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 Volusia Stateswoman Ann McFall
There are few in the political arena that I truly admire.
Many current and former elected officials have disappointed me – not because we disagreed politically, that comes with the territory – but because they sold their soul to the forces of mediocrity in a self-serving desire to maintain the perquisites of office while the needs of their constituents languished.
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, everyone agrees Ann McFall transcended the fetid quagmire of Volusia County politics and built a solid reputation as a true servant of the people – a stateswoman in the finest tradition – one of those intrepid few who give their all to better the lives and livelihoods of those they have sworn an oath to represent.
Serving others without fear or favoritism and dedicated to the principle that all political power is derived from the people.
A rare breed.
Clearly, Ms. McFall’s curriculum vitae of extraordinary accomplishments needs no introduction and her service chairing both the Volusia County School Board and the County Council is sui generis.
According to a report in the West Volusia Beacon, “McFall began her career in public service as a member of the Deltona Municipal Services District Advisory Board, an appointed panel established by the Volusia County government to make recommendations on policies and improvements for the sprawling community before its incorporation as a city.”
The longtime Deltona resident began her elective service in 1986 as a member of the Volusia County School Board – including service as board chair – before being defeated for re-election in 1994.
Then, in 1996, Ms. McFall sought the District 5 seat on the Volusia County Council, ultimately serving eight years.
In 2004, Ms. McFall was elected Volusia County Supervisor of Elections and she remained in that demanding role until 2016.
Perhaps most impressive, regardless of position, Ms. McFall was universally respected by political friends and foes alike – as those who see public service as an avenue to help others, rather than a stage for self-aggrandizement, always are.
She was one tough cookie.
In the “old days,” there used to be more than the few left today who were servant-leaders in the classic sense, who not only led and inspired others by personal example but excelled at their elective responsibilities as well.
You never find these standouts anywhere near the political fishing camps that have reduced Volusia County governance to a farcical opéra bouffe – “public servants” in gilded title only – too cowardly to take the high road or earn the trust and confidence of their constituents regardless of political cost.
I truly admired Ann McFall and her commitment to service-above-self – a good life’s mission now complete.
Her incredible intellect and strength of character will long serve as a shining example to future generations of aspiring public servants what true moral and ethical courage look like – and what it can accomplish to the betterment of all.
Ann McFall passed away at AdventHealth Hospice in Orange City this week.
She was 68 years old.
No one better embodied the qualities of selfless political stewardship.
She will be missed.
Angel Chief Mike Walker, Lake Helen Police Department
Through my long association with the FBI National Academy Associates – in my view, the most exclusive law enforcement fraternal organization in the world – I established an unlikely friendship with The Honourable Bill Blair, former Chief of the Toronto Police Service and current Member of Parliament who serves as Canada’s Minister of Public Safety.
Several years ago, during an FBINAA conference in Toronto, Bill and I had the opportunity to sit in a quiet corner over a cold Molson Canadian and discuss the challenges of administering a police force of nearly 8,000 sworn and civilian personnel.
It was then I learned how little relative difference there was from my experience leading a department of 30 dedicated officers and staff in Holly Hill – with the exception that I did not have a massive command staff to sort the wheat from the chaff before the hard, sometimes life-altering, decisions needed to be made.
It takes a steady hand and a ‘jack of all trades’ mentality, adaptive leadership skills, the ability to manage often scarce resources, adopting modern policing principles while holding firm to the best traditions of small-town life, a broad institutional knowledge of the community, and a grassroots connection to those you serve.
When done right, policing a quaint, close-knit community is one of the most personally rewarding experiences in the profession.
I was reminded of the unique advantages (and disadvantages) faced by small town police administrators when I learned of the pending retirement of long-serving Lake Helen Chief Mike Walker – one of the best to ever pin on a badge.
Mike comes from a distinguished line of career law enforcement officers.
I had the honor of serving under Mike’s late father, Larry Walker, who retired as Holly Hill’s police chief. His brother, Mark Walker, retired from the Ormond Beach Police Department before embarking on a stellar career with the Ponce Inlet Police Department. Another brother, Jimmy Crimmins, also retired from the Ormond Beach Police Department.
Chief Walker began his service to the citizens of Lake Helen – “The Gem of Florida” – in 1989 after a year with the Daytona Beach Shores Department of Public Safety. He was appointed Chief of Police in 2011 following the retirement of former Chief Keith Chester.
During his long and honorable career, Chief Walker set the gold standard for community-oriented policing – always humble and engaged with an ever-present smile and quick wit, willing to do whatever it took, no job too big or too small, to ensure the safety of his beautiful community.
In my experience, small town chiefs do not seek this multifaceted job for the money or benefits that often-itinerant major cities chiefs command – they do it out of an abundance of love for their neighbors – a mutual affection that forms the very essence of what it means to truly serve and protect.
For over 30-years, Chief Walker policed the City of Lake Helen with courage, dedication, and professionalism – a legacy of service that elevated his agency and earned the respect of his officers, colleagues, and constituents.
Mike Walker is one of the good guys – and his contributions to the local law enforcement community will be sorely missed.
Kudos and congratulations to Chief Walker on his honorable – and well deserved – retirement from a lifetime of quality public service.
Well done, my friend!
Your father is incredibly proud of you – and so am I.
Asshole Volusia County School Board
Most times, the selection process for the dubious weekly “honor” of Angel or Asshole is a no-brainer – an act or omission by a newsmaker that cries out for special recognition.
This week was no different.
I really wanted to recognize the Volusia County School Board this week for leaning toward a policy change which would make masking optional for the coming school year.
In my view, following a year of choppy, sometimes contradictory diktats from this perennially flummoxed elected body, it struck a commonsense compromise – encouraging students, staff, and visitors to follow current CDC guidelines while on district property without demanding obedience with draconian mandates.
Look, I don’t want to give these elected dullards too much credit for doing the right thing, because it didn’t hurt that Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued a directive earlier this month urging school districts to amend their policies for the 2021-22 school year to make masks optional. . .
Considering that some parents have started to revolt, stating that their children will not be wearing masks at school in the fall regardless of the board’s decision; the policy shift marked a return to center after studies demonstrated that sweeping mask mandates had little impact on the presence of COVID-19 in schools.
According to an informative article by education reporter Cassidy Alexander writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “The discussion at the workshop echoed other recent discussions the board has had on the subject, but overall board members are in favor of making the mask policy optional — with the understanding that the state of the coronavirus pandemic may change in the future.”
It was the right thing to do and certainly “Angel” worthy, right?
Unfortunately, my high spirits were drowned like a sewer rat when I read a depressing piece in the Ormond Beach Observer entitled, “Former Volusia County Schools employee’s lawsuit over whistleblower retaliation remains ongoing,” a sordid tale of a courageous mid-career whistleblower, Alex Kennedy, the former assistant director of applications and infrastructure, who was callously ‘cancelled’ by district Big Wigs in May 2020 after 13-years of service to Volusia County Schools.
He shined a bright light on serious irregularities in the implementation of a horribly overbudget and behind schedule financial software program that, as of 2018, has cost taxpayers over $2 million in change orders.
The exalted ‘powers that be’ ensconced in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand – those who should care about the financial oversight of our tax dollars but don’t – coldheartedly waved their retaliatory wand and simply “eliminated his position.”
According to the Observer’s report, “Kennedy said that he knew early on the software implementation would run over-budget and that staff would have a lot of difficulty with it, and continuously advised his district superiors of this until his termination.”
“It’s just shameful when you have someone like myself saying, ‘This is going to cost you millions and millions dollars more than you expect,” Kennedy said. “Why would you do this?’ And then they don’t renew my contract.”
To his credit, in August 2020, Mr. Kennedy filed a lawsuit against the Volusia County School Board citing claims of unlawful retaliation – which means you and I are now paying for a vigorous legal defense of the very elected and appointed stooges who refused to listen when a dedicated employee sounded the alarm. . .
To add insult, in November 2020, the School Board approved an “investigative report” cobbled together by GrayRobinson, the massive one-stop-shop for Florida bureaucracies in need of everything from lobbying services to legal defense and “government affairs services” – which just happens to be the same GrayRobinson that is representing the district against Kennedy’s lawsuit.
You read that right. . .
Of course, the “investigation” conducted by their own attorney exonerated the school board of “waste, fraud or financial mismanagement,” effectively casting shade on Mr. Kennedy’s very credible allegations – allowing our barefaced elected representatives to hold up their manure-smeared hands and shamelessly claim they are clean.
“Nothing to see here, folks – keep moving. . .”
For now, Mr. Kennedy’s lawsuit continues its circuitous path through the courts – an incredibly expensive process on top of what this debacle has already cost us – but one we all hope exposes the machinations of this grossly vindictive system that sends a clear message of the horrible fate that awaits any district employee who even considers reporting misconduct.
“My concern is my case gets dismissed or it doesn’t go further, and it continues to enable them to do this to other people,” Kennedy said. “That’s the big thing.”
An easy choice, indeed. . .
Quote of the Week
“After listening to Volusia Council Member Danny Robins’ four-or-five page, obviously pre-planned attack aimed at county Chair Jeff Brower and backed up by Council Member Ben Johnson, I have to say Robins’ assertion that Brower was pandering to his constituents was right — and if any of your constituents would like for Robins to have something brought to the whole council, I’m sure Brower would be more than glad to accommodate you.
Robins held up five or six folders of items for staff to deal with — well, that’s their job, and not all those items were from Brower. Robins wanting consensus from the whole council is wrong.
Having a 7-0 vote on all items is not how government should work, especially if the 7-0 vote only goes the way Robins wants it.
The items Robins was ranting about mostly centered around the beach and the loop. These issues have been around for a long time and finally we have a chairman not afraid to bring these items forward and deal with them.
I did not need to write this to defend Brower. He did very well on his own responding to Robins and Johnson.
If Robins wants the council to work together in the future, what he did was not helpful.”
–David LaMotte, Ormond Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “An unwarranted attack,” Monday, April 26, 2021
And Another Thing!
The best thing I can say about Tuesday’s State of the County Address is that Chairman Jeff Brower said all the right things.
Maybe that’s enough. For now, anyway. . .
As loyal readers of these screeds know, I am not a fan of these stilted, overproduced, and ostentatious displays of political exhibitionism – a “free lunch” for area politicians, their hangers-on, and a few concerned citizens who dutifully stand watch to assure things do not get too far afield – all paid for by government contractors, corporations, and individuals who make their living on the public dole.
But, true to form, I washed down a strong antiemetic with a shot of Seagram’s V.O. and watched the annual Bacchanalia of Bullshit from the comfort of Barker’s View HQ.
In a departure from years past, given that lunch was covered by the overflow of funds remaining from last year – Chairman Brower asked wealthy corporate donors to contribute to Second Harvest Food Bank – and the festivities began with the presentation of one of those jumbo prop checks for $27,000 to help needy families in Volusia County.
I felt good about that.
Of course, the production also included the obligatory feel good “messages” from each elected official who flogged Volusia’s dubious “accomplishments,” “initiatives,” and “priorities.”
Given the fact Volusia County has some of the most breathtaking natural vistas anywhere in the world, I found it strange that the council members were filmed emerging from the ethereal shadows of what appeared to be a haunted art gallery – a weird subliminal message to fool our subconscious into believing these dullards are capable of moving from the darkness of stagnation into the light of civic progress, ultimately filling the screen with a big head close-up of each politician – a visual effect I found, well, creepy. . .
There was a lot said about the County’s nothing-short-of-heroic (just ask them) COVID-19 response – something about a three-legged dog – and a few senior staff members working hard to pat themselves on the back for one thing or another.
Typical self-congratulatory bureaucratic fare.
In all honesty, in a fit of narcoleptic boredom, I may have lost consciousness somewhere between Deputy County Manager Suzanne Konchan’s debatable description of the county’s reopening as “…thoughtful, measured, and strategic” and Community Service Director Dona Butler’s melodramatic monologue, “Resilience is no longer just a vague term or abstract concept. It represents hope and strength. It’s a way of life and our roadmap to continued recovery.”
Yaaawwwn, sorry! Where was I, dammit?
Trust me. Like everyone else in County government – Ms. Butler knows that the “road to recovery” is paved with our greenbacks flowing freely from Washington in this damn-the-consequences tsunami of cash being lavished on local governments – “essentials” who didn’t miss a paycheck or see a day of financial hardship during the “shutdown.”
“Hope and strength,” my ass. . .
In my view, this piss-poor federal policy that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will still be paying for is dangerous – and any empty talk of “resilience” is cold comfort to the small business owners who gave up the ghost at the tyrannical hands of their own local governments.
When Chairman Brower finally had a moment to connect with his audience, he set an incredibly positive tone, and reminded his detractors, “Each (county chair) had their own style and approach to the job and so too will I. Yeah, it might be different from what we’ve had in the past, but I believe that’s why voters elected me.”
Damn right it is.
“Can we set the rancor aside? Can we not look in each other’s eyes on a local level and say, ‘We have many things we all agree on’? Let’s work on those things. Let’s truly make Volusia County the best place in Florida to live, to work, to play, and to do business.”
To his great credit, Chairman Brower spoke passionately of the importance of accountability – and reaffirmed his commitment to a government of the people where citizen input is both encouraged and respected – and he bravely set a vision for transformative growth, planned in a responsible and controlled manner, that protects our sensitive environment and preserves our dwindling greenspace.
In my view, Mr. Brower went out of his way to be inclusive – playing all the right political notes by inviting the remainder of the Volusia County Council onto the stage (twice) for recognition – and I felt his remarks were both conciliatory and unifying.
Time will tell if his message of “setting the rancor aside” was received by those not-so-mysterious forces who seem intent on winding up their marionettes on the dais of power with orders to attack Chairman Brower in a desperate attempt to maintain control (read: access to the public teat).
In my view, Mr. Brower spoke from a position of true power – an iron fist (represented by the tens-of-thousands of voters who elevated him on a promise of effective change) in a silk glove of compromise and conciliation – and everyone in the room knew it.
How was Chairman Brower’s message received by those stalwarts of the status quo he shares the dais with?
Or those saboteurs of the Old Guard who still pompously promenade through the gilded Halls of Power in the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building?
Again, time will tell.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!