On a normal day, that astronomical figure would have resulted in a front page/above the fold treatment with all the bells-n-whistles The Daytona Beach News-Journal could muster.
But not this week. Times are different.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was the hotly contested $150 Billion federal relief program that, among a broad range of other entities, provides financial aid to local governments with populations exceeding 500,000.
According to the act, CARES is meant to cover “necessary expenditures” related to the COVID-19 response and recovery that were “not accounted for in that government’s budget.”
As one of the twelve counties in Florida with populations over 500K, earlier this week the Volusia County Council quietly voted on yet another off-the-agenda item during a “special meeting” authorizing County Manager George Recktenwald to apply for, and accept, the massive funding package.
According to a short blurb in the News-Journal, Mr. Recktenwald said, “We’re able to receive direct funding. This is something very unprecedented.”
So, how will Volusia County – who has a history of going through our money like shit through a dyspeptic goose – spend this windfall?
Will the municipalities, many of which have been hard hit by this crisis, be included in the distribution?
Will those local businesses and industries who traditionally secure their spot at the public teat with enormous campaign contributions be eligible to skim a little cream off the top in the name of an economic stimulus?
Will small businesses and furloughed employees who are teetering on the brink of financial disaster be supported with these relief funds?
And, absent some donations to struggling food banks, what exactly has Volusia County spent outside that included in current budget allocations?
Because they damn sure haven’t thrown anything at emergency management planning, preparation or the development of a cogent pandemic response. . .
Under the circumstance, these are legitimate questions – and, during an election year – we deserve answers sooner rather than later.
I remember a similar, no-questions-asked, flood of cash in the late 1990’s when Florida reached a massive settlement with cigarette producers – a time when untold billions of dollars were showered on local governments throughout the state in the form of smoking cessation programs for children.
It turned into a shit show of epic proportions.
In other words, it was exactly what one would expect when greed-crazed politicians get snout-deep in a trough groaning with unregulated cash.
In fact, at the time, I called a state agency charged with oversight to report what I believed was a misuse of settlement funds – a situation common in those times – where the state trust fund was being billed by a municipality at a rate higher than actual expenditures.
While I maintain a certain moral flexibility, I also have a finely honed conscience.
I thought it was wrong, so I spoke up.
Imagine my utter shock when the inspector literally laughed in my face – flippantly dismissing me with, “If you think that’s bad, you should see what’s happening in South Florida.”
According to reports, outlays under the CARES Act will be under the oversight of something called the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, formed from Inspector General from multiple federal agencies.
One can only guess what ‘oversight by committee’ will look like at the end of the day.
No word yet on what role, if any, Volusia County’s invisible “Internal Auditor” Jonathan Edwards – who, like the legendary Sasquatch, is rumored to exist but rarely seen – will have in ensuring that nearly $100 million in public funds is spent in accordance with programmatic goals.
Trust me – this one bears watching. . .
Please join me tomorrow for our weekly installment of “Angels & Assholes” an always irreverent look at who tried to save us – and who tried to screw us – during the week that was.