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 in Volusia County
The concept of accountability is all about expectations.
An important element of command says that those who are led – the citizens and subordinates whose very lives are placed in the hands of others – have a right to expect that their leadership will be held to exacting standards of professionalism, personal conduct, and accountability.
During my years as a law enforcement executive, I quickly learned that the commander is given authority over others to see that the agency’s mission is accomplished, that public funds are expended in an efficient manner, and essential services delivered in an effective way.
As such, he or she is held personally responsible for everything the department, and its individual members, does or fails to do.
As a result, successful leaders develop a culture where professional ethics are valued, where accountability translates to consequences – both positive and negative – and everyone understands their role in the context of the organizations internal and external expectations.
Unfortunately, in Volusia County the concept of authority, responsibility, and accountability has, over time, been replaced by something different – an environment where mediocrity rules the day – and expectations have been driven so low that public confidence has been lost.
That can be dangerous during a real crisis.
For reasons known only to our elected leadership, after nearly a year of non-stop bad news and fearmongering, rather than federalize and streamline the distribution of the potentially lifesaving Coronavirus vaccine – a nationwide coordinated response that brings all best practices and proven protocols to bear – the states have been given the task of prioritizing their citizens using an “eligibility list” developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, then delivering the vaccine using a hodge-podge approach.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has delegated distribution responsibility to the counties – a process ostensibly administered by the horribly broken Florida Department of Health.
In turn, we have seen first-order debacles, like watching elected officials from all levels of government and both major political parties – from Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, to Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – jump the line and receive the vaccine ahead of the elderly, infirm, and most vulnerable – a terrible example of political privilege that has destroyed public confidence in the process and let taxpayers know exactly where they stand.
These craven politicians justify this despicable act of entitlement by couching them as “inspirational” – staged encouragement for others to take the vaccine – even as thousands of willing recipients who meet the age and risk requirements are being turned away from makeshift, first come/first served distribution sites.
In Volusia County we have come to accept this abysmal conduct from some of our elected “leadership” – knowing well that most perennial politicians have lost the human emotion of shame.
But this problem goes deeper than personal and political cowardice.
This complete lack of an organized, effective, and efficient response has been allowed to continue with no sense that anyone is being held accountable for their actions.
This fiscal year, Volusia County taxpayers will underwrite our local Florida Department of Health apparatus to the tune of $2,668,695.00 – plus an additional $380,000.00 to, in part, fund the “…oversight of the COVID-19 response and supervision of COVID-19 response employees…”
Based upon all available evidence, I don’t think we are getting our money’s worth.
From the beginning of this viral crisis, the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County has done its level best to circle the wagons, control access to vital information and statistics, and adopted an insular public information policy that has devolved into a refusal to respond to media requests – or even return phone calls from the working press.
In my view, it is the textbook example of malfeasance by a publicly funded agency – a deliberate, well-formed, and continuing course of conduct which includes willfully obscuring and delaying critical information (such as initially refusing to publish data on deaths and rate of infection in nursing homes), or even provide statistics on how many people in each county had been tested, etc., etc.
Now, the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County’s public information officer, Holly Smith, has gone virtually mute. . .
Why, during the greatest public health crisis of our time, would a public health agency refuse to push information to those who need it most?
Thanks to the intervention of our new Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower, and District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post, this week area seniors received a tepid apology and a shoulder shrug from FDOH-VC lead Patricia Boswell.
“I would have done it differently,” she said. “I do apologize to anyone who has been impacted in a negative way.”
The old bureaucratic two-step – “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.”
Now, do the honorable thing and resign, Ms. Boswell. Immediately.
For far too long, Volusia County residents have been saddled with a system where the same inept “leaders” are permitted to lord over repeat fiascos – you know, the “try the same thing, with the same leadership, and expect a different outcome” approach to organizational management. . .
When this pathogen is ultimately brought to heel, area residents deserve a top-to-bottom housecleaning of the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County – and a return to the concept of responsibility and accountability that will begin to restore confidence in this important public service.
Quotes of the Week
“As my wife and I, friends in New Smyrna Beach, and seniors over 65 wrestle with whether it is wise to risk an early-morning drive to Daytona Stadium on Jan. 4 or 5 in the hope of maybe obtaining one of the highly limited 1,000 doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine available each day, it is beyond outrageous to read in The News-Journal that Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, 51, jumped the line to receive the coveted vaccine Dec. 30 at Halifax Health Medical Center.
Worse, he hides behind the absurd argument that he is displaying leadership for people wary of taking the vaccine. Apparently, Ronald Durham, the city’s community relations manager, came up with this bright idea and had no trouble selling it to Henry and then providing cover for the mayor. It is telling that Durham will not divulge who he strongarmed at the hospital.
The public does not need to see any more smiling photos of politicians receiving the vaccine. We want to see real political leadership to assure a timely, efficient rollout of the vaccine, starting with those most at risk. Seniors, many with serious health issues, want the vaccine but are forced to risk Darwinian first-come, first-served scenarios — for which the directives are less than clear, and success is doubtful.
Throw Henry out of office, fire Durham, reprimand the executives at Halifax Health, and expedite the vaccine to those who need it most. You should not need clout to obtain something as lifesaving as this vaccine.”
–Dennis Breo, New Smyrna Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Jumping the vaccination line,” Sunday, January 3, 2021
“Elderly people, some in their 80s, sleeping in a car overnight along a roadside, for a chance at the vaccine! Spending hours in a traffic jam only to be turned away! International Speedway Boulevard/State Road 92 backed up for miles in both directions!
This was ridiculous and dangerous. What kind of leadership would allow this to happen?”
–Michael McDowall, Ormond Beach, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “A vaccination pileup,” Wednesday, January 6, 2021
“This same vulnerable population, desperate for the vaccine, waited overnight in their vehicles with temperatures dipping into the 40s. Our Health Department has had literally months to plan for the distribution plan. Why wait a week to distribute when this is a life and death situation?
Why not have a sign up online?”
–Sara Collins, DeLand, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Better organization for vaccines,” Wednesday, January 6, 2021
“The 69-year-old arrived outside the stadium at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, then spent the night in her car, like many other senior citizens. She was hoping to be among those vaccinated for the first dose of COVID-19 that was being distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The temperatures that night dropped into the 40s. Thankfully, she also brought a blanket.”
–WFTV, “Woman waits 19 hours at Daytona Stadium to get vaccine on birthday of brother who died from COVID-19”
And Another Thing!
The time has come to punch back against the dreaded Coronavirus.
Finally, we are off the mat and in the fight.
At present, two vaccines have been fast-tracked to the warfront giving hope to millions who have spent the past year in isolation and seen their lives destroyed.
It was far worse for others who stood helplessly outside hospitals as their loved ones inside died alone – while the bodies of victims of the greatest mass casualty event of our time were stacked like cordwood in refrigerated trucks outside overcapacity morgues. . .
After all of the politics, posturing, and hype – what we hope is an effective countermeasure to this scourge has finally entered the fight.
No one expected the rollout to be flawless.
The logistics of coordinating a worldwide distribution plan, ensuring equity and fairness for developing nations, establishing responsible eligibility criteria, the massive undertaking of shipping and storing a vaccine that must be maintained at extremely cold temperatures – the challenges seemed insurmountable – yet medical science, human ingenuity, and old-fashioned perseverance continue to overcome the hurdles between pharmaceutical companies and the injection site.
Last week, the vaccine came to Volusia County – and chaos ensued. . .
From Halifax Health’s controversial decision to allow Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry and his wife to promenade past a line of vulnerable senior citizens patiently waiting their turn – something many of his constituents saw as flagrant political privilege – while the ugly images of elderly residents, some draped in blankets like third-world refugees, camped in their cars in frigid weather, locked inside the confines of Daytona Stadium for a chance at a “limited supply” of the vaccine, were splashed across international news outlets.
Hundreds more were turned away when they arrived at the distribution site at the advertised time only to find the plan had changed. Again.
In my view, the Daytona Beach Police Department did an outstanding job – turning what could have been a cattle stampede into something relatively orderly by employing an effective traffic management plan and exhibiting the professionalism and expertise citizens have come to expect.
Now, this shit show – which was perpetrated without the advise, consent, or assistance of Volusia County government – is being described by the city’s compromised leadership as a “learning experience.”
With months to plan, and years of developing and exercising proven protocols for the mass distribution of vaccines, when it finally came time to execute, the lead government agency – the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County – failed miserably.
As this debacle unfolded, citizens bore silent witness to the lack of communication between local government entities, the shamelessness of tin-pot politicians, and the lack of accountability that has destroyed public confidence.
In my view, this latest outrage should not go unanswered.
That is why I have limited today’s installment of Angels & Assholes to the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County – one mans jaded and world-weary opinion on an agency gripped by malignant mediocrity.
A fervent demand for true leadership when we need it most.
However, I have learned that in Volusia County speaking out comes at a cost.
Look, I understand that the way I say things can be off-putting – some get it, others don’t – and I certainly do not expect everyone to agree with my opinion, in fact, I learn from the vigorous debate of competing ideas.
To paraphrase W. Somerset Maugham, “My lifelong problem is people think I’m being serious when I’m being vulgar – and vulgar when I’m being serious.”
I can give as good as I get – but something happened this week that exposed why denizens of Florida’s Fun Coast are so reluctant to give an opinion or engage in political discussions of the social, civic, and economic issues we face.
As punishment for voicing my views (and embarrassing our local elite) on the issue of politicians receiving the Coronavirus vaccine before those most in need, I was recently marked as a vile racist by (of all people) former Volusia County Councilman Josh “Shithead” Wagner (an apt moniker bestowed by the insightful Bob Davis, president of the Hotel & Lodging Association of Volusia County, way back in 2013).
In my view, Ol’ Shithead is a despicable human being whose fetid political career speaks for itself, but the element of shame didn’t stop him from openly besmirching my character on social media in the most contemptible way:
“Mark D. Barker you don’t realize you are (a) racist that has a gift with a pen (or maybe you do).
I read your posts and am often impressed with your writing style. However, Mayor Derrick Henry who you are attacking is trying to help the community he knows…not the community you think you know.
You spew hate and have no idea what is happening in the black community.
Keep checking your likes in the fringe and surround yourself with people that will tell you that you are great.
Poke your head out and run for something rather than just chopping people down. Maybe it is time for you to self-reflect and not just judge. #BarkerTheRacist”
(For those of you who are unfamiliar with Shithead Wagner – in my view, a Class-A douchebag whose stench still permeates the County Council chamber – just do an internet search and take a long walk down memory lane. You can start here https://tinyurl.com/yykjb5pj or here https://tinyurl.com/yxnhmgyl or here https://tinyurl.com/y2qgxsk8 or. . .you get the idea.)
I was wondering how long it would take one of Mayor Henry’s apologists to hang this dreaded and indefensible label on me.
Now I know.
The message is clear: Sit down, shut-up, and remain silent or be painted with the foul brush of bigotry and prejudice – and watch as everything you hold dear is tarnished and sullied by some effete political has-been.
It is wrong, despicable – and expected. . .
In my view, Mr. Wagner’s ad hominem attack speaks to the depths to which some will go to remain relevant by destroying the character and reputation of anyone who dares criticize the status quo – or speak the truth as they see it.
Barker the racist. The nuclear option of petty political vengeance.
For voicing a differing opinion? For taking exception?
My God. . .
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!