Angels & Assholes for May 29, 2020

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.

Last night Barker’s View had the distinct privilege of appearing on an upcoming episode of the hugely successful Troubled Men Podcast – hosted over cocktails by the incomparable René Coman, bassist for the band The Iguanas, and my friend Manny “A Troubled Man for Troubled Times” Chevrolet, a brilliant comedic talent and the next Mayor of New Orleans!

Please check out the podcast here: https://troubledmenpodcast.podiant.co/

Proud to be part of the Troubled Nation! 

Well, let’s get this hayride started, shall we:

Angel              Mayor Chris Via and the Holly Hill City Commission

“I believe that government should always be fair and should never choose winners and losers. By allowing restaurants to reopen at 50% capacity and serve alcohol to customers, but not allowing bars to operate whatsoever is patently unfair.”

–Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via, Wednesday, May 27, 2020

What defines a hero? 

According to lexicographers, it characterizes a person who is admired for having done something very brave or having achieved something great, someone willing to risk it all, a bold warrior, a mythological or legendary figure, often of divine descent, who is endowed with great strength, ability and courage.

It also describes a sandwich. . .

In the Barker’s Book of Style: The Use and Abuse of the English language, the common noun ‘hero’ distinguishes anyone who stands tall for that which is right and just and gets my fat ass back atop a barstool at my favorite watering hole after more than nine weeks of desert-like misery and privation.

Bars are non-essential?  My ass. . .

Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via is my hero.

On Tuesday evening, the intrepid members of the Holly Hill City Commission listened to the concerns of their constituents – and felt the pain and financial stress of many small business owners who have been left to wither as bars remain closed by Royal Edict of Governor Ron DeSantis – even as restaurants and other service establishment are allowed to reopen.

In my view, it is immoral and unethical for government – acting under the color of law – to select which families will be allowed to prosper, and which will be doomed to insolvency, failure and deprivation – and, by any metric, stand alone bars have been unduly burdened by this arbitrary and officially sanctioned oppression.

In response, Mayor Chris Via sent an open letter to Governor Ron DeSantis imploring him to stop this capricious practice and allow bars and veteran’s organizations – such as the American Legion, AMVETS, and VFW – to reopen in the State of Florida.

In his heartfelt plea, Mayor Via notes that bars provide a communal gathering place and source of social interaction for many who suffer year-round isolation – and represent thousands of hard-working employees and business owners who have gone months without any way to earn a living for their families – even as others in the service industry are getting back to work.

Kudos to Mayor Chris Via and the Holly Hill City Commission for standing up for all that is right and fair.

It is high time government gets out of the way.

I join with Mayor Via in demanding Governor DeSantis put a stop to these biased and prejudicial practices that are killing many small businesses who have shouldered an inequitable share of the financial burden.

End the shutdown!  Open the bars!  Do it now!    

Asshole           Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys

When shameless campaigning from the dais goes wrong. . .

In response to Saturday’s event in Daytona Beach which saw a large influx of African-American visitors (including a passel of troublemakers), this week the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys exposed the depth of her civic and social disconnect when she proposed a searingly stupid plan to exclude anyone other than Volusia County residents from our public beach – which, in the view of many, is dog whistle for “We don’t want large numbers of black youth on our beach.”

In her incomprehensible plan, Denys suggested that persons living outside Volusia County – you know, “tourists” – be denied access to public beaches through the use of some tyrannical and openly discriminatory scheme to be concocted by the county’s “legal team.”

Just another example of how horribly politicized the county attorney’s office has become.  They no longer ask for a legal opinion – they demand a defense for their worst impulses.

To complicate matters, persons staying in motels, or renting condominiums, would be somehow excluded from Denys’ unconstitutional and patently unfair proposal.

(I could almost hear Beach Chief Ray Manchester’s sphincter chewing a hole in his seat cushion as he tried to figure out how to cull residents from non-residents. . .)

“I think it’s time to look at unusual applications and I think we’re strong enough, our legal team is strong enough to defend it during this time. . . We’ve got to have this.”

As Denys demanded this completely unenforceable decree – both Councilwoman Billie Wheeler and The Very Reverend Fred Lowery bobbed their heads in agreement like a couple of nodding dashboard dogs.

Bullshit.

To her credit, Councilwoman Barb Girtman – the only African-American elected official on the dais (and, in my view, the sharpest mind) – stood firm for all citizens when she openly and rightfully embarrassed Ms. Denys by calling out her ignorant ploy for what it is – while voicing her utter disappointment at the mere suggestion.

Adding insult to injury, Councilwoman Denys rudely branded Ms. Girtman a liar when she pointed out the financial impact closing the beach to non-residents would have – compounding the already devastating economic damage caused by the coronavirus response – all because of a two-hour event in Daytona Beach on Saturday evening.

“That’s not true,” Denys seethed. . .

Of course it’s true!

Why else would you make this cockamamie suggestion, Ms. Denys!

In response, Ms. Girtman continued to speak the extremely uncomfortable truth:

“Have we had this discussion prior to this weekend?  No, we haven’t.  I just want people to search their own heart for their own fears.”

Ms. Girtman rightfully explained that Volusia County works hard to attract visitors from around the world.

So, now these narrow-minded dullards are willing to authorize legal research to discriminate – and determine how best to exclude certain members of the public from a “public beach”?

My God.

Having felt the heat of Girtman’s righteous indignation – as she is prone to do, Denys immediately attempted to slither out of her political predicament like the cowardly windbag she is – claiming closing beaches to out-of-county visitors has been discussed before (?) – then squirming that she only brought it up at the request of “citizens.”

So, what happened to the whole “We’ve got to have this!” call to action, Deb? 

What a disingenuous asshole. . .

Asshole           First Step Shelter Board

Earlier this week, Volusia County taxpayers learned the disturbing news that Catholic Charities of Central Florida has pulled the plug on their long and often controversial involvement with the First Step Shelter, citing “differences in operating philosophies.”

Who didn’t see that coming?

Catholic Charities was hired to run the day-to-day operations of the beleaguered shelter – the City of Daytona Beach’s homeless assistance center turned personal improvement seminar – then stood by collecting a paycheck as our ‘powers that be’ ham-handedly struggled through the fits and starts of construction.

That’s right.

For the past three-years, Catholic Charities accepted monthly payment for “operating” First Step, even while the massively overpriced facility was still a muddy spot in the hinterlands off West International Speedway Boulevard.

I never understood that, but there is a lot about this convoluted shit show I haven’t gotten my mind around. . .

What was once billed as a reasonably priced “come as you are” low barrier shelter has transmogrified into a mysterious personal development program that, as far as I know, has never been publicly explained in terms of programmatic goals, success in similar shelters or per client operational and ancillary costs.

To complicate matters, the program has always been chained to a weird four-headed master, each with seemingly competing goals – Catholic Charities, the neutered First Step Board of Directors, Executive Director Victoria Fahlberg and, at the top of the order, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm.

And abject confusion continues to reign.

Now, we are learning of serious internal disagreements over shelter operations – conflicts so intractable that Catholic Charities has decided to jump ship three years into a lucrative five-year contract.

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

“Gary Tester, executive director of Orlando-based Catholic Charities of Central Florida, said if Catholic Charities had stuck around, he was afraid there would be more differences of opinion. Basic disagreements about how to make the shelter a true low-barrier, 24-7 operation were never fully resolved. And Catholic Charities has been uncomfortable with running the safe zone that’s under construction now, something that Tester said was not part of the management agreement or funded for operations.”

It remains to be seen if in-house operations will be more effective and cost efficient – or, as these things normally go, if the First Step budget will place a greater focus on personnel costs and executive perquisites, while programmatic goals are allowed to languish.

This bears watching going forward.  

Angel               Chief Craig Capri and the Daytona Beach Police Department

 A veteran law enforcement commander once told me a story that perfectly described the difference in perspective between police officers and those they serve.

Following his retirement, my friend took a leadership position in the weird world of academia.

His first week on the job, an exasperated assistant came rushing into his office announcing an “emergency,” which prompted a visceral response from the former lawman as he instinctively began formulating an all-hazards strategy in his mind to deal with the clearly urgent catastrophe.

When he asked for a detailed account of the situation – his breathless colleague stammered that an important document had been inadvertently directed to the wrong department – resulting in much consternation in the dean’s office.

After taking a deep breath and physiologically descending from Condition Red, he calmly explained to his exasperated assistant that an “emergency” is when an armed suspect takes hostages and barricades himself in a hospital – while misrouted memorandums are an easily corrected administrative inconvenience. . .

Two totally different views of the same issue.

Unfortunately, rumor, speculation and outright misconceptions continue to circulate over an unfortunate event last Saturday evening when a group of troublemakers marred what should have been an enjoyable day at the beach for thousands of young black visitors who came to the Daytona Beach Resort Area for a quasi-organized party promoted on social media.

Every facet of this event – residents, law enforcement, attendees, visitors, business owners – each have a different perspective on what happened – now with the clarity of 20-20 hindsight.

I suspect that what may have seemed like a riot to some – may not have appeared as bad to seasoned law enforcement commanders who responded and resolved the incident with de-escalation techniques and an eye toward public safety – rather than an “arrest them all, let God sort them out” mentality.

It is called being damned if you do and damned if you don’t – and it comes with the job of every law enforcement officer who ever pinned on a badge.

As the firestorm of criticism continued this week, Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri defended his agency’s response – a strategy that saw massive numbers of holiday visitors, and the resultant heavy traffic, cleared from the peninsula in a little over two-hours with mutual aid assistance from Sheriff Chitwood and his deputies.

Absent the unfortunate fistfights – and a terrible shooting that injured six people – much of the raucous crowd appeared to be having fun – including the hilarious scene of a laughing young lady “twerking” for a clearly uncomfortable Sheriff Mike Chitwood, who seemingly took it with good humor in the spirit of the moment.

It is natural in the aftermath of a chaotic and confusing event that many will question the official narrative – and seek to find fault in the very agencies and individuals who were charged with restoring order and ensuring the public’s safety.

That also comes with the job. . .

Make no mistake, the pockets of lawlessness, brawling and violence on Saturday have no place in our community – and with a video shoot and block party planned for later today – I have every confidence our law enforcement professionals will be monitoring and respond appropriately.

In planning for today’s event, officials have placed crowd control barriers along areas of A-1-A that saw traffic blockage last weekend – and some in the community are now complaining that the barricades are “ugly” and scoffing at their effectiveness.

Whatever.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. . .

I have had the pleasure of knowing and serving with Chief Capri for thirty-years.

In that time, I have come to understand the good heart and sharp mind of a dedicated career servant-leader with a true passion for protecting and serving others.

While some disagree with his off-the-cuff straight talk – or find it offensive that he mixes it up with his detractors – I find it refreshing that Chief Capri has the courage to stand before the harsh glare of the cameras and speak directly to his constituents, the citizens of Daytona Beach, getting out front of the serious issues of the day with a brash style and blunt candor.

In a service where an increasing number of police chiefs choose to communicate behind the relative safety of canned press releases and professional mouthpieces – Chief Capri still understands the civic importance of giving residents his real-life take on incidents and community issues in a direct and unvarnished way.

For good or for ill, that level of accessibility and transparency can result in vehement criticism – even “should’a, could’a, would’a” scapegoating – yet, he never lets the incessant blame game create a void between his agency and those it serves.

Knowing Chief Capri as I do, he will use the lessons of Saturday night to improve his agency’s response protocols – and I hope he takes the venting and criticism of the pseudo-experts in stride.

In my view, Chief Capri and his outstanding officers and staff do a difficult job under often dangerous circumstances with incredible valor and selfless dedication to the highest traditions of the police service.

They deserve our support, partnership and respect.

Quote of the Week

“The beauty of Daytona Beach is that it is not Orlando. Let’s strive to maintain that beauty and take much better care of what we already have.”

–Civic activist Anne Ruby, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Letters to the Editor column, “New development plans demand scrutiny,” Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Amen.

And Another Thing!

I recently took News-Journal editor Pat Rice to the woodshed in this space for an op/ed, which, in the view of many, went over-the-top when the newspaper executive referred to those who use social media – everyman’s soapbox – to voice dissenting opinions on the issues we collectively face as “misinformed, uneducated knuckleheads.”

My counterpoint obviously struck a nerve, and many in the community expressed their views on social media – some supporting Mr. Rice’s perspective on the current vote-by-mail debate – while others vehemently disagreed.

An overall healthy, if not unwieldy, discussion of a topical and newsworthy issue – and Mr. Rice took to social media and wallowed around with the rest of us as he confronted his critics in a no-holds-barred way – a tactic that offended some subscribers.

Then, things turned ugly.

According to Mr. Rice, an anonymous coward saw fit to throw eggs at his personal vehicle – a craven act he obviously equated to the heated disagreement surrounding his editorial stance.

By any measure, what happened to Mr. Rice is wrong.

A criminal act designed to instill fear of retaliation for voicing an opinion has no place in the arena of public debate – or our community.

To his credit, even after being violated, Mr. Rice offered to sit down with the unknown vandal and have an honest discussion – something I felt showed incredible grace under the circumstances.

In my book, that is the epitome of good citizenship – and promotes the idea that we should be able to voice competing points-of-view without fear or oppression.

Look, I’ve been on the receiving end of credible threats by small-minded assholes who attempt to stifle the free and open debate of the issues on this blog site, some of which border on the statutory definition of extortion – but I choose to ignore these gutless bastards – and will continue to voice my opinion as a means of driving a larger discussion in the community.

To that end, I refuse to allow comments on this site that promote violence.

So, if you’re one of those “by any means necessary” types who call for armed insurrection over a minor zoning dispute or promote violent rebellion to correct a local policy snafu – there are plenty of places in the bowels of the innerweb that will embrace your sick thoughts – but not here.

We live in an incredibly polarized time in our national history – and we need more tough dialog to strengthen our sense of community, bind wounds and encourage the debate of competing ideas to our collective benefit – not less.

In my view, it is important that everyone who values our sacred right to self-expression and the rule of law condemn the vandalism Mr. Rice experienced – and hold ourselves to the high standards and sense of personal responsibility our sacred freedoms require.

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

 

 

 

The Politics of Laying Blame

There are many perspectives on what happened in our core tourist area and beyond on Saturday – but this was exactly what the Daytona Beach Resort Area didn’t need.

Not now.

With our hospitality industry in shreds and much of our local economy still closed – the coordinated influx of thousands of out-of-town visitors, invited to Daytona Beach by faceless event promoters who use social media to publicize events, then vaporize when things descend into lawlessness and violence – has left another indelible blemish on “the brand.”

Given the inevitable international media coverage that follows these things – with over-hyped headlines like “Blood on the Boardwalk” – our already taxed tourism industry will be forced to further repair an already tattered reputation.

In the aftermath, officials each have their own unique take on the event – law enforcement leaders consider their response a success because crowd and traffic control strategies worked as planned – politicians and social activists are seizing the moment to point fingers and Monday morning quarterback – while residents are left reeling from the sights and sounds of a chaotic fracas that brought fear of widespread violence that was flogged – non-stop – on social media.

We live in a world where information travels at the speed of a keystroke – where anyone with an iPhone camera and a Facebook account can push their physical and social point of view to the masses, literally at the push of a button.

On Saturday night, many of us first learned of the event when social media lit up with snippets of video showing traffic blockages on A-1-A, reports of a mass shooting near Ocean Walk, scenes of Sheriff Chitwood directing this deputies through a haze after a sports car smoked the tires danger close to a mass of onlookers, throngs of people blocking roadways, followed by another unruly commotion when someone distributed cash to the crowd through the sunroof of a surrounded vehicle.

For many residents, the event unfolded in a series of online vignettes and secondhand accounts – then speculation and confusion reigned as people chose to craft a narrative from these scraps and clips – rather than trust official sources.

Then, in the aftermath, fear naturally turned to anger as some questioned why beach authorities allowed large groups of people to openly violate the social distancing rules that hundreds of locals have been warned and cited for in recent weeks – not realizing that de-escalation techniques often require a tightening, or loosening, of enforcement measures to avoid unrest.

Trust me:  These are decisions only those who are actually in the arena can make – often modifying strategies on the fly as circumstances change – and I believe our city and county officials did a commendable job of maintaining order and keeping people safe in a potentially explosive situation.

For instance, in 2018, after the Daytona Truck Meet turned into a scene from Mad Max: Fury Road, law enforcement regained control with the issuance of some 2,100 traffic citations – while city and county officials vowed never to host the event again.

In the United States of America, people of all races, colors, creeds and social pursuits have a right to peaceably assemble for lawful purposes – like gathering to enjoy a weekend at the beach.

In my view, second-guessing law enforcement – or demanding accountability for what was a textbook logistical example of how to move large numbers of people and vehicles out of the area following the shooting incident while returning stability to pockets of disorder – is, at best, misplaced anger, and, at worst, a quick way to place blame.

Yesterday, we were again reminded of the difficult and dangerous work our courageous law enforcement officers face everyday, when a man who had just attempted to carjack a woman in broad daylight turned his rifle on Daytona Beach police officers – who responded decisively to protect themselves and others.

We simply must stop blaming the police for societal failures they cannot control.

The fact is, any group that visits the Worlds Most Famous Beach has an obligation to follow the rules, obey the law, conform to the social mores and community standards that residents embrace as they enjoy our greatest natural amenity in a way that promotes public safety and leaves locals anxiously awaiting their return.

This isn’t about race – at least it shouldn’t be – and anyone who suggests otherwise is taking a very narrow view of the unfortunate events of Saturday.

And it isn’t about Daytona Beach – similar scenes of irresponsible behavior played out in places around the nation this weekend, as people sought relief from weeks of deprivation and isolation.

It is about personal responsibility and the perils of a flash-point mob mentality, when a few bad actors take advantage of a worsening situation and act out, engaging in selfish, violent and irresponsible behavior that diminishes our quality of life, instills fear, consumes civic services and, in the aftermath, irreparably damages the reputation of a community dependent on tourism.

In my view, when the influx of visitors is the result of a quasi-organized event that receives no permit or official authorization – one which places our community’s response behind the curve by requiring our public safety and planning officials guess at everything from the number of participants to adequate traffic patterns, staffing and crowd control strategies – that is unacceptable, and the blames lies squarely with irresponsible promoters who should ultimately be held accountable for their actions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, We Remember: The Men of Spike Team Asp

In late March 1968, United States Army Sergeant First Class George “Ron” Brown of Holly Hill, Florida, Sergeant Alan Boyer of Missoula, Montana, and Sergeant Greg Huston of Shelby County, Ohio, along with six indigenous personnel – collectively known as “Spike Team Asp” – conducted a top-secret intelligence operation behind enemy lines approximately 12-miles northeast of Tchepone, Laos.

tchepone

Assigned to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam/Studies and Observation Group (MACV/SOG) this team of elite Special Forces soldiers was tasked with setting Air Force wire-tapping equipment and sensors along the labyrinthine Ho Chi Minh trail system, the main north-south supply line for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.

The men had been covertly inserted into the area after launching from Nakon Phanom, Thailand aboard a CH-3 from the Air Force’s 20th Helicopter Squadron call sign “Pony Express.”

More than 25 special forces soldiers and many indigenous troops had already been killed or gone missing in our deadly secret war in Laos.

At approximately 11:00am on the morning of March 28, the team reported that they were in contact with an enemy force and requested an immediate emergency extraction from the area.

A helicopter arrived in the area a short time later and quickly located the team on the ground.

Due to thick canopy jungle and rough terrain the pilot was unable to land so a rope ladder was dropped from the open doorway of the aircraft to the men below.  Five of the six indigenous troops climbed the ladder and were safely taken into the helicopter.

As the sixth was going up, Sergeant Boyer was seen beginning his ascent on the bottom rung of the ladder.

Al Boyer
Alan Boyer

Just as Boyer started climbing, one of the rope’s mounting brackets either broke free or was shot away by heavy enemy ground fire.  Personnel on the helicopter reported observing the indigenous soldier and Sgt. Boyer falling to the ground.

According to reports, Sgt. Dave Mayberry, who served as the chase medic on the extraction helicopter, observed the Green Berets still very much alive and heroically returning fire and defending their position.

When Sgt. Mayberry turned to treat one of the wounded he lost sight of the men on the ground.

Brown, Huston and Boyer were never seen again.

Numerous air assets were diverted to the area and a rescue team was assembled, but the mission was called off later that afternoon when there were no further communications from the men.

On April 1, 1968, Special Forces Sergeant Chuck Feller, along with several indigenous soldiers, launched on a mission to locate the lost men of Spike Team Asp.  After just six hours on the ground, Sgt. Feller and his team came into direct contact with the enemy and called for an emergency extraction.

Ron 3
Ron Brown

Again, a rope ladder had to be dropped and one of the indigenous soldiers was forced to dangle from the rungs as the helicopter returned to the airbase in Thailand.  Sgt. Feller later reported that his search found no evidence of Spike Team Asp.

Interestingly, after Al Boyer went missing in action, his best friend since childhood, Doug Hagen, was attending North Dakota State University when he heard the news.  He decided he needed to find out what happened to his friend, and enlisted in the Army, ultimately joining the 5th Special Forces Group, just as Boyer had done.

On August 7, 1971, 1st Lieutenant Doug Hagen was killed during heavy fighting while leading a reconnaissance team – RT Kansas – on a secret mission deep within enemy controlled territory.

For his heroism, Doug received the Medal of Honor, the United States highest decoration for valor.  He was the last United States Army soldier to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam war.

In January 2000, a team from the former Joint POW/MIA Accounting Office conducted extensive excavations of the Laotian countryside near where Spike Team Asp was last seen.

During the latter part of the war, the Ho Chi Minh trail was heavily bombed leaving the earth deeply cratered and much of the topography completely different than it had been in 1968, making search and recovery efforts extremely difficult.

However, the archaeological excavation uncovered several personal artifacts attributable to U.S. military personnel, to include a metal boot insert and several uniform buttons.

In addition, a single human tooth was recovered at the site.

The tooth was later linked to Ron Brown through dental x-rays at the Department of Defense Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.

In May 2003, Sergeant Brown’s daughter, Ronda Brown-Pitts, was notified by the Army that her father’s remains had been found in Laos.  Unfortunately, dental records provided to her showed that her father’s tooth had a filling – and the tooth recovered did not.

Due to the confusion, Ronda demanded a DNA test, but it was refused based on the Army’s policy of “body desecration.” A DNA test would have destroyed “all of the remains.”

In 2006, a casket containing the remains of Master Sergeant George “Ron” Brown was delivered to his daughter and later interred with full military honors in Dayton, Texas.

Many years ago, I received a POW/MIA bracelet bearing Ron’s name.

When I was a young boy growing up during the Vietnam era, these bracelets were a fairly common sight, but not so much anymore.  In the 1970’s many school children wore the bracelet as a means of ensuring that the POW/MIA issue remained a priority until they all came home.

For those whose adopted POW didn’t come home, the bracelet holder became the keeper of the eternal memory of one man’s sacrifice.

The silver band has become both a personal memorial, and a public reminder, that there are some debts of gratitude that cannot be repaid.

This small token has allowed me to learn about Ron’s military career and his incredible heroism; and I have had the honor of speaking with his friends and family, and to meet and correspond with some of the men he served with on Okinawa and in Vietnam.

He was a husband, a father, a former member of the U.S. Army Parachute Team “The Golden Knights,” and a professional soldier of incredible skill and dedication.

Even though Ron’s “remains” have been repatriated, I still wear his bracelet as a personal remembrance of one man’s sacrifice to the high cost of freedom – and in memory of Greg Huston, who remains missing.

Incredibly, the story of Spike Team Asp continues.

 

 

greg huston
Greg Huston

On March 7, 2016, one day before what would have been Sergeant Alan Boyer’s 70th birthday, United States Army and DOD officials presented his sister with Alan’s military decorations, to include the Silver Star and Purple Heart.

During the visit, Judi Boyer Bouchard, now of Leesburg, Florida, was notified that a single leg bone fragment had been located by the Defense Department POW/MIA Accounting Office.  The bone shard was apparently purchased by a Laotian activist from Lao nationals described as “remains dealers,” and later positively identified through mitochondrial DNA analysis.

On June 22, 2016, Sergeant Alan Boyer was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 28.

He was laid to rest just 15-feet from his best friend, Doug Hagen.

hagen
Doug Hagen

Currently, there are 1,532 Americans who remain missing after the Vietnam War.

Overall, there are more than 82,000 missing personnel from past conflicts, including World War II, Korea, the Cold War and the Middle East.

On this Memorial Day, and every day, let us remember the extraordinary service of men like Ron Brown, Al Boyer and Greg Huston and Doug Hagen – and all those brave souls who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our great nation.

Never forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Deltona’s Growing Scamdemic

The chasm between the City of Deltona and the residents it ostensibly exists to serve widened this week, a gulf of distrust that continues to stifle substantive progress and distort the community’s civic vision for the future.

In my experience, that sense of suspicion is born of political arrogance – when government forgets that its very legitimacy is derived from the will of the people.

Unfortunately, that’s a reality not limited to Deltona.

That does not mean that those constituents who scream the loudest always get their way – or that mob rule should determine public policy.

And it shouldn’t be that whoever has the gold makes the rules.

That is not how a representative democracy is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, when the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker – our fellow citizens who stand for election on the promise to represent our interests – turn insular and become self-serving, frustration quickly turns to animosity.

On April 1, by Royal Edict, Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg announced that City Hall and the water utility offices would be closed to public access under the omnipotent power of a “local state of emergency,” which some politicians have come to believe supersedes the United States Constitution and rule of law.

If the coronavirus scare has proven anything, it is how quickly a segment of our society will cave to the tyrannical demands petty dictators and their excessive “executive orders” that have quarantined a healthy population, closed publicly owned facilities and arbitrarily shutdown commerce, while selecting which businesses will live, and which will die, based upon a government definition of “essential.”

That includes craven local officials who have no qualms using fear-mongering and a contrived “virtual” presence to violate our basic right to access public meetings and participate in governmental processes.

While many local governments have used emergency declarations to suspend the peoples business until there could be substantive public input, placing routine decision-making authority in the hands of the chief executive; others continued to operate under a weird remote conferencing scheme where policy makers legislate public policy by phoning it in from the comfort of their bunker.

Last Monday, the Deltona City Commission met in chambers with all elected officials present – practicing social distancing through the use of tables set at intervals below the dais.

Leading the official agenda was a weird CYA diktat which stated:

“Following CDC guidelines, we are not allowing public access into the Commission Chambers and practicing social distancing with the City Commissioners and staff. Though there are restrictions when it comes to public gatherings, we are dedicated to making sure those who would like to make their voice heard are able to.” 

My ass.

I don’t recall anything in “CDC guidelines” that directed, “wash your hands, stay six-feet from other people, cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face mask, monitor your health, oh, and don’t allow public access into the Deltona Commission Chambers”. . .

The edict continued with a convoluted process whereby citizens wishing to participate in their government could submit public comment – so long as the input was received three days in advance of the meeting – or contribute via something called an “ecomment” option.

Unbelievably, with citizens (and a working newspaper reporter) physically locked out of the public building, the commission promptly convened a public hearing allowing the subdivision of a section of commercial property.

Except, the hearing was a sham – there were no members of the general public in the room.

Deltona taxpayers were openly denied access.

In fact, as this faux public meeting continued, concerned residents could be heard pounding on the locked doors, screaming for their right to speak, demanding admittance to the meeting as assured by Florida’s open meeting law – only to be arrogantly ignored by their own elected officials.

Commissioner Loren King was the only representative who stood for commonsense and civic decency when he called into question why official action was being taken when residents were excluded from the process?

I felt queasy listening to the booming report of citizens hammering at the locked door – it was jarringly reminiscent of oppressed serfs pounding at the castle’s ironclad portcullis – the great unwashed insisting on being heard by a haughtily detached Monarchy.

In my view, this gut-wrenching display was so unamerican – so contrary to our democratic principles – that it should shock the conscience of anyone who values free and open access to our governmental processes.

According to reports, ultimately a Volusia County sheriff’s deputy was able to gain access to the inner sanctum, and a reporter from the West Volusia Beacon was allowed to monitor the remainder of the meeting in person.

Now self-important politicians are finding unique ways to craft a “new normal” – loosening processes once protected by charter and the constitution – that will allow them to “remove formalities” and take whatever action they feel is “prudent” to protect the public’s health and insulate themselves from political criticism.

This isn’t about a virus anymore.

We are watching the coronavirus pandemic transition from a public health crisis to a civic “scamdemic” – where craven “public servants” take advantage of a bad situation to fundamentally change our system of governance for the convenience of the “system” – while finding innovative ways to further exclude those of us who are expected to pay the bills and suffer in silence behind a locked door.

 

Angels & Assholes for May 22, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Volusia County Council

I admit taking a perverse pleasure in watching our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and his goofy “colleagues” on the dais of power make a mucked-up mockery of things.

Call it a pastime.

I realize it’s sick and wrong to take such utter delight in the intellectual limitations of people who hold themselves in such high regard – and I’ve clearly lost all objectivity – but Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting will stand as empirical evidence that our lives and livelihoods are being directed by a troupe of befuddled buffoons.

Shocking. 

The cart came off the rails when they undertook amending a resolution to expand a Volusia County relief program which allocates just $10 million, of the nearly $100 million in CARES Act funds the county received, to support small businesses who have carried the brunt of this government-imposed shutdown on their shoulders.

Then, things turned into a bad Three Stooges episode as Chairman Kelley lost any semblance of control or ‘decorum’ – only there were seven of them acting in this outrageous slapstick tragicomedy – setting policy with all the grace of an ungulate on ice. . .

Please don’t take my word for it.

Just down a strong antiemetic and watch this shit show for yourself.  (The fun begins around 4:57:00)

Then, in keeping with Volusia County’s tried-and-true strategy of public policy by ambush – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys pulled a shameless end run on her long-suffering constituents by trying to elevate Interim County Attorney Mike Dyer to the permanent role by the usual off-the-agenda sleight of hand.

Her greasy move was the antithesis of political integrity.

In January, when the council placed Dyer in the temporary role following a bloodletting in the county attorney’s office – we were promised that the full-time position would only be filled following a transparent search.

At the time, an article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal explained:

“Councilman Ben Johnson initially shared concern that appointing Dyer as interim might give the impression that, if Dyer is eventually chosen as the permanent county attorney, that the decision was a “foregone conclusion.”

Councilwoman Barbara Girtman, along with others on the dais, said as long as they conduct (the) search with transparency, she doesn’t see Dyer’s appointment as a problem.

“It will be transparent. It will be discussed publicly,” said Councilwoman Deb Denys.”

Bullshit.

No search.  No discussion.  No transparency.  A foregone conclusion.

More ‘end-of-the-meeting’ shenanigans.

To Councilman Ben Johnson’s credit, he spotted what Denys was up to and suggested that Dyer’s appointment to the permanent role (and rough draft contract) be placed on an upcoming agenda.

The motion passed unanimously. . .

Not one of our elected representatives stood up and said, “Hey, what happened to the search?  What happened to the whole ‘transparency’ thing?”

My God.

In my view, this latest backroom flimflam proves – once and for all – that Councilwoman Denys is a bald-faced congenital liar who lacks the strength of character and moral authority to lead.

If Ms. Denys had a shred of decency, she would immediately resign her lofty post, abandon her craven campaign for County Chair, and slither off to that rotten dung heap where deceitful political hacks go to bury the foul-smelling remains of their political career.

This doesn’t bear any resemblance to good governance.

This isn’t normal.  This isn’t leadership.  We deserve better.

 Asshole           Volusia County District Schools

Cue the mournful dirge that signals the start of the Volusia County School District’s annual performance of the Poor Mouth Blues. . .

With a budget rapidly approaching $1 billion – you read that right: One Billion Dollars – district administrators are telling us the mushrooming bureaucracy is now facing a $16 million deficit – a shortfall some four times what it was just two years ago when School Board members told us the system was in “budget crisis mode.” 

This ship is sinking. . .and our children’s education hangs in the balance.

Ignoring the fact that this already top-heavy/multi-layered organization continues to add “assistant superintendents” – each with six-figure salary and benefits packages – it seems no matter who is appointed to manage this money hog, the “system” will never live within its massive means.

In coming weeks, we will hear the same tired song blaming the patently unfair state funding formula (that legislators clearly have no intention of rectifying) – always exacerbated by increasing personnel expenses, retirement contributions, staff raises, etc. – the perennial excuses district administrators never seem to anticipate or plan for.

For the past decade, it has become increasingly clear that the self-serving upper stratum of Volusia County Schools has become more concerned with protecting their own positions in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand than improving the curriculum, learning strategy and educational experience of students.

This mercenary and maladroit approach to educational administration has resulted in nasty scandals, embarrassing revelations of almost criminal malfeasance, lack of accountability, allegations of academic cheating, security breakdowns that have threatened the safety of students and staff, and a complete inability to adapt to a changing economic, social and civic environment.

As this latest shortfall is foisted upon taxpayers – we hear disturbing stories of staff members who remain virtually unaccounted for in the system – “teachers on assignment,” personnel who were hired under grant programs that remained on the payroll long after the program expired, certified educators being used in bus loops and school cafés – all of which begs the question:

Are there individuals lost in this byzantine maze that are being paid to do nothing at all? 

In my view, now that schools are shuttered for the summer, it is time our “new” superintendent Scotty Fritz begins an all-hands approach to trimming the obvious fat at the top of the org chart, evaluating each administrator and program, then cutting anything not directly related to educational activities.

Considering the School Board’s willingness to repeatedly dip into reserves rather than stop the hemorrhage – returning to the well time-and-again, even as the spending continues unabated – it’s time for taxpayers to take a close look at how, and why, this behemoth continues to gorge.

Angel              BC-U Senior Miranda White    

The response to COVID-19 has exacted a toll from all of us – taken away family occasions, our ability to work, play, worship and engage in those important life moments – special times and milestones we will never get back.

That includes student athletes and graduating high school and college seniors who have been denied the opportunity to showcase their talents and celebrate scholastic accomplishments.

By any metric, Bethune-Cookman University senior Miranda White is an exceptional young woman with incalculable contribution potential to our society.

Earlier this month, the four-year letter winner for the Lady Wildcat volleyball squad was named Bethune-Cookman University Athletics Woman of The Year!

But her wonderful accomplishments go far beyond the court.

The California native was the first student accepted into B-CU’s Integrated Environmental Science (IES) Program that allows students to pursue both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years through classroom, field experiences and collaborating with government, academic and private practitioners.

In addition, Ms. White was selected for the National Council on Undergraduate Research’s 24th annual Posters on the Hill event, originally scheduled for Washington, DC on April 20-21.

According to B-CU Athletics, Ms. White was the first student from the university selected for this distinguished program.

Her research project “Using a Bayesian Conditional Probabilistic Model to Identify Efficient Environmental Indicators of Harmful Algal Blooms Within the Indian River Lagoon, Florida, USA” used a timed series of analyses to determine strategies for algal bloom control in Florida’s sensitive east coast estuaries.

Unfortunately, due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus response, Ms. White was unable to present her findings to members of Congress – which required she post a virtual presentation instead.

In my view, Ms. White, and her groundbreaking environmental research, exemplifies the importance of Bethune-Cookman University to the life of Central Florida and beyond.

I hope you will join me in congratulating Miranda White on her incredibly impressive athletic and academic achievements – and in acknowledging her important scientific contributions to the protection and preservation of our threatened waterways.

Quote of the Week

“The Anglers and the City of New Smyrna may see this as a victory, but I see it as the beginning of righting the wrongs which have been perpetrated on the hardworking tax paying citizens of NSB.”

 –Rhonda J. Kanan, New Smyrna Beach, in an emailed response to The Daytona Beach News-Journal for the article, “Lawsuit dismissed against NSB Anglers’ Yacht Club which bars women,” Tuesday, May 19, 2020

In my view, if a group of ‘good ol’ boys’ want to buy some property, build a meeting hall and form the New Smyrna Beach chapter of the Sausage Club, who cares?

Just get the hell off publicly owned land if you are not willing to welcome everyone.

I thought those were the rules?  Right?  

Do what’cha wanna on private property – but certain anti-discrimination laws apply to publicly owned land?

Guess not. . .

The Anglers Club – a ‘not-for-profit’ corporation – which sits on some incredibly valuable waterfront real estate on New Smyrna’s North Causeway – is the current iteration of a club formed in 1914 which was chartered exclusively for “white male citizens over 21 years of age.”

According to reports, at present, the “club” has some 90 members – none of whom are black. . .or female.

The organization describes itself as a “fraternal organization” – an exclusive “men’s club” – and bristles at the idea of being portrayed as discriminatory in any way.

As I see it, the only rub is that most private “men’s clubs” don’t sit on two-acres of prime riverfront property – publicly owned by all citizens of New Smyrna Beach – with an estimated worth of some $4 million – that is “leased” to The Anglers Club by the municipal government for a paltry $25.00 a year. . .

You read that right.  $25 bucks a year. 

The city last approved The Angler’s 99-year lease in 1944 – which, absent any substantive action by the NSB City Commission, will remain in effect until 2043. . .

Earlier this year, Rhonda Kanan, a courageous New Smyrna Beach resident decided to do what city officials wouldn’t and filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of The Anglers Club’s lopsided arrangement, which essentially allows an organization that openly discriminates against women the use of very valuable public property for private benefit.

According to Ms. Kanan’s suit, way back in 2009, the City of New Smyrna Beach received a legal opinion that The Anglers Club leases were invalid.

The remedies ran from ratifying the leases in an open public meeting, to asserting the agreements aren’t worth the yellowing paper they are printed on, including the option of ejecting the club from the property altogether.

The 2009 review also found “no racial discrimination” by The Anglers. . .

Thank goodness, right? 

Because if the “club” had been found to be racially discriminatory, that could have serious political repercussions if it were allowed to remain on public property. . .

The News-Journal reported, “The City Commission in 2009 voted 4-1 to renegotiate the lease. But it never did, and the club remains on the property paying the low rate for the land.”

Frankly, the New Smyrna Beach City Commission should be ashamed of itself for their base political cowardice.

So, as these things often go when citizens have the temerity to challenge City Hall, this week a Circuit Court judge dismissed Ms. Kanan’s case.

Apparently, the statute of limitations provided just one year to challenge the validity of the lease – which was signed 76 years ago. . .

The judge also found that Ms. Kanan did not have “standing” to file the lawsuit in the first place.

That should sound familiar to beach driving advocates who were told by a judge they didn’t have a leg to stand on either when they attempted to stand up for the rights of the people. 

To her credit, Rhonda Kanan has courageously vowed to continue her legal fight for basic fairness – and a legitimate financial return on this prime riverfront asset for New Smyrna Beach residents.

Good luck, Ms. Kanan – something tells me you’re gonna need it. . .

And Another Thing!

The City of DeLand had a bad week. . .

Despite the many reader requests for my weird take on things – I’m not going to pile on with more nonsense that won’t do anything to salve the raw tension and sense of distrust in the wake of a “block party” turned bedlam.

I will say this: I wholeheartedly support those law enforcement officers who, while bravely attempting to keep the peace, were viciously and repeatedly attacked with bottles and barstools – and had guns pointed at them through a hostile crowd.

As officials continue to autopsy the events leading to last weekend’s lawlessness, one thing is irrefutable – our courageous law enforcement officers are not punching bags – and I commend Sheriff Michael Chitwood for his support of the officers and deputies who were violently set upon while trying to bring order during this out-of-control melee.

I would also like to commend Sheriff Chitwood for working closely with a diverse group of area leaders and clergy to find common ground and begin substantive discussions on how to best serve the myriad needs of the Spring Hill community.

Noble work.

In my view, it is also becoming increasingly clear that the men and women of the DeLand Police Department – and the citizens they serve – deserve a different style of leadership.

We learned a few things about Chief Umberger during a highly publicized dust-up with Sheriff Chitwood in the aftermath of a traffic stop that began in the City of DeLand and ended with VCSO deputies being fired upon with a tactical shotgun in Deltona – a violent confrontation that ended in the death of the suspect when deputies acted to defend themselves.

Incredibly, Chief Umberger thought it best to hold a press conference the following day wherein he questioned Sheriff Chitwood’s initial narrative – then engaged in a weird CYA defense of his pursuit policy (?) – while attempting to distance his agency from the precipitating event.

Chief Umberger’s strange tap-dancing brought a harsh admonition from the Sheriff – and the Volusia County Deputies Association – who rightfully felt he undermined the “bravery and valor demonstrated by our deputies.”    

Clearly, both Sheriff Chitwood – and his deputies – have lost confidence in Chief Umberger.

Now, we learn that the International Union of Police Associations, the collective bargaining unit representing DeLand police officers, is openly requesting that the Florida Commission on Ethics investigate Chief Umberger’s professional conduct during a 2019 internal affairs investigation.

According to the formal IUPA complaint, “Chief Umberger excluded exculpatory evidence and manipulated facts so that his decision to fire the officers would seem justified.”

Look, there are always three sides to every story – but during times of crisis – citizens need to know that their local law enforcement leadership is strong, committed and holding the moral high ground.

And a call for an ethics investigation by your line officers is hard to overcome.

By all accounts, Jason Umberger is a nice guy and a competent police executive – and I happen to know that the job he holds is a hard dollar, even on a good day.

I’m just not sure how one rebuilds a relationship with the police union representing their staff after the nuclear option has been detonated. . .

In my view, given the series of distractions that continue to envelope him during this difficult time, perhaps it is time for Chief Umberger to consider his options.

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

 

 

 

On Volusia: A Bridge Too Far

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

President George W. Bush, 2002

Yeah.  What he said. . .

On Tuesday, Halifax area residents and business owners had the rug pulled out from under them once again.

The long-anticipated May 19 opening date for the interminably delayed Orange Avenue Bridge came and went – and, for the umpteenth time, that red-faced rube, Volusia County Engineer Tadd Kasbeer, was forced to stare at his shoes, shuffle his feet, and sheepishly announce that Orlando-based contractor Johnson Bros. Corporation fooled him again.  Again.

If you ask me, that joke is getting old. . .

Apparently, the Johnson brothers are a couple of fun-loving guys who build high-level concrete arch bridges on weekends in their spare time – then entertain themselves by pulling arbitrary completion dates out of thin air and watching government engineers squirm.

According to a report by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, it has now taken almost as long to construct the Orange Avenue span as it took to complete the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco – which is four times longer. . .

Our project began way back in June 2016 with an initial estimated completion date of December 2018.

Whoa.

In the Johnson’s defense, they weathered three hurricanes, a lightning strike, unstable ground, a toppled crane, bad engineering advice and at least one violation of the old “measure twice – cut once” apprentice rule when the height of the bridge railing was apparently “miscalculated”. . .

So, now the ‘he said/she said’ finger-pointing has begun in earnest – with Johnson Bros. telling us the bridge is ready to go – they’re just waiting on the high sign from Volusia County – while Kasbeer claims another Florida Department of Transportation structural inspection is required.

As a result, estimates for opening day range from next week to August or beyond.

The only thing for certain is, like a guy who finally discerned the connection between a hot stove and his singed finger, Tadd Kasbeer has given his last hard date for opening.

I guess after being publicly humiliated time-and-again Volusia County has decided it is infinitely easier to just stop communicating with their constituents altogether.

“We’re not giving out any more dates,” said Kasbeer, the county’s director of engineering and construction. “It’s up to the contractor to tell us when they’ll open.”

Whatever.

Look, watching Tadd Kasbeer get pranked never gets old.

But waiting for the Orange Avenue Bridge to open does.

Now that we’ve all had another good belly laugh at Volusia County’s expense – perhaps the Johnson Bros. and FDOT will open the bridge?

Please?

Happy motoring, y’all!

 

Rise Up and Be Heard You Uneducated, Misinformed Knuckleheads!

We all have an emotional breaking point, a place where situations and circumstances become so dark and disturbing that they overwhelm the better elements of our character – causing us to throw off the traces of civility – and surrender to the purely human ability to override one’s conscience.

God knows, I lost it a long time ago. . .

Let’s face it – these are trying times – and not all of us, or the institutions we once relied on, will be the same on the other side.

In my view, it’s becoming clear Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice is beginning to crack. . .

On Sunday, Mr. Rice published his weekly op/ed column – an often wispy look the issues of the day – and, sometimes, an esoteric message only understood by a select group of well-connected intimates who’s gilded view of the Halifax area is completely different from those of us who try desperately to make a living, educate their children and make a life here. . .

The gist of Mr. Rice’s missive (I think) was his inability to grasp how anyone could have an opinion that contrasts with his elitist view of the world – specifically, how thinking citizens could question the merits of the national vote-by-mail initiative that has been contrived in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

What clued me into Pat’s mental meltdown was when he referred to those who use Facebook – which has become every man’s soapbox – to voice a dissenting opinion as “misinformed, uneducated knuckleheads.”

“…Facebook can be a cesspool where any knucklehead with a misinformed or uneducated political point of view can regurgitate it at the rest of us.

I know, there are also informed people who use Facebook to thoughtfully weigh in on local, state and national issues.  Let’s be honest: Those people are a distinct minority who are often drowned out by people who drink and post, or who serial-post truly fake news and opinion from clearly biased sources, or who share spurious conspiracy theories for partisan reasons.

It’s ugly on Facebook, and it’s only going to get uglier between now and the November general election.  My advice to everyone is to stop using Facebook altogether.”

(“Drink and post”?  Hummmm. . .)

Well, speaking for the rest of us, Mr. Rice, your unsolicited “advice” – which positions your media outlet as the only viable and informed viewpoint – goes against everything we know about the importance of competing ideas in a free and open society.

A smart friend of mine, and long-time News-Journal subscriber, who took righteous offense to being labeled an uneducated knucklehead by the editor of our local newspaper reminded me of a December 2019 editorial by Mr. Rice in which he arrogantly lectured Sheriff Michael Chitwood for accurately referring to the Volusia County Council as “scumbags.”

At the time, Mr. Rice was apparently apoplectic when Sheriff Chitwood’s gave an incredibly honest description of those misfits on the dais of power – who have subverted the democratic process and kowtowed to every want and whim of their political benefactors – when he called for the resignation of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and identified a “ruling class that will do anything to hold on to power.”  

During his vehement defense of his friends in high places, Mr. Rice went on to remind the Sheriff that our “ruling class” have a first amendment right to “…persuade elected officials to see things their way.”

You and I don’t, because in Mr. Rice’s eyes we’re clueless assholes – but his clubby chums that comprise our social and financial elite – do.

Look, Sheriff Chitwood is universally known as a straight-shooter who calls it like he sees it – he doesn’t suffer fools – and his brash assessments often cut through the political pap and fluff to expose the heart of a situation or conflict – allowing for positive change.

I like that.

What I don’t care for is condescending “do as I say, not as I do” twaddle from a clearly frightened and wholly compromised newspaper editor who’s allegiances have clouded his judgement – and reduced him to the same name-calling he claims to despise.

In my view, it is important to what remains of our democracy that we keep making our diverse opinions known on social media and beyond – scream it from the rooftops – until those we have elected to represent our interests realize there is some shit we won’t eat.

Perhaps Mr. Rice should take the same unsolicited “advice” he heaped on Sheriff Chitwood:

“Don’t stop being colorful.  Just stop being mean.  Stop going nuclear.  Volusia County deserves that much.”

 

 

 

On Volusia: Finding our Center of Gravity

Military strategists know the importance of probing defenses – analyzing the enemy’s capabilities and response – then targeting critical vulnerabilities for maximum effectiveness.

The Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, in his seminal work “On War” spoke of identifying “Centers of Gravity” – which modern warfighters have doctrinally identified as “any important sources of strength” – values, mental toughness, moral resilience, physical strength, power of will – that if exploited “will do the most significant damage to an adversaries ability to resist.”

These centers of gravity exist in all organizations – including government bureaucracies.

The mandate for leadership is to identify these sources of strength, protect them, continuously improve them, and use these strategic and operational assets to full advantage.

Unfortunately, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic at all levels of government has exposed our greatest vulnerabilities to both the citizens it ostensibly exists to serve – and potential bad actors around the world.

Historically, when threats are identified, government plans and prepares, then provides citizens the best information and recommendations possible – a tempered approach that protects the vulnerable while respecting the rights and livelihoods of the many.

That didn’t happen when coronavirus came calling – and, as a result, we are beginning to see widespread outrage and even greater political polarization.  (If that’s possible.)

When you add the ongoing frenzy of media hype and hysteria that continues to focus on the prurient elements – ignoring any hopeful trend in favor of flogging negativity and engaging in the vilest form of fear-mongering in history – it becomes clear why we are experiencing this national nervous breakdown.

Hysteria and misinformation have spread much faster than the virus – and with politicians in the mix – panic has resulted in this whole-of-society response that is destroying our economy, leaving families in financial ruin, and caused many to question how this could have possibly happened here in the “Land of the Free?” 

Then, there is the “kick them when their down” syndrome that some media outlets have embraced – the nonstop lecturing and divisive browbeating that was once the exclusive domain of blowhards like me. . .

For instance, I think everyone has had quite enough of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s corona-cut-and-paste editorials – which recently preached the gospel according to some Treasure Coast hack – insinuating that “Floridians are idiots” and “Floridians are botching this (recovery)” based on some provocative tripe in the UK’s Daily Mail about people returning to restaurants. . .

Quickly followed by a blast from editor Pat Rice which shit on the opinions of citizens who have taken to social media – every man’s soapbox – to voice their views on vote by mail and other virus-related contrivances.

In his Sunday claptrap entitled, “Facebook, and the bizarre vote-by-mail opponents,” he said:

“We also all know that Facebook can be a cesspool where any knucklehead with a misinformed or uneducated political point of view can regurgitate it at the rest of us.”

That’s right, Pat.  Make room for the rest of us.

Why should you corner the market on knucklehead, misinformed and uneducated political views?

Oh, he went on to tidy things up a bit, but you get the idea.

Mr. Rice – who long ago lost credibility by exposing his own partisan views and associations – like many in the media and government, feels that his elitist viewpoint is the only one that matters.

Over the past nine weeks or so, we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of local governance – and the media that has influenced its clumsy response – elected and appointed officials who were clearly bested by the complexity of the situation, flailing desperately to keep pace with ever-changing state “executive orders” – then enacting public policy on the fly; protocols which had drastic impacts on our lives and changed almost hourly.

While others on the dais of power turned insular, more self-serving, hyper-focused on their need for political exposure in an election year – going so far as exaggerating their dubious connection to White House policymakers (which turned out to be nothing more than cattle call teleconferences) – publishing weird manifestos on social media, mandating weekly “special meetings,” demanding input in the decision-making process during a declared state of emergency and doing everything possible to remain visible and relevant.

In my view, this has not been Volusia County government’s finest hour. . .

So, where do we go from here?  

I long ago came to the conclusion that our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, doesn’t have the mental capacity for self-reflection, but I sincerely hope that in the quiet hours, when County Manager George Recktenwald ponders his administrations accomplishments and growth areas – he considers what this botched response, and equally shaky “recovery,” is having on the foundational elements of our community – the civic, social and economic mainstays we rely on during times of crisis.

My hope is that Mr. Recktenwald will ask himself the question:

“Is this still about a virus?”

In my view, there is little motivation for state and local government to stop the endless – and wholly unconstitutional – limitations on our movement, ability to peaceably assemble for lawful purposes, worship in accordance with the practices of our faith and engage in the pursuit of our business or profession without government interference – so long as the tsunami of federal funds continues unabated.

Experts tell me that this disjointed response and recovery is essentially a political problem that requires a political solution – and these constitutional insults will result in numerous lawsuits – and the ultimate removal of many overweening politicians who pushed governmental overreach and control over the needs of their suffering constituents at the polls this fall.

I agree with that to a point.

Despite Pat Rice’s condescending horseshit – I encourage everyone to voice your opinion, on social media or elsewhere – scream it from the rooftops – and let our elected and appointed officials in the Ivory Tower of Power know exactly how you feel about their definition of the “new normal” they are hoping against hope we will all embrace without push-back.

Perhaps its time We, The People find our “center of gravity” – the awesome power of the ballot box – and demand a return to that omnipotent democratic principle that mandates all political power is derived from the will of the governed.

 

 

 

Archangels: Reflections on Law Enforcement Memorial Day 2020

On Monday, members of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office stood face-to-face with evil after an armed and dangerous assailant fled from a traffic stop in the City of DeLand – reminding us, once again, of the extreme threats faced by law enforcement officers every day.

A stark reminder indeed – and all thoughts and prayers are with the deputies involved as we reflect on the sacrifice of the courageous men and women who ‘serve and protect.’  

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week.  This national day of remembrance pays tribute to law enforcement officers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Law enforcement nationwide is well-worthy of our admiration and unending respect as they go in harm’s way to protect your family and mine.

Last year, 146 law enforcement officers lost their lives in the line of duty in the United States.

So far, 72 have paid the ultimate sacrifice in 2020.

To all those serving or who have served – thank you for holding the line.

We stand alone, together.

Daytona Beach Police Department

Officer Kevin John Fischer, September 4, 1998

Officer Gregory J. Sorenson, July 26, 1982

Deputy Sheriff Frank Dean Genovese, June 3, 1982

Officer Sam Etheredge, Jr., December 25, 1980

Detective Harry F. Raines, January 13, 1945

Officer Willie R. Denson, April 30, 1937

Officer Lawrence B. Hall, August 28, 1932

Officer Benny P. Stricklin, January 23, 1931

Officer Lewis Tanner, October 26, 1930

 

DeLand Police Department

Sergeant George Tinsley, May 7, 1979

Patrolman Elmer L. Michael, February 17, 1942

 

Flagler County Sheriff’s Office

Sergeant Frank “Frankie” Celico, September 9, 2011

Deputy Sheriff Charles T. “Chuck” Sease, July 5, 2003

Deputy Sheriff George W. “Son” Durrance, August 25, 1927

Sheriff Perry Hall, August 21, 1927

 

Florida Dept. of Corrections

Officer Donna Fitzgerald, June 25, 2008

 

Florida Highway Patrol

Trooper Darryl Louis Haywood, Sr., October 2, 2004

Trooper Edwin J. Gasque, October 26, 1961

 

New Smyrna Beach Police Department

Officer Roy Lundell Nelson, Jr., August 13, 2005

K9 Caeser, August 13, 2005

 

Ormond Beach Police Department

Officer Robert Francis “Bob” Grim, Sr., November 13, 2004

 

Ponce Inlet Police Department

Officer Timothy Thomas Pollard, September 22, 1987

 

Volusia County Beach Patrol

Captain John Irwin “Jay” McDonough, II, February 16, 2011

 

Volusia County Sheriff’s Department

Deputy Sheriff Frank Scofield, June 2, 2019

K9 Forest, November 22, 2016

Deputy Sheriff Stephen Saboda, November 6, 1982

Donald Shackleford, 1979

Alva Hayman, 1974

Frank Smith, 1927

Chief Deputy Sheriff William Park Edwards, November 5, 1907

Deputy Sheriff Charles Mortimer Kurtz, September 3, 1907

Deputy Sheriff William Kurtz Kremer, December 10, 1898

Sheriff Jefferson Davis Kurtz, April 25, 1895

 

_______________________________

 

Archangels

From my earliest memories, law enforcement officers have always been my heroes.

They still are.

Today marks National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day 2020.

A time for reflection on the incredible contributions of the men and women who so courageously serve and protect us all – and an opportunity to honor those brave souls who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

In what is proving to be a particularly deadly period in our history for line of duty deaths, it is important that we remember those officers who, as Lincoln said, gave “The last full measure of devotion.” 

It is also fitting that we take this opportunity to consider the greater question of the role of the police in a free and open society – and the importance of citizen support for their indispensable work in preserving our way of life in America.

The great privilege of my life was the opportunity to serve in law enforcement with some of the most dedicated and talented public servants I have ever known.

For thirty-one years I had the distinct honor of standing with strong men and women who hold a thin blue line between order and chaos, between good and evil, between you and I and the predatory criminals who prey on that which we love most.

In my long career, I learned something about law enforcement officers and what these extraordinary people are made of.  I have always thought that any contribution I made was just a function of the job at hand, but I am extremely proud just to have been associated with people I consider true American heroes.

Brevard County Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was one of them.

In early 1986, I was a young officer with the Holly Hill Police Department assigned to the Uniformed Patrol Division.

Bob 1
Bob Nicol, Jr.

At that time, I had been on the job for about three years (in other words, I had just learned how to write a traffic ticket the same way twice) and I was working the “Midnight shift” – 11:00pm to 7:00am – answering calls for service from an old Dodge Aspen patrol car with a single blue light on the roof, and a Motorola “Mocom” radio, equipped with a green light to let you know it was on and a red light to let you know it was transmitting when you keyed the microphone.

A quaint antique by today’s standards.

Today, a patrol vehicle’s interior looks more like the flight deck of the Space Shuttle, with mobile data units, stolen vehicle trackers, tag readers, electronic citation systems, digital video cameras and multi-channel 800MHz radios.

It is amazing how advances in technology transformed policing during my career.

One night I arrived at the police department for briefing, got a cup of coffee from Dispatch, and took my seat at the long wooden table where officers gathered before and after each tour to pass-on important and not-so-important information, listen to the sergeant give duty assignments, gossip, tell wholly inappropriate jokes, and bitch and moan about, well, everything.

(One of the first things you learn as a police chief is that cops complain – that’s how they “deal” with the horrific and unnatural things the job brings them in contact with.  It’s when they stop complaining that you have a problem on your hands.)

That night my sergeant introduced me to the “FNG,” a “f—g new guy,” sitting by himself at the end of the desk.

He was a short, stocky blond with big 80’s-style aviator glasses who thrust out his hand and eagerly introduced himself with a big grin and a heavy Western New York accent, “Howyadoin’, I’m Bob!”

At the time, many police departments didn’t have the formal field training and evaluation programs of today, and most in-service training was conducted by senior officers teaching their juniors the ropes through experiential learning and anecdotal information.

That night I was assigned to show our newest officer the city limits and get him familiar with the streets, point out the hot spots, and generally indoctrinate him on how to survive the physical and political hazards of small-town Florida.

If you’ve ever shared the confines of a patrol unit for hours-on-end with another officer then you know how fast, and how strong, a bond develops between partners in a business where you put your life in another person’s hands and promise to do the same for them.

Robert Nicol, Jr. was born in Coatbridge, Scotland, in 1948.

He was a former deputy with the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office in Canadaigua, New York, a small community in the Finger Lakes region.

Escaping the aftermath of a messy divorce, Bob fled New York as a newly minted single-father with three young children – two boys and a girl – and his mom in tow.

Settling in Holly Hill, Bob soon applied to the police department and was hired almost immediately by Chief Pat Finn, who was extremely impressed by Bob’s military background and his previous law enforcement experience.

During four-years in the U.S. Army, Bob served proudly in some of the most fierce fighting in Vietnam and was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat, the Bronze Star for valor and the Army Commendation Medal for his extraordinary service to our nation.

Bob Nicol was an American hero before he ever pinned on a badge.

Although twelve-years my senior, he had an energetic personality, contagious laugh and a great sense of humor that impressed me right away.  We quickly became friends, and since Bob didn’t know many people here, he and I spent a lot of time together talking, drinking, and inhabiting the bars and nightclubs of Daytona Beach.

When we weren’t working, you could find us perched at Club Mocambo, the Beachcomber, Silver Bucket, Full House or any of a dozen other illustrious local night spots, quite stylish in our leather Member’s Only jackets.

Unlike me, Bob was an affable, good-looking guy who always had a way with the ladies – and I benefited more times than I care to admit just from my association with him.

The stories and escapades are legendary, but perhaps better left for a different forum. . .

I learned a lot from Bob – personally and professionally.

He was a great father to his two young sons and beautiful daughter – and he doted on his mother, a brash Scot who spoke with a thick brogue and frequently made Shortbread cookies that I miss to this day.

Most of all, Bob was a damn good cop – smart, dedicated and tenacious.

It didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself in the local law enforcement community and, in May 1987, he was offered a sworn position as a deputy with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

It was a great professional development opportunity, and the job offered more money to support his children.

We discussed the pro’s and con’s, and late one shift Bob and I met door-to-door in our patrol cars in some parking lot near Ridgewood Avenue.  He told me he was going to take the job.  I congratulated him, we shook hands, then immediately began making plans to facilitate his move to Port St. John.

Bob and I remained great friends, even though our schedules and the hour-drive between us put a dent in our nightlife.

Probably for the best.

It wasn’t long before Bob proved himself a true asset to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.  He was respected and very well-liked by everyone who knew him.

He was a cops-cop, and the epitome of who you wanted stepping out of a police car in a dark alley when you really need help.

At approximately 4:00am on Saturday, September 19, 1987, Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was on patrol on U.S. 1, just south of State Road 405, when he made a “routine” (if there is such a thing) traffic stop.

During the encounter, Bob arrested the driver, Scott Roberts, 21, on traffic-related charges.

Further investigation found that one of the five passengers in the vehicle, later identified as Jeffrey Mason, a 24-year old landscaper living in Orlando, was in possession of less than 20-grams of marijuana.

Bob arrested him on the misdemeanor charge.

While Bob was securing Roberts in his patrol car and attempting to control the four others still inside the vehicle, Jeffrey Mason broke free and escaped custody – running across the divided highway with Deputy Nicol in close foot pursuit.

As they ran into the roadway, a vehicle traveling north swerved to avoid Mason and inadvertently struck Bob at high speed.

The force of the impact sent his body crashing into the windshield, catapulted him over the top of the moving car before throwing him to the pavement, witnesses said.

His neck was broken, and the base of his skull was crushed.

Bob was transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center where he remained in Intensive Care with severe traumatic brain damage.

After a manhunt involving some thirty law enforcement officers, Jeffrey Mason was found cowering in a wooded area near S.R. 405 and taken into custody without incident.

It was later determined that he was on probation in the State of Ohio for involuntary manslaughter stemming from a 1983 traffic crash which killed the passenger in his car.

On Wednesday, September 30, 1987, my friend Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. lost his courageous battle and died from injuries sustained in the line of duty twelve days earlier.

He left behind his mother, Pat Skindzier, and three children, ages 15, 8, and 5.

Brevard County Sheriff Jake Miller posthumously awarded Deputy Nicol the Medal of Valor for his actions that fateful morning – the highest honor bestowed on a law enforcement officer.

I will never forget the enormous number of law enforcement officers – all of us shining and resplendent in our Class A dress uniforms – who gathered for his funeral with full honors at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Titusville.

I openly wept for the first time in my young career over the flag-draped coffin of a fallen brother and friend.

Later, Nicol Park on US-1 in Port St. John was named in Bob’s honor.

A fitting tribute to a hero – but a tragic waste of an incredible soul.

It is a tradition in law enforcement and the military for brothers and sisters in arms to join in remembrance of our fallen comrades on days such as this to honor their service, sacrifice and friendship.

The name of Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. is inscribed on memorial panel 35-E: 8 at the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

robert_nicol_rubbing

“Remember! All who have served alongside them; we who have donned the same proud uniform, being sworn to the same faith and allegiance — We will never forget their sacrifice. Remember!”

On this Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day, I remember my friend Bob – and his great devotion and sacrifice –  along with all the men and women of law enforcement who have laid down their lives so that we may live in peace.

I hope you will too.

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: We’re not in this together

First, we were told the shutdown was about “flattening the curve.”

Now, it’s about “finding the cure.” 

The goalpost keeps moving.

In my view, it is not about a virus anymore – it’s about the money. . .

Earlier this week, the Volusia County Council took steps to accept $96,543,792 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds – and applied for an additional $1,021,988 from the Florida Department of Transportation for Votran’s Gold Paratransit services – along with $21,218,428 in Federal Transit Administration CARES Act relief for our public transportation provider.

I found it interesting that the resolution supporting the application and acceptance of these funds doesn’t include a factual basis of need, a breakdown of how these funds will be spent, who will oversee and audit the allocation, etc. – only that Volusia County “has the authority” to apply.

Look, I’m mathematically illiterate, but by my ciphering that’s $118,784,208 and we’re not even through “Phase 1” of something called “Relaunch Volusia.”

Earlier this week, I tried to read the glossy supplement touting the Relaunch Volusia program – I felt it important to learn the intricacies of how county government plans to use this cascade of federal dollars to breathe life into our local economy – and get the thousands of area residents who have been financially devastated by draconian local, state and federal response protocols back to work.

I turned to page one – “A Message from the Volusia County Council” – which began:

“The Volusia County Council is working tirelessly during these extraordinary times to address the unprecedented challenges we face as County Government and as a community. We’ve enacted policies to protect the public and our employees and ensure that critical services continue with little or no interruption.”

Then, I retched into my wastebasket and poured three-fingers of Irish Whiskey in my coffee cup. . .

I just couldn’t stomach that load of tripe.

In my view, it is telling when an elected body puts their own dubious “contributions” above the hardship and sacrifice of those they serve – and any bureaucrat with two synapses still firing knows the pitfalls of openly whining about how “tirelessly” elected officials (who haven’t lost a dime in salary or benefits since this shit show started) are “working,” while those they were elected to serve are suffering mightily.

Perhaps those clueless dullards on the Volusia County Council should have flipped the text of their staff-contrived narrative, which ended with the glaring afterthought:

“We also would like to thank the public for its cooperation, understanding and patience. We are truly all in this together, and we will make it through together to a better tomorrow!”

Bullshit.

From what I could gather, the remainder of the “Relaunch Volusia” plan contained loose metrics for reopening county government – you know, getting bureaucrats comfortably back in their cubicles – while creating more questions than answers on when you and I can expect our lives, businesses and livelihoods to return to whatever passes for “normal” in the aftermath of this debacle.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of the “we’re all in this together,” feel-good gibberish. . .

Because we’re not.

While Volusia County government takes delivery of some $119 million in federal aid, small businesses, hospitality workers, home-based enterprises, personal service professionals, etc., who have unfairly carried this lopsided response on their shoulders continue to suffer while waiting for benefits.

I recently saw a post on social media where a business-owner announced that the company she built with her own hands was closing permanently due to the financial pressures of the government-imposed shutdown.

Admittedly, I got emotional watching the now unemployed entrepreneur (who won’t qualify for assistance) explain how she was taking a “day for grieving” before deciding what comes next.

How terribly sad. . .

This week, during yet another “special” meeting, the Volusia County Council finally approved a program that applies a paltry $10 million – divided into $3,000 grants – to struggling small businesses who meet ever-changing government-mandated criteria and can “document” an economic loss of $3K or more – although a week ago we were warned that grant funds could not be used for lost wages or revenue – so, I guess the actual permitted use will remain a mystery for now.

If you think your small business qualifies, the first-come-first-served Thunderdome competition begins this morning at http://www.volusiabusinessresources.com

As I understand it, the current version of the program limits “assistance” – whatever that ultimately means – to just 3,300 small businesses out of the 12,000 currently struggling to do business in Volusia County.

I found it interesting that the same explanation of need and other documentary requirements don’t apply equally to the avalanche of federal dollars Volusia County is receiving now that county staffers have interpreted CARES Act guidelines to mean the funds can be used for just about anything creative bureaucrats can link to COVID-19. . .

Still think any of this is about us?     

In my view, the needs of those who pay the bills and attempt to “communicate” our concerns to our elected representatives through email messages and video technology – artificial input that is openly dismissed as an annoyance as they legally flaunt the spirit of our open meeting law – are unimportant to our elected and appointed officials.

Apparently, so long as The Monarchy continues to greedily extend the “State of Emergency” every seven-days – anything goes.

Meanwhile, as Volusia County officials continue to stuff the coffers with federal funds – thousands of area residents continue to languish in breadlines, seeking sustenance for their hungry families, as many fall victim to a “recovery” that is proving to be just as disjointed as the “response.”

Tragic.

Incredibly, in last Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, we were clued-in to a recent study that proved, “…among the most affected are income-constrained families who face a greater risk for financial ruin.”  

No kidding? 

Apparently, those who are living at or below the poverty line are at greater risk of financial disaster that those “essentials” who have experienced little, if any, inconvenience over the past eight-weeks.

Who would’ve thunk it?

Not surprisingly, that “study” also found that some 72,519 households in Volusia County met the textbook definition of “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” as of 2018, the last year data was available for review (say what?).

Collateral damage in the “war on an invisible enemy” that is proving incredibly lucrative for Volusia County government.

And don’t expect anyone currently in power to do anything about it – not so long as the bucket brigade of federal relief funds continues to consume our elected and appointed officials in the bunker at the “TCK” building in DeLand.

One thing remains clear – a self-serving bureaucracy will always take care of its own.