Angels & Assholes for July 14, 2017

As a cop, I interviewed thousands of victims and witnesses through the years.

Invariably, the target of a financial crime could recall the exact moment they became suspicious or knew that something wasn’t right – yet they pushed forward, getting deeper into the scheme, or continuing to trust the group or individual who exploited them despite mounting evidence they were being duped.

For some it was greed – others felt sorry for the suspect – or they trusted that he or she was who or what they said they were, but all agree they should have cut ties immediately when they first suspected a problem.

Strong personalities can convince you to ignore your instincts.

It’s why we rely on trusted financial professionals to give us the best advice possible – not because they are better or worse at picking investments – but because they take emotion and impulsiveness out of the equation and steer us away from unscrupulous (or just dumb) money mistakes.

Most large organizations have a president, chief financial officer and a board of trusted directors to provide overlapping oversight.

And when that important system breaks down – or intentionally or unintentionally fails to act in a manner consistent with its fiduciary responsibility – it is time for change.

Most corporate Chief Executive Officers, and others serving in senior leadership roles, will tell you the importance of knowing when to make your exit.

Jumping ship too soon – or too late – can be equally destabilizing for the individual and the organization.

Management experts have established certain cues that suggest when it is time to take your leave.  These include defensiveness, resistance to change, and an aversion to internal and external transparency which results in an environment where the chief executive does what he or she wants – rather than what the organization needs them to do.

There are other metrics which organizations can use to tell when it’s time for drastic changes to the Board of Directors as well – such as resistance to change, silencing criticism, lack of strategic fiscal management and an over-reliance or fealty to the CEO.

Sound familiar?

When Bethune-Cookman University announced earlier this week that Dr. Edison O. Jackson had opted for “early retirement” in the wake of the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s exposé on B-CU’s staggering $17.8 million operating loss and declining endowment, I immediately thought he exited with grace – and at exactly the right time.

With all that’s transpired, I question the strategy of allowing Dr. Jackson to stay in place through the end of August – or the board’s decision to pay Jackson for a “four-month sabbatical.”

Regardless, in my view, his departure is a good start.

Although Dr. Jackson’s strong personality, exorbitant salary and propensity for secrecy in fiscal affairs have contributed to the university’s financial quagmire – the trustees had a fiduciary, if not ethical, responsibility to students and alumni to keep the institutions financial and administrative house in check despite the weird internal machinations in the president’s office.

That’s their job – not rubberstamping the whims and wants of a chief executive with a spending problem – or ignoring serious warning signs of potential fraud.

The practice of simply launching dissenting points-of-view from the board, ignoring credible requests for forensic audits, and proceeding full-speed-ahead with an asinine and incredibly expensive financing scheme for campus dormitories, sets the stage for a good old-fashioned house cleaning.

In my view, that should begin with the resignation of board chairman Joe Petrock.

After all, he has been an active participant in the mismanagement – the depth of which is slowly being exposed – and has arrogantly ignored alarms that B-CU was headed in the wrong direction.

Most disturbing is the fact that Petrock has been remarkably closemouthed on the important issues surrounding Dr. Jackson’s departure – and has attempted to dismiss solid news reports as being based upon “rumors” and “misinformation.”

In my view, Petrock’s response is in keeping with the board’s apparent failure to ensure adequate due diligence on the company which ultimately received the dorm contract.

For example, when there is evidence that a managing partner has been sued (twice) for fraud – and a mysterious forensic examiners report shows that the original agreement with the company may have contained Dr. Jackson’s forged signature – maybe the board should have taken a second look?

Hell, any one of those glaring clues should have resulted in an immediate all-stop.

It’s high time that Bethune-Cookman look outside the cronyism and hangers-on in Daytona Beach and find an experienced change-agent with a reputation for financial conservatism and a background in successfully turning around challenged organizations.

The right person is out there.

This historic university is far too important to the life of our community – and the legacy of Mary McCloud Bethune deserves better from its caretakers.

Don’t you think?

Now, 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 have a peek at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole:          Volusia County School Board

Several weeks back, I included a piece in this space taking the Volusia County School Board to task for their absurd practice of hopscotching school principals – a strategy that has resulted in instability, uncertainty, and a distinct lack of leadership – especially in difficult to manage schools.

Earlier this month, Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte personally appeared before the School Board and read an important open letter from Mayor John Penny asking for a halt to the constant churn of senior executives at the Holly Hill K-8 School.

To say that the good citizens of Holly Hill have been repeatedly screwed by district officials is an understatement.

For instance, in 2011 the community was in line for a new middle school – only to be jumped by the construction of Hinson Middle in Ormond Beach.  Then, Volusia County told the city that it now lacked sufficient student population to justify a new school.

The old switch-a-roo.

Instead, the school district built a weird, seemingly experimental, Kindergarten through Eighth Grade facility which has desperately struggled since the merger of Holly Hill’s middle and elementary schools.

Apparently, in the past six-years the Holly Hill K-8 has seen five principals and seven assistant principals pass through the doors – something that has resulted in a poor performing school with little hope for improvement.

In my view, the City of Holly Hill is struggling to improve economic development and build a better quality of life for its residents.  This is made more difficult by the presence of a neglected and chronically failing school.

My hat’s off to Mayor Penny and City Manager Forte for their strong leadership in taking the fight to the Volusia County School board.  They recognize that students and families in this beautiful but challenged community deserve better – and they are working hard for substantive change.

Angel:             Halifax Health District Board of Commissioners

Kudos to the Halifax Health District Board of Commissioners for their hard work in reducing the current tax rate for the publicly funded hospital.

This represents an 88% reduction since 2007.  That’s impressive.

I know folks can be hyper-critical of Halifax Medical Center – but I spent a week there once and found the experience most satisfactory.  In fact, the customer service and medical care I received was second-to-none, literally from the time I walked in the front door.

It’s refreshing to see a local taxing district that practices sound fiscal management and supports its operations independent of public funds.  Rather than working from the assumption that tax dollars will always be on the increase, Halifax Health has developed strategic long-term plans for other sources of income.

Volusia County has one of the highest combined tax rates in the State of Florida.  Clearly, Halifax Health is the one taxing district setting the standard for reducing this crippling burden that continues to hurt area families and hinder real economic development in the region.

Good job!

Angel:             Daytona Beach Special Master David Vukelja

 Earlier this week, the City of Daytona Beach – through Special Master David Vukelja – took another bold stand against malignant beachside blight when the resolute magistrate once again held landlord Jack Aberman’s feet to the fire.

After being forced to apply for rental licenses on 14 properties, Daytona Beach will now require that Aberman open each of those units to inspectors before August 2 – you know, just like everyone else.

Area residents are right to be skeptical – after all, many have lived next door to drug dens, flophouses, hobo jungles, overgrown lots and unlicensed rental properties for years.

Evidence suggests that Aberman – and others like him – have advertised substandard residential properties and reaped the benefits that naturally result from putting profits over preventive maintenance.

At the core of the process is the right of people to live in reasonably safe surroundings with the basic necessities of modern shelter – clean water, a secure roof, sanitary septic – a space free of vermin and insect infestation.  Is that too much to ask?

Apparently, it is for some Daytona Beach landlords – especially when life safety codes are viewed as an impediment to cash flow.

During this week’s hearing, a former victim who shared two of Mr. Aberman’s homes with a host of rodents, questioned whether the landlord would once again skate through the code enforcement process unscathed as he has so many times before?

Clearly, liens and civil enforcement actions mean nothing to those who exploit the system for personal gain.

My hope is that Mr. Vukelja’s firm, no-nonsense approach will force compliance once and for all.

In my view, if Mr. Aberman continues this gross manipulation of the “affordable housing” cycle – to include accepting some $90,000 in public funds to make repairs to 18 commercial rental units (and avoid enforcement action) many of which deteriorated back into abject squalor – should result in criminal prosecution.

Recently, a big fuss was made after the Volusia and Flagler Sheriff’s Departments arrested a few unlicensed general contractors.  What about a continuing enterprise that has advertised and rented unsafe, vermin infested, substandard and unlicensed housing units for years, subjecting cash paying customers to the dangers of life safety and property code violations then pocketing the profits?

If that’s not an on-going criminal exploitation of those who can ill afford to be taken advantage of, I don’t know what is.

Asshole:          Gloria Daniels and Halifax Health Medical Center 

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

Recently, I saw a meme depicting an infant child and a small dog which said, “If you have to be told we’ll die in a hot car, you’re too stupid to have either of us.”

Last Sunday, Gloria Daniels – a homeless person from Illinois who was living from her automobile – suffered chest pain and drove to Halifax Hospital for medical assistance.  Unfortunately, she left her small pug in the car, apparently thinking that cracking a window and leaving food and water would allow the dog to survive the hellish heat of a Florida July afternoon.

To add insult to injury – a security officer found the dog in the car.  Thank God, right?

Wrong.

Rather than immediately act to rescue the animal from almost certain heat injury or death – this mental midget opts to leave him put and “check” on the pup a couple of times before finding it dead in the car – cooked to an internal temperature of 109.9.

He literally watched the animal die.

For her failure to report the dog’s presence in the car, Daniels has been rightfully charged with a felony crime for her cruelty.  But in all honesty, when did her responsibility end – and the security officers begin?

She was admitted for a medical emergency and left her pet behind in the parking lot – Daniels should have alerted someone, if she was able.

The security guard was just an irresponsible dipshit.  Mid-afternoon on a July 9th?  Really?

Look, no one stands-up for cops, firefighters, security personnel and other first responders as vehemently and consistently as I do.  Even when they’re wrong – because I know first-hand the no-win situations they face daily.

But this case is patently indefensible – knowingly leaving a dog trapped in a 115-degree oven for hours on a summer afternoon is beyond my comprehension.

This represents willful and wanton negligence and deserves to be dealt with in the harshest of terms.  In my view, this level of abject stupidity and gross carelessness simply cannot be foisted on those who depend on professional security services.

Folks – I’m begging you – if you have pets or small children, please develop a system to double-check the interior of your vehicle and ensure that no one is left behind, even for a minute, every time you exit the car.

Every time. 

And if you come upon an animal or child trapped inside a hot vehicle, take rapid and decisive action to ventilate the interior, remove the victim as rapidly as possible, then contact law enforcement and emergency medical personnel immediately.

I keep a window-shattering spike in my vehicle’s “go bag” for just such an emergency.

Seconds matter.

Asshole:          Senate President Joe Negron 

I’m a prime example that not everyone is cut out for college.  I was either too smart or too dumb to join my contemporaries into the ivy-covered walls of higher education – a decision I’ve regretted numerous times in my life.

However, Daytona Beach Community College, now part of Florida’s state college system, gave me the opportunity to attend a local law enforcement recruit school and begin a successful career.

Other’s I know have moved on to great things after attending Daytona State’s nursing, culinary, emergency medical and fire service programs.

It’s literally a place for local kids to jump-start their lives.

Community colleges provide access to education and technical training opportunities for thousands of citizens who either lack the tuition or grades required to qualify for in-state or private universities.  Course offerings at state colleges tend to mirror the requirements of the local workforce, while also offering a limited selection of baccalaureate degrees.

Recently, Senate President Joe Negron twisted arms and worked overtime to boost funding for Florida’s universities at the expense – and detriment – of the state college system.

According to Negron’s thinking, state colleges offering four-year degrees represent direct competition to Florida’s universities – and he apparently believes community colleges should be relegated to trade school status – all while he worked to help certain state universities achieve “elite” status.

That’s bullshit.

For a time following my retirement, I worked in the international flight training industry where I helped negotiate a contract with a state college in Central Florida to provide a comprehensive pilot training curriculum, aircraft and airport facilities.

It was clear that our operation would never compete with the likes of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – nor was it meant to.

Our company provided a unique opportunity for non-traditional students and veterans to obtain flight training in preparation for a career in aviation at the reasonable cost found at state and community colleges.

Look, I agree that the third-largest state in the union should have at least one university ranked in the nation’s top 10 (University of Florida is ranks 13th, while Florida State comes in at 38th) – but not at the expense of local educational opportunities.

In the end, Negron and the State Legislature shorted state colleges some $25 million dollars in a convoluted scheme that also seriously hurt traditional public schools, students and communities throughout the state.

This Tallahassee Two-Step – “pet project” – crap needs to end.

Quote of the Week:

“Current stats compiled by the local United Way show that nearly half of Volusia County households can be described as impoverished or “asset-limited, income constrained” — a phrase describing families that don’t meet the legal cutoff for poverty, but struggle to afford decent housing, food and other basic needs.”

Daytona Beach News-Journal Editorial, Use Caution with Taxes, July 7, 2017

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

 

 

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