It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.
Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:
Asshole: Volusia Councilwoman Heather Post
If the uber-weird Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post thought her fellow elected officials on the dais of power – or her long-suffering constituents – were simply going to forgive and forget her self-aggrandizing antics during Hurricane Irma, well, she was sadly mistaken.
Trust me. Her toast is never going to land jelly-side up again.
While I realize this is a rarity, I wholeheartedly agree with Chairman Ed Kelley and the rest of the County Council – Heather Post needs to get her priorities in order.
You may recall that early in her term, the freshman councilwoman had a difficult time adjusting to life as a newly minted policy maker.
Among Heather’s other faux pas, she took an unannounced trip to Tallahassee, accepted an appointment to the First Step homeless shelter board without the knowledge and consent of the council, demanded asinine reports during the height of a destructive maelstrom and engaged in shameless acts of self-promotion that would have made P. T. Barnum proud.
She also claims to be an advocate for her constituents, yet invariably votes for projects and ‘economic incentives’ that will benefit the influential few.
Remember the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock ordinance?
Or, how about the recent Brown & Brown game changer?
Now, Ms. Post has wheedled herself into an unauthorized board appointment with something called the Florida Association of Counties and plans to ignore her duties and responsibilities at next week’s council meeting in favor of attending the FAC’s annual “legislative conference” in Sarasota.
It seems the council recently authorized $63,350 in dues to return as a member of the association – after opting out of the publicly funded fraternity which seeks to protect home rule through “education, advocacy and collaboration” – just two-years ago.
Perhaps with that many taxpayer dollars invested in our FAC membership, Volusia needs a voice on the board of directors. But that decision – and appointment – should have been made by the full council in an open meeting.
Since being sworn into office, Ms. Post has been late to council meetings, left early, or was absent altogether some four times. I don’t know about you, but if an employee of mine conducted themselves in that manner they would be looking for work.
In my view, that’s irresponsible – and wrong.
While I normally have cause to question everything our dotty County Chair Ed Kelley says and does, in this instance, Old Ed is spot-on:
“Our first and foremost responsibility is to serve the people of Volusia County, not people in the state,” Chairman Kelley said in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
In my view, Heather Post is a loose cannon, a whack-job who goes her own way – showboating and elbowing her way into the limelight – and damn the needs of her constituents or the concerns of her colleagues.
Another thing that chaps my ass is the fact our District 4 representative feels she is above speaking to the newspaper of record on matters of civic concern. For instance, Post refused to return repeated phone calls, texts and emails from a News-Journal reporter seeking comment on her latest tactless, yet oddly self-serving, lapse of judgement.
Apparently, emails to Ms. Post resulted in an automatic reply informing the public to “contact her assistant” in the meantime.
Wait. Heather Post has an “assistant?”
Eventually, Post responded to the News-Journal via Facebook. (Say what?)
Really. I don’t make this shit up, folks.
“I’m still working even though I am scheduled to be out of the office today on some personal business,” Post said. “Second, I’m getting my emails & I’ve been communicating with people within the County offices and throughout my district all week. I’ve told you many times that I am no longer interested in speaking with the News-Journal as they cannot seem to report unbiased & (sic) with the facts. Your repeated voicemails do not change that status.”
By her bizarre explanation, Councilwoman Post makes herself look like some deranged office drone caught playing online Sudoku in her cubical instead of working on TPS reports. . .
If Heather Post wants to “advocate statewide” for Volusia County, then perhaps she should run for state office – and if that’s what she’s doing – then Ms. Post should campaign on her own damn time (and dime).
In the meantime, she owes it to those who elected her to high office – and her colleagues on the dais of power – to be on-time, on-point and solely focused on her sworn duties to the citizens of Volusia County.
Angel: The Daytona Beach News-Journal
Kudos to those intrepid reporters at the Daytona Beach News-Journal who recently received special recognition from the Florida Press Club for their outstanding work.
Rightfully taking the top spot was staff writer Eileen Zaffiro-Kean for her work on the “Tarnished Jewel” series, a brilliant exposé on Daytona’s struggling beachside redevelopment areas that may well be the impetus for positive change.
For her efforts, Eileen received the prestigious Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting.
In bestowing the honor, the FPC judges artfully pointed out the work as “a wonderful example of civic journalism at its finest. You demonstrated to your readers that city leaders past and present are guilty at the least of failing to shepherd through promises made decades ago.” Ouch.
I’m also happy to see that the courageous Dinah Voyles-Pulver took first place for breaking news and environmental news writing. In my view, Dinah should have received the Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism for her outstanding reporting on the debacle in DeBary – she’s top notch, and we are fortunate to have her reporting the news.
In addition, the News-Journal’s “Living in the Shadows” special report garnered a first-place award for journalist Suzanne Hirt – and the top prize for photojournalist Lola Gomez.
The incredibly talented Nigel Cook received the blue ribbon for breaking news photography, and David Tucker took home third place in the same category. Mr. Tucker also took first place in the feature photography division with veteran photographer Jim Tiller taking the second-place spot.
The always entertaining Ken Willis was honored with a first-place award for sports columns and another for sports writing – with a third-place award for sports feature writing.
Mr. Willis always makes the sports section a fun read.
My favorite editorialist, a thoughtful observer of all-things here on the Fun Coast, columnist Mark Lane, received the first-place award for commentary writing and third place for opinion writing.
The great cop’s reporter Frank Fernandez received a first-place honor for public safety reporting, while Seth Robbins took the top spot for general news writing.
In addition, Erica Breunlin and Jim Abbott were also honored for their wonderful work.
For what it’s worth, I want to give a special Barker’s View Angel Award to the intrepid Dustin Wyatt. That kid can write – and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his hard work and perseverance in reporting the news.
Congratulations and thank you for your good work!
Asshole: County of Volusia
Ever wonder if the Daytona Beach News-Journal maintains standing space on the front page for the latest quibbling explanation by Volusia County officials?
Last week, a Volusia County taxpayer – who just happens to be a retired attorney for the City of Daytona Beach – attempted to pay her property taxes online.
Like – I dunno – 99.99% of the rest of us, she used her debit card.
Considering that Volusia County charges $1.50 to pay by E-check – our hapless taxpayer mistakenly thought it would cost the same to transfer her required pound of flesh to feed that grotesque monster of a bureaucracy in DeLand by debit card.
However, when her receipt arrived, the taxpayer discovered that she had been charged a whopping $99 as a “convenience fee” for the privilege.
Convenient for who?
Apparently, Volusia County uses Pittsburgh-based Grant Street Group, a third-party contractor to collect and process tax payments from residents. In turn, the contractor places an additional financial burden on We, The People in the form of “convenience fees” – which can cost 2.6% of the total assessment if you opt to pay by credit or debit card.
When the shocked taxpayer had the temerity to question the scheme, and demanded that the transaction be cancelled, she was met with the proverbial blank stare and monotone of a drone-like deputy tax collector who repeated “nothing can be done” like Will Robinson’s creepy robot on a loop-recording.
Then, rather than stand-up for the rights of his constituents to be free from usurious tax collection practices, or even question the process, our doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley came out swinging a rolled-up newspaper at the concerned citizen.
“It’s plainly stated” on the website, Kelley said. “Isn’t it the responsibility for us to read what we are doing?”
Let me translate for those who aren’t fluent in chickenshit gibberish (or “Ed-Speak,” as I call it):
“It’s your fault, not ours. Shut up and pay your taxes.”
This from an out-of-the-loop asshole who is systematically presiding over one of the most patently ineffectual, and grossly arrogant, elected bodies in the history of Volusia County (and that’s quite a feat).
Because Ed Kelley has trouble stringing together cogent thoughts – or mustering common human empathy for worried residents – Volusia County trotted out one of their many hired mouthpieces to better explain why this now exposed debacle was the taxpayers error.
According to county “spokesperson” Joanne Magley (who is well-paid with public funds to write emails to reporters):
“Rather than not providing our customers the ability to pay with a credit card, the county has chosen to contract with a third-party provider, Grant Street Group,” Magley wrote in an email response to questions by Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt.
“The third-party provider contracts with credit card companies and charges a fee (2.6 percent) for the service provided to the customer. That is the convenience of eliminating the need to make a payment in person, during business hours. The payment can be made from home and the customer does not have to pay with cash.”
Magley went on to explain that as a “gesture of good customer service” they ultimately cancelled the taxpayer’s transaction and allowed her to pay by a less onerous method.
At the end of the day, the deputy tax collector who repeatedly told the taxpayer that there was no way the transaction could be refunded was exposed by his superiors as either a bald-faced liar – or just another uninformed obstructionist on the county payroll.
Regardless, Volusia County government wouldn’t know “good customer service” if they fell over it.
In fact, complicating and obfuscating government services has become the hallmark of this bloated bureaucracy – and the appalling legacy of County Manager Jim Dinneen.
If you haven’t learned this by now – don’t bother approaching your elected representatives for assistance or explanations.
They no longer work for us.
We were outbid, and the antiquated concepts of constituent responsiveness, taxpayer protections and simple compassion for residents caught in a bad situation have been outsourced to an out-of-state contractor.
Asshole: Deltona City Commission
What is it about West Volusia municipalities and Orlando law firms?
It’s like some eerie Grimm’s fairy tale wherein local elected officials follow a trail of breadcrumbs down I-4 to the tree-lined streets of old Winter Park, or the glass and steel skyscrapers of downtown Orlando, where they somehow feel confident in their ability to “negotiate” with real Big Bad Wolves – smart lawyers in expensive suits – who eventually eat the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker like a fine Kurobuta pork chop at the Citrus Club.
Last week, the horribly dysfunctional Deltona City Commission – on the recommendation of their horribly dysfunctional City Manager – unanimously approved a contract with Fowler, O’Quinn, Feeney and Sneed worth some $408,000 annually.
That includes a $34,000 retainer (what?) and allows for 220 billable hours per month.
That’s some serious cheddar.
Look, far be it from me to question the expenditure of over $400K per year for municipal legal services. After all, given the City Commission’s track record – and the brewing animus of the long-suffering citizenry – I suspect Fowler, O’Quinn, Feeney and Sneed will have more than earned their money when all is said and done.
When other commissioners took exception to the price, the always irascible Mayor John Masairczyk – who huddled with City Manager Jane Shang and the city’s Finance Director, then made the $408,000 decision – took offense and accused his fellow well-intentioned elected officials of second-guessing the contract.
Wait a minute – isn’t that their role?
Not in Deltona – and certainly not under the omnipotent rule of Mayor Masairczyk.
During discussions, the Mayor barked, “You’re suggesting we unwind the entire process and start over?”
If that’s what it takes to ensure that your constituent’s tax dollars are spent as effectively and efficiently as possible.
But in Deltona, the will of the people, and the concerns of certain elected officials, are invariably shouted down in favor of the findings of a small group – normally hand-controlled by Jane Shang.
In my view, the City of Deltona – like many other local municipalities that remain contractually beholden to outside service providers – should have strongly considered hiring an in-house attorney and paralegal.
But what do I know.
Perhaps in the conflagration that is Deltona politics, $408,000 a year for legal services is a bargain.
Asshole: The Florida Legislature
Who knew that Florida’s legislative sessions have more in common with a Las Vegas Tailhook convention than a serious time to conduct the business of state?
And why is it that We, The People are just hearing about this?
The stories gushing out of Tallahassee last week described an atmosphere of long-term sexual hijinks, public indecencies, open assignations for political influence and outright criminal assaults in the hallowed halls of our state capitol that would make Gaius Caligula blush.
As the late, great political thinker and outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson so eloquently wrote:
“Sex and power have a long history of feeding on each other. In 18th century England, the king and half his ministers were involved in a whole network of strange and violent sex clubs, whipping parlors and half-secret cults that embraced everything from Satanism and human sacrifice to flagrant white slavery and public bestiality.”
“These were no amateur degenerates, like the ones we sneer at today. They put the whole British Empire on the road to ruin and thought nothing of it – nor cared, for that matter. . .”
Look, if these debauched assholes we elect to represent our interests want to hold mass orgies behind closed doors at the Tennyson apartments – what do I care?
But when those tawdry fumbling’s in public offices and dark parking garages involve powerful lawmakers and lobbyists who are paid to influence political outcomes – I have a big problem with that.
You should too.
Look, elected officials getting caught with their pants down is nothing new.
This isn’t the first time some elected sixty-something, with his pasty fat ass and liver spots crammed into a cheap J.C. Penny suit, deluded himself into thinking a young female staffer was interested in him sexually because of his good looks and charm.
But the strategic use of honey traps by lobbying firms, and political opponents, is the epitome of institutional corruption in Tallahassee. However, the practice is slowly exposing how powerful politicians allow their abject arrogance, and overweening self-importance, to compromise their personal ethics – and their vote.
What a nightmare.
What an embarrassment.
As Dr. Thompson said, these are no amateur degenerates, and at the end of the day, the ones who ultimately get screwed is you and me.
This is what the road to ruin looks like.
Quote of the Week:
“What’s frustrating is the fact that a council member thinks that going to their meetings is more important than going to our meetings.”
–Volusia County Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, as quoted in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, neatly taking fellow councilmember Heather Post to the woodshed for choosing a goofy “legislative conference” in Sarasota over her sworn responsibilities at home.
If Heather Post wants to “see and be seen” at some publicly-funded hot air generator, she should do it when it does not conflict with the people’s business.
I mean, couldn’t she just send her ‘assistant’?
Well, that’s it for me!
As always, thanks so much for taking the time out of your day to read my goofy ramblings.
If you’re looking for something to do on the Fun Coast this weekend, join me under the moss-draped oaks at Flagler County’s Princess Place Preserve for the annual Creekside Festival!
Trust me, if you haven’t been to the incredibly beautiful Princess Preserve, you’re doing it wrong.
It is truly a special place, and one of the crown jewels of the Central Florida coast.
The festival includes bluegrass music both Saturday and Sunday, craft vendors, food trucks and stuff for the kids. While you’re there, be sure to take a driving tour of the area – which includes camping areas (some with horse corrals), nature trails and awesome views of the marsh and intercoastal waterway.
Princess Place is located at 2500 Princess Place Road – off Old Kings Road in Flagler County.
To all veterans – thank you for your service on this Veteran’s Day 2017!