Angels & Assholes for September 4, 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.

Angel               Holly Hill City Hall

I tend to develop a strong attachment to places and things. 

People?  Not so much. 

Social scientists describe this bond as a “strong sense of place,” yet, the causal factors remain elusive.  Essentially, it comes down to developing a visceral connection to spaces and environments where we gain a certain indefinable sense of well-being that we long to return to.    

For me, this person-to-place connection evolves over time – but once we become emotionally joined, the spaces and places where I live, work and play become part of my identity – and I want to explore and learn everything I can about them.

The excellent website “The People, Place, and Space Reader,” which brings together the writings of scholars from a variety of fields to help make sense of the way we “shape and inhabit our world,” explained the concept of “place identity”:

“A sense of place identity derives from the multiple ways in which place functions to provide a sense of belonging, construct meaning, foster attachments, and mediate change. The place identity of a person can inform their experiences, behaviors, and attitudes about other places. Place identity is a versatile concept upon which many psychological theories of human–environment relations are built.”

For most of my adult life – I had the pleasure of working in a beautifully unique building that exuded a sense of civic strength, permanence, stability and “monumentality” – which is defined as a “spiritual quality inherent in a structure” that conveys the feeling of its eternity. 

The cornerstone of Holly Hill City Hall was laid in 1939 by Works Progress Administration laborers, and after two-years of heavy construction, the citizens of the community celebrated completion of the building on Labor Day weekend 1942. 

According to a report from the day:

“A handsome and spacious structure of native coquina stone, concrete and steel, the new municipal building faces Ridgewood Avenue from the middle of a nine-acre park. One Of the largest public buildings in the county, it houses the town’s municipal offices, two school rooms and a manual training room for the high school, the fire department, police department, an office for the state road department and a fully equipped first aid room for the defense council.”

During the dedication ceremony, Bernard M. Beach, president of the town council and mayor pro tempore, “…told his townspeople and their guests that the building was “a monument to a people unafraid to plan, to sacrifice and to serve.”

The massive stone building became my second home (sometimes my first) and no matter what happened in my life, I knew that if I just get back to that building, there were people there who loved and cared about me – I knew everything would be okay – and I cared for her as she cared for me.

Thanks to preventive maintenance, the commitment of community leaders to preserving the past, and a daily TLC by those who work within, this weekend we celebrate Holly Hill City Hall’s 78th Birthday – and honor her continuous service to the citizens of this wonderful community!

In my view, that is the very essence of stability and permanence – something sorely lacking in east Volusia – where we destroy our past in the name of “progress” every time. 

Congratulations to the elected and appointed officials, city staff, and the citizens of Holly Hill – past and present – for your ever-lasting courage and undaunted willingness “to plan, to sacrifice and to serve.”     

Happy Birthday, old friend.

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

“Policy making invariably involves taking measured risks in the face of uncertainty, for one has neither a prior template nor the luxury of indecision.”

― Dr. Raghuram G. Rajan, Katherine Dusak Miller Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Earlier this week, Volusia County students returned to school in all its various forms, despite the continuing fears of parents, teachers, and staff – who rightfully remain concerned about the safety of classroom instruction during a global pandemic. 

What a week its been. . . 

Last Sunday evening, some parents were still taking to social media, begging for answers to their myriad questions just hours before the start of school, adding to the trepidation that many families are feeling this week. 

I felt deeply sorry for them. 

It was distressing to watch confused parents grasping for information, trying desperately to do right by their children on the very eve of the school year – all while mixed signals continued to flow from a variety of district officials – the concept of a single point of contact be damned. . .

Then, we made national news after throngs of students at a local high school were photographed congregating in a common area, as kids will on the first day of school, seemingly oblivious to the clearly unenforced social distancing requirement. 

And, on Thursday, we learned that the district’s do-nothing custodial contractor has been employing the sickening (literally) practice of using toilet water to “clean” bathroom floors and fixtures.  Gross. 

(Hey, what do you want for $14.2 million annually?  Well-trained janitors using modern disinfection practices?  Pshaw!) 

Whatever.

In my view, it was the weird U-turn on the district’s non-policy of keeping mum on coronavirus cases in Volusia County schools that, once again, exemplified the depth of dysfunction that perpetuates this culture of mediocrity and keeps students, teachers and staff guessing.           

Everyone understands that this is a complex situation, and no one is completely comfortable, regardless of the method of instruction they have selected.    

However, for many families, it is imperative that students have choices – including a return to brick-and-mortar schools for those who simply cannot thrive in a virtual environment – or where domestic constraints prohibit online learning, close supervision, etc., while parents earn a living outside the home to keep a roof over the child’s head. 

So, we must accept the fact that, with some 40,000 students returning for face-to-face learning this week, it is not if, but when, there will be a coronavirus outbreak. 

But how will families, teachers and staff know if they have been exposed so immediate disinfectant and quarantine procedures can be implemented to prevent the spread among vulnerable family members?

The short answer is – up until Wednesday, they wouldn’t have.  

According to a disturbing article in last Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, entitled “Volusia Schools won’t publish virus info,” we were shocked to learn that:

“Although guidance from the U.S. Department of Education authorizes school districts themselves to release COVID-19 case information, the Volusia County school district will not be keeping track of positive cases or outbreaks of COVID-19 at schools, spokeswoman Kelly Schulz confirmed. It will not be notifying students or staff who come into contact with individuals who test positive on campuses.”

Instead, the district simply abandoned its duty to protect children, families, and staff by transferring that sacred notification obligation to those close-mouthed, almost paralytically ineffective, bureaucrats at the Volusia County Department of Health.  

Incredibly, when Department of Health mouthpiece Holly Smith was asked by the News-Journal to confirm a “rumored outbreak” at a school,“…she refused to provide any information.” 

You read that right.

Ultimately, Ms. Smith gave one of those typical non-committal answers we have come to expect from the Volusia County Department of Health, “The Department of Health is continuing to review and determine the most appropriate method for reporting outbreaks in schools.”

My ass.

So, the wild speculation and scramble for substantive information continued unabated.    

According to News-Journal education reporter Cassidy Alexander’s informative piece, several social media sites have been established – including a great site I follow called Anonymous Volusia Teacher – which is described as the “Unofficial Twitter for those Volusia County School Teachers afraid to speak out.”

(Can you believe that in 2020 – after the horrific scandals at Mainland High School and beyond – teachers and staff members are still afraid to speak out on important matters that affect the lives and education of Volusia County students?  So much for that ‘culture change’ we were promised, eh?)

Some staff members began reporting potential COVID-19 exposures at area schools, openly expressing concern that the district’s administration was silent on the potential danger. 

Recently, when a staff member at Flagler County’s Bunnell Elementary School tested positive – families received a timely notice from the principal advising of the situation and explaining what those who may have been in “close contact” (based upon contact tracing) could expect – and Orange County Public Schools have effectively used social media platforms to spread the word on potential outbreaks.   

In my view, that represents prudent and effectual public engagement during a pandemic.   

The idea of a school district – or public health organization – remaining mute on the potential spread of this contagion is a reckless abdication of their personal and professional responsibility, a spineless stance which puts students, faculty, and staff in jeopardy. 

Then, everything changed.  Again.

On Wednesday, with little official explanation beyond “The Florida Department of Education has requested COVID-19 reporting, blah, blah, blah,” district administrators reversed course – now reporting that it will list coronavirus cases on a district “dashboard” twice each week. 

Although the online postings differentiate between students and staff, it stops short of correlating the number of positive cases with individual schools – turning the whole sordid mess into a weird parlor game.   

Better than nothing, I suppose. . .

Unfortunately, this unconscionable wavering and perpetual lack of a cohesive plan has resulted in chaos – adding more confusion and upheaval to an already difficult situation.  In fact, it is quickly becoming a cautionary tale for other districts – a textbook example of how not to manage a crisis.   

This institutional hesitancy and vacillation is wrong, and it cannot continue.

Clearly, this administration no longer has the luxury of indecision.

Unfortunately, this latest official about-face fell on Interim Superintendent Carmen Balgobin’s tenuous watch. 

Under any reasonable system of accountability – our elected representatives would demand that Ms. Balgobin come down from the Ivory Tower of Power and reassure stressed parents and staff that someone is actually at the helm of this foundering ship – or resign and make way for someone who can.  

Instead, in keeping with Volusia County’s practice of rewarding abject ineptitude, next week the School Board will vote to give Ms. Balgobin a pay increase commensurate with her responsibilities. . .  

My God.

By any metric, this asinine flip-flopping on important communication strategies in the face of a pandemic is contrary to the standard of leadership we expect from those who hold the health and safety of our precious children in their hands.

Angel               Volusia Councilwoman Heather Post

I admit, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post and I have not always seen eye-to-eye on the issues.

That’s okay. 

I’m a cantankerous asshole who enjoys passing the time arguing with people – and Ms. Post is a very active and involved elected official who must prove her worth to the people she serves every four years. . .

And, in the often-skewed playing field of Volusia County politics, keeping your seat at the table can be a tall order – especially when the elected official refuses to “go along and get along.”

But one thing her detractors must admit: Ms. Post has demonstrated a true willingness to get down in the trenches and fight hard for her constituents, despite the withering criticism and eye-rolling horseshit of her compromised “colleagues” on the dais of power.

Recently, I became curious after County Attorney Mike Dyer announced (with a straight face) that Volusia County taxpayers expended just $1,988.83 on the County Council’s protracted litigation seeking to overturn the will of voters and exempt Volusia from Amendment 10, which rightfully returns constitutional sovereignty to elective offices.

Having traded with both private and public attorneys most of my adult life – it seemed incomprehensible to me that a legal challenge going all the way to the First District Court of Appeals – with the possibility of being heard by the Florida Supreme Court – could have been pressed for less than the cost of a kitchen appliance.

So, I placed a public record request seeking hard answers from the County Attorney’s office.

(Stop snickering, dammit.  I tried, okay?)     

When it appeared my simple intreat was falling victim to the old shim-sham of bureaucratic jukes and sidesteps – cleverly designed to put time and distance between the question and answer – I reached out to Councilwoman Post for help.

To her great credit, she immediately went to bat for me. 

Ultimately, my request, and Ms. Post’s helpful intervention, was all for naught as my worst fears were realized: No one currently employed by Volusia County knows for sure what the litigation actually cost!

That’s right.  Nobody knows.    

In a memorandum between Deputy County Attorney Kevin Bledsoe and his apparently clueless boss, Mr. Dyer, I learned that the “hard costs” paid by Volusia County amounted to $2,073.89 – just $85.08 more than what Dyer announced to the County Council. 

Close enough for government work as they say, eh?

It seems that under former County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert, “No itemized accounting of attorney work hours was maintained,” and Mr. Eckert was the “…attorney of record in these proceedings.”

According to Mr. Bledsoe’s report, apparently, Cujo Eckert actually went into his own pocket –  spending $915.46 of his own money – to cover case-related expenses, including “filing fees, hearing transcripts, and service fees.”

Really?  Talk about dedication. . .

So, at the end of the day, they blamed the lack of a comprehensive accounting on poor departed Dan Eckert – who has taken up the rocking chair after being unceremoniously launched into forced retirement earlier this year after four decades of public service. 

Of course, it would have been gauche for anyone in a position of authority or oversight to have picked up a phone and asked Ol’ Dan if he recalled how much time he spent on the challenge.

So, no one did. 

Whatever.

At the end of the day, we will never know exactly what the Amendment 10 challenge cost Volusia County taxpayers – because that is what the inner-circle wanted from the beginning – knowing full-well that their constituents would quickly tire of throwing good money after bad simply to keep Sheriff Chitwood and the other constitutional officers under the thumb of a politically unaccountable manager. . . 

But, just maybe, something positive came out of this.    

As I understand it, under the county’s current management and accountability protocols, attorney timesheets are only generated when there is an expectation of recovering fees from an opposing party – otherwise, I guess it’s ‘do whatcha wanna’just look busy whenever Internal Auditor Jonathan “Le Fantôme” Edwards ethereally drifts through the office, eh?    

Is it physically possible that absolutely no one in county government – from Mr. Dyer to County Manager George Recktenwald – knows what anyone who works for them are doing from day-to-day? 

I’m asking because that is the perception.   

According to Mr. Bledsoe’s thorough enlightenment of the strategically ill-informed Mr. Dyer, in the aftermath, “we” will now track attorney time in “significant litigation” such as the Amendment 10 challenge, “for reference purposes in the future.” 

You know, as opposed to taking someone’s word for it. . . 

What a hell of a way to run a railroad.

Thank you, Ms. Post. 

I sincerely appreciate your dedication – and your assistance.

Quote of the Week

“I will join my fellow alumni in calling for the immediate removal of Mori Hosseini from the Board of Trustees of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) and, if that is not pursued, then the immediate resignation of President P. Barry Butler for abetting in this blatant offense toward the communities involved.”

–Michael Von Kreuzfaufsteiger, writing in Medium.com, “Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Complete Disregard of Safety Procedures for Board Members Shows an Extreme Lack of Leadership,” Sunday, August 30, 2020  

Strong words, following equally strong disappointment among ERAU students who – after weeks of draconian measures designed to ensure campus compliance with COVID-19 prevention protocols – discovered that a “retreat” was held for the University of Florida’s Board of Trustees in their student union – sans face coverings, social distancing or common decency. . . 

According to an excellent article in the student newspaper, The Avion, entitled, “Double-Standards: Controversy arises as Embry-Riddle hold first external event,” on August 27, our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mortenza “Mori” Hossieni, as Chairman of the Board of both ERAU and the University of Florida (?), hosted the elegant soiree at the 177,000 square foot aeronautical athenaeum which bears his name – the Mori Hossieni Student Union

Clearly, that level of hypocrisy did not sit well with the student body – nor should it. 

Many outside the university have questioned, “What’s the big deal?  So, what if Mori and his sycophantic pals didn’t wear masks.” 

The problem is, in an aviation and engineering environment, an omnipotent safety culture exists to save lives – and the shared beliefs, values, and rules of adherence and conduct are equally applicable to everyone – from the top of the organization to the newest incoming freshman. 

Because once weakened or ignored, safety procedures become functionally and operationally meaningless.    

This circle of safety is not limited to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – because, as an emerging aerospace research hub and trusted feeder to the global aviation industry – ERAU is part of the aerospace and aviation community as a whole, a place where safety management is only as effective as its weakest link.

Pilots do not mitigate risk some of the time – they do it all of the time – so that safety and professionalism become ingrained in everything they do.

After all, would you put your family on an airplane designed, built, and flown by people who embrace a convenient “do as I say, not as I do” approach to risk management?  

In my view, when the senior leadership of a prestigious aeronautical university – those charged with enforcing the rules and tenets upon which a positive safety culture is built – flippantly violate acceptable prevention strategies in the vulnerable environment of a crowded campus, it destroys trust, and undermines the foundational elements that have made ERAU the premiere aviation and aerospace university in the world.    

And Another Thing!

Guess what? 

Earlier this week, former Volusia County Chair candidate Gerard Witman, a virtual unknown who was eliminated during the primary, threw his support to the incumbent, Dishonest Deb Denys.

I know, who saw that coming, right? 

More important – who cares

Frankly, Mr. Witman lost me the minute he gave his bizarre answer to The West Volusia Beacon’s cogent question, “What are one or two of the big issues (facing Volusia County)?”

“From all I’m hearing, the COVID-19 is the big thing. Some cities say you have to wear a mask or get penalized, and I don’t know that you ought to penalize them.  The masks are going to help, because they do stop droplets. Aerosols are 0.5 microns, and droplets are large. The cloth masks are effective.”

I’m not kidding.  That was Mr. Witman’s answer.  

I immediately thought, “Is this some sick joke?” 

It wasn’t. . . 

Yet, some 15,000 wholly out-of-touch Volusia County voters either Christmas treed their ballot in the interest of time – or  thought it better to cast their sacred vote for a no-name meddler with absolutely zero grasp of the issues – rather than return Dishonest Deb Denys for another bite at the apple.  

Suddenly, Mr. Witman, who, in my view, looked uncomfortable and oddly out-of-place during the “debates,” is now Ms. Denys poster boy – a newly minted pseudo-expert in the administration of Volusia County government – who is now making an odd appearance on her paid political advertisements.   

Bullshit. 

In coming weeks, we can expect to see a full-court press as the Denys campaign attempts to get off the defensive and remake their candidate into something, well, remotely likeable – because she damn sure cannot stand on her abysmal record.

Last week, I received a call from a politically astute friend of mine who had been asked to run interference for a well-to-do group of Denys supporters who were righteously indignant that I referred to Dishonest Deb as an Asshole in this space.   

I happen to like both the caller, and those who asked him to intercede, but I did not apologize. . .

Because ‘them’s the rules’ on Friday – you know, the whole “…the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way,” thing?

In my view, there has been ample evidence over Ms. Denys eight unremarkable years on the Volusia County Council to support my assertion that she has detracted from our quality of life by selling out her long-suffering constituents, flip-flopping on past promises, and doing exactly what she is told by our civic and social elite who purchase her loyalty through massive campaign contributions. 

Hide and watch. 

The next two months will exemplify the fetid shit show that is Volusia County politics in all its foulness, as those with a chip in the game and their hired guns expose their fangs, and do everything in their considerable power to marginalize Jeff Plan B Brower.

Trust me.  Things are about to get vicious, now that Mr. Brower has demonstrated that he is ready, willing, and able to challenge the entrenched status quo. 

As the knives come out, ask yourself this important question:

Why would anyone seek to continue the toxic environment in DeLand – a cheap oligarchy totally devoid of optimism or substantive public participation – marked by hidden personal agendas, gross ineptitude, and insider influence that has destroyed the public’s trust in their government – by returning someone to power who has enjoyed nearly a decade at the trough, yet has accomplished nothing of substance for her long-suffering constituents? 

Look, this is a long-term affliction that has rotted the very soul of Volusia County – jeopardizing our civic, economic, and ecological future – with thousands of families living at or below the poverty line – and is not something anyone can correct overnight. 

However, in my jaded view, it is past time to staunch the bleeding and remove the malignancy caused by these craven incumbent marionettes and the puppet masters who control them.

In my view, that is vital to the healing process – and electing Jeff Brower is a good place to start.  

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

4 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for September 4, 2020

  1. Great call on Whitless. We knew all along he was a plant to draw votes from those party ticket voters that refuse to invest any time in researching candidates. He performed just as the Denys puppeteers envisioned. Jeff Brower is clearly the candidate best suited for the job and was/is gaining steam. The powers that be will do WHATEVER it takes to keep the status quo and that should scare the crap out of all of us…….

    Like

  2. Brower is the winner Dont read Pat Rice.Hope all you out there have a healthy and happy Labor Day because we did everything we could in our lives to make it.Be proud of what you did.Love you all

    Like

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