It’s Friday once again! Time to play our favorite Halifax Area pastime: What the Hell?
I would like to cordially invite those dapper gents on the Ormond Beach City Commission to join the fun!
Come on, fellas – play along with us!
As always, the rules are simple – study the photograph below and take a wild-ass guess if the scene depicted is: A. A palm oil plantation in Equatorial Guinea? B. Commercial mining operations on an English peat moor? or C. The next round of clear-cut deforestation on Granada Boulevard?
If you picked developer Paul Holub’s multi-part affront to the environmental sensibilities of virtually every resident of Ormond Beach as he fells massive old growth oak trees and historic hardwoods, then grinds them into a muddy brown pulp, to make way for a new WaWa and a chicken wing drive-thru give yourself a Gold Star!
To avoid the hue and cry of anyone with a working conscience, this time they tried desperately to fool us – hiding their ghastly ecological insult behind a screen of trees strategically left standing along Granada Boulevard.
Remember when our illustrious Deputy Mayor Troy Kent told us that this abomination against nature “does not change the beautiful character of Ormond Beach”?
Well, guess what? He lied.
Don’t take my word for it, drive by and see for yourself.
As I’ve previously written (yet can’t seem to get out of my mind), maybe when this entire godforsaken state becomes an uninhabitable quagmire – with our sole source of drinking water fouled by our own sewerage to accommodate the insatiable appetite of real estate developers, our greenspace plowed under and filled for another half-empty strip center and our wildlife habitats ground into splinters to make way for the ten-zillionth convenience store – maybe someone will wake up and vote these goddamn greed-crazed assholes out of office and replace them with someone – anyone – who has a modicum of respect for themselves and our natural places.
What a travesty.
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.
Sorry guys, I hate to be a Debbie Downer – but there are no “Angels” in my world this week.
However, the list of flaming assholes is growing exponentially. . .
Asshole: Former BC-U President Edison Jackson
The super-strange tenure of former Bethune-Cookman University President Edison Jackson continues to peel like a rotten onion, and each layer unveils increasingly weird aspects of his administration – and the role of the Board of Trustees – who were essentially blind to it, or complicit in it, depending upon who you talk with.
With massive lawsuits multiplying like randy rabbits – claims and counter-claims that B-CU was essentially reduced to a private piggy bank for a privileged few – we now learn of a very serious charge levied by former Bethune-Cookman Vice President Michelle Thompson, the ex-wife of athletic director and later vice president of athletics, Lynn Thompson.
According to a suit filed in Circuit Court at Daytona Beach, Ms. Thompson has claimed the university committed serious violations of the Florida Civil Rights Act after her career unraveled simultaneous to her marriage.
The complaint alleges that when Michelle Thompson served as dean of freshmen, and later vice president of student development and academic integration, her career trajectory arced like a lawn dart when she separated from her husband in January 2015.
According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Thompson met with Jackson in July, the suit states. Jackson allegedly told her “that she needed to consider her future with the university, and . . .to reconcile with her husband.”
Apparently, in direct defiance of Dr. Jackson’s marital diktat (normally seen only in the lawless tribal areas of Zomia) – Ms. Jackson filed for divorce in October 2015.
Then, the suit describes a wholly bizarre episode more akin to the final days of the Jonestown compound than a prestigious university, when Ms. Thompson claims she attempted to obtain tickets to an athletic event for herself and a friend, then “was informed by the university that they were not yet ready for (her) to begin dating.”
Subsequently, the suit claims that Dr. Jackson demoted Ms. Thompson to professor – a position that paid “a mere fraction of her former salary” and ordered her to take an extended sabbatical.
Eleven months later she was summarily fired from the university – by email.
In her suit, Michelle Thompson is asking for a jury trial and damages in excess of $15,000 from the cash-strapped university still reeling from a byzantine series of financial moves that has threatened the continued viability of this historic institution.
All while the same Board of Trustees – people who knew or should have known – stood painfully idle while the school was fiscally exsanguinated by forces under their direct oversight and control.
In my view, the students, faculty and staff of B-CU deserve better.
Asshole: The Florida Legislature
In another nod to allowing real estate developers carte blanche to pave over every available inch of the Sunshine State, during the 2018 legislative session lawmakers passed what is being called the ‘toilet to tap’ bill which – if signed by Governor Rick Scott – will have Floridian’s drinking their own sewerage in a few short years.
Essentially, this latest relaxation of the state’s environmental regulations allows developers whose projects stress our extremely limited water supply to build even more houses, condominiums and half-empty strip centers by permitting wastewater utilities to simply pump partially treated “gray water” back into our sensitive underground aquifer.
Then – we’ll all wish for the best – hoping against hope we don’t poison our sole source of drinking water for generations to come.
It is the textbook definition of “shitting in our own nest.”
According to Dr. Ron Saff of Physicians for Social Responsibility, writing in the Tallahassee Democrat:
“Much of what we flush down our toilets flows down our sewer lines and into sewage treatment plants. This bill would encourage pumping of the sewage effluent – the technical term for partially treated sewage – back into the drinking water aquifer. Then the partially treated effluent would flow from the aquifer into your drinking water glass when you turn on the tap.”
In addition to our own shit – the effluent contains pharmaceuticals, such as antibiotics, psychotropic drugs and other medications – along with viruses, heavy metals, biological pathogens and nutrients that could further destroy our springs, waterways and fisheries.
While the water is technically “treated” to federal drinking water standards, experts claim those regulations are completely outdated and far too flexible to ensure consumer safety – and no one knows the long-term effects of defecating in our own drinking water supply, literally at its source.
My God – where does it end?
The abject greed of these speculative pirates knows no reasonable bounds – yet our compromised politicians at all levels of government continue to blindly accept their massive campaign contributions and do their bidding – even to the extreme of forcing every man, woman and child in this unsustainable paradise to drink their own excrement.
Welcome to Margaritaville, folks. Just another Third-World shithole where you brush your teeth with bottled water and avoid the ice.
Asshole: Irresponsible Public Officials
Earlier this week, the Daytona Beach News-Journal published an article detailing Mayor Derrick Henry’s skin-of-the-teeth escape from foreclosure on a Derbyshire-area home he owns by apparently using bankruptcy protections to avoid the sale of the property on the steps of the Volusia County courthouse.
Look, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
God knows that at various times in my life I have lived beyond my meager means – got upside down on one financial obligation or another – resulting in a drastic curtailment of my Little Lord Fauntleroy lifestyle until the bills were settled and I once again had a few chips to stack.
Without my wife Patti, a penny-pinching tightwad who keeps a miserly lock on our personal finances and curtails my impulse spending with a swift slap to the back of my head when necessary, I may well be calling Mayor Henry for strategic bankruptcy advice.
So, I’m not going to use this space to take a cheap shot at Hizzoner.
What I will do is use the News-Journal’s embarrassing article to remind all sitting politicians and public officials the importance of personal character and public perception in maintaining the people’s trust in their government.
This isn’t a finger-wagging lecture – it’s a solid piece of hard-earned advice from a fellow sinner who’s just a little further down the trail.
As a law enforcement officer of over three-decades, I was governed by a strict code of professional ethics which required that I keep my “public and private life unsullied as an example to all.”
Is that lofty standard even possible in an era where privacy and discretion have become antiquated parts of our past – and everything we do, say and eat ends up on social media at the speed of the internet?
I don’t know.
But I can honestly say that, although I fell short time-and-time again, every day I served my community I tried hard to live up to that high and noble responsibility.
Fortunately, I had good mentors along my journey who stressed the importance of honor and personal integrity.
Earlier this week, a friend and former colleague of many years abruptly resigned from his role as chief of police for a local municipal agency while under the dark cloud of a criminal investigation.
He had 30-years of unblemished service with the department and remains one of the kindest most sincere gentlemen I know.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome, I am angry and heartbroken that an otherwise stellar career ended this way.
Now, I don’t know the details beyond scuttlebutt from the local “retired cop” network – but, in my experience, there is nearly always an identifiable sequence of events that lead to these personal or career catastrophes – a disaster that can usually be avoided by breaking any link in the chain of errors.
What I’m trying to say is – if you serve in a position of high responsibility where your conduct and professionalism reflect on a group, organization or government – or even your own family – pay attention to the small things – the everyday ethical conundrums and seemingly inconsequential moral forks in the road.
Strive to overcome our basic human frailties and be honest in thought and deed – even when the outcome is unpleasant.
Take the high road, and help develop a transparent organizational culture that encourages strong leadership and inspires subordinates to ‘do the right thing’ for the right reasons – always using the difficult template: Is it moral? Is it ethical? Is it lawful? Will my action inspire trust?
Most important, if the answer to those important questions is ever in doubt – change tack and remember that in matters of public trust, once lost, it is near impossible to regain.
With persistence and example, values-based public service becomes instinctual – it permeates the organization – and allows elected and appointed officials to make ethical decisions, even in the stressful heat of the moment.
Character is how we conduct ourselves when no one is looking.
I realize this concept has gone out of style – especially in the furnace of politics – but those who stand for high office have an obligation to represent the best interests of those they are sworn to serve.
We count on these intrepid souls with a willingness to serve to lead our communities with honor, selflessness and integrity.
That commitment to service above self-interest deserves our respect and admiration – until it doesn’t.
The price public officials pay for maintaining the consent of the governed – from which their moral authority to lead originates – requires keeping their personal lives in good order, staying above the fray, paying attention to civic obligations and responsibilities and always remaining faithful to a sense of fair play.
Most important, the price of service requires that those who take a sacred oath to represent the interests of their fellow citizens have the moral values and strength of character to carry out their duties with honor – and never use their lofty position for private advantage.
Asshole: Volusia County School Board
The latest gross absurdity in Florida’s never-ending war on common sense is playing out right here in Volusia County.
In Edgewater, a beautiful seven-year old child named Zoe is slowly dying of a rare condition known as Sanfilippo Syndrome, a condition similar to childhood Alzheimer’s disease.
Doctor’s confirm that her life is more than half over.
At the urging of a friend, the child’s parents administered hemp oil as a means of controlling Zoe’s frequent, debilitating seizures to help her rest – a treatment that was almost immediately effective.
In addition, the substance – which is perfectly legal everywhere in the United States as it contains zero THC, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana – has improved Zoe’s sleep, increased her appetite and ability to speak.
Doctor’s confirm that the oil is improving a very sick little girl’s quality of life.
Now, Zoe’s parents want her to receive the medicinal oil during school hours – just like other children who are administered prescription medication during the day.
Naturally, rather than assist in a dying child’s palliative care, Volusia County won’t allow it.
An asinine statement issued by the School Board claims the district follows federal law – not state law.
“CBD hemp oil falls under the definition of “marijuana extract” … and remains listed as a schedule one controlled substance under federal law. The request to bring cannabis oil onto our campuses or the involvement of our staff is prohibited by federal law.”
So, in its infinite stupidity, the Volusia County School Board is denying Zoe access to this life-enhancing substance – preferring instead to watch her suffer painful seizures – rather than take a bold stand for the rights of seriously disabled students to alternative medications with proven efficacy.
Although not applicable in this case, some 71% of Florida voters approved the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of catastrophic conditions such as Zoe’s – a measure that our legislators and local elected officials have fought tooth-and-nail by blocking dispensaries and enacting other silly roadblocks and edicts.
This is a new low, even by Volusia County standards.
These fucking people should be ashamed of themselves.
I hope voters will remember young Zoe when you enter the voting booth this November. I will.
Quote of the Week:
“Governments, and even businesses, can break out their thesauruses and call them whatever they want: taxes, user fees, levies, assessments. But it doesn’t change the fact that they all accomplish the same thing — they take money out of the public’s pockets. And no semantical sweetener makes that hard truth any easier to swallow.”
–The Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial, “Getting taxed at both ends,” Thursday, April 5, 2018
Kudos to reporter Seth Robbins for his outstanding exposé, “Fee Frenzy” which examined the weird practice of developers who seek lucrative public incentives – then screw us to the wall with privately imposed “enhanced amenity fees,” “public user fees” and other sales-based levies – each of which is clearly a tax dressed up with a catchy marketing hook.
Most of us know when we receive an email from a Nigerian Prince looking for help moving money that we’re being scammed – at least I hope you do.
Unfortunately, many shoppers at places like Tanger Outlets and One Daytona – both of which took millions of dollars in public funds, tax abatement’s and infrastructure subsidies – are unaware of these bogus fees until they reach the point-of-sale.
Clearly, the Daytona Beach News-Journal feels the same way most of us do when we suddenly realize we are being taken advantage of by cheap grifters. I, for one, am proud of the work they have done in educating the public to this increasingly prevalent money grab.
And Another Thing!
“In February, Volusia County’s 76 percent occupancy was less than the statewide average of 81.1 percent, according to STR, a data and analytics specialist. Likewise, Volusia’s $154.29 average daily rate was less than the statewide average of $171.88; and the county’s revenue per available room of $117.01 was less than the statewide average of $139.40.”
–Statewide comparison of Volusia County hotel occupancy and room rates showing a slight 6% increase in February year-over-year
Response by Evelyn Fine – who has been telling the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau what they want to hear for years – as quoted in the Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“I’m encouraged by the fact that we had more visitors,” said Evelyn Fine, president of Mid-Florida Marketing & Research in Ormond Beach. “That’s great news.” The increase in occupancy enabled hoteliers to make more money per available room, despite the decline in average daily rates, Fine said. “The big question in my mind is, ‘Why did the rates go down?’ and I wish I had an answer for that. I’m thinking that maybe because we had some slow months before that (February), that everybody was kind of nervous and let the rates slip a bit.”
Less than the statewide average by all metrics? Encouraged? Great news?
Wait? What? Up-is-down, Down-is-up? It’s all so confusing, Evelyn.
Whatever. . .
Have a great weekend, kids!