Angels & Assholes for March 6, 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.

It’s been quite a week here on Florida’s Fabled Fun Coast – a time of ups-and-downs – that has left me feeling a bit uneasy.

One recurring theme in my often jumbled take on local governance, and the weird conundrums that result, is the ancient and honorable concept of responsibility and accountability.

Admitting mistakes.  Accepting blame.  Righting wrongs.  Changing course when necessary.

Building trust.

In government, as in most progressive private organizations, accountability exists when a responsible individual, and the services they provide, are subject to critical oversight.  This occurs when the responsible party is required to provide articulable justification for their actions, omissions, expenditures, planning, and performance.

A practice especially important for government officials at the executive level whose decisions can have wide-ranging and very expensive implications.

And there is overwhelming evidence that many of our public, private and non-profit organizations are incapable of holding senior staff responsible for a continuing pattern of gross mismanagement.

I think you’ll find that recurring theme in the odds-and-ends of our local life and times below. . .

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

Asshole           Deltona City Commission

I’m fond of the old maxim that, when it comes to local governance, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It seems our decision-makers never embrace the expensive benefit of experience – boldly stumbling forward, openly repeating the mistakes of the past, with no recollection of how the crisis du jour germinated.

It’s like watching them touch a hot stove over-and-over with a complete cognitive disconnect as to why their fingers look like burnt sausage. . .

Regardless of jurisdiction, the one constant in local governance is that, for a variety of reasons, appointed senior officials, like city and county managers, enjoy an incredible level of professional protections that those in the private sector will never know – even when their decisions and behavior are far from professional.

This week, the Deltona City Commission blundered on with a disjointed discussion of how best to compensate their clearly financially savvy interim City Manager, even as their former chief executive, Jane Shang, drags a massive sack of severance cash out of City Hall and transitions to whatever comes next.

(Which, you can bet your bottom dollar, will be a seat on the dais of yet another hapless municipal government who has no idea what’s coming their way. . .)

On Monday, the commission approved a salary agreement with deputy city manager Marc-Antonie Cooper, who was appointed to the interim Catbird Seat in January.  Under the terms, Mr. Cooper will be paid $150,000 annually for his temporary services.

Inexplicably, Cooper asked for a whopping $175,000 – matching Shang’s lucrative compensation package – a move that may have telegraphed he is more interested in the trappings than the needs of a community still reeling from years of civic dysfunction and infighting.

Apparently, clarification of the terms was required after a ham-handed previous agreement would have resulted in Cooper suffering a pay decrease if he were to return to the deputy city manager role.

Jesus.

Now, as I understand it, if/when Mr. Cooper returns to his enviable former role – not quite the boss/not quite staff – he will receive a $15,000 pay increase bumping his annual salary to $135,000 – apparently as weird recompense for doing what deputy city managers do and filling in until Shang’s permanent replacement can be found (?)

Oh, if he should resign, retire or be terminated, Cooper will receive “…all accrued and unused vacation and sick time, per the contract.”

Wow.

 Why is it that elected officials – usually the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker – who, in real life, make far less than the base salary of most municipal and county managers – invariably “negotiate” massive compensation packages, complete with a Golden Parachute that provides the executive with a gentle, and very lucrative, landing when the inevitable occurs leaving taxpayers holding the proverbial bag?

Bizarre.

In a telephone interview this week with the intrepid Wild West Volusia News-Journal reporter, Katie Kustura, “Cooper said he hasn’t yet decided whether or not he’ll apply for the city manager position.”

I find that odd at a time when the long-suffering community is begging for stability.

In my view, if a city manager doesn’t have a burning desire to fill the role, lead boldly, be part of the solution, enhance service delivery and move the community that employs him or her forward with a strong civic and personal commitment – a drive that extends beyond the mercenary goal of self-enrichment and advantageous employment agreements – then, perhaps the city commission has already learned all they need to know about Mr. Cooper’s motivations going forward?

I doubt it.  The Deltona City Commission just doesn’t seem that quick on the uptake.

Which means history will repeat. . .

Angel               Volusia County Council

No, I haven’t bumped my head. . .

Look, I give that Carnival of the Absurd in DeLand the what for on a near daily basis.

Because they deserve it.

But this week, the council got one right when they agreed on ballot language that puts our previously voter-approved cultural, environmental and recreation grant programs – Volusia ECHO and Volusia Forever – on the ballot for a 20-year renewal this fall.

Absent some minor housekeeping, in what must be a historic first, our elected officials somehow found the common sense to leave the program language basically intact – after countless citizens spoke to the council or wrote passionately on social media touting the important benefits of these property tax programs to maintaining our quality of life.

Kudos to Councilman Ben Johnson for having the compassion and forethought to call for increased flexibility in the grant match requirement.

During the meeting, Mr. Johnson was joined by Council members Billie Wheeler and Barb Girtman in standing up for small communities and non-profits who could best benefit from grant funds, yet don’t have the financial wherewithal to meet the current 50% match requirement.

Of course, our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, argued against a reduction, adamant that applicants should have “skin in the game,” which means Volusia County can continue to gorge while many less wealthy municipalities and environmental organizations continue to suck hind teat.

Whatever. . .

In an excellent example of how ECHO funds enhance our lives in unique ways, during the meeting, the council approved a $400,000 ECHO grant request from the City of Holly Hill to complete the exciting Pictona pickleball sports complex, which is currently under construction in beautiful Hollyland Park across from the community’s historic City Hall.

Here’s hoping the Volusia County Council can overcome their natural tendency to get snout-deep in any pot of funds, regardless of earmark, and keep their grubby hands out of the pie.

This would include cockamamie ideas like hoarding funds to extend the Boardwalk (?) or redirecting money to public works projects and parking lots. . .

In my view, returning these important funding programs to the ballot is a very positive sign.

Frankly, it’s nice to see our elected officials actually listen to the concerns of their constituents for a change.

Now, keep up the good work. . .

Angel               Bethune-Cookman University

I was truly moved by retired Vice Admiral David L. Brewer’s recent Community Voices column, “Why historically black schools are important to save.”

Because I’m a cynical asshole, hardened by years of witnessing mans inhumanity to man up-close and personal – coupled with the natural pessimism and institutionalized suspicion that a lifetime in the Halifax Area can bring – that doesn’t happen often.   

While Admiral Brewer serves Bethune-Cookman University as a member of the Board of Trustees, he is perhaps best known for his monumental efforts leading the Military Sealift Command’s disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina – and his later service as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he stewarded a $7.5 billion budget.

In his thoughtful piece, Admiral Brewer recalled the important role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune’s personal contribution to education, when she gathered $1.50 to open the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls.

Bookending Brewer’s Community Voices essay was a well-written editorial positing The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board’s view that it’s “Make or break for Bethune-Cookman” – a grim, but very real, prospect for Dr. Bethune’s legacy.

In fact, if B-CU president Brent Chrite can’t close an $8 million operating deficit within days – later this month the university will lose its all-important academic accreditation – which will signal the death knell for this important institution and further fray the very fabric of our challenged community.

The News-Journal is advocating that, just like Dr. Bethune’s fidelity to her dream way back in 1904, “It’s time, then, for another leap of faith,” encouraging local donors to give like never before as Dr. Chrite and others work diligently, against all odds, to ensure that the university does not perish under almost insurmountable obstacles.

I agree.

Because I’ve become a hardened ‘civic cynic,’ I’m always looking for the scam – the confidence game – sniffing out the phony-baloney shtick and sleight-of-hand that seek to take advantage of our natural willingness to trust.

And to say B-CU suffers from a lack of internal and external trust is an understatement – but, in my view, Chrite is the real deal – a man of honor on a mission to save Dr. Bethune’s dream.

Make no mistake, B-CU is the victim of a long line of grifters, thieves and the deaf, dumb and blind watchdogs who inexplicably stood idle while the university’s coffers were looted, and greed-crazed insiders lashed the struggling school to a mountain of crippling debt with reckless dormitory “deals” and a mysterious luxury apartment project that still hasn’t been fully explored or explained. . .

The problem is, many in our community still recognize some of the exalted local last names who, while serving as members of the B-CU Board of Trustees, ignored their sacred duty to the institution – even as nervous alumni sounded the tocsin and begged for someone with a fiduciary responsibility to rise in defense of the university while there was still something worth worrying about.

Instead, for reasons known only to those craven few, they accepted exaggerated praise, honorary degrees and the other trimmings of their dubious “service” – even as the school was being  financially exsanguinated.

Once this immediate crisis has been met – and the parasitic lawsuits that continue to hamstring the university are settled – in my view, it is vitally important that Dr. Chrite begin the process of holding those who stood idle accountable for their sins to restore credibility to the process and start over with a clean slate.

That won’t happen.  But it should.

In my view, donors and potential endowments require strong assurance that the administration has been purged of these foul balls and can be trusted to steward these important gifts going forward.

It’s now, or never.

Angel               Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the Volusia Legislative Delegation

Kudos to Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Representative Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach) and Senator Tom Wright (R-Port Orange) for their outstanding efforts to keep convicted child sex offenders in jail pending appeal.

Earlier this week, the House approved Mr. Leek’s bill prohibiting judges from granting supersedeas bonds to anyone convicted of a crime requiring that they register as a sex offender or sexual predator when the offender is over 18 and the victim is a minor.

On Monday, the Senate Rules Committee approved the measure on a vote of 16 to 1.

The lone opposition came from the reality-challenged Senator Perry Thurston, Jr. (D-Fort Lauderdale) – who yammered some incoherent nonsense that those who are found guilty of sexually abusing children should “have the same chance as some other first-time offenders” to remain free while challenging their convictions.

Whatever.

In my view, this is an excellent example of law enforcement and our state legislators working cooperatively to improve our criminal justice system, close loopholes and protect innocent victims from further predation.

I can’t think of anything more important.

Congratulations to everyone involved on the expedient passage of this important law – and thank you all for a job well done!

Asshole           City of Ormond Beach

“In the past year or two, more than one Ormond Beach city commissioner used our Tree City USA designation as a defense when confronted by citizens voicing concern about increased clear-cutting in our area for development. So, it was particularly surprising to hear Commissioner Troy Kent say he is “so pleased that at this moment in time we don’t have a tree board” at the City Commission meeting on Feb. 4.”

–Georgann Meadows, Ormond Beach, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer Letters to the Editor, “Two Tree Committee members explain their group’s proposal,” Monday, March 2, 2020

Last year, I wrote a blog post entitled, “An Arbor Day Insult,” which took Ormond Beach officials  to task for the city commission’s weird ability to turn off their sense of shame and accept a Tree City USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation – after standing idle for the environmental massacre on Granada Boulevard which saw some 2,061 old growth trees – including specimen hardwoods and majestic oaks – wantonly churned into a muddy moonscape to make way for another WaWa.

That abomination on Granada Boulevard resulted in a visceral reaction by many in the community that continues to resonate.

Now, a small group of concerned citizens are holding the city’s feet to the fire, demanding that city officials actually live up to the mandates of the Arbor Day Foundation, which requires the city have a designated board to promote the welfare of trees and help preserve the urban forest.

Given the commission’s propensity for ignoring the suggestions of their own Planning Board and other senior advisory committees, no one had much hope that the current eyewash employed by city officials – lumping tree protections with some nonsensical hooey called the “Quality of Life Board” – would have the clout (or teeth) required to protect our historic trees.

Not surprisingly, City Commissioner Troy Kent was opposed to the very idea of increased oversight and protection of our greenspace.

In fact, at a recent commission meeting where establishment of the tree board was discussed, he arrogantly tut-tutted that the board would cost the city money by requiring staff time, required announcements and publications.

My ass.

In turn, he suggested having an arborist attend Quality of Life meetings whenever the fate of trees is at issue.

“The city is a great steward of trees, and quite frankly, I want less government in my life,” Kent said. “I don’t want more government, and I just think creating yet another board that we don’t need — because we already have a board that is doing the job — is not helping government run more efficiently.”

Right.

What a shameless sellout Mr. Kent has become, eh?

According to a recent article in the Ormond Beach Observer, the Tree Committee was recently formed by a group of concerned residents seeking a nonpolitical solution to preserving the character of the community through, “…more native plants, hardier landscaping and preservation of mature trees and wetlands on both city property and new development, whenever possible.”

How anyone – especially a sitting elected official – can fail to show respect for that incredibly noble goal is a mystery. . .

I suppose, like many grassroots efforts that conflict with a politicians natural proclivity to meet every want and whim of the speculative developers that hold the paper on their political lives – the very idea of allowing citizens direct input in protecting civic attributes that may well conflict with the slash-and-burn strategies of their political benefactors is anathema to the current growth at all cost philosophy.

What a damnable shame.

Quote of the Week

“It seems that City of Daytona Beach and the Volusia County have been up to no good in misrepresenting the ISB project. The repaving and improvements on East ISB are not contingent on the building of the roundabout despite what we have been told. According to DOT the improvements will actually occur, and will occur quicker, with a traffic light at ISB and AIA…so why then are some in our governments lying to us?

The plan is to close the ISB ramp and force all traffic to enter the beach at Silver Beach (that should be a real mess) and then exit only at ISB.  And when that idiocy doesn’t work, they will close ISB ramp totally.

They have had this plan in place but have been lying about it for a while including lying to some or our elected officials. Evidently the cleaning house in Deland’s Administration Building was not thorough enough. Check out who owns the property south of ISB and those that would benefit from a private beach. We will have a chance to let DOT know how we feel at the end of the month…in the meantime let your elected official know how you feel about this slimy action.

–Paul Zimmerman, President of Sons of the Beach, writing on Facebook’s The V.C.C. Page – Volusia County Concerns, ahead of the March 31, 2020, FDOT Public Hearing on ISB Corridor Improvements, 5:30pm to 7:30pm, Midtown Cultural and Educational Center Gymnasium, 925 George W. Engram Boulevard, Daytona Beach

I shared my thoughts on this important issue earlier in the week – and I’m glad Paul Zimmerman, who heads Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy – weighed in on what many feel is one of the most pressing issues in the Halifax area.

The fact is, the proposed roundabout at A-1-A and East ISB is a nightmare in the making – one any experienced traffic engineer will tell you is tailor-made for gridlock – coupled with the fact the project could be moved up from the current three-year start date if a signalized intersection were authorized.

But, given the perennial foot dragging and civic hand-wringing that continues to waste precious time, I’m left wondering if its all part of a larger “vision” that We, The Little People, know nothing about?

For some two-years now, our ‘economic development’ gurus over at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce have had a video on their website which shows renderings and animation of happy people strolling a promenade of high-rise buildings and quaint shops on East ISB – complete with an overlay of the new development – hailed as “An investor tool designed to showcase recent development along International Speedway Boulevard (ISB) and the future vision for East ISB.”

The video, produced circa February 2018, features the crystal ball prescience of a traffic roundabout at Atlantic Avenue by the way. . .

My ass.

(Don’t take my word for it, find it here: https://tinyurl.com/ttz2wvh  – it’s located directly under the greasy marketing brands for Team Volusia, the CEO Business Alliance and Volusia County Economic Development Division.)

Then, last year, the Florida Department of Transportation held informational meetings – complete with conceptual plans for a complete overhaul of East ISB – where residents were adamant that they didn’t want a roundabout at the intersection of A-1-A and ISB.

Naturally, plans call for a roundabout. . .

I’m being told it is because senior officials at the City of Daytona Beach – spurred on by the wants of our secret society over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – are demanding it.  (Along with even more money from FDOT for right-of-way. . .)

Now that Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm has begun his excruciatingly long goodbye – giving a full-year notice of his desire to retire in March 2021 – how that oddly-timed  announcement will ultimately affect current traffic plans remains to be seen.

But I doubt anything of substance will change until our civic elite reach their ultimate goal of eliminating our century-old heritage of beach driving altogether – which is clearly their intent with this godforsaken roundabout that will effectively block the busiest beach access point in Volusia County.       

In my view, it’s time the long-suffering residents and business owners who hitched their wagon to the promised “beachside redevelopment” start getting hard answers to these important questions – and a solution to the stagnation that is actively killing our core tourist area.

And Another Thing!

The unthinkable happened today.

For over 40-years, The Conklin Center for the Blind served the needs of the visually impaired – including providing independent living skills, the use of assistive technology and orientation & mobility training – along with awareness and outreach programs to educate the sighted community on the capabilities and contributions of the blind and those with additional disabilities.

Tragically, those incredibly important services come to an end this morning.

According to reports, state inspectors recently found discrepancies in the physical condition of the center – along with serious inconsistencies in contractual requirements and obligations that placed the facility “…in a state of material breach and non-compliance.”

 A disturbing report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal pointed out a laundry list of material violations of state standards that resulted in suspension of some 60% of Conklin Center’s funding.

 Apparently, the only remedy was the complete closure of the facility – leaving its clients – and our community – without this vital resource.

Look, I don’t know who is ultimately responsible – but this shit happens much too frequently in the Halifax Area.

We are being told that Conklin CEO Kelly Harris was summarily terminated earlier this week by the Board of Directors, bringing her 16-month tenure to a close in the midst of this maelstrom that brought the center to its knees.

Of course, Harris feels she should have received a commendation for her work to right the ship since she learned of the state inquiry last November:

“I was excited and thought they would come back with glowing statements about the amazing work we were doing.”

However, the News-Journal reports that Conklin board chair and former Ponce Inlet Mayor Nancy Epps isn’t buying any of it – taking a firm stand in support of Harris’ dismissal – saying the report from the Florida Division of Blind Services speaks for itself.

She’s right.

But I’m still curious when the wheel came off the cart?

Because the Conklin Center ran like clockwork under the outstanding stewardship of former  Executive Director Robert Kelly, who gave more than 31-years of faithful service to the center until his retirement in 2018.

In fact, Ms. Harris was hired to replace Kelly.

In my view, it’s important to identify the people and processes that led to this catastrophe – one that has adversely affected the lives and livelihoods of 50 clients and some 40 staff members who lost their jobs today – because this scenario should never be allowed to happen again.

Yet, just like the still unfolding disaster at Bethune-Cookman University, these scandals occur here with frightening regularity.

If our local system of “forgive and forget” holds true – I doubt we will ever learn the whole truth.

We’re just not real big on the whole concept of accountability here on the Fun Coast.

When I was writing and managing state and federal grants, the mandate to meet and adhere to programmatic standards was a big deal – one that I, and others, took extremely seriously, because anything less would erode the public’s trust and undermine our efforts to leverage grant funds for the enhancement of community programs.

So, as we say goodbye to what the Conklin Center meant to many in this community – an institution that served thousands of clients over four-decades – I hope our ‘powers that be’ in the public, private and non-profit sectors will use this unfolding tragedy as a stark reminder of the importance of oversight and management – and the fragility of publicly funded services when those who accept high responsibilities fail to live up to their sacred charge.

That’s all for me.  Have a safe and fun Bike Week 2020!

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for March 6, 2020

  1. Marc I could not disagree with you more about ECHO and the County Council. We do not have all of the facts and there is a lack of transparency. It is going on two weeks that I have been trying to get records pertaining to the former ECHO contracts. With all of the issues we have facing us as a County it is foolish to move ahead with ECHO so frivolously. Taking money out of one person’s pocket by force and with threat of loss of their property in order to give it to another person’s private pet project or group is wrong. Our charitable giving choices should be left up to us and not someone at the County level who feels they know how to better give away our money. In many cases these funds are used to garnish political influence or favor. And how can you give praise to the County Council when they will not even have meetings on these big issues at night when the working class can have their voices heard? Being a do gooder with your own money is one thing doing it with someone else’s money you forced from their pockets makes you an asshole in my book.

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  2. Marc it was my understanding that the Volusia ECHO and Volusia Forever renewal item on the ballot would also have a “small inclusion” as a part of it. Namely that the Council’s (and a few cities’) intent was that the 1/2 cent sales tax was going to be “slipped” in that as an “and”.
    Are you sure that has changed or was it just not mentioned again?

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