Mother Nature is one of life’s great equalizers.
As Hurricane Florence lashes the Carolina Coast, we are reminded how insignificant the best laid plans of mice and men become when nature’s fury calls.
It is an unfolding human and economic tragedy of biblical proportion – at least that’s what those talking heads standing out in the wind and rain in foul weather gear on the Weather Channel keep telling us.
Yet, those of us who, perhaps unwisely, make our home where the land meets the sea are a persistent sort.
We keep building and rebuilding – churning more greenspace and natural buffers into moonscapes for ‘power lifestyle‘ shopping centers, destroying trees, leveling dunes, placing oh-so-fun ‘theme’ communities on top of our sensitive aquifer recharge areas, sacrificing native trees, plants and springs for ‘Transit Oriented Developments’ – literally shitting in our own nest in the name of “progress.”
In these thoroughly modern times, it is uber-important that we have umpteen choices when it comes to grocery stores – Publix, Winn-Dixie, Lucy’s, Aldi, Dollar General, Walmart, Save-a-Lot, etc., etc. – after all, gluttonous consumption is what it’s all about – and nothing screams “we’ve arrived!” as a community quite like a Trader Joe’s, right?
Real estate developers, and the sutler’s who live off their crumbs, hire marketing firms to convince us that bigger is naturally better – density be damned – then our elected officials piss all over themselves in a fit of excited incontinence as they gush over the latest cookie-cutter development or chicken chain drive-thru.
Everything, all the time.
So long as the campaign funds flow, our elected marionettes will remain of the goofy opinion that commercial developers should be able to do whatever the hell they want on property they gobble up – regardless of the detrimental impact to our environment – or the lives of residents who must suffer the perpetual consequences of traffic gridlock, potable water and already stressed emergency services.
Of course, politicians always hide behind the stale reasoning that their campaign investors are merely using their property in keeping with its “highest and best” use – regardless of how inappropriate or intrusive that use may be.
And those who stand to benefit most openly lie to us, insulting our intelligence when they say our wholly inadequate road and utilities infrastructure is “ample” for this out-of-control growth.
It seems they always factor the private profit margins – yet never consider the intrinsic cost to our collective quality of life.
The fact is, once these beautiful greenspaces and natural environmental amenities are gone, they aren’t coming back.
Yet, we keep electing the same tired dullards to public office – then cry the blues when they close the pernicious campaign finance loop by giving their benefactors anything and everything they want – even if it means forever altering the landscape and destroying our history or anything that makes our area unique.
When it comes to the voracious appetite of Halifax area land barons and speculative developers, even the beautiful mosaic image of Jesus Christ isn’t safe from the wrecking ball.
After all, it served it’s purpose – now, it’s just standing in the way of progress. . .
Pray for those being affected by Hurricane Florence. While you’re at it, pray for us too.
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 Councilwoman Heather Post
I wrote a ditty about this very important issue earlier in the week, but it bears repeating.
During last week’s Volusia County Council meeting, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post, after actually taking the time to meet with area firefighters and paramedics, described staffing and response issues at Volusia’s emergency medical transport service – EVAC – as “serious” and strongly suggested that our elected representatives on the dais of power in DeLand do something about it.
Apparently, when Volusia County initially assumed emergency services from EVAC, the contract called for “minimum acceptable standard of operations.” Unfortunately, now that it’s a government operation, even minimum standards no longer exist. . .
You know, a requirement that an essential service – one paid for with public funds – actually be held responsible for quality service delivery and professional standards?
I know, crazy, right?
Of course, Post’s constructive suggestions were met with the usual arrogance and “eye-rolling” from her ‘colleagues’ – lackluster dullards who simply refuse to acknowledge the fact that the staffing shortages and logistical issues they have known about since 2016 now result in frequent periods when there are no ambulances available to transport critically ill or injured persons to area hospitals.
According to the News-Journal, Ms. Post said, “If something happens and you need an ambulance, consistently on a regular basis, an ambulance is not available to respond. The reason that is happening is because we haven’t kept up with staffing.”
I mean, isn’t that exactly what Volusia County firefighters and paramedics have been screaming about for years?
Not according to the lockstep marionettes who currently populate the Volusia County Council.
“That is not accurate,” said the uber-arrogant councilwoman Deb Denys.
Our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, described Ms. Post’s remarks as, “disingenuous.”
Then recently re-elected councilman Fred Lowry piled on, scowling that Post’s comments were “irresponsible and reckless.”
Let me get this straight – two-years ago the Volusia County Professional Firefighters Association tells anyone who would listen that staffing shortages were limiting their ability to provide ambulance transport service.
Then, Volusia County administrators confessed that EVAC is seriously understaffed.
Hell, even Interim County Manager George Recktenwald warned our obviously disinterested council members, “They (paramedics) are stretched. There’s no doubt about it. They have a lot of mandatory overtime.”
He also advised our clueless representatives that the county has “budgeted two additional ambulances to its fleet, along with eight permanent employees” to try and improve service delivery.
Yet, Kelley, Denys and the Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry have the brass to sit there and paint Councilwoman Post as a reckless liar?
Does this constant, mean-spirited effort to suppress original thought and innovative problem solving in favor of paralytic conformity and fealty to the ‘system’ ever end?
It has become so horribly dysfunctional in DeLand that any elected official who simply acknowledges the evidence – or listens to the concerns of those who accept public funds to perform a public service – are considered an out-of-control mutineer who must be beaten into submission.
Kudos to Councilwoman Post for coming out of her shell – and her self-imposed media blackout – to call bullshit on this very real threat to the lives and safety of her long-suffering constituents.
For an unbiased professional assessment of this deplorable situation, let’s take a look at the opinion of former Port Orange Fire Chief Tom Weber – a recognized risk management expert with no skin in the game – who recently urged City officials to stand up the municipal ambulance service:
“The county system is 30 years antiquated. Seventy-one percent of the population in the state of Florida, 12 million people, are protected by fire-based transport. Only 6 percent, or 1 million people use a system similar to the county,” Weber said. “The standard— the golden rule of thumb, is one ambulance per 10,000 people. That would mean you should have 6 ambulances in Port Orange. Let’s cut it in half— you should have three. You have zero.”
In my view, the Volusia County Council is playing a bizarre game of chicken with our lives – holding firm to a weird faith in their own infallibility as we rush ever closer to disaster.
And with the municipalities spending good money after bad to fund essential services that Volusia County is already responsible for – when do We, The People begin the discussion on “right sizing” county government – returning services to local control, and taking our lives and tax dollars back from this cabal of dysfunctional shitheels?
I mean, with lives hanging in the balance, who’s “irresponsible and reckless” now?
Asshole: The Ever Popular “Fun Coast Gonorrhea”
I’ve got a twofer for you today:
“The threat of a popular sexually transmitted disease becoming incurable and a drastic rise in STD rates over the past few years have physicians worried about the lack of sex education and access to proper health care.”
And so began an informative, if not slightly disturbing, article by Nikki Ross of The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Rates for sexually transmitted diseases on rise in Volusia County.”
Just struck me funny, that’s all.
Because I don’t know about you, but when I was a young man out on the town, I distinctly recall that gonorrhea and chlamydia weren’t very ‘popular’ at all – in fact – we avoided them like the plague.
Guess we didn’t know what we were missing?
Just when those little bacteria were becoming trendy again – they had to go and mutate into some incurable disease and ruin all the fun.
“Hey, in my day, catching a dose of the clap used to be the popular thing to do – all the cool crowd was doing it – but now that it’s becoming incurable, well, it’s ruining the mystique. . .”
According to Ms. Ross’ piece, a recent report by the Florida Department of Health claimed the number of cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea have been on a steady increase in Volusia County since 2014 – and Syphilis had remained steady until 2016, but then it got really fashionable again as well.
Experts who follow these things say that the prevalence of opioid addiction is contributing to the increase in STDs – especially in Volusia and Flagler County.
But, hey, I don’t want to be all doom and gloom – after all, we also learned this week that Daytona “International” Airport may finally earn its intercontinental bona fides on January 28th when Canadian carrier Sunwing Airlines begins twice-a-week non-stop service from Toronto to Daytona Beach!
As Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County gushed:
“Daytona Beach is finally opening up to the rest of the United States!”
Oh, never mind.
I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .
Angel: Former B-CU Trustee Lee Rhyant
Look, I don’t speak Mandarin – but it has been said that the Chinese use the same characters to describe crisis and opportunity. I don’t know if that’s true, but this ‘feel-good’ adage is usually trotted out during the depth of a break-point disaster as a means of giving those directly affected a sense of hope.
That said, in the real world – where ‘hope’ has never been an effective strategy and problems don’t fix themselves – the only way to effectively manage an emergency is to begin with a plan.
By any measure, the financial conflagration and open treachery that is rapidly consuming Bethune-Cookman University didn’t happen overnight.
In fact, there are many facets to this tragedy – and more than enough blame to go around – but this week brought some good news when former B-CU trustee and successful businessman Lee Rhyant announced that the shenanigans of former administrators are now the subject of an FBI investigation.
Under most circumstances, the revelation that an organization is under federal criminal investigation would be cause for concern – but in this case – the revelation of outside intervention is the first true cause for optimism that beleaguered students and faculty members have had in months.
Better late than never, I say – and if nothing else – when the FBI walked in the door and flashed a badge – it damn sure sent some long-time “trustees” scurrying for the exits screaming “I did nothing wrong!” to anyone who would listen. . .
In fact, those of us in the Halifax area who realize what an important role Bethune-Cookman plays in the social, economic and educational fabric of our community have been waiting patiently for federal authorities to ride into town and hold those responsible for this mess to account for several years now.
Throughout history, during the depth of despair, chaos and hopelessness, a true leader will often emerge – someone who brings order and serves as a beacon to lead the way forward – like Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré who returned sanity to New Orleans in the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levees.
A man or woman of integrity and intellect who instills confidence – usually in the form of an organized, workable plan to take the organization from where they are, to where they need to be – forcibly, if necessary.
Let’s hope Lee Rhyant is that man.
According to Interim President Hubert Grimes, the feds are looking into the clearly tainted “deal” hatched under former president Edison O. Jackson and a some dubious “developers” to construct a student dormitory – a project that left the university saddled with crippling debt and lost in a cloud of suspicion when the mechanics of the weird arrangement were brought to light by The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
The ensuing tumult has resulted in B-CU’s once stellar credit rating being reduced to junk status, massive lawsuits and counter-claims, insurmountable debt, a possible loss of accreditation and, perhaps worst of all, the demoralization and embarrassment of a once proud student body.
Among other suggestions, Rhyant has called for renegotiating the dormitory contracts, taking on a loan to allow for an infusion of much-needed capital and reducing the size of the tragically compromised Board of Trustees – which now numbers more than 20 –which will allow the board to make the difficult decisions required of it with greater efficiency.
The only part of Mr. Rhyant’s plan I disagree with is his call for B-CU students to “write letters to the FBI asking them to devote resources to completing the investigation as soon as possible so that everyone at B-CU could move on.”
Look, in my experience, writing letters and making demands of working investigators during what I’m sure will be a very thorough, wide-ranging and comprehensive inquiry is counter-productive.
This important process cannot be rushed.
In my view, now is the time to allow authorities the access and cooperation necessary to gather evidence, follow the money, expose the sins of the past and hold those responsible accountable for their crimes and omissions.
Only then can the process of rebuilding begin.
Clearly, Bethune-Cookman University isn’t ready to “move on” – but with an investigation underway, it is getting closer to better days – especially now that those responsible for this debacle will be required to answer the difficult and lingering questions that have brought this proud institution to its knees.
Asshole: Volusia County School District
The Volusia County School District has dissolved into a comedy of errors, except there’s nothing funny about ostensibly smart administrators who can’t seem to implement programs – large or small – without causing angst and consternation.
Recently, the district began what one would assume is the relatively straightforward process of replacing old computer printers with newer models – except they’re putting fewer back in place, and placing added stress on already overburdened teachers who are totally reliant on the devices due to a lack of textbooks and technology at the elementary level.
Now – “Chaos” and “Frustration” – as School Board member and former principal Carl Persis recently put it.
Here Carl, let me help – how about: “Incompetent,” “Amateurish,” “Inept,” “Inefficient,” “Ineffective,” “Wanting,” “Lacking,” “Substandard,” “Daft,” “Harebrained,” “Dotty” – I can go on, but I won’t.
You get the picture.
According to the News-Journal, the current school-based printers account for 28 percent of the printing done in the district.
“Over the past two years, that’s 72 million impressions (equal to 72 million printed sides of paper) from approximately 5,000 printers.”
On top of that, did you know our school district has a Copy Center in DeLand which is open 24 hours a day with a staff that completes some 4,000 jobs each day?
Because we do. That’s a shitload of paper.
Yet, our brain trust on the “Superintendent’s Cabinet” still don’t see the cost savings in incorporating reusable textbooks and advanced technology into the curriculum – or simply listening to the needs of classroom teachers.
“You address it, you own up to it and we’re going to move forward,” said Mike Cicchetti, director of technology and information services for the school district. “The next few months (will include) discussions about printing, finding barriers and finding compromises.”
More time-devouring meetings = less time for teaching.
More “discussions about printing” (what does that even mean?).
More Finding barriers and finding compromises. (We’re not talking about peace in the Middle East here – we’re talking about frigging printers. . .)
Ready to scream yet?
Good – go ahead. Let it all out. Get primal, baby.
Because you’re gonna love what comes next:
Has anyone else noticed that Volusia County public schools have taken on the physical and social characteristics of a Guyanese penal colony that was long-ago taken over by the inmates?
A few weeks back, I wrote an angry opinion piece after learning of a disturbing incident wherein a middle school student had her lunch tray taken away and ceremoniously dumped in the garbage by a cafeteria matron after the kid turned up a few pennies short in her dining account.
Sounds like a scene out of Papillon, right?
Now, the Volusia County School District is being rightfully sued by the mother of a bullied boy who was repeatedly pummeled and viciously taunted by some out-of-control little shit who sucker punched the victim while screaming racial epithets as other students stood around capturing the ugly scene on their cell phone (naturally) instead of protecting their classmate.
The attack continued even after someone described by The Daytona Beach News-Journal as a “school employee” attempted to place himself between the victim and his assailant.
I mean, the scene was eerily reminiscent of a targeted inmate being set upon in the ‘yard’ of some supermax prison.
Don’t take my word for it – watch the video here:
According to the victim’s family, this isn’t the first time the child was tormented at the school.
For instance, following the physical attack, the bully continued his assault by using the N-word when referring to the victim in horrific social media posts.
So, when their pleas for help from district officials were met with frustrating silence and utter inaction – the boy’s family filed a lawsuit rightfully accusing the School Board of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Our juvenile justice system saw fit to order counseling for the aggressor – and ultimately expelled him from Seabreeze High School – however, the victim wasn’t offered the same level of emotional support by district officials.
You read that right: The tormentor gets counseling services for his “issues” – his victim gets squat?
Rather than take the December 2017 incident seriously – or consider the matter an early warning of potential problems on the Seabreeze campus – the School Board’s highly compensated mouthpiece, Ted Doran, simply poo-pooed the victim’s claims as so much fabricated horseshit:
“Based on the allegations in the lawsuit, the district believes that the claim has no basis in fact or law. The school district and the taxpayers cannot be responsible for communications between students on social media, and we will defend the case to its conclusion,” Doran said.
No basis in fact?
Hey Ted, did you watch the same video I just did? Did you read the gross cyber-bullying posts?
Because something tells me the jury will. . .
Although Volusia County has apparently abdicated all responsibility, other school districts around the state and nation are actively monitoring social media communications to prevent this type of appalling violence and worse.
For instance, Flagler County Schools took heat earlier this year when they agreed to spend some $18,500 annually to Social Sentinel, a company whose software scours social media and the internet searching for violent threats or suicidal posts to help save lives.
In the aftermath of mass violence at schools around the nation, why is Volusia County not doing everything humanly possible to protect our children, teachers and staff?
Is it simply easier to throw up their hands, shake their heads, and declare “we cannot be responsible”?
What we witnessed on this disturbing video is nothing new – and, in my view, it is incidents like this that can result in repeat violence as children who are openly bullied, humiliated, embarrassed and marginalized turn to violence themselves – often with horrific results – including suicide and campus shootings.
Frankly, the little thug responsible for this atrocious act should have been banned from attending school altogether – then forced to eke out a living in Volusia County’s artificial economy like the rest of us rubes.
Now that’s a suitable punishment.
I don’t have a crystal ball – but I have a memory like an elephant – and I’ll bet you a Donnie’s Donut that, at the end of the day, despite Mr. Doran’s bluster and bullshit, this case will be settled quietly, with a liberal application of our hard-earned tax dollars.
And, perhaps worse, those who should have been held ultimately responsible for protecting our children from violence and bullying – or at least stopping the gross public humiliation of one victim and provide assistance in the aftermath – will continue to hold their well-paid positions of high responsibility in Volusia County Schools without so much as a stern word.
That’s wrong – not only for the victim of this despicable act – but for every student who is forced to run the gauntlet of harassment and intimidation just to pursue what passes for an education in Volusia County schools.
According to attorney Jason Harr, who is representing the victim in this case, “It’s something that he’s not going to live down for a very long time. He’s going to suffer with this for a very long time as anyone would.”
Something tells me we’re all going to suffer for a very long time until our elected officials on the Volusia County School Board get their collective head out of their ass and come to the realization that they have serious problems with our current “leadership.”
Until then, I guess we’ll just keep writing checks. . .
Quote of the Week:
“I remember thinking $2.5 million was plenty of money.”
–South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall, Secretary of the First Step Shelter Board, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal after learning that construction costs for the proposed homeless shelter have now skyrocketed to some $6 million.
We all did, Mayor Hall.
Last week, I posed a series of disturbing questions after news broke that cost estimates for the First Step Shelter project more than doubled from the $2.5 million originally budgeted by Volusia County.
Then we learned that actual costs may well reach $6 million or more.
For a homeless shelter. . .?
I also questioned who authorized P & S Paving – a prolific local government contractor whose president just happens to sit on the mysterious star chamber over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – who has already made some $1.6 million performing site preparation work to haul off and sell fill dirt that belongs to you and me?
Going forward, P & S Paving was prepared to charge us another $1.06 million to dig a 20-acre retention pond (for a 10-acre site?) which would have brought their early take to some $2.66 million – just to prepare the site.
Then – in some stroke of corporate charity – P & S Paving “cut a deal” to do the retention pond work for “free” (sorry, I just snorted my Café Bustelo all over the keyboard) in exchange for the right to sell the resulting fill dirt – which is currently being purchased by needy developers (who are actively filling-in area wetlands to accommodate their new ‘lifestyle’ communities) for some $200 a truckload. . .
Seriously, I don’t make this shit up, folks.
Now, in typical fashion, memories are fading as to how we got to this astronomical price point, millions are being made on the prep work, our ‘powers that be’ are pointing fingers at each other and the shelter hasn’t even come out of the ground yet.
Hell, at this late stage, a US Army GP Medium Tent perched on some cleared pine scrub would have been more effective (if somewhat less lucrative for a few well-connected insiders).
Seriously, I slept in them when I was in the military – and while trying to get quality sleep with 20 guys alternately belching, snoring and farting wasn’t ideal – it did keep the rain off.
I applaud Mayor Hall, and the other members of the First Step Shelter Board, who are speaking out on this growing debacle.
It’s time City officials stop treating board members like mushrooms – keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit – and begin building bridges between those responsible for funding construction, and those responsible for funding the operation.
After all, how long are good people like Mayor Hall and others expected to have their names and reputations sullied by this never-ending, wholly dysfunctional goat rope?
This has gone on long enough.
And Another Thing!
Kudos to The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s intrepid photojournalist Jim Tiller on his recent retirement.
I’m proud to know Jim – and to have had the opportunity to work with him at crime scenes, traffic accidents and other sights of madness and mayhem he documented for the newspaper.
Without question, Jim Tiller was the consummate quiet professional.
Just as there is a distinct difference between a jackleg blogger and a true journalist – you can immediately separate someone who takes pictures from an artist whose medium is photography the minute you see their work.
Jim Tiller was an artist – and his beautiful photographs brought depth and life to the stories he covered.
I was truly moved by editor Pat Rice’s touching tribute to Jim and his legacy of service to News-Journal readers.
Through the years, Jim’s work told a unique story, regardless of the subject, and we were fortunate to glimpse the news of the day through his sensitive eye.
Enjoy your retirement, Jim. Well deserved.
That’s all for me!
Have a great weekend, Kids!