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.
This week my wife and I joined our dear friends at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Georgia.
Known as “North America’s Premier Farm Show,” this massive annual exposition hosts over 1,200 vendors spread across 100-acres of exhibition area adjoining a 600-acre working research farm.
Each fall we travel to the greater Valdosta/Moultrie/Thomasville area – an incredibly beautiful part of rural South Georgia – replete with acres of snow-like cotton, soybeans, peanuts, cabbage and vast stands of pecan trees ready for the annual harvest – to take in this truly incredible trade show.
You might be curious why a “city guy” like me would have an interest in farming and commercial agriculture? After all, I don’t know a combine from a canoe – but that’s the draw: I enjoy learning about things I know nothing about and expanding my worldview – like getting an insider’s education on this incredibly demanding industry that feeds 330-million Americans and sustains most of the world.
For instance, during our visit I learned about the intricacies of the cotton industry from some very informative representatives of the Georgia Cotton Commission and United States Department of Agriculture. These experts on the business of agriculture explained that this year was shaping up to be an incredibly good yield – and cotton farmers were eager to go to market and make up for several years of financial setbacks.
Then, during the overnight hours of October 10th Hurricane Michael paid a visit and took an incredible toll on Georgia’s agriculture economy – with cotton producers experiencing losses anywhere from 25% to total loss.
Unfortunately, other crops didn’t fare much better.
According to reports, “The latest estimates of hurricane damage to Georgia ag is at a heavy $2 billion, with cotton, peanuts and pecans – and poultry – suffering as much as 90 percent losses in some areas.”
During our visit, I learned firsthand how cotton is cultivated, irrigated, fertilized, harvested and processed – how various grades are classified, bought, and sold – and the myriad variables that determine whether a farmer will eke out a profit or suffer a loss season-to-season.
I felt the difference between “seed cotton” – a combination of unginned felt and cottonseed – and high-grade processed fiber ready for use by textile mills.
I spoke to experts about how crop insurance and federal subsidies work, and how technological advances and social concerns are rapidly changing how we produce and process food – such as the growing farm-to-table movement which pairs local producers with chefs, restaurateurs and school cafeterias to provide fresh, seasonal fruits, vegetables and meats to the economic benefit of all involved.
A professor from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia, showed me how they teach school children about how erosion and flooding threatens farms using an innovative sand table complete with flowing water – and I watched as a beef cattle producer demonstrated to members of a high school FFA chapter how to properly assist in the birth of a calf.
Speaking with vendors and agricultural scientists, I learned the importance of water conservation and the effect of seasonal weather conditions, eco-friendly fertilizers and nutrients, innovative irrigation techniques and state-of-the-art nozzles which take advantage of every drop of the farmer’s precious water supply, and the massive machinery that farmers use for the heavy lifting from tillage to harvest.
I also saw how unmanned aerial vehicles, equipped with sophisticated sensor arrays that can transmit a variety of crop information, are beginning to play a huge role in modern agriculture.
Look, I still don’t have a clue about the demanding life of a farmer – but because I took the time to learn, speak with experts, and gain a better understanding of this incredibly complicated and scientifically advanced pursuit – my experience in Moultrie renewed my pride in the American farmer and gave me a greater appreciation for the invaluable service they perform in providing sustainable food and nourishment for our nation and the world.
It’s pretty clear I’m not a smart man, but I am inquisitive. And I believe that before one complains about goods and services – perhaps there is value in understanding something about the supply chain, or what it takes to provide that service where the rubber meets the road.
As a lifelong learner, I’m savvy enough to grasp the fact that I don’t know everything.
But I have never forgotten those important lessons learned early in my life that continue to serve me well – things a few of our elected officials seem to have forgotten on their way to the top:
Be resourceful. Mind your manners. Show kindness. Care for the things you are responsible for. Clean up your mess. Consider the needs of others and our environment. Play fair. Never stop learning.
Don’t be afraid to apologize when you’re wrong.
Which brings us to our first winner of the week:
Asshole: Volusia County Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson
Sometimes I question the mental stability of sitting members of the Volusia County Council.
Never their motivations (those are always perfectly clear) – but their irrational inability to accept facts – the pathological need to ignore all material evidence and defend mediocrity, holding firm to the status quo and protecting the “system” at all cost really concerns me.
It baffles me.
I am convinced there is a Curse of Cowardice haunting the Thomas C. Kelly Administration building – a tragic jinx that compels our elected and appointed officials to turn on those who serve in the best interests of the public – their long-suffering subordinates who are actually in the arena performing the essential services we rely on – even as they obsequiously kowtow at the feet of those ‘Rich & Powerful’ few who line their campaign coffers with cold hard cash each election cycle.
These mean-spirited dullards aren’t too fond of fellow elected and appointed officials, like Councilwoman Heather Post, who throw off the traces, step out of the lock-step mold of political conformity, and actually talk to the men and women who perform essential government services and get their informed take on the situation, or, God forbid, actually educate themselves on the process or operation they are being asked to make decisions about.
No, no, no. Learning about the issues limits plausible deniability – the “I didn’t know” defense.
It’s much easier just to vote as you are told. . . and it’s infinitely easier to disguise mismanagement and abject corruption by projecting blame on those at the bottom of the organizational chart who cannot defend themselves from the exalted elected elites.
In my view, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson – that sanctimonious Rip Van Winkle of Volusia County politics – epitomizes the strategic ignorance and oddball view of the important issues repeatedly exhibited by our addle-brained elected officials in DeLand.
Earlier this week, Councilman Patterson sat for something of a quasi-debate with his opponent, Barbara Girtman, a real estate agent from DeLand who’s served on the West Volusia Hospital Authority since 2016, on WNDB’s Marc Bernier Show.
The format was straightforward – Mr. Bernier asked “Sleepy” Pat his take on the myriad crises that have besieged Volusia County residents under this congregate of dipshits who have completely ignored the very real concerns of their constituents – then sat back and let the narcoleptic old windbag pontificate.
When talk turned to the festering problem of Volusia County emergency medical service response times – and the inability of our seriously understaffed EVAC ambulance to provide adequate coverage during peak demand – “Sleepy” Pat took the opportunity to besmirch the character, motivations and professional reputation of our hardworking paramedics and emergency medical technicians by arrogantly chirping that our “EMS people” would rather be “sitting in a fire station watching T.V.” than in the field performing their lifesaving calling.
Rightly, Ms. Girtman took exception – and the opportunity to point out the obvious: Whenever important issues are brought to the attention of this clown troop (my words, not hers) invariably the people’s concerns are “discounted” before the allegations can be researched and properly responded to.
Hammer, meet nail.
Folks, Barbara Girtman gets it.
In my view, Ms. Girtman’s observations on the Council’s pathological refusal listen to the fears and concerns of their constituents – yet readily accept the repeated denials and bullshit explanations of entrenched bureaucrats and political insiders – is in keeping with their tried and true modus operandi of marginalizing the message by destroying the messenger.
At best, Pat Patterson is talking out of his sizable ass about something he has no real understanding of in a vain attempt to save political face in an election year.
At worst, he actually believes that our brave men and women of the emergency medical service – committed, compassionate public servants who have dedicated their lives to protecting and serving others – would prefer to sit in front of a television rather than perform their lifesaving service with the courage and professionalism it demands.
Trust me – when it comes to this perennial political sluggard – both explanations are frightening possibilities.
I guess what pisses me off the most is – like the guy who complains about the farmer with his mouth full of food, Councilman Patterson has the unmitigated gall to sully the good work of Volusia County EMS personnel who perform this vital service – often under dark and dangerous conditions – even as he sleeps under the cloak of vigilance and protection they provide.
The Pat Patterson’s of the world will never know, or fully appreciate, what it takes to serve the community as a first responder: The physical toll and the unseen mental scars of every life that you tried to save and lost – the battered children – the accident victims – the helpless – the elderly – the confused – the drunk – the forgotten – the cries of the family – the screams of the injured – the abused – the dead and the dying – the long hours – the low pay – the sights, the sounds and the smells – the nightmares and the thoughts that can never be forgotten. . .
A thankless, dangerous and dirty job made more so by the tactless remarks of a sitting elected official.
Angel: Opinion Editor Krys Fluker
I was incredibly pleased by the recent announcement that Krys Fluker has been named Opinion Editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal!
For the past several years, I have had the distinct pleasure of periodically corresponding with Krys on a couple Community Voices columns I submitted. Without fail, Krys was able to take my mordant screeds and condense them into something cogent – and that, gentle readers, takes a true gift.
I have enjoyed Krys’ unique take on the news and newsmakers of the day these past few weeks – she has a unique style, and I like it.
While I don’t always agree with the editorial board’s slant on the issues – Krys crafts the argument in a way that examines the human component – how it affects me – and that’s something I find most refreshing.
In fact, provoking larger community discussions on the things that impact our collective lives and livelihoods is, in my jaded view, what opinion writing is all about.
I’m certainly not a journalist – just a blowhard with a blog – but I understand a smidgen of what it takes to put thoughts down on paper in a way that both entertains and enlightens. While I fall short time-and-again, I learn and improve from reading the good work of talented editorialists like Krys Fluker and Pat Rice.
We’re lucky to have them covering our beat here on Florida’s Fun Coast.
Congratulations and best of luck, Krys!
Quote of the Week:
“We feel like we’ve been attacked from the inside. We are calling for the School Board to step up and to bring about a leadership change in Volusia County schools. We can’t wait anymore.”
–Andrew Spar, outgoing president of Volusia United Educators, calling on the Volusia County School Board to launch Superintendent Tom Russell and restore strong leadership to our failing district
In an anger-fueled response to the very real concerns of Volusia County teachers and parents, Her Excellency, School Board Chairwoman Linda Cuthbert, a former teacher who rode to power following an endorsement by the union in her August re-election bid – then became everything she hated – turned on her former peers, calling the union’s demand for a leadership change “unprofessional.”
“They have every right to express their opinion, but they have absolutely no right to tell any School Board who they can hire and fire,” Cuthbert said. “We most certainly do not tell the union who they can elect as their president.”
“We have to be responsible to the entire school district and to the taxpayer.”
I think we all agree that you have a responsibility, Ms. Cuthbert – so when do you plan to get off your collective asses and live up to it?
By any metric – Volusia County Schools are failing miserably – and this farce of a School Board can’t seem to grasp that ineffective leadership just might have something to do with that. . .
According to reports, 72% of the district’s elementary schools are ranked as hopelessly mediocre C or D schools.
Under the circumstances, one might think that those we elect to represent our interests, and those of our children, might demand accountability for those dismal marks from our appointed Superintendent?
Not in Volusia County.
Here, the mere thought of holding senior officials responsible for their performance and that of their subordinate “Cabinet” members is anathema.
From the ham-handed “secret negotiations” that resulted in our elected officials approving a lopsided five-year contract with Florida Hospital – naming the healthcare provider the “exclusive student education and student wellness partner of the School Board for all purposes and on all levels” giving AdventHealth direct marketing access to thousands of Volusia County families for a paltry $200,000 a year – to the sight of School Board members begging the municipalities for spare change like some street-corner mendicant to pay for basic security measures – to continuously ignoring the needs and suggestions of classroom teachers – to senior administrators grossly inflating the qualifications of high-paid senior officials who have been elevated to positions they are wholly unqualified for – to a lack of an adequate curriculum or even proper textbooks for core subjects – the list goes on-and-on.
Yet, our long-suffering teachers can’t negotiate a reasonable agreement for salary, benefits and working conditions without talks dissolving into the third consecutive impasse in the past four years?
Given the abject turmoil that continues to surround literally every operational and administrative area of the district – if Chairwoman Cuthbert and Company truly believe Russell is making “reasonable progress” then they are quite obviously delusional.
In my view – and that of the men and women who are actually in the classroom teaching our children – it is past time for Superintendent Tom Russell to go.
How long are we expected to accept this level of dysfunction in a major taxing authority?
And Another Thing!
A Barker’s View Prediction:
When it comes to the growing First Step Shelter construction debacle, the Daytona Beach City Commission is just one more gaff away from losing momentum – one more five-alarm fuck-up – from the breakpoint where long-suffering taxpayers scream, “No More!”
I hear talk on the street – you know, down here where us common folk live, work and play – and it isn’t positive. . .
Inexplicably, on Wednesday evening City Manager Jim Chisholm pulled the proposed contract with APM Construction Corporation off the agenda, apparently because the long-anticipated agreement was “still being worked on.”
That’s a non-explanation that signals there may be serious trouble ahead.
But we can’t know with any reasonable certainty – because even Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, who serves as president of the all-volunteer First Step Shelter Board – admitted this week that the city’s stall tactics and complete lack of transparency has already “hampered the fundraising ability of First Step.”
“When you have a building and you don’t know when it’s going to be finished … potential investors are afraid of really making the contributions we had hoped they would make,’ the mayor said.”
Clearly, Mayor Henry is just as bewildered as everyone else; but why won’t he – or his colleagues on the dais of power – demand hard answers from Mr. Chisholm?
According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Henry made a lukewarm demand for information – even setting a deadline of 30-days – something Mr. Chisholm dismissed out-of-hand – telling Mayor Henry he will get information whenever negotiations with “whoever the contractor is” are complete.
Wait? What happened to our friends at APM Construction Corporation who signed the contract back on September 25th?
See what I mean?
Adding to the confusion, Mr. Chisholm continues to “value engineer” the First Step Shelter Board’s eyeballs out – transferring internal and external construction costs and operational equipment needs to the volunteer fundraising group.
So much for the turn-key operation we were promised, eh?
So much for the transparency, eh?
In my view, it’s high time the Daytona Beach City Commission start asking the difficult questions of Mr. Chisholm, and anyone else associated with this shit-show, and determine when – or if – this proposed homeless assistance center we’ve put all our hopes into will come to fruition.
They are aware that he works for them, right?
Right. . .
Have a fun and safe Biketoberfest, kids!