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 Daytona “International” Airport
Normally, I just ignore the pap and fluff coming out of the executive offices at Daytona “International” Airport – which has essentially remained a Hooterville feeder for hubs in Atlanta and Charlotte – because the always hyper-optimistic tripe has become too sickly sweet for my taste.
Earlier this month, the Volusia County Council heard an informative report from Mead & Hunt – the mega-consultancy that educates government and private industry on topics from airports to cheese production facilities – who studied the market and came to the conclusion that Daytona Beach is “underserved.”
But don’t be disappointed, you Gloomy Gus.
The fact we can’t attract and keep air carriers at DAB isn’t a problem – it’s a ‘growth opportunity’ – you ninny!
Of course it is. . .
According to a report in the Ormond Beach Observer, during the Mead & Hunt presentation, our consultants also examined the abrupt departure of JetBlue – and something called Silver Airways – both of which fled Daytona Beach in a cloud of jet exhaust after taking hundreds of thousands in public and private incentives.
(Apparently, another publicly incentivized carrier, SunWing – a Toronto-Daytona shuttle that comes around about as often as the Comet Kohoutek – will resume their once-a-week flight in November. . .)
What I didn’t know (and I’ll just bet the Volusia County Council didn’t know either) is that Silver Airways, which began a single daily flight from DAB to Ft. Lauderdale in January, had an abysmal track record of abandoning over 60% of the markets that it served over the last five years. . .
However, airport director Rick Karl and his staff had that information at hand when they offered the carrier some $100,000 in incentives for what turned out to be a scant six-month stint in Daytona Beach.
Jesus. Desperate much?
The hapless County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler asked the painfully obvious question that everyone else in the room (except Rick Karl) must have been thinking:
Why would Daytona “International” Airport officials offer an incentive package worth a hundred grand to a small airline with a single route and dismal history of leaving 6 out of 10 markets they serve?
According to Director Karl, our highly paid business development types at DAB will do a better job of assessing risk in the future – and “try to make sure incentives are in line with potential risks.”
“It was risky, but we’re in business and we have to take some risks,” Karl said. “I would say it was worth trying.”
In business? Are you kidding me?
If Daytona “International” Airport were operated like a business (you know, a private venture where your livelihood depends upon razor-sharp decision-making or you lose everything you own?) – Rick Karl and Company would be out on their ass after pissing away $100,000 in company assets on a high risk/low return deal.
This isn’t a business – at best, its gambling with other people’s money – at worst, its intentionally flushing good money after bad.
Don’t take my word for it – ask successful business moguls like King J. Hyatt Brown, Sir John Albright or the High Panjandrum of Political Power Mori Hosseini how long blundering nimrods who lose hundreds of thousands on sketchy deals last in their organizations?
Only in government do executive directors enjoy the “we’ll do better next time, y’all” excuse. . .
Following the presentation, the Volusia County Council took action to further drive even more local travelers to other airports in the region when they raised daily parking fees for both short and long-term lots – a move that will result in squeezing an extra $190,411 from area customers.
(Interesting how Mr. Karl’s “business” is able to recoup its losses on the backs of his “customers” without any financial or shareholder repercussions? Does your business have that luxury? I didn’t think so. . .)
Given the exorbitant cost of flying from DAB – so prohibitive that many in Volusia and Flagler drive to Orlando, Jacksonville or Sanford to take advantage of direct flights at lower prices – one might think Daytona “International” Airport executives would have considered lowering, or even temporarily eliminating, parking fees during peak travel periods as an incentive to increase local passenger traffic.
I thought so. . .
Angel United States Attorney Lawrence Keefe
Reports out of Tallahassee last week confirmed that U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe, serving the Northern District of Florida, will launch a much-needed Public Trust Unit to fight government corruption and election fraud in our state.
The announcement came as a federal judge accepted a guilty plea from former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox and a business associate on crimes related to his public service.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, “Asked if the plea deal was an indication of other festering issues, Keefe acknowledged there was ongoing public corruption, and an “ensuing lack of public trust that people have that it is not an even playing field and a rigged system.”
“Florida is starting to recognize this is an issue that has economic impacts, he said. Corrupt political process has economic impacts. We are seeing that play out here in the secondary costs, the pay-to-play aspects of this.”
Kudos to U.S. Attorney Keefe and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for focusing their expertise and technology on Florida – a place that has become a cheap whorehouse – a second-rate Banana Republic where quid pro quo politics is so commonplace many of our elected officials have forgotten what it means to represent the whole of their constituency with equality, fairness and accessibility.
Asshole Volusia County Schools
As student’s made their way back to school this week, the painful and incredibly convoluted process of meting out what passes for justice in the on-going Advanced Placement ‘placebo’ testing debacle at Mainland High School continued to play out this week – then, we learned that godforsaken mess was the least of our worries. . .
Given the troubling revelations emerging from the burgeoning scandal at Mainland, it is becoming apparent to many that Volusia County Schools – a taxing district with a $900 million budget – continues to slog along with a woefully inadequate professional standards process that bears no resemblance to a legitimate internal oversight and disciplinary procedure.
This week, we learned that former Mainland Principal Dr. Cheryl Salerno – who was pegged by the district as the architect of the AP exam fiasco – lost her appeal of a relatively benign written reprimand that both she and a now retired senior administrator received following an internal investigation.
Then, the other shoe dropped. . .
According to reports, Dr. Salerno formally retired from Volusia County Schools early last week following sustained allegations that she personally “taught” a bogus class which mainly consisted of senior student-athletes, misused personnel without authorization from superiors and apparently violated state law by hiring two teachers to be school counselors who weren’t certified.
Most egregious, the “class” Dr. Salerno taught was an apparent sham – never happened – with every student in the non-existent course receiving top grades.
An academic fraud with potential long-term implications:
“. . .no such class was taught, no evidence in the grade book exists of graded student assignments for any student in either the first or second semester, and every student in the Speech 1 course received a quarterly grade of 95 for each of the four grading periods.”
Jesus. That’s scary.
In my view, this abject corruption doesn’t happen in a vacuum – someone must have known, right?
I mean, Volusia County Schools must have some basic safeguards in place?
An early warning system that detects ethical and procedural lapses at all levels of the organization and ensures that students, teachers and staff are protected? No?
In my view, the reverse cheating scandal that saw some 336 freshmen students intentionally deceived into believing they were taking an AP examination that would lead to college credit – only to learn it was all a cheap con – perpetrated by the very people they trusted – was bad, but fabricating grades for senior student-athletes is beyond the pale.
Who is served by that?
Certainly not the unfortunate students who were awarded grades they did not earn.
And what must this say to the real victims – those who struggled, worked hard and actually attended classes?
This is a scandal of monumental proportions – and may well call into question the educational achievements and credentials of students who could have received diplomas based on fraudulent grades and unqualified teachers.
When will the Department of Education get off their ass and investigate this disaster?
In this bizarre bureaucratic maze that is Volusia County Schools, the idea of “professional standards” has apparently devolved into a bad joke – a systemic lack of accountability and oversight that has created a class of “untouchables” in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand.
The Volusia County School Board is prohibited from direct involvement in the day-to-day operations of the district – that’s the exclusive domain of the Superintendent of Schools – however, establishing public policy and ensuring that educational activities are governed by strong protocols that include adequate supervision at all levels – and a clearly defined investigative and disciplinary process for those who violate ethical and procedural standards – is well within our elected officials purview.
Frankly, the sight of Chairman Persis standing in front of television cameras, staring at his shoes, while issuing yet another apology is getting tiresome.
It is also stimulating even more questions from his worried constituents.
Questions like, how many students need to be academically victimized before our politically accountable School Board recognizes the need for a top-to-bottom independent investigation (and thorough house cleaning) of our horribly compromised district?
Or, when will our elected representatives revisit the lucrative severance package provided to former Superintendent Tom Russell – who either knew or should have known organized fraud was being perpetrated at Mainland High School on his watch – then take legal action to recover those clearly undeserved public funds?
In my view, the Volusia County school board has a moral obligation to return stability and establish a culture that values professionalism, ethical conduct and promotes an ethos of educational excellence and equal opportunity.
Volusia County students, teachers and taxpayers deserve better.
Quote of the Week
“My family used to support the homeless efforts in Volusia County where we live, through various agencies.
Now I read that we might be importing homeless people (to make money off them?) from Flagler County.
So they expect Volusia taxpayers to help support the Flagler County homeless?
Well, have at it. City and county officials will be doing it without our support anymore. I guess global warming has gone to their heads — talk about a meltdown.”
–Stan Kapp, New Smyrna Beach, Letters to the Editor, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Don’t import more homeless people,” Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Speaking metaphorically, Flagler County Commissioner Joe Mullins has some Major League huevos. . .
According to a recent report by Shaun Ryan in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Commissioner Mullins has done the math and determined that for just $1.80 per household, Flagler County residents can dump their “homeless problem” firmly on the stooped shoulders of their unsuspecting neighbors to the south.
With millions of local dollars invested in bringing the First Step Shelter to fruition – and just 40 beds available to serve Volusia County municipalities – Flagler County now wants a last-minute buy-in for a paltry $200,000?
And, like the gullible assholes we are, some in a position to make these decisions for us are actually agreeable to the lopsided arrangement!
In fact, Daytona Beach Mayor and First Step Shelter Board President Derrick Henry initially called the move “almost a no brainer.”
Fortunately, Mayor Henry’s embrace of Flagler County’s homeless population was tempered at this week’s jumbled and rambling joint confab of the First Step Board and the Daytona Beach City Commission when the majority agreed it is probably wiser to begin by serving Volusia County (you know, whose residents paid for the facility?) then evaluate Flagler’s possible participation later.
For months (years?) Flagler County has sat patiently – shuffling homeless camps from pillar-to-post as Bunnell callously shuttered the county’s only extreme cold weather warming room – biding their time as Volusia County’s First Step Shelter finally emerged from the pine scrub west of Daytona Beach.
Now, with the project’s administration in utter chaos, they want to “partner”?
Earlier this month the News-Journal reported, “Mullins, a developer who is president and CEO of The Mullins Companies, said he could sweeten the deal with his pledge to raise corporate donations — something likely to be enticing to First Step Shelter Board members who just had to scale back plans for a $1.7 million budget, 100 beds and 21 full-time employees. The new plan is a $1.1 million budget for 45 beds and eight full-time employees.”
Then, last week, Commissioner Mullins joined Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron at a clandestine meeting with Mayor Henry and our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, to hash out the details.
(Can anyone tell me why, after publicly washing their hands of the problem years ago, Volusia County is now making decisions that could overload and derail the project altogether?)
It looks like Old Ed has decided to side-step the First Step Shelter Board – treating them like something he doesn’t want to get on his shoes – and ignore the county’s exclusive contractual agreement with Daytona Beach as he works to bring Flagler County homeless to Volusia.
Note to Chairman Kelley: Stay in your lane. No one needs your embarrassing brand of dotty incompetence meddling in serious affairs at this late hour.
(My only hope is that Councilwoman Heather Post will seize this prime opportunity to publicly horsewhip Old Ed for acting unilaterally to encourage Flagler County’s self-serving shenanigans – like he did for her when Ms. Post had the temerity to express interest in participating in a meaningful way with an early seat on the board, remember?)
Then – in perhaps the greatest joke ever told – Commissioner Mullins said (apparently with a straight face), “. . .the plan would make it possible for Flagler’s homeless to go to the shelter in Volusia, get back on their feet, and then return to Flagler.”
(Whew! Excuse me! I just shot a mouthful of Café Bustelo through my nose. . .that’s funny. Gets me every time I read it!)
I think current First Step Shelter Board member Chase Tramont echoed the thoughts of many Volusia County taxpayers when he said, “I think it’s a terrible idea. We’re in the business to fix our own problem, not import someone else’s problems. I would absolutely not sign off on that.”
Unfortunately, it might be a moot point for some communities.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Daytona Beach City Attorney Robert Jagger told board members that, depending upon how it’s “programmed,” the shelter may not be “Pottinger compliant” – or bring the municipalities in compliance with certain underlying laws of the former “Pottinger Decision” – a federal consent decree protecting the rights of homeless persons that was overturned in February.
I got the feeling that the Pottinger issue was news to First Step board members – and, as a result, some communities may seek their own solution to the problem. . .
If so, that doesn’t bode well for future local government funding for the First Step Shelter.
Stay tuned, kids. It just gets weirder by the day. . .
And Another Thing!
From the intrepid civic activist Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy writing on social media this week:
“The City of Daytona Beach is proposing a private driveway connecting the Russian project on East side of A1A to the parking garage on the west side of A1A. The proposed change would have a new WEST-bound lane on Oakridge crossing both A1A and Oakridge to access the garage. Attached is a screen shot of the plan. The bike lane is some kind of sick joke …it is 5 blocks long and goes nowhere.”
Initially, Paul was told by Florida Department of Transportation representative Steven Buck that the proposed lane connecting the “Putin Towers” project with the satellite parking garage was essentially a done deal – claiming that both FDOT “studies” and previously “approved plans” allow the developer to create a “short valet access driveway” that will be divided from eastbound traffic by a “concrete separator” and traffic signal.
Now, it appears FDOT may be considering revoking the permit.
Confused yet? Me too. . .
I join with Paul Zimmerman in encouraging all residents to attend an informational meeting hosted by FDOT on Tuesday, August 20, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm at the Peabody Auditorium’s Rose Room, 600 Auditorium Boulevard, Daytona Beach.
According to a handbill released by FDOT, residents may stop by anytime during the meeting to speak with district representatives, examine plans and virtually “drive” the proposed route in a simulator station.
Let’s use this opportunity to let FDOT know that Halifax area residents are tired of being inconvenienced and imposed upon by the wants and whims of speculative developers – and those in local governments who seemingly exist to serve their needs at our expense.
Thanks for reading – have a great weekend, friends!