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 County Emergency Medical Services
The term “Emergency Medical Services” is just that – an essential service staffed by highly trained professionals who respond in cases of serious illness or injury to provide acute care and transport between the scene of an incident and a trauma center or emergency department.
Like most of those we ask to go into harms way to protect our safety and security, the dedicated paramedics and emergency medical technicians who perform life-saving measures under difficult and dangerous conditions serve for far less than they are worth – subject to long-hours and appallingly low pay in a profession that consistently ranks as one of the world’s most stressful.
Here in Volusia County, these brave professionals have long been pawns in a poorly managed and inefficient system that many practitioners have warned is placing the lives of residents in jeopardy – and driving many paramedics and EMT’s out of the emergency services altogether.
Inexplicably, for years, members of the Volusia County Council have been reluctant to even question senior administrators on the serious issues facing emergency medical transport – while ignoring the alarms sounded by those on the front lines – choosing instead to accept the same protocols (and excuses) while expecting a different outcome.
In the meantime, Volusia County EMS continues to hemorrhage qualified employees – an industrywide problem our ‘powers that be’ have addressed (as always) by throwing money at it – offering recruitment and retention bonuses while refusing to change the culture.
Last year, Councilwoman Heather Post attempted to extract answers to persistent questions from the former Public Protection Director and County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald – only to be lambasted by her “colleagues” – accused of “micromanagement” and conducting a “witch hunt.”
Her sin? Daring to look behind the velvet curtain of a cloistered system where those providing this vital service are expected to suffer in silence from the stifling confines of an ambulance cab.
Recently, the Volusia County Council held a much-needed workshop to discuss EMS service delivery and working conditions in an atmosphere where, as of March 1, the average Volusia County paramedic has worked 362 hours of overtime, with EMT’s racking up 256 hours, in the last year.
As someone who was once responsible for the recruitment, retention, and scheduling of emergency service personnel – I can tell you those hours are unsustainable – and, more important, detrimental to the mental and physical health of those who are forced to work them.
During the workshop, Jason Lademann, president of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics Local 77, explained that the most pressing issue facing emergency medical personnel is the lack of dedicated facilities where working paramedics and EMT’s can write reports, decontaminate, resupply, or simply eat a meal outside the fishbowl.
“Although the overtime demands issue is a close second place, the overtime demands are a reflection of retention,” Lademann said.
“And that first priority of providing stations for EMS personnel to work at addresses one of the contributors to turnover that we’ve identified, as we’ve studied those who have departed the organization in recent years.”
At present, due to Volusia County’s “dynamic deployment” model, wherein ambulances respond from different locations throughout the county instead of returning to stations to await calls, EMS personnel are forced to disinfect themselves of blood, mud, urine, feces, and other potential pathogens in public restrooms – where crews have been exposed to dirty hypodermic needles from illicit drug use and other unsanitary conditions – a recurring situation that demands purpose built EMS stations at strategic locations.
I have always felt that forcing EMS personnel to spend hours-upon-end responding to emergencies – operating exclusively from the close-quarters of their ambulance with no place to call home – was detrimental to the physiological and psychological needs of those asked to perform critical procedures in high-stress situations.
Only recently did Volusia County implement a system of “respite locations” – an unofficial understanding with area fire departments that requires paramedics and EMT’s knock on firehouse doors like Dickensian orphans seeking refuge because they are not issued access cards or codes.
Of course, the workshop was not without its share of high-ranking Volusia County officials engaging in the old bureaucratic soft-shoe as a diversion for those dimwits on the dais of power.
For instance, when Councilwoman Post asked, “Why aren’t we sort of allowing them to base out of the nearest fire station from wherever they would be stationed instead of the 7-Eleven so that they can actually use the fire station fridge or the fire station restroom?”
The director of Volusia County EMS, Michael Coleman, explained that “rest locations” are based upon a standard response time of eight minutes and 59 seconds, requiring that ambulances stage in the “most ideal place.”
(You mean “more ideal” than a centrally located fire station?)
“I’m not discounting your idea, it’s just if we do that, then we have to agree that 8:59 isn’t a reality that we could get there for a while,” Coleman said.
Given the fact municipal departments and county fire services typically respond simultaneous to Volusia County EMS, are we to believe that their fire stations are not located in the “most ideal” locations for rapid response to emergencies?
Is this another failure of our “growth management” gurus to plan for adequate public safety facilities and infrastructure in the face of malignant sprawl?
Or is it because any substantive change in the “way we’ve always done it” is guaranteed to upset the bureaucratic applecart at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center – transformation that is always scotched using scary stories of the dramatic impacts on service delivery any deviation from the status quo would bring?
According to an informative article by Jarleene Almenas, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer this week:
“County Council Chair Jeff Brower asked if EMS personnel are allowed in fire stations, and County Manager George Recktenwald said they are. However, he also added that during the pandemic, there were situations where the county was aiming to keep first responders as isolated as possible.”
Whatever. . .
During the workshop, we learned that Volusia County is placing a “modular building” at Fire Station 46 in DeLand – in my view, a temporary structure (at best) which offers zero protection for EMS personnel, their vehicles, and equipment during severe weather events when their services are needed most.
“We’ve gone through a lot of ideas of how to drop these stations around, because the reality is that this county is growing superfast,” Colman said. “So we don’t know where that station is going to be in a few years, and if we do a lot of brick-and-mortar stuff … and then all of the sudden dynamics change, we have people in other areas, now we need to abandon that spot and then that’s good for the taxpayers and all the effort that was put into this.”
Excuse me? All of the sudden?
It appears efficient emergency medical services is yet another victim of this “cart before the horse” growth-at-all-cost strategy where the proliferation of new wood frame cracker boxes is outpacing government’s ability to provide essential services to them – with absolutely no relief in sight from those compromised politicians who rubberstamp new development as an involuntary reflex.
Again, I am no longer in the emergency services business, but when I was, I distinctly remember my bosses and the taxpayers we served, demanding that I think strategically, anticipate threats, then formulate comprehensive solutions to meet expected challenges.
In my view, Director Coleman is a nice guy who clearly knows his stuff – but if he and Mr. Recktenwald cannot marshal the massive resources of their enormous bureaucracy to anticipate shifting needs and population centers – then tactically locate hardened facilities to house and stage this important essential service, perhaps it is time for our elected officials to take off the blinders and find someone who can?
The dedicated professionals of Volusia County Emergency Medical Services deserve better.
Asshole Volusia County School Board
I like to joke that I have a solid eighth-grade education – my high school years a blur of hops, malted barley, and habitual truancy – which means I have spent the bulk of my life as an experiential learner and skilled mimic of qualities I admire in others.
It is the most expensive education one can achieve.
The fact is, everything of substance in my life came from the efforts of my long-suffering parents and dedicated teachers who refused to give up on me – or allow me to give up on myself – in helping overcome what I now recognize as intellectual disabilities affecting comprehension, including persistent dyscalculia, something I still struggle with.
But even a dull-normal rube like me knows there are few government services more important than the education of our children – and as the “culture wars” rage, more parents are taking an active role in shaping the who, what, when, where, why, and how local school boards set policy and present the curriculum in the classroom.
At their February meeting, the Volusia County School Board became mired in a premature discussion of whether to extend Superintendent Scott Fritz’ current contract, which is set to expire at the end of November, during what I am sure will prove to be a very contentious election year. . .
During the confusing confab, two members – Carl Persis and Linda Cuthbert – pushed for a hasty off-the-agenda vote to extend Dr. Fritz’ contract without any formal evaluation of his performance.
Why the rush?
To their credit, Chair Ruben Colon joined members Jamie Haynes and Anita Burnette in calling for more information – with Haynes and Burnette making the commonsense suggestion that Fritz undergo a comprehensive performance review before a final decision is made on the contract extension.
Following the usual awkwardness, the board voted to push the discussion to a workshop initially scheduled for earlier this week.
Didn’t happen. . .
Last Friday evening, Volusia County taxpayers, students, parents, and teachers were taken aback by the surprise announcement that the much-anticipated discussion of the Superintendent’s contract had been summarily cancelled – the prepared agenda removed from public view – with little explanation beyond a social media post from Chairman Colon, which explained, in part:
“During our next regular school board meeting, the board will have a discussion on a revised timeline of a formal evaluation of the superintendent. A formal evaluation of the superintendent’s performance will serve as the basis for the board’s decision on whether to extend his contract or not. It will allow the opportunity for the board to evaluate the superintendent’s performance formally & in writing. After this, should it be the desire of the board, a discussion of an extension can be had based on the evaluation. Clearly this has not been an easy decision. This was my decision as Chair. I believe this is in the best interest of our district.”
Something else raised a few eyebrows as well: Many watchers were flabbergasted by the mysterious behind the scenes wrangling of some influential insiders who lobbied the School Board to extend the Superintendent’s contract absent a formal evaluation – or substantive input from district employees, parents, and the public.
Something’s up, folks.
Unfortunately, I’m too dumb to figure out exactly what is happening in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand.
But I will. And so will you. . .
What we do know is that this mystery is quintessentially Volusia County – a place where a few well-heeled political insiders with a chip in the game wield a lot more influence over those we have elected to represent our interests than you and I do.
That’s only going to change when We, The Little People decide there is some shit we won’t eat and make our collective voice heard at the ballot box. . .
(Don’t take my word for it, read the familiar contributors in the District 5 School Board race between incumbent Ruben Colon and that perennial political retread Volusia County Councilman The Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry, here: https://tinyurl.com/3khvk4wt )
In my view, as we wait for whatever this process will be, Dr. Fritz’ administration and the Volusia County School Board has, once again, shown little regard for the “strengthen communication and community engagement” standard set forth in their heralded “Strategic Plan – perpetuating the sense of confusion and entrenched mediocrity the bureaucracy has become known for.
In a recent News-Journal article detailing the fiasco, Elizabeth Albert, president of the Volusia Teacher’s Union, articulated what many are thinking:
“I can tell you that there’s been much anticipation about this workshop and the meetings on both sides of the coin. Those who want Dr. Fritz contract to be extended and those who feel like maybe we should look in a different direction,” Albert said. “I think the timing is very poor. I think the lack of communication just further demonstrates the level of disarray that the district is in right now.”
Trust me. I’m doing some digging – others are too – and I have no doubt that time will explain the full-court-press by some very influential forces to keep Dr. Fritz at the helm of this foundering ship.
In the meantime, keep an eye on this one. . .
Asshole City of Ormond Beach
On Tuesday, Ormond Beach residents were treated to another large, and awfully expensive, slice of “Pie in the Sky” – this time a proposed community recreation center to accommodate our new neighbors to the west – during a City Commission “workshop” to discuss future recreation needs.
(Not a peep about why I, and what seemed like hundreds of my motoring neighbors, had to sit through three light cycles at a horribly clogged intersection on Granada Boulevard this week. More on that later. . .)
During the hot-air generator, our elected dullards discussed the findings of a Parks & Recreation Master Plan Study conducted by an external consultant (read: someone paid to think for them – not necessarily a bad thing) at a cost of $125,000.
According to a 2020 City of Ormond Beach resolution authorizing the analysis and survey:
“The Master Plan update is intended to help meet the needs of current and future residents by positioning the City of Ormond Beach to build on the community’s unique parks and recreation assets and identify new opportunities. Included with this project is an analysis of funding sources, such as the park and recreation impact fee. This effort will also prioritize future improvements to align the desired needs of citizens and be utilized as a steering component for the future of the provision of parks and recreation.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, those dreamers on the dais unanimously agreed to pursue a new indoor recreation center – possibly partnering with those visionaries over at the Volusia County School Board to collocate the facility at Pathways Elementary on Airport Road – a not-so-bright idea that would obviously limit when residents could access it.
(Because, God forbid, those of us who are asked to pay for Taj Mahal school facilities should be permitted to use the gymnasiums, multi-purpose rooms, and other amenities when they are not in use educating our children. . .)
According to reports, in 2016, the City of Ormond Beach paid Zev Cohen and Associates nearly $50,000 for a feasibility study which, at the time, estimated construction costs on the Pathways site at between $8.9 million and $10.2 million.
To his credit, Commissioner Dwight Selby brought everyone back to reality by reminding his colleagues that the “bottom line” remains identifying funding sources for these nice to have community amenities.
According to an excellent piece detailing the workshop in this week’s Ormond Beach Observer:
“Commissioners were presented with three funding options as part of the master plan update: 1) Continue existing practices to fund Leisure Services, including impact fees, ECHO grants and CRA dollars; 2) add a dedicated millage for park and recreation projects; or 3) opt for a bond.
The first option is projected to bring in $11 million, the second $17 million and the third, $18.5 million.”
Which option do you think those “all growth is good growth” developer shills on the Ormond Beach City Commission are going to select?
“Per the master plan update’s statistically valid survey, where 402 people were asked how much they would be willing to pay annually to fund leisure services projects, the majority of respondents — 69.5% — said they would be open to paying $12-$60.
A total of 41.9% of respondents said they would be OK with paying $61-$120. Only 21.4% said they weren’t willing to pay any additional dollars.”
I have no idea how those percentages shake out mathematically – but I think it means the ‘survey says!’ the majority of my neighbors (obviously addled rubes I have never met) have no problem taxing their own eyeballs out to pay for shinny baubles before we know how much we will need to spend on roads, bridges, potable water, and wastewater treatment in the not-so-distant future. . .
In most private sector endeavors – you know, where smart people spend their own money to effectively plan, rank needs, and accomplish goals – they conduct a detailed analysis to prioritize must-haves, should-haves, could-haves, and not right now requirements.
But not in the gilded halls of power at Ormond Beach City Hall.
Like giddy children with a Tinker Toy set, our ‘powers that be’ are given to floating goofy ideas about moving a serviceable police facility out of downtown, destroying historic structures for parking lots, or constructing an indoor recreation center so our new neighbors west of I-95 don’t have to travel to Nova Road to use the existing one – all while long-suffering taxpayers try desperately to turn their attention to the real crisis we collectively face: inadequate transportation and utilities infrastructure in the face of massive internal and external sprawl that is rapidly threatening our quality of life.
In my view, nothing exemplifies the utter incognizance of some sitting elected officials like Commissioner Susan Persis’ tone-deaf remarks at this week’s confab:
“I think something really fabulous needs to go out there to keep making Ormond Beach better and better,” Persis said.
Do you know what my neighbors and I think, Mrs. Persis?
We believe the coming tax increases and inconveniences we are told are necessary to pay for the devastating impacts of out-of-control development this Commission (and others) have winked and approved – sprawl that is destroying our natural places and wildlife habitat, fouling our waterways, encroaching on scenic byways, and threatening to gridlock our roads – should be prioritized to fix this godforsaken mess and not be wasted on fabulous amenities that fit into some craven politicians twisted view of our overcrowded future.
Quote of the Week
“Affordable housing, roof replacements, business façade grants, vaccine incentives, COVID education, crime fighting, public art, park improvements, sidewalks and trails are all on the city’s list for ways Daytona Beach can use its allotment of Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds.
“We want to make sure it’s legal so we don’t have to give back the money,” Deputy City Manager Dru Driscoll told city commissioners at their meeting last week.
Since the final federal rules were released in January and February, Driscoll said, “many governments had to recraft their plans” and Daytona Beach also tweaked its COVID fund proposal.
The city received $7.5 million in federal COVID relief funds in May 2021 and expects to receive another $7.5 million in May or June this year.”
–Excerpted from The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “City firms up plans for relief funding,” written by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, Tuesday, March 22, 2022
I am not an expert on the authorized uses of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided $2.2 trillion in economic relief to help Americans cope with the economic impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic – or the nuances of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 – which allocated an additional $350 billion to support state and local governments.
What we do know is that this Manna from Heaven has many local governments salivating as they develop clever ways of shoehorning expenses and programs that seem wholly unrelated to mitigating the economic impacts of the pandemic onto “Wish Lists” – some of which have resulted in embarrassing back-pedaling by public finance directors and elected officials who got too “creative” with their wants and whims.
While the CARES Act and ARPA programs share a similar funding stream (our tax dollars) the authorized purpose is different for each. But I’ll be dipped if I can understand how public art programs and corporate welfare giveaways for developers of “affordable housing” projects are being considered – while needed improvements to water, sewer, transportation, and broadband infrastructure are ignored?
Trust me. When gobs of “free money” are floating around – people inside government and out – get highly imaginative. . .
For instance, our elected dullards on the Volusia County Council were recently forced back to the drawing board after it was revealed that Chief Financial Officer Ryan Ossowski’s “creative accounting” overestimated revenue loss for the covered period by some $34 million – resulting in a red-cheeked reversal of some “big-ticket” items the council had excitedly agreed on in July 2021.
Trust me. Volusia County is not alone when it comes to reassessing their Christmas lists. . .
I applaud Daytona Beach Deputy City Manager Dru Driscoll’s wise caution to city commissioners last week. Because we all want to ensure that allocations of public funds are “legal” – and used only for expenses and programs specifically authorized under the terms of these incredibly expensive programs.
To ensure fiscal accountability in the high-risk environment that occurs when federal dollars are showered on already bloated public coffers – We, The Little People want to see anyone who ignores programmatic regulations and engages in waste, fraud, cronyism, favoritism, and abuse of this tax funded windfall prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
And Another Thing!
As a rule, Barker’s View focuses solely on local issues.
Because it is hard enough for me to untangle the petty machinations at City Hall – let alone the international intrigues, rogue powerplays, and global economic manipulations moving across the geopolitical stage.
However, I understand base thuggery when I see it – and like freedom loving people everywhere – I have been riveted on the crisis in Ukraine and the building humanitarian disaster resulting from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s horrific barbarity.
I recently watched through gritted teeth as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the United States Congress – an impassioned speech accompanied by a video depicting the gut-wrenching atrocities being committed by the Russian military against the civilian population – scenes of abject terror and heartbreak that left many of us wondering how we could help.
This week, local civic activist and loyal member of the Barker’s View Tribe, Mary Synk, reached out for help publicizing a worthwhile effort to help Ukrainian women and children who have fled to the relative safety of neighboring Romania.
As I understand it, Mary has traveled to the region on several volunteer missions and has developed trusted friendships there. One of them being Daniel Stefanica, a middle-school principal in the City of Barlad.
Last week, Mr. Stefanica made a plea for direct assistance to Ukrainian refugees.
According to Mary:
“Ukrainian mothers & children are fleeing their country, and many are arriving in bordering Romania. Daniel is one of the people organizing help for them. Women arrive with their children and only what they can carry. Many don’t know anyone, have no specific destination, no food, and no shelter. Daniel has given up his own home for two families to live in while he himself has moved into an apartment. This is happening all over Romania (and I’m sure other countries).
Romania is the poorest country in the European Union. Barlad is in the poorest region of Romania. The generosity of these people, who have so little themselves, is heart-warming and inspiring.
I have organized a GoFundMe campaign to support Daniel’s work. The work is being done through Scouts of Art, a non-profit organization that Daniel founded in 2013 to help under-privileged Romanian children.
It is the organization that sponsored two English Camps, back in 2015 and 2016, where I was a volunteer teacher. He is now using that organization to help the refugees. The money is used for their basic needs (transportation, food, clothing, shelter). Once they are safe, he helps them enroll their children in school, find jobs, learn the Romanian language, and become self-supporting.”
I ask that you visit Mary’s GoFundMe campaign at: https://gofund.me/0e4a8aa0
According to a report by Katie Kustura writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal following last week’s prayer vigil in Deltona, “As of Friday, more than 3.27 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia began its full-scale military invasion on Feb. 24, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. A few million more have been internally displaced.”
My God. . .
Thank you in advance for your generous support of this most deserving effort.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!