On Volusia: Time to demand answers

I hate to say I told you so. . .

It does my beat-up old heart good when our newspaper of record professionally validates literally everything I’ve written in this space over the past three years. . .

Last Sunday, we learned that in just the past six-years, you and I have spent almost $100 million on overtime due to an out-of-control management strategy that works existing county employees to the point of exhaustion rather than fill current vacancies – which are estimated at between 249 and 400 depending upon who you listen to.

You read that right: $100 million.

Can you imagine operating your business without a firm handle on how many current openings the company you rely upon to feed your family has – or who is doing what, and when?

That’s only possible in a bloated bureaucracy – one essentially set on autopilot – where money is no object because it’s simply a matter of raising taxes when you need more coal for the furnace. . .

Then, on Monday, reporter Dustin Wyatt wrote a revealing piece on the growing “mystery” surrounding Volusia County’s previous sponsorship and transportation assistance to the suddenly controversial North Turn Beach Parade.

For the past eight-years, as part of a still puzzling “sponsorship agreement,” Volusia County has used Votran buses to transport visitors to and from the parade in Ponce Inlet.

Only now – after County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert’s sketchy attempt to kill the popular event was begrudgingly overturned on a 5-2 vote – is the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys calling foul.

In fact, she’s labeled the parade’s use of the county transportation service “discrimination.” 

Is it possible that Volusia County – a massive taxing authority with an annual budget approaching $1 Billion – could have committed public funds to assist a community event for nearly a decade with absolutely no official allocation (or even knowledge) of the recurring expenditure?

You bet your ass it is. . .

Look, in my view, Volusia County should assist with logistics for the parade – just as it should accommodate other communities who host successful cultural events that draw thousands of visitors to our area each year.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?   

I mean, isn’t that why publicly funded organizations like the Convention & Visitors Bureau exist?

Besides, the quaint nature of Ponce Inlet makes parking virtually impossible, and effectively utilizing public transportation to help alleviate congestion and provide a safe alternative to grid-locking A-1-A makes sense.

And this has nothing to do with the noble efforts of parade organizers and sponsors who have fought hard to keep this event alive.

In my view, the darker issue is that absolutely no one in a position to do so in DeLand has any memory of just how the county came to subsidize the parade – who authorized the expenditure of resources – or even a true accounting of the amount of public funds spent.

According to the News-Journal, “Last year, the Legends event cost taxpayers $9,732, with nearly half of that ($4,464) going to Votran and the rest going to county staffing and marketing for the event. Since 2013, the county has spent $16,500 on Votran for the event. But the total of the other costs remains unknown.”

Marketing?

The total of the other costs remains unknown?

Jesus. . .

According to a Kevin Captain, apparently Volusia County’s “Interim Director of Community Misinformation”:

“There’s not anyone on staff who seems to know. There’s no record of it.”

No record of it?

Even former County Manager Jim Dinneen – who, I’m convinced, knew every backroom deal and shoot-it-through-the-grease public policy legerdemain in recent memory – has no conscious recollection of the matter.

Weird. 

Only former County Councilman Josh Wagner – who is best remembered for his backstabbing flip-flop on beach driving policy – accepts responsibility for the baffling sponsorship agreement.

According to Wagner, he brought the issue up in one of those famous “off the agenda” public policy by ambush sessions during his comments at the end of a Volusia County Council meeting.

Naturally, there is no official record of the authorization – and former council members Pat Northey and Doug Daniels both dispute Wagner’s self-assured recollections.

“It was discussed,” said Wagner. “There wasn’t any kind of hidden agenda. There was nothing hidden at all.”

Wow.

I seem to recall in the recesses of my fading memory that – nearly a year ago – the Volusia County Council approved an internal auditor position in an attempt to return a modicum of trust and transparency to this dysfunctional shit-chute that passes for a county government.

Remember? 

What happened to the much anticipated, and desperately needed, internal oversight that our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, called a waste of taxpayers’ money?

“Personally, I think it’s an unnecessary creation of a department,” Kelley said. “We are as transparent as anybody. Everything is open. I don’t know how (approving this new position) is going to make a department operate more efficiently.”

Now, Old Ed is forced to eat his own gibberish.  What a dipshit. . .

Look, if this latest five alarm foul-up doesn’t prove the fact that Volusia County is in desperate need of a top-to-bottom audit and overhaul, I don’t know what does.

Now, how can We, The People have any confidence that there aren’t other gushing leaks of our hard-earned tax dollars that absolutely no one with the personal and fiduciary responsibility to steward public funds has any knowledge of?

Is this massive oversight and subsequent bureaucratic tap dance the real reason Mr. Eckert attempted to put the kibosh on the Legend’s parade?

My God. . .

Exactly how much of our money has to go missing – with no official record of its statutorily required allocation or proper accounting – before someone, anyone, with a badge steps up, issues subpoenas, and begins a competent criminal investigation of Volusia County government’s accounting and oversight practices?

Don’t those of us who have been asked to pay the bills and suffer in silence have a right to demand answers?

You’re damned right we do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: A Theater of the Absurd

“Absurd”

Ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous; having no rational or orderly relationship to human life, meaningless, silliness or foolishness  

I enjoy the art of using words to paint a picture.

I’ve never been very good at it; but those who are have the ability to craft an image that can transport us to another time and place – or compare our current situation with what could be – in a way that can transform our understanding and inform our opinion.

The great philosopher Aristotle was of the view that the way we use words to define an issue sets the tone for how we approach the problem – and make no mistake – we have a serious problem. . .

Last week, during what should have been a relatively benign discussion of the circumstances surrounding a canceled beach parade, the Volusia County Council, under the direction of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, proved once and for all the depth of dysfunction that is destroying any hope for civic, social or economic progress.

As The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Dustin Wyatt described it, “There was a lot to unpack Tuesday.”

Look, I’m not going to rehash the debacle – by now, everyone is painfully aware of how our county attorney, Dan “Cujo” Eckert, was caught mischaracterizing the federal environmental permit issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as a means of unilaterally cancelling a very popular parade honoring the history of racing on the old beach course in Ponce Inlet.

In my view, the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County should learn from the ugliness that so embarrassingly played out on the dais last week – a public meeting run amok, the will of the people ignored in favor of self-promotion and arrogant grandstanding, a lockstep fealty to an entrenched system that has traded independent thought for hegemonic opinions of deep-rooted bureaucrats and political insiders.

It would be a comedy of errors if it wasn’t so damnably tragic in both form and function – another one of Old Ed’s utterly confusing hootenanny’s that will long serve as the very antithesis of a functioning participatory democracy.

Because so much of what I write about the machinations of local government seems almost supernaturally incongruous to the precepts of good governance, I’m often fond of saying – “Don’t take my word for it,” or “I don’t make this shit up, folks.”

I encourage everyone to access the Volusia County website and listen to the “discussion” of the beach parade farce for yourself. . .  Please.  (As I recall, it starts around 4:38:30 on the archived audio.)

The fact is, I don’t possess the eloquence to compose a work of fiction that could possibly top our current reality – and you owe it to yourself, as a taxpayer, to see firsthand just how far afield things have gotten.

And the hits just keep on coming. . .

This morning, the News-Journal exposed that in just the past six-years, you and I have paid nearly $100 million in overtime, ostensibly due to under-staffing and a management theory that believes its better to work existing employees to the point of exhaustion, rather than attract and retain quality public employees.

Look, I understand better than most the use of overtime in meeting operational needs – I also know that the practice can be effectively managed to limit an incredibly expensive burden on the agency and the taxpayer.

I know that Sheriff Mike Chitwood is doing his level best to recruit, train and field deputies and emergency communications personnel in a nationwide environment that is no longer attractive.

That’s a difficult reality – one I believe will have serious social ramifications in the next decade.

I also understand that there are inherent inefficiencies in government that can only be identified by comprehensive management audits, honest introspective reviews and a focus on constantly evaluating and redefining goals, objectives and service delivery.

Unfortunately, if history has proved anything, it is that Volusia County isn’t big on internal reflection and self-examination. . .

Trust me.  This issue isn’t limited to one errant sheriff’s deputy “sitting on his ass” in Oak Hill for 12-hours – it’s institutional – and it predates Sheriff Chitwood and much of what passes as the county’s senior leadership.

It is a crisis of culture in a government that believes astronomical tax increases, sales tax referendums and a budget approaching $1 billion is an acceptable alternative to effective management strategies.

According to our “new” County Manager George Recktenwald – who was raised in the “piss good money after bad” school of public finance, “In his 20-year career in Volusia County, Recktenwald said he’s heard requests for overtime more often than he’s listened to complaints about it.  “It’s been my experience that people enjoy the opportunity for overtime.”

 Really?  That’s the basis for why $99 million in taxpayer dollars have been spent on overtime since 2013?

One might have thought – “as managers and supervisors” – senior leadership would consider right-sizing this bureaucratic behemoth, or at least do the math, and come to the sobering realization that by filing the 249 current vacancies, (400 openings were announced this summer?) even with the cost of employment benefits, taxpayers would have saved nearly $3 million over what was paid out in overtime just last year.

Whenever these inefficiencies are shockingly exposed, it always astounds me that our local newspaper can make a quick calculation and determine savings – yet, those senior executives, budget analysts, human resource “experts” and financial wizards who receive hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to serve in the public interest can’t seem to figure it out?

What gives? 

 In my view, Patrick Gavin, executive director for U. S. Congressman William Posey, was right when he described the pigheaded, irrational and totally counterproductive shit show that passed for a Volusia County Council meeting as “absurd,” later exclaiming it was the single most confusing meeting he had witnessed in 23-years in government service.

My hat’s off to Mr. Gavin.  Well said.

In my view, his excellent descriptor aptly applies to the breadth of county “leadership.”

It is horribly absurd.

As Volusia County residents awaken to the abject dysfunction that continues to obstruct substantive change, restrains true economic development in favor of funneling tax dollars to political insiders and continues to ignore the needs of thousands of disadvantaged residents – this election cycle will be critical to returning fiscal, operational and administrative sanity to our county government.

Those of us who ultimately pay the bills deserve better than this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for October 18, 2019

Hi, kids!

Getting away from the familiar has a way of changing our perspective through comparison.

My wife and I traveled to one of our favorite getaways this week – the quaint community of Thomasville in the Red Hills region of South Georgia – a place where creatives have discovered the civic magic in historic preservation and true community involvement.

I happen to like old places with a rich history; that feeling of continuity and the strength and stability of things that last.

For the second time since discovering Thomasville, we stayed at the Alexander House, a beautifully restored 1930’s home offered on Airbnb – with burnished hardwood floors, tongue-and-grove ceilings, a formal dining room that hearkens back to a more genteel era and one of the best home library’s in existence.

To me, there’s something special about sipping 12-year old whiskey on an old screen porch while the peal of a nearby church carillon announces the 5 o’clock hour. . .

The home is located just steps from the city’s picturesque downtown, which offers an eclectic selection of upscale boutiques, specialty gifts, coffee shops, craft cocktails and a variety of excellent restaurant experiences, all tied together by a vibrant arts scene.

By adopting sense-of-place initiatives into the regeneration of the community’s downtown, entrepreneurs are working closely with visionary city planners to develop mixed-use infill projects which incorporate living space in upper-levels of historic buildings to encourage a more walkable city center.

The plan is drawing people back to living downtown in beautifully renovated second and third floor housing spaces – bolstered by a complementary creative district that is repurposing existing facades to house artists, ceramicists, a yarn and fiber shop, galleries and other businesses with artistic leanings.

The citizens of Thomasville understand that for every dollar spent on historic preservation, five are returned to the local economy – the natural result when an eight-hour street transitions to an 18-hour street.

The comparative experience between the economic, civic and social progress of Thomasville and the stagnation of much of the Halifax area was palpable – and proved the benefit of evaluating the success of others and how those ideas might translate here at home.

For instance, residents of Thomasville have embraced the concept of the community “Charrette,” defined as “an intensive planning session where citizens, designers and others collaborate on a vision for development. It provides a forum for ideas and offers the unique advantage of giving immediate feedback to the designers.”

Rather than hiding projects behind cryptograms like “Project X” – they utilize whole community decision making to bring people together and seek innovative ideas and input during the planning phase – a process that builds a true sense of place and encourages early buy-in from all stakeholders.

Thomasville has shown that modern infrastructure can be placed below brick streets to honor the past while building a place where creativity and innovation can thrive, and by keeping things presentable, the community attracts people who can appreciate it.

Another difference I noted is that Thomasville has seen the intrinsic benefits of incorporating quality short-term vacation rentals into their tourism strategy, then use art and a festive event calendar to draw return visitors year-round.

Most of all, each time we visit, I am taken by the pride residents feel for their community.

As Michele Arwood, Executive Director of the Thomasville Center for the Arts recently wrote, “I love our town and our people, and the beautiful new streetscape that lies ahead.  With its new sidewalks and budding trees, it seems to wave and say, “Hey, look at me.  Look what I’ve become.” 

Collaborative.  Innovative.  Visionary.

The power of a new way of thinking.

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:

This installment of our dubious weekly awards show is dedicated to those intrepid citizens who fought hard to see the Historic North Turn Beach Parade become a reality in 2020 – a hard-fought battle against forces that seek to remove beach driving through a variety of guises – and one that has opened the eyes of a shocked community.

Angel               Paul Zimmerman, Sons of the Beach

Persistence is defined as continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.

In my book, it means ‘never quit.’

That ethos is embodied in civic activist Paul Zimmerman.

As president of Florida’s premiere beach driving advocacy, Sons of the Beach, Paul continues to fight against government overreach and the pernicious actions of political insiders who seek to monetize our most precious natural and economic resource.

Last week, Mr. Zimmerman wrote a cogent response to a recent upbraiding by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board.

For reasons known only to the newspaper, locals who have worked hard to preserve our century old heritage of beach driving were publicly reprimanded for questioning the motives of our weaponized County Attorney, Dan “Cujo” Eckert, and his mysterious efforts to crush the incredibly popular North Turn Beach Parade.

In Sunday’s ‘Community Voices’ column, Mr. Zimmerman rightfully pointed out that Volusia County officials have strategically employed an overly restrictive interpretation of the Incidental Take Permit that protects sea turtles and other wildlife while permitting beach driving.

For years, the oligarchical insiders who control our elected officials have openly pushed for the removal of cars from the beach as a means of essentially privatizing sections of the shore as a cheap marketing tool for hoteliers who contribute heavily to the campaigns of sitting politicians.

Thanks in no small part to the efforts of Paul Zimmerman, Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, Walt and Rhonda Glasnak and, my new hero, Congressman Bill Posey – earlier this week, after an interminable back-and-forth, the parade was begrudgingly approved by majority vote of the Volusia County Council.

If this ugly imbroglio over the fate of a two-hour beach parade did anything, it proved, once and for all, who this massive bureaucracy exists to serve – and exemplified the depth of dysfunction that is destroying any hope for substantive progress.

Angel               Councilwoman Billie Wheeler & Walt and Rhonda Glasnak

Kudos to Walt and Rhonda Glasnak for proving that when your cause is righteous – it is possible to fight the dark forces of a government gone off the rails.

Many in our community were impressed by the Glasnak’s perseverance in standing against powerful forces who sought to eliminate this community event celebrating the heritage of racing on the original beach course in Ponce Inlet.

When Walt and Rhonda ran into a brick wall in the form of a suspicious legal opinion issued by the county attorney’s office – they enlisted the help of Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler – who began asking all the right questions and working hard to find the truth.

In my view, Councilwoman Wheeler well-earned the respect of her constituents – and proved how statesmanship and community-focused representation can expose bureaucratic impediments and foster substantive change.

On Tuesday, the Glasnak’s and parade supporters refused to capitulate to external pressure – in the form of Chairman Ed Kelley’s near-constant push to compromise their worthy goals for cheap political expediency.

In turn, residents of Volusia County got an interesting view of how county government has used the federal Incidental Take Permit (ITP) to limit beach access – and a new perspective on the abhorrent dysfunction that has become status quo in DeLand.

Thank you for your efforts to preserve the storied history of our community.

Asshole           County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert

I spent the bulk of my adult life working and surviving in the politically charged environment of local government.

Time and again, I watched as long-time public servants overstayed their welcome, hanging onto a self-identity (and a paycheck) by their fingernails, as the environment around them went toxic and their opinions became worthless.

By all accounts, Dan Eckert is a good man.  I don’t doubt that.

He has served the citizens of Volusia County for more than 40-years in an important role that isn’t known for its longevity.

In my opinion, somewhere Dan got off the boat and began serving the implied wants, whims and personal ambitions of the uber-wealthy insiders who control his bosses on the dais of power to the exclusion of any logical or legal alternative.

For the most part, that unspoken pact was okay for everyone who is anyone.

He kept things subtle, defensible and within the often-malleable boundaries of the charter – and the not-so-flexible margins of the law – while routinely meeting the selfish needs of those who use our campaign finance system to purchase the loyalties of hand-select politicians to ensure a clear conduit between public funds and for-profit projects.

No one really questioned the arrangement.

In my view, several years ago, at the direction of a wholly compromised council, Mr. Eckert went over-the-top when he sued his own constituents – stomping a grassroots advocacy who wanted nothing more than to have a modicum of public input in beach management decisions – then mounted a no-holds-barred appeal when Sons of the Beach attempted to stop the pernicious practice of removing beach driving from large sections of the strand as a cheap giveaway to speculative developers.

It was ugly and divisive.

But, like any good attorney, Mr. Eckert was a zealous advocate for his client – the Volusia County Council – even when the rest of us felt he was using our own money to fight against us.

(Don’t take my word for it, just ask the citizens of Daytona Beach Shores how it feels when Mr. Eckert is allowed off the leash. . .)

Mr. Eckert received a council mandate to mount a vigorous challenge to the voter approved Amendment 10 – a constitutional amendment which will return constitutional sovereignty to several elected county officials, including the Sheriff’s Office – and many began to sense he fought like a rabid badger when called to suppress the will of the people – yet transformed into a toothless lapdog whenever the issue was counter to that of our political overseers.

Then, things took a more sinister turn. . .

In July, Mr. Eckert sent a letter to the parade’s sponsors, Walt and Rhonda Glasnak, claiming that Volusia County had allowed the event for the past eight years by “mistake,” and that permitting vehicles on that section of the beach constituted a violation of the county’s Incidental Take Permit (ITP) issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

There was little ambiguity in the risk involved:  The complete removal of beach driving.

A subsequent investigation by Congressman Bill Posey’s staff directly contradicted Mr. Eckert’s dire prediction and proved conclusively that the United States Fish & Wildlife Service has essentially ceded decision-making authority for special event beach access to Volusia County.

When Mr. Eckert’s weird view of the ITP and subsequent maneuvering was publicly disputed by the official Congressional inquiry – Councilwoman Billie Wheeler felt she had been given misinformation.

Because she was.

On Tuesday, Mr. Eckert’s opinion became the basis of a theater of the absurd at the Volusia County Council meeting, where the findings and authorizations of the Fish & Wildlife Service were purposefully ignored, and any semblance of reason thrown out the bureaucratic window.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Mr. Eckert pitifully yammered and stammered through his clarification, holding firm to his blatant mischaracterization of the take permit like a soggy life preserver.

At the end of the day, Mr. Eckert’s “legal advice” was definitively ignored on a 5-2 vote when common sense, and the will of the people, was upheld when the community event was allowed to continue.

In my view, now it is time for Mr. Eckert to retire – quickly and honorably – from government and enjoy the financial rewards and well-deserved salutations that come from a life of public service – because his effectiveness as our county attorney has officially come to an end.

From this point forward, our elected and appointed officials – and the citizens they serve – will forever question Mr. Eckert’s motives and clarity.

Now, taking his professional advice will become the equivalent of drinking from a contaminated well.

It is time.

Quote of the Week

“I’ve never seen a meeting held like that before in all of my days.  Typically, you take one vote at a time.  It seemed to me like most of the council members up there had no idea what they were actually voting on.”

–Patrick Gavin, Executive Director for U. S. Congressman Bill Posey, aptly describing the utter dysfunction he witnessed during discussions regarding the fate of the Historic Legends North Turn Beach Parade at the Volusia County Council meeting, Tuesday, October 15, 2019.

Sometimes it takes the eyes of an outsider to call attention to the familiar things we long-suffering citizens of Volusia County have simply become accustomed to.

What happened at Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting was a damnable embarrassment and an affront to good governance everywhere.

Some will take me to task for not writing a glowing accolade to the five elected officials who ultimately voted to continue the beach parade.  The fact is, this shouldn’t have been an issue to start with.

Besides, I’m not in the habit of congratulating a shit-show that happened to have a positive outcome.

In actuality, the vote to approve this popular event should have been no more than a perfunctory nod on a consent agenda – not an hours long descent into bureaucratic madness that gave onlookers a very public glimpse into the invalidity and sense of chaos that continues to afflict county government.

Personally, I blame our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, for what happened.

After nearly two-decades of masquerading as a public official, one would think that, over time, Old Ed would have (through osmosis, if nothing else) developed the ability to run a cogent, deliberative, organized meeting that results in strong, goal-oriented public policy.

Instead, he disrespectfully interrupts citizens and talks over his “colleagues” who are trying desperately to make a point, find clarity or question staff – then insinuates his own cockamamie, ill-informed views – and confuses the orderly discussion by mucking up established procedure in favor of his egotistical desire to serve his own convenience.

Unfortunately, far too often discussions on the dais are hijacked and turned into weird, disjointed self-promotions by the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys – or used like a club to bash Council member Heather Post for actually questioning the why of an issue – while protecting do-nothing bureaucrats from even a modicum of external oversight.

All with a frightening degree of regularity that has become so familiar we have come to accept it.

As a result, public input into the issues of the day is considered an inconvenience – and the shadowy machinations and hegemonic opinions of entrenched influencers, like County Attorney Eckert, are considered sacrosanct – regardless of material evidence to the contrary.

But this “meeting” was something different – amending bullshit amendments to amendments in some terribly confusing tragicomedy of errors – an awkward and excruciatingly humiliating exercise that bears no semblance to the work of any legitimate governmental body.

Disgusting.  And wholly disrespectful to the citizens of Volusia County.

As a taxpaying denizen of Florida’s fabled Fun Coast, I would like to issue a personal apology to Mr. Galvin – who has spent the past 23-years working in federal government and appropriately described these idiotic proceedings as “absurd” – for any post traumatic effects he may experience after being subjected to our unique form of “participatory democracy.”

My only hope is that he will go home and tell his boss just what we’re up against down here in Bizarro World. . .

Folks, this hopeless dysfunction simply cannot continue.

And Another Thing!

Now that so many have fought so hard to accomplish this important victory – let’s make sure we show our support by attending the 9th Annual North Turn Beach Parade on Saturday, February 8, 2020, sponsored by the Town of Ponce Inlet and (for the moment) Volusia County!

For more information, please go to: www.historicnorthturnbeachparade.com

That’s all for me!  Have a happy and safe Biketoberfest everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beachside Redevelopment: Surrendering to the forces of mediocrity

“Strange times are these in which we live when old and young are taught falsehoods in school. And the person that dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and fool.”

–Plato

We live in strange times, indeed.

Look, I’m just a blowhard with internet access who pontificates on the issues of the day – railing against the perennial politicians and bureaucratic do-nothings that are actively destroying our quality of life.

Admittedly, I spend an inordinate amount of time brooding on our collective situation, then putting my jumbled thoughts into words.  In a weird way, venting my spleen in this space is cathartic for a local boy who has lived in the Halifax area for over a half century.

Try as I might, I’ll be damned if I can figure out solutions to the myriad questions surrounding the ‘why’ of how a once vibrant tourist destination has been allowed to crumble into a quagmire of blight, dilapidation and economic stagnation.

I’m normally not a maudlin guy – but sometimes it really bothers me.

Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that our illustrious elected and appointed officials who accept public funds to serve in the public interest seem utterly clueless – and our “visionaries” in high places, like the mysterious CEO Business Alliance who seem to control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide on the Fun Coast – can’t develop workable solutions either.

They’ve simply thrown in the towel. . .

Tragically, those who should be holding our wholly ineffectual “leaders” to task – the Chamber of Commerce set who represent struggling businesses in this artificial economy – seem comfortable accepting the tired rhetoric of mediocrity seeping from city and county government.

And if I hear another real estate broker or economic development shill tell me how – as occupancy and daily rates are plummeting at area hotels, airport passenger traffic continues its drastic decline, malignant blight spreads on the beachside, Midtown and our Ridgewood Avenue commercial corridor and beyond –  “Amazing things are happening in our community,” I’m going to vomit.

Why?  Because it’s bullshit, that’s why.

I’m not talking about “New Daytona” that’s being built on Boomtown Boulevard – I’m talking about our horribly challenged beachside – a “real” beach community, not some faux purpose-built theme subdivision – that has almost purposely been allowed to wither and die.

Anyone who lives in these neglected neighborhoods – or visits our area on vacation – can see it up close and personal.

On Friday morning, Daytona Beach city officials joined concerned residents, business owners and civic activists in a walking tour of the smoldering ruins of our core tourist area.

Unfortunately – despite the exuberant pap and fluff of those with a vested interest in telling us what they think we want to hear – it became apparent that city officials still don’t have a comprehensive strategy for the physical and economic revitalization of the beachside.

According to an excellent report by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, City Manager Jim Chisholm admitted, “It takes private investors to be part of the solution.  We can have the greatest plan, but an investor has to see they can make a wise investment.”

I agree.  But what plan is he talking about?

In order for entrepreneurial investment to be attractive and financially practical in Daytona Beach, investors must be free of the bureaucratic formalities, exorbitant fees, mind-numbing applications, processes and approvals that continue to force small businesses to close or relocate to more “business friendly” areas.

For instance, in a recent News-Journal piece on the condemnation and demolition of dilapidated properties which often trades one form of blight for another, Tom Huger, a contractor and former City of Daytona Beach facilities manager, described an investor seeking to put an $85,000 beauty salon project on distressed George Engram Boulevard  – an opportunity that would require $25,000 in municipal permits.

My God.

Sadly, rather than taking people like Daytona Beach Economic Development Director Reed Berger by the short hairs and demanding something – anything – that can explain how, with $120 million over the transom, the area between Oakridge Boulevard and International Speedway Boulevard continues to struggle for its very survival – the Chamber of Commerce has seemingly rolled over and acquiesced to the city’s fatalistic view.

According to reports, Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Nancy Keefer admitted during the tour that it may take “30-40 years” to turn things around.

Sorry, Nancy.  I’m not sure your members who struggle to keep the doors open on beachside businesses have that much time. . .

Fortunately, there are bright spots – glowing pilot lights of inspiration that continue to flicker amidst the darkness of economic futility – and give hope for the future of the Main Street Redevelopment Area and beyond.

For instance, bold entrepreneurs like Krista Goodrich and Tom Caffrey – who renovated a vacant store front on Main Street, jumped through the bureaucratic hoops, and formed two highly successful endeavors, Pallet Pub and Hopcycles – and the intrepid Phaedra Lee at Main Street Station – and the tireless community activist Amy Pyle, to name a few.

These are young, energetic investors with new and innovative ideas for the future who continue to give their blood, sweat, tears – and money – to help revitalize one of our beachside’s most important commercial corridors with little, if any, assistance from city or county government.

Perhaps it’s time our uninspired city officials get the hell out of their way?

In my view, the City of Daytona Beach – and the Regional Chamber of Commerce – simply cannot continue to do nothing and expect a different result.

This almost suicidal inaction – and Mr. Chisholm’s odd strategy of waiting for the entrepreneurial Knight in Shinning Armor to appear and solve all of our civic, social and economic challenges – is less than inspiring to businesses and homeowners who are hanging on by their financial fingernails.

It is painfully clear to anyone paying attention that those who pass for “economic development” gurus in the Halifax area have become tired, visionless, sloth-like sluggards more content with maintaining whatever status quo ensures their continued place at the public tit – rather than fostering a free, open and level marketplace that supports and encourages the very private investment they so desperately seek.

____________________________

Barker’s View will be taking a few days to rest, relax and recharge – please enjoy past postings at your leisure – and I’ll return with our usual mishmash of rants, raves and alternative opinions on the issues of the day next week.

As always, thanks so much for reading.

 

 

Angels & Assholes for October 11, 2019

Hi, Kids!

It’s a well-known fact, I’m not a ‘joiner.’  Never have been.

I’ve always subscribed to the old Groucho Marx adage, “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

Call it social anxiety, or a well-founded feeling of inferiority, I just never felt comfortable in stilted situations.

But I’ve always been curious about those “political clubs,” not dull party organizations where like-types meet to reinforce each other’s myopic views, but places where people much smarter than me pay annual dues to have lunch – listen to congressmen, ambassadors and other “movers & shakers” bloviate on the issues of the day – then chat about “public affairs” over linen tablecloths.

Somehow, I don’t think I’d fit in – and I’m sure I don’t have the $500 to find out. . .

Instead, I get my take on our local political climate from a barstool.

I have a favorite watering hole where I talk politics over shots and beers with an eclectic group who actually experience the effect of public policy up close and personal.

Working folks and retirees who feel every dime of a tax increase, see the effect of unchecked growth, fear for the quantity and quality of their family’s drinking water, experience the adverse impact of development on our environment, worry about the fate of downtown Daytona businesses, live with the malignant blight and dilapidation on our beachside and lament the fact that they have been outbid by our “Rich & Powerful,” whose wants and whims bear no resemblance to their own.

I don’t know what the feeling is around the fancy luncheon tables of our local Bilderberg – but by my barroom barometer – those of us here in the “Real World” are ready for substantive change in local and county governance.

And, for good or for ill, it appears things are starting to heat up on the political front.

For reasons known only to him and the uber-wealthy masters he serves, this week our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, decided to continue his destructive path that has ruined the public’s trust in our massive county government, and skyrocketed taxes and fees into the stratosphere, when he filed for reelection.

In a recent interview with his able challenger, Jeff Brower, a long-time civic activist and community servant who, in my view, embodies the sense of honor, ethics and service above self that is sorely lacking on the Volusia County Council, expressed the hopes of many when he said “He (Kelley) served for a long time. I thought he might just retire.”

In addition, Mr. Brower cited a health scare that saw Chairman Kelley “rushed to the hospital” last year as another reason he might want to take up the rocking chair.

Apparently, Old Ed is in fighting trim, and responded to Mr. Brower’s legitimate concerns with a cheap shot hearkening back to the last election, “I was surprised that a person who finished third out of four people in a district race would want to run for County Chair,” Kelley quipped, before addressing his health. “If my health was an issue I wouldn’t be running.” 

I think it’s clear to anyone paying attention that Chairman Kelley’s political wit and acumen aren’t what they used to be when he first entered the local political arena way back in 1993.  In fact, it’s become something of a pastime of mine to watch as both his “colleagues” and fed-up citizens run mental laps around Mr. Kelley time and again.

Sad, really. . .

Besides, after Chairman Kelley’s over two-decades enabling the self-serving wants of his political benefactors from a dais, Mr. Brower could spend the rest of the campaign exposing this quack – who hasn’t had an original thought since he accepted his first campaign contribution – without once turning to his mental or physical limitations.

In other campaign news, this week, Councilwoman Heather Post picked up a very important endorsement from the incredibly popular Sheriff Mike Chitwood.

When giving his seal of approval, Sheriff Chitwood described Ms. Post as “. . .a change agent and that doesn’t go over really well in a county full of good ol’ boys.” 

I agree.  But she’s going to need all the help she can get.

A check of campaign finance records finds that Ms. Post has accumulated just $7,000 as compared to her opponent – Barbara Bonarrigo, the darling of the Big Money set – who has already amassed over $24,000 from many of the right last names who historically sway our elections with artificial infusions of cash to the campaigns of those candidates they control.

In my view, if we learned anything from the insanely expensive special election that was foisted on us in an attempt to ramrod a half-cent sales tax earlier this year, it is that We, The People can change the status quo in Volusia County politics and break the oligarchical grip of those who sway elections with massive campaign contributions by voting our conscious.

Keep your eyes and ears open, kids.  This election season is going to be one to watch. . .

Now, pull up a barstool, enjoy the beverage of your choice, and let’s shoot the breeze after a soggy week on the 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           Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron

I once worked for a wise old chief who would facetiously exclaim, “Managing people would be a great job, if it weren’t for people. . .”

It’s true.

Anyone can steer the ship when the seas are calm – or be the best strategist and leader since General George S. Patton when everyone is pulling in the same direction.  It’s during times of turmoil and crisis – when circumstances, and the imperfect people we rely on to mitigate and manage them – are at their worst that test the mettle of a chief executive.

Recently, a rift was exposed between Flagler County Fire/Rescue Chief Don Petito and Chief Information Officer Jarrod Shupe – a high-level “blowup” that manifested in a heated turf war during preparations for Hurricane Dorian at the county’s Emergency Operations Center.

According to reports, for some reason, Shupe found it necessary to stick his nose in Chief Petito’s operational planning by arbitrarily changing radio frequencies that established interoperative communications between Palm Coast and Flagler County fire departments – a plan that had been developed by Fire/Rescue staff and signed off by Petito in his role as incident commander.

Under the National Incident Management System, the Incident Commander is just that – responsible for all aspects of the emergency response – to include managing operations, assigning tasks, the allocation of resources, and maintaining personal responsibility for all personnel involved in the incident.

To add insult, Shupe apparently mentioned in an email that Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron and Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord told him he could, “do what he wants” in the leadup to a potential catastrophic hurricane.

That’s disturbing.  

If true – and one should need to look no further than the email’s paper trail to prove it – then Cameron and Lord were wrong in allowing Shupe carte blanche to run roughshod over the incident commander.

Especially when it comes to emergency communications.  That’s dangerous.

Apparently, the internecine grudge match began under former county administrator Craig Coffee and continued to smolder on Cameron’s watch. The spat has resulted in a barrage of finger-pointing internal memorandum’s to Cameron by Shupe and Petito.

According to an informative article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Petito, in his Sept. 6 memo, describes their head-butting during Dorian as part of a pattern of Shupe continually making key changes to county firefighting operations without notifying top department officials. He blasted Shupe as a “control freak” with a “complete inability to be a team player” whose “Machiavellian leadership style” he feared would hamstring the fire department’s operations and jeopardize someone’s life during an emergency.”

In turn, Mr. Shupe fired back in a tit-for-tat memorandum to Cameron – which was accompanied by a 253-page binder crammed with information to prove his side of the story.

Jesus.  This is what Flagler County taxpayers are paying for?

“Shupe blamed the rift with Petito on a lack of communication and claimed the longtime fire chief was “regularly working to discredit him.” He also accused Petito of harassing him and his team for the past year, noting they “regularly witness vulgarity-ridden outbursts” from Petito.”

Whatever.

Now, rather than take the bull by the balls and settle this squabble firmly and equitably between his direct reports – Jerry Cameron has decided to turn a petty squabble into a tumultuous front-and-center shit show by commissioning something he calls a “Board of Inquiry” – comprised of Cameron, County Attorney Al Hadeed and Finance Director John Bower. . .

Really?

According to Cameron, the board is designed to be an “informal administrative review aimed at determining the validity of Shupe and Petito’s claims.” 

 Trust me, nothing destroys the morale of senior staff like when the chief executive spinelessly delegates his or her responsibility for sound disciplinary control of senior department heads to subordinates. . .

And which of the inquisitors will verify Chief Petito’s allegation that Cameron gave Shupe free rein to do whatever he wanted contrary to the incident management protocol? 

In an organization with an established hierarchy of control, fellow department heads should not be expected to pass judgement on each other – especially the Finance Director, who must work in a cooperative and collegial manner with all department’s – and nothing assures the necessity of expensive outside legal counsel like inappropriately involving the County Attorney in what should be a routine personnel matter. . .

Where the hell is Flagler County’s Human Resources department?

Where the hell is the Flagler County Commission?

Look, when I was in my prime, I was passionate about my service to the community – and I can admit it now – I often had sharp elbows when standing on some bullshit principle.

Invariably, my “opponent” and I found a way to hammer out an amicable, often innovative resolution to competing ideas – and became fast friends and colleagues as a result – proving that conflict in the workplace isn’t always a bad thing.

Strong leadership effectively manages disagreements before they fester – and the Shupe/Petito Feud has gone on far too long.

Chief executives who seek to develop strong employee relations don’t rely on some cobbled together kangaroo court to determine blame in what amounts to a mutual personality conflict.

In my view, if Mr. Cameron is unwilling or unable to effectively resolve an interpersonal pissing contest without resorting to some political insulation committee, perhaps Flagler County has bigger problems that two recalcitrant department heads. . .

Angel               DSC Law Enforcement Academy Class 86

Kudos to Daytona State College’s Basic Law Enforcement Class 86 for demonstrating their strong commitment to the best traditions of the police service by seeing a need and working hard to see it met.

Recently, academy participants collected school supplies for less fortunate children in our community.  In turn, Daytona Beach Police Department school resource officers will distribute the supplies to those in need.

According to reports, each Basic Law Enforcement Academy class selects a service project to demonstrate the practical application of community policing concepts.  What a wonderful way to go beyond teaching the tactical and legal aspects of the job to instill a true sense of value-based service in our next generation of law enforcement officers.

Congratulations to DSC’s Law Enforcement Academy Assistant Chair Jim Jabluszewski (who I had the pleasure of attending ‘Rookie School’ with many, many moons ago) and the entire leadership and staff of the DSC School of Emergency Services for this innovative program that will pay dividends in our community for a long time to come.

Asshole           First Step Shelter Board

I’ve got to hand it to the First Step Shelter’s new Executive Director Victoria Fahlberg, who, in just one week, turned a $60,000 base salary into a very comfortable $75,000 annual gig with the addition of several lucrative benefits – to include mileage reimbursement and an unprecedented 24 vacation days each year.

Director Fahlberg is going to need every ounce of those impressive powers of persuasion as she begins the superhuman 24/7 scramble to find $500,000 in annual contributions to make up the deficit between government contributions and what this overgrown personal development course spends.

Make no mistake, this behemoth no longer bears any semblance of the homeless shelter we were promised. . .

We are also learning that the project’s brain trust, those Titans of Industry and Government that remain on the First Step Board, somehow allowed their greedy landlord – the City of Daytona Beach – to wheedle out of paving the entire parking lot before they signed the lease. . .

My God.

Come on, P$S Paving – pave the frigging parking lot.

Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Do it because you can.

Do it to salve your scabbed-over conscience after hauling load-upon-load of incredibly lucrative, publicly owned fill dirt off municipal property in City Manager Jim Chisholm’s horribly lopsided deal to “add value” to the site without any request for proposals or outside bids.

Do it even if it wasn’t part of your backhanded arrangement.

Ah, screw it. . .at this point, who cares? 

Angel               City of Deltona

Congratulations to the long-suffering citizens of Deltona. . .I guess.

This week, the Deltona City Commission tweaked the zoning on some 85-acres of commercial property at the request of a developer who represents a mysterious company seeking to build a one-million square foot “distribution center” in West Volusia.

Look, I don’t want to pour cold water on what may well be an economic shot in the arm for an area that could really use one, but the secret squirrel shit bothers me.

The developer, Seefried Industrial Properties, won’t publicly identify the company that will operate the warehouse citing a “non-disclosure agreement” – that by some quirk of law supersedes the public’s right to know and make informed decisions on land use issues.

Some are speculating that the rezoning marks the return of the much-anticipated Amazon fulfillment center that was ultimately built in the Tampa area – but nobody’s talking.

All we know with certainty is the company’s representative has previously developed distribution sites for Amazon, Home Depot and Pet Smart.

Of course, local economic development types and elected officials have been struck dumb by the dollar signs dancing in their heads – they aren’t saying squat – because, according to reports, once completed the project could generate some $950,000 in ad velorem revenue for the City of Deltona.

So, citizens of Deltona are left to trust their ‘powers that be’ to do the right thing – and suffer in silence as their elected officials continue to sell past the close with soliloquies about how warehouse work is the cure-all we’ve all been waiting for, yammering about “quality of life,” “shifting the financial burden,” etc.

Bullshit.  It is what it is – they know it and we know it.

Officials estimate that the distribution center will create “several hundred” jobs – and, according to a traffic impact analysis, some 2,596 trips per day with 336 of them being made by 18-wheelers. . .

According to reports, to lessen the impact to area motorists, the enigmatic retailer will make some $6 million in “improvements” to area roadways.

In my view, Deltona, and its east side sister Daytona Beach, seem to get really excited by warehouse jobs – which are hyper-dependent on a strong retail economy and increasingly susceptible to replacement by advanced technology and robotics.

There will be a time in the not-to-distant future when having humans in the loop – with their salaries, benefits, pensions and personality quirks – no longer makes financial sense.  Not with hyper-spectral sorters that can pick up, identify and sort thousands of packages in a nanosecond and never call out sick, file workman’s comp claims or hire labor attorneys. . .

While other communities in Central Florida continue to infill established neighborhoods with upscale shopping and entertainment venues, lure high-paying job in the science/information/tech sectors and develop innovative tourism strategies that build upon our areas environmental amenities – it seems Volusia County remains content to be a regional logistics hub for large companies that don’t believe we have the “demographics” to support an actual retail outlet – just lump their freight.

Look, I get it.

Changes in the way people shop has increased demand for warehouse and distribution space; and communities like Deltona and Daytona Beach would be crazy not to reap the economic benefits of partnering with an Amazon or Pet Smart.

However, despite the giddy enthusiasm of easily wooed politicians, just remember that these “too good to be true” panacea projects are not without risk.

Anyone ever see what one-million square feet of vacant industrial warehouse space looks like when a retailer is economically forced to consolidate distribution networks closer to major population centers?

That’s just one reason it would be nice for taxpayers to know who they are getting in bed with before the deal is consummated under a cloak of secrecy.

Good luck, Deltona.

I wish you all the best on your new partnership with, well, whomever. . .

Quote of the Week

“Those were the days, ladies and gentlemen, that were fun.  It was mom-and-pop and people stayed for two or three weeks. There was no Disney World.  It was hot dog and hamburger nights. It was fun on the pool deck. It was all about families.”

 –Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging and Hospitality Association of Volusia County, speaking during an event honoring two-dozen “legends” of the Halifax area tourism industry, Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Those were the days, my friend. . .

Listening to lodging and hospitality cheerleader Bob Davis wax nostalgic for the ‘good ol’ days’ left me feeling slightly confused.

Why would anyone stand at a podium and compare idyllic days gone by – when we enjoyed a vibrant tourist-based economy with a unique brand that drew visitors from around the globe – to the current oceanfront wasteland, pockmarked with overpriced “theme” hotels, fleabag flophouses and a monstrous, half-assed “condotel” that stands like a monument to the economic stagnation that has crushed the spirit of a once proud attraction?

Apparently, we’re in the annual awards season – when various local social climbers, do-gooders and civic organizations give each other plaques and accolades at rubber chicken galas while Rome burns.

And the Lodging and Hospitality Association was not to be outdone.

At a breakfast event this week, president-for-life Bob Davis bestowed “legend” status on area “tourism pioneers” – such as Evelyn Fine of Mid-Florida Marketing & Research.

In my view, Ms. Fine’s illustrious accomplishments include perpetually renewing her contract with the Halifax Area Advertising Authority – for decades – by telling our tourism and marketing gurus exactly what they want to hear.

Other honorees included various developers, hoteliers, convention bureau types and other celebrated ‘movers and shakers’ in our horribly crippled tourism industry – many of whom continue to sit idle as the real money moves west and occupancy rates plummet. . .

Look, I don’t particularly care if people want to congratulate their own performance as their cash cow suffocates in mediocrity – history is filled with the smoldering ruins of once great industries that were allowed to crumble as visionless “experts” refused to adapt to a changing marketplace.

Perhaps it’s good that Mr. Davis and his cronies in the local hotel/motel alliance continue to live comfortably in the “good ol’ days” – blaming the best economy in decades and “Abnb” for the continuing slide – because the frightening reality of what our tourism product has become is anything but fun. . .

And Another Thing!

This week, a dear friend and I had the pleasure of attending Mediums Night at the Southern Spiritualists Camp at Cassadaga, which is held the first Monday of each month at the Andrew Jackson Davis Educational Building & Bookstore.

For a nominal fee, guests have the opportunity to sit for a spiritual reading with either a student or certified camp medium and I highly recommend you make the short drive to one of the most beautiful settings in Central Florida.

According to the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, a spiritual reading occurs “when a medium receives, processes and delivers messages from the spirit plane.”

On Monday, I enjoyed a reading from a student medium named Darlene, who extended a warm welcome and immediately made me feel at ease.

The experience was profound and insightful – with a very personal and recognizable connection with someone very special to me who long ago passed on to the Higher Spirit Plane.  It reaffirmed what I have always hoped – that our loved ones are still looking on, loving and supporting us on the path of life.

During our session, there was a noticeable hum of energy in the room – something hard to explain but immediately recognizable, like a high frequency vibration – and when our time together ended, I was touched emotionally, and left with a wonderful feeling of well-being and deep inner peace.

The experience was unexpectedly energizing.

Look, I admit that receiving the benefits of a spiritual reading requires an open mind – but if you are receptive to it – the time spent can bring a true sense of enlightenment.

Take some time and avail yourself of an evening in beautiful Cassadaga.

Enjoy a stroll through the historic Cassadaga Hotel and spend some time in the eclectic bookstore and gift shop where the names and contact information of available mediums is posted.

The staff is very friendly and can explain the process of meeting with a camp medium or healer.

The quaint community of Cassadaga is located just off I-4 in Wild West Volusia near the Town of Lake Helen.

Anyhow, thanks for reading.  Have a great weekend, friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beachside Redvelopment: Banging the drum for deaf ears

Earlier this week, I ripped News-Journal editor Pat Rice a new bunghole in response to the editorial board’s misinformed, finger-wagging lecture to beach driving advocates on the ongoing ruckus over the Volusia County legal department’s mysterious attempt to crush a long-time historic parade on the old beach racing circuit at Ponce Inlet.

In my view, he deserved it. . .

However, juxtaposed with the hot button beach driving piece was a cogent editorial written by Mr. Rice entitled, “Beachside committee report languishes in silence,” wherein he made the spot-on assessment that more than a year has passed since the gilded Beachside Redevelopment Committee issued suggestions for the revitalization of our core tourist area.

As many will recall, the committee – lead by former Brown & Brown executive Tony Grippa, and populated by everyone who is anyone in the social, business and civic stratosphere of our Halifax area beau monde – was chartered by the Volusia County Council to identify the corrosive issues that have led to the economic stagnation and abject blight that has crippled the beachside and develop strategies for improvement.

I didn’t hold out much hope from the beginning – in fact, I was openly mocked as a fool for dismissing the effort as a sham – but, in reality, if any group of people could make a positive difference in the life of our community, it was this one.

Unfortunately, when it came time to formulate the report that would serve as a blueprint for the resurrection of the beachside and beyond – Volusia County’s Director of Growth & Resource Management, Clay Ervin, took control and proceeded to neuter the committee’s vision with a liberal dose of bureaucratese – crafting the final recommendations in a manner that avoided any possible responsibility and sidestepped all accountability for the elected and appointed officials who provide what passes for oversight in Volusia County government.

When the report was finally issued in 2018, I wrote, . . .our fervent hope for substantive change has been replaced with another worthless “See, we did something” political insulation report that will collect dust in County Manager Jim Dinneen’s already groaning library of consultant reports, master plans and “recommendations.”

“Perhaps the Grippa Report can bookend the 2011 tourism study wherein the Volusia County Council paid $100,000 to an out-of-state consultant to conduct a review which concluded that our beachside “tourism product” was a serious impediment to attracting visitors and economic development, “…there is no “plan” for who is leading the effort and how these challenges can be improved.”

Clearly, there still isn’t. . .

In his well-thought editorial, Mr. Rice acknowledged that the hard work of the Beachside Redevelopment Committee resulted in a list of “tangible ways” our core beachside could be improved – and given the depth of the problem no one expected change overnight.

But we had a right to expect that something would happen.

Then, like many expensive and time-consuming reports, studies and findings of a hundred other time-buying committees – absolutely nothing happened. . .

According to Mr. Rice:

“It takes time to remedy the decades of neglect and problems that have allowed the beachside to become decrepit and crime ridden. Raggedy rental housing doesn’t improve overnight. Shops and restaurants don’t just sprout up because people wish for them. Everyone gets that.

But there is such a thing as not trying hard enough. There is such a thing as flying too below the public’s radar. There is such a thing as not banging the drum loudly.”

Indeed.

Perhaps now that the News-Journal has formally called them out, our ‘powers that be’ will realize that some of us are still paying attention out here in the political wilderness – waiting patiently for action on the findings of serious people with serious ideas for reanimating the corpse of a once vibrant tourist destination.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Nobody knows nuttin’. . .

Volusia County District Schools Interim Superintendent Tim Egnor instinctively uses a weird anaphora when describing official acts and omissions at district schools: “. . .more or less.”

The phrase means “approximately,” an inexact answer that is used to express vagueness or uncertainty – something more or less true, but not completely factual – an imprecise assessment.

In terms we can all understand, in the wake of a third internal investigation into academic misconduct at Mainland High School (which was conducted by the same Office of Professional Standards that pursued the first two inquiries) student’s and staff of Volusia County Schools are more or less victims of an organizational protection racket. . .

Using the “nobuddy knows nuttin’” defense, senior administrators circled the wagons and convinced district “investigators” that no one had a clue what was going on at Mainland, even as hundreds of students were given a fake Advanced Placement test in a cruel ruse that became known as the “placebo exam” fiasco, along with credible allegations that former principal Cheryl Salerno manufactured passing grades for student athletes out of whole cloth.

The district also examined what Area Superintendent Susan Freeman, whose area of responsibility included Mainland, knew and when she knew it.

According to an excellent report by the News-Journal’s intrepid Education reporter Cassidy Alexander, “In August, Freeman told investigators she did not know that Salerno was listed to teach a course, and she did not know that two teachers at the school, one of whom is her son, were working as counselors without certification.”

Apparently, Superintendent Freeman stood behind the “Not my job, man” defense when asked if she reviewed the master schedule to determine if educators were certified to present subject’s they were responsible for teaching.

Freeman reportedly claimed that vetting teacher certifications was the responsibility of Human Resources.

Of course, when asked, the district’s former Chief of Human Resources Dana Paige-Pender (who just last week was anointed Director of Human Resources for all of Volusia County government) said, “. . .she didn’t know about the out-of-field teachers or uncertified counselors at the school until the summer’s investigation. She recalled asking Salerno directly if the two employees in question were working as counselors, and Salerno denied it.”

Hell, even Amy Hall, director of student and government relations – which “supports” school counselor programs – claimed it was not her responsibility to ensure counselors were certified at that time – and she couldn’t even tell investigators who served as a counselor before the current school year.

Apparently, the actual administration of Volusia County Schools wasn’t in any senior administrator’s job description. . .

Somebody must have known what was going on, right?

I mean, in an organization with a budget approaching $1 Billion in public funds and responsibility for the education of some 63,000 students – someone must have been responsible for, I dunno, having a vague idea how the whole shebang was being operated?

Well, it appears everyone who is anyone in the Ivory Tower of Power at Volusia County Schools seems to agree that former chief academic officer, Teresa Marcks – who, along with Ms. Salerno, received a blunt reprimand and a comfortable retirement for her role in the “placebo exam” scandal – was the sole source of the horrific corruption, dysfunction and cover-up of gross academic misconduct at Mainland High School. . .

My ass.

But we’ll never know for sure.

You see, district “investigators” did not interview Teresa Marcks or Cheryl Salerno – and I would be curious to know if they bothered to interrogate the one person who should have all the answers – former Superintendent Tom Russell – who also retired to escape the flames, then fled our horribly crippled district with a sack full of severance money – and now practices his odd brand of “leadership” at Flagler-Palm Coast High School.

However, Mr. Egnor assures us things are “more or less” typical at Mainland High School now that it’s under new management – so we can take comfort in that. . .

But what about the rest of the district? 

Following a hat trick of self-serving probes – the last of which, by Egnor’s own admission, was “to clear the names of people that I felt had done nothing wrong but were being lambasted” – that produced squat in terms of substantive information or personal accountability – how can we be sure another shit storm isn’t on the horizon?

How can we be certain more children won’t be victimized by fake exams, reverse-cheating or unqualified teachers and counselors?

The fact is, we can’t – because the same hands remain on the switch. . .

Now that Volusia County District Schools have investigated themselves three times without any determination of culpability – those of us who pay the bills are expected to merely accept the findings that no one in a position of responsibility was aware of the corruption, maladministration and utter dysfunction that has resulted in the complete destruction of Mainland High School’s academic reputation and the public’s trust.

That’s unacceptable.

No.  That’s unconscionable.

I’m just spit-balling here, but it is remotely possible these highly compensated senior administrators are more interested in protecting their own career track than ensuring the integrity of the system?

And where in the hell is the Florida Department of Education when we need them most? 

My God.

In my view, it is time for the Volusia County School Board – those we have elected to serve the best interests of students, staff and taxpayers – to get their hands dirty, cut the top off this rotten gourd, and allow our new superintendent to recruit a credible staff of senior administrators who won’t look the other way or develop a convenient memory when it comes time to accept accountability and protect the sanctity of our children’s education.

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Where true loyalties lie

Since my earliest days The Daytona Beach News-Journal has been my newspaper of record.

I learned to read and digest the news of the day sitting with my father as he perused the Daytona Beach Morning and Evening Journal – something that became a bonding point for father and son – and taught me to think critically and form my own opinions on the issues that shape our lives and communities.

Through the years, the paper’s editorial stance has periodically swung – neither always in alignment with my views nor continually opposed – but it has consistently given me a thought-provoking focal point to consider the questions of the day.

Unfortunately, I fear the editorial board’s recent finger-wagging lecture to beach driving advocates in the still unfolding aftermath of the Volusia County legal department’s decision to unilaterally stop a two-hour historic race car parade on a short section of the beach in Ponce Inlet has exposed a critical bias that many of us would have preferred to ignore – something that has illuminated a growing fear that long-time readers have secretly harbored for some time now.

For months, loyal subscribers to The Daytona Beach News-Journal have watched in shocked silence as our hometown newspaper has dissolved into a jerry-built regional product.

We have stood horrified as the newsroom was decimated by cutbacks and layoffs – while senior reporters and editors have been swallowed up by the News-Journal’s parent, Gatehouse Media – and shook our heads in silence as the editorial page slowly transitions to a cut-and-paste from other markets ginned-up with an vague local connection.

As our local news dwindled to a trickle, regular readers have looked on as editor Pat Rice appeared in increasingly tight social alliance with those the paper has anointed our ‘Rich & Powerful.’

Photographs regularly appear in the online edition of Mr. Rice rubbing shoulders at ostentatious galas with our high and mighty oligarchical overseers who repeatedly corrupt each election cycle with astronomical campaign contributions from a host of personal and corporate entities that make a mockery of campaign finance rules – and backslapping with the same tired and wholly co-opted politicians they repeatedly return to office.

Look, I won’t presume to Tell Mr. Rice who he should associate with – but the optics suck – especially when his social circle comprises a ‘who’s who’ of the ‘movers and shakers’ who repeatedly access public funds to reduce overhead on private projects and should be the focus of his news organization.

I like Pat Rice.  He is an inherently good man, and although our opinions on the issues may differ, I appreciate how he tries hard to remain competitive in an increasingly desperate print news market.

During good times and bad, I have been a staunch supporter of The Daytona Beach News-Journal – I still am – and have repeatedly gone to the mat with those who disparage the outstanding reportage and in-depth investigative journalism that has brought us clear insight into the many local issues that have become so detrimental to our lives and livelihood.

But Sunday’s editorial, “In Volusia beach driving battle, stop depicting allies as foes,” took a more offensive tone – one that besmirched the hard work and dedication of beach driving advocates while championing the self-serving efforts of those money-grubbing insiders who seek to turn our public beach into a semi-private marketing tool for speculative developers.

It was hurtful.  It was uninformed.  It was wrong.

And, for many of us who have spent our lives here – it was personal.

In my view, for decades, uber-wealthy political insiders like His Majesty Hyatt Brown and his coterie of brown-nosing lickspittles have used the clout of various civic organizations, secret societies and their lopsided studies to support their gilded idea that the World’s Most Famous Beach – which was literally founded on our century-old heritage of beach driving – will always be nothing more than a honky-tonk shithole unless and until we acquiesce to their selfish idea that a traffic free beach is the panacea for our civic and social ills.

So, in the mid-1990’s, amid declining occupancy and average daily room rates in beachfront hotels, Volusia County removed cars from a one mile stretch of beach between International Speedway Boulevard and Seabreeze on the promise it would revitalize our core tourist area.

It didn’t.

Now, among declining occupancy and average daily room rates, our ‘powers that be’ stand suspiciously idle as the continued economic strangulation of our core tourist area continues.

And the war on beach driving by those with the ability to purchase political representation – from Let Volusia Vote to the Hard Rock Daytona debacle – continues unabated.

Anyone who thinks County Attorney Dan Eckert and his staff have been “fighting and fighting and fighting” to preserve beach driving is delusional – or has simply stopped paying attention to local issues.

As an example, if you take the time to compare Volusia County’s federal Incidental Take Permit – which allows beach driving while protecting sea turtles and wildlife – with St. Johns County’s, for instance, it becomes immediately clear that those who the News-Journal touts as “allies” have used their misshapen, hand-crafted permit like a weapon for years – even as those bought-and-paid-for chattel on the Volusia County Council gave more of our heritage away to over-hyped theme hotels and here-today-gone-tomorrow developers who never seem to make good on their promises.

Perhaps the News-Journal’s editorial board should read its own reporting. There’s a good reason many Volusia County residents no longer trust their government – or those handmaidens of the “Rich & Powerful” in the county’s legal department. . .

According to the News-Journal’s condescending editorial:

“Always, always, always: Volusia County is depicted as the enemy. That’s just wrong. If beach activists don’t forge a working partnership with the county team that’s been defending beach driving, or at least stop lobbing accusations and leaning on County Council members to rein in their “bureaucrats,” beach driving will be endangered by needless and misinformed strife.”

That hyper-dramatic horseshit doesn’t wash – not when the United States Fish & Wildlife Service – the very federal agency that issues and oversees Volusia’s Incidental Take Permit – have publicly announced it supports the special event.

And, for the past eight years, so did Volusia County government. . .

A shocking revelation that was completely contrary to what we – and our elected officials – had previously been told by County Attorney Eckert.

In my view, the crude demise of the Historic North Turn Legends Beach Parade exposed the depth to which our weaponized county attorney, and those wealthy insiders he serves, will go to maintain their iron-fisted control as a means to pursue their ultimate goal of removing beach driving in the name of the Almighty Dollar.

Time and again – from beach driving to Amendment 10 and a hundred points in between – Volusia County government has proven where its true loyalty lies.

And it is not with those of us who pay the bills and are expected to suffer in silence as the wants and whims of the few consistently outweigh the needs of many.

Now, it appears The Daytona Beach News-Journal has exposed its own not-so-subliminal bias as well. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for October 4, 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           Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company

The Halifax area isn’t known for our dedication to historic preservation – especially once the “Rich & Powerful” get dollar signs in their eyes. . .

That was the fate of the 121-year-old First Baptist Church in downtown Daytona Beach.

Last Sunday, parishioners said goodbye to the sanctuary, many singing hymns through tears and using markers to scrawl notes and messages memorializing times gone by – a eulogy to a holy place that has met their spiritual needs for generations.

In coming weeks, First Baptist will meet the same fate as the nearby First United Methodist Church on Bay Street, whose beautiful mosaic mural of Jesus ascending unceremoniously fell to the wrecking ball last year.

The destruction of these historic churches was made necessary by Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company’s mysterious “Project Delta” which, we’re told, will bring a grocery store, 300 more “luxury” apartments, a 400 car parking garage and mixed use space in support of His Majesty Hyatt Brown’s “game changing” glass-and-steel headquarters building.

(Project Delta?  Why does every public/private partnership in Volusia County have to read like a Tom Clancy novel?)

Look, I’m not an overly religious sort – just another wayward lamb lost in the wilderness – but there was a time when churches and synagogues formed the foundational bedrock of a community.

A beacon of faith during difficult times, a place that marked the important milestones of our lives – weddings, baptisms, funerals – always serving as a spiritual lighthouse for those in need.

But not anymore.

We’ve “grown” past all that.  The profit motives of our ‘movers & shakers’ prevail over everything else now – physical, spiritual or historical.

I’m not an expert, but couldn’t Sir John Albright and his crack staff of civic visionaries at Consolidated-Tomoka find a way to incorporate the spiritual needs of a community in their top secret/compartmented plans for the rest of us?

No money in it? 

Off the tax rolls? 

Whatever. . .

Look, Mr. Albright is free to do what he wants on the property his company purchased – and the First Baptist congregation is moving to new digs on Tomoka Farms Road soon.

I get it.

But what happened to the idea of comprehensive planning and community involvement?

There was a time when building a ‘new’ downtown involved a plan to determine contemporary and emerging needs, identify issues, state goals, evaluate alternatives and involve civic organizations, merchants and ordinary citizens in the process – rather than classifying the project behind some weird cryptonym. . .

This is where we make our home, so we all have a vested interest.

Why the Secret Squirrel bullshit?

Our community’s historic places in downtown Daytona and beyond are being bought up and torn down in the name of “progress,” and according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board, we should be happy about it.

“A dynamic, flourishing downtown will always include some pangs of loss — but also, a surge of optimism that a once-bustling part of the city will soon see green shoots of resurrection, including the glossy new headquarters of Brown & Brown Insurance taking rapid form just a few blocks away. It’s a fitting next chapter for the church properties, and a welcome sign of hope and optimism for Daytona Beach — one fueled, not by government, but by private investors’ faith in the potential at the heart of the city.”

A fitting next chapter?

God help us. . .

Angel               Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler

Look, I admit it.

I give Councilwoman Billie Wheeler and her colleagues on the dais of power in DeLand a lot of grief.

Most of it deserved. . .

But this week, Ms. Wheeler stood tall in her defense of thousands of her long-suffering constituents who gather each year for the Historic North Turn Legends Beach Parade – a grassroots event honoring the storied history of NASCAR’s old beach circuit – and the daring drivers who paved the way for contemporary stock car racing and the growth of the Halifax area.

In many ways, the parade represents the very roots of our community.

Like many things here on Florida’s Fun Coast, the beach driving aspect of the event apparently doesn’t comport with the wants and whims of oligarchical insiders who have fought the tradition for years. . .

So, earlier this year, our weaponized County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert – who has made a cottage industry suing taxpayers with our own money – unilaterally denied a permit for the event in 2020, citing a violation of Volusia’s federally mandated Incidental Take Permit, which allows our century-old heritage of beach driving while protecting sea turtles and other wildlife.

Even after the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, which issues and administers the permit, publicly said they support the special event – Ol’ Dan wouldn’t take ‘Yes’ for an answer – fighting tooth-and-nail with the help of his deputy, Jamie Seaman, to make sure the incredibly popular parade won’t roll next Speed Weeks.

Earlier this week, Mr. Eckert issued a long-winded memorandum to the Volusia County Council essentially warning that they do not have the authority to permit the parade – painting our elected officials into a very tight corner with the oppositional legal mumbo-jumbo Dan has become famous for.

You see, when it comes to fighting beach driving advocates, Cujo Eckert attacks like a rabid badger – but when his skills are needed to support any and all efforts to keep vehicles off the beach – he’s the best lawyer real estate developers, political insiders and out-of-state meddlers never paid for.

For instance, Mr. Eckert spent yesterday in Tallahassee arguing before an appeals court to overturn the will of voters in the ongoing Amendment 10 fiasco. . .

The stakes are high.

In my view, many of these same “Rich & Powerful” forces that have vigorously opposed beach driving have engaged in the ongoing economic strangulation of our core tourist areas as a cruel punishment for our fight to protect beach access – a drastic means of saying, “See, we were right and you were wrong – now, give up and let us capitalize on our “vision,” you peons. . .”

That’s why I was so incredibly proud of Ms. Wheeler’s efforts to ferret out the truth, rather than accept the same tired threats that Mr. Eckert and his staff have used so effectively for years.

To her credit, Councilwoman Wheeler asked the hard questions – like why, after eight years, the county is suddenly so vehemently opposed to what she called an “economic booster” without any legal objection from Mr. Eckert?

She also asked why previous councils offered unanimous votes to approve the event without any hint of concern from the legal department?

Of course, the “system” immediately circled the wagons, with Deputy County Manager Seamans all but calling Ms. Wheeler a liar – claiming that the previous votes were merely to permit alcohol at the event, not to approve the beach parade. . .

(So, they voted to allow alcohol at an event that wasn’t permitted?  Weird. . .)

Thus began the county’s patented process of marginalizing and discrediting anyone who steps out of line and dares champion the needs of their constituents against the iron will of Volusia County government.

In keeping with her craven tradition of having a politically expedient way out of any issue – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys requested that county staff also compile an accounting of how much Volusia County spends on the annual event – claiming she wants “all the information” on the council’s October 15 agenda.

You don’t need me to tell you how this is going to go. . .

Still, I appreciate Ms. Wheeler’s strength of character and willingness to fight for her constituents under such withering criticism from our politically unaccountable lawyers and staff.

Thank you for the effort.  That takes guts.

Asshole           Volusia County School District

This week, after yet another five-alarm foul-up, the Volusia County School District was suggested for this auspicious title by an observant Barker’s View reader.

I wholeheartedly agree. . .

Given a budget approaching $1 Billion – and the dangerous times in which we live – one would think that Volusia County Schools would have both the means and motivation to live up to their sacred obligation to protect our precious children from harm.

Like many of you, I have young family members who attend district schools, so imagine my utter horror when I learned of two high profile security breaches last week.

The first involved a 13-year old student at Galaxy Middle School in Deltona who was arrested after he apparently threatened to shoot up the school, something that was reported by a parent, not school officials.

Then, an intoxicated intruder with an “extensive criminal record” armed with a knife road a bicycle onto the campus at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange – completely unchallenged – then meandered into an occupied classroom and took a seat.

Jesus.

The district’s initial response to a shocked media was ham-handed, at best. . .

Speaking to the News-Journal’s Education reporter Cassidy Alexander, Interim Superintendent Tim Egnor said, “To convert (campuses) into minimum security prisons, which is the reality of this situation, it involves a whole level of thinking that is very different than what we’re used to.  It is very hard to prevent with 100% certainty unless you just had a ring of security people hand-in-hand around the entire 10 acres.”

On Wednesday, the Interim Superintendent polished the turd during a press conference, announcing that the district is once again investigating itself, and yammering about “retraining,” “physical changes,” “no rush to judgement,” “can’t comment on possible discipline,” blah, blah, blah.

But when he claimed these incidents were the result of “overthinking” I shot a healthy sip of my noontime highball through my nose. . .ugh.

Look, this district-wide lackadaisical approach to our children’s safety is nothing new.

Last summer, after four public records requests to district officials, I was finally able to review the qualifications of those who had been appointed to oversee the state mandated Guardian program at that time.

In turn, I discovered that two of the three individuals identified as safety and security specialists couldn’t statutorily qualify for the position they were charged with managing. . .

I sounded the klaxon, but nothing changed.

Look, I may be just a shut-in with internet access – certainly not a self-styled school safety and security expert like our district’s staff of posers – but I happen to know that credibility is paramount to achieving the internal and external buy-in required for effective security planning.

In my view, it’s time for the Volusia County School Board to pull their heads out of their ass – hold someone responsible for these glaring security lapses – then find a professional security director who actually knows something about “building and managing” an effective safety and security program for the thousands of students and staff who deserve better.

This is urgent.

Look, Interim Superintendent Egnor is a good guy.  He stepped up to fill an important role during a difficult time and his long legacy of service will not be stained by this shit-train of issues that has crippled Volusia County Schools and destroyed the public’s trust.

But this level of incompetence by senior staff members who have accepted the awesome responsibility of securing our schools simply cannot stand.

I implore Mr. Egnor to talk to current and former campus advisers, Guardians and other line personnel charged with security responsibilities.  If they trust the Interim Superintendent – perhaps they will tell him the same stories they have told me and others.

Believe me – it’s a wake-up call.

Given the serious events of last week, the Volusia County School Board shouldn’t wait until a new superintendent is seated to begin a top-to-bottom review of the district’s clearly ineffectual security protocols – then jettison any senior administrator whose abject  incompetence failed Volusia County students and staff.

Angel               Daytona Beach Police Department

I spent a considerable part of my law enforcement career involved in the investigation of narcotics crimes – specialized work that requires an officer to master a wide range of disciplines – to include physical and electronic surveillance techniques, the ability to think quickly and change direction with little notice, effectively developing and managing confidential sources, maintaining operational security for long periods of time, even the art of safely working undercover.

It can be very tedious and demanding work, requiring a great deal of patience and perseverance to build often complex criminal cases against drug distribution networks that work very hard to keep law enforcement from connecting A to B.

Kudos to the Daytona Beach Police Department for their highly successful “Operation Clean Streets” – a five-month dedicated effort targeting street-level drug dealers that ultimately identified some 41 suspects.

I know firsthand the operational tempo and logistics required for an operation of this length – and I also the know the incredible gratitude residents feel when their neighborhood is liberated from the oppression of drug dealing and related nuisance crimes that destroy their quality of life.

According to reports, seven stolen firearms were recovered, along with nearly $3,500.00 in cash, 21 grams of cocaine, 305 grams of marijuana, 8 grams of heroin, 21 grams of methamphetamine and nearly 30 grams of ecstasy.

Thank you to Chief Craig Capri and his intrepid officers and staff on a job well done!

Quote of the Week

“If Florida really wants the best and brightest to enter teaching and stay in the profession, lawmakers need to improve pay as well as the treatment of teachers.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Drop bonuses and increase wages,” as adapted from a Gainesville Sun editorial, Wednesday, October 2, 2019

With Governor Ron DeSantis pushing for a much-needed across-the-board pay increase for Florida’s beleaguered teachers, perhaps he could take a minute from his busy schedule cutting ribbons, slapping backs and collecting campaign funds to examine the abysmal treatment of Volusia County students and staff?

Trust me, our district schools need outside intervention.  Now.

Clearly, the Florida Department of Education is content to sit on its thumb while the district is rocked by one catastrophic scandal after another – to include an active investigation by the United States Department of Justice over the district’s treatment of disabled children.

Never mind the “placebo exam” fiasco which destroyed the trust of an entire class of students – or the startling revelation that Mainland High School’s former principal manufactured passing grades for student-athletes – in my view, the shocking “security lapses” last week at Spruce Creek and Galaxy Middle deserve immediate intervention by state and federal authorities.

Look, if Volusia County Schools refuse to learn from the atrocity at Parkland and elsewhere, then an outside agency in a position to properly secure the lives of vulnerable students and staff simply must step in and take control.

Unfortunately, “retraining” and introspective audits only work in organizations that value professional standards and embrace the concept of accountability and responsibility.

Perhaps it’s time to relieve the jackleg frauds who masquerade as “safety and security specialists” in the highest echelons of Volusia County Schools and replace them with real experts who possess the personal and professional discipline to give this awesome responsibility the serious attention it deserves.

In my view, funding for raises and benefit increases is certainly necessary to attract and retain qualified teachers throughout the Sunshine State – but effectively securing the lives of our children and district staff is priceless – and immediately necessary.

And Another Thing!

Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of Ponce’s Law, a grassroots effort born of the ghastly beating death of a Labrador puppy in 2017.

This week, we also learned that the piece of human excrement who was charged with this heinous crime plans to enter a plea to felony animal cruelty in the near future.  The suspect, Travis Archer, 46, faces up to five years in prison and a $5,000.00 fine on the third-degree felony when he is ultimately sentenced by Judge Sandra Upchurch.

Last year – thanks to the hard work of Debbie Taylor-Darino and her group of animal rights activists at Justice For Ponce –  State Representative Tom Leek of Ormond Beach introduced legislation which increases the sentencing score for persons convicted of animal cruelty, bringing this abominable breed of scum closer to the prison term they so richly deserve.

The law also allows a judge to prohibit anyone convicted of animal abuse from ever owning a pet again.

Unfortunately, Ponce’s Law won’t apply to Travis Archer. . .

Earlier this week, the Justice For Ponce organization took to the streets in front of the S. James Foxman Justice Center in Daytona Beach – just as they have done for the past two years – demanding punishment for Archer and calling attention to the prevention and prosecution of animal abuse.

Here’s extending our hearty congratulations to Ms. Darino and her brave activists at Justice For Ponce on successfully enhancing penalties for those monsters among us who would abuse innocent animals.

God’s work.

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

 

 

 

Volusia Schools: A Lack of Urgency

Given a budget approaching $1 Billion – and the dangerous times in which we live – one would think Volusia County Schools would have both the means and motivation to live up to their sacred obligation to protect our precious children.

Like many of you, I have young family members who attend district schools, so imagine my utter horror when I learned of two high profile security breaches this week.

The first involved a 13-year old student at Galaxy Middle School in Deltona who was arrested after he threatened to shoot up the school while on campus – something that was reported by a parent – not school officials.

Then, an armed and intoxicated intruder with an “extensive criminal record” walked onto the campus at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange – completely unchallenged – before entering an occupied classroom.

According to reports, “Officials said the teacher activated his emergency button located inside the classroom which said to send assistance there immediately.  The school was not put on lockdown and there was no code red call made.  A spokesman with the school district said at least some security protocol was not followed.”

Perhaps most disturbing was Interim Superintendent Tim Egnor’s cavalier response after some 2,500 students and staff at Spruce Creek had a very close call.

Speaking to the News-Journal’s Education reporter Cassidy Alexander, Egnor said, “To convert (campuses) into minimum security prisons, which is the reality of this situation, it involves a whole level of thinking that is very different than what we’re used to.  It is very hard to prevent with 100% certainty unless you just had a ring of security people hand-in-hand around the entire 10 acres.”

“There is a certain futility to the notion if you think any place could be 100% safe.”

He later described the personal and systemic failures that permitted an armed drunk free access to the campus as, “. . .just a comedy of errors. . .”

According to Mr. Egnor, we can take comfort in knowing the district is going to “learn” from its mistakes.

Bullshit.

That type of organizational growth only occurs where professional standards and the concept of responsibility and accountability actually mean something. . .

Look, this lackadaisical approach to our children’s safety is nothing new.

Last summer, after four public records requests to district officials, I was finally able to review the qualifications of those who had been appointed to oversee the state mandated Guardian program at the time.

Two of the three couldn’t qualify for the position they were charged with managing. . .

I sounded the klaxon, but nothing changed.

In my view, the credibility and vigilance of administrators is paramount to achieving the internal and external buy-in required for effective security planning, so I asked for the names and qualifications of those appointed by then Superintendent Tom Russell to provide for the safety and security of students and staff members.

Last July, I received the following information from Greg Aiken, the district’s Chief Operating Officer, which read, in part:

“I have 22.5 years of military experience and 15 years in the School District where 14 of those years has been building and managing the safety and security program for the district.  I am a certified FEMA and TEEX Adjunct Instructor  for the past 10 years teaching all facets of emergency management all over the US.” 

“We have identified three (3) employees that will have the duties as the School Safety Specialist to ensure we have back-ups when the others are on vacation or out sick.”

When I finally received the public records, I found that one of our school security experts began his career as a Band Director and most recently served as an ESE supervisor and assistant principle at schools in the district.

It is my understanding that this individual is no longer responsible for school security.

The bulk of the other “security specialist’s” law enforcement experience was limited to serving as an administrative secretary at the FBI’s New York field office. . .

According to her LinkedIn page – she remains the district’s Safety and Security Specialist.

Frankly, I don’t know who in the hierarchy at the district’s Ivory Tower of Power is actually responsible for our children’s safety today – do you?

In my view, it’s time for the Volusia County School Board to pull their heads out of their ass – hold someone personally responsible for these glaring security lapses – then find a professional security director who actually knows something about “building and managing” an effective safety and security program for the thousands of students and staff who deserve better.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood was right, “He could’ve had a gun.  He could’ve had a grenade.  He could’ve had anything.  After all we’ve gone through … all the training, the guardians, technology, it just goes to show it’s only as good as the people you put in place to follow it.”

In fact, a true security expert recently opined to me that the security failures at Spruce Creek and Galaxy Middle read like an excerpt from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission report.

That’s frightening.

If, after 14-years of building and managing the safety and security program for the district, Mr. Aiken’s wholly inadequate protocols still permit an armed intruder to saunter onto a school campus and take up residence in an occupied classroom – while active threats go unreported to law enforcement – perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the district’s priorities and the effectiveness of certain senior administrators. . .

Superintendent Egnor should know that you can’t “retrain” a sense of urgency, situational awareness and attention to detail into people who already hold the awesome responsibility for safety and security – they either have it, or they don’t.

Given the serious events of last week, those ultimately responsible for our children’s safety – the Volusia County School Board – shouldn’t wait until a new superintendent is seated to begin a top-to-bottom review of the district’s clearly ineffectual security program.

In the preface to their comprehensive report to the Governor on the atrocity at Parkland, the Public Safety Commission wrote:

“Accountability starts at the top of every organization, and all leaders have an obligation to ensure not only that the law is followed, but that effective policies and best practices are implemented.  Even after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and the implementation of new Florida law requiring certain safety measures, there remains non-compliance and a lack of urgency to enact basic safety principles in Florida’s K-12 schools. All stakeholders—school districts, law enforcement, mental health providers, city and county governments, funding entities, etc. — should embrace the opportunity to change and make Florida schools the safest in the nation.  There must be a sense of urgency—and there is not, across-the-board—in enhancing school safety.”

Sound familiar?