Thanks to you, it’s been an extraordinary week here at Barker’s View HQ!
A piece on the unfolding drama at Mainland High School brought hundreds of new readers to this site on Monday – and stimulated increased interest and constructive discussion of the myriad issues facing Volusia County Schools.
In the past few days, several first-time readers reached out and I was touched by the outpouring of support and encouragement – it does my beat-up old heart good to know that Barker’s View has found its place.
I have no good explanation for the growing popularity of this site.
Perhaps it’s because Barker’s View has remained true to its roots – a boozy every-man, slumped in his boxer shorts, banging out his political frustrations and bristling over the current state of affairs – free of the encumbrances of advertising, alliances, favor or fear.
Or, maybe my fellow taxpayers enjoy the validation of knowing someone feels as disenfranchised as they do?
I can’t put my finger on it.
All I know is with me you get eggroll, baby – the whole enchilada – one man’s unvarnished and unapologetic take – and the fact so many people gravitate to this site each month gives hope that, just maybe, positive change is on our horizon.
Love it or hate it, I sincerely appreciate that so many take the time to read, contemplate and further the important debate of competing ideas that shape our community.
If you’re a loyal member of the Barker’s View Tribe or new to the blog, my hope is you’ll return periodically for a thought provoking, always irreverent look at the political forces and farces that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast!
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 First Step Shelter Board
This morning, the News-Journal’s local section headline screamed, “Shelter battle resolved.”
Like former President George W. Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech – that hed may have been woefully premature – or maybe wishful thinking. . .
There is an apt figure of speech that says, “A camel is a horse designed by committee.”
For Volusia County Taxpayers, this metaphor is coming home to roost in the form of an incredibly expensive money pit still under construction in the hinterlands west of Daytona Beach – a cluster fuck of monumental proportions that no longer bears any resemblance to the come-as-you-are homeless shelter we were promised so many years ago. . .
I’m not going to rehash the laundry list of issues that have haunted this project like a Golem – a leadership disaster that has seen millions of dollars over the transom without the first homeless person (or community) served – a tragic series of financial and procedural blunders that has showcased what happens when an amalgam of politicians and greedy hangers-on are asked to operate and oversee what could have – what should have – honored the better angels of our nature.
Now, Volusia County residents will bear the economic brunt of funding in perpetuity a dubious – and increasingly exclusive – rehabilitation program that will accept just forty-five homeless citizens and ostensibly return them to happy, healthy and productive lives.
All for a starting price of $1.1 million annually.
How? I’m not sure.
And I don’t think anyone directly involved in the project is either. . .
What I do know is that the concept of getting people off the street, out of the elements and beyond the disapproving gape of visitors and residents was scrapped in favor of something that no longer bears any resemblance to a refuge.
Now, even the idea of a basic safe haven – a place on the massive First Step campus where homeless persons who aren’t part of the formal reintegration program could simply “be” – is off the table altogether.
Something as inexpensive as a primitive pole barn and concrete pad – which, if nothing else, could serve as an alternative to a night in jail – has become a weird deal-breaker for some board members who feel that a homeless shelter that actually shelters the homeless is somehow detrimental to the fragile self-esteem of the fortunate few engaged in a residential personal growth seminar?
Inexplicably, when asked to actually do something in furtherance of getting the First Step Shelter operational (in exchange for the $7,500 they’ve been collecting month in and month out) – Catholic Charities came back with an obscene estimate of $425,000 to run a simple outdoor accommodation – a usurious price that went through the oversight board like an ice water enema.
In fact, the outrageous quote prompted Daytona Beach Mayor and First Step president Derrick Henry to direct Catholic Charities to go back to the drawing board and come up with a “sparse, spartan, cheap and undesirable, as much as nothing” option – which sounded eerily like the textbook description of what passes for our political leadership here on the Fun Coast. . .
So, without a “safe zone” – or other space for people to get away from the mean streets, take a shower, shelter from the cold, use the restroom, get a haircut, have a hot meal, change clothes, seek safety, rest, ride out a flu, find a compassionate ear, etc. – how, exactly, does the multi-million-dollar First Step Shelter serve the acute needs of countless homeless persons who can’t (or won’t) participate in the “program”?
I mean, isn’t that what we set about to achieve three years and millions of dollars ago?
Whatever. . .
On Monday, we also learned the shocking news that a former “volunteer,” Jane Bloom – author of a disgusting and insubordinate rebuke of former board member Joe Forte which appeared on social media under the First Step flag – was suddenly elevated to a full-time paid status commanding some $5,500 a month.
You read that right. . .
Mysteriously, Bloom appeared on the scene following the abrupt departure of former executive director Mark Geallis – “volunteering” her time under a broad memorandum of understanding that said she would handle day-to-day shelter operations and assist the board.
According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ormond Beach City Commissioner and board member Dwight Selby said, “That’s pretty clear to me that’s a big job, I have a real problem paying a volunteer. When you sign on as a volunteer, that’s what you are.”
Something tells me there just might be more to the story of how (and why) Ms. Bloom went from altruistic aide to a highly compensated recipient of public funds – comfortably ensconced in an unadvertised position with ill-defined responsibilities. . .
Inexplicably, in an already opaque process mired in conjecture and speculation, Bloom and the board have decided to keep the vetting procedure for the shelter’s next executive director “out of the public eye.”
Apparently, the First Step Board hasn’t come to the realization that the money being pissed away belongs to us – the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County, Florida.
That little bugaboo demands the people’s business be conducted in the sunshine – free of backroom shenanigans and the ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ horseshit that has destroyed our collective faith in county government – and resulted in an angry citizenry calling for the immediate ouster of Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm.
Look, I get why they want to hold one-on-one secretive meetings with the candidates.
If the selection and hiring process looks anything like the shitstorm of dysfunction and slapstick missteps that has reduced the overall effort to a sick joke in the eyes of those of us who fund it – I wouldn’t want my constituents to see it either. . .
Asshole St. John’s River Water Management District
After making a complete mess of our aquifer recharge areas in a never-ending quest to satiate the voracious appetite of real estate developers, now the St. John’s River Water Management District is teaming with Volusia County to pump partially treated effluent into an abandoned mining pit that they hope will increase flow at the seriously threatened Volusia Blue Springs.
According to an excellent article by our region’s preeminent environmental reporter Dinah Voyles-Pulver writing in the News-Journal, the district’s executive director Ann Shortelle openly shilled for the project in her patented sing-song bureaucratese at Tuesday’s council meeting.
You remember Ann, right?
She was hand-selected for the job in 2015 by former SJRWMD board chairman Long John Miklos (who made a cottage industry lobbying for clients of his private environmental consultancy in front of the very agency he was charged with overseeing) following a series of forced resignations as then Governor Slick Rick Scott sought a “culture change” during his gory neutering of Florida’s environmental protection apparatus.
In turn, Dr. Shortelle received a $10,000 increase over the previous director’s salary bringing her spot at the public trough to $175,000 a year at the time. . .
“I want to assure you that the technology for aquifer recharge and cleaning the water through wetlands are proven techniques,” Shortelle said. “This is not some kind of experiment.”
An “experiment” is exactly what this is.
In fact, experts on the health of our sensitive springs tell us that an aquifer recharge project using a converted borrow pit has never been employed this close to a major spring system.
Rather than get serious about reducing demand on the aquifer, those responsible for the quality of our water opt for some unprecedented gamble, which hopes to clean the water through a series of “planted wetlands” in what Director Shortelle appropriately described as “The Pit.”
The venture will ultimately cost some $12 million – split between Volusia County and the cities of DeLand, Deltona, Orange City and the SJRWMD.
According to the News-Journal report, “A consultant, hired by the county, will spend the next year performing testing at the borrow pit site, off French Avenue just east of Blue Spring State Park, to determine if the project is feasible.”
Following the unanimous vote to approve funds for the study, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys gifted us with one of her patented governmental group hugs for her “friends” at local and state water quality agencies – lavishing syrupy praise on the do-nothings and malingers at all levels of government that have sat idle while our springs are bled dry and Volusia’s natural aquifer recharge areas and wetlands are bulldozed for more cracker box “theme” communities.
Sickening. Considering that over ten-years ago water samples taken at Blue Springs showed nitrate levels higher than those found in 80% of Florida waterways – with flow rates steadily declining for decades.
All while these duplicitous assholes keep patting themselves on the back. . .
Once again, we find ourselves in the absurd Volusia County paradox – where the very people and agencies who have fawningly catered to those who rape the land for massive profit and approved malignant development from Farmton to the Flagler County line – sprawl that continues to pressure and pollute the very source of our drinking water supply, are now pissing away more of our hard-earned money as they grab at straws studying ways to “fix” their handiwork at Blue Springs and beyond.
Angel Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post
Kudos to Councilwoman Heather Post who continues to champion the cause of Volusia County veterans and their families.
Last month, in her role as a member of the National Association of Counties Veterans and Military Services Committee, Ms. Post met with representatives from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation regarding the Hidden Heroes Cities and Counties Program.
This important program shares resources, support and best practices for caregivers who tend to the needs of veterans with the debilitating mental, physical and emotional injuries suffered in service to our nation.
Thanks to Ms. Post’s leadership and commitment to Volusia County’s 75,000+ veterans and active duty military personnel, this week the county council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the Hidden Heroes program, bringing its unique benefits to the local spouses, parents, family members and friends providing care and comfort to our wounded warriors.
Quote of the Week
“Why didn’t district officials know what was going on at Mainland? How did it get so out of control?
Most importantly, how will district officials restore the trust of Mainland High School students and families?
Answering these questions will be painful. And we should keep in mind the eloquent plea of a letter that also appears on this page, urging everyone to remember that many of the people involved, including Salerno, have long records of dedication, leadership and passionate commitment to student success. However, that must not stand in the way of an unflinching and credible investigation.”
–The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Our View: Mainland students, parents deserve the full truth,” Monday, August 19, 2019
I wrote about this earlier in the week, but it bears repeating.
In my view, the horrific academic deception and gross maladministration uncovered at Mainland High School may well be more pervasive than we know. Rarely are these issues confined to a single administrator or institution – and many “in the know” tell me we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. . .
Considering the long-term ramifications for students and teachers associated with Volusia County Schools, it’s time for an independent investigation by outside authority to determine the extent of the decay – followed by a top-to-bottom housecleaning of anyone who perpetrated this egregious organized fraud and jeopardized the academic achievements and credentials of students – or looked the other way.
And Another Thing!
Unlike many of our elected representatives, residents of the Halifax area have had their fill of kneeling to the wants and whims of speculative developers – especially when the ‘amenities’ they seek for the few outweigh the needs of the many.
Case in point – an absurd strategy hatched by the mysterious Russian developer, Protogroup, that would take vehicles across heavily traveled A-1-A from the struggling “$192 million” Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominiums project to a satellite parking garage on Oakridge Boulevard.
According to reports, Protogroup has proposed a westbound valet lane travelling opposite one-way traffic at the intersection of A-1-A and Oakridge – a dangerous nightmare for visitors unfamiliar with the area and a colossal headache in the making for long-suffering locals.
Apparently, this bizarre traffic scheme began life as a misrepresented “driveway permit” that was approved by the City of Daytona Beach in 2017?
Calling this massive reroute a “driveway” is a crock of shit – and should have been immediately recognized as such by any competent public employee reviewing the permit application. . .
Now, thanks to the activism of several Halifax area residents – who used the power of social media to influence opinion – it appears the Florida Department of Transportation may be ready to listen to the very real concerns of their constituents and reconsider this budding disaster.
On Tuesday evening, the state transportation agency held an information gathering session at Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach attended by over 50 worried citizens – including Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler.
According to Mr. Zimmerman, despite personal invitations to area elected officials, Ms. Wheeler was the only sitting politician to actually make the effort to attend the meeting in support of residents who see this cockamamie traffic pattern as a public safety concern.
I admire that.
(For the record, while their anxious constituents gathered to discuss serious concerns with FDOT, at least part of Volusia County’s state legislative delegation was being recognized for their unwavering commitment and dedication to, well, their constituents by the Ormond Beach City Commission that evening, so, priorities, right?)
Fortunately, following the meeting, transportation officials announced that additional traffic studies will be conducted to collect more data before the project’s proposed 2021 start date.
We’re told that Protogroup representatives have been officially notified. . .
While I remain cautiously optimistic about the ultimate outcome – it is refreshing to see a state agency actually listening to the fears and anecdotal evidence of area residents – and taking substantive steps to right a wrong.
Have a great weekend, friends!