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 Daytona Beach Commissioner Quanita May & ECHO LLC
It is no secret that Daytona Beach City Commissioner Quanita May and I have had our differences.
But I never take politics personally and fairness demands that I give our elected officials credit when it is due. In my view, Ms. May’s efforts to bring alternative housing options to the Halifax area deserves recognition.
Last week, I read an informative article by Charles Guarria writing in Hometown News Volusia entitled, “Tiny houses could help Volusia neighborhoods.”
Thanks to the support of Commissioner May and others in Daytona Beach government, a developer known as Economical Community Housing Organization LLC (ECHO) recently hosted a meeting at Allen Chapel AME Church in Daytona Beach to discuss a proposed mini-home development called Brentwood Village.
You may recall that in November 2021, Commissioner May arranged for a tiny house manufactured by a Longwood company to be brought to Daytona Beach so people could see the concept for themselves.
At the time, Commissioner May said in the Daytona Times, “We have been speaking about various housing options, and this was an option we had not yet explored and the community had not yet experienced. I look forward to hearing feedback from the mayor, city manager, and staff as well as the residents.”
“The city’s goal is to provide multiple housing opportunities, from rentals to ownership. My focus is home ownership for as many people as possible in multiple forms.”
Ms. May took the initiative when others would not.
Now, things may be coming to fruition.
According to the Hometown News report, “Representatives from ECHO, Omni Lending Group and Realty Pros were on hand to explain Brentwood Village would be a 28-house development offering four different models on 3.5 acres of land managed by a homeowner’s association.
According to the plans, the Key West style homes will be either single or two bedrooms with an equal number of bathrooms. One model offers an upstairs; each has two parking spaces. The square footage ranges between 385 and 532. ECHO LLC is hoping to bring the houses to market at a $145,000 starting price.”
Unfortunately, the “tiny home” concept has not been well received by many governments in Volusia County – because innovation isn’t a big priority in a place where the stagnant status quo is defended with the ferocity of a rabid badger – but it appears the majority of the Daytona Beach City Commission see the intrinsic benefit of this type of development in an era where the price of a single-family home has far outpaced the average wage.
When the First Step “Shelter” first opened, there was talk of building one hundred tiny homes on the city-owned property – and some suggested placing mini-homes on the site of the Hope Place family shelter.
In addition, Mark Geallis, the former executive director of both First Step Shelter and Halifax Urban Ministries, has made several attempts to sell the idea of a tiny house village in Volusia County to accommodate the needs of those who fall through the crack between traditional housing and rental options.
Now, it appears ECHO LLC – in cooperation with local non-profits, specialty lenders, and business interests – is committed to building the areas first of its kind “…innovative, environmentally friendly, safe, and socially conscious homes for the community at affordable prices.”
I like that. Because it makes sense.
While Volusia County government is busy generating hot air and kicking the can down the dusty political trail on the growing crisis of affordable workforce housing – the City of Daytona Beach is doing something about it – providing first-time homebuyers (to include law enforcement officers, firefighters, first responders, and teachers) an affordable alternative to skyrocketing rental rates.
Kudos to Commissioner May and others for helping this important alternative become a reality.
Asshole Volusia County School Board’s Linda Cuthbert
“What do you mean by ‘trust’?”
–School Board Member Linda Cuthbert, July 26, 2022
Most people define trust as the foundational element of any relationship – business, personal, or fiduciary – a firm belief, based on firsthand experience, in another’s reliability, truth, and strength of character. A hard-earned confidence, built over time, that a person or entity has our best interests at heart.
And once it is gone, it is impossible to get back.
The opposite of trust is dubiety, uncertainty, skepticism, dysfunction, and a lack of faith in the very underpinnings of a relationship.
That distrust and suspicion can spread through an organization like wildfire.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Volusia County School Board held a workshop (with Carl Persis conspicuously absent) to discuss a tool for evaluating the board’s long-time attorney, Ted Doran.
Despite the fact an annual evaluation has been required by district policy since 1974, Mr. Doran – whose current three-year contract specifies an hourly rate of $245 – has not received a performance review in over twenty-years. . .
You read that right.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the meeting consisted of lame duck member Linda Cuthbert buying time by quibbling every insignificant aspect of the proposed instrument, haggling over minutia in her patented overdramatic fashion, placing emphasis on the importance of each syllable – even lobbying for the complete elimination of the section evaluating the attorney’s “professionalism” (calling it “completely redundant”) – then arguing what Mr. Doran does in his “private life is his own business” and should have no bearing on his firm’s continued association with the School Board.
Inconceivably, during one of her time-wasting soliloquies Ms. Cuthbert mewled the asinine question, “What do you mean by ‘trust’?
Don’t take my word for it, watch the workshop for yourself here: https://tinyurl.com/yembxmyu
Most organizations who value their reputation and internal stability require senior leaders and influencers to agree to a morality clause in their employment agreement – a legally binding document that holds the individual to certain behavioral standards to avoid bringing disrepute, contempt, or scandal that would adversely impact public perception.
I think most reasonable people would agree that image, character, and trustworthiness are relevant when evaluating an attorney or law firm commanding hundreds-of-thousands of dollars annually from a public school district.
In an October 2013 article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, it was reported that Mr. Doran agreed to a 60-day Florida Bar suspension following a series of complaints, to include his “lawyering” in a 2006 divorce case, personal relations with another divorce client in 2010, and what were described as “flirtations” with an opposing lawyer during a trial in South Florida.
None of the allegations involved his work for Volusia County Schools – but the suspension and subsequent renewal of his district contract did not sit well with some parents, teachers, staff, and taxpayers.
According to the News-Journal report, “The Volusia County School Board renewed its contract with Doran’s law firm for one year on July 23 (2013). Three weeks later, on Aug. 13, the board extended that contract to three years. Doran signed his agreement to the 60-day suspension on Aug. 19, six days after the contract extension.
School Board members reached Tuesday said they were aware of the pending complaints, but not the coming suspension, when they approved both contracts. The board did not publicly discuss the issue; Doran said he spoke privately with board members before the contract renewal.”
Is this relatively ancient history still pertinent when discussing Mr. Doran’s performance?
I don’t know, but it was the 500-pound gorilla in the room on Tuesday afternoon.
During the workshop, it became uncomfortably apparent that Ms. Cuthbert was more concerned with cementing Mr. Doran’s place at the public teat than protecting the interests of her long-suffering constituents.
What is there to hide?
Why are teachers and staff held to a higher standard of performance, professionalism, and conduct than one of the most responsible and highly compensated positions in the district?
What professional wouldn’t welcome constructive criticism?
In my view, Ms. Cuthbert was the best lawyer Mr. Doran never paid for. . .
At every opportunity, Cuthbert used her condescending bloviation to pare the evaluation tool down to a useless farce – arguing redundancy with hairsplitting pedantry – and belittling the review process as “subjective.”
During the back-and-forth, the board needed Mr. Doran to look up the definition of the term “forthright.”
How gut-wrenchingly telling. . .
Ultimately, Cuthbert tipped her hand on this strategic procrastination when she painted the evaluation of Doran’s professionalism as “demeaning,” suggesting the language on the form was a means of “setting him up to fire him.”
Even after a form was finally agreed upon, in her most preposterous objection of the meeting, Cuthbert suggested that – after over twenty-years serving in the role – the Board somehow owed Mr. Doran a “professional courtesy,” to allow him even more time to learn the performance standards expected of him before any formal evaluation should take place.
For the record – Mr. Doran actively participated in the entire meeting.
After promising taxpayers and staff a firm timeline – which included an assurance of a formal evaluation once the tool had been voted on – it was decided (once again) to postpone the review until a meeting in late August.
To their credit, Chairman Ruben Colon joined members Jamie Haynes and Anita Burnette in holding firm to the spirit and objectives of the overdue evaluation, upholding their sworn obligation to protect the public interest in the face of Cuthbert’s obnoxious obstructionism.
Interestingly, Volusia County Schools already have a General Counsel in the capable Kevin Pendley – a veteran attorney who serves as chief legal officer and performs all legal services on behalf of the district.
As the district continues to face the specter of a self-described financial catastrophe – while we are on the topic of unnecessary redundancy – perhaps it is time for the School Board to determine the need for separate (and incredibly expensive) legal representation?
Quote of the Week
“There was no quid pro quo. This was social relationships,” Latvala told the Commission. “If you’re going to start making that the basis for complaints — having sex with lobbyists — you’re going to be a very busy Commission.”
–Former Florida State Sen. Jack Latvala’s testimony before the Florida Commission on Ethics, as reported by Gary Rohrer in Florida Politics, “Ethics case against Jack Latvala moves to administrative judge after panel rejects settlement,” Friday, July 22, 2022
Something tells me tiny peapods are shriveling in house and senate offices across the Sunshine State in the wake of Mr. Latvala’s disturbing revelation of widespread sexual misconduct in Tallahassee.
And it has nothing to do with this damnable heat. . .
As the late, great political thinker and outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson so eloquently wrote:
“Sex and power have a long history of feeding on each other. In 18th century England, the king and half his ministers were involved in a whole network of strange and violent sex clubs, whipping parlors and half-secret cults that embraced everything from Satanism and human sacrifice to flagrant white slavery and public bestiality.”
“These were no amateur degenerates, like the ones we sneer at today. They put the whole British Empire on the road to ruin and thought nothing of it – nor cared, for that matter. . .”
Last week, the Florida Commission on Ethics – that “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” clique of toothless political appointees responsible for protecting the public trust in what is arguably the most corrupt state in the nation – rejected a proposed settlement and found probable cause to allow three alleged violations of state ethics law against former Sen. Jack Latvala to move to an administrative hearing.
Four-and-a-half-years after the shocking allegations first became known. . .
So much for that whole ‘justice delayed’ horseshit, eh?
If an administrative law judge upholds the charges, it could result in the Florida Senate levying a slap-on-the-wrist in the form of a public censure, reprimand, or a fine up to $10,000.
In Mr. Rohrer’s informative piece in Florida Politics, we were reminded:
“Allegations against Latvala first became public in a POLITICO story in 2017, citing six anonymous women, including lobbyists and Senate staffers, detailing allegations of groping and sexual innuendo. A subsequent Senate investigation into the matter revealed Latvala’s repeated sexual harassment and allegations that he would vote favorably for a lobbyist’s issues in return for sexual favors.”
Accepting sexual favors from a registered lobbyist in return for a favorable vote buys you a reprimand?
What does it take to put these power-drunk shitheels in jail?
Just to show you that this gross abuse knows no partisan boundaries, during the hearing:
“Commissioner Jim Waldman, a former Democratic House member, said the allegations by Rogers (a staffer who came forward with sexual harassment violations against Latvala), that she went along with his groping and sexual innuendo because she believed Latvala was a powerful Senator with influence over her employment even though he wasn’t her direct supervisor, didn’t rise to the level of probable cause.”
“Just because she thought it, doesn’t make it actionable,” Waldman said.”
Yeah. That. . .
Of course, after admitting to “poor judgement” in having a long-term sexual relationship with a lobbyist, Mr. Latvala is now beating his chest and vowing to fight tooth-and-nail the allegations he sexually harassed the former Senate employee, who reached a $900,000 settlement with the Florida Senate in 2019, concluding a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case:
“Latvala told the commission that the “biggest mistake I made was not standing and fighting right then.”
“My not fighting stops today,” he said. “I didn’t do what she (the former staff member) accused me of doing.”
Whatever, dude. . .
In my view, the far more disturbing revelation coming from last week’s hearing was proffered by Latvala himself – that pasty-faced asshole and alleged serial harasser who used his powerful position for his own onanistic pleasure – when he suggested if the Commission on Ethics is going to inconvenience themselves with allegations of lawmakers selling their vote in exchange for sexual relations with lobbyists – then they are going to be a “very busy commission.”
In November 2017, the stories gushing out of Tallahassee read like a Penthouse Forum –describing in graphic detail a frat house atmosphere where lawmakers engaged in sexual hijinks, public indecencies, open assignations for political influence, and outright criminal assaults in the hallowed halls of our state capitol.
Revelations of impiety and debauchery that would make Gaius Caligula blush. . .
This isn’t the first time a high-powered lawmaker has been caught with his pants down (literally) – nor is it the first time a knowledgeable insider has sounded the klaxon on self-indulgent conduct that undermines the legislative process – and the public trust.
Look, if these shameless degenerates we elect to represent our interests want to hold mass orgies behind closed doors at the Tennyson apartments – what do I care?
But when those tawdry fumbling’s in public offices and dark parking garages involve powerful lawmakers and registered lobbyists paid to influence political outcomes – or the sexual debasement of vulnerable legislative assistants – I have a big problem with that.
You should too.
In my view, Dr. Thompson was right.
This unbridled hubris is what the road to ruin is paved with – and it demands a full and public investigation into just how pervasive this abhorrent (and patently unethical) conduct is in Tallahassee.
Don’t hold your breath.
This is Florida. The rules are different here. . .
And Another Thing!
Last week, citizens who took the time out of their busy lives during business hours on a workday to prostrate themselves before our Elected Monarchy at the Volusia County Council meeting were met with an unexpected impediment to public access in the hallowed Halls of Power in DeLand.
I’m not talking about the insuperable rules governing public input – the gargoyle-like blank stares and deafening silence from the dais whenever a citizen asks a question – or the inviolate “three-minute rule” limiting our ability to address the exalted literati.
This is something much more visual – and visceral.
Without notice (at least I didn’t hear about it), last week, taxpayers entering the gilded council chamber were ordered by uniformed Volusia County sheriff’s deputies to hand over their bags, surrender their personal affects, empty their pockets, and submit themselves to a search with a hand-held magnetometer in an apparent effort to prevent citizens from bringing weapons into the inner sanctum.
In an excellent article by Al Everson writing in the West Volusia Beacon entitled, “The new normal? Going to the County Council now like getting on an airliner,” he asked the pertinent question:
“Is it an invasion of privacy or a necessary preventive measure?”
Based upon the non-answer provided by County Manager George “The Wreck” Rectenwald, it would appear to be both. . .
According to the report, “We’re upgrading the security throughout the building, with all the things that are going on in the world,” County Manager George Recktenwald told The Beacon.
Recktenwald added he would not specify what other precautions have been implemented.
Asked if a particular threat of violence prompted him to order the screenings, Recktenwald replied, “Nothing specific.”
It is this lack of specificity that has taxpayers wondering why the Thomas C. Kelly Administrative Complex is being transformed into a Supermax Bunker for the ruling class?
Look, I get it. It is a disturbing sign of the times.
But transparency demands those of us who pay the bills be given reasonable notice and education, so taxpayers aren’t frightened to enter the chamber and participate in their government.
As always, this public policy by ambush has led to more questions than answers.
Is this enhanced security posture a temporary precaution or will these measures become permanent?
Who made the determination and authorized the security screening?
Does the “All Bags Subject to Search” policy apply to county employees, administrators, and elected officials working in and around the building?
And what about other county offices – can we expect more of the same?
Was a comprehensive security evaluation of the complex conducted by outside experts or did someone just throw up some card tables, a sign, and reassign deputies from other duties?
How were these physical security needs determined? And who is providing (and paying for) the 24/7 monitoring required for critical areas of the facility?
Was a “Red Team” assessment or real-world penetration testing conducted after confidential plans were finalized, briefed, and rehearsed to identify vulnerabilities?
What are citizens allowed to bring with us when we spreadeagle and beg entrance to the Inner Sanctum? What items should we leave in our cars? You know, to avoid the interminable walk back to the steaming parking lot when we are refused admittance to a public meeting for being ignorant of the unannounced rules?
And what did it cost to turn the TCK Complex into an impenetrable fortress?
I don’t want an answer.
These measures should rightly remain confidential, but someone inside the organization better damn sure be asking these questions – because once security measures are implemented – the protocols need to become habitual, constantly reviewed, and rigorously tested – or, like so many other things about Volusia County government, they will become little more than expensive eyewash.
Sadly, local government buildings were once places where people could come to be heard, to solve problems, and genuinely participate in the often messy, contentious, but infinitely healthy debate of public policy.
A place We, The Little People should feel welcome – because we pay for these trappings of high office.
Now, the bureaucratic response to even non-specific fears is to wall off these important “public spaces” from the “public” they exist to serve – with no notice or instruction.
In my view, this is another terrible example of the gross lack of communication that has come to define Volusia County government.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!