Angels & Assholes for March 15, 2019

Hi, kids!

The French philosopher, René Descartes’ liked to say “Cogito ergo sum” – I think, therefore I am.

Whatever that means. . .

Look, I’m the first to admit – I’m not the cerebral type – and my tendency toward guttural reaction, rather than thinking issues through to a logical conclusion, is the basis for what I’m sure will be my epitaph: ‘Whiskey and Bad Decisions.’

I like to say that the only thing that kept me out of college was high school.

Because it’s true.

I was a horrible student – and most of my academic life was spent trying to avoid the confines of places of higher learning.  For instance, during one grading cycle, I actually played hooky six-weeks out of a nine-week period.

Instead of boarding the bus and trundling off to Seabreeze Senior High School, I spent my days tramping the wild places, hunting and fishing the Tomoka Basin like some demented Huck Finn character.

Teachers would tell my long-suffering parents that I didn’t “apply” myself – and those high school aptitude tests repeatedly determined that, based upon my personality, skills and abilities, I was best suited for a career as a concrete garden gnome. . .

My SAT scores were so low that they skewed the national average downward for most of the late 1970’s – and I remember literally “Christmas-treeing” most of the Heart of Algebra section – with its weird hieroglyphics and linear equations mumbo-jumbo. . .

As a result, throughout my professional life I watched as those with a college education surged past me – invariably receiving jobs and promotional opportunities that my abysmal lack of education made me wholly unqualified for – and established a lifelong inferiority complex that left me feeling I never measured up to my peers who took the time to achieve academic degrees.

Because I didn’t.

As a result, I became the consummate experiential learner – a polished mimic who could perfectly emulate those qualities I admired in others – and, to make up for my educational deficit, I worked twice as hard at jobs most didn’t want as a way of proving my worth to the organization.

By the time I reached the pinnacle of my law enforcement career, I had served 26-years and learned every job in the agency – including sweeping the floor.

Trust me.  The School of Hard Knocks is the most expensive education imaginable.

Earlier this week, like most of the nation, I awoke to the news of a widespread college admissions scandal that shocked the conscience of anyone who ever worked their ass off to get accepted to a prestigious university – and exposed how wealth and privilege has compromised literally every social, civic and educational institution in America.

As I understand it, federal court records unsealed in Boston this week name 50 Hollywood celebrities, business leaders and uber-wealthy families who were indicted as part of a nationwide scheme to cheat on entrance exams, fake athletic recruitment and pay bribes to coaches and key administrators to get their children accepted to elite universities, such as Georgetown, Yale, USC and Stanford.

In my view, as tragic as this criminal scam is for those students who were denied entrance to make way for the undeserving offspring of the privileged few – closer to home, we are all victims of a similar pay-to-play system that allows the ‘Rich & Powerful’ near total control of our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

Now, we will collectively take perverse pleasure in this national moment of schadenfreude – watching smugly as a few B-list celebrities, pompous elites and greedy fixers slowly twist on the spit of what passes for public opinion in 2019 – while ignoring the fact our local Movers & Shakers are busy spending heavily to orchestrate a brazen money grab in concert with our elected officials, which, if successful, will take even more of our hard-earned money from our wallets and transfer it to theirs.

This is nothing new.

In coming weeks, I encourage everyone to pay close attention as these power brokers and their hired chattel do everything in their considerable sphere of influence to convince us that a sales tax increase is a “happy thing.”

Think – long and hard – about the ramifications of this tax grab, and consider the question of what ultimately happens if we continue to enable this ‘tax-and-spend’ mentality that has seen millions in public funds blatantly funneled to the private interests of many of the very same people and corporations who are now working overtime to convince us to give even more at the point-of-sale.

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           Volusia County School District

The hits just keep on coming. . .

When I wrote about the abject failure of the School Board’s toothless dress code among high school students, it raised strong opinions on both sides of the standardization argument.

Some felt my criticism of Superintendent Tom Russell was unduly harsh – while others agreed that his failure to ensure a fair and consistent application of the rules is indicative of much more serious issues facing the district.

One reader, who noted she has children in two Volusia County high schools, felt my comment that some public schools “look more like a prison yard than a place of education and self-discovery” was insulting.

Perhaps it was.

While I meant no personal affront – I’m assuming the offended parent hasn’t seen the incredibly disturbing cellphone footage that emerged from Daytona Beach’s Seabreeze High School just weeks ago when hordes of warring students squared off – at least one armed with a box cutter – wilding, brawling and exchanging disgusting racial epithets.

Scenes that give prison yards a bad name. . .

Last weekend, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s outstanding education reporter Cassidy Alexander confirmed in a front page/above the fold article, “Poor grades for high school uniforms,” that the School Board’s lack of legislative clarity – and Mr. Russell’s sloppy enforcement of the rules – are having a detrimental impact on the learning environment for high school students and teachers.

According to the report, “Although elementary and middle school principals said they like it and don’t face any significant challenges enforcing it, high school principals said the policy is hard to enforce, cuts into instructional time, encourages students to dislike school even more and is creating rifts between teachers.”

Incredibly, “Of the district’s nine high schools, four principals said less than 50 percent of students are in compliance each day; four more said it’s less than 75 percent.”

Wow.

In keeping with Superintendent Russell’s modus operandi – which values mediocrity and protecting the status quo over the pursuit of excellence in education – once again, a relatively minor issue of policy implementation and enforcement was allowed to reach a crisis point and become front page news.

Then, on Sunday, Mr. Tony Barhoo, principal of Living Faith Academy in Daytona Beach,  reported in the News-Journal’s Community Voices column, “When it comes to schools, parents know best,” the grim statistic that black and Hispanic students in Volusia County are falling through the cracks at an alarming rate.

According to Mr. Barhoo,  “There remains a huge achievement gap between students of color and white students in Volusia County. Black and Hispanic students in Volusia also trail black and Hispanic students elsewhere, scoring behind their counterparts statewide in every single tested grade. It’s no wonder that the graduation rate for black and Hispanic students in Volusia is dead last among the state’s biggest districts.”

I find that unconscionable.

If parents of Volusia County high school students aren’t enraged by this appalling indicator – they should be.

The districts inability to implement a school uniform policy is one thing – the fact our graduation rate for students of color is rock bottom among the state’s largest districts is something far more disturbing.

In my view, this is just one more example of the abject ineptitude and gross lack of leadership by Mr. Russell and his goofy “Cabinet” of  sycophantic sluggards who have become little more than crisis workers in the absence of a strategic vision that continues to fail students, teachers and taxpayers.

In my view, with a budget topping $840 million – this continuing course of conduct and gross organizational incompetence borders on criminal negligence. . .

But when the people you serve stop expecting anything of substance from you – and your elected “leadership” embrace averageness and poor performance as public policy – then underachievement and shoddy standards become ingrained in the culture of the organization.

That’s a dangerous combination when the education of our most precious resource is at stake.

Asshole           Volusia Roundtable of Elected Officials

I wrote about this earlier in the week under the header, “They know we’re watching, right?” 

For those who missed it:

The Knights of the Roundtable met earlier this week to get their collective story together on the proposed half-cent money grab that has consumed our elected and appointed officials literally to the exclusion of anything else.

The bellows for this building political conflagration is Steve Vancore, a professional windbag who has ramrodded successful sales tax initiatives in more than a dozen Florida counties.  Now, Vancore’s Clearview Research has been engaged by the Star Chamber over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance to prepare the battlefield here.

On Monday, Mr. Vancore met with municipal mayors, city managers and county officials to give them a quick course in how to act human as they polish the turd and avoid their “natural tendency” to be defensive when their long-suffering, overtaxed constituents call bullshit. . .

According to an excellent article by the intrepid Dustin Wyatt in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “I would encourage you to lead with the positives. There isn’t anything to be defensive about,” Vancore said at a round table meeting of Volusia officials at the Daytona Beach International Airport.  “This is a happy thing for our community.  Every dollar of it stays right here.”

A happy thing?  Wow.

It’s a damnable tragedy is what it is.

The abject failure of our elected and appointed officials to hold their political benefactors accountable for adequate transportation impact fees for nearly two-decades – all while facilitating untold profits for their cronies in the real estate development community by permitting unchecked sprawl along the spine of Volusia County – then frightening their constituents with scary stories about what will happen to their quality of life in they fail to self-inflict a sales tax increase on all goods and services they purchase is an abomination.

But those greed-crazed assholes over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – who know well that this tax represents a pass-through from our wallet to theirs in the form of government contracts, road and infrastructure projects – aren’t taking any chances in this wretched race to relieve you and your family of even more of your hard-earned cash – and it’s painful to watch.

If this disgusting exercise has done anything, it has exposed the depth to which Volusia County politicians will sink with the right application of money.

The “referendum” that is being rushed to conclusion just ahead of state legislation which will shut the door on these nefarious money-grabs – appears to be taken directly from the playbook of Idi Amin – because it now bears no resemblance to a legitimate democratic election.

This week, we learned that Volusia County voters will be allowed the unprecedented option of dropping ballots off at “secure” boxes in City Halls – the latest twist in a weird first-of-its-kind “mail in” vote scheme – wholly orchestrated by the CEO Alliance and their consultant at Clearview Research to give this tax increase the best possible chance of passage.

My God.

Folks, this is what happens to our sacred systems of governance when We, The People are all that stand between political insiders who stand to benefit and an estimated $42-million in annual revenue.

We become a mere impediment that must be “reeducated” – and told that higher taxation at the point-of-sale is somehow a “happy thing” – even as those we have elected to represent our best interests prostrate themselves before those who purchased their very souls and now use them like cheap tools.

Angel              Bethune-Cookman University Athletics

 From the Barker’s View Sports Desk:

It’s proving to be a banner year for the Wildcat Nation – with the multi-talented Quamecha Morrison finishing second in the nation in the high jump last weekend at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field National Championship in Birmingham, Alabama.

The senior from Beaufort, S.C., cleared six feet, one-half inch on her second try and was one of four to advance to 6′ 1 ½”.  Morrison cleared her first three jumps to earn the tie breaker over Loretta Blaut of Cincinnati and Sanna Barnes of Villanova.

According to reports, “She becomes the first B-CU female athlete to score at an NCAA national championship either indoor or outdoor and the first Wildcat to finish in the top eight since Joel Redhead and Ronnie Ash at the 2009 outdoors.”

In addition, last month, Bethune-Cookman Softball Head Coach Laura Watten registered her 700th career win!

The 2012 B-CU Hall of Famer spent nine seasons as Head Coach at the University of Maryland where she led the Terps to three straight NCAA Regionals.  Coach Watten first led the Wildcats from 1998 to 2005, taking B-CU to five MEAC titles, six regional appearances and a super-regional.

Watten returned to coach the Wildcats in 2014.

Kudos to these outstanding members of our community on their incredible success!

Asshole           Volusia County Council

Earlier this week, a Leon County judge rightfully denied Volusia County’s latest wrong-headed challenge to Amendment 10 – the voter approved initiative that will return constitutional authority to the office of sheriff, elections supervisor, clerk of court and property appraiser.

Now, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, is joining County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert in yet another push to appeal the ruling and perpetuate this incredibly expensive waste of time and effort.

Speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ol’ Ed yammered, “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy.  We hoped that we would have prevailed, but this is just one step. The ruling from the bench may not necessarily be the ruling that would come from the higher court.”

It’s actually the third step, Ed. . .

This latest fail makes it a hat trick for “Cujo” Eckert – whose efforts on behalf of the majority of our wholly compromised County Council to thwart the will of the people and overturn our sacred vote – have been rejected by the courts twice before.

But when the oligarchical “status quo” is threatened by a vote of We, The People – apparently, no expense is too great to force their will over ours.

This push to overturn our vote began during an off-the-agenda action – following the Volusia County Council’s practice of “public policy by ambush” – a move that resulted in Sheriff Mike Chitwood rightfully mocking these vengeful gatekeepers for the “Rich & Powerful” as “scumbags.”

He’s right.

And Sheriff Chitwood wasn’t alone in his staunch support of allowing Volusia County voters to decide their own system of governance.

According to News-Journal reports, “The county’s challenge against the amendment was met by opposition from the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Florida Association of Tax Collectors. Even before Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled against the county, the governor and secretary of state moved to dismiss Volusia’s complaint.”

The fact is, anyone paying attention knows that Volusia County trots out the Home Rule provisions of its charter whenever it suits its own selfish needs – and leaves it in the scabbard when allowing state law to override the will of the people serves the needs of the “system.”

Anyone remember the beach driving debate?

Way back in 2014, a group of intrepid residents formed a grassroots effort to amend Volusia County’s charter and impose a public referendum on every beach-driving restriction set by the Volusia County Council which would have put a quick end to the wholesale abuse and giveaway of our century-old heritage of beach access.

In turn, Cujo Eckert abandoned the Charter and rolled over like a neutered pup when he saw the detrimental impacts this would have on insider influence in the process, and he immediately proclaimed that the proposed amendment would be inconsistent with state statute.

What followed was a bloody battle fought all the way to the Fifth District Court of Appeals which saw Cujo suing his own constituents – with our own money – to protect the status quo.

Where was the hue and cry by our elected and appointed officials to protect Home Rule when citizens asked for a say in protecting Volusia County’s most important economic driver?    

It seems whenever the citizens of Volusia County seek to use their sacred vote to effect positive change – our ‘powers that be’ have no qualms about using our hard-earned tax dollars to fight us in the courts.

In the case of Amendment 10 – Volusia County insiders are scared shitless about losing control if voters are allowed to make decisions and balance power.

It was painfully evident during the beach driving debacle – and increasingly apparent during this shameless push for a half-cent sales tax – wherein the millionaires of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, with the complete acquiescence of their hired chattel on the dais of power – have manipulated a weird mail-in ballot scheme which bears no resemblance to any legitimate election we have seen before for the sole purpose of controlling the outcome.

You see, as a smart former Volusia County council member recently said to me, “The fuss isn’t about Home Rule.  No, it’s about who rules.”

Quote of the Week

“Commissioners need to stop dragging their feet and get this rolling. There are a lot of empty brick-and-mortar restaurants in Daytona Beach. We should encourage all small business, or more of it will leave.”

–John Santy, Port Orange, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Letters to the Editor, “No reason to limit food trucks,” March 13, 2019

One of the most frequent complaints I receive from readers of my goofy screeds are the almost institutionalized impediments to entrepreneurial investment and small business starts in the City of Daytona Beach.

Don’t take my word for it.

Ask anyone who has attempted to start a business – even in the moldering ruins of Main Street or Downtrodden Downtown – about the onerous hoops they were required to jump through by officious bureaucrats at City Hall before being granted the right to pursue their livelihood.

The process resembles a scene from some backwater Banana Republic – with a sleepy government official in a rancid uniform repeatedly inking the rubber-stamp that the hapless applicant needs before advancing to the next level of the byzantine bureaucracy.

Some would-be entrepreneurs I have spoken with simply gave up and moved their enterprise to surrounding communities who value investment, while others spent thousands in precious start-up funds to hire attorneys to guide them through the maze toward the illusive piece of cheese – a business tax receipt.

For months, owners of food trucks – which have coexisted with established restaurants in more sophisticated areas for decades – have been fighting an uphill battle against our elected and appointed officials at City Hall just to ply their wares in Daytona Beach.

The same is true in the Kingdom of Ormond Beach where the City Commission recently refused to allow food truck operators to earn a living outside of community-wide events and craft breweries. . .

Daytona Beach City Commissioners seem intent on using their petty legislative powers to skew the playing field – damning the idea of fair competition in a free and open marketplace where survival of the best might adversely impact existing brick-and-mortar restaurants.

That’s not the role of an elected body.

Look, by any metric the Halifax area has a grim reputation as a social, artistic and cultural wasteland – a place where anything other than a godforsaken chain restaurant has a life expectancy of about six-months, a Buc-ee’s gas station makes us feel all haughty and high-brow – and anyone with an idea that doesn’t fit neatly in the box of civic conformity is allowed to wither and die under the crushing weight of red tape, rules and formalities.

Sad.

In my view, it is this gross governmental manipulation of the free market that has resulted in this crushing artificial service economy – based upon the same five uber-wealthy insiders passing the same nickel around – that continues to allow elected officials to pick winners and losers by injecting millions of tax dollars into the private profit motives of all the right last names.

After all, when you stack the deck with bought-and-paid-for politicians – then demand tax abatement, infrastructure improvements and weird “public/private” partnerships which always seem to benefit the “private” side of the equation and eliminate any risk or overhead – it’s incredibly hard for outsiders to compete.

To those long-suffering food truck operators who can’t catch a break, I would suggest spending lavishly during the next election cycle – showering massive campaign contributions on those political puppets backed by our High Panjandrums of Political Power – then watch your fortunes begin to change for the better.

And Another Thing! 

Last summer, The Civitas Project, a private, non-profit corporation in strategic alliance with Stetson University, its Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience and its Center for Community Engagement, published an essay written by former Volusia County Manager Larry Arrington entitled, “Volusia County Government: A New Day Dawning.”

(Mr. Arrington’s excellent piece can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/y45mzznn )

The article was written in the immediate aftermath of former County Manager Jim Dineen’s abrupt departure in June 2018, and expertly details the challenges and opportunities presented for our current Volusia County Council – along with sound suggestions for consideration by our elected representatives which, inexplicably, remain wholly ignored.

With county officials currently travelling the width and breadth of this salty piece of land with their weird medicine show designed to sell us on the “benefits” of self-inflicting a sales tax increase on all goods and services your family and mine spend our hard-earned money on – I thought it would be fun to take a look back at a few of Mr. Arrington’s prescient thoughts.

Many I speak with are concerned that – with little more than two-months before the countywide referendum, we still haven’t received a comprehensive list of projects for review – a situation smart people believe sets the stage for our demonstrably compromised politicians to essentially do what they want – when they want – in the absence of a prioritized strategy or any legitimate outside supervision.

I know we’ve been promised that a mysterious citizen oversight board will be appointed sometime after the vote – not before – but, we’ve been promised a lot of things.

If history repeats, we also know that any committee of political appointees will be comprised of all the right last names. . .

In my view, Mr. Arrington explained the basis for our concerns well when he wrote:

“Once the council allocates money, the funds should be earmarked and used for that purpose, absent a conscious council decision to change course.  Peculiar to Volusia County, the staff has the power to transfer or reallocate funds, changing council decisions in the process.  The allocated money is spent elsewhere, and no one—neither the citizens nor the council—need be the wiser. Council may ultimately approve such reallocations— after the fact. The county government needs greater fiscal integrity to ensure that its financial practices are consistent with the direction of the council and with sound financial management principles.”

For instance, in the early 2000’s, the county bonded some $65 million to address transportation infrastructure projects – what happened to it?

Given Volusia County’s propensity for pulling the “old switcheroo” – how do we know with certainty that transportation projects that were earmarked for road improvement bond funding won’t now appear on the sales tax wish list because the money was shuffled elsewhere?

Should we merely take their word for it?

My ass.

We are told that the results of an “audit” required by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability before the sales tax increase can proceed will be posted for our review later today.

Great.

Perhaps these nagging questions surrounding Volusia County’s pernicious three-card-monte scheme will be revealed?

Don’t bet on it. . .

Among the many entrenched challenges facing us, Mr. Arrington noted, “County government has abandoned its responsibility to lead on major regional issues, preferring instead a myopic “circle the wagons” and cost/responsibility-shifting approach to governance.”

 I agree.

Now, our ‘powers that be’ are once again attempting to shift the cost and responsibility for their abject failure to properly manage growth to We, The People in the form of this barefaced money grab that, we are led to believe, is the only thing standing between us and transportation Armageddon.

These inept assholes should be ashamed of themselves.

Friends, there are a lot of unanswered questions remaining – and time is growing short until we will be asked to participate in a sham “referendum” on this shameless tax increase – which, if it passes, will pour even more of our hard-earned money into the gaping maw of this insatiable, and wholly unaccountable, bureaucratic machine.

According to The Civitas Project, “Experience and scholarship also teach that a quality political institution offers: 1) a high respect for ethics and the rule of law; 2) a commitment to resourcing public services adequately, so agencies can perform their functions well; and 3) a strong ethic of accountability, transparency, and honesty in all government activities.

Unfortunately, Volusia County government has proven – through its opaqueness and actions – that it has none of these important attributes.

In fact, it abhors them.

That is why I hope you will join me in voting “No” on the proposed half-cent sales tax.

That’s all for me – have a great weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for March 15, 2019

  1. Love this week’s A&A as always, thanks Mark. I was born and raised in Ormond Beach (attended Mainland High) and still have family in Volusia County, which is why I follow your insightful and informative blog! That said, I moved out west many years ago and have been in Durango, CO for past 4 years.

    Your recent concerns about the proposed sales tax increase resonate strongly with me. You may find it interesting that City of Durango is also pursuing a half-cent sales tax increase that will go to voters this spring. This, after a miserably failed attempt for a sales tax increase during last November’s election cycle. This time around, City Council has “dumbed down” the ballot language to make it easier for us folks to understand why we should vote to increase taxes on ourselves in what is arguably one of the most expensive mountain towns out here in the wild west. Also, just as Volusia County has promised to create a Citizen Oversight Board, so too is City of Durango resurrecting a “Financial Advisory Panel” (but only AFTER the vote) to help thwart real and perceived mismanagement of those tax funds, restore trust, and create more transparency. Here’s the article in today’s Durango Herald if you’re inclined to peruse it. You’re not alone!
    LINK: https://durangoherald.com/articles/267661-durango-to-relaunch-financial-advisory-committee-to-help-restore-trust

    Like

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