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 Volusia County Council
The consolidated power of Volusia’s Old Guard was in full flex this week when just five members of the Volusia County Council – three of whom are lame ducks preparing to shuffle-off to the ash heap of history in January – determined the grim future of Southeast Volusia County and beyond for generations to come.
On Tuesday, the extension of Williamson Boulevard south of S.R. 44 to Indian River Boulevard west of I-95 – a raised thoroughfare with median bisecting an environmentally sensitive area of identified wetlands to facilitate the massive development at Farmton – was ramrodded through on a 4-1 vote with Chairman Jeff Brower voting against another ecological atrocity in the making.
The final act of political prostitution by this dysfunctional iteration of the County Council was ushered in on a gilded lectica – supported by an “economic development” shill from the Southeast Volusia Chamber of Commerce who had the shameless pluck to refer to the encroachment on threatened wetlands as an “essential strategic corridor,” before trotting out the old “good, high-paying jobs” canard, a representative from the City of Edgewater (that has already approved the adjacent development knowing the fix was in), and a traffic engineer who mumbled something about, well, traffic. . .
Then – with Old Ben Johnson running effective interference – the venerable land use attorney Glenn Storch used his considerable skills and razzle-dazzle to effectively duck any serious questions or opposition before carrying the measure comfortably across the goal line for his client.
Because that is how things work here in the Kingdom of the Almighty Dollar, where the needs of real estate developers are omnipotent – and the flora and fauna don’t buy zero-lot-line cracker boxes “starting in the mid $300’s”. . .
I found it interesting that when it came time to declare ex parte communications (a Latin term meaning “on behalf of one side or party only”) three of the five sitting Council members – Johnson, Robins, and Wheeler – stated Mr. Storch had contacted them prior to the meeting to see if they had any questions.
According to Storch, he was too busy to contact the others. . .
In my jaded view, the approval was a foregone conclusion.
In short, the “process” worked as designed, and the voices of those concerned about the potential environmental consequences who equated the roadway to a levee blocking the free flow of water and restricting the movement of wildlife were wholly ignored.
Of course, Old Ben Johnson and his fawning acolyte, Councilman Danny Robins, used the opportunity to take Chairman Brower out behind the woodshed one last time before Ben heads out to pasture, his dedicated service to the Fathers of Farmton now complete. . .
What I found most disgusting was when these same bought-and-paid-for marionettes – who have dragged their leaden feet on impact fees, environmental protections, and low impact development regulations for years while their political benefactors hauled untold millions out of the pine scrub – spoke of the importance of ensuring adequate transportation infrastructure to reduce traffic on surface roads and I-95 before development occurs.
Yeah. I know. It’s called gaslighting – get used to it.
In Volusia County politics, it is universally accepted ‘to the victor go the spoils’ – and those rewards have nothing to do with those compromised tools whose asses polish those expensive wingback chairs on the dais twice a month – and everything to do with the wants, whims, and profit motives of those uber-wealthy insiders who actually control public policy in Volusia County.
In my view, this return on investment is why our oligarchical overseers spend tens-of-thousands of dollars on hand-select candidates, skew the electoral playing field, and ensure their needs are effectively and efficiently facilitated.
I don’t make this shit up, folks.
Please take a strong antiemetic and watch this travesty for yourself here: https://tinyurl.com/muc4r8em
Tuesday’s meanspirited shitshow gave anyone paying attention a ringside seat to the political emasculation of Chairman Jeff Brower that will play out over the next two-years – perpetrated by a firmly entrenched power structure – now an autocratic junta no longer hindered by political accountability or human decency.
Because that is what it means to “win” in Volusia County politics.
Be careful what you wish for, neighbors.
Sometimes you get it. . .
Angel Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower
During the November 1 Volusia County Council meeting, the Orthodox Jewish community of Deleon Springs turned out in force to seek help from their elected representatives in resolving persistent nuisance conditions near their homes.
One by one, members of the Hassidic community – many of whom relocated to West Volusia from New York and New Jersey – explained how happy they were with their new home, and how different the tranquility of Deleon Springs is from the challenges of living and working in big city chaos.
Since moving here, buying homes, and starting businesses – the City Limits Taproom & Grille opened along US-17 abutting their rural residential area. Each of the resident’s described noise and other persistent annoyances originating from the establishment which have had a detrimental impact on their quality of life.
Unfortunately, rather than receive answers and explanations to their entreaties – those who approached the dais of power were met with typical taciturn silence – that awkward catatonic gaze that greets taxpayers with the temerity to prostrate themselves before the Monarchy and request answers to civic concerns.
It appeared that most of the sitting elected officials wanted to say something – anything – in response to the impassioned pleas of their constituents but were clearly hamstrung by the asinine and inviolate “rule” that elected officials never acknowledge the existence of citizens who participate in their government.
A few weeks back I lamented the fact that, rather than engage with constituents at a public meeting on issues of community concern, the elected elite would rather turn even a routine noise complaint over to the bureaucracy where it can languish in the warren of the code enforcement process while frustrations build on all sides of the issue.
To his credit, Chairman Jeff Brower took the issue to heart and later brokered a face-to-face meeting between the owner of the establishment and leaders from the Hassidic community to find commonsense solutions.
According to a report by Al Everson writing in the West Volusia Beacon:
“At the urging of Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower, the two sides met on the grounds of City Limits Taproom & Grille Nov. 6 to discuss the situation. Members of the Jewish community also had attended the Nov. 1 County Council meeting to voice their concerns.
“We heard all of you at the County Council meeting,” Brower told the Jewish neighbors. “Hopefully from this we will get some good suggestions.” Goodwill prevailed. City Limits owner Pete Ferrentino said he wished such a meeting had happened before the matter was aired before the County Council.”
To their credit, Councilwoman Billie Wheeler and Vice Chair Barb Girtman also attended the confab – breaking with tradition to support Chairman Brower’s problem-solving initiative – as they worked cooperatively to express concern and find an amicable answer without time-consuming monitoring, fees, and fines.
I have no doubt that Chairman Brower will receive the rebuke and retribution of those stalwarts of the stagnant status quo who are opposed to any original idea or solution that falls outside the box of lockstep conformity – that tradition of dullness that permeates the executive suites at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building – where innovation and ingenuity go to die, and mediocrity is the operative ethic.
Like you, during the recent campaign season, I heard a lot of pap and fluff from those groveling for our vote about “approachable leadership,” “ethical, transparent leadership that respects the voices of all citizens,” “building collaboration and consensus,” “listening to ideas and issues that matter in our community,” and “ensuring residents know we work for them,” yadda, yadda, yadda.
It was typical election-year twaddle – but it makes me feel all warm-n-fuzzy reminiscing on those heady days when politicians feigned interest in the concerns of We, The Little People and gave Oscar-winning performances pretending they gave two-shits about our collective future and quality of life. . .
Perhaps as a sign of that “transparency” we heard so much about, the “new” puppets who will take their seats on the dais in January will reconsider the simple act of acknowledging the presence of citizens who come before them – stop the silent treatment and cold shoulder routine that paints them as aloof assholes – and actually engage with the constituents they swore an oath to serve.
Don’t hold your breath.
Unfortunately, if history repeats (and it always does here on the Fun Coast), that will not happen.
At least not until the next election cycle demands that politicians come down from the Ivory Tower of Power and reluctantly mix with the Great Unwashed hordes. . .
Kudos to Chairman Brower, Vice Chair Girtman, and Councilwoman Wheeler for stepping outside the box of conventionality to help foster a person-to-person solution to a festering community issue.
My only wish is they could have found this spirit of cooperation and collegiality sooner. . .
Asshole Volusia County District Schools
Once again, Volusia County District Schools made headlines – and became the embarrassing butt of a joke on Saturday Night Live – following an incident at Holly Hill School wherein a district mental health counselor filed a report with police alleging a 10-year-old child “cupped” her breast during a hug she shared with the student in a classroom on October 24.
The child faced expulsion from district schools, ultimately serving a 10-day suspension for the as-yet unproven accusation.
Now, the student’s family has retained high-profile Miami attorney Rawsi Williams and the West Volusia NAACP to address issues surrounding the suspension and criminal prosecution of the child – and to bring attention to persistent similar allegations of discrimination and disparate treatment at Volusia County Schools.
According to an excellent report by education reporter Danielle Johnson writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“A suspension letter sent to the boy’s guardians stated the counselor was in the student’s classroom discussing another student when the class returned from lunch and the child “approached (the counselor) to hug her.”
“(The counselor) turned sideways to give a side hug,” the report stated. “(The student) put his left arm around her shoulder and then with his right hand he reached and grabbed her left breast in which she had to grab his wrist and remove his hand.”
The explanation states that the student “proceeded to smirk and walk away” and later “began yelling and kicking things and stormed off” when his primary teacher called him to ask about the incident.
The Holly Hill Police Department report, which the employee subsequently filed, stated that the incident, which was reported as a simple battery, happened around 11:30 a.m. to noon.
That report states that the counselor saw the student running toward her and turned her body. The student hugged her and then “cupped her left breast in a disrespectful way,” and she had to “forcibly remove his hand,” she told police.
The report also notes that the primary teacher in the classroom did not witness the incident, but tried to talk to the student about it afterward.”
The student’s family vehemently disputes the counselor’s version of the incident.
In an all-to-familiar assertion, Ms. Williams is claiming that Volusia County District Schools failed to follow its own policies during the disciplinary process: “…the School, in violation of its own policy — held a meeting to uphold he suspension without even giving notice of the meeting to (name redacted) dad and grandparents, with whom he and brother live. The School told them AFTER the Meeting that they’d met and upheld this awful and unlawful suspension. And that was a downgrade, they were trying to EXPEL him at the meeting.”
Apparently, based on little more than the employee’s description of the event, Volusia County Schools convened a secret tribunal known as a “District Student Placement Committee” – a camera stellata that meets in effective seclusion to determine the fate of students facing expulsion with a defense and appeal available only after the edict has been handed down. . .
You read that right.
A mysterious “committee” comprised exclusively of district employees meets behind closed doors to make decisions that will have catastrophic impacts on a child’s life and education.
That is what passes for “due process” in Volusia County Schools?
According to Ms. Williams’ website, “By its own policy, the Final levels of decision makers must be included in a 10-day suspension, so these actions are attributable to the Board/School District and they are liable. Further, Volusia has a pervasive pattern of discrimination, due process violations, and unequal treatment under the law against its black and other minority children.”
Unfortunately, this appears to be a disturbing pattern. . .
Last August, the United States Department of Justice reached a settlement with Volusia County Schools after finding the district’s “systemic and discriminatory practices” were punishing students with disabilities for behaviors the students couldn’t control.”
That investigation began in 2017 after an attorney representing eleven students – nine of whom were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder – filed complaints on their behalf with the DOJ.
According to a 2021 News-Journal report:
“The DOJ found the students’ claims to be true. The district relied on overly punitive disciplinary tactics and law enforcement to address behaviors that are known or should be known manifestations of the students’ disabilities. The district also “routinely sought to exclude these students by removing them,” by asking parents to pick children up from school or asking them to keep the children home, by suspending the children, or by using Baker Act procedures to involuntarily hold children at hospitals.”
The resulting settlement gives Volusia County Schools three-years to revise discriminatory policies and procedures. . .
In October, parents of special-needs students filed state and federal complaints alleging discrimination against students with disabilities at Seabreeze High School.
The allegations claim, among other things, that students with disabilities are essentially warehoused on campus in the ominous “Building 15” – and routinely deprived of general education opportunities and the ability to participate in electives.
When you consider the debacle surrounding the recent auditors report detailing the massive waste of time, money, and resources related to the district’s horribly compromised software program – something former Assistant Director of Applications and Infrastructure Alex Kennedy tried valiantly to warn key decisionmakers about until he met the fate of most whistleblowers and was terminated in 2020 – or the shitshow that was the evaluation of former School Board attorney Ted Doran, you get the idea that things are not what they seem in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand. . .
As you may recall, in May – without the benefit of a national search – the Volusia County School Board brought back Superintendent Carmen Balgobin with an annual salary of $245,000 plus benefits – yet the gross mismanagement and credible allegations of discrimination and a failure to follow established policies and procedures continue.
When will the United States Department of Justice finally have their fill of this ongoing course of conduct and take definitive action to provide strong external oversight of the administration of Volusia County Schools?
Quote of the Week
“Greg Knapp, another resident affected by the erosion damage, said he and his neighbors have been sharing contact information for contractors and “trying to get stuff done for five weeks.”
“We have gotten the biggest runaround,” Knapp said. “I’m sorry, but I’m telling it like it is. I’m getting the biggest run-around from permitting, from inspections, zoning. There is no consistency of communication from the county. And that’s not fair to us.”
He asked officials at the meeting that the county provide residents with consistent information to avoid confusion and try to clear the path ahead. He said even contractors are struggling to find out what they can and can’t do.
“We’re desperate to do something,” Knapp added. “I know the intentions are good, but the actions are horrible. We’re immobilized. Not one person in this room knows what to do next.”
–Wilber-by-the-Sea resident Greg Knapp, as quoted by reporter Brenno Carillo writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Wilbur residents tired of getting ‘run-around’: Meet to demand faster response to destruction from Nicole,” Wednesday, November 16, 2022
And Another Thing!
While watching Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting, I shook my head as outgoing Councilwoman Billie Wheeler mewled and cooed about the grim fate of her desperate constituents in Daytona Beach Shores and Wilber-by-the-Sea now that many of their homes have been consumed by the sea or remain at grave risk in the aftermath of Hurricane Nicole.
It was all a shameless set-up to allow County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald the opportunity to remind suffering residents in his patented bureaucratic monotone that nothing of substance will happen fast. . .
However, as their homes and condominiums teeter on the brink, coastal property owners can rest assured that everyone who is anyone in local and state government are actively expending volumes of hot air talking about it.
Where was Ms. Wheeler and Volusia County’s senior executives – those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – for the past decade when residents asked them to limit red tape on mitigation efforts, screamed about the gross mismanagement of our beach, and begged for effective erosion control?
The fact is, Volusia County – who has exclusive control of all 47-miles of our Atlantic coastline – has been caught flatfooted, painfully exposed as having no prior plan in place for this eventuality – now that our worst fears have been realized.
Tragically, rather than receiving help with temporary protections, the residents of Wilber-by-the-Sea are hearing asinine “suggestions” bandied about by their clueless elected officials (like Councilman Danny Robins’ Google search of beach replenishment measures in New Jersey?) who are scrambling for answers now that they are being held accountable for the gross lack of planning that may have mitigated this disastrous outcome.
Unfortunately, at a time when we need decisive leadership – we are stuck in that phase of the emergency where local officials are hoping the next level of bureaucratic incompetence will provide the answers (and money) they so desperately seek as the tough questions mount. . .
For now, residents are being asked to fill out applications with Florida Department of Environmental Protection and wait – uncomfortable in the knowledge that ‘time and tide wait for no man.’
In an act of political courage that I am sure will make victims of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole feel infinitely better about their calamitous situation – on Tuesday, after much consternation and hand-wringing – your elected representatives on the Volusia County Council unanimously authorized a letter to the State of Florida asking that they do something. . .
Oh, and if you live in waterlogged Daytona Beach, you will be happy to know that The Daytona Beach News-Journal is reporting an act of extraordinary political daring-do by Mayor Derrick Henry in a frontpage article titled, “Residents fed up”:
“Mayor Derrick Henry is sending a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis this week asking Florida’s top elected official to visit Daytona Beach soon to see what the city suffered on both sides of the Halifax River.”
Rest easy. The letters are flying, folks. . .
Unfortunately, something tells me luck is all we have going for us now. . .
That’s all for me. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!
Angels & Assholes will take a pause and return on December 2nd.
One thought on “Angels & Assholes for November 18, 2022”
We should never forget who approved Farmton in the first place and the one who comes to my mind most, because she is still out there influencing the narrative, is Pat Northey. Pat Northey helped get the Farmton disaster rolling, she helped get the SunRail disaster rolling that will be an endless money pit for the taxpayers and there will be more destructive developments around the SunRail stations, and she deceived the public about ECHO as she pushed to get the slush fund approved for 20 more years. And as the West Volusia Beacon is going on and on about how wonderful Barb Girtman is and how she only lost her re-election on the County Council Dist #1 seat because she is a registered democrat, which is not true, let us not forget she too voted in favor of the road extension mentioned by Barker and her campaign was also nicely funded by those eastside power brokers. Let’s stop turning a blind eye to those who may not be as vocal as good ol Ben and let’s keep all of the names of all of those who have failed us out front. Mr. Barker is much more forgiving than I am and he tends to give some a pass more than others. At least with ol Ben you know where he stands because he is loud and proud about his dirty deeds. The ones you need to fear most are those who are a bit more cunning, you know the ones who will smile at you as they are cutting your throat. Does anyone else remember that fancy BBQ the developers of Farmton held not long ago that was attended by many of our elected representatives and do you remember how many of them refused to acknowledge if they were in attendance? As I was recently reminded, always beware of false prophets…