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:
Angel Rhonda Kanan
Kudos to the intrepid Rhonda Kanan, the courageous New Smyrna Beach resident who continues to stand tall in her fight to right an injustice – and ensure basic fairness for residents of that quaint waterfront community – while securing a legitimate financial return on a prime riverfront asset for all taxpayers.
Earlier this year, Ms. Kanan filed a lawsuit alleging discriminatory practices by The Anglers Club – an all-male (and almost exclusively white) private club which leases incredibly valuable public land from the City of New Smyrna Beach.
The legal action attempted to correct what the city’s elected officials would not, challenging the validity of a 99-year agreement that allows the group exclusive access to the city-owned property for just $25 annually.
Unfortunately, the original suit was dismissed by a judge last month – who ruled Ms. Kanan did not have standing to bring the action – allowing her 20-days to refile the lawsuit.
And, by God, she did – filing a revised suit last week.
According to a recent report by WFTV:
“The lawsuit, filed by resident Rhonda Kanan, accuses the club of being an “exclusive, discriminatory fishing and boating white-boys club… engaging in numerous acts of racial, religious and sexual discrimination.”
The suit even accuses the private club of holding “Robert E. Lee parties.” The attorney representing the Anglers said he did not know if the claims of that theme party were true.
“I just feel like there’s no room for racism or discrimination in the world today,” Kanan said. “I feel like the city of New Smyrna Beach and its leaders are actually supporting discrimination. They can say they’re not, but their actions are very clear, they speak volumes.”
An attorney for The Anglers asserts that, like fraternities, sororities or the “Junior League,” the organization should be permitted to make their own membership rules.
The club plans to file another motion to dismiss Ms. Kanan’s complaint.
Unfortunately, despite the 2009 opinion of outside legal counsel that disputed the validity of the lease and recommending the agreement be renegotiated or the club removed from the property altogether – nothing happened.
Inexplicably, the spineless New Smyrna Beach City Commission has refused to address the agreement which was last signed in the early 1940’s. . .
What a godawful embarrassment – shameful political cowardice run amok – and, in my opinion, a cruel slap in the face to women and persons of color in the community.
This week, Cynthia Slater, president of the Volusia County NAACP, weighed in on the club’s openly discriminatory practices on publicly owned property:
“In this day, with all of the things all these companies and organizations are looking at, the laws and rules and protocols, that needs to change. Shame on the city of New Smyrna Beach,” Slater said.”
As I’ve said before, in my view, if a group of ‘good ol’ boys’ want to purchase private property, build a meeting hall, and form the New Smyrna Beach chapter of the Lily-White Sausage Club, who cares?
Just get the hell off publicly owned land if you are not willing to welcome everyone.
Frankly, I cannot imagine anything more boring, more inherently dreary, than a “club” that arrogantly limits membership to like types – rejecting the rich cultural and social mix that makes a community great.
In my view, Ms. Kanan is right to scream “Not on my dime!” while standing firm for the rights of all New Smyrna Beach residents in opposing the gross practice of gender and racial discrimination on municipal property.
Shame on the City of New Smyrna Beach for turning a blind eye to this insult to the taxpayers.
Asshole City of Daytona Beach
For a municipal government that already looks like it went twelve rounds with Conor McGregor, the City of Daytona Beach received yet another black eye this week when Deputy Utilities Director Jo Ann Macrina was indicted on federal charges of conspiratorial bribery, bribery, and tax evasion in connection with money and other items of value that she allegedly accepted while serving as Commissioner of Watershed Management for the City of Atlanta.
The criminal indictment stems from an extensive FBI investigation into the corrupt practice of circumventing established process and granting lucrative city contracts to a DeKalb County contractor.
According to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, while employed by the City of Atlanta, Macrina discussed potential employment with the contractor, and allegedly accepted items of value “in exchange for or as a reward for” providing access to information and preferential treatment with respect to City of Atlanta projects.
The indictment also alleges Macrina accepted $10,000 in cash, jewelry, a room at a luxury hotel in Dubai during a “speaking engagement” paid for by a private entity, and landscaping work at her home in exchange for two work orders – one valued at $9 million, the second valued at over $2 million.
In May 2016, just seven months before she was hired by the City of Daytona Beach, Macrina was summarily fired by then Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in a surprise Friday afternoon bloodletting at City Hall.
According to Alan Greenblatt, writing in a 2016 article for Governing, “Reed’s decision to fire Jo Ann Macrina, who’d been in charge of watershed management, was not terribly surprising. Her agency had suffered a slew of problems, including billing foul-ups, sewage spills and accusations of employee theft.”
Yet, despite this open source information that was readily available to anyone who cared to look (I found it with little more than two keystrokes), the City of Daytona Beach hired Ms. Macrina in January 2017 – most recently paying her $137,980 in public funds annually.
For a deputy department head with a sketchy work history?
According to reports, Macrina has now been suspended without pay. . .
During whatever may or may not have passed for a preemployment background investigation, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm either failed to notice, or simply ignored, the fact the City of Atlanta received a federal subpoena in September 2016 for records related to Macrina’s department seeking specific information on contracts issued to companies controlled by a co-defendant in the conspiratorial bribery case.
Perhaps more disturbing, in October 2019, while Macrina was actively employed with the City of Daytona Beach, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that federal investigators had issued subpoenas seeking “…Macrina’s travel expenses during her last five months on the job, the ethics pledges she signed, any requests she made to perform outside work and her financial disclosures.”
In addition, the AJC report waved red flags which should have provided advance warning to anyone paying attention that the character of Macrina’s service in Atlanta was clear cause for concern:
“City leaders discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in missing or stolen equipment in the department, including industrial water meters worth $5,200, copper and pipes. More than a dozen Watershed employees were fired and seven were later indicted for the thefts. One audit found security in Macrina’s department was so lax that it was impossible to know how much equipment was stolen or missing.”
Why would anyone paid to protect the interests of the citizens of Daytona Beach take a chance on bringing that level of mismanagement and dysfunction to this community?
I have a problem with that.
Look, there is nothing I’m aware of to suggest Macrina was involved in similar conduct to that alleged in Atlanta during her employment with the City of Daytona Beach – and she is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law – but I question whether hiring an individual for a position of public trust commanding a six-figure salary was prudent under the circumstances of her termination from the City of Atlanta.
Asshole Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland
The roil in Palm Coast continues as former senior officials are reporting that Mayor Milissa Holland may be under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for her ties to what the News-Journal described as a “unique arrangement” between the city and her employer, Coastal Cloud.
According to reports, former Palm Coast Communications Director, and current mayoral candidate, Michael Schottey, is alleging corruption by Holland and others – claims that were disputed by City Manager Matt Morton on Monday in a weird email response which besmirched Schottey, alleging he resigned his post “after multiple female directors complained about his treatment to them (?)”
As the plot thickened, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported this week that a review of Schottey’s personnel file found no evidence to support Morton’s claim of harassment – and the former Human Resources Director (who is also suing the city) apparently stated Morton was not telling the truth about the nature of Schottey’s departure.
Mr. Schottey has also denied Morton’s allegations that he mistreated coworkers.
(Perhaps Mr. Morton should open his copy of the “City Managers Handbook” and flip to chapter on why its never a good idea to comment on personnel matters. . .)
It is apparent the federal government is finally recognizing that We, The People are tired of the often loosie-goosy relationships between government and the private sector in Volusia and Flagler Counties – and the Department of Justice may well be acting on credible complaints from whistle blowers and others to preserve the integrity of our local governments.
Let’s hope so.
In a recent News-Journal article, former Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon said of Holland’s involvement with Coastal Clouds effort to provide certain digital services to the city – an arrangement that was supposed to be cost neutral – yet, according to Landon, ultimately cost the city some $100,000 in “licensing fees”:
“This is what gives government a rotten name and that’s really just disappointing to me,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen that way. Once again, may not be criminal. But at least in this ex-city manager’s book, that’s definitely unethical.”
“Landon indicated that when Palm Coast first considered its arrangement with Coastal Cloud, he made clear that the arrangement would not lead to any cost for the city. But he said it ended up costing ‘big time,’ with more than $100,000 for annual licensing fees. Landon claimed he was terminated shortly after he raised concerns about the software costs, with Holland calling for his abrupt dismissal at the end of a Sept. 18, 2018 meeting. Landon’s possible dismissal was not part of that meeting’s agenda.”
“I made it very clear that the city would not be spending any money,’ he said. ‘The next thing I know, I’m not working there any longer.”
Look, even if Mayor Holland’s seemingly conflicted roles are on the up-and-up – it smells like the proverbial rotten mackerel in the moonlight – and as a perennial politician she should understand that and step aside.
In my view, the murky suspicions, innuendo, backroom deals, eyebrow raising partnerships, creepy connections and apparent quid pro quo nods which always benefit those with the wherewithal to influence our “democratic” processes through a broken campaign finance system has left many in Volusia County with the well-founded fear that local governments have become a piggy bank for the “Rich and Powerful.”
In my experience, when it comes to protecting the public trust, even the appearance of impropriety is cause for concern.
It is time those who hold themselves out for high office understand the importance of preserving a fair and level playing field – stop the oh-so-cozy relationships with campaign donors and influential insiders – and remember their sacred oath to the people they serve.
Quote of the Week
“The city of Ormond Beach is for sale, and has been since we weakened our wetland and development rules in 2009 and began granting waivers and exceptions for huge multi-parcel planned business developments. We’re selling out our environment and our city’s historic character for money, and we’re trampling the rights of adjacent property owners protesting each rezoning. These decisions are being made for us and not by us. Elections have produced tragic consequences.”
–Lori Bennett, Ormond Beach, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “Plantation Oaks Over-Development on the Loop,” Monday, June 22, 2020
Well said, Ms. Bennett.
And Another Thing!
The quadrennial livestock auction that selects the winners and losers of Volusia County elections is in full swing – with all the right last names injecting tens-of-thousands of dollars into the system to preserve the status quo and ensure a return on investment.
For instance, this evening – at a secret location revealed only to those willing to pay “$750 per couple or $500 per individual” the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys will grace you with her monarchical presence at an exclusive “VIP Reception” to support her candidacy for County Chair.
Or, for a mere “$350 per couple or $200 per individual” you can rub shoulders with Dishonest Deb at a “Party Barn” (“Wear your boots and jeans!”) for an open bar, buffet dinner and live entertainment.
According to the notice, your temperature will be taken at the door – but I’ll just bet your check will be welcomed into the party barn, regardless of its COVID status. . .
Oddly, if you want to put on your cowpoke costume and attend tonight’s super-secret hootenanny to add to Deb’s campaign war chest (that already tops $74,000 for a county chair race?) – you are asked to RSVP to an email account linked to our own State Senator Tom Wright, which makes sense, because the clandestine soiree is being hosted by Senator Wright, his wife Cindy, and Congressman Michael Waltz.
Wow. Heavy hitters.
Must be super-important to some very prominent people that Dishonest Deb be reelected, eh?
Trust me. This non-partisan election is about a core group of elite political power brokers’ who are intent on maintaining access to the public teat – and they are willing to spend whatever it takes to see Denys ascend to the catbird’s seat.
In other words, it’s business as usual, baby. . .and it is why your vote is so vitally important.
Now, let me tell you about my own involvement in this year’s County Chair race.
Despite my dire warnings, Jeff “Plan B” Brower has invited me to speak at his campaign fundraiser on Wednesday, July 8, from 5:30pm to 8:00pm, at Pitmasters Bar-B-Que, 4425 North US-17 in Delightful Deland!
For a contribution of just $30.00, you will enjoy a delicious, all you can eat, BBQ buffet of ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken and all the fixings!
Special guests include Robyn Collins, who sang with Pat Benatar, and, by special invitation, the incomparable Joann Gilmartin “The Glasgow Girl” – who has performed with many of the world’s leading orchestras.
Of course, I’ll be the fly in the ointment, uncomfortably pontificating and jabbering about local issues as we join together to support Jeff Brower: The People’s Choice for Volusia County Chair!
If you are so inclined, perhaps we can enjoy a beverage together at the cash bar (I tend to become exponentially more interesting with the liberal application of Irish Whiskey) and we can put a face to a name or get reacquainted.
Everyone is welcome! Not just senators, congressmen, and well-heeled insiders. . .
At Jeff Brower’s fundraiser, working people don’t have to be reminded to wear their “boots and jeans.”
Most important, this fundraiser is the perfect opportunity to meet Jeff Brower and speak with him one-on-one regarding the issues that concern you and your family’s future.
This event is sponsored by Jeff Brower for Volusia County Chair.
For more information, find Jeff on Facebook (@RestoreTrustVolusia) or www.jeffbrowervcc1.com
That’s all for me! Have a great weekend, kids!
Hope to see everyone July 8th!