- April 13, 2023
As the executive director of Flagler Humane Society, I see firsthand that a nationwide shortage of veterinarians is putting a strain on pet owners and animal shelters. Even some emergency clinics have closed or shortened hours.
This dire situation can have a disproportionate impact on pet owners who already face barriers to accessing veterinary care — senior citizens, disabled individuals, busy working families, and those who live in rural areas or own nervous or aggressive pets.
In some cases, lack of accessible, affordable veterinary care can result in extended pet illness, animal suffering, or pets being relinquished to animal shelters.
Fortunately, the Florida Legislature is considering two creative solutions that could be implemented immediately to help alleviate the pressure on our veterinary healthcare system.
The Providing Equity in Telemedicine Service (PETS) Act (H.B. 1117/S.B. 1600) would remove regulations preventing the effective use of telemedicine for animals in our state.
Now more than ever, people are using telemedicine to access medical care—even for infants. It is time that veterinarians, pets, and pet owners had more freedom to benefit from safe, convenient telemedicine.
Another bill, S.B. 722/H.B. 719, would allow for volunteer veterinarians who are licensed and in good standing in another state to provide spay/neuter services under the responsible supervision of a Florida licensed veterinarian.
Both measures have unanimously passed the Florida House of Representatives under the leadership of longtime animal welfare champion and Flagler County resident Speaker Paul Renner.
If the Senate passes this “pet deregulation” legislative package before May 5 and Gov. Ron DeSantis signs these important bills into law, more pets in the Sunshine State could get the veterinary care they need.
It would be impossible to find another local leader with the integrity, wisdom, knowledge and understanding of our Flagler County School Board’s Dr. Colleen Conklin.
Yet, Dr. Conklin, in her recent statement on the role of the Palm Coast-Flagler Regional Chamber of Commerce in the “no-confidence” vote with regard to the renewal of School Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt’s contract, misses the mark. She is too young to have heard the voice of the Watergate scandal’s “Deep Throat” admonishing all of us, even here in far-off Flagler County half a century later, to “Follow the money!”
In spite of outward appearances, the Palm Coast-Flagler Regional Chamber of Commerce intervention into the superintendent’s contract renewal had nothing to do with student achievement, test scores or even staff turnover. The Chamber had the good sense to hide the fact that its advocacy for a vote of “no-confidence” was almost entirely motivated by the desire to punish Mittelstadt for her steadfast commitment to robust, yet fair and equitable, impact fees.
Those fees are paid to offset the cost of building new schools of excellence in Flagler County. Those fees are paid by developers and builders who provide, through their dues, the lifeblood of the Chamber. The Chamber was protecting those developers and builders from paying fair impact fees and instead laying the burden on each and every one of the ordinary citizens of Flagler County.
Further, the Chamber has fired a shot warning all future candidates for the position of Flagler County School Superintendent that when asked about impact fees, they best provide an answer that satisfies the Chamber rather than those of us who take pride in the quality of Flagler County Schools.
Editor's note: The chamber's president and CEO, Greg Blosé, acknowledged in an interview with the Observer that the impact fee dispute was one factor in the chamber's decision to issue a statement of "no confidence" in Mittelstadt, but said it was not the primary one. Merrill Shapiro has organized a change.org petition asserting that the chamber's involvement in the impact fee fight constitutes a conflict of interest that the chamber should disclose when addressing school district matters.
Disclosure: Observer Publisher John Walsh is a chamber board member and was involved in the drafting of the no-confidence statement.
A disservice has been done to the children and taxpayers of Flagler County.
Let's be clear about one thing. This was not about the children or education in Flagler County. This was about a group of powerful business people angry at the impact fees negotiated by the superintendent, for the benefit of the school system.
It was a shameful display of political influence and backroom dealings. In her long-winded rant, School Board member Sally Hunt repeatedly mentioned her relationship with chamber board member Michael Chiumento, affordable housing, and other irrelevant matters and made her herself out to be a victim of public opinion, while conveniently ignoring the factual, publicly available record of her behind-the-scenes dealings with disgruntled employee Paul Peacock. She said little if anything about education and the impact this would have on the children.
School Board member Christy Chong attempted to justify her vote with statistics about employee changes, conveniently overlooking that some of those changes were due to promotions, retirements and reassignments to maximize effectiveness. School Board member Will Furry, well, for his level of participation he may have as well have phoned in his vote.
As for Mr. Blosé and "the chamber," where have they been all along while the board and the superintendent dealt with the two years of COVID turmoil? It is relevant to note that the superintendent came on board in 2020, and yes, COVID is relevant, not an excuse.
Additionally, Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt had to deal with two difficult board members during her tenure. Has anyone forgotten Woolbright and McDonald, and their divisive actions?
The bottom line is that these three, new and inexperienced board members were unable to clearly state any failures or deficiencies in Ms. Middlestadt 's performance. The search for her replacement will take many months a cost the taxpayers dollars that could be better spent improving our schools.
It was a witch hunt and and they succeeded, to the detriment of our community.