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 County Council
The Nobel prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein, widely considered the most influential mind of the 20th century, is credited with discovering the laws of thermodynamics – a series of complex equations which explain why energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only changed from one form to another.
Clearly, I’m no genius, but I beg to differ with Mr. Einstein’s theory. . .
You see, Old Al never had the opportunity to sit through one of those interminable bimonthly hootenannies that pass for a Volusia County Council meeting – a soul crushing political black hole so dense that logic, purpose, and reason cannot escape – an exercise in utter ineptitude with the supernatural ability to convert useful energy into wasted time.
The only byproduct of this strange conversion of light into effective darkness being the lingering carnival-like odor of fresh horseshit and spent peanut shells on the floor of a big top.
On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council trudged through its longest meeting of the year – a painful exercise that stretched from 9:30am to its merciful adjournment around 7:15pm – an excruciating session, long on hot air and frustratingly short on substance.
I know. I listened to every insufferable minute of it here at Barker’s View HQ. . .
Things got off to an odd start (weirder than usual, anyway) when Chairman Jeff Brower attempted to gavel the festivities to order, only to find the council did not have a quorum present, which sent him wandering across the dais, awkwardly attempting to roundup enough of our elected decision-makers to warrant a meeting.
While Councilwoman Heather Post finally joined the fun – Councilman Ben Johnson and The Right Reverend Fred Lowry never made an appearance. . .
For the most part, the marathon meeting was rather benign. Then that omnipresent undercurrent of political intrigue slithered its way through the murk, setting off the passive-aggressive shitshow we have come to expect.
That long denied and unseen demon that sows discontent in the chamber was working hard by the time Chairman Brower’s goofy “Bill of Rights” resolution was called – which, for reasons known only to Mr. Brower – sought to remind his “colleagues” of their oath of office, and assuage the fears of a few jittery constituents, by pointing out Volusia County’s fundamental duty to have unconstitutional actions of the executive and legislative branches of government reviewed by the judiciary.
We needed a resolution to remind us of that?
I’m asking. Because the whole thing had a weird vibe to it.
Unfortunately, Chairman Brower played right into his detractor’s hands – and The Daytona Beach News-Journal took another opportunity to publicly spank him, labeling Mr. Brower an “oddball,” and wrongly blaming him for the divisiveness on the dais – all for the amusement of Volusia’s stodgy Old Guard – insiders who are desperate to rid themselves of Brower’s populism and return to the bad old days of good old boy cronyism.
Look, our inalienable rights and responsibilities ensured by the United States Constitution do not need a nonsensical resolution by some stunted backwater like Volusia County, Florida to survive.
They need to be exercised by We, The People. Otherwise, our sacred protections will atrophy.
Unfortunately, substantive participation in our government is not easy when politicians at all levels seem more interested in furthering their own self-interests, and those of their wealthy benefactors, than serving the needs of their long-suffering constituents.
I think Mr. Brower’s heart was in the right place when he sought to reassure those who fear our liberties are being eroded – because in some cases they are – and I do not believe his symbolic gesture was meant to be contentious.
However, like the majority of Brower’s “colleagues,” I could not for the life of me understand the purpose (or intent) of the resolution?
That said, I found it laughable that lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler had the cheek to use Brower’s proposed resolution as cheap camouflage for her on-going role in the shit-slinging and marginalization that she and her “colleagues” who comprise the Praetorian Guard of Volusia County’s stagnant status quo – zealously protecting the interests of the emperors – while working overtime to freeze out Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post for having the temerity to think for themselves.
“I really pray that we stop this divisiveness,” Wheeler feebly puled. “I really don’t see the purpose in this.”
Anyone paying attention can see that Councilwoman Wheeler is a lockstep conformist with a mean streak a mile wide – a cunning political elitist who routinely joins with her confederates to put the proverbial knife in Chairman Brower’s back – just as she has done for Councilwoman Post for the past five-years – then mewls and coos like Aunt Martha Brewster when she gets called out.
Don’t take my word for it.
Take a strong antiemetic and watch any archived video of the tag team match that passes for “the people’s business” over the last eight-months and you will quickly get a feel for why votes on the issues that affect our lives and livelihood consistently fall 5-2.
Just prior to The Great Bill of Rights kerfuffle came an issue I waited patiently for – not some boring budget discussion (trust me, your taxes are going up. By how much? TBD), or some monotone snooze-fest explaining the outcome of an internal audit – but the mysterious mechanics of “expanding” the rules of decorum for public meetings.
At the last meeting in July, the item was abruptly postponed without explanation (I assumed the gabfest had gone well-past Rev. Lowry’s naptime?), a formally noticed item to begin preliminary discussion and staff direction on an amended ordinance which directly affects the who, what, when, where, why, and how you and I can publicly address our elected officials.
That’s important to me.
Unfortunately, our ability to be heard – to personally appear, hat in hand – and reverently genuflect before the anointed ones to petition our government for the redress of grievances in a suitably docile and subservient manner, consistent with the sensitive decorum of their gilded chamber – is not all that important to those sitting in the catbird seats on the other side of the divide.
It went much like I expected. Limiting public input while telling us they weren’t limiting public input. . .
According to the excellent live play-by-play offered by News-Journal reporter Mary Helen Moore – on the question, “Does the council wish to set aside a specific time for public comment on non-agenda matters?”
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“Wheeler said she’d like to go back to limiting public comment at the beginning of the meeting to 30 minutes or an hour max. Girtman said she agreed. Post does not. She said she wants as much public comment at the beginning of the meeting as possible, and they can accommodate those with time constraints on an as-needed basis. Robins said they have a ton of ways to communicate with constituents. “This is not telling people we don’t want to hear them,” Wheeler said. Brower said he won’t vote for that. “I can’t support that. I think one of the most important things we do is listen to the public,” Brower said. Wheeler motioned for a one-hour time limit at the beginning of the meeting. Vote passes 3-2, with Brower and Post voting no.”
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(Instructions: Cut this out. Paste it on your refrigerator. Remember it at the ballot box next year.)
Things went downhill from there. . .
I will not attempt to summarize the budget discussion, but the part where Councilman Robins (who knew exactly which buttons to push) “suggested” that if the council demands a 5% across the board budget reduction – then the elected officials should be required to take a commensurate pay cut and curtail spending for business-related travel – is Comedy Gold.
If it weren’t so tragic. . .
In my view, the near apoplectic response from Councilwoman Post – who has proven herself a full-time public servant, one who has sacrificed her professional pursuits (Read: personal income) in service to her constituents – exemplified how two elected officials can come at the same job with completely different priorities.
This isn’t the first time the issue of council member’s pay has been raised – but it was the only time in modern history that I have heard a sitting elected official recommend a reduction to show solidarity with a grossly bloated bureaucracy that Brower and Post have asked to tighten its belt a notch. . .
In January 2020, (before Mr. Robins was elected) during a workshop to discuss proposed charter amendments, former Council Chair Ed Kelley grumbled:
“I’m trying to whittle away at some things that make no sense. And I’ll get crucified for saying this, but I’m going to say it. We’re paid 50 percent of what is recommended that everybody else is paid, and that we’re not remunerated for anything else.”
Old Ed’s mournful rendition of the Poormouth Blues was immediately supported by Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, who, in a pique of jealousy, moaned (as quoted in a subsequent News-Journal article):
“We don’t get reimbursed for any of our expenses,” said Wheeler, going on to describe the travel across the county and state to attend meetings they say they are expected to attend. Wheeler said when she goes to out-of-town meetings, the other elected officials share their salaries.
“They’re sitting there with their car allowance as well as their assistant with them, when we don’t have any of that,” said Wheeler. “I just think, all we can do is throw it out there.”
Hell, it was like listening to Ma and Pa Joad describe the depravities of poverty in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. . .
Interestingly, on Tuesday, only Councilwoman Barb Girtman came to Ms. Post’s aid:
“Don’t think someone’s taking advantage because they’re traveling or going to a (Florida Association of Counties) conference and spending their time getting educated about how to bring back more,” Girtman suggested. “It’s ridiculous for the amount of time, opportunity and resources that we have to pour into this position to do the job right.”
If anyone doubted that Councilman Robins’ virtue-cloaked “suggestion” wasn’t laser targeted at Ms. Post – that confusion evaporated when he posted an itemized accounting of all travel-related expenses for individual council members on social media – raw figures without context which show Post has far surpassed her colleagues in travel over the past four-years.
So, is Ms. Post a spendthrift who wastes tax dollars on out-of-county junkets?
Or are the others comfortable living in the “Volusia vacuum,” too damn lazy to get off their sorry ass and explore what is working elsewhere, attend training seminars, confer with other elected officials, or lobby for our collective interests in Washington and Tallahassee where the real decisions are made?
You be the judge.
Clearly, Mr. Robins is a bright boy who knows how to lob a loaded suggestion to provoke a desired effect in exchange for an affectionate pat on the head from those powerful external forces (many from their own political party) who are also working hard to see Brower and Post fail.
I hope Councilman Robins understands that his constituents who pay attention (and vote) are savvy enough to tell when a politician is sincere – and when he is actively campaigning against a fellow elected official from that lofty perch on the dais of power.
In my view, Mr. Robins misplaced guile exposes the depths to which he – and the other lockstep marionettes he aligns with – will go to gaslight Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post, marginalize their effectiveness, and torpedo their political future.
By any metric, this chickenshit manipulation and petty finger-pointing is counterproductive – especially in an environment where long-suffering taxpayers are patiently waiting for a way out of this social, civic, and economic quagmire – demanding something in return for suffering under a growing weight of a tax burden that places Volusia County in the top 5% of counties nationwide and 6th on a list of the highest taxed counties in the state.
At the end of the day, in the maelstrom of the worst public health crisis since the pandemic began, did our exalted elected officials demonstrate unity, concern, and collegiality?
With discussions of a proposed $1.1 billion budget underway, did our representatives provide reassurance to weary taxpayers – or work cooperatively to find legitimate ways to conserve resources or make this massive bureaucratic behemoth slightly more efficient and effective?
Instead, they pissed in each other’s Wheaties – embarrassing themselves, and their constituents, with cheap parlor tricks and bickering – then tried to convince us it was something different.
With an election looming next year, our powers that be who smugly sit in the inner-circle should realize these contemptable tactics are a double-edged sword – politics as usual, played at close range – and times they are a-changin’.
Angel Volusia County Medical Professionals
We have a crisis at hand.
One that transcends the posturing of pandering politicians, fearmongering newspaper salesmen, and the cockamamie rumors of radical conspiracy theorists – a true emergency – and lives hang in the balance.
The sobering fact is that a variant of COVID-19 has made a resurgence nationwide – and Volusia County has seen a dramatic increase in the number of very sick people requiring hospitalization – a situation that is taxing limited critical care resources and pushing those incredibly dedicated professionals who stand on the front line in the fight for life to the absolute limits of physical and emotional endurance.
This week, reporter Nikki Ross, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s front-page piece, ‘My dream is a living hell,’ told the chilling story of 26-year-old Lauren Anderson, an emergency room nurse at Halifax Health Medical Center, who attempted to communicate with a gravely ill COVID-19 patient last week by writing notes, trying desperately to convince her breathless patient they needed to be put on a ventilator – or they would die.
Imagine the psychological toll that takes on a young caregiver?
Based upon the number of people I know personally who are currently hospitalized – and those I have become aware of through mutual friends and social media – I am quite certain Nurse Anderson’s story is not unique.
The recent surge has resulted in the tragic loss of so many wonderful souls in our community – including the recent death of Justin White, a loving husband, father of four, and 15-year veteran of the Port Orange Police Department – who left an indelible mark on the lives of others through his tireless volunteerism and service to the community.
(Please follow this link to help Officer White’s family: https://tinyurl.com/4x3frfvn )
Sadly, the losses continue to mount.
The written word cannot adequately describe my enduring admiration and respect for the compassionate nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, first responders, technicians, pharmacists, food service workers, janitorial personnel, administrators, and the dedicated support staff working around-the-clock at hospitals and nursing facilities, serving our community under difficult and dangerous circumstances to heal the sick and comfort the dying.
In my view, these are the true angels among us – talented men and women who strive mightily to preserve life while putting their own health and safety at risk.
Healthcare choices are an intensely personal matter.
For me, after much research, a consultation with my long-suffering physician, the intrepid Dr. Sandford Kinne, and careful contemplation, I received a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as it became available to my age group.
I continue to follow the commonsense recommendations of public health experts to protect myself and others – and I sincerely hope that you will do the same.
Getting the jab was the right decision for me – but I refuse to participate in the debasement and dehumanization of those who, for myriad reasons, determine the vaccine is not right for them.
But for those who are considering the vaccine – now is the time.
Regardless of your choice, please remain vigilant – take care of yourself and each other – and formulate a responsible plan for protecting your family until this scourge has been eliminated.
This one’s important.
Quote of the Week
“The Justice Department announced today a settlement agreement with Florida’s Volusia County School District (VCS) to address the district’s systemic and discriminatory practices that punish students with disabilities for their disability-related behavior and deny them equal access to VCS’s programs and services.
The department conducted an investigation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida received a complaint from a local legal aid organization on behalf of several students, many of whom have Autism Spectrum Disorder. The complaint alleged that VCS unnecessarily excluded students with disabilities from the school’s education programs and services by regularly: (1) requiring parents or guardians to pick up their children with disabilities from school or to keep them home; (2) disciplining students for behavior resulting from their disability; and (3) engaging with law enforcement to remove students with disabilities, one as young as kindergarten age, from school.
The department’s investigation substantiated the allegations in the complaint, confirming that VCS had excluded students with disabilities from its programs and services through unnecessary removals from the classroom. It also found that VCS staff often failed to implement necessary behavioral supports and lacked training on how to properly respond to students’ disability-related behavior. These issues led to the exclusion of students with disabilities from VCS’s programs and services and, at times, resulted in calls to law enforcement to remove students with disabilities from school, including through the misuse of Florida’s Baker Act procedures. . .“
–United States Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, as excerpted from an official media release, “Justice Department Settles with Florida’s Volusia County School District to Protect Students with Disabilities from Classroom Removals and Other Discrimination,” Tuesday, August 3, 2021
And Another Thing!
Thanks for being here. I appreciate it more than you know.
Sometimes I must sound like a broken record – pointing out where the ‘strongman stumbled, or the doer of deeds could have done them better,’ illustrating the absurdity of it all– but Volusia County is a target rich environment for a dilettante political editorialist, and I am humbled by the fact so many take the time to read these screeds and further a larger discussion of the issues.
This blogsite returned a much-needed purpose to my life in retirement – and whether we agree on the issues, or you abhor everything I represent – I thank you for indulging me.
Believe it or not, I seek out positives to comment on in this space week-to-week – some act of civic ingenuity that results in an efficiency for taxpayers – or a case where elected officials took the time to listen to their constituents and work cooperatively to right a wrong or improve our quality of life.
Trust me. I get a lot of “suggestions” on what I should write about.
Increasingly, I tend to sidestep requests from hyper-partisan political organizations and well-meaning citizens who ask that I take up the latest cause célèbre or stir the pot on some controversial bruhaha which always favors one of our horribly broken major political parties.
I want this site to remain one man’s goofy opinion on the news and newsmakers of the day – neither always right, nor always wrong – but always fiercely independent.
Despite the curmudgeonly asshole I play on this blogsite, those who know me well will tell you I am a closet optimist – a cheerleader for the underdog – someone who finds the good in most people and situations.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to mix it up, poke the bear, and argue politics – and I’ve made a hobby of questioning the ancestry of those craven few who receive public funds to serve in the public interest, then violate the trust of those they are sworn to serve.
I suppose my infatuation is based on a lifelong addiction to the drama of political theater – and based upon the incredible popularity of Barker’s View – I am not alone.
It is heartening that so many of you take time out of your day to join me in watching the sausage being made from here on the sidelines – hoping against hope our elected officials won’t revert to their base instincts – then reveling in that satisfying, yet disheartening, sense of “I told you so” when they inevitably do.
Funny when you think how gullible we remain, even after having been burnt by the hot stove time and again. . .
Tomorrow I will turn 61-years young.
Seriously, I use that tired cliché because I don’t feel old.
In many ways I am in the best shape of my life – working out at the gym, losing weight, getting stronger physically and mentally, recently curbing a near lifelong cigarette habit, and generally taking better care of myself.
At this stage of my life, I feel like Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, finding fun and merriment in any circumstance – a genetic trait that I inherited from my 86-year-old mom – who is the youngest (and funniest) octogenarian I know.
Growing up, my parents instilled a sense of possibility in me – a blessing and a curse – the ability to put the fear of the unknown aside, put it all on the line, trust my best instincts, and damn the consequences.
With birthdays being a time for retrospection, I find that fascination with ‘what could be’ has been a guiding factor in my life – for good or for ill – everything-or-nothing, put it all on black and spin the wheel, laying it on the line for the thrill of high achievement or the agonizing disappointment of abject failure – nothing in between – a feeling that anything worth doing comes with a high degree of risk, or it is not worth doing at all.
So, what have I learned in sixty-one years of circling the sun?
Whether you are six or sixty – Dream big. Take chances. Set goals. Seek great adventures.
I’ve tried to live my life by that simple advise – and God smiled on me.
I rolled the dice, and all my dreams came true.
A beautiful family and a small circle of faithful friends who bring such happiness and meaning to my life with their incredible love, understanding, and encouragement.
Who could want for more?
On my birthday – and everyday – I wish the same for each of you.
Thanks for reading Barker’s View.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend!