to the Volusia County School Board’s agenda by attorney Ted Doran, which said:  

“Appointment of former Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Carmen Balgobin, as Superintendent of the School Board of Volusia County, Florida for a three year term, subject to negotiation of mutually agreeable employment contract(.)”

You read that right.

Yes, it’s a grammatical nightmare.  And the title doesn’t match the job description – but its “…close enough for government work,” as we used to say when I was spending other people’s money. . .

For background, Mr. Doran added:

“Dr. Scott Fritz served as a Superintendent of Volusia County schools from December 1, 2019 to April 12, 2022 at which time he left the School District. Dr. Carmen Balgobin served as Deputy Superintendent for the vast majority of Dr. Fritz’s tenure. Dr. Carmen Balgobin possesses a considerable and comprehensive knowledge of the School District and, if appointed, would serve as Superintendent for a minimum of three years.”

Ahhh, if it were all that simple, eh? 

While our elected dullards on the School Board may not have the capacity to recall past mistakes – those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence certainly remember the disastrous reign of Dr. Scott Fritz, the blustery former superintendent who stormed out of our lives last month following a behind-the-scenes dustup with Chairman Ruben Colon.

Of course, Dr. Fritz’ theatrical departure was quickly followed by Mr. Doran ramrodding a lucrative severance package – a move which seemed to reinforce our worst expectations – and put a cherry on top of Fritz’ tumultuous tenure.

In the immediate aftermath, Chairman Colon began murmuring about the possibility of bringing Dr. Carmen Balgobin back to the helm. 

In July 2020, Dr. Balgobin served as interim superintendent while Dr. Fritz recovered from cancer treatments – a tumultuous time that raised questions about Balgobin’s leadership and decision-making (something she later brushed off as “inaccurate narratives”).

For instance, during the pandemic – rather than adopt a transparent two-way public communications strategy to open a dialog with worried parents and keep stakeholders up to date on the myriad delays, quarantine rumors, and issues related to their children’s education – instead, Dr. Balgobin’s administration chose to muzzle district staff, requiring that “all media communications need to be facilitated through” the district’s official mouthpiece.   

Because during a crisis, what passes for “the truth” lies with those who control the narrative. . .

In addition, the controversies included Balgobin’s off-the-agenda 34% pay increase, which brought her interim salary to a whopping $195,000

Remember?  I do.

According to reports, Balgobin’s massive increase was negotiated between Mr. Doran and then Chairwoman Ida Wright at a time when teachers and support staff were groveling for a paltry 2.5% to 3% pay increase – and the district’s Chief Financial Officer was sounding the klaxon on “…millions of dollars in lost funding: from fluctuations in student numbers compared to last year; from steady or rising operational costs; from the cost associated with personal protective equipment; and from future unknowns.”  

The vote to increase Balgobin’s salary was taken during Chairwoman Wright’s last meeting after losing her re-election bid.

In a November 2020 article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Volusia United Educators president Elizabeth Albert described the off-the-agenda ambush as:

“It’s just hypocrisy at the greatest level,” Albert said. “I think there was a desire to slide this through, in an underhanded and deceptive way.”

Then, many taxpayers questioned Balgobin’s oddly timed decision to hire Ms. Wright immediately after she left office for an unadvertised and uncompetitive part-time job paying $35 an hour, ostensibly under a federal grant program to help Human Resources develop equity and diversity practices. . .  

You read that right. . . 

In another questionable role, as Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Balgobin was assigned by Dr. Fritz to oversee a  contracted services agreement with Ormond Beach City Commissioner Susan Persis, a retired district employee and wife of current School Board member (and Fritz cheerleader) Carl Persis, which pays her $82.00 an hour (not to exceed $23,616.00 over the life of the contract) to provide “coaching services” to principals at select schools – another questionable expense that did not come before the School Board for approval.

All perfectly legal and within Dr. Fritz’ discretionary spending authority. . .

Did I mention that questions continue to swirl around the appointment of Dr. Balgobin’s husband – Mr. Thomas Soli – who previously served as an assistant principal in Orange County Public Schools – and was appointed Principal of Riverview Learning Center in Daytona Beach over several qualified internal candidates?

Yeah.  That. 

Then, without explanation, Dr. Balgobin mysteriously jumped ship in late March when she was appointed Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning for Broward County Public Schools – a move which increased her Volusia County salary of $162,363 to $220,000. . .

So, I’m going to spitball here and say “Dr. B” won’t be returning to the Fun Coast for less than that, eh?

Whatever.

In the aftermath of the abrupt departures of Fritz and Balgobin, many were hoping for a transparent and inclusive process, one which would solicit and consider the invested recommendations of parents, teachers, and staff – with fair consideration given to qualified internal candidates with a demonstrated commitment to the education of our children – and a real connection with those dedicated educators who present the curriculum in the classroom.

It’s called building confidence in the process and fostering a sense of internal and external buy-in – something that is desperately lacking in Volusia County District Schools.

I guess not. . .

Apparently, our elected officials could give two-shits what you think – they will make the decision for us – and our input in the process is neither wanted, nor welcome. 

According to the Volusia County District School’s official job description for the Superintendent, the sole “Position Goal” is, “To provide the leadership necessary to successfully achieve the mission of the Volusia County Schools.”  

Anyone think we have seen this goal accomplished under the Fritz/Balgobin administration?

I’m asking.

Because, it looks like in this anything goes environment in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand, its possible We do get fooled again. . .

How tragic. And completely avoidable.

Angels & Assholes for May 6, 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               Columnist Mark Lane

Whether we agree on the politics of the day or not, if you are reading this I’ll bet we have one thing in common:  Like me, you are a perpetual page turner. 

I read everything I get my hands on. 

From novels, to newspapers, what remains of magazines in this online age – even the back of the shampoo bottle in a pinch – and when I’m not repeatedly touching a hot stove, reading is how this uneducated rube learns

I grew up with the Daytona Beach Morning Journal and Evening News, then The Daytona Beach News-Journal when the papers merged in the mid-1980’s.  The great columnists of the News-Journal – Bob Desiderio, John “Gonzo” Carter, Kathy Kelly, and Margie Schlageter to name a few – taught me how to read critically and develop a situational awareness of the civic and social issues of the day.

None did it better than the incomparable Mark Lane. 

This week, Mr. Lane announced his retirement after 41-years of full-time newspapering. 

Fortunately, in his poignant sign-off we learned that Mr. Lane will contribute a weekly column starting in June and continue his interesting local history page in the News-Journal’s Sunday edition. 

I do not know Mark personally (we met once, which is to say I introduced myself, and he good-naturedly humored me for a moment) but having enjoyed his thoughts and asides three days each week, I feel like we are friends. 

As a dilettante editorialist, I found it interesting to watch a true master of the craft work his magic – how the turn of a phrase could help shine a light on the important and mundane – and his Darwinian Gardner segments balanced Mark’s self-effacing humor with sound information for amateur horticulturists.     

While it is wonderful to see anyone reach this well-deserved reward following a successful and satisfying career – as a longtime fan of Mr. Lane’s wit and style – I will miss his observations of our life and times here on Florida’s Fun Coast

Like everything else, print media is changing.  Fast. 

In my view, not for the better. . .

As The Daytona Beach News-Journal continues its inexorable slide toward a homogenized and regionalized shadow of its former self, Mr. Lane represented a final connection with what once was my hometown paper – he lived where we live, he enjoyed baseball at The Jack, he was ‘one of us.’  

I always respected the fact that Mark Lane held true to the columnist’s charge – to observe and provoke thought – in a well-researched way that challenged the ideas and decisions that affect our lives and livelihoods while fostering a larger discussion of the issues. 

And he did it with great balance, fairness, accuracy, and fun. 

Kudos on the culmination of an extraordinary and important career, Mr. Lane.  Your insight and creativity will be missed by your legions of loyal readers.   

Angel               Jeep Beach 2022  

Another Jeep Beach is in the books! 

The festival of all-things-Jeep lived up its stellar reputation as one of the most anticipated – and universally welcomed – special events of the season. 

Unlike many “pop-up” invasions and “truck meets” – insanity that can leave area residents trapped in their homes as rowdy (insert motorized conveyance here) enthusiasts turn our streets into a congested dragstrip and our beachside neighborhoods into Party Central during three days/two nights of gridlocked debauchery – Jeep Beach brings thousands of visitors to our area for a great week of fun at various venues throughout the area. 

According to a recent report by Jim Abbott writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, since incorporating as a non-profit in 2017, “Jeep Beach has donated over $2.8 million to area charities over the past decade through the event’s annual weeklong fund-raising efforts. Recipients include the Boys & Girls Clubs of Volusia & Flagler Counties; the NASCAR Foundation; the Childhood Cancer Foundation, as well as more than 30 additional nonprofit groups.”

I was also impressed by the annual beach clean-up that coincides with a beautiful parade of custom Jeeps that culminates the week-long event.  It is called leaving it better than you found it – the benchmark of a good guest – one our residents will welcome back with open arms.

The festivities are expertly managed by Charlene Greer, Jeep Beach’s executive director, who this year led a team of some three hundred volunteers to produce an event that benefited the Halifax area hospitality industry as well as businesses, shopping venues, and non-profit organizations throughout Volusia County. 

Kudos to Ms. Greer and her many wonderful volunteers, sponsors, and partners for setting a shining example of how a well-managed draw – one that works hand-in-glove with city officials and business interests – can elevate our areas reputation as a tourist destination while showcasing the generosity and community spirit of Jeep enthusiasts! 

See you next year! 

Asshole           Volusia County Council

As the bimonthly hootenanny that passes for a meeting of the Volusia County Council got underway this week, a concerned citizen approached the podium with two profound questions for our assembled brain trust:

When will Volusia County address impact fees on new and proposed development in the face of “unsustainable growth”?

Given that Volusia County has been in a “water crisis” for over twenty-years – how does county government plan to supply water as this massive development continues to spread?   

As the speaker began to explain the obvious water demands inherent to the “thousands” of new homes and apartments that are sprouting up across the width and breadth of Volusia County – her microphone stopped working – a not unusual embarrassment in the gilded chamber where the tone and quality of the audio/visual component is just shy of Alexander Graham Bell’s harmonic telegraph. . . 

After an uncomfortable pause, the resident was handed another rusty soup can with more wax on the string so she could communicate with our stone-faced elected representatives, but at the end of her three-minutes, none of it mattered.

After a silent (and awkward) wait for an explanation, the citizen begged, “Does anyone have an answer for that?”

Of course, they didn’t. . .

After waiting for answers to questions that are on the minds of everyone in Volusia County – our elected dullards sat on the dais of power staring into space like scarecrows stuffed with dry manure – until Chairman Jeff Brower broke the tension by explaining the obvious, “Our policy is we don’t answer questions…” assuring that the citizen’s contact information would be provided to his fellow council members who could “share with her privately” if they are so inclined. . . 

Bullshit.

Each election cycle, we listen to stuffed-shirt politicians tell us they value our input and participation in the ‘people’s business,’ then, once elected, acquiesce to the stagnant status quo, willingly accepting asinine internal policies that limit public participation and prevent elected officials from addressing the concerns of worried constituents.

Somehow, We, The Little People – from which all political power is derived – have come to accept this exclusion from the process as business as usual.    

In this case, their utter disregard was laid bare in striking fashion – and the deafening silence spoke volumes – as a lone citizen bravely stood firm in front of the assembled Monarchy waiting for an answer to her urgent questions regarding the out-of-control growth and resource mismanagement that is rapidly threatening our quality of life. 

Unfortunately, our elected officials are far too self-absorbed to understand the optics of the moment – but it was a powerful scene.   

I hope you will remember it at the ballot box this year. . .

Then, during the consent agenda, we watched the Council unanimously approve a one-year extension of a contract for a loosely defined “advertising and marketing service” with no list of previous expenditures, prices, budget impact, or associated costs noted in the agenda item.

None.

Oh, Councilman Danny Robins asked a cursory question to get on the record and was assured by Community Information Director Kevin Captain that he can produce an accounting of the funds if needed – just not right then, I guess. . .

Whatever. 

Yet, when talked turned to the expenditure of a paltry $240,000 (of the $107.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act manna the county received) to improve domestic violence services – Mr. Robins and others broke out the microscope, sharpened their pencils, and began a molecular dissection of a beneficial program proposed by the Beacon Center that would use just $60,000 each year over the next four-years to fund its Safe at Home project.

According to the funding request, the program would “…monitor perpetrator compliance, review current practices, identify areas of improvement and offer accountability solutions that support survivor safety.”

The Beacon Center is the only certified domestic violence service provider in Volusia County.

With little, if any, guidance from county staff on how to properly format the funding proposal – it was clear the Beacon Center did its level best to address pressing needs with the “piecemeal” direction received from those high-paid bureaucrats who make their living, well, determining how to spend ARPA funds – who apparently couldn’t be bothered to set spending priorities or provide substantial assistance to a service provider.    

(Was anyone held accountable internally?  Nah.  Again, bid’ness as usual in DeLand. . .)

Our election year watchdogs seemed hung-up on a line item for a proposed annual statewide conference to be held in Volusia County which would bring together experts on intimate partner violence to provide training and information sharing with first responders and others on recognizing and addressing pre-incident indicators to domestic homicide.

Important stuff.  But not here. . .  

Because in the Land of Mediocrity, why would Volusia County take a leadership role on anything, let alone saving the lives of domestic violence victims?   

Besides, there’s probably a quilting bee booked for the Ocean Center that weekend. . .

For the record, according to the Beacon Center, Volusia County ranks 10th in the State of Florida for incidents of domestic violence – yet, we have no certified Batterer Accountability Specialists to provide expert testimony or monitor perpetrator compliance. 

You read that right.

At the end of a confusing discussion (with Mr. Robins still “drilling down” on the project’s limited budget, whatever in the bureaucratic hell that means?) our elected dullards voted 6-1 (with Councilwoman Post the lone “No” vote) opting to kick the can down the road, issue a two-week notice of funding availability, effectively tabling further discussion of the Safe at Home project until the council reconvenes on June 7. 

That way, the limited ARPA funds allocated to domestic violence services can be spread among other providers – diluted to the point of ineffectiveness – while ensuring that each councilmember currently running for re-election can beat their chest and take credit for “doing good” in their district while the lives of at-risk women and children hang in the balance.   

Disgusting.  

You’re right.  That is called putting politics over public safety – the worst form of showboating – something those shameless self-promoters indignantly denied when they were rightfully called out by an unbowed Councilwoman Post.

And please don’t give me any of that mewling election year horseshit about “This is the oversight people demanded after we raised their taxes last year, Barker.”

This is political posturing – not stewardship. 

In typical fashion, our self-anointed Éminence grise, The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry, took a cheap swipe at Councilwoman Post when she had the courage to call this shoddy political grandstanding what it is when he crowed, “…it’s only political people that think everything is political.”

Jesus.  That coming from the most grotesque political animal in this fetid swamp. . .

To be clear, Ms. Post is not running for re-election – while “Dr.” Lowry is currently begging voters to let him to take his unique brand of pompous douchebaggery to the Volusia County School Board.

God help us. . .  

If you needed any additional evidence of why voters should not return any sitting incumbent to the Volusia County Council – these glaring examples should put your frayed mind at rest. 

They certainly cemented it for me.

Please don’t take my word for it.  Watch it all here and form your own conclusions: https://tinyurl.com/yn5nx5pr

Then vote like your quality of life depends upon it.

Quote of the Week

“Our officials are not taking us seriously,” said (Rev. Phil) Egitto, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Daytona Beach. “It is unconscionable that our elected officials are ignoring us.”

–Rev. Phil Egitto, as quoted by reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “FAITH group continues its push for affordable housing in Volusia County,” Wednesday, May 4, 2022

On Tuesday morning, dozens of the faithful representing Fighting Against Injustice Towards Harmony (FAITH) held a prayer vigil before entering the Volusia County Council chambers to present a petition signed by some 1,200 area residents urging the creation of an affordable housing trust fund.

The initiative hopes to assist the thousands of local families who cannot afford safe housing in an economic environment where the average wage for area renters is just $13.35 per hour while a two-bedroom apartment now commands $1,488 a month.  

So, what do our elected officials on the dais of power think about the idea of using $2.5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds as seed money for an affordable housing trust fund?

Where do our representatives fall on the establishment of “linkage fees” – a type of development impact fee assessed on new construction to mitigate the impact of the additional demand for affordable housing – as a means of addressing an issue that has left some 2,465 school children in Volusia County without a stable place to lay their heads? 

Well, we just don’t know. . . 

In keeping with the Council’s astronomically stupid policy of refusing to acknowledge the physical presence of any serf who takes time off of work and travels to DeLand to participate in their government – our elected elite sat like wooden gargoyles – as Chairman Brower silently handed off the thick stack of petitions to a clerk like the political hot potato they are. . .

In my view, Rev. Phil is right. 

It is unconscionable that our elected officials continue to ignore one of the most pressing civic and social issues of our time – while their political benefactors bank millions of dollars slashing and burning our natural places to make way for more, more, more wood-frame cracker boxes “starting in the $300’s.” 

And Another Thing!

As an uneducated bumpkin, I understood early the importance of becoming a good impressionist – observing people I hold in high regard and parroting their positives – listening, watching, learning, then embodying those attributes I respect. 

For instance, early in my law enforcement career, I admired a Florida Highway Patrol trooper who was always immaculately uniformed – spotless in appearance and grooming, shoes buffed to a high shine, trousers pressed to a razor-sharp crease, his gunleather and brass polished to perfection. 

He had “the look” of a consummate professional who radiated a command presence just by his impeccable appearance. 

And I learned to write by plagiarizing police reports written by a fellow officer who had previously served as creative director for J. Walter Thompson in New York, one of the most prestigious marketing firms in the world. 

Following a mid-life career change, Officer Elliott Anderson took this illiterate fledgling under his wing and taught me the art of technical writing – an invaluable skill that helped me build a solid professional reputation in the criminal justice community – and still serves as a cathartic and creative outlet with this blogsite.

Admittedly, I am no Hemingway – but I can get the point across.  With knobs on it. . .

As things heat up on the political front, I have noticed some candidates in county and municipal elections adopting a similar ‘mirroring strategy’ with their campaigns – championing issues that resonated with voters and helped catapult Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower to the catbird seat over a well-financed member of the entrenched Old Guard following a hotly contested race in 2020. 

Issues that many obstructionist incumbents refused to acknowledge before now.

Look, most of these candidates are no smarter than you or I.  In fact, many are led around like addled oxen with a ring in their nose by their political benefactors and party bosses who tell them which side of any issue to come down on.

But those behind-the-scenes operatives that candidates hire to stage-manage their campaigns and ensure maximum return on groaning war chests – a few already brimming with cash from uber-wealthy insiders who control their environment by trading in malleable politicians like livestock each election year – are incredibly smart strategists who understand the art of telling We, The Little People exactly what they think we want to hear. 

For the past year-and-a-half, I have watched some of these same incumbents kneecap Chairman Brower at every turn – belittling his initiatives, questioning his motivations, marginalizing his suggestions and campaign promises, while viciously attacking every parliamentary misstep and rookie mistake – a textbook example of the same political gaslighting used against District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post when she refused to be pounded into the round hole of lockstep conformity. 

So, be wary of sudden transformations this election cycle. 

With a little information, it is easy to differentiate true grassroots candidates – our friends and neighbors with a fire in the belly to serve our communities with selflessness and honor – from those co-opted perennial politicians, stooges, figureheads, and seat fillers who know intuitively which side their political bread is buttered on – where that butter originated – and why. . .

If you need a playbook, you can learn who is financing who here: https://www.voterfocus.com/CampaignFinance/candidate_pr.php?c=volusia

In Volusia County politics, the devil is always in the details. 

For instance, when I read glossy mailers and carefully crafted campaign literature that screams, “I’m for responsible growth!” – I naturally question what they mean by that?

You should too.   

Because terms like “responsible growth,” “low-impact development,” and “environmental protection” mean something different to those elected marionettes who continue to rubberstamp malignant growth and density increases at a rate that has far outpaced our ability to accommodate it.

With no end in sight. 

Or, does the popular rallying cry “I’m for beach access!” mean the candidate supports removing onerous beach tolls for Volusia County residents and revamping the overpriced mismanagement of our most precious natural resource – or do they want to stop beach driving and spend money purchasing off-beach parking lots west of A-1-A so you and I can schlep our kids and gear across a congested highway while more of the stand is given away as a cheap spiff for beachfront developers?    

Recently, several candidates touted the fact they signed a “pledge” supporting something called the “Volusia Wildlife Corridor” – which many believe is yet another “conservation” ruse – one which allows developers to shoehorn even more zero lot line cracker boxes into what remains of our natural places on a promise of leaving a thin contiguous path so displaced wildlife can thread the needle through the sprawl that was once their habitat. 

That’s like saying “I like ice cream!” 

In my view, that’s not conservation – it is feelgood eyewash wrapped in a hollow promise.  

I’ve got an idea: How about candidates and incumbents running for re-election swear an oath to support a moratorium on planned unit developments and zoning changes that increase density until such time actual low-impact development regulations and common-sense environmental protections can be incorporated, impact fees brought to effective levels, the affordable housing crunch addressed, and adequate infrastructure identified, funded, and built to accommodate it? 

Don’t hold your breath. . .

In my view, the protection of our quality of life, and the future health and safety of our children and grandchildren, are moral imperatives that require immediate attention – not cheap political posturing that further undermines the integrity of this horribly tainted system – one fueled by massive amounts of money from those with a chip in the game.   

Pay attention, folks.  Ask questions.  Demand hard answers.  This one’s important.

That’s all for me.  Here’s wishing everyone a great weekend and a Happy Mother’s Day

Angels & Assholes for April 29, 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               Claire Metz, WESH-2

It is an honor to congratulate my old friend and former colleague – the incomparable Claire Metz, WESH’s longest serving on-air journalist – as she prepares to receive the coveted Legacy Award from the Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists.

Bravo!

I rightfully refer to Claire – and her long-time photojournalist, Hutch Breneman – as colleagues because during my service in law enforcement, the team became trusted confreres who both reported on incidents with meticulous accuracy and independence, requested community assistance when necessary, and broadcast time-sensitive information to residents during emergencies. 

(While somehow making my ugly visage and rambling delivery seem coherent on the evening news during what seems like hundreds of stand-up interviews through the years. . .)

Because Claire is so beloved in the community, I have noticed when people seek information on emergent issues affecting their neighborhood on social media, the first call for help is “Hey, Claire, do you know what’s going on?”

Impressively, she always comes through – regardless of the time or circumstance – Claire Metz does her best to serve and inform. 

During over forty-years in broadcast journalism in Central Florida, Claire has covered it all as both an anchor and highly respected reporter – wildfires, hurricanes, accidents, homicides (including the arrest, prosecution, and execution of serial killer Aileen Wuornos) she has seen it all – from the life-threatening to the mundane, Claire brought it into our living rooms with great professionalism, the consummate storyteller, always setting the gold standard for her colleagues and competitors.

As Hutch so aptly put it in the recent FABJ announcement:

“In my nearly four decades in news, I’ve never known a more dedicated journalist, or one who cares more about the people in her community.  Who else makes beat calls, requests reports and files stories while they’re on vacation? Who else gets a call from a source, and runs out to breaking news with her iPhone in the middle of the night, in her pajamas? Then again, who else covers a hurricane in high heels?”

Congratulations on this well-deserved recognition of your stellar career, Claire.  Your incredible professionalism will serve as the benchmark for aspiring broadcast journalists – and a testament to your esteemed legacy of service to Central Florida and beyond. 

Asshole           Florida Rep. Randy Fine

I don’t know about you, but this has bothered me all week. . .

On occasion a story emerges that reminds me of all the reasons I write this blog – the cathartic nature of venting my spleen while pointing a jaded finger at ‘the shit’ – comforted by the faint hope that my neighbors still believe some behavior should be universally reviled, even in the feted slit-trench of modern politics.   

I cannot abide bullying and abuse of position – especially when that aggression and intimidation comes from high and mighty politicians seeking to use their vast power to punish the defenseless.

Floridians got a disturbing glimpse of the politics of personal destruction this week when influential state Rep. Randy Fine got caught victimizing a Brevard County community after he felt snubbed by, of all things, an invitation to a local fundraiser for Special Olympics in West Melbourne. 

According to reports, Rep. Fine took the ass after the West Melbourne Police Department sent a blanket invitation to community leaders – including the Brevard County School Board – seeking participation in a “jail and bail” style fundraiser at an area Chick-fil-A – apparently neglecting to prostrate themselves and humbly beseech Rep. Fine to grace the event with his attendance. 

What raised Rep. Fine’s wrath was that his long-time political punching bag, Brevard School Board member Jennifer Jenkins, agreed to participate. 

In a series of text messages between Fine and his obsequious toady, West Melbourne City Commissioner John Dittmore, obtained by media outlets last week, Rep. Fine can be seen threatening to withhold funding for Special Olympics (read that again) and a flood-mitigation project for citizens of West Melbourne:

Fine:                “Thanks for taking care of it.  Jenkins just put your project and special Olympics funding on the veto list.”

Dittmore:        “Burns (a Brevard County blogger) went after me…said I did it at your direction,”

Fine:                “Lol” (Laugh out loud)

Fine:                “Seriously though, this does put your project on the veto list. Very dumb move.”

Dittmore:        “Apparently the police department invited the school board, all declined or ignored except her”

Fine:                “Odd they didn’t invite me and I actually represent west melbourne”

Dittmore:        “Well that’s going to be a topic of discussion with staff on Monday.  They seem to (sic) focused on a lot of teachers the school board, etc. for this particular year I don’t know why”

                        “I’m going to personally donate the amount of money that she would’ve earned and exchange for her being removed from the event 500”

                        “$500”

                        “The crazies are going at it right now.  I’m just going to handle on my end and then if she doesn’t voluntarily step away I will bring up Tuesday at our council meeting”

                        “You wouldn’t happen to know what percentage of support you got from the city of West Melbourne in the last election?”

Fine:                “I can figure it out”

Dittmore:        “I just wanna make sure I have the right number for Tuesday night in case anyone’s on the fence about supporting me”

Fine:                “It is a slap in the face given I got you all money”

Dittmore:        “We’re (sic) you able to review the social media”

Fine:                “Which one?”

Dittmore:        “Facebook”

Fine:                “Whose?”

Dittmore:        “I just want to make sure you have seen it”

                        “Mine”

                        “And hers”

Fine:                “Yes”

“Two west melbourne precincts in my district we believe”

                        “309: 64.2 – 35.98”

                        “529: 61.4 – 38.96”

                        “Boom”

Dittmore:        “4/22 is the fundraiser, will you attend with me.  It’s around 6pm”

                        “I think she deleted the post but I need to confirm.  The focus should be on the SO (Special Olympics) kids, not her bs”

Fine:                “Problem is their funding is now at risk too.”

                        “Huge fuckup by the bureaucrats.”

                        “Smart move is to cancel with apology for wading into politics.”

Dittmore:        “The problem is low level police supervisors sent a blanket email and she was the only SB member to respond.  I doubt that the officer who coordinates this event had any clue about potential issues…as a cop I hated politicians/politics so they are pretty much oblivious to these things”

                        “4/22 is the fundraiser, will you attend with me.  Its around 6pm”

Fine:                “I’m not going to jack shit that that whore is at”

Dittmore:        “Conditional that she is not there”

                        “I’m going to get Paul to go, and Matt Susin just asked about attending.  I’m going to ask Rob Medina as well, Burns attacked all of us”

Fine:                “Yes.  I’m not doing anything involving that whore.”

                        “You guys need to raise a lot of money given that’s who you want to honor, not the person who got you money in the budget.  And I don’t mean you specifically.”

(From Eric Rogers, Florida Today, “Florida Rep. Randy Fine threatened Special Olympics funding over school board member feud, texts show,” April 23, 2022)

Yeah.  That. 

As Rep. Fine so arrogantly put it – Boom.

It gets worse. . . 

According to an article by reporter Eric Rogers writing in Florida Today, “A city leader said Fine later tried to block the release of the text messages through a public records request and wanted a city attorney who was overseeing the request to be fired.”

“Fine denied he threatened to get the funding pulled or that he ever spoke about firing the city attorney.”

Wow.  Does that comport with what you just read in the transcript of his text messages?    

If that isn’t base thuggery, I don’t know what is. . . 

What a couple of Class A scumbags.

Look, before someone gets their knickers in a wad and tries to make this a “righty v. lefty” Republican/Democrat thing – it isn’t. 

I don’t give a damn which side of the aisle you align with, an elected state official threatening to influence Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto funds for Special Olympics and flood-prevention efforts to protect the homes of some 500 at-risk citizens in Brevard County over petty personal politics is wrong.    

It should be criminal. 

Of course, Florida legal experts say threatening to withhold public funds for a previously allocated public purpose is perfectly above-board here in the Sunshine State.

According to a subsequent report in Florida Today:

“Ben Wilcox, research director for Integrity Florida, a government accountability watchdog based in Tallahassee, said that while Fine’s behavior was unethical, it wasn’t a clear ethics code violation.

“It seems like an abuse of power. But I’m not sure that’s covered in Chapter 112 (the section of the Florida Statutes dealing with ethics for elected officials),” he said.

It could be argued Fine was gaining some sort of “political benefit,” but that would be hard to quantify, Wilcox said.

“Whether or not you agree that a state legislator should be threatening and pressuring local government officials, I don’t think that’s an ethics violation.”

This is Florida, the rules are different here. . .   

In addition to Rep. Fine’s douchebaggery, the fact West Melbourne City Councilman John Dittmore – that bootlicking sycophant (who, to my utter disgust, bills himself as a “retired police officer”) – threw members of his community’s hardworking police department under the bus for having the temerity to solicit local school leaders for a fundraiser in support of the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities is revolting

What exactly, was Councilman Dittmore planning to discuss with “staff” on Monday morning? 

What was he planning to bring up at Tuesday’s council meeting? 

Was Ditzmore going to lean on any public employee who failed to join him in kissing the pasty fat ass of some pompous despot?  A petty tyrant who wields his considerable power – derived from the will of the people – for personal political gain and spiteful retribution? 

Hey, Councilman Dittmore, do the honorable thing (look it up) and resign. 

I know, I know – in Florida’s labyrinthine public ethics statutes nothing is ever out-of-bounds, the laws written to benefit politicians and administered by a bunch of political appointees with the decisiveness of Jed Clampett ordering soup in an Ethiopian restaurant. . . 

However, resigning from office and preserving the public trust is the right thing to do when you no longer possess the moral authority to lead.

In my view, the likes of Rep. Fine represents the worst-of-the-worst – and he is everything wrong with what passes for modern politics – where anyone with an opposing viewpoint is painted as an ‘enemy’ which must be destroyed, and women with whom they disagree are denigrated as “whores,” with each move carefully choreographed to be more outrageous than the one before, with no option off the table as the ‘culture wars’ are perpetuated at all levels of government, and the only rule is lockstep fealty to those behind-the-scenes partisan powerbrokers on both sides who underwrite their campaigns and set the order of battle.

Trust me.  That cabal of strategic puppeteers with a chip in the game most assuredly does not include Rep. Fine. 

He is merely a dull tool with the ethical malleability to do exactly what he is told – now revealed as a cheap bully and gross embarrassment to his party, “colleagues,” and the State of Florida.

Look, I realize political ogres like Randy Fine don’t have the strength of character to do what is right, step aside, and make way for someone (anyone) with the moral backbone to protect the dignity of the office, stop this insane tit-for-tat from fringe elements on both sides, and work cooperatively to find a way to return some sense of governance and decorum to Tallahassee and beyond.

I don’t care if you are a staunch Republican or diehard Democrat – anyone with a conscience should find this behavior abhorrent, un-American, and detrimental to a democracy many have fought and died to preserve.

Expectedly, the silence from our elected “leadership” is deafening. . .    

Kudos to Deltona City Commissioner Dana McCool for having the courage and sense of decency to contact Rep. Fine’s colleagues and ask them to condemn his abhorrent tactics. 

According to a subsequent article by Eric Rogers in Florida Today this week:

“News of the text messages — which included Fine twice calling Jenkins a “whore” — angered Dana McCool, a commissioner for the city of Deltona in Volusia County. She contacted reporters Monday, saying she took the day off to call state legislators and urge them to speak out about the incident.

“We must condemn him for his hypocrisy,” McCool said. “He portrays himself as a fine, upstanding, God-fearing family man who’s a Boy Scout leader. We’re seeing the underbelly of how Randy Fine operates.”

McCool said she had contacted the offices of about 30 House members by 5 p.m. Monday. Not one leader she spoke with would comment on the record, she said.

“It’s a new level of low when you don’t hear from leadership,” she said.”

Like Commissioner McCool, I find the collective cowardice of our representatives – those we elect to preserve the public trust and protect the sanctity of our state government – a disgusting example of just how far we have strayed from our foundational beliefs. . .

As evidence that Fine’s belligerence transcends partisan politics, in the same article, Rick Lacey, the elected chair of the Brevard County Republican Executive Committee (who has also felt the ire of Rep. Fine) is quoted:

“Lacey called the threats an “abuse of power” and a “major insult to women voters,” and called on Fine to resign over the incident.

“The voters give people a position of power in our community to represent them,” Lacey told FLORIDA TODAY. “And if a person misuses that power, which is obvious in this case, that is an abuse of power. It is a misuse of the office. And, to me, the proper thing to do would be to resign.”

According to Beth Rosenson, an associate professor in political science at the University of Florida, who was also quoted by Florida Today, “Fine’s actions carried some “pretty deep, profound implications” for the state of government in Florida.”

“Personal motivations dominate in a dictatorship. … Based on personal rule, where a dictator says, ‘If you don’t bow down to me, you’re not going to get what you want,’” said Rosenson, author of “The Shadowlands of Conduct: Ethics and State Politics.”

“It’s not how the Founding Fathers envisioned democracy working, that people would make decisions based on some petty political feud rather than on the merits of the case,” she said.”

In my view, if Rep. Fine does not have the scruples to resign (he doesn’t), then it is high time for the voters of South Brevard to do all Floridians a favor and show this shameless goon the door at their earliest opportunity. 

Quote of the Week

“I’m in a tough spot,” Haynes said. “Ninety-five-percent of the time, I will always take the high road. I don’t believe in airing dirty laundry because it doesn’t do our students any good, our families or communities any good, but it’s been rough lately.”

“Haynes continued that it was made harder as she’s had trouble communicating with School Board Attorney Ted Doran. She detailed an incident where she was on the phone and did not take his call and Doran immediately emailed her complaining that she wasn’t taking his call or communicating with him.”

“I personally didn’t know that if my phone rang and it was Mr. Doran calling that I needed to immediately hang up with whoever I was talking to, to talk to him,” she said. “I don’t take well to being threatened.”

–Volusia County School Board Member Jamie Hynes, as quoted by Ormond Beach Observer Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas, “Volusia County School Board approves interim superintendent contract; evaluation for its attorney coming soon?” Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Last year, the Volusia County School Board somehow ‘forgot’ that attorney Ted Doran’s contract – who, along with the superintendent, is one of the board’s two direct reports – was due for renewal.

How does that happen?

With little more than one-week notice to consider alternatives; Mr. Doran received a three-year contract without any evaluation of his performance. 

That binding agreement increased Mr. Doran’s hourly rate from $195 to $245 an hour – a more than 25% increase. . . 

Life is good in the hallowed halls of the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand, eh?

According to a June 2021 article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:  

“Last fiscal year, Doran and his firm were paid between $400,000 and $450,000 total for work with the school district (the final numbers are not yet available). The majority is for other legal services they provided to the district. The district contracts with six to eight outside law firms for various legal services and specializations.”

Now, we learn that the Volusia County School Board could not evaluate Mr. Doran if they wanted to – because they lack the capability

You read that right.

That disturbing revelation lead member Carl “Namby-Pamby” Persis – a staunch advocate for the dysfunctional status quo – to call for a highly paid consultant to take them by the hand, walk them down the garden path, and develop a tool for how best to review their own attorney’s performance. . . 

Never mind that a Google search would provide a plethora of vetted evaluation examples from school boards in Florida and beyond.  Nah, too simple.

Here on the Fun Coast, we need another convoluted and incredibly expensive process that – if done properly – should drag on beyond the election this fall.   

Of course, any consideration of demanding accountability for one of the most sensitive and highly compensated positions in the district was pooh-poohed by the always melodramatic, Linda Cuthbert, whose histrionics from the dais suggested any proposed workshop to discuss a means of evaluating the board’s attorney was a “ruse” to fire Mr. Doran. 

Say what?

In addition, Mr. Persis took the opportunity to lecture his colleagues, essentially whimpering that if any member had an issue with Mr. Doran, they should simply take him behind closed doors, sit cross-legged in the floor, and sing Kumbaya until things improve – you know, away from the prying eyes of those who pay the bills. . . 

“It’s very easy for us to just say to them, ‘ Hey, something’s bothering me. I really need to talk to you privately. Can we do that?'” Persis mewled. “… But then of course if you see a pattern of the same thing and it’s not getting any better, then I understand.”

Does he mean the pattern of abject dysfunction, scandal, and miscommunication that has had students, teachers, parents, and staff feeling like they are strapped into some nightmarish version of Mister Toad’s Wild Ride?

Bullshit.

Given that Mr. Persis has spent the bulk of his professional life climbing the gilded ladder in the cloistered confines of Volusia County District Schools, it is not surprising that he seems to have no concept of responsibility and accountability, preferring to allow issues to fester into a public shit-show rather than address conflicts and performance issues in an objective, transparent, and measured way, consistent with established policies and protocols. 

But then, when did the Volusia County School Board ever give two-shits about following their own policies? 

Clearly, “the rules” are meant to control the little people. . .

Whatever. 

Earlier in the meeting, something everyone could agree on was approving a contract with Interim Superintendent Rachel Hazel, which raised her pay from $423 a day ($107,833 annually) to an astronomical $804 per day, which places her at the same $205,000 annual salary that former Superintendent Scott Fritz commanded when he was recently terminated on a 3-2 vote. . .   

$804 per day?  For an interim role?

“Congratulations,” Persis crowed. “I’m glad you’re gonna get paid.”

Life is good, indeed. . .

I don’t make this shit up, folks. 

And Another Thing!

“I wholly disapprove of what you say—and will defend to the death your right to say it.”

— Voltaire

When it comes to voicing opinions – I subscribe to the theory that my viewpoint is no less valid, or invalid, than yours. 

In many cases, how we see the issues of the day comes down to a matter of perspective.  

For instance, if a parade is passing in a busy downtown, a person walking on the street two-blocks over may hear the sirens, sense the raucous roar of the crowd, see glimpses of flashing lights, and run for safety thinking a riot has broken out; while a worker sitting in an office on the fourteenth floor of a high-rise can observe the scene from beginning to end, see the decorated floats, the clowns, marching units, prancing horses, and run into the street to join the fun, while the guy who follows the elephants with a push broom has a completely different perspective of the cavalcade.

The office worker isn’t any smarter or more prescient that the pedestrian or street sweeper, they simply have a different vantagepoint

I spent over three decades serving in municipal government – clawing my way to middle-management and holding on with my fingernails.  In that time, I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly – and my thoughts and opinions on the issues of the day are informed by my experiences.

Against my long-suffering doctor’s advice, I get my blood pressure in a boil spending long hours watching bone-crushingly boring public meetings, debating competing ideas with people who are much more intelligent than me, analyzing the behind-the-scenes gossip of insiders who confide in me, then – in the information black hole of local government – attempt to form an educated opinion on the issues with the required dose of good old-fashioned guesswork.   

For the uninitiated (or those thin-skinned Caspar Milquetoasts who are easily triggered) these jeremiads are simply one man’s jaded opinions on the issues of the day – neither always right, nor always wrong – and most smart people understand that when they open Barker’s View.  

(In fact, if I must remind you of that – I beg you to stop reading these posts.  Just turn them off and storm out in a huff – no need for what the French call L’espirit de l’escalier, the “wit of the staircase,” that annoying moment when we think of the perfect retort after having walked away from the argument.  Trust me – you will feel better – and I can assure that your departure will not hurt my feelings. . .)

They say the flak is always heaviest over the target, and since I began publishing these screeds, it has become apparent which topics are hitting close to the bone with area “Movers & Shakers” by how much opposition I receive from their self-anointed mouthpieces and deferential allies. 

In fact, I have learned that a good barometer of which ideas and initiatives members of Volusia County’s Old Guard vehemently oppose is by watching how they wholeheartedly support those same issues each election year. 

The wolf living with the lamb, the leopard laying down with the goat, the calf, the lion, and the yearling together; political campaigns financed by developers and special interests suddenly agreeing with environmentalists. . .

Weird.

As this election year heats up, I am amazed by how many sitting politicians are suddenly embracing the hot button issues they have avoided like the plague – clean water initiatives, low-impact development, traffic and utilities infrastructure, growth moratoriums, traffic issues, public input, etc. – in some cases, the very same elected officials who have rubberstamped massive development with Pavlovian regularity have suddenly transmogrified into virtual tree-hugging dirt worshippers. . .

Don’t worry.  Others are doing the dirty work for them. 

In a weird flanking maneuver, those who support this same entrenched power structure are increasingly demanding that thoughts or opinions contrary to their own (or, more accurately, their benefactors) be deleted or banned from the public discourse. 

Worse, some refer opinion pieces like this to anonymous social media authorities who determine which speech is worthy of being heard, and which is not, like good collaborators reporting on the thoughts of their neighbors. . .   

Frightening.

When that fails to silence critics, they label editorial content as “lies” – or marginalize those they disagree with as “conspiracy theorists” and “discontents” – ultimately retreating to the last fallback of the craven Champions of Censorship by pointing their bony fingers and screaming “hate speech!” 

Trust me.  I have seen hate speech.  This goofy political blog ain’t it. . . 

Look, I have some hard bark, not easily threatened by those who prefer to use intimidation to silence competing viewpoints (I have the hate mail and “I know where you live, asshole” letters to prove it) but I find this concerted effort to silence criticism and mitigate any threat to the lucrative status quo disturbing. 

In my view, the measure of a healthy society is the willingness and ability of its citizens to express unpopular opinions, take positions that others may reject, and enthusiastically participate in the public debate, especially in an era where once trusted media sources and what passes for our political “leaders,” present a biased narrative created by their uber-wealthy corporate owners, benefactors, and overseers who manipulate the rods and strings of public policy from behind the velvet curtain. 

With so much at stake, things are getting interesting as the election cycle heats up. 

Get involved.  Speak your mind fearlessly.  Participate in the process.  Vote.

That’s all for me.  Have a great Jeep Beach Weekend, y’all!

Angels & Assholes for April 22, 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               Holly Hill Police Sergeant James Patton, (Ret.)

Tomorrow I will travel to Statesboro, Georgia, to eulogize my friend and former law enforcement colleague Sergeant Jim Patton – who served honorably with the Port Huron, Michigan Police Department, Daytona Beach Police Department, and Ormond Beach Police Department, before embarking on a distinguished 25-year career with the Holly Hill Police Department.

Jim was sui generis.  He was unique.  He was of his own kind.  Although I am certain that I never told him this – he was also a personal hero of mine and one of the toughest men I ever knew.   

During his working life, I watched Jim defeat life-threatening cancer three times – continuing to serve the community with a chemotherapy port implanted in his chest – never missing a day during the ravages of his treatment. 

Jim was born into a military family, spending much of his childhood in Germany and at Army installations across the United States.

After graduating from Marysville, Maryland High School and St. Clare Community College in Port Huron, Jim enlisted in the United States Army.  Following Basic Training, he was stationed at Fort Dix New Jersey before assignment to a Pershing missile site in Germany attached to the 56th Field Artillery Brigade. 

After returning to the United States, Jim transferred to the US Army Reserve, serving with the 5th Special Forces Group before joining the Air Force’s 403 Reconnaissance Air Sea Rescue Wing until his honorable discharge.

During his career with the Holly Hill Police Department, Jim served as a Traffic Homicide Investigator, Detective, Police Photographer, Field Training Officer, and Patrol Supervisor.

It is said that the finest compliment that can be paid to a police officer is “He or she was a Good Cop” – and Jim Patton most assuredly was a damn good cop.    

During his exemplary service to the citizens of Holly Hill, Jim earned numerous meritorious service commendations and decorations – to include an award for valor when he courageously talked an armed subject into surrendering during a suicide attempt – and special recognition for his skill and perseverance from state and federal agencies, including the State Attorney’s Office, Seventh Judicial Circuit, for his expert handling of violent crimes and child exploitation investigations. 

Jim Patton was a Cops, Cop. 

Outside of work, Jim loved riding his motorcycle and was a long-time member of the Blue Knights Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club.

Sergeant Patton is survived by his wife, Elizabeth “Liz” Patton; his children, Heidi Friend (Allan), Heather Castro (David), Jennifer Roberts (Brian), Allen Garrett (Audrey); his sister, Gail Romain (Fred); Seventeen grandchildren; and two great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held tomorrow, Saturday, April 23, 2022, beginning at 2:00pm, at Deal Funeral Directors, 22757 Highway 80 East, Statesboro, Georgia. The Family will receive friends one hour prior to the service, beginning at 1:00pm.

The service will be live streamed via Facebook at Deal Funeral Directors https://www.facebook.com/dealfuneraldirectors

I have many funny anecdotes about Jim and his unique sense of humor (trust me, as a perennial victim of his pranks and practical jokes I knew it all too well…) but I will save those for his family and friends as we gather tomorrow. 

Please join me in extending the condolences of a grateful community to Jim’s wife and family who mourn his passing last week at age seventy-one. 

Asshole           City of Ormond Beach

In my view, the City of Ormond Beach could learn something from a humorous phrase in an old Petticoat Junction episode wherein the loveable curmudgeon Uncle Joe Carson objects to a $6 tax increase the county levied on the Shady Rest Hotel:

“It’s not the principle, it’s the money!”  

Except, there is nothing funny about the shearing of Ormond Beach residents in an asinine – and incredibly expensive – push to argue a point with the Volusia County Property Appraiser’s Office over back taxes on the now abandoned River Bend Golf Course. 

In that mythical Land of Oz known as ‘government,’ spending and debt mean something completely different than what you and I are accustomed to in our household budgets. 

When these increasingly bloated bureaucracies need more money – or want to flex their muscles – they simply tax our homes, property, assets, consumption, etc., etc., or borrow what they need – always placing the parasitic burden squarely on the shoulders of strapped residents.   

On occasion, the waste and abuse inherent to a system where money is no object becomes too flagrant to ignore. . . 

This week, Ormond Beach residents received a disturbing wakeup call from the intrepid Mark Harper writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Ormond Beach, Volusia 4 years into court battle: Legal fees top $330K in fight over $271K in taxes.”  

You read that right. . . 

According to the report, “Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett says Ormond Beach owes $271,000 in back taxes on a former golf course property, money the city claims it doesn’t have to pay because of its status as a municipality.”

This is a familiar tale, with various counties and municipalities having engaged in this legal tug-of-war around the state of Florida.  The confrontation typically erupts when publicly owned properties are leased to for-profit enterprises. 

In this case, “The land owned by the city was in 1988 leased to the River Bend Investment Group, which operated a golf course on that land adjacent to the Ormond Beach Municipal Airport.”

In 2010, the lease was transferred to new owners who went out of business at the end of 2020, “…citing the pandemic and the tax fight as contributing factors.”   

According to Mr. Bartlett, examples of similar taxable properties include DaVita Labs in DeLand, Joe’s Crab Shack in Daytona Beach, and a restaurant operated by a private company at the publicly owned Cypress Head Golf Course in Port Orange. 

Astonishingly, Mr. Bartlett also cited The Angler’s Club in New Smyrna Beach – a controversial ‘not-for-profit’ corporation – which sits on some incredibly valuable publicly owned waterfront real estate on New Smyrna’s North Causeway.  The Angler’s represents the current iteration of a club formed in 1914 which was chartered exclusively for “white male citizens over 21 years of age.”

For the privilege, the lily-white sausage club has paid the City of New Smyrna Beach a paltry $25 a year for decades.

That’s right.

Don’t worry, its all perfectly legal. 

As these things often go whenever a citizen has the temerity to challenge City Hall, in 2020, a Circuit Court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by a New Smyrna taxpayer who questioned the all-too-cozy arrangement which, in the view of many, allowed discriminatory membership practices on public property which was leased far below fair market value. 

Whatever.

In the Ormond Beach debacle, as of last month, residents were on the hook for $338,208 in legal fees to dispute a tax bill of $271,000. . .

Look, I am not a lawyer – just another well-fleeced rube, like you.    

But I am certain that government attorneys, those who serve as our representatives and advocates, have a fiduciary responsibility to put the interest of the taxpayers first – especially in a case where the cost to litigate an issue far exceeds that which would be gained – and act as any reasonable and responsible person would in the management of his or her own affairs.

Does this sound like something you would instruct your family attorney to do?

I didn’t think so.

According to Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington (who happens to be a lawyer), “Cities don’t pay taxes” (no shit), “If we didn’t defend the taxpayers and allow the city to be responsible for the taxes, that’s a dangerous road to go down,” he said. “Our job is to protect the residents and not allow the residents to be steamrolled by an aggressive tax appraiser.”

Wait.  Did Hizzoner say, “defend the taxpayer”?

So, the legal strategy is to waste hundreds-of-thousands of tax dollars to protect the taxpayer? 

Only a perennial politician thinks that way – and Mayor Partington is a walking billboard for term limits (or mandatory Wechsler testing for political candidates. . .).   

In my view, former Ormond Beach City Commissioner Jeff Boyle summed it up best in the News-Journal’s informative exposé:

“It probably won’t be settled for another year. It’s probably going to go to (the 5th District Court of Appeals). Who the hell made the decision in Ormond Beach to spend ($338,000) so far to try to … beat the rap on $271,000?” Boyle said.

“Ormond Beach will not win that case, because there’s precedents all over town. The other local communities pay property taxes on any property where they have a profit-making enterprise.”

Boyle said he expects the city’s legal bills to keep climbing. “That meter is still running,” he said. “It’s going to head up to $400,000, and the public is just now becoming aware of it.”

 Honestly.  You can’t make this shit up, folks. . . 

Asshole           Palm Coast City Commission

“Ask not what you can do for your community, ask what your community can do for you.”

This dyslexic twist on John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inspirational inaugural address – a true call to service for the betterment of humankind – came to my warped mind when I read of the on-going self-enrichment scam being perpetrated by the Palm Coast City Council despite the fervent protests of those citizens who pay the bills – and will no longer suffer in silence. 

My God.

How far some of our elected “leaders” have strayed from the egalitarian and moralistic imperatives of public service – the selfless pursuit of good governance in the public interest – and the social, civic, and economic advancement of all citizens, eh?   

Look, I realize the point is infinitely arguable, but in my jaded view, the Palm Coast City Council is inhabited by the most egocentric, greed-crazed dipshits ever to sit atop a gilded dais – and given the sorry state of local governance in the Deltona–Daytona–Ormond Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area (which includes Palm Coast) – that’s quite a distinction. 

I mean, who do these mammonistic assholes think they are – DeBary City Manager Carmen Rosamonda? Just this week, Mr. Rosamonda received a $46,000 pay raise when he claimed he was being “recruited” for a job with a larger organization that paid more.

Talk about the Land of Oz. . .

My ass.

Following the gluttonous lead of Mayor David Alfin, on Tuesday, the Palm Coast City Council voted 4-1 to give itself at whopping 151% pay increase – with the mayor receiving a 164% raise – to become effective after the election in November.

To his credit, beleaguered Vice Mayor Eddie Branquinho was the only member to vote against this shameless money grab. 

For the record, on a previous vote, the Palm Coast City Council approved a proposed increase of some $35,000 – which would have taken councilmember’s salary from a reasonable $9,600 to an obscene $44,670 annually – with the mayor’s haul going from $11,400 to $46,470

Based on the revised salary figures, councilmembers will now bank $24,097.61, and the mayor $30,039.47, for their “service” to the community. 

Did I mention the mayor and councilmembers will also command annual cost of living raises and healthcare benefits – all paid for by their constituents – or opt to receive a cash equivalent if they already have health insurance. 

You read that right. 

Of course, the argument for hefty pay increases is always couched in the altruistic tripe, “It’s not for our personal benefit, better salaries will attract better candidates. . .”

Bullshit. 

Have you seen any evidence of that?  At any level of government? 

Me neither.

Look, no one is asking politicians to – God forbid – volunteer their time for the greater good. 

Because volunteers are civic heroes, driven by altruistic instincts to help others for the betterment of their communities – as opposed to money-grubbing politicians gorging themselves at the public trough.  

In fact, I do not know of any sitting elected official who is not adequately compensated and reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses related to their duties and responsibilities. 

When did elective service become a path to personal enrichment?

(Don’t answer that. . .)

Regardless of jurisdiction, the fact is, most perennial politicians spend a lot of energy begging We, The Little People for our sacred vote each election cycle – asking us to permit them the privilege of public service. 

Then, once on the throne, between the bickering and bitchery on the dais, they spend an inordinate amount of time feathering the nests of their political benefactors and figuring inventive ways of excluding our participation in the process.

Sound familiar?

In my view, if an elected official is not willing to attend rubber chicken dinners, photo ops, ribbon cuttings, ceremonial functions, and the many bone-crushingly boring meetings, summits, and workshops required of the role – knowing in advance what the part-time job pays – then they should not hold themselves out for public office in the first place.    

In my view, Palm Coast City Councilmembers, and other craven politicians seeking self-enrichment on the public dime, should remember that President Kennedy’s seminal speech ended with the admonishment to citizens, “…ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds. . .”

Quote of the Week

“It is with profound disappointment that I have to announce my withdrawal from the race for Volusia County Council, District 2. 

As the result of an unexpected outcome of a doctor’s visit this week, and subsequent medical findings, that my health will not allow me to continue in the race.  My disappointment is not only personal but also knowing how hard Trish, my campaign manager, and the wonderful team of volunteers who have worked to gather qualifying petitions and who have campaigned for me knocking on countless doors across District 2. 

I can’t help but feel I have let you down. I want to express my gratitude and pride for your efforts in attempting to make Volusia County a better place for all of us to live.  I will continue to work, as I have for the past 20 years, to effect positive changes in how Volusia moves forward.  Thank you to my supporters, I have no doubt we would have won.”

–Paul Zimmerman, President of Sons of the Beach and former candidate for Volusia County Council District 2, Saturday, April 16, 2022

And Another Thing!

Last night I participated in a civic forum at the invitation of the Bellaire Community Group where I shared the dais with Steve Koenig, Jeffrey Boyle, and Paul Zimmerman for a freewheeling discussion of the issues. 

I always learn more than I contribute during these discussions, and it was an absolute pleasure to join these astute civic influencers and hear their insight. 

For anyone new to the Halifax area – or those looking for constructive insight into the civic, social, and economic issues facing Daytona Beach and beyond – I encourage you to attend a meeting of the Bellaire Community Group, which meets the third Thursday of every month at the Schnebly Recreation Center, 1101 N. Atlantic Avenue, beginning at 6:00pm.  

Those who follow the ebb and flow of local politics know that Paul Zimmerman stands alone as a grassroots civic activist and volunteer who has worked tirelessly to preserve our unique lifestyle here on Florida’s Fun Coast.  

He is best known as the long-time president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy – along with his efforts to protect our sensitive environment from overdevelopment and our most precious natural amenity from the constant threat of government overreach.

In recent years, Paul has been the beachside’s de facto representative – doing what those who were elected to the job should have done, but could not be bothered. . . 

His community involvement includes service on the Beachside Redevelopment Committee and leading a very public effort to hold developers of the Hard Rock Daytona (who were gifted 410’ linear feet of traffic-free beach) and Protogroup – who are responsible for the controversial and still unfinished twin-span condominium/hotel complex at Oakridge Boulevard and A-1-A – accountable for performance, appearance, beach access, and building safety standards.

In November 2021, Paul announced his candidacy for the Volusia County Council Zone 2 seat, having collected over $8,200 from his supporters – not one dime of it from fatback developers and extremely wealthy special interests.

This lion of grassroots advocacy left the arena this week after health concerns prohibited him from continuing with the stress of a hotly contested fight. 

Good for him. 

As I have said before, modern political campaigns have become a blood sport – a fetid shit-trench where the stakes are far too great for some to leave to chance – a “system” where massive campaign contributions from our “Rich & Powerful,” and those business entities and dubious corporate entities they control, funnel massive sums of cash into the war chests of hand select candidates who always seem of like mind when issues their benefactors support come before them.

Once qualifying ends in June and the field firms up, I will have more on the good, the bad, and the ugly of this election season. 

For now, I want to thank Paul for having the courage to enter the fray – and the wisdom to take his leave with such honesty and transparency in the best interests of his health, family, and community.   

Trust me.  We need strong influencers now, more than ever, and through his involvement with Sons of the Beach, the well-informed Bellaire Community Group, and other activists and advocates, Paul can have far more sway on the issues that affect our quality of life than he ever could wallowing around in the filth with those compromised empty suits on the dais of power in DeLand.

Kudos, Paul.  Keep up the good fight.

_____________________________

Looking for a way to make a difference in our community?

Help preserve our unique heritage of beach driving and access by joining Sons of the Beach at their fundraiser tomorrow, Saturday, April 23, from 1:00pm to 4:00pm, at Crabby Joe’s Deck & Grill on the beautiful Sunglow Pier, 3701 South Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach. 

The Sons of the Beach band will perform and there will be new and classic SOB t-shirts and swag available!

I hope you will consider a donation to this worthwhile cause. 

In my experience, Sons of the Beach is a wonderful grassroots organization doing great work to protect our unique heritage and lifestyle.  Most important, it provides an opportunity to get involved and learn more about the issues we face here on Florida’s Fun Coast, and it is a great way to become acquainted with other civicminded citizens who are working hard to preserve our quality of life.

Membership is free! 

To join, please visit www.sonsofthebeach.org to register and download your membership card today!

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

It Was Never About Us

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

–George Orwell, Animal Farm

To the residents of Pelican Bay – It was never about you. 

It was never about any of us.

Earlier this week, we learned what many savvy observers already knew – massive truck and employee traffic associated with the now under construction Amazon megawarehouse is coming to already congested Beville Road.

And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. 

Now, residents are being told to look at the coming gridlock, wait times, and property devaluation “holistically” – which is bureaucratese for ‘shut-up and accept the inevitable, peons’ – because there is one indisputable fact that governs Fun Coast politics:  What certain people want, they get, and if their version of “Progress” adversely impacts our lives and livelihoods – tough shit. 

Slowly but surely, Volusia County residents are awakening to the realization we are pawns in a much larger game – a weird form of predestination – an accepted doctrine that all events have been agreed to by our “Rich & Powerful” monarchs behind closed doors, those wealthy few with the wherewithal to purchase a chip in the game and know what’s best for the rest of us.  

Trust me. Here on the Fun Coast, you are either in that elite circle – the same five people passing the same nickel around – or you aren’t.

For many, it became evident long ago that our destiny is controlled by all the right last names, heavy hitters who trade malleable politicians like cheap livestock each election cycle – little more than weak-minded elected marionettes who hope against hope that by pleading ignorance to their largely apathetic constituents, the resultant thin veneer of plausible deniability will buy them another bite at the apple to better serve their political benefactors. 

And the pernicious cycle continues.

Last Thursday, some one hundred residents and small business interests along Beville Road learned from Volusia County and Florida Department of Transportation officials that their fervent pleas and protests to move heavy freight and employee traffic accessing the new Amazon fulfillment center away from their neighborhood had fallen on deaf ears.

According to an informative article this week by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal under the demoralizing frontpage headline, “Residents lose fight over trucks”:

“Instead the group of middle-aged and elderly residents found themselves at a two-hour explanation of how a spot directly across from Pelican Bay’s east gate was chosen for the main access road for Amazon trucks, and what that will mean for traffic on Beville Road a short distance east of Williamson Boulevard.”

But don’t worry, we’re being assured by those on the inside that no one who stands to benefit is “…trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.”

According to the News-Journal report:

“Planning started about eight years ago for the new access road and other roads that will branch off of it. But many residents at Thursday’s meeting said they felt blindsided by both that network of planned roads and the Amazon project.

Pelican Bay resident Tom Kaczka asked why the access road wasn’t shown on maps at a meeting in August about the area around the Amazon site being rezoned. Local attorney Mark Watts, who’s representing the developer, said that meeting was only about rezoning the specific building site, which doesn’t include the area around the access road.”

Oh.

Sound familiar?  It should. 

I call it the Old Volusia County Shilly-Shally.

Wasting time, running the clock, and prolonging the inevitable is the insidious diversionary tactic that allows our “economic development” types to facilitate preplanned intrusive projects with little, if any, substantive oversight, due diligence, or community input before the massive and unwieldy rabbit is pulled out of the hat with great flourish. 

All perfectly legal here in the Biggest Whorehouse in the World.

For instance, the Amazon project was initially cloaked in total secrecy, known by the mysterious cryptonym “Project Tarpon,” while the true beneficiaries of the backroom wrangling – the uber-powerful elite at NASCAR and Amazon – worked out the details using a perverse bureaucratic sleight-of-hand that has our elected officials voting in the blind on projects of significant regional impact.   

When those elected officials who so enthusiastically voted to approve the development agreement – along with some $4 million in “incentives” for the wealthiest online retailer in the known universe – magically discovered that there just might be some traffic associated with a 2.8 million-square-foot 24/7 industrial warehouse, they feign ignorance of the noxious byproducts of “Progress” and cravenly commiserate with their poleaxed constituents who found themselves without a seat when the music stopped.

Bullshit.

Sorry, Pelican Bay.  You’re screwed.

If its any consolation, you are not alone

In the aftermath of a recent do-nothing deflection dubbed a “smart growth workshop” some wholly compromised members of the Volusia County Council are now telling us our concerns of water quantity and quality degradation associated with the out-of-control sprawl our elected officials across the region continue to rubberstamp is an overreaction

You read that right. 

Of course, while we waste time debating the obvious with them – the bulldozers continue to roar across the width and breadth of Volusia County.

Get it? 

I damn sure hope so. . .

To them, it is just another spineless method of procrastination – allowing time and distance between necessary environmental regulations and growth management strategies and the current malignant sprawl that is making their political benefactors obscenely rich churning our natural places into more sticks-and-glue cracker boxes “starting in the $300’s.”

But lying to their constituents is a dangerous game for sitting politicians. 

What happens when We, The Little People finally awake to the fact that those we trust to steward and manage growth and resources have so perverted the truth while running interference for their puppeteers that they have destroyed the public’s trust in government? 

When the death and destruction of wildlife, the gridlocked traffic, topography changes, toxic soup that was once the Indian River Lagoon, dried up lakes, soiled springs, and the massive sprawl we see with our own eyes no longer comports with the “happy talk” being flogged by our elected and appointed officials? 

What happens when it is too late?

I urge everyone to read the campaign finance reports here https://tinyurl.com/3khvk4wt – examine who the fatback developers and special interests are supporting (the why should be self-evident) – then vote like our quality of life depends upon it. 

Angels & Assholes for April 15, 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

For the umpteenth time in the last decade or two, on Tuesday, this iteration of elected dullards who comprise the Volusia County Council once again gathered in chambers and allowed Growth and Resource Director Clay Ervin to paint another masterpiece describing the extraordinary job Volusia County government has done in planning for the onslaught of malignant growth that continues to spread like wildfire across the width and breadth of east Central Florida.    

Five of the seven Volusia County Council members attended this latest do-nothing “summit of procrastination” with Councilwoman Heather Post apparently sidelined following a nasty slip-and-fall on a slick staircase at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center.

(Hey, Ms. Post – Morgan & Morgan, “For the People.”) 

Apparently, His Eminence, The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry was dealing with a personal issue which prevented him from sitting apathetically in his wingback chair, staring into space, and idly manipulating a lozenge around in his mouth. . .   

In the end, it didn’t matter who attended and who did not.

As planned, nothing of substance was accomplished.

According to an article by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“At Tuesday’s meeting, Council members didn’t attempt to brainstorm specific strategies to deal with the growth explosion. Most of the six-hour meeting was spent listening to county staff members who explained the history of the county’s growth, what’s been done so far to manage it and preparation for future development.”

Whatever.

As this latest diversionary theater got rolling – essentially a slow parade of highly paid bureaucrats droning on, ad nauseum, narrating another godawful PowerPoint presentation – lulling the elected officials into a hypnotic trance using acronyms, percentages, “visioning processes,” and soporific administrative procedures to buy time while the bulldozers continue to roar across Volusia County as speculative developers make hay while the sun shines – and those who facilitate it generate more hot air.  

Classic. 

According to Chairman Jeff Brower, prior to the confab, councilmembers were given a sheaf of papers some ninety-pages thick to accompany the PowerPoint mumbo-jumbo – because all good bureaucrats know the equation: More Pages = Less Questions – a proven strategy which, when accompanied by the right amount of ego massage, obsequious toadyism, and “happy talk” limits pesky inquiries from our horribly confused policymakers. . .

In typical fashion, Director Ervin – as he has done repeatedly during his tenure – distilled his carefully crafted Dog and Pony Show into one rosy note: NOTHING TO SEE HERE, FOLKS, KEEP MOVING, “We’ve anticipated and planned for the increasing population. . .blah, blah, blah.”

Bullshit. 

How about you? 

Does anyone living out here in the “Real World” (read: anywhere outside gilded council and commission chambers throughout Volusia County) think that those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest have planned and prepared for the tsunami of growth and sprawl what is being foisted on us?

I didn’t think so.

Of course, for a time, things dissolved into a bureaucratic pity party as Director Ervin and his senior minions cried the blues about how overworked and understaffed they are – always “pushing the pea up the mountain” (whatever that means) – slaving under state imposed time constraints to get permits approved so more, more, more sticks-and-glue zero lot line cracker boxes can come out of ground, woe is me, WOE is me. . .

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . . 

We then heard from another expensive suit from the County Attorney’s Office who provided some political insulation by explaining that, outside the density and intensity provisions of the comprehensive plan, our elected officials have little discretion when it comes to controlling growth.

‘Welp, there you have it!  Hands are tied – nothing we can do about it, y’all.’  (And thanks for that sizeable campaign contribution, Mr. Fatback Developer.  Much obliged. . .)

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . .

Look, I could go on, but I got physically nauseated and had to step away when Chief Building Official Kerry Leuzinger took the microphone and asked the deep and thought-provoking question, “Why do we have building codes?”

I knew exactly where he was going with that time consuming ruse.

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . .  

With the ever-present PowerPoint anesthetizing everyone in the room, Mr. Leuzinger chuntered on with a tedious review of the inspection failures that resulted in a deadly Rhode Island nightclub fire and the collapse of a condominium in Surfside, Florida – compelling stuff that helped run the clock – but I’m not sure an exhaustive explanation of the role of the Permitting Department is what Volusia County residents were praying would come from this “growth management” workshop.  (And our ‘powers that be’ knew it.)  

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . .

The permitting department’s dance number was followed by a question from At-Large Councilmember Ben Johnson, who asked whether Mr. Leuzinger could limit inspections to “spot checks” for roofing contractors with a history of following the rules (the answer was, thankfully, a hard “No”) – followed by a riveting discussion on the possibility of eliminating permits for yard sheds. . .

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . . 

Then, they broke for lunch.  

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . .

What I found most disturbing (I mean, other than the fact the windy “workshop” represented six-hours of my life I’ll never get back) was the number of already approved projects sitting dormant on the books – some considered “Developments of Regional Impact” – a significant backlog of pending projects that will have serious ramifications for our already diminished natural places.

During her act, Director Ginger Adair who oversees the county’s environmental management division, spoke of the overtalked and underutilized idea of requiring (rather than asking nicely?) that developers incorporate low-impact development practices, a strategy which mimics natural processes and minimizes impervious surfaces to limit stormwater runoff and protect the biological and physical condition of receiving waters. 

The “workshop” also included a presentation by Jane West, policy and planning director for 1000 Friends of Florida – a Tallahassee-based “smart growth advocacy organization” that promotes sound public policy on development issues – who lectured on the “cumulative effect” of incremental land use changes made by Volusia County and municipal governments that, over time, have a big impact on our quality of life.

According to an excellent report by Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas in the Ormond Beach Observer:

“Brower said he felt the county needed to move from just encouraging low impact development practices to requiring them, but that first they need to decide which low impact development practices the county wants to implement.

(No, shit!  When?)

“I hope that we will move in that direction,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t think we have any choice. Stormwater is a big problem and every bit of pavement that goes down prevents water from being absorbed into the ground.”

Now, as always, we wait. 

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . .

In the weeks/months to come, Director Ervin has vowed to bring back some ideas for our elected officials to chew over – you know, when he gets ‘around tuit’ – no rush. 

I suspect another list of neutered talking points to come back before our elected dullards about the same time that mythical impact fee study we’ve been promised finally materializes, or the Comet Kohoutek returns. . .

Screw it.  You get the picture.   

Unfortunately, at the end of an awfully long day, absolutely nothing of substance was accomplished.

In other words, everything went according to plan. 

If past practice holds, Volusia County’s bloated bureaucracy should be able to squeeze at least three more meaningless “workshops,” a timewasting “summit” or two, and at least one more “Green Ribbon” political insulation committee out of the illusive concepts of “smart growth” and “low-impact development”buying even more time – as our natural places continue to burn. . . 

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . .

Angel               Palm Coast’s Mike Martin

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

– Robert Kennedy

I recently read the inspirational story of Mike Martin, a civically involved resident of Palm Coast, who is taking a bold stand against the fleecing of his fellow citizens.  Since 2020, Mr. Martin has served as an elected member of the East Flagler Mosquito Control Commission and has bravely spoken out against several controversial issues in Palm Coast and Flagler County. 

For instance, according to an excellent report by Chris Gollon writing in AskFlagler.com, last year, Mr. Martin mounted an effort to stop development on the poisoned grounds of the former Matanzas Woods Golf Course after levels of arsenic were found in shallow test pits at the site.   

Most recently, Mr. Martin has been an outspoken opponent of Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin’s asinine idea to gift himself and his greedy “colleagues” on the dais of power a pay increase of over 300%.

You read that right.

This shameless money grab was recently approved on first reading by a vote of 4-1 – with members Ed Danko, Nick Klufas, and John Fanelli joining Mayor Alfin to enrich themselves – while Eddie Branquinho cast the lone “No” vote.

Honestly, you cannot make this shit up. . . 

In a recent interview with Mr. Gollon, the intrepid Mike Martin reminded his fellow citizens of one thing:

“…Win or lose this fight, I know one result will happen: the people of Palm Coast will now understand that they can fight back, and they have the tools.”

I don’t know Mr. Martin, but I like his style. . .

Quote of the Week

“Knowing that, if there’s going to be one takeaway that we have today for you, it would be that the small cumulative land use decisions that you make every month here in these chambers really add to affect the quality of life for Volusia residents,” West said. “It is a cumulative impact of land use changes, because there’s a domino effect: If you’re adjacent to a high-density development, even though you can’t use that as a basis legally to justify expansion of that high density into more rural lands, the fact of the matter is that is what happens all the time.”

–Jane West, policy and planning director for 1000 Friends of Florida, as quoted by Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas in the Ormond Beach Observer, Growth spurt: Volusia County growth management workshop spotlights how to mitigate development impacts,” Tuesday, April 12, 2022

And Another Thing! 

As most regular readers of these screeds know, I do not have a formal education. 

That is why I put so much value on it, and hold those who pursue learning, teaching, and imparting experiential wisdom to others in such high regard. 

The events of Tuesday’s Volusia County School Board meeting leading to the termination of Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz were disturbing, and have exposed a depth of dysfunction that has been described by shell-shocked insiders and sitting School Board members as a “toxic culture” – a deleterious situation frequently cited as the primary reason people leave an organization. 

Look, I don’t know a damn thing about the cloistered world of academia or the myriad challenges of administrating a district with a lot of moving parts, a ballooning $1 billion budget, internal warnings of a looming financial catastrophe, a flood of state mandates, and the “culture wars” that are dividing communities across the nation.    

However, based upon my own experience, I recognize sound leadership practices when I see them – the ability of the chief executive to lead and inspire a well-informed and cohesive team to organize complex activities (like educating children) from the bottom up, with unity of effort, and clearly articulated intent – supported by a transparent internal and external information-sharing strategy that keeps all stakeholders on the same page. 

The personal attributes and principles of leadership that most people respect are often defined as justice, judgement, dependability, initiative, decisiveness, tact, integrity, enthusiasm, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty, and endurance. 

Leadership also requires the strength of character to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, cronyism, and favoritism in the decision-making process – especially in matters involving the perceived personal enrichment of a superior – with an emotional stability that instills confidence. 

Did anyone see any of those traits on display Tuesday evening? 

Me neither. 

In my view, it is time for the housecleaning to begin.

During that contentious meeting, I watched as School Board Attorney Ted Doran seized the reigns and clearly orchestrated a motion to approve a severance package exceeding $186,000 in the immediate aftermath of a serious confrontation that left Chairman Ruben Colon clearly stunned. 

If any of this is going to have public buy-in going forward, what happened between Fritz and Colon Tuesday evening demands an outside investigation.

To many, it appeared that Mr. Doran was the best lawyer Dr. Fritz never paid for – and I believe he owes those who pay his salary – the taxpayers of Volusia County – a clear explanation for why he ramrodded Fritz’ severance through without allowing time and distance for a closer examination of the circumstances and factors that led to the Superintendent’s termination. 

What about the duty of our elected officials and legal representatives to uncover and examine the facts and circumstances, allow cooler heads to prevail, and ensure every fiduciary responsibility has been met?

Why the rush?    

I’m asking. And I am not alone.

If Mr. Doran is not prepared to explain the intrigue surrounding his unusual role in steering the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting, then he should submit his resignation for the School Board’s consideration.

Because that is the right thing to do.    

In my view, what has been allowed to fester in Volusia County District Schools is the antithesis of effective leadership – culminating in a rebellious confrontation between the Superintendent and one of his direct superiors, the sitting Chairman of the Volusia County School Board – the senior member of the very political body that was elected by the citizens to provide effective oversight and stewardship. 

The preamble of the district’s “Standards of Conduct” begins:

“The School Board recognizes that the education of children is a process that involves a partnership between students, parents, teachers, school administrators and other school based and district personnel. For this educational process and partnership to be successful, it is necessary for all individuals to conduct themselves in an appropriate and orderly manner, demonstrating mutual respect for others. . .”

In my view, our elected representatives and senior administrators have lost their moral compass and strayed far from the lofty standards memorialized above.

Now, it is time for School Board members to either regain some semblance of organizational bearing and establish a stable learning environment for the thousands of Volusia County students who rely on them for a quality education – and support and protect the devoted teachers and staff who have committed their professional lives here – or have the courage to step aside and make way for someone who will. 

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

A Toxic Culture

I like to joke that the Volusia County School Board put the “fun” in “dysfunction” – except it’s not funny anymore. . .

There was more high drama on Tuesday when things took a theatrical turn in the ongoing saga of beleaguered Superintendent Dr. Ronald “Scott” Fritz when he was unceremoniously fired on a 3-2 vote following an offstage altercation with Chairman Ruben Colon.

Good.  In the view of many, Fritz should have been shown the door months ago.  

Don’t worry, everyone involved landed on their feet – except those who rely on Volusia County District Schools for their education or livelihood – because that’s how this pernicious “system” is geared to work. . .     

In the aftermath of the vote, Dr. Fritz quickly skedaddled with a sack full of severance worth a whopping $186,843.42 pursuant to the terms of his lucrative contract which guaranteed him the proverbial golden parachute for termination “without cause.”

In the aftermath, many are wondering if that was the right call – and why the rush?

Look, in my view, the Volusia County School Board had ample reason(s) to send Fritz packing long before the announcement he would not be renewing his contract – not the least of which was the laundry list of pseudo accomplishments he sent to stakeholders – something many found self-indulgent given the well-publicized internal opposition and organizational dysfunction that belied the results of a recent external accreditation audit which praised the districts much-heralded “strategic plan.”

Except, last year we learned that the strategic plan (for which Dr. Fritz received a $10,000 spiff) was actually facilitated by an outside company who apparently received some $49,000 in public funds – an amount just under the Superintendent’s spending threshold – which meant the consulting fee did not have to come before the School Board for approval.

That wasn’t the only issue that came outside the public’s view during Dr. Fritz’ tenure.

For instance, during public participation prior to the vote, a speaker asked that Dr. Fritz consider reimbursing the district after he continued to receive an automobile allowance during his seven-month leave of absence at the same time his interim replacement, Dr. Carmen Balgobin, was also being paid a vehicle stipend.

Recently, many were concerned by Dr. Fritz’ controversial decision to enter a contracted services agreement with Ormond Beach City Commissioner Susan Persis, a retired district employee and wife of current School Board member (and Fritz cheerleader) Carl Persis, which pays her $82.00 an hour (not to exceed $23,616.00 over the life of the contract) to provide “coaching services” to principals at select schools – another dubious expense that did not come before the School Board for approval.   

In the view of many, it was this all-too-convenient arrangement that removed Mr. Persis’ moral authority to contribute to the discussion of Dr. Fritz’ fate.

But that didn’t stop him.   

Interestingly, Mr. Persis joined Linda Cuthbert in voting against terminating Dr. Fritz. . . 

Yeah.  That. . . 

Of course, between all the gnashing of teeth and political posturing, there was much gushing from the dais about the importance of “putting the children first” and prioritizing those professionals who teach and support children in the classroom – which seemed to drive the point home that it has never been “about the children” with this bunch of over-the-top buffoons and their attorney, Ted “Sleepy Potato” Doran – who guides the decisions of his wayward charges with admonishments like, “You’re gonna make me rich!”

Which would be funny if it weren’t true. . . 

In typical fashion, the School Board meeting had all the earmarks of another noxious shitshow – and the handwriting was on the wall following a spirited “workshop” earlier that afternoon – during which board member Linda Cuthbert publicly unraveled and cemented her standing as a hyper-dramatic soup sandwich who clearly lacks the emotional strength for elective service.  

Don’t take my word for it, watch the shenanigans for yourself here: https://tinyurl.com/2p8a6a5v  

When talk turned to “succession planning” (which looked nothing remotely like actual succession planning, a process that typically takes place before the Head Honcho departs) board member Jamie Haynes courageously made the much-anticipated motion to terminate Fritz, which was seconded by Anita Burnette, and followed by pious tut-tutting from the tag team of Cuthbert and Persis.

Then, during a clumsy recess before the vote to allow Mr. Doran to discuss potential victims – sorry, make that “interim superintendents” – with two board members, Dr. Fritz could be seen gesturing for Chairman Ruben Colon to follow him into an anteroom off the dais. 

When the meeting reconvened, an obviously frazzled Colon made the cryptic statement:

“During the break, Dr. Fritz made it clear he does not want to be here by his actions.  So, I’m going to support the motion tonight. It’s not what I came here to do. But I do not believe our employees deserve what I was just subject to a few minutes ago.”

Whoa. 

That should have signaled an “All Stop” from Mr. Doran so an investigation could be commissioned to determine exactly what happened outside the public view that influenced (or intimidated?) the Chair to support the Superintendent’s immediate termination. 

But he didn’t. 

In retrospect, it seemed infinitely more important to Mr. Doran that Dr. Fritz’ exorbitant severance package be set in stone without delay. 

But why?

Many of us looking on were shocked when Mr. Doran stepped out of his advisory role, seized the reigns from Chairman Colon, and clearly orchestrated a motion to approve the severance package in the immediate aftermath of a confrontation that left the Chair of his board clearly stunned.

From what little we know – Chairman Colon was apparently on the receiving end of one of Dr. Fritz’ infamous “temper tantrums” – angry outbursts that have had many staff members “walking on eggshells” as fear and intimidation permeated the Ivory Tower of Power in Deland.   

A toxic culture, indeed.  

Look, it has been a while since I was on the public dole – and I have no idea what Mr. Colon was “subjected to” behind Oz’s curtain – but if memory serves, I distinctly recall a prohibition on insubordinate and disrespectful behavior by senior appointed officials toward those We, The Little People elect to represent our interests in the municipality that employed me. . . 

Yep.  I am certain that if a senior executive saw fit to verbally abuse a sitting elected official where I worked, it would have resulted in a formal outside inquiry; and, if proven true, the conduct would have resulted in termination with cause – which would negate any claim to a massive severance package – in this case, worth over six times the median per capita income of Volusia County residents.

We deserve an explanation from Mr. Doran. But don’t hold your breath.

Unfortunately, the rules are different at Volusia County District Schools – depending upon who you are (or who you’re married to), that is. 

In the opinion of many residents, in his final act of defiance, Dr. Fritz violated the “Termination with Cause” provisions of his contract which expressly lists “gross insubordination” as a terminable offense resulting in forfeiture of severance.    

While many view insubordination as an intentional failure to carry out the lawful order of a superior, the term is also accepted to include insolence – acts, conduct, and language which demonstrate a lack of respect or contempt of lawful authority – like when the Superintendent of Schools sends the Chairman of the School Board into a panic with his boorish behavior. . .  

In Volusia County, the tail often wags the dog, and elected officials are admonished to view things from the “30,000-foot level” rather than get mired in the minutia of their fiduciary responsibilities to protect taxpayers from the burden of an undeserved $186,000 payout to a failed superintendent with a penchant for making his bosses cry. 

Whatever.

Before fleeing the dais, Dr. Fritz continued to toot his own horn:

“It will still remain one of the high points in the 30-plus years in public education.  Nobody wants change, but sometimes it’s necessary, and I will tell you that when I was hired here, I was asked for a change. And I think we’ve done that. I stand ready to help the next permanent superintendent of Volusia County Schools because we want what’s best for our kids.”

No thanks, Dr. Fritz.  You’ve done quite enough. . .

For the immediate future, Human Resources Director Rachel Hazel was tapped by unanimous vote to temporarily steer the ship – at least until Chairman Colon has an opportunity to beg former Deputy Superintendent Dr. Carmen Balgobin to uproot from her new post in Broward County and return to the muck and mire of the Fun Coast.    

You read that right. 

They are banking on “Dr. B” – who just jumped ship for greener pastures – to pull our collective fat out of the fire. . .   

It is called “Panic Mode” – a complete lack of any continuity of operations plan or identifiable chain-of-command in the face of a growing crisis. 

Adding to the chaos and confusion – Tuesday’s contentious meeting ended with no firm design for how (or even if) the School Board will search for a replacement, the level of stakeholder participation (if any), or a strategy for calming the tumult and rampant speculation going forward. 

With a budget now exceeding $1 Billion and the busiest time of the school year approaching – this one deserves your undivided attention.

I fear the fun is just beginning. . .