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 Atlantic High School Students – “We Are United”
Volusia County residents were shocked following the arrest of Arin Hankerd, 42, of Ormond Beach, a teacher and football coach at Atlantic Hight School in Port Orange, on multiple charges related to alleged “sexual contact with a student” at the school.
That shock turned to righteous outrage when it was disclosed that Hankerd had a documented history of inappropriate conduct with students during his previous tenure at Mainland High School.
According to a February 14 report by Katie Kustura writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“The Port Orange police report shows this isn’t the first time concerns have been raised about Hankerd and his contact with students.
Daytona Beach police took two reports in recent years when Hankerd was the physical education teacher at Mainland High School; both reports were closed without criminal findings.
In the first report, a student said Hankerd made her feel “uncomfortable by hugging her and asking her personal questions, such as if she would date older men.” In the second report, a student said Hankerd touched her shoulders and thigh and asked her personal questions.
The Port Orange police report states Hankerd told the victim he transferred to different high schools frequently, and “a rumor went around the school he transferred because he was talking to young girls.”
The police department’s Facebook post regarding Hankerd’s arrest received more than 550 comments and 800 shares by Tuesday. In at least a dozen comments, parents and former students said they or someone they knew had raised concerns about Hankerd or had interactions with him that made them uncomfortable.”
It was later reported that the Port Orange Police Department is now investigating four more cases of sexual abuse “involving females Hankerd met in his role as a high school teacher.”
During a subsequent court hearing, Circuit Judge Karen Foxman said that it appears Hankerd is someone “…who took that environment that’s supposed to be safe for children and turned it into somewhat of a hunting ground in order to sort of prey on minor children…”
Naturally, many students and parents at Atlantic High School were frightened and confused – high emotions made worse by the typically tepid response by Volusia County District Schools.
According to a follow-up report by the News-Journal, in response, senior Sofia Valle and other Atlantic students formed the unofficial club “We Are United” and held a peaceful silent protest outside the school on February 27 to “…raise awareness about the situation and sexual abuse as a whole.”
To their credit, some one hundred Atlantic students participated in the protest.
“I was just really nervous that when (the school administration) would shut it down that I would get in trouble, which I was prepared to face because I feel like I’m fighting for something that’s right, and I would have no problem getting in trouble for that,” Valle said.”
An inquiry by News-Journal reporter Brenno Carillo found that Volusia County Schools felt that a student assembly to address the situation “would not be adequate” (?) since the law enforcement investigation of Hankerd is ongoing.
Instead, a District mouthpiece gave the typical canned response to horrific events that always involves “having extra counselors present during the week…”
Fortunately, the We Are United protest appears to have opened a desperately needed line of communication between the Atlantic administration and concerned students, who rightfully questioned how a teacher and football coach could have engaged in sexual relations with a student on the school campus?
In my view, considering his previously identified conduct at Mainland High School, the circumstances surrounding Hankerd’s arrest should sound an alarm in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand.
But it won’t.
If history repeats (and it always does here on the Fun Coast), rather than initiate a top-to-bottom review of how process, procedures, and personnel may have contributed to this dangerous situation – especially one where serious indicators of predatory behavior by a teacher were missed or ignored, allowing him access to more victims on a different “hunting ground” – Volusia County District Schools will simply circle the wagons – obfuscate, deny, spin the facts, explain, play things close to the vest, and make excuses why senior officials were caught flatfooted and became uncommunicative in the aftermath of a traumatic event.
Kudos to Sofia Valle and those courageous members of We Are United who stood up for the safety of their fellow students by fighting against sexual abuse, providing a safe place for victims, and starting a serious discussion of how this horrific crime can be prevented on school campuses and beyond.
Sounds like senior administrators at Volusia County District Schools could learn something from these young student activists…
Angel Daytona Beach City Commission
This space prides itself on one man’s subjective divination of “who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us.”
I’m the first to admit, some days I get it right – and sometimes I miss the mark completely.
In my view, the four members of the Daytona Beach City Commission who voted to deny a rezoning request this week that would have paved the way for a massive 1,600 unit residential and commercial development – including 340,000 square feet of commercial, institutional and light industrial uses – on 415 acres between Interstate 95 and Tomoka Farms Road had the best interests of everyone in east Volusia County at heart.
Look. I may be a rube, but I’m not stupid – and neither are you.
We all know this is merely a momentary reprieve from a development that will ultimately be approved – adding more pressure to our already overburdened traffic, utilities, environment, medical, and water infrastructure and resources – even as the specter of the gargantuan Avalon Park looms on the horizon…
It is clear that the increasing grumble of disenfranchised existing residents (and some of our vocal new neighbors/voters/potential candidates in sprawling subdivisions west of that Monument to Mediocrity at the LPGA Boulevard pinch-point) who see their quality of life crumbling as the bulldozers roar, is having an impact with more elected officials who sense the increasing frustration of those of us stuck in three light cycles on any main roadway in the Halifax area.
It is heartening that so many are beginning to push back on the detrimental effects of the asinine “shove ten-pounds of shit into a five-pound bag” growth strategy that has many residents feeling claustrophobic – and betrayed by those they relied upon to protect our best interests.
According to an excellent report by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“The mayor and city commissioners have been taking heat from local residents who are worried that Daytona Beach is building too much too quickly. They worry about increasingly congested roads, and whether the city’s water and sewer infrastructure can handle the expansion.”
According to the report, “Commissioners agreed to reconsider the project’s rezoning after traffic concerns on the county’s Tomoka Farms Road are hashed out between city and county government leaders.”
I was surprised to read that some in attendance encouraged the Daytona Beach City Commission to approve the rezoning citing the quality of the project.
Unfortunately, we are well beyond the point of cherry-picking “smart growth” development that enhances area aesthetics and attracts those elusive “high paying jobs.”
That would have required strategic thought and creative planning – selecting quality projects that respected Florida’s natural environmental processes, retained and reused stormwater, and protected neighboring properties from runoff and flooding and saying “No” to the mediocre – demanding distinctive and attractive communities with a strong sense of place that would have complemented Daytona Beach’s unique history as a vacation destination and prompted infill and revitalization in our core tourist area.
Instead, with over 12,900 units set to sprout west of I-95 alone – our ‘powers that be’ have approved every sticks-and-glue apartment complex, zero-lot-line cracker box, and strip center that came across their dais, while interfacing industrial warehouses with existing neighborhoods and thoroughfares – blanketing the community with a hodge-podge of ugly sprawl in a cart-before-the-horse orgy of greed that has left existing residents suffering the natural consequences of too much, too soon.
Ah, what “could have been,” eh?
In my view, now that Daytona Beach and beyond is reaching build-out – it is refreshing to see that the voices of so many residents are finally being heard by those with the power and ethical responsibility to protect our quality of life from the dramatically destructive impacts of malignant overdevelopment.
Stay tuned. It will be interesting to see how this project ultimately worms its way to approval…
Asshole Volusia County Council
Whenever one of my cockeyed observations on our life and times here on Florida’s Fun Coast ruffles the feathers of our highbrow illuminati – those “Rich & Powerful” (the News-Journal’s descriptor, not mine) who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide – they accuse me of being a “bully.”
I’m not bullying anyone.
In my view, our social and civic elite aren’t accustomed to hearing the unvarnished opinions of a plebeian – or having their loyalties and motivations questioned by someone who hasn’t purchased a chip in the game.
For instance, last week in this space, as a longtime resident of Ormond Beach, I mentioned that some of my neighbors and I lost confidence in Commissioner Susan Persis, and her husband, Volusia County School Board Member Carl Persis, last September when they posted pictures of their vacation on social media from Europe while the rest of us were hunkered down in our homes, many without power, as the raging winds and rain of Hurricane Ian howled outside our windows.
Trust me. I was not alone in that assessment.
It had an aloof air of “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” about it – and I said so.
Now that Commissioner Persis has filed to run for Mayor of Ormond Beach, I felt in was politically pertinent to express my concerns about her personal commitment to the job – and her willingness to put the needs of her constituents over vacation plans when the chips are down.
For speaking my mind, I was accused on social media by another member of our moldy civic ‘upper crust’ of “having it out for Susan and Carl,” and told that I went “out of my way to hurt them.”
In my view, this was just another example of the elitism that continues to separate We, The Little People from those we elect to represent our interests in municipal and county government – which should be open, accessible, and responsive to residents – yet, when us lower caste taxpayers call foul on those who hold themselves out for high office, no matter how irresponsible or outrageous their behavior may be, our criticism is considered out-of-bounds whenever the right last names are involved.
Although our “high and mighty” deny it, the “trust issue” is still a major problem here in Volusia County, and those who measure these things say that public confidence in government can be best assessed by two elements – perceived competence and positive intent.
While judging basic competence should be obvious – it is said that determining positive intent is gauged by the local government’s humanity and transparency – something often based upon a citizen’s interaction with the bureaucracy, and the accessibility and responsiveness of their elected representatives.
Sadly, since our “new” Volusia County Council was seated in January, I have received several calls from Barker’s View readers lamenting the fact that obtaining an audience with their district council member now requires going through a county gatekeeper who schedules the appearance.
Then, the meeting is shepherded by “staff” under the guise of providing “expert” guidance on whatever topic the citizen may wish to discuss with their representative.
That’s called controlling the narrative.
Like a malignant tumor, the purpose of a bureaucracy is to expand and multiply – that begins with self-protection.
While the names and faces on the council may periodically change – those at the top of the bureaucratic pyramid rarely do – and the “system” quickly learns the importance of indoctrinating and controlling the elected officials as key to protecting the status quo.
Recently, Paul Zimmerman, a lifelong area resident and respected civic activist who serves as president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, wrote an open letter to the Volusia County Council asking, in part:
“Why then are some members of the council insisting on having county staff present during meetings with citizen’s groups or individuals? It has been my experience in these meetings where staff is present, staff acts as a nanny, filtering information from a status quo perspective, a roadblock to open discussion between citizens and their representatives.
These chaperoned style meetings leave some in the public coming to the conclusion that the council is being groomed to follow the lead of the staff. That is not why the council was elected. The council was elected to represent their constituents, not reflect the status quo of county staff.
If the council is only going to follow the directions of staff, then why bother with elections?”
In his predictable response, District 3 Councilman Danny Robins used the opportunity to confirm my worst suspicions about the intellectual capacity of some area elected officials – and take a not-so-veiled swipe at Chairman Jeff Brower.
Here’s an excerpt:
“From my time on the council, countless community meetings and seeing what’s said on social media, I believe it’s crucial to have specialized people within our organization at public meetings.
Not only to keep notes and write down the questions of our citizens, but to answer any technical questions that ordinary people including elected officials may not know.
As you know, some politicians aren’t qualified to own a pet rock. Imagine a plumber trying to answer questions within an electrician’s wheelhouse?
Often I see elected officials at community meetings just like the last Sons of the Beach meeting providing a tremendous number of agenda driven, misinformation catering & pandering to the people in the room, telling them what they want to hear knowing they are not qualified or equipped with the factual information to do so. Then at another meeting saying the complete opposite, kind of like we saw at this year’s State of the County.
That in my opinion sends a mixed message to one’s colleagues, citizens, leads to chaos and causes confusion to our constituents. That is not OK and I believe the role of the government is to be truthful, use the tools (staff) the people pay for, get the factual information out and let the public decide its direction.
In my opinion, the only reason why you or anyone else wouldn’t want a resident expert at community meetings shows me that you aren’t interested in the facts or the truth.”
In closing, Councilman Robins made it perfectly clear he only wants to hear from those who agree with him – and those dull “tools” on the senior “staff” who tell him what he wants to hear regarding the intractable issues we face:
“In closing, please do not include me on these emails anymore in the future. They are self-serving, lack all facts and do not take into consideration the best overall interest, health, welfare, and safety of all 564,000 Volusia County residents.”
For all you “ordinary people” – it appears Councilman Robins believes only the all-powerful bureaucracy generates “factual information” – and anyone interested in speaking with their elected representative outside a supervised setting must have ulterior motives that threaten the status quo.
And that, my fellow Dalits, is the true state of Volusia County’s increasingly cloistered and insular government.
One might ask Mr. Robins – and our other elected “independent thinkers” who occupy the dais of power in DeLand:
If they won’t provide oversight, accept everything “staff” tells them with Burning Bush certainty, have no interest in a legitimate performance evaluation of the County Manager and County Attorney, refuse to communicate with constituents without a monitor present, and are only interested in hearing “the facts” as generated by some pseudo-expert in the bowels of the bureaucracy – Why do we need them at all?
Quote of the Week
“HB991 is officially called the Defamation, False Light, and Unauthorized Publication of Name or Likenesses Bill. But First Amendment activists like me who have read it call it the “Death to Public Discourse Bill.”
Key supporters of HB991 want you to believe the legislation is about taming the excesses of the “liberal corporate” media by giving the “little guy” a chance to avenge “bad” coverage. But the truth of this bill is all about making it easier for government officials and their rich and powerful allies to use the courts to punish those who criticize them.
And despite the belief by some conservatives that HB991 would only affect The New York Times, the Miami Herald and CNN if it were to become law, the reality is no information outlet would be spared the depredations of punitive lawsuits under its provisions. Fox, Newsmax, conservative talk radio stations will all feel the sting of this new law as public figures across the political spectrum look to exact their vengeance against inconvenient news coverage and commentary. The fallout would just as likely crush Fox’s Tucker Carlson as it would The NYT’s Paul Krugman.
More than that, this legislation would also subject bloggers, community groups, average users of social media — in short everybody who wants their voices heard — to the untold financial and emotional burdens of lawsuits.
And the way HB991 is currently written, a story doesn’t have to be wrong and damaging to an official to land a reporter, blogger or housewife Facebooker in court. It can merely cast the subject of the story in an unfavorable light.”
–Bobby Block, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation, as excerpted from the editorial, “Bad for Florida, bad for America,” West Volusia Beacon, Tuesday, March 14, 2023
And Another Thing!
I hear well-meaning people talking about decorum and civility in everything from the public discourse to the personal conduct of the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker we elect to represent our interests at all levels of government.
Last week, reporter Al Everson published a thought-provoking piece in the West Volusia Beacon, “Do Orange City’s leaders need rules to be nice?” which explained that just before the end of the Orange City Council’s February 28 meeting, “Mayor Gary Blair asked his colleagues to consider adopting a “code of conduct” for themselves.”
According to the report, when asked why he proffered the suggestion, Mayor Blair explained, “Another [City] Council member used foul language on me in a public park in a public event.”
In December, the Lost City of Deltona was rocked when that self-righteous arbiter of free expression Vice Mayor Maritza Avila-Vasquez filed a formal complaint against Commissioner Dana McCool with the Florida Commission on Ethics alleging that McCool dropped the “F-bomb” (her word, not mine) on her during a testy off-the-dais tête-à-tête in October 2022.
You read that right. A formal ethics complaint…
Then, the self-described “uncommonly well-educated” Deltona City Commissioner Tom Burbank reaped a whirlwind of public criticism – and the official censure of his “colleagues” – after he directed a hate-filled and homophobic screed against a private citizen who announced he was exploring a run for public office.
Recently, another sitting Deltona official responded to citizen concerns of possible violations of Florida’s Sunshine Law by reasoning, “It’s only a violation if someone reports it” – in other words, it is only a crime if you get caught…
The natural response to this almost universal feeling of helplessness is that what passes for public participation in government continues to take an increasingly confrontational tone as taxpayers become frustrated by factors they see destroying their quality of life that are now completely out of our control, such as:
The uncontrolled sprawl that our elected representatives continue to rubberstamp, citizens being told they don’t have a voice because they supported the wrong candidate for public office, the abhorrent personal behavior of some sitting officials, the backbiting, nastiness, and political dirty tricks that pass for Volusia County elections, the sickening corporate welfare lavished on those who pay to play with massive campaign contributions to malleable candidates, and now, the refusal of some elected officials to meet privately with their constituents as “the system” ensures they stick to a scripted storyline that ensures the status quo.
I mean, imagine if your son were incarcerated at the Volusia County Jail and reported that he had been tacked out nude in a four-point restraint somewhere in the bowels of a cellblock (which, according to recent reports, is not out of the realm of possibility).
Then consider if you tried to report this humanitarian atrocity to your elected Council member – only to be told the meeting would be monitored by a “resident expert” from the Volusia County Department of Corrections?
Now, our elected officials tout ignorance as a virtue – and the bureaucracy is allowed to control the narrative, “spin” the facts, while independent thought and contrary opinions are dismissed as “self-serving” misinformation and deemed a danger to the “best overall interest, health, welfare, and safety” of the blissfully uninformed masses.
Rather than open lines of clear communication, improve transparency, and listen to the criticism of their constituents – instead, Florida legislators propose asinine laws weakening our right to free expression, prohibiting citizens from speaking ill of the King – ordering bloggers to register with the state and file financial disclosure forms, lowering the bar and encouraging petty politicians to silence critics and activists by suing them for “libel” whenever we call out their autocratic assholery for what it is.
How patently un-American.
A slap in the face to anyone who ever took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
I’m going to say this again:
In my view, this “civility and decorum for thee, but not for me” push by some officious politicians is further eroding the fundamental freedoms once protected by our democratic institutions – and widening the chasm between government and the citizens from which its power originates – setting the stage for the dire proposition of our elected elite exercising the all-encompassing dictatorial power to do anything they damn well please without editorial challenge.
We live in strange times, friends.
That’s all for me. Have a great St. Patrick’s Day, y’all!
2 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for March 17, 2023”
Great comments.Nothing changes things only get worse as government wants you to depend on them for anything in your life from banking,healthcare and buying a house the term big brother is here .I will never forget when there was a rumor of Avalon occurred 4 years ago and I emailed Partington that we are over building and his reply was the powers that be are telling him we are underbuilt.Pacs from the rich control everything.I read the NY Post online because they are as close to neutral as any media and what goes on in Volusia schools is going on all over this country as the teachers union are woke and to Randi Weingarten the head of it and she is all about money and the Dem party as they donate 95% to Dems.Palm Beach County has no land left to build and prices are higher on everything you buy.Corned beef and cabbage tonight at Halifax Plantation.
If the residents/taxpayers think things are difficult under the present Chairman of the Volusia Clowncil, just wait till the hand picked puppeteer of the Families5 gets the strings!
I have to agree with you Chief, “Why do we need them at all?”