Food in the Time of Coronavirus

Sometimes things are brought to my attention here at Barker’s View HQ that seem so preposterous – so utterly enraging – that they defy credibility.

But when it comes to the utter absurdity that is Volusia County Schools, nothing surprises me anymore. . .

Earlier this week, I learned through a concerned citizen of yet another shocking gaffe by senior officials in the Ivory Tower of Power at Volusia County Schools – one which, had it not been formally challenged by Holly Hill city officials – may well have resulted in many underprivileged children going hungry during the extended school shutdown.

Beginning next week, Volusia County Schools will provide free breakfast and lunch for displaced students during the school closure period.  The meals will be delivered in drive-thru style (walkers and bicyclists included) from 10:00am to 12:30pm in the parent pick-up line at designated schools.

In my view, that’s a noble effort – one that will provide nourishment to many under-served children who might otherwise go without a nutritious meal.

So, image my outrage when I learned Holly Hill School – where some 94% of the Kindergarten through 8th grade students are on some form of assistance – was intentionally omitted from the meal program because, as district officials explained, “When we looked at HH, the logistics didn’t work to keep the integrity of the plan in place to distribute the food.”

In turn, some families were told they should slog their way to Ormond Beach to reach a food distribution point.

My God.

I also learned that Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte – speaking on behalf of the City Commission – fought tooth-and-nail for basic fairness, sending a scathing email to the district’s hapless “Chief Operating Officer,” Greg Akin, voicing the community’s well-placed indignation.

Upon learning that disadvantaged children in Holly Hill would be denied a meal unless they could navigate their way to Ormond Beach – city officials apparently reached out to a local church who offered to establish a food distribution point near the school.

In turn, a local veterans organization came forward and offered “several thousand” rations for the Holly Hill student’s who were so callously disregarded by Volusia County Schools.

It doesn’t surprise me that, when the chips were down, the good people of Holly Hill – an incredibly tight-knit community who looks out for those most vulnerable – came together to see that poor children were given the same benefit as those in more affluent communities.

Upon learning of the situation, I’m told Volusia County teacher and President of Volusia United Educators Elizabeth Albert (who is also a former Holly Hill City Commissioner) reached out to Superintendent Scotty Fritz on behalf of area families with children who would be left hungry because “the logistics didn’t work.”

In his email to the district, Mr. Forte wrote:

“I and the city commission are very upset that Holly Hill students were not taken into consideration for this plan.  Our children walk and bike to school every day.  All year long we listen to how poor these kids are and when trouble strikes, they are told to go to Ormond Beach.”

 If the city has to take up where the school board is failing, I will do my best to make up for ignoring these needy children and providing them with gross military food.  I would like to know what the details are that the logistics cannot work to keep the integrity of the plan in place to distribute food.

To say we are upset is actually an understatement, frankly, as the saying goes, I’m pissed off!”

Just one more reason I believe Joe Forte is the best City Manager in the business. . .

Ultimately, district officials and School Board members rightly changed tack and have now agreed to provide complimentary meals at Holly Hill School to ensure children in that community receive the same nourishment as those in surrounding cities.

(Find the updated distribution list here: https://tinyurl.com/w77dncx )

How is it possible this Circus of the Absurd can continue?

In my view, institutionalized administrative ineptitude is one thing – but the health and welfare of our children is quite another – with tales of “filthy” classrooms – and now this debacle, one that would have denied sustenance to a socioeconomically challenged school.

Trust me – had Mr. Forte and the elected officials not fought valiantly on behalf of their discarded constituents – we would have seen the heartless juxtaposition of poor children in Holly Hill eating donated military rations, while those in Ormond Beach, Port Orange and elsewhere noshed on freshly prepared takeout. . .

That’s wrong.

All kudos to Mr. Forte, the Holly Hill City Commission and VUE President Albert for their brave stand against this cruel unfairness.

Thank you for fighting for deserving families – your efforts on behalf of those less fortunate epitomize the community’s fitting motto – “The City with a Heart!”

The Nanny State Goes to the Beach

As most loyal readers of Barker’s View know, these screeds are simply one mans warped views of the news and newsmakers of the day – neither always right, nor always wrong – opinions often explained with a dose of humor and sarcasm.

Your thoughts on the issues may vary – and that’s okay.

But, By God, no one should tell you how to think.

I don’t report the news – I grumble about it – and hold those we have elected and appointed to ostensibly look out for our interests accountable with scathing criticism when, in my jaded view, they fall short.

Unfortunately, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the news media and government mouthpieces are no longer reporting the news either.

Despite News-Journal editor Pat Rice’s “Why’s everybody pickin’ on me?  Don’t shoot the messenger” dodge in today’s paper – perhaps its time Mr. Rice take a step back and actually read what his newspaper has been putting out, ad nauseum, for the past week.

For instance, the editorial board’s opinion piece on Friday, “Shut down Bike Week,” isn’t responsible editorial writing – its gross speculation, hype and hysteria – shackled to a liberal dose of transmission shaming that was simply over-the-top.

A hodgepodge of presumptuous “what if’s” that demanded local officials use the power of government to “shut down” the last 24-hours of a special event as some weird symbolic gesture of lock-step conformity – the “everybody’s doing it” mentality that says it’s important to do something – anything – even if its wrong.

Now, after a week of “All Coronavirus/All the time,” and demands for radical action by local government, Mr. Rice cloaks himself and his newspaper as merely the messenger – rather than admit he, and many other local and national media outlets, failed us when we needed them most – succumbing to his industry’s basic need for sensationalism in the face of a building crisis.

I think most will agree that this incessant fear-mongering by media outlets, and the predictable overreaction by some local governments, is both disappointing – and alarming.

For years we have sat idle while government – at all levels – stopped respecting or representing  the will of the people in favor of doing the bidding of their political benefactors and creating public policy that controls various aspects of our lives in a “we know what’s best for the masses” arrogance that, I believe, is a very real threat to our freedom.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy nut to see the frightening overreaction caused by a lack of substantive information from official sources and gross speculation by others which has resulted in many ignoring our national virtues, making us all feel weak and vulnerable to a microbial monster we can’t see – which has resulted in the panicked evisceration of our strong national economy.

Don’t take my word for it.  Have you tried to buy a roll of toilet paper lately? 

To make matters worse, once respected sources in science, academics and the government are now saying, “We have the ability to put your constitutional rights on hold if we feel it is in your best interest” – to control your movements, lock your loved ones away in nursing homes in total isolation, flexing muscles by activating the National Guard and using an iron fist in a velvet glove to force the complete shut down of sports, entertainment and education.

Then, when they deem the threat is over, with the permission of our media and government, We, The Little People, can resume the now hollow promise of our constitutionally protected rights to peaceably assemble, speak freely, question the official narrative and move about at will, but only once the “crisis” has passed. . .

And doom on anyone who questions the motivations of these “do-gooders” with our best interests at heart.

I recently read a local reporter use the term “virus-denier” to describe anyone who dares challenge the All Knowing/All Seeing Great and Powerful elected officials and entrenched bureaucrats of our local and state governments who clearly know far more about how we should live our lives and manage our health than we do.

Because establishing community-wide panic, then marginalizing those who “think” differently from what we are told by the media and our clearly uninformed elected officials – essentially the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker that we elect every two to four years to steward our tax dollars and set effective public policy – is the first step to legitimizing government overreach.

For instance, late Friday, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry came out of hiding and took the extraordinary step of “revoking” all permits related to Bike Week, effectively using the full might of the municipal government to obstruct lawful commerce and disrupt the remaining 24-hours of a special event vital to our local economy and languishing hospitality industry.

I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. . .

Look, I’m no soothsayer – but I do know the mindset of local elected officials whenever billions in federal emergency response dollars are on the table.

So, here’s my short-term prediction:

Early next week, I suspect we will see virtually every municipality in Volusia County – if not the State of Florida – enact something they will call a “State of Emergency” – a prerequisite to bellying up to the federal teat to gorge greedily on the $50 billion earmarked for a local and state “response” to the coronavirus outbreak – just like their big sisters at the State of Florida and County of Volusia have already done.

We’ll also see something called “partial activation” of various local Emergency Operations Centers – which means low-level, non-essential staffers will be sitting around a large room twiddling their thumbs – with absolutely nothing to do except ensure the “partial activation.”

Believe me, nothing of substance will happen – other than our elected officials can say the Emergency Operations Center has been “partially activated.”

Feel safer now? 

Because, while fanning the flames of panic may be irresponsible – losing out on “free money” from something Washington is calling the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” is unthinkable.

And no one want’s to be left behind.

I want to commend Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood for his commonsense approach to providing area residents with the practical information they need to make decisions for themselves and their families – despite this weird need for secrecy and obfuscation that some local and state public health agencies have displayed from the onset.

Make no mistake, our Sheriff will take some heat from his “colleagues” in government for bucking the “system” and actually helping to protect his constituents by liberating them from this shameful information black hole that allows media to spin frightening “what if” scenarios and government agencies to hide their gross ineptitude.

Thank you Sheriff Chitwood.  Giving people substantive information is important to the decision-making process for those who still have the ability to think and reason for themselves.

Look, the number of COVID-19 infections will rise – just like the seasonal flu or any other community acquired respiratory virus.  So, it is incumbent on all of us to take reasonable precautions until this outbreak naturally subsides.

And make no mistake, this will end.

It’s also time we start acting like Americans, dammit – not helpless lemmings.

Once the hysteria of the moment begins to wane, my hope is that citizens will realize the unbridled power of the media to control our behavior and blunt our natural instincts through around-the-clock hype (a very effective marketing tool) and how quickly our rights and freedoms are ignored by those we have elected and appointed when they feel it is in our best interest to trample them.

Angels & Assholes for March 13, 2020

Hey, kids!

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           The Daytona Beach News-Journal

I’m a big supporter of local journalism – and no one has been more vocal or consistent in endorsing the intrinsic benefit and importance of our local newspaper.

However, the editorial board’s ridiculous decision to publish a presumptuous piece calling for the forced cancellation of Bike Week activities as the event rolls into its final weekend is simply over-the-top.

We’ve now reached the saturation point with today’s News-Journal – crammed with “All Coronavirus, All the time.” 

Don’t take my word for it, take a read. . .

In turn, we have learned that editor Pat Rice has given the order to close the newspaper’s lobby indefinitely.

Why?

Because it was one more way to shoehorn the word “coronavirus” into an online headline – a “See, we’re doing something!  Why don’t you join us in shutting down your business or venue – because no matter what it takes – we’re going to force you into social isolation, just like us!”   

Clearly, rather than slowdown and evaluate the who, what, when and why – the News-Journal and other media outlets are just heating up.

Earlier this week, newspapers across the region frightened us all with the glaring headline:

“Coronavirus: In St. Johns County, Bike Week attendee from New York tests positive”

“The Florida Department of Health announced late Wednesday that a 63-year old male New York resident who had traveled to Daytona for Bike Week has tested positive.”

Then, hours later, the story was corrected by official sources to show that, in fact, the scary New York vector never came anywhere near Daytona Beach!

Frankly, if someone from the “Florida Department of Health” announced that erroneous information to media outlets – then that person should be fired.  Immediately.

Guess what?

A sizable number of residents and visitors still think someone from New York, infected with COVID-19, rubbed elbows with them at some Bike Week venue – and writing lukewarm retractions after the fact is rarely effective when people with even non-related sniffles are being told to endure the personal and financial impacts of self-quarantining themselves for 14-days. . .

In my view, that rush to publish something – anything – is wholly irresponsible and does nothing to calm the uncontrolled panic that has gripped our nation after a week of near-constant flogging by national media outlets – Henny-Penny 24/7 “coverage” that  has now taken the form of around-the-clock chyrons crawling across every television screen in the country.

In their piece “Coronavirus threat is too great, so shut down last weekend of Bike Week” – a rattled screed that can only be described as shameless pandering to the legitimate fears and media-driven hysteria of a community on edge – the News-Journal suggests all but martial law:

“Local municipal or health officials should order an early end to Bike Week. But if they don’t, the task defaults to the businesses that operate the bulk of events. The logistics of shutting things down are stark, but simple. Turn off the beer taps, send servers home, cancel the live music, shut down the vendors.”

Bullshit.

“There’s already been one case of COVID-19 linked to Bike Week.  (No, there hasn’t.) A spokeswoman for the city says that person never made it Daytona Beach, but who can say how many people that person came into contact with on the way?  How many of those people are now carrying the virus, but don’t know it?  What happens to their families, coworkers and neighbors when they go home?  And how many more arrived in town already infected, and have spread the virus on to others? How many more are going to show up this weekend?”

Really?

In my view, this gross speculation has no place in a local newspaper – editorial content or not – so, stay in your lane and let jack-leg bloggers like me worry about what “might” happen. . .

My God.

How dare you presume to tell me – or anyone else – what they can and cannot do?

I’ve got a better suggestion, one that will have a far more beneficial impact on the current “coronavirus craze” than seeking a government-enforced stoppage of legal commerce and impede upon our constitutional right to free association:

Let’s “shut down” the 24/7 hype and reckless posturing by national (and now local) news media – and limit this bizarre hand-wringing that is driving a colossal overreaction in the most advanced nation on the planet.

Is this a public health crisis?  Certainly.

But so is this malicious full court press by media outlets intent on driving an international panic that is now drastically affecting the strongest markets and exchanges in the world.

Trust me.  Far more people will be bankrupt when this national quarantine – enforced by shutting down commerce, sports, education, entertainment, etc. – is over than will ever die from the disease.

Is this what our community has come to?

Is this what our society has come to?

Look, let’s all use commonsense measures to protect ourselves from what most relatively healthy victims have reported causes little more than “mild to moderate” flu symptoms:

Wash your hands and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home and office.

With luck, the Volusia County School Board will consider actually cleaning our school facilities.

Limit international travel to locations with a high incidence of COVID-19.

If you have traveled overseas, come in contact with someone infected by coronavirus and you are having symptoms – get tested.

And, if you’re sick – stay home.

Perhaps most important – think and rationalize for yourself!

Despite what you may have been told by some well-coiffed doctor-who-plays-a-doctor-on-TV – no one needs 500 rolls of toilet paper.

Let’s turn off the nonsensical gibberish being spewed, ad nauseum, by talking heads on what passes for the “news” – and start making decisions for ourselves, and our families, based upon information from respected organizations without a profit motive.

And let’s hope The Daytona Beach News-Journal can regain the trust of its readers once this fear-mongering has run its course.

Asshole           Volusia County School District

Last Sunday, parents and taxpayers opened The Daytona Beach News-Journal to learn the shocking details of the most recent debacle at Volusia County Schools.

In February, a disturbing video depicting a 15-year old student at Seabreeze High School being tripped by two other students during a dangerous “Skull Crusher” prank in a school hallway went viral on a social media platform – an incident that naturally resulted in widespread outrage – and, according to the victim’s parents, was completely mishandled by school officials.

As an attorney with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida who is representing the victim put it, “How did the entire world know what the right thing was, except for the administration in Volusia County?”

Wow.

That’s a damning indictment of our horribly broken system. . .

As I understand it, the matter is now in the juvenile court system after criminal charges were filed by the victim’s parents – but that doesn’t forgive or explain why the district’s internal policies – and those who are paid handsomely to administrate them – seem to consistently get it wrong?

Every damn time. . .

And it just gets worse.

Now, at a time when institutional disinfection, proper sanitary procedures and the availability of basic hand hygiene supplies (i.e. soap) are vital to the prevention of COVID-19 and other communicable illnesses – we’re being told that fear is spreading like wildfire among parents and students of Volusia County schools as teachers roll up their sleeves to clean “filthy” classrooms, field trips are curtailed and the possibility of closing educational facilities looms.

According to a report by the News-Journal’s intrepid education reporter Cassidy Alexander, “The district’s messaging on coronavirus has consistently asked people to keep their hands clean, to use disinfectant on hard surfaces that people touch and to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue.”

But How?

Teachers from throughout the district – those who are actually on the front lines and care deeply about the health and welfare of children in their charge – are reporting school bathrooms being out of soap for “multiple days,” while others are going in their own pocket for hand sanitizer and surface disinfectants, because they no longer have confidence in the district’s contractor to properly clean their classrooms.

My God. 

 Of course – as is standard operating procedure in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand – when this deteriorating situation was brought to the attention of administrators, some well-paid district mouthpiece downplayed the severity with the official reaction, “…a few teachers complained of problems with the cleanliness of their rooms, which she said they’re addressing with ABM (the district’s maintenance provider).” 

Seriously? 

Does the district’s Public Information apparatus read the newspaper?

In turn, Chief Operating Officer Greg Akin said in a nonsensical emailed statement to the News-Journal,  “We will share with ABM any classroom that is missed to make sure they are there to take care of the classrooms within the district.” 

Really, Greg? 

You plan to “share” the problem with the very entity that created the problem in the first place?

Good work, Chief.  That’s the kind of direct action we need right now. . .

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

How many more times does the Volusia County School District have to be plastered across the front page/above the fold of our local newspaper – or go viral on international social media – before someone, anyone, reevaluates the effectiveness of these so-called senior administrators – who are, in my view, little more than blundering posers – who continue to get it wrong, time-after-time?

And where is our new Superintendent Dr. Scotty Fritz? 

In the last week, we learned that Dr. Fritz has played Three-card Monte with some senior administrators – changing their title from Area Superintendent to Assistant Superintendent (?) – and assigning responsibilities for elementary, middle and high schools – and a fourth for student services.

Whatever.

Two of the new six-figure assistant superintendents are transplants from districts where Dr. Fritz previously worked.

I’m not saying bringing in someone he can trust – outsiders with a fresh set of eyes – is a bad thing.  It isn’t.

While it appears district officials are, for some reason, downplaying the significance – we also learned that former Volusia County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Michelle Newman was recently named Director of Safety, Security and Elementary Management – a position our district has desperately needed for years.

Maybe the district will flesh out Director Newman’s qualifications, background and responsibilities going forward?

In my view, how Dr. Fritz handles the “coronavirus crisis” – and the myriad other issues that continue to plague the district – will tell us all we need to know about his leadership ability – and worth.

So far, it appears business as usual. . .

In my view, if things go south – given the fact parents and taxpayers have already determined that many in the entrenched senior management class in DeLand are incapable – if not wholly incompetent – when it comes to addressing the serious issues facing our schools, our new Superintendent will have no one to blame but himself.

Angel               B-CU Athletic Director Lynn Thompson

From the Barker’s View Sports Desk:

Kudos to Bethune-Cookman University Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Lynn Thompson on being named the 2020-2021 Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics!

Vice President Thompson will be honored in June during NACDA’s 55th Annual Convention at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas.

According to B-CU Athletics:

“Thompson’s lengthy and impressive resume includes serving as the first African-American to chair the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee and as a member on the NCAA I-AA Football Committee and the NCAA Football Issues Committees, creating policy for intercollegiate athletics on a national level. He has also served the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference as chairman of the MEAC Basketball, Softball, Track and Field and Baseball Tournaments, and has been selected five times as an NCAA Peer Reviewer for the athletics certification process.”

In addition, Mr. Thompson currently serves on the NCAA Committee on Academics, as a member of the Board of the Florida Sports Foundations and the MEAC Hall of Fame.

Congratulations to Vice President Thompson – and the entire Wildcat Nation – on this important recognition!

Angel               Volusia Councilwoman Billie Wheeler

Some ‘movers & shakers’ in our community thought the godawful plan to place a traffic roundabout at the busy intersection of East International Speedway Boulevard and A-1-A was a “done deal” – argument over – implying that the mysterious public and private forces pushing the loop had won.

Not so fast.

This week, Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler joined the growing chorus of area residents, activists and business owners in questioning how – after all the meetings, “information sharing” sessions, coffee klatches and FDOT community confabs – some in a position of power still can’t see this nightmare in the making for what it is?

“We are facing increased capacity and a section of stopped traffic, creating, in my opinion, the perfect storm,” Ms. Wheeler rightfully announced.

She’s right.

The Councilwoman’s concerns came during a meeting of the “ISB Coalition,” another do-nothing public/private club – comprised of every self-interest currently controlled by our uber-wealthy overseers – to include, area colleges and universities, hospitals, our Regional Chamber of Commerce, Daytona International Speedway, Daytona International Airport, the hotel/motel types, etc. – who have been twiddling their collective thumbs since 2007 over “what to do” with the blight and dilapidation that is our main gateway to what was once “The Worlds Most Famous Beach.”

Commendably, Ms. Wheeler’s vocal support for rethinking the unthinkable was echoed by Maryam Ghyabi, an experienced traffic engineer who serves as chair of the ISB Coalition – along with civic activist Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach – and Bob Davis, President for Life of the Hotel & Lodging Association of Volusia County, who confirmed, “My entire industry does not want roundabouts.”

These voices represent some heavy hitters in the Halifax Area – which bodes well for We, The Little People, who have been screaming to anyone who will listen that a signalized intersection is simply a better fit for a roadway that includes the busiest beach access point in Volusia County.

Kudos to Councilwoman Wheeler for having the courage to stand firm in support of this commonsense solution to the revitalization of the East ISB corridor and beyond.

If you care about the life and health of this vitally important area of our community, I hope you will attend a public meeting regarding the proposed design plans for East ISB on Tuesday, March 31, 5:30pm to 7:30pm, at the Midtown Cultural and Educational Center, 925 George W. Engram Boulevard in Daytona Beach.

According to a Florida Department of Transportation announcement, the meeting will begin with an open house at 5:30pm, when participants can review design information and discuss the project with staff, followed by a brief presentation at 6:00pm, after which participants can provide comments.

This one’s important.

Now is the time to let FDOT and our local elected official know, once again, how you feel.

Because once an asinine roundabout is clogging traffic at all four quadrants of this incredibly important intersection – it will be too late – and residents and visitors will be saddled with this expensive, and wholly inappropriate, boondoggle for many years to come. . .

Quote of the Week

“Florida officials should free local public health officials to be more forthcoming, sharing information that doesn’t betray patient privacy but does provide more assurance to the public. Instead, finding information about new cases has too often been like a game of hide-and-seek. When the first Florida resident fell sick, the news leaked out through a memo on letterhead from Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, not an official press release. It doesn’t exactly inspire public confidence.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal Editorial, “A prescription for more information,” Wednesday, March 11, 2020

I agree.

As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, in my experience, local and state government have an obligation to prepare for potential threats in advance by developing effective policies and protocols for containing emergencies to the extent humanly possible – while limiting widespread panic through the dissemination of substantive information.

These plans should be made and exercised during periods of calm, before a potential epidemic is at hand – rather than mandated from on high once the public start asking the difficult questions. . .

That includes determining what information will be most beneficial to preventing the spread of disease and permit citizens to make informed decisions outside the media-hyped hysteria of the moment.

In my view, some local governments have practiced a strategy of limiting public communications to pithy soundbites and canned releases for so long – protecting the organization and its senior management at all costs – that they have forgotten the importance of timely information to effective crisis management.

In fact, earlier this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote an informative article spotlighting area residents who have self-quarantined after international travel.

Unfortunately, when reporter Nikki Ross attempted to get answers regarding screening protocols at Daytona International Airport, she wrote, “Calls to Daytona Beach International Airport spokeswoman Joanne Magley were not returned.”  

My God.  That is a sentence we should never read during a potential emergency. . .

In my view, the very idea of not returning a reporters calls, or refusing to provide substantive information on the location of community infections, is counter to sound public information protocols designed to increase knowledge, build confidence and limit panic.

Now is the time for openness and complete transparency.

Anything less looks clumsy and destroys public trust.

Anything less is irresponsible.

And Another Thing!

On Wednesday, I read a Facebook post from Ruben Colon, a sitting member of the Volusia County School Board, who, in my view, was undeservedly taken to the woodshed by a local on-line news site for a goofy coronavirus meme he posted on social media that some apparently felt was inappropriate.

In turn, Mr. Colon removed the post and openly apologized to anyone who felt offended by it.

Case closed. 

Obviously, I’m not one to embrace the almost universally institutionalized practice of “political correctness” – watching everything I say or do for fear my words will “trigger” someone and upset their delicate sensibilities – but I don’t go out of my way to be offensive, either.

That just comes naturally. . .

Plus, I no longer wear the gag of a public official that limits one’s point of view and suppresses honest discourse.

Those who currently hold high office should understand that social media, and the use of platforms like Facebook and Twitter to express humor and personal opinions – can be a double-edged sword.

Especially in the blood sport that is modern politics. . .

But that shouldn’t dissuade public officials from openly and honestly communicating with their friends and constituents via social media – and most people I know will forgive mistakes they might make themselves.

Look, I like Ruben Colon.  We don’t always agree on the issues of the day – and that’s okay.

We frequently communicate on matters of mutual concern – and he routinely takes me to task when he feels I have gotten it wrong on a matter related to the school district – and he accepts responsibility when the criticism is deserved.

I respect that.

In any interaction, I have always found Mr. Colon to be incredibly smart and thoughtful – with an excellent grasp of the issues and a burning desire to make things better.

Perhaps most important – he truly cares about the needs of Volusia County students.

In my view, I was incredibly heartened to see so many parents and taxpayers come out in support of Mr. Colon on social media and beyond.

He deserves it.

I admire the fact that Ruben took personal responsibility for his actions – which may or may not have offended some of his constituents – and, in doing so, demonstrated a real commitment to personal honesty and political accountability.

In my view, that speaks to Mr. Colon’s personal and professional character – something we need more of in Volusia County politics.     

That’s all for me.  Stay healthy and take care of each other.

Have a great final weekend of Bike Week 2020, y’all!

 

 

 

 

 

Be Cool, People. . .

When news first broke of the global outbreak of the coronavirus (or COVID-19 as the “in-crowd” calls it) and epidemiologists announced that incessant handwashing and social isolation were the most effective means of combating it’s spread – I immediately thought:  Hot Damn!

Because that just about sums up my day-to-day life here at Barker’s View HQ. . .

As some of you know, for many years I’ve suffered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder which manifests in weird rituals – turning off lights in a specific order when I leave a room, avoiding certain colors, the constant use of hand sanitizer, shunning buffets, etc. – a malady that has rendered me the ultimate ‘germaphobe,’ gripped by the irrational fear of being contaminated by germs, bacteria and viruses.

So, I know how many of you feel as the national news media creates hype and hysteria 24/7 – and every roll of toilet paper in the most advanced nation in the world continues to vanish from the shelves (I still don’t get the correlation, but, whatever).

Earlier this week, public health officials confirmed our worst fears, reporting that two of our neighbors from ‘somewhere’ in Volusia County tested positive for the virus following international travel and are currently in isolation.

In my view, the Volusia County Health Department – and its bosses in Tallahassee – made a grave error when they decided to stop answering questions from the public like, “What city did the person live in,” citing vague privacy laws and state declarations that permit only the age, gender and county in which an infected person lives to be released.

That’s bullshit.

At a time when a lack of governmental transparency, coupled with the around-the-clock gibberish we’re being subjected to, exacerbates the fear and anxiety that is spreading faster than the virus itself – perhaps the “let’s play things close to the vest so we can avoid criticism” policy should be reevaluated?

I don’t need some goofy doctor-who-plays-a-doctor-on-TV to show me how to wash my hands – or a local news anchor demonstrating how to brew gallons of homemade hand sanitizer in my bathtub – but it might be helpful to have the information necessary to evaluate my exposure risk based upon my proximity to an identified community infection, right?

In my experience, local and state government should prepare in advance by developing effective policies for containing emergencies to the extent humanly possible – while limiting widespread panic through the dissemination of topical information.

These public information protocols should be made and exercised during periods of calm, before a potential epidemic is at hand – rather than ham-handedly mandated from on high once the public starts asking the hard questions. . .

That includes determining what information and directions will be most beneficial to preventing the spread of disease and permit citizens to make informed decisions outside the media-hyped hysteria of the moment.

For instance, earlier this week, during a meeting of our exalted Knights of the Roundtable – a political insulation committee formed of area managers and mayors – Volusia County Health Department Administrator Patricia Boswell provided a cursory briefing to our collective brain trust on the spread of the coronavirus.

According to an informative report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, when a representative from Congressman Michael Waltz’ office asked Ms. Boswell several legitimate questions like, “…how many tests will be commercially available locally, how long testing actually takes and whether health officials have a ‘definition of quarantine,”  Boswell said she didn’t know.

Say what? 

And, in the interest of constituent confidence, perhaps Rep. Waltz should be getting his information from a little further up the public health totem pole than Patricia Boswell. . .

Just sayin’.

In addition, Volusia County Councilman Ben Johnson was quoted as saying, “What’s sad about the coronavirus is there’s so little information on it.” 

I hate to disagree with Mr. Johnson, but that’s just not correct.

There is a ton of solid information being produced by reputable, vetted, scientific open sources on all aspects of the novel coronavirus.

Unfortunately, much of it is being blocked by ridiculous “patient confidentiality” concerns – held by public health sources who are more concerned with covering their ass than informing the public – or lost in the hell-broth of misinformation and overreaction by the media and other “official” sources who have whipped this situation into a frenzy.

During my long career in public service, I immersed myself in the art and science of “Emergency Management” – which required many hours of training at FEMA’s National Emergency Management Training Center, participation in exercises, extensive on-line coursework, developing effective best practices, serving in command positions during emergencies and building a portfolio of actual disaster management experience – all culminating in a peer reviewed compilation of my training and experience.

Ultimately, I earned the Florida Professional Emergency Manager credential from the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association – which has become a requisite for preparing for, and responding to, the many hazards coastal communities face.

The one thing I learned during that extensive process is, when dealing with potential pandemics, “panic will always travel faster than the pathogen” – and it’s easy to succumb to the misinformation overload we are receiving from pseudo-experts and televised talking heads intent on using this crisis to increase advertising revenue, or worse, to politicize the issue.

Make no mistake, “panic” is a very effective marketing tool.

It sells everything from massive quantities of Purell, hand soaps, bleach, unguents, ointments, snake oil, bottled water – and toilet paper. . .

Some believe this panic buying provides us with a feeling of “control” – a sense that we are “doing something” to be proactive in the lead-up to a potential threat we have little, if any, influence over.

In my view, it is important to keep the coronavirus outbreak in perspective – including the fact that 80% of the people infected experience mild to moderate symptoms – and many epidemiologists believe that, based upon Farr’s Law of Epidemics (look it up), the spread of COVID-19 will increase and decrease in a predictable pattern – similar to a bell-shaped curve (just like any normal flu season) – and the rate of infection may hit its peak and start falling relatively soon.

In other words, “This too shall pass.”

And we’ve seen worse, believe me.

During the 2017-2018 flu season alone, millions of Americans were infected with influenza and resultant respiratory issues – and some 80,000 died from complications – yet, I don’t recall the National Guard being mobilized, event cancellations, prohibiting fans from attending sporting events, shutting down schools, banning audiences from televised game shows (?), a run on toilet tissue or the near complete collapse of the strongest markets and exchanges in the world.

Do you?   

That doesn’t mean we should take the threat lightly, and those with compromised immune systems, underlying health problems, such as diabetes, hypertension and respiratory ailments, and the elderly, remain particularly susceptible to serious complications.

I suspect you know that already. . .

Look, I’m no expert in the prevention and treatment of community acquired disease – hell, I’m still fighting a pitched battle with toenail fungus that I picked up in an Army field shower in 1979 – but I’m also confident this isn’t the Andromeda Strain.

I also know that panic and hysteria have never solved anything.

So, here are some commonsense suggestions for protecting yourself and your family during these anxious times:

Plan ahead and be ready – not just for coronavirus – but for all hazards.

Learn about emergency and continuity of operation plans at your place of employment – and your child’s school (if they have one?)

Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20-seconds.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily in household common areas.

Avoid travel to places with a high incidence of coronavirus – and listen to the warnings and suggestions of the Centers for Disease Control for the latest on how best to protect from this illness.

Like Winston Churchill boldly said – “We have nothing to fear but eventually eyeing the drapes when the toilet paper runs out,” or something like that. . .

Whatever.

Be cool, people.  Take care of yourselves and those who count on you.

Let’s get through this together.

The Gift of Education – Well applied

I don’t have a formal education – no august and worldly professors to teach me the intricacies of my chosen profession – or how to read critically and think strategically.

Which means I had to become a good mimic early – observing people who were influential in my life and adopting the positives.  Listening, watching and accepting constructive criticism, then adopting those practices and observations.

And I’ve always said that experiential learning is the most expensive education one can receive.

It can be painful, too.

I first met Mr. Wheeler in the late 1970’s when I was a foundering student at Seabreeze High School, and he served as Assistant Principal.

To say I was a “difficult” student is an understatement – prone to mischief, truancy and the petty fistfights and scrapes that teenage boys used to settle differences in the day – which meant that I received a stack of disciplinary “referrals” to Mr. Wheeler’s office.

In his essential role as the school disciplinarian, Mr. Wheeler would mediate disputes, serve as a listening board, provide direction and adjudicate various and sundry conduct violations, and, when necessary, correct a recalcitrant student’s behavior in the form of several sharp whacks from a ventilated paddle vigorously applied to the offender’s backside.

Now, to say Mr. Wheeler cut an imposing figure is an understatement.

He was tall, standing well over six-feet, with a lean swimmers build and massive hands – the size of catcher’s mitts – that swallowed a normal man’s hand and seemed doubly huge to a kid awaiting a liberal application of “corporal punishment.”

Expertly done, the ritual included Mr. Wheeler slowly reviewing the facts of the case, placing a call to my parents for permission to tan my hide (which was always eagerly extended), a long conversation regarding the error of my ways and the future consequences of my abhorrent course – all dragging out the inevitable – making what I knew was to come even more excruciating. . .

When the time came to administer the punishment, Mr. Wheeler would direct that I remove everything from my back pockets and put my hands on his desk as he limbered up that brown wooden paddle with the holes drilled in the middle – I always assumed to limit induced drag and allow a better connection with the target.

With a grimace on my face – I would stand firm, awaiting the three well-placed swats to the seat of my jeans – blows that were always more humiliating than painful.

In turn, Mr. Wheeler would always place a second call to my parents – advising them that, in retrospect, maybe the infraction wasn’t quite as bad as it had originally seemed – and that I had taken my medicine like a man – thankfully mitigating any further sanction I may have received when I got home.

I always appreciated that.

Once I had been suitably disciplined, Mr. Wheeler would shake my hand, put his arm around my shoulder, and made sure I understood how much he wanted me to succeed.

That taught compassion.

In addition to his role as an educator, Mr. Wheeler served as a Daytona Beach Police Officer – and, as a young man, cemented his legendary leadership skills as Chief of Lifeguards for the Beach Patrol.

In 1988, following retirement from Volusia County Schools, Mr. Wheeler was appointed Chief Investigator for the Seventh Judicial Circuit under then State Attorney John Tanner.

By then, I had followed my dream and earned a job with the Holly Hill Police Department, where my relationship with Mr. Wheeler changed to a true mentorship – and I always appreciated knowing that he had my best interests, personally and professionally, at heart.

I knew I could always count on Mr. Wheeler for sound advice – and, when I later served in a senior command role – I would frequently call on him, at all hours, confident in his ability to see the various political and procedural pitfalls and provide common sense guidance.

He never failed me – or the needs of our community.

That taught the importance of accessibility.

My experience wasn’t unique.

During his long tenure, Mr. Wheeler provided quiet support and assistance to many law enforcement executives, consulting on sensitive issues, and his behind-the-scenes involvement served local departments – and the citizens of the Seventh Judicial Circuit – extremely well.

For instance, he taught me the importance of strategic thinking – the art of setting controversial issues aside for a few days to allow time to consider all alternatives, including unintended consequences, then making an informed decision, rather than one based on an emotional gut-reaction or the political pressures of the moment.

That taught leadership and poise under pressure.

And, when necessary, he would call me on the carpet and administer a good, old-fashioned chewing out when I got it wrong – always with that big smile that could be equally charming – or frighteningly ominous – depending on the situation.

That taught accountability.

On occasion, I had a chance to extract some good-natured revenge for the experience of my youth.

Whenever I had the opportunity to speak to groups where Mr. Wheeler was in attendance, I never missed the chance to remind everyone assembled that I was the only Chief of Police in Volusia County to have ever been paddled by Bob Wheeler for other than recreational purposes  – which always resulted in an uncomfortable grin and that hearty giggle the big man was known for.

One of the great blessings in my life was the seat-of-the-pants discipline and incredible lessons I received from Mr. Wheeler – an education that changed my life and trajectory immeasurably.

You may have noticed that I have referred to this great man as “Mr. Wheeler” – because that is how he was addressed – by literally everyone – regardless of title or importance.

He didn’t demand it – as he was one of the most humble, unpretentious and down-to-earth old school gentlemen I have ever known – but that was the level of respect and admiration in which he was universally held.

Robert Lee “Cree” Wheeler passed into the everlasting life his faith assured during the early hours of last Monday morning.

He was 83 years old.

Thank you, Mr. Wheeler, for showing me the way – in so many ways.

May you rest in peace, my friend.

 

 

Surprise!

Late last month, residents of Ormond-by-the-Sea became shockingly aware of a plan – apparently hatched by the Florida Department of Transportation in cooperation with the County of Volusia – to erect a hideous erosion control fence along sections of the dune line from Spanish Waters Drive to High Bridge Road on the North Peninsula.

How did they learn of it?

Public hearings?  No.

Information sharing sessions?  No.

A meeting to educate concerned residents on the importance of erosion control?  No.

A glossy mailer?  No.

Like most things that affect our lives and livelihoods here on the Fun Coast, the word spread like wildfire, neighbor-to-neighbor, and raced across social media when area residents awoke to crews driving chemically treated poles into the sand just feet from A-1-A, directly on top of what remains of the natural dunes.

Fence poles

Suddenly, a storage pile of what appeared to be toxic wooden poles and rolls of slat-fencing took shape nearby, while a backhoe roared atop what remains of the natural dunes near traditional parking and beach access areas – crushing the coastal vegetation that serves to stabilize the sand – apparently to make a level surface for those godawful poles. . .

I guess statutory protections against harming sea oats don’t apply when the native plants are destroyed by a state agency, eh?

Look, I’m no expert on dune restoration – but I can read reports, diagrams and suggestions from those who are – and many residents believe these ugly poles and slat-fencing are being installed incorrectly.

If the idea is to build dunes by catching and holding wind driven sand, then everything I’ve seen on the subject suggests the fencing be placed seaward of the crest of the primary dune in ten-foot long spurs spaced seven-feet apart – facing the primary wind direction – with ample consideration given for the protection of nesting sea turtles and wildlife.

In turn, once the barrier becomes 50% buried, the fence material is raised – or another strand affixed to the pole (which is impossible, now that the current poles have been cut level with the sand fence) because, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection guidelines, “If the sand is allowed to accumulate, the fence will not only become difficult to remove but will also lose its ability to collect sand.”

So, why is FDOT actively placing 1.8 miles of sand fencing parallel to the beach, literally on the shoulder of a scenic state road with little, if any, notice – or apparent adherence to established FDEP guidelines? 

And why would a state agency, ostensibly accountable to the taxpayers who fund it, tell members of the media that “…workers are working cautiously so native plants aren’t lost,” even as locals stand slack-jawed, watching heavy equipment remove sea grasses and other native plants whose root systems naturally anchor dunes?

Fence Backhoe

It seems counterproductive.

And untrue. . .

Adding to the mystery is the fact work appears to have started near the new ICI Homes Verona development on the North Peninsula – an area which, before a phalanx of “No Parking” signs were erected – historically served as a pull-off for visitors to the Ormond Beach Watchtower site.

According to reports, FDOT officials were blindsided by the outpouring of criticism over the fencing (?) – which, based upon its placement, appears to be more of a physical barrier to public beach access and parking than an erosion control fence – and they may be “taking another look” at the project going forward.

As usual, the questions continue to mount. . .   

While many coastal communities are considering proven erosion control techniques – such as Geotube technology and innovative near-shore reefs, constructed of living material, which have proven effective as a sustainable, cost-effective means of shore protection – Volusia County residents continue to be ambushed by dubious projects which appear overnight.

In my view, before even more of these chemically treated poles are pounded into the dune line – and the wholesale destruction of native plants continues – perhaps we should have a larger discussion among residents, our elected officials, scientists and erosion control experts on how to best protect our shoreline and coastal roads long-term.

Look, I realize the concept of actually communicating with constituents is anathema to Volusia County beach managers who consistently operate in the shadows while our once beautiful shoreline becomes a forest of ugly poisoned poles and sign pollution – something that bears no resemblance to what many of us who grew up here knew before.

Fence

Now, it appears Volusia County Beach Management has teamed with the Florida Department of Transportation for a “maintenance project” that will effectively destroy the character and scenic value of the North Peninsula.

Make no mistake, erosion control and dune restoration are incredibly important – but many agree that a more comprehensive approach will be required to ultimately stop threats to A-1-A and beachfront development.

This isn’t it.

In the meantime, perhaps our ‘powers that be’ could learn a valuable lesson from the public outrage that, once again, results from yet another shocking “surprise project” of uncertain efficacy and purpose – one that will fundamentally change the physical appearance and accessibility of our most precious natural amenity.

Don’t hold your breath. . .

——————————————-

Join Barker’s View tomorrow afternoon, Monday, March 9, 2020, from 4:00pm to 6:00pm  on GovStuff Live! with Big John!

We’ll be talking local issues and taking your phone calls on the “Fastest two-hours in radio!”

Listen locally on 1380am The CAT – or on the web at http://www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button)

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for March 6, 2020

Hi, kids!

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.

It’s been quite a week here on Florida’s Fabled Fun Coast – a time of ups-and-downs – that has left me feeling a bit uneasy.

One recurring theme in my often jumbled take on local governance, and the weird conundrums that result, is the ancient and honorable concept of responsibility and accountability.

Admitting mistakes.  Accepting blame.  Righting wrongs.  Changing course when necessary.

Building trust.

In government, as in most progressive private organizations, accountability exists when a responsible individual, and the services they provide, are subject to critical oversight.  This occurs when the responsible party is required to provide articulable justification for their actions, omissions, expenditures, planning, and performance.

A practice especially important for government officials at the executive level whose decisions can have wide-ranging and very expensive implications.

And there is overwhelming evidence that many of our public, private and non-profit organizations are incapable of holding senior staff responsible for a continuing pattern of gross mismanagement.

I think you’ll find that recurring theme in the odds-and-ends of our local life and times below. . .

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

Asshole           Deltona City Commission

I’m fond of the old maxim that, when it comes to local governance, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It seems our decision-makers never embrace the expensive benefit of experience – boldly stumbling forward, openly repeating the mistakes of the past, with no recollection of how the crisis du jour germinated.

It’s like watching them touch a hot stove over-and-over with a complete cognitive disconnect as to why their fingers look like burnt sausage. . .

Regardless of jurisdiction, the one constant in local governance is that, for a variety of reasons, appointed senior officials, like city and county managers, enjoy an incredible level of professional protections that those in the private sector will never know – even when their decisions and behavior are far from professional.

This week, the Deltona City Commission blundered on with a disjointed discussion of how best to compensate their clearly financially savvy interim City Manager, even as their former chief executive, Jane Shang, drags a massive sack of severance cash out of City Hall and transitions to whatever comes next.

(Which, you can bet your bottom dollar, will be a seat on the dais of yet another hapless municipal government who has no idea what’s coming their way. . .)

On Monday, the commission approved a salary agreement with deputy city manager Marc-Antonie Cooper, who was appointed to the interim Catbird Seat in January.  Under the terms, Mr. Cooper will be paid $150,000 annually for his temporary services.

Inexplicably, Cooper asked for a whopping $175,000 – matching Shang’s lucrative compensation package – a move that may have telegraphed he is more interested in the trappings than the needs of a community still reeling from years of civic dysfunction and infighting.

Apparently, clarification of the terms was required after a ham-handed previous agreement would have resulted in Cooper suffering a pay decrease if he were to return to the deputy city manager role.

Jesus.

Now, as I understand it, if/when Mr. Cooper returns to his enviable former role – not quite the boss/not quite staff – he will receive a $15,000 pay increase bumping his annual salary to $135,000 – apparently as weird recompense for doing what deputy city managers do and filling in until Shang’s permanent replacement can be found (?)

Oh, if he should resign, retire or be terminated, Cooper will receive “…all accrued and unused vacation and sick time, per the contract.”

Wow.

 Why is it that elected officials – usually the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker – who, in real life, make far less than the base salary of most municipal and county managers – invariably “negotiate” massive compensation packages, complete with a Golden Parachute that provides the executive with a gentle, and very lucrative, landing when the inevitable occurs leaving taxpayers holding the proverbial bag?

Bizarre.

In a telephone interview this week with the intrepid Wild West Volusia News-Journal reporter, Katie Kustura, “Cooper said he hasn’t yet decided whether or not he’ll apply for the city manager position.”

I find that odd at a time when the long-suffering community is begging for stability.

In my view, if a city manager doesn’t have a burning desire to fill the role, lead boldly, be part of the solution, enhance service delivery and move the community that employs him or her forward with a strong civic and personal commitment – a drive that extends beyond the mercenary goal of self-enrichment and advantageous employment agreements – then, perhaps the city commission has already learned all they need to know about Mr. Cooper’s motivations going forward?

I doubt it.  The Deltona City Commission just doesn’t seem that quick on the uptake.

Which means history will repeat. . .

Angel               Volusia County Council

No, I haven’t bumped my head. . .

Look, I give that Carnival of the Absurd in DeLand the what for on a near daily basis.

Because they deserve it.

But this week, the council got one right when they agreed on ballot language that puts our previously voter-approved cultural, environmental and recreation grant programs – Volusia ECHO and Volusia Forever – on the ballot for a 20-year renewal this fall.

Absent some minor housekeeping, in what must be a historic first, our elected officials somehow found the common sense to leave the program language basically intact – after countless citizens spoke to the council or wrote passionately on social media touting the important benefits of these property tax programs to maintaining our quality of life.

Kudos to Councilman Ben Johnson for having the compassion and forethought to call for increased flexibility in the grant match requirement.

During the meeting, Mr. Johnson was joined by Council members Billie Wheeler and Barb Girtman in standing up for small communities and non-profits who could best benefit from grant funds, yet don’t have the financial wherewithal to meet the current 50% match requirement.

Of course, our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, argued against a reduction, adamant that applicants should have “skin in the game,” which means Volusia County can continue to gorge while many less wealthy municipalities and environmental organizations continue to suck hind teat.

Whatever. . .

In an excellent example of how ECHO funds enhance our lives in unique ways, during the meeting, the council approved a $400,000 ECHO grant request from the City of Holly Hill to complete the exciting Pictona pickleball sports complex, which is currently under construction in beautiful Hollyland Park across from the community’s historic City Hall.

Here’s hoping the Volusia County Council can overcome their natural tendency to get snout-deep in any pot of funds, regardless of earmark, and keep their grubby hands out of the pie.

This would include cockamamie ideas like hoarding funds to extend the Boardwalk (?) or redirecting money to public works projects and parking lots. . .

In my view, returning these important funding programs to the ballot is a very positive sign.

Frankly, it’s nice to see our elected officials actually listen to the concerns of their constituents for a change.

Now, keep up the good work. . .

Angel               Bethune-Cookman University

I was truly moved by retired Vice Admiral David L. Brewer’s recent Community Voices column, “Why historically black schools are important to save.”

Because I’m a cynical asshole, hardened by years of witnessing mans inhumanity to man up-close and personal – coupled with the natural pessimism and institutionalized suspicion that a lifetime in the Halifax Area can bring – that doesn’t happen often.   

While Admiral Brewer serves Bethune-Cookman University as a member of the Board of Trustees, he is perhaps best known for his monumental efforts leading the Military Sealift Command’s disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina – and his later service as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he stewarded a $7.5 billion budget.

In his thoughtful piece, Admiral Brewer recalled the important role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune’s personal contribution to education, when she gathered $1.50 to open the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls.

Bookending Brewer’s Community Voices essay was a well-written editorial positing The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board’s view that it’s “Make or break for Bethune-Cookman” – a grim, but very real, prospect for Dr. Bethune’s legacy.

In fact, if B-CU president Brent Chrite can’t close an $8 million operating deficit within days – later this month the university will lose its all-important academic accreditation – which will signal the death knell for this important institution and further fray the very fabric of our challenged community.

The News-Journal is advocating that, just like Dr. Bethune’s fidelity to her dream way back in 1904, “It’s time, then, for another leap of faith,” encouraging local donors to give like never before as Dr. Chrite and others work diligently, against all odds, to ensure that the university does not perish under almost insurmountable obstacles.

I agree.

Because I’ve become a hardened ‘civic cynic,’ I’m always looking for the scam – the confidence game – sniffing out the phony-baloney shtick and sleight-of-hand that seek to take advantage of our natural willingness to trust.

And to say B-CU suffers from a lack of internal and external trust is an understatement – but, in my view, Chrite is the real deal – a man of honor on a mission to save Dr. Bethune’s dream.

Make no mistake, B-CU is the victim of a long line of grifters, thieves and the deaf, dumb and blind watchdogs who inexplicably stood idle while the university’s coffers were looted, and greed-crazed insiders lashed the struggling school to a mountain of crippling debt with reckless dormitory “deals” and a mysterious luxury apartment project that still hasn’t been fully explored or explained. . .

The problem is, many in our community still recognize some of the exalted local last names who, while serving as members of the B-CU Board of Trustees, ignored their sacred duty to the institution – even as nervous alumni sounded the tocsin and begged for someone with a fiduciary responsibility to rise in defense of the university while there was still something worth worrying about.

Instead, for reasons known only to those craven few, they accepted exaggerated praise, honorary degrees and the other trimmings of their dubious “service” – even as the school was being  financially exsanguinated.

Once this immediate crisis has been met – and the parasitic lawsuits that continue to hamstring the university are settled – in my view, it is vitally important that Dr. Chrite begin the process of holding those who stood idle accountable for their sins to restore credibility to the process and start over with a clean slate.

That won’t happen.  But it should.

In my view, donors and potential endowments require strong assurance that the administration has been purged of these foul balls and can be trusted to steward these important gifts going forward.

It’s now, or never.

Angel               Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the Volusia Legislative Delegation

Kudos to Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Representative Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach) and Senator Tom Wright (R-Port Orange) for their outstanding efforts to keep convicted child sex offenders in jail pending appeal.

Earlier this week, the House approved Mr. Leek’s bill prohibiting judges from granting supersedeas bonds to anyone convicted of a crime requiring that they register as a sex offender or sexual predator when the offender is over 18 and the victim is a minor.

On Monday, the Senate Rules Committee approved the measure on a vote of 16 to 1.

The lone opposition came from the reality-challenged Senator Perry Thurston, Jr. (D-Fort Lauderdale) – who yammered some incoherent nonsense that those who are found guilty of sexually abusing children should “have the same chance as some other first-time offenders” to remain free while challenging their convictions.

Whatever.

In my view, this is an excellent example of law enforcement and our state legislators working cooperatively to improve our criminal justice system, close loopholes and protect innocent victims from further predation.

I can’t think of anything more important.

Congratulations to everyone involved on the expedient passage of this important law – and thank you all for a job well done!

Asshole           City of Ormond Beach

“In the past year or two, more than one Ormond Beach city commissioner used our Tree City USA designation as a defense when confronted by citizens voicing concern about increased clear-cutting in our area for development. So, it was particularly surprising to hear Commissioner Troy Kent say he is “so pleased that at this moment in time we don’t have a tree board” at the City Commission meeting on Feb. 4.”

–Georgann Meadows, Ormond Beach, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer Letters to the Editor, “Two Tree Committee members explain their group’s proposal,” Monday, March 2, 2020

Last year, I wrote a blog post entitled, “An Arbor Day Insult,” which took Ormond Beach officials  to task for the city commission’s weird ability to turn off their sense of shame and accept a Tree City USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation – after standing idle for the environmental massacre on Granada Boulevard which saw some 2,061 old growth trees – including specimen hardwoods and majestic oaks – wantonly churned into a muddy moonscape to make way for another WaWa.

That abomination on Granada Boulevard resulted in a visceral reaction by many in the community that continues to resonate.

Now, a small group of concerned citizens are holding the city’s feet to the fire, demanding that city officials actually live up to the mandates of the Arbor Day Foundation, which requires the city have a designated board to promote the welfare of trees and help preserve the urban forest.

Given the commission’s propensity for ignoring the suggestions of their own Planning Board and other senior advisory committees, no one had much hope that the current eyewash employed by city officials – lumping tree protections with some nonsensical hooey called the “Quality of Life Board” – would have the clout (or teeth) required to protect our historic trees.

Not surprisingly, City Commissioner Troy Kent was opposed to the very idea of increased oversight and protection of our greenspace.

In fact, at a recent commission meeting where establishment of the tree board was discussed, he arrogantly tut-tutted that the board would cost the city money by requiring staff time, required announcements and publications.

My ass.

In turn, he suggested having an arborist attend Quality of Life meetings whenever the fate of trees is at issue.

“The city is a great steward of trees, and quite frankly, I want less government in my life,” Kent said. “I don’t want more government, and I just think creating yet another board that we don’t need — because we already have a board that is doing the job — is not helping government run more efficiently.”

Right.

What a shameless sellout Mr. Kent has become, eh?

According to a recent article in the Ormond Beach Observer, the Tree Committee was recently formed by a group of concerned residents seeking a nonpolitical solution to preserving the character of the community through, “…more native plants, hardier landscaping and preservation of mature trees and wetlands on both city property and new development, whenever possible.”

How anyone – especially a sitting elected official – can fail to show respect for that incredibly noble goal is a mystery. . .

I suppose, like many grassroots efforts that conflict with a politicians natural proclivity to meet every want and whim of the speculative developers that hold the paper on their political lives – the very idea of allowing citizens direct input in protecting civic attributes that may well conflict with the slash-and-burn strategies of their political benefactors is anathema to the current growth at all cost philosophy.

What a damnable shame.

Quote of the Week

“It seems that City of Daytona Beach and the Volusia County have been up to no good in misrepresenting the ISB project. The repaving and improvements on East ISB are not contingent on the building of the roundabout despite what we have been told. According to DOT the improvements will actually occur, and will occur quicker, with a traffic light at ISB and AIA…so why then are some in our governments lying to us?

The plan is to close the ISB ramp and force all traffic to enter the beach at Silver Beach (that should be a real mess) and then exit only at ISB.  And when that idiocy doesn’t work, they will close ISB ramp totally.

They have had this plan in place but have been lying about it for a while including lying to some or our elected officials. Evidently the cleaning house in Deland’s Administration Building was not thorough enough. Check out who owns the property south of ISB and those that would benefit from a private beach. We will have a chance to let DOT know how we feel at the end of the month…in the meantime let your elected official know how you feel about this slimy action.

–Paul Zimmerman, President of Sons of the Beach, writing on Facebook’s The V.C.C. Page – Volusia County Concerns, ahead of the March 31, 2020, FDOT Public Hearing on ISB Corridor Improvements, 5:30pm to 7:30pm, Midtown Cultural and Educational Center Gymnasium, 925 George W. Engram Boulevard, Daytona Beach

I shared my thoughts on this important issue earlier in the week – and I’m glad Paul Zimmerman, who heads Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy – weighed in on what many feel is one of the most pressing issues in the Halifax area.

The fact is, the proposed roundabout at A-1-A and East ISB is a nightmare in the making – one any experienced traffic engineer will tell you is tailor-made for gridlock – coupled with the fact the project could be moved up from the current three-year start date if a signalized intersection were authorized.

But, given the perennial foot dragging and civic hand-wringing that continues to waste precious time, I’m left wondering if its all part of a larger “vision” that We, The Little People, know nothing about?

For some two-years now, our ‘economic development’ gurus over at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce have had a video on their website which shows renderings and animation of happy people strolling a promenade of high-rise buildings and quaint shops on East ISB – complete with an overlay of the new development – hailed as “An investor tool designed to showcase recent development along International Speedway Boulevard (ISB) and the future vision for East ISB.”

The video, produced circa February 2018, features the crystal ball prescience of a traffic roundabout at Atlantic Avenue by the way. . .

My ass.

(Don’t take my word for it, find it here: https://tinyurl.com/ttz2wvh  – it’s located directly under the greasy marketing brands for Team Volusia, the CEO Business Alliance and Volusia County Economic Development Division.)

Then, last year, the Florida Department of Transportation held informational meetings – complete with conceptual plans for a complete overhaul of East ISB – where residents were adamant that they didn’t want a roundabout at the intersection of A-1-A and ISB.

Naturally, plans call for a roundabout. . .

I’m being told it is because senior officials at the City of Daytona Beach – spurred on by the wants of our secret society over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – are demanding it.  (Along with even more money from FDOT for right-of-way. . .)

Now that Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm has begun his excruciatingly long goodbye – giving a full-year notice of his desire to retire in March 2021 – how that oddly-timed  announcement will ultimately affect current traffic plans remains to be seen.

But I doubt anything of substance will change until our civic elite reach their ultimate goal of eliminating our century-old heritage of beach driving altogether – which is clearly their intent with this godforsaken roundabout that will effectively block the busiest beach access point in Volusia County.       

In my view, it’s time the long-suffering residents and business owners who hitched their wagon to the promised “beachside redevelopment” start getting hard answers to these important questions – and a solution to the stagnation that is actively killing our core tourist area.

And Another Thing!

The unthinkable happened today.

For over 40-years, The Conklin Center for the Blind served the needs of the visually impaired – including providing independent living skills, the use of assistive technology and orientation & mobility training – along with awareness and outreach programs to educate the sighted community on the capabilities and contributions of the blind and those with additional disabilities.

Tragically, those incredibly important services come to an end this morning.

According to reports, state inspectors recently found discrepancies in the physical condition of the center – along with serious inconsistencies in contractual requirements and obligations that placed the facility “…in a state of material breach and non-compliance.”

 A disturbing report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal pointed out a laundry list of material violations of state standards that resulted in suspension of some 60% of Conklin Center’s funding.

 Apparently, the only remedy was the complete closure of the facility – leaving its clients – and our community – without this vital resource.

Look, I don’t know who is ultimately responsible – but this shit happens much too frequently in the Halifax Area.

We are being told that Conklin CEO Kelly Harris was summarily terminated earlier this week by the Board of Directors, bringing her 16-month tenure to a close in the midst of this maelstrom that brought the center to its knees.

Of course, Harris feels she should have received a commendation for her work to right the ship since she learned of the state inquiry last November:

“I was excited and thought they would come back with glowing statements about the amazing work we were doing.”

However, the News-Journal reports that Conklin board chair and former Ponce Inlet Mayor Nancy Epps isn’t buying any of it – taking a firm stand in support of Harris’ dismissal – saying the report from the Florida Division of Blind Services speaks for itself.

She’s right.

But I’m still curious when the wheel came off the cart?

Because the Conklin Center ran like clockwork under the outstanding stewardship of former  Executive Director Robert Kelly, who gave more than 31-years of faithful service to the center until his retirement in 2018.

In fact, Ms. Harris was hired to replace Kelly.

In my view, it’s important to identify the people and processes that led to this catastrophe – one that has adversely affected the lives and livelihoods of 50 clients and some 40 staff members who lost their jobs today – because this scenario should never be allowed to happen again.

Yet, just like the still unfolding disaster at Bethune-Cookman University, these scandals occur here with frightening regularity.

If our local system of “forgive and forget” holds true – I doubt we will ever learn the whole truth.

We’re just not real big on the whole concept of accountability here on the Fun Coast.

When I was writing and managing state and federal grants, the mandate to meet and adhere to programmatic standards was a big deal – one that I, and others, took extremely seriously, because anything less would erode the public’s trust and undermine our efforts to leverage grant funds for the enhancement of community programs.

So, as we say goodbye to what the Conklin Center meant to many in this community – an institution that served thousands of clients over four-decades – I hope our ‘powers that be’ in the public, private and non-profit sectors will use this unfolding tragedy as a stark reminder of the importance of oversight and management – and the fragility of publicly funded services when those who accept high responsibilities fail to live up to their sacred charge.

That’s all for me.  Have a safe and fun Bike Week 2020!

 

 

 

More Coffee, Please!

Earlier this week, News-Journal editor Pat Rice held one of the paper’s recurring coffee klatches to permit long-suffering residents another opportunity to vent on the perennial issue of blight and dilapidation on East International Speedway Boulevard – the main gateway to what was once The World’s Most Famous Beach.  

Look, I like everything about these informal community get-togethers.

In my view, Mr. Rice’s meetings provide residents an opportunity to join together, talk issues, and provide grassroots suggestions – a rarity in Volusia County, where many municipal governments have joined county officials in creating an information black hole – where elected officials and senior administrators hide behind paid mouthpieces and anything of substance is cloaked in pithy releases or an institutional policy of never communicating with the working press.

Frankly, when it comes to the horrors of our languishing beachside, the sights, sounds and smells of our core tourist area that are slowly destroying our hospitality industry and driving long-suffering property owners out of the area – we’ve heard it all before.

That’s why I didn’t bother attending the News-Journal’s coffee on Tuesday.

Like many of you, I’ve talked myself hoarse – and nothing has changed.

And this recurrent civic disappointment is driving many more away from the discussion as well.

The end of my innocence began when the Volusia County Council brought our ‘best and brightest’ from the public and private sectors to the table for the ill-fated Beachside Redevelopment Committee – a Blue Ribbon task force comprised of everyone who is anyone in our social, civic and economic elite – with a firm mandate to find workable solutions to the malignant blight and dilapidation that was so desperately exposed in the News-Journal’s 2017 “Tarnished Jewel” series.

After nearly a year of hearings, substantive discussions and three-hour-plus information sharing sessions – Volusia County officials stepped in (literally at the eleventh hour) and neutered the committee’s recommendations with obscure, non-committal bureaucratese, such as, “Expand the opportunities to make the beach a year-round destination for all visitors,” and “Utilize prior redevelopment efforts to determine the feasibility and viability of new efforts…”  

It took the wind out of my sails – and deflated the hopes of thousands of residents and business owners who put their faith in the personal and professional credibility of the committee members.

Instead, our fervent hope for substantive change was replaced with another worthless “See, we did something” political insulation report that now collects dust in Volusia County’s already groaning library of consultant reports, master plans and other expensive “recommendations.”

And, the idle coffee-talk and hand-wringing continues. . .

Along with the unanswered questions that naturally result in widespread frustration.

For some two-years now, our ‘economic development’ gurus over at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce have had a tantalizing video on their website which shows renderings and animation of happy people strolling a promenade of high-rise buildings and quaint shops on a futuristic East ISB – complete with an overlay of the new development – hailed as “An investor tool designed to showcase recent development along International Speedway Boulevard (ISB) and the future vision for East ISB.”

The video, produced circa February 2018, even features the crystal ball prescience of a traffic roundabout at Atlantic Avenue, by the way. . .

Yet, no one seems to mention this “future vision” whenever talk turns to East ISB.

Why is that?

(Don’t take my word for it, find it here: https://tinyurl.com/ttz2wvh – it’s located directly under the greasy, horribly redundant, marketing brands of Team Volusia, the CEO Business Alliance and Volusia County Economic Development Division.)

In addition, last year, the Florida Department of Transportation held informational meetings – complete with conceptual plans for a complete overhaul of East ISB – where residents were adamant that no one wanted a roundabout at the intersection of A-1-A and ISB – which just happens to be one of the busiest beach access points in the Halifax Area.

Now, we’re being told that plans are underway to build a roundabout. . .

In my view, it’s a nightmare in the making – one seasoned traffic engineers will tell you is tailor-made for gridlock – coupled with the fact the project could be moved up from the interminable three-year start date if a signalized intersection were authorized.

Why?

I don’t know – but I’m being told its because senior officials at the City of Daytona Beach – spurred on by our secret society over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – want it.  (Along with even more money from FDOT for right-of-way. . .)    

That’s why.

Another question is why Pat Rice is content to ignore these historical facts and topical developments while continuing to talk these tired issues to death – rather than holding those in a position of power responsible for this continuing debacle on the beachside?

For many who have hitched their wagon to the promise of “beachside redevelopment,” these hot air generators are becoming a waste of precious time. . .

In an October 2019 editorial, Mr. Rice wrote:

“It takes time to remedy the decades of neglect and problems that have allowed the beachside to become decrepit and crime ridden. Raggedy rental housing doesn’t improve overnight. Shops and restaurants don’t just sprout up because people wish for them. Everyone gets that.  But there is such a thing as not trying hard enough. There is such a thing as flying too below the public’s radar.  There is such a thing as not banging the drum loudly.”  

How much more time do we have?   

 

 

 

Let’s Make a Deal!

Here we go again. . .

It appears our Volusia County “economic development” shills are at it again – teasing us underemployed rubes here on the Fun Coast with another corporate thriller right out of the mind of John le Carré – complete with tantalizing clues, clandestine negotiations, a super-secret protagonist and, if we find our way through this byzantine maze of intrigue – the promise of “55 high wage jobs.”

That’s if you consider an “average” salary of $43, 401 “high wage”. . .

In typical fashion, last week we learned through a cryptic agenda item for Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting that another mysterious enterprise – code named Project Ocean – is considering locating here – so long as our elected officials agree to cough up a local match of $55K in public funds to qualify the company for a state corporate welfare program called the “High Impact Performance Incentive Grant” that, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “…could provide an additional $2,000 for each new job created.”

In total, the enigmatic company would qualify for tax incentives worth some $275,000 – a lure designed to woo the operation away from suitors in Mississippi and Georgia who are also vying for the company’s favors.

Whatever.

Look, like most of you, I would love to see these fabled “high paying jobs” come to Volusia County.

Given the trifecta of cheap land, the county’s casual attitude toward environmental protection and four colleges and universities producing an educated workforce champing at the bit for opportunities outside the warehouse industry – any corporation looking for a competitive edge should be paying us to move here.

Yet, our ‘powers that be’ continue to play this bullshit game of corporate hide-n-seek which requires the allocation of public funds with no substantive information, public debate or transparency.

Somehow, this statutorily protected anonymity that allows negotiations with code protected companies outside the public view – to include individual meetings with elected officials – has become accepted practice in local government, leaving more questions than answers from those who are expected to pay these dubious inducements.

For instance, how are we supposed to know if the tax breaks and cash incentives are relevant to the needs of the business – and the community – or just bureaucrats seeing who can shovel the most money to land a project?

Do we have a legitimate compliance apparatus in place to monitor actual job creation and ensure that We, The Little People, are getting maximum benefit from the incentives our elected officials authorized?

Look, we’ve been fooled before.

Don’t forget that both Team Volusia, and the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, still tout Blue Coast Bakers as employing 300 people – listing it as one of Volusia County’s “Largest Employers” – even though the now defunct operation never employed much more than a baker’s dozen during its short and mysterious existence.

Yet, the shim-sham continues on the official web pages of our publicly funded “economic development partners.”   

Why is that?   

Under the current process, we may be vying for a massive distribution center, a modern manufacturing operation or a toxic waste incinerator, we simply don’t know – and in this political environment – anything is possible. . .

It’s become a bad “Let’s Make a Deal” episode – where elected officials are asked to give away our money on dubious corporate welfare schemes with little, if any, knowledge of what’s behind door number three.

That’s wrong.

In this case, all we know is that, “The company has grown to become a multi-national, global industry leader in delivering the highest quality products and service, with 37 production facilities in 22 countries around the world.”

But what the hell does that mean? 

What ‘products and services’? 

That could be anything from enriched uranium to wooden spoons.

We’re told that the company will make its Grande Révélation at the County Council meeting this week – which is a damn sight better than the grab bag scenario we’ve become accustomed to.

For instance, the Deltona City Commission is still simmering over the fact some elected and appointed officials were told of Amazon’s interest in putting a distribution and logistics center in the community – while others were kept totally in the dark.

Earlier this month the News-Journal reported that during a testy exchange on the dais, City Commissioner Chris Nabicht angrily confronted Mayor Heidi Herzberg:

“Who authorized you to go in and speak to Amazon and the developers with regard to the incentive package when the only one that signed a non-disclosure agreement and was crucified about it was (Commissioner) Anita (Bradford)?” Nabicht said. “Who authorized you to do that, because the commission didn’t.”

Now there are calls for a formal investigation to determine if Mayor Herzberg overstepped her bounds by negotiating incentives with Amazon with no outside oversight or commission authorization – and former City Manager Jane Shang has fled City Hall like a scalded dog. . .

This unnecessary instability is the natural result of keeping important information from decision-makers while allowing select insiders advanced knowledge that can be used for a variety of advantages.

That’s unfair.

And counterproductive to true economic development – and government in the Sunshine.

 

Angels & Assholes for February 28, 2020

Hey, kids!

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.

Before we get started, I want to thank everyone who took the time to send well-wishes to Patti and I on our 25th wedding anniversary last week.

Look, I’m as shocked as you are – but, somehow, Patti has found a way to tolerate my many quirks, faults and foibles for a quarter century now – which should satisfy all the rites and proof of heroic virtue required for formal canonization. . .

Last week, we celebrated with our dearest friends in New Orleans – continuing a thirty-year love affair with that beautiful, battered, troubled, magical, mythical place that, in my view, remains the most unique and exotic city in the nation.

In fact, Patti and I were married there on a crisp February evening by the captain of a paddle-wheel riverboat plying the muddy Mississippi – standing arm-in-arm under a bright Louisiana moon that cast a protective spell over our marriage and guided our union through the tumultuous and turbulent times.

On our wedding night, a silver haired lady – a native New Orleanian with a distinctive “Yat” accent – approached us and pressed a silver dime in my hand.  She claimed tradition dictated that any couple married in the Crescent City should make a wish, then toss the coin into the river to ensure good luck and a happy life.

So, we did.

Our wish came true – and the love affair continues. . .

Over the years, we’ve developed a system of sorts by planning our trips to the Big Easy the week before Mardi Gras Day.

I suppose it’s like jumping off a roller-coaster mid-ride – but, as we get older, it’s increasingly difficult to navigate the crowds, the crime and the conspicuous consumption of Carnival Season.

You don’t visit New Orleans – you live it, with all your senses.

It’s not for the faint of heart.

As the incomparable New Orleans scribe and Pulitzer Prize winning storyteller, Chris Rose, describes the world-famous Bourbon Street:

 “Where karaoke and bad Jimmy Buffett cover bands provide the soundtrack of the city and the night air smells like sweet olive, night blooming jasmine, crab boil, weed, coffee, dead crustaceans, mule shit and sex.”

I would add the distinct odor of stale beer and its byproduct to that aromatic mix as well. . .

The cobblestone streets of this ancient city are a purgatory for the lost, the dopesick and the downtrodden, a bacchanalia for the drunken college crowd and a living antique shop for the young at heart, all set amongst the opulence of old-world hotels, dive bars and incredible restaurants where your server has been working the same room for 40-years.

A place where old money and the uptown mansions it inhabits are slowly being surrounded by young professionals in jogging shorts pushing baby carriages and walking expensive dogs around recently gentrified neighborhoods.

A city of fierce traditions and untold tragedy, all lit by the soft glow of a flickering gas streetlamp.

But once you hear the mournful wail of a baritone saxophone wafting through a nearly deserted French Quarter on a foggy midnight – the deep sound reverberating off damp brick walls and a slate banquette – well, you’re never quite the same again.

And the love affair continues. . .

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

Angel               Civic Activist Anne Ruby

I’ve had the privilege of meeting some remarkable people through this blogsite – citizens who truly care about the preservation and protection of those things that make the Halifax Area such a special place.

None more knowledgeable – or committed to resolving the difficult issues of the day – than the intrepid Anne Ruby.

Recently, Anne wrote passionately in The Daytona Beach News-Journal regarding the eminent demise of the City Island Rec Center – the 1920’s community amenity that has, like many publicly-owned facilities before it, been allowed to decompose into total disrepair under the absurd policy of  “Condemnation by neglect” – or, as I call it, the complete abdication by our elected officials of their fiduciary responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the people’s property.

(Hey, I’ve got an idea!  How about we start holding elected and appointed officials criminally liable for maintaining the value of public assets – rather than permitting this institutionalized malfeasance that allows them to escape responsibility by saying, as the News-Journal’s Mark Lane aptly put it, “Such a shame. Gotta take this down for safety reasons.”)

Now it appears the debate – if there ever was a legitimate one – is over.

Once again, the only ones who matter got their way – and you can bet your bottom dollar this irreplaceable piece of our local heritage will soon be demolished and hauled away – making space for some chain restaurant/bar with a life expectancy of about 14-months. . .

In my view, our elected officials, at all levels of local government, seem to find funding for every pet project and corporate welfare scheme concocted by our oligarchical overseers – political insiders who are busy rebuilding downtown Daytona in their own craven image – yet, when residents demand that historic structures (that happen to occupy some coveted riverfront real estate) be saved, they suddenly develop a weird fiscal conscience that says it’s ‘too expensive to restore.’

Yet, none of their malleable “funding priorities” seem important when some rich old man with a legacy complex makes a demand.

Why is that?

In her piece advocating for the refurbishment of the City Island Rec, Anne said:

“The city is making a big investment of our tax dollars to bring business to Beach Street. Owning and operating an event venue, a public meeting space, so close to the new walkable Beach Street would give us a powerful tool to help meet that goal.”

“It is time for the very same City Commission that voted to invest so much in the Beach Street roadway project to also get serious about revitalizing The Rec Center as a city facility. Not only would it be good for business, preserving our history is the right thing to do. A city that doesn’t value its past, has no future.”

Well said.

In my view, Anne Ruby remains an important voice in our community – one our elected and appointed officials should listen to.

They won’t.  But they should.

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

Why is it that no one in Volusia County Schools asks the important questions? 

This week, we learned the dirty little secret that the classrooms and facilities used by our children have become so filthy – so “absolutely disgusting” – that some members of the School Board fear for the safety of students who sit on the carpet during educational activities.

My God.

And why are those highly compensated posers in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand just learning about this latest crisis du jour?

Look, as someone who has been personally responsible for the management of public assets, I can assure you these facilities didn’t fall into this deplorable condition overnight.

So, when is someone, anyone, going to be held accountable by those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests?

Way back in 2013, when your loyal scribe was still wearing the ball-gag that accompanies a job in the public sector – I had personal reservations about the School Board’s misguided decision to toss long-time district custodians on the ash heap in favor of outsourcing janitorial services to the out-of-state Aramark Management Services.

We were sold a bill of goods that going outside would save taxpayers millions while providing more efficient services.

Despite efforts to save the jobs, healthcare and pensions of loyal district employees who were set to be absorbed by Aramark (oddly, even the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce openly supported the move) it was clear that the decision was a foregone conclusion.

At the time, the president of the union which represented the former custodians said in a prescient statement to the News-Journal following the ill-fated vote:

“I just hope they fall on their face. I hope the custodians treat them with the same respect they were treated with.”

 And, fall on their ass they did. . .

Just two-years after signing the five-year $57.8 million contract with Aramark, then Superintendent Tom Russell recommended terminating the agreement.

As the News-Journal reported, “Since the district inked the deal with Aramark two years ago, school employees have complained about myriad problems such as dirty floors, dusty shelves and restrooms that lack toilet paper, towels and soap.”

Sound familiar?

Undeterred by the fact that contracting this important service to a relatively unaccountable third party might not be the best way to go, Volusia County Schools simply opted to switch providers, you know, hoping against hope for a different outcome. . .

To his credit, Superintendent Scott Fritz is now studying alternatives – including bringing janitorial services back in-house.

During my three-decades in public service, I worked for a local government who understood the intrinsic value of loyalty – that sense of professional dedication that comes when public employees feel a personal connection to those they serve.

Countless times I have seen employees at all levels of the organization go the extra mile – far exceeding that which is expected of them to ensure continuity of operations, even placing themselves in harms way to provide essential services – not because they were being paid to do it, but because they truly cared about the health, safety and welfare of their constituents.

I’m not sure you find that level of commitment in the four corners of a service contract.

In my view, there are prudent and appropriate ways to save money in the massive bureaucracy that is Volusia County Schools – and, perhaps, a good place to start would be purging some of that top heavy, do-nothing wad of incompetents who have attached themselves like ticks to the public teat for years?

I’m just not sure doing the same thing again and again while expecting a different result from the same people is the best use of public funds – and, as evidence suggests, our current course is certainly not improving the lot of vulnerable students and teachers who are forced to work and learn in a grossly unsanitary environment.

We are witnessing the textbook definition of insanity. . .

Quote of the Week

“Let me, again, quote Abraham Lincoln: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.” Government in Ormond Beach has not lived up to Mr. Lincoln’s principle.  The way we have existed here over the past several years has not been “of, by, and/or for” the people.”

“This city is governed in a manner that, although the residents appear to have a say on topics, their voices are ignored. Where is the “of, by and for” in that type of government? I, and many, many others have addressed topics over the past several years only to have our pleas and appeals squashed by the power of a few. That “power” is called the “last word” — the final vote, so, basically pleas and appeals do not mean squat.”

–Ed Kolaska, Ormond Beach, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “What happened to “of, by and for the people”?” Monday, February 24, 2020

Like many East Volusia communities, my hometown – the City of Ormond Beach – is difficult to figure sometimes.

In my view, we have exceptional management in Joyce Shanahan – yet, our City Commission seems far too flighty and inconsistent – almost distracted – when it comes to crafting effective public policy in furtherance of a coherent civic vision.

Like a demented kitten playing with some glittery gimcrack – our elected officials frequently hare off down nonsensical roads – like suddenly deciding they want to convert every septic system on the unincorporated North Peninsula to municipal sewer without a shred of scientific evidence of need beyond a Health Department suggestion – or the fatuous purchase of a church without the first clue how the property will ultimately serve a pressing public need, etc., etc.

And don’t get me started on the complete lack of strategic vision that has left us outflanked by our behemoth neighbor to the south, who is quickly approving massive development on our environmentally sensitive western border, unchecked sprawl which will drastically impact our already over-stressed transportation infrastructure.

Make no mistake, I believe that Ormond Beach is one of the most exceptional communities in the Halifax Area.

But how long will that last?

Perhaps its time for Ormond Beach officials to come to the realization that we’re all in this together – and the residents they were elected to represent have solid ideas for what they want their community to look like in the next, 10, 20, 30 years.

That important process begins with actually listening to their concerns – and remembering that the ultimate power of all government is derived from the will of the governed – not the haughty whims of  wealthy real estate developers with a profit motive.

And Another Thing!

When it comes to Volusia County politics – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Same tired names with the same tired “ideas.”

Same wealthy insiders with the same lust for power and influence.

And, just like campaigns past, these two factions will join at elegant receptions and “meet-n-greets,” stilted soirees which blunt the filth and embarrassment of the candidate having to physically grovel before their campaign contributors in public.

Nothing really changes.

This week, the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys – who recently announced her run for the Catbird Seat during a horribly choreographed hand-off with our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – was feted at a reception hosted by all the right last names in Southeast Volusia real estate and politics.

In fact, when I read some of the names on the “Host Committee” list, I initially thought it was a meeting of the Angler’s Club – but then I remembered, Ms. Denys is a prohibited female – meaning, she can only accept campaign contributions from men associated with the organization, not be a member of it. . .

Then, rounding out the team was the lame duck “County Chairman Ed Kelley.”

I guess Old Ed plans to wring as much political clout out of that torn and tattered moniker as he can, eh?

If guilt by association means anything in this day and age (and I don’t think it does), I find it hard to believe that Councilwoman Denys would want Ed Kelley within a country mile of her campaign.

After all, with Ms. Denys whispering direction in his ear, Chairman Kelley has lorded over perhaps the most dysfunctional reign of any iteration of the Volusia County Council in memory – and that’s saying something.

When you consider the laundry list of five alarm foul-ups, gaffes, howlers, political deceit, public policy by ambush, cronyism, citizen suppression, corporate welfare, civic mediocrity, environmental exploitation and lockstep conformity with a system that values the status quo over the needs of its constituents – why anyone other than a political retread with no real ideas other than raising taxes, redirecting voter-approved initiatives and kowtowing to uber-wealthy insiders would want to be associated with Chairman Kelley remains a mystery – but I suppose that’s how the game is played in those circles.

It’s why I continue to support Jeff Brower’s campaign for Volusia County Chair.

You won’t find him hovering around the political fishing camps or gilded offices of our exalted ‘Kingmakers,’ sycophantically begging for another bite at the apple.

Rather, Jeff is more at home holding information sharing sessions at community picnics or in living rooms – talking real issues with real people at small businesses and neighborhood forums.

I don’t take these stark differences lightly.  And neither should you.

In fact, I encourage you to call or sit down with Jeff Brower and listen to his thoughts on environmental protection, education, infrastructure, water quality and increasing property values while fundamentally changing the “growth at all cost” philosophy that is threatening our very quality of life.

Then, ask the hard questions.

I guarantee you won’t hear defeatist terms like “regionalism” – or be fed Buck Rogers bullshit about hitching our collective wagon to Brevard County’s commercial space industry.

You will find that Mr. Brower is more down to earth – a straight shooter with something original and significant to say on the challenges that affect us, our children and grandchildren – and, more important – he has a viable plan to move Volusia County onto a new, prosperous and infinitely more inclusive path forward.

This one’s important.

I encourage everyone to vote like our quality of life and livelihoods depend upon it – because they do.

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