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 Volusia County Council
Having or showing an obtuse insensitivity or lack of perception particularly in matters of public sentiment, opinion, or taste.
The First Amendment be damned.
Next Tuesday, the Volusia County Council is set to pass a resolution cementing the idea that, by Royal Edict, they will continue to quash citizen participation and muffle unpopular messages that don’t conform to the status quo or further the popular agenda.
The Monarchical proclamation limits our ability to address those we have elected to represent out interests to one opportunity per meeting – for a maximum of three minutes only – and, to “reduce disruption,” no signs, banner, placards or “wearable signboards” (does that include printed t-shirts?) will be permitted outside an individual’s presentation.
Should a subject of the realm have the temerity to actually prostrate themselves before our Exalted Rulers, you will wait until summoned by the omnipotent County Chair, and only then will your paltry “comments” be heard from the podium – and only after you have properly identified yourself for the record.
And don’t even think about our elected officials actually responding to your annoying questions – or so much as acknowledge your bothersome presence in the gilded Council Chamber.
What an abomination.
What an absolute insult.
Since the founding of this nation, public discussion of the issues of the day has become part of our culture – and permitting taxpayers substantive input in their local governance is sacrosanct in our democracy.
But not here.
In my view, the idea of limiting public participation to preserve the subjective concept of “decorum” so that some tinpot politician isn’t offended by the angry voice of their exasperated constituents is counter to our constitutional principles – and speaks to the abject arrogance of power that permeates Volusia County government.
Perhaps the most disingenuous, mendacious and wholly presumptuous provision of this damnable sham is contained in the fictitious concoction:
“In conducting the public’s business, the County Council is committed to the principals of civility, honor, and dignity. Individuals appearing before the County Council are required to observe the same principles when making public comments.”
In my view, as a long-time observer of this Theater of the Absurd, nothing about the means and manner in which the Volusia County Council conducts the “public’s business” has any semblance to civility, honor or dignity – and this “do as I say, not as I do” mandate is a personal affront to everyone who values the concept of good governance.
If our current experience with the coronavirus crisis has exposed anything, it is the tyrannical nature of our elected officials and those officious bureaucrats who do their bidding – small-minded dictators, some of which have shamefully put their political ambitions above the needs of the public – who are quick to seize our liberties as they continue to champion government overreach and suppression – because they know what’s best for the rest of us. . .
Now, with the worst possible timing, our “new” County Attorney Mike Dyer, who, “at the request of a Council Member” – issued a four-page communiqué on how best to erode our First Amendment protections in the interest of not upsetting the delicate sensibilities of elected officials by controlling participation in our government processes – presents this cockamamie resolution during a recognized State of Emergency.
We don’t have a pandemic response plan.
We don’t have a clear strategy for when/if people can emerge from their homes, open their businesses and resume some semblance of normalcy.
But we have a resolution outlining formal limitations on when and how we can address our haughty elected officials and “participate” in what passes for county government?
How classically tone-deaf.
How terrifyingly inept.
For those taking notes – you might want to remember this come November. . .
Angel Volusia County Business Community
I wanted to take a minute and give a well-deserved Barker’s View “Angel” to our friends and neighbors in the Volusia County business community for their efforts to provide meals and moral support to those who are bravely putting themselves in harm’s way during this crisis.
This week, Godwin Kelly, reporting in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, wrote:
“NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway started providing more than 700 complimentary meals to local frontline and essential employees, including education, government, health care, law enforcement and first responders across the Daytona Beach area.”
According to NASCAR’s executive vice chair, Lesa France Kennedy, the meals represent “just a small token of our appreciation for their daily dedication to our community.”
During the week-long initiative, DIS employees have been working with local restaurants to provide nutritious meals to first responders during these unprecedented times.
In addition, employees of several automobile dealerships have teamed together to patronize struggling area restaurants during lunch each day – and our friend and civic activist, Luke Zona, owner of Crabby Joe’s on the Sunglow Pier, prepared delicious meals for Halifax Health employees and other first responders.
Beginning this week, Dominoes outlets throughout Volusia and Flagler will begin distributing free pizzas to hospitals, school children and others in need.
The always civic-minded Tim Curtis and L. Gale Lemerand at Houligans teamed with Food Supply, Inc. and the Daytona International Auto Mall to provide 1,000 meals for workers at Halifax Health and AdventHealth this week.
Food service provider Sodexo USA at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University also donated 300 meals to Advent Health.
According to the West Volusia Beacon, “The Elusive Grape donated some 3,600 pounds of chicken Tuesday to The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia, for use in the organization’s drive-thru food pantry program.”
To ensure healthcare professionals have the personal protective equipment they need, this week the Root Family Foundation in Ormond Beach graciously donated 500 face shields to Halifax Health – and have committed to supplying the lifesaving equipment to local hospitals for the duration of the crisis.
In my view, the many area businesses and industries who are actively contributing their time, talents and resources to supporting first responders and those who have been financially stressed is heartwarming.
If I failed to mention your business, please know it was unintentional – wear your “Angel” wings with pride – now, and always.
Asshole Social Stool Pigeons aka “Spotters”
On Tuesday, during the hot air generator that was the Volusia County Council’s “virtual special meeting,” several of our elected and appointed officials used the term “spotter” to loosely identify those gossips and busybodies who find it necessary to inform the authorities of the otherwise lawful activities of their neighbors, who, in their officious view, have violated the terms of our government mandated social incarceration.
The specific examples cited were those who felt compelled to travel the beach and tattle on persons they thought were not social distancing – or, God forbid – those scofflaws who take a seat while suspiciously “fishing” in the surf. . .
These aren’t criminals engaged in nefarious pursuits – they are citizens trying desperately to find a brief escape within the confines of confusing and arbitrary government decrees, like “Beach is Closed! Sort of. . .” or “Boat Ramps Open – To residents of certain geographical areas only.”
I have a problem with these do-gooder “stool pigeons” – because, neighbors-spying-on-neighbors involved in otherwise lawful activities has no place in a free and open society.
In fact, it destroys our civic bonds with suspicion and fear.
Unfortunately, the practice of neighborhood Tonton Macoute’s conducting surveillance and busying themselves ratting out anyone who violates the arbitrary six-foot spacing recommendation is growing across the nation.
For instance, in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric “Mao” Garcetti has openly advocated that residents snitch on their neighbors who violate his draconian stay-at-home order – even threatening to shut off water and power to taxpaying businesses he has branded “non-essential.”
“You know the old expression about snitches—well, in this cases, snitches get rewards,” he said. “we want to thank you for turning folks in and making sure we are all safe.”
In other places, mayors have unilaterally used the broad power of emergency declarations to close drive-in religious services under penalty of arrest and criminal prosecution – constitutionally protected activities that require virtually no human contact – with some overbearing autocrats going so far as to place limitations on what citizens can, and cannot, purchase at a grocery store.
Other reports show parents being physically arrested for playing with their children in a public park, citations being issued for the use of publicly owned amenities, and even a viral video from Mississippi of a police officer telling the pastor of a church his “rights are suspended” by governor’s mandate.
The problem is also increasingly prevalent in Europe (a place where the Gestapo once relied on neighborhood informers to identify those in opposition to the regime – a system that was often used as a means of revenge or to settle old scores).
According to a recent article in Politico, “…in European countries under coronavirus lockdowns, a multitude of aspiring watchmen seem to feel that their moment has finally come, with untold numbers whiling away the hours in self-isolation by keeping an eye on their neighbors’ every move — and reporting them to the authorities if they slip up.”
Add to that the growing phenomena of social media “shaming” of those who appear to be out of compliance with government diktats and you get a weird sense of how close we could (will?) come to Orwell’s Oceania, a place where individuality and independent thought are crushed for the collective good.
Like most, I understand the dangers posed by COVID-19 – I also understand and follow, to the extent possible, the sound recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control – but how far are we willing to go as a society?
How many of our rights and social mores are we willing to sacrifice on the altar of “Public Safety” each time our government decides its time to shutdown our lives and livelihoods?
And, is it true, as ol’ Ben Franklin suggested, that those who would trade essential liberties to purchase temporary safety deserve neither?
Because these are deep and disturbing conversations we are going to have in this country once this pandemic has run its course.
Clearly, everyday this lockdown continues, our social, civic and economic fabric continues to fray.
Look, my advice is follow the rules – try and stay abreast of the ever-changing and always puzzling decrees handed down by yet another political insulation committee – the “mandatory/now not mandatory” edicts that change hourly – and let’s all work together to stay healthy and keep our vulnerable family members and neighbors safe.
And for you “spotters” out there, lurking about like an owl in the ivy, so you can inform on “violators” and get Brownie points from some stuffed shirt bureaucrat or overbearing politician with a God complex – while we practice social distancing, how about we embrace civic unity as well?
Asshole Volusia County District Schools
When I was an 18-year old kid undergoing training in the military, I often wondered why – just when you thought things couldn’t get more difficult – the cadre always found a way to kick things up a notch, challenging us mentally and physically beyond what we thought were our individual and collective capabilities.
I once saw a young soldier have a mental breakdown in our barracks.
The emotionally distraught recruit took his mess kit and filled the plate with a heaping mound of shaving cream and soap powder, before announcing to our drill sergeant that he planned to eat it as an attempt at suicide.
He ate it alright.
At the barrel-chested sergeant’s direct order – with our entire platoon looking on – not allowed to stop until he licked the metal pan clean.
Once the soldier had finished throwing up his foamy meal – he was labeled a “defect,” then whisked off to something our drill sergeant called “mental hygiene” – never to be seen again. . .
It seemed harsh at the moment. (But something told me this wasn’t the first time our Senior Drill Sergeant had seen this particular less-than-lethal ploy. . .)
After graduation from U.S. Army Military Police School, I understood the tough training regimen was carefully orchestrated, in minute detail, skillfully designed to break us down in body, mind and spirit – then build us back up as a functional member of a cohesive team – stronger in every way – with the newfound ability to make difficult decisions, perform effectively and ignore physical discomfort in austere or dangerous conditions.
I realized there was a purpose to what once appeared to be madness.
Unfortunately, I can’t find any sense of reason in the weird and insensitive treatment of our over-stressed teachers by the administration of Volusia County District Schools during these difficult and trying times.
In an excellent piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, education reporter Cassidy Alexander reports that – during the heat of this crisis, with many teachers concerned about job security – Volusia County schools used the opportunity to notify over 100 teachers that they won’t be doing their current jobs next year – then demanding they act as if everything is normal.
“Teachers are trying to tread water in the new remote learning environment that began March 30 as district leaders are emphasizing the importance of acting as close to normal as possible — and that’s where the friction starts.”
During the heart of this crisis, Superintendent Scotty Fritz is apparently sitting cross legged on the floor of his office, playing with the district’s organizational chart like a Tinker Toy set.
Because I’m told the district doesn’t have an organizational chart. . .
I’m also being told that 42 of the teachers who have been “displaced” were not currently serving in a classroom – with some in limbo because of a rezoning, reduced enrollment or assigned elsewhere – with some certified teachers apparently assigned to work the café and bus loop, while others may have been part of grants that expired years ago.
In a district currently carrying some 260 vacancies?
You read that right – and none of it makes sense to me either. . .
But is there a bigger question afoot?
Is it possible that – for years – Volusia County District Schools has had teachers and staff in non-functional positions that senior administrators and elected officials knew nothing about?
As of Monday afternoon, 109 teachers district wide have found themselves displaced.
I’m told that the oddball timing of the announcement had to do with a contractual obligation with the teacher’s union that required displaced teachers be notified by April 13.
“But miscommunication and unclear expectations — about time spent teaching, grading, training, which tools to use and what curriculum to teach — sent already-stressed teachers into a tailspin. That led to several apologies from Fritz and Deputy Superintendent of Teaching, Leading and Learning Carmen Balgobin, and an email to teachers letting them know that any communication from the district office will come from one of them “until this pandemic is over.”
Then, inexplicably, during this time of widespread uncertainty and upheaval that is adversely affecting students, parents, teachers and staff – on Tuesday, the Volusia County School Board saw fit to move forward with adding an even thicker layer of crust to this bloated bureaucracy with the appointment of six new “high level” (and highly paid) senior administrators.
Then they have the temerity to ask for our “patience”?
In her article, Ms. Alexander quoted the intrepid Elizabeth Albert, a veteran teacher and president of Volusia United Educators, who rightfully asked:
“In a time of uncertainty, in a time where we really need to be looking at things that truly are the most important. Why would we choose to add this additional layer of stress and anxiety on the backs of our people?”
What purpose does any of this serve?
Unless there is something more suspicious at play, like an organization that has been paying teachers and staff it doesn’t know it has, or what in the hell they are doing in furtherance of educating our children at any given time. . .
This one bears watching.
Superintendent Fritz has been at the helm long enough to have developed a comprehensive assessment of the situation – personnel, operations, administration, curriculum, student services, facilities, safety and security, etc. – and it’s time the district comes clean with those of us who pay the bills.
Quote of the Week
“Parking closures along public beaches is inherently discriminatory and exclusionary towards inland residents. How do you defend giving beachside residents/tourists preferential and near exclusive use of the beach for recreational activity while simultaneously penalizing everyone else not fortunate enough to afford beachside rent or property? This oversight, slight, or deliberate pandering does not promote either goodwill, or reasonable alternatives to enforced isolation. Beach access parking allotments should be added as an addendum to the general extension.”
–Edward Somers, DeLand, writing in the “Online Public Comments” section of the Volusia County Council’s special meeting of Tuesday, April 14, 2020
And Another Thing!
Speaking of basic equality and furthering the discussion about inherently discriminatory practices during a time of extreme government overreach, this week Mike Panaggio – who became deeply ingrained in local issues when he took contractual delivery of a publicly owned stadium in Daytona Beach – then, in February, suggested it be torn down and the property sold to developers so a “sports complex” could be built elsewhere – entered the beach driving debate.
On Thursday, Mr. Panaggio took to social media with a post claiming his once favorable view of beach driving had changed now that he has seen and used the beach without the presence of cars.
What ensued was an onslaught of differing opinions – with many (including me) taking Mr. Panaggio to task for sounding like an elitist who would gladly trade our unique traditions for his own self-interests.
Inexplicably, he promptly changed tack and removed the post altogether, claiming some were “offended” by it:
“Sorry if I offended any of our Volusia Issues people with my post about the beach. I’m not against beach driving. The Economy needs it. Our visitors love being able to park on our beach. My point was that seeing it without vehicles during this terrible crisis is a whole different viewpoint. Let’s continue to protect it any way we can. It’s an amazing natural resource.”
I’m not sure what that means. . .you support beach driving or you don’t?
I don’t think anyone was offended – just expressing a differing point of view on beach access – an emotionally charged issue for many long-time residents that is often referred to as the “third rail of Volusia County politics.”
Many in our community are concerned that once our rights and liberties – including our century old heritage of beach driving and access – are removed by government overreach during this crisis, they won’t be returned with the same rapidity with which they were stolen.
Mr. Panaggio is a highly successful and very smart person who prompted a good discussion.
Too bad he didn’t stand his ground.
Let’s face it, wading into the hell-broth of opinions on social media takes courage – and a willingness to defend controversial opinions and ideas through the competition of public debate.
In my view, for a recognized community trailblazer to shut down public discussion with the stroke of a computer key when things get heated is more offensive than the original thought.
Just one mans opinion. Yours may differ.
And that’s okay.
That’s all for me – have a great weekend, friends!