Angels & Assholes for February 26, 2021

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               Kevin Para & Ashley’s Ride  

Ancient wisdom says, “The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.”

It’s true. 

In my view, action – no matter the effort – beats the hell out of hope, handwringing, and political posturing. 

One month has passed since the tragic death of Ashley Baker, the young mother and client of First Step Shelter who tragically lost her life while crossing a dark and foggy section of US-92.

In the aftermath, there was much finger-pointing as our elected officials on the Volusia County Council dodged responsibility for their place in the accident chain – as a representative from Votran, our tax supported public transportation service, explained (with a straight face) that driving a pole in the ground and bolting a bus stop sign to it would cost $10,000. 

Seriously. 

Everyone on the dais of power was visibly comforted as County Manager George Recktenwald covered their exposed backsides and explained he was on top of things – working diligently with local and state bureaucrats to seek a resolution (solutions that could not be discussed in an open meeting) – and time marched on.    

Then someone with a clear vision for correcting a glaring oversight that should have been part of First Step’s initial design stepped forward with a simple plan to save lives.  

Last week, it was reported that Kevin Para, a local realtor and member of the New Smyrna Beach Rotary Club, approached the administration of the homeless assistance center and proposed the common-sense idea of Ashley’s Ride – a program that uses private donations to cover the cost of on-demand Uber and Lyft rides for First Step residents.    

Now an anonymous donor has agreed to match all donations to the Ashely’s Ride program up to $5,000 – an incredibly generous deed performed without recognition – and an outstanding example of how, like a stone dropped in a still lake sends ripples radiating outward, one good turn can stimulate a movement that fills a void – and brings hope. 

Donations to the program can be made via the First Step website at www.firststepshelter.org – or by texting the word “Give” to: 386-603-9207.

Please add a note designating your donation for Ashley’s Ride.

Angel              Volusia Teacher of the Year Frank Garaitonandia

To borrow a thought from Joseph Conrad, there are some who are hard to lead but easy to inspire. 

I’ll bet that applies to third graders. . .

The 2022 Volusia Teacher of the Year Frank Garaitonandia – or ‘Mr. G’ as he is affectionately known to his students – is an art teacher at Citrus Grove Elementary who educates from the simple premise that “there is no greater creative act than sparking a child’s mind.”

Prior to becoming a teacher sixteen years ago, Mr. G – who fled Cuba with his family as an 8-year-old boy – was a professional artist and someone who clearly epitomizes the spirit of artistic exploration and creativity as a means of stimulating young minds. 

In a release from Volusia County Schools, Mr. Garaitonandia said, “It is those students with a language barrier, academic difficulties, or a discipline problem who most need the arts. The act of self-expression and self-discovery materializes a path toward their futures. It is those students who inspire me to be there for them, the ones who cannot see their next steps.”

According to reports, Garaitonandia was chosen from among 71 nominees representing schools countywide and will now represent the Volusia School District in the state Teacher of the Year program.  

Kudos to Mr. G on this well-deserved honor – and congratulations to all those inspirational educators who were nominated for the prize.    

There are many challenges facing Volusia County Schools, but the quality of those wonderful teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff members who deliver in the classroom under difficult and multifaceted circumstances are true superstars who I count among my personal heroes. 

Well done, Mr. G! 

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

Parents of Osceola Elementary students in Ormond Beach are on the warpath (pun intended) – and rightfully so.

Look, I don’t have a dog in this fight – other than a sentimental attachment to the Osceola campus.  

I attended first grade there – learned to read with the help of Ms. Vaughn using Dick and Jane primers while sitting in those unairconditioned classrooms with the wide jalousie windows, the morning smell of fresh baked yeast rolls wafting from the lunchroom’s kitchen – and my mom retired from Osceola after serving as the principal’s administrative assistant (and Chief of the Headlice Detection Bureau) for decades. 

But I disagree with the manner and means by which our elected representatives on the Volusia County School Board ham-handedly reached the decision to consolidate Osceola with Ortona Elementary by building a larger campus on Ortona’s Daytona Beach campus – completely ignoring the generous incentives offered by the Ormond Beach City Commission – and refusing to allow Osceola supporters a fair and open hearing before handing down their Monarchial decree.

Perhaps most disturbing, observers of an August school board meeting report that the published agenda stated the elected officials would only be deciding which grades would be incorporated into the proposed hybrid – instead, the board voted 4-1 to cement Ortona as the site for the new school. 

Bullshit.

Then, at a January workshop, board members waffled – signaling that they might be willing to change tack and establish the new school on the Osceola campus, adding to the confusion and anxiety.

At that time, Daytona Beach News-Journal education reporter Cassidy Alexander wrote an excellent article entitled, “Volusia School Board wavers again on plan for consolidating Osceola, Ortona schools,” wherein she quoted board member Carl Persis:

“I’m totally opposed to the Ortona site,” said Carl Persis, who has been particularly passionate about this issue and was the only one to vote no in August. “It’s just unfathomable to me that we’re going to take all these students and shoe-horn them in that tiny little postage stamp of a site.”

In addition, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry attended the workshop to lobby the board for the Ortona site, citing “equity” and an apparent demographic disparity between Ormond Beach and Daytona Beach.

(For the record, both Osceola and Ortona are Title 1 schools that receive supplemental funding from the state due to the large number of disadvantaged students each school serves.)

Understanding the importance of schools to the health and vitality of the community, the City of Ormond Beach seized the initiative and rallied around Osceola, determined to reverse the board’s hasty decision, and save the school by providing a $1,950,000 economic incentive package to cover upgrades and infrastructure. 

Earlier this month, Ormond Beach officials were prepared to attend a scheduled School Board workshop and present a well-thought plan to keep Osceola Elementary – only to have the rug pulled out from under them when the meeting was inexplicably cancelled.

The reason:  Holding the workshop would be “unfair” to the City of Daytona Beach. . .

My ass.  

Then, the Volusia County School Board announced it would be holding firm to its original decision – and Osceola was doomed.    

“That ends that,” said School Board Chairwoman Linda Cuthbert.

Not so fast, Linda. 

Now, a group of angry parents of Osceola students are considering legal action against the School Board – a bold move supported by Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington and members of the City Commission.

Good for them.

In my view, it was a slap in the face to area taxpayers, parents, students, and staff who were arbitrarily denied input in a controversial issue that will have serious, long-term consequences for Ormond residents. 

But why?

Given that the Volusia County School Board has been crying the “Poor Mouth Blues” for years – including ominous internal warnings of an imminent financial crisis – why wouldn’t those we have elected to steward our tax dollars at least consider nearly $2 million in direct assistance.

Or simply scrap the proposal altogether. . .

Why not chalk it up as a piss-poor idea – save the $24+ million in construction costs – and leave the 600 students at Osceola and Ortona where they are.   

Quote of the Week

“Before writing this letter, I searched Google for information about the Loop. Everything was written to entice me to come to visit the most beautiful place on the earth. Winding peaceful roads with trees create a cathedral ceiling called a canopy. Google urged me to stop on the roadside when possible to drink in the quiet beauty and listen to the birds sing. Perhaps I might take along some gear to fish in the water along the roadside, or just sit and watch blue heron, eagles, or an occasional alligator.

Nowhere did Google entice me to look at all the new developments lining the roadway, displacing wildlife and interfering with watershed. I looked at photos published on local websites with trees reported to be as old as the ages, small parks along the way to stop and picnic, a drawbridge operating over the Intracoastal Waterway, a state park. That 32-mile Loop could take an entire day of exploring if you have the time.

The Loop is the very first place I take my out-of-town visitors. I drive it every weekend just for the peace. Don’t let intensive over-building along the Loop destroy our way of life here. Defend the Loop!

–Janet Nutt, Ormond by the Sea, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Defend the Loop,” Monday, February 22, 2021

What seems like hundreds of yard signs went up near my neighborhood in north Ormond Beach this week announcing – “Defend the Loop” – a very visible campaign that has all of Volusia County talking. 

The movement is the brainchild of the intrepid Suzanne Scheiber, whose grassroots organization Dream Green Volusia is actively working to gain public support for Volusia County’s proposed purchase of conservation land along our beautiful – and environmentally sensitive – Scenic Loop and Trial.

Speaking in the Ormond Beach Observer, Ms. Scheiber said, “Anytime that the county is going to be voting to spend taxpayer money, they need to know that the public wants it.”

She’s right. 

Public support for protecting and preserving this local gem is important to driving a political solution – and the Volusia County Council is working to allocate funds on a very tight time schedule.   

Recently, Dream Green Volusia partnered with the North Florida Land Trust – a 501(c)3 organization focused on protecting lands of ecological, agricultural, and historic significance in Northeast Florida.

Since Monday, the “Defend the Loop” public awareness campaign has collected over $5,500 through the NFLT website at https://www.nflt.org/ormond-scenic-loop-trail/

I hope you will consider a donation to this most worthwhile effort. Contributions must be received no later than April 19.

For more information on how you can help, please visit www.dreamgreenvolusia.com

And Another Thing

It is hard to say goodbye. 

Preparing to bring “closure” – distilling a long friendship into a moment of love and admiration – something especially difficult in a time when we cannot even be in the same room with those who may need our support and comfort most. 

If you will indulge me for a moment, I want to tell you about a true angel in my life.

It is likely that you have never heard of my friend Pat Zuegg, because she is one of the unsung heroes of the civil service who work hard, in virtual anonymity, serving the public without accolades or recognition.   

For over 30-years, Pat served as my strong right arm – guide, mentor, friend, confidant, and loyal administrative assistant – a true and faithful public servant in the best traditions of that special calling.  

While I preened and peacocked under various haughty titles with the Holly Hill Police Department – trying to be a big fish in a little pond – getting my name in the newspaper by taking credit for the deeds and daring of others – someone else was working tirelessly behind-the-scenes to make it all appear effortless.   

In the spring of 1983, Pat was there to greet me that first day as a snotnosed kid walked in the front door of the police department – and she was still by my side, propping me up physically and emotionally, as she walked me out for the last time when I retired 31-years later.

A steady, ever-present source of support – my rock – helping steer the trajectory of my life and career, always putting me and the needs of our agency, before her own – a steady hand who knew everything there was to know about the administration and operation of a police department, yet she never made an arrest or wrote a traffic ticket.

No badges, brass buttons, and braggadocio – just quietly tending to a hundred details that made it all work.

There is an old management idiom that says no one person in an organization is indispensable.

Whoever came up with that tripe never met the incomparable Pat Zuegg.   

There was not one nook or cranny in that great coquina building on Ridgewood Avenue that she did not know like the back of her hand, but most important, she instinctively understood when an officer or coworker needed a word of encouragement, a shoulder to cry on – or a swift kick in the ass – and she offered each with all the devotion of a doting mother.

And she has the work ethic of the Amish. 

Once, just before she was forced to take a few weeks off for a long-delayed major surgery, I noticed Pat rearranging the furniture in her office and asked why? 

She quickly responded that she would be confined to a wheelchair for several weeks – and wanted to make sure she could navigate to her desk and keep working.

And she did. 

With no time to convalesce, Pat was right back to work, struggling through the pain, indignity, and inconvenience – only taking leave when I pleaded with her to go home and rest.

After that, whenever she took time off for a medical procedure, I always made the smartass comment – “Do you think you could fit in a half-day after surgery?”    

The City of Holly Hill has always been blessed with exceedingly dedicated public servants who contribute more than they receive – who truly give of themselves to assist that wonderful community – and Pat set the example of selfless service.

Earlier this week, a former coworker remarked that Pat’s desk was always the epicenter of life at HHPD – the place you came to catch up on the gossip, get advice, and have a laugh. 

To her great credit, Pat made the job easier with her wonderful sense of humor – and an unflappability that was the perfect counterpoint to my manic rants and raves – a good nature that allowed her to take a thousand interoffice practical jokes in stride.    

I watched as her daughters grew into beautiful young ladies – and saw her love for Scott, Pat’s husband and soulmate, blossom into an enduring love affair for the ages – and I came to know the absolute joy her grandchildren brought to her life.     

This week my friend Pat was placed in the care of Port Orange Hospice following her well-fought battle with a long and horribly debilitating illness. 

Time to rest.  Time to reflect.  Time to say goodbye. 

There are a million good memories going through my mind’s eye this week – recollections of happiness and pain, triumph and tragedy – but they all return to the incredible love and loyalty this beautiful person so willingly and unselfishly bestowed on me.

When the time comes to say goodbye, I will not forget to include in my prayers – as I have so often in the last few days – Thank you, my dear Pat – for being such a wonderful source of goodness in my life – and for the profound gift of your knowledge, service, and friendship.   

A few weeks ago, Pat shared a prayer that brought her comfort – it said, in part:

“Please be with me on my journey, Lord. You will serve as my guide and refuge.  Lord, though I am a sinner, fragile in temptation and often my faith is weak, I pray that you will not let go of me but hold me in your loving arms.”

Rest comfortably, my old friend.  The good Lord would never let go of a soul as beautiful as yours. . .    

Thanks for reading.  Have a great weekend, y’all.   

4 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for February 26, 2021

  1. What a great lady she was! I remember fondly speaking to and seeing her on multiple occasions. Always a consummate professional, and one that knew her role. I can tell you I deal with a number of Chiefs and Sheriffs for a living, With that comes dealing with their assistants, some of whom think THEY are the chief or the sheriff themselves! I have a hunch you understand what I mean here, Mark. And Pat was never like that. Always a pro and with class all the way who, at least in my dealings with her, never acted like one of “those” assistants. May she rest in peace.

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  2. Where has all the people and powers to be in Ormond Beach been hiding? I sent a message to my commissioner, Troy Kent in September hoping he might recognize his zones wishes and help fight the Osceola baltle. I was told in the beginning at the meeting I attended , Osceola was full of mold, I spoke to a group of the, meeting of the minds, one am, and this guy told me it was the air quality, but not the whole school, one wing is good. Mold??? Ok, Troy Kent you need to step up to the plate along with the Mayor and SAVE Osceola. I might also mention that my six (6) children attended school at Osceola and left there with a good foundation.

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