Angels & Assholes for January 28, 2022

Hi, kids!

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 Teacher of the Year Madison Miller

During a recent awards ceremony at the Ocean Center, Madison Miller of Chisholm Elementary was named the 22-2023 Volusia County Teacher of the Year! 

According to Volusia County Schools, Ms. Miller will now represent Volusia in the state Teacher of the Year program.  She succeeds Citrus Grove Elementary art teacher Frank Garaitonandia, who was Volusia County’s 21-2022 Teacher of the Year, and a top-five state finalist.

In an excellent article by education reporter Nikki Ross writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ms. Miller began her remarkable career as a single parent who overcame obstacles with persistence and the support of those who cared:

“My family and friends wouldn’t accept anything less than me going back to school and finishing my degree, even with a baby on my hip,” Miller said.”

In my view, Ms. Miller is an inspirational role model for her students and peers – a true local success story who exemplifies the virtues of hard work and perseverance.  Now, the educator is providing that same encouragement to at-risk students in Volusia County.

According to Volusia County Schools:

“Madison Miller is a product of Volusia County Schools and continued her post-secondary education in Volusia. Her undergraduate degree is from Daytona State College, and she is currently completing a second master’s degree from Stetson University.

“My goal in my career is to continue that legacy of support,” Miller said. “It is the support, the roles that we play, that get our kids here, albeit proverbial stage. My career has focused on those without support: students in poverty, students in crisis, minoritized students, and transient students. We are their support system. Through equity and efficacy, we can continue to be that support.”

In addition, Superintendent Scott Fritz acknowledged the significant contributions of three additional area educators who best represent the district’s core values.

Honorees include, Suzanne Boss, an English Language Arts teacher at Silver Sands Middle, Joseph Brennan, Social Studies teacher at Deltona High School, and Vanessa Emers, a Third Grade teacher at Spruce Creek Elementary.

Kudos to Madison Miller and her colleagues on this well-deserved recognition – and congratulations to all those inspirational educators who were nominated.    

There are many challenges facing Volusia County Schools, but the quality of those wonderful teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff members who serve under often challenging circumstances are true superstars who I count among my personal heroes.

Thank you for your inspirational service to Volusia County students!

Asshole           State Sen. Travis Hutson (R – Palm Coast)

In October 2013, I watched as partisan flexing over the Affordable Care Act brought the federal government to a halt. 

The gridlock occurred when overblown posturing on both sides of the aisle continued interminably while legislation to appropriate funds for fiscal year 2014 failed.    

For the first time in 17-years, all government services deemed “non-essential” were shuttered as some 800,000 federal workers were furloughed, while many more deemed “exempt” were forced to work without pay, while you and I were denied access to important programs and services.   

Admittedly, that is an oversimplification of a very protracted and contentious period that resulted in a 16-day shutdown – the third longest in our nation’s history.   

The partisan stalemate rubbed me wrong. 

In 2013, the United States was a nation at war – fighting the Global War on Terror – with our brave service members actively deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq – with others fighting al-Qaida and other terrorist organization bent on our destruction on several fronts – while our elected leadership in Washington acted out like recalcitrant children.

In my view, this petty posturing and infighting weakened our nation in the eyes of our enemies – and the world.

In those hours, I came to the stark realization that the fringe ideology fomented and embraced by both major political parties meant that neither represented my interests any longer.  

So, I left the Republican party, which, like my father and grandfather before me, I had been aligned with since I was old enough to vote. 

Just like that, I filed the appropriate voter change request, packed my middle-of-the-road ideology in an old kitbag, and trudged off to the increasingly popular No Party Affiliation camp – a catch-all for an eclectic mix of the disenfranchised, the disillusioned, and the disgruntled refugees of a two-party political system gone haywire.

As a self-described ‘moderate conservative’ (whatever that means) the horrors that have resulted from the partisan and cultural warfare in Washington makes those halcyon days of 2013 seem like a cakewalk. . .

Now, as elected officials flaunt their lockstep allegiance to influential Big Money interests, each legislative season and election cycle confirms that my decision to stop lending tacit approval to what has become an Us vs. Them paralysis on both sides was the right call.

With Florida’s legislative session in full swing, the obstructionism and fight for total control continues.

For instance, State Sen. Travis Hutson, a republican from Palm Coast, has made a splash promoting the asinine idea of disbanding Florida’s Soil & Water Conservation Districts during a tumultuous period of growth as development quickly outpaces our threatened natural resources. 

The non-regulatory SWCDs began in Florida in 1937, and, by statute, are meant to provide “assistance, guidance, and education to landowners, land occupiers, the agriculture industry, and the general public in implementing land and water resource protection practices,” with all activities project-based and grant funded. 

Not the most powerful mandate in politics – but a vital role, nonetheless. 

According to Sen. Hutson, he acted to abolish the toothless SWCDs statewide when agricultural concerns in his district complained they were not adequately represented.  Now, after some ham-handed amendments and rewording – the bill keeps the 56 Soil & Water Conservation Districts intact, politically subdividing each county-based district, while placing onerous requirements on who can serve. 

Earlier this week, the bill’s language was changed to require that elected SWCD board members (called “supervisors”) be eligible voters who are “actively engaged in the business of farming or animal husbandry.”     

Say what? Only Old MacDonald (read: Big Agriculture) can have a say in soil and water conservation measures?

The new wording drops a previous unconstitutional requirement that candidates own land in the district to which they are elected. . .    

Opponents of Hutson’s legislation claim he is attempting to crush SWCDs for focusing on ‘global warming’ and other hot button environmental issues that make his influential “friends” nervous – and to prevent board members who are viewed as “environmentalists and progressive activists” from using their elected service on a SWCD as a springboard to higher office.   

So much for all that “level the playing field and let the people decide,” horseshit, eh?

My God. . .

Locally, the Volusia County Soil & Water Conservation District, which is chaired by Dr. Wendy Anderson – a Professor of Environmental Science and Studies at Stetson University who has been outspoken on growth and development issues – focuses on conservation stewardship programs, promoting low impact development, community gardening, beekeeping, and various educational programs focusing on water quality issues, and hosting an annual pre-COVID tree sale. 

Pretty benign stuff in the scheme of things.

Now, these hyper-local resource protection boards are poised to suffer a fate symbolic of what happens when influential insiders feel their access to the riches inherent in churning the land into a moonscape to make way for more, more, more is threatened – and they lean on their hired chattel in Tallahassee – ensuring that city and county commissions are populated with malleable rubberstamps.     

Bullshit. 

The out-of-control overdevelopment across the state of Florida is no longer an exercise in shaping growth – the art and science of minimal impact development, planned neighborhoods, and infill projects that revitalize communities concurrent with existing infrastructure and resources.

And the voracious appetite of developers is damn sure not concerned with protecting our fragile environment, preserving wildlife habitat and biodiversity, or ensuring an adequate water supply.

Now, those quaint ideas have been replaced by the malignant spread of placeless sprawl, and the wholesale destruction of our remaining greenspace – further separating communities by income and demographic – all mindlessly approved by craven politicians all too eager to please their political benefactors.   

In my view, it is all about money and power which fuels the insatiable greed of speculative developers and other interests who ensure a return on investment by furthering the political ambitions of those who permit the wholesale destruction of our natural places and resources.

Another disturbing sign of our troubled times, I suppose. . .     

Angel               Daytona Beach Shores City Manager Kurt Swartzlander

This week, the Daytona Beach Shores City Council tapped Finance Director and Assistant City Manager Kurt Swartzlander to serve as their next City Manager!

His appointment will become effective in July with the retirement of veteran City Manager Michael Booker following 22-years of dedicated service to a grateful community. 

According to a release by Daytona Beach Shores government:

“Swartzlander, 51, came to Daytona Beach Shores four years ago as Finance Director and has also served as Assistant City Manager since last spring. He spent 11 years at the city of Holly Hill before that, serving as Finance Director and Assistant City Manager, with two stints as Interim City Manager during his time in Holly Hill.”

His impressive preparation includes a Master of Business Administration degree from prestigious Stetson University in DeLand and service as the founding vice president of the Volusia/Flagler Chapter of the Florida Government Finance Officers Association.

Knowing Kurt as I do, he is most proud of his important roles as husband and father to his wife, Stacy, and their four children: Sydney, Kinsley, Jadon, and Jackson.

I had the pleasure of working closely with Kurt at the City of Holly Hill and can report he is a gentleman of great faith and unquestioned character – an accomplished resource and superior talent – who takes the high road at all costs, a personal and professional trait that has earned the confidence of those he serves.

In my view, the DBS City Council made an incredibly wise decision.

Mr. Booker’s shoes will be difficult to fill – but I can think of no one more capable of building on his impressive legacy of civic accomplishments than Kurt. 

Congratulations to Kurt Swartzlander on this important milestone in his impressive career!   

Quote of the Week

“A Native Remembers”

“When I was a kid growing up in South Daytona in the 1950s and 60s, I spent the majority of my time, when I wasn’t in school, in the woods around my neighborhood. Our parents used to send us out “to play” first thing in the morning and we weren’t expected back until dinner time. There were orange groves and cattle ranches along with acres and acres of undeveloped land.

We wandered the woods for miles, built forts, dug “tunnels” (log and palm frond covered trenches), built tree houses, rafted down, and swam and fished in the Halifax River. We swam in artesian sulfur springs that watered the cattle.

We camped, and cooked hot dogs and marshmallows around fires, and slept in the forts and tunnels so many nights I couldn’t begin to count them all. Looking back, it was an idyllic childhood for a Huck Finn type, and most of us were, even if we never read a line of Twain. We took it for granted.

We didn’t know how blessed we were.

Today that area of South Daytona has all been developed. Where there were 10 or so homes, there are probably a few hundred. Gone are the orange groves, the sulfur springs, and cattle farms. I wouldn’t swim in the Halifax today and I would be reluctant to eat any fish caught there. This transformation came about slowly. First, there was the development of Anastasia Blvd, and then came Sherwood Forest, and we slowly watched our woods and playground turn into homes.

We didn’t think much of it; we thought there was plenty of room. Then the Fortich’s cattle farm became a subdivision and the sulfur springs were capped. Next the navel, tangerine, and grapefruit trees were bulldozed and homes lining the paved roads replaced what was once Laroche’s Groves.

That’s how it happens most of the time.

Slowly, incrementally, so you hardly notice. The life and scenes out of a Huck Finn novel are now suburbia. Maybe we didn’t notice it so much back then because the developers seemed to have a degree of respect for the land. They came in and cut roads and laid out lots for sale that followed the natural terrain and topography of the land. They left trees on the lots and even left a patch of woods here and there.

Today slowly has been replaced with rapidly. Incrementally has been replaced with clear cutting thousands of acres of every living thing. Topography be damned, bring in the fill dirt. Flat land is easier and more profitable to develop than dealing with hills or cypress ponds. The cost savings in dealing with the natural terrain can used to plant saplings. The wildlife?… Well, hope they got out OK. Traffic?… well, that is someone else’s problem. Water? Florida has springs, right? Sewage?…Well, what’s a million gallons of sewage spilled every once in a while? The folks buying homes and fleeing the parts of the country where this type of development has already occurred will enjoy it for a while, until the reason they came here is gone.

CONCURRENCY is the concept that no new development can be approved unless the infrastructure ALREADY exists to support the development. Just a few years ago, concurrency was Florida Law. The State of Florida decided that the concept of concurrency was too hot to handle, so they did what most governments do when in a pinch: they handed it off. Today, the concept of concurrency is the responsibility of local governments. That means municipal and county governments are now responsible for being sure development doesn’t outpace our infrastructure. How are they doing? Things change, and if you live long enough, they say you will see almost anything. I hope someone is paying attention.

–Paul Zimmerman, Candidate for Volusia County Council District 2, writing in the Bellaire Community Group’s January newsletter

And Another Thing!

It is increasingly clear that our ‘powers that be’ are either unwilling or incapable of saying “Whoa” to their influential political contributors in the development community as their disastrous growth strategy of cramming ten-pounds of shit into a five-pound bag roars on. 

As Paul Zimmerman so eloquently said, the concept of concurrency rightfully places the commonsense responsibility of ensuring that development does not outpace our transportation and utilities infrastructure on local governments. 

Unfortunately, the idea of planning, concurrency, and growth management has been replaced by a gluttonous growth at all cost approach that is quickly destroying our quality of life and draining precious natural resources as “theme” communities and sprawling subdivisions give way to the “City within a City” concept.  

This week, we learned that those brainiacs at the City of Deltona and the St. Johns River Water Management District recently broke ground on a classic “Rob Peter to pay Paul” project which, according to reports, will draw 12-million gallons of surface water a day from the St. John’s River at Lake Monroe to supplement the city’s reclaimed water supply.

Once operational, the system will support minimum flow levels at Blue Springs – a winter refuge for hundreds of endangered manatees – and supplement six area lakes from the effects of excess groundwater withdrawals.   

In an informative report by the intrepid Wild West Volusia reporter Katie Kustura writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Effort to draw 12M gallons of surface water for irrigation,” we learned:

“Mike Ulrich, director of Volusia County Water Resources and Utilities, said developing alternative water supplies for non-drinking water purposes is an important strategy on which municipalities throughout the state are working.

“We’re trying to reduce our impact as more and more people move to the area,” Ulrich said.”

Right. 

Look, I’m not the highfalutin director of Volusia County’s challenged “Water Resources and Utilities,” but something tells me trying to mitigate the impacts of overuse by sucking more water from surface resources sounds like the textbook definition of “unsustainable.”

But what do I know?

Rather than hide their heads in shame, earlier this month, those Deltona dimwits had their photo taken for posterity turning dirt during a groundbreaking ceremony on a clear-cut plot where the pumps will be placed near the bank of Lake Monroe.

According to the News-Journal’s report, in December, Duke Energy cleared the site of “trees and brush to prepare for the construction work,” leaving nearby residents rightfully pissed.   

Not to worry.  City officials promise to replace the natural vegetative buffer with “landscaping” – another artificial fix for a completely man-made problem. . . 

In my view, it is indicative of the way our elected officials, and those who clean up their messes, live with themselves – creating temporary solutions that often exacerbate the original problem – like bypassing natural processes while allowing more development on top of our aquifer recharge areas – the same greed-crazed mindset that will have us all drinking our own sewage as our ‘powers that be’ seek to appease their insatiable benefactors in the real estate development industry.  

I hope you will remember this insanity at the ballot box this year. . . 

In other Deltona “happenings”:

Congratulations to Deltona’s Always Acting City Manager John Peters, who spent much of last year threatening to take his football and go home after publicly claiming certain elected officials were interfering in day-to-day operations – then defending allegations of racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and “incest innuendo” after a former employee alleged that Peters suggested he was the product of inbreeding – was recently named Executive Officer of the Year by the Volusia League of Cities!  

In all fairness, according to a subsequent report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, to his credit, “Peters admitted to using ‘questionable’ language and indicated he would discontinue such behavior moving forward.” 

Well then, no harm-no foul. 

(Until the next employee complains, then it’s “cha-ching!” – You know, that pesky ‘they either knew or should have known’ thing again. . .)

Whatever.    

Kudos to Mr. Peters and the Volusia League of Cities for always raising the bar!   

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend – stay warm, y’all! 

4 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for January 28, 2022

  1. Thanks, Mark, for highlighting the “asinine” legislative drama to control the voices of Soil and Water boards.

    Of course I am following closely the Florida State Legislature’s attack on Soil and Water Conservation Districts this session. This past week, the Senate sponsor of the bill to abolish the Districts (established in 1937 by federal mandate), Senator Travis Huston shifted tactics to constrain the eligibility for board members to farmers, since the original purpose of the boards was to help farmers CONSERVE SOIL and WATER to ensure food security for the nation.

    Food security in the 21st Century needs to be more diverse, and it needs to embrace urban food production. (What’s really old is now new!) ANY of us can be a farmer!

    I’ve been too busy my first year as Chair of the SWCD trying to encourage developers to use Low Impact Development practices to improve aquifer recharge and nutrient filtration (and we’re moving the needle on that), so I haven’t had a chance yet to focus on the thing I really wanted to do when I ran for a seat on the Soil and Water Conservation District Board, which is support URBAN food production.

    I think we should be supporting the public schools with (food) garden-based-learning programs and infrastructure; promoting community gardens; attracting residential developers who will give us AGRIHOODS instead of toxic grass-hoods; supporting our young and beginning farmers who are trying to grow food for a living in small spaces including urban lots, indoors, and rooftops; and continue partnering wit the USDA-NRCS District Conservationists to assist our existing farmers in both urban and rural areas by providing the information and resources they need to succeed, which includes keeping their soil healthy and their water supply safe.

    Pushing back on the massive blob of same-old-same-old, water-extractive and water-polluting development spreading across our county just feels like a pre-requisite, but an all-consuming whack-a-mole effort, too. Our pushback can’t just be “don’t develop,” but has to say “develop like this.” Give us healthy places to live where we can interact with the “nature” that we share the space with and where we can reconnect with our own food system and learn again as a society how to grow our own food. If we teach our kids to grow food, and we train up a new generation of people who can do that ANYWHERE, our cities can be transformed into food-secure, lush, interactive communities with more robust resilience in the face of increasing climate, economic, and public health instability. This has always been my vision. (But oops, I said “climate!”)

    Am I a “farmer?” I come from deep farming roots and my father has been in the business side of the food production, processing, and distribution system all of MY life. I garden, and I spent 9 months last year (on a sabbatical from teaching at Stetson) interning with two NW Volusia farmers learning different techniques for food production in our county. I’m taking all of that and teaching a course this spring called “Growing Food in Cities.”

    The legislators might not like that many of the urban districts have supervisors who seem to be focused on fighting developments, and maybe that’s why they are trying to shut us down or force us out. But I, for one, am trying to marry the mandate for the original SWCD Supervisors with a 21st Century vision for food security and community stability.

    I hope that, as we move into election season this year, the 3 seats that are up for election on the Volusia SWCD Board will attract candidates who will embrace both the original purpose of the SWCDs and engage in their own version of a 21st Century application of that.

    Please contact your legislators!
    Please vote!!

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    1. Wendy why did you leave out Nicolle Fried who heads our Dept of Agriculture who has not done much in her 4 years for sugar fires or pollution or fertilizer pollution causing algae? Seems she is more interested in promoting recreational marijuana and her run for governor.Her own fathers address is a marijuana company.Her fiancee of two years is in the marijuana business and she was a marijuana lobbyist who is under scrutiny for not reporting all her income before she took her job.Wendy you should know who she is as she had her face on every gas pump that was removed.

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  2. It’s never been more obvious that the need to invest in educating our young people is critical to our future.
    Florida is the 3rd most populous state and the 4th largest economy in the nation, and yet our priorities are all wrong.
    According to ‘Education Week’s Quality Counts Report’ – Florida received an ‘F’ for per pupil spending. 43 out of 100 points. Good for 45th in the country. Who were we better than? Let’s just say that they are deep red states and leave it at that. So Florida spends $9,700.00 per pupil per year. Sounds like a lot, huh? Until you learn how much we spend to incarcerate our uneducated citizens, that is. Florida’s prison population ranks 13th in the nation at 795 per 100,000 residents and we spend on average $19,000 per year to keep each one behind bars. Not to mention the lost economic impact that free citizens bring to the economy and tax base. Our prison population has increased 285% since 1983. That’s around the same time that our investment in education started to slide. It’s also around the same time that parents stopped being involved in their kids education. There are no coincidences here. It’s all by design. Don’t…..Look…..Up.

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