Angels & Assholes for February 28, 2020

Hey, 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.

Before we get started, I want to thank everyone who took the time to send well-wishes to Patti and I on our 25th wedding anniversary last week.

Look, I’m as shocked as you are – but, somehow, Patti has found a way to tolerate my many quirks, faults and foibles for a quarter century now – which should satisfy all the rites and proof of heroic virtue required for formal canonization. . .

Last week, we celebrated with our dearest friends in New Orleans – continuing a thirty-year love affair with that beautiful, battered, troubled, magical, mythical place that, in my view, remains the most unique and exotic city in the nation.

In fact, Patti and I were married there on a crisp February evening by the captain of a paddle-wheel riverboat plying the muddy Mississippi – standing arm-in-arm under a bright Louisiana moon that cast a protective spell over our marriage and guided our union through the tumultuous and turbulent times.

On our wedding night, a silver haired lady – a native New Orleanian with a distinctive “Yat” accent – approached us and pressed a silver dime in my hand.  She claimed tradition dictated that any couple married in the Crescent City should make a wish, then toss the coin into the river to ensure good luck and a happy life.

So, we did.

Our wish came true – and the love affair continues. . .

Over the years, we’ve developed a system of sorts by planning our trips to the Big Easy the week before Mardi Gras Day.

I suppose it’s like jumping off a roller-coaster mid-ride – but, as we get older, it’s increasingly difficult to navigate the crowds, the crime and the conspicuous consumption of Carnival Season.

You don’t visit New Orleans – you live it, with all your senses.

It’s not for the faint of heart.

As the incomparable New Orleans scribe and Pulitzer Prize winning storyteller, Chris Rose, describes the world-famous Bourbon Street:

 “Where karaoke and bad Jimmy Buffett cover bands provide the soundtrack of the city and the night air smells like sweet olive, night blooming jasmine, crab boil, weed, coffee, dead crustaceans, mule shit and sex.”

I would add the distinct odor of stale beer and its byproduct to that aromatic mix as well. . .

The cobblestone streets of this ancient city are a purgatory for the lost, the dopesick and the downtrodden, a bacchanalia for the drunken college crowd and a living antique shop for the young at heart, all set amongst the opulence of old-world hotels, dive bars and incredible restaurants where your server has been working the same room for 40-years.

A place where old money and the uptown mansions it inhabits are slowly being surrounded by young professionals in jogging shorts pushing baby carriages and walking expensive dogs around recently gentrified neighborhoods.

A city of fierce traditions and untold tragedy, all lit by the soft glow of a flickering gas streetlamp.

But once you hear the mournful wail of a baritone saxophone wafting through a nearly deserted French Quarter on a foggy midnight – the deep sound reverberating off damp brick walls and a slate banquette – well, you’re never quite the same again.

And the love affair continues. . .

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Angel               Civic Activist Anne Ruby

I’ve had the privilege of meeting some remarkable people through this blogsite – citizens who truly care about the preservation and protection of those things that make the Halifax Area such a special place.

None more knowledgeable – or committed to resolving the difficult issues of the day – than the intrepid Anne Ruby.

Recently, Anne wrote passionately in The Daytona Beach News-Journal regarding the eminent demise of the City Island Rec Center – the 1920’s community amenity that has, like many publicly-owned facilities before it, been allowed to decompose into total disrepair under the absurd policy of  “Condemnation by neglect” – or, as I call it, the complete abdication by our elected officials of their fiduciary responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the people’s property.

(Hey, I’ve got an idea!  How about we start holding elected and appointed officials criminally liable for maintaining the value of public assets – rather than permitting this institutionalized malfeasance that allows them to escape responsibility by saying, as the News-Journal’s Mark Lane aptly put it, “Such a shame. Gotta take this down for safety reasons.”)

Now it appears the debate – if there ever was a legitimate one – is over.

Once again, the only ones who matter got their way – and you can bet your bottom dollar this irreplaceable piece of our local heritage will soon be demolished and hauled away – making space for some chain restaurant/bar with a life expectancy of about 14-months. . .

In my view, our elected officials, at all levels of local government, seem to find funding for every pet project and corporate welfare scheme concocted by our oligarchical overseers – political insiders who are busy rebuilding downtown Daytona in their own craven image – yet, when residents demand that historic structures (that happen to occupy some coveted riverfront real estate) be saved, they suddenly develop a weird fiscal conscience that says it’s ‘too expensive to restore.’

Yet, none of their malleable “funding priorities” seem important when some rich old man with a legacy complex makes a demand.

Why is that?

In her piece advocating for the refurbishment of the City Island Rec, Anne said:

“The city is making a big investment of our tax dollars to bring business to Beach Street. Owning and operating an event venue, a public meeting space, so close to the new walkable Beach Street would give us a powerful tool to help meet that goal.”

“It is time for the very same City Commission that voted to invest so much in the Beach Street roadway project to also get serious about revitalizing The Rec Center as a city facility. Not only would it be good for business, preserving our history is the right thing to do. A city that doesn’t value its past, has no future.”

Well said.

In my view, Anne Ruby remains an important voice in our community – one our elected and appointed officials should listen to.

They won’t.  But they should.

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

Why is it that no one in Volusia County Schools asks the important questions? 

This week, we learned the dirty little secret that the classrooms and facilities used by our children have become so filthy – so “absolutely disgusting” – that some members of the School Board fear for the safety of students who sit on the carpet during educational activities.

My God.

And why are those highly compensated posers in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand just learning about this latest crisis du jour?

Look, as someone who has been personally responsible for the management of public assets, I can assure you these facilities didn’t fall into this deplorable condition overnight.

So, when is someone, anyone, going to be held accountable by those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests?

Way back in 2013, when your loyal scribe was still wearing the ball-gag that accompanies a job in the public sector – I had personal reservations about the School Board’s misguided decision to toss long-time district custodians on the ash heap in favor of outsourcing janitorial services to the out-of-state Aramark Management Services.

We were sold a bill of goods that going outside would save taxpayers millions while providing more efficient services.

Despite efforts to save the jobs, healthcare and pensions of loyal district employees who were set to be absorbed by Aramark (oddly, even the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce openly supported the move) it was clear that the decision was a foregone conclusion.

At the time, the president of the union which represented the former custodians said in a prescient statement to the News-Journal following the ill-fated vote:

“I just hope they fall on their face. I hope the custodians treat them with the same respect they were treated with.”

 And, fall on their ass they did. . .

Just two-years after signing the five-year $57.8 million contract with Aramark, then Superintendent Tom Russell recommended terminating the agreement.

As the News-Journal reported, “Since the district inked the deal with Aramark two years ago, school employees have complained about myriad problems such as dirty floors, dusty shelves and restrooms that lack toilet paper, towels and soap.”

Sound familiar?

Undeterred by the fact that contracting this important service to a relatively unaccountable third party might not be the best way to go, Volusia County Schools simply opted to switch providers, you know, hoping against hope for a different outcome. . .

To his credit, Superintendent Scott Fritz is now studying alternatives – including bringing janitorial services back in-house.

During my three-decades in public service, I worked for a local government who understood the intrinsic value of loyalty – that sense of professional dedication that comes when public employees feel a personal connection to those they serve.

Countless times I have seen employees at all levels of the organization go the extra mile – far exceeding that which is expected of them to ensure continuity of operations, even placing themselves in harms way to provide essential services – not because they were being paid to do it, but because they truly cared about the health, safety and welfare of their constituents.

I’m not sure you find that level of commitment in the four corners of a service contract.

In my view, there are prudent and appropriate ways to save money in the massive bureaucracy that is Volusia County Schools – and, perhaps, a good place to start would be purging some of that top heavy, do-nothing wad of incompetents who have attached themselves like ticks to the public teat for years?

I’m just not sure doing the same thing again and again while expecting a different result from the same people is the best use of public funds – and, as evidence suggests, our current course is certainly not improving the lot of vulnerable students and teachers who are forced to work and learn in a grossly unsanitary environment.

We are witnessing the textbook definition of insanity. . .

Quote of the Week

“Let me, again, quote Abraham Lincoln: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.” Government in Ormond Beach has not lived up to Mr. Lincoln’s principle.  The way we have existed here over the past several years has not been “of, by, and/or for” the people.”

“This city is governed in a manner that, although the residents appear to have a say on topics, their voices are ignored. Where is the “of, by and for” in that type of government? I, and many, many others have addressed topics over the past several years only to have our pleas and appeals squashed by the power of a few. That “power” is called the “last word” — the final vote, so, basically pleas and appeals do not mean squat.”

–Ed Kolaska, Ormond Beach, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “What happened to “of, by and for the people”?” Monday, February 24, 2020

Like many East Volusia communities, my hometown – the City of Ormond Beach – is difficult to figure sometimes.

In my view, we have exceptional management in Joyce Shanahan – yet, our City Commission seems far too flighty and inconsistent – almost distracted – when it comes to crafting effective public policy in furtherance of a coherent civic vision.

Like a demented kitten playing with some glittery gimcrack – our elected officials frequently hare off down nonsensical roads – like suddenly deciding they want to convert every septic system on the unincorporated North Peninsula to municipal sewer without a shred of scientific evidence of need beyond a Health Department suggestion – or the fatuous purchase of a church without the first clue how the property will ultimately serve a pressing public need, etc., etc.

And don’t get me started on the complete lack of strategic vision that has left us outflanked by our behemoth neighbor to the south, who is quickly approving massive development on our environmentally sensitive western border, unchecked sprawl which will drastically impact our already over-stressed transportation infrastructure.

Make no mistake, I believe that Ormond Beach is one of the most exceptional communities in the Halifax Area.

But how long will that last?

Perhaps its time for Ormond Beach officials to come to the realization that we’re all in this together – and the residents they were elected to represent have solid ideas for what they want their community to look like in the next, 10, 20, 30 years.

That important process begins with actually listening to their concerns – and remembering that the ultimate power of all government is derived from the will of the governed – not the haughty whims of  wealthy real estate developers with a profit motive.

And Another Thing!

When it comes to Volusia County politics – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Same tired names with the same tired “ideas.”

Same wealthy insiders with the same lust for power and influence.

And, just like campaigns past, these two factions will join at elegant receptions and “meet-n-greets,” stilted soirees which blunt the filth and embarrassment of the candidate having to physically grovel before their campaign contributors in public.

Nothing really changes.

This week, the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys – who recently announced her run for the Catbird Seat during a horribly choreographed hand-off with our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – was feted at a reception hosted by all the right last names in Southeast Volusia real estate and politics.

In fact, when I read some of the names on the “Host Committee” list, I initially thought it was a meeting of the Angler’s Club – but then I remembered, Ms. Denys is a prohibited female – meaning, she can only accept campaign contributions from men associated with the organization, not be a member of it. . .

Then, rounding out the team was the lame duck “County Chairman Ed Kelley.”

I guess Old Ed plans to wring as much political clout out of that torn and tattered moniker as he can, eh?

If guilt by association means anything in this day and age (and I don’t think it does), I find it hard to believe that Councilwoman Denys would want Ed Kelley within a country mile of her campaign.

After all, with Ms. Denys whispering direction in his ear, Chairman Kelley has lorded over perhaps the most dysfunctional reign of any iteration of the Volusia County Council in memory – and that’s saying something.

When you consider the laundry list of five alarm foul-ups, gaffes, howlers, political deceit, public policy by ambush, cronyism, citizen suppression, corporate welfare, civic mediocrity, environmental exploitation and lockstep conformity with a system that values the status quo over the needs of its constituents – why anyone other than a political retread with no real ideas other than raising taxes, redirecting voter-approved initiatives and kowtowing to uber-wealthy insiders would want to be associated with Chairman Kelley remains a mystery – but I suppose that’s how the game is played in those circles.

It’s why I continue to support Jeff Brower’s campaign for Volusia County Chair.

You won’t find him hovering around the political fishing camps or gilded offices of our exalted ‘Kingmakers,’ sycophantically begging for another bite at the apple.

Rather, Jeff is more at home holding information sharing sessions at community picnics or in living rooms – talking real issues with real people at small businesses and neighborhood forums.

I don’t take these stark differences lightly.  And neither should you.

In fact, I encourage you to call or sit down with Jeff Brower and listen to his thoughts on environmental protection, education, infrastructure, water quality and increasing property values while fundamentally changing the “growth at all cost” philosophy that is threatening our very quality of life.

Then, ask the hard questions.

I guarantee you won’t hear defeatist terms like “regionalism” – or be fed Buck Rogers bullshit about hitching our collective wagon to Brevard County’s commercial space industry.

You will find that Mr. Brower is more down to earth – a straight shooter with something original and significant to say on the challenges that affect us, our children and grandchildren – and, more important – he has a viable plan to move Volusia County onto a new, prosperous and infinitely more inclusive path forward.

This one’s important.

I encourage everyone to vote like our quality of life and livelihoods depend upon it – because they do.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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