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 School Board
“Masks are in, masks are out, run in circles, scream and shout!”
Before you get your knickers in a twist, please know I don’t give a tinker’s damn which side of the raging ‘mask mandate’ mêlée you come down on – but I think we can all agree the clumsiness and abject ineptitude with which the Volusia County School Board has approached this controversial topic is unconscionable.
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ current executive order, any masking policies in public schools must contain an opt-out provision, ostensibly to protect a parent’s right to choose what’s best for their child – and it was understood from the outset there could be serious financial consequences for the district if elected officials ignored the Guv’s decree.
At present, ‘them’s the rules.’ Like it or not.
So, just weeks ago, the School Board made the decision to ignore Gov. DeSantis’ order and require face coverings for all students and staff while indoors – with a confusing weeklong “grace period” to allow for medical exemptions – while a host of other real-life scenarios seemed open for interpretation.
Then, inexplicably, the board reversed itself – with Chair Linda Cuthbert changing her vote to give parents the option.
According to an excellent article by education reporter Cassidy Alexander writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Cuthbert said:
“It was a very difficult decision I had to make tonight. It was one I did not want to make. But I had to do it for our administrators who are dealing with a lot of opposition,” she (Cuthbert) said. “Our classrooms, our campuses are not to be used as places of contention.”
According to Cuthbert, she saw “vitriol” and “aggression” on display at area schools, which resulted in acts of bullying and student protest.
“Bullying is very much on display,” she said. “What has happened to our kindness? To our understanding of the plight of others?”
Clearly, Ms. Cuthbert presents some important questions.
I would also ask: What happened to the concept of organizational stability, making tough decisions based upon the best facts available and sticking to them, the idea of consistency in policymaking, following the rule of law, setting an example of unity, clarity, and understanding, the act of listening to constituents, and working cooperatively to take the ugliness of politics out of a public health mitigation strategy?
In my view, this mishmash of conflicting messages has – once and for all – irreparably damaged the public trust and left parents, students, teachers, and staff horribly confused.
At the end of the day, the Volusia County School Board stirred the hornet’s nest for no reason (or the best of reasons, depending on your view) invariably returning to the very place they started, having accomplished nothing but stoking an angry, venomous, and divisive argument on both sides of this controversial topic.
That’s not governance – that’s chaos.
Perhaps there was a strategic method to the school board’s madness?
On Tuesday, the board voted – unanimously – to accept a budget worth an astronomical $1.2 Billion, which included the obligatory tax increase needed to feed the insatiable beast, while allowing administrators to again break the piggybank and remove $41 million in savings to make ends meet.
I guess raising our taxes was the one thing they could all agree on, eh?
Look, I don’t want to call it a classic red herring, but with parents in a boil over the convoluted on-again/off-again mask mandate – distracted by yet another expertly choreographed tempest in a teapot – absolutely no one spoke on the continuing fiscal irresponsibility that, for over a decade, has been leading the district toward financial disaster.
According to the News-Journal report:
“It’s the biggest public budget in Volusia County, topping even the tentative county budget of $1.1 billion. But when it came time for a public hearing on the issue, no one had signed up to speak. At one of the most-attended board meetings in years, people lined up into the parking lot to talk only about whether or not to require masks in schools.”
So, what excuse did our elected officials provide for this latest massive dive into reserves?
COVID. Of course.
Then, last Sunday, we learned that Volusia County schools have plummeted to a collective “C” rating – down from a “B” grade in 2019 – with the State of Florida accurately assigning a letter grade to the abject mediocrity the district has become known for.
You guessed it – COVID.
What I found most preposterous was a goofy suggestion by Christopher Cowell, the “head of education” at Stetson University, and former deputy superintendent of academic programs for Volusia County Schools, who opined in the News-Journal, “…educators should take this opportunity to refocus on social and emotional learning for students that are being taxed, which can help prepare those children for academic learning, and look for opportunities for enrichment rather than remediation.”
Social and emotional learning?
Enrichment rather than remediation?
I guess it will be left to area employers – who will ultimately offer these “socially and emotionally” indoctrinated young victims scutwork in the service industries – to teach them the rudiments of reading, writing, and the basic ‘rithmetic necessary to move boxes from A to B in a deafening warehouse or change linen and scrub toilets in some beachside fleabag?
Perhaps most disturbing, in keeping with the district’s ‘duck and cover’ response to any crisis, when Ms. Alexander attempted to get hard answers as to why Volusia County schools are circling the toilet in key metrics – and what they plan to do about it – she was met with the stonewall treatment by those senior administrators ensconced in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand:
“The News-Journal requested to interview (Superintendent Scott) Fritz, but (District Mouthpiece Kelly) Schulz said he was not available over three days last week. Deputy Superintendent Carmen Balgobin and the three assistant superintendents over each level of schooling were also not available for an interview, according to Schulz. Additionally, The News-Journal requested to interview two principals, and did not receive a response. The News-Journal was only able to send questions to Schulz via email.”
It is said, “We get the government we deserve.”
In this case, I’m not sure anyone – especially impressionable young children who are dependent upon this chaotic and dysfunctional shit-show for their primary education – deserve this treatment at the hands of six-figure administrators, clear and the continuing failures of management and leadership which will put our children at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives while perpetuating the dreadful Volusia County cycle of dead-end service jobs paying pauper wages.
In my view, this institutional confusion is unfair, unjust, and unconscionable – yet most seem content to allow these dullards to tax our eyeballs out – while We, The Little People remain exclusively focused on fighting the intractable culture wars.
Perhaps we get what we deserve after all?
Last week, Halifax area residents and legions of long-time race fans were blindsided by the news that NASCAR is moving the time-honored start to Daytona Speed Weeks – the Busch Clash – to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2022.
You read that right.
According to reports, the iconic race will be removed from the local lineup and run on a slapdash quarter-mile asphalt short track that will be constructed inside the Coliseum two-weeks before the Daytona 500.
Like I said, WTF?
In my view, this ham-handed move represents a cheap sideshow – clearly orchestrated to grab lucrative television dollars – and a bold slap-in-the-face to hardcore fans who have kept the flagging sport afloat in good times and bad.
The news was rightfully met with astonished indignation by area residents who have supported Daytona International Speedway and NASCAR for decades, most recently with a multi-million-dollar investment of public funds couched as “tax incentives” for the construction of One Daytona, including extensive renovations to DIS, a project collectively known as Daytona Rising.
Is this the way NASCAR repays our generosity?
Apparently, this bungle is the brainchild of France Family legacy and wunderkind Ben Kennedy, who has become the unfortunate face of NASCAR’s “new generation” of leadership.
In my view, like most family-owned businesses, professional stockcar racing hasn’t been the same since Big Bill and Bill Jr. passed on to glory and the awkward son, Brian France, clumsily took the reins in 2003 before taking an “indefinite leave of absence” in 2018.
Anyone remember him?
Me neither. . .
According to an excellent article by the News-Journal’s Ken Willis, “The news also hit hard for those in the area’s hotel and hospitality industry, said Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County.”
“I can’t tell NASCAR and the Speedway how to run their business,” Davis said. “They have every right in the world to do business as they see fit, but I wish they had given us more time than only four or five months (notice). As hoteliers, restaurants, amusements, and gift shops, we will suffer greatly.”
In addition, Uncle Bob accurately surmised the move will cost our area “hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars” in sales and tourist development taxes, while hamstringing Daytona’s unfortunate “Wide. Open. Fun.” marketing campaign, which intricately links the areas historical connection to racing with our traditional beach town tourism product.
“What do we have left in racing?” Davis said. “Start your engines for what? We’re decreasing.”
So, where does that leave Daytona Speedweeks 2022?
In perhaps the worst example of ‘corporatese’ – that weird dialect that uses a jumble of words to convey the least amount of information possible – this week Daytona International Speedway President Frank Kelleher was quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“I can’t get into specifics, just know that there is a very large group of crossfunctional people that are looking at every day of the week,” he said. “We’re just looking at things that we can program in, from the One Daytona side of the street to the Speedway side.”
Look, I know nothing about running a billion-dollar motorsports entertainment company – but I am familiar with the fading concepts of loyalty, continuity, and tradition – and the importance of supporting those who brought you to the dance – and have given so much to ensure the success of an enterprise that has become such an integral part of this community.
This one stings.
Angel Westplan Investors
Stay low and keep your fingers crossed, kids. We might have a live one on the line. . .
After Tampa developer The Framework Group left us high-and-dry, deciding they couldn’t turn a suitable profit even with a proposed $10.2 million property tax break, it appears downtrodden Downtown Daytona may get a multiuse apartment complex after all!
Last week, Sir John Albright explained in the News-Journal that Westplan Investors – an Atlanta-based international private real estate investment and development firm – have signed a contract with his CTO Realty Growth (formerly known as the ‘good ol’ boys investment club’ at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company) to purchase the long-vacant six-acre site along Ridgewood Avenue which formerly housed the First Baptist Church.
If all goes well, Westplan Investors may undertake a slightly smaller, 250 unit “multi-family housing” (read: apartment complex) development with surface parking instead of the weird semi-public elevated garage once proposed by The Framework Group – with space to spare for potential retail development.
I subscribe to the theory that past performance is a good indicator of future success (or failure), so I took a cursory look at Westplan Investors and their previous projects in “economically strong and fast-growing cities” like Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston, and Charlotte.
What I found was impressive.
Unlike many of the here today/gone tomorrow fast-buck artists who have set upon the Halifax area in years past, Westplan Investors lives by a corporate code of ethics, which, among other precepts, requires their associates be present, personable, consistent, and reliable in every effort, committed to the proposition, “We do what we say, and we say what we do. Delivering with unwavering conviction. Procrastination is not a virtue.”
Given the snail’s pace and complete lack of public communication inherent to most area projects, I found Westplan’s commitment to transparency refreshing.
Perhaps most exciting, according to a recent report by the News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean:
“The current plan is also being worked out privately and won’t seek taxpayer money or approvals beyond the routine city OKs for the site plan and building permits. That’s in contrast to the public partnership sought last year for the previous developer, the Framework Group.”
Wait just a doggone minute. Say WHAT?!
You’re telling me a reputable, conscientious, and experienced real estate developer wants to build something in Daytona Beach without sticking their hand out for an “incentive” or two?
Now, if Mayor Derrick Henry and the Daytona Beach City Commission can keep their thumbs out of the pie – stop with the cockamamie “public/private” giveaways and “affordable housing” skims – we may finally have something beyond idle talk happening downtown.
Look, time will tell – and I’ve always been a stooge for Sir John’s unbridled enthusiasm for the next big ‘gamechanger’ – but you’ve got to admit, this looks promising.
Let me be among the first to welcome Westplan Investors to “The Fun Coast” – I like your style!
Quote of the Week
“Thanks to my wife Debbie and all who helped to get us to the primary victory today. It will take even more work over the next five weeks as well as more campaign contributions to win this. I am aware we will never raise the kind of money our opponent will have. Remember we defeated the 1/2 cent sales tax with 10% as much money as its supporters had. Jeff Brower won the County Chair with nowhere near the money his opponent had. Both are proof that votes beat money. We can win if everyone in Zone 2 that is tired of big money and big business buying our elections and telling us what’s good for us will just get out and VOTE on November 2. #VOTESBEATMONEY”
–Ken Strickland, Candidate for Daytona Beach Zone 2 City Commission, thanking supporters on social media following his narrow 13 vote victory in Tuesday’s primary, setting up a November runoff with challenger Larry McDermott, Tuesday, September 21, 2021
And Another Thing!
The internecine “Us vs. Them” warfare on the dais of power in DeLand reached its nadir this week – and you and I – the long-suffering and wholly ignored taxpayers of Volusia County were the big losers.
After retching through Tuesday’s regular Volusia County Council meeting, followed by that shim-sham of a “budget hearing,” it became shockingly clear to me that Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post stand alone in the breach – fighting desperately for some semblance of accountability as the behemoth gorges on a budget now worth $1.1 Billion – and the “strong majority” of Volusia’s Old Guard keep their iron boot firmly on their throats.
The Gang of Four’s seething hatred (strong word, but accurate) wasn’t subtle, either. . .
For instance, during that bimonthly theater known as “Council Comments,” our self-anointed eminence grise, The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry – that kooky conspiracy theorist who hadn’t been seen at a public meeting since August 17 – lambasted Chairman Brower for the crime of wishing him well while His Eminence was fighting the very COVID-19 virus he once told his parishioners doesn’t exist.
In perhaps the most mean-spirited and wholly inappropriate dress-down on official record, the pompous “Dr.” Lowry – phoning it in via “Zoom,” clad in a ball cap and t-shirt for the auspicious occasion – blasted Chairman Brower in a cheap diatribe, claiming “…the Chair took it upon himself to update everybody in the world” that he was hospitalized with COVID – scolding and embarrassing Brower with, “…the Chair did not have my permission to do that…”
It didn’t stop there. . .
“Nearly everything he said was inaccurate. I had just barely been in the hospital. I hadn’t even contacted my parents or my sister or anybody,” Lowry said, mentioning some members of his congregation were in a bit of a panic. “I had to spend the afternoon trying to clarify to them that I was not at death’s door.”
In my view, it was snide and snotty – a prime example of just how low The Righteous Reverend will stoop to land a cheap shot on Brower while the spotlight is on him.
After an awkward beat, Chairman Brower – clearly taken aback by Lowry’s spitefulness – sincerely apologized for the horrific transgression of showing the common human emotion of empathy and voicing concern for a supposed “colleague” during a dark moment.
To her credit, the lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler took her fair share of the blame in a heartfelt, but unnecessary, mea culpa.
Apparently, Ms. Wheeler had been communicating with Councilman Lowry during his health scare (interesting) – and keeping Chairman Brower apprised of Lowry’s updates – admitting she “encouraged” the Chair to share the information after misunderstanding Lowry’s desire to keep his protracted absence a secret.
Trust me. “Dr.” Lowry understands better than most that, as an elected official and long-time public figure, his unexplained three-week disappearance from the dais – especially during the budget process – was not going unnoticed.
In fact, some were wondering if His Eminence had abandoned his seat altogether – finally heeding the fervent calls from his critics to step down.
No such luck. . .
While Lowry may well be embarrassed by the fact he was bitten on the ass by his own goofy rhetoric – wild claims that the coronavirus is a hoax, “We did not have a pandemic, folks. We were lied to,” etc. – which caused many of his detractors to be swept up in a wave of ironic schadenfreude – in my view, Chairman Brower did the right thing when he informed the public of Lowry’s mysterious vanishing act – and asked that we keep him in our prayers.
After watching “Dr.” Lowry – a pious ‘man of the cloth’ – turn Brower’s act of kindness against him, I was reminded of the old phrase, “What would Jesus do?”
As a heathen sinner, I don’t have a clue.
But I doubt he would take a fellow official to the woodshed for expressing sincere concern, enlightening worried constituents, and asking that he be held up in prayer at a time when so many in our community and beyond have succumbed to complications of COVID-19.
Following the regular business meeting, the final budget hearing further exposed just how dysfunctional – if not delusional – the Volusia County Council has become.
I do not count Councilwoman Barbara Girtman among those shameless shills who hold themselves out as “fiscal conservatives” – cloaking themselves in the blind support of what passes for the Volusia County Republican Party – a fragmented group of dispassionate poseurs who appear to have lost their political compass since their contentious firebrand, Tony Ledbetter, passed away.
In my view, Ms. Girtman has always been honest about her positions, a person of great poise and manners – always thoughtful and dignified in any debate of the issues – and while I rarely agree with her decisions, I appreciate Ms. Girtman’s intellectual acumen and political integrity.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the craven Group of Four that orchestrated a tax increase in the face of overburdened citizens who piteously begged for relief from the podium – including some 4,700 silent witnesses who signed petitions demanding full rollback – many of whom are still reeling from the financial devastation of the pandemic.
Get used to it, your pain doesn’t hold sway at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building.
That level of reverence and responsiveness is reserved for developers pushing rezoning requests and big money campaign donors with a pet project – whoops, sorry for the redundancy. . .
Perhaps my most disappointing takeaway from Tuesday’s fiasco was final confirmation that the political transition of freshman Councilman Danny Robins is now complete just eight-months into his first term.
Like many of you, I had high hopes for this young man.
The once promising newcomer and self-described fiscal and constitutional conservative – albeit with a weird bent for rambling stream-of-consciousness twaddle – has now become totally convinced of his own infallibility.
Now that Mr. Robins has been pounded into the round hole of conformism and conventionality – obviously terrified of independent thought, or, God forbid, taking an original stand that might be contrary to the groupthink paralysis that pervades the dais – it is patently evident that Danny is now thoroughly enjoying his role as a top-tier insider – and there is little doubt Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post will be resigned to 5-2 votes with the consistency of a Swiss watch.
At least until next years election. . .
Keep the faith, friends.
After Tuesday night’s debacle, I have a feeling that things are going to get very interesting in 2022.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!