Angels & Assholes for August 23, 2019

Hi, kids!

Thanks to you, it’s been an extraordinary week here at Barker’s View HQ!

A piece on the unfolding drama at Mainland High School brought hundreds of new readers to this site on Monday – and stimulated increased interest and constructive discussion of the myriad issues facing Volusia County Schools.

In the past few days, several first-time readers reached out and I was touched by the outpouring of support and encouragement – it does my beat-up old heart good to know that Barker’s View has found its place.

I have no good explanation for the growing popularity of this site.

Perhaps it’s because Barker’s View has remained true to its roots – a boozy every-man, slumped in his boxer shorts, banging out his political frustrations and bristling over the current state of affairs – free of the encumbrances of advertising, alliances, favor or fear.

Or, maybe my fellow taxpayers enjoy the validation of knowing someone feels as disenfranchised as they do?

I can’t put my finger on it.

All I know is with me you get eggroll, baby – the whole enchilada – one man’s unvarnished and unapologetic take – and the fact so many people gravitate to this site each month gives hope that, just maybe, positive change is on our horizon.

Love it or hate it, I sincerely appreciate that so many take the time to read, contemplate and further the important debate of competing ideas that shape our community.

That’s important.

If you’re a loyal member of the Barker’s View Tribe or new to the blog, my hope is you’ll return periodically for a thought provoking, always irreverent look at the political forces and farces that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast!

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           First Step Shelter Board

This morning, the News-Journal’s local section headline screamed, “Shelter battle resolved.”

Like former President George W. Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech – that hed may have been woefully premature – or maybe wishful thinking. . .

There is an apt figure of speech that says, “A camel is a horse designed by committee.”

For Volusia County Taxpayers, this metaphor is coming home to roost in the form of an incredibly expensive money pit still under construction in the hinterlands west of Daytona Beach – a cluster fuck of monumental proportions that no longer bears any resemblance to the come-as-you-are homeless shelter we were promised so many years ago. . .

I’m not going to rehash the laundry list of issues that have haunted this project like a Golem – a leadership disaster that has seen millions of dollars over the transom without the first homeless person (or community) served – a tragic series of financial and procedural blunders that has showcased what happens when an amalgam of politicians and greedy hangers-on are asked to operate and oversee what could have – what should have – honored the better angels of our nature.

Now, Volusia County residents will bear the economic brunt of funding in perpetuity a dubious – and increasingly exclusive – rehabilitation program that will accept just forty-five homeless citizens and ostensibly return them to happy, healthy and productive lives.

All for a starting price of $1.1 million annually.

How?  I’m not sure.

And I don’t think anyone directly involved in the project is either. . .

What I do know is that the concept of getting people off the street, out of the elements and beyond the disapproving gape of visitors and residents was scrapped in favor of something that no longer bears any resemblance to a refuge.

Now, even the idea of a basic safe haven – a place on the massive First Step campus where homeless persons who aren’t part of the formal reintegration program could simply “be” – is off the table altogether.

Something as inexpensive as a primitive pole barn and concrete pad – which, if nothing else, could serve as an alternative to a night in jail – has become a weird deal-breaker for some board members who feel that a homeless shelter that actually shelters the homeless is somehow detrimental to the fragile self-esteem of the fortunate few engaged in a residential personal growth seminar?

Inexplicably, when asked to actually do something in furtherance of getting the First Step Shelter operational (in exchange for the $7,500 they’ve been collecting month in and month out) – Catholic Charities came back with an obscene estimate of $425,000 to run a simple outdoor accommodation – a usurious price that went through the oversight board like an ice water enema.

In fact, the outrageous quote prompted Daytona Beach Mayor and First Step president Derrick Henry to direct Catholic Charities to go back to the drawing board and come up with a  “sparse, spartan, cheap and undesirable, as much as nothing” option – which sounded eerily like the textbook description of what passes for our political leadership here on the Fun Coast. . .

So, without a “safe zone” – or other space for people to get away from the mean streets, take a shower, shelter from the cold, use the restroom, get a haircut, have a hot meal, change clothes, seek safety, rest, ride out a flu, find a compassionate ear, etc. – how, exactly, does the multi-million-dollar First Step Shelter serve the acute needs of countless homeless persons who can’t (or won’t) participate in the “program”?

I mean, isn’t that what we set about to achieve three years and millions of dollars ago?     

Whatever. . .

On Monday, we also learned the shocking news that a former “volunteer,” Jane Bloom – author of a disgusting and insubordinate rebuke of former board member Joe Forte which appeared on social media under the First Step flag – was suddenly elevated to a full-time paid status commanding some $5,500 a month.

You read that right. . .

Mysteriously, Bloom appeared on the scene following the abrupt departure of former executive director Mark Geallis – “volunteering” her time under a broad memorandum of understanding that said she would handle day-to-day shelter operations and assist the board.

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ormond Beach City Commissioner and board member Dwight Selby said, “That’s pretty clear to me that’s a big job, I have a real problem paying a volunteer.  When you sign on as a volunteer, that’s what you are.”

Indeed.

Something tells me there just might be more to the story of how (and why) Ms. Bloom went from altruistic aide to a highly compensated recipient of public funds – comfortably ensconced in an unadvertised position with ill-defined responsibilities. . .

Inexplicably, in an already opaque process mired in conjecture and speculation, Bloom and the board have decided to keep the vetting procedure for the shelter’s next executive director “out of the public eye.”

Apparently, the First Step Board hasn’t come to the realization that the money being pissed away belongs to us – the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County, Florida.

That little bugaboo demands the people’s business be conducted in the sunshine – free of backroom shenanigans and the ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ horseshit that has destroyed our collective faith in county government – and resulted in an angry citizenry calling for the immediate ouster of Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm.

Look, I get why they want to hold one-on-one secretive meetings with the candidates.

If the selection and hiring process looks anything like the shitstorm of dysfunction and slapstick missteps that has reduced the overall effort to a sick joke in the eyes of those of us who fund it – I wouldn’t want my constituents to see it either. . .

Asshole           St. John’s River Water Management District

After making a complete mess of our aquifer recharge areas in a never-ending quest to satiate the voracious appetite of real estate developers, now the St. John’s River Water Management District is teaming with Volusia County to pump partially treated effluent into an abandoned mining pit that they hope will increase flow at the seriously threatened Volusia Blue Springs.

According to an excellent article by our region’s preeminent environmental reporter Dinah Voyles-Pulver writing in the News-Journal, the district’s executive director Ann Shortelle openly shilled for the project in her patented sing-song bureaucratese at Tuesday’s council meeting.

You remember Ann, right? 

She was hand-selected for the job in 2015 by former SJRWMD board chairman Long John Miklos (who made a cottage industry lobbying for clients of his private environmental consultancy in front of the very agency he was charged with overseeing) following a series of forced resignations as then Governor Slick Rick Scott sought a “culture change” during his gory neutering of Florida’s environmental protection apparatus.

In turn, Dr. Shortelle received a $10,000 increase over the previous director’s salary bringing her spot at the public trough to $175,000 a year at the time. . .

“I want to assure you that the technology for aquifer recharge and cleaning the water through wetlands are proven techniques,” Shortelle said. “This is not some kind of experiment.”

Bullshit.

An “experiment” is exactly what this is.

In fact, experts on the health of our sensitive springs tell us that an aquifer recharge project using a converted borrow pit has never been employed this close to a major spring system.

Rather than get serious about reducing demand on the aquifer, those responsible for the quality of our water opt for some unprecedented gamble, which hopes to clean the water through a series of “planted wetlands” in what Director Shortelle appropriately described as “The Pit.”

The venture will ultimately cost some $12 million – split between Volusia County and the cities of DeLand, Deltona, Orange City and the SJRWMD.

According to the News-Journal report, “A consultant, hired by the county, will spend the next year performing testing at the borrow pit site, off French Avenue just east of Blue Spring State Park, to determine if the project is feasible.”

Following the unanimous vote to approve funds for the study, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys gifted us with one of her patented governmental group hugs for her “friends” at local and state water quality agencies – lavishing syrupy praise on the do-nothings and malingers at all levels of government that have sat idle while our springs are bled dry and Volusia’s natural aquifer recharge areas and wetlands are bulldozed for more cracker box “theme” communities.

Sickening.  Considering that over ten-years ago water samples taken at Blue Springs showed nitrate levels higher than those found in 80% of Florida waterways – with flow rates steadily declining for decades.

Decades.

All while these duplicitous assholes keep patting themselves on the back. . .

Once again, we find ourselves in the absurd Volusia County paradox – where the very people and agencies who have fawningly catered to those who rape the land for massive profit and approved malignant development from Farmton to the Flagler County line – sprawl that continues to pressure and pollute the very source of our drinking water supply, are now pissing away more of our hard-earned money as they grab at straws studying ways to “fix” their handiwork at Blue Springs and beyond.

How tragic.

Angel               Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post

Kudos to Councilwoman Heather Post who continues to champion the cause of Volusia County veterans and their families.

Last month, in her role as a member of the National Association of Counties Veterans and Military Services Committee, Ms. Post met with representatives from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation regarding the Hidden Heroes Cities and Counties Program.

This important program shares resources, support and best practices for caregivers who tend to the needs of veterans with the debilitating mental, physical and emotional injuries suffered in service to our nation.

Thanks to Ms. Post’s leadership and commitment to Volusia County’s 75,000+ veterans and active duty military personnel, this week the county council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the Hidden Heroes program, bringing its unique benefits to the local spouses, parents, family members and friends providing care and comfort to our wounded warriors.

Outstanding effort.

Quote of the Week

“Why didn’t district officials know what was going on at Mainland? How did it get so out of control?

Most importantly, how will district officials restore the trust of Mainland High School students and families?

Answering these questions will be painful. And we should keep in mind the eloquent plea of a letter that also appears on this page, urging everyone to remember that many of the people involved, including Salerno, have long records of dedication, leadership and passionate commitment to student success. However, that must not stand in the way of an unflinching and credible investigation.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Our View: Mainland students, parents deserve the full truth,” Monday, August 19, 2019

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

In my view, the horrific academic deception and gross maladministration uncovered at Mainland High School may well be more pervasive than we know.  Rarely are these issues confined to a single administrator or institution – and many “in the know” tell me we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. . .

That’s frightening.

Considering the long-term ramifications for students and teachers associated with Volusia County Schools, it’s time for an independent investigation by outside authority to determine the extent of the decay – followed by a top-to-bottom housecleaning of anyone who perpetrated this egregious organized fraud and jeopardized the academic achievements and credentials of students – or looked the other way.

And Another Thing!

Unlike many of our elected representatives, residents of the Halifax area have had their fill of kneeling to the wants and whims of speculative developers – especially when the ‘amenities’ they seek for the few outweigh the needs of the many.

Case in point – an absurd strategy hatched by the mysterious Russian developer, Protogroup, that would take vehicles across heavily traveled A-1-A from the struggling “$192 million” Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominiums project to a satellite parking garage on Oakridge Boulevard.

According to reports, Protogroup has proposed a westbound valet lane travelling opposite one-way traffic at the intersection of A-1-A and Oakridge – a dangerous nightmare for visitors unfamiliar with the area and a colossal headache in the making for long-suffering locals.

Apparently, this bizarre traffic scheme began life as a misrepresented “driveway permit” that was approved by the City of Daytona Beach in 2017?

My ass.

Calling this massive reroute a “driveway” is a crock of shit – and should have been immediately recognized as such by any competent public employee reviewing the permit application. . .

Now, thanks to the activism of several Halifax area residents – who used the power of social media to influence opinion – it appears the Florida Department of Transportation may be ready to listen to the very real concerns of their constituents and reconsider this budding disaster.

On Tuesday evening, the state transportation agency held an information gathering session at Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach attended by over 50 worried citizens – including Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler.

According to Mr. Zimmerman, despite personal invitations to area elected officials, Ms. Wheeler was the only sitting politician to actually make the effort to attend the meeting in support of residents who see this cockamamie traffic pattern as a public safety concern.

I admire that.

(For the record, while their anxious constituents gathered to discuss serious concerns with FDOT, at least part of Volusia County’s state legislative delegation was being recognized for their unwavering commitment and dedication to, well, their constituents by the Ormond Beach City Commission that evening, so, priorities, right?)    

Fortunately, following the meeting, transportation officials announced that additional traffic studies will be conducted to collect more data before the project’s proposed 2021 start date.

We’re told that Protogroup representatives have been officially notified. . .

While I remain cautiously optimistic about the ultimate outcome – it is refreshing to see a state agency actually listening to the fears and anecdotal evidence of area residents – and taking substantive steps to right a wrong.

That’s progress.

Have a great weekend, friends!

 

 

On Volusia: A Crisis of Epic Proportions

We have a crisis in Volusia County Schools.

I’m normally not an alarmist, preferring to examine an issue from all sides, talk to those “in the know” and form an objective opinion based upon the best information available.

I like to think most people do the same; however, we often come to different conclusions on the issues of the day – and that diversity of competing ideas makes for healthy debate and positive change.

However, we can all agree that the growing scandal at Mainland High School poses startling questions about the quality of our children’s education and the organizational health of a taxing authority commanding a $900 million budget.

Last week, Volusia County students, parents and taxpayers learned of the retirement of former Mainland principal Dr. Cheryl Salerno – a veteran educator who, according to a district investigation, participated in an egregious academic fraud involving a bogus Advanced Placement ‘placebo’ exam and pencil-whipping superior passing grades for senior student-athletes – among other ethical and procedural violations of the public’s trust.

Given the fact Dr. Salerno is not the first strategic retirement by a senior administrator identified in the district’s inquiry, many are concerned that what occurred at Mainland may not have been an anomaly.

And how is it possible that those at the highest levels of the organization didn’t know about it? 

For instance, in an excellent report by News-Journal education reporter Cassidy Alexander, we learned that the son of an area superintendent – the senior administrator charged with overseeing Mainland High School – served in a sensitive role at the beleaguered school without proper certification:

“Aubrey Brant was listed in the school’s information system as a substitute teacher, but taught one class and served as a school counselor the rest of the time. Brant is not listed on the Florida Department of Education’s website as a certified teacher or counselor. The investigative report states he is currently working to complete a counseling degree.”

“Additionally, Brant is Area Superintendent Susan Freeman’s son, the report noted. Freeman is the supervisor for schools in the Daytona area, including Mainland.”

My God. 

Add to that sustained allegations that unqualified teachers were permitted to teach courses outside their area of certification – apparently without any notification to parents – and you come to the unmistakable conclusion that Mainland students are victims of widespread academic dishonesty.

But what is happening in other schools throughout the district?

For months, the district has been under investigation by the United Stated Department of Justice for its abominable treatment of children with autism and emotional-behavioral disabilities – to include the clear abuse of Florida’s Baker Act to involuntarily commit student’s for psychological evaluation.

That means autistic children, already in the throes of a crisis, are routinely subjected to the trauma and embarrassment of being restrained and transported to Halifax Hospital in the secure cage of a police vehicle.

Last year, hospital staff determined that some 34 unfortunate children who were committed under the Baker Act didn’t meet the basic criteria for admission.

Unfathomable.

Many believe the Department of Justice investigation will result in an incredibly expensive – but clearly necessary – federal consent decree designed to protect our district’s most vulnerable.  I hope so.

Like many, for years I was a disinterested bystander – a typical uninvolved taxpayer who ponied up the money on demand without any real understanding of the who, what or why of the district’s enormous internal structure or organizational culture.

Then, last year, Sheriff Michael Chitwood sent a heartfelt call-to-service to recently retired law enforcement officers seeking participation in the newly formed Guardian program in response to the atrocity at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas.

Admittedly, I didn’t need – or particularly want – the job.

At the time, I was gainfully retired and working a hobby job in the international flight training industry.  Frankly, I didn’t want to take a salary reduction to stand around an elementary school – but I felt a need to serve if my professional skills could assist in keeping students, teachers and staff safe.

So, after Sheriff Chitwood forwarded my resume to district officials and a series of telephone calls with county staff, I completed an online application and awaited an interview.

Then – crickets.

I wasn’t so much rejected as ignored.

After repeat inquires, I was told the discrepancy was my fault.  According to district officials, I failed to press the proper button to submit the application (despite the fact I received an automated response notifying me that the application had been accepted. . .)

Yeah.

Look, I get it.  The hypercritical nature of this blog hasn’t exactly endeared me to many local taxing districts – so, I’m not sure I would have hired me either.  But the way it was done seemed ham-handed to me.

So, being an inquisitive asshole, my weird experience prompted a series of public records requests which ultimately provided a shocking glimpse into the administrative black hole of our massive educational complex in DeLand.

I don’t want to say “I told you so” – that would be crass, boorish and self-serving.

But I told you so. . .

In a Barker’s View piece published in July 2018, entitled, “Fake it till you make it,” I wrote:

“The more I scratch the surface at Volusia County Schools, it becomes increasingly apparent that Superintendent Tom Russell, his senior administrators and our elected officials have lost touch with their core mission – and at least some have no qualms whatsoever about quibbling the facts when their motives are questioned.”

Unfortunately – tragically – things were worse than anyone could possibly have imagined – and I learned that this is isn’t the first-time unqualified individuals were placed in positions of high responsibility – or held themselves out to be something they were not. . .

Perhaps most appalling, even after these serious issues were exposed, nothing substantively changed.

In my view, this horrific academic deception and gross maladministration may well be more pervasive than we know.  Rarely are these issues confined to one administrator or institution – and many “in the know” tell me we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. . .

That’s frightening.

I hope you will join me in encouraging the Florida Department of Education to launch an immediate investigation into the open violation of state statutes by senior administrators, academic fraud, non-existent classes leading to padded grades for student-athletes, the use of non-certified counselors and unqualified teachers, etc., etc., that has led to this systemic dysfunction and corruption of a publicly-funded educational system.

In my view, this is a crisis of epic proportions – with long-term ramifications for students and teachers associated with Volusia County Schools.

When the facts are known, I hope our system of justice will hold those who maliciously manipulated the system and perpetrated these massive deceptions – or looked the other way – accountable for their betrayal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for August 16, 2019

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           Daytona “International” Airport

Normally, I just ignore the pap and fluff coming out of the executive offices at Daytona “International” Airport – which has essentially remained a Hooterville feeder for hubs in Atlanta and Charlotte – because the always hyper-optimistic tripe has become too sickly sweet for my taste.

Earlier this month, the Volusia County Council heard an informative report from Mead & Hunt – the mega-consultancy that educates government and private industry on topics from airports to cheese production facilities – who studied the market and came to the conclusion that Daytona Beach is “underserved.”

But don’t be disappointed, you Gloomy Gus.

The fact we can’t attract and keep air carriers at DAB isn’t a problem – it’s a ‘growth opportunity’ – you ninny!

Of course it is. . .

According to a report in the Ormond Beach Observer, during the Mead & Hunt presentation, our consultants also examined the abrupt departure of JetBlue – and something called Silver Airways – both of which fled Daytona Beach in a cloud of jet exhaust after taking hundreds of thousands in public and private incentives.

(Apparently, another publicly incentivized carrier, SunWing – a Toronto-Daytona shuttle that comes around about as often as the Comet Kohoutek – will resume their once-a-week flight in November. . .)

What I didn’t know (and I’ll just bet the Volusia County Council didn’t know either) is that Silver Airways, which began a single daily flight from DAB to Ft. Lauderdale in January, had an abysmal track record of abandoning over 60% of the markets that it served over the last five years. . .

However, airport director Rick Karl and his staff had that information at hand when they offered the carrier some $100,000 in incentives for what turned out to be a scant six-month stint in Daytona Beach.

Jesus.  Desperate much? 

The hapless County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler asked the painfully obvious question that everyone else in the room (except Rick Karl) must have been thinking:

Why would Daytona “International” Airport officials offer an incentive package worth a hundred grand to a small airline with a single route and dismal history of leaving 6 out of 10 markets they serve? 

According to Director Karl, our highly paid business development types at DAB will do a better job of assessing risk in the future – and “try to make sure incentives are in line with potential risks.”

My God.

“It was risky, but we’re in business and we have to take some risks,” Karl said. “I would say it was worth trying.”

In business?  Are you kidding me? 

If Daytona “International” Airport were operated like a business (you know, a private venture where your livelihood depends upon razor-sharp decision-making or you lose everything you own?) – Rick Karl and Company would be out on their ass after pissing away $100,000 in company assets on a high risk/low return deal.

This isn’t a business – at best, its gambling with other people’s money – at worst, its intentionally flushing good money after bad.

Don’t take my word for it – ask successful business moguls like King J. Hyatt Brown, Sir John Albright or the High Panjandrum of Political Power Mori Hosseini how long blundering nimrods who lose hundreds of thousands on sketchy deals last in their organizations?

Only in government do executive directors enjoy the “we’ll do better next time, y’all” excuse. . .

Following the presentation, the Volusia County Council took action to further drive even more local travelers to other airports in the region when they raised daily parking fees for both short and long-term lots – a move that will result in squeezing an extra $190,411 from area customers.

(Interesting how Mr. Karl’s “business” is able to recoup its losses on the backs of his “customers” without any financial or shareholder repercussions?  Does your business have that luxury?  I didn’t think so. . .)   

Given the exorbitant cost of flying from DAB – so prohibitive that many in Volusia and Flagler drive to Orlando, Jacksonville or Sanford to take advantage of direct flights at lower prices – one might think Daytona “International” Airport executives would have considered lowering, or even temporarily eliminating, parking fees during peak travel periods as an incentive to increase local passenger traffic.

Too risky? 

I thought so. . .

Angel                    United States Attorney Lawrence Keefe

Reports out of Tallahassee last week confirmed that U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe, serving the Northern District of Florida, will launch a much-needed Public Trust Unit to fight government corruption and election fraud in our state.

The announcement came as a federal judge accepted a guilty plea from former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox and a business associate on crimes related to his public service.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, “Asked if the plea deal was an indication of other festering issues, Keefe acknowledged there was ongoing public corruption, and an “ensuing lack of public trust that people have that it is not an even playing field and a rigged system.”

“Florida is starting to recognize this is an issue that has economic impacts, he said.  Corrupt political process has economic impacts.  We are seeing that play out here in the secondary costs, the pay-to-play aspects of this.” 

Wow.

Kudos to U.S. Attorney Keefe and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for focusing their expertise and technology on Florida – a place that has become a cheap whorehouse – a second-rate Banana Republic where quid pro quo politics is so commonplace many of our elected officials have forgotten what it means to represent the whole of their constituency with equality, fairness and accessibility.

Asshole                Volusia County Schools

As student’s made their way back to school this week, the painful and incredibly convoluted process of meting out what passes for justice in the on-going Advanced Placement ‘placebo’ testing debacle at Mainland High School continued to play out this week – then, we learned that godforsaken mess was the least of our worries. . .

Given the troubling revelations emerging from the burgeoning scandal at Mainland, it is becoming apparent to many that Volusia County Schools – a taxing district with a $900 million budget – continues to slog along with a woefully inadequate professional standards process that bears no resemblance to a legitimate internal oversight and disciplinary procedure.

That’s shocking.

This week, we learned that former Mainland Principal Dr. Cheryl Salerno – who was pegged by the district as the architect of the AP exam fiasco – lost her appeal of a relatively benign written reprimand that both she and a now retired senior administrator received following an internal investigation.

Then, the other shoe dropped. . .

According to reports, Dr. Salerno formally retired from Volusia County Schools early last week following sustained allegations that she personally “taught” a bogus class which mainly consisted of senior student-athletes, misused personnel without authorization from superiors and apparently violated state law by hiring two teachers to be school counselors who weren’t certified.

Most egregious, the “class” Dr. Salerno taught was an apparent sham – never happened – with every student in the non-existent course receiving top grades.

An academic fraud with potential long-term implications:

“. . .no such class was taught, no evidence in the grade book exists of graded student assignments for any student in either the first or second semester, and every student in the Speech 1 course received a quarterly grade of 95 for each of the four grading periods.”

 Jesus.  That’s scary. 

In my view, this abject corruption doesn’t happen in a vacuum – someone must have known, right?

I’m asking.  

I mean, Volusia County Schools must have some basic safeguards in place?

An early warning system that detects ethical and procedural lapses at all levels of the organization and ensures that students, teachers and staff are protected?  No?

In my view, the reverse cheating scandal that saw some 336 freshmen students intentionally deceived into believing they were taking an AP examination that would lead to college credit – only to learn it was all a cheap con – perpetrated by the very people they trusted – was bad, but fabricating grades for senior student-athletes is beyond the pale.

Who is served by that?

Certainly not the unfortunate students who were awarded grades they did not earn.

And what must this say to the real victims – those who struggled, worked hard and actually attended classes?     

This is a scandal of monumental proportions – and may well call into question the educational achievements and credentials of students who could have received diplomas based on fraudulent grades and unqualified teachers.

When will the Department of Education get off their ass and investigate this disaster?

In this bizarre bureaucratic maze that is Volusia County Schools, the idea of “professional standards” has apparently devolved into a bad joke – a systemic lack of accountability and oversight that has created a class of “untouchables” in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand.

That’s dangerous.

The Volusia County School Board is prohibited from direct involvement in the day-to-day operations of the district – that’s the exclusive domain of the Superintendent of Schools – however, establishing public policy and ensuring that educational activities are governed by strong protocols that include adequate supervision at all levels – and a clearly defined investigative and disciplinary process for those who violate ethical and procedural standards – is well within our elected officials purview.

Frankly, the sight of Chairman Persis standing in front of television cameras, staring at his shoes, while issuing yet another apology is getting tiresome.

It is also stimulating even more questions from his worried constituents.

Questions like, how many students need to be academically victimized before our politically accountable School Board recognizes the need for a top-to-bottom independent investigation (and thorough house cleaning) of our horribly compromised district?

Or, when will our elected representatives revisit the lucrative severance package provided to former Superintendent Tom Russell – who either knew or should have known organized fraud was being perpetrated at Mainland High School on his watch – then take legal action to recover those clearly undeserved public funds?

In my view, the Volusia County school board has a moral obligation to return stability and establish a culture that values professionalism, ethical conduct and promotes an ethos of educational excellence and equal opportunity.

Volusia County students, teachers and taxpayers deserve better.

Quote of the Week

“My family used to support the homeless efforts in Volusia County where we live, through various agencies. 

Now I read that we might be importing homeless people (to make money off them?) from Flagler County.

So they expect Volusia taxpayers to help support the Flagler County homeless?

Well, have at it. City and county officials will be doing it without our support anymore. I guess global warming has gone to their heads — talk about a meltdown.”

–Stan Kapp, New Smyrna Beach, Letters to the Editor, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Don’t import more homeless people,” Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Speaking metaphorically, Flagler County Commissioner Joe Mullins has some Major League huevos. . .

Massive stones.

According to a recent report by Shaun Ryan in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Commissioner Mullins has done the math and determined that for just $1.80 per household, Flagler County residents can dump their “homeless problem” firmly on the stooped shoulders of their unsuspecting neighbors to the south.

With millions of local dollars invested in bringing the First Step Shelter to fruition – and just 40 beds available to serve Volusia County municipalities – Flagler County now wants a last-minute buy-in for a paltry $200,000?

Really?

And, like the gullible assholes we are, some in a position to make these decisions for us are actually agreeable to the lopsided arrangement!

In fact, Daytona Beach Mayor and First Step Shelter Board President Derrick Henry initially called the move “almost a no brainer.”

Fortunately, Mayor Henry’s embrace of Flagler County’s homeless population was tempered at this week’s jumbled and rambling joint confab of the First Step Board and the Daytona Beach City Commission when the majority agreed it is probably wiser to begin by serving Volusia County (you know, whose residents paid for the facility?) then evaluate Flagler’s possible participation later.

Smart move.

For months (years?) Flagler County has sat patiently – shuffling homeless camps from pillar-to-post as Bunnell callously shuttered the county’s only extreme cold weather warming room – biding their time as Volusia County’s First Step Shelter finally emerged from the pine scrub west of Daytona Beach.

Now, with the project’s administration in utter chaos, they want to “partner”?

My ass.

Earlier this month the News-Journal reported, “Mullins, a developer who is president and CEO of The Mullins Companies, said he could sweeten the deal with his pledge to raise corporate donations — something likely to be enticing to First Step Shelter Board members who just had to scale back plans for a $1.7 million budget, 100 beds and 21 full-time employees. The new plan is a $1.1 million budget for 45 beds and eight full-time employees.”

Then, last week, Commissioner Mullins joined Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron at a clandestine meeting with Mayor Henry and our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, to hash out the details.

(Can anyone tell me why, after publicly washing their hands of the problem years ago, Volusia County is now making decisions that could overload and derail the project altogether?)

It looks like Old Ed has decided to side-step the First Step Shelter Board – treating them like something he doesn’t want to get on his shoes – and ignore the county’s exclusive contractual agreement with Daytona Beach as he works to bring Flagler County homeless to Volusia.

Note to Chairman Kelley:  Stay in your lane.  No one needs your embarrassing brand of dotty incompetence meddling in serious affairs at this late hour.   

(My only hope is that Councilwoman Heather Post will seize this prime opportunity to publicly horsewhip Old Ed for acting unilaterally to encourage Flagler County’s self-serving shenanigans – like he did for her when Ms. Post had the temerity to express interest in participating in a meaningful way with an early seat on the board, remember?)

Then – in perhaps the greatest joke ever told – Commissioner Mullins said (apparently with a straight face), “. . .the plan would make it possible for Flagler’s homeless to go to the shelter in Volusia, get back on their feet, and then return to Flagler.”

(Whew!  Excuse me!  I just shot a mouthful of Café Bustelo through my nose. . .that’s funny.  Gets me every time I read it!)

I think current First Step Shelter Board member Chase Tramont echoed the thoughts of many Volusia County taxpayers when he said, “I think it’s a terrible idea.  We’re in the business to fix our own problem, not import someone else’s problems. I would absolutely not sign off on that.”

Unfortunately, it might be a moot point for some communities.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Daytona Beach City Attorney Robert Jagger told board members that, depending upon how it’s “programmed,” the shelter may not be “Pottinger compliant” – or bring the municipalities in compliance with certain underlying laws of the former “Pottinger Decision” – a federal consent decree protecting the rights of homeless persons that was overturned in February.

I got the feeling that the Pottinger issue was news to First Step board members –  and, as a result, some communities may seek their own solution to the problem. . .

If so, that doesn’t bode well for future local government funding for the First Step Shelter.

Stay tuned, kids.  It just gets weirder by the day. . .

And Another Thing!

From the intrepid civic activist Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy writing on social media this week:

“The City of Daytona Beach is proposing a private driveway connecting the Russian project on East side of A1A to the parking garage on the west side of A1A. The proposed change would have a new WEST-bound lane on Oakridge crossing both A1A and Oakridge to access the garage. Attached is a screen shot of the plan. The bike lane is some kind of sick joke …it is 5 blocks long and goes nowhere.”

oakridge

Say what? 

Initially, Paul was told by Florida Department of Transportation representative Steven Buck that the proposed lane connecting the “Putin Towers” project with the satellite parking garage was essentially a done deal – claiming that both FDOT “studies” and previously “approved plans” allow the developer to create a “short valet access driveway” that will be divided from eastbound traffic by a “concrete separator” and traffic signal.

Now, it appears FDOT may be considering revoking the permit.

Confused yet?  Me too. . .

I join with Paul Zimmerman in encouraging all residents to attend an informational meeting hosted by FDOT on Tuesday, August 20, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm at the Peabody Auditorium’s Rose Room, 600 Auditorium Boulevard, Daytona Beach.

According to a handbill released by FDOT, residents may stop by anytime during the meeting to speak with district representatives, examine plans and virtually “drive” the proposed route in a simulator station.

Let’s use this opportunity to let FDOT know that Halifax area residents are tired of being inconvenienced and imposed upon by the wants and whims of speculative developers – and those in local governments who seemingly exist to serve their needs at our expense.

Thanks for reading – have a great weekend, friends!

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Cost of Cowardice

What is the cost of cowardice?

How much does it take for elected officials to abdicate a moral responsibility and walk away from perhaps the most pressing social, civic and economic issue of our times?

In Volusia County, around $4 million taxpayer dollars. . .

Over time, most Volusia County residents have developed a morbid curiosity for our unique system of governance – a fixation not unlike the compulsion to gawp at a train wreck – made more compelling by the fact our elected officials seem clueless to the disaster unfolding around them.

The on-going First Step Shelter debacle is a prime example of a real problem that continues to unfold in front of our eyes – a complete breakdown of intergovernmental cooperation and trust – the natural outcome of the internecine warfare that began one dreary day when local government’s long-term policy of institutional humiliation as the best means of controlling the homeless backfired and “the problem” took up visible residence on the front steps of the County Administration building at 250 North Beach Street.

Ultimately, when Volusia County abdicated all responsibility for seeking a regional solution to a regional problem – opting instead for their tried-and-true strategy of throwing money at a problem then walking away – the City of Daytona Beach set out on a circuitous path which ultimately led us to the First Step Shelter project.

Now, after years of fits and starts, we have a physical shelter under construction on city-owned land in the hinterlands west of I-95 – and that’s about it.

Everything else associated with the ever-evolving project remains in bureaucratic limbo.

Now, during a critical period in the evolution of the shelter, the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys – a shameless self-promoter with visions of even higher office dancing in her head – sees a golden opportunity to insinuate herself into the mess and get her name in the newspaper doing it.

Notably, she offers no solutions – only condescending “I told you so” insults and haughty threats to stick her nose where it doesn’t belong.

You see, the Volusia County Council had a thousand opportunities to provide input, find answers and offer direction.

They didn’t.

Instead of demonstrating leadership and seeking collaborative solutions, they took the cowards way out – throwing some $4 million of our money at the problem – then ensured by legal contract that the county “. . .shall have no maintenance or operational obligations at any time with respect to the facility.”

That’s called washing your hands of the problem.

Inexplicably, with the shelter set to open a few months from now, Councilwoman Denys decides its time to start interjecting her hypercritical opinions into an arena she long-ago retreated from in favor of the political insulation that doing absolutely nothing brings.

According to an article by reporter Dustin Wyatt in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ms. Denys crowed, “She doesn’t want to get involved, but she may have to.” 

Really?

“I’m just here to say that I’m watching this,’ Denys added. ‘The last thing I want to do is show up at one of those First Step Shelter board meetings, but I’m real close to doing it here because this is not what we agreed to.”

My God.

After voting against construction of a homeless assistance center – then contractually distancing Volusia County government from any substantive involvement in the maintenance or operation of the First Step Shelter – now, Ms. Denys has the chutzpah to wade into the fray, throw ridiculous threats around and muddy the waters even more with her unique brand of jackassery?

Look, the City of Daytona Beach has rightfully taken it on the chin for unilaterally ramrodding their vision and will for the project while virtually ignoring the concerns and responsibilities of their own oversight board – something that has resulted in myriad questions from taxpayers, contributors and The Daytona Beach News-Journal during the critical final phase of this beleaguered – but infinitely necessary – homeless assistance center.

But at least Daytona Beach picked up the gauntlet and did something other than throw our money around and hide under a rock.

In my view, it is disingenuous and damaging to the process for Councilwoman Denys to seize this sleazy opportunity to promote her own political self-interests.

It only makes a bad situation worse.

You craven opportunist.

Apparently, Ms. Denys doesn’t realize that her eleventh hour ego-maniacal grandstanding only serves to expose her, and the County of Volusia, as spineless quitters who deserted their constituency, opted for political protection over substantive solutions and abdicated their ethical responsibility to those less fortunate.

 

Join Barker’s View this afternoon beginning at 4:00pm on GovStuff Live! with Big John where we will discuss this and other important civic issues facing Florida’s Fun Coast.

Find us locally at WELE 1380am The Cat – or online at www.govstuff.org “Listen Live” button.

 

 

Angels & Assholes for August 9, 2019

Hi, kids!

Weird week, huh?

From yet another Battle Royale between Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the Volusia County Council to The Case of the Pilfered Pistol at a good, old-fashioned Deltona orgy, it’s been one for the books.

The political spat is business as usual – but the orgy?

Hey – I’m not judging.

In my view, sex is between the 15-20 consenting adults involved and no one else – but I’m a stickler for responsible gun ownership – and that says you put the 9mm in a secure location before turning your home into Caligula’s Lair.  Just sayin’.

(Look, I’m certainly not a prude, but I don’t think I could host an orgy in my house at this age and stage.  “Hey, man.  That couch is Corinthian leather.  PUT A TOWEL DOWN!”)

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               Interim School Superintendent Tim Egnor

No one has been more critical of the Volusia County School District than I have.

For good reason.

In fact, I think the threat to the very core of our primary educational system stems from a long-standing culture of administrative mediocrity that has produced a clique of ‘untouchables’ in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand – entrenched bureaucrats who value silence and suppression over transparency.

A few months ago, thanks to the outstanding coverage of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s education reporter Cassidy Alexander, we learned of a bizarre scheme that saw some 336 freshmen at Mainland High School fall victim to a reverse cheating scandal in the form of a fake Advanced Placement ‘placebo’ exam.

Following what passed for the district’s “investigation” – a slap-dash internal inquiry that failed to include so much as an interview with former Superintendent Tom Russell – Mainland Principle Cheryl Salerno and a now retired administrator were issued a benign written reprimand, allowing Russell to close the lid on the matter with a ‘nothing more to see here, folks – keep moving’ non-response before fleeing the district to a comfy new gig with Flagler County Schools.

In my view, rather than do what a good leader should and accept personal responsibility for the cockamamie scheme and begin restoring the trust of the student body, Dr. Salerno did the exact opposite – she lawyered-up and began fighting the slap-on-the-wrist like a rabid badger.

Admittedly, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but given the district’s well-documented penchant for allowing problems to fester into systemic infections, even I could see something more sinister may be simmering just under the surface at Mainland High.

By all accounts, Principle Salerno is a veteran educator with a stellar reputation for incorporating innovative programs into Mainland’s curriculum.

Unfortunately, openly deceiving the bulk of the freshman class wasn’t one of them. . .

In the past few weeks, I have heard from several professionals who worked closely with Dr. Salerno and spoke highly of her personal commitment to students and staff – unfortunately, I have also received anecdotal reports of significant internal issues at Mainland which, if proven true, would represent serious ethical and procedural lapses.

As more time passed, it became clear to anyone paying attention that there are underlying problems at Mainland High that some district administrators would prefer remain in the shadows – and given the complete lack of any recognizable professional standards process – they may well have faded into the ether with the bustle of a new school year.

To his credit, Interim Superintendent Tim Egnor took action this week to formally relieve Principle Salerno of her duties, placing her on paid leave while yet another internal investigation is conducted into unidentified allegations of misconduct.

No doubt a difficult decision – but the right move.

In turn, Mr. Egnor has enlisted the outstanding talents of retired Mainland principle Tim Huth to take the reins of this troubled school and restore a sense of sanity as classes resume next week.

I take no personal enjoyment in watching the self-destruction of a lifelong career that took years of hard work and intense preparation to achieve.

In fact, I find it terribly sad – a regrettable series of events during what should have been the pinnacle of Dr. Salerno’s impressive professional trajectory – and I know our community joins with her student’s and staff in extending all best wishes for the future.

Perhaps the Volusia County School Board – and the senior administrators who have fostered this claustrophobic atmosphere – will learn that when embarrassing, even traumatic crises arise, the disinfectant and restorative properties of sunlight and fresh air are always preferable to secrecy and suppression.

Now, let the healing begin.

Angel              Fire House Subs Foundation

I think I just found my new favorite sub shop. . .

Thanks to a grant made possible by the Fire House Subs Foundation, this week, the Holly Hill Fire Department took delivery of three Jaws of Life devices for use in extricating victims trapped in motor vehicle crashes and confined spaces.

The foundation provided some $31,000 for three of the battery powered hydraulic tools – which will allow firefighters the option of operating multiple devices independently to free victims more efficiently.

I also want to extend a sincere Barker’s View Thank You to Holly Hill Fire Chief Jim Bland for his ingenuity in participating in corporate giving programs.  What a great way to supplement limited public funds and obtain state-of-the-art rescue equipment for the citizens of Holly Hill.

Thank you Fire House Subs, and the Holly Hill Fire/Rescue Department, for partnering in the public interest – great work!

Angel              Daytona Beach City Commission

In the wake of a discrimination settlement which saw the citizens of Daytona Beach paying some $1 million to resolve two credible complaints involving racial bias and sexual harassment filed by long-time public servants – the Daytona Beach City Commission is questioning how this could happen in 2019 – and, more important, what can be done to prevent it in the future.

Typically, when suits of this type are settled, the defendant normally includes a sentence or two maintaining their innocence and denying any wrongdoing in the matter – but, in my view, that’s often disingenuous.

The most recent settlement was the result of a lawsuit filed by Thomas Huger against the City of Daytona Beach when he was mysteriously denied a promotion that went to another employee with less education, experience and tenure.

According to reports, “The 67-year-old Huger’s claims against the city were for race discrimination; age discrimination; racially based hostile work environment harassment and retaliation; violation of the Florida Public Sector Whistleblower’s Act; and constructive discharge from employment.”

The Huger case came on the heels of devastating allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and other gross workplace issues brought by Sonya Wiles against senior city officials.

After a series of official denials – nonsensical wrangling which victimized Ms. Wiles all over again and cost in excess of $1 million in legal fees – Daytona Beach settled the matter for over $456,000.

On Wednesday, City Commissioner Paula Reed said she wants to explore the issue and determine if it’s “rooted in management or procedures at City Hall.”

In a report by the News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, “Reed said the city needs to shine a bright light on any discrimination problems that might be lurking “so we don’t find ourselves here again.”

Bravo Commissioner Reed.  Bravo.

That takes organizational courage.

There are many reasons why government organizations find it difficult to turn introspective and investigate the leadership, policy and organizational issues that can lead to very embarrassing – and expensive – problems.

After all, self-criticism and honest internal evaluation is often hard to swallow – but it is painfully necessary to ensure personal and organizational growth.

Frankly, in the aftermath of these two disturbing settlements, I find it refreshing that Commissioner Reed and her colleagues have the courage to examine these difficult issues and ensure a workplace that embraces diversity, supports and encourages whistle blowers and protects employees from the ravages of sexual harassment and racial bias.

The City of Daytona Beach has an incredible workforce, with many dedicated servant-leaders in key leadership and operational roles, who provide essential services with incredible expertise and commitment to the highest ideals of public service.

They deserve our support.

Asshole           County of Volusia – Politics as Usual  

Sometimes I quietly contemplate how ostensibly smart people – friends and neighbors who stood before us and begged for our sacred vote on a promise to work in our best interests – can become so horribly dysfunctional, mired in the politics of personal destruction and spiteful squabbles that invariably end in the elected official becoming everything he or she hated when they were drawn to public service.

I think I know the answer. . .

Many politicians quickly become attracted to the intrigue that naturally accompanies the power and trappings of public office – energized by that heady shot of Adrenalin to the ego that comes with the knowledge that, once elected to high office, vengeance is no longer the exclusive domain of The Lord. . .

In my experience, few things are as detrimental to the organizational effectiveness of government than internecine power struggles – those stupid Clash of the Titans pissing contests at the top that only serve to destabilize the lower layers of a bureaucracy and expose the abject pettiness of those haughty assholes that promised us things would be different on their watch.

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council staged another production of their unique style of political theater, that weird Kabuki that passes for our manner and means of governance here on Florida’s Fun Coast, when it became clear to most everyone on the dais of power that they had a prime opportunity to publicly get even with Sheriff Michael Chitwood for his “scumbags of the week” award – bestowed on the council when the majority voted to ignore the will of the people and fight Amendment 10 – and other sharp comments on social media which threatened the status quo.

As I understand it (and I’m not sure I do), Sheriff Chitwood had something of a gentleman’s agreement with our “new” County Manager Georgie Recktenwald which would return two deputy positions to his roster this budget cycle.

The unfilled spots were previously converted to fund a human resources administrator for the Sheriff’s Office in the lead-up to the Amendment 10 transition – a voter-approved initiative which will (finally) return constitutional sovereignty to our duly elected Sheriff – elevating the office from a “department head” role, totally subservient to an appointed county manager with no political accountability.

So, despite the fact he currently has some 36 sworn vacancies – jobs the agency has been actively working to fill – Sheriff Chitwood returned the two positions he was promised in his budget request.

After lecturing her “colleagues” that funding Sheriff Chitwood’s request “is not fiscally prudent,” the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys told a gold-plated whopper when she said, “We don’t approve it all until the demand exists. And then, should the time come that the needs are there and the positions are (in place), then we make a budget amendment and bring it back to the council.”

 Which is complete horseshit – considering the County’s ambulance service has eight current openings – yet the council approved funding for five new positions on Tuesday. . .

(For that matter, we also learned this week that Volusia County is currently carrying some 400 funded vacancies (and the council is worried about two?) which tells me the entire human resources department should be summarily fired out-of-hand and a management audit conducted immediately.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200.  Get the hell out.  Now.)

Then, former sheriff and current freshman Councilman Ben Johnson made a motion to deny the two positions, based upon the fact “we should not be adding more positions until they are filled.”

Johnson also agreed – using the same weird process outlined by Denys – that when Sheriff Chitwood fills his vacancies, he can come back before the council (hat in hand, no doubt) and he would support a budget amendment – even digging into reserve funds (?) – to pay for the two positions.

The motion was seconded by The Very Reverend Fred Lowry and approved on a 6-1 vote, with Councilwoman Heather Post opposing the cuts to public safety.

According to Councilman Johnson, his reticence in approving the relatively paltry $71,960 in salaries stems from his desire to be a good steward of public funds.

Perhaps that’s true.

I think Ben Johnson’s heart is in the right place – but I also see how attractive the proposition of showing Sheriff Chitwood who’s the boss might have been. . .

Regardless of intent, Johnson’s move didn’t sit well with Mike Chitwood – who immediately concluded what many citizens watching the meeting were already thinking:  He got the equivalent of a very public political wedgie. 

According to a report filed by the intrepid Dustin Wyatt in the News-Journal, Sheriff Chitwood fumed,  “We put this request in and Johnson made an issue out of it. Johnson thinks he’s still the sheriff.  In political theater and drama, Johnson decided to say ‘F— you.’  Now we aren’t going to get those two deputies back.”   

To their credit, the council voted to approve the Sheriff’s request for six new computer crimes specialists – and Sheriff Chitwood later confirmed that there are currently 16 deputies in training and another 18 hired – so things appear to be looking up.

In an interview Tuesday afternoon on WNDB’s Marc Bernier Show, Sheriff Chitwood called the Volusia County Council “gutless” (which is true), and said he and Ben Johnson are “mortal enemies” (which I hope isn’t true.)

Councilman Johnson responded to Chitwood’s angry diatribe – who had earlier challenged Johnson to run against him if he wanted to “run the Sheriff’s Office” – with a not-so-veiled shot suggesting Mr. Bernier ask deputies the real reason they are leaving the department.

It’s bad.  And I suspect it will only get worse. . .

In my view, if County Manager Recktenwald assured Sheriff Chitwood that the two positions would be returned to his agency this budget cycle – then he clearly spoke out of turn – and contributed to yet another embarrassing shit storm that has widened the chasm between our extremely popular Sheriff and our not-so-popular council members.

That’s wrong.

If we have learned anything about Volusia County governance, the origin of yet another political feud that will play out on the front page of the newspaper, be heard on radio forums and serve as cheap fodder for shit-stirrers like me – further cementing Volusia’s reputation as a wholly dysfunctional backwater – will never be fully investigated or understood.

To do so would invite the specter of accountability and expose the depth of internal and external miscommunication and bungling maladministration so many have tried desperately to bring to light.

Jesus.  What a mess.  Will it ever end?

Angel              Sons of the Beach and Friends

Earlier this week, those intrepid souls at Sons of the Beach and Friends – the political action arm of Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy – began their campaign to nudge Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm into retirement.

Let’s face it – Mr. Chisholm isn’t one of those guys that give you the “warm and fuzzies.”

From my experience, he’s a no-nonsense guy with incredibly strong leadership skills and the strength of personality to push an agenda with laser-focus – and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

Now, I don’t happen to agree with the direction of Mr. Chisholm’s vision – or that of the uber-wealthy oligarchs he works for – but this is, in fact, what strong leadership and the ability to affect change despite strong public opposition looks like.

Clearly, Mr. Chisholm has developed a loyal team – and he enjoys the confidence and support of our “Rich and Powerful” overseers – something that allows him to operate free of the political accountability and oversight that normally leavens senior appointed positions.

You see, when you enjoy the protections of those who fund the political campaigns of your elected “bosses” – it imparts something of a Teflon coating that tends to upset the natural balance of things.

And while I appreciate the efforts of Sons of the Beach and Friends to bring about positive change in the leadership and direction of the City of Daytona Beach – I don’t believe Mr. Chisholm will go anywhere until the exact second he decides to comfortably retire or pursue other interests.

By any metric, Mr. Chisholm’s domain – the City of Daytona Beach – continues to face serious, seemingly intractable problems that, despite the near-constant cheer leading of the Chamber of Commerce set and out-of-control sprawl to the west, threatens to destroy our quality of life and economic viability.

Clearly, the City Manager is working hard to push the vision of those who stand to benefit most in places like Downtown Daytona – and areas along and near Boomtown Boulevard – as evidenced by the city’s clandestine efforts to remove long-standing deed restrictions on public lands on City Island, the mysterious changes to the downtown streetscape, the publicly underwritten Brown & Brown Headquarters and Grand Esplanade, Sir John Albright’s adventures at Bay Street and Palmetto Avenue, etc., etc.

A Master Plan known only to those with a need to know.

And those of us who pay the bills apparently don’t need to know. . .

From the incredibly expensive personnel issues, to the on-going debacle that is the First Step Shelter, in many ways, Mr. Chisholm has been his own worst enemy for not communicating directly with his constituents (or “colleagues”) and explaining the city’s current direction to an increasingly worried community.

In fact, I don’t think Mr. Chisholm speaks to the working press at all anymore. . .

Most disturbing, it appears the Daytona Beach City Commission – the duly elected representatives of the people – are apparently okay being seen as pawns in a much larger, more complex game that only needs their vote, not their input.

Perhaps I’m wrong – and the strong civic activism of Sons of the Beach and Friends will convince Mr. Chisholm to take up the rocking chair – but don’t be surprised if he remains at helm until the foundational elements are in place to further the vision and economic interests of those who really set public policy in Daytona Beach and beyond.

Quote of the Week

“You can walk away when the going gets tough.  Or you can toughen up and work through adversity and make it happen.  This is not doom and gloom.  It is growing pains and while issues arise, many of us will continue with the goal of a new service to meet the needs of those who are homeless and want to use it.  There is not one answer.  There is not a right answer.  There is a community working to offer options and while there are disagreements, at least there are various possibilities.  Better to do something than do nothing.  Better to stand up and make things happen then to quit and not keep taking a stand to have your voice heard.  When you are done and go without being demeaning to the efforts of those who remain.”

–Jane Elise Bloom, Co-Executive Director of First Step Shelter, writing on social media in response to the resignation of Joe Forte from the Executive Board, Friday, August 2, 2019

Jane Bloom should stay in her lane.

When you assume a senior role in a clearly controversial arena – with little background information or direct personal knowledge of the players and contributors who have fought so long and hard to bring the struggling endeavor to life – keep your goofy opinions to yourself.

During my professional life, I always kept my political and civic views private – a self-imposed silence that was necessary by virtue of my positional influence in the community.

As an appointed official, it was not my place to second-guess elected policymakers or disparage the decisions of my superiors in a public forum – that would have been disrespectful of the process.

Last Friday, Holly Hill City Manager and First Step Shelter Treasurer Joe Forte followed his conscience and resigned from the executive board when it became clear the City of Daytona Beach was intentionally bypassing the oversight committee on critical policy issues.

That evening, Ms. Bloom – posting from the official Facebook page of the First Step Shelter organization – published the above quote taking Mr. Forte to task for his resignation.

Although she quickly saw the error of spewing her personal bilge as the official voice of the First Step Shelter and edited her narrative – the damage to Mr. Forte’s reputation was done.

Who the hell does Jane Bloom think she is? 

By any measure, Joe Forte has been instrumental in the fledgling progress of bringing the homeless assistance center (or whatever it is this week) to life for years – and his volunteerism and dedication to the success of the project was driven by a desire to serve as a good steward of public funds – always mindful of the needs of those less fortunate – and the political sensitivities of others on the board.

Add to that his three-decades of public service as a firefighter and chief executive and I know of few people who have contributed more to the cause of good governance in Volusia County.

If I sound hyper-protective of Joe Forte, that’s because I am.

We have fought the political wars together – and served shoulder-to-shoulder during life-threatening emergencies – and I trust his character and judgement implicitly.

In my view, Ms. Bloom’s misinformed views on the motivations of members of the board she serves have no place in the public arena – and this mean-spirited tripe should never have been posted under the First Step Shelter flag.

Now, it’s time for Ms. Bloom to do the right thing and resign.

We have enough dysfunction and distrust surrounding this important, and incredibly expensive, undertaking without your ill-informed opinions muddying the waters.

And Another Thing!

On Wednesday I began my 59th trip around the sun.

I know, I know – it’s hard to believe, given my youthful visage and athletic build  – go figure. . .

At this age and stage, I don’t know how many adventures I have left in me, but I’m packed and ready, come what may – and I take every day God gives me as a gift – even when that involves endless hours watching repeats of The Roy Rogers Show until naptime. . .

On balance, my life has been an incredibly exciting roller coaster ride – and I am blessed with a wonderful family (including two of the cutest grand kids you ever saw) and a precious few old friends who love and care about me despite my many faults and foibles.

And I’m fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

After all these years, I think the great mystery all boils down to what Ray Wylie Hubbard said:

“The days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations.  I have really good days.”

 As the celebration of this momentous occasion continues in cocktail lounges throughout the Halifax area (many of which list my b-day up there with the Daytona 500 and Bike Week in terms of total revenue generated) I wanted to take a minute to say Thank You to the many members of the Barker’s View tribe who took the time to reach out with birthday wishes.

Your outpouring of kindness and good thoughts was so heartwarming – I was sincerely touched – and it does my beat-up old heart good to know so many care.

On Wednesday morning, just as I have done on many birthday’s past, I read my special “If Today Is Your Birthday” horoscope in the News-Journal.

This is what it said:

“Take time to breathe and plan for the future. Set your sights high and you will get out what you put in and more, if you are willing to go the extra mile.”

That’s sound advice.  For all of us. . .

Have a great weekend, y’all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me. Again.

While it probably defies the width and breadth of all medical reasoning, tomorrow begins my 59th trip around the sun.

Who’d a thunk it?

Time to take stock and ruminate – prepare what’s left of the mind and body for another chapter of my weird life and times.

I still drink like a fish and smoke like a locomotive – not proud of it, but that’s my style – and largely subsist on a steady diet of greasy cheeseburgers and crinkle cut fries drenched in malt vinegar and salt – normally obtained by screaming into the clown’s nose at some fast food drive-thru. . .

Inexplicably, nothing seems to phase this hearty vessel of mine.

Go figure.

When I was a much younger man than I am now, I went to see an old Creole Queen in a Central City neighborhood near the Calliope housing project of New Orleans.  The octogenarian was a renowned traiteur who was said to not only possess the healing gift but also the supernatural ability to foretell the future.

I found her sitting behind an altar of sorts in a dusty room surrounded by the ointments, unguents, gris-gris and hoodoo paraphernalia of her ethereal craft.

The elderly seer motioned for me to sit in a cane back chair as she lit a series of candles, mumbled strange incantations and waved the smoke of a strong-smelling herbal concoction she kept in an oily sachet around her neck before gently laying her arthritic hands on my head.

The old woman instantly recoiled in horror – as if she had touched a red-hot stove.

When she regained composure, the priestess took a bottle of dark Haitian rum by the neck, took a long drink and swallowed hard – then explained in a quavering voice that I possess an ancient spirit and strong aura – blessed by the Karmic Board eons ago – an everlasting soul in direct communication with The Great Divine Director.

Worse yet, she feared I might live forever. . .

And it scared the hell out of her.

Probably all bullshit, right?

Despite my physical appearance, I don’t feel like I’m pushing 60.

Don’t get me wrong, I have all the aches, pains and physical infirmities that gentlemen of a certain age experience – for instance, my prostate is the size and consistency of a Honey Baked ham – and my hips and lower back are perpetually sore from three-decades of carrying around the weighty physical and psychological ephemera cops are required to strap on.

I’m still gainfully retired – irredeemable and unemployable because of my often-caustic views on this alternative opinion blog (which is hotter than a rocket, thanks to loyal readers like you, with thousands of pageviews each week) something that remains a point of immense pride.

The benefit?  I can grocery shop at 10:00 o’ clock in the morning, shuffling through the isles with the other Old Fogeys – a torturous, sloth-like process that would bring most of you rushed working stiffs to your knees. . .

Remarkably, my rational mind is still reasonably intact.

My long-term memory?  Not so much.

I sometimes run into people who see beyond my bearded disguise and recognize me from my past life.

Invariably, they begin effervescently reminiscing about a time I arrested them, investigated a crime they were the victim of, let them off with a warning or helped with a family crisis – usually (fortunately) with a big smile and a hearty embrace.

In most cases, I have no independent memory of the incident that had such an indelible impact on their lives – but I act like it was yesterday. . .

If I have any advice for those of you behind me on the trail – it’s that the whole “with age comes wisdom” trope is a cruel myth.

However, one benefit of getting older is the power of hindsight – the collective experiential lessons that allow us to see, as Alphonse Karr said, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – “the more things change, the more they stay the same” – meaning that time merely cements the status quo.

For instance, three years ago on my 56th birthday I wrote:

Meanwhile, back at Barker’s Sideshow of Ugly Realities, we can no longer afford to repair our roads or rebuild crumbling infrastructure, our drinking water supply is stressed to the max, our schools are struggling, we’re charging people to access the beach, stealing ECHO funds for parking lots, have yet to develop a comprehensive plan to assist our homeless population and the council just voted to approve – unanimously and without discussion – a 1.8% tax increase on a county budget that has swelled to almost $850 million dollars.

What’s changed?

That grammatical nightmare of a run-on sentence is as true in 2019 as it was in 2016.

As I reflect on the year that was, I fear that Volusia County residents remain trapped in a political Groundhog Day.

While the faces on the dais of power may periodically change – the true forces that shape public policy here on Florida’s Fun Coast continue to push a mysterious hidden agenda – a weird vision that will ultimately serve their economic interests at the expense of our future – and that of our children and grandchildren.

It seems the majority of those currently holding office in DeLand are infinitely more interested in preening, posing and posturing – taking personal credit for mediocre efforts to restore our horribly damaged environment – suppressing political oversight of a horribly bloated bureaucracy and kowtowing to the needs, wants and whims of their political benefactors.

And that bothers me.

A lot.

I have hope that we – the great unwashed masses out here making a life on this salty piece of land – will remember that positive change is possible through the incredible power of the ballot box.

By electing and supporting strong, honest, ethical and civic-minded stewards – good men and women with an agenda beyond their own self-interests – servant-leaders who are not beholden to the rich and powerful forces that have no qualms about sacrificing our collective quality of life for their personal enrichment.

Until then, I’ll be out here wandering the political wilderness, sharing my jaded thoughts on the news and newsmakers of the day – holding firm to the irrefutable truth that We, The People deserve better.

Keep the faith, kids.

I will.

Who knows, maybe that crazy old witch was right?    

First Step Shelter: A New Low. . .

The word ‘character’ is derived from the Greek word charattein, meaning to engrave.

The late United States Army Colonel Eric G. Kail, in his excellent series on leadership character wrote, “The engraving process that is the development of our character requires courage and transparency to forge this true integrity. My integrity is what it is today because of painfully valuable lessons with consequences, born from accountability to moral and ethical principles.”

When it comes to defining the character of a civic leader, which traits do you find most important?

Courage?

Honor?

Integrity?

Selflessness?

Empathy?

Collaboration and the ability to truly value the opinions of others?

In my view, personal integrity, built upon solid moral and ethical values, is perhaps the greatest attribute of leadership – because it builds trust.

This is especially important in government service, because the confidence of those our elected and appointed officials serve is so extremely fragile.

Once the public’s trust in their government processes is lost, it is nearly impossible to recover.

(Just ask the Volusia County Council. . .)

Having the courage to speak the truth and the inherent ability to recognize situations where your personal integrity and that of your office are jeopardized, then taking the right course of action, for the right reasons, regardless of circumstance, are key to forging bonds among subordinates and constituents.

It doesn’t mean perfection in our personal and professional lives – and it doesn’t require blindly “going along to get along.”  We all have ethical lapses, and if we are honest with ourselves, we recognize them, learn from our mistakes and failures, then strive for self-improvement.

It’s when people and organizations refuse to recognize their personal and systemic shortcomings, become self-delusional and develop a sense of infallibility – or selfishly ignore the needs and responsibilities of others – that results in a loss of transparency and dysfunction.

In my view, public officials who manipulate community perceptions on issues of serious civic concern by self-aggrandizement and posturing – turn insular and opaque – or maliciously use oversight committees as a cheap political insulation mechanism to rubber stamp unilateral decisions involving public funds and resources have lost the moral authority to lead.

To shut out others who have a clear responsibility to protect and steward public funds and resources is dishonest and destructive to the foundational elements of collegiality and trust.

That’s wrong.

On Friday, Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte, who, in my over three-decades of experience working with and for him, personifies the great character traits mentioned above along with a deep faith and inherent willingness to put the needs of others above his own self-interests – formally resigned from the First Step Shelter Board.

When it became apparent that he could no longer effectively serve the mission of the board, protect the interests of citizens (who have generously pledged public funds to underwrite the First Step project) and meet the needs of the less fortunate, Mr. Forte did the honorable thing and distanced himself from the pernicious actions of those who have hijacked the process.

For a thoughtful man who respects the ethical and moral values of good governance, it was the only viable option.

Clearly, the other members of the First Step Shelter Board – which is almost exclusively comprised of sitting elected officials from the various cities who contributed, or private business leaders (some with direct ties to the City of Daytona Beach) – must realize that City Manager Jim Chisholm has no intention of permitting them to set policy, exert control, properly manage funds or establish a direction for the shelter.

In fact, Mr. Chisholm is intentionally bypassing the oversight committee altogether – ramrodding his personal will to the exclusion of any reasonable outside supervision – and is now meeting with contractors and employees who ostensibly report directly to the board – something that has made an embarrassing mockery of board members and effectively neutered their management ability.

I applaud Mr. Forte’s moral courage in recognizing when his position was being compromised – and taking definitive action to protect his personal and professional reputation.

As a taxpayer and citizen of Volusia County who has watched this shit show play out for years – I took personal offense to the social media comments of Jane Bloom, posting under the First Step moniker, following Mr. Forte’s announcement.

Apparently, Ms. Bloom is one-half of a bizarre co-interim executive director position – a duo actively shilling for the City of Daytona Beach now that Rev. L. Ron Durham has mysteriously been removed from the leadership role by Mr. Chisholm – a move that added to the sense of utter chaos and confusion that has destroyed the public’s faith in the project and all but ensured an end to municipal funding sources and private donations.

In her ill-advised post, Ms. Bloom, by all appearances on behalf of First Step Shelter, audaciously lectured:

“You can walk away when the going gets tough.  Or you can toughen up and work through adversity and make it happen.  This is not doom and gloom.  It is growing pains and while issues arise, many of us will continue with the goal of a new service to meet the needs of those who are homeless and want to use it.  There is not one answer.  There is not a right answer.  There is a community working to offer options and while there are disagreements, at least there are various possibilities.  Better to do something than do nothing.  Better to stand up and make things happen then to quit and not keep taking a stand to have your voice heard.  When you are done and go without being demeaning to the efforts of those who remain.”

While Bloom later tried to clean up her steaming mess – and attribute her post originally published under the First Step Shelter flag as her own personal views – the damage to Mr. Forte’s service and exemplary reputation was complete.

 My God. 

 Who the hell does Ms. Bloom think she is? 

In my view, the First Step Shelter Board should immediately move to terminate her involvement as co-captain of Mr. Chisholm’s no-holds-barred push to wrest any reasonable control from those who generously volunteered and worked hard to fund and administrate this horribly compromised process despite withering criticism and roadblocks – along with a letter of reprimand for her blatant misuse of First Step Shelter’s social media presence and public communications resources.

Despicable.  This cannot stand.

Frankly, the First Step Shelter Board can sit idle while Daytona Beach officials expose and exploit them as feeble weaklings – and compromise their personal and professional reputations and openly destroy their political careers – but I will not sit silent as Jane Bloom denigrates the exemplary service and commitment of Joe Forte as he boldly does the only thing an honest and ethical public official can under these disastrous circumstances.

Hey First Step Shelter Board – what happens when Ms. Bloom comes for you?

This is a new low.

The opposite of values-based leadership.

The antithesis of ethical, moral and transparent governance.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for August 2, 2019

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               First Step Shelter Board

“We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”

— Konstantin Josef Jireček

Regardless of how you feel about the Halifax area’s painful, plodding and laborious quest to establish a homeless shelter on publicly-owned land in the hinterlands west of Daytona Beach – the one positive has been the dedication and perseverance of those intrepid members of the First Step Shelter Board.

At times, I wasn’t sure how much longer these volunteers would remain at their post – and no one would have blamed them had they said, “enough is enough” and distanced themselves from the embarrassing roil.

But, like good stewards, they valiantly remained in the wheelhouse, steering the struggling project through the storms.

I admire that.

Like many, I still struggle to understand the mindset of Daytona Beach senior administrators who, after asking other local governments for assistance and commissioning the oversight committee, seem intent on single-handedly ramrodding their unique vision of the shelter to completion.

It has now dissolved into one of those civic pissing contests that never work out well.

Dumpster Fire.png

I fear the City of Daytona Beach is about to find itself in a very cold and lonely place when the other municipalities and private donors have had enough, and taxpayers are forced to shoulder First Step’s constantly increasing operating cost by themselves (perhaps with some loose change thrown in by Flagler County?)

For instance, when former First Step Executive Director Mark Geallis was forced into an untenable position and resigned in June – given the critical need for boots-on-the-ground leadership – the board asked city staff to advertise the position immediately.

On Monday, they learned this commonsense request was ignored. . .

Add to that the utter confusion surrounding the city’s previous last-minute push for a bizarre “outdoor safe zone,” a proposed 1,800 square foot concrete slab littered with “pads and mattresses” plopped awkwardly at the main entrance of the facility.

Now, the board is hearing from Daytona Beach Community Relations Manager L. Ron Durham that the outdoor “safe zone” concept has changed once again – with the current plan calling for the shelter to incorporate an area inside the building where homeless people “not enrolled in the facility’s rehabilitation program could spend the night and leave in the morning.”

In the News-Journal’s excellent continuing coverage of this unfolding shit show, this week reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean wrote, “Neither city safe zone idea went over well, nor did the continued end runs around board decisions. The board’s decision to buy used kitchen equipment and cook food on site is rapidly morphing into the city’s idea to instead buy food from the Volusia County Branch Jail.”

Which calls into question exactly what the center’s “rehabilitation program” will include, especially if residents have no responsibilities beyond enjoying three hots-and-a-cot. . .

For reasons known only to him, it appears Mr. Chisholm has no intention of working with – or even consulting – the First Step Shelter Board on operational and policy decisions in the lead-up to the center’s October 15 grand opening.

That leaves board members in the untenable position of sitting passively as they are dictated to by city officials, maligned by the City Commission and ignored by key contractors who have also taken to bypassing the oversight committee.

It also forces board president Mayor Derrick Henry – and Rev. L. Ron Durham – to continue this mendacious double-dealing that is rapidly undermining what’s left of their personal and professional credibility – and all but ensuring municipal contributors and private donors rethink their commitment to something they have absolutely no control over.

Asshole           Florida Wildlife Commission

 If you’ve travelled to South Florida or the Keys recently you know that green iguanas have become a prevalent part of that hot and humid landscape.

In fact, they’re everywhere down there – like swaying coconut palms, corrupt politicians and white compression socks. . .

I don’t know about you, but I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy when it comes to wildlife encroaching on my neighborhood – even when it comes to invasive, non-native species.  You see, I happen to believe that there is an inherent unfairness to destroying a wild creature’s home for strip malls and “theme” subdivisions – then killing them when they try to share ours.

Last month, many were taken back by a weird mandate issued by the Florida Wildlife Commission that essentially directed residents to terminate green iguanas with extreme prejudice.

The crime?  Occasionally burrowing under driveways, munching on ornamental plants – and the one unforgivable sin of Florida wildlife: shitting on pool decks owned by transplanted retirees. . .

“Homeowners do not need a permit to kill iguanas on their own property, and the FWC encourages homeowners to kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible,” the agency said.

So, Floridian’s did what Floridians do – they locked and loaded.

Then they went bananas. . .

Apparently, throughout South Florida, residents put their License to Kill to good use and began shooting, stabbing and intentionally running over the creatures on-sight – mowing them down, en masse, from Collins Avenue to Duval Street, in cities and suburban neighborhoods, firing indiscriminately at anything that moved in a feverish attempt to wipe out the entire genus. . .

As writer/comedian Rob Fox said in a satirical piece in Rare:

“Grab your shotguns, handguns, rifles, chainsaws, katanas you bought at the pawn shop when you were kind of drunk, crossbows, switchblades, toothbrush shivs, baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire, homemade shark tooth spears, Super Soakers poorly converted into flamethrowers, brass knuckles, heavy-duty gardening gloves with shards of broken glass glued to them, flip flops with a retractable blade in the sole, DIY claymore mines made from milk jugs and marbles, old syringes, poorly socialized Pitbulls, random jugs of acid you have laying around, nooses you used for inadvisable Halloween costumes, and stolen riding mowers. Use your bare hands if you have to. There’s yet another invasive species in your backyards, quite literally, and the state’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission needs YOU to kill them.”

“You’ve got your orders, Florida. Waste these fools.”

 Then, Florida Man mistakenly shot a pool boy in the leg with a pellet gun. . .

Now, the Florida Wildlife Commission has walked-back its policy of wanton extermination in favor of a more organized approach to this state-sponsored squamate genocide that will hopefully keep pool maintenance workers and other innocent bystanders out of the crossfire.

Apparently, the state’s “new” policy requests that residents “who are not capable” of killing one species without endangering another seek assistance from professionals who “humanely” dispatch the hapless lizards for a fee (only in Florida). . .

According to FWC Commissioner (and fourth stooge) Rodney Barreto, “Unfortunately, the message has been conveyed that we are asking the public to just go out there and shoot them up. This is not what we are about, this is not the wild west. If you are not capable of safely removing iguanas from your property, please seek assistance from professionals who do this for a living.”

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the FWC asked us trigger-happy Floridian’s to do.

It’s a good lesson in why those we elect and appoint to high office should occasionally monitor what their highly paid mouthpieces are putting out to the masses on any given day.

Honestly.  I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

Look, at the rate we Floridian’s kill each other – did Commissioner Barreto think directing a population of 21.3 million heavily armed vigilantes to openly massacre a passive species would end any other way?

Asshole           Eco-Poseurs of Volusia County Politics    

After I published this piece earlier in the week, Volusia County Council Chairman Ed Kelley responded by posting on social media, “Mark’s article shows just how off base his views are. We (sic) working with the state and federal government to obtain funding for our waterways and get “slammed” for making a difference!”

He’s right.  I am “off base.”  

Hell, I’m off their whole friggin’ reservation.

I’m their worst nightmare – an educated voter with what’s left of his own mind who can’t be bullied, bullshitted or bought – a former Master Magician who knows all the tricks and political sleight-of-hand and isn’t afraid to expose the sham.

So, sell that “making a difference” tripe to someone who’s buying, Mr. Chairman.

In case you missed it the first time around:

Earlier this week, the faux conservationists of the Volusia County Council joined with members of our state legislative delegation for a meeting of their exclusive mutual admiration society to congratulate each other’s performance in wheedling a paltry $450,000 – apparently split between the City of Oak Hill and Volusia County – ostensibly for restoration of the imperiled Indian River Lagoon.

The introductions of the “honorables” went on for over ten minutes. . .

To their credit, council members Heather Post, The Very Reverend Fred Lowry and Barb Girtman were conspicuously absent from the over-the-top pageant of political vainglory.

Jesus.

Congressman Michael Waltz was in attendance to tout a recent committee vote which moves his amendment adding the Indian River Lagoon to the South Florida Coastal Clean Waters Act.  If approved, Waltz’ amendment would include the lagoon in a convoluted multi-year assessment of algae blooms that have already killed thousands of acres of seagrasses, fish and wildlife.

By convoluted, I mean the proposed assessment protocol would include a 540-day deadline for an interim study, a two-year deadline for completion of an “action plan” to drive federal funding and a three-year deadline for final assessment.

Considering that many South Florida waterways are being turned into a fetid guacamole by what everyone (except, apparently, our state and federal government) attributes to nutrient runoff – and the fact any child with an aquarium understands the nitrogen cycle – it’s nice to see that those charged with protecting our environment are finally getting around to “assessing” the situation. . .

The always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys – who also chairs the Indian River Lagoon Council – served as master of ceremonies for this cheap photo opportunity that included sitting politicians, appointed officials, entrenched bureaucrats and “water management” types.

irlnep 3

During her seemingly endless self-congratulatory gabfest, Ms. Denys gushed, ad nauseum, about how hard our politicos have worked to bring state and federal dollars to Southeast Volusia – which will no doubt be distributed to various consultants, corporations, contractors and hangers-on. . .

Bullshit.

These are the very assholes who have systematically approved rampant, out-of-control growth from Farmton to the Flagler County line – sprawl that continues to contribute to the abject destruction of our sensitive wetlands and estuaries – who continue to lie to us about their demonstrably bogus commitment to “clean water” as a gaudy political ploy.

The political theatrics turned into a crude cartoon when our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, who continues to deny scientific evidence of sea level rise – lest it slow the rapid destruction of our natural places by his greed-crazed political benefactors in the real estate development community – actually had the balls to be recognized in the same sentence with environmental funding. . .

This stomach-turning soiree was also attended by Senator Tom Wright and Representative David Santiago – who represent our compromised state legislature that recently gutted local land use regulations by neutering a citizens right to challenge the adverse impacts of development in their community.  The same legislature that has stood silent as tons of sewage sludge are dumped near the headwaters of the St. John’s River and beyond.

It seems like everyone-who-is-anyone in Volusia County politics was on-hand for the goofy check presentation ceremony – except those of us who pay for it all.

Why is that? 

Frankly, it was nauseating to watch these eco-poseurs jockeying for position behind over-sized checks representing our money in a craven effort to convince us they care.

These preening phonies make me sick.

Don’t take my word for it – watch the video.

While the Indian River Lagoon Council has provided funding for some valuable studies, technical assessments and shoreline restoration projects – it also has a tendency toward self-centered spending that, in my view, has little direct effect on the myriad threats to the lagoon’s water quality.

Let’s take a look at a few of the way’s public funds and donations allocated for restoration and mitigation under the Indian River Lagoon National Estuaries Program (IRLNEP) have been spent in the past few years:

$50,000 to a corporate entity to assist the IRLNEP to “revise” the 2008 Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan.

$50,000 for “brand engagement” of the IRLNEP’s “One Community – One Voice” initiative.  Apparently, an enigmatic marketing program designed to “. . .build upon the One Lagoon concept and succinctly articulate the activities and value proposition of the IRLNEP.”  (Say what?)

$100,000 to a corporate entity for “technical support and data management.”

$80,000 to three “consultants” for technical grant-writing assistance for “stakeholders.”

$100,000 for “Brand Activation and Implementation,” which, according to the IRLNEP’s almost undecipherable summary, “Deliverables include 2 half-day enculturation sessions, production of a learner’s guide summarizing important IRL-focused topics, audio production of compelling, personal IRL stories for up to 50 stakeholders, creation of a One Voice web page to house archived audio/photo/video experiences.”

(You just know anytime there’s an “enculturation” session it’s going to be expensive. . .)

All this on top of the IRLNEP’s estimated $350,000 annual cost for salaries and benefits, $20,000 for facilities expenses, $30,000 in administrative expenses and $110,000 for legal, accounting, auditing and personnel services. . .

While the lagoon continues to suffocate.

Whatever.

While these shitheels are slapping each other on the back, positioning themselves for even “higher office,” posing behind expensive marketing materials paid for with our tax dollars and donations – the bulldozers and industrial pumps continue to roar – and we inch ever closer to drinking our own reclaimed sewage in the name of progress. . .

Screw these frauds.

The proof of how much this wholly compromised gaggle of half-wits and others like them truly care about our environment is evident in the rapid decline of our springs, the horrific lesions appearing on fish, the toxic algal blooms that are slowly strangling our rivers and estuaries, the wholesale destruction of our aquifer recharge areas, kowtowing to political donors from big agriculture and the slash-and-burn land clearing practices that are obliterating wetlands and wildlife habitat in exchange for more-more-more “theme” developments and strip malls.

This is exactly what it looks like when politicians lose the capacity for shame.

God help us. . .

Quote of the Week

“This has got to stop.  We’ve got to have Daytona quit interfering with our decisions.  It’s driving me crazy.”

–Joe Forte, Holly Hill City Manager and First Step Shelter Board Member, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Homeless shelter board wrestling with Daytona Beach decisions,” Tuesday, July 30, 2019

I had the pleasure of serving with Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte for the bulk of my long career in public service.

He’s one of the best human beings I know.

A true gentleman and dedicated civil servant who always places the needs of those he serves above his own self-interests.

Trust me – it takes a lot to ruffle Joe’s feathers.

As a citizen of Volusia County, it pains me to see Mr. Forte – and the other volunteer members of the First Step Shelter Board – being openly ignored, marginalized and relegated to a cheap rubber stamp as important decisions are made in a vacuum at Daytona Beach City Hall.

Why?  Because it’s my money they’re charged with protecting.  Dammit.

Something tells me this was the city’s plan all along.

In my view, this latest circumvention of the independent oversight authority represents the death knell for private donations and local government funding.

Clearly, the First Step Shelter concept (whatever it may be this week) has lost any semblance of independent supervision or civic collaboration and is quickly becoming the exclusive domain (and ultimate albatross) of the City of Daytona Beach.

Sad.

And Another Thing!

I’m frequently asked by well-meaning people why I feel driven to take on our ‘powers that be’ – to stick my thumb in the eye of the ‘Rich & Powerful’ who increasingly control our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast – and engage in this base form of criticism of our local government institutions, that, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “points out where the strongman stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.” 

They look at me with obvious concern in their eyes and warn that my goofy screeds are angering very important people – pointing out things best left alone – and my talk of tired concepts like “responsibility,” “accountability” and “honor” is just rehashing antiquated notions, evolutionary mutations that no longer play an active role in our politics and governance.

Some think I went crazy in the isolation of retirement – a gin-soaked mind irretrievably lost in the maze of my own quixotic perceptions.

Others view this space as the ravings of some unlikely sentinel – a deluded voice from the political wilderness – desperately screaming to anyone who will listen that our sacred democratic principles are being shit on, sold to the highest bidder, as millionaires ramrod their lucrative vision for our collective future.

Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

However, in my view, anyone who can read critically and form opinions on the issues that we face in Volusia County and not be moved to a seething rage is either a member of the CEO Business Alliance or a sitting elected official.

For instance, another week has come and gone and we are still no closer to resolving the festering quagmire at Mainland High School that saw some 336 students caught up in what I call a “reverse cheating scandal” – where impressionable minds were led to believe successful completion of an Advanced Placement exam would earn college credit for their effort – only to find out they were intentionally deceived by those they were ordered to trust.

People close to the conflagration continue to reach out to me with stories of internal dysfunction at Mainland – serious issues that are jeopardizing hard-earned teaching careers and undermining the institutional underpinnings of this community icon – things I believe deserve an independent investigation by the Florida Department of Education and others who care about excellence in education.

Unfortunately, the district’s self-imposed informational black hole only reinforces the idea that senior administrators would prefer we pesky taxpayers simply forgive and forget – allow the dust to settle on the grave of this horrific chapter in our district’s history – and stop worrying about what other unscrupulous practices may be accepted policy at Mainland High School.

In my view, the onus is now firmly on the shoulders of Interim Superintendent Tim Egnor, who emerged from a comfortable retirement and put his legacy on the line to restore sanity to a school, and district, in grave crisis.

Time is of the essence. . .

Have a great weekend, friends.

 

 

On Volusia: Eco-Poseurs on Parade

Earlier this week, the faux conservationists of the Volusia County Council joined with members of our state legislative delegation for a meeting of their exclusive mutual admiration society to congratulate each other’s performance in wheedling a paltry $450,000 – split between the City of Oak Hill and Volusia County – ostensibly for restoration of the imperiled Indian River Lagoon.

The introductions of the “honorables” went on for over ten minutes. . .

To their credit, council members Heather Post, The Very Reverend Fred Lowry and Barb Girtman were conspicuously absent from the over-the-top pageant of political vainglory.

Jesus.

Congressman Michael Waltz was in attendance to tout a recent committee vote which moves his amendment adding the Indian River Lagoon to the South Florida Coastal Clean Waters Act.  If approved, Waltz’ amendment would include northern portions of the lagoon in a convoluted multi-year “assessment” of algae blooms that have already killed thousands of acres of sea grasses, fish and wildlife.

By convoluted, I mean the proposed assessment protocol would include a 540-day deadline for an interim study, a two-year deadline for completion of an “action plan” to drive federal funding and a three-year deadline for final assessment.

Considering that many South Florida waterways are being turned into a fetid guacamole by what everyone (except, apparently, our state and federal government) attributes to nutrient runoff – and the fact any child with an aquarium understands the nitrogen cycle – it’s nice to see that those charged with protecting our environment are finally getting around to “assessing” the situation. . .

(I happen to like freshman Congressman Waltz – he’s doing good work – but perhaps the next time he finds himself in a room full of fawning local politicians – with no ‘regular Joe’s’ in attendance – perhaps that should be a clue to take his leave – because he’s being used as a prop. . .)

The always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys – who also chairs the Indian River Lagoon Council – served as master of ceremonies for this cheap photo opportunity that included sitting politicians, appointed officials, entrenched bureaucrats and “water management” types.

During her seemingly endless self-congratulatory gabfest, Ms. Denys gushed, ad nauseum, about how hard our politicos have worked to bring state and federal dollars to Southeast Volusia – which will no doubt be distributed to various consultants, corporations, contractors and hangers-on. . .

Bullshit.

These are the very assholes who have systematically approved rampant, out-of-control growth from Farmton to the Flagler County line – sprawl that continues to contribute to the abject destruction of our sensitive wetlands and estuaries – who continue to lie to us about their demonstrably bogus commitment to “clean water” as a gaudy political ploy.

The meeting turned into a crude cartoon when our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, who continues to deny scientific evidence of sea level rise – lest it slow the rapid destruction of our natural places by his greed-crazed political benefactors in the real estate development community – actually had the balls to be recognized in the same sentence with environmental funding. . .

This stomach-turning soiree was also attended by Senator Tom Wright and Representative David Santiago – who represent our compromised state legislature that recently gutted local land use regulations by neutering a citizens right to challenge the adverse impacts of development in their community.

The same legislature that has stood silent as tons of sewage sludge is dumped near the headwaters of the St. John’s River and beyond.

It seems like everyone-who-is-anyone in Volusia County politics was on-hand for the goofy check presentation ceremony – except those of us who pay for it all.

Why is that? 

Frankly, it was nauseating to watch these eco-poseurs jockeying for position behind over-sized checks representing our money in a craven effort to convince us they care.

These preening phonies make me sick.

Don’t take my word for it – watch the video.

While the Indian River Lagoon Council has provided funding for some valuable studies, technical assessments and shoreline restoration projects – it also has a tendency toward self-centered spending that, in my view, has little direct effect on the myriad threats to the lagoon’s water quality.

Let’s take a look at a few of the way’s public funds and donations allocated for restoration and mitigation under the Indian River Lagoon National Estuaries Program (IRLNEP) have been spent in the past few years:

$50,000 to a corporate entity to assist the IRLNEP to “revise” the 2008 Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan.

$50,000 for “brand engagement” of the IRLNEP’s “One Community – One Voice” initiative.  Apparently, an enigmatic marketing program designed to “. . .build upon the One Lagoon concept and succinctly articulate the activities and value proposition of the IRLNEP.”  (Say what?)

$100,000 to a corporate entity for “technical support and data management.”

$80,000 to three “consultants” for technical grant-writing assistance for “stakeholders.”

$100,000 for “Brand Activation and Implementation,” which, according to the IRLNEP’s almost undecipherable summary, “Deliverables include 2 half-day enculturation sessions, production of a learner’s guide summarizing important IRL-focused topics, audio production of compelling, personal IRL stories for up to 50 stakeholders, creation of a One Voice web page to house archived audio/photo/video experiences.”

(You just know anytime there’s an “enculturation” session it’s going to be expensive. . .)

All this on top of the IRLNEP’s estimated $350,000 annual cost for salaries and benefits, $20,000 for facilities expenses, $30,000 in administrative expenses and $110,000 for legal, accounting, auditing and personnel services. . .

While the lagoon continues to suffocate.

Whatever.

While these shitheels are slapping each other on the back, positioning themselves for even “higher office,” posing behind expensive marketing materials paid for with our tax dollars and donations – the bulldozers and industrial pumps continue to roar – and we inch ever closer to drinking our own reclaimed sewage in the name of progress. . .

Screw these political opportunists.

The proof of how much this wholly compromised gaggle of half-wits and others like them truly care about our environment is evident in the rapid decline of our springs, the horrific lesions appearing on fish, the toxic algal blooms that are slowly strangling our rivers and estuaries, the wholesale destruction of our aquifer recharge areas, kowtowing to political donors from big agriculture and the slash-and-burn land clearing practices that are obliterating wetlands and wildlife habitat in exchange for more-more-more “theme” developments and strip malls.

This is exactly what it looks like when politicians lose the capacity for shame.

 

On Volusia Schools: Mayor Henry is Right

I agree with Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry – Mainland High School deserves our support during this difficult time in her history.

However, I also think Mayor Henry should understand that the leadership of Mainland – and our school district – must be worthy of our backing before real recovery can begin.

In his over-the-top, hyper-dramatic editorial in Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal – which included saccharine histrionics such as, “Mainland needs us, and we need her to birth into our community the soon-to-be adults who are evolving under her care,” (Wow.  Here I am watching my sugar intake and I inadvertently read that?  Whoa – the N-J should have included a warning label. . .) Mayor Henry made the valid argument that the institution’s good work should not be lost in the fallout of the AP ‘placebo’ exam debacle.

 Look, I’m kidding.

God knows I’m the worst when it comes to gilding the Lilly in these verbose essays of mine – but, in this case, Mayor Henry takes the cake.

On the same op/ed page, the News-Journal’s editorial board expertly summarized what the rest of us have been thinking since word of this fiasco broke late last month:

When will the Volusia County School Board issue a formal apology to the 336 students whose scholastic lives have been adversely affected by an organized scheme to deceive them and allow the healing to begin? 

I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t wholeheartedly support Mainland High School.

In fact, when Elizabeth Albert, president of Volusia United Educators, recently implored the Volusia County School Board to apologize to the teachers and staff whose lives and careers have been adversely impacted – our elected officials broke into an unabashed lovefest for the school.

Unfortunately, it came off as a clumsy attempt to deflect and defer responsibility – something akin to Principal Cheryl Salerno’s aggressive efforts to dodge accountability by fighting a benign reprimand that many felt fell far short of the corrective action it deserved.

By all accounts, Principal Salerno is a dedicated career educator who works hard to challenge and encourage her students with innovative learning experiences; however, it is also clear to everyone watching – including the district’s own investigative apparatus – that serious mistakes were made.

In my view, most people can separate the issue from the institution – especially one so vitally important to the life of our community.

A school is not merely the brick-and-mortar structure where the theory and principles of education ensure the transfer of knowledge to varying degrees.  Rather, it is a living, breathing social institution – of and for the community it serves.

As the great Indian educationist S. Balakrishna Joshi once said, “. . .a school is a spiritual organism with a distinctive personality all its own, a school is a vibrant community center, radiating life and energy all round, a school is a wonderful edifice, resting on the foundation of goodwill – goodwill of the public, goodwill of the parents, goodwill of the pupils.”

Clearly, after serving generations of Halifax area families, Mainland High School is all of those things and more.

But what about that all-important foundational goodwill?

When will the district’s elected and appointed leadership initiate the restorative practices that ensure equity of opportunity for all students, reinforce core values, set an example that accountability extends to the principal’s office and allow a mechanism to ventilate the frustration and resentment many students and parents are feeling?

The Volusia County School Board and district administrators have an immediate obligation to restore organizational confidence, end the trepidation and anxiety many educators and staff members are feeling and rebuild the public’s trust in Volusia County Schools.

That begins with a sincere apology to those who were adversely affected by this deception and an honest promise that all efforts will be taken to ensure an open and independent external review of the error chain that led to this disaster.

In my view, the best way we can support Mainland High School is to ensure this never happens again.