Angels & Assholes for October 4, 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:

Asshole           Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company

The Halifax area isn’t known for our dedication to historic preservation – especially once the “Rich & Powerful” get dollar signs in their eyes. . .

That was the fate of the 121-year-old First Baptist Church in downtown Daytona Beach.

Last Sunday, parishioners said goodbye to the sanctuary, many singing hymns through tears and using markers to scrawl notes and messages memorializing times gone by – a eulogy to a holy place that has met their spiritual needs for generations.

In coming weeks, First Baptist will meet the same fate as the nearby First United Methodist Church on Bay Street, whose beautiful mosaic mural of Jesus ascending unceremoniously fell to the wrecking ball last year.

The destruction of these historic churches was made necessary by Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company’s mysterious “Project Delta” which, we’re told, will bring a grocery store, 300 more “luxury” apartments, a 400 car parking garage and mixed use space in support of His Majesty Hyatt Brown’s “game changing” glass-and-steel headquarters building.

(Project Delta?  Why does every public/private partnership in Volusia County have to read like a Tom Clancy novel?)

Look, I’m not an overly religious sort – just another wayward lamb lost in the wilderness – but there was a time when churches and synagogues formed the foundational bedrock of a community.

A beacon of faith during difficult times, a place that marked the important milestones of our lives – weddings, baptisms, funerals – always serving as a spiritual lighthouse for those in need.

But not anymore.

We’ve “grown” past all that.  The profit motives of our ‘movers & shakers’ prevail over everything else now – physical, spiritual or historical.

I’m not an expert, but couldn’t Sir John Albright and his crack staff of civic visionaries at Consolidated-Tomoka find a way to incorporate the spiritual needs of a community in their top secret/compartmented plans for the rest of us?

No money in it? 

Off the tax rolls? 

Whatever. . .

Look, Mr. Albright is free to do what he wants on the property his company purchased – and the First Baptist congregation is moving to new digs on Tomoka Farms Road soon.

I get it.

But what happened to the idea of comprehensive planning and community involvement?

There was a time when building a ‘new’ downtown involved a plan to determine contemporary and emerging needs, identify issues, state goals, evaluate alternatives and involve civic organizations, merchants and ordinary citizens in the process – rather than classifying the project behind some weird cryptonym. . .

This is where we make our home, so we all have a vested interest.

Why the Secret Squirrel bullshit?

Our community’s historic places in downtown Daytona and beyond are being bought up and torn down in the name of “progress,” and according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board, we should be happy about it.

“A dynamic, flourishing downtown will always include some pangs of loss — but also, a surge of optimism that a once-bustling part of the city will soon see green shoots of resurrection, including the glossy new headquarters of Brown & Brown Insurance taking rapid form just a few blocks away. It’s a fitting next chapter for the church properties, and a welcome sign of hope and optimism for Daytona Beach — one fueled, not by government, but by private investors’ faith in the potential at the heart of the city.”

A fitting next chapter?

God help us. . .

Angel               Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler

Look, I admit it.

I give Councilwoman Billie Wheeler and her colleagues on the dais of power in DeLand a lot of grief.

Most of it deserved. . .

But this week, Ms. Wheeler stood tall in her defense of thousands of her long-suffering constituents who gather each year for the Historic North Turn Legends Beach Parade – a grassroots event honoring the storied history of NASCAR’s old beach circuit – and the daring drivers who paved the way for contemporary stock car racing and the growth of the Halifax area.

In many ways, the parade represents the very roots of our community.

Like many things here on Florida’s Fun Coast, the beach driving aspect of the event apparently doesn’t comport with the wants and whims of oligarchical insiders who have fought the tradition for years. . .

So, earlier this year, our weaponized County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert – who has made a cottage industry suing taxpayers with our own money – unilaterally denied a permit for the event in 2020, citing a violation of Volusia’s federally mandated Incidental Take Permit, which allows our century-old heritage of beach driving while protecting sea turtles and other wildlife.

Even after the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, which issues and administers the permit, publicly said they support the special event – Ol’ Dan wouldn’t take ‘Yes’ for an answer – fighting tooth-and-nail with the help of his deputy, Jamie Seaman, to make sure the incredibly popular parade won’t roll next Speed Weeks.

Earlier this week, Mr. Eckert issued a long-winded memorandum to the Volusia County Council essentially warning that they do not have the authority to permit the parade – painting our elected officials into a very tight corner with the oppositional legal mumbo-jumbo Dan has become famous for.

You see, when it comes to fighting beach driving advocates, Cujo Eckert attacks like a rabid badger – but when his skills are needed to support any and all efforts to keep vehicles off the beach – he’s the best lawyer real estate developers, political insiders and out-of-state meddlers never paid for.

For instance, Mr. Eckert spent yesterday in Tallahassee arguing before an appeals court to overturn the will of voters in the ongoing Amendment 10 fiasco. . .

The stakes are high.

In my view, many of these same “Rich & Powerful” forces that have vigorously opposed beach driving have engaged in the ongoing economic strangulation of our core tourist areas as a cruel punishment for our fight to protect beach access – a drastic means of saying, “See, we were right and you were wrong – now, give up and let us capitalize on our “vision,” you peons. . .”

That’s why I was so incredibly proud of Ms. Wheeler’s efforts to ferret out the truth, rather than accept the same tired threats that Mr. Eckert and his staff have used so effectively for years.

To her credit, Councilwoman Wheeler asked the hard questions – like why, after eight years, the county is suddenly so vehemently opposed to what she called an “economic booster” without any legal objection from Mr. Eckert?

She also asked why previous councils offered unanimous votes to approve the event without any hint of concern from the legal department?

Of course, the “system” immediately circled the wagons, with Deputy County Manager Seamans all but calling Ms. Wheeler a liar – claiming that the previous votes were merely to permit alcohol at the event, not to approve the beach parade. . .

(So, they voted to allow alcohol at an event that wasn’t permitted?  Weird. . .)

Thus began the county’s patented process of marginalizing and discrediting anyone who steps out of line and dares champion the needs of their constituents against the iron will of Volusia County government.

In keeping with her craven tradition of having a politically expedient way out of any issue – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys requested that county staff also compile an accounting of how much Volusia County spends on the annual event – claiming she wants “all the information” on the council’s October 15 agenda.

You don’t need me to tell you how this is going to go. . .

Still, I appreciate Ms. Wheeler’s strength of character and willingness to fight for her constituents under such withering criticism from our politically unaccountable lawyers and staff.

Thank you for the effort.  That takes guts.

Asshole           Volusia County School District

This week, after yet another five-alarm foul-up, the Volusia County School District was suggested for this auspicious title by an observant Barker’s View reader.

I wholeheartedly agree. . .

Given a budget approaching $1 Billion – and the dangerous times in which we live – one would think that Volusia County Schools would have both the means and motivation to live up to their sacred obligation to protect our precious children from harm.

Like many of you, I have young family members who attend district schools, so imagine my utter horror when I learned of two high profile security breaches last week.

The first involved a 13-year old student at Galaxy Middle School in Deltona who was arrested after he apparently threatened to shoot up the school, something that was reported by a parent, not school officials.

Then, an intoxicated intruder with an “extensive criminal record” armed with a knife road a bicycle onto the campus at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange – completely unchallenged – then meandered into an occupied classroom and took a seat.

Jesus.

The district’s initial response to a shocked media was ham-handed, at best. . .

Speaking to the News-Journal’s Education reporter Cassidy Alexander, Interim Superintendent Tim Egnor said, “To convert (campuses) into minimum security prisons, which is the reality of this situation, it involves a whole level of thinking that is very different than what we’re used to.  It is very hard to prevent with 100% certainty unless you just had a ring of security people hand-in-hand around the entire 10 acres.”

On Wednesday, the Interim Superintendent polished the turd during a press conference, announcing that the district is once again investigating itself, and yammering about “retraining,” “physical changes,” “no rush to judgement,” “can’t comment on possible discipline,” blah, blah, blah.

But when he claimed these incidents were the result of “overthinking” I shot a healthy sip of my noontime highball through my nose. . .ugh.

Look, this district-wide lackadaisical approach to our children’s safety is nothing new.

Last summer, after four public records requests to district officials, I was finally able to review the qualifications of those who had been appointed to oversee the state mandated Guardian program at that time.

In turn, I discovered that two of the three individuals identified as safety and security specialists couldn’t statutorily qualify for the position they were charged with managing. . .

I sounded the klaxon, but nothing changed.

Look, I may be just a shut-in with internet access – certainly not a self-styled school safety and security expert like our district’s staff of posers – but I happen to know that credibility is paramount to achieving the internal and external buy-in required for effective security planning.

In my view, it’s time for the Volusia County School Board to pull their heads out of their ass – hold someone responsible for these glaring security lapses – then find a professional security director who actually knows something about “building and managing” an effective safety and security program for the thousands of students and staff who deserve better.

This is urgent.

Look, Interim Superintendent Egnor is a good guy.  He stepped up to fill an important role during a difficult time and his long legacy of service will not be stained by this shit-train of issues that has crippled Volusia County Schools and destroyed the public’s trust.

But this level of incompetence by senior staff members who have accepted the awesome responsibility of securing our schools simply cannot stand.

I implore Mr. Egnor to talk to current and former campus advisers, Guardians and other line personnel charged with security responsibilities.  If they trust the Interim Superintendent – perhaps they will tell him the same stories they have told me and others.

Believe me – it’s a wake-up call.

Given the serious events of last week, the Volusia County School Board shouldn’t wait until a new superintendent is seated to begin a top-to-bottom review of the district’s clearly ineffectual security protocols – then jettison any senior administrator whose abject  incompetence failed Volusia County students and staff.

Angel               Daytona Beach Police Department

I spent a considerable part of my law enforcement career involved in the investigation of narcotics crimes – specialized work that requires an officer to master a wide range of disciplines – to include physical and electronic surveillance techniques, the ability to think quickly and change direction with little notice, effectively developing and managing confidential sources, maintaining operational security for long periods of time, even the art of safely working undercover.

It can be very tedious and demanding work, requiring a great deal of patience and perseverance to build often complex criminal cases against drug distribution networks that work very hard to keep law enforcement from connecting A to B.

Kudos to the Daytona Beach Police Department for their highly successful “Operation Clean Streets” – a five-month dedicated effort targeting street-level drug dealers that ultimately identified some 41 suspects.

I know firsthand the operational tempo and logistics required for an operation of this length – and I also the know the incredible gratitude residents feel when their neighborhood is liberated from the oppression of drug dealing and related nuisance crimes that destroy their quality of life.

According to reports, seven stolen firearms were recovered, along with nearly $3,500.00 in cash, 21 grams of cocaine, 305 grams of marijuana, 8 grams of heroin, 21 grams of methamphetamine and nearly 30 grams of ecstasy.

Thank you to Chief Craig Capri and his intrepid officers and staff on a job well done!

Quote of the Week

“If Florida really wants the best and brightest to enter teaching and stay in the profession, lawmakers need to improve pay as well as the treatment of teachers.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Drop bonuses and increase wages,” as adapted from a Gainesville Sun editorial, Wednesday, October 2, 2019

With Governor Ron DeSantis pushing for a much-needed across-the-board pay increase for Florida’s beleaguered teachers, perhaps he could take a minute from his busy schedule cutting ribbons, slapping backs and collecting campaign funds to examine the abysmal treatment of Volusia County students and staff?

Trust me, our district schools need outside intervention.  Now.

Clearly, the Florida Department of Education is content to sit on its thumb while the district is rocked by one catastrophic scandal after another – to include an active investigation by the United States Department of Justice over the district’s treatment of disabled children.

Never mind the “placebo exam” fiasco which destroyed the trust of an entire class of students – or the startling revelation that Mainland High School’s former principal manufactured passing grades for student-athletes – in my view, the shocking “security lapses” last week at Spruce Creek and Galaxy Middle deserve immediate intervention by state and federal authorities.

Look, if Volusia County Schools refuse to learn from the atrocity at Parkland and elsewhere, then an outside agency in a position to properly secure the lives of vulnerable students and staff simply must step in and take control.

Unfortunately, “retraining” and introspective audits only work in organizations that value professional standards and embrace the concept of accountability and responsibility.

Perhaps it’s time to relieve the jackleg frauds who masquerade as “safety and security specialists” in the highest echelons of Volusia County Schools and replace them with real experts who possess the personal and professional discipline to give this awesome responsibility the serious attention it deserves.

In my view, funding for raises and benefit increases is certainly necessary to attract and retain qualified teachers throughout the Sunshine State – but effectively securing the lives of our children and district staff is priceless – and immediately necessary.

And Another Thing!

Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of Ponce’s Law, a grassroots effort born of the ghastly beating death of a Labrador puppy in 2017.

This week, we also learned that the piece of human excrement who was charged with this heinous crime plans to enter a plea to felony animal cruelty in the near future.  The suspect, Travis Archer, 46, faces up to five years in prison and a $5,000.00 fine on the third-degree felony when he is ultimately sentenced by Judge Sandra Upchurch.

Last year – thanks to the hard work of Debbie Taylor-Darino and her group of animal rights activists at Justice For Ponce –  State Representative Tom Leek of Ormond Beach introduced legislation which increases the sentencing score for persons convicted of animal cruelty, bringing this abominable breed of scum closer to the prison term they so richly deserve.

The law also allows a judge to prohibit anyone convicted of animal abuse from ever owning a pet again.

Unfortunately, Ponce’s Law won’t apply to Travis Archer. . .

Earlier this week, the Justice For Ponce organization took to the streets in front of the S. James Foxman Justice Center in Daytona Beach – just as they have done for the past two years – demanding punishment for Archer and calling attention to the prevention and prosecution of animal abuse.

Here’s extending our hearty congratulations to Ms. Darino and her brave activists at Justice For Ponce on successfully enhancing penalties for those monsters among us who would abuse innocent animals.

God’s work.

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

 

 

 

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