Angels & Assholes for January 31, 2020

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 Ann Tornatore

On Monday, First Step Shelter board member and local business owner Rose Ann Tornatore showed incredible personal and civic leadership when she announced a pledge of $250,000 for construction of the shelter’s long-debated ‘Safe Zone’ – a place for those who either can’t – or won’t – participate in First Step’s transitional program to simply rest.

Part of this substantial gift comes from Ms. Tornatore personally; the remainder from her long-time Daytona Beach business Wholesale Lighting.

It’s one thing to participate in vociferous debate – beat the war drums – and perpetuate a sense of dysfunction to drive an agenda or maintain autocratic power over what should be a collective effort.

It’s quite another to look outward, beyond self-interest – recognize a need – and altruistically meet it.

According to reports, this generous donation comes at a significant personal sacrifice to Ms. Tornatore, who described the sum as a “big part” of her life savings.

This isn’t some ego-maniacal Halifax area Fat Cat paying to slap their name on something – this represents a heartfelt contribution that will provide those less fortunate with a place to lay their head in relative peace.

That’s important.

According to an article announcing the donation in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Tornatore said she made the large donation because she thought it was vital to the shelter to have a safe zone, which will give the shelter another way to help the homeless and help cities comply with a federal court ruling on how law enforcement should treat the homeless. She said there’s no political reason for her contribution, only personal motivation to leave an impactful legacy.”

As a testament to her political savvy, Ms. Tornatore enlisted the help of Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm – which should help ensure he won’t put the kibosh on the idea again – and she is actively seeking donations and in-kind services from area builders to help leverage her personal assistance.

In my view, Ms. Tornatore’s gift represents a transformative moment in the tumultuous life of the First Step Shelter – a true opportunity to provide a safe harbor for those seeking respite – and a return to what many of us thought would be a staple of the facility when it was still a concept.

My sincere hope is that Ms. Tornatore’s gracious contribution will spur greater philanthropy in the community – creating much-needed partnerships to help meet the growing financial needs of First Step.

Now, the other members of the First Step board have an ethical obligation to steward Ms. Tornatore’s gift in a responsible way – one that sets a positive example for others considering substantial contributions.

As a loyal Barker’s View reader said earlier this week, “Rose Ann Tornatore may just have saved the First Step Shelter. . .”

Thank you for your generosity, Ms. Tornatore.

Asshole           Halifax Health/UF Health Deltona  

Following a series of protracted legal battles and legislative maneuvering, Halifax Hospital – which receives funding from a special taxing district located in northeastern Volusia County, including the cities of Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, Holly Hill and parts of Port Orange – was allowed to construct a new hospital in Deltona, well outside the taxing authority’s boundaries, and operate it in partnership with University of Florida Health.

Frankly, the fine points of these incredibly expensive lawsuits was difficult for a schlub like me to follow – but I think it all boiled down to the fact Florida’s Constitution requires that the people who pay the bills be given an opportunity to approve the debt before it’s incurred (at least that’s the concept) and if the need for a new hospital in West Volusia was as great as Halifax Health claimed, then those who pay the tax up here in God’s Country should have had the opportunity to vote on it.

That is, unless the legislature steps in and says its okay. . .

So, in May 2019, a bill filed by Rep. David Santiago of Deltona was unanimously approved by both the House and Senate, then signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which, according to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“. . .allows the public hospital to build and operate facilities in adjacent counties outside its taxing district, so long as no taxes collected within the district are spent on such facilities.”

(I’m sure our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hosseini – who owns the paper on most of state government – serves as Chair of the University of Florida’s Board of Trustees – and personally directs what happens at Halifax Health and beyond – helped things along behind the scenes. . .) 

I’m cool with that.  Because that’s how things work in the Sunshine State, right?

What I’m not cool with is this:

Earlier this month, the new Halifax/UF merger held an “invitation only” grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony for the $152.7 million, 95 bed, state-of-the-art medical facility just off I-4 in Deltona exclusively for our “community leaders.”  (Read: Politicians and hangers-on. . .)    

Did you get an invitation?

Me neither. . .

Sorry if this sounds trivial (you know, I’m nothing if not a petty asshole), but I believe the cumulative result of these exclusionary practices by governmental and quasi-governmental entities is giving those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence a collective inferiority complex.

After all, this is a public hospital, i.e. “owned by the community” – it’s not the Anglers Club, right?

Maybe it’s just me – but when government-owned hospitals – who accept tax dollars to operate medical facilities and provide health services for the “preservation of the public health, for the public good and for the use of the public of the district” – start acting like private, for-profit entities and exclude the public they exist to serve from back-slapping/look what we did ceremonies – I have a problem with that.

The same holds true for “theme” hotels, insurance headquarters and other private businesses who accept massive tax funded corporate welfare packages and public amenities – then hold elegant soirees for the exclusive entertainment of politicians and their uber-wealthy handlers who facilitate the public largesse at our expense.

That’s wrong.

And it perpetuates the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality that has driven a wedge between citizens and those they elected to serve their interests.

It is obvious to anyone paying attention that Volusia County has an image problem.

After all, we have a long history of invitation-only civic leagues, discriminatory organizations, “only white males over 21 need apply” good ol’ boy clubs, social societies and secret alliances, populated by stuffed-shirt assholes, who believe public policy is best crafted in a secluded backroom where all the right last names meet privately to decide our fate.

As a result, we’ve become stratified and fragmented, trapped in a weird caste system that confuses the size of one’s bank account with their civic vision, and treats ordinary taxpayers like a sect of untouchables – modern Cagots – ostracized by our political and social elite.

Don’t take my word for it, make an effort to address the Volusia County Council – or any other public meeting in your community – and note the chilly reception you receive.

Unless you have a billion dollars in the bank, I suspect you will be required to fill out a card, then prostrate yourself before the exalted rulers on the high dais and request to be recognized.

Then, you will be ordered to constrain your comments to three-minutes or less – remain servile, courteous and respectful – and don’t expect the elected elite to so much as acknowledge your physical existence during the brief audience you have been granted with the anointed ones. . .

My ass.

In my view, if our elected officials want the VIP treatment – rubbing shoulders with high muckety-mucks at exclusive to-dos – then they should join a frigging country club.

On their own damn dime for a change.  

Otherwise, We, The Great Unwashed – should be permitted unfettered access whenever two or more of our elected “representatives” gather together to cut ribbons and congratulate their own performance.

Tomorrow, Halifax Health will open the new facility for us, the common riffraff, who will be granted access between 11am and 2pm.  Enjoy.

Ever feel as though the citizens of Volusia County have become an afterthought?

Because we are.

When did our elected officials, who draw their legitimacy and moral authority from the consent of the governed, allow their overripe egos to tell them it’s okay to attend invitation-only events like some pseudo-celebrity despite the incredibly disturbing optics – and political consequences?

The answer:  This subliminal shunning of the hoi polloi began the exact minute our elected officials became enamored with the trappings of high office – when they mutated into everything they hated when entering politics – and the needs of their constituents no longer mattered.

I don’t know about you, but I try and avoid hospitals whenever possible.

But, if you’re so inclined, drop by the new facility tomorrow and see what all the fuss was about.

Asshole           Halifax Area Advertising Authority

Look, I hate to say, ‘I told you so,’ because that only reinforces the pervasive notion that I’m a pettifogging shitheel who invariably focuses on the dark cloud while ignoring the silver lining.

But I told you so. . . 

Last week, Daytona Beach “tourism leaders,” who, I guess, manage what’s left of that festering coastal carbuncle that is our core tourist area – came together to wring their hands over the continuing deterioration of the “brand” – and consider whether the insanely expensive “Wide. Open. Fun.” promotional campaign is working in this flagging market.

It isn’t.

Remember when many in our community – including the News-Journal – tried to warn them?

When no one in a position to do something would listen to our concerns?

When some gasbag from Chicagoland wrote a scathing editorial in The Daytona Beach News-Journal bashing us rubes for disrespecting our “destination marketing professionals” by painting them as “clueless public money spenders”?

I do.

It was a disaster in the making – the best of the worst – beating out the twin-turds of, “Dare to Daytona Beach” and “Vacation Outside the Lines,” whatever the hell that means. . .

Loyal readers of this blog – and anyone else who pays attention to the errant plots and plans of local government – will remember the roar and rancor when the Brandon Agency, a South Carolina-based carnival barker, sold our Convention and Visitor Czars on this ridiculously expensive slogan back in 2017.

A long line of involved citizens begged the HAAA board of directors to reconsider and listen to the concerns of area residents – to become more active in cleaning up blighted neighborhoods to help stop the malignant spread of graffiti-marred walls, trash-strewn lots and utter dilapidation that continues to threaten our viability as a vacation destination – rather than purchasing some cornball marketing shtick.

No.  They knew what was best for the rest of us.

And time marched on. . .

Now, two-years in, we are told the Brandon Agency – which commands a monthly retainer of some $46,687.50 – plus $100,000 annually for “creative services” – has no way to capture the number of potential visitors who actually book hotel rooms after accessing the website.

Say what? 

I’m not a hospitality marketing expert (apparently, they aren’t either) – so I’m assuming that leaves vacant rooms, plummeting nightly rates and the number of financially stressed resort properties as the only effective means of judging the campaigns success? 

In my view, it’s time for the Halifax Area Advertising Authority, and the redundant bed tax sucking tourism agencies it supports, to finally admit that the year-over-year decline has a direct correlation to the deterioration of the product.

Then, they should stand on the chest of Halifax area redevelopment officials until they turn their attention to the restoration and revitalization of our decrepit beachside – and demand a stop to the strategic rot that is driving property values into the toilet – making what should be prime real estate ultimately more profitable for all the right speculators in time. . .

Because there isn’t a goofy catchphrase in the world that can save us if this neglect and stagnation is allowed to continue.

(Note to the CVB:  I know, I hate me too – but someone has to say it – while there’s still something left to worry about. . .)

Angel               The Long-Suffering Citizens of Deltona

Even as Jane Shang was being thrown out the door – it was still all about her. . .

After five long years of crushing turmoil that brought the City of Deltona to its knees – former City Manager Jane Shang has finally relinquished her iron grip on power and fled City Hall with a sack full of severance pay – but not before leaving a note to city staff taking personal credit for their accomplishments.

Oh, well.

I suppose it’s “On to the next victim,” as they say in the itinerant public management game. eh?

I won’t rehash all the injuries and absurdities that Ms. Shang inflicted on the good citizens of Deltona – there’s nothing to be gained from that.  Besides, anyone who witnessed Shang’s abusive and vindictive reign of terror, even from a distance, will never forget what they saw.

Perhaps that hard-earned knowledge will keep those who make Deltona home eternally vigilant, so this ghastly experience is never repeated.

On Tuesday, during a raucous meeting that saw residents venting their frustrations and demanding Shang’s termination, the city commission voted unanimously to accept her resignation – complete with a contractually obligated golden parachute worth some $286,000.

Wow.

Now, only the fallout remains – and, having endured something similar during my long career in municipal government – I’m not sure it’s going to be as easy as “turning the page.”

It will take the municipality time, painful introspection, salving old wounds, dropping the divisive mindset and complete transparency to recover a sense of civic stability and begin rebuilding relationships with their horribly fractured constituency – and traumatized city employees.

In my view, that should begin with a formal apology from the elected officials to the citizens they serve – because the first act of reconciliation must come from City Hall.

Residents of Deltona can help this important process by taking a deep breath, then reflecting on all they’ve gained as a result of this tumultuous period in the short history of their community.

For instance, rarely have I seen a citizenry more galvanized – more mentally, physically and civically electrified – locked in a desperate fight to preserve participatory democracy and secure the future of their city, despite being virtually ignored by a majority of their city commission.

This citizen activism is evidence of a robust pride in place – a call-to-service normally only seen in the aftermath of a disaster – where people from all walks of life draw close to protect and preserve their community from internal and external threats.

Perhaps those valiant activists who fought in the trenches of this important cause can now dial back from DEFCON 1 to more of a vigilance and monitoring role – and, if not an olive branch, extend a cooperative hand to city officials that will allow healing and transition to begin.

Then, if Deltona’s city commission won’t accept their constituent’s conciliatory gesture – they do so at their own political peril.

But the recovery process must start somewhere.

In my view, Jane Shang represents the worst of a profession that is, unfortunately, notorious for its weakest links – a position that wields omnipotent power in the council/manager form – and can inflict insurmountable damage on a community without strong, politically accountable, oversight.

Good luck, Deltona.  Keep the faith.

Quote of the Week

“Reached by phone Wednesday, Seaman said she had verbally told Dyer in January that she intended to retire in April.  She said she felt shocked “to be told on a Monday” that she would be “out the door Friday.”

“I was informed that the attorney’s office was heading in another direction and I wouldn’t fit in,” Seaman said.”

–Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman, speaking to reporter Casmira Harrison in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman forced out,” Thursday, January 30, 2020

Something doesn’t smell right to me.

“I am grateful for Jamie’s distinguished record of public service to the County and wish her the very best in her future endeavors,” Interim County Attorney Michael Dyer wrote in an email response to questions from The News-Journal.

Wait.  Say what?

Why is it we can’t get straight answers out of these mealy-mouthed assholes who continue to drag on the public tit while telling us what they think we want to hear?

Seriously, who do they think they’re fooling?

There remains a disturbing disconnect between the official line out of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building and the facts – and it continues to destroy our confidence in county government.

Regardless of your views on Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman – I have a problem when Volusia County tells its constituents that Ms. Seaman peaceably resigned – then, we open the News-Journal, and see a bold headline announcing the fact she was “forced out,” with a figurative gun to her head, in some ugly political bloodletting.

And it’s no coincidence that Seaman’s long career ended today – the same day as her former boss, Dan Eckert, was unceremoniously put out to pasture.

Look, I understand that some of our elected officials are looking for a “culture change” in the County Attorney’s Office (I’m not sure they understand what that term means) – but you can bet your bippy that there are some serious political insiders who are interested in shaping the office in their own image – and protecting the status quo at all costs.

These things never occur in a vacuum – and I question why it was necessary to eliminate Ms. Seaman at the point of a spear just two-months before her planned retirement – then paint a false narrative of her departure?

And who gave the placeholder, Michael Dyer, permission to pull the trigger?

Because it appears County Manager George Recktenwald is hiding somewhere on the third floor after Dyer’s ham-handed attempt to put a hard candy shell on this thing backfired. . .

So, while some celebrate the untimely demise of their perceived nemesis – be careful who is pulling the strings and levers behind the curtain – and why.

In my experience, good lawyers have the innate ability to play both offense and defense with equal enthusiasm, and Seaman had an ethical obligation to advocate the opinions of then County Attorney Dan Eckert – legal judgments that were often wildly unpopular outside the cloistered walls of Volusia County government – whether she agreed with them or not.

Is that the reason Ms. Seaman was crucified on the altar of political expediency?

And what if she wouldn’t go along to get along so she was eliminated with extreme prejudice as an example to others?

If so, does axing a career employee for doing a difficult job with integrity just weeks before retirement really represent “progress” in the administration of county government?

I’m asking these dark questions because nothing about this makes sense.

I don’t know Ms. Seaman personally – and I don’t care who you support or despise politically – but the manner in which this was handled was wrong and it raises more questions than answers. . .  

This is an election year – which means whatever happens in DeLand is part of a three-dimensional chess game – and, if you care about good governance more than a momentary sense of retribution, you better damn well pay attention.

Trust me, as unseen (but well-known) forces seek to politicize the county attorney’s office – the machinations of those who are truly in control deserve our undivided attention.

And Another Thing!

Speaking of the weird intrigues of county government. . .

Anyone know what happened to Volusia County’s long-awaited Internal Auditor?

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting worried about him.

Our new watchdog, Jonathan Edwards, has been MIA since he was hired in a weird, less-than-transparent process by County Manager George Recktenwald in November. . .

Maybe he’s been up to his hips in the swamp ferreting out corruption, waste and maladministration in county government?

Or just lounging the day away in some tony Woodland Boulevard bistro?

Perhaps he was absorbed by the cytoplasm of Volusia’s massive bureaucracy, never to be seen in individual form again?

Who knows?

I just thought we might have heard something from our much-ballyhooed ombudsman by now.

Look, I get it.

They’re not real big on multi-tasking in DeLand, and with everyone scrambling to take credit for the long-delayed bus service to Tanger Outlets – Ed Kelley publicly castrating his own political career – breaking down county departments like lower primates playing with a Tinker Toy set – spinning fantastic yarns of launching rocket ships right here in our own backyard – protecting the do-nothing Team Volusia from that mean ol’ boogeyman blogger, etc. etc., I can see how inconsequential things like public integrity audits could slip through the cracks. . .

Last month, the News-Journal published a thoughtful editorial entitled, “Give Volusia County’ s new auditor the right tools,” which offered sound advice for building public confidence in the position:

 “…the County Council should make it clear that no areas are off-limits to Edwards’ oversight.  And they should set guidelines that keep his investigations open and transparent, even before his findings are finalized. Knowing what Edwards is working on will make it less likely that “inconvenient” results are swept under the rug.  Finally, there should be a path for members of the public to suggest areas that need investigating, instead of relying solely on County Council authority to trigger a formal inquiry.”

To my knowledge, none of those things have happened – and Mr. Edward’s seems to be lost in the ethereal mist.

Inquiring minds want to know. . .dammit.  

Is he working from the haunted Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building?

Has he been given the tools and support necessary “to fight corruption, identify inefficiency and point out programs that have failed to meet their goals”?

Was he hermetically sealed in some musty political sarcophagus, insulated from any outside influence until after the election?

I’m asking.  Because his disappearance is creepy. . .

In my view, so long as taxpayers are funding Mr. Edwards’ much-needed service – we deserve to know what became of him! 

Habeas corpus, y’all!

Because, if this is any indication of our auditor’s visibility and public interaction with those he serves, I think we can expect business as usual in the dark places of Volusia County government for a long time to come.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for January 31, 2020

  1. Your old friend ERAU causing fun again.

    Their head of computers and all technology has the great heights of an associates degree. Reported to be in $250k year. Who pays an associate degree that much in a university? No wonder fees that high.

    Anyway, her lack of knowledge has been keeping all e mail IP addresses of everyone – but not a problem you would say. But – also all in Germany and those that ever go there too. And on military bases as well as civilian sites. Faculty, staff, students, contractors, enquiries. It’s against federal law there and she was told but ignored. They do as they want and when they want. If those adjuncts that have high security clearance know they are in danger of losing that and it’s illegal.

    >

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  2. #1-The health care industry grows too fast and pays too high salaries. Too many buildings. That and unhealthy, overweight americans are the sole driving factor for uncontrollable heath care insurance premium costs. Someone needs to do a study to determine high salaries at healthcare institutions.
    #2-Wide Open Fun, so not worthy of any additional funding.
    #3-Beach Street narrowing-I will never drive there again if it goes to one lane.
    #4-The First Step Shelter building should be sold to ICI and then converted to a new home welcome center. The safe zone donation, is a waste of money.
    #5-Taxpayers need a property tax decrease this year.

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    1. “unhealthy, overweight americans are the sole driving factor for uncontrollable heath care insurance premium costs”

      I have bad news regarding price gouging in health products and services (especially drugs)…

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  3. Well personally I don’t like that I have to go to Florida Bert Fish hospital, when there are better facilities elsewhere. I go to Halifax and they tell me I have to go to FBFH because it’s in my taxing district. Yet that is the place where I got poor healthcare that resulted in me having this life threatening illness. I was informed that I would have this the rest of my life.

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  4. Since it was I who filed the suit that challenged Halifax’s ability to legally build in Deltona, allow me to briefly describe the legal facts. A State Legislative act “enabled” the taxing district known as the “Halifax District” in the 1920’s. Although it has been revised at times along the way, the pertinent language to this matter remained and is as follows (verbatim): “The hospitals, medical facilities, and other health care facilities and services shall be established, constructed, operated, and maintained by the district for the preservation of the public health, for the public good, and for the use of the public of the district. Maintenance of such hospitals, medical facilities, and other health care facilities and services in the district is hereby found and declared to be a public purpose and necessary for the general welfare of the residents of the district.” Since the district extends west only to the vicinity of I95, there is no question that Deltona lies far outside the district. That was the crux of my complaint. As a taxpayer of the district for over 20 years consecutively and over 40 years cumulatively, I felt it was wrong for them to blatantly violate their enabling act, as it is known. You will note that the remedy was for the legislature to change the language in 2019 to allow them to build both within and without the district as many other districts were allowed to do. All along, that was the remedy I suggested, but not until the Florida Supreme Court found them to be in violation did they ask for that remedy. A lot of taxpayer money spent on legal fees could have been saved had that remedy been requested in 2016.

    On another note: thank you, Mark, for reminding us of the existence of the Internal Auditor. One as involved as I am had forgotten about him, so I imagine many others have, also. Hopefully, your comments will prompt someone on the County Council (a perfectly fine title, by the way) to seek an update on his activities.

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  5. I’m actually a little afraid of where Rose Ann Tornatore’s $250k is going to go – look at whose hands it’s going into – perhaps the auditor who “got disappeared”, if located, can look into it at some point in the future? I haven’t been following the funds closely, but I heard a LOT of money has been wasted there. Lord knows the homeless need a place; many of them don’t want to enter; many of them would; the safe space is a great idea; however, will it actually come to fruition? So much about it hasn’t. God bless Rose Ann – I just hope she didn’t “donate” into pockets and it actually goes to good use to the people who actually need it. You talk about the evil over in West Volusia – I’m not sure if it makes me feel better about the idiots on the dais in Ormond Beach or not – I thought we had the worst of the worst – now I’m not sure and I’m not exactly how sure to feel about that! I’m with you on getting beach side fixed up – we have the same problem up & down the coast here – so sad. When we moved down in 1991, it sure was a lot nicer!

    Like

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