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:
“It’s easy to be a holy man at the top of a mountain.”
–Larry Darrell, “The Razor’s Edge” by W. Somerset Maugham
I took a few days away last week to deal with some family business in East Tennessee – my ancestral home in the Appalachian Highlands.
Comfortably warm late summer days gave way to refreshingly cool nights and the change in altitude and surroundings gave me time to reflect, spend quality time with family, and see life from a different perspective.
One afternoon, a dear friend and I traveled to Roan Mountain where we took a short hike near the summit at 6,286’ – which rivals nearby Mt. Mitchell as the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River at 6,684’. The ecology is cool, damp, and enchanting with mossy spruce-fir forests and prolific stands of Rhododendron framing panoramic views, rocky outcroppings, and unique high-elevation balds.
These ancient and majestic mountains have a spiritual quality, a sense of strength and permanency – symbolic of the perseverance and stability required to overcome obstacles – untamed places, closer to the sky – and closer to God – far above the madness down below.
Kudos to the National Park Service and United States Forest Service for their conservation and stewardship of this richly diverse ecosystem straddling the Tennessee and North Carolina border.
A true national treasure.
The region has not escaped the “development boom” with new home starts sprouting from once verdant farm fields and cow pastures – to include the recent addition of a massive Hard Rock Casino and resort complex under construction in Bristol, Virginia; an economic engine that will bring thousands of visitors to the Tri-Cities and bolster the already strong heavy industrial/manufacturing base.
While amicably chatting with long-time locals from my perch on a barstool at the Tennessee Hills Distillery (www.tnhillsdistillery.com ) in Jonesborough – much like here, opinions on the issue differed, and the good-natured debate raged about what rapid growth in the predominantly rural area will mean for the area’s natural places and quality of life of existing residents.
To their credit, state and local officials have planned for new development with road and infrastructure improvements, and the pace of building seemed more measured compared to the explosive sprawl we have experienced across the width and breadth of Volusia County, with homes and subdivisions offered there in a variety of price ranges and density options.
As an uneducated man, I learn through the eyes and experiences of others.
While enjoying some of the best craft spirits I’ve ever tasted, I spoke with the enthusiastic principal of a local middle school who was excited about educational opportunities for the future – and overheard a retired couple from coastal Massachusetts marveling at the relatively low cost of living, housing prices, traffic, and slow pace of life when compared to the Boston metro.
I met a dedicated Physician’s Assistant specializing in immunology and pulmonology who spoke of the quality healthcare in the region and listened to the hopes of a young firefighter and his family who recently relocated to the area from Oregon to start a new life.
Wherever I travel, it is hard not to conduct an unscientific comparative analysis to the Fun Coast.
By observing things from a different vantagepoint, with an objectivity I no longer possess in my own backyard, I invariably come to a better understanding of all we have gained, and all that we have lost, here in this beautiful place we call home.
If you hear the mountains calling, please avail yourself of a few days in beautiful East Tennessee.
Now, on to the challenges of the fall. . .
Angel Volusia County Voters
If you joined me in casting a ballot in Tuesday’s primary election – I salute you!
Together, we accomplished some important things and helped set the stage for the November general election.
Unfortunately, of the 407,264 eligible voters in Volusia County, just 117,362 (28.82%) exercised their most important civic duty and cast a ballot to determine the future of Volusia County.
As I said earlier this week, the bedrock principle of our American democracy – that all power is derived from the consent of the governed – is rooted in the conduct of fair elections, the idea of “one citizen, one vote,” that purely American concept of political egalitarianism.
On Tuesday, the system worked. Once again, I was amazed by the incredible competence and efficiency of Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis and her outstanding staff and volunteers who make it all work. Seamlessly.
As with any hard-fought election, when the results came in, some were elated – others horribly disappointed.
But it also became clear that many more disenfranchised victims of what passes for “governance” here on Florida’s Fun Coast simply stayed home and shrugged the whole thing off, adopting the late great political satirist P. J. O’rourke’s jaded philosophy, “Don’t vote, it just encourages the bastards. . .”
Voting is the most important right and responsibility that citizens of a free and democratic society possess.
It separates citizens from subjects and ensures our basic rights under the law – which permit blowhards like me the freedom to vent my frustrations, criticize, call out basic unfairness, and challenge those stalwarts of the status quo who seem committed to ensuring government of, by, and for uber-wealthy insiders with the wherewithal to pay-to-play.
Hell, if nothing else, participation in the electoral process secures our right to bitch and complain, right?
Tuesday’s primary election sorted the wheat from the chaff – paring down the field – setting the stage for the final contests in November and I was encouraged by the results.
It is no secret that I support the grassroots candidacies of Volusia County Council at-large candidate Doug Pettit and District 4 challenger Ken Smith, both of whom moved on to the Big Dance this week.
On election day, Smith will face Ormond Beach City Commissioner Troy Kent – a perennial politician currently serving his ninth two-year term in municipal government.
In the at-large race, former Port Orange City Manager Jake Johansson received an impressive 33.88% (37,379) of votes cast on the strength of a war chest groaning with over $106,000 – which included what The Daytona Beach News-Journal described as “…donations from some of the power players in Volusia County…”
Conversely, Pettit garnered 23.72% (26,168) of the vote having collected just over $30,000 in campaign funds.
However, of the 110,329 votes cast in that race – 46,782 were split between Sherrise Boyd and Andy Kelly – both of whom ran on a platform which included controlling growth and protecting our natural resources.
Both Pettit and Smith – who ran under Chairman Jeff Brower’s “Volusia Values” slate of likeminded candidates – have their work cut out for them this fall, and I suspect the scorched earth tactics, social media skirmishes, and brutal politics of personal destruction that has marked this exceedingly ugly campaign season will increase in scope and intensity.
Although the Volusia County Council’s incumbent Gang of Four have demanded lockstep fealty to the “system” and blocked Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post’s initiatives at every turn – they continue to twist the narrative, accusing the Brower supported candidates of building a voting bloc – the same tactic they have used to preserve the status quo for years. . .
Trust me. There is a lot at stake, and it is going to be a good old-fashioned knife fight this fall.
I was also pleased with the results of the District 5 School Board contest wherein incumbent Ruben Colón narrowly defeated Volusia’s self-anointed éminence grise, The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry – who, when his current less-than-stellar term on the Volusia County Council mercifully ends in December, will shuffle off to that fetid ash heap where meanspirited obstructionist politicians go when We, The Little People have had enough. . .
No one has been more critical of the myriad issues facing Volusia County Schools than me – a bloated bureaucracy that continues to hemorrhage talent – with teachers, staff, and paraprofessionals fleeing the district at an alarming rate, a self-described fiscal crisis looming, and a budget now exceeding $1 Billion.
In fact, every former Volusia County educator I have spoken with has described their love of teaching and working with children – before painfully lamenting how the turmoil, disrespect, and basic unfairness of the district’s shambolic administration drove them away.
However, every time I have reached out to Mr. Colón – regardless of the issue or time-of-day – he has responded promptly, engaged me in the debate of competing ideas, corrected the record, shouldered harsh criticism without taking it personally, and has shown a true care and concern for students, parents, teachers, and staff.
I respect that.
Another bright note on Tuesday was the absolute rout of the “controversial and divisive” Flagler County Commission Chair Joe Mullins.
According to an excellent piece in FlaglerLive!:
“Leann Pennington beat Mullins, the incumbent, one-term county commissioner, in a landslide, winning with 69 percent of the vote. The only other elected official to win an election with anywhere near 70 percent of the vote in recent years is Sheriff Rick Staly, though the comparison may be somewhat off: Pennington was voters’ choice because Mullins had become in every way insupportable.
It is a crushing but unsurprising blow for the most controversial and divisive county commissioner in the county’s 105 years, and the culmination of a tenure fraught with scandals, embarrassments, serial insults of different constituencies, individuals and at least two fellow-commissioners, and finally a campaign acidly informed by lies against Pennington.”
I guess Mullins doesn’t “run the county” anymore as he threatened while arrogantly haranguing a Florida Highway Patrol trooper during a traffic stop earlier this year. . .
Clearly, the good people of Flagler County have decided they deserve better.
Quote of the Week
“Via this official statement, Volusia County Schools shares that Chief Michelle Newman has decided to resign effective September 2nd. This was not an easy decision for her but one that is best for her and her family. She has served as the VCS Safety and Security Director for the last two years and built a strong team committed to provide safety and security for all our students and staff. Her presence will be missed, and we wish her the best in her future endeavors.
In the interim, Chastity Burke, Coordinator of Safety and Security, will be taking on her responsibilities.”
–Angel M. Gomez, Community Information Services, Director VCS Chief Information & Legislative Affairs Officer
According to a recent article in the Ormond Beach Observer:
“The Volusia County School Board at an Aug. 8 meeting voted to appoint Chastity Burke as its new coordinator of school safety and security.
Burke was previously the district’s guardian commander specialist. She has an associate’s degree in criminal justice and has worked in law enforcement for 20 years, including as a Volusia County Sheriff’s Office detective and on the North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, according to district staff.
Burke joined Volusia County Schools in 2021 as a guardian commander.”
And Another Thing!
On Wednesday, the Uvalde, Texas Consolidated Independent School District’s board of trustees fired “Police Chief” Pete Arredondo in a room filled with grieving families after he stood around (literally) with his thumb in his fat ass while an armed madman killed nineteen innocent children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in May.
As a life-long law enforcement officer and former police chief, in my view, all that remains is to prosecute Arredondo and his “officers” for gross criminal negligence, malfeasance, and breach of their sworn moral code that transcends base cowardice.
When found guilty of their unforgivable sins against those they were sworn to protect – Arredondo and the other gutless bastards who stood idle should have a bold yellow stripe tattooed down their back then thrown in prison.
I cannot think of a greater personal or professional calling than protecting vulnerable children, teachers, and staff; and there is no higher responsibility than the willingness to run to the sound of gunfire and trade your life to save the lives of others who cannot defend themselves from unthinkable evil.
Following the 2018 tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I repeatedly urged members of the Volusia County School Board to employ a recognized school protection specialist – an experienced professional with the tactical, technical, strategic, and administrative skills to plan for, staff, train, and respond to active assailants on school campuses with the sole focus of neutralizing the threat by violence of action.
In fact, I publicly challenged a sitting board member on a radio forum in an effort to shame them into acknowledging the disturbing lack of expert guidance and leadership in the safety and security component at Volusia County District Schools in the face of increasing incidents of deadly school violence across the nation.
I wanted a combat-tested former Navy SEAL assaulter or GI Jane type with twelve-inch blood-tinged fangs and the ability to instruct, motivate, and hone other hyper-aggressive guards to kill active shooters with surgical precision and a Davey Crockett hatchet.
Instead, we got controversial former Volusia County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Michelle Newman. . .
Last year, many were shocked when Newman announced the district had begun the process of forming its own police department – a massively expensive undertaking that was never fully explained to those of us who pay the bills.
With a complement of courageous school guardians and sworn law enforcement personnel from various agencies serving as School Resource Officers on campuses across the district – the plan did not make sense.
When Chief Newman announced in the newspaper that costs would be “minimal” (Sheriff Michael Chitwood stated at the time it takes approximately $120,000 to hire, train, arm, and equip a new law enforcement officer) it cost credibility among her colleagues, stakeholders, and the public she served.
With Newman’s departure, former Volusia County Sheriff’s detective Chastity Burke has been tapped to serve as the district’s safety and security coordinator.
She has been with Volusia County Schools since last year.
Maybe Coordinator Burke is a fire-breather – an aggressive go-getter with extensive military and law enforcement tactical experience, who can snap-shoot a gnat through the ass at one-hundred yards and train, maintain, and sustain other armed protection experts to a razors edge – I don’t know.
But I damn sure hope so.
Look, I am a besotted has-been.
A washed-up retired cop whose closest brush with “the shit” nowadays comes from watching Gunsmoke reruns while waiting for the cocktail hour to begin.
(I recently saw where Governor Ron DeSantis is suggesting that military veterans and retired cops help offset the current shortage of qualified educators by serving as fill-in teachers (?).
With all respect to Governor DeSantis – can any of my retired brothers and sisters think of a more inappropriate group of crusty curmudgeons to teach impressionable young children in a classroom setting?
This topic is for another day, but I am laughing my sorry ass off just thinking about the prospect of some of the retirees I drink with teaching the “Three R’s” and riding herd on a class full of ungovernable kids!
My lord, that’s funny. . .
Even if they allowed me to smoke cigarettes and take frequent bathroom breaks to relieve the urgent symptoms of my enlarged prostate – that is now the size and consistency of a Honey Baked ham – I wouldn’t consider it.)
But through my foggy haze, I do recall the attributes required to train, equip, motivate, and inspire courageous and aggressive men and women to go in harm’s way, the leadership skills for the effective command and control of critical incidents, and the level and consistency of training (firearms, strategic, and offensive/defensive tactics required to shoot, move, and communicate under stress) to effectively respond and neutralize (kill) active threats on a crowded school campus.
It is a massive responsibility and I do not fault Chief Newman for moving on.
Imagine consciously saying to yourself every morning your feet hit the floor, “Today is the day,” then ramping up to Condition Red?
Yeah. Not for the faint of heart.
I completely understand the physical and psychological toll that level of constant vigilance can take.
Moving forward, with students back in school, it is not enough that Coordinator Burke was promoted in-house to this critical role by new Superintendent Carmen Balgobin because she was close at hand.
In my view, it is important that Ms. Burke immediately prove that she possesses the strong leadership and elite technical skills required to ensure those charged with protecting the lives of our children and grandchildren are trained, prepared, and equipped to instantaneously defend life during a dynamic emergency.
Anything less is unacceptable.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!