Earlier this week I posted a little ditty about my horribly failed attempt to seek employment as a “School Guardian” – a state mandated security program which will place armed civilians in elementary schools throughout the Volusia County School District.
Well, as the Dude said, “New shit has come to light, man.”
Don’t ask me how, but at the end of the day, I just knew it was going to be my fault.
I just didn’t know how it was going to be my fault.
After being among the first to submit a resume to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office in May – I received two very informative telephone calls confirming my qualifications for the Guardian position – and was directed to complete the School District’s on-line application.
I then received a personal email from Sheriff Mike Chitwood which confirmed, “I will forward (the resume) to the School Board” – and I proceeded to complete the on-line application.
On June 16th I received electronic confirmation that my application had been received by the District.
Now, I’m told my name never appeared on “the list.”
According to a district official, “The notice you received was that the application was complete as you submitted it and modified it on June 19th. I do not know why your name was not on the list except that you didn’t click the button to apply for positions.”
Welcome to the Twilight Zone. . .
I’m going to accept this bureaucratic loop-talk for what it is and chalk-up the whole weird experience as “my fault” – because I’m absolutely certain that no publicly-funded government entity would stoop to denying our precious children, teachers and staff the benefit of four decades of advanced training and hard-earned experience out of some malicious attempt to retaliate against my frequent biting criticism of the machinations of Volusia County government.
Or because “the button” wasn’t clicked.
Because that would be morally and ethically wrong – if not demonstrably negligent, right?
But I still want answers. The stakes are too high.
This vitally important program is the underfunded brainchild of our state legislature – who, while facing withering pressure in the aftermath of the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, opted for a mandate that hires, trains and deploys a hybrid of armed civilians and sworn law enforcement officers to every school in the State of Florida.
Among the myriad issues hamstringing this imperative is the fact our School Board can’t seem to figure out how to adequately fund the program – leaving them groveling to Volusia County – and now the municipalities – for spare change like those ubiquitous wandering mendicants at any major intersection in the Halifax area.
Despite massive reserve funds, the Volusia County Council paid tacit lip service and threw a paltry $500K at the problem – and Deltona, which hosts some nine school campuses, isn’t chipping in a dime.
(Why is it that all the right last names can automatically demand any amount of tax dollars they need to underwrite a private project with a profit motive – yet, when it comes to protecting that which we hold most dear – our elected officials cry poor-mouth?)
Oh, well – that’s another question, for another day. . .
As I continue to wait for the results of my third public records request for the job description, posting and qualifications of our new, statutorily mandated, School Security Specialist – a vitally essential position that will oversee the training, inspection and supervision of those brave souls who answered the call to protect our schools – more questions arise about the administration of the program – and the selection process used by district officials to staff this important role.
For instance, I continue to receive weird anecdotal information that the gentleman recently appointed by the School Board (without any external solicitation or competitive process) with direct responsibility for the Guardian program is a former Assistant Principal who lacks even the basic qualifications or certifications to serve as a Guardian – which requires military or law enforcement experience – let alone lead this incredibly sensitive security program.
Apparently, he did have one very special qualification – he’s married to the School District’s Senior Personnel Director. . .
You read that right.
In my view, it’s nepotistic bullshit like that could seriously damage the credibility of this crucial security program in the minds of those who are being asked to fund it through this bizarre double taxation scheme that taps municipal governments for cash.
More questions. . .
And why has it now taken 18-days to fulfill my relatively simple public records request – when others received similar information with a single phone call?
Look, I realize this is sour grapes on my part – I got passed over for reasons that remain murky – no big deal. But the more I dig into the machinations of our elected members of the School Board and those who work for them – the more I get the feeling I didn’t want to serve under those people anyway.
For instance, I recently became aware that 54% of new teachers hired failed to return to the classroom in the 2017-18 school year – and that 59% of our schools are rated C or D, including 72% of our elementary schools.
Folks, we’ve got bigger issues than my brittle feelings at risk here – this is our children’s education we’re talking about – and accepting mediocrity is now a disease infecting every facet of county government.
You can bet your bippy I’ll have much more on these disturbing issues and more at Volusia County Schools in coming weeks.
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 see who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:
Angel: Judge Belle B. Schumann
If you are searching for a shining example of a true servant-leader – someone who rolls up their sleeves and goes to work every day with a burning desire to improve the lives of their neighbors and make our systems of justice and governance serve everyone equally – then look no further than Volusia County Judge Belle Schumann.
Last week, Judge Schumann’s extraordinary efforts were recognized with the Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence.
This prestigious honor is presented annually to one county judge and one circuit judge in the state who have proven themselves “an innovative leader on the bench and in the administration of justice.”
Judge Schumann is most decidedly an inventive and visionary leader.
Since being appointed to the bench in 2005, she founded the Volusia County DUI court and the SAVE docket, a pioneering initiative which provides alternative sentencing for homeless and indigent defendants – moving these cases away from the revolving door of incarceration in favor of the effective application of community service and treatment.
In addition, Judge Schumann chaired the Seventh Judicial Circuit’s Professionalism Committee and established a seminar for professionalism for area lawyers and doctors – and she has been a major force behind the establishment of a new homeless shelter in Daytona Beach.
She’s a damn fine judge as well – serving the citizens of Volusia County from the bench with fairness, firmness and compassion.
In my view, Judge Schumann exemplifies the strength of character, visionary leadership and dedication to fundamentally improving our community that one expects of a jurist committed to service in the public interest.
Congratulations, Judge Schumann!
We’re glad you passed our way.
Asshole: Deltona City Manager Jane Shang
In late 2016, the utter dysfunction that is the City of Deltona popped up on the Barker’s View radar – let’s face it, it was pretty hard to ignore – and things have only gotten worse.
In a post entitled, “Deltona: Welcome to 1984,” I described a grim situation wherein then Commissioner Brian Soukup made the unfortunate mistake of publicly questioning the motivations of City Manager Jane Shang – in my view, a flaky foul ball who seems to draw sustenance from drama and chaos – when she approved a highly unusual mid-service payout of some $93,000 in unused leave as part of a firefighter’s internal promotion.
To his credit, Commissioner Soukup took issue with the questionable expenditure and publicly stated he believed Shang lied to him by omission when he made inquiry into the highly unusual and incredibly expensive benefit on behalf of his skeptical constituents.
Mr. Soukup’s remarks were met with suspiciously sharp rebukes from Mayor John Masiarczyk and Commissioner Chris Nabicht (a former Deltona deputy fire chief who was forced to retire after a departmental “reorganization” in the wake of sexual harassment complaints – and allegations he would stop by a female subordinate’s office to “pass gas” – which Nabicht denied) both of whom thought Soukup’s comments somehow insulted the delicate sensibilities of the Deltona fire union.
During the ensuing brouhaha, Nabicht barked, “You’re out of line, Soukup.”
Oddly enough, two-years on, Nabicht is still defending the always controversial Shang and the frightful shitstorm that seems to follow her like a dark thundercloud of discord and confusion.
Ultimately, Commissioner Soukup did the only thing an honest public servant can and resigned his elected post:
“I can no longer be part of an elected body that, in principal and in practice, continues to create and operate in a culture of injustice and unethical and possibly illegal practices. It is a culture that absolutely refuses to respect, to include and to serve in the best interest of its residents. And worse, it is a culture that willingly condones and covers up unethical practices. It is clear that Deltona is being run by special interests and highly paid consultants, concerned only with lining their own pockets. I won’t be complicit in that!”
That should have been a warning to the Deltona City Commission – but it wasn’t.
Now, things in Volusia County’s largest municipality have gone from bad to worse.
In May, the intrepid Deltona activist Patricia Gibson went to Deltona’s new conference facility, “The Center,” and paid to attend a Mother’s Day brunch. During her visit, Ms. Gibson had reason to question whether the catering company hired with public funds to serve food at the event was in possession of the proper state licensing.
Despite the presence of high-ranking city officials, Ms. Gibson was apparently the only one present who seemed to care about the licensing issue – and she documented her interaction with city officials and employees with her cellphone video camera.
On May 18th, a state inspection resulted in four violations which have since been corrected.
For her trouble in looking out for the health and safety of Deltona residents, on May 24th a Volusia County sheriff’s deputy arrived at Gibson’s home and formally trespassed her from The Center, a public amenity paid for with tax dollars.
Because Deltona’s ‘powers that be’ don’t like Ms. Gibson very much.
You see, she frequently calls bullshit on a system that has operated more like an extortion racket than a municipal government – denying citizens and elected officials access to information, imposing onerous fees, using the code enforcement process like a cudgel, block voting on important issues, marginalizing those who are critical of the majority and repeatedly demonstrating open hostility toward constituents who speak critically of Deltona government – and it’s wholly dysfunctional water utility.
Now, it appears Ms. Shang has stooped to a new low – using the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office as her private Tonton Macoute to silence her most ardent critic.
After Ms. Gibson left the venue, Shang reported to the responding sheriff’s deputy that Gibson was, “actually going up to people at their tables and putting her camera in their face while they were eating and asking them questions about The Center.”
I find that misuse of governmental power disturbing, and you should too.
According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, six city officials, employees and volunteers associated with the brunch wrote statements asserting that customers complained about Gibson filming them at the event.
“Deltona Commissioner Chris Nabicht wrote on May 21 he had asked Shang at the brunch to contact law enforcement and that he had heard other patrons complaining about Gibson and saying they didn’t want to be captured on video.
“I requested that she have a deputy respond as I felt that Ms. Gibson was creating a disturbance and an uninviting atmosphere, by videoing staff and patrons in an unofficial capacity,” he wrote. “Her behavior was ruining my dining experience that myself and my friends and family had paid for.”
(Really? Because it was the thought of Commissioner Nabicht crudely farting in a public office space that ‘ruined my dining experience’ this morning. . .)
Interestingly, “City officials say they don’t have any statements from customers regarding the presence of Gibson, who also paid to attend the brunch.”
The brewing problem for Shang and Nabicht is – when the News-Journal reviewed Gibson’s raw footage, there was absolutely no evidence that she disturbed anyone other than already perturbed city officials – which materially corroborates Gibson’s assertion that she didn’t harass anyone.
Ultimately, the trespass warning issued by the City of Deltona against Ms. Gibson was rescinded.
It should never have been issued in the first place.
And this isn’t the first time Shang and Company have used this despicable tactic.
Earlier this year, Deltona citizen advocate Brandy White was charged with a felony ostensibly for recording a city employee in a public area of City Hall after being denied a public records request.
That charge is under review by prosecutors.
Perhaps most frightening, after Monday’s meeting adjourned, Commissioner Anita Bradford took the opportunity to personally apologize to Ms. Gibson – then admitted she didn’t speak up for a constituent who was wrongfully accused of a crime and sent through the ringer by the full might of government “because of my own fear of retaliation.”
Given the circumstances, that’s a legitimate fear.
Commissioner Bradford followed up with, “The right thing to do would’ve been to ask the governor to do an investigation.”
It’s still the right thing to do.
It’s also time Sheriff Mike Chitwood stop taking Ms. Shang’s phone calls, because this crank is about to get herself – and the community she micromanages with an iron hand – in very big trouble.
To his continuing personal and professional shame, “Nabicht said he thinks Shang is doing a good job for the city,” and “sometimes folks are going to be unhappy about things.”
You’re out of line, Commissioner – the time to make nice-nice has come and gone – and even a casual observer can see how Shang operates.
As I’ve said before, concerned taxpayers have an obligation to question the motivations of an elected body – and an out-of-control city administration – that would stifle the free and open discussion of civic issues, engage in the misrepresentation, manipulation and controlled distribution of critical information, and demonstrate such a complete disregard for citizen concerns and input.
In my view, this gross misapplication of law enforcement deserves to be fully investigated.
Frankly, this is the behavior of a barbarous dictatorship – not a representative democracy – and it should have the full and undivided attention of any agency charged with enforcing public ethics and upholding the citizens trust in our system of justice.
In my view, Chris Nabicht – and any other city official who participated or stood idle while this gross injustice was perpetrated by City Manager Shang – should do the honorable thing and publicly admit that they bore false witness against a vocal community activist, then maliciously turned the law into a dull weapon to pound Ms. Gibson into submission, simply because they are tired of her criticism.
Then they should have the common human decency to resign and take Jane Shang with them.
It is imperative that the Deltona City Commission immediately terminate Shang’s reign of intimidation and order an independent investigation into the improprieties and unethical practices detailed by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s reporting – and the experience of private citizens who have felt the wrath personally.
Anyone who cares about good governance in their own hometown should care about good governance everywhere, and this necrotic situation in the City of Deltona – a wholly dysfunctional and terribly expensive Carnival of the Absurd that has destroyed the public’s faith in their government – simply cannot continue.
Angel: Hyatt and CiCi Brown
Look, no one has been more openly critical of J. Hyatt Brown’s manipulation of Volusia County government through the infusion of massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates for local offices as a means of ensuring his personal and professional interests.
But it is equally important to give credit when credit is due.
It was recently announced that Mr. and Mrs. Brown have pledged some $15 million of their own money to return Riverfront Park in Downtrodden Downtown Daytona to its former glory.
That’s a good thing.
Anyone who grew up in the Halifax area has fond memories of shopping downtown during it’s heyday – when a just reward for good behavior was a trip to Dunn Brothers toy department – and the park was a beautiful place to run and play, before whatever happened, happened.
While it remains hard for me to overlook the $15.5 million public investment in the private headquarters of J. Hyatt’s billion-dollar insurance intermediary, Brown & Brown – if in fact the Brown’s are personally investing in the rebirth of this important and highly visible amenity – then I support their efforts wholeheartedly.
Look, I realize that all the same last names will be involved in the private “foundation” that will ultimately govern and oversee perpetual maintenance of the public space – this is still Daytona Beach – and that level of ‘old money’ control comes with the territory.
Because of that, I think it is important that we, the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County, take a healthy ‘wait-and-see’ approach to promises made (after all, our “trust issues” are hard-earned); however, in my view, this is the kind of civically healthy partnership and entrepreneurial investment that can ultimately turn the tide of blight and dilapidation that has brought many areas of our once beautiful community to its knees – and continues to threaten our quality of life and future economic viability.
Because it damn sure isn’t going to get fixed otherwise. . .
Maybe it’s just my suspicious nature, but somehow, I know this is going to come back and bite me in the ass.
In my broken heart I know there is some underlying self-serving component to this unusual philanthropy that I’m too stupid to figure out just yet – because there are too many of the usual suspects in the mix, from Consolidated Tomoka to sitting City Commissioners, for my comfort.
But sometimes, when your back is against the wall, hope is all you’ve got – and on its face, this sounds like a big step forward for an area that’s been hanging on by its fingernails.
Hearty kudos to J. Hyatt and CiCi Brown for seeing a real need in their own backyard and opening their substantial pocketbook to restore this tarnished gem as a centerpiece for the renaissance of our downtown.
Asshole: City of Daytona Beach Shores
What is it with local government these days?
Some small town elected officials increasingly favor the idea that if the majority disagrees with the thoughts and opinions of an individual member – they simply cobble together a Kangaroo Kourt, take a vote, and overturn the will of the electorate.
When these cheap coup d’états become the norm, why have popular elections in the first place?
I mean, why not just get a few ‘Rich & Powerful’ people together in the same room and let them decide who will represent us on the dais of power?
Oh, Wait. . . I forgot. Sorry.
Look, I’ve repeatedly sided with the beachside hamlet of Daytona Beach Shores in their ongoing David and Goliath struggle with Volusia County over that bureaucratic behemoth’s clandestine purchase of prime oceanfront property shackled to dubious plans to turn some of the most valuable real estate in Florida into an ugly off-beach parking lot.
As one would expect, officials in the Shores were banking on using their limited supply of beachfront property for additional vertical growth to support the communities tax base – in fact, that strategy was memorialized in the city’s comprehensive plan.
I have also been hypercritical of Shores Commissioner Richard Bryan’s near constant attempts at mollycoddling and appeasement.
Last year, I wrote that Volusia County has developed a frightening reputation as the biggest bully in the sandbox – pushing the cities around, arbitrarily removing or reducing services (remember your neighborhood library?), forcing its will on residents of incorporated areas and actively suing its own constituents (with their own money) to effectively remove the public’s standing and input in beach driving and access issues.
When the Shores decided it was going to boldly fight this boorish aggression, the lone dissenting voice was Commissioner Bryan – who, inexplicably, still believed his community could “work something out” with their belligerent antagonist and find a “win-win.”
I happen to disagree – and so did Mr. Bryan’s colleagues on the Shores City Commission.
Then, last month Commissioner Bryan attended a Volusia County Council meeting and opted to rise and express his personal opinion regarding the on-going governmental pushing-and-shoving – essentially moralizing that, “In my opinion, the County Council has shown good faith in trying to get this resolved without wasting much more time and taxpayer money, and I hope that we are reasonably close to a final written agreement.”
Don’t take my word for it – read the transcript. Mr. Bryan repeatedly prefaced his mealy-mouthed statements with, “In my opinion.”
In response, City Attorney Lonnie Groot whipped the rest of the elected body into a froth when he wrote a provocative letter “expressing concern that Bryan’s comments, which came without approval from the rest of the City Council, created the impression he was speaking on behalf of the city.”
Then, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “The City Council voted 4-1 this week to have a judge determine if Bryan crossed a line with either his appearance at the county meeting or the email. The inquiry will cost taxpayers $165 an hour.
In my view, this thuggish move to punish a sitting elected official and ensure lockstep conformity is eerily similar to the Debacle in Debary, where four thin-skinned and mean-spirited elected schoolyard bullies – in perhaps the most blatant act of political vengeance ever perpetrated in the history of local governance – spit in the face of 240-years of democratic principles and overturned the vote of the electorate in a cheapjack move to silence their duly elected, and most vocal critic, Mayor Clint Johnson.
They were embarrassed. They didn’t like him. So, they took the people’s choice out with extreme prejudice.
Look, like me, the Daytona Beach Shores City Commission doesn’t have to agree with Mr. Bryan’s goofy personal opinion – and his namby-pamby Neville Chamberlain act may well be counterproductive and wrong – but they have a duty and responsibility to defend his God-given right to express his views – to openly, vigorously and confidently exercise his First Amendment right to speak out and be heard on important matters of civic concern.
If Mr. Bryan wants to be a spineless asshole in the face of a Battle Royale with Volusia County – that’s between him and his constituents at election time.
From Volusia County to Debary and Deltona – now Daytona Beach Shores – the growing practice of using the full might of government – and the public treasury – to silence criticism, crush dissent and suppress the open debate of ideas under the iron boot of threats and intimidation is patently wrong.
When did it become acceptable to sacrifice our long-held democratic principles on the altar of political groupthink and conformism?
What are we becoming?
Quote of the Week:
“The perception of our city is that our leaders hide in the shade, despise the sun and overall have a low respect for the citizens, the very people that they swore to represent. The funny thing about perception is that it becomes reality.”
–Deltona resident Jennifer Chasteen, The Daytona Beach News-Journal “Some seek Deltona manager’s ouster,” July 18, 2018.
And Another Thing!
Here’s a note from the Sons of the Beach website (www.sonsofthebeach.org) on tomorrow’s Second Protest of the Theft of Our Beach behind the Hard Rock Hotel from 9:00am to 3:00pm.
If you missed the last one – now’s your opportunity to join some great, civically active friends and neighbors in a cause important to the life of our community:
“A call to arms of all SOBs and for all those folks that missed the first one here is your chance to SUPPORT BEACH DRIVING. Bring your Pop-ups, grills, umbrellas, chairs, coolers, frisbees, homemade signs, surfboards, kites, and costumes. Let’s have some more fun and show the Hard Rock and the County Council that this beach belongs to the people and is not a private beach for the larcenous Hard Rock Hotel. The last one was a gas… Jim Dinneen is gone but forces of evil who are trying to steal our beach and continue their failed ideas across our county remain… Let’s show them that the practice of Volusia County Council representing developers over the resident’s needs to come to an end, NOW!
Hope to see you there!
Also, this evening those intrepid souls of the grassroots citizen action coalition, Deltona Strong, will host a very important forum with State Representative David Santiago regarding the myriad issues surrounding Deltona’s water utility.
This fact-filled event will be held at The Center from 6:00pm to 8:00pm this evening.
If you live in Deltona – or feel strongly about good governance everywhere – I encourage you to attend. For more information, please visit www.deltonastrong.org !
Have a great summer weekend, kids!