Angels & Assholes for May 25, 2018

Hi, kids!

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:              Former DeBary City Manager Dan Parrott

During the long, hot summer of 2016, I wrote a series of opinion essays on the political maelstrom that wracked the City of DeBary.

People still ask me why I expended so much stomach acid on the small west Volusia town, and I explain that if you care about good government in your community – you should care about good governance everywhere.

I live in God’s Country – Ormond Beach – but what happened in DeBary really bothered me.

The genesis was a progression of articles in the Daytona Beach News-Journal – penned by the intrepid investigative journalist Dina Voyles-Pulver – in my view, one of the best reporters in the business today – regarding the City of DeBary’s surreptitious attempt to slip a mixed-use development into the environmentally sensitive Gemini Springs Annex.

Her work on what I later termed the “Debacle in DeBary” is worthy of a Pulitzer.

At the time, I wrote, “With the skillful stroke of her pen, Dina exposed a fetid snake pit of public corruption, political treachery, incompetence, and parasitic malfeasance that reached all the way to the helm of one of our state’s most powerful regulatory agencies.”

 It’s true.

At the time, DeBary hired Bio-Tech Consulting, an environmental consultancy owned by our old friend Long John Miklos, the powerful chairman of the St. Johns Water Management District, which both owned the land and controlled the permitting process required for the proposed transit-oriented development.

Interestingly, Miklos and DeBary City Attorney Kurt Ardaman were listed as officers in a corporation registered with the state called Medjool Investments.

That’s right – the city attorney and the shapeshifting chairman/lobbyist John Miklos – were in business together!

Apparently, Mr. Ardaman conveniently forgot to mention this fact to his clients – the citizens and elected officials of DeBary – and that began a very tumultuous period in Tiny Town.

It was ugly.  Really.

Born of an archetypal crisis of leadership – and abject greed – this fiasco exemplified the depth to which some elected and appointed officials will stoop to serve their own self-interests.

DeBary’s disgraced former city manager, Dan Parrott – in my view, a congenitally crooked douchebag whose brand of ham-fisted revenge politics and open misogyny ultimately cost two good women their careers and the duly elected mayor his seat on the council – is ultimately responsible for this civic disaster.

He also cost the good citizens of DeBary a ton of money.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s enough blame to go around in DeBary City Hall.

Anyone who cares can read all about it in the Barker’s View archives.  In my view, the posts serve as a cruel primer on the ultimate consequences of avarice and political hubris run amok.

One filthy segment of the saga ended this week when the taxpayers of DeBary (through their insurance premiums) paid for the sins of Dan Parrott by compensating former Assistant City Manager Kassandra Blissett some $250,000 to settle a federal gender discrimination suit.

In my view, that wasn’t nearly enough.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Kassandra since her first job in municipal government.

In my experience, she is a consummate professional – bright, articulate, with a style and sense of humor that endeared her to staff, elected officials and the citizens she served.

Unfortunately, when Parrott took the helm of DeBary government, Ms. Blissett’s career trajectory arced like a lawn dart.

According to her March 2015 complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, female staff members were “subjected to ongoing, pervasive and offensive remarks and discriminatory actions on account of her gender” by Mr. Parrott.

An amended complaint alleged Parrott called Blissett and then city clerk, Stacey Tebo, “bitches,” and sullied Kassandra’s reputation by referring to her as “the county whore.” 

It is also alleged that he refused to properly investigate a complaint of harassment and discrimination filed by another female employee.

In addition, the complaint accused Parrott of making other despicable comments in the workplace, opining that “women don’t think clearly because they are too emotional” and that there was “too much estrogen” on staff.

What a scumbag.

As a result, Ms. Blissett was unable to find a suitable position locally, and now serves a government in Maryland.

Of course, neither Parrott, nor the City of DeBary, admitted wrongdoing in the settlement.

A similar federal lawsuit filed by Ms. Tebo has yet to be settled.

Ultimately, Dan Parrott fled City Hall with a sack full of severance cash like the diseased rat he is – but not before he and the City Attorney cobbled together some dubious “charter violations” against the community’s chief critic, and duly elected mayor, Clint Johnson.

The charges essentially involved a series of goofy tweets and opinionated social media posts Mayor Johnson made voicing his frustration with an increasingly out-of-control municipal government.

Once everything was in place, a Kangaroo Court was convened and the will of the people – the sacred vote of DeBary residents – was arbitrarily overturned by the city’s four remaining thin-skinned, mean-spirited elected officials in the most blatant act of political vengeance ever witnessed in the history of local governance.

They were embarrassed.  They didn’t like him.  So, they took Mayor Johnson out with extreme prejudice.

A circuit court judge later sided with DeBary officials on just one of the eight accusations used to oust a sitting elected official.  To his credit – Mayor Johnson chose to move on with his life and spare his former constituents further expense and turmoil.

Ultimately, most of the officials who were responsible for this screwy turmoil left public office, criminal investigations were concluded without charges and things seemed to quiet, or at least move out of public view, something those who wandered off into the festering quagmire of the Gemini Springs Annex deal consider some weird victory.

Whatever.

But when I read an article that harkens back to that bizarre time and place, I can’t help but feel that the true victims of this classic example of all that’s wrong with small town politics – the long-suffering citizens of DeBary – have been left holding the bag.

Angel:             Former Volusia Medical Examiner Dr. Sara Zydowicz

 Oh, we got trouble, right here in River City!

 That’s with a capital “T”! – That rhymes with “Triple P”! – and that stands for “Piss Poor Performance!” 

 My apologies to Meredith Willson – Broadway musicals are not my strength – but a recent piece in our newspaper of record exposing disastrous problems in the Volusia County Medical Examiner’s Office is indicative of much larger troubles in County Manager Jim Dinneen’s administration.

In a recent article by the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Dustin Wyatt entitled, “Medical Examiner: Volusia facility ‘potentially dangerous’” we learned the true reason why Dr. Sara Zydowicz recently fled Volusia County like a scalded dog after just one-month on the job:

She could no longer jeopardize her professional reputation – or physical safety – working in a critically understaffed and substandard shithole that no longer serves the needs of the citizens of Volusia County.

Citing a litany of serious discrepancies, to include overcrowding, a backlog of incomplete autopsy reports, and an office that has been physically and financially neglected “to the point that daily work is at times not possible and the risk of critical error is uncomfortably high,” Dr. Z did the only thing a licensed professional could and resigned.      

To her credit, she also had the personal fortitude and professional ethics to report these deplorable conditions to the state regulatory commission that oversees medical examiners and their critical work in service to the citizens of Florida.

I respect Dr. Z’s courage.

Given the sensitive and essential nature of the service, these allegations are more than just another government gaffe.  In my view, this level of arrant negligence and gross malfeasance by Mr. Dinneen and his administration should be a crime.

Look, everyone knew that there were serious problems at the medical examiner’s office – in fact, our ‘powers that be’ have been promising a new $13-million facility for years – assuaging growing concerns with the repeated refrain, “It’s on the five-year plan.”

So, how can Mr. Dinneen now sit back with that arrogant look on his face and deflect responsibility with the mendacious explanation he didn’t receive “one complaint, not one formal complaint” regarding problems at the morgue?

My God. 

For the record, Mr. Dinneen knew the severity of the situation when the office lost its professional accreditation in 2015 due to numerous violations of accepted standards and what on-site assessors described as a “way substandard facility.”

Then, just last summer, the News-Journal printed a scathing article entitled, “Volusia medical examiner’s office struggles to keep up with the dead,” wherein reporter Dustin Wyatt described the odor of decomposing bodies wafting down an interior corridor, among other “challenges.”

Despite these glaring warnings – in August 2017 – the Volusia County Council voted without discussion to continue providing forensic services to Seminole County, with the full-knowledge the office was incapable of keeping up with Volusia’s burgeoning demand.

Interestingly, at that time, Dinneen was well-aware of the issues, because he told the newspaper that when the new facility is built, “we need to size it for the flow based on both counties.”

Now do you see why Sheriff Chitwood called the County Manager a “lying sack of shit”?

In perhaps the most uncomfortable recorded interview ever captured on digital video, Deputy County Manager George Recktenwald looked like an odd-toed ungulate trapped on an ice sheet – peevishly hemming, hawing, slipping and slopping his way through a botched damage control monolog which was later cruelly posted on the News-Journal’s webpage.

Sadly, as in most calamitous scandals in Volusia County government, Mr. Recktenwald became the latest staff casualty – his credibility sacrificed by his cowardly boss as he became the face of this latest/greatest debacle – all while Dinneen apparently cowers under his expensive desk in the fetal position, refusing to answer questions until he can get his stories straight.

Trust me, George Recktenwald’s ability to swallow his dignity whole will become legendary in local government circles – handed down through generations of bureaucrats like some ancient Babylonian cautionary tale.

In my view, what Mr. Recktenwald did is reprehensible, and he should be ashamed for trying to defend Mr. Dinneen’s outrageous negligence while marginalizing Dr. Zydowicz for blowing the whistle on the deplorable conditions she and others were forced to endure.

That’s unconscionable.

By any metric, Mr. Dinneen deserted his ethical and fiduciary responsibility to properly fund and maintain this essential government service – then he bald-faced lied about it.

If this important work cannot be conducted due to inadequate staffing, equipment and facilities – things clearly under Mr. Dinneen’s control – it can deny victims of homicide the justice they deserve – and complicate all-important manner and cause of death determinations in post-mortem examinations.

Unfortunately, the causative factors in county government go much deeper.

How many times must we open our morning newspaper to the headline “Council members surprised” before someone, anyone, on the dais of power gets off their ass and acts to stop this embarrassment?

In a dubious response to a reporter’s question, the always arrogant County Councilwoman Deb Denys took the opportunity to attack Dr. Z’s difficult decision – and credibility – rather than place blame where it belongs.

“Everyone is aware of the situation,” Denys said, (except Mr. Dinneen?) “including Dr. Z. What’s most surprising is that she circumvented the county and went directly to the state. We never heard complaints from her before this.”

Where else would she go, Ms. Denys?

Should she have brought her concerns to you neutered lapdogs on the Volusia County Council?

That’s laughable.

The last time District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post – a duly elected public representative – dared speak out against Mr. Dinneen, she was brutally humiliated and publicly discredited by her own colleagues during an open meeting.

Then, obviously realizing that her clumsy remark exposed how serious internal problems are covered up as a matter of policy – Ms. Denys attempted to recover with the absurd notion that she would “…support having an outside party come in and look at the morgue’s operations.”    

How stupid does Deb Deny’s think we are? 

And what good does it do to bring in an outside auditor if you’re going to leave the same shit-for-brains in charge of an operation that they allowed to deteriorate to the point of “danger” in the first place?

Besides, the National Association of Medical Examiners already told you all that’s wrong when they pulled your accreditation in 2015!

(Note to Deb Denys: The problem with lying for a living is you have to remember the lies you told previously to keep the chain of deceit intact – it’s like spinning plates – otherwise, assholes like me dredge them up and throw them in your face like a rotten meringue pie.  Every.  Damn.  Time.)

According to the News-Journal’s report, “County Chair Ed Kelley said that he’s not asked for a tour of the office but believes county management would have moved the construction project up on the priority list if they had been made aware that conditions were as dire as Zydowicz described.”

“It’s been on the list for years. Should it have been replaced sooner? Maybe,” he said. “It was explained to me that (the morgue) wasn’t that bad.

Maybe?

Clearly, our doddering fool of a County Chair is physically incapable of independently gathering information and forming an original thought.  He prefers the plausible deniability of buying Mr. Dinneen’s fairytale stories – then feigning ignorance.

When Old Ed and his fellow elected officials invariably get caught red-faced with their knickers around their knees – publicly mortified by the latest debacle – Mr. Kelley shrugs his shoulders, gives us that slack jawed expression, then deadpans in his patented cornpone, “Ahh don’t know nuttin’.” 

These assholes know no shame.

If history repeats, good people like Dr. Z will take their professional services elsewhere – the “system” will circle the wagons around this dry turd of a county manager – and come this fall, our elected dullards on the county council will, like clockwork, give Mr. Dinneen yet another undeserved pay raise.

In the Kingdom of Jim Dinneen – We, The People, are the losers.

Victims of violent, traumatic or unattended death deserve to have their stories told; they deserve to have their remains treated with dignity; their friends and families deserve answers in a timely manner – and our justice system deserves competent forensic services.

As citizens of one of the highest taxed counties in Florida, Volusia residents are worthy of better.

We should not be forced to accept this gross mismanagement and administrative incompetence from a foul ball commanding over $300,000 in public salary and benefits.

The time has come for Mr. Dinneen to go.

Angel:             Bethune-Cookman Athletics

 From the Barker’s View Sports Desk – it was a busy week for B-CU Wildcat Baseball and Softball as they played host to both MEAC tournaments – events which brought 12 collegiate teams and conference staff to town.

Despite a lingering rain, the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s ground crew kept the field in great shape, allowing the baseball tourney to progress as scheduled.

After surviving four straight elimination games – and giving a monumental effort in the title matchup –  unfortunately, our Wildcats were bested in a disappointing 12-9 loss to North Carolina A&T who were crowned MEAC Champions 2018.

In a post-game interview, B-CU head coach Barrett Shaft told the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

  “I told them, life is going to be like that, it’s going to hit you in the face a couple times. What they learned this season about driving through adversity, it’s going to be with them the rest of their lives.”

 “I learned a lot about their character and they’re going to go on to be great men.”

 It’s refreshing to hear a collegiate coach say that.  After all, isn’t that what organized athletics is all about?

Congratulations, Wildcats!  Stay strong!

Asshole:          Former Palm Coast City Manager Richard Kelton

Did anyone else belch bile after reading former Palm Coast City Manager Richard Kelton’s defense of what passes for Volusia County’s charter government in Wednesday’s News-Journal?

Just me?  Okay.

Frankly, I’m tired of being lectured by washed-up political hacks on the merits of a county charter that places extraordinary power in the hands of one little man – completely devoid of outside oversight, transparency or political accountability.

That shit might have worked in the Land of Oz – but it has no place in a representative democracy.

The fact is, our current system bears no resemblance to the noble idea of self-government the citizens had in mind when the charter was adopted in 1968.

The preamble states:

“We the people of Volusia County, State of Florida, in order to create a more responsible and efficient local government, do in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the State of Florida, ordain and establish as our charter and form of government this charter of Volusia County, Florida.”

Tell me one thing remotely responsible or efficient about our current situation?

I’m asking.

Those who support this bastardized oligarchy crow that our duly elected sheriff should learn to live within a demonstrably corrupt system – because that’s what he bargained for when he stood for election.

Look, Mike Chitwood is a good cop – but I’ll bet even he couldn’t have deduced just how bad things were in county government from the outside looking in.

In discussing Sheriff Chitwood’s attempt to remove his office from the bondage of Mr. Dinneen’s shady micromanagement, Mr. Kelton opined:

The Volusia County Charter has been reviewed five times by appointed Charter Review Commissions. The first review was in 1975-76, with additional reviews every 10 years since. Amendments proposed by the review commission go directly to the ballot without any action by the County Council. Although the issue has been raised during each charter review, no commission has seen any reason to place an amendment regarding the elected department head status on the ballot. The system works, and works well; don’t break it.”

Bullshit.

What he fails to mention is that the charter is not reviewed by citizens who are forced to live with the fallout – but by politically appointed insiders, former politicians and development attorneys with marching orders and uber-wealthy power brokers – some of whom directly benefit from massive government incentives – who do their level-best to protect the status quo.

I understand Mr. Kelton’s instinct to defend a fellow manager under siege.

After all, Kelton has been a member of the Florida City and County Management Association for nearly a half-century – an organization that has dissolved into little more than a paid fraternity which always seems to protect its weakest link – regardless of the damage it does to the profession.

Look, I get it.  But please stop blowing smoke up the ass of long-suffering Volusia County residents who have experienced for themselves the downside of a home rule charter form that has clearly gone off the rails.

In my view, given our current circumstances, we desperately need an independent Constitutional Sheriff in Volusia County.

Mr. Kelton, our “system” isn’t just broken – it looks like it was struck by a locomotive hauling wet manure.

A real stinking mess.

I encourage everyone to vote “YES” on Amendment 10.

Quote of the Week:

“The other Community Voice by County Manager Jim Dinneen, with comments regarding the medical examiner quitting, were a perfect example from our government and the powers that be. He stated that during her tenure there were positive comments and no complaints. She worked in that position for one month!”

–Bill Inklebarger, Port Orange, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Letters to the Editor, “Volusia is due for change,” May 23, 2018.

Kudos to Mr. Inklebarger and others who have demonstrated the courage to shine a light on the blatant falsehoods and ineptitude of County Manager Jim Dinneen.

Based upon what we now know about Dr. Zydowicz’ abrupt departure – clearly her one-month tenure at the helm of what remains of our Medical Examiner’s Office wasn’t all “positive comments and no complaints” as Mr. Dinneen would have us believe.

Look, anyone with a base IQ score above that of a piss-ant or Ed Kelley (sorry piss-ants. . .) can see what’s happening here, right?

The categorical imperative of government service is that an executive official must never lie to his or her constituents – especially in a crude attempt to dodge individual accountability – because it destroys the public’s sacred trust in this important institution.

In fact, a main tenet of the Code of Ethics for government professionals requires that a manager:

Demonstrate by word and action the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all public, professional, and personal relationships in order that the member may merit the trust and respect of the elected and appointed officials, employees, and the public.”

In my view, this latest exposure brings to light the pressing need for fundamental change in our administrative and political leadership in Volusia County.  This debacle is wholly unacceptable – and the solution is now firmly in the hands of the people’s elected representatives.

Their duty to protect us from this ineptitude and restore confidence can no longer be denied.

And Another Thing!

Earlier this week, Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premiere beach advocacy – put Volusia County officials on notice that when it comes to conservation rules and environmental regulations, they apply to everyone.

Even the “Rich & Powerful.”

At issue was the recent “invitation only” soiree held by Summit Hospitality to say “thank you” to local politicians who gave away our century-old heritage of beach driving so the Hard Rock Hotel could market a semi-private beach.

During the party, our ‘movers and shakers’ stood around sipping cocktails, slapping backs and looking on as a pyrotechnic contractor set up, and later detonated, a spectacular array of professional-grade fireworks directly on the beach – in the conservation zone – on the first evening of the 2018 sea turtle nesting season. . .

A member of the SOB’s incredible legal team, attorney Dennis Bayer, recently let County Manager Jim Dinneen know there is some shit we won’t eat:

“The complaint focuses on recent activities by the developers of Hard Rock Café.  I believe that you and members of the County Council are actually witnesses to one of the violations.  Attached is a copy of the permit issued by Volusia County for a special event to the Hard Rock Hotel.  The permit specifically states that all events and parking must take place outside of the Conservation Zone.  This point is emphasized in several portions of the permit as “protection of the beach ecosystem is a priority of Volusia County…”.  In direct contradiction to the express terms of the permit, the Applicant was allowed to drive and park vehicles in the CZ, and, perhaps more significantly, launch an extensive array of fireworks from well within the CZ. Please see the attached photographs.”

In addition, Mr. Bayer’s complaint incorporates the phalanx of horrific poisoned poles which were driven into the sand as a blockade to beach driving along 410’ of the strand behind the Hard Luck.

Preliminary testing on samples taken from the pressure treated wood pilings show they contain “high levels” of Chromated Copper Arsenate – an extremely hazardous substance which has been banned by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for use in public recreation areas due to exposure concerns.

(Shouldn’t someone at Beach Management have known that before they fouled a public beach with chromium, copper and arsenic?  Whatever. . .)

The SOB’s are asking that Volusia County immediately remove these poisoned posts and replace them with a safe alternative.

Thank you for your vigilance – Sons of the Beach!

We need you now, more than ever!

That’s all for me, folks!

Have a great weekend!

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