Wow! It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go!
It’s that time of the year when we can put our differences aside, be thankful for the many blessings in our lives, put joy in our hearts and try to forget one of the most divisive political seasons in recent memory – a contentious period that pitted neighbor-against-neighbor – with one of the largest voter turnouts for a midterm election on record.
Now that the interminable recounts are complete, and the carcasses have been cleared from the political fast lane, we will begin to see some of our wide-eyed “leaders” who successfully stood for public office begin the metamorphosis from citizen-servant to preening politician.
This isn’t universally true, of course.
I know some wonderful people who currently hold various elective offices throughout Volusia County and beyond – people I trust – true servant-leaders who work hard to represent their constituents with honor and an unwavering commitment to service above self.
Unfortunately, for many newly elected officials, the swearing-in ceremony marks the first step in becoming everything they hated.
After raising their hand and taking the sacred oath of office, the “system” begins the well-honed process of separating those we have elected to represent our best interests from those they are sworn to serve – painting constituents as an impediment, rather than partners – and conspiring to make our “commissioners” and “council members” increasingly reliant on appointed officials, well-heeled insiders and entrenched bureaucrats for information and acceptance.
The trappings of office – the power, status and perceived social standing – complete the self-aggrandizement and help confirm their outsized sense of superiority and infallibility. Even before they realize it, the casual double-standard set for their political benefactors dissolves into gross hypocrisy.
This transformation is most evident in career politicians who glide into positions of increasing control based solely upon their demonstrated ability to serve the self-interests of their uber-wealthy masters.
Trust me. Intelligence, vision and character don’t mean shit to those seeking a cheap means to a profitable end.
A prime example is our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – arguably one of the most painfully dull and blatantly compromised elected officials in a region rife with the breed – who routinely ignores the very real needs of his long-suffering constituents while flagrantly shilling for his ‘friends’ in the real estate development community.
He’s not alone.
For example, I recently came across an interesting letter from the Ormond Beach City Commission (speaking of compromised shitheels. . .) dated February 2, 2016, that told me all I needed to know about why speculative developers spent hundreds-of-thousands of dollars to ensure the return of incumbent politicians in Ormond Beach, Volusia County and elsewhere.
The correspondence was signed by then Mayor Kelley, and addressed to former County Manager Jim Dinneen, recommending that Volusia County eliminate its wetlands regulations like Ormond Beach did in 2010.
You read that right.
“In keeping with the County’s and the Cities efforts toward economic development and reduced regulation, we would urge the County Council to step away from additional and onerous regulations of wetlands that may inhibit future economic development of the region and let the Saint John’s regulations govern wetland impact for consistency throughout the region.”
All the “code words” are there – along with the abject arrogance that shines brightest when the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker become convinced they know what’s best for the rest of us.
Apparently, Old Ed forgot that the Chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District, Long John Miklos, has been widely exposed as a cheap huckster who, in the opinion of many, makes his living lobbying for paying customers in front of the very regulatory agency he oversees.
How dumb do they think we are?
The fact is, Ed Kelley doesn’t know squat about the vital importance of Florida’s endangered wetlands and aquifer recharge areas to the overall health of our sensitive ecology, wildlife habitat and, ultimately, our own drinking water.
But that batty old coot and his greedy ilk can tell you everything you need to know about what it takes to get perennially elected to high office in this self-perpetuating oligarchy.
They’ve got that down to a science.
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: Daytona Beach Police Officer Kevin Hird
While responding to a call for service last Sunday evening, Daytona Beach Police Officer Kevin Hird was shot by a violent career criminal – aptly described by Chief Craig Capri as a “typical street maggot” – armed with an AK-47.
Although seriously wounded, thanks to his incredible courage and training, Officer Hird was able to place a radio call alerting other officers.
After exchanging gunfire with responding officers, ultimately, the piece of human excrement, later identified as Raymond Roberts, was tracked down and taken into custody.
Now, Officer Hird is recovering after two surgeries and has bravely vowed to overcome his physical injuries and return to duty once he is able.
According to Mike Scudiero of the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association, “In the meantime, this rising star within the agency will be placed on light duty, which means he will be unable to work outside details or voluntary overtime, which are things often important in the life of an officer. To that end, the Coastal Florida PBA is helping raise funds for Officer Hird to help offset the lost wages. His recovery is expected to take several months.”
In this season of giving, I can think of no greater way to honor the outstanding service and sacrifice of this brave law enforcement officer who put it all on the line to protect your family and mine.
A fundraising effort has been established to help Officer Hird and his family during what will be a long recovery.
Please find more information on how you can help here: https://tinyurl.com/y7yjd5ew
In addition, on Thursday, December 6th, Planet Smoothie, 2525 West International Speedway Boulevard, will donate 20% of all sales – and 100% of all raffle tickets sold – to Officer Hird and his family!
God Bless you, Officer Hird. You are a Barker’s View Archangel and a fierce warrior in the fight for right and good.
You acted in the finest traditions of the police service, stayed in the fight, and did your very best to provide for the safety and security of Daytona Beach residents.
Thank you for your remarkable courage under fire.
Asshole: Volusia County School District
I like words.
The great American author Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
It’s part of what I enjoy about writing.
I’m clearly not a “good” writer – but I write a lot – over 265,000 words this year alone – and nothing brings me more joy than discovering just the right descriptor or colorful phrase that brings depth and clarity to the point I’m struggling to make.
Whenever I read details of the latest five-alarm fuck-up at Volusia County Schools – one word continues to shine through: Asinine.
The Oxford English Dictionary claims the adjective originates from the Late 15th century: from the Latin asininus – or ‘ass’ – defined as something ‘extremely stupid or foolish.’
The word is apropos because invariably the manqué Superintendent Tom Russell and his goofy “Cabinet” seem to gravitate to the most imbecilic non-solution possible when reacting to the very real problems facing our seriously flawed educational system.
Our elected officials (at least on the previous Volusia County School Board) recognize the pervasive nature of the problem, yet they seem physically incapable of doing anything about it?
For instance, the Volusia County School District is an independent taxing authority with the responsibility and political accountability for managing public funds, organizing assets, preparing a budget and levying assessments to meet the needs of thousands of students, teachers and staff.
With a current budget approaching $900 million – the largest of any government entity in Volusia County – I find it incredulous that our elected officials on the School Board seem physically incapable of identifying curriculum modifications as part of a comprehensive strategic plan to provide a quality educational experience and set achievable goals for our precious children while paying our hard-working teachers a living wage?
Instead, the District is mired in glaring incompetence at the highest levels of the organization – anchored by pencil-pushers who speak in that weird patois known as “bureaucratese” that results in inane “Performance Targets” such as, “Academic improvement for all students by enhancing academic relevance and rigor, measured by an increase in the Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) targets.”
I have no idea what that means. But, more frightening – neither do the people who wrote it. . .
Now, with some three-quarters of Volusia County elementary schools languishing in hopeless mediocrity – rather than listen to the concerns of teachers who are actually in the classroom – District officials have opted to simply extend the student day by 30-minutes.
As one would expect, parents and stakeholders are beginning to question the necessity of this wholly disruptive measure – especially in the conspicuous absence of a larger strategy for turning around foundering schools.
In response to growing questions by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the district’s Executive Director of K-12 Curriculum Rachel Hazel said, “Change is inevitable, but pain is optional.”
There is another old axiom I’m quite fond of that says, “Change for change sake does not equal progress.”
It means that making nonsensical, but highly visible, modifications – like lengthening the school day by a few minutes – as a cheap smokescreen to convince constituents, “Hey, look, we’re doing something!” – simply creates animosity and erodes confidence by adversely impacting family routines, working hours and transportation methods while driving up costs with no demonstrable benefit beyond bringing .5-hour parity to teachers in elementary, middle and high schools.
In my view, elementary teacher Amy Dorton said it best in a recent News-Journal treatment of the daily routine of Superintendent Russell, “We’re putting out fires with water guns,” she said. “We have big problems.”
“Dorton cites the lack of textbooks available for elementary teachers and the district’s progress-monitoring tools as initiatives the district started “without having a plan to implement it properly.”
I mean, this administration can’t even successfully work a “plan” to replace and consolidate office printers. . .
How telling. How terribly sad.
Now, I’m hearing some very disturbing, but unconfirmed, reports of serious problems in the District’s maintenance and operations department. If that develops, you can rest assured I’ll have something to say about it. . .
In my view, it’s time Superintendent Russell admit that he doesn’t have a clue how to turn failing schools around – he’s clearly in over his head – and begin the process of receiving real-time advice and constructive criticism from active teachers and experienced staff on how best to fundamentally improve the core curriculum to better serve the educational needs of our children.
Asshole: Volusia County Council
I’ve said it before, but Volusia County needs a free-flow of our hard-earned cash like a parasitic insect needs the blood of its host – so, I’m not going to beat-around-the-bush: The abject greed of County government has reached epic proportions.
It’s just one reason why I wasn’t surprised to see the glaring front page headline in The Daytona Beach News-Journal last week announcing, “Beach driving revenue soars.”
When the Volusia County Council voted to double beach access fees, the increase resulted in a nearly 50% decline in the number of daily passes sold this year – while allowing county bureaucrats to haul in some $1 million more than last year – when over 200,000 more passes were sold overall.
Now, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys wants to charge out-of-county beachgoers (you know, ‘tourists’) even more for enjoying our century old heritage of beach driving – the only amenity that makes Volusia County beaches unique from any other coastal destination in the state (other than the open blight, dilapidation and omnipresent feeling of hopelessness that recently saw the Halifax area listed #1 on the “Most Ghetto City in Florida” list. . .)
Our elected and appointed officials in DeLand never seem to understand that it is immoral and unethical for a government ostensibly of the people, by the people, and for the people, to place undue additional financial burdens on taxpayers (and the visitors we spend handsomely to attract) with little or no increase in amenities beyond a few extra trash barrels.
(Riddle me this: Why is it whenever politicians are increasing revenue by raising access fees, visitors are derisively referred to as “non-residents” and “day trippers” – but when we are spending millions in public funds on the apparatus, personnel and goofy advertising campaigns to lure them here, they are affectionately called “tourists”?)
In my view, using financial leverage to price a day at a public beach out of the reach of many Central Florida families is simply wrong – and the adverse effect on our areas reputation will be long-term.
Especially when public funds seem to pass like shit through a dyspeptic goose directly into the hands of political insiders in the form of “economic development” incentives, tax breaks and other for-profit projects which use our hard-earned tax dollars to alleviate overhead.
Despite the fact that beachside businesses and neighborhoods are suffering the inevitable impacts of Volusia County’s failed beach policies – where ramps are arbitrarily closed, construction projects take precedence over public access, blighted areas are strategically ignored and there is seemingly no limit on stratospheric fee increases unless you are a member of a politically protected class – we continue to re-elect these same congenitally corrupt dullards with no strategic vision, no leadership and no qualms about raising taxes and fees on those who can least afford them.
Screw it. I guess, at the end of the day, we truly do get the government we deserve.
Quote of the Week:
“It was as if commission incumbents were offended simply to have competition. Campaign advertising from the pro-growth side was mean-spirited to a fault. When the election was over and pro-growth commission candidates won, there seemed an unnecessary effort to rub it in.”
–Pat Rice, editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, highlighting the animus surrounding the recent Ormond Beach City Commission race in, “The steps toward a half-cent infrastructure tax,” Sunday, November 25, 2018
Let this cogent snippet of Pat Rice’s beautiful prose stand as the final epitaph on the death of political civility, unity and civic cohesiveness in Ormond Beach. . .
And Another Thing!
Guilty as charged. I’m an unabashed member of that weird tribe known as Cave People – Citizens Against Virtually Everything.
Admittedly, I routinely poo-poo government initiatives that seek to perpetuate the status quo in a region that seems intractably mired in an oscillating cycle of unbridled growth followed by paralytic stagnation.
The one step forward, two-steps back syndrome where we seem all too willing to give up our natural places and foul our own environmental nest simply for another horrific “theme” subdivision or ghastly strip center.
My reluctance to believe most anything a politician says comes from a Pavlovian conditioning resulting from repeated exposure to the machinations of government in Volusia County – a slow erosion of trust and the expectation that those who stand at the nexus of public funds and private interests will side with those who can pay-to-play every time.
Fortunately, there are bright spots.
It’s no secret that Holly Hill – “The City with a Heart” – holds a very special place in mine.
Last week, we learned of a plan to develop a state-of-the-art Pickleball center at beautiful Hollyland Park in Holly Hill. Given the fact that the sport of pickleball – a sort of hybrid between tennis and paddle ball – is the fastest growing sport in the United States, this facility has the potential to become a huge draw for the Halifax area.
This unique project also represents one of the first new public recreation and sports facilities in recent memory.
According to the plan, Rainer and Julie Martens of Ormond Beach have donated some $3 million for construction of what’s being hailed the “Wimbledon of Pickleball,” with the city of Holly Hill providing $1 million to see the vision become reality.
In exchange, the citizens of Holly Hill will receive a return on their investment in the form of a new Senior Activity Center offering health, fitness and social activities, a player’s café serving refreshments, along with a clubhouse and retail center.
I’ve often said that no municipality routinely does more with less than Holly Hill.
That sense of community pride is evident in the many historic city facilities which have been thoughtfully cared for and curated – not knocked down so massively expensive Taj Mahal government buildings can be erected in their place. This common sense practice has allowed the community to retain such beautiful architecture and maintain a true connection with our past.
Now, I’m proud to see community leaders doing something innovative for the future of this very special place.
Kudos to the officials and citizens of Holly Hill for bringing this exciting new amenity to the Halifax area!
I hope you’ll join me tonight beginning at 6:00pm on the front steps of Holly Hill City Hall, 1065 Ridgewood Avenue, for the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony!
It’s a true slice of Americana and a great way to kick off this most joyous season, and I have it on good authority that Santa Claus will make his grand appearance!
Then, on Saturday morning, the 59th Annual Holly Hill Christmas Parade will roll along the traditional Ridgewood Avenue route beginning at 10:00am!
More information on both of these great events is available at www.hollyhillfl.org
That’s all for me! Have a great weekend!