Angels & Assholes for April 15, 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.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

For the umpteenth time in the last decade or two, on Tuesday, this iteration of elected dullards who comprise the Volusia County Council once again gathered in chambers and allowed Growth and Resource Director Clay Ervin to paint another masterpiece describing the extraordinary job Volusia County government has done in planning for the onslaught of malignant growth that continues to spread like wildfire across the width and breadth of east Central Florida.    

Five of the seven Volusia County Council members attended this latest do-nothing “summit of procrastination” with Councilwoman Heather Post apparently sidelined following a nasty slip-and-fall on a slick staircase at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center.

(Hey, Ms. Post – Morgan & Morgan, “For the People.”) 

Apparently, His Eminence, The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry was dealing with a personal issue which prevented him from sitting apathetically in his wingback chair, staring into space, and idly manipulating a lozenge around in his mouth. . .   

In the end, it didn’t matter who attended and who did not.

As planned, nothing of substance was accomplished.

According to an article by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“At Tuesday’s meeting, Council members didn’t attempt to brainstorm specific strategies to deal with the growth explosion. Most of the six-hour meeting was spent listening to county staff members who explained the history of the county’s growth, what’s been done so far to manage it and preparation for future development.”

Whatever.

As this latest diversionary theater got rolling – essentially a slow parade of highly paid bureaucrats droning on, ad nauseum, narrating another godawful PowerPoint presentation – lulling the elected officials into a hypnotic trance using acronyms, percentages, “visioning processes,” and soporific administrative procedures to buy time while the bulldozers continue to roar across Volusia County as speculative developers make hay while the sun shines – and those who facilitate it generate more hot air.  

Classic. 

According to Chairman Jeff Brower, prior to the confab, councilmembers were given a sheaf of papers some ninety-pages thick to accompany the PowerPoint mumbo-jumbo – because all good bureaucrats know the equation: More Pages = Less Questions – a proven strategy which, when accompanied by the right amount of ego massage, obsequious toadyism, and “happy talk” limits pesky inquiries from our horribly confused policymakers. . .

In typical fashion, Director Ervin – as he has done repeatedly during his tenure – distilled his carefully crafted Dog and Pony Show into one rosy note: NOTHING TO SEE HERE, FOLKS, KEEP MOVING, “We’ve anticipated and planned for the increasing population. . .blah, blah, blah.”

Bullshit. 

How about you? 

Does anyone living out here in the “Real World” (read: anywhere outside gilded council and commission chambers throughout Volusia County) think that those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest have planned and prepared for the tsunami of growth and sprawl what is being foisted on us?

I didn’t think so.

Of course, for a time, things dissolved into a bureaucratic pity party as Director Ervin and his senior minions cried the blues about how overworked and understaffed they are – always “pushing the pea up the mountain” (whatever that means) – slaving under state imposed time constraints to get permits approved so more, more, more sticks-and-glue zero lot line cracker boxes can come out of ground, woe is me, WOE is me. . .

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . . 

We then heard from another expensive suit from the County Attorney’s Office who provided some political insulation by explaining that, outside the density and intensity provisions of the comprehensive plan, our elected officials have little discretion when it comes to controlling growth.

‘Welp, there you have it!  Hands are tied – nothing we can do about it, y’all.’  (And thanks for that sizeable campaign contribution, Mr. Fatback Developer.  Much obliged. . .)

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . .

Look, I could go on, but I got physically nauseated and had to step away when Chief Building Official Kerry Leuzinger took the microphone and asked the deep and thought-provoking question, “Why do we have building codes?”

I knew exactly where he was going with that time consuming ruse.

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . .  

With the ever-present PowerPoint anesthetizing everyone in the room, Mr. Leuzinger chuntered on with a tedious review of the inspection failures that resulted in a deadly Rhode Island nightclub fire and the collapse of a condominium in Surfside, Florida – compelling stuff that helped run the clock – but I’m not sure an exhaustive explanation of the role of the Permitting Department is what Volusia County residents were praying would come from this “growth management” workshop.  (And our ‘powers that be’ knew it.)  

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . .

The permitting department’s dance number was followed by a question from At-Large Councilmember Ben Johnson, who asked whether Mr. Leuzinger could limit inspections to “spot checks” for roofing contractors with a history of following the rules (the answer was, thankfully, a hard “No”) – followed by a riveting discussion on the possibility of eliminating permits for yard sheds. . .

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . . 

Then, they broke for lunch.  

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . .

What I found most disturbing (I mean, other than the fact the windy “workshop” represented six-hours of my life I’ll never get back) was the number of already approved projects sitting dormant on the books – some considered “Developments of Regional Impact” – a significant backlog of pending projects that will have serious ramifications for our already diminished natural places.

During her act, Director Ginger Adair who oversees the county’s environmental management division, spoke of the overtalked and underutilized idea of requiring (rather than asking nicely?) that developers incorporate low-impact development practices, a strategy which mimics natural processes and minimizes impervious surfaces to limit stormwater runoff and protect the biological and physical condition of receiving waters. 

The “workshop” also included a presentation by Jane West, policy and planning director for 1000 Friends of Florida – a Tallahassee-based “smart growth advocacy organization” that promotes sound public policy on development issues – who lectured on the “cumulative effect” of incremental land use changes made by Volusia County and municipal governments that, over time, have a big impact on our quality of life.

According to an excellent report by Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas in the Ormond Beach Observer:

“Brower said he felt the county needed to move from just encouraging low impact development practices to requiring them, but that first they need to decide which low impact development practices the county wants to implement.

(No, shit!  When?)

“I hope that we will move in that direction,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t think we have any choice. Stormwater is a big problem and every bit of pavement that goes down prevents water from being absorbed into the ground.”

Now, as always, we wait. 

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . .

In the weeks/months to come, Director Ervin has vowed to bring back some ideas for our elected officials to chew over – you know, when he gets ‘around tuit’ – no rush. 

I suspect another list of neutered talking points to come back before our elected dullards about the same time that mythical impact fee study we’ve been promised finally materializes, or the Comet Kohoutek returns. . .

Screw it.  You get the picture.   

Unfortunately, at the end of an awfully long day, absolutely nothing of substance was accomplished.

In other words, everything went according to plan. 

If past practice holds, Volusia County’s bloated bureaucracy should be able to squeeze at least three more meaningless “workshops,” a timewasting “summit” or two, and at least one more “Green Ribbon” political insulation committee out of the illusive concepts of “smart growth” and “low-impact development”buying even more time – as our natural places continue to burn. . . 

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc. . .

Angel               Palm Coast’s Mike Martin

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

– Robert Kennedy

I recently read the inspirational story of Mike Martin, a civically involved resident of Palm Coast, who is taking a bold stand against the fleecing of his fellow citizens.  Since 2020, Mr. Martin has served as an elected member of the East Flagler Mosquito Control Commission and has bravely spoken out against several controversial issues in Palm Coast and Flagler County. 

For instance, according to an excellent report by Chris Gollon writing in AskFlagler.com, last year, Mr. Martin mounted an effort to stop development on the poisoned grounds of the former Matanzas Woods Golf Course after levels of arsenic were found in shallow test pits at the site.   

Most recently, Mr. Martin has been an outspoken opponent of Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin’s asinine idea to gift himself and his greedy “colleagues” on the dais of power a pay increase of over 300%.

You read that right.

This shameless money grab was recently approved on first reading by a vote of 4-1 – with members Ed Danko, Nick Klufas, and John Fanelli joining Mayor Alfin to enrich themselves – while Eddie Branquinho cast the lone “No” vote.

Honestly, you cannot make this shit up. . . 

In a recent interview with Mr. Gollon, the intrepid Mike Martin reminded his fellow citizens of one thing:

“…Win or lose this fight, I know one result will happen: the people of Palm Coast will now understand that they can fight back, and they have the tools.”

I don’t know Mr. Martin, but I like his style. . .

Quote of the Week

“Knowing that, if there’s going to be one takeaway that we have today for you, it would be that the small cumulative land use decisions that you make every month here in these chambers really add to affect the quality of life for Volusia residents,” West said. “It is a cumulative impact of land use changes, because there’s a domino effect: If you’re adjacent to a high-density development, even though you can’t use that as a basis legally to justify expansion of that high density into more rural lands, the fact of the matter is that is what happens all the time.”

–Jane West, policy and planning director for 1000 Friends of Florida, as quoted by Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas in the Ormond Beach Observer, Growth spurt: Volusia County growth management workshop spotlights how to mitigate development impacts,” Tuesday, April 12, 2022

And Another Thing! 

As most regular readers of these screeds know, I do not have a formal education. 

That is why I put so much value on it, and hold those who pursue learning, teaching, and imparting experiential wisdom to others in such high regard. 

The events of Tuesday’s Volusia County School Board meeting leading to the termination of Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz were disturbing, and have exposed a depth of dysfunction that has been described by shell-shocked insiders and sitting School Board members as a “toxic culture” – a deleterious situation frequently cited as the primary reason people leave an organization. 

Look, I don’t know a damn thing about the cloistered world of academia or the myriad challenges of administrating a district with a lot of moving parts, a ballooning $1 billion budget, internal warnings of a looming financial catastrophe, a flood of state mandates, and the “culture wars” that are dividing communities across the nation.    

However, based upon my own experience, I recognize sound leadership practices when I see them – the ability of the chief executive to lead and inspire a well-informed and cohesive team to organize complex activities (like educating children) from the bottom up, with unity of effort, and clearly articulated intent – supported by a transparent internal and external information-sharing strategy that keeps all stakeholders on the same page. 

The personal attributes and principles of leadership that most people respect are often defined as justice, judgement, dependability, initiative, decisiveness, tact, integrity, enthusiasm, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty, and endurance. 

Leadership also requires the strength of character to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, cronyism, and favoritism in the decision-making process – especially in matters involving the perceived personal enrichment of a superior – with an emotional stability that instills confidence. 

Did anyone see any of those traits on display Tuesday evening? 

Me neither. 

In my view, it is time for the housecleaning to begin.

During that contentious meeting, I watched as School Board Attorney Ted Doran seized the reigns and clearly orchestrated a motion to approve a severance package exceeding $186,000 in the immediate aftermath of a serious confrontation that left Chairman Ruben Colon clearly stunned. 

If any of this is going to have public buy-in going forward, what happened between Fritz and Colon Tuesday evening demands an outside investigation.

To many, it appeared that Mr. Doran was the best lawyer Dr. Fritz never paid for – and I believe he owes those who pay his salary – the taxpayers of Volusia County – a clear explanation for why he ramrodded Fritz’ severance through without allowing time and distance for a closer examination of the circumstances and factors that led to the Superintendent’s termination. 

What about the duty of our elected officials and legal representatives to uncover and examine the facts and circumstances, allow cooler heads to prevail, and ensure every fiduciary responsibility has been met?

Why the rush?    

I’m asking. And I am not alone.

If Mr. Doran is not prepared to explain the intrigue surrounding his unusual role in steering the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting, then he should submit his resignation for the School Board’s consideration.

Because that is the right thing to do.    

In my view, what has been allowed to fester in Volusia County District Schools is the antithesis of effective leadership – culminating in a rebellious confrontation between the Superintendent and one of his direct superiors, the sitting Chairman of the Volusia County School Board – the senior member of the very political body that was elected by the citizens to provide effective oversight and stewardship. 

The preamble of the district’s “Standards of Conduct” begins:

“The School Board recognizes that the education of children is a process that involves a partnership between students, parents, teachers, school administrators and other school based and district personnel. For this educational process and partnership to be successful, it is necessary for all individuals to conduct themselves in an appropriate and orderly manner, demonstrating mutual respect for others. . .”

In my view, our elected representatives and senior administrators have lost their moral compass and strayed far from the lofty standards memorialized above.

Now, it is time for School Board members to either regain some semblance of organizational bearing and establish a stable learning environment for the thousands of Volusia County students who rely on them for a quality education – and support and protect the devoted teachers and staff who have committed their professional lives here – or have the courage to step aside and make way for someone who will. 

That’s all for me.  Have a Happy Easter, y’all! 

6 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for April 15, 2022

  1. Re the school superintendent’s unexpected firing with immediate effect: there is this pesky constitutional phrase call “due process” which requires all governments to follow procedures. That, plus the existence of an employment contract, means that if this government really wanted to fire this employee without notice or evaluative process, as it was in this case, it would have to be considered “without cause,” even if “cause” were to exist. It must be done in at least one previously scheduled proceeding, allowing preparation, presentation of evidence, questioning, and review. Extensive formal education or not, surely your many years in public service taught you that. Costly and unwise to fire on the spot in this case? Probably. But enough votes were there to oust him immediately, without a due process procedure, so it is what it is: as the School Board attorney explained, “without cause” required a payout.

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    1. Isn’t Florida a right to work state? I’ve been told this since I started working . I’ve been told
      you have a right work, but your employer has the right to fire for No Good Reason and I believe that would work for contracted employees as well, especially when contracted employee doesn’t do his/her job correctly !

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      1. Right to fire (which of course was exercised here) does not always mean “without compensation.” Negotiated contracts govern and frequently add additional compensation requirements, and if you think Florida employment law in either the public or private sector is a simple as “Florida’s a Right to Work State” you’ve never worked in an HR department (or ever been an attorney)!

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  2. Guess we need roto roter to clean out the sludge and serv pro to clean it all up and dispose of it..So easy just vote.Flagler raise increase is not over per WNDB this morning.Lt.Governor of NY State got caught this week taking donations from builders and using the bribe money to give them state grants.He resigned yesterday as the handcuffs went on.Please vote in the primary and the November election

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  3. Proud of Colon, Haynes and Burnette for having the courage to go against a toxic leader who had the support of the good ole boys and elite in Volusia. Fritz sold snake oil to the elite and was ethically challenged even on small issues he was questioned on. Sorry, that is called oversight and accountability, something Cuthbert doesn’t understand is a primary function of an elected official. She is not a teacher anymore!!! Colon, Haynes and Burnette—these three are leaders!!! Persis had his hands financially tied by his wife’s backroom deal with the district which fattened his wallet. And Cuthbert is a spineless staff apologist. New Smyrna won’t miss her on the board and deserves better. Except that her whining at times is cheap entertainment. The last board blew the Superintendent hire. It happens. The worst thing you can do is put lipstick on the pig and try to make it work when it never will. This board (the brave three) had the guts to cut bait instead of forcing a bad situation to work, wasting even more time and resources!

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