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:
No, you didn’t bump your head – A&A is publishing a day early this week.
Sorry for the confusion.
Angel Volusia-Flagler Veterans & Halifax Urban Ministries
Halifax Urban Ministries is doing God’s work.
The Daytona Beach nonprofit’s mission is to prevent homelessness among low-income families by providing emergency assistance and helping those who are on the streets find permanent housing.
This week, a report by the United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties found that 19,000 military veterans in Volusia and Flagler are considered Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed. ALICE households earn more than the federal poverty level, but less than is required to meet living expenses.
In 2020, the United Way also found that 33% of Volusia County households are considered ALICE.
According to a recent report by the Ormond Beach Observer:
“With the increasing cost of rent, it’s becoming more difficult for organizations like Halifax Urban Ministries to connect people with housing they can afford, said HUM Executive Director Buck James. HUM’s free Barracks of Hope program provides transitional housing to veterans who have struggled with homelessness, addition and mental health.
“I think more people in every category are reaching out for help, and that would include veterans,” James said. “As costs continue to escalate, it’s just becoming more difficult for everyone.”
The Barracks of Hope program provides up to nine-months of transitional housing, daily meals, and counseling services for struggling veterans.
Fortunately, not-for-profits like United Way, CareerSource of Volusia-Flagler, and Halifax Urban Ministries recognize the problem and are working cooperatively to connect eligible veterans with Veteran’s Administration benefits, access to employment training and skill development, and help support local food pantries to assist with groceries.
Let’s hope 2023 is the year our state and local elected officials open their eyes to the plight of ALICE families – including those veterans whose dedicated service and sacrifice helped provide the blanket of freedom we enjoy – and demand a better effort from our “economic development” shills than the low hanging fruit of warehouse scutwork.
To find out how you can help, please contact Halifax Urban Ministries at (386) 317-5880 or online at www.halifaxurbanministries.org
Asshole Volusia County District Schools
In a week where Volusia County District Schools announced it would be contracting with a company to fill educational vacancies with “international teachers” – now we learn that the district has declared an impasse in its contract negotiations with Volusia United Educators.
According to reports, school administrators are now reviewing potential contracts with two entities that import qualified English-speaking teachers from other countries under the J-1 visa to fill the massive number of instructional vacancies that remain in Volusia County classrooms as teachers and support staff continue to flee this dysfunctional shit show.
At present, Volusia County Schools currently have 141 instructional vacancies (down from 272 when the school year began) and 239 support vacancies – including 80 paraprofessionals.
Later this year, it is expected that Volusia County Schools will assist these international teachers with their arrival in the United States and help find housing (good luck) allowing them to start teaching later this year.
School administrators in Flagler County are considering a similar arrangement.
Then, on Wednesday, the district’s mouthpiece issued a “press release” announcing that, “After careful consideration, the district’s bargaining team declared Impasse with the Volusia United Educators (VUE) Instructional and Support bargaining units regarding salaries and benefits.”
Wait. At a time when contract negotiations with its teacher’s union have reached stalemate, the district has the huevos to tout the savings inherent to filling the recruitment and retention void by hiring “international teachers” when you don’t have to pay them benefits?
The slanted release went on to explain the district administrations unique interpretation of the laws and regulations governing labor relations – including a weird prohibition on communications with School Board members – something VUE President Elizabeth Albert rightfully took umbrage with, calling the district’s release an “egregious misrepresentation” of the impasse process.
According to an excellent article by education reporter Danielle Johnson writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ms. Albert summed up the concerns many have going forward:
“I get it. I get it that you’re trying to figure out how to solve this vacancy problem, but I want you to reflect upon this,” she said during public comment later on Tuesday. “If you don’t fix the problems that we have in our district right now, in our classrooms, in our schools, it doesn’t matter who you bring here because they’re not going to want to stay either.”
Albert said that teachers are revered and respected in other countries and questioned what will happen if they come here “and they’re met with violence and disrespect.”
Interestingly, it was also announced on Tuesday that the district’s recruitment and retention coordinator, Christy Mahaney, is also moving on to “bigger and better things.”
Stay tuned, folks. This one bears watching.
Asshole County of Volusia – Community Information
I’ve repeatedly written snarky bits poking fun at the County of Volusia’s abysmal audio/visual capabilities – technology that allows concerned residents who cannot haul themselves to DeLand twice each month to watch their County Council make the sausage.
We, The Little People’s ability to access public meetings remotely is important because, as The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently reported, the Council’s impact is felt daily by Volusia County residents:
“The County Council has a lot of power collectively; it sets the policy direction for the county government, and the county manager carries out the decisions. The county is involved many parts of people’s daily lives: fire rescue services; water and sewer service; zoning; community services; the county jail; animal control; beaches; libraries; parks; and more.”
I have likened the rickety audio system in the Council Chambers to an early model of Bell’s harmonic telegraph (although, acoustically, it sounds more akin to two rusty soup cans connected by a taught waxed string in the style of Antonio Meucci’s telettrofono) – the difference being that one can decipher what is being said by either of those early means of voice-communications.
Apparently, no one who should give two-shits in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand. . .
At present, taxpayers are required to squint to see the machinations of our elected policymakers and the massive bureaucracy that drives it, after navigating the Volusia County website – where we can choose between a postcard sized screen, a grainy and pixilated enlarged image, or an audio-only transmission.
Over time, my preferred method of staying informed is to down a strong antiemetic, put the audio on in the background (Urrrp), and try to keep breakfast down. . .
Unfortunately, that prevented me from observing the smirks, eyerolls, and meanspirited facial tics that telegraphed what members of the previous iteration of the Council thought about the ideas and suggestions of Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post. . .
But we are told things are different now, at least according to the promises of our “new” representatives, and a welcome spirit of collegiality – based upon “teamwork and coordination” rather than the contention and abject dysfunction we have come to expect – will drive deliberation and consensus.
Time will tell.
Last week, Volusia County Judge Angela Dempsey – the wife of newly seated Councilman Don Dempsey – issued the oath of office to Danny Robins, Jake Johannson, Matt Reinhart, Troy Kent, and Mr. Dempsey (Councilman-elect David Santiago is on vacation for the first two meetings. According to reports, he couldn’t get a refund for the trip, so, priorities being what they are, Mr. Santiago will start serving the citizens of District 5 sometime in February…).
As Judge Dempsey presided over the solemn occasion – the microphones sputtered and popped – intermittently cutting-out altogether – as a bewildered technician looked on, uncomfortably trying to make corrections between ceremonies.
Then, during the business meeting that followed, technical issues with microphones on the dais became a distraction – and a glitch in the system that places councilmembers in the speaking queue malfunctioned – just when Councilman Johansson wanted to second an important motion by Mr. Kent to discuss establishing dog friendly sections of beach in all coastal communities.
As it happened, when it appeared the motion would die, Chairman Brower relinquished the gavel to newly named Vice Chair Danny Robins and seconded the motion himself.
That resulted in some consternation from Mr. Johannson:
“I don’t want for you all here to presuppose anything that I may or may not do until I do or do not do it, and I suspect that we don’t want to do that for anybody else. You were perplexed that it wasn’t gonna get second. I was ready to second it.”
This is 2023, folks. I can video conference with friends across the globe – but my councilmembers can’t effectively communicate sitting next to one another?
For the uninitiated, according to reports, the current gilded Council Chamber was renovated in 2015 when a construction company owned by the family of a then sitting County Council member was the only entity to submit a bid (the councilmember left the room during the vote to avoid a potential conflict).
It was the first time in three-decades the meeting space – and its antiquated technology – had been updated.
And when will anyone admit a problem and fix the damn thing?
At this point, many citizens assume that Volusia County is doing everything possible to make access to public meetings so onerous and annoying that we simply go away.
Is there another explanation?
And why don’t they want us watching?
In my view, with a new slate of elected officials seated – and an operating budget exceeding $1 Billion – it is time for our powers that be to implement upgrades that will allow effective communications with constituents who cannot be physically present – and breakdown the technological barriers to interaction on the dais.
In my view, that capability should include a public access television presence that will increase accessibility to the “people’s business.”
Enough is enough.
Asshole County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald
Last Friday, Volusia County made good on its threats and summarily fired former Department of Corrections Director Mark Flowers citing “performance and leadership issues.”
Interestingly, Flowers’ career at Volusia County did not end with a simple dismissal (or a negotiated exit to avoid costly litigation) – as senior officials took the extra step of destroying his professional reputation in writing – following a ham-handed HR process that we are told initially denied Mr. Flowers his due process right to a hearing. . .
Mr. Flowers’ attorney, Kelly Chanfrau, has another explanation: Retaliation.
Prior to his termination, Flowers filed complaints with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations alleging that he was retaliated against by senior officials after he blew the whistle and requested an internal investigation into the abuse of inmates by correctional officers.
In response, Volusia County turned the tables, claiming that an internal investigation sustained serious violations against Flowers – including that he ordered the isolation of inmates, violated suicide protocols, created a hostile workplace, and directed that corrections officers place an inmate in a dangerous “four-point restraint” for an extended period.
In his notice of termination, Volusia County Public Protection Department Director Mark Swanson rubbed salt in the wound, claiming Flowers had lost the support of many “if not all” of his command staff and correctional officers:
“While I recognize that you now claim that members of the command staff are incompetent and need to be fired, it is important to note that you were the one who promoted them into command staff positions.”
Something tells me that little ditty is not going to age well. . .
Now, as the ominous allegations and counteraccusations continue to fly, the one senior executive ultimately responsible for the operation and administration of all aspects of county government – the omnipotent County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald – continues to draw a salary in excess of $246,700, plus benefits and perquisites, while successfully dodging accountability for the lack of situational awareness that led to the continuing debacle at the Department of Corrections.
I have a problem with that.
If you pay taxes in Volusia County, you should too.
Disturbingly, last month, Community Misinformation Director Kevin Captain issued an embroidered “press release” blatantly mischaracterizing the results of an external review by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney’s Office – which included an arrogant “statement” from Recktenwald that provided him an opportunity to publicly defend against the allegations brought by Flowers.
In my view, this self-serving attempt to spin the facts of a growing scandal – coupled with the historic “trust issues” that have plagued Volusia County for decades – has further eroded the public’s confidence in County government and now casts doubt on Recktenwald’s moral authority to lead.
There is a long-standing military tradition that newly seated At-Large Councilman Jake Johannson – a career naval officer and former public administrator – is no doubt familiar with:
“With responsibility goes authority and with them both goes accountability.”
The manager’s role is stipulated by County Charter – and Mr. Recktenwald’s authority is inviolate, to include complete autonomy in hiring, promoting, assigning, and terminating all county employees – with serious penalties for any elected official who insinuates themselves into operational aspects of government.
In exchange for accepting this immense responsibility, the chief executive receives a salary and benefits package commensurate with the political volatility and answerability that comes with the position – and in Volusia County – the position is given a cursory pat on the head that passes for a ‘performance review’ each December – then, like clockwork, gifted a hefty pay increase. . .
In most organizations where such enormous power is consolidated in the hands of one individual, the concept of “accountability” is incredibly important to maintaining internal and external trust, and the delegation of authority to various “directors” and department heads in no way relieves the chief executive of his or her ultimate and continuing responsibility.
It’s a hard dollar – and why holding a high-visibility leadership position is not for everyone.
As a result, poor leaders often become so risk adverse that mediocrity and the status quo become the operative ethic – and when scandal hits – the instinctive organizational reaction is to control the narrative, “spin” the facts in a way most sympathetic to the bureaucracy, circle the wagons, find a scapegoat, deny, obfuscate, admit nothing, and make counteraccusations.
Look, I am not talking about the everyday faults and imperfections inherent to human involvement in a complex bureaucratic system with lots of moving parts. Honest mistakes are a healthy part of the process and can lead to positive changes in policies, protocols, and efficiencies – and repeatedly replacing the chief administrator over petty differences is incredibly destabilizing.
But this scandal involves the physical abuse of persons in the legal care, custody, and control of the County of Volusia, grievous allegations that include segregating and tacking out an inmate in four-point restraints, in the nude, on a concrete pad – for days – something Mr. Recktenwald either knew, or should have known, was occurring.
It has also dissolved into diametrically opposed accusations – with Mr. Flowers attorney claiming he was discriminated against and suffered retaliation when he brought forth information to Mr. Recktenwald regarding abuses at the jail.
Add to that Mr. Captain’s suspiciously stilted press release and the administration’s credibility problem expands.
In my view, now that Mr. Flowers has been terminated (with extreme prejudice) – it is right and just for County Manager Recktenwald to do the right thing and resign. Only then can the new Volusia County Council begin the complicated, but necessary, process of restoring trust in county government.
Quote of the Week
“Adrian Brown was under the influence of alcohol to the point that his “normal faculties were impaired” when he operated the boat on Lake Osceola on May 31, 2021, according to the document from the Winter Park Police.
The report stated that Adrian Brown hosted a gathering where the majority of people were under 21. It also stated that Adrian Brown was an adult over the age of 18 and “had the authority or ability to regulate.”
Carter, who was under 21, drank “a large amount of alcoholic beverages,” causing him to be impaired, and he subsequently drowned, the report stated.”
–Reporter Frank Fernandez, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Brown son granted deferral in drowning,” Sunday, January 8, 2022
Kids are tailor-made to embarrass you.
It’s what they do during periods in their formative years – and why I rarely mention it when some prominent progeny in the community pulls a boneheaded move and leaves their parents red-faced.
Trust me. I know what an incorrigible pain in the ass I was growing up (my long-suffering wife will tell you not much has changed…) and my frequent youthful indiscretions mortified my mom and dad on more than one occasion.
But this is different.
On Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal published an article regarding “The accidental drowning of an intoxicated young man and underage drinking during a party at the home of J. Powell Brown, the president of Brown & Brown insurance, led to a misdemeanor criminal charge against Brown’s son.”
The piece explained that on Memorial Day 2021, Adrian Brown, then 20, hosted a house party where underage drinking occurred. During the party, Brown reportedly operated a boat on Lake Osceola where a young man, identified as Charles Harrison “Harry” Carter, 20, failed to surface after swimming from the boat.
A postmortem examination later found that Carter had a blood alcohol level of 0.317 – four times the legal limit of .08 for adults.
According to the News-Journal:
“Several witnesses told police that Adrian Brown was under the influence of alcoholic beverages while operating the boat and had hosted a gathering where underage men and women were drinking.
Police found 80 empty bottles and cans of beer and hard seltzer aboard the boat as well as an empty bottle of wine and a half-empty bottle of vodka, the report stated.
Adrian Brown was charged with hosting an open house party causing or contributing to a death, a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.”
What has many shaking their heads is the fact Brown, now 22, “…reached a deferred prosecution agreement on Oct. 19, 2022, in which the charge will be dismissed and not refiled as long as he does not commit any “criminal violation” for six months, according to the agreement.
The agreement also requires Adrian Brown to successfully complete a four-hour drug and alcohol awareness class. The agreement also required him to pay $500 to Kids House of Seminole County and $50 to the State Attorney’s Office for the cost of prosecution.
In a motion filed Oct. 26 in Orange County Circuit Court, Adrian Brown’s attorney, Tad A. Yates, wrote that Brown had already completed the four-hour class and payments.”
The Brown family has reportedly settled a wrongful death lawsuit related to Carter’s drowning.
The details of that settlement have not been disclosed.
And that’s that.
Not surprisingly, many in the community are concerned about the appearance of things since this story broke on Sunday – questioning that the outcome of this tragic case might have been different – but for the power and prominence of the young man’s family?
Others equate the outcome to the son of another wealthy Halifax area family who received what many thought was preferential treatment (“the deal of the century”) following his arrest and prosecution on charges of trafficking in cocaine and methamphetamine (which could have resulted in a lengthy prison term and massive fine) then being found under the influence, and in physical control of vehicle at a local bar, while on probation. . .
Does power and political influence result in extraordinary leniency for a few, while others are taken into the “system” and forced to accept the life-altering consequences of their actions?
I hope not.
Because even the appearance of differential treatment can result in a loss of confidence in our judicial system.
Justice for Harry?
You be the judge. . .
And Another Thing!
On Monday, the City of DeLand hosted the Volusia Legislative Delegation – an annual audience with our state legislators and senators – a chance for local governments, civic organizations, and even We, The Little People – Joe and Jane Lunchpail – to dutifully genuflect, approach the thrones, prostrate ourselves before the assembled political clerisy – and beg for their largesse.
That might be a slight embellishment, but it’s accurate, and a sure sign that the election season is over – a clear demarcation between the campaign season, when those seeking to represent our interests came to us, knocked at our door, and asked for our input (and our vote.)
Now, we are required to come before them, hat in hand, to seek a return on our tax dollars.
According to reports, four of the six men who represent the Fun Coast in Tallahassee listened to some three-dozen requests – everything from funding for a new fire station in Holly Hill, to an impassioned plea for emergency assistance as the City of New Smyrna Beach struggles to recover from back-to-back hurricanes, a call for pedestrian safety initiatives, and prison reform – even a request for Florida to participate in a Convention of States to reign in the power of the federal government.
Hell, I’d just like a little help with expediting local transportation infrastructure improvements, environmental protections, and water quantity/quality assurance – now that the massive sprawl that has feathered the nests of many of their campaign donors in the real estate development industry has outpaced our ability to support it. . .
Look, I realize these screeds come off as unappreciative of the delegation’s legislative efforts – and I always seem to tetchily focus on the turd in the punchbowl – but, in truth, I sincerely hope that our powerful state representatives can bring home bacon this session.
We need it.
Many of our neighbors are still hurting from the devastating effects of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole – with some hospitality gurus speculating that tourism in down 35% to 50% due to beach erosion and damage to supporting infrastructure – and the ravages of the storms’ floodwaters have many still making repairs and rebuilding their lives on both sides of the Palmetto Curtain.
Time will tell.
I don’t know about you, but I have also been impressed with some of the early suggestions of our newest members of the Volusia County Council – initiatives that will genuinely improve our quality of life and keep with our unique traditions.
For instance, Councilman Troy Kent has requested a February discussion on designating dog friendly sections of beach for each coastal community – something that was shot down by those obstructionists on the former council.
I like that.
According to an excellent report by Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer:
“Kent’s suggestion is to create 100-yard sections of beach in all coastal unincorporated areas and municipalities where people may bring their dogs on a leash. He recommended adding signage, trash cans and waste stations at each, as well as having a lifeguard station to ensure people follow the rules the county chooses to instate, if the council does approve of the idea.”
Refreshingly, newly seated At-Large Councilman Jake Johansson said he was waiting to second Mr. Kent’s motion to discuss the idea when a technological glitch prevented Chairman Jeff Brower from recognizing him.
Unfortunately, the only district-level holdover from the previous iteration of the council – Councilman Danny Robins – tried to shit on the idea and dug in his heels as he was taught by Volusia’s Old Guard.
In doing so, Mr. Robins exposed a disturbing lack of vision and creativity when he cited the fact our beach is a “disaster” right now – while looking backward to the failed policies and procrastinations of his lockstep mentors on the former council.
“I’m a dog guy just like you, just like everybody up here,” Robins said. “But there’s a lot of history with this.”
According to the Observers report, “Kent said staff would provide background information on the issue when it’s placed on the agenda, and that, while the beach is in a bad condition now, it won’t always be. If the council doesn’t talk about it now, Kent speculated the issue would fall to the wayside.”
Look, I have been burnt before – so, I’m not going to get giddily incontinent over the vision and direction of our “new” Volusia County Council just yet – but even a crusty naysayer like me must admit that most of our recently seated representatives have at least said all the right things.
Again, time will tell.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!
Barker’s View will be on the road next week!
Angels & Assholes will return for your listening and dancing pleasure on January 27th.
In the meantime, please enjoy a walk down memory lane by selecting a few ditties from the voluminous archives at the bottom of the page. I find it interesting to see how history repeats here on the Fun Coast – the similarities and coincidences that have cemented my view that, “the more things change, the more they remain the same. . .”
Thanks for reading – see you soon!