On Volusia: The Cost of Accountability

If you haven’t yet, it’s worth your while to read Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice’s excellent essay in today’s paper, “Sorry to disappoint Daytona’s city manager, but. . .”

It’s a good point, well-made.

Regardless of jurisdiction, the one constant in local governance is that, for a variety of reasons, appointed senior officials, like city and county managers, enjoy an incredible level of professional protections that those in the private sector will never know – even when their decisions and behavior are far from professional.

From the vantage point of over 30-years in municipal government, I know a little bit about the perils of political instability, and the internal strife that comes from ideological clashes, and just good old-fashioned petty bickering between competing political factions.

As a result, I’ve seen good managers demonized and demoralized, pilloried for trying to do the right thing despite the prevailing political winds; left with no alternative but to move along and ply their often-itinerant trade elsewhere.

I understand the need for reasonable legal protections.

Conversely, as a resident of Volusia County, I’ve seen some of the most quisling, totally inept assholes ever to worm their way into public management, thrive – at least for a while – as they enjoyed the internal and external political protections that come with facilitating the flow of public funds to the private, for-profit interests of well-heeled campaign donors and political insiders.

Sound familiar?

In a Council/Manager form of government, the manager is given extraordinary powers over every aspect of government services.  For instance, the executive has complete autonomy to hire and fire employees, set internal policies, personally direct the operations of all departments, agencies and services of the government and administrate all financial and budgetary processes.

As I’ve said before, We, The People elect the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker to serve on a council or commission – similar to a corporate board of directors – who appoint a manager with ostensibly strong managerial and organizational skills to run the day-to-day operations of the government, make public policy recommendations and provide information to assist the legislative function.

Most do a fine job – and some do an exceptional job – serving multiple masters while bringing economic and civic progress to their communities.

The ‘system’ also insulates career civil servants, the professionals who provide essential governmental services to the community, from the often politically motivated nature of elected officials who are normally prohibited by charter from directing or interfering with operations.

That’s important.

Perhaps the one aspect of the system that gives the manager ultimate power is the fact that he or she personally controls the flow of information to the members of the elected body.

That can be dangerous.

Florida’s open government laws specifically prohibit two or more elected officials from discussing matters coming before the collective body in private.  As a result, the only conduit they have to the “real story” – the nuts and bolts of the issues – is through individual meetings with the manager.

While individual commissioners have some leeway to conduct independent fact-finding – some charters and transparent managers allow commissioners to speak with department heads – but most rely solely on what they are told by the executive.

As a result, many times the legislative process dissolves into little more than a rubber-stamp of the manager’s prerogative.

In our representative democracy, the only thing standing in the way of a government executive transmogrifying into a tyrannical despot is the elected body – politically accountable policymakers charged with the direct oversight of an extremely powerful individual.

But what happens when that executive enjoys the external protections of our “Rich & Powerful” – those who directly control the campaign purse strings and possess the political clout to make or break the ‘Kings and Queens’ who reside on the dais of power in local government’s large and small?

In Volusia County, a big factor is the enormous sums of cash which are infused into local political campaigns by those special interests seeking continued access to the public trough.

Another issue is the incredibly lopsided “Golden Parachutes” that have become de rigueur in City Halls and County Administrative offices everywhere.  In 2011, the Florida legislature put limitations on public employee severance pay – providing that payouts may not exceed an amount greater than 20 weeks of compensation – and  a prohibition on severance pay when the employee has been terminated for misconduct as defined in Florida Statutes.

Anyone else enjoy that kind of safety net?

In June, when former County Manger Jim Dinneen fled the building amongst growing questions over everything from the condition of publicly-owned properties to the state of our Medical Examiners function, he received a lump sum payment equal to his base salary for twelve months: $249,046.

During his tenure, I often thought that Jim Dinneen wouldn’t last 15-minutes in a meritocracy – such as any successful business owned by a member of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – yet, for obvious reasons, Mr. Dinneen was the darling of this bastardized Oligarchy we find ourselves in.

In describing the difference between the public and private sector approaches to performance issues that have resulted in the First Step Homeless Shelter debacle, in his excellent piece, Mr. Rice opined”

“In private business, whoever was in charge of that project would be fired. Or, if they had a really nice boss, responsibility for the flailing project would be taken from them and they would be relegated to another — probably lower down the ladder — job they were deemed capable of doing. But that’s not how the city of Daytona Beach has approached construction of its over-budget, behind schedule, First Step Shelter for homeless adults.”

Isn’t that the damn truth?

Make no mistake, while the First Step Shelter catastrophe is a fine example of government ineptitude and mismanagement in action – these disasters are not limited to any one local government entity or department.

In fact, one need only look at the dismal state of our beach management, our emergency medical transport service, the revelatory exposures of whistle-blowers on everything from the “filtering” of information or withholding publicly-funded studies from decision-makers altogether – to the paralytic dysfunction that has hampered significant progress on the most intractable local problems of our time – and you get an idea of just how pervasive the problem is in the Halls of Power throughout Volusia County.

In my view, its time constituents begin holding senior public managers accountable for these continuing embarrassments by electing candidates who will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for September 21, 2018

Hi, Kids!

It’s been something of a roller-coaster ride of emotions here at Barker’s View HQ this week – and sometimes in life, all we can do is strap in, buckle up and hang-on tight.

On Tuesday, after a valiant struggle with aggressive breast cancer, our loyal and loving pet of 15 years went to wherever good dogs go.

Her name was Diamond, and she came into our family as a puppy when our then teenage daughter, as kids will often do, snuck her into the house knowing that once Patti and I laid eyes on her the answer to that age-old question “Can we keep her?” would be a foregone conclusion.

Diamond

As she suffered the indignities of advanced age – losing her eyesight, hip pain and an aggressive tumor – we steeled ourselves for the inevitable.

I wrote on social media this week that in over 30-years as a cop, I saw a lot of really bad things – the worst of man’s inhumanity to man, as they say – and I never cried.  Not once.

I think those in the emergency services develop a coping mechanism that allows us to absorb and compartmentalize pain and suffering, otherwise the frequency and horrific nature of human tragedy would simply be too much to take.

But the cranny of my brain where those damnable memories and emotions are stored must be full – because I’m not embarrassed to admit that I openly wept, and I’ve remained an emotional mess – a true and overwhelming sense of loss more akin to a close family member than a pet.

But in the Barker household – our pets have always been a very big part of our family.

It’s strange.  When my father died in the Spring of ’93 at just 63-years old – only five years older than I am now – I didn’t shed a tear – and I began to worry that perhaps my heart had become calloused, no longer capable of expressing extremes of emotion like “normal” people.

Given how close my dad and I were, it bothered me terribly.

Then, out of nowhere, nearly two-years after his passing, I sat bolt upright in bed at three o’clock in the morning overcome by a crushing wave of grief the likes of which I had never known.  I buried my head in the pillow, and wept until daylight – a wonderful sense of release and acceptance flowed from those tears.

The incomparable songwriter, Guy Clark, once wrote in an ode to his father entitled, “The Randall Knife”:

I’d cried for every lesser thing

Whiskey, pain and beauty

But he deserved a better tear

And I was not quite ready

I understand what he was trying to say. . .

Our old gal was most assuredly a constant in our lives – and her passing has left an immense void in our house – and in our hearts.  But with her passing, Diamond reassured me once again that I still have the capacity to feel.

Our Nola – just 4-years old – has never known a day without Diamond’s comforting presence in her life, and it is heartbreaking to watch as she waits in vain for her to return – laying on Diamond’s day bed, sniffing frequently at her now empty collar and searching every room of the house for her missing sister.

When the time came this week, Dr. Long and the incredible staff at Tomoka Pines lit candles, created a comforting environment and helped our dear girl slip from this world to the next as Patti held her close and told her how much she was loved.

We will collect her cremated remains in a few days – and her urn will join those of our other “fur babies” who crossed before her.

The great nature columnist Gene Hill once wrote, “Nobody can fully understand the meaning of love unless he’s owned a dog. A dog can show you more honest affection with a flick of his tail than a man can gather through a lifetime of handshakes.”

Indeed.

Then, from the depths of sadness comes pure joy!

As Diamond was preparing to cross the Rainbow Bridge, a true blessing came to our family in the form of a 7-pound 2-ounce baby girl named Bee.

Our new niece was born!

As Bob Dylan once wrote, “Who is not busy dying is busy being born.”

Isn’t it the truth…

So, on Tuesday evening, Patti and I opened a good bottle of wine and raised a toast to a life that brought so much joy – and one that will perpetuate that pure and unequaled emotion.

Welcome to the world, Bee – here’s to a long life of all the best this fragile but beautiful existence brings.

Bee

Your aunt and uncle love you more than you know…

You know, some days you write the blog, and some days the blog writes you.  Many times, these screeds of mine are very personal, and very cathartic – a therapeutic purgative during trying times that helps me cleanse my mind by getting it on the page.

Thanks for indulging me.

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

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

Angel:             Dr. Kelly Long and Tomoka Pines Veterinary Hospital

In my view, anyone who provides care for sick and defenseless animals is the textbook definition of an “Angel” – and I sincerely and forever appreciate the love and compassion Dr. Kelly Long and Dr. Nick Avis, along with their exceptional staff of veterinary professionals, have shown my four-legged family members through the years.

Those in the medical field – be it human or veterinary – are doing God’s work, and it takes a special person to dedicate their lives to caring for the health and welfare of others.

Thank you for making a very difficult time such a beautiful and meaningful experience for those left to grieve.  By your kindness, you brought comfort to those who desperately needed it.

God’s work, indeed.

Asshole:          Former Lake Helen CM Jason Yarborough

Only in government do we perpetuate bad behavior and poor performance by rewarding it at every opportunity.

From paying massive legal fees to defend gross sexual harassment and gender discrimination claims, to lavishing perpetual salary and benefit increases without any legitimate performance metrics – rather than hold senior administrators accountable for their actions and ensure a commitment to the highest ideals of the public service – in Volusia County governments, large and small, our elected officials inexplicably reward appointed officials regardless of their abhorrent personal or professional conduct.

This incredibly expensive process usually begins during periods of transition – when a tumultuous period ends with a community selecting a new manager – someone who promises to return peace and stability to City Hall.

As a result, in desperately seeking equilibrium, elected officials invariably enter into lopsided employment contracts, with hefty compensation packages, often including multiple retirement options, investment plans, vehicle and housing allowances, paid health and life insurance – and incredibly lucrative severance packages should they flee or be terminated.

Clearly, these ‘Golden Parachutes’ are designed to protect the manager from political instability – often by requiring a super majority vote to terminate their employment and other shields that are unheard of in the private sector.

Unfortunately, these contractual obligations often hamstring the elected body from taking action to eliminate the cancerous effects of bad management.

When elected officials fail to provide necessary oversight – or are limited from doing their jobs by external political pressure – the enormous power and influence held by city and county managers can lead to horrific abuses and expensive mistakes that often leave We, The People holding the bag.

Last week, the tiny hamlet of Lake Helen agreed to a ridiculous financial settlement with its former City Manager, Jason Yarborough, which essentially calls for taxpayers to shove $40,000 of their hard-earned dollars in a brown paper bag and hand it to Yarborough as he escapes the building.

As I understand it, from September 2016 to March 2018, a technical glitch in the city’s utility billing software resulted in residents of the Lake Helen Villa – a 55-and-over mobile home park – being under-billed for water service.

When Yarborough was made aware of the problem earlier this year, city staff corrected the anomaly by manually uploading meter readings to the city’s system.

No big deal, right?

Wrong.

The real problem began when – rather than owning up to the billing error and reporting the issue to the Lake Helen City Commission – Yarborough and other senior officials kept quiet.

For months.

As a result, a simple technical malfunction was allowed to deteriorate into a major cover-up.

Then, to add insult to injury, Yarborough offered to resign his $118, 570 per year job if the City Commission agreed to a generous 16-weeks of severance pay.

That comes to approximately $48,000 before taxes.

Unbelievable.

According to Yarborough’s employment agreement, he would be entitled to the 16-weeks of pay if he was terminated absent official misconduct as defined in Florida statutes.  The City also agreed to provide him 30-days’ pay – along with a buyout of accrued leave time – if he resigned the position with 30-days’ notice.

What bothers me is that in July – while he was actively hiding the billing snafu from elected officials – the City Commission generously gave Yarborough a $6,300 pay increase – and raised his “travel budget” from $6,000 to $7,000 annually.

This isn’t the first time Yarborough has had trouble with a water utility.

In 2014, he resigned as public works director for the City of Port Orange after an internal investigation found his department had spent some $411,000 without commission authorization for water meters.

Jesus.

In a syrupy press release following his latest five alarm fuck-up, Yarborough said:

“I am proud of what we have accomplished in the last four years, and I look forward to seeing the results of the plans that we have started,” he said. “I wish the city and the organization all the best in the future.”

 Great.

And, just like that, Mr. Yarborough walks away from this steaming mess. . . $40,000 richer for the effort.

In the public sector, when senior managers attempt to cover-up errors and omissions – or withhold critical information from decision-makers – they are summarily fired and escorted off the property, never to work in that particular pursuit or profession again.

Not in government.

It seems no matter how egregious the foul-up, government administrators invariably land on their feet with a lucrative severance package and suddenly transform into ‘managers in transition’ – laying in wait for the next unsuspecting burg to ignore their past faux pas and give them one more bite at the apple.

Over a long career in municipal government, I’ve been blessed to serve with some of the best managers in the business – and cursed to work under the yoke of some of the most unethical, double-dealing, quasi-criminal assholes to ever hold that lofty position.

In my view, its time local governments begin holding disgraced public managers accountable by defending their citizens from these astronomical severance payouts in the wake of scandals and acts of gross mismanagement that continue to undermine our faith and confidence in government.

Asshole:          County of Volusia

Volusia County residents are still digesting the bombshell dropped by James Pericola, a federal lobbyist whose Seward Square Group currently represents our interests in Washington D.C. under a $90,000 annual contract.

In his correspondence to the Volusia County Council, Mr. Pericola courageously exposed the tragic consequences of an organization that “. . .promotes a lack of transparency which leads to a dysfunctional and ineffective process that largely leaves the (county) Council out of the loop.” 

In perfectly describing the truly frightening process at play where critical information was “filtered” by then County Manager Jim Dinneen and his senior staff – and publicly-funded studies were purposely withheld from policymakers altogether – Mr. Pericola wrote:

“As a result, countless opportunities are missed, and mistakes are constantly repeated because there is no oversight from the Council other than the hiring and firing of firms. This process is also filtered, as the Council relies heavily on the Manager’s recommendation. Remaining in the good graces of the Manager has been prioritized over establishing an open and collaborative process. Once the Council hires a firm, staff actively works to limit contact or are ordered to filter information and opportunities to the Council. Thus, the Council does not see actions, recommendations and proposals the staff choose not to act or report on either because they don’t want additional work, or because they do not understand the issue, or possibly have another agenda.”

Rather than act upon the intelligence provided by Mr. Pericola – and launch an independent inquiry to determine the depth of the problem and identify the possible impact of ‘filtered’ or deliberately withheld information on past and future public policy decisions – certain Volusia County politicians immediately unleashed their patented “Admit nothing.  Deny everything.  Make counter-accusations.” damage control strategy that has allowed this pernicious system to perpetuate itself for years.

Our clueless County Chair, Ed Kelley, joined Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson in calling Pericola’s revelations “sour grapes” – accusing the lobbyist of disparaging Volusia County after the council slashed funding for federal lobbying and hired a former congressional bureaucrat, John Booker, to handle governmental relations.

Really?

The problem is – like any number of whistle-blowers who have come before him – Mr. Pericola has absolutely nothing to gain by exposing the internal dysfunction and organizational corruption that has cost Volusia County residents untold millions in federal dollars that could have been used to address serious issues ranging from the opioid crisis to water quality.

Now, former Assistant County Manager Mary Anne Connors has joined the fray.

In a recent Letter to the Editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ms. Connors opined:

“Jamie Pericola’s self-serving and petulant attack on Volusia County staff and the former manager is a sorry excuse for his firm’s inability to deliver a product of continued value to the county. He describes federal funds that are prospective and “might have been” as an actual loss, and The News-Journal panders to his claims as credible. Shame on both for the superficial understanding and treatment of important issues.”

Self-serving?  To what end?

And her claim that Pericola’s descriptor of “prospective and “might have been” federal funds as a loss is incredibly disingenuous.  The fact is, federal competitive and programmatic grant funding is like the lottery – you can’t win if you don’t play – and accusing the newspaper of having a “superficial understanding” of important issues is eerily similar to Volusia County’s admonition that We, The People are too stupid to understand impact fees and other initiatives that always seem to benefit all the right last names.

According to Ms. Connors, “Neither Pericola nor The News-Journal scratch the surface to understand or communicate why a long-term problem is acknowledged and actually difficult to resolve.  It’s easier to point fingers and claim a lack of transparency, a subjective term commonly defined in retrospect.”

My God.

Is literally everyone out of step but Volusia County government?

Are all of us out here in the hinterlands who see a serious problem with transparency in County government completely nuts?

Anyone else see a distinct pattern emerging here? 

I have never seen an institution so oblivious to the fact that the sham has been exposed – the cronyism, the gross manipulation of public information, the constant stream of tax dollars to underwrite the private for-profit projects of wealthy insiders and campaign donors, the giveaway of public assets and the complete lack of oversight that has allowed senior managers to operate what is in essence a shadow government – totally devoid of political accountability.

They’re like a mendacious toddler, hands and face covered in chocolate, repeatedly denying any connection to the pudding.

Whenever anyone with inside knowledge of the problem breaks with the lock-step conformity that has resulted in the paralytic dysfunction that has hampered any substantive progress on the serious issues we face  – the immediate response is to attack, marginalize and destroy the messenger – then disparage the message itself as an effective means of protecting the Oligarchical system at all costs.

Don’t take my word for it – ask former Volusia County Medial Examiner Dr. Sara Zydowicz, current District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post, or Sheriff Mike Chitwood  – how going against the grain and attempting to expose the internal machinations of a government gone haywire worked out for them.

Now, add the name Jamie Pericola to the growing list of whistle-blowers who – as recipients of public funds – tried valiantly to do the right thing by Volusia County residents in keeping with their high sense of personal and professional ethics.

Trust me.  There is nothing self-serving about doing the right thing – risking everything to expose corruption and abject dysfunction – and I believe that Mr. Pericola’s revelatory letter is perhaps the most important thing written about Volusia County government since the Charter.

I suspect we’ve just seen the tip of this iceberg.

Asshole:          The First Step Money Pit

The out-of-control shit-show that is the First Step Shelter project took another weird turn this week when the Daytona Beach City Commission decided to ignore reason and press on – full-steam ahead – with the massively expensive homeless “shelter” that has languished interminably.

In my view, it’s never too late to right a wrong – or take a step back and consider if there is a better way forward.  Inexplicably, the collective wisdom of City officials has been to simply accept a $6 million price tag, to the exclusion of any reasonable alternative, simply because they are “committed to the road and need to stay the course.”    

I don’t know about you, but when it’s my hard-earned money at stake, I have never found it difficult to change course and consider options before a major purchase when I could save a buck.

Perhaps therein lies the problem.

Contrary to what some in government have come to believe – this isn’t Monopoly money at play here.

In light of all the looming issues surrounding this project – not the least of which is how the First Step Shelter Board will now convince leery donors to contribute cash and in-kind services to cover recurrent operational expenses – it is becoming evident that many in our community have lost faith.

And given the prevalence of chronic homelessness and vagrancy that are now “in your face” problems for every resident of east Volusia County – the cost of a failure of leadership at this juncture is serious cause for concern.

I could be wrong – but from here in the cheap seats – the entire process has taken on the appearance of a rudderless ship.

Originally, we were told that the Rev. L. Ron Durham, in his role as Community Relations Director for the City of Daytona Beach, was the head ramrod – now, City Manager Jim Chisholm is defending everyone from the architect to City staff from legitimate criticism – and We, The People still don’t have answers as to how construction costs skyrocketed to an estimated $6 million – for a building that has yet to come out of the ground?

Is what we’re witnessing just good old-fashioned bureaucratic ineptitude?

Is it possible that no one at City Hall could have foreseen this financial quagmire before the project reached this point of no return?

Why don’t senior government officials speak to reporters anymore?  Has the whole idea of effectively communicating with taxpayers on difficult issues of community concern been relegated to a paid mouthpiece with nice hair and a canned news release?

Or is what we’re seeing evidence of something far more sinister?

And, perhaps most important, when are we going to get answers?

You be the judge – because at this late date – I’ll be dipped if I can understand it. . .

As a recent editorial in The Daytona Beach News-Journal said:

“Daytona Beach, with the most visible homeless problem, has the most to gain. But city officials — most notably, City Manager Jim Chisholm — have been bafflingly non-communicative about the shelter’s progress and realistic cost estimates. If, as they claim, city officials expected the final price tag to go up, why didn’t they say so as the $2.5 million price tag was cited again and again? Why wasn’t it at least communicated to members of the shelter’s governing board? South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall, a former police chief and First Step board secretary charged with keeping the board’s minutes, says he’s sure nobody ever mentioned that the price tag was a few million bucks higher. We believe him.”

I do too.

Bill Hall is one of the most honorable men I know.

It’s just one reason why I won’t be surprised if the next thing we see are members of the First Step Shelter Board jumping ship before this maelstrom of suspicion and unanswered questions really gets out-of-hand – and who could blame them?

I mean, since when did volunteering your time and talents to do good work on behalf of those less fortunate require having your good name associated with something like this?

Tragic.

Quote of the Week:

“We continue to try and purchase prosperity by giving away beach ramps or taking cars off the beach.  We would appreciate if you stop giving away our public assets for the benefit of people who come here from somewhere else.”

–Beach Driving Advocate and Citizen-Activist Ken Strickland, speaking to the Volusia County Council just before they gave away another 20-feet of publicly owned beach access to the developer dujour, Orlando-based Avista Properties, Inc.

Well said, Ken.  And infinitely true.

And Another Thing!

Here’s something fun and civic minded to do this weekend – straight from the Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy:

“Come on out and have some fun and Help Save Beach Driving!

Luke and the Crabby Joe’s crew on the Sunglow Pier are hosting another party for the SOBs. We have a Court Date on October 3rd and proceeds from the event will go to our legal fund.

David Vukelja, the SOB attorney, is committed to challenging Volusia County’s continuous attempts to privatize our beach.  YOU can help!  Buy a delicious Crabby Joe’s lunch ticket and you will be eligible for door prizes.  We will have NEW very cool T-shirts, raffles, and a 50/50 drawing (our last one was over $150.00 to the winner).  See you Sunday…Help us Save Beach Driving!”

I encourage the entire Barker’s View tribe to come out this Sunday from 1:00pm to 4:00pm and support a great cause!

Crabby Joe’s is located right over the ocean on the Sunglow Pier – 3701 South Atlantic Avenue – Daytona Beach Shores.

Also, Barker’s View joins all Volusia County residents in wishing our County Council Chair, Ed Kelley, a complete and rapid recovery after he felt under-the-weather earlier in the week.

Look, I realize I give Old Ed a lot of crap – most of it deserved – but that’s politics, not personal.

Here’s hoping you’re back in the fray real soon, Mr. Chairman!

That’s all for me!

Have a great weekend, kids!

 

 

On Volusia: Admit Nothing. Deny Everything. Make Counter-Accusations.

“Admit nothing.  Deny everything.  Make counter-accusations.”

This phrase is often credited to Roger Stone, the infamous political consultant and “dirty trickster” whose antics go back to the Nixon-era.  He’s currently embroiled in the Mueller investigation, along with his former business partner – Paul Manafort – in the Washington-based lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone.

More accurately, the expression has been the mantra of spies and cops working undercover as a means of avoiding detection, and limiting scrutiny, by putting anyone who challenges you on the defensive.

The strategy appears to be working equally well for certain elected officials on the Volusia County Council.

In perhaps the most important revelation of the inner-workings of Volusia County government since the rotten reign of former County Manager Jim Dinneen ended with him fleeing the building like a cheese-stealing rat – this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s intrepid reporter Dustin Wyatt exposed an August 6, 2018, correspondence from James Pericola, Volusia County’s federal lobbyist who is paid some $90,000 annually to seek funding for local needs in Washington, wherein Pericola spills the beans on a shocking “lack of transparency” and paralytic dysfunction in county government.

Sound familiar? 

It should – because Pericola’s stark revelations serve to confirm everything I’ve written about the Dinneen administration, and our bought-and-paid-for stooges on the Dais of Power in DeLand, for the past two-years – and proves I am not alone in my near-constant criticism of the cult-like cloak of secrecy that permeates every aspect of Volusia County government.

Since taking office, Sheriff Michael Chitwood has screamed about the County Council’s complete lack of transparency and backroom dealings to anyone who will listen.

Most recently, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post also sounded the klaxon – exposing horrific issues with essential county services from the deterioration of the Sheriff’s Office evidence facility, questioning the debacle at the Medical Examiner’s Office and shining an uncomfortable light on the myriad problems at EVAC which continue to place your family and mine in grave jeopardy.

In his incredibly revelatory letter to Chairman Ed Kelley and members of the Volusia County Council, Mr. Pericola described an organizational structure and culture that. “. . .promotes a lack of transparency which leads to a dysfunctional and ineffective process that largely leaves the Council out of the loop.”

 In perfectly describing the truly frightening process at play where critical information is “filtered” by the County Manager and senior staff – or withheld altogether from policymakers – Mr. Pericola wrote:

 “As a result, countless opportunities are missed, and mistakes are constantly repeated because there is no oversight from the Council other than the hiring and firing of firms. This process is also filtered, as the Council relies heavily on the Manager’s recommendation. Remaining in the good graces of the Manager has been prioritized over establishing an open and collaborative process. Once the Council hires a firm, staff actively works to limit contact or are ordered to filter information and opportunities to the Council. Thus, the Council does not see actions, recommendations and proposals the staff choose not to act or report on either because they don’t want additional work, or because they do not understand the issue, or possibly have another agenda.”

My God.

The letter went on to describe serious missed opportunities for federal funding to address important issues such as the opioid crisis and the County’s failure to pursue USDA water grants.

Even while Volusia County drug rehabilitation programs faced serious budget cuts and the raging opioid epidemic continues to take hundreds of local lives each year.

This isn’t the first time a lobbying firm has expressed critical concerns about the abject dysfunction in DeLand.  In November 2014, Richard Gold, a senior lobbyist with Holland & Knight, decided they no longer wished to represent Volusia County due to “. . .clear and apparent fractures in the County Council.”

Again, any of that sound familiar?

On September 4, the Council selected a state lobbying firm – Southern Strategy Group – who just happens to represent Consolidated Tomoka Land Company, and Mori Hosseini’s fiefdom over at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – both heavy-hitters who pour tens-of-thousands of dollars into the campaign accounts of County Council incumbents – while Pericola’s Seward Square Group will serve out its current contract through December.

Almost immediately, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – and his lockstep confederate, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson – initiated their patented strategy of circling the wagons, marginalizing the messenger and protecting the ‘system’ at all costs.

In a clearly orchestrated tactic to systematically disparage Pericola and trivialize external criticism, both Kelley and Patterson described the lobbyist’s damning revelations as “sour grapes.”

“How would he know anything about our (level of) transparency? I don’t know what he could be referring to,” Kelley said. “It would be ridiculous to say that we have no interest in grants. There would be no reason for us to not pursue a grant.”

Really?

You don’t know what he’s referring to? 

The lack of transparency in County government is legendary – and literally everyone who is paying even marginal attention has watched in utter disbelief as Jim Dinneen and senior county administrators perpetuated one colossal five-alarm fuck-up after another.

We have seen our elected dullards stand idle as Mr. Dinneen foisted his “public policy by ambush” strategy – using off-the-agenda revelations to ramrod the hidden agenda of uber-wealthy insiders who provided him the political insulation needed to operate what amounted to a shadow government – totally devoid of external accountability – more akin to a protection racket than a representative government.

I’ve said it before – in my view, either Ed Kelley is suffering from a weird form of cognitive dissonance that allows him to create alternative facts, ignore material evidence and blatantly lie to his constituents whenever it serves the needs of this bastardized Oligarchical system – or he’s the dumbest human being to ever hold elective office.

In light of Mr. Pericola’s revelations, now there is no doubt as to why this doddering asshole has fought like a rabid badger to prevent a forensic audit of county finances and operations – and the machinations of that ineffectual, narcoleptic marionette, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, have now become self-evident.

In addition to Heather Post, it appears Councilwoman Billie Wheeler may well be coming to the realization that all is not as it seems in the Thomas C. Kelly Administration building.

Better late than never, I guess.

According to the News-Journal, “Wheeler, who had a phone conversation with Pericola this week, said it’s clear that there are still changes that need to be made going forward. “If the lobbyist is saying we (council members) need to be more involved, I want to make sure we step that up.”

More involved?  Christ, you’ve been asleep at the switch since taking office!

Billie – please – wake up and smell the coffee.

Things have happened in spite of you, not because of you – get it? 

Your “staff” has willfully and intentionally kept you out of the loop – now, do something about it, dammit!

Gentle readers, this incredible turn-of-events may well expose – once and for all – the internal intrigues that have plagued Volusia County government and continue to hamstring any substantive progress on the serious issues we face.

With millions in public funds funneled to the private project’s of well-connected insiders and campaign contributors – facilitated by an internal structure that filters information, conceals the results of independent studies paid for with tax dollars, demands lock-step conformity by elected officials charged with representing our interests, and besmirches the character and reputation of whistle blowers or marginalizes anyone who dares to expose the truth – we have finally seen the first real evidence of the gross mismanagement and abject corruption that has plagued us for years.

The situation is now undeniable.

Folks, in my view, this one is important – stay tuned – things are about to get interesting for Old Ed and the Funky Bunch. . .

Angels & Assholes for September 14, 2018

Hi, Kids!

Mother Nature is one of life’s great equalizers.

As Hurricane Florence lashes the Carolina Coast, we are reminded how insignificant the best laid plans of mice and men become when nature’s fury calls.

It is an unfolding human and economic tragedy of biblical proportion – at least that’s what those talking heads standing out in the wind and rain in foul weather gear on the Weather Channel keep telling us.

Yet, those of us who, perhaps unwisely, make our home where the land meets the sea are a persistent sort.

We keep building and rebuilding – churning more greenspace and natural buffers into moonscapes for ‘power lifestyle‘ shopping centers, destroying trees, leveling dunes, placing oh-so-fun ‘theme’ communities on top of our sensitive aquifer recharge areas, sacrificing native trees, plants and springs  for ‘Transit Oriented Developments’ – literally shitting in our own nest in the name of “progress.”

In these thoroughly modern times, it is uber-important that we have umpteen choices when it comes to grocery stores – Publix, Winn-Dixie, Lucy’s, Aldi, Dollar General, Walmart, Save-a-Lot, etc., etc. – after all, gluttonous consumption is what it’s all about – and nothing screams “we’ve arrived!” as a community quite like a Trader Joe’s, right?

Real estate developers, and the sutler’s who live off their crumbs, hire marketing firms to convince us that bigger is naturally better – density be damned – then our elected officials piss all over themselves in a fit of excited incontinence as they gush over the latest cookie-cutter development or chicken chain drive-thru.

Everything, all the time.

So long as the campaign funds flow, our elected marionettes will remain of the goofy opinion that commercial developers should be able to do whatever the hell they want on property they gobble up – regardless of the detrimental impact to our environment – or the lives of residents who must suffer the perpetual consequences of traffic gridlock, potable water and already stressed emergency services.

Of course, politicians always hide behind the stale reasoning that their campaign investors are merely using their property in keeping with its “highest and best” use – regardless of how inappropriate or intrusive that use may be.

And those who stand to benefit most openly lie to us, insulting our intelligence when they say our wholly inadequate road and utilities infrastructure is “ample” for this out-of-control growth.

It seems they always factor the private profit margins – yet never consider the intrinsic cost to our collective quality of life.

The fact is, once these beautiful greenspaces and natural environmental amenities are gone, they aren’t coming back.

Ever.

Yet, we keep electing the same tired dullards to public office – then cry the blues when they close the pernicious campaign finance loop by giving their benefactors anything and everything they want – even if it means forever altering the landscape and destroying our history or anything that makes our area unique.

When it comes to the voracious appetite of Halifax area land barons and speculative developers, even the beautiful mosaic image of Jesus Christ isn’t safe from the wrecking ball.

After all, it served it’s purpose – now, it’s just standing in the way of progress. . .

Pray for those being affected by Hurricane Florence.  While you’re at it, pray for us too.

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

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

Angel:             Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post

I wrote a ditty about this very important issue earlier in the week, but it bears repeating.

During last week’s Volusia County Council meeting, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post, after actually taking the time to meet with area firefighters and paramedics, described staffing and response issues at Volusia’s emergency medical transport service – EVAC – as “serious” and strongly suggested that our elected representatives on the dais of power in DeLand do something about it.

Apparently, when Volusia County initially assumed emergency services from EVAC, the contract called for “minimum acceptable standard of operations.”  Unfortunately, now that it’s a government operation, even minimum standards no longer exist. . .

You know, a requirement that an essential service – one paid for with public funds – actually be held responsible for quality service delivery and professional standards?

I know, crazy, right?

Of course, Post’s constructive suggestions were met with the usual arrogance and “eye-rolling” from her ‘colleagues’ – lackluster dullards who simply refuse to acknowledge the fact that the staffing shortages and logistical issues they have known about since 2016 now result in frequent periods when there are no ambulances available to transport critically ill or injured persons to area hospitals.

According to the News-Journal, Ms. Post said, “If something happens and you need an ambulance, consistently on a regular basis, an ambulance is not available to respond.  The reason that is happening is because we haven’t kept up with staffing.”

Fair enough.

I mean, isn’t that exactly what Volusia County firefighters and paramedics have been screaming about for years?

Not according to the lockstep marionettes who currently populate the Volusia County Council.

“That is not accurate,” said the uber-arrogant councilwoman Deb Denys.

Our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, described Ms. Post’s remarks as, “disingenuous.”

Then recently re-elected councilman Fred Lowry piled on, scowling that Post’s comments were “irresponsible and reckless.”

Really?

Let me get this straight – two-years ago the Volusia County Professional Firefighters Association tells anyone who would listen that staffing shortages were limiting their ability to provide ambulance transport service.

Then, Volusia County administrators confessed that EVAC is seriously understaffed.

Hell, even Interim County Manager George Recktenwald warned our obviously disinterested council members, “They (paramedics) are stretched. There’s no doubt about it. They have a lot of mandatory overtime.”

He also advised our clueless representatives that the county has “budgeted two additional ambulances to its fleet, along with eight permanent employees” to try and improve service delivery.

Yet, Kelley, Denys and the Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry have the brass to sit there and paint Councilwoman Post as a reckless liar?

My ass.

Does this constant, mean-spirited effort to suppress original thought and innovative problem solving in favor of paralytic conformity and fealty to the ‘system’ ever end?

It has become so horribly dysfunctional in DeLand that any elected official who simply acknowledges the evidence – or listens to the concerns of those who accept public funds to perform a public service – are considered an out-of-control mutineer who must be beaten into submission.

Kudos to Councilwoman Post for coming out of her shell – and her self-imposed media blackout – to call bullshit on this very real threat to the lives and safety of her long-suffering constituents.

For an unbiased professional assessment of this deplorable situation, let’s take a look at the opinion of former Port Orange Fire Chief Tom Weber – a recognized risk management expert with no skin in the game – who recently urged City officials to stand up the municipal ambulance service:

“The county system is 30 years antiquated. Seventy-one percent of the population in the state of Florida, 12 million people, are protected by fire-based transport. Only 6 percent, or 1 million people use a system similar to the county,” Weber said. “The standard— the golden rule of thumb, is one ambulance per 10,000 people. That would mean you should have 6 ambulances in Port Orange. Let’s cut it in half— you should have three. You have zero.”

In my view, the Volusia County Council is playing a bizarre game of chicken with our lives – holding firm to a weird faith in their own infallibility as we rush ever closer to disaster.

And with the municipalities spending good money after bad to fund essential services that Volusia County is already responsible for – when do We, The People begin the discussion on “right sizing” county government – returning services to local control, and taking our lives and tax dollars back from this cabal of dysfunctional shitheels?

I mean, with lives hanging in the balance, who’s “irresponsible and reckless” now?

Asshole:          The Ever Popular “Fun Coast Gonorrhea”

I’ve got a twofer for you today:

“The threat of a popular sexually transmitted disease becoming incurable and a drastic rise in STD rates over the past few years have physicians worried about the lack of sex education and access to proper health care.”

And so began an informative, if not slightly disturbing, article by Nikki Ross of The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Rates for sexually transmitted diseases on rise in Volusia County.”

Just struck me funny, that’s all.

Because I don’t know about you, but when I was a young man out on the town, I distinctly recall that gonorrhea and chlamydia weren’t very ‘popular’ at all – in fact – we avoided them like the plague.

Guess we didn’t know what we were missing?

Just when those little bacteria were becoming trendy again – they had to go and mutate into some incurable disease and ruin all the fun.

“Hey, in my day, catching a dose of the clap used to be the popular thing to do – all the cool crowd was doing it – but now that it’s becoming incurable, well,  it’s ruining the mystique. . .” 

According to Ms. Ross’ piece, a recent report by the Florida Department of Health claimed the number of cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea have been on a steady increase in Volusia County since 2014 – and Syphilis had remained steady until 2016, but then it got really fashionable again as well.

Experts who follow these things say that the prevalence of opioid addiction is contributing to the increase in STDs – especially in Volusia and Flagler County.

But, hey, I don’t want to be all doom and gloom – after all, we also learned this week that Daytona “International” Airport may finally earn its intercontinental bona fides on January 28th when Canadian carrier Sunwing Airlines begins twice-a-week non-stop service from Toronto to Daytona Beach!

As Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County gushed:

“Daytona Beach is finally opening up to the rest of the United States!”

Wait?  What?

Oh, never mind.

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

Angel:             Former B-CU Trustee Lee Rhyant

 Look, I don’t speak Mandarin – but it has been said that the Chinese use the same characters to describe crisis and opportunity.  I don’t know if that’s true, but this ‘feel-good’ adage is usually trotted out during the depth of a break-point disaster as a means of giving those directly affected a sense of hope.

That said, in the real world – where ‘hope’ has never been an effective strategy and problems don’t fix themselves – the only way to effectively manage an emergency is to begin with a plan.

By any measure, the financial conflagration and open treachery that is rapidly consuming Bethune-Cookman University didn’t happen overnight.

In fact, there are many facets to this tragedy – and more than enough blame to go around – but this week brought some good news when former B-CU trustee and successful businessman Lee Rhyant announced that the shenanigans of former administrators are now the subject of an FBI investigation.

Under most circumstances, the revelation that an organization is under federal criminal investigation would be cause for concern – but in this case – the revelation of outside intervention is the first true cause for optimism that beleaguered students and faculty members have had in months.

Better late than never, I say – and if nothing else – when the FBI walked in the door and flashed a badge – it damn sure sent some long-time “trustees” scurrying for the exits screaming “I did nothing wrong!” to anyone who would listen. . .

In fact, those of us in the Halifax area who realize what an important role Bethune-Cookman plays in the social, economic and educational fabric of our community have been waiting patiently for federal authorities to ride into town and hold those responsible for this mess to account for several years now.

Throughout history, during the depth of despair, chaos and hopelessness, a true leader will often emerge – someone who brings order and serves as a beacon to lead the way forward – like Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré who returned sanity to New Orleans in the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levees.

A man or woman of integrity and intellect who instills confidence – usually in the form of an organized, workable plan to take the organization from where they are, to where they need to be – forcibly, if necessary.

Let’s hope Lee Rhyant is that man.

According to Interim President Hubert Grimes, the feds are looking into the clearly tainted “deal” hatched under former president Edison O. Jackson and a some dubious “developers” to construct a student dormitory – a project that left the university saddled with crippling debt and lost in a cloud of suspicion when the mechanics of the weird arrangement were brought to light by The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

The ensuing tumult has resulted in B-CU’s once stellar credit rating being reduced to junk status, massive lawsuits and counter-claims, insurmountable debt, a possible loss of accreditation and, perhaps worst of all, the demoralization and embarrassment of a once proud student body.

Among other suggestions, Rhyant has called for renegotiating the dormitory contracts, taking on a loan to allow for an infusion of much-needed capital and reducing the size of the tragically compromised Board of Trustees – which now numbers more than 20 –which will allow the board to make the difficult decisions required of it with greater efficiency.

The only part of Mr. Rhyant’s plan I disagree with is his call for B-CU students to “write letters to the FBI asking them to devote resources to completing the investigation as soon as possible so that everyone at B-CU could move on.”

Look, in my experience, writing letters and making demands of working investigators during what I’m sure will be a very thorough, wide-ranging and comprehensive inquiry is counter-productive.

This important process cannot be rushed.

In my view, now is the time to allow authorities the access and cooperation necessary to gather evidence, follow the money, expose the sins of the past and hold those responsible accountable for their crimes and omissions.

Only then can the process of rebuilding begin.

Clearly, Bethune-Cookman University isn’t ready to “move on” – but with an investigation underway, it is getting closer to better days – especially now that those responsible for this debacle will be required to answer the difficult and lingering questions that have brought this proud institution to its knees.

Asshole:          Volusia County School District

The Volusia County School District has dissolved into a comedy of errors, except there’s nothing funny about ostensibly smart administrators who can’t seem to implement programs – large or small –  without causing angst and consternation.

Recently, the district began what one would assume is the relatively straightforward process of replacing old computer printers with newer models – except they’re putting fewer back in place, and placing added stress on already overburdened teachers who are totally reliant on the devices due to a lack of textbooks and technology at the elementary level.

Now – “Chaos” and “Frustration” – as School Board member and former principal Carl Persis recently put it.

 Here Carl, let me help – how about: “Incompetent,” “Amateurish,” “Inept,” “Inefficient,” “Ineffective,” “Wanting,” “Lacking,” “Substandard,” “Daft,” “Harebrained,” “Dotty” – I can go on, but I won’t.

You get the picture.

According to the News-Journal, the current school-based printers account for 28 percent of the printing done in the district.

“Over the past two years, that’s 72 million impressions (equal to 72 million printed sides of paper) from approximately 5,000 printers.”

Wow.

On top of that, did you know our school district has a Copy Center in DeLand which is open 24 hours a day with a staff that completes some 4,000 jobs each day?

Because we do.  That’s a shitload of paper.

Yet, our brain trust on the “Superintendent’s Cabinet” still don’t see the cost savings in incorporating reusable textbooks and advanced technology into the curriculum – or simply listening to the needs of classroom teachers.

“You address it, you own up to it and we’re going to move forward,” said Mike Cicchetti, director of technology and information services for the school district. “The next few months (will include) discussions about printing, finding barriers and finding compromises.”

Great.

More time-devouring meetings = less time for teaching.

More “discussions about printing” (what does that even mean?).

More Finding barriers and finding compromises.  (We’re not talking about peace in the Middle East here – we’re talking about frigging printers. . .)

Ready to scream yet? 

Good – go ahead.  Let it all out.  Get primal, baby.

Because you’re gonna love what comes next:

Has anyone else noticed that Volusia County public schools have taken on the physical and social characteristics of a Guyanese penal colony that was long-ago taken over by the inmates?

Just me?

A few weeks back, I wrote an angry opinion piece after learning of a disturbing incident wherein a middle school student had her lunch tray taken away and ceremoniously dumped in the garbage by a cafeteria matron after the kid turned up a few pennies short in her dining account.

Sounds like a scene out of Papillon, right?

Now, the Volusia County School District is being rightfully sued by the mother of a bullied boy who was repeatedly pummeled and viciously taunted by some out-of-control little shit who sucker punched the victim while screaming racial epithets as other students stood around capturing the ugly scene on their cell phone (naturally) instead of protecting their classmate.

The attack continued even after someone described by The Daytona Beach News-Journal as a “school employee” attempted to place himself between the victim and his assailant.

I mean, the scene was eerily reminiscent of a targeted inmate being set upon in the ‘yard’ of some supermax prison.

Seriously.

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

http://www.news-journalonline.com/news/20180911/family-of-bullied-seabreeze-high-student-sues-volusia-schools

According to the victim’s family, this isn’t the first time the child was tormented at the school.

For instance, following the physical attack, the bully continued his assault by using the N-word when referring to the victim in horrific social media posts.

So, when their pleas for help from district officials were met with frustrating silence and utter inaction – the boy’s family filed a lawsuit rightfully accusing the School Board of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Our juvenile justice system saw fit to order counseling for the aggressor – and ultimately expelled him from Seabreeze High School – however, the victim wasn’t offered the same level of emotional support by district officials.

You read that right:  The tormentor gets counseling services for his “issues” – his victim gets squat?

Whatever.

Rather than take the December 2017 incident seriously – or consider the matter an early warning of potential problems on the Seabreeze campus – the School Board’s highly compensated mouthpiece, Ted Doran, simply poo-pooed the victim’s claims as so much fabricated horseshit:

“Based on the allegations in the lawsuit, the district believes that the claim has no basis in fact or law. The school district and the taxpayers cannot be responsible for communications between students on social media, and we will defend the case to its conclusion,” Doran said.

That’s odd.

No basis in fact?

Hey Ted, did you watch the same video I just did?  Did you read the gross cyber-bullying posts? 

Because something tells me the jury will. . .     

Although Volusia County has apparently abdicated all responsibility, other school districts around the state and nation are actively monitoring social media communications to prevent this type of appalling violence and worse.

For instance, Flagler County Schools took heat earlier this year when they agreed to spend some $18,500 annually to Social Sentinel, a company whose software scours social media and the internet searching for violent threats or suicidal posts to help save lives.

In the aftermath of mass violence at schools around the nation, why is Volusia County not doing everything humanly possible to protect our children, teachers and staff?

Is it simply easier to throw up their hands, shake their heads, and declare “we cannot be responsible”?

My God.

What we witnessed on this disturbing video is nothing new – and, in my view, it is incidents like this that can result in repeat violence as children who are openly bullied, humiliated, embarrassed and marginalized turn to violence themselves – often with horrific results – including suicide and campus shootings.

Frankly, the little thug responsible for this atrocious act should have been banned from attending school altogether – then forced to eke out a living in Volusia County’s artificial economy like the rest of us rubes.

Now that’s a suitable punishment.

I don’t have a crystal ball – but I have a memory like an elephant – and I’ll bet you a Donnie’s Donut that, at the end of the day, despite Mr. Doran’s bluster and bullshit, this case will be settled quietly, with a liberal application of our hard-earned tax dollars.

And, perhaps worse, those who should have been held ultimately responsible for protecting our children from violence and bullying – or at least stopping the gross public humiliation of one victim and provide assistance in the aftermath – will continue to hold their well-paid positions of high responsibility in Volusia County Schools without so much as a stern word.

That’s wrong – not only for the victim of this despicable act  – but for every student who is forced to run the gauntlet of harassment and intimidation just to pursue what passes for an education in Volusia County schools.

According to attorney Jason Harr, who is representing the victim in this case, “It’s something that he’s not going to live down for a very long time.  He’s going to suffer with this for a very long time as anyone would.”

Something tells me we’re all going to suffer for a very long time until our elected officials on the Volusia County School Board get their collective head out of their ass and come to the realization that they have serious problems with our current “leadership.”

Until then, I guess we’ll just keep writing checks. . .

Quote of the Week:

“I remember thinking $2.5 million was plenty of money.”

–South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall, Secretary of the First Step Shelter Board, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal after learning that construction costs for the proposed homeless shelter have now skyrocketed to some $6 million.

We all did, Mayor Hall.

Last week, I posed a series of disturbing questions after news broke that cost estimates for the First Step Shelter project more than doubled from the $2.5 million originally budgeted by Volusia County.

Then we learned that actual costs may well reach $6 million or more.

For a homeless shelter. . .?

I also questioned who authorized P & S Paving – a prolific local government contractor whose president just happens to sit on the mysterious star chamber over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – who has already made some $1.6 million performing site preparation work to haul off and sell fill dirt that belongs to you and me?

Going forward, P & S Paving was prepared to charge us another $1.06 million to dig a 20-acre retention pond (for a 10-acre site?) which would have brought their early take to some $2.66 million – just to prepare the site.

Then – in some stroke of corporate charity – P & S Paving “cut a deal” to do the retention pond work for “free” (sorry, I just snorted my Café Bustelo all over the keyboard) in exchange for the right to sell the resulting fill dirt – which is currently being purchased by needy developers (who are actively filling-in area wetlands to accommodate their new ‘lifestyle’ communities) for some $200 a truckload. . .

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

Now, in typical fashion, memories are fading as to how we got to this astronomical price point, millions are being made on the prep work, our ‘powers that be’ are pointing fingers at each other and the shelter hasn’t even come out of the ground yet.

Hell, at this late stage, a US Army GP Medium Tent perched on some cleared pine scrub would have been more effective (if somewhat less lucrative for a few well-connected insiders).

Seriously, I slept in them when I was in the military – and while trying to get quality sleep with 20 guys alternately belching, snoring and farting wasn’t ideal – it did keep the rain off.

I applaud Mayor Hall, and the other members of the First Step Shelter Board, who are speaking out on this growing debacle.

It’s time City officials stop treating board members like mushrooms – keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit – and begin building bridges between those responsible for funding construction, and those responsible for funding the operation.

After all, how long are good people like Mayor Hall and others expected to have their names and reputations sullied by this never-ending, wholly dysfunctional goat rope?

This has gone on long enough.

And Another Thing!

Kudos to The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s intrepid photojournalist Jim Tiller on his recent retirement.

I’m proud to know Jim – and to have had the opportunity to work with him at crime scenes, traffic accidents and other sights of madness and mayhem he documented for the newspaper.

Without question, Jim Tiller was the consummate quiet professional.

Just as there is a distinct difference between a jackleg blogger and a true journalist – you can immediately separate someone who takes pictures from an artist whose medium is photography the minute you see their work.

Jim Tiller was an artist – and his beautiful photographs brought depth and life to the stories he covered.

I was truly moved by editor Pat Rice’s touching tribute to Jim and his legacy of service to News-Journal readers.

Through the years, Jim’s work told a unique story, regardless of the subject, and we were fortunate to glimpse the news of the day through his sensitive eye.

Enjoy your retirement, Jim.  Well deserved.

That’s all for me!

Have a great weekend, Kids!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: A Dangerous Game

My father had a favorite axiom that, “Rarely are things as good or as bad as we think they are,” and I’ve found that sage advise holds true in most situations.

Except when it comes to Volusia County governance.

Invariably – things are worse than we could possibly know. . .

Regular readers of these screeds know that I like to pepper the dire issues of the day with a liberal dose of humor and satire, but I’m dead serious when it comes to first-response capabilities and the state of our emergency medical service in Volusia County.

By any measure, Volusia County’s ambulance service – EVAC – is suffering from longstanding staffing and operational issues that continue to place your family and mine in danger.

In my view, it’s just a small part of why former County Manager Jim Dinneen fled for the hills when the walls he built began closing in – and his toadies on the dais of power didn’t even bother to hire an “outside expert” to make a cheap assessment, provide political insulation and blow smoke up our collective ass like they did for the Medical Examiner’s debacle.

By any metric, there are serious internal issues at EVAC that are putting lives at risk.

In my view, that’s unacceptable.

Don’t take my word for it – take a minute to speak to your local fire chief – or any firefighter or paramedic in your community – and ask them for their professional opinion on the issue.

Two years ago, the Volusia County Professional Firefighters Association, a public employee union representing fire and emergency medical personnel, sent a letter to former County Manager Jim Dinneen and the Volusia County Council warning that staffing shortages were limiting their ability to provide ambulance transport service for the nearly 80,000 calls-for-service received each year.

“It has now become normal to be at a patient’s side for 15, 30 and even 40 minutes or more, waiting for an ambulance to arrive,” the letter said.

That was two years ago. . .

When it became clear that the serious concerns of our first responders had fallen on deaf ears in Deland, in February, the intrepid WFTV reporter Mike Springer combed through reams of data and independently confirmed that the response times for Volusia County emergency services have been slowly increasing year-over-year.

Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that many area Fire and EMS professionals – those dedicated public servants directly responsible for providing the life-saving assistance we depend on (and pay for) – describe Volusia County leadership as suffering from an inflexible mindset, totally resistant to systemic change, that has resulted in a wholly dysfunctional and alarmingly inefficient service.

As a result, the majority of Port Orange City Commissioners, after careful deliberation, bravely decided that they aren’t going to wait while Volusia County gambles with the lives of its residents and will soon purchase and staff its own ambulance – a service that may exceed $425,000.00.

To demonstrate how serious Port Orange elected officials consider this issue – they have mustered the political courage to substantially increase taxes to help pay for improved service delivery.

In my view, it’s a damnable shame that Port Orange residents are being forced – by the gross lack of leadership and commitment to critical problem solving by Volusia County officials – to pay for duplicate services just to ensure their safety, but that’s what it has come to.

During community deliberations, former Port Orange Mayor Allen Green opposed the plan.  Speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Green said, “I believe that it’s our responsibility to force the county to provide the services that we pay for. I don’t believe that we should be getting into this business.”

Ask Daytona Beach Shores – or any other municipality in Volusia County – how trying to “force the county” to do the right thing by their residents worked out. . .

To add insult to injury, during last week’s Volusia County Council meeting, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post, after taking the time to meet with area firefighters and paramedics, described the problems at EVAC as “serious” and strongly suggested that our elected representatives on the dais of power in DeLand actually do something about it.

Of course, Post’s constructive proposal was met with the usual arrogance and “eye-rolling” from her ‘colleagues’ – lackluster dullards who simply refuse to acknowledge the fact that the staffing shortages and logistical issues they have known about since 2016 now result in frequent periods when there are no ambulances available to transport critically ill or injured persons to area hospitals.

According to the News-Journal, Ms. Post said, “If something happens and you need an ambulance, consistently on a regular basis, an ambulance is not available to respond.  The reason that is happening is because we haven’t kept up with staffing.”

Fair enough, right?

I mean, isn’t that exactly what Volusia County firefighters and paramedics have been screaming about?

Not according to the lockstep marionettes who currently populate the Volusia County Council.

“That is not accurate,” said the uber-arrogant councilwoman Deb Denys.

These comments are “irresponsible and reckless,” recently re-elected councilman Fred Lowry scowled.

Really?

Let me get this straight – two-years ago the Volusia County Professional Firefighters Association tells anyone who would listen that staffing shortages were limiting their ability to provide ambulance transport service.

Then, Volusia County administrators confessed that EVAC is seriously understaffed.

Hell, even Interim County Manager George Recktenwald – speaking about our overburdened paramedics – warned our obviously disinterested council members, “They are stretched. There’s no doubt about it. They have a lot of mandatory overtime.”

He also advised our obviously clueless representatives that the county has “budgeted two additional ambulances to its fleet, along with eight permanent employees” to try and improve service delivery.

Yet, Denys and the Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry have the brass to sit there and paint Councilwoman Post as a reckless liar?

My ass.

Does this constant, mean-spirited effort to suppress original thought and innovative problem solving in favor of paralytic conformity and fealty to the ‘system’ ever end?

It’s become so horribly dysfunctional that any elected official who simply acknowledges the evidence and concerns of those who accept public funds to perform a public service are considered an out-of-control mutineer who must be beaten into submission, like a maverick square peg being pounded into the round hole of conformity.

If the Volusia County Council can’t unanimously agree that demonstrably poor ambulance response times and emergency service delivery is a real problem – then what has to happen before those we have elected (and re-elected) to protect our interests and steward our hard-earned tax dollars realize that the serious issues we face will require visionary leadership and the ability to work together?

For an unbiased professional assessment of this deplorable situation, let’s take a look at the opinion of former Port Orange Fire Chief Tom Weber – a recognized risk management expert with no skin in the game – who recently urged City officials to stand up the municipal ambulance service:

“The county system is 30 years antiquated. Seventy-one percent of the population in the state of Florida, 12 million people, are protected by fire-based transport. Only 6 percent, or 1 million people use a system similar to the county,” Weber said. “The standard— the golden rule of thumb, is one ambulance per 10,000 people. That would mean you should have 6 ambulances in Port Orange. Let’s cut it in half— you should have three. You have zero.”

In my view, the Volusia County Council is playing a bizarre game of chicken with our lives – holding firm to a weird faith in their own infallibility as we rush ever closer to disaster.

And with the municipalities spending good money after bad to fund essential services that Volusia County is already responsible for – when do We, The People begin the discussion on “right sizing” county government – returning services to local control, and taking our lives and tax dollars back from this cabal of dysfunctional shitheels?

I mean, with lives hanging in the balance, who’s “irresponsible and reckless” now?

Angels & Assholes for September 7, 2018

Hi, Kids!

There are certain milestones in life that make you sit back and say, “Damn.”

Tonight, I will join with old friends and fellow alumni from Seabreeze Senior High School for our 40th reunion.

Damn.

These landmarks on the road of life give us an opportunity to take stock, catch up and engage in some unhealthy comparative analysis of how our lives measured up to our contemporaries – the natural curiosity of who made it and who didn’t, who “won” and who “lost.”

For instance, one member of our class served as the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts – another died in prison.

Having spent virtually my entire life in the Halifax area, it’s nearly impossible for me to fabricate certain aspects of my life, but memory fades with age, and as time and distance cloud actual events, we tend to view them differently than perhaps they actually occurred.

For instance, as the reunion approaches I’ve been desperately trying to recreate history and convince my long-suffering wife that I was the B.M.O.C. – one of the ‘cool kids’ – but she knows me better than that.

Besides, we both agree that, at our age, the fact I have a lifetime government pension with an annual cost of living increase guarantees I’ll be the sexiest guy in the room. . .

The fact is, I was a terrible student – totally disinterested in the social and scholastic aspects that make high school such an important part of our formative years.  In fact, I was a habitual truant – and during my sophomore year, I skipped school a cumulative total of six-weeks out of a nine-week grading period. 

No kidding.  That happened.

Fortunately (in retrospect) my father played golf with Joe Nelson, our assistant principal, who remarked while finishing-up a round on the 18th green at The Riv, “Damn shame about your boy, Paul.  We haven’t seen him around campus in a crow’s age. . .” 

Whoops. . .

How I came to that low point in my scholastic career began the year before, when, as a freshman, I was packed up and sent away to Sewanee Academy – a traditional boarding school equidistant between Chattanooga and Nashville high atop the spectacular Cumberland Plateau on the 1000-acre domain of the prestigious University of the South.

It wasn’t because I was some recalcitrant asshole who needed a taste of the cane only a boarding school rector can properly apply – my parents just wanted me to have the best education possible.

When I arrived, the Gothic Revival architecture on campus was breathtaking, reminiscent of how I picture Oxford, and several years ago Sewanee was listed by Travel + Leisure as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the United States.

At Sewanee, I was required to wear a sport coat (or monogrammed blazer) and tie to class each day, maintain the living space I shared with another student, get myself up and off to breakfast each morning or go hungry, and quickly develop the social skills to make an adolescent life in the cloistered environment of a time-honored boarding school perched high on an often-foggy mountaintop.

To subsidize my tuition, I was also required to work a few hours each week in the mailroom, sorting and distributing sacks of mail and packages in the basement of Quintard Hall, my imposing limestone dormitory.

Obviously, the academic standards of a college preparatory school were necessarily high – and I clearly didn’t have the smarts to compete with my classmates, several of whom were legitimate geniuses who went on to become renowned surgeons, lawyers, authors, entrepreneurs, publishers, college professors, restaurateurs, songwriters, poets and playwrights.

My experience there was at once a tragic failure and one of the most intensely influential periods of my life.

Whenever you take a group of kids age 14 to 18 and place them together in a relatively secluded environment, what emerges is either a version of Children of the Corn or something truly special and transformative.

I’m happy to say that I came away from Sewanee with many wonderful memories, a few life-long friends, and a true sense of what it means to be self-sufficient, work collegially and live peacefully with others.

I also learned at that tender age that I didn’t need mommy and daddy to get me out of bed in the morning, or pick me up and pat my backside every time life threw me a sinking curveball.

I also learned that homesickness is not fatal.

Good lessons for a 15-year old.

When it became apparent that I couldn’t hack it academically, my parents made the not-so-difficult decision to bring me home where I was enrolled at Seabreeze Senior High School in Daytona Beach.

Needless to say, the radical differences between the two approaches to teaching and learning were staggering – and I think the extreme shift to the freedom and relative anonymity of a large public high school was a shock that my pea brain had real difficulty adapting to.

I was (and remain) a mathematical illiterate – call it a ‘learning disability’ or what doctor’s now lump together as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – but that part of my feeble mind a ‘normal’ person uses to add, subtract, multiply and divide is simply missing.

Fortunately, I could read critically, and write at a level to make myself understood, and unlike virtually every other member of my class at Seabreeze, I enjoyed public speaking (which earned me a spot giving the “Morning Announcements” via intercom each morning) and, in time, I settled into the comfortable role of a “poorly performing” student from whom not much was expected.

I was bored, disinterested and restless – not because I was too smart for the curriculum, but because I found it hard to focus and was terribly embarrassed by my complete inability to comprehend math at any level – and I was developing what would become a lifelong struggle with a chronic, but relatively benign, form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

So, I found my inspiration in the solitude of the woods and on the water.  I enjoyed hunting, fishing and tramping through the wild places (before they were churned into muck for strip centers and ‘lifestyle communities.’)

Rather than catch the bus to school like I was supposed to, I would hideout and wait until my father left for work – then run back home and retrieve my old Ted Williams 20-guage single-shot from the gun cabinet – or my rod and reel – and a friend and I would jump in his beat-up truck and launch a boat from Bromley’s marina to fish the Tomoka Basin, or find a suitable field for an afternoon dove hunt during the season.

It was like something out of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – and, admittedly, I embodied at least some of Mr. Twain’s descriptors of “idle, and lawless, and vulgar, and bad” – except unlike the vagabond hero of the novel, Florida law required that I attend school on the regular.

So, I was finally captured and ‘civilized’ – forced to sit through the torturous process of the “high school experience.” 

During my three years at Seabreeze, I didn’t join clubs, play sports or go to prom – I just didn’t have the social or physical skills for that – but I could drink beer with the best of them.

That’s one learned skill from high school I still possess.

Whenever someone asks me where I went to college, I like to say in a self-depreciating joke – “The only thing that kept me out of college was high school.”  But it’s the truth. . .

Now, forty years after I somehow graduated, I will join with old friends to reminisce and swap fading stories, laugh over mildewed yearbooks, share pictures of grandchildren and see how – after all these years – life unfolded for the Class of ’78.

When I look back on it – I’m the luckiest guy in the world.

I won.

I’m proud to have spent my life in a worthy pursuit that mattered – working with some extraordinary people in a job I thoroughly loved in service to people who appreciated the effort.

I have comfortable shoes on my feet, a good roof over my head, and a handful of people who truly love and care about me, despite my sins and struggles.

My mind and body are still relatively limber, considering the miles I’ve put on both of them.

I’m certainly not rich – and I may not be able to do everything I want to do – but in retirement, I have reached my goal of never having to do anything I don’t want to do again.

As the great musician, poet and storyteller Ray Wylie Hubbard once said, it has been “a life. . . well, lived.”

For an awkward kid without much promise, there’s victory in that.

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

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

Angel:             Gloria Max, The Jewish Federation of Volusia & Flagler Counties

 Most would admit that we have our fair share of problems here on Florida’s Fun Coast, but we also happen to be blessed with some of the most dedicated, philanthropic volunteers and community servants anywhere – good people who simply do the right thing, for the right reason.

In my view, at the top of that impressive list is Gloria Max, executive director of The Jewish Federation of Volusia and Flagler Counties, who has made her life in service to those less fortunate in so many wonderful ways.

For instance, the Federation’s Jerry Doliner Food Bank serves more than 25,000 of our neighbors annually, providing weekly food staples for needy families throughout the Halifax area.  The organization also assists with clothing, furniture, household goods and medical equipment.

And their highly successful school backpack program has, for over 20-years, provided school supplies to disadvantaged children.  I understand that this year alone the program has provided backpacks to some 7,900 students in Volusia and Flagler Counties – meeting their goal of ensuring that every child is adequately equipped to learn.

It is my honor to bestow Angel status – and a permanent Barker’s View gold star – on Gloria Max, and her team of hardworking volunteers, for all they do to improve the lives of so many.

If you would like to help, please visit www.jewishfederationdaytona.org – or simply mail your check to the Federation at 470 Andalusia Avenue, Ormond Beach, FL 32174.

Angel:             Athletic Director Lynn Thompson, Bethune-Cookman University

By any metric, Bethune-Cookman University has been put through the furnace of late – but I’ve always felt that the true strength of the University are the dedicated people who hold the institution on their strong shoulders and work hard every day to protect and serve Dr. Bethune’s legacy.

Recently, the legendary Lynn Thompson became the longest actively tenured athletic director in NCAA Division 1  – having served as B-CU’s Vice President of Intercollegiate Sports for 27 years.

AD Thompson began his impressive tenure at B-CU as a young child, sneaking into the gymnasium to shoot hoops with his friends until the basketball coach would run them out of the building.

Later, he earned a spot on the Wildcats football team playing both quarterback and punter – and he even had a “cup of coffee” in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers in 1979.

Three years after becoming B-CU’s athletic director, Thompson became the first African-American to be named chairman of the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee.

In addition, he was instrumental in the University’s acquisition of one of the region’s top talk radio stations – 1380 The Cat – where yours truly appears the second Monday of each month as co-host of the popular public affairs forum, “GovStuff Live! with Big John.”

This month, Mr. Thompson’s impressive career was highlighted by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.  During an interview for the NACDA magazine, Director Thompson said:

“This is not my job, but my ministry.  Can you believe the vast amount of people who go though life without finding what they truly have been gifted and called to do?  I am blessed to have found mine and although I have had my share of opportunities to lead other programs, I am thankful to have been able to make a difference in the lives of the people we have touched here at B-CU.”

We’re glad your path brought you back here, Mr. Thompson.

Angel:             Volusia County Sheriff’s Office

Kudos to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, and the Office of the State Attorney, for their outstanding work in securing a first-degree murder indictment against the sub-human piece of shit who sold drugs to a 33-year-old Deltona woman – then allowed her to die of overdose while he hid drugs, destroyed evidence and covered his ass before calling for medical attention.

On February 1, 2018, Hunter Romaine, 24, of DeBary purchased heroin laced with fentanyl and provided it to the victim, Ashley Barrett.  This asswipe is the second person to be charged with first-degree murder in a drug overdose death in Volusia County this year.

Fortunately, this case also resulted in the arrest of two death dealers who were actively selling heroin in Volusia County.

In my view, we haven’t seen the bottom of the ‘opioid crisis’ in Volusia County yet – and my former colleagues tell me about the frequency of overdoses throughout the Halifax area.

Perhaps indictments such as this will send a necessary message that poisoning people has consequences – up to and including spending the rest of your natural life in prison.

My hat’s off to Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the brave men and woman of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, as well as State Attorney R. J. Larizza and his gifted investigators and prosecutors who worked so diligently to bring this case to the Grand Jury.

In my view, this is groundbreaking law enforcement at its finest – and a job well done.

Asshole:          Volusia GOP Chairman-for-Life Tony Ledbetter

Former Volusia County Council candidate Tom Laputka was right when he said, “Some people are born assholes.  There are others who try really hard to be one.  Ledbetter is both.”

 Look, before this thing raises the partisan hackles of my Republican friends – please know up front that I am neither a Republican or a Democrat.  However, like my father and grandfather before me, I was a long-time Republican before both major party’s derailed into a shitstorm of radical players competing for who can stoop the lowest to win an election, and I fled to the relative ethical comfort of No Party Affiliation.

I just refuse to have my name associated with that merde.

Given the local Volusia County Republican Committee’s history of whale-dung level politics, I wasn’t surprised when Chairman-for-Life Tony Ledbetter was back in the news this week after apparently getting paid handsomely by the DeSantis for Governor campaign for stirring up the party’s lunatic fringe on social media.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Chairman Ledbetter took to Facebook and spewed salacious, inflammatory and anti-Semitic comments which he apparently felt hit all the right buttons for what his version of the Republican party now considers their base.

I’m not going to repeat them here – you can search them out if you give a damn what Mr. Ledbetter has to say.  I don’t.

Oh, I forgot to mention, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Ledbetter was paid a total of $13,500 by the DeSantis gubernatorial campaign for consulting and management, but he says he is not a campaign staffer. The DeSantis campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Tuesday and Wednesday.”

 I’ll bet they didn’t. . .

Is it just me, or does anyone else remember the Chairman’s stupid call to ban history textbooks in Volusia County schools and his raging, pathological xenophobia?

How about his asinine polling place antics?

Or the patently crooked “voters’ guide” controversy that tarnished the 2016 Volusia County Council race – during which Ledbetter and his minions distributed sample ballots that included an effective (if ham-handed) scheme to give Ledbetter’s hand-select candidates – including our current doddering old fool of a Council Chair, Ed Kelley – special advantage by literally highlighting their names with a yellow marker.

I thought that would be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and Supreme Party Boss Mori Hossieni would finally say enough-is-enough and take Ledbetter out of the game.

Guess not.

Now, the DeSantis campaign has been smeared and saddled by this pestilent foul ball.

I’ve said this before, in my view, “Chairman-for-Life” Ledbetter is perhaps the single most polarizing force in local politics.  I’m not referring to the hammer and tong battle at election time, but the petty strife and angst he creates among his own local party affiliates.

Hey, Mori – I don’t ask you for much – but could you see your way clear to relieve Volusia County voters on all sides of the political spectrum of this shit-stirring drama-monger while there’s still something left of our collective dignity worth arguing about?

Asshole:          Defrocked Circuit Judge Scott DuPont

While we’re on the topic of gutter politics and those who practice that now virulent form of the art, yesterday we learned that disgraced former Circuit Court Judge Scott DuPont actually manufactured false and salacious information about his opponent during the 2016 election cycle.

Back in June, the Florida Supreme Court voted unanimously to jettison DuPont from the bench following allegations of “egregious misconduct during a judicial campaign” – a contest which ultimately returned him to office with 62% of the vote.

Hell, I voted for him.

In addition, the Supreme Court determined that while on the bench, DuPont also engaged in some highly irregular – if not outright goofy – judicial conduct, like holding a first appearance hearing on Memorial Day 2016 – without attorneys present (simply to meet his campaign schedule?) and once ordered bailiffs to physically search and seize $180 from a participant in a 2011 family court proceeding.

WTF?

Perhaps most disgusting is that during the 2016 election, DuPont not only failed to verify false information that his campaign spread about his opponent – but he apparently made up scandalous information about the candidate’s wife and daughter having arrest records out of whole cloth.

This is a sitting judge in the Seventh Judicial Circuit of Florida we’re talking about – not a run-off between Uncle Joe Carson and Floyd Smoot for Hooterville assemblyman. . .

Look, there are a few people I don’t want the terms “careless” and “reckless disregard” associated with, like my airline pilot, my doctor and my judge, to name a few.

DuPont’s tactics are eerily familiar to a famous story attributed to the late President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who during a 1948 Senate race, faced a formidable and well-financed primary opponent.

According to the likely apocryphal tale, LBJ turned to his campaign manager and “suggested they spread the rumor that his pig farmer opponent had engaged in acts of barnyard intimacy that provided him routine carnal knowledge of his sows.” 

“Taken aback, Johnson’s campaign manager protested, “But Lyndon, we can’t say that!  It’s not true!”  To which Johnson replied, “Of course not, but let’s make the bastard deny it. . .”

Indeed.

I ask you, gentle readers – What has changed in the last 70 years?   

Quote of the Week

“The $2.5 million is what the county was going to give us to build the shelter, not what the shelter would cost,” Gilliland said. “My expectations were always in the $4 million to $4.5 million range.  He said he doesn’t want residents to think the city “was asleep at the wheel.”

–Daytona Beach City Commission Rob “Gilligan” Gilliland, as quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, regarding the skyrocketing construction costs at the languishing First Step homeless shelter.

Thanks for setting us straight, Commissioner.

Because to a lot of us, it appeared as though the city was not only asleep at the switch – but that you had abandoned the wheelhouse altogether.

I think what got us to thinking was when we watched in awe as Daytona Beach officials simply accepted the obscene price hike with an “Aw, shucks” attitude that left many wondering how ostensibly smart people – with a fiduciary responsibility to steward our hard-earned tax dollars – could simply shrug their shoulders and accept the tried-and-true “We didn’t know” responsibility avoidance maneuver – or actually believe that construction costs could possibly have risen $100,000 per month?

Whatever.

Now, here’s something to ponder between football games this weekend – Does anybody really believe that P&S Paving – a prolific government contractor whose president just happens to sit on the mysterious camera stellata at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – actually did us a courtesy by crediting “the city $1,064,000 partly to help the project and partly because it can sell some of the material it’s dredging.”

I don’t know.  I’m asking.

Why?  Because it smells funny.  That’s why.

But, hey, you know me – I’m the suspicious asshole who can’t simply say ‘thank you’ and accept $1,064,000 in corporate charity without rudely asking questions. . .

And while we’re on the topic – just who in the hell authorized P&S Paving – or anyone else – to haul off and sell lucrative fill dirt from property that belongs to you and me?

And why wasn’t that material used as fill during the horribly expensive site preparation work?

Inquiring minds want to know. . .

And Another Thing!

Congratulations to former Daytona Beach employee Sonja Wiles on the recent legal settlement of her claims and lawsuits against senior City officials alleging gender discrimination, harassment, retaliation, gender-based hostile work environment, First Amendment violations and Family & Medical Leave Act abuses.

She was summarily fired three years ago after bringing credible allegations of sexual harassment and racial bias against current and former senior administrators – but rather than bring about the transformative change required to stop this disgusting practice in the workplace and bring equality and parity to City government – Daytona Beach spent over one million dollars in public funds to fight Ms. Wiles tooth and nail.

At the end of this very ugly and incredibly expensive episode in our history, Ms. Wiles will receive $214, 655 in lost wages and damages, a $23,214 payment to secure her state pension and $218,500 to cover attorney fees.

Smart move on the City’s part.

I mean, who knows what would have come out had this sordid affair actually gone to court, eh?

Kudos to Sonja Wiles – and other brave women, like former DeBary assistant city manager Kassandra Blissett – who earlier this year settled a federal lawsuit against the City of DeBary and former City Manager Dan Parrott after gross allegations of sexual discrimination.

Now, I’m hearing some disturbing, though unconfirmed, reports through the Barker’s View telegraph that similar legal troubles may well be set to befall some “high-ranking” officials at Volusia County Schools.

I’ll stay tuned to developments – I hope you will too.

Perhaps as these massive settlements continue to rise, We, The People – and those we elect to represent our interests on the dais of power in local government – will begin holding those responsible for committing or condoning these outrageous acts accountable for their actions.

After all, why should we continue to pay every time some pasty-faced middle-aged, power-mongering bureaucrat in a cheap suit decides he’s entitled to deny opportunities, discriminate, harass and retaliate – or act out like a sexual buffoon – in a government workplace?

When are we going to start taking these punitive settlements out of their pockets instead of ours?

Sorry, there I go with the questions again. . .

That’s all for me!

Have a great weekend, folks!

 

 

 

On Volusia: WTF?

 

“Eye-popping.” 

 

“Shocking.”

 

“Jaw dropping.”

 

“Astounding.”

 

“Crazy.” 

 

“Adding insult to injury.” 

Damn!  Add a few well-placed expletives and you’ve got yourself the start of a typical Barker’s View jeremiad on our collective situation here on Florida’s Fun Coast!

Except, I didn’t write these adjectives – The Daytona Beach News-Journal did. . .

They were used to aptly describe the horror most Volusia County residents felt last week when we learned that construction costs for the languishing First Step homeless shelter more than doubled – skyrocketing from $2.5 million to a whopping $5.3 million.

Seriously?  WTF?

Sadly, the long-suffering taxpayers of the City of Daytona Beach will be covering the $2.8 million increase over the next two budget cycles.

(Thanky’ Daytona Beach!  Mighty generous of you!)

Perhaps more disturbing – City officials simply accepted the obscene price hike with an “Aw, shucks” attitude that left many wondering how ostensibly smart people – elected officials with a fiduciary responsibility to steward our hard-earned tax dollars – could simply shrug their shoulders and accept the tried-and-true “We didn’t know” responsibility avoidance maneuver, or actually believe that construction costs have risen $100,000 per month?   

Really?

While homelessness ranks high on the list of major civic challenges, the Halifax area faces myriad other issues – from transportation infrastructure to blight, dilapidation, low wages and economic stagnation – all of which will require a delicate budgetary balancing act.

That’s why this colossal price increase is so alarming to anyone paying attention.

If current estimates are correct, that places construction costs for the First Step Shelter at an estimated $321 per square foot.

And the building has yet to come out of the ground. . .

When you consider that luxury residential projects in the Halifax area – like the Ormond Renaissance Condominiums – are selling for around $208 per square foot (with a clubhouse overlooking the swimming pool, a fitness center and a private membership in the Plantation Bay Golf & Country Club, where residents can rub elbows with what passes for Volusia County royalty) – or the sophisticated “MAX Daytona” which is being built by Henry “Hard Rock” Wolfond in The Shores – with some units being pre-sold at around $300 per square foot – you get the idea that we may well be getting screwed to the floor (only the floor hasn’t been poured yet.  Still being drawn by the architect, apparently. . .)

Now, If I understand this, and I’m not sure anyone does – but if this were a commercial residential development – the sales price for the First Step luxury residences would need to be priced at over $600 per square foot range just to eek out a relatively modest profit.

Those prices might sell in South Florida – or the French Riviera – but I think most realtors will tell you they don’t fly in the Daytona Beach Resort Area.

Hell, if we had known that money wasn’t an issue, we could have hired former Bethune-Cookman University president Edison O. Jackson and TG Quantum to build the shelter – while the end product might have cost more than the annual gross-domestic product of the nation of Palau (the B-CU dorm did, by the way) – at least they could have gotten four walls and roof up before the cold wind blows this winter.

Inexplicably, the City of Daytona Beach seems intent on their “just keep throwing money at it” solution – refusing to allow the impressive First Step Shelter board any substantive say in how to reign-in cost or actually move this decaying project forward.

In my view, the First Step Shelter Board has some of the brightest, most hard-working public and private servants in Volusia County ready to help – yet, they have been relegated to airing their frustrations in The Daytona Beach News-Journal and sitting on their hands while another good idea languishes.

Look, by any measure, this highly anticipated shelter has slogged on way too long, with interminable delays in everything from architectural design to infrastructure to the weird piecemeal site preparation plan that seems tailor-made for problems.

In typical Volusia County style, whenever tax dollars are earmarked for construction – that immediately equates to a grand, “Game Changing” plan – shackled to a “Taj Mahal” facility – and clearly First Step has transformed into way more than most of us thought a homeless shelter should be – with classrooms, a medical ward, multi-purpose and computer areas, “flex use” rooms and more than a dozen administrative offices, etc.

First Step Floorplan Look, I have ultimate confidence in First Step’s executive director Mark Geallis – he’s a good guy, and his heart is in the right place – but as time drags by, he’s seemingly relegated to communicating the project’s message on social media and twiddling his thumbs.

Why is it that – regardless of the project – our ‘powers that be’ seem physically incapable of getting anything done?

How could the relatively simple job of putting up a homeless shelter on publicly-owned land became mired in months of consternation, unanswered questions, mysterious delays and near constant bickering between those responsible for building the facility and those responsible for funding it?

I’ve got an idea:

Way back in the summer of 2016 when this blogsite was still in its infancy, I wrote a series of prescient posts regarding the building War of Words between the City of Daytona Beach and the Volusia County Council in the immediate aftermath of the Great Homeless Occupation of the County administration on Beach Street.

At that time, I remember thinking that east Volusia will get a much-needed homeless shelter the exact minute our “powers that be” decide how the public and private funding will be divvied up – especially by those who make a really nice life gorging on repeat local government contracts –  and others with direct access to our hard-earned tax dollars.

Apparently, some are just learning that there is a lot of money to be made in warehousing the homeless.

Way back in 2016, during the initial dust-up, Volusia officials kept holding out – then snatching back – a cheap offer of $4 million to fund construction of a proposed 200+ bed “Safe Harbor” shelter on county-owned land in the wilds off US-92 in Daytona Beach.

Hell, Daytona was duped by the county so many times it started to look like a bad Roadrunner cartoon, with City officials playing the role of the hapless Wil E. Coyote – except one was a Looney Tunes animated farce, while the municipality’s predicament was all too real.

The way the Volusia County Council dealt with this important issue (by not dealing with it) was abusive, wrong and counter-productive.  Now, the uber-arrogant Deb Deny’s – who voted against the county’s contribution to the project in 2017 – has the chutzpah to step back and heap unconstructive criticism on those actually in the arena from the relative political safety of the newspaper, “I wanted them to prove me wrong.  They sure didn’t.”

My God.  That’s what passes for “leadership” in Volusia County government?

(Hey Deb – don’t get me started on the laundry list of five-alarm fuck-ups you and your fellow dullards on the dais of power have foisted on your long-suffering constituents. . . I’ve got the time.)

Perhaps that’s why Daytona Beach is so reluctant to relinquish control – even as public opinion, and the much-needed donations and partnerships it controls – turns sour on what has transmogrified from a simple shelter to a social services program designed to somehow “cure” homelessness in our time.

In my jaded view, the News-Journal was right when it opined,  “There is no doubt that the shelter is badly needed. Because the city of Daytona Beach is ponying up the needed funding, this probably won’t further delay the shelter opening. But it has seriously damaged the trust of the city’s current, and potential, partners, and treated Daytona Beach residents like piggy banks available to be tapped at will. They deserve answers.”

We all do.

 

 

On Volusia: Get’cha Head In The Game

Admittedly, I’m an emotional guy.  Always have been.

I get passionate about things that are important to me – I’m either totally invested or not at all.

It’s a tough way to live, because when we commit ourselves to causes or people we believe in, it leaves us vulnerable to great disappointment – but a life without passion and enthusiasm, without great causes and struggles, would be a boring experience indeed.

Like Lord Chesterfield said,  “Anything worth doing is worth doing well” – with your whole heart – with passion, commitment and dedication.

I spent my life in law enforcement where I learned early on that cops are difficult to lead but easy to inspire.  They want to fulfill their purpose and with the proper motivation will act boldly in service to others  – and I am forever proud to be part of that tribe.

Since undertaking this alternative opinion blog, I invariably find that regular readers of Barker’s View are incredibly bright and actively engaged in the issues of the day – good citizens who take the time to weigh all opinions before committing themselves to a position or solution.

They have their “head in the game” as coaches like to say.

Unfortunately, it is apparent that we also have a large number of voters who simply accept the status quo by buying into the canned promises of those candidates with enough money to get their message – and that of their political benefactors – in front of the masses with enough frequency and flash to sway opinions.

Someone once wrote that excellence honors passion and noble purpose demands high standards – anything less will drain enthusiasm – and in Volusia County politics, excellence and high standards are in short supply.

Cowards hide, lie, make self-protective decisions, obfuscate, deflect and place blame – while real leadership leans-in, commits willingly, admits mistakes and makes purpose-driven decisions – leaders reach high, accept responsibility and inspire confidence by their personal example.

Any of that sound familiar to you here on Florida’s Fun Coast?

I thought so.

When you commit to living your life with passion and exposing your emotions – you must quickly develop a finely tuned Bullshit Detector – an inner sense of right and wrong – and acquire the ability to sort those who have our best interests at heart from those who don’t – and quickly identify posers who couldn’t pour piss out of a boot with the instructions on the heel.

Ol’ Albert Einstein once said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

 It’s easy to confuse titles and political honorifics with intelligence.

Trust me, most smart people I know avoid politics like something they don’t want to step in – while some of the dumbest rubes I’ve ever known lay down and willingly wallow in it.

That’s never more evident than during the election cycle when entrenched incumbents ask those of us who pay attention to forget everything we’ve witnessed over the past two to four years and focus on their empty rhetoric – even as they refuse to recognize the fact they have become mere pawns of big money insiders – dull tools who have been purchased like cheap livestock.

If you want a good example, check out the Ormond Beach City Commission races where real estate developers and special interests have lavished so much cash on their incumbent chattel that the inequity has become impossible to ignore.

Now we are forced to watch as those on the dais of power wiggle and squirm as they openly try and convince us – the long-suffering residents – that there is no tangible connection to these massive campaign contributions and their previous votes which brought us things like the environmental atrocity on Granada Boulevard that traded old-growth hardwoods, natural buffers and wildlife habitat for a chicken wing drive-thru and a frigging WaWa.

Don’t take my word for it – let’s look at the facts:

Campaign contributions to date:

Mayor race:

Rob Bridger: $5,907

Bill Partington (incumbent): $25,825

Zone 1:

Kathy Maloney Johnson: $6,925

Dwight Selby (incumbent): $21,200

Zone 2:

Joe Dugan: $3,095

David Glasser: $500

Troy Kent (incumbent): $22,075

Zone 3:

Sandy Kauffman: $3,965

Susan Persis: $23,660

Zone 4:

Barry du Moulin: $2,920

Rob Littleton (incumbent): $14,626

David Romeo: $3,993

Here’s the rub – in a recent article in the Ormond Beach Observer, current Zone 4 City Commissioner Rob Littleton said “. . .the only common characteristic about anyone who has contributed to his campaign is that they believe he deserves re-election. The conflict of interest dispute is “nothing but allegations and slander” against the integrity of the sitting commissioners.”

“If I did not agree with a project that came before the commission, I would absolutely vote against it,” Littleton said. “Anyone who knows me, knows that I’ve been very independent my entire life, and I’m my own man, and nobody owns me.”

 Okay, Rob.  Keep telling yourself that. . .

Why is it that politicians who have so openly compromised their independence always crow the loudest about how “independent” they are?

Why do they vociferously deny the obvious motivations of their political benefactors – while willingly accepting their cash?

Is it possible that they have told themselves the same lies so many times that they actually have come to believe their own gibberish? 

In my view, when political hubris allows our elected leaders to draw moral conclusions by denying reality and simply imagining how they perceive themselves despite evidence to the contrary – that’s dangerous.

I don’t mind politicians lying to me – that’s what politicians do in this day and age – it’s when they lie to themselves that I get uncomfortable.

Look, most of us who are old enough to discern fairy tales from reality understand that political campaigns in 2018 are about victory at all costs – winning in the name of power and control – and if truth is the first casualty of the battle, so be it.

For me, the exercise of choosing suitable candidates becomes never allowing the political lies and rhetoric to cloud my view of the important issues – our quality of life, the debilitating effect of unchecked growth and massive sprawl in the absence of infrastructure, the motivations of those who have the financial wherewithal to ‘pay-to-play,’ judging our incumbent “leadership” based upon past performance rather than empty promises on a glossy mailer and determining who has the best interests of my family and community at heart – and who is an instrument of special interests.

The information is out there – everything you need to make a sound, informed decision on what our collective lives will look like for the next term is a few short keystrokes away – or better yet, pick up the phone and call the candidate directly and ask the difficult questions.

Then engage your bullshit detector and choose wisely.

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for August 31, 2018

Hi, Kids!

Welcome to the weekend!

Wow.  What a week it’s been.

The long-anticipated primary election has come and gone, and in its wake, we are left with a lot to think about.

As I’ve previously written, I’m not a political scientist – just another disgruntled asshole who is fed up with our collective condition in one of the highest taxed counties in Florida – helplessly bearing witness while those we have placed our trust in piss good money after bad, then demand more.

You see, I have this naïve belief that we’re better than this.

When I travel to other places around the nation, I see communities that are similarly situated to our own that have done remarkable things under equally difficult circumstances to improve those cultural, civic and social factors that give a sense of place and enrich the quality of life for residents and visitors.

I believe we are infinitely capable of changing course, correcting the sins of the past, and returning a sense of basic fairness and equity to our democratic process.  One that allows constructive input from those who pay the bills – not just a few politically connected insiders with a profit motive and direct access to the public trough.

Apparently, the majority of those who actually took the initiative to vote in Volusia County this week disagree with me (about 3 out of 10 registered voters) – and that’s okay.  It’s democracy in action, and while I don’t have to agree with all of it, I accept the will of the electorate.

However, going into the general election, I hope people will look beyond the goofy soundbites, the superficial social media sites and colorful brochures that tout the dubious “accomplishments” of incumbents while ignoring the sights, sounds and smells that you and I drive by every day here in Volusia County.

Look, I get it – not everyone is a “high information” voter – in fact, most people can’t tell you their Mayor’s name, let alone describe the make-up and collective vision of the City Commission – or the County Council for that matter.

It’s not that they don’t care.

Most are just too busy trying to scratch-out a living, buy groceries, educate their children and make a life in a place where making ends meet is an increasingly difficult proposition for working families mired in a service-based economy.

They understand how hard it is to make a good life here – and they fear the coming tide of new residents who will clog our already overburdened roadways.

They shake their heads in disbelief when they drive by another environmental atrocity where old-growth oaks and wildlife habitats are sacrificed on the altar of greed by yet another speculative developer to make way for another convenience store – yet they don’t equate those issues with those they elect to govern their very way of life.

As a result – they vote like they are told by those with the money to get their message out – or they don’t vote at all.

In his own inimitable way, the late, great author, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, summed it up when he said:

“Anybody who thinks that ‘it doesn’t matter who’s President’ has never been Drafted and sent off to fight and die in a vicious, stupid war on the other side of the world–or been beaten and gassed by Police for trespassing on public property–or been hounded by the IRS for purely political reasons–or locked up in the Cook County Jail with a broken nose and no phone access and twelve perverts wanting to stomp your ass in the shower. That is when it matters who is President or Governor or Police Chief. That is when you will wish you had voted.”

 How’s that for some no-bullshit wisdom, eh?

The stakes are high this time – and we find ourselves in a dire situation that threatens our very way of life because the mechanism of massive, unchecked growth has already been set in motion by those who stand to benefit most.

With it comes increased competition for the non-existent “high-paying” jobs we were promised every time one of our ‘Rich & Powerful’ held out their greedy hand and asked for more of our hard-earned tax dollars to underwrite a private project, the impact of thousands of new residents on our aquifer recharge areas and greenspace, the inability of our current crop of compromised politicians to ask their political benefactors to pay their fair share in impact fees – even as they impose “Enhanced Amenity Fees,” “User Fees” and other cleverly disguised taxes  on our purchases at shopping and entertainment centers that were underwritten with our tax dollars.

Yet, Volusia County voters continue to elect the same names, the same tired facilitators, while expecting a different outcome?

There is an old saying that if you’re fortunate enough to live near the beach, then you’re fortunate enough.  And we are truly lucky to live near the natural beauty where the land meets the sea.

There is a unique energy in places where moving water creates negative ions that lighten our mood and create positive feelings.  Those are places people want to visit, and that creates opportunity.

I happen to believe that it is important to protect and preserve our access to these special places and prevent the looming disaster of massive sprawl from Farmton to the Flagler County line.

We can do that by carefully selecting leaders who will put our collective interests first – and that’s not as easy as it sounds.

It’s going to be interesting, folks.  Buckle-up, we’ve got a bumpy ride ahead this fall.

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

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

 Angel:             Volusia County Sheriff’s Office

 Kudos to Sheriff Mike Chitwood and his deputies for the recent arrest of eight degenerate assholes who were misusing our public parks for open sexual liaisons.

It’s damn difficult work, and I applaud their efforts.

During my long career in law enforcement, I was involved in numerous operations to suppress this dangerous behavior in parks and public restrooms – and many years ago I participated in the arrest of one of the subjects charged in this recent operation.

Just goes to show you that some people never learn – and the arrest and release of these scumbags is no deterrent.

In my experience working these cases, the activity is mercurial – and when pressure is applied in one location – they simply move to parks in other areas.  During surveillance operations, I’ve observed known offenders move between a half-dozen parks in a geographical area until they find like-types.

And anyone who thinks these are “victimless crimes” can stow that shit around me.

I once worked a tragic case where a child was attacked by a predatory sex offender in a park bathroom stall – and I have seen this repulsive activity take place in close proximity to playgrounds.

In my view, it’s high time our legislature and justice system got tough with these crimes and mandate serious jail time for anyone who engages in this disgusting behavior in any public park.

Given the habitual and consistent nature of these criminals, clearly the psychological pathology that results in this compulsion cannot be effectively treated over time – so it must be removed and isolated for everyone’s protection.

This needs to stop.

In many areas of Volusia County, the problem is so pervasive that municipalities have spent thousands in taxpayer dollars to convert restrooms to single-use facilities, or removed them from parks altogether.  That relates to a significant expense and inconvenience to residents and families who wish to enjoy the public amenities they pay for.

As we continue to spend handsomely on trails, parks and ecotourism, the prevalence of deviate sexual behavior by these shitheads will continue to dissuade residents from taking advantage of outdoor recreation opportunities.

Frankly, after what I’ve seen over the years, I wouldn’t set foot in a public park – and I damn sure wouldn’t take my precious granddaughter to one.

And that’s a shame.

Asshole:          Former Volusia County Council Members Art Giles, Frank Bruno, Josh Wagner and Joie Alexander

 Former Volusia County Council members Art Giles, Frank Bruno, Josh Wagner and Joie Alexander earned their way into the Asshole category this week.  I wrote about this in a recent piece entitled, “On Volusia: A Convenient Memory” but it bears repeating.    

I said that I would never mention former County Manager Jim Dinneen in this pages again – then I opened The Daytona Beach News-Journal last Sunday and did a spit-take with my Café Bustelo.

 Look, I hate to paint all of these former Volusia County Council members with the same brush – but anyone who would put their name on a fantasy puff piece entitled, “Jim Dinneen made a big contribution to Volusia County” is stretching the limits of credibility.

In fact, glorifying poor performance and asking the good citizens of Volusia County to suspend reality while they deify an ineffectual asshole who ruined constituent trust in county government, only serves to perpetuate the mediocrity and slimy backroom practices that have brought us to this dismal point in our history.

In my view, Jim Dinneen was the embodiment of all that’s wrong with this bastardized Oligarchy we find ourselves trapped in – a fetid slit trench where uber-wealthy insiders maintain political control of our future by contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars collectively to the campaign accounts of hand-select candidates for public office.

During his tenure, Jim Dinneen facilitated the wholesale giveaway of tens-of-millions of dollars in public funds couched as “economic development incentives,” orchestrated the discounted sale of public land to private interests, pissed away our heritage of beach access to appease the overweening greed of speculative developers, concocted patent falsehoods about the pressing need for new, astronomically priced courthouses, public works facilities and other county buildings – even as those he is currently responsible for maintaining literally rot into the ground.

In exchange for his complicity and facilitation of these and other atrocities against the taxpayers of Volusia County – our ‘powers that be’ granted him the political insulation to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and damn the consequences to those who were expected to keep quiet and pay the bills.

And make no mistake, the citizens of Volusia County paid a high price for Dinneen’s malleable ethics and preternatural ability to dodge accountability.

From his patented ‘public policy by ambush’ tactic of surprising us all with off-the-agenda sneak attacks – to his vilification of whistleblowers, including sitting Councilwoman Heather Post – he was a mendacious asshole who, in my view, would rather lie that eat.

As I have written before, Mr. Dinneen was perfectly willing to lie like a cheap rug whenever a blatant falsehood served his purpose or those of his political handlers.  In fact, I believe – as Sheriff Michael Chitwood said – Mr. Dinneen is a pathological liar with a compulsion to fabricate situational responses on the fly – a strategy that ultimately cost county government the trust of the people it exists to serve.

The staggering level of incompetence, government waste and resource mismanagement during Mr. Dinneen’s administration – and the continuing, almost institutionalized, lack of substantive oversight by our elected officials that allowed this atrocious course of conduct to continue – will haunt Volusia County for years to come.

In fact, the lasting memory for most of us will remain Mr. Dinneen’s Tom & Jerry skit with the intrepid WFTV reporter Mike Springer – with Little Jimmy scurrying out of a public meeting and ducking into a private area like the rat he was, actively dodging the legitimate questions of the working press regarding the latest five-alarm fuck-up he was personally responsible for orchestrating.

In government, strong leadership maintains sound discipline, controls the awesome power inherent to public entities, identifies objectives, communicates effectively, exercises judgment, builds esprit de corps, trusts the ability of subordinates and congratulates their performance, instills confidence in constituents, and directs personnel and resources under their command – efficiently and effectively – to accomplish difficult goals important to our collective welfare.

The Dinneen administration was the antithesis of these important attributes.

In my opinion, the rotten legacy of Jim Dinneen will remain failure, mismanagement and the wholesale giveaway of public assets and amenities to meet the needs of those who could afford to pay-to-play.  Nothing more.

For years to come, We, The People of Volusia County will continue to deal with the fallout of unchecked growth and sprawl, the almost criminal lack of preparedness and infrastructure to handle the massive influx to come, the abject failure to even attempt to have development pay its fair share and the cowardly inability of incumbent Volusia County Council members to reign in Dineen’s shadowy maneuvers and cloistered backroom collusion that brought us to this sad place in our history.

Sometimes I wonder how current and former politicians develop such a conveniently selective memory?

Is it that the reality of the situation they helped create is too disturbing to recall accurately – so they mask reality with horribly skewed hallucinations of times that never existed?

Angel:             Votran Driver Paul Okumu

 Many years ago, when I was pursuing primary flight training, my very wise, infinitely patient and dedicated instructor gave me an important piece of advice for dealing with in-flight emergencies:

“In a negative situation, I will do the best I can.  If that fails, I will try again.  I cannot change destiny, but I may be able to affect it in some positive way.”

 That inspirational thought was exemplified by the heroic actions of Votran Driver Paul Okumu, who jumped into action when an armed thug attempted to sexually assault a passenger as his bus traveled through Ponce Inlet in June.

Last week, the City of Ponce Inlet formally recognized Mr. Okumu’s courage and quick thinking in physically engaging with Michael Lemuel Speaks, 34, a habitual offender with an extensive criminal history – including at least 34 arrests in Volusia County since 1983.

In presenting the award, Ponce Inlet Police Chief Frank Fabrizio quoted writer Edmund Burke, “Evil succeeds when good men and women do nothing.”

Thank God this mild-mannered man was in the right place to intervene and bring a positive solution to potential tragedy.

Congratulations to Paul Okumu on this well-deserved recognition – and to the City of Ponce Inlet for honoring Mr. Okumu in such a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Asshole:          Florida Governor Rick Scott

 Even in the heat of a hotly contested political campaign, somehow Governor Rick Scott still found time to orchestrate one of his patented “WTF?” moments for Florida residents when he – once again – reappointed Long John Miklos to yet another four-year term on the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board.

For years, Miklos has represented public and private clients of his Bio-Tech Consulting, an Orlando-based environmental consultancy, in wetland permitting cases before the very state regulatory agency he oversees.

You read that right.

In fact, the perennial conflict of interest between Mr. Miklos’ advocacy for his paying clients – and his moral and ethical responsibilities to the citizens of Central Florida as board chairman – have been documented and reported in dozens of newspaper stories, including the incomparable Dinah Voyles-Pulver’s reporting on the Debacle in DeBary in The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

In that case, Miklos was hired by a few greed-heads that then inhabited DeBary City Hall, to ramrod the acquisition of sensitive conservation land at Gemini Springs Annex for the development of a massive mixed-use development near the SunRail station.

The contract called for the citizens of DeBary to pay John Miklos $155 an hour for his personal attention to the matter.

That shitstorm resulted in an ill-fated ethics complaint against Miklos which initially concluded there was probable cause that he violated state ethics laws; however, our neutered ethics board – also appointees of Governor Scott and other state politicians – cleared Miklos of all charges by voting not to pursue the inquiry.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “District records show Miklos’ business boomed after he was appointed chairman of the water district in 2013. Although state laws allow district board members to have knowledge of the kinds of issues that come before the district, no other St. Johns board member has declared as many conflicts as Miklos. Several previous water district board members have raised concerns in the past that Miklos uses his position on the board to solicit business or has too much influence in permit decisions.”

I don’t make this stuff up, folks.

While several Central Florida lawmakers – and candidates – have gone on record saying they will not vote to confirm the Miklos appointment during the next legislative session.

Yet – inexplicably – Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, had the unmitigated gall to shrug his shoulders and tell his constituents with a straight face that he doesn’t have a clue who John Miklos is.

“I haven’t seen or heard anything about him,” said Hutson, “so I have no clue whether I would confirm or deny.”

 Again, WTF?

 Look, Sen. Hutson is either a despicable liar – or the most uninformed and completely detached State Senator, well, in this history of colossally unaware state senators. . .

In my view, it is simply inconceivable that a sitting legislator could have avoided reading or discussing the dozens of newspaper articles, media reports and good old-fashioned scuttlebutt around the Capitol watercooler regarding the myriad ethical issues surrounding Mr. Miklos’ “fox in the henhouse” routine – perhaps the most brazen example of open cronyism and quid pro quo corruption in the history of a state that was built on it.

Now, I’m just spit-balling here, but in most places, promoting the interests of personal customers coming before the very same regulatory board that you chair would be considered a colossal conflict of interest – if not a criminal misuse of public office.

In most places, a person that engaged in that level of influence peddling would be slapped in irons and publicly humiliated for high crimes against the environment and public corruption.

In most places, slimy environmental consultants who just happen to serve as the high-powered chairman of a state environmental protection and regulatory board would come to the attention of an equally high-powered state senator – whose constituents just happen to rely on that very agency to protect their drinking water and natural places.

One would also think that in a tight race for the United States Senate, Slick Rick would have grown tired of the near-constant embarrassment of his hand-picked chairman’s greed-crazed shenanigans – but this is Florida – the rules truly are different here.

Screw it.  We’re doomed.

Quote of the Week:

 “Every election is important to me, every single one,” she said. “We live in a place where it’s up to us, and being lazy just isn’t an option.”

–Sandra Edmunds, a former Delaware resident voting for the first time as a Flagler County resident, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, was among those who chose to go to the polls on Tuesday.

 And Another Thing!

 Earlier this week, the Volusia County School Board took a vote on a “combined” evaluation of beleaguered Superintendent Tom Russell after a convoluted assessment that turned what should have been an honest performance appraisal into another useless waste of time.

The board’s review of Dr. Russell’s stewardship and oversight of Volusia County Schools came amid a very tumultuous year, including:

  • The mysterious “secret” negotiations with AdventHealth that alienated our long-time healthcare partner Halifax Health and sold district marketing rights to a single entity for peanuts.

 

  • The hopelessly deadlocked “negotiations” with Volusia’s teacher’s union who continue to suffer under a top-down system of micromanagement that has stifled classroom creativity and left our long-suffering teachers woefully under compensated for their contributions.

 

  • The failure-to-thrive syndrome suffered by Volusia County schools that saw seventeen schools districtwide fall one letter grade or more – leaving 59% of our schools with a C or D rating, including 72% of our elementary schools.

 

  • A systematic failure by administrators to retain enthusiastic new talent, with some 46% of first-year teachers failing to return to the district.

 

  • The tragi-comedy of watching senior officials shamelessly beg for spare change from the municipalities to cover their failure to strategically plan for adequate security upgrades in the face of an underfunded state mandate – in spite of an unprecedented $900 million budget – the largest of any taxing authority in Volusia County.

 

  • When senior administrators were caught quibbling material facts, dragging their feet on public records requests and artificially embellishing the professional qualifications of at least one individual tapped to serve in the all-important role of School Security Specialist in a feeble attempt to add credibility to the new School Guardian program.

 

  • Now, media outlets are reporting that the Volusia County School District is under Federal investigation after complaints of discrimination against student’s suffering from autism.

 

According to The Daytona-Beach News-Journal, “Earlier this month, School Board Chairwoman Linda Cuthbert and School Board Attorney Ted Doran took all five of the individual evaluations and compiled them into a single board evaluation. The combined document says Russell is on the right track, making “reasonable progress” on all six areas they measured.”

 Yep, nothing to see here, folks.  We’re making “reasonable progress.”  Move along. . .

 Seriously, I don’t make this shit up.

This nonsensical “combined” non-evaluation sounds like something only an overprotective lawyer with a knack for providing elected and appointed officials with political insulation could come up with.

In typical Volusia County fashion, what should have been a healthy and transparent process of identifying administrative strengths and growth areas became a neutered exercise, another hot-air generator, that accomplished nothing.

And why was Lawyer Doran involved in the process at all? 

I thought this important responsibility sat with those we elect to represent our interests and provide oversight of the superintendent – and our tax dollars – not an appointed attorney with no real political accountability.

I hate to dig up old ugliness, but – like Superintendent Russell – Mr. Doran has led something of a charmed life during his tenure on the school board payroll as well.

In a December 2013 piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled,  “Volusia schools attorney Ted Doran to begin Florida Bar suspension,” the Volusia County School Board admitted renewing Mr. Doran’s contract with the full knowledge of pending complaints against him to the Florida Bar – serious allegations which ultimately resulted in a 60-day suspension:

“The School Board was aware of The Bar complaints when it approved a three-year renewal of Doran’s legal contract this summer. The complaints had been reported in The News-Journal in 2012. The board wasn’t aware of a pending suspension when it voted, but some members said they were comfortable renewing because none of the complaints involved any school district-related issues.”

 “The 2006 complaint involved a bitter divorce case in which Doran obtained a confidential document and used it for an advantage. A second complaint in 2010 also involved a divorce case in which Doran had one sexual encounter with a client. He initially denied the encounter to The Bar, then admitted it in a later deposition.”

 “The most recent complaint was from a female attorney working her first case in Miami, with Doran opposing her. He sent her emails complimenting her and asking her to dinner; she was offended by the content. Doran has been active in Volusia politics and business for years, long before his 2012 campaign for county chair. He ran for a state House of Representatives seat in 1996. He is also a past chairman of Team Volusia, the Halifax Area Advertising Authority and the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.”

 Look, I’m not saying these are bad people – just ineffectual – and with nearly One Billion of our hard-earned tax dollars at stake, perhaps its time We, The People, elect and appoint the best and brightest we can attract – true servant-leaders with a desire to serve the needs of their constituents – and the best interests of Volusia County students and teachers.

I agree with School Board member and former principal Carl Persis who was recently quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “I’m not satisfied, and I think the superintendent’s been here for three years. I think that’s ample time,” Persis said. “I don’t have faith that any system is in place right now that’s any different than the previous year. I just don’t see it.”

 I’m not satisfied either.  It’s time for Tom Russell to go. . .

That’s all for me, folks!

Have a great Holiday weekend!