The bully-theme has become its own genre in American film – from Carrie to Mean Girls, A Christmas Story, Lord of the Flies, and The Karate Kid – the premise of the misfit loner, reclusive outcast, or the socially awkward weakling being bullied and harassed by the “cool kids” before finally having his or her fill and fighting back against their tormentors in a visually appealing climactic confrontation is incredibly popular with movie audiences.
Unfortunately, life rarely imitates art, so intimidation and harassment rarely end without outside intervention.
The act of governmental bullying – where the arrogance of size and the fallacy that bigger is always better leads to a false sense of superiority and infallibility – is something that has become institutionalized at the County of Volusia.
For instance, in 2017, the citizens of Daytona Beach Shores felt the belligerence of their county government when they rightfully balked at Volusia County constructing a parking lot on some of the most valuable beachfront property on the eastern seaboard.
In response, Volusia County filed no less than three lawsuits against the small seaside community – exposing those hubristic bureaucratic golems in the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building for the bullying ogres they are.
After coming to the realization that appeasement only shows weakness in the face of aggression, then Daytona Beach Shores Mayor Harry Jennings accurately described his county tormenters in The Daytona Beach News-Journal when he said, “They’re dictators.”
History shows that Volusia County has consistently forced their will on the long-suffering municipalities – from the arbitrary closure of community libraries, to using taxpayer dollars to file suit against the citizens of Volusia County challenging our standing in beach access issues, and the capricious closure of large sections of the strand to our century-old tradition of beach driving – along with the gross intimidation of citizens, city officials, and even Volusia County Council members who refuse to join the cult of mediocrity.
Never mind the fact that Volusia County has been plagued by historic incompetence and maladministration – including acts of negligence that allowed publicly-owned buildings and facilities to become community eyesores – and fostered a bought-and-paid-for legislative process so wholly controlled by outside influence that the mere presence of a prominent insider in the council chamber magically swings the vote every time.
Anyone who has ever served in local municipal government can tell you horror stories of how this bloated bureaucracy arrogantly throws its sizeable weight around (read: an overstuffed budget approaching $1 Billion) and attempts to crush anyone or anything that stands in its way.
Don’t take my word for it.
Ask Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower – or District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post – how their outside-the-box thinking has been received by those entrenched marionettes sitting next to them on the dais of power.
Tragically, late last week, we saw the results of this bureaucratic bullying and gaslighting result in the ruination of a good man’s career as Port Orange Fire Chief Ken Fustin reached his breaking point and aptly took Volusia County Director of Public Protection Joe Pozzo to task using the colorful vernacular that most hardened emergency service professionals understand.
In my view, once he had Fustin where he wanted him, Little Joey clutched his pearls and reeled in mock horror – before running home to tell daddy that Kenny called him a bad name. . .
Real Blue Falcon stuff. . .
According to a shocking revelation by Chief Fustin following his swift termination, we gained some valuable insight into the extortionate behavior that, over months and years, led to the confrontation:
“My professional relationship with Mr. Pozzo took a dramatic nosedive about 10-months ago when I felt he and Volusia County Fire Chief Howard Bailey were attempting to extort the taxpayers of Port Orange by reducing the annual enclave fire protection fee Volusia County paid to Port Orange, in exchange for allowing Port Orange Fire to operate our ambulance 24-hours per day, instead of the 12-hours per day they have limited the department to for the past two-years.
There had been a long history of the County paying Port Orange $50,000 per year for enclave fire protection, in spite of the fact they were collecting nearly 3 to 4 times that amount from their rate payers within these enclaves.
They proposed reducing the annual enclave fee to $35,000 per year on a three-year contract offer, so a reduction of $45,000 in total. This was concurrent with conversations I was having with County Fire Chief Bailey who stated if I were to accept the lower enclave protection fee, he would help get us 24-hour ambulance coverage.
Where I’m from, that’s extortion….
My City Manager and my Assistant City Manager were fully aware this was going on at the time.
Mr. Pozzo has been stringing Port Orange along for nearly a year operating our ambulance at only 12-hours a day while Volusia County EMS regularly wasn’t available for emergencies in Port Orange during nighttime hours. This resulted in New Smyrna Beach and Ponce Inlet getting sent into Port Orange to provide our citizens ambulance transport.
Mr. Pozzo’s lack of actions has placed our citizens and my former members at risk, and I wasn’t going to sit silently any longer and watch it happen. I lost my temper in Mr. Pozzo’s presence but regret nothing I said to him.”
For years, many area Fire and EMS professionals – those dedicated public servants responsible for providing the life-saving assistance we depend on (and pay for) – have described Volusia County leadership as suffering from an inflexible mindset, totally resistant to systemic change, that has resulted in a utterly dysfunctional and alarmingly inefficient emergency medical transport service.
As a result, several years ago, the majority of Port Orange City Commissioners, after careful deliberation, bravely decided that they were not going to wait while Volusia County gambles with the lives of its residents and – like several other municipalities – agreed to purchase and staff its own ambulance.
To demonstrate how serious Port Orange elected officials considered this issue – they mustered the political courage to increase taxes to help pay for improved service delivery – something former Chief Fustin vehemently championed.
That did not sit well in the inner sanctum of power in DeLand.
To add insult to injury, during a 2018 Volusia County Council meeting, Councilwoman Post, after taking the time to meet with area firefighters and paramedics, confirmed the problems at EVAC were “serious” and strongly suggested that our elected representatives on the dais of power in DeLand do something about it.
For her trouble, Ms. Post’s remarks were described as “irresponsible and reckless” by her do-nothing “colleague,” the Right Reverend Fred Lowrey.
I ask you, what is more unprofessional – a veteran fire chief so personally dedicated to the safety of the citizens he serves that he finally reaches an emotional melting point and slings a few choice invectives at the obstructionist asshole putting them in danger – or a callous “Director of Public Protection” in title only who flagrantly endangers the lives of Port Orange residents by obstinately withholding 24-hour ambulance service from the community in a crude attempt to coerce a reduction in service fees?
In my view, the citizens of Port Orange should have given Chief Fustin a commendation.
Now that this horrendous debacle has been exposed – at the cost of Chief Fustin’s career and reputation having been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency – it is time for all residents of Volusia County to demand an investigation into the gamesmanship exhibited by Director Pozzo as he used a potentially lifesaving service as a cudgel to beat the citizens of Port Orange into submission – all while goading a brother firefighter into career suicide.
Given their fiduciary responsibility to the citizens they serve, the Port Orange City Commission has an obligation to investigate former Chief Fustin’s claims as well.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire – and if they are to maintain the public trust – our elected officials in Volusia County and Port Orange simply must get to the bottom of it.
This bureaucratic thuggery should not stand.