Volusia County Schools: Character Counts

Because I’m angry, I wanted to begin this heated diatribe by lecturing you on the importance of role models and positive influences in the life of a child – and crow about how we learn core values and the moral imperatives of life at an early age by emulating those we admire – learned traits which form the ethical backbone of our character.

But you already know that.

And you don’t need a degree in educational psychology to understand that building trusting relationships between students, faculty and staff is key to forming a healthy learning environment.

Perhaps most important, anyone with a modicum of human decency knows that intentionally misleading impressionable young people – regardless of how well-intentioned the lie may be – is reprehensible.

Like many of you, when the disastrous news of the ‘placebo’ Advanced Placement examination scandal broke at Mainland High School in June, I was literally dumbstruck – unable to process the breadth and depth of an organized fraud that adversely affected so many families in our community.

I found it hard to believe that ostensibly smart people – veteran educators with extensive training and experience could exhibit such horrific personal and professional judgement – or deliberately devise a scheme wherein 336 high school students would be intentionally deceived into believing they were sitting for an AP examination leading to college credit.

Unbelievable.

Now, after anxious students and parents waited nearly two-weeks with absolutely no substantive information while the district finished investigating itself – we are being told that no one in a leadership role will be held even marginally responsible for this appalling scam that has destroyed the public’s trust and forever altered the way Volusia County students will perceive and interact with teachers and administrators.

Earlier this week, thanks to the outstanding reportage of the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Cassidy Alexander, Volusia County taxpayers – and those who were victimized – learned that the architect of this sordid scheme, Mainland Principal Cheryl Salerno, and the district’s former Chief Academic Officer Teresa Marcks, will receive little more than a stern scolding from something the district absurdly refers to as the “Office of Professional Standards” – whose inquiry described this inexcusable malfeasance as “inappropriate and/or unprofessional.”

My God. . .

According to reports, “No other disciplinary action is outlined in the documents. . .”

Perhaps more disturbing is the fact the Volusia County School Board apparently allowed former Superintendent Tom Russell (who, according to the “investigation,” approved the original plan) to slip the noose and run off to a comfortable new position as principal of Flagler Palm Coast High School with a sack full of severance pay – without ever having been interviewed by investigators. . .

Our elected officials knew about this building fiasco – and voted to award Mr. Russell some $68,700 in severance pay anyway?

In addition, Ms. Marcks – who served as the district’s chief academic officer and a member of Superintendent Russell’s “cabinet” – was allowed to retire the same day Russell left.

Wow.

Look, I’ve read all the testimonials to Principal Salerno’s professionalism – and I have no doubt she is a wonderful person and creative educator who normally has the very best interests of her students at heart.

However, it appears to me – regardless of her altruistic intentions – Ms. Salerno pursued a path that she either knew or should have known would compromise the trust of over three-hundred high school freshman who were led to believe their academic efforts would lead to advanced credit for their work.

In my view, Ms. Salerno must have realized the depth of the problem the very minute Ms. Marcks refused to pay the $60,000 required for all 414 students to sit for the examination – and it is inconceivable that other senior administrators were unaware of the plan.

Instead of admitting a mistake and alerting students and parents to the problem – inexplicably, the key players concocted a fake ‘placebo’ test intentionally made to resemble the actual exam.

That’s inexcusable.

Now, rather than act in a manner her senior leadership role demands and accept personal responsibility for her actions – Ms. Salerno has submitted a letter to district officials challenging the investigative findings and carping that the courageous whistle blower who exposed this travesty to the Florida Department of Education “influenced public opinion.”

Jesus.

What message must that send to the 336 young victims of Ms. Salerno’s bizarre “experiment”?

And how do senior administrators maintain the moral authority to discipline students and staff in the aftermath?

Unfortunately, rather than demonstrate the strong leadership needed during this mushrooming crisis, School Board Chairman Carl Persis, “. . .called the issue of whom to blame and disciplinary actions “a moot point.”

Really?

Accountability – the foundational element of good governance that ensures those who make decisions that affect people’s lives are answerable for their actions – is a moot point having no practical value or importance?

An experienced ship captain once wrote on the subject of responsibility, authority and accountability:

“What holds together the tradition of command is inescapable accountability.  How many times do we hear people say they take full responsibility for some disaster and then nothing happens to them?  No accountability.  Without accountability there can be no trust from your crew, especially in times of danger.  If they don’t trust you, you’re finished.”

With all due respect to the Chairman’s lofty position and delicate sensibilities – I’m going to offer Mr. Persis an urgent suggestion – in the same spirit an old chief of police I worked for would do for me whenever I had that deer in the headlights look during an emergency:

CARL!  PULL YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS – DEMONSTRATE SOME BASIC LEADERSHIP – AND TAKE CHARGE OF THIS CATASTROPHE BEFORE EVEN MORE DAMAGE IS DONE TO THE DISTRICT’S CREDIBILITY!

Because your district is in real trouble – and you are rapidly losing the trust of those you were elected to serve. . .

Now is the time for the elective body we have placed our sacred trust in to establish strong public policy, purge that wholly dysfunctional Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand and establish a lasting culture of honor, virtue and transparency that students of the Volusia County School District can take pride in – and learn from.

It is important that our children know that character counts.

On Volusia: An Issue of Trust

Why is it so difficult for Volusia County politicians to accept the will of the people and move on?

Regardless of the question, when We, The People use our sacred vote to choose how we wish to be governed, oppose entrenched power structures or express our shared disapproval for dubious measures that enrich the few at the expense of the many – we are invariably second-guessed and formally challenged by those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests.

If the electoral system is the foundation of our hallowed representative democracy – a regulated process that allows the governed to share power with those we elect through political accountability – then what do we call it when our elected policymakers ignore our collective will and fight to overturn our decisions with protracted legal actions (while using our money to pay for their arrogant folly) – or simply cycle the question through repetitive election cycles until their desired outcome is achieved?

In the aftermath of the Volusia County sales tax initiative – a failed plan that asked long-suffering taxpayers to suspend reality and lavish a $42 million annual windfall on the same compromised politicians and entrenched bureaucrats that created this quagmire of overburdened transportation and utilities infrastructure by rubber stamping massive development without any concern for the devastating impacts of unchecked growth – it’s clear many of our elected officials are still not mentally prepared to accept our decision.

You see, in their cloistered world high atop the Ivory Tower of Power – you and I are too stupid to understand the significance of the problems we face – or the importance of allowing the same dullards who created this mess even deeper access to our pocketbooks as they try in vain to find a workaround to their previous handiwork.

Bullshit.

Immediately after the results of the “special” mail-in only referendum (the brainchild of a privately-funded, first of its kind scheme concocted by government contractors and others who stood to benefit most) that cost Volusia County taxpayers an obscene $490,000, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, began discussing the option of resurrecting the half-cent sales tax question on the 2020 ballot.

This week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a very informative Community Voices column penned by my incredibly smart friend, Mike Scudiero – our areas preeminent political consultant and analyst – who offered a cogent road map for sour grapes politicians who remain intent on ignoring the will of their long-suffering constituents.

Mr. Scudiero hit all the high points – explaining the mechanics of crafting a better argument for taxing the eyeballs out of every man, woman and child in Volusia County at the point of sale – to include fashioning a more transparent plan, providing a factual accounting showing exactly how much of the burden will be borne by tourists, being inclusive of tax-wary Republicans and touting the “Come on, everybody’s doing it!” philosophy that the increase would bring us in line with fifty other Florida counties. . .

What Mr. Scudiero’s strategy failed to consider – or counter – is the fact that the vast majority of Volusia County residents have lost total confidence in this compromised cabal of political marionettes that populate the seats of power on the Volusia County Council and beyond.

The “Trust Issue” is the one aspect of this sordid debacle that even the incredibly influential  Volusia CEO Business Alliance can’t throw enough money at.

And absolutely nothing has changed. . .

Despite the fact the electoral deck has been stacked against us – with staggered terms and other pernicious protections designed to ensure the status quo survives – I believe the one positive lesson resulting from this monstrously expensive fiasco is that we can protect our interests and bring positive change through the power of the ballot box.

Perhaps it is time Volusia County voters begin the process of exercising our will – and replace this contemptible oligarchy that has, by design, ensured that the self-serving wants of the uber-wealthy puppeteers who deftly manipulate the rods and cables of government always outweigh the needs of those who are expected to pay the bills.

Let’s return a sense of sanity and restore the public trust in our local government.

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for July 12, 2019

Hi, kids!

When I was a boy in the early 1960’s, we had one of those two-tone Zenith portable televisions that sat on a small stand in the family room – a brown and beige metal box with two plastic tuning dials and a small black-and-white screen that received three stations – and, on occasion, WJXT, the CBS affiliate all the way in Jacksonville.

Some of my earliest memories involve the weekday morning ritual of faithfully tuning into Channel 6’s Romper Room in the fervent hope Miss Nancy would call my name. . .

Remember?

No matter where I was in the house, the exact second I heard Miss Nancy’s beautiful sing-song voice – I made a beeline to the television – flopping breathlessly on the thick shag carpet just inches from the shadowy screen, watching in rapt anticipation as she gazed through the Magic Mirror and chanted that mysterious incantation that allowed her to see into living rooms around the world:

“Romper stomper bomper boo; tell me, tell me, tell me do; Magic Mirror, tell me today; did all my friends have fun at play?”

Invariably, I would catch the names of school chums and neighborhood playmates – resulting in crushing disappointment (if not a slight sense of gluckschmerz) – but, on occasion, I would hear those joyous words of complete validation, “. . .and I see Mark, he’s being extra good today!” – and pandemonium would ensue!

I would tear-ass around the house, grinning from ear-to-ear, screaming breathlessly, “She saw me!  Miss Nancy SAW ME!” which always elicited a congratulatory hug from my doting mom – and a stoic stare over the morning newspaper from my father – who was no doubt wondering how this giddy little sap could be the fruit of his loins. . .

Just as Romper Room’s “Do Bee” and “Don’t Bee” taught generations of American kids the moral imperatives of life – Miss Nancy’s Magic Mirror showed us that recognition and acknowledgement is important to our happiness and emotional well-being.

Many years ago, when I was a young police detective, some churl posted a nicotine-stained mimeographed sign on the wall of our bullpen that said, “Doing a good job is like pissing your pants in a dark suit.  You get a warm feeling, but nobody really notices. . .” 

Well, I notice.

At the end of the day – I guess that’s the purpose of this weekly segment that continues to grow in popularity throughout the Halifax area and beyond.

Recently, a loyal reader reached out to me in faux disappointment that they hadn’t yet been named an “Asshole” in this space.

This wiseass member of the BV tribe claims to get up early every Friday morning, run to the computer and search Angels & Assholes in the hope of receiving the dubious honor.

Because this person is a sitting public official – I won’t mention his or her name – but for those who hold themselves out for elective office, remaining relevant and in the “public eye” is important – and, as Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. . .”   

Clearly, this important member of our community was having fun with me – but our conversation underscored the importance of recognizing the many positive acts of kindness and generosity in our community – and the civic value in calling out those in positions of power.

It’s one reason I was so happy to see The Daytona Beach News-Journal is now ending each week with their own Angel’s list of sorts – stories “Celebrating what’s good in our community.” 

I like that.

I continue to be humbled by the fact so many of you take time out of your busy day to read and consider these hyper-opinionated rants.  Whether our opinions agree or disagree on a given topic  – your participation in driving a larger discussion of the issues does my beat-up old heart good.

Please know that if I have yet to offend your sensibilities – or gore your sacred ox in this always sarcastic space – please stay tuned!

Like Miss Nancy, I get around to everyone sooner or later. . .

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              Chief James Bland, Holly Hill Fire Department

Loyal readers of these screeds know that on the second Monday of each month, Barker’s View takes to the airwaves, co-hosting Gov Stuff Live! with Big John – the Halifax areas premiere public affairs forum – on 1380am “The Cat.”

The segment is always a lively, in-depth discussion on the important issues of the day – presented with a healthy dose of humor – in an easy to follow format, which includes taking your phone calls, providing a soapbox for citizens to voice their frustrations and answering community questions.

Trust me.  I learn far more from my participation in the forum than I contribute. . .

In March, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on a disturbing conversation between our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and freshman Volusia County Councilman Ben Johnson, voicing their over-the-top support for consolidating all municipal and county fire department’s under “one unified umbrella” as a means of cutting costs and “improving” service delivery.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t allow Volusia County government to take care of my pet goldfish (literally), and I damn sure don’t want them anywhere near the critical municipal services that my family and yours depend upon for our safety and welfare.

In an informative piece by News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt entitled, “Volusia expands fire service, raises topic of countywide department,” Old Ed said:

“We’d be far better served with a unified, consolidated form of fire service than having it all split up,” he said. “Do we need 13 fire chiefs? Sorry fire chiefs out there. Maybe you could be a different chief in a bigger system.”

My God.  What a condescending dipshit. . .

In Eddie’s warped world, bigger is always better – because the arrogance of size actually causes him, and those other parochial assholes he conspires with, to believe that county-controlled agencies are superior to the smaller – and infinitely more efficient – essential services provided by the municipalities.

In response to Old Ed’s incoherent rambling, our “new” County Manager Georgie Recktenwald – in that sleepy ‘couldn’t-be-bothered’ low-slung monotone that has endeared him to so many – said he would discuss the “possibility” of consolidation with city leaders.

In my view, that took the chatter from two puffed-up politicians playing with their governmental Tinker Toy set – clumsily resurrecting the goofy suggestions of an ancient study by The Civic League of the Halifax Area – to actually furthering this cockamamie notion of destroying our municipal fire departments.

That scared me. . .

In my view, the Civic League – whose membership is by “invitation only” (apparently to keep the riffraff out) is the alternate club for those who don’t have the money for membership in the more exclusive – and infinitely more influential – Volusia CEO Business Alliance (?)

I’ve always felt that clubby “civic organizations” that regulate their membership through exclusive tap-on-the-shoulder invites are anything but.

Don’t worry – all the right last names are listed on the League’s gilded rolls – another semi-secret society that allows the anointed ones to go behind closed doors and meddle in the lives and livelihoods of us “little people” on the other side – you know, the huddled masses still waiting on our engraved invitation to participate in the larger discussion of our future. . .

Regardless, the Civic League has served as the Halifax area’s well-meaning hot-air generator since 1965 – originally known as the Community Problems Discussion Dinner – the club has, in my view, dissolved into an irrelevant manufacturer of various stodgy reports and studies – always heavily peppered with the painfully obvious leading to off-the-mark conclusions.

For instance, the league’s 2014 “tourism study” came to the ingenious realization that the beachside ISB corridor is “blighted” – and concluded, “There is a need for leadership in government and the private sector to assist in accomplishing our common goals of the revitalization of the tourism industry and our quality of life for the area.”

Wow.  Earth shattering. . .

Look, as far as I’m concerned, they can sit around and tut-tut over inane white papers and give each other awards until the cows come home (by-the-by, they gave the 2019 Beacon Award to the CEO Business Alliance – I don’t make this shit up. . .) but, when the Civic League’s nearly decade-old suggestions regarding the consolidation of our fire service are taken seriously, it really bothered me.

So, having heard from the horse’s ass – I wanted to hear the truth of the matter from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

That’s when I asked Holly Hill Fire Chief Jim Bland, who also serves as the president of the Volusia County Fire Chief’s Association, to join me on the radio to explain the current state of our fire service so we could form an educated opinion based on current data and hands-on operational experience.

What followed was a fascinating discussion of how our municipal fire departments have already consolidated common functions and services, established shared responsibilities, equipment allocations, strategic plans, resource tracking and even cooperative purchasing policies.

In addition, we learned that emergency response protocols have been standardized across the board – and when coupled with a common incident management system – firefighters from Ormond Beach, Holly Hill or Edgewater can (and do) work effectively in West Volusia and beyond.

In my view, this is a testament to what can happen when those in positions of power drop the ego-driven fiefdom building and work cooperatively in the spirit of what is ultimately best for those they serve.

As a result, in Volusia County, we have an incredibly effective fire protection system – a functional amalgam of various department’s who work shoulder-to-shoulder in every operational aspect of the profession – from training and certification to prevention and fire ground tactics – while keeping the individual agency’s unique identity and allowing the municipalities to control their own costs.

I believe when it comes to emergency services, most residents want the personalized service that only comes from local oversight – and an “of the community, for the community” dedication that many larger metropolitan areas are struggling (and spending) to recreate.

Most long-time observers of the machinations of the Volusia County Council – a weird puppet show performed bi-weekly by a dysfunctional troupe of compromised marionettes and their uber-wealthy handlers – understand that what we are witnessing is a “representative democracy” in name only.

One would have thought that Chairman Kelley, George Recktenwald and the others would have known about all this before stirring the “consolidation” pot? 

Clearly, Ed Kelley remains an uninformed dullard who doesn’t have a clue about how Volusia County fire departments work cooperatively in an incredibly efficient and well-choreographed system that encourages the inherent benefits of community control and decentralization.

However, he instinctively knows the advantages of taking marching orders from his political benefactors in places like the élite Civic League of the Halifax Area. . .

Another thing Old Ed and his “colleagues” understand is that they have already taxed the eyeballs out of everyone living in unincorporated areas to pay for a horribly inadequate and mismanaged county-operated fire service that puts our brave firefighters – and the citizens they valiantly serve – in danger due to understaffing and other organizational management issues.

For that matter, does Volusia County even have a permanent Fire Services Director?

Jesus.

Frankly, I believe Volusia County has reached the financial tipping point when it comes to fire and emergency medical services – which, until recent substantive changes at EVAC, (forced by Councilwoman Heather Post) has historically been a botched shitshow that ultimately resulted in Port Orange funding their own ambulance service and other communities considering it.

Now, Old Ed and the Funky Bunch are desperate to find a way to consolidate municipal services as a cheap means of getting even deeper into our pockets. . .

Whatever.

Kudos to Chief Jim Bland and members of the Volusia County Fire Chief’s Association – all consummate professionals – for their extraordinary service to their communities and Volusia County.

(If you missed this important forum, please find Chief Bland’s segment at www.govstuff.org (Archives) for Monday, July 8, 2019.)

Angel               Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County

From the “We’re so far behind we’re ahead” column:

We, the long-suffering denizens of Florida’s fabled Fun Coast, put our best foot forward and pulled it off once again, posting a 15.4% increase in bed tax revenues in May!

Woot!  Where’s former Mayor Glenn Ritchey and the Good Time All Star Band playing “Happy Days Are Here Again!” when I need him, dammit! 

Yep!  According to a report by Jim Abbott in The Daytona Beach News-Journal – citing data compiled by Evelyn Fine over at Mid-Florida Marketing & Research (who has been paid to tell our Maharishis in the Halifax area tourism industry exactly what they want to hear for decades), “Hotels, vacation rental properties and campgrounds throughout the county generated $1,858,427 in bed taxes, up from $1,609,660 in May 2018. . .” 

Which seems weird to this uneducated bumpkin, because just last week that equally enthusiastic bunch over at Daytona “International” Airport gave a gloomy report that passenger traffic dipped some 6.8 percent that same month (year-over-year)?

Oh, well – what the hell do I know?  I’m totally ignorant of the mysterious ways of these voodoo statisticians in the hospitality marketing research game. . .

I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for the incongruity between a 15% increase in bed tax revenue and a 7% decrease in passenger traffic at DAB in the same month, right?

Maybe visitors are tired of being gored by our astronomically high airfares and are driving in?

Or, perhaps there’s been a sizable increase in hitchhiking families who realize getting here is half the adventure?

Extraterrestrials? 

Unfortunately, the revelry over at the Lodging & Hospitality Association was tempered with the news that, “Volusia’s countywide average daily hotel room rate for the month decreased by about 3 percent year-over-year to $118.96, compared with $122.64 in May 2018.”

By comparison, Volusia County’s average daily rate was substantially less than the statewide average of $139.01 – and our “revenue per available room” of $81.26 trailed the statewide average of $99.91 – which I think means our slightly down-at-the-heels “product” is worth considerably less than similar brands offered in other areas of the Sunshine State?

Whatever.  Stop being such a nay-saying asshole, Barker.

As long as Mid-Florida Marketing is dishing it up hot and piling it high – let’s take all good news we can get, right?

Damn straight.

Asshole           Florida Legislature & Governor Ron DeSantis

Florida is screwed.

Last week saw the death knell for our environmentally sensitive state when Governor Ron DeSantis inexplicably signed a devastating bill into law that essentially requires any citizen with the temerity to file a lawsuit to ensure their elected officials abide by legally mandated growth management plans to pay the government’s legal bill’s if they lose.

Unfortunately, the “consistency challenge” represented the only enforcement mechanism left to ensure that proposed developments conform with local comprehensive plans.

Anybody willing to take a bold stand and put their family’s financial future in jeopardy to challenge the wholesale destruction of specimen hardwoods and wildlife habitat to make way for a new WaWa?

How about betting your children’s college education against some greed-crazed speculative developer – who has openly financed the political campaigns of sitting elected officials and employs the best land use attorneys money can buy – and wants to shoehorn thousands of cookie-cutter cracker boxes into the space of a few environmentally sensitive acres as part of the malignant sprawl that is actively threatening our very quality of life? 

Me neither. . .

You can thank gazillionaire Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes for his quisling eleventh-hour “floor amendment” – which was passed on a last-minute voice vote by the rest of those culpable cowards we elected – without any public comment, staff analysis or open debate by legislators.

So much for Governor DeSantis’ pseudo-commitment to rebuilding environmental protections that were butchered under former Governor Slick Rick Scott’s eight-year assault on our natural places, eh?

The new law essentially permits developers to ramrod projects through their compromised political puppets on local councils and commissions without any viable recourse from those affected most.

In Florida, money talks.

It also ascends to positions of power and perpetuates an open oligarchy – where incredibly loose campaign finance laws and a neutered public integrity system conspire with a gutted environmental protection apparatus to form a perfect storm of quid pro quo corruption that is destroying our environment, overloading our schools and transportation infrastructure, and all but insuring we’ll be drinking our own recycled sewage in a few short years.

Because the whole concept of concurrency is for suckers.

So, forget about educating your children here – student/teacher ratios will be astronomical – and, eventually, we will erect prefab lecture stadiums in an armed compound where a faceless audio loop will “teach” the pathetic little rubes to the test. . .

As it stands, they’re hapless victims of a broken system that cannot adequately serve the needs of  those they are responsible for now – let alone absorb the impact thousands of new families will have on what passes for our already overburdened “educational” system.

Another gut-punch to our impressionable children who are brazenly lied to by the very school administrators they are expected to trust – failed by a hopeless cycle of mediocrity – all while a time-honored internal protection scheme insulates the guilty, the gutless and the inept.

Welcome to the Sunshine State, kids.  The biggest whorehouse in the world. . .

More clogged roadways, loss of greenspace, overtaxed emergency services and dwindling civic amenities – all sacrificed to a rubber-stamp system that all but ensures development applications will be approved without challenge – as our local land use plans are used as cheap toilet paper by those who stand to benefit most.

We lost.  Get used to it.

Now, the pernicious motivations of these special interests are protected by force of law – and there truly are no checks and balances in a system seemingly tailormade to facilitate the unbridled aggression of those who haul massive profits off the land.

Quote of the Week

“I would like to know where is all the wildlife in the areas that are being developed now?

These acres and acres of land that have been bulldozed and the trees eaten up by big machinery. Where are the animals going to go? 

There has been an increase of animals wandering in peoples’ back yard because we destroyed their habitat. 

We live in a very, very environmentally sensitive place. Yes, you can buy land and develop it, but you must follow the rules. We must protect the environment.”

–Unknown, Hometown News Volusia, Rants & Raves, “Where have all the animals gone?” Friday, July 5, 2019

Damn fine question.

A bit naïve – considering there are no more “rules” to protect our sensitive environment and threatened wildlife habitat now – but a good question.

The short answer is that the animals were sacrificed at Florida’s Altar of Greed.

Our beautiful state is quickly becoming a barren wasteland where the ravenous appetites of speculative developers are satiated by the slash-and-burn rape of pristine forests, our waterways are turned to ghastly green sludge, specimen oaks are ground into pulp and our natural places rapidly become muddy moonscapes – an abattoir for flora and fauna with nowhere left to run – all so that you and I can live in another dreadful “theme community.”

Perhaps someone should quiz United States Senator Slick Rick Scott – or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – about where our wildlife went at their very next campaign rally?

Something tells me they have infinitely cheerier answers than I do. . .

And Another Thing!

Last week in this space I wrote a tongue-in-cheek account of the spectacular fireworks display that booms, bangs and whistles through the streets of my normally quiet neighborhood every Fourth of July.

Trust me – I was only half-joking.

In fact, I’m still finding shards of melted plastic and burnt cardboard bomblets in my yard – the singed shrapnel of hundreds of exploding aerial pyrotechnics.

Now, multiply that debris exponentially and you have some understanding of what our shoreline looks like from Ponce Inlet to Flagler Beach on the morning of July 5th. . .

In fact, last year, volunteers and a county trash contractor removed some 55,000 pounds of trash from Volusia County beaches!

For some reason, our “experts” in the hallowed halls of Volusia County Beach Management haven’t figured out how to curb the use of illegal fireworks that hoards of people openly carry onto a traffic-free beach one day each year?

Whatever.

I also want to recognize the outstanding dedication of Volusia County lifeguards who went the extra mile and picked up a massive amount of trash on Thursday evening following the festivities – great work!

Meanwhile, just up the road, our neighbors in Flagler Beach acted proactively in distributing some 1,000 trash bags to beach-goers – and passed out metal straws to curb the use of single-use plastics.

Look, I’m normally a “do whatcha wanna” kind of guy – to each their own, I say – but when you endanger sea life and discourteously trash our most precious natural amenity by intentionally leaving your stinking garbage, cigarette butts and fireworks detritus for others to cleanup, well, that qualifies you for the Barker’s View King Hell Asshole award. . .

Fortunately, in Volusia and Flagler we have a committed army of intrepid volunteers – both organized and everyday folks – who graciously give of their time to clean-up the enormous piles of trash that are left on the beach following the Independence Day celebration on local beaches.

If you were part of the solution – on behalf of the thousands of beach lovers who sincerely appreciate your efforts to sanitize our shoreline and protect our vulnerable shorebirds and sea creatures from this threat – please accept a hearty Barker’s View Thank You!

Your important work personifies good citizenship – and exemplifies the great spirit of volunteerism that makes our community great!

That’s all for me!  Have a wonderful weekend, friends.

 

 

 

 

 

Volusia County Schools: How’s that whole ‘secrecy’ thing working out?

In the Barker household – borrowing money is a Big Deal.

See, my family has a finite stash of “fun tickets,” and once it’s gone – it’s gone.

Even though we are a typical two-income household, given my abhorrent habits, most economists would group my monthly expenditures on the “feasible – not optimal” side of the budgetary slope. . .

Like many in Volusia County, we simply don’t have the luxury of accelerating “nice to have” purchases by borrowing against future income – because we understand that, given the myriad variables, over time that can lead to insolvency.

As a municipal retiree, it boils down to the simple realization that, at the end of the month, if I’ve overextended the family budget in one area or another (normally a line item loosely labeled “Mark’s Entertainment”), there will be a few lean days ahead until the Eagle shits and the cycle repeats. . .

For “big ticket” items, we do something novel in today’s free-wheeling world of personal finance – rather than incur debt, we save money until we have enough to make the purchase.

Weird, right?

Unless you’re a senior insurance executive, own a motorsports dynasty, develop Halifax area real estate or hold a management position in local government – I suspect your family’s finances are much like mine.

(Trust me – if I had J. Hyatt money, I’d put mine in a little pile and burn it. . .)

I guess that’s why whenever I read a headline that screams, Insert government agency here borrows a Gazillion dollars!) it bothers me.

Maybe it’s because you and I are forced to live within our means?

Here in the Real World, even minor deviations can have catastrophic consequences for those who live on a fixed income or eke out a living in this struggling artificial economy.

You see, we don’t have the ability to demand that our neighbors subsidize our lavish lifestyle and spending habits – or to borrow astronomical amounts of money – paid for with millions in interest – safe in the knowledge that the faceless masses will ultimately pay for it through increased taxes.

It’s like walking a tightrope – only you and I don’t have the luxury of a net.

I love it when those we elect to represent our interests crow, ad nauseum, about how borrowing against future earnings is a good thing – and the financial advisers and economists who are paid by the very entity they are “advising” always seem to rubber stamp these massive borrowing schemes regardless of cost.

Whatever.

Recently, the Volusia County School Board announced that it was bonding a whopping $100 million, ostensibly to accelerate construction and renovation at several area schools.

Of course, the money to repay the loan – and the estimated $6 million in interest – will come from the half-cent sales tax increase that you and I approved in 2001 – then extended in 2014.

The bond comes on the heels of an ugly debacle involving the sale of other district assets to the Town of Pierson.

After a tangled process (if you can even call it a “process”) the Volusia County School Board recently approved the sale of land and buildings on the former Pierson Elementary School site to the small community for use as a civic complex.

For many, the “deal” initially came as a complete surprise. . .

Fortunately, freshman Board member Ruben Colon fought for transparency back in April when he demanded that two items – one of which declared some five-acres of the property surplus – the other approved the purchase agreement with Pierson – be pulled from the School Board’s consent agenda. . .

When the mechanics of the deal came to light, in May, former School Board member Dr. John Hill sounded the klaxon on social media:

“Just like in the past, this was attempting to be done without any property appraisal and only one or two personnel from the school district arranging this deal.”

It was eerily reminiscent of a bizarre backroom deal with AdventHealth – a weird scheme that traded incredibly lucrative advertising rights (read: exclusive marketing access to some 63,000 families and an untold number of teachers and staff) for just $1 million in “in kind” services and $200,000 annually over five-years – a “deal” that blindsided Volusia County taxpayers after months of “secret” negotiations with district staff. . .

Jesus.

When Mr. Colon pulled the covert deal with Pierson off the agenda for further study, he said, “We are entrusted with the management of taxpayer funds.  This is not a responsibility I take lightly.”

In typical fashion, at the time, Saralee Morrissey, the district’s director of planning, quibbled the facts of the transaction – explaining that the $3.77 million just or “market value” set by the Volusia Property Appraisers Office was “not a reasonable value” due to the deplorable condition of the buildings.

At the end of the day, the School Board approved the sale of 5.5 acres and structures to the Town of Pierson for just $73,000.

Again.  Whatever.

Look, nobody involved in this mess – including those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence – begrudge the Town of Pierson this important community asset.  But the way the transaction was handled by district administrators was slimy, arrogant and opaque – and it served to cement the public’s inherent distrust of Volusia County government agencies.

Given the fact that, just a year ago, district officials were making the rounds crying the poor-mouth blues – begging spare change from the municipalities to fund basic security measures to protect our vulnerable children, teachers and staff – perhaps the district’s recent move to borrow $100 million to expedite new school construction is a good thing?

I don’t know.

But unless and until the Volusia County School Board sets about purging entrenched bureaucrats and administrators who continue to operate in the shadows, outside any politically accountable oversight – their long-suffering constituents will remain skeptical of anything coming out of DeLand.

For an agency with a budget approaching $900 million – secrecy is unacceptable.

Join Barker’s View this afternoon on Gov Stuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm!

Tune in locally at 1380am “The Cat” – or online at http://www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

We’ll be taking your calls and talking about the important issues of the day that impact our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast!

 

Angels & Assholes for July 5, 2019

Hi, kids!

Happy Birthday to the United States of America! 

This morning, me and the dogs are slowly emerging from the bunker here at Barker’s View HQ, taking off our helmets – putting away our matching red, white and blue “Thundershirt” anxiety jackets – and beginning the annual bomb damage assessment following the overnight artillery barrage here in north Ormond Beach.

Many years ago, our neighborhood – which is idyllically calm every other night of the year – decided, “To hell with the city-sponsored fireworks display – Let’s celebrate Independence Day by calling in a Star-Spangled airstrike on the old Barker place!

And let me tell you, this year some of that incoming ordinance could be measured in kilotons. . .

I think I know the origin:

For many years, I had an over-the-road trucker living next door – a friendly chap I affectionately called, well, “neighbor man” (because actually learning his name could have been mistaken for a friendly overture, which would have invariably led to neighborly chit-chat, obligatory “howdy” waves in the driveway, etc.  Ugh.)

“Neighbor man” was perfect for me:  Because he was on the road for literally weeks at a time.

Pure bliss for a reclusive, anti-social hermit like me. . .

In exchange for his frequent absences, I was more than happy to ignore the periodic “chug-chug-chug-chug-chug-chug-chug” of an idling Detroit Diesel, punctuated by the thunderous hiss of a Freightliner’s air brakes outside my window at four o’clock in the morning – or those times when he moved a new “girlfriend” into the house that he found at some all-night truck stop outside Knoxville – only to have her steal everything he owned and flee in the middle of the night while he was hauling freight somewhere between Provo and Kankakee. . .

Interesting fellow.  I liked him.

But at dusk every 4th of July – like clockwork – neighbor man would begin the yearly ritual of detonating his gigantic pyrotechnic arsenal – serious recreational explosives he collected on his runs around the country – and made great sport of launching mortar shells, flaming whizzers, screaming meemies, roman candles, spinning buzz bombs, fire fountains, crowd pleasers, flying crackers, bottle rockets, boom-boom tubes, aerial shockers, mini-missiles and every other known variety of neighbor-hater China ever exported directly over my house.

All while laughing maniacally and screaming over the roar, “How’d ya like dat one!”

Of course, I would respond in faux amusement – like good neighbors do – as the neutral ground between our homes turned into a gunpowder-singed moonscape, “Wow.  Good one.  Was that thing purchased legally?  In this country?” as I staggered around the front yard – stiff cocktail in one hand, garden hose in the other – putting out secondary fires on the roof.

Why?  Because I once made the mistake of telling him that my wife enjoys fireworks. . .

And, she does – Patti loves them.

Nothing makes her giddier than the sight of those monstrous flaming chrysanthemums bursting and shimmering over the Halifax river while the William Tell Overture blasts in the background – and I continue circling the block looking for a parking space east of Nova Road. . .

You know, the “professional” kind you sit in a comfortable folding chair down-by-the-river and enjoy from afar – not the ones that each year shower our wood frame cracker box in a continuous downpour of molten sparks – and pepper every inch of my yard in burnt cardboard and smoking detritus.

I guess I didn’t make that part clear to him. . .

Although my gear jammin’ neighbor moved away years ago – I’m convinced his perennial attempt to please my wife’s firework fetish started what I like to call the “Siege of Northbrook” – which, with the accuracy of a Norden bombsight – targets my humble home annually at sundown on July 4th – a bombardment that bangs, booms and whistles damn near continuously until the neighborhood stockpiles have been depleted and the novelty wears off.

Whatever.

When it comes to my neighbors, I’m a live and let live kind of guy.

What you do on your slice of the American Dream doesn’t concern me in the least – to each their own, I say – and, as long as my liquor cabinet is stocked and well-meaning people leave me alone, I can put up with most anything. . .

So, like every year before, yesterday I did the patriotic thing and ate the requisite hot dog, drank copious amounts of Tennessee whiskey, and, come nightfall, I hunkered down with Nola and Benny – holding them tight while they nervously shook and shimmied to the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air as this damnable neighborhood tradition played itself out.

If you happen to live up here in God’s Country – here’s hoping your Independence Day was everything mine was – and more. . .

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              City of Ormond Beach

Kudos to the City of Ormond Beach, Ormond MainStreet and The Ormond Beach Arts District for having the foresight to permit public art downtown.

In May, the Ormond Beach City Commission approved a plan which allows property owners and merchants to commission outdoor artwork with the assistance of the Arts District Mural Committee.

In my experience, murals help provide a sense of place – a vibrancy that stimulates civic dialog – and has a positive economic impact on communities who embrace the cultural and social value of public art.

The Barker Tribe is blessed to have the amazing painter and performance artist, Perego, as a member of our family.

Through Perego’s incredible talent, I have learned to appreciate the amazing impact art can have on one’s mood and physical environment – and his incredible frescos create a stunning visual aesthetic that set locations and communities who host them apart.

In fact, many places are discovering the intrinsic benefits of public art and its ability to draw visitors to city centers, art districts and commercial areas.

For instance, the next time your travels take you to North Carolina or Southwest Virginia, take in a few miles of the Appalachian Mural Trail – which maps out a whimsical tour of small rural towns along the Blue Ridge Parkway that host both contemporary and historical murals.

In my view, this is a wonderful addition to our beautifully restored downtown – one that will pay dividends for Ormond Beach and the Halifax area for many years to come.

Asshole           Volusia County Government

I wrote about this earlier in the week, but there’s been a resolution, of sorts. . .

Recently, News-Journal editor Pat Rice performed a practical test of sorts – challenging the veracity of a pedestrian walkway that was opened apparently without much forethought at Protogroup’s “$192-million” Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominiums project.

When work abruptly stopped on the north tower – the developer finally opened a rudimentary beach access point as required by Protogroup’s development agreement with Volusia County.

Inexplicably, Volusia County rolled over and completely abdicated its enforcement responsibility under the terms of a “Use, Easement and Access” agreement which ensured public beach access during construction of the monstrous project in exchange for closing the Oakridge Boulevard approach for construction purposes.

Some seven months ago, the intrepid Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, brought the issue to the attention of Volusia County – his concerns were met with exactly what we have come to expect.

There were the usual denials from the developer and complete paralytic inaction by our elected and appointed officials in DeLand – followed by some moronic disavowal from our dimwitted County Council Chair, Ed Kelley.

Then, Old Ed – in a fit of hillbilly hysterics – demonstrated that whale-turd level of whatever the antithesis of leadership is when he blamed the contract – describing the easement contract with Protogroup as a “poorly-worded, hastily written agreement.”

“The only thing we can do is kill the project and tell them they have to stop the building.”

Jesus.

In response to beach access signage which clearly indicated the path is accessible to “pedestrians, strollers and wheelchairs,” Mr. Rice attempted to navigate the sandy path through the heart of the half-active construction site while pushing a carriage simulating the weight of a child and beach gear.

He then wrote about the experience in an editorial entitled, “Our newest beach access point may be the ugliest.”   

“It was slow going. The baby carriage’s wheels kept bogging down in the sand. In the end, I pushed the baby carriage down the path. But it wasn’t easy.”

What bothered me most was what Rice found at the end of the path – eleven wooden steps leading down to the beach – an obstacle that would make wheelchair access difficult, if not impossible.

That’s wrong.

Based upon his personal experience, Pat made the pertinent recommendation that “Protogroup, or someone, ought to change the beach access sign.”

Fortunately, Mr. Rice’s piece brought much-needed attention to the issue, and earlier this week, “someone” replaced the deceptive signage which had been in place since June 21st.

I say “someone” because it appears the operative policy for anyone associated with the increasingly mysterious towers project is to avoid reporters’ questions like the plague.

(Word to the wise: Rarely does a total information blackout build community support or instill confidence – especially when construction slows on a massive concrete monolith in the heart of our struggling core tourist area. . .)

In a follow-up report, the News-Journal’s Jim Abbott noted that no one at the general contractors office, the developer or the City of Daytona Beach were available to him – and Volusia County’s mouthpiece, Joanne Magley, gave a lukewarm, shoulder-shrug non-answer: “Our understanding is the contractor responsible for that property changed the sign to properly reflect the access.”  

Okay. . .

What bothers me is – even after Mr. Rice demonstrated the problem – no one in County government who is paid to care bothered to demand that the developer simply allocate $12.50 from the “$192 million” budget and erect proper access placards to mediate a clearly dangerous situation for the mobility impaired?

That’s inconceivable. 

I know everyone is over-the-moon for our “new” County Manager George Recktenwald – but for $215,000 a year – is it too much to ask that he hold “someone” accountable for ensuring shit like this doesn’t happen again?

Sorry.  Too much to expect?   

Regardless, after nearly two-weeks of jeopardizing the physical safety of families and disabled persons who were misled by erroneous signage suggesting wheelchair access, “someone” finally responded to our community newspaper’s pointed call for change – and for that we can all be thankful.

Angel              Citizens of Flagler County

I am incredibly proud of the intrepid citizens of Flagler County who are taking a bold stand to preserve their environment and quality of life by asking the difficult questions of a North Carolina-based developer intent on shoehorning some 4,000 residential, commercial and mixed-use units onto 825-acres along John Anderson Highway.

Last week in this space I mentioned a rumor that was slowly filtering its way into northeast Volusia County regarding a planned unit development known as “The Gardens.”

If successful, the project will ultimately bring an estimated 9,000 residents to the area – nearly twice the current population of Flagler Beach.

In a bizarre editorial (read: fairy tale) written by Ken Belshe, a senior director with the property owner, SunBelt Land Management, which appeared in FlaglerLive.com – Mr. Belshe spewed some of the most phony-baloney, candy-coated horseshit I’ve ever heard uttered by a speculative developer – and that’s saying something. . .

“We have known for decades that this area is a glimmering gem outshining others in the Southeast. We have no intention of damaging that gem or risking its value. We hold it carefully in our hands, polishing it and deliberately waiting to share our ideas about what to do with it.”

Jesus.  If this real estate development gig doesn’t work out, Belshe has a bright future in the industrial fertilizer business – or as a Daytona “International” Airport executive. . .   

In my view, Mr. Belshe is polishing something, alright – and it isn’t a “glimmering gem.”

On Monday, my friend Rob Merrill, our areas preeminent land use attorney with the esteemed Cobb Cole firm (who is dutifully representing SunBelt Land Management) hosted a raucous community meeting at Flagler’s Hilton Garden Inn.

Some 300 concerned residents packed the room – with some 8,000 having let their feelings be known by signing a petition challenging the project online.

According to reports, as Rob did his level best to keep order (with the assistance of several Flagler County Sheriff’s Deputies) the rowdy crowd voiced their displeasure with the proposed project, and asked the difficult questions about density, schools, concurrency, impact fees and the inevitable environment impacts to Bulow Creek and beyond.

It sounds like Rob and his clients at SunBelt needed a whip and chair, rather than a flashy PowerPoint touting the benefits of introducing 9,000 new Walmart shoppers to southeast Flagler County, to keep the pitchfork-wielding villagers in check. . .

At the end of a testy two-hours – complete with boos, taunts, invitations to step outside and threats of ejection – Mr. Belshe’s mood appears to have changed from the “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy, Joy!” sentiments of his earlier syrupy essay.

According to an article in FlaglerLive entitled, “Boos, Jeers and Defiance as Flagler Beach Voices Its Opposition to The Gardens Development on John Anderson,” Mr. Belshe exhibited a sharper tone when he said:

“The secret is out,” he said. “Unless you just want to close the gates and say – no more people.” Huge applause interrupted him, a chorus announcing the crowd’s inclination: no more growth.”

“If that’s how you feel,” Belshe continued, “then I encourage you to contact your county commissioners and let’s shut down the office of economic development. We don’t need more jobs; we don’t need more businesses.” But, he said, if there’s some acceptance that growth is ahead, then it should be done smartly.”

“Trust me, density is not the enemy. Urban sprawl is the enemy.” He closed on a note about his young children and his environmentally conscious intentions, along with his intentions to address the development’s impact on schools “with new buses, for instance.”

My God.  Do these people know no shame? 

There’s a lot to digest in Mr. Belshe’s statement.

In my view, his “good cop/bad cop” approach is typical of how speculative developers ultimately crush public dissent.

The scary “what if” scenarios to drill home the inevitability of their fate – the “trust me” prognostications about all the good things to come, and, in the end, waving shiny baubles around (like school buses, “conservation areas” and fancy civic amenities) to help remaining skeptics come to terms with their inescapable destiny.

Then, the all-important “corporate humanization” campaign.

After all, this isn’t some faceless out-of-state land developer – they have families too – they are part of the community. . .

My ass.

I encourage the citizens of Flagler County who feel strongly about protecting our sensitive environment and their unique quality of life to stay active and involved as The Garden’s project creeps its way through the byzantine planning and permitting process – in my view, a purpose-built path that invariably leads to formal approval.

It’s important – and it’s up to you.  No one is coming to help. . .

Quote of the Week

“I find Kelley’s digital handwringing to The News-Journal unacceptable. Volusia County needs sensible leaders who address environmental threats to existing infrastructure and make responsible development decisions. As the county chair, Kelley should generate ideas to address problems; not shift blame to the residents who elected him — and whose properties will see a five-inch sea rise in the next 10 years.  If Ed Kelley cannot solve problems or heed reasonable science, Volusia County must elect someone who will.”

–Tamara Parker, Port Orange, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “It’s a local threat,” Wednesday, July 3, 2019

In an ever-changing world, County Chair Ed Kelley’s cosmic stupidity is the one constant. . .

I’m not a climatologist.

Neither is Ed Kelley.

The difference being, like most reasonable people, I’m willing to read critically and interpret data, keep an open mind, listen to the opinions of experts and weigh the findings of scientists and environmentalists who are working hard to find answers to climate change and its potential impact on our lives and livelihoods in coastal Florida.

Unlike Old Ed, I don’t care about the source.

Be it the Greenhouse Effect from fossil fuels or the earth’s natural processes at work – the fact is, we are experiencing a relatively rapid increase in sea level and changes to weather patterns that are adversely affecting many areas of our state – and now is the time to find workable solutions.

Fortunately, Governor Ron DeSantis has broken with the radical fringe of his party and taken early steps to address Florida’s environmental crisis – including measures to clean our diseased waterways and adapt to the effects of global warming, weather extremes and their coastal impact.

More important, Governor DeSantis has proven that he is willing to engage with the scientific community on climate and environmental issues – which is a stark contrast to eight-years of simply ignoring the issue while streets flooded, the bulldozers roared and our rivers turned to guacamole under former Governor Slick Rick Scott’s “fox in the hen house” strategy of environmental protection.

Unfortunately, County Chair Ed Kelley continues to expose his own limitations on issues he cannot begin to comprehend – a demonstrable lack of brainpower that is destroying public confidence in Volusia County government and perpetuating the unnerving sense that we’re all adrift in a sea of ignorance on a foundering ship of fools.

I happen to believe that Old Ed is simply parroting what he thinks his friends in the upper echelons of the local Republican Party apparatus want to hear – you know, the same Volusia County Republican’s in Name Only that never met a tax increase, exorbitant fee or government handout they didn’t like?

Because, in my view, Mr. Kelley lacks the basic smarts to make informed decisions on the important issues of the day; however, he makes up for that intellectual shortcoming by doing what he’s told.

You see, many of Chairman Kelley’s political benefactors make their fortune in industries that are panicked by the proposition that curbing emissions, conserving greenspace, modifying building codes and limiting construction in environmentally sensitive areas might adversely impact their ability to haul massive profits off the land.

Trust me.  That single external factor has done more to influence Mr. Kelley’s cockamamie ideas about climate change – and the myriad other issues facing his long-suffering constituents – than his legendary inability to reason and think independently.

And Another Thing!

I’m confused. . .  (Which should come as no surprise.)

And, at the end of this screed, I suspect you will be too.

Our old friend, the infernal optimist and executive director of the Daytona “International” Airport, Rick Karl, was back in the news this week – still closing after the sale on the massively expensive renovation of our perfectly usable airport.

Look, I’m the first to champion the cause of public officials answering questions of the working press – letting their constituents know about policy issues, public safety threats and other pertinent information that we need to hear from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

But how many times are they going to trot out Rick “Pollyanna” Karl to spin another fantastic yarn about why it was imperative to invest $14 million in public funds into our wholly underutilized and totally serviceable airport?

It’s a done deal.  We bitched, moaned and put ice on it.  Nobody cared.  Move on.

(Although I still wonder if the Volusia County Economic Development offices at the airport are part of the big “renovation”?  Humm. . .)

Yet, Rick continues to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – regardless of the news – and the amount of energy expended is giving me a headache. . .

In March, we were told passenger traffic set an all-time monthly record – even in the aftermath of JetBlue’s unceremonious departure in January.

According to Rick, “It’s amazing to see when the airlines add capacity, the community is filling the seats. These types of positive trends bode extremely well for further airline expansion at DAB.”

“March is always one of our busiest months of the year (but) to have this type of growth is phenomenal.”

Apparently, there was actually a silver lining to the JetBlue desertion – at least according to our always over-enthusiastic airport execs!  (Look, I don’t understand how or why – but whatever the reason – just know it’s phenomenal!)

Heck, yeah!

Then, last week, we were told that maybe JetBlue’s departure might not have been the blessing we were first led to believe it was.

In Clayton Parks informative article in the News-Journal, “Passenger traffic dips at Daytona airport despite increases for Delta, American Airlines,” we learned, “The effects of JetBlue’s departure at the start of the year continue to be felt at Daytona Beach International Airport.”

It seems passenger traffic at DAB waned nearly 7% year-over-year in May. . .

Wait?  That’s not good, right?

Never mind all that maudlin crap – according to Chief Cheerleader Rick Karl: “Even though overall traffic may be down slightly this year; we expect continued growth on our two major air carriers.”

So there!  Take that you naysaying assholes!    

Passenger traffic is up!  Passenger traffic is down!  Who cares! – It’s phenom. . .whatever.

Frankly, I’ve all but stopped reading any article with Daytona “International” Airport in the lede because I’m always left with a weird feeling there’s more to the story – something more ominous behind the mumbo-jumbo of statistics, pap and fluff that always paint things in the most positive light.

Maybe that’s the point?  Anesthetize the masses with over-the-top optimism?   

Regardless, rain or shine, Rick Karl & Company over in the executive offices at DAB never disappoint.

However, in his recent essay in the News-Journal explaining to us hapless dullards why the millions-of-dollars in terminal upgrades will have absolutely no impact on airfares – Mr. Karl gave us an uncharacteristic hard truth about why carriers continue to charge exorbitant ticket prices that drive the local traveling public to airports in Sanford and Orlando.

According to Rick: “Air fares are determined by the local market. Airlines owe a duty to their stockholders to generate as much revenue as possible, and therefore will charge the greatest fares that a given market will allow. This is capitalism at work, and it has nothing to do with landing fees or other fees that the airports charge to operate and maintain such things as the terminal facilities, runways, taxiways and airfield lighting.”

In other words, it’s not airport overhead that causes the two airlines serving the Daytona Beach market to screw us – it’s our own damn fault!

We allow them to gouge us!

Because that’s what their stockholders expect!

Apparently, we are bent-over and paralyzed in a strange Fun Coast Catch-22 where airlines charge as much as the “market will allow” – then, when we balk and use alternate airports – they simply fly off in a haze of jet exhaust, taking our publicly-funded giveaways and incentives with them. . .

Oh, well.

At least we’re getting a lot of “cool features” and terminal updates – which will be great – for the few who can still afford to pay the premium required to travel from our new and improved “hometown” airport.

Keep up the good work, Karl!  We need your unbridled enthusiasm around here.

That’s just my take on it.  Thanks for reading!

Stay cool and have a great weekend, friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Acts and Omissions

This shouldn’t come as any great surprise – but we’re being lied to.  Again.

Maybe it doesn’t rise to the level of the whoppers we’ve been told by our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County government over the years – but it’s a blatant untruth all the same.

Recently, News-Journal editor Pat Rice performed a practical test of sorts – challenging the veracity of a pedestrian walkway that was opened without much forethought at Protogroup’s “$192-million” Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominiums project.

When work abruptly stopped on the north tower – after months of closure with a hideous hodgepodge of chain-link fencing – the developer finally opened a rudimentary beach access point as required by Protogroup’s development agreement with Volusia County.

Consternation over the walkway built when Volusia County inexplicably rolled over and completely abdicated its enforcement responsibility under the terms of a “Use, Easement and Access” agreement which ensured public beach access during construction of the monstrous project in exchange for closing the Oakridge Boulevard approach for construction purposes.

Some seven months ago, the intrepid Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, brought the issue to the attention of Volusia County – his concerns were met with exactly what we have come to expect.

For a time, we were led to believe that Councilwoman Billie Wheeler was championing the cause – questioning staff some three times over two-months.  (I guess our highly compensated county executive staff have the same level of respect for Ms. Wheeler that her constituents now do. . .) 

There were the usual denials from the developer and complete paralytic inaction by our elected and appointed officials in DeLand – followed by some moronic disavowal from our dimwitted County Council Chair, Ed Kelley.

Then, Old Ed – in a fit of hillbilly hysterics – demonstrated that whale-turd level of whatever the antithesis of leadership is when he described the easement contract with Protogroup as a “poorly-worded, hastily written agreement.”

“The only thing we can do is kill the project and tell them they have to stop the building.”

Jesus.

Last week, in response to beach access signage which clearly indicates the path is accessible to “pedestrians, strollers and wheelchairs,” Mr. Rice and another News-Journal editor attempted to navigate the sandy path through the fenced off heart of the half-active construction site while pushing a carriage simulating the weight of a child and beach gear.

He then wrote about the experience in a piece entitled, “Our newest beach access point may be the ugliest,” in Sunday’s News-Journal.

“It was slow going. The baby carriage’s wheels kept bogging down in the sand.  In the end, I pushed the baby carriage down the path.  But it wasn’t easy.”

What bothered me most was what Rice found at the end of the path – eleven wooden steps leading down to the beach – an obstacle that would make wheelchair access difficult, if not impossible.

That’s wrong.

In Mr. Rice’s article, he suggests that Protogroup, or “someone,” do the right thing and change the signage to ensure that the mobility impaired aren’t trapped, injured or worse simply because they want to enjoy a day at the beach.

In my view, that “someone” is those do-nothings at Volusia County government who entered into a legally binding agreement – then did absolutely nothing to ensure that residents and visitors retained reasonable access to our public beach.

Ultimately, the City of Daytona Beach was forced to deal with the issue amid slights and swipes from County administrators.

At the time, County Manager George Recktenwald said, “The city, which we have partnered on for many projects, I don’t think has been much of a partner in this case here.  This is the first time in my 21 years (with the county) I’ve ever encountered that another government didn’t support us or work with us.”

Which is total and unequivocal bullshit.

In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a case where any interaction between Volusia County and a municipality hasn’t dissolved into an ugly pissing match – complete with threats of lawsuits, angry ultimatums and outright bullying.

Perhaps when the U.S. Department of Justice is finished investigating the Volusia County School District for its alleged mistreatment of disabled children – it could find its way to launch an inquiry as to how running the gauntlet of this half-ass attempt at accessibility to a publicly maintained beach comports with the tenets of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

In my view, the sad reality is – once again – you and I are left in the untenable position of being openly mislead by those compulsive liars in DeLand.

Because lying by omission by entering into a sham access agreement they had no intention of adequately enforcing is a blatant misrepresentation.

Unfortunately, not unexpected.

Earlier this week, we learned through a fluke that Volusia County has summarily banned inflatable amusements at county parks.

The policy wasn’t communicated through a press release – or broadcast by one of our highly-paid professional mouthpieces – and “official” action appears limited to a brief discussion at the June 18 County Council meeting.

This time, Volusia County taxpayers learned about new public policy through a newspaper article – only because the City of DeBary’s request for a “bounce house” at their Independence Day celebration was denied based on “safety” concerns.

Apparently, Volusia County’s “risk manager,” Charles Spencer, decided for the rest of us that slides and other inflatables create too much exposure:

“As a property owner, we have a duty to maintain the premises in a safe condition and to warn of known hazards,” Spencer wrote. “If something should happen alleging improper maintenance while in use (such as it not being properly secured or a defect that we should have discovered upon inspection while in use) that would likely fall back on the property owner and the party renting the bounce house.”

Yet, Mr. Spencer doesn’t have the same concerns over maintaining safe access to Volusia County’s most popular public asset – or warning the disabled of “known hazards” or improper maintenance as confirmed and reported by Pat Rice of The Daytona Beach News-Journal?

Where were our hand-wringing “risk management” experts when the “Beach Access Surface” sign lured unsuspecting persons with disabilities and families with infant children down a nearly impassible lane to a beach wholly maintained and totally controlled by Volusia County government?

I guess its easy to write officious memorandums from an air-conditioned office in DeLand – but actually getting off your ass and ensuring safe and proper beach access for Volusia County families is too much to ask?

What a sick joke. . .

As Albert Einstein once said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daytona Beach: A Monumental Loss

There are many things that We, The People entrust to the care of our local government.

For instance, we expect that those we elect to serve our community will steward our hard-earned tax dollars to provide effective public protection, respond to emergencies, ensure safe potable water, maintain adequate transportation and utilities infrastructure, enact and enforce local ordinances that protect property values, conserve our natural places and enhance our collective quality of life.

We also have a right to expect that those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest will respect and maintain the integrity of our buildings and facilities – especially those that house essential government services or have historic significance to the community’s heritage.

Unfortunately, many years ago, Volusia County government patented a technique I like to call “strategic neglect” – a malicious practice that withholds preventative maintenance and upkeep at certain publicly-owned facilities – allowing them to essentially rot in place until they reach such a deplorable state of dilapidation that demolition and replacement becomes the only viable option.

Now, it appears the City of Daytona Beach is using the same tactic to further their narrow-minded vision of “economic progress” on City Island and beyond.

That’s sad, because once these historic places are destroyed they are gone forever.

Under this pernicious scheme, “progress” requires the sacrifice of properties which link our present to our past – and the idea of preserving and enriching our unique cultural heritage by incorporating our rich history into the modern landscape is dismissed as “too expensive” by arrogant politicians and short-sighted administrators who naturally know what’s best for the rest of us.

The practice is also used whenever local governments decide they need to expand or replace operational facilities, rather than renovate and repurpose existing assets.

The ruse usually begins with scary stories about changes to flood maps or other physical threats to the existing building – a nasty “mold” infestation or compromised structural elements – all while management purposely withholds funding for maintenance of the facility – allowing the elements to do the rest.

Then, when the public asset has deteriorated to the point it is no longer serviceable – outrageously inflated estimates for repairs are published – and the complicit elected officials tut-tut in faux astonishment about “priorities” and lack of funding – leaving razing and replacing the building as the only prudent solution.

In my view, it borders on official nonfeasance – the willful failure to perform a duty required by one’s office that results in harm or damage to public property.

It appears the City Island Recreation Center is the latest historic public facility to fall victim to strategic neglect.

According to a report by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “At some point over the past 76 years, the charm of the structure a half block east of Beach Street got lost in rotting wood and a pervasive musty stench. The city-owned building has been closed for seven years now, and it’s plagued with mold, water damage, buckling floorboards and peeling paint. It’s boarded shut, and used only by termites, rodents and the occasional homeless person who slips into the crawlspace below the building constructed on pilings.”

The building was erected in 1943 as a dance hall to entertain American service members during World War II.

According to reports, the city was set to demolish the building last fall; however, a protest by area residents has given the historic facility a short stay from the wrecking ball.

Earlier this year, the city paid an engineering firm $25,000 to estimate the cost of renovations – and received a range of “$762,450 to $1.5 million.”

Naturally, the quote resulted in an immediate knee-jerk reaction from Commissioner Rob Gilliland (who seems to have his hand on every hot-button issue, yet never finds a workable solution to any of them?) who dashed the hopes of many when he said, “It is absolutely not a priority for me to spend $1 million.  The likelihood of that (building) surviving is not good.”

Now, a veteran’s organization wants to save the structure and re-purpose it as a military museum.

Given its unique location near the proposed veteran’s memorial at the foot of the new Orange Avenue bridge, the center would be the perfect space to house displays showcasing the Halifax area’s contribution to the war effort.

And, like most privately managed projects, proponents say they can make necessary renovations for a fraction of the cost proposed by the City of Daytona Beach. . .

I guess what sticks in my craw is the fact city officials rolled over and pissed on themselves like incontinent lapdogs when J. Hyatt Brown asked for tens-of-millions in tax dollars to fund perpetual maintenance of the riverside park that fronts his new headquarters building on Beach Street.

Without so much as a vote on the issue, the citizens of Daytona Beach are now on the hook for $800,000 annually for maintenance and upkeep of the Brown & Brown Esplanade – the gift that keeps on giving – which will serve as the perfect natural buffer between the ghastly condominiums, commercial shopping and office space that will flood City Island – once that deathtrap courthouse has been demolished, our historic ballpark “The Jack” has been bulldozed, the City Island Rec Center has been flattened and those pesky “public purposes forever” deed restrictions are legislatively removed.

You see, this historic building isn’t compatible with some speculative developers’ screwy “vision” (or profit motive) for this incredibly beautiful piece of land, and, ultimately, that is why it is doomed to the “remember when” bin of Daytona Beach history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for June 28, 2019

Hi, kids!

Well, it looks like we’re in for a long hot summer, folks.

As I sit down to pound out this week’s rambling screed, the jovial television weatherman is telling me its 110° in the shade – and the disturbing headlines in this weeks Daytona Beach News-Journal make it seem even hotter. . .

Let’s take a look at some of the hot-button issues that “made the paper” this week (in no particular order):

“County feeling affordable housing crunch”

 “Cancer docs accuse AdventHealth of ‘anticompetitive conduct’”

 “Russell moving from Volusia to Flagler”

 “Bombshell ruling against Florida environmentalists”

 “Hepatitis A soars in Volusia County”

 Wow.  Any one of those nuggets should steam your beans.

But this is Volusia County – we’re used to doom-and-gloom.

Thanks to the near-constant intrigues of our local governments, we’ve lost the ability to be shocked by sensational headlines – or enjoy a carnival funhouse for that matter. . .

That’s what happens when you live in a smoke-and-mirrors political environment full of elaborate effects, hidden puppeteers and mischievous clowns.

It takes something extra special to get our hackles up, right?

Well, earlier this week, we had one of those good ol’ Fun Coast “WTF?” palm-slap-to-the-forehead moments when we awoke to an interesting juxtaposition on the front page – “Principal, AP exam under scrutiny,” – and – “Exiting schools chief’s payout: $244K,” reports which shocked the conscience of even veteran observers and underscored the catastrophic leadership and management issues that continue to plague Volusia County Schools, even as former Superintendent Tom “Hungry, Humble and Smart” Russell rides off to a cushy new gig as principal of Flagler-Palm Coast High School with a sack full of severance following his unceremonious termination in Volusia.

Weird how that works, huh?

Not really.

Especially when we know that Flagler County School Superintendent James Tager – who tapped Mr. Russell for the Flagler-Palm Coast job – was hired as Flagler’s head honcho with Russell’s recommendation. . .

Yep.  You read that right.

With former Superintendent Russell in full skedaddle, on Tuesday, parents and taxpayers received their first look at a scandalous issue at Daytona Beach’s Mainland High School, where the principal, Cheryl Salerno, is accused of concocting a weird experiment which lumped freshmen students into an advanced college-readiness course – something called an AP Seminar – yet, only 78 students sat for the official examination required for college credit – while 336 were given last years test, mocked up to look like the real one.

It’s ugly. . .

In the aftermath of this colossally deceitful ruse which shook the confidence of parents and students – and with an active U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the district underway – one would think the Volusia County School Board might reconsider its decision to offer Mr. Russell $68,627 in severance pay – and thousands more in extended health, dental and life insurance benefits – until this matter can be properly reviewed by outside authority?

 Right.   

On Tuesday, Russell’s incredibly lucrative severance package was unanimously approved without discussion. . .

Now, if history repeats, absolutely no one in the upper-echelons of district “leadership” will be held responsible for this deplorable scam – a fraud that only serves to teach impressionable students that they truly are victims of a system they cannot escape – and perpetuates the distressing notion that no senior administrator is ever held to account in this godforsaken quagmire that passes for our children’s educational system.

Then, on Wednesday, the headlines – front page, above the fold – screamed that Volusia County has the 4th highest number of Hepatitis A cases in the state.

From the maps, it looks to me like the I-4 corridor is, as learned virologists like to say, “eat-up with it”. . .

Add to that the mysterious case of why no one in a position to know is returning reporters phone calls on what many are now calling the “Putin Tower Fiasco” at the “$192-million” Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominium project – or the fact affordable housing apparently hasn’t been on the radar of those we pay handsomely to, well, plan for these things – and one could say the “news” here on the Fun Coast has been hotter than bare feet on an asphalt off-beach parking lot this week.

Jesus.

There was one quaint piece in this weeks News-Journal that tugged at my frayed old heartstrings.

In Wednesday’s Perspective section, Ponce Inlet Town Councilman Joseph Perrone – who also serves as a member of the booboisie over at our do-nothing River-to-Sea Transportation Planning Organization – wrote a dewy-eyed essay asking why the Volusia County Council has given up on pushing for a DeLand SunRail stop (yawn, excuse me. . .)

Regardless, it was nice to hear from someone who still gives two-shits about the broken promises of SunRail and worthless $2-million transportation studies – or naively questions why the Volusia County Council has become the most artificial and ineffectual elected body in the region. . .

Oh, I almost forgot the “Big News” that I didn’t see in the newspaper this week:

Have you heard the disturbing rumors of an 825-acre planned unit development in southeast Flagler County delightfully called “The Gardens”?

A massive project which will bring some 4,000+ residential, commercial and mixed used development to the area south of State Road 100 on the east and west sides of John Anderson Highway near the Volusia County border?

I have.  And it’s no rumor. . .

So much for all that “smart growth” nonsense, eh?

Never mind all that.  This is a “Boom” cycle!  Get your head out of your ass, Barker!

No one cares about your goofy Henny Penny routine over unchecked sprawl destroying our environment and ruining our quality of life, wah, wah, wah.  Old news, old man.

How many times do I have to tell you – there is no profit in useless wildlife habitat!

Gopher tortoises and whitetail deer don’t take 30-year mortgages on three-bed/two-bath zero-lot-line cracker boxes with “prices starting in the mid-$200’s”. . .

Slash-and-burn land rape and the health of Graham Swamp or the headwaters of Bulow Creek be damned – now is the time to focus our complete and undivided attention on the real environmental threat as artfully defined and flogged by our ‘powers that be’:  Plastic straws and Styrofoam plates. . . 

A long, hot summer indeed.

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               Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post

If there’s one thing I can’t abide – it’s when vindictive animus and petty politics stand in the way of true public service.

In my view, a true call to serve a cause greater than ones own self-interest is a sacred and special thing.

Since she was elected to represent the citizens of District 4, County Councilwoman Heather Post has tried valiantly to serve the best interests of her constituents with fairness, integrity and enthusiasm on the local, regional and national stage.

Unfortunately, each time Ms. Post has attempted to represent Volusia County in a larger leadership role, her efforts have been unceremoniously quashed – not by her political detractors or opponents – but by her so-called “colleagues” on the dais of power in DeLand.

Last year, when Post asked for a letter supporting her bid for the Florida Association of Counties Second Vice President slot – her request was arrogantly denied by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, who said, “…he doesn’t trust Post and would never support her representing the county on a state board because her views on issues too often don’t align with the council majority.”

Then, in January, following the election of freshman Council members Ben Johnson and Barbara Girtman, Old Ed apparently had a change of heart and issued a glowing letter of recommendation to the Florida Association of Counties, which stated, in part, “Volusia County enthusiastically supports County Council Member Heather Post’s candidacy for a Vice President position with the Florida Association of Counties (FAC).” 

In turn, Ms. Post qualified to run for the leadership role against Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine during the organization’s annual conference at the posh Hyatt Regency Orlando earlier this month.

It would be the first time in the 90-year history of FAC that a sitting Volusia County representative had been a candidate for the Executive Board.

However – when the time came to make good on his promise to support Post’s run –  in perhaps the most shameful display of Chairman Kelley’s seemingly bottomless propensity for quisling, mean-spirited backstabbing – I’m being told that prior to the vote, Old Ed and Councilwoman Billie Wheeler actively and enthusiastically campaigned against Ms. Post!

Those in the know reported that Kelley and Wheeler pulled a double-cross move that some saw as highly disparaging to a sitting elected official – and a complete embarrassment to Volusia County.

Look, I wasn’t there.

You may find this hard to believe, but I’m typically not invited to rub-elbows, slap backs and smooch poop-chutes with our elected ‘movers and shakers’ in vendor-sponsored “hospitality suites” at haughty statewide political confabs. . .

But based upon everything I’ve seen and heard – it’s apparent that Kelley and Wheeler openly supported Ms. Post’s opponent.

In fact, I received a telling photograph which shows Kelley and Wheeler sporting Constantine campaign stickers on their shirts at the conference – a real thumb-in-the-eye to Heather Post – and a gratuitous “screw you” to their clueless constituents at home who actually believed they would support one of Volusia’s own for this prestigious position as they pledged to do.

Ed and Billie FAC.png

I mean, how low can these insufferable assholes stoop in their endless attempt to destroy Ms. Post’s personal and political credibility – or crush the confidence of long-suffering residents of Volusia County who are routinely deceived by this base form of political treachery?

Rather than live up to the letter and spirit of the recommendation endorsed by Chairman Kelley on January 11, 2019 – which “wholeheartedly” supported Ms. Post in her leadership bid – when it came time to champion their colleagues run – these two contemptuous turncoats publicly threw their influence behind Lee “The Lion of Seminole” Constantine.

You remember Lee, right?

He’s the Seminole County Commissioner who was accused of sexual harassment last year by a college-aged intern who was sent from the University of Central Florida to work with Mr. Constantine’s non-profit Charity Challenge.

According to reports, in a complaint sent to Seminole County officials, the student alleged that the Commissioner massaged her shoulders, played with her hair and “tickled” her from behind.

Apparently, Seminole County kicked the complaint to UCF who took a cursory look-see at the accusations.

Ultimately, Constantine denied any misconduct and avoided discipline – admitting that he touched the young intern when she worked for his charity; however, he emphatically denied having any sexual intent.

Thank God he set the record straight.  Otherwise, it would have seemed creepy, right?

Regardless, in what I’m sure was an abundance of caution – the University of Central Florida no longer sends interns to Mr. Constantine’s office or charity citing “the safety of their students.”

Fortunately, Charity Challenge – which Mr. Constantine founded – is reported to have conducted its own internal inquiry into the disturbing matter and earlier this year confirmed to the news website Florida Daily that their investigation cleared the Commissioner of any wrongdoing. . .

Again, whew, right?

I mean, we wouldn’t want any lingering questions about a sitting elected official’s fitness to serve – so, kudos to the independent investigators over at Charity Challenge for clearing up any ambiguity.

In an odd twist, the intern’s allegation came on the heels of a separate 2015 complaint by Seminole County administrative employees that Constantine created a “hostile work environment” – with some going so far as to call him a “nightmare boss.”

According to a report by WFTV-9, “Soul-crushing, demeaning, unfair, inconsistent and rude were all terms used by former aides to Constantine. They all worked for him at the county’s administrative headquarters.”

Again, most fortunately, Mr. Constantine was able to clear things up by denying any wrongdoing – claiming the malcontent employees who complained were essentially malingerers who wanted to maintain the “status quo.”

“This, I think, in many ways was a self-fulfilling prophecy. They did not want to work with me, and it turned out that way,” Constantine said.”

 (Only a perennial politician could have made that statement. . .)

Ultimately, Commissioner Constantine agreed to sit for some “management training” – but to make things crystal clear for you insufferable cynics – at the time, Seminole County leaders said that, because commissioners are elected, “they do not fall under the same code of conduct as county employees.”

I guess not. . .

But, hey, that’s all water under the bridge, right?

Because Mr. Constantine is now the esteemed newly elected Second Vice President of the Florida Association of Counties.

And Ms. Post is not.  She lost the statewide election by 18 votes.

At the end of the day, how in the hell can Volusia County residents trust anything these two-faced shitheels say or do – given their perfidious actions against one of their own at a taxpayer funded conference – in direct contradiction to what they told us all they would do?

Sadly, in Volusia County, it’s business as usual.

Asshole           City of Bunnell

During my public service career, my colleagues and I developed a simple but effective plan for providing emergency cold-weather shelter for homeless persons in our community.

Our patrol officers simply left bathrooms in public parks unlocked and encouraged those in need to overnight inside when temperatures dropped and windchills became threatening.  I am convinced this unsophisticated measure saved the lives of many sick and elderly persons by providing a windbreak during periods of frigid weather.

Then, a former city manager – who, in my view, was one of the most self-serving, mean-spirited and inherently dishonest bullies I had the displeasure of being saddled with – found out about our improvised shelter of last resort and ordered that the bathrooms be locked and the homeless forcibly turned away from protection.

In fact, I was rebuked and belittled by this asshole – who believed opening public restrooms as cold-weather shelters was counter to his goal of eradicating homelessness through harsh, demeaning and inhospitable treatment.

In fact, several times this same manager proudly told me a sickening story about how, in an out-of-state community he once “served,” the police were used to physically harass and abuse homeless persons as a way of keeping them out of the jurisdiction.

Eliminating this last-ditch shelter option was one of the most callous, heartless and dangerous directives I ever received from a superior – and I proudly ignored it without hesitation. . .

In my view, the idea of a public entity knowingly depriving a vulnerable human being of basic refuge during life-threatening weather conditions is not only immoral – but borders on criminal negligence.

Perhaps that’s why the City of Bunnell’s open intimidation of a faith-based organization who operates Flagler County’s only cold-weather shelter has outraged so many.

Last month, the city’s Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board voted to deny a variance for The Sheltering Tree that would have allowed the all-volunteer organization to provide cold weather sheltering at the First United Methodist Church’s fellowship hall.

The Sheltering Tree is a ministry of Bunnell’s First United Methodist that has leased space from the church for the periodic shelter operation, a food pantry, clothing closet and other community services to assist the less fortunate for the past 11-years.

Last winter, the shelter was open just 19 nights. . .

Now, city officials are doing everything in their officious power to rid the community of Flagler County’s lone cold-weather shelter – ostensibly in favor of allowing homeless persons to suffer hypothermia and exposure – rather than make a commonsense exception to its sacred zoning regulations for this all-volunteer/donor-supported religious organization.

Because, if Bunnell is known for anything, it’s the city’s long-time, inviolate adherence to the sacrosanct zoning regulations that have made the small municipality the utopian Shangri-La of Flagler County. . .

My ass. 

Now, these same overbearing bureaucrats are piling on – knitting together petty “violations” and making a list of administrative oversights designed to shut down the group’s other good work – claiming the ministry hasn’t filed for a business tax receipt in over a decade (an allegation the church disputes) – something that mysteriously “came to light” when The Sheltering Tree attempted to do the right thing and applied for a special exception to add two ADA-compliant restrooms, two showers and a small laundry room.

According to the report by Matt Bruce writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Rodney Lucas, Bunnell’s community development director, said the city’s decision comes down to complying with zoning regulations, indicating that the shelter is set up in a residential area that does not accommodate such uses. He urged First United Methodist to relocate the shelter to a light industrial zone where it could operate without restrictions.”

“This has nothing to do with homelessness,” Lucas told The News-Journal on Thursday. “This has everything to do with abiding by the rules. It doesn’t matter what faith a person has. It’s about us all living harmoniously in Bunnell. We’re not opposed to homelessness; we just need an effective plan.”

Really?

This has everything to do with “homelessness” – and mirrors the often inhumane and always unimaginative “out of sight, out of mind” strategies favored by insipid bureaucrats and itinerant “community development” dipshits who say asinine things like, “We’re not opposed to homelessness; we just need an effective plan,” when every government entity in Flagler County has stood around with a thumb wedged firmly in their collective ass for years – before legislatively hamstringing the only organization who is actually trying to save lives.

In a well-written piece on the news site, FlaglerLive.com, entitled, “Bunnell’s Mean Streak,” journalist Pierre Tristam critiqued Mr. Lucas’ conduct at the zoning meeting:

“But when church and Sheltering Tree representatives spoke, Lucas treated them like criminals, his tone, his language and his questions intended to crucify rather than enlighten. His questions, in any case, were out of place and inappropriate, because he’d already provided the answers. He had his turn. But he wanted to administer a beating. He did.”

Wow.

In my view, we are witnessing what happens when a bureaucracy begins stacking the legislative deck – providing groups without legal representation the option of orchestrated “hearings” where the decision is a foregone conclusion – and affording due process only to the point it checks a required box.

It appears the City of Bunnell has set its sights on the useless strategy of eliminating social service options for homeless persons in the vain hope they will relocate to other areas of Flagler County – and if they have their way – there is not a damn thing The Sheltering Tree can do about it.

Bringing the full-might of government authority down on a small group of do-gooders will be just fine with some disgruntled residents who are happy to see officials making things uncomfortable for the homeless – but what happens when their ‘powers that be’ use the same tactic on them?

You see, oppression in all its forms – including the use of bumptious, badge-heavy “community development” types to bureaucratically crush otherwise legal activities that don’t comport with the current administrations vision, no matter how myopic – is a very slippery slope.

Wherever you live, I hope you will join me in supporting The Sheltering Tree, First United Methodist Church and the intrepid members of Flagler County’s faith-based organizations who are coming together to find innovative ways to appeal Bunnell City Hall’s senseless aggression.

As Sue Bickings, chair of The Sheltering Tree’s governing board, recently said:

“If we don’t do this, who will?” 

Angel              City of Daytona Beach Shores

As regular readers of these screeds know – I’m not a fan of financial incentives cloaked in the pernicious guise of “economic development.”

Why? 

In my view, government has no business picking winners and losers – or creating an artificial advantage for the privileged few – a situation tailor-made for quid pro quo corruption while discouraging legitimate entrepreneurial investment in our community.

As we’ve seen at places like International Speedway Corporation’s “synergistic” (and publicly underwritten) shopping and entertainment center “One Daytona” – and other anointed enterprises where startup and fixed costs are paid with public funds – many of these businesses can’t compete when released to the open ocean of the competitive marketplace.

After all, when was the last time someone from City Hall or Volusia County government offered your existing business a hand with operating expenses, eh?

Like its larger neighbor to the north, Daytona Beach Shores has a very visible problem with vacant buildings and barren storefronts along the A-1-A commercial corridor, which creates the appearance of stagnation and economic dysphoria.

Recently, the Daytona Beach Shores Economic Development Council developed a list of potential solutions – to include offering a 10% rebate on the renovation or revitalization of existing vacant properties and buildings – with half paid upon commencement of construction activities and the remainder when the business opens.

According to reports, the discount is available to anyone willing to invest in the economic prosperity of the community.

I like that.

Other proposals include a lease subsidy program to help businesses who can’t purchase a building or property – and to reward established companies by waiving renewal and permitting fees.

I respect that the program is open to anyone – not just select last names and perennial political insiders with a history of getting fat on the public teat.

According to City Councilman Rick Frizalone, speaking in the News-Journal, “We want to show businesses we are here to help them, and we are on their side.  We want to reward them for loyalty and good service.”

Doing nothing is no longer an option for struggling beachside communities.

Kudos to the City of Daytona Beach Shores for recognizing a problem and bringing innovative solutions for making this small municipality more attractive to outside investment.

Quote of the Week

“. . .I also wrote council members when the parking lot was promised next to the Hard Rock Hotel as a trade for our beach to be taken away.  Anyone with any foresight would know that Hard Rock employees would use this lot.  But now the council members are concerned about complaints about Hard Rock employees parking there?  Now they want the residents to pay for problems that they created?  Plus, I’m thinking they are trying to get money for the half cent tax that was voted down.”

–Roger Cook, Daytona Beach, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “The county created beach parking woes,” Monday, June 24, 2019

I don’t know him, but Roger Cook is a wise man. . .

And Another Thing! 

Sometimes the right man for the job comes along and leaves things better than he found them.

For us, that man was Central Florida’s preeminent environmentalist, educator, legal scholar and water policy expert, Clay Henderson.

According to his impressive biography, as a freshman at Stetson University, Mr. Henderson fell in love with the St. Johns River and Florida’s springs in the 1970’s.  Over his long career as an environmental lawyer, he was a zealous defender of our natural places – ultimately helping to conserve some 300,000 acres in Florida.

He even served a sentence as a member of the Volusia County Council. . .

Most recently, Mr. Henderson served as executive director of Stetson’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience.

During his long career, he co-authored many of the natural resource protection provisions in our state Constitution – including Amendment 1 – the largest voter approved conservation funding initiative in United States history – and was instrumental in the creation of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Now, the time has come for Mr. Henderson to retire from his many years of service in the public, private and academic sectors.  According to reports, for reasons known only to Mr. Henderson, he’s relocating to Boston.  As in Massachusetts.

(You know what they say about ‘book smarts’ and common sense?  Well, I suspect he will too, come February. . .)

A reception honoring Mr. Henderson will take place from 6-8pm this evening at the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center, 2636 Alhambra Avenue in DeLand.

Thank you, sir.  Congratulations on your well-deserved retirement.

We’re glad you passed our way.

That’s all for me – thanks for considering my oddball opinions – and for driving a larger discussion of the issues of the day.

Have a great weekend, y’all.

 

 

 

 

Volusia Schools: Failing the Integrity Test

In education, there is a principle of learning called the “Law of Primacy.”

Essentially, it says that what is learned first usually creates a strong and durable impression – and the material presented remains longest in the mind of the student.

That is just one reason why it is so important to teach sound fundamentals – which means things must be taught “right” the first time – because “unteaching” wrong first impressions can result in life-long confusion.

What impression must Volusia County students have this morning?

Earlier this week, there was an interesting juxtaposition of headlines on the front page of the Daytona Beach News-Journal – “Principal, AP exam under scrutiny,” – and – “Exiting schools chief’s payout: $244K,” which served to underscore the catastrophic leadership and management issues that continue to plague Volusia County Schools, even as former Superintendent Tom Russell rides off to an incredibly convenient new gig as principal of Flagler Palm Coast High School – with a sack full of severance and accrued benefits – following his termination in Volusia.

Weird how that works, huh?

Just yesterday, parents and taxpayers received their first sickening glimpse of a mushrooming scandal at Daytona Beach’s Mainland High School, where the principal, Cheryl Salerno, is accused of concocting a weird “experiment” which lumped freshmen students into an advanced college-readiness course – something called an AP Seminar – yet, only 78 students sat for the official examination required for customary college credit – while 336 ninth-graders were given last years test, mocked up to look like the real one.

Say what? 

We’re being told cost was a factor. . .

According to an explosive report by Cassidy Alexander in the News-Journal, “. . .the nearly $60,000 cost of offering the exam to all of the AP Seminar students proved to be out of reach for the school.  And the district said it wouldn’t pay either. Instead, Salerno paid for the official exam for 78 students at $142 apiece — a cost of about $11,000. . .”

 Because I’m an inquisitive asshole, I’d be interested to know which kids received the “real” exam – and which were openly conned by those they trusted?

And what criteria separated the two groups?

Now, rather than admit their outrageous conduct and work to give all qualified students the same opportunity their more fortunate classmates received – school administrators and district officials are busy quibbling the facts, denying that the program was ever “sold” as a college credit course – or that students were told they would receive advanced credit – even though anyone with two synapses still firing understands that advanced placement coursework is accepted at all public universities in Florida. . .

Following an anonymous complaint to the Florida Department of Education (who apparently abdicated its responsibility and directed Volusia County Schools to investigate itself) the internal inquiry uncovered a disturbing email from Jason Kester, the Mainland faculty member who taught the AP Seminar, expressing concerns he may be found “complicit” by the College Board, the group that creates and administers the test, because of his “role in some of it.”

Jesus.  Talk about a smoking gun. . .

To make matters worse, we later learned that this ill-conceived plan to “gauge student achievement” was personally green-lighted by Superintendent Russell and other senior administrators – “because they were under the impression that Salerno had cleared the plan with the College Board.”

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

One would think the Volusia County School Board would reconsider its decision to offer Mr. Russell the $68,700 in severance pay – and the thousands more in extended health, dental and life insurance benefits – until this sordid matter can be properly reviewed by outside authority?

Yeah, right.   

On Tuesday, Russell’s severance package was approved by our School Board without discussion. . .

In my view, based upon what has been reported by the News-Journal, this egregious scam evidences a well-formed and orchestrated intent to purposely deceive students – something high-level district officials must have been aware of – because it flies in the face of reason to believe the College Board could possibly have agreed to something so patently bizarre.

Regardless, how does an “experiment” involving some 414 high school students – the majority of the freshman class – get approved by the Volusia County School District  without so much as a phone call to the very organization who administers the testing?

My God.

Now, if history repeats, absolutely no one in the upper-echelons of district “leadership” will be held responsible for this unmitigated ruse – a fraud that only serves to teach impressionable students that they truly are victims of a system they cannot escape – and perpetuates the distressing notion that no senior administrator is ever held to account in this godforsaken quagmire that passes for our children’s educational system.

In my view, now is the time for Interim Superintendent Tim Egnor to prove his mettle (and demonstrate that “immeasurably valuable leadership” experience he crowed about in his cover letter for the job) and summarily terminate anyone who conceived, approved or failed to blow the whistle on this cockamamie scheme that victimized Mainland High School students and further destroyed public confidence in the Volusia County School District.

 

Photo Credit: The West Volusia Beacon

Angels & Assholes for June 21, 2019

Hi, kids!

I’m back from a glorious week in the mountains of east Tennessee – the place where I was born and where I return when I need time to check-in with myself, clear my mind, focus on the frivolous and daydream.

These hills and valleys are among the oldest in the world and have a restorative vibration that resonates inside me – the ability to improve concentration, relieve stress, improve the immune system and, in my case, heal a tattered soul.

A place to feel whole.  To feel focused.  To be free.

I happen to believe that there is a healing power in nature that is amplified and concentrated in places like the mountains – or where the water meets land – environments where beneficial negatively charged ions revitalize our bodies and minds at the molecular level.

In olden times, doctors would often prescribe a change of place and climate to treat various maladies.  Despite quantum advances in modern medicine, I think there is more benefit to that age-old therapy than we might realize.

In fact, I once heard that the reason John D. Rockefeller – the richest man in American history – came to Ormond Beach was his belief that the salty air had intrinsic health benefits that would help him live to 100.

He made it to 97. . .

One of my favorite places in this world is a little stand of maple trees near Jonesborough – known affectionately as “Tennessee’s oldest town” – a beautiful community nestled in the Tri-Cities region where the Watauga watershed meets the Nolichucky River.

A quintessential small-town, rich in history, the arts and Americana, once the capitol of the State of Franklin, which was never formally recognized by Congress, and reclaimed by North Carolina in the late 1700’s then, somehow, transferred to Tennessee.

I like to take a folding chair, and a handle of good local whiskey, then get comfortable in my special spot just before dusk.

From the side of a gently sloping hill overlooking a small brook, I can watch a mother Mallard teaching her rambunctious ducklings to swim in a calm pool, listen to the cardinals and blue jays flitter in the gloaming, and anxiously await the nightly emergence of the lightning bugs – who appear punctually at exactly 8:42pm – rising from the tall grass into the dark green trees, hovering and twinkling by the hundreds as the sky grows dark and a cool breeze rustles the Rhododendron.

It’s a special place.

Now, any self-respecting Son of the South, at least once in his charmed life, knew where to find the best local “Moonshine” – usually a sketchy friend or errant family member who knew someone who knew someone – which, with a clandestine exchange, resulted in a couple of quarts of harsh-tasting, high-proof clear whisky (known as “white liquor” where I’m from) whose wholly unique corn-forward flavor and lingering burn is something you will never forget once experienced.

Today, every liquor store in Appalachia has a wide variety of now commercially produced Moonshine – most mellowed with fruit and other natural flavorings – all perfectly legal to make, market and sell now that applicable taxes have been paid and all state and federal regulations met.

In my view, one of the best is the product of Tennessee Hills Distillery (www.tnhillsdistillery.com) in Jonesborough.

Using “age-old recipes and distillation methods” this small local still is producing some of the finest of the genre – from traditional mountain whiskey to their wonderful Pineapple Upside Down Cake rum – all in an old “salt house” which stands so close to the Clinchfield rail tracks that you can feel the earth rumble beneath your boots when the train cars trundle by.

Last week, I also had the pleasure of spending a few minutes in the engaging company of Emmy winning storyteller Jim May following his Friday matinee performance at Jonesborough’s renowned International Storytelling Center.

We discussed the life and times of his good friend – and our areas preeminent tradition-bearer and songwriter – the late, great Gamble Rogers – and Jim was so kind to sign his soul-satisfying book, Trail Guide for a Crooked Heart: Stories and Reflections for Life’s Journey, and pen a generous personal note for me that I will treasure.

Restorative indeed. . .

I hope you have a place like this in your life.

If not, find your own verdant hillside this evening and sit a spell.  It’s important.

Be it the mountains, the beach or your own back porch – take a break – relax, recharge, revive.

Trust me.  You’ll be glad you did.

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole           Volusia County Council

Our perennial favorite is back in the news this week – once again, for all the wrong reasons. . .

Sometimes I wonder if our elected and appointed officials in DeLand have simply given up on the whole concept of truth, transparency and honor in public service in favor of some free-wheeling, increasingly chaotic exercise that bears no resemblance to a representative democracy – a weird pastiche of a Three Stooges slapstick wrapped in a gut-wrenching Greek tragedy.

Don’t believe me? 

Just take a quick gander at how this confederacy of dunces handled their open promise to civic activist Greg Gimbert that they would issue a simple letter of support for opening a portion of the Tiger Bay state forest to off-road vehicles. . .

Regardless of whether you support the measure or not – I think everyone can agree this latest five-alarm fiasco is indicative of the utter ineptitude we suffer here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

Sad, really.

Last week, what passes for our elected “leadership” told us with a straight face that the entire bloated bureaucracy that comprises the width and breadth of our massive county government was completely unaware that the City of Daytona Beach has been working overtime to see deed restrictions on City Island lifted and the most scenic location in the Halifax area handed to ravenous speculative developers.

An incredibly disturbing article by reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Volusia County says Daytona left it out of City Island plans,” found our elected and appointed officials in DeLand whining over the fact that Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm apparently kept them out-of-the-loop on his grand plans. . .

My ass.

Like every other community in the area – the City of Daytona Beach learned a long time ago that Volusia County officials cannot be trusted – and this latest move in the internecine battle has overtones of old-fashioned tit-for-tat politics. . .

Anyone remember the March 2017 sneak attack when former County Manager Jim Dinneen waited until the very morning of the County Council’s vote to spend some $970,000 on a parking lot fronting Main Street to let Mr. Chisholm know their plans?

I do.

Even after voicing concerns about the appropriateness of a removing this valuable property from the tax rolls in the city’s “Entertainment Zone” – Mr. Dinneen failed to advise county council members that Daytona Beach had questions until after the vote had been taken.

At the time, Mr. Dinneen summed up the county’s commitment to collaborative planning efforts:

“There’s no obligation to call (Chisholm) at all.”   

 What’s changed?

It should be clear to anyone paying attention just how little substantive interaction there is between Volusia County and, well, any other entity in the region on the important issues of the day.

At the June 4 county council meeting, Councilwoman Billie Wheeler exclaimed, “I’m really, really, really concerned about this. The county did not give the city the authority to petition on its behalf.” 

Now, We, The People, are supposed to believe that no one in DeLand had any inkling that Daytona Beach officials – in concert with state Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff – were actively attempting to have the Florida legislature remove deed restrictions which maintained the property for ‘public purposes forever’?

Really?

As Mr. Chisholm essentially said:  Doesn’t anyone over there read the paper?

Not surprising, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, was recently quoted admitting his abject ignorance of this important civic issue that has been well-publicized since at least February.

According to the News-Journal’s report, “I don’t know that any of us were aware that was going on,” said Kelley, who’s been the county’s top elected official for two and a half years.”

Say what?

Because that’s not what Old Ed said previously. . .

In late 2017, Chairman Kelley boldly announced at a goofy Chamber of Commerce “Eggs and Issues” breakfast:

The time is right to relocate the City Island Library and free the land for commercial development.

Naturally, Mr. Kelley’s bombshell resulted in a strong response from anyone and everyone who cares about the future of the Halifax area – something Mr. Dinneen immediately attempted to walk-back. . .

Chairman Kelley’s monstrously stupid idea resulted in a landslide of angry questions – and fueled speculation that Volusia County was planning to remove established public amenities from City Island to make way for private development.

Later, Kelley went so far as to describe the land’s potential use to a reporter, “It could be a private use that could generate jobs or provide residences, but it’s not up to me to say what should go there. … We (the council) should evaluate the situation.”

Now, this doddering asshole has no recollection that Daytona Beach was attempting to have deed restrictions removed?

Seriously? 

Gentle readers, in my view, this latest kerfuffle between the City of Daytona Beach and Volusia County government is far more disturbing than it may initially appear.

If proven true – and our elected and appointed leadership in DeLand were really caught totally flatfooted by the city’s efforts to open City Island to private development – then this foundering ship of fools truly has no rudder – and this level of abject ignorance and lack of even a cursory understanding of the important civic issues facing our region should frighten us all.

Because the grim alternative is that we have once again been blatantly and spuriously lied to by senior county officials as they attempt to control the narrative and seek standing in any lucrative future plans for the commercial development of City Island.

Neither scenario is acceptable – and, like the always naive Billie Wheeler – I’m really, really, really concerned about it.

You should be too.  Because the hits just keep on coming. . .

During a raucous three-hour “workshop” (?) on Tuesday, our elected officials discussed a wide-range of issues – from the mundane to the ridiculous – some of which are guaranteed to have a negative impact on our quality of life.

For instance, our half-bright County Chair, Ed Kelley, made the disastrous suggestion that Volusia County begin charging beach-goers for parking in the “off beach” lots that you and I have already paid for – and been forced into – by the county’s shameless giveaway of our century-old tradition of beach access and driving.

It’s the natural progression of a shockingly failed public policy that uses our most precious natural resource as a cheap bargaining chip for speculative developers and campaign donors (usually one in the same) – and leaves you and I in the untenable position of paying Volusia County twice for the same “amenity.”

And make no mistake, despite the fact our ‘powers that be’ promise that paid parking won’t apply to Volusia County residents – ultimately, it will – in one form or another – no doubt as a “low cost permit” or goofy window sticker to differentiate residents from visitors.

As it stands, those of us who live here are forced to pay for an annual “beach pass” that permits us to enjoy the unique convenience that brought many of us here in the first place – the ability to drive and park on increasingly limited sections of our beach.

This is on top of the extortionate taxes we pay to feed a swollen, unnecessary and wholly ineffective beach management organization whose dreadful, uninspired rules and regulations have left our beloved shoreline looking like a forest of poison-laden wooden poles and ‘do this, don’t do that’ sign pollution that is quickly ruining the experience for residents and visitors alike.

Clearly, Old Ed never met a fee or insidious tax he didn’t wholeheartedly endorse – regardless of the long-term impact to already strapped residents and increasingly set upon tourists who are quickly learning that their disposable income and leisure time spend anywhere other than this down-at-the-heels money pit – a place clearly more focused on shearing the sheep than providing a quality experience that will sustain our most important economic engine.

Stay tuned, friends:  Paid parking on what passes for our already calamitously expensive “beach access” lots is in your near future. . .

Angel              City of Holly Hill

Kudos to the City of Holly Hill for showing its residents what true ingenuity looks like.

In the aftermath of the failed half-cent sales tax referendum – rather than squat like pouting gargoyles on the dais of power and lambaste their constituents for having the temerity to reject this shameless money grab – Holly Hill officials went back to the drawing board to find innovative ways to pay for the small community’s 17 most pressing transportation infrastructure needs.

According to the News-Journal, “The plan, in its most recent iteration, calls for borrowing $1 million from the city’s solid waste fund, $137,000 in gas tax revenue, and $276,000 in funds carried forward from the gas tax to repair the city roads over the next two years, Via said, adding that the details could change when the project’s finalized at the city’s June budget workshop.”

I may well be biased – but that’s what good governance looks like.

A tip o’ the Barker’s View cap to Mayor Chris Via and the Holly Hill City Commission for their nimbleness, strategic vision and financial flexibility in finding unique solutions to entrenched problems with existing resources.

Well done!

Asshole           City of Deltona

Anarchy: A state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority.

Forget the Merriam-Webster definition. . .

If you want to know the true meaning of the word, please send any children and fragile adults out of the room, turn up the volume, and watch a recording of the unmitigated shit-show that was Monday’s free-for-all Deltona City Commission meeting.

My God.

Normally, I like to joke about these things – embroider the stories of the day with some funny aside or silly name-calling that exemplifies the often-comedic nature of local government (and exposes my own limitations as a dilettante opinionist) – but this is different, something more ominous and deeply concerning to anyone who cares about good governance.

Seriously.

In the aftermath of the utter chaos that passed for a public meeting, I’ve had several readers reach out to me for reassurance – to commiserate over the seemingly unrecoverable dysfunction that has gripped the Deltona City Commission – and to vent their growing fears and frustrations now that long-time community activists are being replaced by militant outside protesters, professional shit-stirrers and veteran radicals from across the nation – many with extremist views and coarse (but effective) methods for forcing change.

Unfortunately, it appears these external influences have already fractured grassroots efforts to restore sanity to Deltona City Hall – and that’s disheartening to watch.

I fear it’s going to get worse – and the Deltona City Commission bears sole responsibility for this building maelstrom.

On Monday evening, things came to a festering head following an impassioned presentation by Commissioner Loren King – a straightforward and heartfelt review of the criminal investigation that has left embattled City Manager Jane Shang in a pre-trail diversion program as she seeks to avoid prosecution on multiple felony crimes related to voter registration fraud.

Mr. King’s analysis of this incredibly embarrassing chapter in the city’s history ended with a motion to rightfully terminate Shang’s employment for cause – which was courageously seconded by Commissioner Anita Bradford.

What followed will be recorded in Deltona’s short history as one of the worst examples of what happens when the people are ignored and ostracized by those they have elected to high office.

Inexplicably, the subsequent vote was 5-2 to keep City Manager Shang in office – even as she completes the requisite steps of what is, in essence, a supervised criminal probation.

As one would expect, complete pandemonium ensued. 

In an excellent article, the News-Journal’s intrepid Wild West Volusia reporter Katie Kustura did a good job describing the rebellious scene:

“Explicit language from residents at the lectern addressing city commissioners was frequent, though sometimes hard to hear over occasional chants of ‘lock her up’ and other similar demands. There was even a profanity-laced tirade by phone from someone out of state made during the raucous proceedings for which at least one child was present.”

There is legitimate fear in the air.

Many long-time citizens – including Commissioner Bradford – have openly discussed their very real concerns of retaliation by Shang and others in positions of power in city government – while some are legitimately afraid to attend public meetings due to escalating tensions in the commission chambers.

That is unacceptable.

Others have told me they fear because the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is contractually obligated to the city, the agency will side with elected and appointed officials over citizens – I don’t believe that to be true for one minute – but it is clearly something Sheriff Mike Chitwood will need to address as this war of wills intensifies. . .

In my view, no one – including the clearly unaffected Ms. Shang – should be permitted to bring this frightening level of polarization, distrust and growing trepidation to Deltona City Hall – and the fact she is so tenacious in hanging onto this important position with her fingernails despite the building public outcry and utter distraction speaks to her true character.

For months, Deltona residents have consistently asked pointed questions of their elected representatives, seeking answers on everything from the city’s often murky financial practices to the repetitive instances of gross mismanagement and apparent criminal conduct by Jane Shang – only to be stonewalled – or met with provocation and ridiculous measures designed to quash dissent and limit public involvement – including Shang’s pernicious attempts to employ the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office as her personal Tonton Macoute to silence her most strident critics.

Now, it appears those cowardly political avoidance measures have finally come home to roost.

In my view, it is time for Governor Ron DeSantis to intervene and request an external review of Ms. Shang’s continued fitness to serve as Deltona’s chief executive.

It is also high time for the hapless Mayor Heidi Herzberg to do some serious soul-searching and come to grips with her apparent inability to maintain any semblance of order during the pursuit of what passes for the people’s business – then consider stepping down for the good of her community.

Regardless, the Deltona City Commission has clearly and irretrievably lost control – and those who continue to stand in the way of ridding the community of Shang’s corrosive and disruptive influence should also consider removing themselves from this horrific equation and allow dignity and decorum to return to the municipal government.

Asshole           Daytona “International” Airport

I mentioned this a few weeks ago – but the plot of this farcical comedy thickens. . .

Earlier this month, we learned the disheartening news that our most recent beneficiary of public funds – something called Silver Airways – announced it will be stopping scheduled service from DAB effective July 1.  That comes on the heels of the abrupt departure of Jet-Blue – who blasted off into the wild blue leaving Daytona Beach in a haze of jet exhaust and hurt feelings. . .

“Hey, Barker – we’ve been over this, you insufferable crank!”  

“Who gives a damn if some regional commuter pulled their single route to Ft. Lauderdale?  I mean, it’s a three-hour jaunt down I-95 – and who in their right mind wants to be stuck at the corner of walk and don’t walk on Las Olas Boulevard without their car?”    

Well, smart ass:  Because you and I ponied up an incredibly lucrative incentive package to lure Silver Airways to Daytona Beach – that’s why.

This publicly-funded goody bag of expensive inducements included some $100,000 to market the Daytona Beach-Ft. Lauderdale flights, a partnership agreement with the Daytona Tortugas organization, waiving landing fees and “facilities costs” (read: rent and utilities), a year of free ground handling services (according to reports, estimated at $91,250) and a quarterly payment of $25,000 for one year to help “offset some of the airlines startup costs.”

In my warped view, most responsible airport executives would use this latest departure as a time for reflection and contraction – an opportunity to demonstrate that frugality and effective physical and financial management can result in profitability when it is apparent that small air carriers have determined that “fare levels are not sustainable” in this feeder market.

But not here.

In Volusia County, our airport “leadership” believes that now is the time to undertake a multi-million-dollar renovation of the domestic terminal. . .

Yep!

Following a typically ham-handed attempt at a simple public hearing – repeatedly mucked up by the yammering and painfully confused Chairman Ed Kelley – the Volusia County Council unanimously approved a $12 million loan to refurbish the terminal under the dubious guise of “recruiting new airlines.”

Really?

According to DIA’s own hyper-optimistic executive director Rick Karl, who – with a straight face – stood before the county council earlier this week and confirmed that the complete renovation of a domestic airport terminal built in 1992 is “badly needed.”

My ass.

Airlines, large and small, are in business to generate revenue in a highly regulated and competitive industry.  This is a major reason why DIA repeatedly agrees to absorb startup and overhead costs – even going so far as to guarantee ticket sales – only to have them (literally) fly the coop when the financial reality hits.

Throwing $12 million around the airport isn’t going to change that dynamic.

Trust me.  Most air carriers would operate out of a thatched hut if it meant increasing their profit margin, but – unlike our airport officials and their rubber stamps on the Volusia County Council – they have the ability to learn from the mistakes and experience of others.

In my view, there is nothing substantially wrong or outdated with our current facility – don’t take my word for it, go out there and have a look for yourself – then, you tell me – if it were your facility, would you borrow $12 million to fix something that isn’t broken?

In this economic environment?

But it doesn’t matter what you and I think – the “experts” say taking on this massive debt is necessary for us to remain “competitive” in an place where we’re told our very quality of life is threatened by transportation infrastructure and utilities shortfalls which will require upwards of a billion dollars to address.

Apples and oranges?     

Bullshit.  It’s indicative of a mindset.

Let’s face it – renovating a place that looks like a ghost town most of the day is a “nice to have” – not a “must have.”

So, why is it so hard for anyone in county government to simply tell us the unvarnished truth?     

Quote of the Week

“If we’re not past that now in 2019 and you have fear of us reverting back to that, we have bigger issues to deal with.”

 –Volusia County Councilwoman Barb Girtman, responding to a point made by Council member Ben Johnson, that if voters were to abolish the County Charter we would return to a day when the county was run by “non-professionals” – and the measure would see Volusia “turned upside down.”

Jesus.

I agree with Ms. Girtman’s spot-on assessment – and if the current state of affairs in DeLand is the anyone’s idea of a “professional” administration – then I must be living in an alternate universe. . .

(Hey, I admit, that’s infinitely possible. . .no one ever accused me of being wrapped too tight.)

During the June 18 Volusia County Council meeting, Councilwoman Heather Post broached the clearly unpopular topic of placing the charter on the 2020 ballot.

Her thinking is that if the county should fail in its on-going legal challenge to the voter-approved Amendment 10 – the charter will directly contradict Florida’s constitution.

“I think change isn’t always bad,” Post said.

Of course, her “colleagues” on the dais of power disagreed. . .

Considering it would take a two-thirds vote of the council to repeal the charter – I think its safe to say that this sacrosanct governing document that keeps power vested in all the right circles isn’t going anywhere soon. . .

And Another Thing!

Among the various boards, committees and consortiums that administrate and ostensibly safeguard public funds in the maze of Volusia County’s byzantine governmental infrastructure there appears to be an unwritten rule:

Don’t question the status quo. 

So long as elected and appointed officials agree to toe the line and work politely within the long-established framework they will be exalted as “statesmen” and “servant-leaders,” praised and rewarded for their good work on behalf of a clueless constituency.

But the minute a member of a board or committee begins to ask the difficult questions – to peel back the layers of the onion and expose the rotten core that our ‘powers that be’ have worked so hard to conceal, they are vilified as a rogue  – a disrespectful rabble rouser – and summarily dismissed, marginalized then personally and professionally destroyed.

These pernicious “go along and get along” expectations were most prominently revealed when Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post was repeatedly hauled over the coals when she first took office – or when former Volusia County lobbyist James Pericola valiantly attempted to expose the abject dysfunction inside the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building – and most recently when the intrepid Brian Soukup was summarily dismissed from the West Volusia Hospital Authority’s Citizen Advisory Committee.

For the uninitiated (like me), the WVHA serves as a weird governmental vetting and billing service – administrating a massive publicly-funded budget which serves some 1,608 indigents enrolled in something called the “Health Card” program.

According to reports, the WVHA distributes a portion of these tax dollars to “…20 different health care agencies” which ostensibly serve those in the program.  “Each organization is paid monthly after providing proof that the patients for whom they are claiming money have health cards.”

What I found most interesting is the fact that some $2 million of the WVHA’s budget is allocated for internal overhead – to include advertising (?), legal counsel, applicant screening and other “operational expenses” – with $18 million actually distributed to the various healthcare providers – which, according to the News-Journal’s calculations, equates to $11,286 per cardholder.

Jesus.

When Mr. Soukup ran unsuccessfully for the WVHA in 2018, he campaigned on a pledge to bring “transparency and accountability” to the board – a government authority with the highest tax rate of all three health-related special taxing districts in Volusia County.

Later, Soukup was appointed to the WVHA Citizen Advisory Committee by board member Dr. John Hill, and began making good on his promise to ask the hard questions and shine a bright light on how some $20 million taxpayer dollars are being spent.

Naturally, that didn’t go over well at the murky intersection of public funds and private interests.

In fact, in a mealy-mouthed letter to the Board of Commissioners, Citizen Advisory Committee Chair Elmer Holt went so far as to “sincerely apologize” to recipients of our tax dollars who may have felt uncomfortable during Mr. Soukup’s attempt at accountability. . .

Bullshit.

For his trouble, Soukup was openly accused of violating Florida’s Sunshine Law and drummed off the committee on a 5-1 vote. . .

I found it interesting that the WVHA later walked-back the Board’s attorney, Theodore Small’s, rather serious accusation against Soukup in an “Errata Sheet For WVHA Meeting Minutes of May 16, 2019” – changing the record from “Mr. Small confirmed that Member Soukup is in violation of the Sunshine Law,” to the more legally ambiguous, “Mr. Small reviewed the circumstances that would suggest a potential violation of the Sunshine Law.”

Whatever.

The damage was done – Soukup will forever carry the ugly brand of a Sunshine Law violator – and the label of a disrespectful troublemaker intent on “destroying” the WVHA.

In the end, another inquisitive watchdog will have been publicly disemboweled on the altar of political conformity as an example of the fate that awaits those who dare step outside the bounds of obedience – or serve the highest and best interests of their constituents.

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, everyone!