Angels & Assholes for November 15, 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              Rose Schuhmacher

During my public service, I had the honor of working with a diverse group of very bright professionals who shared their unique training and talents to provide the community with quality essential services.

As a young man just starting out, I respected those with the depth of experience and strong leadership skills to teach me the fundamentals – the tactical and interpersonal skills that would help me survive the job, both physically and politically.

These veterans taught me that before you can truly lead others, you must learn to follow.

As a mid-career professional, I admired those with the vision to recognize the need for doing things differently – not just enacting change for change sake – but the real ability to transform an organization, to work smarter, more efficiently than before.

By watching those with the ability to analyze problems and breakdown the “we’ve always done it this way” routines – then develop a better way forward and encourage buy-in for the solution – I learned that with experience comes the ability for critical thinking and good judgment.

Because I lack a formal education, my professional development was derived from mimicking those with inherent leadership skills who earned my respect by their own inspirational example.

At the end of my career, there was one defining personal trait in those wonderful servant-leaders that I came to admire the most:  The importance of being there.

And Holly Hill Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rose Schuhmacher was always there.

Last week, after thirteen years at the helm, one of the very best people I know – my friend, the beautiful, irrepressible Rose – revealed she is moving on.

Apparently, her decision was born of irreconcilable differences with a generationally diverse executive board with equally varied ideas for the organization’s future. . .

In my view, in an increasingly unpredictable economic environment, instability is the last thing the Holly Hill Chamber of Commerce needs.

The announcement shocked many in the small community – and Rose’ departure leaves a void that will be incredibly difficult to fill.

During her tenure, Rose brought the Holly Hill Chamber of Commerce back from near insolvency and dissolution (trust me, it was close) and under her outstanding leadership, the chamber thrived with a robust and very active membership.

I watched as Rose stewarded her struggling members through the depths of the Great Recession, propping up lagging spirits, offering sound advice, often a shoulder to cry on, and, most of all, using her unyielding dedication to physically hold the business community together during challenging times.

Her efforts earned her the distinction of being the longest serving Chamber of Commerce executive in Volusia County.

However, her service to the City of Holly Hill went far beyond the business of supporting business.

Rose Schuhmacher was one of those mentors who taught me the intrinsic importance of being there.

During her distinguished service, Rose was a fixture at community events – serving as the always effervescent emcee of the Holly Hill Christmas Parade and a hundred other civic events – a buoyant, energizing and endearing cheerleader for our small city in good times and bad.

In short, Rose Schuhmacher exemplified the premise that the strength of a small business community is in its relationships – building networks, supporting each other’s unique efforts, and working with local government in a collaborative way that helps everyone grow.

In my experience, a chamber executive must have the ability to play both offense and defense in a hyper-political environment – and Rose Schuhmacher is a superior talent with the smarts and across-the-board cachet to get things done.

That’s a tough trait to find in today’s ‘modern’ workforce.

I only hope the spirit of genuine care, personal loyalty and steadfast commitment to the community’s collective success that Rose brought to this important role won’t be lost as the chamber seeks a new vision.

Godspeed, Rose.  You can be very proud of your accomplishments and contributions.

All best wishes for success in whatever great adventure awaits this unique talent.

Asshole           Flagler County School Board

Like many of you, over the past year, I’ve given more than a passing glance to the dysfunctional roil that is Volusia County Schools – in fact, it’s had my full and undivided attention – like being psychologically incapable of averting one’s eyes from an unfolding disaster. . .

From an active U.S. Department of Justice investigation, to credible evidence that the district continues to use unqualified staff in critical roles – such as student counseling services and the all-important safety and security role – it is becoming increasingly clear that the issues facing Volusia County schools have become deeply ingrained in the district’s culture of mediocrity.

Given the frightening regularity of these serious issues – to include a reverse cheating scandal that affected the scholastic lives of hundreds of students at Mainland High School – and sustained allegations that the school’s disgraced former principal pencil whipped passing grades for student athletes – it quickly became apparent that district officials would prefer we believe these egregious violations of the public trust was a localized anomaly.

However, it is also clear that negligence, concealment, deception and downright dumb decision-making is epidemic in both Volusia and Flagler County schools.

Last week, the disturbing case of Robert Sprouse, a former Flagler Palm Coast High School teacher, who brought allegations of gross harassment and bullying of students to light – only to be marginalized and ultimately dismissed for his efforts – was settled with a paltry $30,000 and a commitment from the school board to review disciplinary procedures and determine whether student’s are taken seriously when they seek help.

Say what?

When Mr. Sprouse reported the harassment internally, he was apparently taken to task by his superiors for putting his concerns in writing (in other words, for leaving a paper trail that could be discovered by the public) – then found that the referrals he and other staff submitted in 2017 and 2018 (some involving shocking descriptions of sexual harassment and complaints of Ku Klux Klan references and anti-Semitic “jokes”) had completely disappeared from school records. . .

Despite a history of exemplary evaluations, in May, the district opted to not renew Sprouse’s contract without explanation.

According to the report, when Mr. Sprouse asked for clarification, a senior district official said, “Under Florida Law I don’t have to tell you.”

You can read the compelling material evidence provided by Mr. Sprouse at FlaglerLive.com:  https://tinyurl.com/u5pqk84

Following a grievance hearing last week, several members of the Flagler County School Board either agreed – or compromised – on how best to address serious allegations brought by Sprouse, which include students being discouraged from submitting written documentation of harassment and bullying, the missing  disciplinary referrals, and a pattern of victims being ignored or belittled.

What took so long?

In an age where families live in constant fear of school violence – and taxpayers eagerly support elaborate reporting programs and security upgrades – why is it that some Florida school districts seemingly refuse to protect our vulnerable children from abhorrent harassment and violent bullying in favor of self-protection, cover-ups and painting senior administrators as something they are clearly not?

My God.

Once again, we find a disturbing situation where a school district will once again investigate itself in the face of serious allegations of abject mismanagement that potentially exposed children to physical and mental injury.

I have the highest admiration for brave whistle-blowers like Robert Sprouse and other educators  who put their careers and reputations on the line to expose wrongdoing and protect children in their charge as their professional ethics – and the law – requires.

When will senior school administrators start treating these courageous few who report systemic problems like the heroes they are – instead of marginalizing their sacrifice then shunning them as trouble-making provocateurs?

And when will someone – anyone – start holding these arrogant assholes accountable when they brutalize whistle-blowers, destroy their livelihoods and send a chilling warning of the fate that awaits others who would dare expose corruption or worse?

In my view, it is past time for the Volusia/Flagler state legislative delegation – and our state and federal law enforcement apparatus – to begin living up to their sacred obligation to the haunting spirit of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act and ensure that school administrators who show indifference or ignore and belittle complaints of bullying – a cruel behavior that has been directly linked to school violence – are held civilly and criminally accountable for their base inaction.

I mean, in the lead up to the 2020 session, maybe our illustrious state senators or representatives could find a minute between legislative committee meetings, being soft-soaped by backslapping lobbyists and smooching the sizable backsides of their major campaign contributors – to show some leadership and actually do something that would fundamentally benefit thousands of their most vulnerable constituents?

Perhaps that can begin by getting Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran off his ass and in the field to fulfill his sworn duty to oversee compliance with the law in places like Volusia and Flagler County – out-of-control districts that continue to make a mockery of our children’s safety and security.

Quote of the Week

“The only thing they can do is try to look for another place that’s not a flood prone area.  That’s basically the lowest part of the city.”

–Daytona Beach City Manager James Chisholm, speaking with the intrepid WFTV reporter, Mike Springer, who sought suggestions on what residents of low-income and subsidized housing along Caroline Street can do to protect themselves from frequent floodwaters that have plagued the area for decades.

Move. 

That’s the official answer for low income families seeking answers from city officials on perennial flooding issues in their neighborhood.

In turn, the City of Daytona Beach has apparently asked the State of Florida for help keeping the Nova Road drainage canal free of debris and vegetation, a problem identified as a substantial contributor to the frequent overflow and inundation of residential areas.

But that’s not what Mr. Chisholm said. . .

In his own inimitable style, WFTV’s unflinching investigative reporter Mike Springer was able to bypass the stilted press releases and obfuscation of the city’s professional spinmeisters to ask the public’s pointed questions of the only decision-maker who matters.

City Manager Jim Chisholm.

I’m just not sure anyone was expecting his brusque response. . .

In most politically accountable government hierarchies, the elected official who has a personal and fiduciary responsibility for serving and protecting the interests of constituents living in the Mid-Town neighborhood, might have taken exception to Mr. Chisholm’s rather cavalier response to citizen concerns.

But not here.

The roles have been reversed for years. . .

In Volusia County, non-elected appointed executives who enjoy the personal protection of those oligarchical insiders who trade in candidates for elective office like cheap livestock, know that as long as their “bosses” are effectively neutered – they can essentially do, or say, any damn thing they want.

What are you going to do about it – complain?    

Look, Mr. Chisholm is a highly experienced government administrator with decades in the fishbowl of municipal service – and he knows how the game is played.

So, fielding a reporter’s questions about a common storm water issue should have been limited to a simple explanation of “working with our partners at the state” to ensure drainage.

Done.

Something tells me Mr. Chisholm was making a very clear statement that had nothing to do with a soggy housing project – and everything to do with his complete independence from the news media – and the people. . .

Most folks I know who follow Daytona Beach politics don’t want to hear this, but I happen to think Jim Chisholm epitomizes strong leadership and the force of personality that gets those projects and agendas that are important to him (and all the right last names) passed with minimal disruption or involvement by the elected officials.

You don’t have to agree with his vision or tactics – but it’s true.

This is what power looks like in its natural political environment.

The problem is – when the parliamentary process and political oversight that normally accompany the creation of public policy is no longer relevant – a lot can get ignored, delayed, ramrodded or pushed aside in that laser-focused environment where decisions are made long before the biweekly public spectacle in the commission chambers.

It has become apparent to everyone paying attention that Mr. Chisholm enjoys the political insulation of some well-heeled players with a personal agenda for downtown Daytona, City Island and beyond.

In the Halifax area, when an appointed city or county executive is cloaked in the Monarchs supreme protection – there are few men or beasts (elected or appointed) who can touch them.

So, hide and watch.  Because that’s about all anyone can do.

I suspect Mr. Chisholm will comfortably take up the rocking chair the very minute he decides to – and not one second before.

And neither you, me, nor the hapless handmaidens on the dais of ‘power,’ are going to do a damn thing about it.

And Another Thing!

Congratulations to Dr. Ronald “Scott” Fritz on his appointment as the new Superintendent of Volusia County District Schools!

On Tuesday, the Volusia County School Board formally selected Dr. Fritz from a group of three very impressive finalists.

He currently serves as Chief of Staff for Teaching, Leading, and Learning for Osceola County Schools and is set to take the reins in DeLand this December following the formalities of an employment contract.

In recent days, the top candidates were put through their paces during open interviews with School Board members, participated in one of those awkward grip-n-grins with members of the public, then met individually with the elected officials.

Look, I like to give everyone the benefit of moral support and confidence whenever they step into the fray – boldly say “send me!” – and demonstrate a pure calling to serve our community.

To say Dr. Fritz has his work cut out for him is an understatement – he better pack a lunch and bring a flashlight with him, because it’s going to be well-past dark when he’s done. . .

To be successful, he will need both internal and external input, grassroots encouragement and the backing of both union and elected officials as he works toward the revivification of a district lost in an awful quagmire of maladministration and mediocrity.

I’m obviously not a member of the well-established Volusia educational clerisy, just a bumpkin with a naïve desire for reasonably responsive governance in my lifetime – but I do have one suggestion for Dr. Fritz as this long and arduous process begins:

Get rid of that wormy “Superintendent’s Cabinet” – a ridiculous amalgam of overpaid posers, fools and incompetents who are wholly responsible for dragging Volusia County schools into this dark place.

You’re welcome.

Good luck, Doc.  You’re gonna need it. . .

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for November 15, 2019

  1. Daytona’s city manager is just stating the obvious…much of Daytona Beach IS flood-prone, including Beach Street. I ride the bike path along the Nova canal, and it is often clogged with weeds and trash. But cleaning it out doesn’t raise the elevation of the surrounding area, much of which sits between two geologic sand ridges common on the east coast. One of them is roughly parallels US-1, the other Clyde Morris…in-between is like a bowl that fills with water during larger storm events. Also, recent higher-than-normal high tides are causing our draining system to back up. It seems unfair to me to label a truth-teller in public service with a “quote of the week” moniker. The reality is that much of our coastal areas will eventually have to be abandoned. I find his candor refreshing.

    Like

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