In The Spotlight
HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Tuck Tucker was a musical artist of passion and talent. He toured for over 10 years playing dobro, electric and acoustic guitar with various bands such as Harmony Grits, Dancing Horse, Red & Murphy, and the nationally known Marshall Tucker Band. While he played a variety of stringed instruments, he was known as a dobro player extraordinaire. His talent graced the recordings and stages of many musicians, not only in Florida, but around the country. He played on over 150 recordings by various artists and released three albums of his own original music.
On March 4, musicians gathered at Rum 38 not only to remember Tucker, who had passed away in 2021, but to also raise money to help the widow he left behind.
James “Tuck” Tucker started his musical career in 1975, when he joined the national touring group Harmony Grits Band. Tucker was hired to replace the departing dobro player. At that time Harmony Grits was an all-acoustic Bluegrass band, but, in 1977 they crossed over to Outlaw country. That change doubled their touring dates and destinations to six days a week. In 1980 a record company approach them about a record deal, but after touring for three years straight with no down time for resting, the rigorous schedule took its toll on the band and they disbanded in January 1980.
Tucker immediately started looking for another band, and when a band he was acquainted with came to perform in his hometown, he grabbed his dobro and went to their show. He asked if he could sit in, and by the end of the evening he had been invited back for the next night. By the end of the second night, the band asked him to join them in Dahlonega, Ga. Tucker went on to perform, travel, and record with this group, Red & Murphy & Co. for the next five years.
It wasn’t long after he married his love, Edwoina, that Red and Murphy moved to Winchester, Va., and Tucker decided to stay in Florida. It was a hard decision for him, but he chose to put his musical career on the back burner to work a traditional day job to support his wife and child in McIntosh, Florida.
For the next 22 years he worked hard to keep his music alive. He played with many different groups such as Endless Highway, The Adobe Brothers, The Driftwoods, and Dale Crider to name a few. He also played on multiple CD projects with local Gainesville bands, as well as recording with the nationally known The Marshall Tucker Band.
Tucker continued to work a day job to support the family during these years, but after his son, Cory, left home Tucker returned to playing music full time, which included a year long stint in Nashville. Tucker found he couldn’t afford to live there and he returned to Florida where he continued to play, becoming a local legend.
On Dec. 23, 2021, Tucker passed away and the music stopped. Still, his musical talent was not forgotten by many musicians he had worked with.
A year later, John and Raven Smith, who had worked with Tucker in Harmony Grits, and were now the main players in Quartermoon, sought to create an annual musical event to honor Tucker and help raise money for his widow, Edwoina. Tucker had performed at Rum 138 several times, and owners Doug and Merrilee Jipson offered their venue for a concert, and the call went out to local musicians to play at the event. Eight groups offered to play for free to help, and the March 4, 2023 the event was held under cloudy skies to an audience that also included many of Tucker's fans.
Mike Boulware, another local music legend, opened the show followed by Barbara and Mike Johnson, Smiley Tunehead, Hannah Harber Winn and In The Moment band, with Quartermoon finishing the night in tribute to their friend and former bandmate. By the end of the night, over $1,000 had been raised for Tucker's family.
“We were really pleased with all the support from the musicians, Rum 138 and the audience that came to honor him,” said John Smith. “It was a day of great music, which we hope to make an annual event, bringing back some of the well-known musicians he worked with nationally and grow it to be a musical celebration.”
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
HIGH SPRINGS ‒ A local youth robotics team is headed to a statewide championship competition. The Swampbots Frogmen Robotics team, a member of the FIRST® LEGO® League, is a youth robotics league supported by the High Springs Parks & Recreation Department. FIRST® LEGO® League introduces youth to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through hands-on learning.
Recently, the Frogmen team, made up of nine boys and girls from the area, competed in the Northeast Florida Regional Championship, placing third overall, out of 40 teams. With the Frogmen’s third-place finish, the team has earned the right to compete in the upcoming Florida State Championship, March 31 and April 1, with the overall winner earning a bid to the World Championship in Houston, Texas.
In addition to their state championship appearance, The Frogmen have also been invited to compete against some of the best teams from around the world at the Long Beach Invitational in Long Beach, Calif., May 12-14. Only 80 teams were invited to participate in this event.
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
ALACHUA ‒ Police Chief Jesse Sandusky began the Feb. 27 Alachua City Commission meeting with a special presentation for a member of the Alachua Police Department (ADP) who is retiring. The presentation was for K-9 Thor, a Belgian Malinois who has been in service with the APD since 2014. Thor, now 10 years old, officially retired from service at the meeting. In honor of Thor's service to the community, Sandusky presented a shadow box of his years with the department to his handler, Sgt. Justin Horn. Thor will now become Horn’s family pet with a life much more relaxed than as a police K-9.
That ceremony was followed by presenting certificates to 12 student artists from the Alachua Learning Academy who had their artwork featured on display in the foyer of City Hall. Mayor Gib Coerper and Ms. Kovie of the Alachua Learning Academy called each student up to present the certificates while they displayed their artwork and posed for photos.
During the City’s fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, the Finance and Administrative Services Department periodically prepares fiscal analysis reports conveying the City's general fiscal operating condition to the City Commission. City Accounting Manager Tyler Williams gave the report for the quarter ending in January, showing that the City currently has $60,659,853 in its budget, which includes both available cash holdings of $26,754,588 as well as investment portfolios of $1,639,825.
In other business, the Commission heard from City Planner Adam Hall regarding the consideration of the preliminary plat and Final PD Plan for the Peggy Road Planned Development project, which proposes the subdivision of a 51.26-acre property into 150 single family lots with associated common areas and road right-of-way. The property is located south of Peggy Road, north of CSX rail right-of-way, east of Interstate 75.and directly across from Legacy Park, The proposed subdivision will consist of lots ranging in size from 6,000 square feet to 9,335 square feet, with the majority of lots being 6,000 square feet.
The preliminary plat proposes common areas along the eastern, southern and western boundaries of the property with one access point onto Peggy Road. A pedestrian pathway will connect the internal sidewalk system to the public right-of-way of Peggy Road and will include a connection to the Hal Brady Recreation Complex and Legacy Park.
There will be a 50-foot buffer zone, owned by CSX, between the proposed lots and the eastern property line. The plan also proposes creating a turn lane and flashing caution light on Peggy Road to improve safety for cars entering and exiting the development as well as a crosswalk for pedestrians to access Legacy Park. The Commission approved the preliminary plat, which will now submit construction plans before getting final approval by the Commission.
On another development issue, Fletcher Development, LLC. entered into a Subdividers Agreement with the City of Alachua to provide the requirements for the construction of infrastructure for a project known as Savannah Station Phase 2A, Unit 2. This infrastructure was completed in accordance with the Subdividers Agreement and the City’s Land Development Regulations on Dec. 7, 2021. The one-year maintenance period has expired and any items in need of repair have been completed by Fletcher Development, LLC.
The initial estimate for the value of the infrastructure was $1,284,669. The required infrastructure improvements by the developer included the water system, wastewater system, electric system, roadways, stormwater conveyance system and sidewalks. Since the work has been completed, the City approved returning the $1,284,669 surety to the developer.
The Commission also approved acceptance of three recent grants to the City. The Children's Trust of Alachua County (CTAC) provided the City with a grant of $66,665 for Alachua's summer camp and enrichment services to be held at Legacy Park. Additional funding of $20,000 is projected to be received from non-CTAC funded enrollment fees.
In October 2022, staff submitted an application to the Duke Energy Foundation and the Greater Gainesville Chamber Foundation for a grant to help, strengthen, and uplift the community's awareness for climate and environmental resiliency in the Mill Creek Wetland Park. On Jan. 23, 2023, representatives from the Duke Energy Foundation and the Greater Gainesville Chamber Foundation presented the City Commission with an award of $20,000 to assist with the cost of educational exhibits and signage throughout the park.
On Nov. 16, 2022, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) executed a grant agreement with the City for the Alachua West Wastewater Improvement Project to design and construct a new pressurized wastewater main and make improvements to existing life stations. This grant is in the amount of $850,000 and requires no City matching contribution.
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ Just after 3 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 20, fire departments from High Springs, LaCrosse and Alachua County Fire Rescue responded to a residential structure fire in the 15000 block of Northwest 193rd Street between Alachua and High Springs in unincorporated Alachua County.
While en route to the fire, firefighters reported heavy black smoke visible from U.S. Highway 441. The first arriving fire engine found a single-family wood frame structure fully involved with fire. All occupants were out of the structure. The fire was contained to the building of origin which was a total loss. Several vehicles were also destroyed. There were no injuries.
Wind gusts up to 15 mph caused small spot fires to ignite on the ground and trees nearby. These small fires were quickly brought under control.
American Red Cross was contacted to assist the family. The Alachua County Fire Marshall was requested to help determine the cause.
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
Newberry Takes First Steps for Meat Processing Facility, Environmental Park to Include Regional Hazardous Waste Disposal
NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry Planning and Zoning Board on March 6 approved zoning requests for a future environmental park. If approved by the City Commission, the property is earmarked to be developed for expansion of the municipal wastewater treatment facility, an educational wetland exhibit and retention area, a county/regional household hazardous waste disposal facility, a firefighter training facility, a potential composting site and a small-farm meat processing facility.
The Board approved an ordinance for a large-scale amendment to the Future Land Use Plan Map on two parcels totaling 96 acres on the east side of County Road 336/Southwest 266th Street, between Southwest 18th Road and Southwest 30th Avenue and is addressed as 2105, 2429 and 2617 Southwest 266th Street. This and the next two items were brought before the Board by the City of Newberry. Upon final approval by the Commission, the ordinance will change the future land use classification from Agriculture to Public.
A second related amendment to the Future Land Use Plan Map was also approved to change the classification from Agriculture to Public on the 2.5 +/- acres, currently used as the municipal cemetery.
The Board also approved a request to rezone the total 217 +/- acres from Agricultural (A) and Residential, Single-Family (RSF-2) to Public Facilities (PF). The 217 acres also encompasses the two 96-acre parcels and the existing 2.5-acre municipal cemetery.
The 217 acres includes the 96-acre site identified for the wastewater treatment facility expansion and future environmental park and the remaining 121 acres that are the existing municipal cemetery and existing wastewater treatment facility. Approval by the Planning and Zoning Board is a recommendation for approval to the City Commission.
Some citizens did voice concerns about the proposed environmental park. Comments included protecting the quality of life for neighboring properties, ensuring an adequate buffer, preserving property values, methods for meeting notifications, the size of the meat packing facility and reasons for considering it and the County’s hearing date on this issue.
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the County came to the City regarding regional facilities, including the small-farm meat processing facility, due to farmers’ inability to process meat during the COVID epidemic. He said currently the County is asking for 15 acres to be set aside for the meat packing facility. Another three to five acres will be set aside for firefighter training.
In other Planning and Zoning Board business, an application by The Citadel Family Church, Inc., was considered and approved for a special exception to permit a church in a Residential, Single-Family (RSF-2) zoning district. The property is located at 145 N.W. 257th Street and consists of 0.24 +/- acres.
The building was originally used as a Methodist Church, and most recently, it was used as a Masonic lodge meeting hall. The 3,348-square-foot building was constructed in 1950 and is a contributing structure for the City’s Historic District. The property fronts the westbound segment of the Florida Department of Transportation project for the two-lane, one-way pair split for State Road 26/West Newberry Road.
Some Board members expressed concerns about increased traffic, adequate parking and noise impacting residents surrounding the building. Reverend Arraelieus Garrison explained that there are only four families in the congregation, and if attendance increases, he listed two additional locations that might be suitable for parking. He said his service doesn’t begin until 11:30 a.m. so there was little chance of waking neighbors.
Following unanimous approval by the Board, this item will be heard next at the Board of Adjustment meeting scheduled for March 13.
Also approved was an application by eda consultants, Inc., agent for Tibbetts Land Holdings LLC, owners, to rezone 8.28 +/- acres from Commercial General (CG) to Commercial, Intensive (CI). The property is located on the south side of West Newberry Road/State Road 26 between Southwest 218th Street and Southwest 226th Street. The zoning change will allow for the site to be developed as a commercial center in the front and additional boat and RV storage to the south, with possibly mini storage in-between. This item will be heard by the City Commission on first reading on March 27.
Also approved was an application by the City to change the zoning designation of 4.3 +/- acres from Residential, Single-Family (RSF-2) to Public Facilities (PF). The property is located at 120 N.W. 260th Street and is the site of the existing municipal Public Works building. The change brings the zoning designation in line with its use.
This item will be heard by the City Commission at the March 13 meeting.
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs’ recent decision to terminate its contract with waste haulers GFL Environmental, Inc. was called into question at the Feb. 23 City Commission meeting. GFL’s Skip McCall requested that the City withdraw their notice of termination of services. The contract, which is set to expire in April 2024, has a clause that notification to terminate the contract must be made in July 2023.
McCall said he was unaware there were issues until receiving the notification to terminate the contract. Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said he should have been aware of the issues since the City has communicated the problems to GFL’s staff on numerous occasions.
Although the Commission did not retract their decision, they directed City staff to meet with GFL to discuss problems the City has had with the company and possible resolutions.
GFL and staff will meet on March 14 and staff will come back to the Commission with the results.
Wild Spaces Distribution
The Commission approved a resolution for distribution of Wild Spaces Public Places funds over the period of the new sales surtax, which runs from Jan. 1, 2023 – Dec. 31, 2032. Alachua County requested that the cities unanimously support the distribution of funds.
In October, the Alachua County League of Cities approved a $375,000 split for each of the cities excluding Gainesville. The rational was that Gainesville receives an additional $3 million from Alachua County, apart from the $3 million grant that is split among all Alachua County municipalities. Gainesville was not present at the October Alachua County League of Cities meeting.
At the Feb. 9 City Commission meeting, several options for the split were discussed. During this Feb. 23 meeting, the Commission preferred the split among the eight municipalities with the exclusion of Gainesville, which would give each city $375,000. However, should this not be acceptable to Gainesville, the Commission would split the money nine ways which would provide $333,000 to each of the cities.
The Commission was reluctant to approve a nine-way split noting that $333,000 may not be enough money for the cities to accomplish a project.
The results of this vote will be conveyed to the Alachua County League of Cities which will convey the overall results of all of the cities to Alachua County.
Blue Gem Approved
A site plan for improvements to Blue Gem Motel was unanimously approved with conditions specified by the High Springs Plan Board. The motel is proposing to add a pole barn and fencing to their existing site. At the Plan Board meeting of Sept. 13, recommendations were made to gable the pole barn, columns to have brick wrapping to match the height of the existing painted area on the main building, make the fence wrought-iron along the road facing the highway, provide a rendering, and update the site plan.
According to the City’s Planning Technician II Kristyn Adkins, Blue Gem's site plan complies with all City regulations including those associated with the highway enhancement zone and the City’s new accessory structure ordinance.
ARPA Funds Usage
Gillingham reviewed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and requested that the Commission rank the projects with the remaining $369,826 in mind. The city has set aside $1,040,000 for the sewer project. Gillingham said, “Should grant funding be found for that project, some or all of those funds may become available for the remaining projects.”
FY 2020-21 Audit
Brendan McKitrick of James Moore & Co. was on hand to review the2020-21 fiscal year audit. He reviewed the report briefly. As the audit report was not received early enough for Commissioners to review it and ask questions, McKitrick offered to meet one-on-one with each Commissioner to discuss the audit.
“Due to changes in staffing, this report has been delayed and the relevant state offices have been notified of the timeline,” said High Springs Finance Director Diane Wilson.
The second aspect of the audit report was for Commissioners to vote on accepting the report. Due to how late the report was received, this item was deferred to the next meeting for consideration.
The City’s water tower will be off line for four to six weeks while 10-year maintenance is conducted. It is anticipated there will be workers accessing the water tower in mid-April to clean and paint. There will be no disruption in water to residents.
The City Commissioners and the Alachua County Board of Commissioners will meet in a joint session on April 20 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.
A Push-In Ceremony will be held on March 14 at 9:30 a.m. at the High Springs Fire Station, 18586 N.W. 238th Street, High Springs. One of the new trucks is a Heavy Rescue 29 - a 2022 E-One Cyclone, built with advanced life support medical equipment, extrication tools and a host of other technical rescue equipment. The second new truck, an Engine 29 - a 2022 E-One Cyclone, is equipped with advanced life support medical equipment, extrication equipment, hoses, ladders and 1,000 gallons of water. The public is invited to the ceremony.
City utility customers can expect an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system to be implemented in the June to August timeframe. The new system will allow the City to remotely collect customer water usage data in real time. AMI uses radio-based technology to read water meters, which eliminates the need for manual meter reads and also provides real time use information for property owners.
Farm Share will be distributing food in High Springs on Saturday, March 11. Volunteers are needed to help distribute the food into vehicle trunks. Anyone interested in helping should contact Commissioner Byran Williams at 352-871-7988.
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
NEWBERRY ‒ The City of Newberry has cancelled its upcoming election. City Clerk Judy Rice announced that the 2023 Qualifying Period for the 2023 Municipal Election Cycle closed at noon on Feb. 23 with no one challenging the existing elected officials. Rice said, “the Newberry Municipal Election, scheduled for April 11, 2023, has been canceled.” As all three incumbents were the only ones to qualify, they will be returned to office.
Incumbents include Jordan Marlowe – Mayor, Tim Marden – Commissioner Group IV and Tony Mazon – Commissioner Group V.
For questions contact the City Clerk’s Office at 352-472-2446 or email her at CityClerk@NewberryFL.Gov.
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
HIGH SPRINGS ‒ High Springs resident William Samuel Evans, 41, was arrested on Sunday, March 5, and charged with arson of a dwelling and several drug charges after allegedly setting a house on fire. The house was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.
A High Springs Police Department (HSPD) officer responded to the fire in the 24000 block of 183rd Street at about 6:30 a.m. Sunday morning. A woman called 911, saying Evans had called her and told her to “take a look at the house.” The woman told the 911 operator that Evans “may be doing this to torture her.” She said she and Evans had been arguing prior to the fire and that Evans was hiding in the woods near the house that was on fire. Law enforcement attempted to locate Evans in a wooded area north of the fire.
The HSPD officer noted that the house did not have power and had not had power for an extended period of time. He also noted that Evans had a cell phone in his possession and did not call 911 to report the fire.
Evans came out of the woods on his own with his dog and surrendered to officers. Post Miranda, he reportedly said that he had been flicking cigarettes into a tub full of trash “for days” and that today the papers caught on fire. He admitted that he often threw cigarette butts into the tub to see if the paper would burn and then put out the fire with water. He said it wasn’t his intention to start a fire today, but it didn’t matter to him if he started a fire. He reportedly said he fell asleep after he threw the cigarette butt in the tub, woke up to find the bathroom on fire and fled with his dog into the woods but did not call for help.
A search incident to arrest reportedly produced a small amount of marijuana, methamphetamine and a glass pipe.
Evans has been charged with second-degree arson, possession of a controlled substance, possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana and possession of drug equipment.
Evans has seven felony convictions, with the most recent in 2015 and has served two state prison sentences and was most recently released on Feb. 1, 2013. He also has 11 misdemeanor convictions, eight traffic violations and one failure to appear citation.
Drug possession charges were filed against Evans in 2021 but later dropped.
Judge Susan Miller-Jones set bail at $212,000 at first appearance on March 6. Evans remains in the Alachua County Jail as of the date of this writing.
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
ARCHER ‒ Norman Alexander Burley, 67, was arrested Sunday, Feb. 26, and charged with tampering with evidence after allegedly shoving marijuana into the grille of a deputy’s patrol car.
An Alachua County Sheriff’s deputy conducted a traffic stop on an SUV driven by Burley at about 1:40 a.m. in the area of 12771 S.W. SR 45 in Archer. The deputy noted that the driver was unable to maintain lines and “crossed over the white line on the right shoulder multiple times” while following him for approximately two miles.
Burley reportedly gave verbal consent to a search of the vehicle and his person. While searching his person, a dime-size baggie of marijuana was found in his left pants pocket. The deputy reported that while he was gathering paperwork inside his patrol car, his in-car dashboard camera showed Burley taking marijuana from the hood of the patrol vehicle and shoving it inside the grille of the vehicle. He reported that he was unable to locate the evidence after a thorough search of the grille and engine bay of the vehicle.
Burley was charged with one count of tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony. Burley’s criminal history includes at least two felonies, with his most recent conviction in 2001.
Bail was set at $10,000.
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
ALACHUA – A two-vehicle crash occurred on Friday, March 3, at approximately 3:22 p.m., at the intersection of Northwest U.S. Highway 441 and Northwest 167th Boulevard in Alachua. Northbound lanes were blocked on U.S. Highway 441 and all of Northwest 167th Boulevard was blocked as emergency crews worked the scene.
The High Springs Fire Department along with Alachua County Fire Rescue and Alachua Police Department responded to the scene, which included entrapment.
A medical transport bus registered to the V.A. Hospital and a sedan, driven by an elderly male, were involved. The male sustained minor lacerations. “The front seat passenger, an elderly female, sustained non-life-threatening injuries, but was trauma alerted to Shands Hospital,” said Alachua Public Information Officer Detective Thomas Stanfield.
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
OCALA, Fla. - A GoFundMe account has been set up for an 8-year-old Ocala girl to purchase challenge coins to give to first responders. According to GoFundMe Regional Spokesperson Claudia Curiel, Aubryn has a huge appreciation for first responders and everything that they do. She's been hosting first responders at her home on Christmas Eve for the past five years. She serves them hot chocolate/coffee, treats and pastries. She plays games, colors and has made ornaments with the first responders that have shown up.
The Marion County sheriff presented her with a challenge coin thanking her for going above and beyond in thanking those who serve her community. She ended up collecting coins from each agency that stopped by. In January, she asked her parents if she could give them something to carry as a reminder that they are loved and appreciated. They had a challenge coin made for her to hand out.
She has since been invited to the Department of Corrections meeting and was honored by them for showing her appreciation. Now she's been invited to participate in a state meeting to honor elite first responders and asked to hand out her coins there. She's also been asked to present her local SRO's (School Resource Officers) with coins.
Her mother has set up a GoFundMe account to help support Aubryn's efforts. "We would love to take part in these events but we are lacking the funds to have more coins made," said Aubryn's mother. "We would like to have 300 additional coins made for these events and possibly more to have on hand for her annual events." Aubryn's mother says that donations will be used to purchase more coins, and if there are any additional funds they will be used for her first responder events and will directly benefit first responders such as firefighters, police, sherriff, Department of Corrections, nurses, doctors, EMTs and veterans.
To view the GoFundMe please visit:https://gf.me/v/c/76rg/
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
Southeastern Grocers issues recall for Deli Breaded Fish Sandwich products sold in Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie stores due to undeclared milk and soy
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Feb. 21, 2023) – Southeastern Grocers Inc. (SEG), parent company and home of Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie grocery stores, is issuing a voluntary recall for 563 Deli Breaded Fish Sandwich products sold in Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie stores. The recall is due to the presence of undeclared allergens (milk and soy) in the products.
The Deli Breaded Fish Sandwich products did not include milk and soy ingredients on the label. The products were offered for sale as a hot item at the deli hot case and/or deli hot grab-n-go display in certain Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie stores in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana with a shelf life of four (4) hours. The products were packaged in a food-safe paper bag as further depicted here:
No illnesses have been reported to date.
The product name and SLU code below is for all impacted stores:
Deli Breaded Fish Sandwich – 57052
Customers with milk or soy allergies should not consume the product and should either dispose of the product or return to any Harveys Supermarket or Winn-Dixie store for an exchange or full refund.
Customers with questions about the recalled products may contact the Southeastern Grocers Customer Call Center toll free at (844) 745-0463 Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST.
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
WASHINGTON -- FEMA has provided more than $1 billion for 380,000 Florida survivors of Hurricane Ian, as part of the $5.5 billion in federal support the Biden-Harris administration has provided to help families and communities in Florida jumpstart their recovery.
The FEMA Individual Assistance funds, which go directly to applicants, are for rent, basic home repair and other disaster-related expenses. In addition, the U.S. Small Business Administration has approved $1.68 billion in low-interest disaster loans and the National Flood Insurance Program has paid $2.29 billion in claims. FEMA’s Public Assistance program has obligated $552 million to the state to reimburse debris removal and emergency response costs.
In continuing support to Floridians, FEMA is undertaking an extensive housing effort that includes funds for rent, home repairs, hotel stays, apartment leases, travel trailers and manufactured housing units.
More than 70,000 Florida households have been approved for $647 million in financial assistance for rent or basic home repairs, and more than 4,500 households have stayed in hotels temporarily under FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance program. Additionally, FEMA is placing eligible applicants in 313 apartment homes, under its Direct Lease program, and is also working to lease apartments, repair them and place hurricane survivors in them under its Multi-Family Lease and Repair program.
In addition to financial assistance for housing, 366 families have moved into travel trailers, manufactured housing units and apartments in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Lee, Sarasota and Volusia counties. More temporary housing is being prepared for occupancy.
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
ODESSA, Fla. – The swimming pool in the backyard of Louis Minardi's home near Tampa may be distinctive to Florida: The custom-built pool is shaped like a six-shooter revolver, in a state made famous – sometimes infamous – by guns, gun politics and gun culture.
“Neighbors that have bought houses around here have all come by,” Minardi said. “They’re all, ‘Is this guy a whack job?’”
The story behind the revolver-shaped pool goes back roughly 40 years to an idea proposed by Minardi’s high school friend, Albert Jones III of Tampa, a contractor who said he was bored building more traditionally shaped pools.
Minardi was reluctant at first, but the idea resonated with him, given his lifelong relationship with guns. Now 67, Minardi said he grew up hunting with friends and remembers receiving his first firearm, a double-barrel shotgun, when he was in middle school but already mindful of gun safety.
“I was the shortest, littlest guy growing up, and bought a damn 12-gauge,” Minardi said.
“The times were different then,” he said. “You're 12, and your mother drops you off a box of shells and a shotgun. But they trust it. They knew we knew what we were doing.”
Minardi said he opened a gunsmithing business with his brother after attending classes in 1976.
In the 1980s, Minardi and his wife, Raye, decided they wanted a pool. They lived on a lake that contained snakes and alligators, and Raye Minardi would have to watch over their children swimming from the dock with a shotgun, she said.
The family wanted a pool at least 40 feet long to allow for laps. After Louis Minardi contacted Jones, who owned A.H. Jones Pools Inc., the idea was born for the gun pool – all 55 feet of it.
“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” Jones said, according to Louis Minardi. Knowing Minardi’s background as a gunsmith, Jones showed up with plans modeled after a Ruger Blackhawk, a 1950s-era, Western-style revolver characterized by its long barrel and known for its durability and accuracy.
“You swim your lap down the barrel,” Louis Minardi said Jones told him. “It gets deeper on that end. You can flip over from it, and then you can swim back.”
Jones pleaded with him to let him build the gun pool, Louis Minardi said. He said he was tired of building kidney-shaped pools, a staple of Florida’s backyards. Minardi agreed – provided he stayed within his project’s budget.
Jones, who died in 2010, color-coordinated the perimeter pool tiles to accurately reflect the revolver’s brown handle and silver body. He detailed tiles on the bottom of the pool to distinguish the gun’s individual components, like the trigger and ammunition chamber. And he installed a jacuzzi in the hammer.
The pool has been resurfaced over the years, but the shape remains.
Louis Minardi said the pool is popular among family and friends, who have used it to teach their children how to swim.
Louis Minardi stopped gunsmithing in the late ‘80s, due to increasing insurance rates for gun warranties. He became more involved with the family-owned taxi service and has run that business ever since.
Still, gun education remains important to him. He said he’s taken his children and grandchildren hunting since they were very young. He said he did not allow them to use a gun unless they were closely supervised and had proper training.
Gun education is at the center of Louis Minardi’s views on gun regulation. He said people should be allowed to own guns and carry guns in public. Florida lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would eliminate requirements for concealed carry permits, which currently include mandatory classroom training and proof of proficiency at a gun range. He also said having a gun doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t know how to properly use it.
“If you're qualified, mentally able to have one and protect yourself, I think you ought to have one if you want one, whether you keep it at home or you carry it with you,” Louis Minardi said. “But it's like everything. It's educating. It's educating the people about the guns, how they work.”
“Nowadays, most people don’t know anything about them,” he said.
Reflecting on his pool, he wasn’t aware that people on social media had noticed the unusual shape on overhead map imagery. And he said in all his years since being a gunsmith with a revolver-shaped pool, he never considered another curious coincidence: His family lives on Gunn Highway.
“I don’t know. I never thought about Gunn Highway,“ Louis Minardi said. “It just happens to be the road we live on.”
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
Governor Ron DeSantis Announces First Awards Through Broadband Opportunity Program, More Than $144 Million Awarded to 58 Projects Across 41 Florida Counties
- 21 March 2023
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – After a jury couldn't agree on the death penalty in Florida's deadliest school shooting, Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee are proposing to make it easier to send condemned convicts to death row.
The changes – which would allow a jury to recommend the death penalty even when only eight of 12 jurors agree – align with plans endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Rep. Berny Jacques, R-Clearwater, introduced a bill in the House on Tuesday that would allow death sentences in cases when only eight jurors agree. Florida law currently requires a unanimous agreement, or a judge would sentence a defendant to life in prison without parole.
Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, introduced a version of the same bill in the Senate late Monday.
Florida’s Republican governor called for the change last year, after the jury that convicted Cruz in the school shooting split 9-3 in favor of the death penalty in October.
“If you have a death penalty at all, that is a case – where you’re massacring those students with premeditation and utter disregard for humanity – that you deserve the death penalty,” DeSantis said after the sentencing.
Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, who represents the district where Nikolas Cruz, 19, fatally shot 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County in 2018 said she was withholding support for the proposed changes until she can speak with victims' families.
Broward County is home to more registered Democratic voters in Florida than any other. It is unclear if Democrats will object to the proposed changes.
“It's much larger than just one case,” Polsky said in an interview, adding she was unhappy with last year’s verdict in the Cruz case. “I need to really take a deep dive, which I haven't done. It's just something I need to really look into, understand and speak to my constituents.”
The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Ranch, cautioned that lawmakers were facing an “almost infinite number of topics that the state has to address every year,” adding that issues surrounding Florida’s death penalty have not been a priority until this year.
Gregory said it was important for lawmakers to reevaluate laws when the state sees challenges or changes in its system.
Jacques said in an interview he and Ingoglia worked for weeks on the legislation, and he did not coordinate with the governor. He said the governor’s public demands for a supermajority among jurors in death penalty cases was “music to our ears.”
Jacques said he preferred requiring only seven jurors to accept a death penalty recommendation. He said that was the system in place when he was a prosecutor. He said he and Ingoglia settled on a requirement for eight jurors as a compromise.
The sentence for Cruz reignited debate surrounding Florida’s capital punishment statute. Florida lawmakers meet for 60 days starting in March to consider thousands of new legislative proposals.
Neither the House or Senate bill was designated a top priority for legislative leaders. But support from DeSantis – who wields considerable influence over the Capitol – and the overwhelming majority Republicans hold in the Legislature made the effort’s passage highly likely.
No lobbyists from any public-interest organizations immediately registered to try to influence the outcome of debate over the bills, according to lobbying records reviewed Tuesday.
Prior to 2016 in Florida, a defendant could be sentenced to death by a majority 7-5 vote. Additionally, judges, rather than the jury, could also rule that aggravating factors made a defendant eligible for the death penalty. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the state’s death penalty procedure was unconstitutional.
In response to the court’s ruling, lawmakers in 2017 adopted the unanimous sentencing law.
In a case in 2020, the Florida Supreme Court opened the door to imposing death sentences even when jurors do not agree unanimously.
Jacques said he is confident the new procedure would hold up to legal challenges in state or federal courts.
The bill also proposes a jury recommendation, rather than jury determination, of a death sentence. Jacques said a judge could overturn a jury's recommendation and impose his or her own sentence.
“At the end of the day, the judge is the one who does sentencing,” he said. “This is an advisory recommendation that the jury provides.”
With his life spared, Cruz's whereabouts in Florida's prison system are unknown. The Department of Corrections has not released which prison Cruz has been sent to serve his life sentence. The state is permitted in rare cases to withhold such information when it is necessary to protect the safety of an inmate.
Family members of some victims of the school shooting have openly said they hope Cruz would be killed in prison by fellow inmates.
Michael Schulman, whose son was a teacher who died in the school shooting, told Cruz in a courtroom in November that he hoped “that the prisoners and the inmates you associate with execute the judgment that this court can’t.”
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment
Today, we pause in reverence to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his unyielding courage in the face of adversity, his boundless love in the face of hate, and his servant leadership in the face of supremacy. This great American not only chartered a new course in the fight for civil rights, he also illustrated how we should boldly advocate for our causes while exhibiting grace and humility.
As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the Alachua County Labor Coalition typically avoids weighing in on electoral contests. And we never endorse political candidates. But a recent dark-money mailer attacking one of our dedicated activists who is running for office and two of our signature policies he worked on requires us to speak up.
Residents of Gainesville Commission District 2 recently opened their mailboxes to find a cowardly postcard attacking Commission candidate James Ingle. It was paid for by the so-called Responsible Leadership Committee, Inc.—a dark money PAC. Two of three false claims made in the mailing are that Ingle “worked to limit our private property rights” and “fought for more government control over our wages.” These are references to the Alachua County Renters’ Rights and Wage Theft ordinances, respectively.
The Renters’ Rights ordinance does not limit private property rights any more than do laws prohibiting retail shops on your neighborhood cul-de-sacs or rats in restaurants. The reality is that the ordinance offers three simple, commonsense protections for Alachua County’s tenants. First, it requires universal inspections of rental properties. This merely ensures that landlords are adhering to the rules and regulations of the building code that ALREADY EXIST. Without universal inspections, tenants are forced to choose between blowing the whistle on hazardous living conditions or risking retaliation from a minority of bad landlords. Second, it requires landlords to inform tenants of the rights they ALREADY HAVE. Why should landlords be afraid of their renters knowing the law? Third, it sets reasonable water and energy efficiency standards for rental properties. These are necessary to lower utility costs for renters, reduce greenhouse emissions that cause climate change, and protect our aquifer. Why landlords would want to deplete our aquifer, unnecessarily spew harmful emissions into the air, and subject their tenants to unaffordable utility bills is beyond our understanding. But the bottom line is this: the landlord-tenant relationship is a business relationship, not a relationship between a landholder and their serf, and it should be regulated as such.
Describing the Wage Theft ordinance as “government control over our wages” is possibly more bizarre. This ordinance merely provides an avenue for workers to ensure the contracts between them and their employers are enforced—an avenue much cheaper than seeking recourse in the courts. The ordinance does not limit how much an employer can pay their workers, which is what I presume the mailer attempts to falsely imply. What’s more, the program has been a smashing success! Since, 2014, the ordinance has allowed the Office of Equal Opportunity to win back over $100,000 of unpaid wages for 152 workers.
It should be clear by now that the folks over at the so-called Responsible Leadership Committee, Inc. are not trying to protect your freedoms. They are promoting serfdom!
Lastly, the mailer asserts that James Ingle’s leadership has “failed us.” While we cannot endorse James or any other candidate (and this letter is not an endorsement), readers should know this is as big of a lie as any other in the mailer. James Ingle has been a great leader in the Alachua County Labor Coalition, the AFL-CIO, and his own union—International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 1205. In fact, the basic protections afforded to tenants in Alachua County and the over $100,000 returned to workers would not be possible without him. We thank him for his leadership on these issues. Perhaps the best description for James is, in fact, responsible leader.
Bobby Mermer, Gainesville, Florida, PhD, ACLC Coordinator
Add a comment
It’s high time the local business owners speak up. I am a small business owner in High Springs for seven years now, and before that, helped run the High Springs Art Coop for six years. As we all know, our area is growing at a crazy rate. People have discovered our area for the treasure it is, as we all have at one point, so we have to learn to accept change in a reasonable way. The key word is reasonable.
Landlord greed with unreasonable rents kills business, most of all small business. Even big business suffers. I remember a story before Covid of the famous Barney’s of NYC, an icon for years that closed because the owners of their building raised the rent. They were already paying a million dollars a month!
Locally, look how the lovely town of Alachua went from being a vibrant historic downtown that we in High Springs envied and now it struggles to make it. Why? I feel it is because of large land owners who own the majority of real estate. They get renters in the first year at a low rate and after a year jack up the rent. I was told by a previous store owner than they over charge for utilities, too. These small places can barely make $1,000 to $1,500 a month total and most don’t bring in a monthly salary for themselves. How are they going to pay over $2,000 a month rent? Shame on what has happened in that lovely town.
Micanopy is another depressed town because of unreasonable people and then just look at downtown Gainesville. I wonder how long all those huge apartment houses will sit empty because of the humongous rents they are charging.
We can still save High Springs. We can make it a model historic small-town success. Here we have a few local hero landowners who are logical, honest and smart business owners. They charge rents that these small businesses can sustain.
The Barber and Grady families in our town are a blessing to all who rent from them—unlike some of the newbies who have bought up some of our buildings. The newbies’ unrealistic expectations can kill small businesses, or no one will pay such high rents, so their structures remain empty.
For example, in downtown High Springs there is the corner spot where River Run Olive Oil sat. It is a prime location, and here it is another year that it sits empty. The original owners sold because they wished to retire.
Across the street from me is the largest group of modern local store spaces. There was a quilt store there for a bit, but she couldn’t sustain the high rent. The same with rentals on the other side of her, the buildings have sat empty for years now. The owner is from Miami and thinks she is going to get Miami prices. All of these are prime real estate, front and center on Main Street and empty.
The main inspiration to this letter is The Florida Springs Institute. It is our local nonprofit, which does so much good protecting and bringing awareness to our local waters. I understand they are being kicked out of their corner space by their landlord. I heard they weren’t even given the offer to stay at a higher rate. The landlord is going to put someone in there at a huge increase in rent.
Although the landlord professes to support the springs, it seems that is the bottom line is taking precedence. We will see if the “new” business can sustain the ridiculously high rent or will downtown have another empty store front?
I had to say something and bring attention to this issue, even though I don’t think there is much we can do. The town is at the mercy of landowners who decide the bottom line. We can only hope and pray that our little town of High Springs continues to grow with sweet businesses that add to our charm with newbies coming who want to add to our world.
We are not against “reasonable” change. We welcome new and younger people looking to share in our small-town dream. Younger entrepreneurs bring vitality and freshness. We are just asking new and old landlords to keep it real and not let the over inflated prices for everything else invade common sense business practices. We expect you to make “reasonable” incomes, just not overpriced ones.
The future is determined right now. We either jack up rents, run the little charming business out and we get replaced by offices, empty stores and decay, or we support the small-town flair, encouraging the entrepreneur and make a small local business possible for everyone.
Remember that a store that sits empty for years produces zero rent. The more spaces that are filled, the better it is for all businesses.
High Springs, FloridaAdd a comment
It is a great honor to serve High Springs as your new Postmaster. In my years with the United States Postal Service, I have seen firsthand the role the Postal Service plays connecting neighbors and our community to the nation.
Our Post Offices serve as a lifeline for our small businesses to reach customers no matter where they are. Under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s leadership and Delivering For America, the Postal Service’s 10-year plan, we are maintaining universal six-day mail delivery and expanded seven-day package delivery, stabilizing our workforce, and spurring innovation to meet the needs of our modern customers.
Just as the Postal Service continues to provide a vital service for our nation, the staff of the High Springs Post Office will proudly continue that same public service in this community.
On behalf of the 650,000 women and men of the United States Postal Service, I thank you for continuing to support the Postal Service. Providing reliable mail delivery while strengthening the future of this treasured institution is our commitment to you.
Postmaster High Springs, FL 32643-9998Add a comment
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As a volunteer and advocate with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this month I am asking everyone to join us and demand #MoreForMentalHealth.
I am doing more by calling on my legislators at the federal and state levels to support legislation that will fund the implementation of 988 and the suicide and mental health crisis system across our nation, particularly for those in underserved communities.
Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255 and de-escalates the crises of tens of thousands of callers each day. On July 16, those in distress and those that support them will be able to reach the Lifeline through a simple 3-digit number: 988.
By making the Lifeline more accessible through this shorter number, calls, texts, and chats to the Lifeline's network of crisis call centers are expected to increase. It is vital that the federal government work with states to ensure callers in distress will have: 1) someone to call, 2) someone to come help, and 3) somewhere safe to go.
We must act NOW to secure funding to equip call centers and community crisis response services throughout the country with the staff and resources to respond to everyone in crisis.
Join me this month in urging our federal and state public officials to do #MoreForMentalHealth. You can start by visiting moreformentalhealth.org.
Together, we can help #StopSuicide.
Alachua, FloridaAdd a comment
“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” These words are as moving today as when first spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the passionate and influential civil rights leader who stood as a “pillar of hope and a model of grace” in his fight towards equality for all.
On January 17, we will reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King, who, with his brave supporters, stood in strong opposition to racial discrimination, as well as the wrongful and unequal treatment of people who differed in national origin and religious beliefs.
The State of Florida continues to carry Dr. King’s legacy forward, committed to ending discrimination and ensuring all within our state have fair and equal access to employment and housing - because every person deserves to live the American Dream. The Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) was established in 1969 to enforce the Florida Civil Rights Act and address discrimination through education, outreach, and partnership. Annually, the FCHR recognizes and honors Floridians who advance civil rights throughout the state in the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
As we take this time to honor Dr. King, let us consider how we can improve our own communities. Everyone should have the opportunity to live the American Dream. Dr. King paved the way for our society to embrace equality, and it is our job as Americans and Floridians to ensure the civil rights of all people.
Angela Primiano, Vice-Chair
Florida Commission on Human Relations
# # #
alachuatoday.comAdd a comment