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 Florida Department of Health
Confusion reigns supreme. . .
The COVID-19 pandemic has done more to expose the dysfunction and ineptitude of our local, state, and federal government than any investigative journalist or entrenched whistle blower in history.
And the optics of this ever-evolving shit show is only getting worse. . .
Many of our local elected officials have transmogrified from the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker into petty dictators – like Generalissimo Derrick “Il Duce” Henry, the Monarchical Mayor of the Duchy of Daytona Beach – who have called “special meetings” to mandate the wearing of masks.
Rather than simply supporting the innovative multi-jurisdictional public education campaign “Step Up Volusia” – Wash Up. Back Up. Mask Up. – several cities have staged their own theater of the absurd, meeting in melodramatic special session to, as Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg so oddly put it:
“This commission had to have a discussion with you the public as to what the pulse is on this.”
Whatever the hell that means. . .
She should have added, “…and we need to get our names in the newspaper doing it.”
Do these detached shitheads really think we need some city council sluggard with a nanny complex to tell us how to protect ourselves from coronavirus – or anything else?
Honestly. The arrogance of these crowd-following political lemmings is astounding. . .
Fortunately, these troubled times have also placed a bright spotlight on those servant-leaders in our community who have gone above and beyond to provide their constituents with the information we need to educate and protect ourselves.
From the onset, Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood demonstrated exceptional leadership when he fought against the conventional ignorance of state health officials and began publishing hard data on the number of addresses being monitoring for novel coronavirus.
During the ensuing brouhaha – when state officials were accusing Sheriff Chitwood of violating patient confidentiality and other hogwash – neither the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee, or its subordinate minions in Volusia County, could provide one shred of credible evidence as to why citizens should not have access to statistical information showing the spread of the virus in their communities.
This week – during what we are told is the zenith of a statewide viral wildfire – the Florida Department of Health decided that it would no longer be releasing pertinent information on the community spread of coronavirus to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
Why? Because its “too time consuming.”
You read that right.
But it gets better. . .
In her informative article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “COVID-19 addresses cut off,” the intrepid Casmira Harrison attempted to get answers from our local public health officials:
“Asked why the Health Department stopped releasing the list of watched addresses to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Health in Volusia County spokeswoman Holly Smith did not answer.”
“Since this is a statewide directive that is not specific to Volusia County, our state office can answer this question,” Smith stated via email. “Please contact them (ESF 14) directly.”
Rather than answer to the working press, the Florida Department of Health pulled a governmental Catch-22 – sending reporters, and taxpayers, into the byzantine maze of “public information offices” a labyrinth designed by hacks trained to play a round-robin game of “keep away” with information vital to the safety of our community.
Hell, I thought the collection, analysis, and timely dissemination of critical information during a pandemic was the Florida Department of Health’s raison d’etre?
Am I wrong?
According to Sheriff Chitwood:
“From the beginning, we have all been getting limited information or conflicting information from our local, state and federal governments.”
“I started posting numbers of locations flagged for covid in each Volusia city because I believe we all deserve access to info to make informed decisions,” said the sheriff. “Not everyone agreed w/ me. … It’s clear now that our government is so overwhelmed by this crisis, that it’s up to the people to solve it. I hope we are up to the task.”
Our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, had to interject his always disconnected shit-eyed view of things when he querulously tut-tutted in the newspaper, “I didn’t see a real value in sharing the number (of addresses).”
“For first responders making calls, that was definitely a benefit and the way it should have been used,” said Kelley. “I didn’t think it was necessarily important to let the public know things that we didn’t necessarily have access to as a council directly.”
I don’t make this stuff up, folks. . . Ed Kelley really is that astronomically stupid.
Then – as if by magic – on Thursday afternoon, Sheriff Chitwood announced that the Florida Department of Health had mysteriously changed tack – and would resume sending flagged address data to his agency. Wait. What?
He calmly thanked Rep. David Santiago and Sen. Tom Wright “for stepping up to advocate for us,” and hailed the utterly confusing reversal as “…a win for all first responders and for every resident of Volusia County.”
Even if the near overnight flip-flop of a major public policy decision by a major state agency during a major emergency declaration raises more questions than answers. . .
In my view, the damage is already done – more confusion and chaos added to the hellbroth of missteps, maladministration, and utter dysfunction that has marked our local, state, and federal response to this public health crisis.
Is this how government operates in this foul year 2020?
A state agency arbitrarily stops communicating with its constituents until Sheriff Chitwood is forced to publicly embarrass them on social media – then the local newspaper publishes a story they discovered on Facebook – exposing bureaucratic obstruction that make state legislators politically uncomfortable – and the whole sordid mess runs round for two-days until the obstinate state agency reverses itself?
Yeah. We’re screwed. . .
Regardless, it is time for the bungling bureaucracy at the Florida Department of Health to be replaced.
In my view, when any organization that accepts public funds to serve in the public interest becomes so insular – so detached from their task and purpose – that it willingly places first responders, and the public it exists to serve, in danger – then it is time for that agency and the jackleg pseudo-experts associated with it to go away.
The fact that Governor Ron DeSantis allows these ridiculous public controversies and misunderstandings to fester is something that will define his administration for years to come – and history will not be kind.
Come on, Governor – start firing people, dammit! Do it now.
As Sheriff Chitwood said, “With so many failures to effectively confront this crisis at so many levels of government, I really do believe individual Americans and the private sector are left to pick up the slack and get us through this pandemic.”
Despite the constant rallying cry “we’re all in this together,” at the end of the day, we truly are on our own. . .
Asshole Volusia County School Board
SNAFU is an age-old military acronym meaning “situation normal – all f***ed up,” which aptly describes any bad situation that passes for a normal state of affairs.
If one needs a primer on the enduring dysfunction that is Volusia County Schools, look no further than the upheaval surrounding long-delayed high school graduations – ceremonies that finally kicked off yesterday.
A total of ten rites of passage will be held for area seniors in just three-days. . .
Look, given our current circumstances, I think everyone can agree that requiring face coverings for the fortunate few who will be allowed inside the Ocean Center to bear witness to their loved ones accomplishment is a good thing (just two guests per graduate – if they agree to pay $5 for parking and $3 for admittance. . .)
So why wasn’t the protective practice mandated from the beginning?
According to an informative piece by education reporter Cassidy Alexander writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, after originally announcing that masks would be optional, “The district made the switch late last week, and cited the city of Daytona Beach’s ordinance requiring face coverings in public as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise.”
That’s odd. Because the Daytona Beach ordinance specifically exempts the Ocean Center, and other county owned properties, from the mask requirement.
Is it that big a deal to simply admit you made an error in not requiring masks at a large gathering and correct the mistake without coming up with another lame excuse for the oversight?
Granted – it’s a small SNAFU – but a SNAFU none-the-less – and given the angst and turmoil which has surrounded the lead-up to this year’s graduations (and just about every other aspect of the learning experience in Volusia County for the last decade) one would think the logistics would have been worked out well in advance to ease the minds of families and students and lend stability to this important ritual.
In Volusia County Schools, things remain a convoluted mess – screwed to the nth degree – always ‘up in the air’ with little, if any, substantive information coming from highly paid mouthpieces in “Community Information Services,” beyond some weird social media post, or the dribs and drabs of confusing “facts” the News-Journal can pry out of the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand.
On a brighter note, rather than bring back some retired sluggo to run things while Superintendent Scott Fritz takes a short leave of absence, the School Board did the right thing this week and allowed Deputy Superintendent Carmen Balgobin to do what deputy administrators do and fill the void until the boss returns.
Originally, the board announced that it would appoint an “interim superintendent” through the end of July (?) – and I just knew that meant they planned to call some retired hack back to active duty to help pay off his or her vacation home. . .
To their credit, during a special meeting on Tuesday, the School Board unanimously voted to allow Ms. Balgobin to serve as acting superintendent through August 28.
According to a report in the News-Journal, “One of Fritz’s first acts as superintendent was to instate the role of deputy superintendent of teaching, leading and learning. Balgobin reports directly to Fritz, and was integral in establishing Volusia County’s instructional continuity plan during the pandemic.”
The News-Journal previously reported that Dr. Fritz has been diagnosed with cancer and will be taking a leave of absence to complete medical treatment.
Fortunately, our often-chaotic elected representatives on the Volusia County School Board had the presence of mind to allow Dr. Fritz’ hand-picked second in command to take the reins during this critical time as families, students and staff prepare to return to whatever the “new normal” will prove to be.
That’s going to require a deft and experienced hand on the tiller.
Good luck, Ms. Balgobin – you have your work cut out for you. . .
Angel Volusia County Chair Candidate Jeff “Plan B” Brower
On Wednesday, I had the distinct pleasure of giving remarks at Jeff “Plan B” Brower’s West Volusia rally.
I don’t get out much, and I want to thank Mr. Brower for inviting me – and tell the many members of the Barker’s View tribe in attendance how much I appreciate their kindness and support.
It was a spirited affair – great fun – and I learned a lot about the passion Brower supporters have, both for their chosen candidate, and for returning ethical, responsive, and transparent governance to Volusia County.
His opponent, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys, is currently sitting on a pile of money in excess of $104,000 (for a county chair race?) bequeathed by wealthy political insiders who have historically swayed elections by infusing massive amounts of cash into the campaign coffers of hand-select marionettes who are a proven return on their investment.
Trust me, Dishonest Deb’s nose is so far up the backsides of her “Rich & Powerful” political benefactors they are at real risk of a punctured bowel. . .
Clearly, Jeff Brower won’t be able to outspend his opponent – but if the excitement and enthusiasm I felt Wednesday evening is any indication of the grassroots support he enjoys in neighborhoods across the width and breadth of Volusia County – I think Ol’ Deb might have her hands full.
I’m sorry, but I don’t like Dishonest Deb’s style – never have.
Her propensity for quibbling facts, flip-flopping on important issues, backroom deals, greasy backslapping politics and blatantly lying to her constituents have not garnered much respect from those of us paying attention.
During a pivotal February 2019 meeting of the Volusia County Council, our elected officials did what they were told by the CEO Business Alliance and other influential insiders and voted (with Heather Post the lone dissenter) to set an incredibly expensive special mail-in election to decide the issue of a money-grubbing half-cent sales tax increase.
That’s when Ms. Denys showed her true loyalties.
While telling a scary story round the political campfire designed to frighten voters and increase the burden on every man, woman and child in Volusia County, Deb terrified her worried constituents with a petrifying tale of failing bridges, putting critical infrastructure projects on hold (after the “explosive development” had already been approved), and mewling about the “limited amount of money” for transportation infrastructure in a county budget quickly approaching one billion dollars. . .
In typical fashion, Deb then put the proverbial flashlight under her chin for maximum dramatic effect, and, in her spine-chilling voice, growled, “If it (sales tax) doesn’t pass there is no plan B. . .”
Well, guess what?
Ol’ Dishonest Deb lied to us again.
Turns out, there is a “Plan B” after all – and his name is Jeff Brower – a gentleman farmer from DeLeon Springs who is standing tall for all we hold dear here in Volusia County!
In my view, Jeff represents The People’s Choice for County Chair, and he continues to speak out against aggressive threats to our environment from the current “growth at all costs” philosophy that is allowing speculative developers to get even richer exploiting our natural places – with a proven commitment to protecting our drinking water supply, curbing sales and property tax increases and safeguarding our God-given rights and liberties from government overreach.
In addition, Jeff has vowed to make public safety a top priority.
In recognition of his commitment, last month, Mr. Brower received the coveted endorsement of the Volusia County Deputies Association – the collective bargaining unit representing members of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Department!
In a statement released by VCD President Brodie Hughes:
“Your straightforward and positive insight into our community’s needs, coupled with your willingness to remain open-minded on the issues, sets you far ahead of the other candidates. Additionally, your history of public service along with your unwavering support for public safety, exemplifies why you are the only reasonable choice for the Volusia County Chair.”
I am proud to support Jeff Brower for Volusia County Chair, and encourage all voters to take a minute to speak with Jeff about his vision for our future and a return to basic fairness – where all citizens have equal and honest input in our government – not just the well-heeled few.
Just like the popular effort that soundly defeated his opponent’s attempt to kowtow to the CEO Business Alliance and other big money manipulators to raise the sales tax last year – let’s pull together and do it again!
It is time to send Dishonest Deb to that smoldering ash heap where perennial politicians land when their long-suffering constituents have finally had enough.
This one’s important, folks.
Vote like your quality of life depends on it. . .
Angel The Incomparable Mr. Charlie Daniels
“It’s a long road and a little wheel and it takes a lot of turns to get there. . .”
–Charlie Daniels, 1936 – 2020
Rest in Peace. . .
Quote of the Week
“Volusia County already has one of the top two tax rates out of 67 counties in Florida combined with a very tenuous commercial tax base. We cannot afford to be complacent with these purchases (ECHO/Volusia Forever). The cost of government has not gone down but the revenue to support it certainly has. A host of small business owners would dearly love to have the rolled back option to bring in the same revenue as last year, but that is not an option for those hurt the most by a shutdown. Many of these businesses will not re-open or will open at a reduced level.
In addition, there should be some logical explanation of why we need to bond these projects which adds to the cost. If property tax millage is paying for them, why incur the extra cost to bond?
It’s time for all citizens to pay attention.”
–Ed Connor, founder of Volusia Tax Reform, “Build accountability into Volusia Forever, ECHO programs,” The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Community Voices, Saturday, July 4, 2020
And Another Thing!
Things in the City of Palm Coast continue to deteriorate at an alarming rate – and regardless of who is ultimately right – this epic shit show simply cannot continue. . .
Late yesterday, we learned the sad news that Palm Coast’s District 2 Councilman Col. Jack D. Howell, II, USMC (Ret.), submitted his resignation citing an unfortunate recurrence of cancer.
And nothing more.
I could be wrong, but I suspect the underlying reasons behind Col. Howell’s departure run deeper than that.
Col. Howell – Palm Coast’s own version of “The Great Santini” – the tough-talking, always acerbic, combat-wounded Marine was elected to the Palm Coast City Council in 2018.
He’s an impressive guy and represents the kind of no-nonsense, values-based leadership Palm Coast desperately needs.
In addition to his military and public service, Col. Howell is President and Chief Executive Officer of Teens-In-Flight, a national aviation charity that serves teens whose parents were killed or injured in the line of active duty in the armed forces and helps at-risk youth.
Last year, after he famously referred to his colleagues on the dais of power as “four idiots,” here’s how Col. Howell was described by FlaglerLive.com:
“Palm Coast City Council member Jack Howell speaks his mind. He can be undiplomatic, coarse and brutal. That’s his trademark, a manner leavened by sincerity and a complete absence of malice: his opponents or critics find themselves embracing him even as he plunges the bayonet in their chest. Inevitably, occasionally, he goes a stab too far.”
I like Col. Howell’s style. . .and his departure from Palm Coast government is a big loss.
According to a report by News-Journal investigative reporter Matt Bruce, Howell’s “…abrupt departure comes as state and federal investigations, public records violations and rumors of public corruption swirl around City Hall regarding Mayor Milissa Holland’s relationship with her employer, Palm Coast tech firm Coastal Cloud.”
In recent weeks, the News-Journal’s ongoing exposé has uncovered the ugly internecine warfare between Mayor Milissa Holland, the city’s internal compliance officer, Jay Maher, and City Manager Matt Morton – whose answer to any allegation of misconduct is to apparently use public funds to hire someone who will effectively neuter Maher’s investigative findings and tell him what he wants to hear. . .
In addition, we now know that Mr. Maher, former city manager Jim Landon, and Michael Schottey, the city’s former communications director who is now challenging Holland for mayor, have all been interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
However, according to Pierre Tristam of FlaglerLive, the allegations of misconduct and corruption are overblown – and “Schottey’s claims of a state criminal investigation have so far proved to be fabrications.”
In a recent “The Live” column entitled, “Palm Coast Investigates Itself. The Result Is Not Impressive,” Mr. Tristam writes, “It’s not much ado about nothing, but close. There are errors of judgment, stupid mistakes, misinterpretation–not misapplication–of law.”
Trust me. His highly informative essay is well-worth a read.
(Please find it here: https://flaglerlive.com/155243/palm-coast-investigation/ )
In my view, the City of Palm Coast is far too important to the stability of our region to allow this dreadful distraction to continue.
When it comes to matters of government – even the appearance of corruption and impropriety by senior officials is corrosive to the public trust – and, as city manager, Mr. Morton should know that.
My hope is that some competent independent legal authority is actively investigating these allegations and can bring answers for the long-suffering citizens of Palm Coast.
Godspeed Col. Howell. Your Old School wisdom and strong leadership will be sorely missed.
That’s all for me! Have a great weekend, y’all!