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 Volusia County Sheriff’s Office
I cannot think of a greater calling – or responsibility – than protecting vulnerable children, teachers, and staff 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, equip, train, and respond to active assailants on school campuses with the sole focus of neutralizing the threat and saving lives.
Instead, in February 2020, the School Board appointed controversial retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant Michelle Newman to serve as Director of Safety and Security – a post Newman held until just after classes began in August when she abruptly resigned and followed equally contentious former Volusia County School Superintendent Scott Fritz to the Early Learning Coalition of Central Florida where she is now listed as “Chief Operating Officer.”
Rather than seek an experienced school security expert, following “Chief” Newman’s departure, Chastity Burke – a former Sheriff’s detective who has been with the district since last year – was tapped to fill what I believe is the most sensitive, responsible, and highly technical position in Volusia County.
Following the Robb Elementary massacre in Uvalde, Texas, school administrators around the nation began reassessing internal and external response protocols and the importance of strong leadership before, during, and after an active threat.
On Tuesday, our school board rightfully voted to approve an Interlocal Agreement with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office which will appoint a sworn law enforcement executive – along with sufficient operational and administrative support – to take the lead in securing campuses, protecting students and staff, and address the rise in violent criminal activity in Volusia County Schools.
I applaud Sheriff Mike Chitwood for having the courage to wade into the namby-pamby fantasyland that passes for reality in the Ivory Tower of Power at Volusia County District Schools – a realm where at least one board member, Linda Cuthbert, seemed to view lifesaving security drills as an inconvenience and disruption – while the remainder of our elected officials came off as uncomfortably clueless to the stark realities of the safety and security function.
Under the terms of the agreement, a senior member (Captain) of the Sheriff’s command staff will be appointed to coordinate with Superintendent Carmen Balgobin and her cabinet supported by a Lieutenant and Administrative Assistant.
Now, a qualified law enforcement professional will oversee this vital role – with access to all resources of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – and the authority to develop countywide emergency response protocols, standardize training, and improve coordination and preventive intelligence sharing between Guardians, School Resource Officers, and other agencies.
During his presentation to the board, Sheriff Chitwood explained how having a VCSO commander embedded with the district’s administration will increase communications and the effectiveness of the long-anticipated Volusia County Juvenile Assessment Center.
The JAC will screen juvenile offenders for a variety of threats and factors – to include mental health, family, and substance abuse issues – and will house a range of assessment and intervention services, to include officials from the Department of Juvenile Justice, Halifax Behavioral Services, SMA Healthcare, and social workers from Volusia County Schools.
Kudos to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office for assuming this important responsibility in service to the students, teachers, and staff of Volusia County District Schools.
Asshole Deltona City Commission
“More controversy in Deltona this week. . .”
Volusia’s largest city descended further into civic chaos this week after what many consider a sham “process” brought controversial former Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm out of hibernation – selected as the city’s latest acting manager by a 4-2 majority vote of a horribly conflicted City Commission after nonsensical “interviews” with fourteen applicants.
You read that right. Jim “The Chiseler” Chisholm will now serve as Deltona’s interim city manager.
Last week, the obvious choice for the acting role – Deltona’s deputy city manager Stacey Kifolo – was conveniently “suspended with pay” after an apparent contretemps with current Acting City Manager/City Attorney Marsha Segal-George.
Ms. Kifolo now joins former Interim City Manager John Peters on Deltona’s growing “getting paid for sitting on one’s ass” roster.
On September 19, Peters was sent packing on a typical 4-3 vote when he submitted his resignation from the acting top spot with a request to return to his former role as Public Works Director.
During that marathon shitshow, a Pandora’s box of ugly issues came to light – including raw political friction, the power and influence of Deltona’s fire union (especially during an election year/contract negotiation), whale shit level morale, and a veiled reference to sealed ‘secret files’ apparently related to former Human Resources Director Richard Adams and his recently settled lawsuit alleging retaliation and discrimination by Mr. Peters.
As an outsider looking in, to me, Ms. Segal-George always comes across as a discombobulated spectator – too busy fidgeting with her phone to get ahead of the gross dysfunction happening around her – a mental disengagement (or self-defense mechanism?) best exemplified by a recent controversy surrounding Mr. Peters’ unsigned employment agreement, which left Segal-George rewinding video of a past meeting in an attempt to determine the Commission’s “intent” – followed by another gaffe that called the legitimacy of her appointment to the interim role into question when Mayor Heidi Herzberg failed to call for a vote to extend her reign.
Yeah. I know. . .
This isn’t Marsha’s first rodeo.
Ms. Segal-George has bounced around local governments in various roles for the past 40-years – including stints as manager in Lee County, Florida, and Ft. Meyers Beach – and she now serves with Fowler, O’Quinn, Feeney & Sneed, the firm who contracts legal services with Deltona.
When Peters was effectively fired in September, City Attorney/Interim Manager Segal-George agreed to mind the switch for no more than two-weeks. When that time expired, she was (apparently) magically anointed to remain in the role by a weird “silent consent” of the Commission – rather than a formal vote – that kept her in the wheelhouse until a poorly thought quizzing of potential victims, er, “interim candidates” could be held on Wednesday.
Jesus. What a frigging mess.
According to a recent report by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s intrepid Wild West Volusia reporter Katie Kustura, “…the city had received 15 applications for the role of interim city manager…”
Interestingly, during a September 26 meeting, Commissioner Anita Bradford mysteriously validated a rumor that had been swirling around Deltona like an unpleasant odor when she confirmed interest from the clairvoyant Jim Chisholm, who by then was already measuring the drapes in the city manager’s office. . .
This week, residents and interested onlookers had access to the resumes of those vying for the interim position – and I was surprised (not really) to learn that Mr. Chisholm’s submission was dated September 13, 2022 – six-days before Mr. Peters was effectively terminated by the majority of the City Commission (and two-days before Peters announced his intent on the commission agenda. . .)
Look, Deltona has never been known as a beacon of openness and transparency – now many are speculating whether someone ‘in the know’ was talking out-of-school to Mr. Chisholm – or if Peters’ ouster was an orchestrated coup arranged in advance of the public meeting?
For many, Deltona City Hall has become a cloistered fortress – a place where citizens and elected officials who find themselves outside the tightknit circle of trust are required to jump through hoops and pay exorbitant fees for simple public records requests – and civically active citizens have felony charges referred against them, their lives turned upside-down, for merely participating in their city government.
Now, more shadowy internal “investigations” are in the works, more political intrigue afoot, more stealthy power-plays, deck stacking, and behind the scenes manipulation during the city’s caustic negotiations with its influential fire union – and questions about who wants to take advantage of the chaos and malleable majority to exploit Deltona next?
In my view, Mayor Herzberg now has the dubious distinction of presiding over the most dysfunctional and compromised local “government” in Central Florida – if not the entire State of Florida.
A shambolic trainwreck that desperately needs outside inquiry and oversight to protect the integrity of statutorily required processes, the stewardship and protection of public funds, and restoration of government in the sunshine as the distrust and frustration of Deltona residents continues to grow.
Just don’t expect things to change under Mr. Chisholm’s administration.
In a March 2020 editorial reminiscing on Mr. Chisholm’s retirement, The Daytona Beach News-Journal said, in part:
“For all his accomplishments, Chisholm has drawn criticism for a close-to-the-vest decision-making style. While he has been sporadically available to the public — as when he appeared to answer questions recently at The News-Journal’s forum on the decay along East International Speedway Boulevard — his natural habitat is behind closed doors.
It’s an approach that has blindsided potential allies, cut off the city from benefits of wider partnerships and new information, and more often looks to outmaneuver rather than convert critics.
For the next phase of the city’s evolution to be successful, City Hall will need to be a more open place.”
Now, one of the most polarizing figures in Volusia County politics is at the helm of this desperately divided and vulnerable community.
To the good citizens of Deltona: Welcome from the frying pan into the fire. . .
Angel Daytona Beach Shores Director of Public Safety Stephan Dembinsky
Last week, the grateful residents and officials of Daytona Beach Shores celebrated the honorable retirement of my friend and former colleague Director of Public Safety Stephan Dembinsky – a true professional who embodies the best attributes of a community-focused servant/leader – following his 25-years of exceptional service.
Director Dembinsky was born in northern Canada and moved to South Florida when he was a teen. He graduated from Florida International University 1977 and began his law enforcement career in Dade County, retiring as assistant chief of police for the City of North Miami Beach in 1998.
He is a graduate of the prestigious FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia.
Fortunately, Director Dembinsky continued his impressive service with the City of Daytona Beach Shores where he transformed the agency into a modern, fully accredited, public safety agency.
In addition, Director Dembinsky provided his outstanding leadership at the state level serving as President of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.
In a beautifully written article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal this week, reporter Patricio Balona explained how Director Dembinsky was instrumental in changing the culture of his highly respected agency through the implementation of written policies and the development of a “succession strategy” that prepared members of the agency for promotion within the department.
With Director Dembinsky’s retirement, the very capable Mike Fowler will now lead the agency – a veteran public safety officer who has served in every operational and administrative role in the department during his long and honorable career with the Daytona Beach Shores Department of Public Safety.
Congratulations and all best wishes to Director Dembinsky and his lovely wife Sandi on their well-deserved retirement!
Thanks. We’re glad you passed our way.
Quote of the Week
“Young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults,” the EPA states. “A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child.”
Low levels of lead in blood for children can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. Low exposure has also been linked to central and peripheral nervous system damage.
In adults, it can cause cardiovascular effects, decreased kidney function and reproductive problems.”
–Reporter Danielle Johnson, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia elementary school tests for high lead levels in water; extent of exposure unclear,” Tuesday, October 11, 2022
Late last month, the Volusia County School Board adopted an emergency declaration based upon a disturbing single page memorandum by the district’s Coordinator of Design and Construction Thomas Brown, which read:
RE: Sugar Mill Elementary – Potable Water Lines
“After investigation, it has been determined that water at some fixtures have above normal levels of lead that exceed EPA permissible limits. Due to suspected piping issues, water to these areas have been temporarily shut off. This piping needs immediate replacement or relining to ensure that water being distributed is within required limits when restored.
In order to avoid potential health/safety issues, I am recommending that the Board declare an emergency and expedite the process of securing a contractor to perform the necessary work. The estimated cost of the work at this time is $350,000.00.”
Equally disturbing was that the expenditure was couched on the Board’s consent agenda and approved without discussion.
On Tuesday, we learned in an informative article by News-Journal reporter Danielle Johnson that drinking water samples taken from various Volusia County schools earlier this year found lead levels which exceeded United States Environmental Protection Agency standards at more than twenty other schools throughout the district.
“Testing from Sugar Mill in April returned 13 samples over the action level. Spruce Creek High School also had 10 high samples from April. More than 20 other Volusia County schools have had one to five samples above the EPA action level during 2022.”
Damn. If officials knew about the contamination in April, why are they just getting around to addressing this incredibly dangerous issue in September?
And is this the first time water samples have been tested at Volusia County schools?
I’m asking, because when I read the News-Journal’s report, the first thing that came to mind was the 2014 travesty in Flint, Michigan, where thousands of residents were exposed to lead contaminated drinking water following a change in the city’s water supply during a budget crunch.
Flint’s public health crisis is still being felt – and several high-profile elected officials have been charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice, misconduct in office, and neglect of duty – in addition to scores of civil lawsuits.
According to studies, children are particularly at risk from the long-term effects of lead poisoning, which can include a reduction in intellectual functioning and IQ, and an increased chance of Alzheimer’s disease.
In my view, the Volusia County School Board’s typical ‘whistling past the graveyard’ response does not begin to address the potential health affects to some six hundred students and 130 teachers and staff at Sugar Mill Elementary – or the thousands of children and adults who may have been exposed at other schools identified during the investigation.
And it damn sure does not explain how these unwitting victims will be cared for and compensated now that lead exposure has been confirmed and documented by independent testing.
According to an asinine official comment provided to the News-Journal by the district’s communications department:
“When compared to other counties or school districts that have conducted similar testing, these samples are relatively low,” the statement said.”
In other words, ‘We may be poisoning your kids, but when compared to other Florida counties and school districts, we’re poisoning them at a far slower rate. . .’
Take comfort in that.
Now is not the time for Volusia County District School’s patented strategy of responding to crisis situations with canned press releases and dodgy soundbites.
Not this time.
In my view, parents, students, teachers, and staff affected by this startling revelation deserve hard answers – and a comprehensive plan to protect their health going forward.
This one warrants your attention. . .
And Another Thing!
“Disengaged Industry and Community: . . .A very real current threat is the consistent indication of being uniformed and having no understanding of the effectiveness of current tourism initiatives. An aggressive and effective communication plan featuring understandable, measurable results is critical for the long-term support and success of tourism. An additional theme in SAG’s meetings was the sense that it is going to be difficult to instill broad based confidence that is vital toward improved collaboration.”
“Product Deterioration: . . .Without resources – leadership and economic – the overall tourism experience in Volusia County will decline. An overall collaborative strategy is needed.”
– “An analysis of Volusia County tourism marketing,” Strategic Advisory Group, (Final Report to the Volusia County Council – now moldering in a dusty records morgue in DeLand) issued April 8, 2013, at a cost of $100,000.
Almost a decade later, anyone see any substantive change in our tourism and marketing strategy based upon the incredibly expensive recommendations offered by the county’s consultant?
With the “Daytona Beach Resort Area” locked in its perpetual identity crisis, like clockwork, on October 1 we got a fresh marketing slogan (and new advertising agency) and, once again, “rebranded” how we present ourselves to potential visitors around the globe.
Doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different result is the textbook definition of insanity – and the entrenched policy of the Halifax Area Advertising Authority.
Because I am an infernal optimist (or maybe a masochist who takes pleasure in having the rug pulled out from under me), I maintain perpetual hope that one day our hospitality guru’s will realize that “The World’s Most Famous Beach” is universally embraced as our signature slogan – one that has brought families to our area for generations.
Maybe next year. . .
Now, the widely panned “Wide. Open. Fun.” has been replaced by the equally weird catchphrase “Beach on” (excuse me?) – the product of our newest tourism advocate, Tallahassee-based marketing firm The Zimmerman Agency – who took over from The Brandon Agency, the Myrtle Beach-based company whose contract expired September 30.
Yeah. I didn’t notice either – another lucrative contract cycle, another quirky marketing campaign adopted by those oddballs at the HAAA board. . .
In another hit to area tourism, this week the News-Journal reported the fate of longtime Daytona Beach Boardwalk concessionaires Dino Paspalakis and Lisa Psaros following a protracted 20-year legal battle with developer George Anderson and investors seeking to put a hotel complex on the site:
“A Volusia County Circuit Court judge has ordered the operators of Lisa’s Gift Shop and the Joyland arcade, two kitschy tourist draws that reach back to the days when Daytona Beach was a top destination for family vacations, to pack up and move out within 30 days.”
I guess that sounds the death knell for the iconic boardwalk attractions – the sounds, aromas, games, and confections – that locals and visitors have known for decades.
Also, yesterday marked the official beginning of Biketoberfest 2022 – the 30th iteration of the annual rally that brings thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts and millions of dollars into our community each fall.
With many homes and businesses still drying out in the horrible aftermath of Hurricane Ian – I have heard some grumbling if this is the right time to host hordes of bikers on our still soggy streets and roadways?
My response is to take a long swig of whiskey and groan, “What the hell else are we gonna do?”
The fact is, many of our neighbors are reliant on the revenue generated by these annual events to feed their families and it is important to the economic health of our region to put our best face forward and make hay while the sun shines in hopes the much-needed income will help those who were devastated by Ian’s floodwaters.
On Wednesday, I was perched on a barstool at my favorite watering hole and was heartened to see so many early bird out-of-town bikers enjoying some wings and spending money around town.
Besides, our options are limited. . .
Perhaps it is time we simply admit we are what we are – a slightly down-at-the-heels resort area, a past its prime beach town, totally reliant on a continuing cycle of boom/bust “special events” – doomed to repeat the sins and mistakes of the past as the smart money continues to ignore our downtrodden beachside for the promise of “New Daytona” along LPGA’s Boomtown Boulevard.
Then, let’s demand that our elected representatives finally do something to improve our tourism product – and our collective quality of life.
Keep the faith – and Beach on, y’all. . .
That’s all for me. Here’s wishing everyone a happy, safe, and prosperous Biketoberfest!