Well, this week I drove down to the Ormond Beach Public Library to cast my “early vote.”
As usual, the parking area was awash in campaign signs, each blending into the other to form a kaleidoscope of bright colors and shapes that encircled the entire lot like an impenetrable blockade.
So many signs in such tight confines that the individual messages became meaningless.
Like in years past, I navigated the cheap nylon tents and lawn chairs occupied by perspiring candidates and their supporters, each wearing campaign t-shirts like battledress, sucking on water bottles, and staking out territory at what must be the ragged edge of the solicitation restrictions.
Getting to the polling place can be a pain in the ass, but once inside, Volusia County elections volunteers make the process relatively painless. Besides, I consider this simple act my sacred civic duty, and I hope you do too.
As a confirmed member of the growing non-party known as “No Party Affiliation,” my choices in the primary were limited to just three questions – two judicial seats and the at-large Volusia County Council race.
Hardly seemed worth the time, but it was.
A group called Florida Fair and Open Primaries recently filed two proposed constitutional amendments to open Florida primary elections to all voters regardless of party affiliation. Under the plan, the top two finishers would move on to the general election – even if they are members of the same party.
With the number of NPA voters increasing by leaps and bounds, it’s certainly something to consider.
Regardless of your affiliation, I hope you will take the time out of your busy schedule to cast a vote in Tuesday’s primary races – or perhaps you’re one of those who prefers to wait until autumn when the field is set, the also-rans have had their hopes dashed, and the real players have taken the field.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our friends and neighbors who boldly stood for election in races large and small this season. It takes courage to participate in this incredibly important process, and many who worked very hard won’t be moving on after next week’s primary.
I find it inspiring that there are still people who will disrupt their lives and livelihoods, walk many hot and humid miles knocking on doors, talking issues, attending civic meetings, pressing the flesh and sitting through living room gatherings to try and convince an often-disinterested electorate that they have a better idea for our collective future.
Recently, I read a post by NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon who wrote, “Democracy also needs people who are bold enough to try and lose.”
Whether we agree on the issues or not, if you held yourself out for high office – willingly entered the pressure cooker of Volusia County politics for all the right reasons – then you have my eternal respect and appreciation, regardless of outcome.
From Barker’s View to you – thank you for the effort.
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:
Angel: Bethune-Cookman University Marching Wildcats
Those of us who live in Central Florida have long known the precision and excitement of B-CU’s Marching Wildcats. Now, thanks to the school’s participation in the Netflix documentary series ‘Marching Orders’ – the world will get a chance to know the most innovative band around.
The 12-episode series began earlier this month and follows Director Donovan Wells and documents the hard work and dedication required of talented B-CU students – many family legacies of former musicians – as they struggle to earn a place in America’s best marching band.
With B-CU facing an uncertain future, it’s nice to see that the true attributes and traditions of this historical university have the opportunity to shine on the national stage.
Recently, the wonderful journalist and blogger J. L. Carter, Sr. wrote in HBCU Digest:
“Most of us want to be able to separate the two realities of band and institution. It is the same challenge for schools like Southern and FAMU, which while not in the same financial crisis as Bethune-Cookman, face similar challenges in the politics and corruption eating away at their leadership infrastructure and profitability while their bands help strengthen the blinders for students and alumni, while camouflaging the work of campus enemies.
We cannot separate the two. If marching bands were the marketing and branding cure for all that ails HBCUs, the sector at large would have more than one out of every 10 black students enrolling in our institutions. If the Marching Wildcats could go on tour like the Fisk Jubilee Singers of generations ago and raise the money to pull Mary’s school out of debt, they would have published the traveling schedule by now.
So, we can watch the series, help it to trend on Twitter and make it a feel-good story for the weekend. But that won’t raise the attention or the resources necessary to save this school — which even if it can broker and settle its way out of its bad contracts and lawsuits, will still have big bills, big distrust amongst its core stakeholders, and likely the same old board calling the shots.”
Kudos to Director Wells and everyone connected with bringing our own Marching Wildcats to the attention of the world. These dedicated young people deserve our highest respect for their incredible dedication to the university, our community, and each other.
They make us all very proud.
Asshole: Volusia County Schools
Imagine this scenario:
You are a young student on the first day of class at Orange City’s University High School.
It’s a stressful time – the back-to-school jitters – not knowing what to expect – a different routine, meeting teachers, seeking out old friends and making new ones while learning your way around campus.
You don’t have much, but your mom has taken steps to ensure that breakfast and lunch will be available under a program that provides free or reduced-price meals for less fortunate students.
After selecting lunch in the cafeteria, you approach the cashier, provide your account number – and are promptly told – in direct view of your new classmates – that you will be going hungry the rest of the day because your account is, wait for it – .15 cents short.
Then, in some sick attempt to make a point, reports indicate that a cafeteria worker physically took the food away from the student and threw it in the garbage – leaving the student to walk away humiliated and hungry.
Who does that?
I guess this is the curriculum approved by Volusia County School Superintendent Tom Russell – and our elected representatives on the School Board who refuse to hold him accountable – for teaching indigent and low-income students the hard lesson that those who have eat, while those who don’t go without.
According to Roger Edgcomb, a professional mouthpiece for Volusia County Public Schools, “The school is always willing to work with students and families as needed – The school will be contacting the family directly to help resolve this issue,” whatever that means. . .
Apparently, they weren’t willing to work with this student when it mattered most – so, who will be held accountable for this and other nonsensical policies that have seen School Board members and senior administrators begging spare change from area municipalities to pay for school security initiatives in the face of an obscene $900 million budget – the largest of any taxing authority in Volusia County?
The answer is: Nobody.
The very concept of responsibility and accountability among senior officials in Volusia County is anathema in a system that shamelessly quibbles facts, covers the sizable asses of senior administrators and openly admits that it doesn’t have a clue how to turn around our struggling schools.
Once again, the abject ineptitude and tone-deaf policies of another Volusia County bureaucracy has brought us to the attention of the World. This ugly incident was reported by network news outlets and international media and has offended the sensibilities of good people around the globe.
In a valiant effort to ensure that district staff never have the opportunity to embarrass another student, the child’s mother, Kimberly Aiken – with the assistance of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – has started a GoFundMe account to provide a safety net for Volusia County students.
Thanks to the international exposure, good people from as far away as Qatar – where a member of the United States Air Force offered financial assistance – and the famous rapper “T. I.” – are selflessly donating to fund an account that cafeteria cashiers in Volusia County Schools could access in the event a child’s account falls a few cents short of the cost of a meal.
Once again, this sick joke of a School Board needs to be bailed-out by external funding sources and the largess of well-meaning people who care about the education and welfare of Volusia County children.
Here’s a Barker’s View tip o’ the hat to Ms. Aiken and her daughter for bringing this despicable policy of shaming children – and forcing them to go hungry – whenever their meal account falls pennies short.
Given the number of homeless and indigent students in Volusia County Schools, on-campus meals may well be the only sustenance they receive all day. Think about that.
Obviously, these dullards on the dais of power in DeLand don’t have the common human decency to step down and turn this out-of-control shit show over to someone – anyone – who can figure out how to educate 63,000 students, and provide our dedicated teachers a living wage and benefits package, with a budget approaching One Billion dollars.
So, maybe its time we find someone who can?
I think that process begins at the ballot box.
These assholes should be ashamed of themselves. But they’re not.
Angel: The Taxpayers of Volusia County
Last week, the physical transformation of the former Hurst Elementary School was completed – making way for Hope Place – a transitional homeless shelter for families with children and unaccompanied youth.
We first learned of this plan back in late 2015 when The Daytona Beach News-Journal did a story on Halifax Urban Ministries, a faith-based non-profit that has been engaged in homeless support services in Daytona Beach for many years.
At the time, Forough Hossieni, the civic-minded wife of ICI Homes CEO and King Power Broker Mori Hossieni, was working hard to establish a family-based residential homeless assistance center in Daytona Beach.
At the suggestion of Mrs. Hossieni, in just six short months, County government identified the Hurst Elementary site as a suitable location for a homeless assistance center. It purchased the property from the School Board (with the structures valued at $1.3 million alone) for the bargain basement price of $200,000, then negotiated a land transfer and operations contract with Halifax Urban Ministries, allocated $3.5 million for renovations, ignored the recommendation of the Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission and unanimously voted to approve the project.
At last week’s ceremony, during which the keys were turned over to the new “owners,” HUM Executive Director Buck James thanked everyone in attendance – including the individuals and business owners who gave thousands in in-kind donations and services. It was reported that he also took the time to thank the Volusia County Council, our elected representatives on the School Board, and the HUM building committee.
In turn, Mrs. Hossieni took the stage and presented a check in the amount of $50,000 to Anne Evans, board chair of Halifax Urban Ministries, on behalf of ICI Homes to assist the Hope Place endowment.
A generous contribution which will go a long way to assist struggling families in the Halifax area.
“This is a faith-based ministry,” said Evans. “So, I just want to thank God and everyone who helped.”
According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “In an interview before the meeting, Hosseini said Evans and former County Manager Jim Dinneen were key in making Hope Place a success.”
Yep. Everyone who is anyone was recognized for their efforts to make Hope Place a reality:
Mr. & Mrs. Hossieni’s
Little Jimmy Dinneen
The Volusia County Council
The Volusia County School Board
The HUM Building Committee
(Probably in that order. . .)
So, I wanted to take a minute to thank you – the hardworking, long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County who – without any direct input in the matter, and against the serious concerns of many living in the already challenged Derbyshire neighborhood – contributed public land and nearly $5 million of our hard-earned tax dollars – making you and I the largest collective contributor to seeing the dream of Hope Place become a reality.
I’m sure We, The People were just an honest oversight – so I won’t be a petty asshole and bring attention to the fact that no one bothered to recognize our significant contribution.
After all, I’m sure those dullards we elected to represent our interests on the dais of power in DeLand accepted everyone’s glowing thanks and congratulations as much on our behalf as their own. . .
Asshole: Former B-CU Trustee Joe Petrock
In my view, anyone who wants a primer on all that’s wrong with Volusia County government – and the slow deterioration of important institutions that have been seized by a small coterie of ‘Rich & Powerful’ insiders – need look no further than the classless departure of former Bethune-Cookman University Trustee, and past board president, Dr. Joe “Community Pillar and Philanthropist” Petrock.
After Mr. Petrock and his fellow board members stood idle while so-called “administrators” and various hangers-on financially gutted Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s sacred institution, leaving the school hundreds-of-millions in debt – then were less than transparent with local media and concerned alumni about the school’s dire financial condition – while fleeing the building, Petrock had the balls to sidestep any responsibility:
“I’m fed up with it. I’m out of there,” Petrock said. “But it’s not because I did something wrong.”
He’s fed up with it? Really?
Jesus. I don’t make this shit up, folks.
According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Petrock said he resigned because he has grown tired of being unfairly blamed for B-CU’s financial problems, in particular the fallout over a deal to build new dormitories that school officials have since said they can’t afford.”
“I wasn’t the chairman when the housing project was presented, and I wasn’t on the executive committee,” Petrock said. “I was just a member of the board. We weren’t given all the information.”
Wow. How’s that for leadership, folks?
You’ve heard of the Nuremberg Defense – the “I was just following orders” and should not be held accountable for the directives of a superior, regardless of how clearly immoral those orders may be?
Well, let’s call this the Halifax Defense – the idea that a person in a position of vital oversight and high responsibility can be inexplicably struck deaf, dumb and blind while the institution they are ethically and fiduciarily responsible for is looted from within – then claim, “I was just a member of the Board of Trustees – but we weren’t given all the information.”
Since when did simply admitting “I was an ignorant asshole” become the universal alibi that permits someone to walk away from the steaming wreckage without accepting responsibility for the crash?
Unfortunately, former funeral director Nancy Lohman, who, along with her husband Lowell, have become wildly successful developing and managing apartment complexes, also resigned from the board after just seven months, even as the financial conflagration continues to consume the school.
Look, I like Nancy Lohman – she and her family continue to do wonderful things for our community – including a $1 million matching donation to the Halifax Humane Society which recently allowed the organization to reach its goal of raising $3.6 million to renovate its facilities off LPGA Boulevard.
“I thought I could help but I have concluded that I can’t. I remain committed to the importance of HBCUs and I believe in access to education for all Americans. My love for the B-CU students and for Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and all she stood for has not wavered.”
I guess its easier to talk about leadership than it is to actually roll up your sleeves, get down in the trenches and say, “Follow me.”
Things are about to get ugly – and I understand the need for well-connected people to get as far away from this brewing storm as possible – but I hope we can all agree on one thing:
Folks like Joe Petrock, Dr. Kent Sharples (who led Daytona State College into the expensive quagmire of the American Music Festival debacle, now leader of the secret society of millionaires known as the CEO Business Alliance, and recent industrial real estate speculator) and any of our other ‘Movers & Shakers’ who were involved in the B-CU catastrophe – should not be allowed within 500 yards of an institute of higher learning ever again.
Look, if these pathetic dupes want to give each other awards and accolades at elegant circle jerks year-in-and-year-out – what do I care?
But they should never again be granted the opportunity to bring a once venerated institution to its knees – then simply walk away – acting as though their hands, and their conscience, are clean.
Angel: City of Holly Hill Mayor John Penny
Kudos to Holly Hill Mayor John Penny on his recent nomination for the prestigious 2018 E. Harris Drew Municipal Official Lifetime Achievement Award sponsored by the Florida League of Cities!
Every so often a politician emerges at the right time and place to make a true difference in the lives of others. As a five-term member of the Holly Hill City Commission, Mayor Penny has provided exceptional leadership – and through his personal example – fostered a strong sense of community pride among constituents and fellow elected officials.
The fact that Mr. Penny’s neighbors have consistently reelected him to office is a testament to his commitment to the community he serves. In my view, that is the very essence of constituent confidence in an elected leader.
The City of Holly Hill can be proud of the fact that, in November, Mayor Penny will resume his role as the District 1 Commissioner after being term limited for another mayoral run. He will replace the equally dedicated long-time public servant Commissioner Arthur Byrnes.
It is heartening to know that the community I love so dearly is so well represented by true servant-leaders like John Penny.
Congratulations on this exceptional recognition of your dedication and spirit in service to others.
Quote of the Week:
“We need stronger ethics laws. We need to address that issue in short order. It is up to us as citizens to ensure that our federal and state lawmakers strengthen ethics laws in a comprehensive and meaningful manner which protected the public.”
–Lonnie Groot, Attorney for the City of Daytona Beach Shores, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Florida needs tougher ethics laws,” Sunday, August 12, 2018
Amen, Mr. Groot.
We need a lot of things here on Florida’s Fun Coast – but, in my view, a revamp of our toothless ethics apparatus and campaign finance reform is a damn good place to start.
And Another Thing!
By any metric, politics is a dirty business, and most people really don’t give a shit how a candidate wins – because the losers will be forgotten to the ash heap of history before the victory celebrations wind down on election night.
It’s an all or nothing proposition and, trust me, there are no participation trophies for those who tried and failed – only personal shame and the stark knowledge that 51% of your neighbors reject everything you stand for.
To the victor go the spoils.
During election cycles, I take a perverse glee in watching arrogant incumbents prostrate themselves and grovel for votes, hoping against hope everyone will forget how rotten they truly are – and reading the righteously indignant social media posts and letters to the editor of once respected (and highly partisan) locals who throw their good name to the wind as they become weird surrogate defenders for their candidate.
They crow and cry, lambasting the campaign rhetoric of his or her challengers as “despicable lies,” accusing them of all forms of wrongs, and calling their very character into question – all while portraying their choice as a “local hero.”
A great example of this mean-minded mudslinging is the heated battle between perennial politician Fred Costello and the so-called ‘carpetbagger’ Michael Waltz – both Republicans running for Florida’s 6th Congressional District seat.
But, in my view, the weird maneuvering of incumbent Volusia County Councilman – the Right Reverend Fred Lowry – who denied his qualified opponent, Dan Hunt, the opportunity to debate the issues in a public forum (and blocked the rest of us from actually hearing Rev. Lowry’s position on the issues of the day) was a new low – even for Volusia County politics.
I understand that Rev. Lowry’s father is ill – and I can respect the need to step off the campaign trail to spend time on important family matters – but when the intrepid News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt asked Councilman Lowry if, and when, he would debate his challenger, he said, “I’d challenge him (Hunt) to a fishing tournament.”
I can only guess that Rev. Lowry has bought into the notion that with enough money – from the right last names – Volusia County ‘elections’ are little more than a foregone conclusion.
He may be right.
My hat’s off to Daytona Beach News-Journal Editor Pat Rice who took the time to sit down with Mr. Hunt yesterday and videotape an interview. During the session, Mr. Rice allowed Hunt the opportunity to answer the questions he would have been asked if Rev. Lowry hadn’t made the strategic decision to dodge the debate.
That’s a stand-up move by Pat Rice – and Dan Hunt – and I, for one, am glad the candidate had the chance to speak.
Now, I won’t watch the interview – and I doubt many of you will take the time to track down the video – but I do hope that constituents in District 5 remember that, to his credit, Dan Hunt didn’t run and hide when it came time to answer the hard questions.
By any metric, this current iteration of the Volusia County Council has been the worst in recent memory – and given our dismal history – that’s saying something.
I suppose, under the circumstances, if I were Rev. Lowry, I wouldn’t want to stand in front of my friends and neighbors and attempt to defend my abysmal record of lockstep conformity in service to my political benefactors while my opponent hammered away at me either.
But in this era of ‘high-information voters’ – We, The People want to hear from our so-called “leaders” – we want them to look us in the eye and explain themselves and their positions on the important issues of the day.
We learn from the honest debate of competing ideas.
Most of all, we want candidates to tell us – in very specific terms – how they plan to deliver us from the cycle of blight, dilapidation and prevailing sense of hopelessness – that continues to cast a pall over large sections of Volusia County.
We want to know what they plan to do about the plague of low pay and high taxes.
We want to know that they care enough to defend their decisions in an open and public way.
Dr. Lowry may think he’s just playing cute political games – or maybe he finally lost his marbles – but, in my view, his weird taunts of a “fishing tournament” in lieu of a debate merely expose his Fear.
In my view, Dan Hunt – and Rev. Lowry’s long-suffering constituents – deserve better.
That’s all for me!
Have a great weekend, everyone!