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 Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly
I can’t imagine a more difficult, or more important, role in any public protection organization charged with administering and securing a correctional facility than providing quality health care to inmates.
Imagine the immense responsibility of providing essential medical services to incarcerated persons – many with preexisting medical conditions, communicable diseases, addictions, infections, mental and physical infirmities – within the confines and security restrictions of a correctional facility.
But that is the moral imperative that jurisdictions accept when carrying out their societal and public safety mandate to incarcerate, rehabilitate and reintegrate convicted criminal offenders.
After all, when a citizen is legally deprived of their freedom and ability to access medical care, their health and safety become a public responsibility.
Because our tax dollars directly fund the operations of jails and prison facilities, We, The People have a right to expect that inmates will be treated firmly but fairly, and held in a safe and secure environment where their basic needs, and human rights, are respected and protected in the most effective and cost-efficient manner possible.
Last week, Anthony Fennick, a 23-year old inmate of the Flagler County Jail, died under shadowy circumstances from an apparent acute medical condition that many believe may have been the result of negligence on the part of contract medical services provided by Armor Correctional Health Services and county corrections staff.
To his credit, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly, whose office has direct responsibility for the jail, responded to the tragedy immediately – contacting the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to request an outside criminal investigation of the circumstances surrounding Fennick’s death to supplement his agency’s own internal review.
In my view, Sheriff Staly’s response was ahead of the curve, appropriate and transparent – totally consistent with how a strong, ethical law enforcement executive should react under these difficult circumstances.
So far, FDLE has refused to accept Sheriff Staly’s request, citing the fact that Mr. Fennick’s death occurred at the hospital and not while he was in custody at the Flagler County Jail.
Given that the precipitating events clearly occurred during his incarceration, I find that excuse disingenuous.
No agency has more experience working at the nexus of politics and the law than FDLE, and they have maintained a very high-level of professional integrity by sorting the wheat from the chaff and refusing cases which are clearly political issues requiring a political solution.
This is different.
With the public trust and a grieving family hanging in the balance – the untimely death of a young man remanded by the judicial system to the care, custody and control of Flagler County deserves hard answers.
Unfortunately, Armor Correctional Health Services is already circling the wagons – refusing to place those staff members who provided medical services to Mr. Fennick on administrative leave while the matter is reviewed (unless Flagler County agrees to pay them during the suspension) – then denying wrongdoing before the cause of death has even been established.
According to reports, Armor no longer provides contract services for Volusia County after four wrongful death suits were filed against the Miami-based company alleging medical neglect in that facility.
In my view, that’s a warning sign that deserves state scrutiny.
While I have no doubt that Sheriff Staly’s experienced investigators are capable of conducting a fair and impartial collection of the facts – findings that will ultimately be vetted by the Office of the State Attorney – it is in keeping with accepted best practice to have serious internal issues (especially an in-custody death) impartially and dispassionately investigated by an independent outside authority.
Given Sheriff Staly’s impressive record of complete transparency in the conduct and administration of his office – and his proven respect for the highest standards and traditions of law enforcement – I sincerely hope FDLE will rethink their difficult decision in this matter and provide the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office with the assistance they so desperately need in this highly sensitive – and incredibly tragic – circumstance.
This evening, Mr. Fennick’s family and friends will gather to memorialize his young life.
Let’s hope the truth doesn’t go to the grave with him.
Asshole Ormond Beach City Commission
I’m not a “joiner.” Never have been.
I live by certain rules, and one of those follows the old Groucho Marx adage, ‘I would never join a club that would have me as a member. . .’
But it appears at least one social/civic club in Ormond Beach is having a great influence on Mayor Bill Partington – and his long-suffering constituents.
Just when you thought these brazen opportunists couldn’t sink any lower, the power-crazed megalomania running amok on the Ormond Beach City Commission may have finally reached bedrock as officials kick off a shim-sham campaign to increase term lengths and stagger elections.
The reason? “Stability.”
According to Mayor Partington, his cronies over at the all-male fraternity known as the Ormond Beach Rotary Club, a traditional sausage fest that (mysteriously) rarely accepts new members and refuses to admit women, recently asked Hizzoner how they can best protect the status quo.
I’m sorry, I had a sudden pang of conscience – that’s a lie.
According to published reports, what they actually asked Mr. Partington is why the city risks losing all existing institutional knowledge if the council were to be kicked to the curb, en masse, during a future election.
Oddly, we’re told this faux crisis has brought us so dangerously close to the precipice of total chaos that residents of Ormond Beach are going to be asked to vote on this slickly packaged non-issue in a few short months. . .
To the complete astonishment of everyone paying attention (including, I’m sure, the puppeteers over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance) – our elected chattel in Ormond Beach want to pin this turd to the recently called special election to decide, once and for all, the half-cent sales tax debacle – a mail-in ballot that will cost Volusia County taxpayers nearly a half-million dollars.
Trust me. The last thing the smart boys over at The Alliance want is their handiwork sullied by five power-hungry stooges in Ormond Beach muddying the waters with a controversial term limit issue on the same ballot containing their hard-fought tax levy.
Let’s call this barefaced power grab what it is.
After fighting a pitched battle in perhaps the most contentious election cycle in memory – meanspirited and wholly lopsided contests that exposed the depth of special interest control over the municipal government – now, these shameless quacks want to cement their grip on the reins of power and fortify their position with term extensions and staggered elections.
When you add the fact that Ormond Beach is one of just two municipalities that still refuse to require candidates to file qualifying and campaign finance reports electronically – requiring anyone interested in knowing which special interests are bankrolling a particular candidate to jump through hoops for this tell-tale public information – one comes to the inescapable conclusion incumbents and their handlers are working hard to stack the deck.
In my view, Mayor Partington’s explanation for this rushed ballot question is pure horseshit, and as a perennial politician, he should know better.
In many places, things happen in spite of the elected body, not because of them.
In others – like Ormond Beach – the civic process has become so compromised by outside influences (read: massive campaign contributions) that a large segment of the population no longer trusts local government to serve their interests.
Regardless, essential service delivery is provided by career civil servants under a strict system of command and control that is specifically insulated from petty political influence. The role of our elected officials is to act as policymakers and set a strategic vision for the future, allocate public funds, legislate ordinances and stay the hell out of the way.
I’m almost certain the City of Ormond Beach Charter specifically prohibits elected officials from meddling in the operations of government at all – so where’s the grave threat to continuity should the citizens decide to return honor and sanity to the dais of power?
The fate of Ormond Beach doesn’t hinge on the “institutional knowledge” of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker on the City Commission – in fact, many argue that a periodic purge of entrenched politicians to make way for fresh eyes and ideas has the same beneficial effects as a good laxative.
Just vote no. Twice.
Asshole Knights of the Round Table
Earlier this week, the political insulation committee formally known as the “Elected Officials Round Table” – a weird consortium of elected and appointed officials from Volusia County and the municipalities – met to get their stories together on how best to “re-educate” us bumpkins on the importance of increasing the sale tax to pay for their cowardly failure to raise transportation impact fees on their cronies and political benefactors in the real estate development community.
The problem is – this shameless cash grab has a lot of moving parts – and now they’ve painted themselves into a corner by setting a special election just three short months from now.
Tick-tock-tick-tock. . .
As time marches on, it becomes increasingly apparent that the “Knights of the Round Table” couldn’t organize a one-car parade – let alone put together a convincing argument why we should self-inflict a tax increase in one of the already highest taxed counties in the State of Florida.
By any measure, the requisite selling point for the tax hike begins and ends with a prioritized list of transportation and utilities improvement projects to be funded with the estimated $42 million in annual revenue that our elected officials are salivating over.
After all, people have a right to know how their money will be spent, don’t they?
Right. . .
According to our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, he’s perfectly content to rely on a slap-dash compilation of projects that was hurriedly thrown together by the municipalities in the lead-up to last years failed attempt to ram this increase down our throats – a $1.4 billion hodge-podge of pseudo “priorities” that was long on shock value and short on specifics – intended to ensure our lock-step compliance with their greed-crazed plan before we are all drinking our own sewerage and watching our quality of life ebb away while trapped in gridlocked traffic somewhere on West Granada Boulevard. . .
Look, I love South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall like a brother.
In fact, he is one of the most honorable men I know as evidenced by his lifetime of extraordinary public service.
We came up together in local law enforcement and I consider Mayor Hall one of my closest confidants and trusted friends – but we are going to have to agree to disagree on his recent characterization of this tax increase.
According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “In pitching the sales tax, South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall noted that a half-cent increase is equal to paying an extra 25 cents on a $50 tab at Outback Steakhouse.”
With some 17% of the county’s population living at or below the poverty line – and thousands more struggling mightily just to make ends meet in this artificial, service-based economy – most can’t afford a $50 steak – let alone an across-the-board sales tax increase on goods and services that most legitimate economists will tell you hurts those who can least afford it the most.
I’m sorry, Mayor Hall – but that addled dunce, Ed Kelley, and his goofy handlers are forcing good public servants like you, and others I respect, to put the cart before the horse and commit us to a referendum without so much as a project priority list or a citizen oversight committee identified.
In my view, given the long-term impact of this price increase on families and small businesses in our area – and the horrific transparency and trust issues that continue to afflict Volusia County government – that’s wrong.
Perhaps our ‘powers that be’ and those who stand to benefit most – the behind-the-scenes manipulators over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – should wait until the legally mandated audit of Volusia County’s financial practices is complete, and a comprehensive list of essential projects can be analyzed, agreed upon, and logically presented for public review.
Only then will We, The People have some reasonable idea of actual demand – and how our hard-earned money will ultimately be allocated – before foisting this money-grubbing scam on an already overtaxed constituency.
Quote of the Week
Don’t take my word for it, here’s what the experts are saying about Volusia County’s assbackwards strategy of setting a referendum for the proposed half-cent sales tax grab without a prioritized list of potential projects in place:
“How is it we are still sitting here in February, and Daytona Beach (the county’s second-largest city) still doesn’t have a priority list? Every day that passes they are losing the opportunity to influence the outcome of the vote.”
–Mike Scudiero, Ormond Beach political consultant, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia County, cities work to develop projects for sales tax pitch,” February 11, 2019
“They are burning time. They’ve passed the resolution (to put it on the ballot), but they don’t say what they are going to spend the money on. This has to be very specific. They have been talking about this for months. … They are not ready to go.”
–Former Volusia County Councilwoman Pat Northey
I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .
And Another Thing!
Angel – In Memoriam
Volusia County Republican Party Chairman Tony Ledbetter was a lot of things to a lot of people.
To many, he was a conservative firebrand – an expert strategist and bold patriot – whose intense love of country, extraordinary work ethic and strong leadership literally changed the political landscape of our region.
To others, he was an old school ward-heeler, a controversial provocateur and inflammatory rabble-rouser whose rhetoric was designed to stir the passions of the fringe – a dogmatist who would do anything – in bounds or out – to promote the party cause or win an election.
For instance, former Orange City Mayor and 2016 Volusia County Council candidate Tom Laputka was once quoted as saying, “Some people are born assholes. There are others who try really hard to be one. Ledbetter is both.”
Regular readers of these screeds know that I rarely agreed with Chairman Ledbetter’s brand of incendiary politics – and he made more than one appearance on the other side of this weekly opinion column for his no-holds-barred tactics in service to his beloved Republican Party.
A badge I’m certain he wore with unabashed pride. . .
I have always considered myself an independent thinker within the confines of my limited intellect. As such, I abjure partisanship – convinced that neither of the two predominate political parties represent my best interests – as evidenced by the utter gridlock and bitter partisan rivalry that has paralyzed Washington.
In my view, both parties have morphed into little more than warring tribes of self-serving fringe players, whose blind anger and total self-absorption have left them oblivious to the fact that, at the end of the day, both serve the same uber-wealthy masters.
But there is no denying that Mr. Ledbetter was a force of nature – a true believer and a fierce warrior who fought tooth-and-nail to advance the policies of the ultra-conservative wing of his party – and ensure victory at all costs for Republican candidates and causes.
A committed patriot in the classic sense, Mr. Ledbetter dedicated himself in thought, word and deed to promoting the principles and values that he felt exemplified the promise of America and projected our inherent strength and stability to an increasingly hostile world.
I always admired that.
As a matter of personal policy, I tend to hold political zealots of all stripes at arm’s length – regardless of their persuasion – but I never questioned Mr. Ledbetter’s passion or willingness to stand tall in the furnace of modern political contests, courageously advocating for that which he thought right and important to protecting and defending our Constitutional government.
I recognize and revere the warrior spirit when I see it, and Tony Ledbetter was most assuredly a bombastic brawler with the heart of a lion.
With his indomitable will and strength of personality, he almost single-handedly changed the political allegiance in the region and helped make the Florida Republican Party a force to be reckoned with on the national stage.
Volusia Republican Communications Chair Vic Baker, said it best in The Daytona Beach News-Journal this week, “Tony Ledbetter was a fearless leader. I will say this: There were people who disagreed with him. There were people who didn’t like him. But there were very few people who didn’t respect Tony.”
I agree with Mr. Baker. I also happen to agree with Mr. Laputka – but that is the dichotomy of the modern political operative who must be many things to many factions in this winner take all environment.
No one advocated more fervently for the republican virtues he dedicated the bulk of his life to advancing – and his beloved party has lost a valiant and colorful soldier on the bloody battlefield that passes for modern politics in this distressing age.
Clearly, Tony Lebetter was sui generis.
Unfortunately, we will not see his kind on the local scene again.
Chairman Ledbetter reluctantly left the fray this week after a brief battle with cancer. He was 71.
Barker’s View joins the many in our community, on both sides of the political spectrum, who mourn his passing.
As always, thank you for reading – and have a wonderful weekend.