Angels & Assholes for July 3, 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:

A few days ago, I made the all-to-frequent trek to my neighborhood convenience store for a carton of smokes and case of beer – shuffling through the godawful heat of the parking lot, dour look, eyes downcast, situationally depressed as we all are – wanting desperately for this insidious virus to go its course and allow a return to the ‘normalcy’ we once took for granted.

Just as I reached the door, a loyal member of the Barker’s View Tribe called my name – and quickly approached with a great smile, courteously asking if she could give me a hug – an everyday gesture of kindness.

Unfortunately, I was quick to demur – because, well, “you can’t be too careful these days” – and sheepishly extended my elbow for that socially distant bump-and-run that now combines a hug, high-five, and handshake into one brief, wholly impersonal, ‘greeting.’

I felt like a heel rejecting her spontaneous show of neighborly affection, awkwardly recoiling like some hypochondriacal shithead – but, you know. . .

This incredibly kind lady told me that during these dark and dangerous times, these pathetic screeds of mine have become something she looks forward to – a mental respite from the depressive reality of interminable days spent isolating from friends and family – a diversion from the omnipresent gloom and doom.

From the bottom of this beat-up old heart – thank you for making my day.  My year.

I’ll be honest.  When we said our goodbyes, her sincere appreciation of this blog brought up a lot of emotion in me – the good kind – something we all need more of right now. . .

Look, I realize that these weird, hypercritical missives of mine aren’t for everyone – and, in recent weeks, I’ve had more than a few readers take their pent-up frustrations out on me for voicing opinions they vehemently disagree with – and that’s okay.

Comes with the territory.

But this brief interaction with an exceptionally caring soul made up for all the bile and heartburn.

This fortuitous encounter was restorative – a kind word in troubled times – and reminded me in the most wonderful way of what is important.

Here’s to the day when we can once again unhesitatingly embrace each another – show genuine affection, shake hands and hug like friends and neighbors should – and return that all-important physical, civic, and social contact that is such a vitally important part of any community.

Wash up.  Back up.  Mask up.  Whatever works, dammit.

This isolation must end.   

We need to reconnect with family, friends, and neighbors on a basic physical level and breakdown the barriers of face masks, quarantines and social exclusion – now, more than ever.

Hang in there, y’all.  I’ll do the same. . .

Angel               Pictona at Holly Hill

When I was a kid I looked forward to the carefree days of summer.

I can’t tell you the excitement I felt receiving my final dismal report card of the school year – hesitantly peeking at the bottom to make sure it wasn’t stamped “Summer School” – then letting out a scream of relief knowing I would soon be on my way to the Appalachian foothills of East Tennessee to spend three blissful months with my fun-loving maternal grandparents!

I’m old and set in my ways now, and no longer experience the wild swings of strong emotion I enjoyed in my youth, but on rare occasion, something will take me back to those halcyon days – that fleeting thrill of pure fun and anticipation – the smell of Coppertone and chlorine, the angle of the sun, a whiff of salt air, the sultry evening perfume of jasmine and honeysuckle – that bring a rush of long forgotten memories.

Some little something that, just for a moment, turns back time to those warm days with friends, climbing trees, catching lightning bugs in a jelly jar, swimming holes, fireworks, camp outs and backyard bar-b-ques, complete with an ice-cold slice of those old-timey two-foot-long watermelons that are only sold out of the back of a rusty pick-up truck. . .

As adults, we forget the unadulterated delight – and incredible importance – of the fun and frivolous times of our lives.

Let’s face it, the coronavirus pandemic has put a serious crimp in our summer fun – in fact, it downright sucks – and we can all use a diversion from the near-constant barrage of bad news and universal contention that spew from what passes for “news,” 24/7.

We really need a healthy diversion right now. . .

Earlier this week, we learned the exciting news that Pictona at Holly Hill – a state-of-the-art pickleball and recreation complex – is just two-weeks from its grand opening!

On Wednesday, July 15, the 12-acre facility which dominates Holly Hill’s historic Hollyland Park will welcome the public with eight covered pickleball courts, an elevated viewing area, a restaurant known as The Kitchen – and for those who take advantage of annual memberships – a players lounge and locker room with showers, a massage area, and clubhouse shop with pickleball accessories and apparel.

In addition, Pictona will have an indoor activity area that can be converted into space for private parties – along with 16 outdoor pickleball courts and facilities for bocce ball, a croquet pitch, horseshoe pits and shuffleboard courts, with a pavilion that includes bleachers and restrooms.

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “On the west end of the complex will be the Florida Health Care Plans Senior Activity Center which will also be free and open to the public. It will offer a variety of workshops, classes and programs with an emphasis on promoting wellness and physical fitness.”

Impressive.

In a fantastic example of what a true public/private partnership should be, the Pictona complex – one of the largest in the nation – resulted from a $1.2 million contribution from the City of Holly Hill – bolstered by a $400,000 ECHO grant from Volusia County and $50,000 in sponsorships and private donations.

Incredibly, the bulk of the project – more than $4 million – came from the incredible generosity of Ranier and Julie Martens of Ormond Beach.

Once fully operational, Pictona at Holly Hill is expected to create 15 new jobs in the community.

According to the News-Journal, “The Martens said the Pictona complex will become the property of the City as soon as it is completed. The couple have also agreed to donate their time to oversee its operation for the first two years. The facility will then be turned over to be managed by the board of the not-for-profit Pictona at Holly Hill pickleball association.”

“All credit goes to Rainer and Julie Martens,” said Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte. “It’s their vision and mostly their money (that created Pictona). It’s really exceeded what I thought it would be. The City Commission and I, we’re all excited to see it open.”

Look, I’m not the most athletic guy you know – but I intend to learn how to play pickleball this summer – and take advantage of the Halifax areas most exciting new recreational opportunity in decades.

Thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Martens!

We really needed this.

Asshole           Flagler County School Board

I’ve said this ad nauseam, but here is a reason citizens no longer trust local government, or the myriad other taxing authorities that siphon our hard-earned dollars to inflate astronomical budgets, while inept administrators allow service delivery to recede into mediocrity.

In my view, the problem remains the complete lack of accountability for those who violate the public trust and compromise the integrity of institutions, coupled with the depressing absence of substantive oversight by those we elect to protect our interests.

In my experience, there comes a time when many publicly-funded bureaucracies transition from their core purpose of providing essential governmental services to a self-serving, and overtly defensive, ogre that exists to protect its weakest links while ignoring, marginalizing and destroying anyone – internal or external – that calls attention to the dysfunction.  (See Volusia County Government, City of Palm Coast, et al.)

Case in point:  This week, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on the tragic case of former Belle Terre Elementary School Principal Dr. Terrance Culver, who was accused way back in September 2019 by parents and staff of a bevy of horrific violations – including  “…misappropriation and/or embezzlement of funds, sexual harassment, race and gender discrimination, libel and defamation, gross mismanagement and repeated violation of whistleblower laws.”

According to reports, last year, the school district launched an investigation into a “compilation of claims” made by some 12 whistleblowers that were brought to light in a complaint filed by the intrepid Flagler Beach attorney Stephen Furnari.

In addition, in November 2019, the president of the Belle Terre Parent Teachers Association filed a criminal complaint with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office alleging “fraud and public corruption” at Belle Terre Elementary School that spanned three years.

Subsequently, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly rightly turned the investigation over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Among other revelations, in 2017, Dr. Culver misused federal funds allocated for the purchase of apples for the school cafeteria, some 206 of which were used by Culver’s daughter to create candy apples which she sold for a total of $824.00, “but the money did not go to the school.”

Apparently, Dr. Culver later reimbursed the district $63.70 for the apples. . .

Good return on investment, eh?

Since when is the clear misuse of federal food service funds, while leveraging the buying power of the district to underwrite a personal for-profit venture, pardonable by stroking a check?

The investigative findings issued by school board counsel Kristy Gavin to Dr. Culver’s attorney are dated April 13, 2020 – months after the initial December 14, 2019 completion deadline – and sustain a host of abhorrent charges, that, in my view, evidence a continuing pattern of bullying, preferential treatment, personal dishonesty, favoritism, gross mismanagement, and abuse of position resulting in a terribly hostile work environment.

Clearly, this was not a one-off lapse of judgment.

According to News-Journal reports, during Dr. Culver’s tenure with the Volusia County School District, he was investigated for the following allegations:

In 2000, while assistant principal at New Smyrna Middle School, he was said to have, “…sent an inappropriate email through his work email; used inappropriate language in class; ate food during class time; called students names and referred to them as being in “retarded classes;” paid a student to eat a roach; accused a student of being a thief; grabbed at a student; and did not follow repeated orders to stay away from a certain student, according to the professional standards investigation.”

 Then, in 2004, “…while Culver was assistant principal at Silver Sands Middle School, he was investigated for acting in an inappropriate manner by allegedly “grabbing an eighth-grade female student by the arm, spun her around, took her by the hips, bent her over and pressed (his) body against her backside to demonstrate inappropriate dancing,” according to the investigation.”

My God.

After leaving Volusia County following the 2006-2007 school year, Culver was hired by Flagler County Schools.

In 2012, Culver was investigated for “allegedly making unwanted advances on a female co-worker,” and, in 2019, Culver and three other staff members were the subject of a formal complaint alleging the mistreatment of an autistic child.

“While two staff members’ contracts were not renewed and another left the district following the complaint, Culver remained.”

Bullshit.

If ostensibly bright (and incredibly well-paid) superintendents and elected school board members can’t use this series of documented issues as an early warning system to identify potential misconduct and protect students, staff and teachers, in my view, they are just as culpable as the offender.

Unfortunately, justice delayed truly is justice denied.

According to the News-Journal report, the investigation of Dr. Culver was delayed on multiple occasions, “…due to time conflicts, the eventual involvement of the district’s legal team and a requested extension from Culver’s attorney the investigation wasn’t released to the public until June.”

I have a big problem with that.

In typical fashion, with an active internal investigation on-going, in November 2019, Dr. Culver simply submitted notice of his retirement with an effective date of January 3, 2020 – then escaped personal accountability for his repugnant behavior through the benefit of a very lucrative public pension.

In my view, that’s wrong.

And this isn’t the first time someone holding high office – who accepts public funds to serve in the public interest – effectively dodged culpability for gross misconduct by simply pulling the ripcord on their very lucrative golden parachute.

Anyone remember the despicable scandal at Mainland High School? 

I do.  

Inexplicably, in her April correspondence, attorney Gavin advised that there would be no further action taken by the Flagler County School Board against Culver, beyond accepting his retirement.

Say what?

Once again, a senior public official holding a position of great responsibility in the community – then violated a sacred public trust – has escaped accountability.

In my view, detached elected officials and arrogant superintendents who allow senior administrators – principals who have almost omnipotent power over the school and personnel under their command – to run amok, conduct themselves in a manner that brings discredit to themselves and the district, and ignore the fervent cries of whistleblowers – epitomize public misfeasance.

Asshole           Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland

It is a rare and coveted honor to have the dubious distinction of receiving a Barker’s View Asshole Award two-weeks running – a political merit badge earned by those in public office who, in my jaded view, put their own self-interests above the needs of their long-suffering constituents.

By any metric, the wheel has come off the cart in the City of Palm Coast.

Last week, we learned 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, whose software provides a digital platform allowing the City of Palm Coast to communicate with citizens.

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 last month in a weird communique 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 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.

Now, we are learning that the ethical issues which have plagued Palm Coast City Hall may run far deeper than previously known.

Reports indicate that Palm Coast officials may have intentionally withheld two emails originating from Mayor Holland’s mayoral account – correspondence clearly covered by Florida’s open records law – from a public records request by the Palm Coast Observer.

It appears these damning emails were essentially a blatant sales pitch by Mayor Holland to the City of Orlando on behalf of her employer, Coastal Cloud, while acting in her official capacity and using a public email account.

On Tuesday, Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton released a weird report from an Orlando-based labor attorney he hired after becoming convinced city employees were “leaking emails to the media” (?) – including a review of the city’s internal processes for investigating questions surrounding how the Observer’s public records request was processed.

The report found no wrongdoing by either Mayor Holland, or the city clerk’s office, while laying fault with “…the city’s current way of investigating whistle blower complaints.”

Of course, Holland touted the findings as a complete vindication. . .

The report directly contradicted the findings of Palm Coast compliance manager Jay Maher, “…who oversaw the city’s internal investigation and concluded the emails were unlawfully withheld from the public, called the report the city manager released a “hit job.” Maher is the supervisor of the city’s Internal Controls, Ethics and Contractor Fraud Investigations unit, which handles internal investigations involving city employees.”

Wow.

This is clearly more than an inter-governmental contretemps.

In my view, it smacks of public corruption and the suppression of whistleblowers – and bears watching by anyone concerned about good governance.

Kudos to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, and its intrepid investigative reporter Matt Bruce, for their outstanding exposé, which is peeling this stinking onion, expertly revealing the depth of internal dysfunction and subterfuge that has clearly paralyzed Palm Coast government.

In my view, the City of Palm Coast is rotting from the head down – a growing malignancy that is threatening the public’s trust in their government – and it is high time for embattled Mayor Milissa Holland to resign – just clear the hell out – and take the wholly compromised City Manager with her.

Quote of the Week

“Voters have to look past catchphrases like “fiscally conservative,” promises of “smart growth” and pledges to be “responsive to your needs” to find specifics on each candidates’ platforms — and be wary of those who only traffic in vagaries. Voters deserve to know how their chosen candidates will govern once they are in office.”

–Editor Pat Rice, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Our View column, “Pay attention to local races,” Sunday, June 29, 2020

And Another Thing!

It is no secret that Pat Rice and I don’t agree on much – he is a learned journalist and I am a chronic bitcher with internet access – but his informative piece in last Sunday’s News-Journal is something we can all get behind.

I never knew a successful politician that wasn’t a polished bullshit artist – adept at the art and science of double-speak and political posturing – the ability to paint themselves as something likable and attentive to a voter’s individual wants and needs regardless of the situation or issue.

That’s how the game is played.

Let’s face it, spinning positions and platforms to a large number of people is their stock in trade – especially when a question catches them flatfooted – and they are required to immediately form a politically advantageous position on an issue without sealing themselves in a box.

The gift of extemporaneous bullshittery is what separates the pros from the pikers – and not everyone can pull it off when it counts.

That’s why candidates and their handlers employ meaningless descriptors, inane expressions and catchphrases as they work to craft a marketable product that can be sold to voters – and the true political beliefs, positions and principles of the empty suit are only revealed in time – post election – when the damage is done. . .

I believe the requirements of hard-fought campaigns changes some candidates at the molecular level.

The heat and tempo of modern political contests seems to cauterize that part of their prefrontal cortex that houses the base emotions of guilt and shame – allowing them to pose, preen, posture and attitudinize during what passes for communication with their constituents after the election is in the bag.

But every now and then, men and women of honor stand tall to serve and lead their community boldly into the future – and work diligently to achieve greater prosperity and enhance the quality of life for everyone.

These true servant-leaders are incredibly few and far between, but they are out there, running values-based campaigns and eager to share their passion.

That is why it is so important for voters to meet candidates one-on-one, to lock eyes and ask the hard questions on the issues that are important to you, your business and your family’s future.

Only then can you determine if their previous voting record, accessibility, agenda and method of governance comports with the image they are trying desperately to project – or if you are being played as a fool by some polished political hack with no qualms about telling you exactly what they think you want to hear.

On Wednesday evening, July 8, I hope you will join me at a campaign fundraiser for Jeff “Plan B” Brower, my candidate for Volusia County Chair, from 5:30pm to 8:00pm, at Pitmasters Bar-B-Que, 4425 North US-17 in Delightful Deland!

All proper health precautions will be taken – and for a modest contribution of just $30 – attendees will be treated to a delicious all-you-can-eat BBQ buffet, complete with ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken and all the trimmings.

I support Jeff Brower because I believe he is a man of his word who possesses the values, vision, and work ethic to fundamentally change the direction of Volusia County and return rightful focus on the needs of those who pay the bills – not the wants of uber-wealthy insiders with a profit motive.

This fundraiser is the perfect opportunity to speak directly with Jeff, learn about his positions on the important issues and see the many ways his vision for our future differs from his opponent – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys.

I look forward to seeing you next week as we come together to support Jeff Brower: The Peoples Candidate for Volusia County Chair!

That’s all for me!

Here’s wishing everyone a happy and safe Independence Day!

Let’s put aside our differences for just one day, and truly celebrate what it means to be an American!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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