Well, it looks like we’re in for a long hot summer, folks.
As I sit down to pound out this week’s rambling screed, the jovial television weatherman is telling me its 110° in the shade – and the disturbing headlines in this weeks Daytona Beach News-Journal make it seem even hotter. . .
Let’s take a look at some of the hot-button issues that “made the paper” this week (in no particular order):
“County feeling affordable housing crunch”
“Cancer docs accuse AdventHealth of ‘anticompetitive conduct’”
“Russell moving from Volusia to Flagler”
“Bombshell ruling against Florida environmentalists”
“Hepatitis A soars in Volusia County”
Wow. Any one of those nuggets should steam your beans.
But this is Volusia County – we’re used to doom-and-gloom.
Thanks to the near-constant intrigues of our local governments, we’ve lost the ability to be shocked by sensational headlines – or enjoy a carnival funhouse for that matter. . .
That’s what happens when you live in a smoke-and-mirrors political environment full of elaborate effects, hidden puppeteers and mischievous clowns.
It takes something extra special to get our hackles up, right?
Well, earlier this week, we had one of those good ol’ Fun Coast “WTF?” palm-slap-to-the-forehead moments when we awoke to an interesting juxtaposition on the front page – “Principal, AP exam under scrutiny,” – and – “Exiting schools chief’s payout: $244K,” reports which shocked the conscience of even veteran observers and underscored the catastrophic leadership and management issues that continue to plague Volusia County Schools, even as former Superintendent Tom “Hungry, Humble and Smart” Russell rides off to a cushy new gig as principal of Flagler-Palm Coast High School with a sack full of severance following his unceremonious termination in Volusia.
Weird how that works, huh?
Especially when we know that Flagler County School Superintendent James Tager – who tapped Mr. Russell for the Flagler-Palm Coast job – was hired as Flagler’s head honcho with Russell’s recommendation. . .
Yep. You read that right.
With former Superintendent Russell in full skedaddle, on Tuesday, parents and taxpayers received their first look at a scandalous issue at Daytona Beach’s Mainland High School, where the principal, Cheryl Salerno, is accused of concocting a weird experiment which lumped freshmen students into an advanced college-readiness course – something called an AP Seminar – yet, only 78 students sat for the official examination required for college credit – while 336 were given last years test, mocked up to look like the real one.
It’s ugly. . .
In the aftermath of this colossally deceitful ruse which shook the confidence of parents and students – and with an active U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the district underway – one would think the Volusia County School Board might reconsider its decision to offer Mr. Russell $68,627 in severance pay – and thousands more in extended health, dental and life insurance benefits – until this matter can be properly reviewed by outside authority?
On Tuesday, Russell’s incredibly lucrative severance package was unanimously approved without discussion. . .
Now, if history repeats, absolutely no one in the upper-echelons of district “leadership” will be held responsible for this deplorable scam – a fraud that only serves to teach impressionable students that they truly are victims of a system they cannot escape – and perpetuates the distressing notion that no senior administrator is ever held to account in this godforsaken quagmire that passes for our children’s educational system.
Then, on Wednesday, the headlines – front page, above the fold – screamed that Volusia County has the 4th highest number of Hepatitis A cases in the state.
From the maps, it looks to me like the I-4 corridor is, as learned virologists like to say, “eat-up with it”. . .
Add to that the mysterious case of why no one in a position to know is returning reporters phone calls on what many are now calling the “Putin Tower Fiasco” at the “$192-million” Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominium project – or the fact affordable housing apparently hasn’t been on the radar of those we pay handsomely to, well, plan for these things – and one could say the “news” here on the Fun Coast has been hotter than bare feet on an asphalt off-beach parking lot this week.
There was one quaint piece in this weeks News-Journal that tugged at my frayed old heartstrings.
In Wednesday’s Perspective section, Ponce Inlet Town Councilman Joseph Perrone – who also serves as a member of the booboisie over at our do-nothing River-to-Sea Transportation Planning Organization – wrote a dewy-eyed essay asking why the Volusia County Council has given up on pushing for a DeLand SunRail stop (yawn, excuse me. . .)
Regardless, it was nice to hear from someone who still gives two-shits about the broken promises of SunRail and worthless $2-million transportation studies – or naively questions why the Volusia County Council has become the most artificial and ineffectual elected body in the region. . .
Oh, I almost forgot the “Big News” that I didn’t see in the newspaper this week:
Have you heard the disturbing rumors of an 825-acre planned unit development in southeast Flagler County delightfully called “The Gardens”?
A massive project which will bring some 4,000+ residential, commercial and mixed used development to the area south of State Road 100 on the east and west sides of John Anderson Highway near the Volusia County border?
I have. And it’s no rumor. . .
So much for all that “smart growth” nonsense, eh?
Never mind all that. This is a “Boom” cycle! Get your head out of your ass, Barker!
No one cares about your goofy Henny Penny routine over unchecked sprawl destroying our environment and ruining our quality of life, wah, wah, wah. Old news, old man.
How many times do I have to tell you – there is no profit in useless wildlife habitat!
Gopher tortoises and whitetail deer don’t take 30-year mortgages on three-bed/two-bath zero-lot-line cracker boxes with “prices starting in the mid-$200’s”. . .
Slash-and-burn land rape and the health of Graham Swamp or the headwaters of Bulow Creek be damned – now is the time to focus our complete and undivided attention on the real environmental threat as artfully defined and flogged by our ‘powers that be’: Plastic straws and Styrofoam plates. . .
A long, hot summer 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:
Angel Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post
If there’s one thing I can’t abide – it’s when vindictive animus and petty politics stand in the way of true public service.
In my view, a true call to serve a cause greater than ones own self-interest is a sacred and special thing.
Since she was elected to represent the citizens of District 4, County Councilwoman Heather Post has tried valiantly to serve the best interests of her constituents with fairness, integrity and enthusiasm on the local, regional and national stage.
Unfortunately, each time Ms. Post has attempted to represent Volusia County in a larger leadership role, her efforts have been unceremoniously quashed – not by her political detractors or opponents – but by her so-called “colleagues” on the dais of power in DeLand.
Last year, when Post asked for a letter supporting her bid for the Florida Association of Counties Second Vice President slot – her request was arrogantly denied by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, who said, “…he doesn’t trust Post and would never support her representing the county on a state board because her views on issues too often don’t align with the council majority.”
Then, in January, following the election of freshman Council members Ben Johnson and Barbara Girtman, Old Ed apparently had a change of heart and issued a glowing letter of recommendation to the Florida Association of Counties, which stated, in part, “Volusia County enthusiastically supports County Council Member Heather Post’s candidacy for a Vice President position with the Florida Association of Counties (FAC).”
In turn, Ms. Post qualified to run for the leadership role against Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine during the organization’s annual conference at the posh Hyatt Regency Orlando earlier this month.
It would be the first time in the 90-year history of FAC that a sitting Volusia County representative had been a candidate for the Executive Board.
However – when the time came to make good on his promise to support Post’s run – in perhaps the most shameful display of Chairman Kelley’s seemingly bottomless propensity for quisling, mean-spirited backstabbing – I’m being told that prior to the vote, Old Ed and Councilwoman Billie Wheeler actively and enthusiastically campaigned against Ms. Post!
Those in the know reported that Kelley and Wheeler pulled a double-cross move that some saw as highly disparaging to a sitting elected official – and a complete embarrassment to Volusia County.
Look, I wasn’t there.
You may find this hard to believe, but I’m typically not invited to rub-elbows, slap backs and smooch poop-chutes with our elected ‘movers and shakers’ in vendor-sponsored “hospitality suites” at haughty statewide political confabs. . .
But based upon everything I’ve seen and heard – it’s apparent that Kelley and Wheeler openly supported Ms. Post’s opponent.
In fact, I received a telling photograph which shows Kelley and Wheeler sporting Constantine campaign stickers on their shirts at the conference – a real thumb-in-the-eye to Heather Post – and a gratuitous “screw you” to their clueless constituents at home who actually believed they would support one of Volusia’s own for this prestigious position as they pledged to do.
I mean, how low can these insufferable assholes stoop in their endless attempt to destroy Ms. Post’s personal and political credibility – or crush the confidence of long-suffering residents of Volusia County who are routinely deceived by this base form of political treachery?
Rather than live up to the letter and spirit of the recommendation endorsed by Chairman Kelley on January 11, 2019 – which “wholeheartedly” supported Ms. Post in her leadership bid – when it came time to champion their colleagues run – these two contemptuous turncoats publicly threw their influence behind Lee “The Lion of Seminole” Constantine.
You remember Lee, right?
He’s the Seminole County Commissioner who was accused of sexual harassment last year by a college-aged intern who was sent from the University of Central Florida to work with Mr. Constantine’s non-profit Charity Challenge.
According to reports, in a complaint sent to Seminole County officials, the student alleged that the Commissioner massaged her shoulders, played with her hair and “tickled” her from behind.
Apparently, Seminole County kicked the complaint to UCF who took a cursory look-see at the accusations.
Ultimately, Constantine denied any misconduct and avoided discipline – admitting that he touched the young intern when she worked for his charity; however, he emphatically denied having any sexual intent.
Thank God he set the record straight. Otherwise, it would have seemed creepy, right?
Regardless, in what I’m sure was an abundance of caution – the University of Central Florida no longer sends interns to Mr. Constantine’s office or charity citing “the safety of their students.”
Fortunately, Charity Challenge – which Mr. Constantine founded – is reported to have conducted its own internal inquiry into the disturbing matter and earlier this year confirmed to the news website Florida Daily that their investigation cleared the Commissioner of any wrongdoing. . .
Again, whew, right?
I mean, we wouldn’t want any lingering questions about a sitting elected official’s fitness to serve – so, kudos to the independent investigators over at Charity Challenge for clearing up any ambiguity.
In an odd twist, the intern’s allegation came on the heels of a separate 2015 complaint by Seminole County administrative employees that Constantine created a “hostile work environment” – with some going so far as to call him a “nightmare boss.”
According to a report by WFTV-9, “Soul-crushing, demeaning, unfair, inconsistent and rude were all terms used by former aides to Constantine. They all worked for him at the county’s administrative headquarters.”
Again, most fortunately, Mr. Constantine was able to clear things up by denying any wrongdoing – claiming the malcontent employees who complained were essentially malingerers who wanted to maintain the “status quo.”
“This, I think, in many ways was a self-fulfilling prophecy. They did not want to work with me, and it turned out that way,” Constantine said.”
(Only a perennial politician could have made that statement. . .)
Ultimately, Commissioner Constantine agreed to sit for some “management training” – but to make things crystal clear for you insufferable cynics – at the time, Seminole County leaders said that, because commissioners are elected, “they do not fall under the same code of conduct as county employees.”
I guess not. . .
But, hey, that’s all water under the bridge, right?
Because Mr. Constantine is now the esteemed newly elected Second Vice President of the Florida Association of Counties.
And Ms. Post is not. She lost the statewide election by 18 votes.
At the end of the day, how in the hell can Volusia County residents trust anything these two-faced shitheels say or do – given their perfidious actions against one of their own at a taxpayer funded conference – in direct contradiction to what they told us all they would do?
Sadly, in Volusia County, it’s business as usual.
Asshole City of Bunnell
During my public service career, my colleagues and I developed a simple but effective plan for providing emergency cold-weather shelter for homeless persons in our community.
Our patrol officers simply left bathrooms in public parks unlocked and encouraged those in need to overnight inside when temperatures dropped and windchills became threatening. I am convinced this unsophisticated measure saved the lives of many sick and elderly persons by providing a windbreak during periods of frigid weather.
Then, a former city manager – who, in my view, was one of the most self-serving, mean-spirited and inherently dishonest bullies I had the displeasure of being saddled with – found out about our improvised shelter of last resort and ordered that the bathrooms be locked and the homeless forcibly turned away from protection.
In fact, I was rebuked and belittled by this asshole – who believed opening public restrooms as cold-weather shelters was counter to his goal of eradicating homelessness through harsh, demeaning and inhospitable treatment.
In fact, several times this same manager proudly told me a sickening story about how, in an out-of-state community he once “served,” the police were used to physically harass and abuse homeless persons as a way of keeping them out of the jurisdiction.
Eliminating this last-ditch shelter option was one of the most callous, heartless and dangerous directives I ever received from a superior – and I proudly ignored it without hesitation. . .
In my view, the idea of a public entity knowingly depriving a vulnerable human being of basic refuge during life-threatening weather conditions is not only immoral – but borders on criminal negligence.
Perhaps that’s why the City of Bunnell’s open intimidation of a faith-based organization who operates Flagler County’s only cold-weather shelter has outraged so many.
Last month, the city’s Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board voted to deny a variance for The Sheltering Tree that would have allowed the all-volunteer organization to provide cold weather sheltering at the First United Methodist Church’s fellowship hall.
The Sheltering Tree is a ministry of Bunnell’s First United Methodist that has leased space from the church for the periodic shelter operation, a food pantry, clothing closet and other community services to assist the less fortunate for the past 11-years.
Last winter, the shelter was open just 19 nights. . .
Now, city officials are doing everything in their officious power to rid the community of Flagler County’s lone cold-weather shelter – ostensibly in favor of allowing homeless persons to suffer hypothermia and exposure – rather than make a commonsense exception to its sacred zoning regulations for this all-volunteer/donor-supported religious organization.
Because, if Bunnell is known for anything, it’s the city’s long-time, inviolate adherence to the sacrosanct zoning regulations that have made the small municipality the utopian Shangri-La of Flagler County. . .
Now, these same overbearing bureaucrats are piling on – knitting together petty “violations” and making a list of administrative oversights designed to shut down the group’s other good work – claiming the ministry hasn’t filed for a business tax receipt in over a decade (an allegation the church disputes) – something that mysteriously “came to light” when The Sheltering Tree attempted to do the right thing and applied for a special exception to add two ADA-compliant restrooms, two showers and a small laundry room.
According to the report by Matt Bruce writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Rodney Lucas, Bunnell’s community development director, said the city’s decision comes down to complying with zoning regulations, indicating that the shelter is set up in a residential area that does not accommodate such uses. He urged First United Methodist to relocate the shelter to a light industrial zone where it could operate without restrictions.”
“This has nothing to do with homelessness,” Lucas told The News-Journal on Thursday. “This has everything to do with abiding by the rules. It doesn’t matter what faith a person has. It’s about us all living harmoniously in Bunnell. We’re not opposed to homelessness; we just need an effective plan.”
This has everything to do with “homelessness” – and mirrors the often inhumane and always unimaginative “out of sight, out of mind” strategies favored by insipid bureaucrats and itinerant “community development” dipshits who say asinine things like, “We’re not opposed to homelessness; we just need an effective plan,” when every government entity in Flagler County has stood around with a thumb wedged firmly in their collective ass for years – before legislatively hamstringing the only organization who is actually trying to save lives.
In a well-written piece on the news site, FlaglerLive.com, entitled, “Bunnell’s Mean Streak,” journalist Pierre Tristam critiqued Mr. Lucas’ conduct at the zoning meeting:
“But when church and Sheltering Tree representatives spoke, Lucas treated them like criminals, his tone, his language and his questions intended to crucify rather than enlighten. His questions, in any case, were out of place and inappropriate, because he’d already provided the answers. He had his turn. But he wanted to administer a beating. He did.”
In my view, we are witnessing what happens when a bureaucracy begins stacking the legislative deck – providing groups without legal representation the option of orchestrated “hearings” where the decision is a foregone conclusion – and affording due process only to the point it checks a required box.
It appears the City of Bunnell has set its sights on the useless strategy of eliminating social service options for homeless persons in the vain hope they will relocate to other areas of Flagler County – and if they have their way – there is not a damn thing The Sheltering Tree can do about it.
Bringing the full-might of government authority down on a small group of do-gooders will be just fine with some disgruntled residents who are happy to see officials making things uncomfortable for the homeless – but what happens when their ‘powers that be’ use the same tactic on them?
You see, oppression in all its forms – including the use of bumptious, badge-heavy “community development” types to bureaucratically crush otherwise legal activities that don’t comport with the current administrations vision, no matter how myopic – is a very slippery slope.
Wherever you live, I hope you will join me in supporting The Sheltering Tree, First United Methodist Church and the intrepid members of Flagler County’s faith-based organizations who are coming together to find innovative ways to appeal Bunnell City Hall’s senseless aggression.
As Sue Bickings, chair of The Sheltering Tree’s governing board, recently said:
“If we don’t do this, who will?”
Angel City of Daytona Beach Shores
As regular readers of these screeds know – I’m not a fan of financial incentives cloaked in the pernicious guise of “economic development.”
In my view, government has no business picking winners and losers – or creating an artificial advantage for the privileged few – a situation tailor-made for quid pro quo corruption while discouraging legitimate entrepreneurial investment in our community.
As we’ve seen at places like International Speedway Corporation’s “synergistic” (and publicly underwritten) shopping and entertainment center “One Daytona” – and other anointed enterprises where startup and fixed costs are paid with public funds – many of these businesses can’t compete when released to the open ocean of the competitive marketplace.
After all, when was the last time someone from City Hall or Volusia County government offered your existing business a hand with operating expenses, eh?
Like its larger neighbor to the north, Daytona Beach Shores has a very visible problem with vacant buildings and barren storefronts along the A-1-A commercial corridor, which creates the appearance of stagnation and economic dysphoria.
Recently, the Daytona Beach Shores Economic Development Council developed a list of potential solutions – to include offering a 10% rebate on the renovation or revitalization of existing vacant properties and buildings – with half paid upon commencement of construction activities and the remainder when the business opens.
According to reports, the discount is available to anyone willing to invest in the economic prosperity of the community.
I like that.
Other proposals include a lease subsidy program to help businesses who can’t purchase a building or property – and to reward established companies by waiving renewal and permitting fees.
I respect that the program is open to anyone – not just select last names and perennial political insiders with a history of getting fat on the public teat.
According to City Councilman Rick Frizalone, speaking in the News-Journal, “We want to show businesses we are here to help them, and we are on their side. We want to reward them for loyalty and good service.”
Doing nothing is no longer an option for struggling beachside communities.
Kudos to the City of Daytona Beach Shores for recognizing a problem and bringing innovative solutions for making this small municipality more attractive to outside investment.
Quote of the Week
“. . .I also wrote council members when the parking lot was promised next to the Hard Rock Hotel as a trade for our beach to be taken away. Anyone with any foresight would know that Hard Rock employees would use this lot. But now the council members are concerned about complaints about Hard Rock employees parking there? Now they want the residents to pay for problems that they created? Plus, I’m thinking they are trying to get money for the half cent tax that was voted down.”
–Roger Cook, Daytona Beach, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “The county created beach parking woes,” Monday, June 24, 2019
I don’t know him, but Roger Cook is a wise man. . .
And Another Thing!
Sometimes the right man for the job comes along and leaves things better than he found them.
For us, that man was Central Florida’s preeminent environmentalist, educator, legal scholar and water policy expert, Clay Henderson.
According to his impressive biography, as a freshman at Stetson University, Mr. Henderson fell in love with the St. Johns River and Florida’s springs in the 1970’s. Over his long career as an environmental lawyer, he was a zealous defender of our natural places – ultimately helping to conserve some 300,000 acres in Florida.
He even served a sentence as a member of the Volusia County Council. . .
Most recently, Mr. Henderson served as executive director of Stetson’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience.
During his long career, he co-authored many of the natural resource protection provisions in our state Constitution – including Amendment 1 – the largest voter approved conservation funding initiative in United States history – and was instrumental in the creation of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Now, the time has come for Mr. Henderson to retire from his many years of service in the public, private and academic sectors. According to reports, for reasons known only to Mr. Henderson, he’s relocating to Boston. As in Massachusetts.
(You know what they say about ‘book smarts’ and common sense? Well, I suspect he will too, come February. . .)
A reception honoring Mr. Henderson will take place from 6-8pm this evening at the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center, 2636 Alhambra Avenue in DeLand.
Thank you, sir. Congratulations on your well-deserved retirement.
We’re glad you passed our way.
That’s all for me – thanks for considering my oddball opinions – and for driving a larger discussion of the issues of the day.
Have a great weekend, y’all.