Angels & Assholes for July 19, 2019

Hi, kids!

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               First Step Shelter Board

Early on, I naïvely thought the First Step Shelter Board and the City of Daytona Beach were simply working off different sheets of music.

Now, it’s clear the two entities aren’t even in the same concert hall. . .

Earlier this week, long-simmering tensions boiled over when board members finally came to the realization that their star-studded committee is mere eyewash – a high-profile façade to fade the heat – a well-orchestrated diversion purposely created to give the appearance of independent oversight and screen the fact that all decisions regarding the First Step Shelter, large and small, are wholly controlled by Daytona Beach City Manager James V. Chisholm and have been from the project’s inception.

For months, while the dedicated members of the First Step Shelter Board have been spinning their wheels and suffering withering criticism from the Daytona Beach City Commission – Mr. Chisholm and his senior staff have been working in total isolation – constructing the facility and establishing budgetary and operational protocols, completely independent of these impressive volunteers who are charged with the shelter’s financial management and oversight.

While Daytona Beach City Commissioners Quanita May and Rob Gilliland were publicly lashing First Step board members, accusing them of heel-dragging, crowing about the board’s composition and threatening to dissolve the committee altogether – Mr. Chisholm and Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood were formulating eleventh-hour programmatic changes, touring Pinellas Safe Harbor in Clearwater, exploring food service options and turning the homeless assistance center into a hybrid “jail diversion program.”

In fact, the discussion between the two got so specific that there was talk of Sheriff Chitwood actually taking over the Volusia County Branch Jail in order to replicate the Pinellas program – a quantum change to county government operations that the Sheriff has publicly said “he’s not going to fight for. . .”

Jesus.

According to an informative report by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, at Monday’s First Step meeting, board member Dwight Selby, an Ormond Beach city commissioner said what many have been thinking for months, “I really wonder why this board was created. City staff is exercising so much control over this.”

In addition, Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte called it what it is, “We’re acting as a front for the City Commission.  It’s not right.”

He’s right.

At the same meeting, my friend Mayor Bill Hall of South Daytona didn’t pull any punches when he put into words the growing anger of board members who feel their time and talent is being wasted hashing over issues that Daytona Beach city officials have already decided:

“It’s not what we signed up for,” said Hall. “Tonight is a night I wonder why I wasted three hours and 15 minutes. … We’re getting something shoved down our throats.”

Wow.

Other controversial issues brought forth included the shelter’s $1.1 million annual operating budget – substantially less than the $1.7 million board members had been discussing – which will support an initial shelter capacity of just 40 to 45 people rather than the 100 beds originally proposed.

Add to that an “unusual” lease agreement foisted on the board by the city – something real estate attorney Ray Schumann of the preeminent Daytona Beach law firm Cobb Cole, said contained performance metrics and serious structural maintenance responsibilities that could “set the board up for default” – and you get the idea that perhaps the First Step Shelter Board is being, at best, intentionally blindsided – or, at worst, actively sabotaged.

Perhaps most embarrassing is the fact that Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, who serves as president of the First Step Shelter Board, has been exposed as either the most uninformed public official in the history of Daytona Beach governance – or a shill for the Chisholm administrations near-constant diversionary tactics as the real decisions are made in the cloistered executive offices at City Hall.

Now, board members – and the long-suffering taxpayers who have paid dearly for this unfolding debacle – are being told that the First Step Shelter will have a bizarre “outdoor safe zone,” an 1,800 square foot concrete slab littered with “pads and mattresses” plopped awkwardly at the main entrance of the facility, apparently to accommodate “. . .people who don’t have an interest in working through the shelter’s rehabilitation program.”

Say what? 

Oddly, I don’t recall seeing this dystopian “front lawn safe zone” noted in the original plans – or included in the pretty conceptual drawings we were sold on?

Something tells me the First Step Shelter Board didn’t either. . .

Apparently, this concept is another off-shoot of the Pinellas Safe Harbor concept where people seeking shelter are interned in a hierarchical system wherein ferine sub-humans survive outdoors, humans progress to floor-space inside and gainfully employed “residents” graduate to a cheap bunk bed in some purgatory between a jail cell and the mean streets.

According to reports, the Reverend L. Ronald Durham, the city’s community relations manager who has become the unfortunate face of homelessness in Daytona Beach, said the safe zone would be fenced, but “people would be free to leave the property if they wished.”

(As opposed to not being free to leave?  What?)

I don’t know about you, but something tells me the end result of this convoluted mishmash of disjointed “objectives” won’t bear any semblance to a homeless assistance shelter. . .

My God. 

As I’ve previously written, maybe Sheriff Chitwood’s desire for a cut-rate alternative to the incredibly expensive revolving door of incarcerating homeless persons for nuisance crimes has legs – I don’t know.

However, those who have volunteered their time, talents and political reputations to steward this important social service deserve the respect due those who work hard in a cause of great importance to our community.

Treating the First Step Shelter Board like mushrooms – keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit – isn’t just counter-productive, it’s ethically wrong – especially when public funds are commingled to achieve a common goal.

Whatever ultimately becomes of the First Step Shelter, in my view, it will long stand as a troubled monument to the political ineptitude that continues to plague the long-suffering residents of Volusia County and proves, once again, that our path forward on the real issues we collectively face will be dark and slippery for many years to come.

Angel              City of Flagler Beach

Endangered species are just that – an entire genus which is in grave danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Florida’s gopher tortoise is an imperiled species whose habitat is being actively destroyed by out-of-control development – sacrificed on Florida’s Altar of Greed – that puts the needs and wants of speculative developers who are ravenously clearing large swaths of our natural places to make way for ghastly “theme communities” and even more half-empty strip centers.

Last week, the Flagler Beach City Commission took action to ensure that gopher tortoise burrows are properly identified – and steps taken to relocate these threatened animals to a safe haven – before slash-and-burn site preparation turns pristine forests into an environmental abattoir.

On a 4-1 vote, commissioners mandated that all proposed sites have a gopher tortoise survey performed by an expert trained and authorized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission before “grading, clearing or construction can begin.”

Inexplicably, Commissioner Rick Belhumeur cast the lone vote to deny a threatened species this commonsense protection. . .

It is common knowledge that, for years, disreputable developers often bulldoze evidence of gopher tortoise burrows to avoid the time-consuming and expensive process of identifying and relocating the vulnerable creatures.

In my view, there’s a special place in hell for those bastards who intentionally destroy wildlife to advance their greed-crazed pursuit – but, for now, measures like this will give species in danger of extinction a fighting chance for survival.

Kudos to Flagler Beach for taking this important step to ensure that gopher tortoises have an independent advocate to properly safeguard their diminishing habitat before even more of it is clear-cut for new development.

Asshole           Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company

Look, I don’t have an issue with Consolidated-Tomoka making a profit on the sale of their holdings at LPGA International – after all, that’s how they make a living – and, if the stories routinely plastered across the News-Journal’s business page are accurate, the Good ol’ Boys Investment Club has made a fortune in recent years selling pine scrub around the I-95/LPGA Boulevard interchange.

I just think it would have been nice if we had been told upfront, when they bought LPGA’s Jones and Hills golf courses, that they were going to flip them. . .

Earlier this week, residents of the LPGA community (and Daytona Beach taxpayers) learned that Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company is actively trying to unload the two golf courses it purchased at LPGA International for over twice what it paid the City of Daytona Beach in 2017.

According to reports, the deal between Consolidated-Tomoka and CBIGG, a subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate, is contingent upon sealing a new licensing agreement with the Ladies Professional Golf Association that requires “reasonable efforts” to bring an LPGA Tour event to the Daytona Beach facility each year.

It also required that the City of Daytona Beach vote to amend its a decades-old master agreement, which included releasing deed restrictions, establishing payments to the city for a $1 per round surcharge and “solidifying privileges of the Ladies Professional Golf Association to use the facility on the city’s west side.”

To their credit, on Wednesday, the Daytona Beach City Commission opted to delay a vote on the agreement amendments until August 7, to give more time for review and reflection.

Smart move.

Given the on-going issues at nearby Indigo Lakes – where the golf course has been allowed to revert to an overgrown xeriscape as the foreign owners determine how many homes, apartments and commercial spaces they can profitably shoehorn onto the property – naturally, LPGA residents and club members are concerned about the future of their neighborhoods chief amenity.

And they should be.

As a result, a lot of people hoped it would remain locally owned and operated by an entity with a vested interest in our community – because that’s sort of what we were led to believe. . .

In a January 2017 article in the News-Journal explaining the terms and reasoning for the sale of the links – that had been owned by the City of Daytona Beach for the past 40-years – we were told by Sir John Albright, president and CEO of Consolidated-Tomoka, that, “Owning the courses now is incentive for Consolidated-Tomoka to try to make the venture profitable in the long run.”

Sir John didn’t lie.

Considering the fact Consolidated-Tomoka purchased the property from the citizens of Daytona Beach  for a cool $1.5 million – then off-loaded it less than three-years later for a reported $3.6 million – I guess it was an incredibly profitable venture in the long run. . .

(I dunno – maybe it’s sour grapes, but shit like that never happens for me – how about you?)

At the time, many questioned why Consolidated-Tomoka would want to operate a golf and country club that was estimated to have lost some $15 million over the past few decades?

Look, God knows I’m no business analyst – but that seemed like one hell of a risk. . .

I guess we know the answer to that now, eh?

According to Sir John, the City Commission’s temerity in actually looking out for the best interests of those who elected them, just might put the kibosh on Consolidated-Tomoka’s incredibly profitable sale – and he’s not happy. . .

In an incredibly rare moment, almost never seen in a local governmental chamber – Mayor Derrick Henry took the unprecedented step of calling CBIGG’s bluff – putting their attorney on notice that the city wouldn’t be rushed.

“Your tone doesn’t resonate well with the community,” Henry told the CBIGG representative.

Damn.

Now, Sir John is openly wringing his hands and publicly fretting over the future of his incredibly lucrative deal.

Late Wednesday, he told the News-Journal, “What buyer in his right mind will want to close on this after what just happened?  What kind of welcome mat was this?”

My ass.

In my view, if the deal was good for everyone involved today – it will still be good three short weeks from now. . .

In perhaps the most cogent analysis of what many in our community are feeling, Daytona Beach resident and civic activist Greg Gimbert recently posted on our regions foremost social media political action forum, Facebook’s Volusia Issues:

“Remember when the City of Daytona Beach gave our premiere community LPGA golf course to ConTom (Consolidated-Tomoka) for a song because ConTom would be a good steward of it and protect it for the future?

#MeToo

Daytona Beach residents would be treated better if their politicians had to face two-year terms and the potential of a clean sweep instead of the staggered four-year terms which protect an entrenched political class.  Changing the county charter to two-year terms would also put a band aid on those trust issues that actions similar to these will never cure.

Question: How much money does ConTom need to make on flipping public property before the voter’s demand that they buy and build their own roads from now on too?”

Good question. . .

I’ve got another head-scratcher for you.

Why is it when the people and corporations who comprise the political donor class in the Halifax area step in a bucket of shit, they always come out with a gold nugget between their toes?

Anyone care to venture a guess how this will ultimately resolve for Consolidated-Tomoka?   

Just curious.

Angel               Daytona Beach Police Department

I want to extend a hearty Barker’s View “Thank you” to Chief Craig Capri and the intrepid officers and staff of the Daytona Beach Police Department for their incredible professionalism during what was a very challenging week for our community.

By any metric, Chief Capri and his hard chargers acted in the finest traditions of the law enforcement service by calming our fears and quickly identifying those responsible for a spate of violence earlier in the week.

They kept the public well-informed and solicited our help – working hard to provide a calming presence and a true sense of partnership with those they serve.

I admire that – and you should too.

The police have very little direct influence over these inexplicable acts – or the social, economic and civic issues that precipitate them; however, they are so often blamed for the result.

In my view, that’s not right.

I have great respect for Chief Capri and the outstanding men and women of his department who regularly go into harm’s way – often under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances – to protect and serve the citizens of the City of Daytona Beach and beyond.

Godspeed.  These heroes deserve our respect, admiration and support.

Well done.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

Ha!  You thought I forgot my perennial favorites high atop the gilded Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand, didn’t you?

Not hardly. . .

On Tuesday, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and that passel of dullards we elected to represent our interests shocked the conscience of their already traumatized constituents when they “tentatively approved” a 6.75% property tax increase.

You read that right.

To their credit, Council members Heather Post and the Right Reverend Dr. Fred Lowry (who was apparently struck by some preternatural fit of conscience and moral clarity) voted against the proposed tax rate.

According to a report by the News-Journal’s intrepid Dustin Wyatt, this massive hike would more than cover fundamental changes to its disastrously inefficient ambulance service – reward county employees with a comfortable 3% across the board pay increase – and summarily punish the rest of us for having the temerity to approve Amendment 10. . .

That’s on top of a $17.00 increase for trash collection and recycling services for residents living in unincorporated areas.

Wait.  Did I forget to mention that the proposed increase will also allow Volusia County to shove a surplus windfall of $16 million into the general fund for, you know, “unforeseeable” events?

Because it will. . .

Jesus.

Now, don’t fret.  Our elected and appointed representatives want us all to know that they are burning the midnight oil to find ways to trim the thick crust of fat from this horribly swollen bureaucracy and bring those of us who pay the bills some “relief” before they set the final budget this fall.

(So long as it doesn’t affect the salary, benefits or pay raises for those lard-asses in the senior management class – or cut into “economic development incentives” for their political benefactors. . .)

My ass.

One idea working its way through the smoke and mirrors that is our county government calls for a reduction of the amount Volusia County residents contribute to the ECHO program – which was created by a citizen-approved referendum in 2000 – and “provides grant funds to finance acquisition, restoration, construction or improvement of facilities to be used for environmental, cultural, historical and outdoor recreational purposes.”

You know, the very fund that has been raided, mismanaged and squirreled away for pet projects by our elected and appointed officials for years?

Yep.  Contributions to the only program that was approved and mandated by the sacred vote of Volusia County residents to save our natural places – which amounts to just .20 cents per $1,000 of taxable value – would be reduced by these pernicious shitheads so they can take an even larger bite from their already overtaxed constituents?

This is classic budgetary sleight-of-hand – and they think you and I are  too stupid to notice.

In perhaps the most egregious slap in the face since, oh, the last time he arrogantly ignored the will and voice of Volusia County’s long-suffering electorate, Chairman Kelley said he wants – by royal edict – to eliminate our ECHO fund altogether.

When asked by Dustin Wyatt if the council could arbitrarily eliminate a measure that was approved by the voters, he said yes “because it was adopted by the council.”

WHAT!

“I think by a supermajority we could change that,” he told The News-Journal. “We could just say we aren’t going to do that anymore.”

What a tyrannical scumbag. . .

I can’t think of anything more un-American – more counter to our democratic values or destructive to the public trust – than some autocratic, ethically crippled political hack who believes he can suppress the will of voters by imperial diktat of those shameless marionettes he shares the dais with.

I’ve got an idea! 

How about in 2020 We, The People stand together at the ballot box and collectively tell Old Ed we’ve had enough of his unique brand of domineering idiocy – and summarily throw his intellectually challenged, dictatorial ass on the ash heap of history – that low place where screw-job politicians who long ago sold their souls to the highest bidder go when their aggrieved constituency has had enough?

Sound good?

At the very least, this latest insult to Volusia County taxpayers – many of whom are eking out a living at or below the poverty line in this horribly compromised artificial economy that benefits the few at expense of many – should prompt the discussion of how we right-size county government.

In my view, it’s time to get Volusia County’s hands off the municipalities, reign in the belligerent county attorney’s office, pare down bloated administrative departments and refocus efforts on the county’s core constituency in unincorporated areas – as we work to return fiscal sanity to this morbidly obese bureaucracy.

Stay tuned, kids.  This isn’t over – not by a long shot.

Quote of the Week

“Mislead students and their families, create phony test documents, mislead district staff and the College Board, and encourage teachers to perpetuate the ruse. Then claim it was done with good intentions.  As a retired principal, I find it deeply troubling that a colleague in the education profession would devise and implement such a scheme, no matter the perceived justification. Leading a school with a challenging population is difficult, but does not ethically justify providing false information to students in an effort to enhance their performance.”

–John Atkinson, DeBary, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Decision deeply troubling,” July 2, 2019

I wrote about this important issue earlier in the week, but it bears repeating:

After anxious students and parents waited nearly two-weeks with absolutely no substantive information while the district finished investigating itself – earlier this week we were told that no one in a leadership role will be held responsible for the appalling Advanced Placement ‘placebo’ testing scam at Mainland High School that has destroyed the public’s trust and forever altered the way Volusia County students will perceive and interact with teachers and administrators.

On Monday, thanks to the outstanding reportage of the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Cassidy Alexander, taxpayers – and those who were victimized – learned that the architect of this sordid scheme, Mainland Principal Cheryl Salerno, and the district’s former Chief Academic Officer Teresa Marcks, will receive little more than a stern scolding from something the district absurdly refers to as the “Office of Professional Standards” – whose inquiry described this inexcusable malfeasance as “inappropriate and/or unprofessional.”

My God. . .

According to reports, “No other disciplinary action is outlined in the documents. . .”

Unfortunately, rather than demonstrate the strong leadership needed during this mushrooming crisis, School Board Chairman Carl Persis, “. . .called the issue of whom to blame and disciplinary actions “a moot point.”

Really?

Accountability – the foundational element of good governance that ensures those who make decisions that affect people’s lives are answerable for their actions – is a moot point having no practical value or importance?

Now is the time for the elective body we have placed our sacred trust in to establish strong public policy, purge that wholly dysfunctional Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand and establish a lasting culture of honor, virtue and transparency that students of the Volusia County School District can take pride in – and learn from.

Now, I’m hearing from parents and district insiders of other disturbing happenings at Volusia County Schools. . .

Folks, I fear our district is in real trouble.

And Another Thing!

I know, I know – you’re sick and tired of hearing me gush about my love affair with The City with a Heart – I get it. . .

It does my broken old heart good to know that – finally – the City of Holly Hill is getting the serious recognition it so richly deserves.

Earlier this week, in an incredibly well-written essay the News-Journal’s editorial board waxed eloquently about the ‘little town that could.’

As many loyal readers know, I spent my entire career in service to the residents of this wonderful community on the beautiful banks of the Halifax River – a very special place that embodies many Old Florida traits that larger communities are trying desperately to recreate.

“With improvements big (the advent of the new Fountainhead business complex, new fitness-themed facilities in city parks, a fancy new facility devoted to the emerging sport of pickleball, a new art festival and a growing number of small, owner-operated restaurants that could boost the city as a “foodie” destination) and small (painting grants that encourage local businesses to spruce themselves up), the city is making steady progress toward recreating itself as a healthy, nurturing environment for the workers who are expected to fill hundreds of new jobs slated to open in Holly Hill and adjacent cities in the next few years.”

Most important, the newspaper gave credit where credit is due, pointing out that the city’s energetic leadership team – led by Mayor Chris Via and Joe Forte, the best City Manager in the business – along with economic development director Nick Conte (whose impressive portfolio includes assisting the revitalization of downtown DeLand) are working closely with residents and the business community to “reinvent” Holly Hill.

When you factor in the stability of the active and involved municipal government, the city’s ability to attract visionary entrepreneurs and its diverse workforce – clearly, this is a community experiencing a true renaissance.

Kudos to everyone working hard to make my favorite small town in the world an even better place to live, work and play!

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for July 19, 2019

  1. Mark, as you are very well informed please tell me what would happen to the “closed beach” of the Hard Rock if they would belly up or decide to sell? Would the “closed beach” be grandfathered in to the next owners?

    Like

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