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 Museum of Arts and Sciences at 50
In a 1966 opinion, Chief Justice Michael Musmanno of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania wrote:
“As man cannot live by bread alone, a city cannot endure on cement, asphalt and sewer pipes alone. A city must have a municipal spirit beyond its physical properties, it must be alive with an esprit de corps, its personality must be such that visitors—both business and tourist—are attracted to the city, pleased by it, and wish to return to it.”
For a half-century, the Museum of Arts and Sciences – along with the beautiful Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, the Lowell and Nancy Lohman Planetarium, The Root Family Museum, and the Charles and Linda Williams Children’s Museum – have helped shape the best of the Halifax area’s unique personality.
As one of the few vestiges of arts and culture available to Halifax area residents, the museum has become the destination for school field trips, a memorable afternoon for visitors wishing to explore the rich history of our area, and a welcome respite for anyone with an appreciation for fine art.
In an area best known for wild nightlife and no-holds-barred events – the MOAS provides a much-needed oasis for locals and tourists alike – a special place that preserves our local culture and showcases the important influences that have shaped our history.
I attended St. James School in Ormond Beach with several of Chapman and Susie Root’s children – a family of caring philanthropists with a generational commitment to improving our collective quality of life.
As a child, we had the opportunity to travel together by rail on a class trip to Washington D.C., departing from the DeLand train station on the old Seaboard Coast Line.
During our journey, Mr. Root had his personal observation car – the “Silver Holly” – a former passenger car converted into an elegant private coach, attached to the train and invited us kids to explore the beautiful liner with its kitchen, salon, and bedrooms, giving us the opportunity to watch the scenery go by from the car’s glass enclosed dome.
I never forgot Mr. & Mrs. Root’s kindness and hospitality in extending that enriching and memorable experience.
Today, the Silver Holly is on display at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in the Root Train Station – which also includes the beautiful Dell Rapids Milwaukee Hiawatha sky-top lounge car – one of the last remaining liners built for the Milwaukee Railroad.
The extraordinary Brown Museum of Art contains the largest selection of Florida art in the world – and the 94 seat Lohman Planetarium is a must-do, with fascinating science and astronomy programs, full-dome films, and laser concerts offering an unforgettable experience for all ages.
Thanks to the continuing generosity of its many sponsors and local benefactors, the Museum of Arts and Sciences continues to be a world-class place of discovery, exploration, and preservation, “To inspire, cultivate curiosity, and promote lifelong learning in art, science, and history.”
Congratulations to the Museum of Arts and Sciences on 50 wonderful years!
Asshole Volusia County School Board
“The superintendent recommends approval of the purchase and sale agreement for the acquisition of 1.3 acre parcel adjacent to DAC for purposes of administrative office expansion.”
The above sentence represents the full notice and explanation to wary taxpayers of how, and why, Volusia County District Schools want to spend $995,000 for the purchase of the former Trinity Methodist Church in DeLand.
The Superintendent’s recommendation was accompanied by a boilerplate real estate contract.
No cost/benefit analysis.
In the days leading up to Tuesday evening’s School Board meeting, I began receiving inquiries from interested residents asking if I – or anyone outside the gilded Ivory Tower of Power on North Clara Avenue – knew why the board was being asked to approve nearly $1 million for the purchase of property adjacent to the DeLand Administrative Complex.
I hadn’t a clue.
I’ll bet you didn’t either.
It was a typical wild goose chase for information that district staff, students, and parents have come to expect, another conundrum wrapped in an enigma, a weird jigsaw puzzle – where the gatekeepers make sport of shrouding substantive information in absolute darkness – withholding press releases past media deadlines, putting out dribs-and-drabs of pseudo-data on social media (sometimes on nights and weekends), actively stymying any reasonable attempt by the working press to report on the latest debacle in DeLand.
For instance, on Tuesday morning (the day of the meeting), we were treated to a less-than-informative article by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s education reporter, Cassidy Alexander, which announced the pending purchase – without comment or explanation from anyone at Volusia County Schools – an article fluffed for publication with factoids about the historic Trinity Methodist Church and its pending move to a “smaller footprint” on Plymouth Avenue.
The only soupçon of substance?
“The Volusia County School Board is in the process of reviewing its budget for the next fiscal year. The $995,000 for the purchase of the church property comes from capital funds, which are separate from the general fund from which it pays salaries, bills and instructional costs.”
Look, it is not Ms. Alexander’s fault – she can only work with the information provided by school officials – or the tidbits she can ferret out from sources on the inside.
In my view, Ms. Alexander has proven to be a tenacious journalist who has expertly covered the district’s on-going financial meltdown – most recently reporting that Volusia County Schools plan on using one-time federal coronavirus relief funds to cover a projected $46 million budget shortfall.
At the time, the News-Journal quoted Superintendent Scott Fritz’ take on the district’s grim financial outlook, “I hate to say a sinking ship, but that’s what you’re doing: you’re plugging those holes.”
Damn. “A sinking ship”?
So, what better time to purchase and renovate a $1 million property for “administrative office expansion,” eh?
Adding insult, last month, the “communications team” at Volusia County Schools was honored with three “Publications and Digital Media Excellence Awards” from something called the National School Public Relations Association.
With an apparent straight-face, Dr. Fritz wrote:
“These awards represent the innovation and dedication of our Community Information team to overcome hurdles in a very challenging year,” said VCS Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz. “At VCS we understand strong communication is critical to accelerating student achievement and our communications team works extremely hard year-round to keep our school families, staff and community informed in a constantly evolving environment. To be recognized for our district’s efforts is a testament to the outstanding work performed by our communication professionals.”
No offense to the “team” – but that self-congratulatory horseshit does not hold water in an environment where the Number One complaint regarding Volusia County Schools is the continuing lack of effective communication from senior administrators – leaving teachers, staff, board members, and baffled families to eke out information from a privately operated Facebook page or a handful of Twitter accounts.
On Wednesday, following the contentious meeting the evening before, when the School Board approved a tentative budget exceeding $1 Billion (you read that right), I searched far and wide for any shred of information regarding the relatively paltry $1 million purchase of the church property – hoping against hope that our award-winning “communications professionals” would have burned the midnight oil to update the website, issue a press release, spread the news on social media, etc., etc.
Nothing. Zero, zip, zilch.
Finally, I took to social media and privately asked the question of someone “in the know.”
I then went to YouTube and found a video of the School Board meeting. . .
Apparently, “preliminary negotiations” have been ongoing since “April or May” when church officials approached district honchos– but after several unanswered questions regarding appraisals, financial impacts, and the potential cost of renovating the church facilities – it became apparent most of the sitting members were as out-of-the-loop as I was.
The one citizen who spoke on the issue – Kim Short, the moderator of the Volusia County School Forum on Facebook – described the proposed purchase of the property as a “terrible idea.”
Thankfully, the expenditure was postponed until August 10 when, perhaps, more answers are available.
So much for that “strong communication” we keep hearing so much about. . .
I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .
Angel Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post
Any member of the Van Winkle clan needing additional evidence of the abject dysfunction that grips what passes for governance in Volusia County should look no further than Tuesday’s workshop.
The purpose of this stilted confab was to determine how to spend some $107 million in federal coronavirus relief funds under the American Rescue Plan Act.
During the meeting, our elected officials essentially rubberstamped the laundry list of “recommendations” presented by County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald – but when talk turned to building three “respite stations” intended to give paramedics and EMS personnel a much needed private space to rest and decontaminate after calls – the astute District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post pointed out that while the facilities are ultimately necessary – at this point, the proposal is merely masking the symptoms of a much more acute problem that exists within the horribly understaffed medical transport system itself.
When Ms. Post advised she had spoken with the City of Daytona Beach regarding housing EMS personnel at city fire stations between calls – allowing these one-time federal dollars to be spent on fundamentally improving the way Volusia County deploys ambulances and provides essential critical care services – she was curtly blasted by a visibly angry Councilman Ben Johnson for “overstepping her boundaries.”
To her credit, Ms. Post would not be silenced.
“I can see in five years building additional buildings, but how about we fix the actual system first so that we actually have the people to respond to these calls?” Post said. “I hate to see us be getting a lot of money from the federal government and us not using it to address that operational side.”
Following a testy exchange with our wholly ineffectual Director of Public Protection, Joe “Blue Falcon” Pozzo, wherein Ms. Post presented the obvious while Pozzo tap-danced around the issue – the lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler attempted to kick the can down the road and end the clearly uncomfortable conversation – explaining that she had a “previous commitment across town” (which was apparently more important than fulfilling her elective role in debating the expenditure of over $100 million in federal funds) resulting in an exasperated Ms. Post asking for a metaphorical two-minutes to finish her point.
In a typical display of petty theatrics, the council’s self-anointed eminence grise, the uber-weird Right Reverend Fred Lowry, took out a timer and tut-tutted, “I’m gonna time it. Two more minutes.”
As a resident of District 4 – my gut reaction was, “Who in the hell is this pompous ass to shut down substantive discussion by my elected representative on a matter of serious concern to all citizens of Volusia County?”
In a refreshing display of bold independence, Ms. Post held her ground, and made the most apt and cogent point of the meeting when she said, “So not only are we keeping the public from speaking today, but also one of our councilmembers. . .”
Bravo, Ms. Post. Bravo.
Of course, Ms. Wheeler responded in her own hyper-dramatic style – brusquely leaving her seat before sweeping off the stage like some self-absorbed Bette Davis character – rather than remain at her duty station and participate in an important discussion of how to improve emergency medical services in Volusia County.
Once again, Volusia County’s Old Guard – those stalwarts of the status quo – did everything in their considerable power to marginalize Councilwoman Post and punish her for deviating from the choreographed storyline.
As Ms. Post undoubtedly learned during her first term, “mavericks” – freethinkers who dare consider solutions outside the aging box of conventionality – are not welcome in the inner sanctum at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Complex.
That is the domain of those who understand the benefit of getting along and going along – a cloistered place where toeing-the-line buys politicians admittance to a very exclusive club – and shuns anyone who dares to think for themselves or question the why of things.
Quote of the Week
“The fate of the Ormond Beach Union Church (est. 1883) has been sealed. No matter how hard “we the people” tried to save it, the bulldozers are at the ready and soon will train their weaponry on this historic building, thus reducing it to rubble. Oh, why not! After all, the restaurants on Granada Boulevard are desperately in need of another 24 or so parking spaces for their customers! How can we possibly refuse their plaintive cries?
Perhaps the three commissioners who sounded the death knell for the Union Church would be interested in looking at others to condemn. Why stop with just one church, especially one with historical value? How about sending a couple of “experts” to other cherished places and have them dig up some convincing-sounding excuses for demolition? Besides, history no longer matters in Ormond Beach. It’s irrelevant. It’s not important anymore. Just ask City Hall — but don’t expect an answer. Common sense, innovation and creative thinking is a thing of the past.”
–Ormond Beach resident Cathy Wharton, as excerpted from her Letter to the Editor in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Ormond Beach Union Church: What’s next?” Monday, July 26, 2021
And Another Thing!
“Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage.”
–Dwight D. Eisenhower
I have a great deal of respect for our neighbors who stand for elective office – those with the fire in the belly to enter the arena, work hard in the public interest, giving their all in a service that is far from a part-time profession, all while subjecting themselves to the often-caustic criticism that naturally comes with setting public policy and allocating scarce resources.
When done right, those with the courage to stand for high office – who practice the art and science of local politics wanting only that which is best for their community and constituents, who dedicate themselves to a pursuit greater than their own self-interests or those of their political benefactors – can have an incredibly positive and lasting influence on the future.
In my view, two-term Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado was a member of that increasingly rare breed who enter public life with a clear mind and open heart – free of the divisive personal agendas and lockstep allegiances that always hamper substantive progress – committed to making his community a better place to live, work, learn, and play.
As a close observer, I found that Commissioner Delgado brought a calm, contemplative presence to the dais, with the innate ability to sense all sides of an issue then strategically consider the pros and cons of available solutions.
Like all good attorneys, he has the dexterity to play both offense and defense – yet remained sensitive to the unique needs of residents and stakeholders.
I did not always agree with Commissioner Delgado – but I never doubted his heart was in the right place.
When he wanted the unvarnished truth on the issues of the day – he reached out to his harshest critics – rather than listening to the glad-handers and lickspittles who loiter around the political watercooler and maintain relevance by telling elected officials what they want to hear.
In my view, that willingness to put ego aside and hear a street-level appraisal of matters which affect the lives and livelihoods of Daytona Beach residents represents a level of political maturity, intellectual honesty, and quiet self-assurance that is solely lacking on many area councils, commissions, and advisory committees.
In a heartfelt letter to his constituents this week, Commissioner Delgado announced he would be stepping down now that his family is moving to their “dream home” in Ormond Beach – a personal decision no-doubt made in the best interests of his young wife and children.
While he continues to have real estate interests in Zone 2, rather than quibble the residency issue – Commissioner Delgado acted in the spirit of transparency, and the best interests of the City of Daytona Beach, in protecting the integrity of the office and resigned – rightfully paving the way for a special election to allow the citizens to select a new representative.
I know that Commissioner Delgado is a fighter – quite literally a talented mixed martial artist and a fierce advocate for his clients in the courtroom – and I have no doubt it was difficult for him to walk away from the challenges and opportunities ahead.
But it was the right thing to do.
I admire that.
My hope is that Mr. Delgado will continue to be a persuasive and influential voice in Volusia County politics and consider future opportunities for elective service in Ormond Beach and beyond.
Thanks for the good effort, Commissioner Delgado.
Those of us who care about the future prosperity of the Halifax area are glad you passed our way.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!