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:
Asshole: Deltona City Manager Jane Shang
Last year, Deltona City Manager Jane Shang engaged in a pernicious campaign to suppress political dissent and silence opponents of her administration by using the full might of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office to bring felony charges against two Deltona residents who were critical of her insular style and gross mismanagement of Volusia’s second largest municipality.
In my view, her actions were cold, calculating and shocked the conscience of Deltona residents.
But it wasn’t the first time a senior bureaucrat in a local City Hall transmogrified from civil servant to tinpot dictator – considering themselves above the law – and doing whatever they damn well please.
Having spent most of my adult life in public service, I understand that government of the people, by the people and for the people will always have one weak link – people.
None of us are perfect, and so long as fallible human beings are part of the process, mistakes will be made.
So long as those are honest errors – I believe most people will forgive what they can see themselves doing – and readily accept a sincere apology and thoughtful strategy for making things right again.
But what Ms. Shang did in purposely manipulating the criminal justice system to bring dubious criminal charges against two civically active citizens – with the full acquiescence of the previous City Commission – was wrong.
Now, it appears Ms. Shang may be getting a taste of just how it feels to face the devastating prospect of defending oneself against serious felony charges.
In December, the Volusia County Supervisor of Elections did the right thing and sent allegations that Ms. Shang used Deltona City Hall as her residential address on voter registration forms in a possible violation of Florida law to the State Attorney’s Office for review.
Now, the Department of State has advised State Attorney R. J. Larizza that Ms. Shang did in fact use City Hall as her address from 2015 until December 2018 – and, perhaps more egregious, “Ms. Shang voted in the primary and general elections in the 2016 and 2018 cycles using the City Hall address.”
Damn. That’s serious.
Florida statutes specifically prohibit persons from submitting false voter registration information – or casting a ballot in any election where they are not a qualified elector. Anyone who willingly violates these laws is guilty of a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison or five years’ probation and a $5,000 fine.
During the Deltona commission’s December 17 meeting, Mayor Heidi Herzberg brought these serious charges forward for open discussion. At that time, Shang characterized the matter as a mistake – claiming she did not willfully violate state elections laws.
Rightfully, in order to preserve the public trust – and in keeping with the seriousness of the potential charges facing Ms. Shang – Commissioner Anita Bradford made a motion to suspend Shang pending the outcome of the State Attorney’s investigation.
In typical fashion, the commission voted 5-2 against suspending Ms. Shang from the most powerful position in city government, I suppose preferring to allow this hyper-dramatic shit show to continue to create a distraction from the serious business of municipal administration.
Now, according to reports, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting an active criminal investigation.
Since Shameless Shang doesn’t have the common decency to stepdown and protect her constituents, subordinates and community from further embarrassment, in my view, there is now clear and just cause for the Deltona City Commission to formally suspend Ms. Shang from office and demonstrate that the sanctity of governmental processes, fair elections and the administration of the people’s business is more important than preserving the status quo at City Hall.
Earlier this week, our own “Volusia County Royalty” – the Forbes-listed France family – used a ham-handed press release to callously announce deep layoffs across every operational and administrative division of NASCAR – including the company’s Daytona Beach headquarters.
In a sure sign that the once powerful motorsports dynasty may well be a sinking ship, a corporate mouthpiece wrote:
“As all good businesses do, NASCAR is committed to strengthening its operation to ensure that resources are aligned to strategies that grow the sport and drive our business. We have a talented team at NASCAR and we’re confident that greater focus on the opportunities to drive fan interest and strong industry partnerships will help our sport achieve long-term growth.”
Look, NASCAR and its various subsidiaries are businesses – and sometimes difficult personnel and financial decisions are required to ensure profitability and protect the future viability of the enterprise.
I get it.
However, I am also sensitive to the fact that each of these cuts represents real people – families who no longer have the financial security of a paycheck, health insurance and other critical benefits – the loss of which represents a devastating prospect that not only affects NASCAR employees – but weighs heavy on the economies of the communities in which they live.
I don’t know who the heartless dipshit is who handles external communications for NASCAR, but perhaps the France’s should have at least mentioned the human aspect in their release, rather than focusing on their own self-interests. . .
During my professional life, I had the unfortunate experience of being caught up in a misguided effort to drastically chop the workforce at the City of Holly Hill – an action that was initiated by a former city manager who, in my view, was not only wrongheaded and grossly incompetent – but may well have been intentionally sabotaging the government’s operational effectiveness by creating a series of faux-emergencies purely for political insulation and job security.
In my experience, this person was the most callous, hurtful and personally unstable individual I ever had the misfortune of working for (and I worked for some real winners) and it would ultimately take the municipal government a decade to fully recover from the damage wrought.
During the painful and unfortunate process of separating loyal, long-term employees, my fellow department heads and I demanded that those affected by the cuts be offered re-training, job placement services and professional career counseling to mitigate the life-altering impacts of what was maliciously dubbed by that power-mad shitheel, “right sizing.”
These professional services didn’t make it any easier – but it provided hope – and much-needed assistance that helped many make the confusing transition to what came next in their lives.
According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, NASCAR employees touched by the layoffs apparently weren’t afforded that same courtesy.
“We’ve received no notice, we’ve heard nothing,” said Robin King, CEO of CareerSource Flagler Volusia, the regional workforce development agency that typically gets involved in assisting workers who are about to be laid off or are unemployed.
Tragic. And, in my view, a disturbing insight into the organizational culture of NASCAR.
On November 8, NASCAR confirmed reports that it is bidding to acquire the remaining outstanding shares of International Speedway Corporation that the France family didn’t already own with plans to merge NASCAR and ISC into a single privately held company. . .
Asshole: Bethune-Cookman University Board of Trustees
As with the NASCAR bloodletting, sometimes businesses and organizations find themselves fighting for their very survival – and the ability to make difficult decisions with care and compassion for the lives affected speaks volumes.
Today, many loyal employees of Bethune-Cookman University will be jobless or facing draconian salary cuts as the school fights for its very life in a quagmire of greed, graft, fraud and gross mismanagement.
In my view, there is ample blame to go around – starting with former President Edison O. Jackson and his cabal of journeyman thieves – and current and former board members who clearly abdicated their fiduciary responsibility, blocked intervention efforts, put their own needs and reputations above those of the university and allowed this once proud institution to drown in debt, suspicion and hopelessness.
My simple hope is that ultimately B-CU students, faculty and staff collectively sue the eyeballs out of any board member who served during Jackson’s dismal tenure – or stood idle as he and others shackled the university with a fraudulent dormitory deal that stunk like a rotten mackerel in the moonlight from its inception.
At the risk of repeating the obvious – why did ostensibly smart people like former board member Dr. Kent Sharples of the CEO Business Alliance (who is currently working overtime to shove a sales tax initiative down the throat of every man, woman and child in Volusia County) or Halifax Health’s Joe Petrock – refuse to sound the klaxon and throw the brakes on this sketchy shit before the hemorrhaging became too profuse to staunch?
Would Dr. Sharples, Mr. Petrock, or anyone else with two synapses still firing allow their own organization to enter into a deal with the potential to result in hundreds-of-millions in catastrophic liability without due diligence?
Or at least a cursory look into the background and past performance of the principles?
Now, neither interim President Hubert Grimes – or board of trustee chair Michelle Carter-Scott – had the courage to stand up, demonstrate strong leadership, and take personal responsibility for the layoffs and drastic belt-tightening measures that will be necessary to save the university.
In a letter to B-CU stakeholders, Grimes said he made the cuts at the direction of the board.
Then, Carter-Scott said that the board “. . .asked Grimes to reduce expenses but did not tell him specifically how to make the cuts.”
It appears the board and the administration are still attempting to avoid being the bad guy – pointing fingers even as the university crumbles.
How terribly sad.
Angel: City of Holly Hill
Kudos to the City of Holly Hill for taking the best interests of their residents to heart in working hard to bring innovative sports and recreation opportunities to the community.
Recently, we learned of a bold plan to develop a state-of-the-art Pickleball complex – a very popular hybrid of tennis and paddleball – complete with a pro shop, skyboxes and a restaurant overlooking the proposed 24 courts in beautiful Hollyland Park.
This multi-million-dollar facility is projected to bring hundreds of players and spectators to the Halifax area annually.
Now, city officials have begun construction of an outdoor fitness court at the popular Sunrise Park on scenic Riverside Drive. The new facility will host some 30 exercise stations allowing visitors to complete a full-body workout in as little as seven minutes.
According to reports, the project will cost about $135,000, nearly half of which will be paid for from grant funding.
Angel: Volusia resident Scott Markham
Sometimes a solitary voice of dissent can echo loudly – stirring others who are “mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore” to action in defense of their community and quality of life.
That was the case on Tuesday when Samsula resident Scott Markham took a courageous lone stand outside that Theater of the Absurd that was the “2019 State of the County Address” to protest the proposed half-cent sales tax increase.
While our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, droned on about how great we have it before an assembly of everyone who is anyone in Volusia County politics – rubbing shoulders with the insiders and “corporate partners” who ultimately control the campaign purse strings and decide for the rest of us who will serve in powerful elective offices countywide – Mr. Markham stood proudly outside the languishing Ocean Center holding a sign urging his fellow taxpayers to vote “NO” on the pending money grab.
As Old Ed fawned and cooed over disgraced former County Manager Jim Dinneen – who just last summer fled the Thomas C. Kelly Administration building with a sack full of severance cash following a series of gaffs, howlers, administrative oversights, “filtering” critical information to decision-makers, lapses of judgement, backroom maneuverings and good old-fashioned mismanagement of critical services that would have embarrassed our elected officials if they still possessed the human emotion of shame – Scott Markham let our ‘powers that be’ know that there is some shit we won’t eat.
I admire that – and more important – I hope his bravery in the presence of the powerful stimulates others to action as we work collectively to expose this shim-sham of a tax increase for what it is.
In my view, it is time citizens across Volusia County put the onus of improving our overstressed transportation and utilities infrastructure on those who have profited mightily from the unchecked sprawl that has brought us to this dismal place in our history.
Quote of the Week:
“Volusia County’s idea of increasing sales tax to pay for roads for the new developments is criminal. We have already paid enough, not only in terms of money but also in terms of quality of life, for the cookie-cutter sprawl developments being built along Interstate 95. Clogged traffic, loss of our precious forests and wetlands, and now we’re supposed to pay more taxes, too?”
–Jenny Nazak, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “Tax plan criminal,” Wednesday, January 16, 2019
And Another Thing!
This week our High Panjandrums of Political Power joined together in the fetid wasteland that has become our core tourist area for the ridiculous pageantry of the annual State of the County Address.
I didn’t attend the soiree (when the date was originally announced, I realized, “Damn. I wash my beard on Tuesdays! I can’t possibly go. . .darn the luck.”) but I did watch in slack-jawed amazement all that I could stomach of the videotaped coverage on WNDB’s website at www.newsdaytonabeach.com
As the tableau of pomposity played out before the unblinking lens of the camera – I was reminded in the most stark and disturbing way of everything wrong with this bastardized Oligarchy that passes for governance on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.
I watched as County Chair Ed Kelley, and our other elected and appointed officials, gathered in their finery, working the room like gadabouts while shoveling food in their mouths that was paid for by for-profit corporate entities – many of which regularly come before those very officials seeking lucrative government contracts and “economic incentive” packages paid for with millions of our hard-earned tax dollars – and I was stuck by just how horribly compromised and completely out-of-touch these assholes really are.
I watched as men and woman who form the backbone of our artificial service-based economy moved about the room, attentively serving the food and bussing the linen covered tables where politicians gathered for this yearly nonsensical waste of time.
It was difficult to watch.
After Old Ed systematically (and in no logical order) recognized the various political hacks and has-beens in attendance, the camera stoically captured a series of telling vignettes – such as disgraced former County Manager Jim Dinneen standing over Chairman Kelley, literally slapping the addled old fool on the back – while the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys schmoozed with billionaire insurance magnate and consummate political insider, J. Hyatt Brown.
All the while, Ed kept spooning that “free” food down his waddling gullet like a gluttonous fiend.
(There’s a metaphor there, I think. . .)
I watched – nauseated – as J. Hyatt ambled over to the head table and Chairman Kelley dutifully rose to his feet in obsequious deference and all but symbolically kissed the ring of the man who made him King of the Damned.
What I couldn’t bring myself to watch was Old Ed’s actual speech.
I didn’t have to.
I’d seen all I could stand of the state of Volusia County in 2019.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, kids.