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 Port Orange Councilwoman Kat Atwood
You wouldn’t know it from my often-acerbic take on local politics and those who practice it, but I have a great deal of admiration for anyone with the mettle to hold themselves out for elective service who still respects the sanctity of their office – and the needs of their constituents.
In my view, the idea of “service above self” speaks not only to one’s political ambitions – but also the courage to step aside when wellness, focus, or motivations change and ensure citizens receive the best representation possible.
Given the rigors of modern political campaigns, and the power and perquisites of high office, it is rare when a sitting politician demonstrates the selflessness to stepdown when circumstances warrant, the gracious act of putting the needs of others above their own.
The mark of a true servant-leader.
Last week, Port Orange Mayor Don Burnette announced that newly elected City Councilwoman Kat Atwood has announced her resignation citing health issues. Ms. Atwood ran unopposed for the District 2 seat after Chase Tramont left the council to undertake his successful run for the Florida House of Representatives.
As a United States Navy veteran, Ms. Atwood knows something about that sacred concept of “service above self” – and I found it refreshing that the citizens of Port Orange had such a staunch advocate occupying the dais of power – someone who heeded the call to translate their unique military leadership experience to elective office.
Recently, Ms. Atwood gave a heartfelt explanation for her departure to concerned constituents on social media:
“Those who know me know that I am an ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of girl. I believe in giving it my all – or why bother doing it at all, right?
That said, the people of Port Orange deserve nothing less than my 100%. I cannot, in good conscience, occupy the District 2 seat knowing that I am not 100% healthy. I cannot be charged with making City decisions, voting on laws and City issues that affect Port Orange families, workers’ benefits, resident concerns, union issues, employee retirements, etc., without being 100% present to address them properly. I’m just not made that way; that’s not who I am. And, it wouldn’t be fair to my husband, our children, or my parents to not take this time to focus on my health and heal. In short, as difficult as this decision was to make, it was the right decision.”
Thank you for your service, Ms. Atwood.
When the time is right, I hope you will consider a return to local politics – we desperately need your sense of service and selflessness now, more than ever.
Angel Volusia County Teacher of the Year Vonda Morris
During a ceremony held last Friday at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort, Vonda H. Morris, a Probability & Statistics / AP Statistics Teacher at Spruce Creek High School, and a math educator for 28 years who has taught at the middle, high school, and collegiate levels, was named 2024 Volusia County Schools Teacher of the Year!
According to reports, Ms. Morris was selected from an outstanding field of sixty-nine nominees representing schools across Volusia County and one of five finalists for the district recognition.
Now, Ms. Morris will represent Volusia County Schools in the state Teacher of the Year program.
In a release from Volusia County Schools, Ms. Morris received high praise for her significant contributions in the classroom and beyond:
“Vonda H. Morris is a leader whose work goes beyond the classroom, serving as a member of the school leadership team, mathematics department chair, new teacher liaison, class sponsor, and sunshine committee chairperson. Her test scores exceed district, national and state averages.”
Unfortunately, it was clear from Tuesday’s Volusia County School Board meeting that the chasm between classroom teachers and Superintendent Carmen Balgobin’s top-heavy administration continues to deepen as evidenced by the unstaunched hemorrhage of talent from the district.
I encourage everyone to listen to what passes for “public input” when veteran teachers and paraprofessionals approached our elected officials from behind a weird strapped-off podium – an asinine barrier which physically and subliminally separated them from board members.
They spoke passionately of disrespect, being called out for referring students for discipline who engage in acts of violence, suffering physical abuse (to include one teacher who described being bitten in the classroom), anxiety, filthy facilities, fighting, obscenities, low morale, disillusionment, and a frustration with ongoing wage compression while contract negotiations remain at impasse – with “international teachers” being shipped in from foreign countries to fill the loss of certified educators – descriptions that sound more like a dystopian Thunderdome than a public school system with a budget now exceeding $1 Billion.
If you have children in Volusia County Schools or pay taxes here, I encourage you to listen to the fervent pleas of these dedicated professionals.
It is eye opening.
Please find that section of the School Board meeting here: https://tinyurl.com/29tser8d
A sincere congratulations to Vonda Morris for this well-deserved special recognition – along with my heartfelt thanks to all teachers who dedicate themselves to educating, mentoring, and inspiring the next generation under difficult (and increasingly dangerous) circumstances for far less than they are worth.
(Photo Credit: Volusia County Schools)
Angel City of New Smyrna Beach
With a few notorious exceptions, the City of New Smyrna Beach gets it right.
This quaint seaside community exudes the Old Florida charm that many cities are striving (and spending) to recreate.
That does not happen by accident.
With bustling commercial corridors on both sides of the intercoastal and quaint residential areas that complement the relaxed feel, city officials have crafted the quintessential ‘beach town’ that now rivals Florida gems like Siesta Key, Captiva, and Key West.
Unfortunately, New Smyrna has not been spared from the malignant sprawl that has spread across the width and breadth of Volusia County – a “growth at all costs” strategy, facilitated by compromised politicians whose loyalties were bought and paid for with massive campaign contributions – ramrodded by land use attorney’s and others who convinced us that developers can do anything they damn well please, regardless of how it affects their neighbors.
Now, many residents are concerned that the devastating flooding that blanketed many areas of Southeast Volusia during Tropical Storm Ian correlates to the hodge-podge of area development that left some neighborhoods uninhabitable.
To their credit, earlier this month, city officials passed a six-month building moratorium on residential developments of ten acres or more – or more than 25 homes – in certain FEMA-designated flood zones covering the bulk of the city.
Now, the City of New Smyrna Beach has commissioned a study by Gainesville-based engineering firm Jones Edmunds & Associates Inc., who are now charged with determining the who, what, when, where, why, and how some 1,200 residents were left with between four-inches and four-feet of standing water in their homes and businesses.
Last week, officials hosted a public information session attended by some 500 residents at the Brannon Center to communicate the “goals, scope, and schedule” of the study.
In an excellent report by reporter Brenno Carillo writing in Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned from the engineering firm’s vice president Brett Cunningham:
“The study will also “analyze the impact of large new developments and their associated stormwater management systems for potential adverse offsite impacts.”
“Once we put together a model and make sure that it’s matching all the observations we have for it, we are going to kind of go back in time, if you will,” Cunningham said. “We are going to take out some developments on the mainland side and on the beachside and see how things would have been in Hurricane Ian without those developments.”
The study will also “review the city’s stormwater code and standard for appropriateness and potential improvements.”
“(We are going to) compare those to what other similar communities are doing and see if there are other recommendations that we would have,” he added.
The firm’s team will “present findings and recommendations to the City Commission” in May.”
In other words, the study will check the arithmetic of those planners, engineers, and others who recommended approval of these developments back during Volusia County’s ‘Orgy of Greed’ that resulted in a frenzy of slash-and-burn clearcutting to facilitate anything and everything that came down the pike. . .
In my view, and at the risk of opening a Pandoras Box of panic-stricken real estate developers, if the study finds a direct connection between development, radical changes in topography, and substandard stormwater management – and the devastating inundation that impacted and displaced so many existing residents – there should be serious consequences for any shill who convinced us, “if you’re not growin’, you’re dying…”
According to the News-Journal, if you live in the New Smyrna area and would like to assist with the study, please email photographs and video of flooding to firstname.lastname@example.org
This one bears watching, folks.
Angel Volusia County Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission
From the ‘Will wonders never cease’ file, last week, the Volusia County PLDRC said “No” to a developer’s request to change the zoning on twenty-six acres of undeveloped property at the intersection of South Blue Lake Avenue and Taylor Road near DeLand.
The 4-3 vote to reject the request came after the county’s malleable planning staff instinctively recommended approval. . .
According to a piece by reporter Al Everson writing in the West Volusia Beacon:
“…the board voted 4-3 to recommend that the County Council keep the current land use of Rural, instead of the requested Urban Low Intensity. Changing the land use would have set the stage for the zoning to be changed from Rural Agriculture (A-2) to Residential Planned Unit Development (RPUD).
Under the A-2 zoning, development would be limited to one home per five acres, or a maximum of about five homes.
But the property owner, Stewart Properties LLC, wanted to carve the 26 acres into 71 lots for single-family homes, as well as green spaces, a community park and stormwater ponds, in a community that would be called Taylor Ridge.“
According to the Beacon, PLDRC Chair Ronnie Mills cited traffic and flooding concerns – and reminded his fellow committee members that once the county’s comprehensive plan is amended – it opens the door for increased density.
In my view, considering future impacts on existing residents and civic infrastructure is called responsible growth.
Interestingly, last February, the DeLand City Commission rejected a proposed annexation of the Taylor Ridge property over concerns that the developer would be entitled to more homes than permitted by current Volusia County land use regulations.
(Sounds like the old “When Mom says “No,” go to Dad” strategy of ultimately getting your way, eh?)
The measure will now go before the Volusia County Council with the PLDRC’s nonbinding recommendation dragging along like a neon boat anchor for everyone paying attention to see.
We will soon see if our newly-seated Council members are willing to respect the deliberations and advice of their advisory boards – or will simply follow the pernicious process of rubber-stamping comp-plan amendments with no consideration of the civic and environmental impacts, or the quality of life of existing residents.
Asshole Bethune-Cookman University Board of Trustees
Bethune-Cookman University is in real trouble.
In my view, the University’s wholly incompetent and irretrievably broken oversight board and what passes for ‘leadership’ are to blame.
I am not alone in that dismal assessment.
On Monday, an estimated 300 students gathered on the Bethune-Cookman campus demanding the resignation of the Board of Trustees – to include Chairman Belvin Perry – amid chants of, “Hey, hey, ho ho, the Board of Trustees has got to go” and “Hail Wildcats! Hail Belvin? Hell, no!”
According to a report in the Daytona Times, the student protest centered on the short, but shambolic, tenure of National Football League Hall of Famer Ed Reed as B-CU’s head football coach.
Reed was effectively dismissed on Saturday amid swirling controversy (without ever signing a contract) following his strong criticism of B-CU’s abysmal athletic facilities – along with his passionate support for players, their families, and staff.
In my view, Ed Reed had the courage to say what others would not – putting his own time and money to solving long-standing problems, going so far as to personally pick-up trash around the school’s practice facility.
His honesty and sharp-elbowed push for positive change did not sit well with B-CU’s ‘powers that be.’
Unfortunately, as Ed Reed found out, speaking truth to power rarely ends well in these parts. . .
Now, the disclosures prompted by Mr. Reed’s shocking observations and subsequent departure has morphed into a nationally publicized catastrophe for the B-CU administration.
More ominously, this week’s campus protest exposed disturbing revelations of unsafe and unsanitary conditions in B-CU dormitories – accompanied by gross photographs of mold and mildew infested student living spaces – a situation described by the Daytona Times as “…moldy and rat-infested dorm rooms, substandard athletic facilities, and poor cafeteria food, among other things.”
Given the cost of a B-CU education, that’s unacceptable – and indefensible.
In my view, B-CU never fully recovered from the sordid scandals and shadowy maneuverings that resulted in a financial spiral and corresponding lack of confidence that nearly destroyed the school’s reputation and viability.
At the time, many felt those in a position to know better – the Board of Trustees – had an ethical, moral, and fiduciary responsibility to alumni, students, and staff to ensure the best interests of this historic university were protected from the self-serving motives of former ‘administrators’ and predatory shysters who financially gutted the institution.
Now, like before, the insular Board of Trustees – whose response to any internal or external criticism is to circle the wagons and communicate in canned pronouncements while refusing to alter their disastrous course – has left students, athletes, and staff feeling powerless to control the destiny of this vital community asset and preserve the important legacy of Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune.
So, students let their voices be heard.
Unfortunately, this continuing lack of substantive give-and-take with stakeholders and students will not end well, and many fear the continuing instability will hamper the university’s ability to recruit and retain students, faculty, and staff.
In a prepared announcement, B-CU Interim President Lawrence Drake advised that the University is preparing a comprehensive assessment of “…all its facilities for fitness, renovation, and teardown, as well as the construction of new facilities to enhance our campus,” while prioritizing “necessity and cost, as financial resources are limited.”
No word on who, when, or if anyone in a position of responsibility will be held accountable for allowing facilities to deteriorate into the horrific conditions described by Mr. Reed and the student body.
Kudos to those courageous students who moved swiftly this week to bring much needed attention to the on-going abominations being committed at B-CU before it is too late.
Quote of the Week
“The County Council will discuss the costs for beach access at its meeting at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21, a result of District 4 Councilman Troy Kent making a motion during his closing comments at the council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Kent — who while campaigning for his seat during the recent elections, vowed to “fight tooth and nail” for residents to be able to drive on the beach for free — said at the meeting that he wanted all non-residents to have to pay to park on the beach and at the county’s beachfront parks.
“The access for our beaches and many locations is broken,” Kent said. “I do not believe the county has done a good job in running our beach. I am hopeful that we can turn that around with this council and this advocate, because there’s never been a District 4 representative more pumped up, more concerned, and more excited to get our residents on our beach, enjoying it the way they should.”
–District 4 Volusia County Councilman Troy Kent, as quoted by Senior Editor Jarleene Almenas in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Volusia County Council to discuss cost of beach driving tolls for residents in March,” Thursday, January 19, 2023
Being a cynical dipshit, I am tempted to ask:
“Why is it when Chairman Jeff Brower suggested allowing Volusia County residents to drive on the beach without paying a fee – citing the fact we pay for the privilege each year with our exorbitant property taxes – he was strung up as a barking-mad lunatic by his “colleagues” – while Councilman Kent is now heralded as an oracle?”
But I won’t.
Frankly, I am grateful to Mr. Kent for finally getting this important issue the fair hearing it deserves.
Perhaps our “new” Volusia County Council just want to get the matter settled early – drive a stake through the heart of “free” beach driving once and for all – or perhaps they are sincere about reversing the abysmal mismanagement and fee-grabbing that has turned our most precious natural asset into the uninviting, sign-polluted, and overregulated place it has become?
I don’t know. But it will be interesting to watch how this play out.
For anyone interested in preserving our long-standing tradition of beach driving – and protecting our shoreline from the threat of further erosion – please join Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, for their annual meeting on Saturday, February 18, at Schnebly Recreation Center, 1101 North Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach, beginning at 10am.
Everyone is welcome.
Topics will include a pause on new oceanfront development, with expert guests providing information on future tropical storm projections, sea level rise, meteorology, and beach erosion.
Sons of the Beach is a non-profit organization whose only membership requirement is a willingness to preserve Volusia County beaches.
For more information – or to join SOB – please go to www.sonsofthebeach.org
And Another Thing!
Last week, reporter Charles Guarria published an exclusive in Volusia Hometown News regarding the concerns of David Wimmer Presents, the producer of the incredibly successful Welcome to Rockville four-day music festival held annually at Daytona International Speedway, claiming some local hotels are increasing room rates to unacceptable levels during the event.
According to a release by DWP earlier this month:
“During the 2022 Welcome to Rockville, one of the major concerns expressed by our fans was the high rates at the hotels in Daytona. As a result, fans chose not to attend or booked hotel rooms outside of Daytona. If this trend continues, we will be forced to look at a more affordable location for Welcome to Rockville. We are asking that the hotels please offer reasonable rates so we can stay in Daytona for many years to come.”
Of course, Bob Davis, Grand Poobah of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County, was quoted by the Hometown News, “If our pricing has inched up a bit, it is from supply and demand.”
“We don’t gouge people. We don’t do things of that nature. It would be a violation of price-fixing laws. We don’t price fix. Everybody prices their rooms as how they see fit.”
Inched up a bit?
In a startling revelation, Mr. Guarria reported:
“The Courtyard by Marriott at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is a mere half mile from the speedway. It charged an average of $300 per room last year for Welcome to Rockville. For this year’s festival, it has raised the prices to $439 for Thursday, May 18, and $444 for the succeeding two evenings. One month before the festival, a room can be had for $168 per night on average.”
“By comparison, a front desk receptionist informed the room price averages $250 during another busy time, snowbird season.”
Look, I’m no tourism analyst – but that’s over $1,300 (before taxes and fees) for a three-night stay at a Courtyard by Marriott. . .
So, is this a case of supply and demand – charging what the market will bear – or a short-sighted money grab by some Daytona Beach Resort Area hoteliers forced to survive on the peaks and valleys of an event-driven cyclical economy – a boom/bust mercenary mindset that now threatens to drive Welcome to Rockville, which attracted an estimated 140,000 headbangers to the area in 2022, out of our fragile market?
Shockingly, Mr. Davis – apparently speaking on behalf of the Halifax area hospitality industry – responded to the producer’s concerns with the laissez-faire shrug – “If he wants to pull out, let him pull out.”
Absent the infamous 2021 “Golden Shower” when Sophia Urista, the vocalist for Brass Against, dropped trou and gushingly, effusively, and volubly, urinated on a willing fan’s face as he sprawled on the stage – and the inclement weather during last year’s event that caused consternation over refunds – Welcome to Rockville has been seen as a positive for local businesses since arriving here from Jacksonville three-years ago.
The Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau apparently took things more seriously than Mr. Davis and broadcast DWP’s price gouging concerns to local industry marketing execs in an email earlier this month.
With beachfront resort properties struggling mightily in the aftermath of back-to-back tropical storms – amid reports that tourism dollars are down 30-50% – time will tell how local hoteliers will respond.
In my view, in an area that has taken a dim view of alternatives to traditional hotels – including criminalizing the concept of short-term rentals outside narrowly defined areas – it is time our hospitality gurus take a hard look at what remains of the “brand” and finally come to agreement on how to break (or embrace) their reliance on the special event cycle.
But transitioning to a more year-round destination requires a draw – a competitive product – something all the slick marketing slogans in the world cannot replace.
Unfortunately, over the past decade, the stodgy Halifax area tourism and hospitality apparatus has stood lead-footed – locked in almost paralytic inaction as the death spiral of the beachside gained speed – allowing corrosive blight, civic neglect, and economic stagnation to blanket our core tourist areas like a shroud.
It is called vision, something far more openminded and creative than the unhospitable “Screw ‘em. If they want to leave, let ‘em leave” mentality that continues to hamstring substantive progress here on the Fun Coast.
That’s all for me. Have a great Rolex 24 weekend, y’all!