Angels & Assholes for May 22, 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:

Asshole           Volusia County Council

I admit taking a perverse pleasure in watching our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and his goofy “colleagues” on the dais of power make a mucked-up mockery of things.

Call it a pastime.

I realize it’s sick and wrong to take such utter delight in the intellectual limitations of people who hold themselves in such high regard – and I’ve clearly lost all objectivity – but Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting will stand as empirical evidence that our lives and livelihoods are being directed by a troupe of befuddled buffoons.

Shocking. 

The cart came off the rails when they undertook amending a resolution to expand a Volusia County relief program which allocates just $10 million, of the nearly $100 million in CARES Act funds the county received, to support small businesses who have carried the brunt of this government-imposed shutdown on their shoulders.

Then, things turned into a bad Three Stooges episode as Chairman Kelley lost any semblance of control or ‘decorum’ – only there were seven of them acting in this outrageous slapstick tragicomedy – setting policy with all the grace of an ungulate on ice. . .

Please don’t take my word for it.

Just down a strong antiemetic and watch this shit show for yourself.  (The fun begins around 4:57:00)

Then, in keeping with Volusia County’s tried-and-true strategy of public policy by ambush – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys pulled a shameless end run on her long-suffering constituents by trying to elevate Interim County Attorney Mike Dyer to the permanent role by the usual off-the-agenda sleight of hand.

Her greasy move was the antithesis of political integrity.

In January, when the council placed Dyer in the temporary role following a bloodletting in the county attorney’s office – we were promised that the full-time position would only be filled following a transparent search.

At the time, an article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal explained:

“Councilman Ben Johnson initially shared concern that appointing Dyer as interim might give the impression that, if Dyer is eventually chosen as the permanent county attorney, that the decision was a “foregone conclusion.”

Councilwoman Barbara Girtman, along with others on the dais, said as long as they conduct (the) search with transparency, she doesn’t see Dyer’s appointment as a problem.

“It will be transparent. It will be discussed publicly,” said Councilwoman Deb Denys.”

Bullshit.

No search.  No discussion.  No transparency.  A foregone conclusion.

More ‘end-of-the-meeting’ shenanigans.

To Councilman Ben Johnson’s credit, he spotted what Denys was up to and suggested that Dyer’s appointment to the permanent role (and rough draft contract) be placed on an upcoming agenda.

The motion passed unanimously. . .

Not one of our elected representatives stood up and said, “Hey, what happened to the search?  What happened to the whole ‘transparency’ thing?”

My God.

In my view, this latest backroom flimflam proves – once and for all – that Councilwoman Denys is a bald-faced congenital liar who lacks the strength of character and moral authority to lead.

If Ms. Denys had a shred of decency, she would immediately resign her lofty post, abandon her craven campaign for County Chair, and slither off to that rotten dung heap where deceitful political hacks go to bury the foul-smelling remains of their political career.

This doesn’t bear any resemblance to good governance.

This isn’t normal.  This isn’t leadership.  We deserve better.

 Asshole           Volusia County District Schools

Cue the mournful dirge that signals the start of the Volusia County School District’s annual performance of the Poor Mouth Blues. . .

With a budget rapidly approaching $1 billion – you read that right: One Billion Dollars – district administrators are telling us the mushrooming bureaucracy is now facing a $16 million deficit – a shortfall some four times what it was just two years ago when School Board members told us the system was in “budget crisis mode.” 

This ship is sinking. . .and our children’s education hangs in the balance.

Ignoring the fact that this already top-heavy/multi-layered organization continues to add “assistant superintendents” – each with six-figure salary and benefits packages – it seems no matter who is appointed to manage this money hog, the “system” will never live within its massive means.

In coming weeks, we will hear the same tired song blaming the patently unfair state funding formula (that legislators clearly have no intention of rectifying) – always exacerbated by increasing personnel expenses, retirement contributions, staff raises, etc. – the perennial excuses district administrators never seem to anticipate or plan for.

For the past decade, it has become increasingly clear that the self-serving upper stratum of Volusia County Schools has become more concerned with protecting their own positions in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand than improving the curriculum, learning strategy and educational experience of students.

This mercenary and maladroit approach to educational administration has resulted in nasty scandals, embarrassing revelations of almost criminal malfeasance, lack of accountability, allegations of academic cheating, security breakdowns that have threatened the safety of students and staff, and a complete inability to adapt to a changing economic, social and civic environment.

As this latest shortfall is foisted upon taxpayers – we hear disturbing stories of staff members who remain virtually unaccounted for in the system – “teachers on assignment,” personnel who were hired under grant programs that remained on the payroll long after the program expired, certified educators being used in bus loops and school cafés – all of which begs the question:

Are there individuals lost in this byzantine maze that are being paid to do nothing at all? 

In my view, now that schools are shuttered for the summer, it is time our “new” superintendent Scotty Fritz begins an all-hands approach to trimming the obvious fat at the top of the org chart, evaluating each administrator and program, then cutting anything not directly related to educational activities.

Considering the School Board’s willingness to repeatedly dip into reserves rather than stop the hemorrhage – returning to the well time-and-again, even as the spending continues unabated – it’s time for taxpayers to take a close look at how, and why, this behemoth continues to gorge.

Angel              BC-U Senior Miranda White    

The response to COVID-19 has exacted a toll from all of us – taken away family occasions, our ability to work, play, worship and engage in those important life moments – special times and milestones we will never get back.

That includes student athletes and graduating high school and college seniors who have been denied the opportunity to showcase their talents and celebrate scholastic accomplishments.

By any metric, Bethune-Cookman University senior Miranda White is an exceptional young woman with incalculable contribution potential to our society.

Earlier this month, the four-year letter winner for the Lady Wildcat volleyball squad was named Bethune-Cookman University Athletics Woman of The Year!

But her wonderful accomplishments go far beyond the court.

The California native was the first student accepted into B-CU’s Integrated Environmental Science (IES) Program that allows students to pursue both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years through classroom, field experiences and collaborating with government, academic and private practitioners.

In addition, Ms. White was selected for the National Council on Undergraduate Research’s 24th annual Posters on the Hill event, originally scheduled for Washington, DC on April 20-21.

According to B-CU Athletics, Ms. White was the first student from the university selected for this distinguished program.

Her research project “Using a Bayesian Conditional Probabilistic Model to Identify Efficient Environmental Indicators of Harmful Algal Blooms Within the Indian River Lagoon, Florida, USA” used a timed series of analyses to determine strategies for algal bloom control in Florida’s sensitive east coast estuaries.

Unfortunately, due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus response, Ms. White was unable to present her findings to members of Congress – which required she post a virtual presentation instead.

In my view, Ms. White, and her groundbreaking environmental research, exemplifies the importance of Bethune-Cookman University to the life of Central Florida and beyond.

I hope you will join me in congratulating Miranda White on her incredibly impressive athletic and academic achievements – and in acknowledging her important scientific contributions to the protection and preservation of our threatened waterways.

Quote of the Week

“The Anglers and the City of New Smyrna may see this as a victory, but I see it as the beginning of righting the wrongs which have been perpetrated on the hardworking tax paying citizens of NSB.”

 –Rhonda J. Kanan, New Smyrna Beach, in an emailed response to The Daytona Beach News-Journal for the article, “Lawsuit dismissed against NSB Anglers’ Yacht Club which bars women,” Tuesday, May 19, 2020

In my view, if a group of ‘good ol’ boys’ want to buy some property, build a meeting hall and form the New Smyrna Beach chapter of the Sausage Club, who cares?

Just get the hell off publicly owned land if you are not willing to welcome everyone.

I thought those were the rules?  Right?  

Do what’cha wanna on private property – but certain anti-discrimination laws apply to publicly owned land?

Guess not. . .

The Anglers Club – a ‘not-for-profit’ corporation – which sits on some incredibly valuable waterfront real estate on New Smyrna’s North Causeway – is the current iteration of a club formed in 1914 which was chartered exclusively for “white male citizens over 21 years of age.”

According to reports, at present, the “club” has some 90 members – none of whom are black. . .or female.

The organization describes itself as a “fraternal organization” – an exclusive “men’s club” – and bristles at the idea of being portrayed as discriminatory in any way.

As I see it, the only rub is that most private “men’s clubs” don’t sit on two-acres of prime riverfront property – publicly owned by all citizens of New Smyrna Beach – with an estimated worth of some $4 million – that is “leased” to The Anglers Club by the municipal government for a paltry $25.00 a year. . .

You read that right.  $25 bucks a year. 

The city last approved The Angler’s 99-year lease in 1944 – which, absent any substantive action by the NSB City Commission, will remain in effect until 2043. . .

Earlier this year, Rhonda Kanan, a courageous New Smyrna Beach resident decided to do what city officials wouldn’t and filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of The Anglers Club’s lopsided arrangement, which essentially allows an organization that openly discriminates against women the use of very valuable public property for private benefit.

According to Ms. Kanan’s suit, way back in 2009, the City of New Smyrna Beach received a legal opinion that The Anglers Club leases were invalid.

The remedies ran from ratifying the leases in an open public meeting, to asserting the agreements aren’t worth the yellowing paper they are printed on, including the option of ejecting the club from the property altogether.

The 2009 review also found “no racial discrimination” by The Anglers. . .

Thank goodness, right? 

Because if the “club” had been found to be racially discriminatory, that could have serious political repercussions if it were allowed to remain on public property. . .

The News-Journal reported, “The City Commission in 2009 voted 4-1 to renegotiate the lease. But it never did, and the club remains on the property paying the low rate for the land.”

Frankly, the New Smyrna Beach City Commission should be ashamed of itself for their base political cowardice.

So, as these things often go when citizens have the temerity to challenge City Hall, this week a Circuit Court judge dismissed Ms. Kanan’s case.

Apparently, the statute of limitations provided just one year to challenge the validity of the lease – which was signed 76 years ago. . .

The judge also found that Ms. Kanan did not have “standing” to file the lawsuit in the first place.

That should sound familiar to beach driving advocates who were told by a judge they didn’t have a leg to stand on either when they attempted to stand up for the rights of the people. 

To her credit, Rhonda Kanan has courageously vowed to continue her legal fight for basic fairness – and a legitimate financial return on this prime riverfront asset for New Smyrna Beach residents.

Good luck, Ms. Kanan – something tells me you’re gonna need it. . .

And Another Thing!

The City of DeLand had a bad week. . .

Despite the many reader requests for my weird take on things – I’m not going to pile on with more nonsense that won’t do anything to salve the raw tension and sense of distrust in the wake of a “block party” turned bedlam.

I will say this: I wholeheartedly support those law enforcement officers who, while bravely attempting to keep the peace, were viciously and repeatedly attacked with bottles and barstools – and had guns pointed at them through a hostile crowd.

As officials continue to autopsy the events leading to last weekend’s lawlessness, one thing is irrefutable – our courageous law enforcement officers are not punching bags – and I commend Sheriff Michael Chitwood for his support of the officers and deputies who were violently set upon while trying to bring order during this out-of-control melee.

I would also like to commend Sheriff Chitwood for working closely with a diverse group of area leaders and clergy to find common ground and begin substantive discussions on how to best serve the myriad needs of the Spring Hill community.

Noble work.

In my view, it is also becoming increasingly clear that the men and women of the DeLand Police Department – and the citizens they serve – deserve a different style of leadership.

We learned a few things about Chief Umberger during a highly publicized dust-up with Sheriff Chitwood in the aftermath of a traffic stop that began in the City of DeLand and ended with VCSO deputies being fired upon with a tactical shotgun in Deltona – a violent confrontation that ended in the death of the suspect when deputies acted to defend themselves.

Incredibly, Chief Umberger thought it best to hold a press conference the following day wherein he questioned Sheriff Chitwood’s initial narrative – then engaged in a weird CYA defense of his pursuit policy (?) – while attempting to distance his agency from the precipitating event.

Chief Umberger’s strange tap-dancing brought a harsh admonition from the Sheriff – and the Volusia County Deputies Association – who rightfully felt he undermined the “bravery and valor demonstrated by our deputies.”    

Clearly, both Sheriff Chitwood – and his deputies – have lost confidence in Chief Umberger.

Now, we learn that the International Union of Police Associations, the collective bargaining unit representing DeLand police officers, is openly requesting that the Florida Commission on Ethics investigate Chief Umberger’s professional conduct during a 2019 internal affairs investigation.

According to the formal IUPA complaint, “Chief Umberger excluded exculpatory evidence and manipulated facts so that his decision to fire the officers would seem justified.”

Look, there are always three sides to every story – but during times of crisis – citizens need to know that their local law enforcement leadership is strong, committed and holding the moral high ground.

And a call for an ethics investigation by your line officers is hard to overcome.

By all accounts, Jason Umberger is a nice guy and a competent police executive – and I happen to know that the job he holds is a hard dollar, even on a good day.

I’m just not sure how one rebuilds a relationship with the police union representing their staff after the nuclear option has been detonated. . .

In my view, given the series of distractions that continue to envelope him during this difficult time, perhaps it is time for Chief Umberger to consider his options.

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

 

 

 

One thought on “Angels & Assholes for May 22, 2020

  1. At least they hired a firm to search for the new county manager before that chose to keep george. No offense to Mr. Dyer but I hope you know you are just a puppet. Enjoy being the “Yes” man…what is Ms. Denys going to do when he has no choice but to say No.

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