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 Children’s Advocate Linda Merrell
I attended elementary school at St. James Episcopal Day School in Ormond Beach.
The class sizes were small, and classmates remained together as they advanced, an experience that formed the foundation of lifelong friendships that endure to this day.
It was at St. James that I came to know the wonderful Merrell family – the children of Dr. Robert Merrell and his beautiful wife Linda – and I have known few people longer than my childhood friend, the renowned Cobb Cole land use attorney Rob Merrell.
This week, I received word that Rob’s dear mother, the legendary Linda Merrell – a tireless advocate for abused and disadvantaged children – has transitioned to life everlasting at 83.
I won’t say “passed away,” because Mrs. Merrell’s half-century of selfless advocacy on behalf of those least able to defend themselves from abuse, neglect, and victimization will not be forgotten.
In an exceptional commemoration of Mrs. Merrell’s many accomplishments in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean gave readers a glimpse at her 50-years of noble activism, as told by some of Volusia County’s most civically engaged dignitaries:
“Former County Councilwoman Pat Northey first met Merrell decades ago when they both got involved in a county PTA organization.
“I was a young thing just getting started in PTA, and Linda was like the icon,” said Northey, who served on the County Council from 1993-2004 and again from 2007-2014. “We wanted to be Linda Merrell when we grew up. She was very caring and very loving, never threatening. But she also knew her way around Tallahassee. She knew everybody and she knew how to get it done.”
“J. Hyatt Brown, chairman of Daytona Beach-based Brown & Brown insurance company, and his wife, Cici, have known different generations of the Merrell family back to the 1950s. Brown got to know Linda Merrell better around the time he was Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives from 1978– 1980.
“She was always involved in good things in the community,” he said. “She would come to Tallahassee on her child and medical issues, and she was very persistent.”
Brown said he remembers her as “a wonderful person” who was always smiling and upbeat.”
During her storied work as a champion for children, Mrs. Merrell served as coordinator of the Florida Governor’s Constituency for Children, helped found the Florida Children’s Health Insurance Program, which now provides insurance to some 2.6 million disadvantaged kids across Florida, co-founder of the Florida CHAIN and Florida Child Health Coalition “…which subsequently became a bedrock of support for the Children’s Movement of Florida and the Florida KidsWell project.”
In addition, Mrs. Merrell served with the Developmental Disabilities Council, Healthy Start Coalition, various children’s hospitals, and child advocacies across the state on programs such as Early Steps and Healthy Start and served as a member of the Florida Medical Association Alliance.
Through it all, Linda Merrell served devotedly as a loving mother to her five incredibly gifted children.
A life of dedicated service, truly well-lived.
Thank you, Mrs. Merrell.
Your service and advocacy are measured in lives saved – the lives of our most vulnerable – the very essence of God’s work.
(Services for Linda Merrell will be held at 1:00pm, Saturday, October 8 at St. James Episcopal Church, 44 South Halifax Drive, Ormond Beach. A reception will follow at the church. The public is invited to attend both the service and reception.)
Angel Volusia School Board Member Anita Burnette
Normally, the Volusia County School Board finds a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Every. Damn. Time.
But on Tuesday, board member Anita Burnette raised the bar and demonstrated her commitment to the best interests of her constituents and Volusia County Schools when she made two motions to end the legal services contract with controversial board attorney Ted Doran’s law firm.
Unfortunately, Burnette’s courageous first motion died for lack of a second. Her follow-up motion was seconded by Jamie Haynes; however, the measure failed on a 3-2 vote.
At the beginning of a workshop to discuss Mr. Doran’s recent performance evaluation, Chair Ruben Colon announced that the board had received notice that Doran was being replaced by Aaron Wolfe, a partner with Doran, Sims, Wolfe, and Yoon.
Last month, Doran received an abysmal performance review from board members – receiving a score of just 45 of a possible 95 – along with cutting remarks from Burnette and Haynes, who spoke of distrust, disparate treatment, and intimidation.
In the most telling moment of that process, lame duck board member Linda Cuthbert held true to the abject absurdity that has marked her tenure by giving Doran a perfect score (?), kowtowing to the internal and external forces that have kept the polarizing Doran in the catbird seat for the past two-decades.
For reasons that remain murky, last year, the School Board approved a three-year contract for Doran’s firm just one week before his previous agreement was set to expire, seemingly in contravention of a long-standing School Board policy requiring that the attorney be reviewed and retained annually.
According to a June 2021 article by Cassidy Alexander writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“The timeline put the pressure on board members to make a decision at their meeting on Tuesday or risk losing legal counsel, although some board members were interested in exploring other options.
The new contract included a 25% raise for the attorney who’s been representing the School Board since 2002.”
During Tuesday’s workshop, Jamie Haynes suggested changes to the legal services policy – to include a provision that any future contract be written and reviewed by an independent attorney.
“I don’t think the contract should be written by the person that the contract is for.”
In addition, earlier this week the board approved a $1.36 billion budget.
The district’s groaning pot o’ taxpayer gold is now larger that the county’s obscenely bloated budget (preliminarily set at $1.06 billion) and now takes the cake as the largest public budget in Volusia County.
Which, as The Stranger said, “…places it high in the running for the largest public-school budget worldwide.”
I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it made me laugh to beat the band. Parts, anyway. . .
This week the spotlight returned to the shambolic dysfunction that plagues Volusia County Schools when a group of students reportedly played a sick “prank” at Mainland High School resulting in mass panic and a wildfire of misinformation that rapidly spread throughout the community.
To his enormous credit, the incident was expertly managed by Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young and his officers with assistance from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and school authorities.
Last Friday, a baggie containing what was later determined to be the deadly substance Fentanyl was discovered near lockers at Atlantic High School in Port Orange. In a snippet of chilling body worn camera footage from Atlantic’s School Resource Officer as released by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, a clearly clueless school employee is seen holding the packet with his bare hands before raising it close to his face. . .
Seriously. I don’t make this shit up, folks.
The mayhem did not end there.
According to a release from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office:
“On Friday at Atlantic High School in Port Orange, a teacher asked the School Resource Deputy for assistance with a small packet of unknown powder turned in by a student. The student found the packet on the floor near the senior locker bay restrooms. The SRD tested the powder and observed a presumptive positive result for fentanyl.
Also Friday, at Pine Ridge High School in Deltona, deputies responded to a report of a possible weapon displayed during an altercation on campus. During a search of a student’s backpack, deputies recovered a replica Glock BB gun. The 16-year-old student violently resisted deputies and attempted to fight them but was taken into custody on charges of campus disruption, resisting an officer with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer.”
In my view, in the wake of former Director of Safety and Security Michelle Newman’s abrupt departure earlier this month, these recurring incidents have exposed the urgency of recruiting an experienced security professional to set policy, establish training protocols, and coordinate protection efforts for a district serving some 64,000 students and 7,400 teachers and staff across the width and breadth of Volusia County.
Fortunately, Volusia County Schools has a cadre of highly trained School Resource Officers from various jurisdictions and a compliment of armed Guardians dedicated to protecting the lives of students and staff from the unthinkable.
However, as district campuses become more reminiscent of a dystopian Mad Max Thunderdome than places of learning, in my view, the elected and appointed administration needs to rethink a comprehensive disciplinary plan to regain control and foster a change of culture.
When school started last month, our “new” Superintendent Dr. Carmen Balgobin issued a statement which said, in part, “We are committed to leading with grace and respect and ensuring that every single campus is safe, and that learning is engaging for every student.”
The events of last week have proven that it is time Dr. Balgobin, and the School Board, change tack and begin leading with discipline, accountability, and strict consequences for student/criminals who engage in violent or disruptive behavior and work to return sanity to the learning environment.
By any metric, stopping dangerous criminal activity on school campuses and providing a safe and secure learning environment for students, teachers, and staff should be Dr. Balgobin’s highest priority.
Anything less is unacceptable. And dangerous.
Asshole Ormond Beach City Commission
Obviously taking their cue from another local government I know; the City of Ormond Beach has not updated municipal service impact fees on new development in over a quarter-century.
Now, these pro-development shills appear to be balking at the substantial fee increases their own consultant has recommended.
A $99,000 study paid for by taxpayers and conducted by Raftelis, a government and utilities management consultancy, determined that for some land uses – like single-family residential – road impact fees alone should be increased by 400%.
The study also suggested that impact fees for trip generating fast-food restaurants and convenience stores should now be over $25,000 per 1,000 square feet. (By comparison, current fees for a new convenience store run $1,355.44 per 1,000 square feet.)
According to an excellent article by Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer:
“According to a city memo, Ormond Beach has assessed impact fees for water and sewer since 1974. An impact fee for recreational facilities was added in 1987, and an impact fee ordinance was adopted in 1990, and later amended in 1996. In 2010, a mobility fee replaced concurrency and road impact fees were imposed on certain state roads in the Transportation Concurrency Exception Areas.
Per the study by Raftelis, the city last updated its municipal services impact fees — which include parks and recreation, stormwater, local roads, and mobility fees — in 1996, though it has indexed rates annually.”
Now, after 19-years on the Ormond Beach City Commission, Troy Kent, who is also a current candidate for the Volusia County Council District 4 seat, has finally recognized that residents are wise to this perennial foot-dragging:
“Ormond Beach voters know growth doesn’t pay for itself, said Commissioner Troy Kent at their meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 7, where they were given an overview of proposed impact fee increases. They know impact fees aren’t enough.
“That being said, this increase for fast food restaurants is outrageous at 1,000 square feet,” Kent said. “… Convenience store (impact fees)? Outrageous. So, if you’re late to the party, and you’re a fast-food restaurant or convenience store, you’re going to get hammered.”
Do you want to know what most people consider a frigging outrage?
Compromised politicians rubberstamping density increases and development at a rate that has outpaced our transportation and utilities infrastructure – and the lack of planning and foresight that will now have the deleterious impacts of Avalon Park – a “City within a City” – encroaching on Ormond Beach’s southern border.
Or the frustration of waiting three cycles of a traffic signal at Granada Boulevard and (insert cross street here), weed-strewed lots that were once pristine suburban forest and wildlife habit which fell victim to slash-and-burn clearcutting to make way for another convenience store, and the exorbitant cost of expanding infrastructure now that paving and utilities contractors have local governments over a barrel.
Welcome to the reality of having shoved ten-pounds of shit into a five-pound bag, Mr. Kent. . .
If you are a speculative developer who is still snout-deep in the boom cycle – please do not be concerned. Your malleable sock puppets on the dais of power in Ormond Beach have you covered.
According to the Observer’s report, “…discussion during the meeting was the first step in an update process that will stretch through 2023 and will include future public input.”
So, with $99,000 in study costs over the transom, now we are going to clack and jabber about the expert’s recommendations for another year?
When it comes to seeking ways of having development mitigate its impact on our quality of life nothing happens fast. . .
I hope you will remember this bid’ness as usual procrastination at the ballot box in November.
Angel City of Daytona Beach
Will wonders never cease?
Back in March, I would not have given you a plug nickel for the life expectancy of the City Island Recreation Center, a World War II era structure overlooking the city’s beautiful Yacht Basin.
The unique building is of great historical significance to the Halifax area’s ties to the war effort – another connection to our past that fell victim to intentional neglect – a tactic that withholds preventative maintenance at certain publicly owned facilities – allowing them to rot until reaching such a deplorable state of dilapidation that demolition becomes the only viable option.
Earlier this year, Daytona Beach City Commissioners Ruth Trager and Ken Strickland were the only two elected officials who joined local historians and residents concerned about the loss of another community landmark in calling for a short reprieve while a citizen committee could study potential uses for the recreation center.
Last week, civic activist and committee chair Anne Ruby presented the group’s findings to the Daytona Beach City Commission.
Ideas included a state-of-the-art learning center, event space, a museum and art displays, as well as traditional community center amenities, such as a banquet hall, performing arts stage, and space for community meetings and celebrations.
According to an informative report by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “The committee also recommends opening a small restaurant in the structure and creating an outdoor deck overlooking the Halifax River where people could dine, enjoy a glass of lemonade and take in the view.”
Other thoughtful suggestions included the use of a “HistoBot” – described as an interactive mobile teaching station – which would provide information on the building’s connection to the Woman’s Army Corps in Daytona Beach.
The committee’s report was well-received by both elected officials and citizens concerned about the 80-year-old structure’s future.
According to the News-Journal’s report:
“This plain, boxy building started out as a simple place for recreation,” Ruby said. “With a revival that would take it well into the future, the rec center would be a place for us to understand the importance of the past, the importance of community and the importance of working together to create a better tomorrow.”
Commissioners were impressed by the committee’s presentation.
“It’s almost as if you can feel yourself being there,” said City Commissioner Dannette Henry. “The presentation was very thorough. There’s nothing you left out.”
In addition, Mayor Derrick Henry applauded the committee’s efforts:
“I think you did an amazing job,” Mayor Derrick Henry told the seven recreation center committee members gathered at City Hall. “From my perspective, you all have hit a grand slam.”
The City Commission will take a formal vote to safeguard the structure on October 19. If approved, the City of Daytona Beach can begin the process of finding historic preservation grants to renovate the structure.
Kudos to Anne Ruby and those intrepid members of the rec center committee who showed the value of civic participation – the power of a collaborative charrette to foster citizen engagement and transform communities – and to the members of the Daytona Beach City Commission who took the time to listen to the recommendations of their constituents for the future of this historic community asset.
Quote of the Week
“On Aug. 9, the Florida Department of Transportation presented a $1.36 million design for “improvements” to Granada Boulevard. FDOT’s goal for the $5.38 million reconstruction: Slow down traffic with additional medians, lanes narrowed to ten feet, and four raised pedestrian crosswalks.
Slower speeds were the goal when a previous City Commission narrowed downtown Granada traffic lanes and added medians with medjool palm trees. Though Granada pedestrians are scarce, the new FDOT design will include four raised pedestrian crossings. Twelve to 20 foot-wide medians will squeeze narrowed traffic lanes closer to sidewalks.
Bike lanes end abruptly at each end of the Granada Bridge. The FDOT plan shows exiting bicycles sharing right-hand Granada traffic lanes with cars, Votran buses, grocery tractor-trailers, trash trucks, U.S. Mail semis, delivery trucks, and yard maintenance pickups pulling wide trailers. At the Granada traffic light, one of the two A1A southbound stacking lanes will be eliminated to make room for island medians, palm trees, and enhanced landscaping.
Granada Boulevard is already gridlocked at peak hours by four traffic lights between U.S. 1 and A1A and by the railroad and two traffic signals to the west. FDOT’s redesign will further slow traffic on the city’s lone hurricane evacuation route and lengthen emergency response times. Compressed traffic volumes will create longer lines of idling cars, wasted fuel, and more exhaust fumes.
The Granada repaving and redesign will begin in the summer of 2023. The presentation can be viewed at the project website at www.cflroads.com/project/447105-1. Project manager Ty Garner can be reached at email@example.com.
FDOT has partnered with the city and county on a second project, a 3.6 mile A1A stretch of Ocean Shore Boulevard from Granada north to Sandra Drive. Two raised pedestrian crossings with palm trees will be installed at both the Granada light and a hundred yards north. New east side sidewalks will be constructed in front of residences along most of the project length.
Between Neptune and Sandra, a “chicane” curve, more raised pedestrian crossings with refuge islands, center medians with palm trees, various bike lane options, and more enhanced landscaping. These features will implement FDOT goals to slow down A1A traffic while creating a “community vision” and “sense of place.” Unknown? Whether the proposed changes will have the unintended consequence of diverting north peninsula traffic onto John Anderson Drive, a narrow, tree canopied residential roadway.
–Former Ormond Beach City Commissioner Jeff Boyle, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “FDOT redesigns: Granada Boulevard and North A1A Monday,” September 12, 2022
And Another Thing!
The Volusia County Council has lost legitimacy.
There. I said what many residents have been thinking for months.
Our policymaking process has become an irretrievably politicized farce – a dysfunctional shitshow – incapable of compromise or consensus, an ongoing embarrassment to the residents of Volusia County and a cautionary tale for our more successful neighbors in Central Florida.
Rather than steward public funds, ensure efficient essential services, bring accessible government to the people they serve, and advance our quality of life, it is increasingly evident that the Volusia County Council’s raison d’être is to procrastinate on the pressing issues of the day.
Rather than govern, these hacks exist to deftly kick the can down the dusty political trail and put time and distance between meaningful policies and commonsense regulations to allow maximum profit for those who hold the paper on their craven political souls.
I am referring to the seminal issue of our time: Overdevelopment.
The ghastly slash-and-burn clearcutting that facilitates the malignant sprawl – the massive zero-lot-line “theme” subdivisions, cookie cutter strip centers, and abhorrent sticks-and-glue apartment complexes – the perpetual foot-dragging on reasonable and responsible impact fees, environmental regulations, low-impact practices, and commonsense protections for our dwindling natural resources.
Trust me. Most of the municipalities in Volusia County – and the whole of state government – are equally as culpable, and history will not be kind to these compromised shitheels who were elected to serve the best interests of their constituents during what has arguably been the most prolific boom cycle in the history of the Sunshine State.
Now, during this unique election cycle the balance of power is at stake and it has become evident the Gang of Four – Councilmembers Ben Johnson, Danny Robins, Billie Wheeler, and The Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry – plan to play politics from the dais to ensure nothing of substance happens until January.
Finding long-term solutions to the myriad problems we face is not important to them – the “people’s business” now replaced by time-wasting accusations that Chairman Jeff Brower once double-parked near the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building. . .
If you don’t think there is a lot on the table, look at the depths to which some will go to marginalize and destroy any elected official who seeks to live up to their sacred oath and represent the needs of We, The Little People – rather than further the mercenary motivations of their political benefactors – the elite Old Guard who underwrite the campaigns of those malleable politicians who so willingly do their bidding.
Last week, the true motivations of those cheap facilitators became clear when Councilwoman Heather Post took another choreographed public flogging – this time by former at-large candidate Sherrise Boyd – who put forth a contrived scenario about the disposition of Ms. Post’s personal firearm following an April fall at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building.
For the record, Ms. Post’s accident occurred five-months ago. . .
County Manager George Recktenwald and Director of Public Protection Mark Swanson refuted Ms. Boyd’s version of events, but that did not stop the feeding frenzy that ensued.
I agree that the laws govern all of us – even sitting elected officials – and Ms. Post has repeatedly assured that she did not possess a firearm inside the gilded council chamber. But this was not about soliciting clarification of a rumor, it was a shoddy attempt to publicly demean Councilwoman Post.
Unsubstantiated rumors and bogus calls for “investigations” are classic election year diversions – which serve the purposes of those working the rods and strings behind the scenes who support candidates bankrolled by an entrenched power structure desperate to maintain a majority vote on the dais of power.
The fact is, Ms. Post isn’t running for anything – but her independent thought and willingness to challenge the lockstep conformity is anathema to those stalwarts of the stagnant status quo – and her support of Chairman Brower in a long series of 5-2 votes has left her open to this bullying and intimidation.
In Volusia County, if you cannot get your candidate elected on the strength of their pro-development platform, then destroy the character and reputation of those duly elected officials who have the courage to buck this compromised system and run them out of office.
Frankly, this disgusting powerplay should be roundly condemned by every sitting incumbent and candidate for public office – and remembered by every voter in Volusia County.
Instead of rising to his role as senior statesman, lame duck Councilman Ben Johnson piles on at every opportunity – playing his supporting role in this orchestrated political hit job like the obsequious minion he has become – hammering away at Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post at every meeting with base accusations and loaded questions to the delight of his party bosses and “Rich & Powerful” benefactors.
What a sad way for Mr. Johnson to end a lifetime of service to the citizens of Volusia County.
Unfortunately, most politicians who enter the Faustian bargain that comes with accepting massive campaign contributions from special interests invariably become everything they hated when they first ran for office.
It is now clear Ben Johnson is no exception. . .
In my view, the “trust issue” that has plagued the Volusia County Council for years has now dissolved into a true crisis of confidence – a feeling by the governed that that this rudderless ship of fools is more interested in consolidating power for mysterious shot-callers with no-holds-barred attacks designed to protect the status quo than effectively dealing with the issues.
More interested in protecting and perpetuating this bloated bureaucracy and keeping the public teat patent for all the right last names than progressing our civic, social, environmental, and economic needs – more focused on holding onto power than fixing the growing problems that threaten the quality of life for future generations.
And these malleable marionettes have no one to blame but themselves.
The one irrefutable fact of good governance is that once the public trust has been lost – when elected and appointed officials no longer possess the moral authority to lead – constituent confidence is impossible to restore.
That is when fundamental change will (and must) occur at the ballot box – and I believe Volusia County voters see right through this not-so-subtle diversionary charade.
I don’t know about you, but November can’t get here soon enough. . .
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!