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
“Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?”
–Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski
Along our personal and professional journey, we stand or fall by the decisions we make.
Those who hold senior public leadership positions know (at least they should) that perception becomes reality for outsiders peering at the innerworkings of a cloistered bureaucracy through that greasy pane in the fortified portcullis, especially when what they are told does not comport with what they see with their own eyes, and answers come in the form of carefully crafted soundbites and punched up social media posts.
This uncertainty results in suspicion and speculation – which is why, in places where accountability is still important – many senior executives are never more than two bad decisions from the door. In consideration of this volatility, they often command outlandishly high salaries, benefits, and severance packages unheard of in the private sector.
Last week, the tumult surrounding early discussions of extending Volusia County School Superintendent Dr. Ronald “Scott” Fritz’ employment agreement – which included an intense lobbying effort by some very important people and organizations seeking to keep him at the helm – ended when Fritz announced he would not be extending his contract when it expires in November.
Within days of his announcement, Dr. Fritz published a laundry list of his accomplishments in an open letter to staff and taxpayers – something many found self-indulgent given the well-publicized internal opposition and organizational dysfunction that belied the results of a recent external accreditation audit which praised the districts much-heralded “strategic plan.”
For instance, in one key finding (which many onlookers found incongruous with what we have heard and read) the accreditation team described Volusia County Schools as, “A large district structure that was very organized, well-focused, strategic, all headed in the same direction and unified.”
Another glowing accolade depicted, “A strong sense of family, despite the large size and geographical areas.”
More on that sense of family thing in a minute. . .
Look, by any metric, the outgoing Volusia County School Superintendent has not had an easy time of it.
During the bulk of his first year at the helm, Dr. Fritz was sidelined by an unfortunate health diagnosis and subsequent seven-month leave of absence that saw his second-in-command, Dr. Carmen Balgobin, (who mysteriously jumped ship and is now the Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning in Broward County), taking the tiller during the tumult of the pandemic.
It was during this uncertain time when many parents, teachers, students, and staff lost confidence in their leadership amid a clumsy communications strategy that seemed to rely on rumor and social media posts to convey essential information to stakeholders.
Unfortunately, in the view of many, the confusion did not end when Dr. Fritz returned.
During incredibly contentious School Board meetings, Fritz offered divisive opinions, fueled raucous protests by calling it “bad parenting” not to have your child wear a mask (while acknowledging a parent’s right to choose), and implementing policies that contravened the direction of state education officials in the face of growing criticism from parents – and his own staff – that ultimately required a police presence at meetings to include the use metal detectors to screen participants.
It quickly appeared as if a siege mentality had gripped the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand.
Insiders in district offices have told me that Superintendent Fritz was prone to “temper tantrums” – raising his voice to subordinates – something I equate to the “Captain Queeg” syndrome that can invade the executive suite when self-absorbed “leaders” feel betrayed and abandoned.
Recently, many were concerned by Dr. Fritz’ decision to enter a contracted services agreement with Ormond Beach City Commissioner Susan Persis, a retired district employee and wife of current School Board member Carl Persis – which pays her $82.00 an hour (not to exceed $23,616.00 over the life of the contract) to provide “coaching services” to principals at select schools.
All perfectly legal and within Dr. Fritz’ discretionary spending authority.
However, in the view of many, quietly awarding a lucrative contract to the spouse of a sitting School Board member can be perceived as cronyism – and that is corrosive to the public trust – especially in a time of frightening budgetary shortfalls, unprecedented staff turnover, and flagging taxpayer trust in the system.
I recently received an anonymous note in the mail suggesting favoritism in the selection and hiring process. According to the note, the same information was sent to School Board members, Volusia United Educators, and The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
According to the note, in January, Mr. Thomas Soli – who previously served as an assistant principal in Orange County Public Schools – was appointed Principal of Riverview Learning Center in Daytona Beach.
I looked high-and-low for any official announcement on the district website before finding the following blurb on Dr. Fritz’ Facebook page from January 2022:
“Congratulations to our two newest administrators! Thomas Soli will be the principal of Riverview Learning Center and Timothy Carignan will be an assistant principal of VCS River Springs Middle School of Technology and Innovation.”
Conversely, the detailed information I received in the mail last weekend painted a much broader picture – explaining that Mr. Soli is married to former Deputy Superintendent Carmen Balgobin – which, once again, raised questions about transparency and preference in the selection process – along with concerns about string-pulling as the appointment placed Mr. Soli as a direct report to Ms. Balgobin before her departure.
You read that right.
Talk about that sense of family, eh?
A public records request to Volusia County District Schools seeking information on the selection and hiring has gone unanswered since Monday. . .
Look, my only frame of reference is over thirty-years of service in small-town municipal government.
Trust me, I have seen some weird shit go down. . .
But at no time in my public service did I see this complete lack of self-awareness – or utter disregard for the appearance of impropriety – decisions that, regardless of intent, leave the unmistakable impression of favoritism.
Look, I am not going to kick the man after he has tapped out – and I am sure Dr. Fritz will land on his feet in another district as that is the nature of his profession – but many believe that our elected officials on the Volusia County School Board either knew or should have known the potential perception issues surrounding these questionable decisions and taken action to prevent the further erosion of the public trust in this important institution.
In this election year, it is the hope of many that our rudderless School Board can see through the hype and fluff, then take the time to explore all available options in selecting Dr. Fritz’ replacement.
This should be accomplished with a transparent and inclusive process, soliciting the invested recommendations of parents, teachers, and staff – with fair consideration for qualified internal candidates with a demonstrated commitment to the education of our children – and a real connection with those dedicated educators who present the curriculum in the classroom.
In my view, it is also time for our School Board to consider the ramification to the public trust of allowing lucrative backroom deals that invariably seem to favor those close to highly placed decisionmakers over the very real concerns of stakeholders.
More of the same is no longer an option – and we deserve better.
Asshole Brevard County Commissioner Curt Smith
Florida politicians are sui generis.
They bare a passing resemblance to other office holders in Banana Republics around the world, but pound-for-pound Sunshine State politicos have lowered the bar to whale-shit levels – drawn by their worst instincts to all that is dumb and nonsensical – making decisions that affect the apathetic masses with the prudence of a deranged toddler loose with a loaded shotgun – always sinking to the lowest common denominator: Money.
This base idiocy, made worse by a total disregard for any known philosophy of ethics and morality, knows no ideological or partisan boundaries.
Our current predicament(s) did not occur overnight – proving that, regardless of which political party is in control, the greed-heads and pirates who have historically been granted carte blanche to slash-and-burn what remains of our wild places win every time.
To save face, our elected dullards string together a few “wildlife corridors,” a patchwork of conservation land, often purchased at hyper-inflated prices, to allow what remains of Florida’s natural fauna to thread their way through remaining slivers of wetlands and encircled pine scrub in a hurt here/help there strategy that allows politicians and real estate speculators to live with themselves.
(Don’t worry, newcomers – we will kill any disoriented wildlife that strays from their “corridor” and wanders into your gated community. . .)
In the first four-months of 2022, some 400 manatees have succumbed to starvation along Florida’s Atlantic Coast in what state and federal wildlife officials now refer to with the sterile term “Unusual Mortality Event.”
Many of those gentle creatures died right here in the northern reaches of the Indian River Lagoon in Southeast Volusia County.
In my view, there is nothing “unusual” about it.
Florida politicians, at all levels of government, have openly sacrificed the manatee’s food source for lucre – permitting more, more, more malignant coastal development while gutting environmental regulations in a “fox in the henhouse” strategy that allows neutered regulators to look the other way while those with a chip in the game rape our natural places for profit.
And don’t give me any horseshit about how many acres we have put into conservation – the proof of the wholesale exploitation of our waterways is bloated and decomposing on a shoreline near you. . .
According to recognized biodiversity experts, runoff into the Indian River Lagoon from overdevelopment is fueling algal blooms that have killed tens of thousands of acres of seagrass beds – while sediment washing into the water blocks sunlight and smothers the unique and necessary ecosystems found in seagrass meadows that manatees rely on for nourishment.
Last week, inconceivably, a pasty-faced douchebag by the name of Brevard County Commissioner Curt Smith promoted the deranged idea of intentionally killing even more manatees as a way of “thinning the herd” and reducing the number who are dying horrible (and very public) deaths due to hunger.
You read that right.
Naturally, a check of previous Brevard County campaign finance records finds Komisar Smith’s groaning war chest was chockfull of contributions from real estate developers. . .
According to the obviously unbalanced Smith:
“Everybody loves manatees. I love manatees. I love seeing them. It’s part of the scenery,” Smith said. “But we have to get real and the reality is that there has never been a calculation of what the carrying capacity should be for this habitat.”
Really? Part of the scenery?
Like no one bothered to calculate what the carrying capacity should be for residential and commercial development adjacent to our sensitive springs, rivers, and waterways before craven elected officials approved malignant sprawl for their political puppeteers with Pavlovian regularity?
In my view, Commissioner Smith’s idea is the most galactically stupid notion ever proffered by an elected official (this week, anyway).
Researchers are suggesting that we are already doing a masterful job of depopulation – destroying manatees at a rate never seen before in the toxic soup that was once one of the most diverse estuarine systems in North America – citing the fact that further slaughter would have dramatic impacts on other species in the symbiotic cycle that once gave life to the lagoon.
According to Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of Save The Manatee Club, “To have one of those commissioners to be so uninformed so ignorant of what the real problem is disconcerting. Certainly, the solution is not to have more manatees killed.”
Did I mention that Commissioner Smith serves as the vice-chair of that do-nothing political insulation committee at the Indian River Lagoon Council?
Because he does. . .
In my view, it is time that those we have elected to represent our interests stop using the piecemeal restoration of the Indian River Lagoon as a cheap photo-op and get serious about stopping the destruction of our waterways with moratoriums and direct prohibitions on unsustainable development in sensitive environments along the IRL and beyond.
Regardless, neither history, nor nature, will absolve us of our sins.
Angel Citizens Committed to Preserving Our History
Like some half-drunk Diogenes crashing about with my dim lamp, I searched long and hard for an ‘Angel’ this week.
I really needed some good news this week, and I found it in a diverse group of area residents who are passionate about preserving an important part of our unique wartime history.
On Wednesday evening, I watched in utter disgust as the Daytona Beach City Commission was treated to a walkthrough video of the horribly neglected City Island Recreation Center as the historic structure was slow walked toward the gallows.
Earlier in the day, Commissioner Ken Strickland filmed the shocking video for the edification of his “colleagues” and residents who have been denied access to one of their oldest public assets as it fell victim to strategic rot, willful negligence, and official malfeasance.
In my view, the footage represented compelling evidence of the criminal neglect that has destroyed and depreciated a publicly owned building.
Following the presentation, Mayor Derrick Henry permitted his subjects to approach their overlords on the dais with the admonition, “It is everyone’s right to speak and be heard, but. . .” before a concerned group of residents advanced and begged their elected representatives to save this unique piece of Halifax area history.
During public comments, some truly courageous citizens spoke out, including former Leisure Services Director Percy Williamson – who spoke passionately about his losing battle to secure budget allocations for proper maintenance and upkeep of the City Island Recreation Center – calling it a “…wrong that happened many years ago.”
It was heartening to hear Commissioners Ruth Trager, Ken Strickland, and Paula Reed champion this connection to our community’s past, while Commissioner Dannette Henry opened her mind to exploring options before making a final decision on the building’s fate.
It was also damnably frustrating to listen as another dismissed the facility as “not worth saving” as the discussion dissolved into some truly nonsensical horseshit that gave disturbing insight into how some elected officials “think.”
After deliberation, the commission voted unanimously to apply to the city’s historic preservation board asking that they designate the City Island Recreation Center a place of local historical significance – which will allow City Manager Derek Feacher to explore grant opportunities and identify resources to fund renovations – along with estimates on the cost of demolishing the structure.
Commissioners also rightfully decided to form committee comprised of civic-minded residents to determine a “purpose” for the building going forward.
Look, I still don’t hold out much hope for the building long-term – but, for now, the City Island Recreation Center has received an optimistic stay of execution.
While some may consider this another example of “kicking the can down the road” and prolonging the inevitable in the face of vehement citizen opposition – the passion and advocacy demonstrated by those residents who stood in support of preserving this important piece of City Island’s rich history was inspiring.
At the end of the day, the Daytona Beach City Commission listened to their constituents – with Mayor Henry making the astute observation that – while other citizens want the building demolished in the name of “progress” – those voices did not attend Wednesday night’s meeting.
Thank you to those caring and civically involved citizens who did – and for restoring our faith in the power of a positive grassroots effort to change the hearts (and votes) of those elected to represent the needs of city residents.
Quote of the Week
“They’re not respecting the process, and they’re not respecting the voters,” Northey said. “Don’t empower a group to make recommendations and then dismiss them as cavalierly and out of hand as they did.”
–Deltona Charter Review Committee Chair Pat Northey, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Katie Kustura, “2 of 5 charter proposals advanced: 3 recommendations are nixed by Deltona,” Wednesday, April 6, 2022
As H.L. Mencken said, “When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”
After months of careful deliberation, the City of Deltona Charter Review Committee submitted a list of five commonsense recommendations after a careful line-by-line review of the city’s governing document.
These changes included:
Shall the City of Deltona Charter be amended to modify composition and qualifications to allow for city commissioners to reside in a district and be elected on a city-wide basis?
Shall the City of Deltona Charter be amended to modify the salary of the mayor to be equal to 50% of the Volusia County chair and the salary of the commissioners to be equal to 50% of the Volusia County Council Members?
Shall the City of Deltona Charter be amended to add language to provide for a maximum term of 18 months that the charter offices of city manager and city attorney may be appointed as acting, and to provide for an additional term of six months for extraordinary circumstances?
Shall the City of Deltona Charter be amended to increase the Charter Review Committee to seven members and to require any proposed charter amendments to be placed on the ballot of the next general election?
Shall the City of Deltona Charter be amended to add a provision requiring standards, procedures, requirements, and regulations to provide for environmental considerations on major decisions undertaken by the City Commission or city planners?
Which of these recommendations do you think the Deltona City Commission chose to ‘allow’ electors to vote on during the general election?
During a recent workshop, the commission moved just two amendments forward – to include a pay increase for themselves – and one setting a maximum term of 18-months for charter officer’s serving in an “acting status,” with an additional six-month extension for “extraordinary circumstances.”
In an informative article by Wild West Volusia reporter Katie Kustura writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned:
“In discussing proposed changes to compensation — which isn’t required by the charter — all of the commissioners said they weren’t in it for the salary. (Excuse me. I just shot a mouthful of my ‘fortified’ Café Bustelo through my nose. Dammit.)
Some commissioners expressed support for some level of increased compensation, but not to the extent of what was proposed.
“I think that a good salary being paid to elected officials in the City of Deltona would attract more people to run for office,” Vice Mayor Maritza Avila-Vazquez said. (I’ll say!)
Commissioner Loren King said he didn’t even know the position included compensation when he first made the decision to run. (Seriously?)
The annual salary of the Volusia County Council chair is $57,357, and council members each are paid $47,797. The mayor and members of the commission presently are paid $14,187 and $10,520, respectively.”
That’s an increase of $14,491 for the mayor – and $13,378 for commissioners. . .
When was the last time you saw a raise that more than doubled your salary where you work?
For a part-time gig?
Only Commissioner Dana McCool admitted that – while she loves public service – for her, it’s kind of about the money, “At the same turn of the coin, my time is worth something.”
Why is it whenever local elected officials are tasked with determining a course of action that will either benefit them and their political benefactors – or improve the ability of citizens to have direct input in the destiny of their community – they invariably revert to their atavistic instincts?
(Don’t take my word for it – the Palm Coast City Council just voted to give themselves a $35,000 pay raise – that is an increase of 365%. . .)
Given the series of blunders, bloopers, bungles, and gaffes that have plagued Deltona government for years, a continuing course of abhorrent conduct that has resulted in an ‘Us vs. Them’ mindset at City Hall – and vitriolic pushback from frustrated residents – I think the good citizens of Deltona have seen enough to make a clear call on this one. . .
In my view, Ms. Northey is right – limiting citizen choices by excluding amendments from the ballot is disrespectful to those they serve.
Perhaps it is time We, The Little People begin the discussion of eliminating exorbitant salaries and benefits for part-time elected officials in local governments in favor of an equitable system that reimburses actual out-of-pocket expenses, within certain parameters, as approved by voters and memorialized in the charter?
Something to consider. . .
And Another Thing!
Last week, we learned that the Flagler Beach City Commission – stewards of the last vestiges of ‘Old Florida’ on the east coast – unanimously voted to approve a 100-room hotel in the very heart of their once quaint community that will be known as “Compass” – another take on the contrived “Margaritaville” trope that is quickly remaking Florida into a cheap counterfeit image of its former self.
My God. “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot”. . .
Look, I don’t live there. It is the Flagler Beach City Commission’s Tinker Toy set – but it is hard for those who have spent our lives in the area to watch this regional gem be destroyed in the name of “progress.”
Frighteningly, the “vague plan” also calls for something on the wide swath of public beach across A-1-A that may or may not allow the great unwashed hordes to bring our own chairs and sit on that portion of sand now controlled by the stylish new hotel. . .
According to an informative report in FlaglerLive!:
“Whether at the planning board or in the plans presented the city commission Thursday, there were no details about those plans on the beach-side. Only an ominous indication, drawn in outline on a slide, that there will be some sort of activity on the beach tied to the construction of the hotel. That worried (Commissioner Eric) Cooley and Commissioner Jane Mealy. It should not have surprised the developer, who knew city officials wanted more details about those plans as far back as late 2020.
“If we are going to approve it, since there is nothing about what’s going to be built, I would like us to make sure we address this verbiage that that will have to be a separate approval,” Cooley said. “We can’t approve something we have no data for, and that’s going to have a significant impact on our beach. The verbiage bothers me, by saying that is part of the project site, which is the site plan that we’re approving, when it’s never been discussed, it was never brought the power (sic) board, it’s not in the packet, there’s no detail.”
Sound familiar? It should.
The idea of elected officials voting on issues that will have long-term invasive impacts on their communities without any due diligence is now the accepted method of political insulation in Florida.
A strategic ignorance that permits these craven marionettes to rubberstamp malignant development (and intrusive industrial warehouses) for their political benefactors with a “We weren’t given all the facts!” fallback when things go to shit.
So, say goodbye to this quaint coastal hamlet. It may be better, it may be worse, but it will never be the same – and Flagler Beach isn’t the only local community that is quickly falling victim to this perverse notion of “progress.”
In keeping with that theme, I recently heard from a reliable source that one freshman local elected official (in a Volusia County municipality) was told that they were not allowed to vote “No” on proposed development and land-use issues coming before their elected body.
Unfortunately, based upon the evidence, I believe it.
In my view, if true, that would constitute a willful suppression of independent representation and should be criminally investigated, prosecuted, and any elected or appointed official – or those who benefited from it – allowed to rot in some stifling hole at the Florida State Prison at Raiford.
But no one who should seems to give two-shits that it is developers and influential insiders who are destroying our quality of life and shaping our communities in their own craven image – and those we elect have become little more than the dull tools used to facilitate it.
Don’t worry, Sunshine State city/county council/commission members, representatives, senators, managers, directors, et al. – your motivations will not be given a second look.
Your ilk is safe, here in the biggest whorehouse in the world. . .
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!