Welcome to the weekend!
Wow. What a week it’s been.
The long-anticipated primary election has come and gone, and in its wake, we are left with a lot to think about.
As I’ve previously written, I’m not a political scientist – just another disgruntled asshole who is fed up with our collective condition in one of the highest taxed counties in Florida – helplessly bearing witness while those we have placed our trust in piss good money after bad, then demand more.
You see, I have this naïve belief that we’re better than this.
When I travel to other places around the nation, I see communities that are similarly situated to our own that have done remarkable things under equally difficult circumstances to improve those cultural, civic and social factors that give a sense of place and enrich the quality of life for residents and visitors.
I believe we are infinitely capable of changing course, correcting the sins of the past, and returning a sense of basic fairness and equity to our democratic process. One that allows constructive input from those who pay the bills – not just a few politically connected insiders with a profit motive and direct access to the public trough.
Apparently, the majority of those who actually took the initiative to vote in Volusia County this week disagree with me (about 3 out of 10 registered voters) – and that’s okay. It’s democracy in action, and while I don’t have to agree with all of it, I accept the will of the electorate.
However, going into the general election, I hope people will look beyond the goofy soundbites, the superficial social media sites and colorful brochures that tout the dubious “accomplishments” of incumbents while ignoring the sights, sounds and smells that you and I drive by every day here in Volusia County.
Look, I get it – not everyone is a “high information” voter – in fact, most people can’t tell you their Mayor’s name, let alone describe the make-up and collective vision of the City Commission – or the County Council for that matter.
It’s not that they don’t care.
Most are just too busy trying to scratch-out a living, buy groceries, educate their children and make a life in a place where making ends meet is an increasingly difficult proposition for working families mired in a service-based economy.
They understand how hard it is to make a good life here – and they fear the coming tide of new residents who will clog our already overburdened roadways.
They shake their heads in disbelief when they drive by another environmental atrocity where old-growth oaks and wildlife habitats are sacrificed on the altar of greed by yet another speculative developer to make way for another convenience store – yet they don’t equate those issues with those they elect to govern their very way of life.
As a result – they vote like they are told by those with the money to get their message out – or they don’t vote at all.
In his own inimitable way, the late, great author, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, summed it up when he said:
“Anybody who thinks that ‘it doesn’t matter who’s President’ has never been Drafted and sent off to fight and die in a vicious, stupid war on the other side of the world–or been beaten and gassed by Police for trespassing on public property–or been hounded by the IRS for purely political reasons–or locked up in the Cook County Jail with a broken nose and no phone access and twelve perverts wanting to stomp your ass in the shower. That is when it matters who is President or Governor or Police Chief. That is when you will wish you had voted.”
How’s that for some no-bullshit wisdom, eh?
The stakes are high this time – and we find ourselves in a dire situation that threatens our very way of life because the mechanism of massive, unchecked growth has already been set in motion by those who stand to benefit most.
With it comes increased competition for the non-existent “high-paying” jobs we were promised every time one of our ‘Rich & Powerful’ held out their greedy hand and asked for more of our hard-earned tax dollars to underwrite a private project, the impact of thousands of new residents on our aquifer recharge areas and greenspace, the inability of our current crop of compromised politicians to ask their political benefactors to pay their fair share in impact fees – even as they impose “Enhanced Amenity Fees,” “User Fees” and other cleverly disguised taxes on our purchases at shopping and entertainment centers that were underwritten with our tax dollars.
Yet, Volusia County voters continue to elect the same names, the same tired facilitators, while expecting a different outcome?
There is an old saying that if you’re fortunate enough to live near the beach, then you’re fortunate enough. And we are truly lucky to live near the natural beauty where the land meets the sea.
There is a unique energy in places where moving water creates negative ions that lighten our mood and create positive feelings. Those are places people want to visit, and that creates opportunity.
I happen to believe that it is important to protect and preserve our access to these special places and prevent the looming disaster of massive sprawl from Farmton to the Flagler County line.
We can do that by carefully selecting leaders who will put our collective interests first – and that’s not as easy as it sounds.
It’s going to be interesting, folks. Buckle-up, we’ve got a bumpy ride ahead this fall.
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: Volusia County Sheriff’s Office
Kudos to Sheriff Mike Chitwood and his deputies for the recent arrest of eight degenerate assholes who were misusing our public parks for open sexual liaisons.
It’s damn difficult work, and I applaud their efforts.
During my long career in law enforcement, I was involved in numerous operations to suppress this dangerous behavior in parks and public restrooms – and many years ago I participated in the arrest of one of the subjects charged in this recent operation.
Just goes to show you that some people never learn – and the arrest and release of these scumbags is no deterrent.
In my experience working these cases, the activity is mercurial – and when pressure is applied in one location – they simply move to parks in other areas. During surveillance operations, I’ve observed known offenders move between a half-dozen parks in a geographical area until they find like-types.
And anyone who thinks these are “victimless crimes” can stow that shit around me.
I once worked a tragic case where a child was attacked by a predatory sex offender in a park bathroom stall – and I have seen this repulsive activity take place in close proximity to playgrounds.
In my view, it’s high time our legislature and justice system got tough with these crimes and mandate serious jail time for anyone who engages in this disgusting behavior in any public park.
Given the habitual and consistent nature of these criminals, clearly the psychological pathology that results in this compulsion cannot be effectively treated over time – so it must be removed and isolated for everyone’s protection.
This needs to stop.
In many areas of Volusia County, the problem is so pervasive that municipalities have spent thousands in taxpayer dollars to convert restrooms to single-use facilities, or removed them from parks altogether. That relates to a significant expense and inconvenience to residents and families who wish to enjoy the public amenities they pay for.
As we continue to spend handsomely on trails, parks and ecotourism, the prevalence of deviate sexual behavior by these shitheads will continue to dissuade residents from taking advantage of outdoor recreation opportunities.
Frankly, after what I’ve seen over the years, I wouldn’t set foot in a public park – and I damn sure wouldn’t take my precious granddaughter to one.
And that’s a shame.
Asshole: Former Volusia County Council Members Art Giles, Frank Bruno, Josh Wagner and Joie Alexander
Former Volusia County Council members Art Giles, Frank Bruno, Josh Wagner and Joie Alexander earned their way into the Asshole category this week. I wrote about this in a recent piece entitled, “On Volusia: A Convenient Memory” but it bears repeating.
I said that I would never mention former County Manager Jim Dinneen in this pages again – then I opened The Daytona Beach News-Journal last Sunday and did a spit-take with my Café Bustelo.
Look, I hate to paint all of these former Volusia County Council members with the same brush – but anyone who would put their name on a fantasy puff piece entitled, “Jim Dinneen made a big contribution to Volusia County” is stretching the limits of credibility.
In fact, glorifying poor performance and asking the good citizens of Volusia County to suspend reality while they deify an ineffectual asshole who ruined constituent trust in county government, only serves to perpetuate the mediocrity and slimy backroom practices that have brought us to this dismal point in our history.
In my view, Jim Dinneen was the embodiment of all that’s wrong with this bastardized Oligarchy we find ourselves trapped in – a fetid slit trench where uber-wealthy insiders maintain political control of our future by contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars collectively to the campaign accounts of hand-select candidates for public office.
During his tenure, Jim Dinneen facilitated the wholesale giveaway of tens-of-millions of dollars in public funds couched as “economic development incentives,” orchestrated the discounted sale of public land to private interests, pissed away our heritage of beach access to appease the overweening greed of speculative developers, concocted patent falsehoods about the pressing need for new, astronomically priced courthouses, public works facilities and other county buildings – even as those he is currently responsible for maintaining literally rot into the ground.
In exchange for his complicity and facilitation of these and other atrocities against the taxpayers of Volusia County – our ‘powers that be’ granted him the political insulation to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and damn the consequences to those who were expected to keep quiet and pay the bills.
And make no mistake, the citizens of Volusia County paid a high price for Dinneen’s malleable ethics and preternatural ability to dodge accountability.
From his patented ‘public policy by ambush’ tactic of surprising us all with off-the-agenda sneak attacks – to his vilification of whistleblowers, including sitting Councilwoman Heather Post – he was a mendacious asshole who, in my view, would rather lie that eat.
As I have written before, Mr. Dinneen was perfectly willing to lie like a cheap rug whenever a blatant falsehood served his purpose or those of his political handlers. In fact, I believe – as Sheriff Michael Chitwood said – Mr. Dinneen is a pathological liar with a compulsion to fabricate situational responses on the fly – a strategy that ultimately cost county government the trust of the people it exists to serve.
The staggering level of incompetence, government waste and resource mismanagement during Mr. Dinneen’s administration – and the continuing, almost institutionalized, lack of substantive oversight by our elected officials that allowed this atrocious course of conduct to continue – will haunt Volusia County for years to come.
In fact, the lasting memory for most of us will remain Mr. Dinneen’s Tom & Jerry skit with the intrepid WFTV reporter Mike Springer – with Little Jimmy scurrying out of a public meeting and ducking into a private area like the rat he was, actively dodging the legitimate questions of the working press regarding the latest five-alarm fuck-up he was personally responsible for orchestrating.
In government, strong leadership maintains sound discipline, controls the awesome power inherent to public entities, identifies objectives, communicates effectively, exercises judgment, builds esprit de corps, trusts the ability of subordinates and congratulates their performance, instills confidence in constituents, and directs personnel and resources under their command – efficiently and effectively – to accomplish difficult goals important to our collective welfare.
The Dinneen administration was the antithesis of these important attributes.
In my opinion, the rotten legacy of Jim Dinneen will remain failure, mismanagement and the wholesale giveaway of public assets and amenities to meet the needs of those who could afford to pay-to-play. Nothing more.
For years to come, We, The People of Volusia County will continue to deal with the fallout of unchecked growth and sprawl, the almost criminal lack of preparedness and infrastructure to handle the massive influx to come, the abject failure to even attempt to have development pay its fair share and the cowardly inability of incumbent Volusia County Council members to reign in Dineen’s shadowy maneuvers and cloistered backroom collusion that brought us to this sad place in our history.
Sometimes I wonder how current and former politicians develop such a conveniently selective memory?
Is it that the reality of the situation they helped create is too disturbing to recall accurately – so they mask reality with horribly skewed hallucinations of times that never existed?
Angel: Votran Driver Paul Okumu
Many years ago, when I was pursuing primary flight training, my very wise, infinitely patient and dedicated instructor gave me an important piece of advice for dealing with in-flight emergencies:
“In a negative situation, I will do the best I can. If that fails, I will try again. I cannot change destiny, but I may be able to affect it in some positive way.”
That inspirational thought was exemplified by the heroic actions of Votran Driver Paul Okumu, who jumped into action when an armed thug attempted to sexually assault a passenger as his bus traveled through Ponce Inlet in June.
Last week, the City of Ponce Inlet formally recognized Mr. Okumu’s courage and quick thinking in physically engaging with Michael Lemuel Speaks, 34, a habitual offender with an extensive criminal history – including at least 34 arrests in Volusia County since 1983.
In presenting the award, Ponce Inlet Police Chief Frank Fabrizio quoted writer Edmund Burke, “Evil succeeds when good men and women do nothing.”
Thank God this mild-mannered man was in the right place to intervene and bring a positive solution to potential tragedy.
Congratulations to Paul Okumu on this well-deserved recognition – and to the City of Ponce Inlet for honoring Mr. Okumu in such a thoughtful and meaningful way.
Asshole: Florida Governor Rick Scott
Even in the heat of a hotly contested political campaign, somehow Governor Rick Scott still found time to orchestrate one of his patented “WTF?” moments for Florida residents when he – once again – reappointed Long John Miklos to yet another four-year term on the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board.
For years, Miklos has represented public and private clients of his Bio-Tech Consulting, an Orlando-based environmental consultancy, in wetland permitting cases before the very state regulatory agency he oversees.
You read that right.
In fact, the perennial conflict of interest between Mr. Miklos’ advocacy for his paying clients – and his moral and ethical responsibilities to the citizens of Central Florida as board chairman – have been documented and reported in dozens of newspaper stories, including the incomparable Dinah Voyles-Pulver’s reporting on the Debacle in DeBary in The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
In that case, Miklos was hired by a few greed-heads that then inhabited DeBary City Hall, to ramrod the acquisition of sensitive conservation land at Gemini Springs Annex for the development of a massive mixed-use development near the SunRail station.
The contract called for the citizens of DeBary to pay John Miklos $155 an hour for his personal attention to the matter.
That shitstorm resulted in an ill-fated ethics complaint against Miklos which initially concluded there was probable cause that he violated state ethics laws; however, our neutered ethics board – also appointees of Governor Scott and other state politicians – cleared Miklos of all charges by voting not to pursue the inquiry.
According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “District records show Miklos’ business boomed after he was appointed chairman of the water district in 2013. Although state laws allow district board members to have knowledge of the kinds of issues that come before the district, no other St. Johns board member has declared as many conflicts as Miklos. Several previous water district board members have raised concerns in the past that Miklos uses his position on the board to solicit business or has too much influence in permit decisions.”
I don’t make this stuff up, folks.
While several Central Florida lawmakers – and candidates – have gone on record saying they will not vote to confirm the Miklos appointment during the next legislative session.
Yet – inexplicably – Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, had the unmitigated gall to shrug his shoulders and tell his constituents with a straight face that he doesn’t have a clue who John Miklos is.
“I haven’t seen or heard anything about him,” said Hutson, “so I have no clue whether I would confirm or deny.”
Look, Sen. Hutson is either a despicable liar – or the most uninformed and completely detached State Senator, well, in this history of colossally unaware state senators. . .
In my view, it is simply inconceivable that a sitting legislator could have avoided reading or discussing the dozens of newspaper articles, media reports and good old-fashioned scuttlebutt around the Capitol watercooler regarding the myriad ethical issues surrounding Mr. Miklos’ “fox in the henhouse” routine – perhaps the most brazen example of open cronyism and quid pro quo corruption in the history of a state that was built on it.
Now, I’m just spit-balling here, but in most places, promoting the interests of personal customers coming before the very same regulatory board that you chair would be considered a colossal conflict of interest – if not a criminal misuse of public office.
In most places, a person that engaged in that level of influence peddling would be slapped in irons and publicly humiliated for high crimes against the environment and public corruption.
In most places, slimy environmental consultants who just happen to serve as the high-powered chairman of a state environmental protection and regulatory board would come to the attention of an equally high-powered state senator – whose constituents just happen to rely on that very agency to protect their drinking water and natural places.
One would also think that in a tight race for the United States Senate, Slick Rick would have grown tired of the near-constant embarrassment of his hand-picked chairman’s greed-crazed shenanigans – but this is Florida – the rules truly are different here.
Screw it. We’re doomed.
Quote of the Week:
“Every election is important to me, every single one,” she said. “We live in a place where it’s up to us, and being lazy just isn’t an option.”
–Sandra Edmunds, a former Delaware resident voting for the first time as a Flagler County resident, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, was among those who chose to go to the polls on Tuesday.
And Another Thing!
Earlier this week, the Volusia County School Board took a vote on a “combined” evaluation of beleaguered Superintendent Tom Russell after a convoluted assessment that turned what should have been an honest performance appraisal into another useless waste of time.
The board’s review of Dr. Russell’s stewardship and oversight of Volusia County Schools came amid a very tumultuous year, including:
- The mysterious “secret” negotiations with AdventHealth that alienated our long-time healthcare partner Halifax Health and sold district marketing rights to a single entity for peanuts.
- The hopelessly deadlocked “negotiations” with Volusia’s teacher’s union who continue to suffer under a top-down system of micromanagement that has stifled classroom creativity and left our long-suffering teachers woefully under compensated for their contributions.
- The failure-to-thrive syndrome suffered by Volusia County schools that saw seventeen schools districtwide fall one letter grade or more – leaving 59% of our schools with a C or D rating, including 72% of our elementary schools.
- A systematic failure by administrators to retain enthusiastic new talent, with some 46% of first-year teachers failing to return to the district.
- The tragi-comedy of watching senior officials shamelessly beg for spare change from the municipalities to cover their failure to strategically plan for adequate security upgrades in the face of an underfunded state mandate – in spite of an unprecedented $900 million budget – the largest of any taxing authority in Volusia County.
- When senior administrators were caught quibbling material facts, dragging their feet on public records requests and artificially embellishing the professional qualifications of at least one individual tapped to serve in the all-important role of School Security Specialist in a feeble attempt to add credibility to the new School Guardian program.
- Now, media outlets are reporting that the Volusia County School District is under Federal investigation after complaints of discrimination against student’s suffering from autism.
According to The Daytona-Beach News-Journal, “Earlier this month, School Board Chairwoman Linda Cuthbert and School Board Attorney Ted Doran took all five of the individual evaluations and compiled them into a single board evaluation. The combined document says Russell is on the right track, making “reasonable progress” on all six areas they measured.”
Yep, nothing to see here, folks. We’re making “reasonable progress.” Move along. . .
Seriously, I don’t make this shit up.
This nonsensical “combined” non-evaluation sounds like something only an overprotective lawyer with a knack for providing elected and appointed officials with political insulation could come up with.
In typical Volusia County fashion, what should have been a healthy and transparent process of identifying administrative strengths and growth areas became a neutered exercise, another hot-air generator, that accomplished nothing.
And why was Lawyer Doran involved in the process at all?
I thought this important responsibility sat with those we elect to represent our interests and provide oversight of the superintendent – and our tax dollars – not an appointed attorney with no real political accountability.
I hate to dig up old ugliness, but – like Superintendent Russell – Mr. Doran has led something of a charmed life during his tenure on the school board payroll as well.
In a December 2013 piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Volusia schools attorney Ted Doran to begin Florida Bar suspension,” the Volusia County School Board admitted renewing Mr. Doran’s contract with the full knowledge of pending complaints against him to the Florida Bar – serious allegations which ultimately resulted in a 60-day suspension:
“The School Board was aware of The Bar complaints when it approved a three-year renewal of Doran’s legal contract this summer. The complaints had been reported in The News-Journal in 2012. The board wasn’t aware of a pending suspension when it voted, but some members said they were comfortable renewing because none of the complaints involved any school district-related issues.”
“The 2006 complaint involved a bitter divorce case in which Doran obtained a confidential document and used it for an advantage. A second complaint in 2010 also involved a divorce case in which Doran had one sexual encounter with a client. He initially denied the encounter to The Bar, then admitted it in a later deposition.”
“The most recent complaint was from a female attorney working her first case in Miami, with Doran opposing her. He sent her emails complimenting her and asking her to dinner; she was offended by the content. Doran has been active in Volusia politics and business for years, long before his 2012 campaign for county chair. He ran for a state House of Representatives seat in 1996. He is also a past chairman of Team Volusia, the Halifax Area Advertising Authority and the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.”
Look, I’m not saying these are bad people – just ineffectual – and with nearly One Billion of our hard-earned tax dollars at stake, perhaps its time We, The People, elect and appoint the best and brightest we can attract – true servant-leaders with a desire to serve the needs of their constituents – and the best interests of Volusia County students and teachers.
I agree with School Board member and former principal Carl Persis who was recently quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “I’m not satisfied, and I think the superintendent’s been here for three years. I think that’s ample time,” Persis said. “I don’t have faith that any system is in place right now that’s any different than the previous year. I just don’t see it.”
I’m not satisfied either. It’s time for Tom Russell to go. . .
That’s all for me, folks!
Have a great Holiday weekend!