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 The “New” Volusia County Council
Whether you agree philosophically and politically with the results of a local electoral process that has taken on the characteristics of a Turkish bazaar – for good or ill – our skewed “system” worked as intended.
On Thursday, members of the “new” Volusia County Council were sworn-in with much pomp, circumstance, and turd-polishing pontification – annoyingly punctuated by the embarrassing audio malfunctions the long-suffering taxpayers have been forced to accept for far too long.
Like many of you, I listened carefully to the various longwinded speeches of our newly seated “representatives” – and made a comprehensive list of the many lofty promises made. Of course, I got that warm feeling I always get when talk turns to quarterly coffee klatches with the lower caste, “cooperation and commonsense,” and “respecting citizens time.”
I was incredibly pleased by one of the first significant items addressed, when At-Large Councilman Jake Johansson suggested adopting a hybrid schedule to permit a mix of both daytime and evening meetings to allow more constituents to attend.
District 4 Councilman Troy Kent (who always comes off like a hyper-enthusiastic Middle School Assistant Principal…) strongly supported this concept – and took it one step further – initially making a motion to go to all evening meetings beginning in February.
That died for lack of a second (while “staff” shifted uncomfortably in their seats. . .)
Another motion from the dais called for alternating start times with one monthly meeting beginning at 10:00am and the other at 4:00pm.
The measure passed unanimously (with Councilman-elect David Santiago absent).
In my view, this move is a quantum leap forward in addressing the needs of those long-suffering constituents forced to take time away from work to approach their elected officials on issues of concern.
Good stuff. Well worthy of an “Angel” designation, (I think).
Kudos to our newly constituted Volusia County Council for considering the needs of their constituents and setting a new bar for accessibility and responsiveness.
Will progress continue?
I don’t know.
I’m still trying to decipher exactly what the theater we witnessed on Thursday means.
But, in my view, the hybrid schedule is an invigorating departure from the stagnant status quo.
Unfortunately, in my experience, because the bureaucracy and its entrenched leadership remains the same – and the self-serving motivations of those influential insiders who control the rods and strings of public policy have not changed – I don’t expect anything to substantively improve on the dais of power.
That includes the continuing political castration of Chairman Jeff Brower. . .
I hope that’s not the case. But it is.
Disturbingly, when talk turned to refining “the rules” – those contrived constraints which our elected officials use to limit the right of We, The Little People to provide input, speak our mind, and stand before our elected representatives for redress of grievances – it became apparent that some of our Monarchical “representatives” (including the monotonous bureaucratic babbler Councilman Troy “Super Excited!” Kent) still believe their time is more important that yours.
In keeping with tradition, things later dissolved into minor confusion over procedural issues as the new members attempted to get their sea legs – and Chairman Brower once again proved that, while he is a capitulating nice guy – he is wholly out of his element on the political battlefield –and, as per usual, the Chair allowed the “discussion” to melt into a chaotic ramble.
But it’s the citizens who are holding up the “people’s business”?
It seems in Volusia County, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Don’t take my word for it, watch the fun here: https://tinyurl.com/3avmh5y4
Stand by. Things are just getting started. . .
Angel Politis & Matovina and The City of Daytona Beach
The Halifax area has its share of problems, but we can still do what we do best:
Throw a kickass party!
On New Year’s Eve, thousands of revelers enjoyed the 16th Annual Politis & Matovina Law Firm’s New Year’s Eve on Main Street Party – a family friendly celebration complete with multiple entertainment stages, street performers, food, drinks, and a midnight ball drop.
Thanks to the support of Politis & Matovina, the event was free for residents and visitors!
The City of Daytona Beach assisted by closing Main Street to vehicular traffic, and, as always, the Daytona Beach Police Department kept everyone safe.
Throughout the evening, Fox News Channel provided national exposure of the Daytona Beach Resort Area with frequent cutaways to a roving reporter interviewing revelers of all ages along Main Street.
I’m certainly not a “hospitality genius” (Lord knows we have enough of those) but our resident experts at the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Halifax Area Advertising Authority – the “brain trust” who decide how bed-tax funds are spent – could learn something by talking to Main Street merchants, analyzing historically successful events versus those that fill hotel rooms but have a destructive impact on our tattered “brand,” then wisely allocate funds to aggressively market these high draw/low impact events to potential visitors.
Last year, former Daytona Beach Mayor Dick Kane concluded an excellent essay on historical issues with our tourism industry when he laid down some hard-earned wisdom:
“The Resort Tax started at 1 per cent and, like them all has grown to 24 million and is technically overseen by the County Council. Maybe it’s time to take another overall look at our tourist lifeblood.”
That requires a break from the current strategy of repeatedly rubber-stamping goofy marketing slogans (“Seize the Daytona,” “Wide. Open. Fun.,” “Beach on, bitches!” etc., etc.) concocted by another out-of-town advertising agency – then demand that our tourism gurus focus on what works – rather than throwing good money after bad while expecting a different result.
It would also help to see substantive movement on the long-anticipated renovation of the blighted East International Speedway Boulevard gateway – that suppurating carbuncle that for decades has served as a ghastly first impression to visitors and potential investors – a much-needed makeover we have been promised (repeatedly) will begin “early this year.”
Kudos to Politis & Matovina, the City of Daytona Beach, and everyone who worked hard to make New Year’s Eve on Main Street another roaring success!
Asshole Volusia County District Schools
In an outstanding October 2022 exposé by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s education reporter Danielle Johnson, we learned that the mother of a student with Down syndrome who attends Seabreeze High School under a deferred graduation program filed state and federal complaints alleging discrimination against her son and other students with disabilities.
According to the original report, “Anni Suadi says the district “warehouses” students with disabilities in segregated “building 15” at the high school “like it used to be back in 1950,” and that Volusia County Schools has not followed her son Lance Avery’s legally binding individualized education plan (IEP).
The actions, which she calls “immoral,” “unethical” and “illegal” in her complaint, have deprived him of opportunities to participate in electives and be included with general education students. She’s pulled him out of school until a change is made to include her son and other students.”
Unfortunately, the trials of Lance Avery are not unique in Volusia County Schools.
In 2021, 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 gave the district three-years to revise discriminatory policies and procedures. . .
Earlier this week, the News-Journal reported that Lance Avery’s due process claim was dismissed by an Administrative Law Judge following a hearing in December.
Controversial attorney Barbara Myrick represented the Volusia County School Board. . .
As you may recall, in April 2021, Myrick was arrested on a charge of unlawful disclosure of statewide grand jury proceedings and subsequently resigned from her role as Broward County School Board General Counsel.
The indictment came in the shambolic aftermath of the Broward County School Board’s disastrous handling of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
You can read more here: https://tinyurl.com/ysnduu9m
On Tuesday morning, School Board Member Ruben Colon – in my view, one of the most transparent, sincere, and genuinely helpful elected officials in Volusia County – confirmed that Ms. Myrick serves as an attorney with a firm contracted by the district, and she specializes in cases related to exceptional student education.
To her credit, Anni Suadi, told the News-Journal “she’s not done fighting.”
According to the News-Journal report:
“In the final order, the judge did acknowledge that one witness, an Americans with Disabilities Act compliance officer, presented testimony that was “highly insensitive,” as she stated, “we can’t have him (Avery) on campus where the students who are much younger than him are using him as a plaything and a toy and a pet.”
“The kids are mentors,” Suadi said, disagreeing. “Lance, he grows socially, he becomes independent, he communicates, he complies, he’s on task, he does what all the other kids do….
He’s made friends. Nobody plays with him like he’s a pet or a toy.
Suadi intends to appeal the final order with a lawsuit and is in touch with an assistant United States attorney in the Middle District of Florida’s Orlando Division about elevating her complaints. She has also filed a report with the Daytona Beach Police Department over alleged falsification of Avery’s records.”
Good for Ms. Suadi.
Given the fact the school district is under an active federal settlement agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section, my hope is DOJ intervenes on Lance Avery’s behalf and gets this matter out of the Florida Administrative Hearing process and into a federal courtroom where it belongs.
In fact, my hope is the Civil Rights Division will open a branch office here on the Fun Coast, clear the logjam, and let the chips fall where they may. . .
Quote of the Week
“The News-Journal requested the surveillance video, but Captain cited a law that exempts from public records videos “relating directly to the physical security or fire safety of the facility or revealing security or fire safety systems.”
“In follow up with our legal team, case law has consistently held that video obtained from a surveillance system at any government facility falls within that exemption,” Captain wrote in an email to The News-Journal. “There are several attorney general opinions that confirm this. It does not matter how many cameras are involved.”
–Volusia County “Community Misinformation” Director Kevin Captain, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Report: Inmate, officers give conflicting accounts of incident at Volusia jail,” Wednesday, December 28, 2022
In recent weeks, many have been fuming about the growing speculation following scandalous revelations of inmate abuse at the Volusia County Department of Corrections.
Despite Volusia County’s repeated attempts to downplay the scandal – it’s a ‘big deal.’
Look, I often make light of the civic issues we face here on Florida’s Fun Coast. Let’s face it, laughing at our collective plight beats the alternative of throwing ourselves in the floor and having a good cry. . .
But one thing I never joke about is trust in government.
Unfortunately, in Volusia County “the truth” has now become a choreographed narrative carefully crafted by Mr. Captain – a highly paid mouthpiece who “manages” information and controls the story by spinning “facts” – a strategy which ensures that no one in a position of high responsibility is ever held accountable for (insert debacle du jour).
On Monday, I wrote my thoughts on the swirling controversy at the Volusia County Department of Corrections – including allegations by former Department of Corrections Director Mark Flowers that he is being retaliated against by senior administrators for blowing the whistle on issues at the jail.
Much of what we know about this disturbing controversy initially came from Mr. Flowers’ attorney, Kelly Chanfrau, as reported by The Daytona Beach News-Journal – revelations which were followed by counter-accusations from Volusia County – including claims that an internal investigation sustained a laundry list of violations against Flowers that include ordering the isolation of inmates, violating suicide protocols, creating a hostile workplace, and directing that corrections officers place an unidentified inmate in a “four-point restraint” – naked – for days.
Last month, just hours before the Christmas break, Volusia County issued a self-serving press release choreographed by “Community Information” Director Kevin Captain – complete with a chest-thumping “statement” from County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald – touting the results of an independent review by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of the State Attorney of a single use of force incident when corrections officers intervened following a fight between two inmates.
According to Mr. Captain’s glowing release, “An independent, outside review of an altercation at the Volusia County Branch Jail in April found no evidence that corrections officers used excessive force while gaining control of a combative inmate.”
That’s vastly different from the findings of Volusia County Department of Public Protection Captain David Vanis whose initial internal investigation concluded, “Based on the information gathered during this investigation, I am unable to determine if the force used against (inmate Caruthers) on April 26, 2022, was excessive in nature.”
Of course, Mr. Captain’s spin set up Mr. Recktenwald to spike his apparent vindication from Mr. Flowers’ pointed allegations in a prepared statement:
“The fact that the review by the State Attorney’s Office of the interviews, evidence and circumstances came to the very same conclusion shows that we were thorough and transparent in our investigation,” said Recktenwald. “We appreciate the detailed and professional manner in which our internal affairs staff conducted the investigation. The suggestion that our investigation was handled in anything less than an appropriate and exemplary manner has been proven to be false.”
Nothing to see here, folks. Keep moving. . .
So much for self-reflection, a transparent failure analysis, an honest examination of leadership breakdowns, acceptance of responsibility, and the recentering of organizational values at VDOC, eh?
In my view, the FDLE investigative report – and the subsequent prosecutorial review – paint a disturbing picture of issues at the Volusia County Department of Corrections – with conflicting testimony, opposing vantagepoints, and differing recollections of the same incident.
According to reports, neither the Volusia County Department of Public Protection, nor FDLE, were able to definitively determine if the use of force was excessive in nature, resulting in findings of “not sustained” in the case of four of the officers named in the incident – and “unfounded” in the case of two of the officers involved.
Back when I was conducting and reviewing Internal Affairs investigations, “not sustained” generally meant that the investigation failed to disclose sufficient evidence to clearly prove or disprove the allegation – while “unfounded” determined that the alleged incident did not occur.
According to the findings of Assistant State Attorney Ashley Terwilleger, the inquiry was complicated by the fact, “Video surveillance of the area outside the cell provided views of the common area outside of the cell but no angle provides a view of the interior of the cell. There are no video surveillance cameras for the interior of the cell.”
As a result, the State Attorney’s Office found “insufficient evidence to proceed.”
I don’t know about you, but I find Director Captain’s slanted media release, and refusal to release video of the incident, alarming – especially since Volusia County rarely (if ever) publicly comments on employment matters and pending litigation. . .
As the great television journalist Bob Schieffer once said, “…self-serving spin at the first sign of crisis does not help the situation; it makes it worse, because it makes it harder to believe anything the government says.”
Add to that Mr. Captain’s reliance on legal mumbo-jumbo, “case law,” attorney general opinions, and “exemptions” to Florida’s public records laws whenever it does not serve the County’s narrative – and it gives the appearance our county government has something to hide. . .
That’s a problem.
But don’t worry.
When the time is right, these incredibly well-paid senior administrators will puff out their chests in righteous indignation, then crow, ad nauseam, about their “honor and professionalism” while their bosses – our elected representatives – gaze misty-eyed from the dais, validating this abhorrent continuing course of conduct with their inaction. . .
It’s good to have “friends,” right?
Earlier this week, I said what many are thinking regarding the ongoing shit show at the Volusia County Department of Corrections – hoping against hope that “The Wreck” would follow his conscience, accept responsibility commensurate with his vast authority (and paycheck), do the right thing and resign during the swearing-in ceremony for the “new” Volusia County Council.
You know – out with old, in with the new?
That will teach me to put faith in senior Volusia County officials following their conscience, eh?
Hell, even with Councilman Matt Reinhart, the former jail warden now in a position of oversight, the 800-pound abusive gorilla in the room that is the VCDOC debacle wasn’t even mentioned.
(Like I said – where is the United States Department of Justice when we need them?)
The faces on the dais of power may have changed this week, but make no mistake, the exclusive Good Old Boys Club is alive and well in the cloistered Halls of Power at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building – and those of us who pay the bills are clearly not members.
Despite our optimism for new beginnings, the “Trust Issue” which has hampered substantive progress continues.
That’s a damn shame.
And Another Thing!
Whether we like it or not, you and I are about to run a railroad.
What? You don’t know diddlysquat about the management and logistics of operating a complex commuter-rail system that will ultimately connect DeLand with points south?
That’s okay. Neither do our powers that be.
Unfortunately, no one who should seems to give two-shits as we trundle like a runaway locomotive toward the Florida Department of Transportation’s handover of SunRail to Volusia, Seminole, Orange, and Osceola counties and the City of Orlando.
What we do know is that in coming weeks, work will begin on the final segment from DeBary to DeLand while senior administrators in DeLand and beyond continue to shillyshally on the all-important details as the clock ticks.
The twelve-mile section will cost $34.2 million (Volusia County taxpayers will cover a quarter of that) and the line will terminate at a depot to be constructed near the DeLand Amtrak station.
With FDOT actively preparing to unload SunRail onto the backs of locals in June 2024, the who, what, when, where, and how (don’t get me started on the why) of the operation and management of the commuter-rail system remains in limbo – including exactly how much you and I will be on the hook for annually – given that ridership is far less than what is required to sustain operating costs for a system that still does not run nights or weekends.
As I understand it (and I am not sure I do) some are suggesting that the current Commuter Rail Commission become SunRail’s operating agency – an incredibly expensive proposition that would require constructing another massive multifaceted bureaucracy – including hiring some 200 people, building dedicated office space, purchasing various insurance coverage, etc., etc., etc.
Another suggestion is to contract with Orlando’s existing public bus system known as Lynx – which knows nothing about running a railroad – a move some see as limiting Volusia County’s say in the governance of the system even more than it has been.
So, why the lack of urgency to find solutions?
Better ask your elected “representative” on the Volusia County Council while they are still feeling communicative. . .
Recently, West Volusia resident and dedicated government watcher Keith Chester wrote in the West Volusia Beacon:
“Our County’s leaders have, as is often said in County Council meetings, kicked the can down the road long enough on the issue of SunRail. It is time to start moving forward with the public’s input. Just waiting to see what the State and the SunRail commission offers up is wrong.
To members of the Volusia County Council, please bring the DeLand SunRail project out of the shadows and call for a nighttime workshop that will allow for the public to participate in the process. Enough of the wishy-washy BS over SunRail, it is coming so let’s make the best of it together!
Sorry Keith. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. . .
Happy New Year, everyone.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!