Angels & Assholes for August 9, 2019

Hi, kids!

Weird week, huh?

From yet another Battle Royale between Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the Volusia County Council to The Case of the Pilfered Pistol at a good, old-fashioned Deltona orgy, it’s been one for the books.

The political spat is business as usual – but the orgy?

Hey – I’m not judging.

In my view, sex is between the 15-20 consenting adults involved and no one else – but I’m a stickler for responsible gun ownership – and that says you put the 9mm in a secure location before turning your home into Caligula’s Lair.  Just sayin’.

(Look, I’m certainly not a prude, but I don’t think I could host an orgy in my house at this age and stage.  “Hey, man.  That couch is Corinthian leather.  PUT A TOWEL DOWN!”)

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               Interim School Superintendent Tim Egnor

No one has been more critical of the Volusia County School District than I have.

For good reason.

In fact, I think the threat to the very core of our primary educational system stems from a long-standing culture of administrative mediocrity that has produced a clique of ‘untouchables’ in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand – entrenched bureaucrats who value silence and suppression over transparency.

A few months ago, thanks to the outstanding coverage of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s education reporter Cassidy Alexander, we learned of a bizarre scheme that saw some 336 freshmen at Mainland High School fall victim to a reverse cheating scandal in the form of a fake Advanced Placement ‘placebo’ exam.

Following what passed for the district’s “investigation” – a slap-dash internal inquiry that failed to include so much as an interview with former Superintendent Tom Russell – Mainland Principle Cheryl Salerno and a now retired administrator were issued a benign written reprimand, allowing Russell to close the lid on the matter with a ‘nothing more to see here, folks – keep moving’ non-response before fleeing the district to a comfy new gig with Flagler County Schools.

In my view, rather than do what a good leader should and accept personal responsibility for the cockamamie scheme and begin restoring the trust of the student body, Dr. Salerno did the exact opposite – she lawyered-up and began fighting the slap-on-the-wrist like a rabid badger.

Admittedly, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but given the district’s well-documented penchant for allowing problems to fester into systemic infections, even I could see something more sinister may be simmering just under the surface at Mainland High.

By all accounts, Principle Salerno is a veteran educator with a stellar reputation for incorporating innovative programs into Mainland’s curriculum.

Unfortunately, openly deceiving the bulk of the freshman class wasn’t one of them. . .

In the past few weeks, I have heard from several professionals who worked closely with Dr. Salerno and spoke highly of her personal commitment to students and staff – unfortunately, I have also received anecdotal reports of significant internal issues at Mainland which, if proven true, would represent serious ethical and procedural lapses.

As more time passed, it became clear to anyone paying attention that there are underlying problems at Mainland High that some district administrators would prefer remain in the shadows – and given the complete lack of any recognizable professional standards process – they may well have faded into the ether with the bustle of a new school year.

To his credit, Interim Superintendent Tim Egnor took action this week to formally relieve Principle Salerno of her duties, placing her on paid leave while yet another internal investigation is conducted into unidentified allegations of misconduct.

No doubt a difficult decision – but the right move.

In turn, Mr. Egnor has enlisted the outstanding talents of retired Mainland principle Tim Huth to take the reins of this troubled school and restore a sense of sanity as classes resume next week.

I take no personal enjoyment in watching the self-destruction of a lifelong career that took years of hard work and intense preparation to achieve.

In fact, I find it terribly sad – a regrettable series of events during what should have been the pinnacle of Dr. Salerno’s impressive professional trajectory – and I know our community joins with her student’s and staff in extending all best wishes for the future.

Perhaps the Volusia County School Board – and the senior administrators who have fostered this claustrophobic atmosphere – will learn that when embarrassing, even traumatic crises arise, the disinfectant and restorative properties of sunlight and fresh air are always preferable to secrecy and suppression.

Now, let the healing begin.

Angel              Fire House Subs Foundation

I think I just found my new favorite sub shop. . .

Thanks to a grant made possible by the Fire House Subs Foundation, this week, the Holly Hill Fire Department took delivery of three Jaws of Life devices for use in extricating victims trapped in motor vehicle crashes and confined spaces.

The foundation provided some $31,000 for three of the battery powered hydraulic tools – which will allow firefighters the option of operating multiple devices independently to free victims more efficiently.

I also want to extend a sincere Barker’s View Thank You to Holly Hill Fire Chief Jim Bland for his ingenuity in participating in corporate giving programs.  What a great way to supplement limited public funds and obtain state-of-the-art rescue equipment for the citizens of Holly Hill.

Thank you Fire House Subs, and the Holly Hill Fire/Rescue Department, for partnering in the public interest – great work!

Angel              Daytona Beach City Commission

In the wake of a discrimination settlement which saw the citizens of Daytona Beach paying some $1 million to resolve two credible complaints involving racial bias and sexual harassment filed by long-time public servants – the Daytona Beach City Commission is questioning how this could happen in 2019 – and, more important, what can be done to prevent it in the future.

Typically, when suits of this type are settled, the defendant normally includes a sentence or two maintaining their innocence and denying any wrongdoing in the matter – but, in my view, that’s often disingenuous.

The most recent settlement was the result of a lawsuit filed by Thomas Huger against the City of Daytona Beach when he was mysteriously denied a promotion that went to another employee with less education, experience and tenure.

According to reports, “The 67-year-old Huger’s claims against the city were for race discrimination; age discrimination; racially based hostile work environment harassment and retaliation; violation of the Florida Public Sector Whistleblower’s Act; and constructive discharge from employment.”

The Huger case came on the heels of devastating allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and other gross workplace issues brought by Sonya Wiles against senior city officials.

After a series of official denials – nonsensical wrangling which victimized Ms. Wiles all over again and cost in excess of $1 million in legal fees – Daytona Beach settled the matter for over $456,000.

On Wednesday, City Commissioner Paula Reed said she wants to explore the issue and determine if it’s “rooted in management or procedures at City Hall.”

In a report by the News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, “Reed said the city needs to shine a bright light on any discrimination problems that might be lurking “so we don’t find ourselves here again.”

Bravo Commissioner Reed.  Bravo.

That takes organizational courage.

There are many reasons why government organizations find it difficult to turn introspective and investigate the leadership, policy and organizational issues that can lead to very embarrassing – and expensive – problems.

After all, self-criticism and honest internal evaluation is often hard to swallow – but it is painfully necessary to ensure personal and organizational growth.

Frankly, in the aftermath of these two disturbing settlements, I find it refreshing that Commissioner Reed and her colleagues have the courage to examine these difficult issues and ensure a workplace that embraces diversity, supports and encourages whistle blowers and protects employees from the ravages of sexual harassment and racial bias.

The City of Daytona Beach has an incredible workforce, with many dedicated servant-leaders in key leadership and operational roles, who provide essential services with incredible expertise and commitment to the highest ideals of public service.

They deserve our support.

Asshole           County of Volusia – Politics as Usual  

Sometimes I quietly contemplate how ostensibly smart people – friends and neighbors who stood before us and begged for our sacred vote on a promise to work in our best interests – can become so horribly dysfunctional, mired in the politics of personal destruction and spiteful squabbles that invariably end in the elected official becoming everything he or she hated when they were drawn to public service.

I think I know the answer. . .

Many politicians quickly become attracted to the intrigue that naturally accompanies the power and trappings of public office – energized by that heady shot of Adrenalin to the ego that comes with the knowledge that, once elected to high office, vengeance is no longer the exclusive domain of The Lord. . .

In my experience, few things are as detrimental to the organizational effectiveness of government than internecine power struggles – those stupid Clash of the Titans pissing contests at the top that only serve to destabilize the lower layers of a bureaucracy and expose the abject pettiness of those haughty assholes that promised us things would be different on their watch.

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council staged another production of their unique style of political theater, that weird Kabuki that passes for our manner and means of governance here on Florida’s Fun Coast, when it became clear to most everyone on the dais of power that they had a prime opportunity to publicly get even with Sheriff Michael Chitwood for his “scumbags of the week” award – bestowed on the council when the majority voted to ignore the will of the people and fight Amendment 10 – and other sharp comments on social media which threatened the status quo.

As I understand it (and I’m not sure I do), Sheriff Chitwood had something of a gentleman’s agreement with our “new” County Manager Georgie Recktenwald which would return two deputy positions to his roster this budget cycle.

The unfilled spots were previously converted to fund a human resources administrator for the Sheriff’s Office in the lead-up to the Amendment 10 transition – a voter-approved initiative which will (finally) return constitutional sovereignty to our duly elected Sheriff – elevating the office from a “department head” role, totally subservient to an appointed county manager with no political accountability.

So, despite the fact he currently has some 36 sworn vacancies – jobs the agency has been actively working to fill – Sheriff Chitwood returned the two positions he was promised in his budget request.

After lecturing her “colleagues” that funding Sheriff Chitwood’s request “is not fiscally prudent,” the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys told a gold-plated whopper when she said, “We don’t approve it all until the demand exists. And then, should the time come that the needs are there and the positions are (in place), then we make a budget amendment and bring it back to the council.”

 Which is complete horseshit – considering the County’s ambulance service has eight current openings – yet the council approved funding for five new positions on Tuesday. . .

(For that matter, we also learned this week that Volusia County is currently carrying some 400 funded vacancies (and the council is worried about two?) which tells me the entire human resources department should be summarily fired out-of-hand and a management audit conducted immediately.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200.  Get the hell out.  Now.)

Then, former sheriff and current freshman Councilman Ben Johnson made a motion to deny the two positions, based upon the fact “we should not be adding more positions until they are filled.”

Johnson also agreed – using the same weird process outlined by Denys – that when Sheriff Chitwood fills his vacancies, he can come back before the council (hat in hand, no doubt) and he would support a budget amendment – even digging into reserve funds (?) – to pay for the two positions.

The motion was seconded by The Very Reverend Fred Lowry and approved on a 6-1 vote, with Councilwoman Heather Post opposing the cuts to public safety.

According to Councilman Johnson, his reticence in approving the relatively paltry $71,960 in salaries stems from his desire to be a good steward of public funds.

Perhaps that’s true.

I think Ben Johnson’s heart is in the right place – but I also see how attractive the proposition of showing Sheriff Chitwood who’s the boss might have been. . .

Regardless of intent, Johnson’s move didn’t sit well with Mike Chitwood – who immediately concluded what many citizens watching the meeting were already thinking:  He got the equivalent of a very public political wedgie. 

According to a report filed by the intrepid Dustin Wyatt in the News-Journal, Sheriff Chitwood fumed,  “We put this request in and Johnson made an issue out of it. Johnson thinks he’s still the sheriff.  In political theater and drama, Johnson decided to say ‘F— you.’  Now we aren’t going to get those two deputies back.”   

To their credit, the council voted to approve the Sheriff’s request for six new computer crimes specialists – and Sheriff Chitwood later confirmed that there are currently 16 deputies in training and another 18 hired – so things appear to be looking up.

In an interview Tuesday afternoon on WNDB’s Marc Bernier Show, Sheriff Chitwood called the Volusia County Council “gutless” (which is true), and said he and Ben Johnson are “mortal enemies” (which I hope isn’t true.)

Councilman Johnson responded to Chitwood’s angry diatribe – who had earlier challenged Johnson to run against him if he wanted to “run the Sheriff’s Office” – with a not-so-veiled shot suggesting Mr. Bernier ask deputies the real reason they are leaving the department.

It’s bad.  And I suspect it will only get worse. . .

In my view, if County Manager Recktenwald assured Sheriff Chitwood that the two positions would be returned to his agency this budget cycle – then he clearly spoke out of turn – and contributed to yet another embarrassing shit storm that has widened the chasm between our extremely popular Sheriff and our not-so-popular council members.

That’s wrong.

If we have learned anything about Volusia County governance, the origin of yet another political feud that will play out on the front page of the newspaper, be heard on radio forums and serve as cheap fodder for shit-stirrers like me – further cementing Volusia’s reputation as a wholly dysfunctional backwater – will never be fully investigated or understood.

To do so would invite the specter of accountability and expose the depth of internal and external miscommunication and bungling maladministration so many have tried desperately to bring to light.

Jesus.  What a mess.  Will it ever end?

Angel              Sons of the Beach and Friends

Earlier this week, those intrepid souls at Sons of the Beach and Friends – the political action arm of Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy – began their campaign to nudge Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm into retirement.

Let’s face it – Mr. Chisholm isn’t one of those guys that give you the “warm and fuzzies.”

From my experience, he’s a no-nonsense guy with incredibly strong leadership skills and the strength of personality to push an agenda with laser-focus – and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

Now, I don’t happen to agree with the direction of Mr. Chisholm’s vision – or that of the uber-wealthy oligarchs he works for – but this is, in fact, what strong leadership and the ability to affect change despite strong public opposition looks like.

Clearly, Mr. Chisholm has developed a loyal team – and he enjoys the confidence and support of our “Rich and Powerful” overseers – something that allows him to operate free of the political accountability and oversight that normally leavens senior appointed positions.

You see, when you enjoy the protections of those who fund the political campaigns of your elected “bosses” – it imparts something of a Teflon coating that tends to upset the natural balance of things.

And while I appreciate the efforts of Sons of the Beach and Friends to bring about positive change in the leadership and direction of the City of Daytona Beach – I don’t believe Mr. Chisholm will go anywhere until the exact second he decides to comfortably retire or pursue other interests.

By any metric, Mr. Chisholm’s domain – the City of Daytona Beach – continues to face serious, seemingly intractable problems that, despite the near-constant cheer leading of the Chamber of Commerce set and out-of-control sprawl to the west, threatens to destroy our quality of life and economic viability.

Clearly, the City Manager is working hard to push the vision of those who stand to benefit most in places like Downtown Daytona – and areas along and near Boomtown Boulevard – as evidenced by the city’s clandestine efforts to remove long-standing deed restrictions on public lands on City Island, the mysterious changes to the downtown streetscape, the publicly underwritten Brown & Brown Headquarters and Grand Esplanade, Sir John Albright’s adventures at Bay Street and Palmetto Avenue, etc., etc.

A Master Plan known only to those with a need to know.

And those of us who pay the bills apparently don’t need to know. . .

From the incredibly expensive personnel issues, to the on-going debacle that is the First Step Shelter, in many ways, Mr. Chisholm has been his own worst enemy for not communicating directly with his constituents (or “colleagues”) and explaining the city’s current direction to an increasingly worried community.

In fact, I don’t think Mr. Chisholm speaks to the working press at all anymore. . .

Most disturbing, it appears the Daytona Beach City Commission – the duly elected representatives of the people – are apparently okay being seen as pawns in a much larger, more complex game that only needs their vote, not their input.

Perhaps I’m wrong – and the strong civic activism of Sons of the Beach and Friends will convince Mr. Chisholm to take up the rocking chair – but don’t be surprised if he remains at helm until the foundational elements are in place to further the vision and economic interests of those who really set public policy in Daytona Beach and beyond.

Quote of the Week

“You can walk away when the going gets tough.  Or you can toughen up and work through adversity and make it happen.  This is not doom and gloom.  It is growing pains and while issues arise, many of us will continue with the goal of a new service to meet the needs of those who are homeless and want to use it.  There is not one answer.  There is not a right answer.  There is a community working to offer options and while there are disagreements, at least there are various possibilities.  Better to do something than do nothing.  Better to stand up and make things happen then to quit and not keep taking a stand to have your voice heard.  When you are done and go without being demeaning to the efforts of those who remain.”

–Jane Elise Bloom, Co-Executive Director of First Step Shelter, writing on social media in response to the resignation of Joe Forte from the Executive Board, Friday, August 2, 2019

Jane Bloom should stay in her lane.

When you assume a senior role in a clearly controversial arena – with little background information or direct personal knowledge of the players and contributors who have fought so long and hard to bring the struggling endeavor to life – keep your goofy opinions to yourself.

During my professional life, I always kept my political and civic views private – a self-imposed silence that was necessary by virtue of my positional influence in the community.

As an appointed official, it was not my place to second-guess elected policymakers or disparage the decisions of my superiors in a public forum – that would have been disrespectful of the process.

Last Friday, Holly Hill City Manager and First Step Shelter Treasurer Joe Forte followed his conscience and resigned from the executive board when it became clear the City of Daytona Beach was intentionally bypassing the oversight committee on critical policy issues.

That evening, Ms. Bloom – posting from the official Facebook page of the First Step Shelter organization – published the above quote taking Mr. Forte to task for his resignation.

Although she quickly saw the error of spewing her personal bilge as the official voice of the First Step Shelter and edited her narrative – the damage to Mr. Forte’s reputation was done.

Who the hell does Jane Bloom think she is? 

By any measure, Joe Forte has been instrumental in the fledgling progress of bringing the homeless assistance center (or whatever it is this week) to life for years – and his volunteerism and dedication to the success of the project was driven by a desire to serve as a good steward of public funds – always mindful of the needs of those less fortunate – and the political sensitivities of others on the board.

Add to that his three-decades of public service as a firefighter and chief executive and I know of few people who have contributed more to the cause of good governance in Volusia County.

If I sound hyper-protective of Joe Forte, that’s because I am.

We have fought the political wars together – and served shoulder-to-shoulder during life-threatening emergencies – and I trust his character and judgement implicitly.

In my view, Ms. Bloom’s misinformed views on the motivations of members of the board she serves have no place in the public arena – and this mean-spirited tripe should never have been posted under the First Step Shelter flag.

Now, it’s time for Ms. Bloom to do the right thing and resign.

We have enough dysfunction and distrust surrounding this important, and incredibly expensive, undertaking without your ill-informed opinions muddying the waters.

And Another Thing!

On Wednesday I began my 59th trip around the sun.

I know, I know – it’s hard to believe, given my youthful visage and athletic build  – go figure. . .

At this age and stage, I don’t know how many adventures I have left in me, but I’m packed and ready, come what may – and I take every day God gives me as a gift – even when that involves endless hours watching repeats of The Roy Rogers Show until naptime. . .

On balance, my life has been an incredibly exciting roller coaster ride – and I am blessed with a wonderful family (including two of the cutest grand kids you ever saw) and a precious few old friends who love and care about me despite my many faults and foibles.

And I’m fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

After all these years, I think the great mystery all boils down to what Ray Wylie Hubbard said:

“The days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations.  I have really good days.”

 As the celebration of this momentous occasion continues in cocktail lounges throughout the Halifax area (many of which list my b-day up there with the Daytona 500 and Bike Week in terms of total revenue generated) I wanted to take a minute to say Thank You to the many members of the Barker’s View tribe who took the time to reach out with birthday wishes.

Your outpouring of kindness and good thoughts was so heartwarming – I was sincerely touched – and it does my beat-up old heart good to know so many care.

On Wednesday morning, just as I have done on many birthday’s past, I read my special “If Today Is Your Birthday” horoscope in the News-Journal.

This is what it said:

“Take time to breathe and plan for the future. Set your sights high and you will get out what you put in and more, if you are willing to go the extra mile.”

That’s sound advice.  For all of us. . .

Have a great weekend, y’all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for August 9, 2019

  1. Hey. Missed your birthday again, but sounds like you celebrated with family and friends. Hope all is well. See you soon. Robin

    Like

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