Wow! It’s been quite a week!
It’s not often that Daytona Beach makes international news, but the tempest surrounding U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ commencement address at Bethune-Cookman University brought 15-minutes of fame to the Fun Coast.
I watched the speech live online.
It wasn’t the best graduation speech I’ve ever heard – but it certainly wasn’t the worst – and it hit all the proper notes.
And, in my view, her delivery was entirely sincere.
During her remarks, Mrs. DeVos challenged the students to a life of service, courage and grace, congratulated their significant accomplishments, and even touched on the controversy surrounding her appearance by discussing the importance of listening to diverse points of view.
Her address was marked with angry shouts and taunts – and most of the graduating class appeared to turn their backs in protest – something I found disappointing, especially given the fact her remarks were so unaffectedly laudatory of both the university and the students themselves, despite the chaos and disruption.
Regardless of your opinion on the issue – perhaps you will agree that Dr. Jackson’s invitation, Mrs. DeVos’ genuine effort, and the dissentious reaction of the students – demonstrated extraordinary courage all around, and – I hope – advanced the cause of free speech and the importance of civil protest.
If that sounds like I’m straddling the fence, you’re right. Perhaps it speaks to the fact that First Amendment protections extend to all of us – equally – regardless of your point-of-view on this and other important issues.
That’s the very foundation of a free and open society.
However, in the aftermath, I agree with the assessment of the Daytona Beach News-Journal – the Jackson/Petrock response to the controversy was ham-handed (at best) and didn’t do themselves, the administration, or the students of B-CU any favors.
While the demonstration against Mrs. DeVos was not unanimous among the Class of 2017, it was significant, and to suggest the protest was limited to 20 students is ludicrous.
I hope Mrs. DeVos’ exposure to the heritage and important role of Bethune-Cookman University will inspire her, and serve as the impetus for increased federal funding and other opportunities for this venerable institution that has changed the lives of so many.
At the end of the day, it was a wonderful commencement exercise and a beautiful program – the B-CU Concert Chorale and accompanying soloist, the incomparable Alysha Hinton, were simply angelic.
And that’s a fact we can all agree on.
Now, I hope we can all move forward, secure in the knowledge that – regardless of our political perspective – there really is more that unites us than divides us. (I hope. That old adage appears to be getting more threadbare and tenuous everyday.)
Now, it’s time once again for Uncle Marky to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my opinion, either contributed to our quality of life or detracted from it in some significant way.
Let’s see who tried to do something for us – or simply tried to “do” us – this week:
Angel South Atlantic Neighborhood Association
Kudos to those intrepid members of the South Atlantic Neighborhood Association who took the message to the masses last weekend to protest the cycle of blight in Daytona’s core beachside.
It is truly heartening to see grassroots organizations like SANA take such a public stand against dilapidation, squatters, slum lords, trash, debris and years of government neglect.
Residents have had enough.
Informational demonstrations and old fashioned curbside protests help bring attention to perhaps the most bewildering issue on the Fun Coast.
Fortunately, the Daytona Beach City Commission has begun the process of strengthening code enforcement efforts – including revisiting stale ordinances and processes that have allowed “zombie” properties to proliferate in neighborhoods throughout the area.
And some notorious offenders are finally being brought to the bar of justice.
On June 12th at 4:00pm, Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado will join Barker’s View on GovStuff Live with Big John on WELE-1380am to discuss on-going efforts to improve code enforcement and address other issues facing the Halifax area.
In my view, the best way to cure stagnation is to agitate and stir things up, and it appears groups like SANA are, “Mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.”
It’s high time our red-faced elected and appointed officials partner with their constituents to find effective solutions to these difficult problems.
Inaction is no longer the accepted response.
It is time to begin the important process of changing the foul image of Daytona Beach and improve the quality of life for everyone – even if it takes publicly humiliating every elected official in town.
Asshole Volusia County School Board
Once again, district officials have announced the annual shuffle of school principals – across town and across the county.
For reasons I don’t completely understand, (although I assume it is viewed as a means of improving poorly performing schools) the district engages in this perpetual leadership churn every year.
As a result, students and faculty are left feeling unsettled with no sense of continuity or stability.
Why would one build strong connections with school leadership knowing that he or she won’t be around next year?
A principal’s role in modern education is extremely diverse, and it requires passion, creativity and loyalty – and the ability to build quality partnerships. For instance, there are numerous advisory committees, volunteer programs, and other external support functions that require strong relationships with members of the community.
I attended a private parochial school where I had the same headmaster throughout my primary education. As a result, he knew me and my family, and we knew him.
And, we knew his standards and expectations for conduct and success. These benchmarks were unwavering – and strictly enforced.
It wasn’t one way this year, that way the next.
A 2015 study by the School Leaders Network found that, nationally, one quarter of new principals leave their school each year. That number climbs to fifty percent by year three – and retention rates are even worse in difficult-to-lead schools and high poverty areas.
Adding to the local roil is a decision by the district to change its “staffing formula” and eliminate 134 “teaching units” to meet anticipated revenue shortfalls. In my view, this is a time for Volusia County schools to demonstrate stability – not the upheaval that invariably follows a shift in top leadership.
Maybe I’m the asshole. (Hey, now. You don’t have to be so quick to agree. . .)
Perhaps local principals enjoy the constant turnover and lack of institutional roots inherent to these annual hopscotch transfers – but I doubt it.
Angel Volusia Rape Crisis Center
The history of services for victims of sexual violence in Volusia County is abysmal.
In 2014, our Rape Crisis Center – then operated by the Children’s Advocacy Center of Volusia and Flagler – lost its certification amid claims of a “hostile community environment” and staffing shortages.
As usual, the underlying cause was money and gross mismanagement.
The Children’s Advocacy Center was an unadulterated mess. Unfortunately, it was the victims who suffered.
According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, nurses specially trained in collecting evidence and providing treatment to rape victims responded to 133 incidents in 2016 – that’s 11 per month.
So far, crisis center nurses have handled 54 reports since the beginning of this year.
That’s a problem, folks.
But things are turning around. Under the direction of Stewart-Marchman-Act, with an energetic executive director and improved focus on service delivery, the Rape Crisis Center is actively providing an invaluable service to Volusia County.
I hope you will join me in supporting the efforts of Volusia’s Rape Crisis Center, and their community partners, who are working hard to bring compassionate care to victim’s during a very stressful and vulnerable time.
According to reports, the center has a current need for sports bras and sweatpants for victims. To provide clothing donations or gift cards to stores like Target or Wal-Mart for specific needs, items can be sent or dropped off at the center located at 311 N. Orange St., New Smyrna Beach.
Please help if you can.
Asshole Former Congresswoman/Convicted Felon Corrine Brown
After a tumultuous 25-year career in Congress, former Volusia/Flagler Representative Corrine Brown has been found guilty on multiple charges, to include tax evasion, fraud, and lying on congressional financial disclosure forms related to a bogus charity that served as Ms. Brown’s personal slush fund.
According to evidence presented at her federal trial in Jacksonville, Ms. Brown’s Virginia-based education foundation One Door brought in some $800,000 between 2012 and 2016 – yet paid out just one scholarship for $1,200 to an individual in Florida.
Following the verdict, Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco said in a statement, “Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown violated the public trust, the honor of her position, and the integrity of the American system of government when she abused one of the most powerful positions in the nation for her own personal gain.”
Wow. Sounds eerily familiar to some other Florida politicians I know. . .
Asshole Visit Florida & Governor Rick Scott
In response to a recent exposé in the Naples Daily News outing the expenditure of $2.8 million in taxpayer money for a goofy fishing show, House Speaker Richard Corcoran said, “Every time we look deeper into the spending at VISIT FLORIDA, new waste and abuse is uncovered.”
The 2012 deal also allowed the producer of the show to pocket all of the advertising and sponsorship revenue – to include a $175,000 boat from a sponsor of the show.
That’s a level playing field?
When the State of Florida uses public funds to cover the overhead of producing a television show – it puts the producers of non-subsidized content at a distinct disadvantage in the marketplace.
And, in my view, that is the problem with “public/private partnerships” like Visit Florida and Governor Rick Scott’s other corporate welfare conduit, Enterprise Florida.
We need transparency. We need accountability. We need to get government out of the marketplace.
Not more boondoggles.
It’s time Governor Scott and the leadership of Visit Florida stop the faux-panic and hand-wringing and come to the realization that Floridian’s are sick and tired of funneling their hard-earned tax dollars to private interests.
As the Orlando Sentinel’s Scott Maxwell so aptly put it, “Tourism enterprises are still free to advertise as much as they want. They just have to use their own money … the way virtually every other business in the world already does.”
Quote of the Week
“One of the hallmarks of higher education, and of democracy, is the ability to converse with and learn from those with whom we disagree. And while we will undoubtedly disagree at times, I hope we can do so respectfully. Let’s choose to hear each other out.”
–United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, speaking at the commencement exercise of Bethune-Cookman University’s Class of 2017