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 Volusia Director of Public Protection Joe Pozzo
There was a time in the dark ages when cops and firefighters could settle their personal and professional differences like brothers and sisters without someone getting their feelings hurt and running home to momma.
In my department, the locker room was where we could argue amongst ourselves, resolve interpersonal issues, bemoan our domestic situation, tell jokes, congratulate our own performance, salve our wounds, and complain about the brass – discussions that were always peppered with the liberal use of expletives – safe in the knowledge that whatever was said, in anger or otherwise, was just between those involved.
It was part of what forms the brotherhood and sisterhood of the emergency services – law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services – a bond forged between those who trust each other with their very lives – supporting each other physically and emotionally in often dangerous and difficult circumstances.
Regardless of petty differences or internecine spats – when the radio call comes, or the tones drop, we become one team – dedicated to the simple concept of putting the lives of others above our own self-interests.
In law enforcement, we could fight like cats and dogs, but we remained a family – and nobody else better get involved. . .
Many old school firefighters I know tell similar stories of times gone by, before it was necessary to involve the command staff – or “human resources” – in sorting out interoffice quarrels or bruised feelings.
Firefighters call it “The Brotherhood” – something that transcends gender, race, or religion – a title bestowed on those in the fire service who have earned their place and strive every day to live up to the high moral and ethical standards of their chosen profession.
Unfortunately, resolving issues between colleagues and building trusting relationships – something that was once a strong bonding experience in public safety organizations – is no longer encouraged.
Now the very thought of settling a disagreement outside the narrow scope of a legally vetted personnel policy is a terminable offense – and the benefits of a bloody nose or venting pent-up frustrations between peers – has been replaced with “dispute resolution” protocols, or litigation that often results in the undoing of a career.
This week, I was reminded of how far afield we have gone when I read a cryptic story in The Daytona Beach News-Journal describing a “verbal altercation” between Port Orange Fire Chief Ken Fustin and Volusia County Director of Public Protection Joe Pozzo earlier this month.
Let me be clear, I know nothing about the particulars of the incident – but I do know that Chief Fustin, a career firefighter who retired after 33-years with the Springfield, Illinois Fire Department before coming to Port Orange in 2016, was placed on administrative leave and publicly relieved of command pending an internal investigation.
Late yesterday, Chief Fustin was summarily terminated for what was officially described as “inexcusable” behavior that did not comport with the city’s “core values.”
Strong words for a non-physical confrontation.
I also noticed that Director Pozzo was not. . .
It appears the City of Port Orange threw the book at Chief Fustin, and I mean the whole book – pages, binding, and hard cover – charging him with, “…behavior that may be in violation of City Policy or against one or more of the City’s core values: Commitment, Adaptability, Respect and Ethics/Integrity.”
I know from personal experience that Volusia County government can be extremely difficult to deal with and when someone representing a local municipality stands up for the interests of their community – that audacity in the face of an obstinate, outsized, and incredibly controlling county bureaucracy – can result in heated tempers.
As it should.
The News-Journal report remined me that Chief Fustin has been a vocal critic of Volusia County’s abysmal emergency medical transport service that was putting lives in danger – something that led to the City of Port Orange fielding its own ambulance – a move that openly irritated those haughty muckety-mucks in DeLand.
Trust me. It is not easy speaking truth to power.
Once, during the latter part of my career, I was summoned to the City Manager’s office where I was told a very high-ranking Volusia County government official had lodged a complaint against me following a dispute over law enforcement funding priorities in the Community Redevelopment Area.
My manager refused to identify the complainant by name (suffice it to say he is no longer in County government) – and the petty allegations were little more than a snooty powerplay – but hurtful, nonetheless.
Admittedly, I was known for having sharp elbows when it came to protecting the interests of those I served, but there was no need to destroy my career over a policy disagreement.
It was the equivalent of a bully picking on the littlest guy in the political sandbox.
Interestingly, the matter mysteriously went away when my wife filed a formal public records request seeking costs associated with the renovation of the executive suite at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building – and a mysterious incident during which a former county manager’s publicly-owned vehicle was stolen from a boatyard with a set of privately-owned golf clubs inside. . .
I never forgot that – and I am not the only municipal employee that has felt the vengeful wrath of this horribly bloated county bureaucracy.
Unfortunately, it appears Port Orange Interim City Manager Jamie Miller – who was elevated to the temporary top spot in January after serving as something called an “administrative services director” – saw fit to publicly humiliate her fire chief, drag him through the mud of a hush-hush investigation, then fire him over a “verbal altercation.”
Something doesn’t sound right to me.
At worst, if Fustin engaged in a heated public argument with Pozzo, he should have received a formal reprimand – a stern reminder that the Fire Chief should always maintain a professional bearing, blah, blah, blah.
And, in my view, as a brother firefighter – Director Pozzo should have stepped in to support Chief Fustin – assuring everyone involved that it was a scrap between two guys from the old neighborhood – something that could be resolved between them.
Now, it is too late for that. . .
In my view, this one bears watching – and if Ms. Miller overreacted – she should be shown the door.
Welcome to the pleasures of command, Jamie. . .
Considering there was more information on how to make a corned beef sandwich in this week’s News-Journal than why a prominent Port Orange city official was ultimately terminated, perhaps the Volusia County Council can set aside time during a future meeting to have a more public exploration of the verbal tiff which so grievously offended Director Pozzo’s delicate sensibilities – to the point it was necessary to destroy the career and reputation of a fellow 40-year veteran of the fire service.
Inquiring minds – and the taxpayers of Volusia County and Port Orange – want to know.
Angel City of DeBary
In the early days of this electronic soapbox, I cut my editorial teeth on what became known as The Debacle in DeBary.
Much to my surprise, this squalid tale of treachery, abject greed, and the base arrogance of misguided political power in a tiny town on the banks of the St. John’s River drove tens-of-thousands of readers to this site, and, for good or ill, Barker’s View quickly became part of the political discussion in Volusia County.
In 2016, the City of DeBary devolved into a cautionary example of what can happen when a local government becomes hopelessly enmeshed in the murky motives of property developers and those who – for a healthy fee – navigate the fast and loose Turkish bazaar that passes for environmental permitting in the Sunshine State.
The city’s twisted scheme to develop 102-acres of environmentally sensitive land adjacent to the DeBary SunRail station was first exposed by the incredible investigative journalism of former Daytona Beach News-Journal environmental reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver.
Her outstanding reportage peeled the onion on the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board and permitting process – to include the fact public officials transferred public funds to the then District Chairman – who happened to own an Orlando-based “environmental consultancy” – in exchange for his personal assistance in securing SJRWMD permissions for the transit-oriented development.
You read that right: The Chairman of the SJRWMD Governing Board received money from public and private clients to lobby for their interests in front of the very state regulatory board he oversaw.
Earlier this week, I read an informative piece by the News-Journal’s intrepid Wild West Volusia correspondent Katie Kustura, who reported that the City of DeBary is actively developing a plan to protect the threatened Gemini Spring complex from further nitrogen poisoning by replacing 2,000+ septic tanks and limiting turfgrass fertilizer in the vicinity of the springs.
According to the report, “The need to devise a plan is a result of the 2016 Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act in which the state Legislature identified 30 “Outstanding Florida Springs,” one of which is Gemini Springs. In Volusia County, Blue Spring and DeLeon Springs also received that designation.”
Not surprisingly, all three springs in Volusia County are considered threatened, suffering from the devastating effects of excessive nitrate pollution. Once a plan is in place, DeBary officials can begin working with county, state, and federal partners to identify potential funding sources to limit or eliminate the financial burden on area residents.
Unfortunately, DeBary’s City Manager, Carmen Rosamonda, struck a sour note during an interview with Kustura, when he moaned, “It’s another mandate and burden that’s put on local governments without any funding.”
Why is it that local governments always cry the poormouth blues and squall about “unfunded mandates” when asked to clean up an environmental catastrophe they helped create in their own backyard?
In my view, many county and municipal governments in Florida continue to succumb to the lure of overdevelopment – the lie of “progress” – as the largesse of speculative developers fuel political campaigns at all levels and we willingly foul our own water supply with greed-crazed malignant sprawl.
Add to that the sickening practice of transporting the overabundance of sewage sludge – politely called “biosolids” (the byproduct of the wastewater treatment process) out of southeast Florida and dumping it as fertilizer at the headwaters of the St. John’s River – and you get the idea that we are literally shitting in our own nest.
With an estimated 1,000 new residents moving into the state every day, does anyone believe the volume of sewage – or the complex problem of what to do with it – is going away anytime soon?
I hate to be the voice of reason, but we have made quite a mess of things, and it is past time to reverse this grim trend.
In my view, Mr. Rosamonda should consider it a privilege – and a sacred responsibility – to help restore Gemini Springs to good health by doing everything possible to eliminate sources of nitrogen and other pollutants – including a hard moratorium on the use of turfgrass fertilizer and chemical applications on ornamental grasses and plants within identified priority areas – and our friends in Tallahassee should work to strengthen the lackluster “regulations” that continue to fall short of restoring and protecting our sensitive springs and waterways.
It’s a good start. . .
Angel Volusia Forever/ECHO Alliance
Like many of you, last November I made my voice heard at the ballot box as Volusia County voters overwhelmingly voted to renew the Volusia ECHO and Forever programs, which use a portion of our property taxes to purchase conservation land and preserve our rapidly vanishing environmental, cultural, and historic places.
For me, the selling point for both was the highly visible nature of the quality-of-life projects funded in our communities – and the renewed emphasis on the acquisition and safeguarding of environmentally sensitive lands surrounding our springs, lakes, rivers, and wetlands – a practice critical to protecting our future water supply.
I also happen to agree with a position paper recently issued by the Volusia Forever/ECHO Alliance – the group which helped lead the 2020 grassroots effort to get both programs on the ballot – which contains commonsense recommendations based upon stakeholder consensus and polling information obtained from Volusia County voters.
These recommendations include revising existing procedures to rank and review projects for funding based upon “objective standards of environmental values, management considerations, potential for partnership, and independent appraisals,” insulating the programs from political influence, and requiring that County Council members declare a conflict should they have a contractual or property interest in an application under review.
Will good people disagree over funding priorities? I hope so.
In my view, when it comes to allocating our tax dollars for maximum value, the debate of competing ideas leading to hard-fought consensus always beats a rubber stamp based solely on who has more influence.
To maintain the public trust, it is imperative that both oversight committees be allowed to operate independent of internal or external pressure – something that will require complete transparency, independent appraisers and audits, and the development of an open and honest review process that comports with both the letter and spirit of the ballot language.
In recent weeks, area residents had an opportunity to make their voices heard on the ECHO program during multiple “listening sessions” held throughout Volusia County.
Now, it is time for citizen input on Volusia Forever.
These meetings present information on how ECHO/Forever benefit our quality of life and allow residents an opportunity to present their thoughts and suggestions – both in person and virtually – to advisory committee members and elected officials.
The final Volusia ECHO listening session will be held:
Thursday, April 22, at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center, 123 W. Indiana Avenue, DeLand
Volusia Forever listening sessions include:
April 21: DeLand – Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center, 123 W. Indiana Avenue
April 28: New Smyrna Beach – Brannon Center, 105 S. Riverside Drive
May 5: Daytona Beach – Beach Safety Headquarters, 515 S. Atlantic Avenue
May 12: Ormond Beach – City Hall, 22 S. Beach Street
May 19: Deltona – Regional Library, 2150 Eustace Avenue
All sessions begin at 6:00pm.
Those wishing to participate virtually should go to www.volusia.org and see the individual advisory committees’ pages for more details.
While you are at it, I hope you will consider an urgent request by Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower:
“The Volusia County Council votes April 20 to decide if we settle for a buffer or actually save the land and extend the Loop bicycle path to the west side of Old Dixie Highway. You can help get this done by taking three actions.
1. Help raise another $10,000 to buy the land. So far DREAM GREEN VOLUSIA has helped raise $20,000!
Every dollar donated demonstrates to the council how much you love this land.
DONATE HERE www.DreamGreenVolusia.com and help us reach $30,000 by the 20th!
2. Go to www.volusia.org/government and email your County Council members to approve the unanimous recommendations of the Historical Preservation Board AND the ECHO boards to purchase this land.
3. Come to the County Council meeting April 20th to show your support for this purchase. Our meeting will start with public comments at 9:30 AM. There will be another opportunity to speak up for land preservation after lunch.”
I hope you will.
This one’s important – and Chairman Brower deserves our support as he fights hard to change the entrenched status quo.
Quote of the Week
“On April 19, the Deltona City Commission will hear a request to rezone 110 acres of wooded property along Enterprise Osteen Road. Of the 110 acres, 55% is open water, wetlands, or within the 100-year flood plain. It abuts and shares a wetland system with the nearly 500-acre parcel known as the D Ranch Preserve, owned and placed into conservation in perpetuity by Conservation Florida. The property’s other borders are adjacent to 10-acre parcels and a 100-acre parcel all engaged in agricultural activities, a lake, and acreage-oriented residential lots. Conservation Florida has gone on record with the concern that development of the scope under consideration with this rezoning request will have a negative impact on the shared wetlands system and the plants and animals that it is their duty to protect as stewards of the preserve.”
–J. Scott Green, Osteen, as excerpted from his op/ed in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Deltona city leaders shouldn’t trample the beauty of a delicate country landscape,” Tuesday, April 13, 2021
And Another Thing!
Earlier this week, I published a piece venting my disappointment over a full-service restaurant now open for business in the new Brown & Brown headquarters building on Beach Street.
Look, normally I could care less what King J. Hyatt Brown does with his growing empire – because there is little anyone can say or do that will impede his idea of progress in the Kingdom of Hyattona – but this was different.
We were promised one thing – then handed something quite different.
Everyone who is anyone in business and government in Volusia County sold the long-suffering taxpayers on the notion that the very presence of King Hyatt’s massive glass-and-steel office building would be the panacea that transforms the decades old blight and civic neglect that has turned our downtrodden downtown into a place best avoided.
Then, we were asked to help.
Just weeks after the carefully orchestrated announcement we would receive the headquarters, both the City of Daytona Beach and the County of Volusia ponied up millions-of-dollars in infrastructure improvements, financial incentives, and property tax abatement – which, we were told, would assist Brown & Brown in obtaining even more tax credits from the State of Florida for the promised 600 “new high-paying jobs” the HQ would bring to Daytona Beach.
As the News-Journal reported at the time, these lucrative spiffs were championed by “some of the city’s heaviest hitters,” to include the formidable former Mayor Glenn Ritchey, past County Chair Frank Bruno, and representatives from Halifax Health, the Regional Chamber of Commerce, Cobb Cole, ad infinitum. . .
There was heady talk around town – exciting words like “rejuvenation,” “recovery,” and “revitalization” were bandied about – as our ‘powers that be’ assured us tax paying piss-ants that downtown restaurants, shops, and bars would be brimming with young free spending Brown & Brown executives – something that gave strapped area merchants reason to hang on by their splintered fingernails just a little while longer. . .
The idea of Brown & Brown opening a restaurant – complete with a 24-hour kiosk to ensure no one needs to leave the campus – struck me as counter to the promise of a bustling downtown experience, with storefronts filled with young, upwardly mobile executives enjoying a working lunch at the Dancing Avocado Kitchen or meeting with friends and colleagues over a pint at McK’s.
After sucking millions of local dollars in “economic incentives” – with the promise of more state tax breaks to come – good, old fashioned corporate welfare that everyone agreed to ignore on the promise of prosperity – J. Hyatt brings in a French food service group who won’t even source its fish in Daytona Beach?
That didn’t sit right with me.
In response, Mike Panaggio – who has become the official apologist and social media flack for our ‘Rich & Powerful’ took exception to my jaded views – accusing me and other vocal critics of King Hyatt’s plan to rebuild downtown Daytona in his image of being “jealous” – and suggesting we should all get down on our hand and knees and kiss the hem of the King’s garment for his largesse in plopping this self-aggrandizing monument in our community.
“As a shareholder of BNB I feel the HQ should have been in a more appropriate city like a Charlotte or Atlanta or even Dallas but Hyatt pushed for Daytona because he loves the city. He has led BNB to incredible levels during his tenure and NO I had no say in the Boards selection of Daytona. Do you honestly feel that the city would be better off without the investment and the new park gift. Also do you know the difference between the public company and Hyatt’s personal contributions? They are quite different since he in fact owns a minority share of BNB.”
As anyone watching knows, I made my living as a Holly Hill cop. Do you think I am motivated by money – or jealous of yours?
Look, if Mr. Panaggio wants to kiss King Hyatt’s sizeable backside, so be it – the line is long and distinguished.
Just don’t demand I join in.
Perhaps it is time Mr. Panaggio understand that it is easy to confuse the size of someone’s wallet with their civic vision – something that always seems to benefit the latter – and anyone paying attention can see how the use of strategic blight and wholly controlled elected officials has left much of the community in ruins – as all the right last names continue to haul public funds out of downtown by the truck load in the form of tax subsidized parking garages and other private projects.
Empty promises that continue to destroy what remains of our once bustling commercial area as our ‘powers that be’ push their twisted idea of “progress” – and use our money to accomplish it.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!