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 Deltona City Commission
The word “Interim” is defined as “in or for the intervening period; provisional or temporary,” a “brief interval” between one event and another.
Except in the Dysfunctional Duchy of Deltona.
There, the term “Interim City Manager” is accepted to mean an indefinite decree – a Royal Diktat allowing an individual to receive all the salary, benefits, perquisites, and severance protections of a lawfully appointed charter officer without requiring that he or she conform to the requirements of the city’s governing document.
Last week, Deltona’s perennial Acting City Manager John “I’m Damn Principled” Peters added 20-weeks of severance pay to his lucrative contract on a 4-2 vote (with Commissioner Dana McCool off the dais dealing with a medical issue) – another infamous Deltona “golden parachute” worth some $63,000 plus other benefits if the commission votes to fire his ass “without cause.”
According to the provisions of the city’s charter, once appointed to the full-time role, the city manager must reside in the city within six-months. Mr. Peters lives in DeBary – not Deltona – and clearly has no intention of moving to a place that has gone through some twelve chief executives in twenty-five years. . .
In an excellent article by the News-Journal’s Wild West Volusia reporter Katie Kustura, “Peters, who lives in DeBary, said it’d be possible to get around that by paying to rent a room, without even living there, and having his mail sent to the address, which wouldn’t be a first for a Deltona charter officer.”
“I’m not going to insult people by doing that,” Peters said.”
When asked by Commissioner Anita Bradford what the charter requires, Mr. Peters explained the section governing charter officers, “The charter states the commission “shall begin the process to fill a vacancy in the Charter Office of the City Manager or the City Attorney within 90 days of the vacancy.”
Then quibbled the intent, “Peters said one of the charter’s problems is “it doesn’t say you have to complete the search.”
Any reasonable person – even an overpaid career bureaucrat trying desperately to have their cake and eat it too – understands that a search typically ends with the vetting and selection of a qualified candidate willing to follow the letter and spirit of the charter.
And 90-days means 90-days. . .
Look, I am not suggesting that Mr. Peters, and his supporters on the City Commission, are usurping the provisions of the charter because he is chary of moving to a community (one that he manages) with a notorious history of going through City Managers like shit through a dyspeptic goose – but this “acting” charade cannot continue ad infinitum.
The good people of Deltona deserve stability.
In my view, the reign of John Peters has not been without controversy – some warranted, some not – to include that time he crowed to the news media that he was planning to take his football and go home after accusing several sitting elected officials of exerting influence over day-to-day operations.
If proven true, Mr. Peter’s scandalous allegations would have constituted a serious violation of the same charter that Peters and his enablers have been ignoring for the many months since his appointment to the “acting” role. . .
In August 2021, a report in the News-Journal aired claims by the city’s former Human Resources Director that Peters “…made sexually harassing comments toward another employee … specifically … suggesting that he is a product of incest” and “Peters also made discriminatory comments about minorities” during a meeting of directors, “suggesting that minorities do not have a lot to look forward to in life and do not take care of their homes which is why there is so much crime around rental buildings,” according to the lawsuit.”
According to the report, “…in July 2020 he (the former HR director) received a complaint that on two separate occasions, Peters, who was then the director of public works for the city, “used offensive, sexually harassing language. Peters admitted to using ‘questionable’ language and indicated he would discontinue such behavior moving forward.”
Yeah. . .
Then, in a November 2021 News-Journal article announcing yet another pay increase, it was noted that Peters has a current total compensation package commanding $217,666 a year – which includes a base salary of $169,680 and a car allowance of some $6,269.
You read that right.
At the time, when asked what he considered his “biggest accomplishment” while in the acting role, “Peter’s chuckled, “I’ve survived…”
This week the City of Deltona settled a lawsuit alleging unlawful discrimination and retaliation filed by former Interim City Manager Marc-Antonie Cooper (who apparently didn’t have the same survival instincts as his replacement, John Peters) for a reported $45,000.
According to a News-Journal report announcing the settlement, “Cooper’s attorney, Mitchell Feldman, of the Tampa-based Feldman Legal Group, sent a letter to commissioners in May 2021 informing them of the possibility of a lawsuit for demoting his client and promoting Peters, “an older white male, with less qualifications,” who was at the time serving as the city’s public works director.”
In addition, the report states, “Deltona’s acting city manager, John Peters III, said while he disagrees with the basis of Cooper’s lawsuit, he is glad it’s now resolved.”
I’ll bet he is. . .
You know, “principles.”
Asshole Volusia County School Board
I ruminated on this building shitstorm earlier in the week, but it bears repeating. . .
On Tuesday evening, following an eleventh-hour manipulation of the public agenda, the Volusia County School Board voted unanimously to appoint former Deputy Superintendent Dr. Carmen Balgobin, who mysteriously fled Volusia County for a similar post with Broward County Schools, “…as Superintendent of the School Board” (whatever that means) in the foul wake of Dr. Scott Fritz, who fled with a sack full of severance following a tumultuous resignation/termination last month.
No announcement. No competitive process. No transparency. And no public or staff input.
Why? Because rules, process, and procedure are there to control the Little People, not to incumber the wants and whims of tinpot despots convinced of their own divine infallibility.
It was clear to everyone watching that School Board members had made up their minds well in advance, and the decision to hire “Dr. B” was a foregone conclusion – helped along by the appearance of former Board Chair Ida Wright – who spoke glowingly of Dr. Balgobin, which, inadvertently, raised the ugly specter of controversy during her previous tenure as Interim Superintendent.
While I realize most current and former politicians have a high opinion of themselves and the influence they wield – Ms. Wright should understand sometimes the less said the better.
According to reports, during Ms. Wright’s final meeting after losing re-election, Wright and board attorney Ted Doran negotiated a 34% pay increase for Balgobin as she served in the interim superintendent role.
In turn, Balgobin hired Ms. Wright immediately after she left office for an unadvertised and uncompetitive part-time position paying $35 an hour under a federal grant program to help Human Resources develop equity and diversity practices. . .
That all-to-cozy arrangement had a whiff of the shit about it and that did not sit well with some.
Although our elected officials telegraphed their support for bringing Dr. Balgobin back to the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand, that didn’t stop them from indulging in their interminable hyper-dramatic soliloquies – the lachrymose mewling and melodrama this iteration of the School Board has become infamous for – as they gushed, ad nauseum, on all the reasons why Dr. Balgobin was the best and brightest we could hope for (in a field of one?).
Oddly, during her long-winded oration, member Jamie Haynes repeatedly alluded to some cryptic harm that drove Dr. Balgobin from Volusia County Schools – an overemotional yarn that suggested Balgobin did not take the job in Broward County (and the massive pay increase it provided) by choice.
Frustratingly, Ms. Haynes stopped short of explaining what she was tiptoeing around – leaving her audience to conjure the atrocities Dr. Balgobin may or may not have endured in the workplace – and speculating on who, or what, was responsible for the monstrous treatment Balgobin was forced to endure before fleeing to the safety of Broward County Schools.
“You don’t know the true story of why she left,” Haynes warbled. “You don’t know what happened. I know what happened and I know why she left, and I said to her, ‘You have to go’ when she told me what was happening because no one deserves to be harmed or hurt. We’re here to educate kids and take care of people.”
Wait – “…harmed or hurt”?
Then, in similar dramatic fashion, during his monotonous monologue, Chairman Ruben Colon alluded to similar mistreatment.
Like Haynes, Colon also stopped maddeningly shy of the complete transparency that may have garnered public support for Dr. Balgobin – robbing her of that “Ah-ha! That explains it!” moment that could have turned the widespread internal and external perception that sees her as an extension of Dr. Fritz, a mercenary, or both – and explain the reason(s) why she jumped ship in the first place.
Inconceivably, like some bumbling, near-sighted wrestling referee – it appears the Volusia County School Board was caught flatfooted – completely oblivious to the interoffice mayhem and hostility going on around them – a horrific situation that (we are led to believe) caused Dr. Balgobin to flee Volusia County to avoid being “harmed or hurt.”
According to Chairman Colon, “Unfortunately procedurally, we did not have the time to do what we needed to do…”
Yes, they did.
But that requires a board with situational awareness, an attorney willing to do more than loudly apologize for his Scrivener’s errors, and agile enough to react.
That’s water under the bridge.
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s debacle, stakeholders are left to speculate on the who, what, when, where, why, and how of Dr. Balgobin’s mysterious victimization – and, most important – why no one has been held accountable?
Stay tuned, folks.
Time will tell. It always does.
Angel Daytona Beach City Commissioner Ken Strickland
Last week I received an apoplectic email from a friend and fellow rube (read: local taxpayer) who was seething over the inexplicable extension of a seeming sweetheart deal between the City of Daytona Beach and the influential P$S Paving – a government contractor that has been gifted the right to haul millions-of-dollars in publicly owned dirt off publicly owned land in a weird arrangement ostensibly designed to pay for that money pit known as the First Step Shelter in the hinterlands off International Speedway Boulevard.
As I understand it (and I’m not sure I do) in 2018, P$S Paving was prepared to charge the City of Daytona Beach some $1.62 million for site work performed at the First Step Shelter.
However, when the total cost of construction soared to an astronomical $6 million – the city agreed to allow P$S to sell lucrative publicly owned dirt (used as fill for new construction) which allowed Daytona Beach to take $2.13 million off the obscene shelter costs.
The controversial “deal” was supposed to terminate next month, but P$S Paving recently claimed the COVID-19 pandemic put them behind schedule (?) and asked for a 21-month extension.
According to an excellent piece by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“At Wednesday night’s meeting, City Commissioner Ken Strickland said if P&S Paving was going to get the 21-month extension it was requesting, then the city should escalate its charge for the dirt. City Commissioner Stacy Cantu wanted to negotiate something shorter than 21 months.
But in the end P&S Paving was granted the 21-month extension without a price hike on a 6-1 vote that chalked up Strickland as the lone no vote.”
Thank you, Commissioner Strickland. I admire your political courage.
And your conscience. . .
During the Commission meeting, it appears some Daytona Beach elected and appointed officials ran interference for P$S Paving – including their political beneficiary, Mayor Derrick Henry – who cautioned his colleagues on the dais of power, “We have to decide whether we want to penalize a partner of ours.”
Partner of ours?
In my jaded view, the most incredulous statement of the evening was offered by Public Works Director Andrew Holmes, who said (with an apparent straight face):
“They’ve fronted a considerable amount of expense and I’d be surprised if they’ve recovered that yet.”
(Sorry, I just shot a hot sip of fortified Café Bustelo through my nose, dammit. . .)
According to the News-Journal’s report, in a memorandum to City Manager Derek Feacher, Holmes explained:
“The contract was developed so (P&S Paving) could excavate and market the material to the developing public, much of which was in Daytona Beach and surrounding communities,” Holmes wrote. “The uncertainty brought many of the projects to a halt. The economy appeared to be making a turn for the better, but still not as robust as it was at the onset of the contract.”
Has anyone seen a tap-‘o-the-brakes on commercial or residential development in Daytona Beach and beyond in the last year or so, let alone a “halt” on projects?
These are questions I ask myself when I am sitting through three-cycles of a traffic light on Granada Boulevard and (you name the cross street).
How about you?
And while we’re spit balling among friends, what the hell happened to that whole “things are changing at Daytona Beach City Hall!” – or the encouragement and hope Mr. Feacher stirred throughout the Halifax area when the News-Journal reported he “…vowed to steer clear of any “under-the-table deals” and clandestine conversations.”
Remember? I do.
To Mr. Feacher’s credit he inherited this controversy. The “dirt deal” was hatched under the Chisholm regime.
However, according to reports, Feacher will soon be asked to determine if P$S Paving will be permitted to dig an additional “retention pond” on the property and pay the city the laughably higher rate of $2.00 per cubic yard.
Again, time will tell. . .
In my view, if the good citizens of Daytona Beach want to get into the commercial fill dirt business, there are fair and competitive processes enshrined in state law and city ordinances that ensure contractual agreements are equally advantageous to taxpayers – not just those Mayor Henry considers “partners.”
You know that whole “…protecting public funds and resources from being exploited in assisting or promoting private ventures when the public would be at most only incidentally benefited…” thing I once read about, back when I was playing government and spending other people’s money.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?
Kudos to Commissioner Ken Strickland for having the courage of his convictions – and for keeping a watchful eye on the rights, assets, and interests of his long-suffering constituents.
Quote of the Week
“Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington was in favor of delaying the (transportation) subcommittee issue, not only because of the elections, but also because he said he felt this was a “precursor to a one-cent sales tax.”
In May 2019, Volusia held a special election for a half-cent sales tax referendum for infrastructure projects; it failed by 55% of the vote. Partington questioned why some would think a one-cent sales tax would be passed by voters. Some, he explained, may feel like the half-cent sales tax referendum failed because “it wasn’t enough to meet the needs,” and a one-cent sales tax will pass because it might be deemed enough.
“That makes no sense to me,” he said. “I think there will be double the opposition to a one-cent sales tax than there was to a half-cent sales tax, and that half-cent effort started out well but it just turned into a disaster at the end whenever everybody piled in their special interests.”
–Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington, as quoted by Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas, Ormond Beach Observer, “Volusia elected officials to hold off on forming a transportation subcommittee,” Monday, May 9, 2022
And Another Thing!
I have an often-hypocritical sense of right and wrong – but a well-developed conscience just the same. An inner guide that lets me know when my ethical compass has precessed in time to reverse course and avoid the consequences.
Sometimes I listen, and sometimes I don’t. . .
Some call personal integrity the “voice within” or our “inner light” – an instinct psychologists and sociologists tell us enables people to form cohesive societies and resolve conflict by allowing members to recognize behaviors destructive to that order as “bad” or “evil.”
I’m certainly not perfect, just another unrepentant sinner – a confused pain-in-the-ass with a highly tuned Bullshit Detector and a goofy opinion on everything – neither always right, nor always wrong, with the age, experience, and hard-earned insight to recognize those traits, trends, and ethical lapses that are robbing We, The Little People of our confidence in local government – a corrosive process whose cumulative affect is detrimental to our civic, social, and economic future here on Florida’s Fun Coast.
Although I am not sure why – that erosion of trust bothers me.
Earlier this week, Flagler County Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart joined Palm Coast City Clerk Virginia Smith in asking the Palm Coast City Council for a resolution supporting a voluntary, unenforceable “Statement of Ethical Campaign Practices for City Candidates,” a simple reminder for local political candidates of the importance of running clean, issues-based campaigns, free of untruths, innuendos, or ad hominem attacks.
How do you think that went?
According to an article in FlaglerLive!:
“I would suggest you crumble it up and toss it in the garbage can,” Council member Ed Danko said, with Lenhart, author of the statement, standing a few feet from him at the podium, when Mayor David Alfin asked his colleagues what they wished to do with the resolution and if it should come back to them for a vote next week.”
“The resolution will be scrapped and return to the council as what Alfin described as “a proclamation type statement that would encapsulate the theme of ethical campaigning.”
In my view, the always cantankerous Councilman Ed Danko could serve as the poster boy for this ethical guide. . .
Look, this isn’t some draconian edict insinuating government overreach into the political process – or an arbiter of what constitutes “The Truth” from a campaign fabrication – rather, it is an outline for candidates, a form they can choose to sign or not.
According to FlaglerLive! editor and publisher Pierre Tristam, “The council’s decision was the latest example of a fractured and chronically uncivil local political landscape where even getting elected officials to agree on voluntary civility standards is out of reach.”
It seems odd that elected officials everywhere seem capable of setting “civility standards” controlling the tone of citizens who approach the gilded dais to ask questions or express an opinion on public policy; yet, when it comes to regulating the no-holds-barred shitshow that passes for modern political campaigns, the concept is dismissed as “garbage.”
Apparently, suggestions like, “I will provide campaign finance reports which accurately reflect the contributions received and expenditures made,” and “I will not permit members or volunteers of my campaign organization to engage in activities designed to destroy or remove campaign signs lawfully displayed on public or private property,” or “I will at all times tell the truth, with complete documentation from legitimate, verifiable sources for any charges against my opponent(s), and substantiate claims about my own record by using the same standard,” are simply too burdensome – so at least one Palm Coast official suggested changing the term “I will not permit” to a more palatable (and hedging) “I will make every effort to.”
In my view, as the campaign season begins to boil, it is time We, The Little People view those seeking high office through the prism of our own moral and ethical values.
Including doing the work to become everything perennial politicians fear: An informed voter.
This includes an examination of campaign finance reports to see which candidates are being bankrolled by those industries and individuals with a chip in the game, reviewing the past voting records and the true motivations of incumbents, and studying their fiscal policies and growth management strategies (the Number One issue this election year).
Ask questions, demand answers, listen to their platforms, promises, and “accomplishments,” then determine if they comport with what you see with your own eyes.
Do they have a history of listening and responding to the concerns of constituents – not just the special interests and uber-wealthy insiders who use massive campaign donations to purchase the loyalties of malleable politicians who seem more interested in feathering their own nest (and that of their benefactors)?
Ask yourself – are they more interested in massaging their outsized egos by having their picture taken with the next echelon of stuffed-shirt C-List politicians and posting their backslapping antics on social media – or do they use their time to learn about and address the issues important to your family and mine?
Then you can use that valuable knowledge to sort the phonies, flunkies, and stalwarts of the status quo from those servant-leaders with a sincere desire to advance the civic, social, economic, and environmental interests of everyone.
This ones important, folks.
Get informed. Get involved. Refuse to be a victim to the ongoing subversion of our local political process.
We deserve better.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!