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 Claire Metz, WESH-2
It is an honor to congratulate my old friend and former colleague – the incomparable Claire Metz, WESH’s longest serving on-air journalist – as she prepares to receive the coveted Legacy Award from the Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists.
I rightfully refer to Claire – and her long-time photojournalist, Hutch Breneman – as colleagues because during my service in law enforcement, the team became trusted confreres who both reported on incidents with meticulous accuracy and independence, requested community assistance when necessary, and broadcast time-sensitive information to residents during emergencies.
(While somehow making my ugly visage and rambling delivery seem coherent on the evening news during what seems like hundreds of stand-up interviews through the years. . .)
Because Claire is so beloved in the community, I have noticed when people seek information on emergent issues affecting their neighborhood on social media, the first call for help is “Hey, Claire, do you know what’s going on?”
Impressively, she always comes through – regardless of the time or circumstance – Claire Metz does her best to serve and inform.
During over forty-years in broadcast journalism in Central Florida, Claire has covered it all as both an anchor and highly respected reporter – wildfires, hurricanes, accidents, homicides (including the arrest, prosecution, and execution of serial killer Aileen Wuornos) she has seen it all – from the life-threatening to the mundane, Claire brought it into our living rooms with great professionalism, the consummate storyteller, always setting the gold standard for her colleagues and competitors.
As Hutch so aptly put it in the recent FABJ announcement:
“In my nearly four decades in news, I’ve never known a more dedicated journalist, or one who cares more about the people in her community. Who else makes beat calls, requests reports and files stories while they’re on vacation? Who else gets a call from a source, and runs out to breaking news with her iPhone in the middle of the night, in her pajamas? Then again, who else covers a hurricane in high heels?”
Congratulations on this well-deserved recognition of your stellar career, Claire. Your incredible professionalism will serve as the benchmark for aspiring broadcast journalists – and a testament to your esteemed legacy of service to Central Florida and beyond.
Asshole Florida Rep. Randy Fine
I don’t know about you, but this has bothered me all week. . .
On occasion a story emerges that reminds me of all the reasons I write this blog – the cathartic nature of venting my spleen while pointing a jaded finger at ‘the shit’ – comforted by the faint hope that my neighbors still believe some behavior should be universally reviled, even in the feted slit-trench of modern politics.
I cannot abide bullying and abuse of position – especially when that aggression and intimidation comes from high and mighty politicians seeking to use their vast power to punish the defenseless.
Floridians got a disturbing glimpse of the politics of personal destruction this week when influential state Rep. Randy Fine got caught victimizing a Brevard County community after he felt snubbed by, of all things, an invitation to a local fundraiser for Special Olympics in West Melbourne.
According to reports, Rep. Fine took the ass after the West Melbourne Police Department sent a blanket invitation to community leaders – including the Brevard County School Board – seeking participation in a “jail and bail” style fundraiser at an area Chick-fil-A – apparently neglecting to prostrate themselves and humbly beseech Rep. Fine to grace the event with his attendance.
What raised Rep. Fine’s wrath was that his long-time political punching bag, Brevard School Board member Jennifer Jenkins, agreed to participate.
In a series of text messages between Fine and his obsequious toady, West Melbourne City Commissioner John Dittmore, obtained by media outlets last week, Rep. Fine can be seen threatening to withhold funding for Special Olympics (read that again) and a flood-mitigation project for citizens of West Melbourne:
Fine: “Thanks for taking care of it. Jenkins just put your project and special Olympics funding on the veto list.”
Dittmore: “Burns (a Brevard County blogger) went after me…said I did it at your direction,”
Fine: “Lol” (Laugh out loud)
Fine: “Seriously though, this does put your project on the veto list. Very dumb move.”
Dittmore: “Apparently the police department invited the school board, all declined or ignored except her”
Fine: “Odd they didn’t invite me and I actually represent west melbourne”
Dittmore: “Well that’s going to be a topic of discussion with staff on Monday. They seem to (sic) focused on a lot of teachers the school board, etc. for this particular year I don’t know why”
“I’m going to personally donate the amount of money that she would’ve earned and exchange for her being removed from the event 500”
“The crazies are going at it right now. I’m just going to handle on my end and then if she doesn’t voluntarily step away I will bring up Tuesday at our council meeting”
“You wouldn’t happen to know what percentage of support you got from the city of West Melbourne in the last election?”
Fine: “I can figure it out”
Dittmore: “I just wanna make sure I have the right number for Tuesday night in case anyone’s on the fence about supporting me”
Fine: “It is a slap in the face given I got you all money”
Dittmore: “We’re (sic) you able to review the social media”
Fine: “Which one?”
Dittmore: “I just want to make sure you have seen it”
“Two west melbourne precincts in my district we believe”
“309: 64.2 – 35.98”
“529: 61.4 – 38.96”
Dittmore: “4/22 is the fundraiser, will you attend with me. It’s around 6pm”
“I think she deleted the post but I need to confirm. The focus should be on the SO (Special Olympics) kids, not her bs”
Fine: “Problem is their funding is now at risk too.”
“Huge fuckup by the bureaucrats.”
“Smart move is to cancel with apology for wading into politics.”
Dittmore: “The problem is low level police supervisors sent a blanket email and she was the only SB member to respond. I doubt that the officer who coordinates this event had any clue about potential issues…as a cop I hated politicians/politics so they are pretty much oblivious to these things”
“4/22 is the fundraiser, will you attend with me. Its around 6pm”
Fine: “I’m not going to jack shit that that whore is at”
Dittmore: “Conditional that she is not there”
“I’m going to get Paul to go, and Matt Susin just asked about attending. I’m going to ask Rob Medina as well, Burns attacked all of us”
Fine: “Yes. I’m not doing anything involving that whore.”
“You guys need to raise a lot of money given that’s who you want to honor, not the person who got you money in the budget. And I don’t mean you specifically.”
(From Eric Rogers, Florida Today, “Florida Rep. Randy Fine threatened Special Olympics funding over school board member feud, texts show,” April 23, 2022)
As Rep. Fine so arrogantly put it – Boom.
It gets worse. . .
According to an article by reporter Eric Rogers writing in Florida Today, “A city leader said Fine later tried to block the release of the text messages through a public records request and wanted a city attorney who was overseeing the request to be fired.”
“Fine denied he threatened to get the funding pulled or that he ever spoke about firing the city attorney.”
Wow. Does that comport with what you just read in the transcript of his text messages?
If that isn’t base thuggery, I don’t know what is. . .
What a couple of Class A scumbags.
Look, before someone gets their knickers in a wad and tries to make this a “righty v. lefty” Republican/Democrat thing – it isn’t.
I don’t give a damn which side of the aisle you align with, an elected state official threatening to influence Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto funds for Special Olympics and flood-prevention efforts to protect the homes of some 500 at-risk citizens in Brevard County over petty personal politics is wrong.
It should be criminal.
Of course, Florida legal experts say threatening to withhold public funds for a previously allocated public purpose is perfectly above-board here in the Sunshine State.
According to a subsequent report in Florida Today:
“Ben Wilcox, research director for Integrity Florida, a government accountability watchdog based in Tallahassee, said that while Fine’s behavior was unethical, it wasn’t a clear ethics code violation.
“It seems like an abuse of power. But I’m not sure that’s covered in Chapter 112 (the section of the Florida Statutes dealing with ethics for elected officials),” he said.
It could be argued Fine was gaining some sort of “political benefit,” but that would be hard to quantify, Wilcox said.
“Whether or not you agree that a state legislator should be threatening and pressuring local government officials, I don’t think that’s an ethics violation.”
This is Florida, the rules are different here. . .
In addition to Rep. Fine’s douchebaggery, the fact West Melbourne City Councilman John Dittmore – that bootlicking sycophant (who, to my utter disgust, bills himself as a “retired police officer”) – threw members of his community’s hardworking police department under the bus for having the temerity to solicit local school leaders for a fundraiser in support of the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities is revolting.
What exactly, was Councilman Dittmore planning to discuss with “staff” on Monday morning?
What was he planning to bring up at Tuesday’s council meeting?
Was Ditzmore going to lean on any public employee who failed to join him in kissing the pasty fat ass of some pompous despot? A petty tyrant who wields his considerable power – derived from the will of the people – for personal political gain and spiteful retribution?
Hey, Councilman Dittmore, do the honorable thing (look it up) and resign.
I know, I know – in Florida’s labyrinthine public ethics statutes nothing is ever out-of-bounds, the laws written to benefit politicians and administered by a bunch of political appointees with the decisiveness of Jed Clampett ordering soup in an Ethiopian restaurant. . .
However, resigning from office and preserving the public trust is the right thing to do when you no longer possess the moral authority to lead.
In my view, the likes of Rep. Fine represents the worst-of-the-worst – and he is everything wrong with what passes for modern politics – where anyone with an opposing viewpoint is painted as an ‘enemy’ which must be destroyed, and women with whom they disagree are denigrated as “whores,” with each move carefully choreographed to be more outrageous than the one before, with no option off the table as the ‘culture wars’ are perpetuated at all levels of government, and the only rule is lockstep fealty to those behind-the-scenes partisan powerbrokers on both sides who underwrite their campaigns and set the order of battle.
Trust me. That cabal of strategic puppeteers with a chip in the game most assuredly does not include Rep. Fine.
He is merely a dull tool with the ethical malleability to do exactly what he is told – now revealed as a cheap bully and gross embarrassment to his party, “colleagues,” and the State of Florida.
Look, I realize political ogres like Randy Fine don’t have the strength of character to do what is right, step aside, and make way for someone (anyone) with the moral backbone to protect the dignity of the office, stop this insane tit-for-tat from fringe elements on both sides, and work cooperatively to find a way to return some sense of governance and decorum to Tallahassee and beyond.
I don’t care if you are a staunch Republican or diehard Democrat – anyone with a conscience should find this behavior abhorrent, un-American, and detrimental to a democracy many have fought and died to preserve.
Expectedly, the silence from our elected “leadership” is deafening. . .
Kudos to Deltona City Commissioner Dana McCool for having the courage and sense of decency to contact Rep. Fine’s colleagues and ask them to condemn his abhorrent tactics.
According to a subsequent article by Eric Rogers in Florida Today this week:
“News of the text messages — which included Fine twice calling Jenkins a “whore” — angered Dana McCool, a commissioner for the city of Deltona in Volusia County. She contacted reporters Monday, saying she took the day off to call state legislators and urge them to speak out about the incident.
“We must condemn him for his hypocrisy,” McCool said. “He portrays himself as a fine, upstanding, God-fearing family man who’s a Boy Scout leader. We’re seeing the underbelly of how Randy Fine operates.”
McCool said she had contacted the offices of about 30 House members by 5 p.m. Monday. Not one leader she spoke with would comment on the record, she said.
“It’s a new level of low when you don’t hear from leadership,” she said.”
Like Commissioner McCool, I find the collective cowardice of our representatives – those we elect to preserve the public trust and protect the sanctity of our state government – a disgusting example of just how far we have strayed from our foundational beliefs. . .
As evidence that Fine’s belligerence transcends partisan politics, in the same article, Rick Lacey, the elected chair of the Brevard County Republican Executive Committee (who has also felt the ire of Rep. Fine) is quoted:
“Lacey called the threats an “abuse of power” and a “major insult to women voters,” and called on Fine to resign over the incident.
“The voters give people a position of power in our community to represent them,” Lacey told FLORIDA TODAY. “And if a person misuses that power, which is obvious in this case, that is an abuse of power. It is a misuse of the office. And, to me, the proper thing to do would be to resign.”
According to Beth Rosenson, an associate professor in political science at the University of Florida, who was also quoted by Florida Today, “Fine’s actions carried some “pretty deep, profound implications” for the state of government in Florida.”
“Personal motivations dominate in a dictatorship. … Based on personal rule, where a dictator says, ‘If you don’t bow down to me, you’re not going to get what you want,’” said Rosenson, author of “The Shadowlands of Conduct: Ethics and State Politics.”
“It’s not how the Founding Fathers envisioned democracy working, that people would make decisions based on some petty political feud rather than on the merits of the case,” she said.”
In my view, if Rep. Fine does not have the scruples to resign (he doesn’t), then it is high time for the voters of South Brevard to do all Floridians a favor and show this shameless goon the door at their earliest opportunity.
Quote of the Week
“I’m in a tough spot,” Haynes said. “Ninety-five-percent of the time, I will always take the high road. I don’t believe in airing dirty laundry because it doesn’t do our students any good, our families or communities any good, but it’s been rough lately.”
“Haynes continued that it was made harder as she’s had trouble communicating with School Board Attorney Ted Doran. She detailed an incident where she was on the phone and did not take his call and Doran immediately emailed her complaining that she wasn’t taking his call or communicating with him.”
“I personally didn’t know that if my phone rang and it was Mr. Doran calling that I needed to immediately hang up with whoever I was talking to, to talk to him,” she said. “I don’t take well to being threatened.”
–Volusia County School Board Member Jamie Hynes, as quoted by Ormond Beach Observer Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas, “Volusia County School Board approves interim superintendent contract; evaluation for its attorney coming soon?” Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Last year, the Volusia County School Board somehow ‘forgot’ that attorney Ted Doran’s contract – who, along with the superintendent, is one of the board’s two direct reports – was due for renewal.
How does that happen?
With little more than one-week notice to consider alternatives; Mr. Doran received a three-year contract without any evaluation of his performance.
That binding agreement increased Mr. Doran’s hourly rate from $195 to $245 an hour – a more than 25% increase. . .
Life is good in the hallowed halls of the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand, eh?
According to a June 2021 article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“Last fiscal year, Doran and his firm were paid between $400,000 and $450,000 total for work with the school district (the final numbers are not yet available). The majority is for other legal services they provided to the district. The district contracts with six to eight outside law firms for various legal services and specializations.”
Now, we learn that the Volusia County School Board could not evaluate Mr. Doran if they wanted to – because they lack the capability.
You read that right.
That disturbing revelation lead member Carl “Namby-Pamby” Persis – a staunch advocate for the dysfunctional status quo – to call for a highly paid consultant to take them by the hand, walk them down the garden path, and develop a tool for how best to review their own attorney’s performance. . .
Never mind that a Google search would provide a plethora of vetted evaluation examples from school boards in Florida and beyond. Nah, too simple.
Here on the Fun Coast, we need another convoluted and incredibly expensive process that – if done properly – should drag on beyond the election this fall.
Of course, any consideration of demanding accountability for one of the most sensitive and highly compensated positions in the district was pooh-poohed by the always melodramatic, Linda Cuthbert, whose histrionics from the dais suggested any proposed workshop to discuss a means of evaluating the board’s attorney was a “ruse” to fire Mr. Doran.
In addition, Mr. Persis took the opportunity to lecture his colleagues, essentially whimpering that if any member had an issue with Mr. Doran, they should simply take him behind closed doors, sit cross-legged in the floor, and sing Kumbaya until things improve – you know, away from the prying eyes of those who pay the bills. . .
“It’s very easy for us to just say to them, ‘ Hey, something’s bothering me. I really need to talk to you privately. Can we do that?'” Persis mewled. “… But then of course if you see a pattern of the same thing and it’s not getting any better, then I understand.”
Does he mean the pattern of abject dysfunction, scandal, and miscommunication that has had students, teachers, parents, and staff feeling like they are strapped into some nightmarish version of Mister Toad’s Wild Ride?
Given that Mr. Persis has spent the bulk of his professional life climbing the gilded ladder in the cloistered confines of Volusia County District Schools, it is not surprising that he seems to have no concept of responsibility and accountability, preferring to allow issues to fester into a public shit-show rather than address conflicts and performance issues in an objective, transparent, and measured way, consistent with established policies and protocols.
But then, when did the Volusia County School Board ever give two-shits about following their own policies?
Clearly, “the rules” are meant to control the little people. . .
Earlier in the meeting, something everyone could agree on was approving a contract with Interim Superintendent Rachel Hazel, which raised her pay from $423 a day ($107,833 annually) to an astronomical $804 per day, which places her at the same $205,000 annual salary that former Superintendent Scott Fritz commanded when he was recently terminated on a 3-2 vote. . .
$804 per day? For an interim role?
“Congratulations,” Persis crowed. “I’m glad you’re gonna get paid.”
Life is good, indeed. . .
I don’t make this shit up, folks.
And Another Thing!
“I wholly disapprove of what you say—and will defend to the death your right to say it.”
When it comes to voicing opinions – I subscribe to the theory that my viewpoint is no less valid, or invalid, than yours.
In many cases, how we see the issues of the day comes down to a matter of perspective.
For instance, if a parade is passing in a busy downtown, a person walking on the street two-blocks over may hear the sirens, sense the raucous roar of the crowd, see glimpses of flashing lights, and run for safety thinking a riot has broken out; while a worker sitting in an office on the fourteenth floor of a high-rise can observe the scene from beginning to end, see the decorated floats, the clowns, marching units, prancing horses, and run into the street to join the fun, while the guy who follows the elephants with a push broom has a completely different perspective of the cavalcade.
The office worker isn’t any smarter or more prescient that the pedestrian or street sweeper, they simply have a different vantagepoint.
I spent over three decades serving in municipal government – clawing my way to middle-management and holding on with my fingernails. In that time, I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly – and my thoughts and opinions on the issues of the day are informed by my experiences.
Against my long-suffering doctor’s advice, I get my blood pressure in a boil spending long hours watching bone-crushingly boring public meetings, debating competing ideas with people who are much more intelligent than me, analyzing the behind-the-scenes gossip of insiders who confide in me, then – in the information black hole of local government – attempt to form an educated opinion on the issues with the required dose of good old-fashioned guesswork.
For the uninitiated (or those thin-skinned Caspar Milquetoasts who are easily triggered) these jeremiads are simply one man’s jaded opinions on the issues of the day – neither always right, nor always wrong – and most smart people understand that when they open Barker’s View.
(In fact, if I must remind you of that – I beg you to stop reading these posts. Just turn them off and storm out in a huff – no need for what the French call L’espirit de l’escalier, the “wit of the staircase,” that annoying moment when we think of the perfect retort after having walked away from the argument. Trust me – you will feel better – and I can assure that your departure will not hurt my feelings. . .)
They say the flak is always heaviest over the target, and since I began publishing these screeds, it has become apparent which topics are hitting close to the bone with area “Movers & Shakers” by how much opposition I receive from their self-anointed mouthpieces and deferential allies.
In fact, I have learned that a good barometer of which ideas and initiatives members of Volusia County’s Old Guard vehemently oppose is by watching how they wholeheartedly support those same issues each election year.
The wolf living with the lamb, the leopard laying down with the goat, the calf, the lion, and the yearling together; political campaigns financed by developers and special interests suddenly agreeing with environmentalists. . .
As this election year heats up, I am amazed by how many sitting politicians are suddenly embracing the hot button issues they have avoided like the plague – clean water initiatives, low-impact development, traffic and utilities infrastructure, growth moratoriums, traffic issues, public input, etc. – in some cases, the very same elected officials who have rubberstamped massive development with Pavlovian regularity have suddenly transmogrified into virtual tree-hugging dirt worshippers. . .
Don’t worry. Others are doing the dirty work for them.
In a weird flanking maneuver, those who support this same entrenched power structure are increasingly demanding that thoughts or opinions contrary to their own (or, more accurately, their benefactors) be deleted or banned from the public discourse.
Worse, some refer opinion pieces like this to anonymous social media authorities who determine which speech is worthy of being heard, and which is not, like good collaborators reporting on the thoughts of their neighbors. . .
When that fails to silence critics, they label editorial content as “lies” – or marginalize those they disagree with as “conspiracy theorists” and “discontents” – ultimately retreating to the last fallback of the craven Champions of Censorship by pointing their bony fingers and screaming “hate speech!”
Trust me. I have seen hate speech. This goofy political blog ain’t it. . .
Look, I have some hard bark, not easily threatened by those who prefer to use intimidation to silence competing viewpoints (I have the hate mail and “I know where you live, asshole” letters to prove it) but I find this concerted effort to silence criticism and mitigate any threat to the lucrative status quo disturbing.
In my view, the measure of a healthy society is the willingness and ability of its citizens to express unpopular opinions, take positions that others may reject, and enthusiastically participate in the public debate, especially in an era where once trusted media sources and what passes for our political “leaders,” present a biased narrative created by their uber-wealthy corporate owners, benefactors, and overseers who manipulate the rods and strings of public policy from behind the velvet curtain.
With so much at stake, things are getting interesting as the election cycle heats up.
Get involved. Speak your mind fearlessly. Participate in the process. Vote.
That’s all for me. Have a great Jeep Beach Weekend, y’all!