We live in weird times.
Heaven knows that long-suffering Volusia County residents have seen our share of governmental dysfunction, divisiveness and good old-fashioned quid pro quo corruption – an orchestrated ruse where the use of public funds to underwrite the private, for-profit motives of political insiders has become accepted public policy.
No matter what, the “system” always finds a way to feed itself.
If we define democracy as a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through representation determined by free elections, then how do we explain this sinister scenario that is currently playing out in county and municipal governments throughout Volusia County where we are literally being driven like poleaxed sheep into a scheme that shackles every man, woman and child to a sales tax increase in an economy where many can barely afford to feed and house themselves?
Our demonstrably compromised ‘powers that be’ tell us that We, The People will be given the benefit of a vote – with the terms, means and statistical probabilities of the election analyzed and choreographed with secret surveys and backroom discussions by private interests who stand to benefit from the infusion of an estimated $45-million in annual revenues to local governments, ostensibly to fund transportation infrastructure, water utilities and, apparently, flood control measures.
In other words, under the current ploy – any project with a dubious nexus to a public street or roadway will be open game.
Don’t worry, we’re being told by those in the know (our Fun Coast Illuminati who seem to know everything except how to revitalize a region in distress) that a list of “critical infrastructure needs” will be cobbled together some time before the astronomically expensive mail-in election (?) this spring.
Do you remember the last time Volusia County held a special election by mail?
I don’t. But we’re getting one – because that’s what the smart boys say will give this shameless money grab the best chance of passage.
In other news, earlier this week, we learned that the beloved George Recktenwald will be anointed our “new” County Manager.
The formal Beatification and Celebration of Adoration is set to occur right after Mr. Recktenwald’s incredibly lucrative employment contract is hand-knitted by his friends and subordinates in the County Attorney’s office.
Perhaps I’ve been too tough on ol’ George – after all, I’ve never met anyone who said a bad word about him – and by all accounts he’s an experienced hand who is extremely well-liked by his subordinates, our illustrious elected officials and their bosses over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance.
That’s all that really matters, right?
Besides, a civically engaged friend of mine recently surmised that unless we all support George’s appointment – God knows what kind of underhanded shitheel our “Rich & Powerful” overseers might select for us.
You know, the “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” school of talent acquisition.
Now that the deal is done – who am I to be the lone naysayer?
So, I’m officially climbing aboard the “Georgie Go-Round” like the hapless rube I am!
Weeeeeee! Round-and-round-and-round we go!
All Hail King George!
Come on everybody, join in! “For he’s a jolly good fell. . .”
Just don’t expect anything in Volusia County government to fundamentally change – and to hell with affixing accountability for the sins of the past.
No time for that now.
In policing, we had a time-honored tradition prior to a change of command when a full audit was conducted of all sensitive operational areas of the department – to include a complete inventory of the evidence and property function.
That way, the incoming chief could assume the massive responsibility that comes with overseeing the operations and administration of a law enforcement agency, confident that all areas of concern had been examined and any issues addressed in a transparent way.
It gave a clear demarcation between what came before – and what comes next.
Most important, the process assured the incoming boss that he was assuming command of a tight ship – and the outgoing chief enjoyed peace-of-mind knowing he wouldn’t be held responsible for things that occurred after his watch ended.
It is a classic means of assigning accountability, assuring continuity and protecting the public trust.
To hell with all that “accountability/responsibility” dribble, Barker. We’ve got a really nice guy who everyone likes now. . .so, sit down, shut up, and enjoy the ride.
Weird times, indeed.
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: Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington
I published a version of this earlier in the week, but it bears repeating in this forum.
Last weekend I read something in that driveway litter known as the Ormond Beach Observer – a local rag still tainted by the stench of political partisanship following their obvious bias for incumbent candidates in the 2018 Ormond Beach City Commission races – something that shocked even my beat-up and calloused conscience:
“At the start of the city’s 2019 Arbor Day tree planting ceremony, Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington asked a group of Ormond Beach Elementary second-graders if they had ever read a book under a tree.
Some piped up with enthusiastic yeses, while others shook their heads.
“If not, you should try that,” Partington said. “Trees are so important, and the city puts a lot of importance on trees.”
Come on, Mr. Mayor – you might be able to convince a few apple-cheeked seven-year-olds that Ormond Beach gives a rat’s ass about trees, or the conservation and sustainability goals of the Arbor Day tradition – but the rest of us know better.
What the City of Ormond Beach actually cares about is meeting every need, want and whim of speculative developers as evidenced by the 2018 environmental massacre on Granada Boulevard where some 2,061 old growth trees – including specimen hardwoods and majestic oaks – were wantonly eradicated to make way for another WaWa.
Apparently not satisfied with the extraordinary lengths his chattel on the dais of power went to accommodate the intrusive Granada Pointe project, commercial developer Paul Holub recently returned to the Ormond Beach Planning Board for yet another bite at the apple.
On January 10, Mr. Holub asked for an amendment to the Planned Business Development that was approved last year by the City Commission that would allow him to shoehorn a car wash into the expanding commercial space that will ultimately include a grocery store and now at least one additional business.
In addition to subjecting area residents living south of Granada Pointe to the jet-like scream of an automated car wash as a complement to the roar of delivery trucks and amplified drive-thru speakers – Holub also asked for a modification that would allow for the destruction of a 43-inch historic live oak tree on the north side of Granada Boulevard.
Jesus. When is enough, enough?
Maybe Mayor Partington and his fellow rubber stamps should curl up under the shade of a mighty oak and read that part of the community’s future land use goals that requires, “The density and intensity of future land uses and any proposed development activity shall be coordinated with the natural conditions of the area, including topography, drainage, and soil conditions in order to maintain and protect vital natural functions and environmentally sensitive areas.”
To their credit, the majority of the Planning Board members rejected Holub’s requests and found that a car wash does not comport with the community’s Comprehensive Plan.
The Planning Board’s recommendation will now be sent to the Ormond Beach City Commission for first reading and a public hearing.
Anyone care to wager a Donnie’s Donut how that’s going to go. . .?
In my view, if the Ormond Beach City Commission goes against the recommendation of their planning board and city planner to grant Mr. Holub’s amendments – in my mind, that will serve as prima facie evidence of just how compromised that body truly is – and should rightly result in the elimination of the city’s planning function altogether.
After all, if our elected officials on the dais of power demonstrate their lock-step conformity to the commands of their handlers by ignoring the recommendations of their advisory committee – the board will be revealed as little more than a cheap farce – and Ormond Beach residents will finally have proof that their government has been sold to the highest bidder.
Asshole: Deltona City Commission
In addition to my annoyingly redundant verbosity, I have a bad habit of belaboring the obvious.
But the City of Deltona is in trouble.
Every level of government – from our federal quagmire in Washington to Tiny Towns everywhere – experience periodic crises, or suffer the deleterious effects of poor leadership and ethical dilemmas, but Deltona takes dysfunction to a new depth – and I fear if something doesn’t change, and soon, it may take decades and millions of the people’s money to recover.
Suffice it to say that, like most long-term problems, there are various reasons how and why a community comes to these dark places – but, in my view, most evident is the fact Volusia County’s second largest city has been a rudderless ship for a longtime, drifting from one ugly mess to another, doing the same thing over-and-over while expecting a different result.
Clearly, the trials and tribulations of besieged City Manager Jane Shang have played a very big role in creating the divisive atmosphere that pits citizens against their civil servants and elected officials – an Us vs. Them mentality that Ms. Shang seems to embrace as public policy.
And it seems to be working for her. . .
Don’t take my word for it – attend any meeting of the Deltona City Commission.
Study the way elected officials interact with their constituents, listen to the calliope music, smell the fresh popcorn and peanuts, the musty odor of hay and earthy scent of elephant dung, listen to the flapping of the Big Top’s canvass then you tell me if this bears any resemblance to a functioning municipal government. . .
While the names and faces may be different, in my view, one common thread between Deltona’s troubles and many other similarly dysfunctional governments is the near-constant erosion of the public’s trust by elected officials with horribly misplaced loyalties to bureaucrats and the apparatus – rather than the citizens they serve.
Even the limited anecdotal evidence released by The Daytona Beach News-Journal tends to indicate that Shameless Shang violated state elections law when she listed the address of Deltona City Hall on voter registration forms – then voted outside her residential district.
If proven true, that’s a serious crime.
In my view, there is even greater evidence that Ms. Shang has been an incredibly distracting and divisive figure in the life of this beleaguered community, and I suspect her longevity in the most powerful role in municipal government has more to do with the strength of her employment contract – and less to do with the strength of her character.
When it came down to it Tuesday evening, once again, the majority of the Deltona City Commission inexplicably put the personal interests of Jane Shang ahead of their constituents in an embarrassing 5-2 vote to retain her as ringmaster of this Circus Diabolique.
In my view, it is time for Jane Shang to go – and for Deltona’s elected officials to do the job they were elected for – then begin the important process of returning stability and confidence to the people’s government.
Angel: Governor Ron DeSantis
Kudos to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on his courageous attempt to remove Rick Scott’s rubbish from the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board and make way for public servants that actually give two-shits about preserving our states imperiled water supply and natural places.
In November, just two days after the hotly contested gubernatorial election, Scott appointees on the SFWMD board stunned anyone with a working conscience when they voted to approve a last-minute agreement which allows Big Sugar to continue leasing land set for an Everglades restoration reservoir – a back-handed scheme that stunned environmentalist and rightfully pissed-off Ron DeSantis.
According to reports, “The decision came after the lease was added to the board agenda about 9 p.m. Nov. 7, 12 hours before the meeting began at 9:30 a.m. the next day.”
Did I mention that the board took this pernicious action even after being asked by the governor’s plenipotentiary – U.S. Representative Brian Mast – to postpone the vote?
Because they did. . .
Then – to show just how much the SFWMD board members appreciate public input in water quality and public health issues – after the vote, the district (a state regulatory agency) intentionally blocked incoming emails from constituents and organizations working to restore and preserve the Everglades.
In my view, these tactics are eerily similar to what we have experienced with Rick Scott’s patented Fox in the Hen House strategy of allowing industry insiders to tailor environmental regulations to meet the needs of developers in our own St. John’s River Water Management District.
Earlier this month, on just his third day on the job, Governor DeSantis rightfully sent letters to all SFWMD board members demanding their immediate resignation.
In a statement subsequent to the governor’s call, Congressman Mast said, “For far too long the South Florida Water Management District has been more accountable to special interests than to the people of Florida. That changes today, and I look forward to continuing to work with Gov. DeSantis to find replacements who make our waterways and environment the number one priority.”
Since taking office, Governor DeSantis has pulled back the appointments of some 84 cronies, insiders and hangers-on that Slick Rick Scott rammed through literally in his waning hours in office – which, in my view, represents Scott’s last ‘fuck you’ to the citizens of Florida – and a disrespectful slap in the face to our new governor.
Trust me. Senator Rick Scott will make the perfect addition to that festering slit trench in Washington. . .
In my view, Governor DeSantis’ bold move to preserve our sensitive environment and reinstate the concept of service in the public interest – not just populating boards and advisory committees with political pals and big money donors – represents the kind of substantive change that is long overdue.
I don’t know about you, but I call that strong, ethical leadership – something this godforsaken state has needed for a decade.
Well done, Governor DeSantis.
Angel: Dr. Rebecca Walker Steele
Barker’s View is sad to learn of the passing of Bethune-Cookman University icon Dr. Rebecca Walker Steele, who’s service to the university, and the performing arts community, is legendary.
Dr. Steele came to B-CU in 1976 after a 29-year career at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University – serving as professor, academic dean, and, most famously, as director of the incomparable Concert Chorale.
“Bethune-Cookman University’s reputation was enhanced by the presence and work of Dr. Rebecca Walker Steele,” said, Hubert L. Grimes, Interim President. “Countless young adults are making meaningful contributions to their communities all across the nation and the world because of the sacrifices she made to help them earn degrees from our university.”
In addition, Dr. Steele will be remembered for raising millions of dollars to fund scholarships for deserving students who performed in her choirs.
Barker’s View joins in mourning her passing at ninety-three.
In a fitting remembrance of her incalculable contributions to the life of the university, most appropriately, Dr. Steele’s funeral service was held in the beautiful Mary McLeod Bethune Performing Arts Center on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University last Saturday.
May she rest in everlasting peace.
Quote of the Week:
“When asked if 24 vacancies in Volusia Schools seemed low, teacher’s union President Elizabeth Albert replied “absolutely.” At a meeting of union members from just six schools, she said, they could think of 17 teacher vacancies between them. In an informal check by the teacher’s union, teachers from 17 schools replied to Albert via email to count a combined 42 vacancies.”
–The Daytona Beach News-Journal Reporter Cassidy Alexander writing in “Volusia School District unclear on scope of teacher shortage, but feels effects,” January 20, 2019
Look, I hate to be a hypercritical shit (that’s a lie – I live for it) but, in my view, Ms. Cassidy’s excellent reporting should be a wake-up call to everyone who throws their hard-earned tax dollars into the gaping maw of the Volusia County School District.
In addition to the frequent gaffs, missteps, howlers and gross mismanagement that has left Volusia County school children victims of a malignant mediocrity they cannot escape – now we learn that administrators can’t even tell us the current number of instructional vacancies – even as the district hemorrhaged some 719 teachers in the 2017-18 school year alone.
I get it. Superintendent Tom Russell isn’t going anywhere.
Like most appointed executives in government offices, once you claw your way to the top of the heap and hang on with your bloody fingernails – it takes an act of God to get rid of you – even if you come off in the newspaper like an out-of-touch simp with the situational awareness of a cave olm (I know, I did it for years. . .)
But, just maybe, our “new” school board might take a break from limiting public input at public meetings and in some pique of feigned interest ask Dr. Russell for a closer analysis of the root cause of this revolving door?
Especially in an era when attracting and retaining qualified teachers is increasingly difficult, more so for struggling districts like ours with a shit reputation for teacher pay, benefits, leadership – and respect.
And Another Thing!
During the non-debate that was the super-slick process used by our elected officials on the dais of power in DeLand to ramrod our next County Manager through without even considering outside talent – the lone voice of honest concern came from freshman Councilwoman Barbara Girtman.
I was impressed by that.
During the typical “shoot it through the grease” wham-bam that was clearly orchestrated by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, Ms. Girtman thoughtfully stated that she saw value in looking at our county government “through a fresh set of eyes and new opportunities.”
Perhaps more important, Ms. Girtman seemed genuinely concerned about the prospect of hiring veteran county employee George Recktenwald without any means of properly evaluating the new manager’s performance – or even holding him accountable for council goals, strategies and objectives.
(Oh, sorry, they don’t have any – so I guess it doesn’t matter much anyway. . .)
Even District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post, who was initially an advocate for a national search, ultimately voted in lockstep to approve Mr. Recktenwald without even a passing glance at other candidates, simply because he speaks to her.
Which, given the political Kasepekang Ms. Post has been subjected to since taking office, a simple acknowledgement of her physical existence by the interim chief executive must have been exhilarating for the first-term Councilwoman.
(Well played, sir. . .)
Regardless, I thought Councilwoman Girtman showed true leadership in at least considering a fresh course for her long-suffering constituents – and for our beleaguered county government –that has suffered mightily under the abject arrogance of what has passed for political “leadership” for years – and the greed of political insiders who have clearly worked overtime to protect the status quo.
Good luck, Mr. Recktenwald. For the sake of our future, I sincerely hope you prove me wrong.
That’s all for me – have a great weekend, kids!