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WALDO – Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers were called to the scene of a crash at 3:35 a.m., Feb. 12. Waldo resident 34-year-old Daniel Joe Russell was traveling south on U.S. Highway 301 when his Harley Davidson left the roadway.

The Sportster became airborne and came to a final stop in the southern entrance of Mugshots Bar. Russell was located in the ditch north of the southern entrance to the bar. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the incident.

Routine blood tests are underway to determine if alcohol may have played a part in this incident.

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Newberry High School Varsity Volleyball Team players and Coach Sherrod Moseley accepted a presentation from Mayor Jordan Marlowe recognizing the team’s outstanding 2019 season,

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NEWBERRY – Most people would agree that the Newberry High School Varsity Volleyball Team had an amazing season ending on a high note with a District win of 9 – 0. Under the leadership of Coach Sherrod Moseley, the team achieved various awards and milestones as they represented themselves, their parents and the school with poise and good sportsmanship.

City of Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlow congratulated team members during the Jan. 27 City Commission meeting and highlighted a few of the players with details about their year.

Grace Oelrich was second runner-up for Player of the Year honors and First Team All-Area team. She led the team in 254 kills and 102 blocks, is fourth in 1A and 27th in the state.

Abby Pace was First Team All-Area, led the team in 541 digs and was second in 1A and eighth in the state. This is a record at Newberry High School for a season.

Sarah Miller was First Team All-Area and first ever Newberry Volleyball Player of the Week in the state of Florida. She provided 43 assists in the Regional Championship game and is Max Prep Player of the Year for the 2019 season.

Rylee Coleman was Scholar Athlete of the Week on TV 20 and Second Team All-Area. She led the team in assists 529 times, was third in 1A and 83rd in the state.

Kalen Bennett was Second Team All-Area and a three-year starter. She never lost a District game.

Paige Dinges was Second Team All-Area, had 228 kills and had 13 kills in the State Championship game.

Nicole Everson was Second Team All-Area for the entire year with 169 kills and 60 blocks.

Lily Haugh was HM (Honorable Mention) All-Area, led the team in Aces, was seventh in 1A and 100th in the state.

Katie Oxer was HM All-Area.

“Additionally,” said Marlowe, “we wish the two seniors [Bennett and Coleman] good luck in all future endeavors. We will miss you next year, but know you are doing well and enjoying life after high school, whatever path you may choose.”

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L-R: GFWC High Springs New Century Woman’s Club Executive Board Members Historian Vickie Cox and Trustee Carole Tate deliver 76 “Snack Packs” in honor of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and an assortment of beautifully-decorated valentines for Ronald McDonald House to distribute to families of sick children staying in their facility while their child is being treated at Shands Hospital.

HIGH SPRINGS — GFWC High Springs New Century Woman’s Club members have been hard at work again.

This time they have taken the time to assembled 76 “Snack Packs,” which they took to the Ronald McDonald House in Gainesville. The packs were in honor of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday earlier this month.

The bags were given to family members to take with them while visiting their children at Shands Hospital. Additional bags will be placed in the family visiting room at the hospital.

While they were at it, the group also created hand-made Valentine cards, which will be given to the Ronald McDonald House residents on Valentine’s Day.

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ALACHUA – Alachua residents will soon stand to benefit from the City’s new call center. On Aug. 6, 2019, the City solicited formal bids for companies to partner with the City to establish a Customer Service Call Receipt and Response Services (Call Center). Services would include call answering, alarm monitoring, and utility dispatching support services. The call center will also allow for development of a database of residents’ phone numbers and emails. Among other benefits, this new capability will allow the City to notify utility customers in case of power disruption.

At the Feb. 10, 2020 Alachua City Commission meeting, the City accepted and authorized a bid from Interactive Utility Communications at an approximate cost of $24,000 that will be drawn from the City's Electric Fund. The awarded bid will include a contract effective through Sept. 30, 2020. The contract will automatically renew on Oct. 1, 2020 for one of four successive years, unless the automatic renewal is canceled by either party.

The Commission also took action on an Interlocal Agreement with the City of High Springs for Building Official Services. Currently the City of High Springs does not have a building official, and had requested to utilize the services of Alachua's building official. This agreement would provide a qualified building official to handle building permitting and inspections for High Springs.

Those services would include building inspection services for permitted construction activity related to building construction, repair, remodeling, demolition, or alteration projects that are subject to the Florida Building Code. It would also provide all permit holders a record of the inspection results as required by state statute. The City of Alachua will charge High Springs $55 for each inspection as well as for other services. Although the Alachua City Commission approved the proposal, final approval is to be considered by the City of High Springs City Commission during its Feb. 13, 2020 meeting.

The Commission also approved the $155,600 purchase of an underground cable puller for the city's public services department electric division. The Hydraulic Duct Dawg is the only manufacturer of an underground cable puller., which has unique safety features including an articulated three-axis boom, which keeps the user from having to move the boom manually, and a fully wireless remote control, which keeps the operators safe from potential electrical touch during equipment operation.

The Commission also approved entering into a contract with D & M Mowing, Inc. to provide services for the Annual Powerline Tree and Vegetation Maintenance Services. While the actual cost will not be known until the work is completed, the contract states it is not to exceed $100,000.

In other business, the Commission approved a revision to the FY 2020 Compensation Plan for the position of Human Resources Manager. During the initial approval on Dec. 9, 2019, the range for the position was listed at a minimum of $69,000 and a maximum of $103,500. The correct amount should been a minimum of $59,000 and a maximum of $85,550.

One ordinance was considered for rezoning property within the McGinley Industrial Park from Alachua County Planned Unit Development (PUD) to City of Alachua Industrial General (IG). McGinley Industrial Park is located north of County Road 25A (Northwest 120th Lane) and the CSX railroad and to the south of Northwest 128th Lane. The developed portion of the park is comprised of 17 lots ranging in size from approximately one acre to approximately two acres, with most lots approximately one acre in size.

Under the current PUD designation, no development, redevelopment, or expansion can occur until a City Future Land Use Map (FLUM) Designation and zoning are applied to a property. Several property owners within McGinley Industrial Park have jointly submitted this application to rezone the properties to place a zoning designation on the property that is consistent with the underlying FLUM Designation. The Commission approved this ordinance on the first reading with second and final approval to be considered at the Feb. 24, 2020 commission meeting.

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ALACHUA – Students from the Bhaktivedanta Academy recently had an opportunity to show off original artwork they created as part of a two-month long project. At the Feb. 10, 2020 Alachua City Commission meeting, Mayor Gib Coerper presented certificates to 15 students at Bhaktivedanta Academy for their photographic project entitled "My Family, Friends and Me – Creative Portraits,” which is currently on display in City Hall.

Bhaktivedanta Academy is a Montessori school, which also emphasizes spiritual traditions and culture of ancient India among the Hare Krishna community. The seventh through tenth graders at Bhaktivedanta Academy study in the International Baccalaureate (IB) system, which is a worldwide program with the goal providing students with the opportunity to receive an education fit for a globalizing world.

The art project was an exploration of students finding creative ways to express themselves through photography. The students took hundreds of pictures in different genres, including landscape, still and "forced perspective" photos, and created photo essays about topics they felt strongly about. They then focused on unique ways to photograph their family, friends or self.

The creative project was a perfect match for IB schools that specifically educate students to be risk-takers and good communicators, as well as creative thinkers.

As part of the school’s visual arts program, instructor Kristina Danka developed the idea of creating unusual portrait concepts for the students to explore. The assignment was to show new ways of viewing people they knew, themselves or to create portraits of the student’s idols, mirroring other photography or art over the centuries. Other than these basic guidelines, it was up to the individual student to decide how to accomplish this.

If the student was to show a portrait of family, friends or self, they were to create a triptych of three photos showing head, hand and feet in ways that reflect the person’s personality. If it was recreating an image of an artwork or famous person, they could emulate it or create a portrait that reflected their view of the subject.

“I have found that this ‘freedom within boundaries’ methodology works very well for this age group, they get just enough guidance so that they know what they are doing and don't feel lost, but to execute the tasks they need to take their own initiative, explore new territories, and dive into creative challenges,” Danka said. “We have found that these photography exercises gave our students a great opportunity to tap into their own, often unexplored well of creative energy.

“This project was a way to get them to focus on composition, self-expression, and exploring the power of observation that enables us to find uniqueness in ordinary objects, or people we see every day instead of simply taking pictures,” said Danka.

Danka began teaching at the Bhaktivedanta Academy four years ago. She is a European-born filmmaker and academic who moved from New York to Alachua with her husband who was a screenwriting professor at NYU, and also works in Hollywood as a story analysis. She has produced over 30 award winning documentaries and videos and is the author of three books.

Most of her documentaries have been about socially conscious issues, humanitarian causes and the environment. “The first time we visited Alachua County was in 2015, when we were working on a documentary job. We immediately fell in love with the people and the climate here, and were especially impressed by the wonderful atmosphere of the Bhaktivedanta Academy in Alachua,” said Danka. She went on to explain that the next year when their daughter turned six, they decided to move to the area and enroll her in the school.

“This was supposed to be a one-year experiment for us due to concerns about being distant from family, the Florida environment and weather and moving to a rural area after years in the big city,” said Danka. “It has been four years now, and although we still do a lot of back and forth traveling between New York and Florida, we feel settled and happy here.”

Danka had taught adults at college level for over 10 years, and said she was concerned about entering a classroom full of teenagers. “But I must say, these kids are truly amazing, we get along very well,” Danka said. “Day by day, I am inspired by them and feel very privileged to be able to facilitate them opening new doors of self-discovery and witness their creativity.”

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L-R: School Resource Officer Jason Taylor displays his Commendation standing next to High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard.

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HIGH SPRINGS — High Springs School Resource Officer Jason Taylor received a standing ovation during the Jan. 23 High Springs City Commission meeting. Taylor was presented with a High Springs Police Department Life Saving Award for saving a student’s life in an emergency.

On Nov. 19, a third grade student had food lodged in his mouth during lunchtime at the High Springs Community School. Complete blockage of the student’s airway endangered the student’s life.

Taylor was present when the student began choking and was able to successfully perform the Heimlich maneuver and dislodge the blockage. He then helped the student to the nurse’s station where the student received further treatment and evaluation.

Because of Taylor’s quick action at such a critical time, Police Chief Antoine Sheppard awarded him the Life Saving Award and read the plaque to the audience.

“We are not only proud of what Officer Taylor did that day but for the many other ways in which he serves the students as well as the ways all our officers serve our community,” said Sheppard.

“He should be further recognized for his humility in saying, ‘I was just doing my job,’” said High Springs Police Department Sgt. D. Shenk, the officer who nominated Taylor for this recognition.

Although Taylor is a man of few words, he thanked his family, who he said was filling up the whole front row, and thanked the City for believing in him, “in my agency, in my chief and letting us do what we do and love every day.”

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Cont:      Taylor perform the Heimlich maneuver

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MARIANNA, Fla. – Agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested Eddie Earnest, 51, and Encarnacion Burch, 39, both of Marianna, for theft of copper from a utility or communications service provider.  The case was investigated by FDLE and Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.  Holmes County Sheriff’s Office and Marianna Police Department also assisted. 

The investigation shows Earnest and Burch stole copper telephone communication wire strung between telephone poles, causing outages for numerous customers in Jackson, Holmes and Walton counties.  After stealing the wire, the suspects removed the copper, selling it to a second-hand metal dealer.

Known damages are around $5,000, but that number is expected to increase.  If you have additional information or believe you were a victim, please contact FDLE at (850) 595-2100.

Agents arrested Earnest and Burch Feb. 13, at Earnest’s residence on Mellow Trail in Marianna.  The pair was booked into the Jackson County Jail. 

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Fernandina Beach - The St Marys Tall Ships Alliance in cooperation with the City of Fernandina Beach is excited to announce the arrival and visit of the world-Famous Columbus Foundation Tall Ships " Nina and Pinta " into Fernandina Beach, Fla.   Tall Ships Nina and Pinta will be sailing into Fernandina Harbor Marina on April 23rd.   The Captain and crew have invited  the City official, media and the public to come welcome them into Fernandina Harbor Marina at 3 S. Front Street in Downtown Fernandina Beach, Florida. Arrival time is sometime between 1pm-4pm. ( Arrival time will be update on the 22nd at www.smtsa.org )  For additional information and question you can contact St Marys Tall Ship Alliance at info@smtsa.org or at 912-254-0110

 

The world's famous Columbus Foundation tall ships Nina and Pinta are the most historically accurate replicas of Christopher Columbus ships that have ever been built and are the only Nina and Pinta replicas that are in existence today. Both ships sail together in the western hemisphere as a sailing and floating museum with the purpose of educating the public and schools about the history of a Caravel Style sailing ship that were used by Columbus and other explorers during the 15th century. The Public can step aboard and be whisked back in time as they are surrounded by the design and material that was used for a historic Caravel style 15th century sailing ship.  You are able to step in time as you enjoy the exhibits aboard both ships that highlight the history of the age of discovery, navigation of that era, how the ships were build and will see what life was like aboard the Nina and Pinta over 500 years ago. The ships Guest are encouraged to take their time and experiences the history that  these amazing tall ships have to offer and to talk or ask any question with the ship’s crew members that will be available on deck.

 

Tall Ships Nina and Pinta will be open to the public for deck tours April 24th through May 3rd.  Public deck tours are available daily 9am until 6pm.  They will be offering self-guided deck tours and guided tours.  Self-guided are for individuals that arrive during open hours, pay to go aboard and take their time experiencing both ships.  Deck tours tickets are general admission (one price allows you to tour both ships) prices are $8.50 (for adults) $7.50 (for seniors) $6.50 (for ages 5-16) ages 4 and under are free.  Guided Deck tours are for groups of 15 or more paying guest. and a great educational event that is ideal for schools and organizations. For addition information please go to www.smtsa.org or contact St Marys Tall Ship Alliance at info@smtsa.org or at 912-254-0110

 

Groups will be assigned a tour guide to them. The tour will last an average of 30-45 minutes with time split between ships. Once the tours has ended guest are welcome to stay and take as much time as they would like to go back and review the exhibits that were discussed during the tour and are welcome to ask question to any of the crew members that is available on the ships deck.  Maximum number of people allowed in a 30-minute time slot is 100.  Groups with over 100 people will need to request an additional time slot.  Group need to reserve their visit prior to the ships visit at www.thenina.com , ninapintatour@gmail.com or call (787) 672-2152.  Groups receive a reduce ticket price of $ 5 per person.   Tall Ship Pinta will be available to be chartered for Dockside Corporate, or group events. Limits dates are available (April 24 - April 30). Reservations are required three weeks before prior to Nina and Pinta Fernandina Beach visit.  For addition information please go to www.smtsa.org or contact St Marys Tall Ship Alliance at info@smtsa.org or at 912-254-0110

 

St Marys Tall Ship Alliance's primary mission and purpose is to promote the world's historical tall ships along with promoting and organizing public tall ship events for the southern Georgia and Northern Florida coast.  The Alliance is a Georgia 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that celebrates the rich maritime history of tall ship that are still sailing today.  St Marys Tall Ship Alliance is an all-volunteer educational non-profit.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the appointment of five members to the Children's Trust of Alachua County (CTAC): Dr. Patricia Snyder, Nancy Hardt, Dr. Margarita Labarta, Dr. Karen Cole-Smith, and Charles "Lee" Pinkoson. These members were appointed by the Governor from a list of 15 candidates submitted by Alachua County's Board of County Commissioners.
In speaking of the appointments, Alachua County Commission Ken Cornell, Chair of the Children's Trust, said, "The Governor has appointed five excellent CTAC members. I am very glad to now have a full slate of highly qualified and devoted individuals who are ready to roll up their sleeves and make a difference in the lives of our children." He continued saying, "I want to thank all of those who were willing to serve and I encourage everyone to attend our meetings and stay engaged."
Governor DeSantis' CTAC appointments:
Dr. Patricia Snyder
Dr. Snyder, of Gainesville, is the director of the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida. She earned her bachelor's degree in speech pathology and audiology from the State University of New York, her master's degree in special education from Millersville University and her doctorate degree in early childhood special education from the University of New Orleans. Dr. Snyder is appointed to a four-year term.
Nancy Hardt
Hardt, of Micanopy, served as a professor at the University of Florida's College of Medicine with specialties in obstetrics, gynecology and pathology from 1981 until her retirement in 2014. She earned her bachelor's degree from Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia and her master's degree in gynecology and pathology from Loyola University Chicago. Hardt is appointed to a four-year term.
Dr. Margarita Labarta
Dr. Labarta, of Gainesville, recently retired as the president and chief executive officer of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare. Currently, she serves as chair for the Florida Council for Community Mental Health and as a member of Mental Health Corporations of America and the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. She earned her bachelor's degree in psychology and mathematics from Barry University and her master's degree and doctorate degree in clinical and community psychology from the University of Maryland. Dr. Labarta is appointed to a four-year term.
Dr. Karen Cole-Smith
Dr. Cole-Smith, of Gainesville, is the executive director of community outreach at Santa Fe College. She earned her bachelor's degree in criminology and sociology from Bethune-Cookman University, her master's degree in sociology and criminology from Ohio State University and her doctorate degree in sociology and criminology from the University of Florida. Dr. Cole-Smith is appointed to a two-year term.
Charles "Lee" Pinkoson
Pinkoson, of Gainesville, served as an Alachua County Commissioner from 2002 until 2018. He served on the Florida Association of Counties' Board of Directors from 2002 until 2019. He earned his bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Florida. Pinkoson is appointed to a three-year term.
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Florida News Connection

January 31, 2020  

 

TALLAHASSEE - This week, Florida's Capitol was jam-packed with the sticky hands of children to force policymakers to take note of their needs.


The annual "Children's Week" kicked off last Sunday, with an event known as the "hanging of the hands" in the Capitol Rotunda. Tens of thousands of pieces of colorful "hand art" decorated by children and their teachers became the center of attention.

Speaking on The Rotunda Podcast, Alan Abramowitz - executive director of Florida's Guardian ad Litem program - says the artwork and having kids barnstorm the Capitol is an effective strategy.

"Every legislator, every policymaker will see those and know that our priority are children," says Abramowitz. "And it just so happens that this week is budget week, the budgets are coming out."

The Florida Senate released its initial budget of almost $93 billion yesterday. It includes across-the-board pay raises for state employees and more money for teacher salaries. The House is expected to release its full budget, as Abramowitz advocates for full funding for the state's children's programs.

To cap off Children's Week, First Lady Casey DeSantis announced the formation of a "Children's Corner" in the library of the governor's mansion on Thursday. Abramowitz says he sees a coordinated effort by the governor and the Florida Department of Children and Families' secretary to keep kids out of the foster-care system.

"The governor and Secretary Poppell have put together a package that doesn't just focus on foster care," says Abramowitz. "Because if a child enters foster care, they've already been abused, abandoned and neglected. They're looking at prevention. How do we keep families together?"

The governor's proposed budget provides more than $1.2 billion dollars in funding, an increase of just over $132 million over Fiscal Year 2018-19 for early childhood education. The budget plan released Thursday is a first step. Senate and House negotiators will hammer out a final budget before the session ends March 13

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 TALLAHASSEE – At the direction of Governor Ron DeSantis, the Department of Education released the proposed Florida B.E.S.T. (Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking) Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics, and announced that Common Core has been officially eradicated from Florida classrooms. The Commissioner is recommending that the State Board of Education formally adopt these standards February 12.

“Florida has officially eliminated Common Core. I truly think this is a great next step for students, teachers, and parents,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “We’ve developed clear and concise expectations for students at every grade level and allow teachers the opportunity to do what they love most – inspire young Floridians to achieve their greatest potential. These standards create pathways for students that lead to great college and professional outcomes and parents will now be able to reinforce what their children are learn in the classroom every day. Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards were made by Florida teachers for Florida students, and I know they will be a model for the rest of the nation.”

“Governor DeSantis made it very clear that we had to reimagine the pathway to young Floridians becoming great citizens, and we’ve done exactly that with the B.E.S.T. Standards,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. “Florida will be the first state in the nation with an ELA booklist that spans grades K-12, the first state in the nation with a civics booklist embedded in its ELA standards, and a state that has dropped the crazy math. Florida has completely removed ourselves from the confines of Common Core.”

The Florida B.E.S.T. Standards are posted at http://www.fldoe.org/standardsreview.

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HOMOSASSA, Fla. – Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is celebrating the historic 60th birthday of Lucifer (Lu), the resident hippopotamus.

Lu is a longtime resident of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, with fans around the world. For his special day, a celebration was held this morning where visitors, staff and volunteers joined together to sing Lu Happy Birthday as he enjoys his specially-made birthday cake. 

“We’re proud that Lu calls Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park home,” said Florida Park Service Director Eric Draper. “He is an impressive sight and a valuable partner who helps engage visitors in learning about wildlife.”

"Lu is an iconic part of our park and all of Citrus County. He is loved by all and has been an inspiration to generation after generation," said Park Manager Tricia Fowler. "We could not be prouder to celebrate 60 years with Lu and the happiness that he has brought to the community and countless visitors."

In the afternoon, another celebration took place during the park’s alligator and hippopotamus program, providing park visitors another opportunity to join the birthday celebration of Florida’s only resident hippopotamus. A giant birthday card was available for visitors to sign to wish Lu a happy birthday, and the card was presented to Lu during the second ceremony. Lu's fans can also send him a birthday greeting on his Facebook page.

Lu, an African hippopotamus, was born at the San Diego Zoo on Jan. 26, 1960. Like all hippos, Lu is a vegetarian and his diet consists of alfalfa hay and assorted vegetables and fruit. Hippos typically live from 40 to 50 years old. At 59, Lu is the oldest hippo in North America.

A fixture at Homosassa Springs since 1964, Lu was a movie and television star with the Ivan Tors Animal Actors troupe, which wintered at the park while it was in private ownership. His credits include the 1960s movies "Daktari" and "Cowboy in Africa," and television specials such as the "Art Linkletter Show" and "Herb Alpert Special." 

For more than five decades, Lu has been a mainstay among the animals at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. When the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service purchased the attraction in 1989, the state planned to shift the emphasis of the park to native Florida wildlife and find homes for all of the exotic species, including Lu. Public support, however, led the state to grant Lu special Florida citizenship in 1991. Since then, he has become an icon at the park, attracting visitors from around the globe.

For more information about Homosassa Springs State Park, visit the park's webpage

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 This Valentine’s Day, many Veterans who fought to preserve our freedoms will be hospitalized, receiving the medical care they earned, but separated from the homes and communities they defended.  No one should be alone on Valentine’s Day, and with the help of our grateful community, no Veteran has to be.

I would like to personally invite every one of your readers to show their love and appreciation to Veterans by visiting the Malcom Randall or Lake City Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers as part of the National Salute to Veteran Patients Feb. 9-15.

During the National Salute, VA invites individuals, Veterans groups, military personnel, civic organizations, businesses, schools, local media, celebrities and sports stars to participate in a variety of activities at the VA medical centers.

During the week we are excited to host many various organizations, groups, schools and others that are taking the time out of their busy schedules and visit our some of our facilities.

The love doesn’t have to end on Valentine’s Day.  Many of our Veterans are coming to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with special needs and challenges that require the hearts and hands of a new generation of VA volunteers. North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System invites citizens, young and old, to join us in honoring our Veterans year-round by learning more about VA’s volunteer program as well.

Every citizen can make a positive difference in the life of a Veteran patient.  Visits from community groups do so much to lift the spirits of our patients.  I invite every member of our community to participate.

Call our Voluntary Service office at 352-548-6068 for the Malcom Randall VAMC or 386-755- 3016, ext. 392032 for the Lake City VAMC to schedule a visit and learn how to join the VA’s National Salute to Veteran Patients.

Thomas Wisnieski, MPA, FACHE

Director

North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System

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When I started graduate school at Florida State University, I had never seen a sawfish in the wild but I was excited to be part of the recovery of a species I had been so awestruck by in aquariums.

The smalltooth sawfish, the only sawfish found in Florida, has been protected in Florida since 1992 and became federally listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2003. Little was known about the species when it became listed but since that time, scientists have learned a lot about its biology and ecology.

As sawfish recovery efforts continue, we expect there to be more sawfish sightings, especially in Florida. This includes anglers who may accidentally catch one on hook-and-line while fishing for other species.

Sawfish encounters

Sawfish can be encountered when participating in a number of activities including boating, diving and fishing. Further, the species may be encountered by waterfront homeowners and beach goers in the southern half of the state where juvenile sawfish rely on shallow, nearshore environments as nursery habitats. When fishing, targeting sawfish is prohibited under the ESA, though incidental captures do occur while fishing for other species. Knowing how to properly handle a hooked sawfish is imperative as sawfish can be potentially hazardous to you. One of the first things that stood out to me while conducting permitted research was the speed at which a sawfish can swing its rostrum (commonly referred to as the saw). For creatures that glide along the bottom so slowly and gracefully, they sure can make quick movements when they want to. It’s best to keep a safe distance between you and the saw.

If you happen to catch a sawfish while fishing, do not pull it out of the water and do not try to handle it. Refrain from using ropes or restraining the animal in any way, and never remove the saw. It is important that you untangle it if necessary and release the sawfish as quickly as possible by cutting the line as close to the hook as you can. Proper release techniques ensure a high post-release survival of sawfish. Scientific studies show us that following these guidelines will limit the amount of stress a sawfish experiences as a result of capture. Note that a recent change in shark fishing rules requires use of circle hooks, which results in better hook sets, minimizes gut hooking, and also maximizes post-release survival. 

In addition to capture on hook-and-line, sawfish can easily become entangled in lost fishing gear or nets. If you observe an injured or entangled sawfish, be sure to report it immediately but do not approach the sawfish. Seeing a sawfish up close can be an exciting experience but you must remember that it is an endangered species with strict protections.

If you are diving and see a sawfish, observe at a distance. Do not approach or harass them. This is illegal and this guidance is for your safety as well as theirs.

An important component of any sawfish encounter is sharing that information with scientists. Your encounter reports help managers track the population status of this species. If you encounter a sawfish while diving, fishing or boating, please report the encounter. Take a quick photo if possible (with the sawfish still in the water and from a safe distance), estimate its length including the saw and note the location of the encounter. The more details you can give scientists, the better we can understand how sawfish are using Florida waters and the better we can understand the recovery of the population. Submit reports at SawfishRecovery.org, email sawfish@MyFWC.com or phone at 1-844-4SAWFISH.

Sawfish background

Sawfishes, of which there are five species in the world, are named for their long, toothed “saw” or rostrum, which they use for hunting prey and defense. In the U.S., the smalltooth sawfish was once found regularly from North Carolina to Texas but its range is now mostly limited to Florida waters.

In general, sawfish populations declined for a variety of reasons. The primary reason for decline is that they were frequently caught accidentally in commercial fisheries that used gill nets and trawls. Additional contributing factors include recreational fisheries and habitat loss. As industrialization and urbanization changed coastlines, the mangroves that most sawfishes used as nursery habitat also became less accessible. For a species that grows slowly and has a low reproductive rate, the combination of these threats proved to be too much.

Engaging in sawfish recovery

During my thesis research, which focuses on tracking the movements of large juvenile and adult smalltooth sawfish, each tagging encounter is a surreal experience.

The first sawfish I saw was an adult, and what struck me the most was just how big it was. I also remember being enamored by its mouth. Like all other rays, its mouth is on the underside of its body. The mouth looks like a shy smile and I found it almost humorous how different the top of the sawfish was compared to the bottom. After seeing my first baby sawfish, the contrast seemed even greater. It’s hard to believe upon seeing a 2 to 3 foot sawfish that it could one day be 16 feet long! No matter the size, anyone who has encountered a sawfish will tell you it’s an experience like no other.

The hope is that one day the sawfish population will be thriving once again, and more people will be able to experience safe and memorable encounters with these incredible animals. Hopefully, we can coexist with sawfish in a sustainable and positive way in the future.

For more information on sawfish, including FWC’s sawfish research visit:
MyFWC.com/research, click on “Saltwater” then “Sawfish.”

For more information on smalltooth sawfish and their recovery watch:
YouTube.com/watch?v=NSRWUjVU3e8&t=3s

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Sadly, 10 law enforcement officers have already died in the line of duty this month in the United States.

In addition to two dying in vehicular crashes related to crime, three were mercilessly killed as a result of gunfire by cowards who had no respect for human life or the rule of law.

Please let us never forget the bravery our men and  women in blue display each day for EVERY American as they don their uniform and leave for duty. Unfortunately, they do not know if they will return home to loved ones at the end of their shift.

As Americans, we take for granted:

- When turning on the faucet, without thinking, we expect clean water to pour out.

- When flipping a switch, without thinking, we expect the room will be illuminated.

- When purchasing something to eat from a grocery store, restaurant, or fast food establishment, without thinking, we expect these edible products will not be contaminated.

- When sending our children off to school each day, without thinking, we expect they will be educated by qualified and dedicated teachers.

- When resting our heads on the pillow at night, without thinking, we expect our faithful members of the armed forces will protect us from the bad guys of this world.

- When venturing out into the community, without thinking, we expect our highly trained and brave police officers will keep us safe from harm.

It is acceptable to expect these things we take for granted because our forefathers believed each American was special and declared every citizen had certain unalienable rights.

Let us remain steadfast in never forgetting, and do think about and honor, the tremendous sacrifices America’s men and women in blue make by courageously: “putting others above self.”

Robert Wilford

Alachua, Florida

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 The GFWC High Springs New Century Woman’s Club Members would like to thank the residents of the community, visitors as well as the merchants for their wonderful support throughout the year.

Through your generous donations of money and time, the Club was able to support more than 70 local, state and national organizations to help people in need.

Thank you to Barbara Llewellyn from the “Observer,” Bryan Boukari and Carol Walker from “Alachua County Today” and the “Suwannee Valley Times” for posting our information in their newspapers and for everyone sharing it on Facebook. You all helped to make 2019 a very successful fundraising year for the Club. 

Carole Tate, President

GFWC High Springs New Century Woman’s Club

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I get asked all the time, "Why don't you live in Gainesville?"

It's a valid question; I'll give you that. I go to UF and work in Gainesville. I have to get out of bed 30 minutes earlier to leave for school than I would if I lived in Gainesville. If I want to go home before I go to work, I spend like $12 in gas just to make the back-and-forth trip.

Driving home to change before going out on the weekends takes so much time that I often just end up staying home most of the time. All these things may seem like deal breakers to most, but they're only minor sacrifices to me.

I love living in High Springs. I grew up here on a dirt road with nothing to do but get in trouble. I climbed trees, stared at the stars, stole my momma's cigarettes and spent so much time outdoors that the five-minute walk home felt like an eternity in the infinite darkness of night.

I love the trees, the smell in the air and the kind people.

In Gainesville, you struggle to find a parking spot that won't get you towed. In High Springs, you can double park and not feel guilty.

In Gainesville, you're constantly stuck in traffic. In High Springs, the only traffic you worry about is foot traffic at the Farmer's market.

In High Springs, you don't worry about car washes because you prefer dirt roads. Rain washes your car.

It's just so peaceful here. I know Alachua's starting to get bigger with new restaurants and franchises opening up left and right, but there's still this serenity about the area. A small town atmosphere that makes you wish your grandparents’ house was right around the corner so that you can pick up some freshly baked cookies before you start your day.

I live five minutes from my parents’ house and I raid their house whenever my roommates and I are low on groceries. They don't care; they just enjoy having me around. In all honesty, I don't visit as much as I should. My dogs about have a heart attack every time I stop by. I just know that it would be much worse if I lived in Gainesville.

That's High Springs, though. It's close to home. It's close to my family. It's close to my heart.

No matter where I go, I'll never forget my time here. This is where I grew up. This is where I became who I am today. 

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Email tschuyler@

alachuatoday.com

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Dear Most Holy Father:

    Thank you for attempting to humanize the office of pope.

    The majority of Catholics have blindly viewed pontiffs as God-like and incapable of making mistakes because of being infallible.

    Your actions, so far, do give me hope. I pray you will lead us toward renewal (retaining the good stuff), reformation (discarding the bad stuff), and rebirth (uncompromising justice and renewed spirituality).

    I first contacted John Paul II in 1993, and again in 2002. I contacted Benedict XVI several times during his papacy.

    I challenged them to reform an indifferently corrupt and a conspiracy-driven theocracy for the innumerable crimes the hierarchy had committed for centuries.

    Mandated priest celibacy, the murder of Joan of Arc, persecution of Martin Luther, imprisonment of Galileo, unjust inquisitions and crusades and the coddling of clergy sexual predators are examples of the church’s abuse of power.  

   The current crisis is attributable to the disreputable leadership of John Paul and Benedict for not putting the needs of victims first over predator priests.

    John Paul and Benedict shamefully elected to shelter sodomizers and the institution of Catholicism itself above all else.

    I urge you to stand on your perch at Saint Peter’s this Ash Wednesday and declare:

    We, the popes, cardinals, bishops and priests of the Roman Catholic Church have been grievously and sinfully wrong since the very beginning of the church’s history in protecting predator priests at the expense of the victims of clergy sexual abuse. Humbly, we openly admit our culpability, and, in professing our shame, ask for forgiveness from God and all humanity for the unspeakable crimes we have committed against victimized children and their families for nearly 2,000 years.”

    One critical action you need to take is to stop the canonization process for John Paul which will be the ultimate “Conspiracy of Catholicism.”

    There are a number of reasons this unworthy pontiff should not be canonized.

    John Paul had numerous opportunities to thwart the church’s sexual abuse scandal. He did virtually nothing to rid the church of sexual predators.

    In 1985, there was a major crisis in Lafayette, La. A priest was sentenced to 20 years in prison for molesting dozens of children.

    This scandal provided John Paul an excellent platform to become a hero for Catholicism by laicizing predator priests and by setting a “zero tolerance” standard for known sexual predators.

    He failed to do so. Instead, he became a co-conspirator with bishops everywhere by harboring clergy sexual abusers who were moved from parish to parish to sodomize other children. Is this action worthy of sainthood?  

    In the early 1990s, John Paul was given another opportunity to take action. Clergy sexual abuse allegations were surfacing all across America, especially in Massachusetts.

    John Paul chose to ignore the severity of an ever-increasing scandal by not calling Cardinal Law to task for sheltering known clergy sexual predators in the Boston archdiocese. Is this action worthy of sainthood?

    In 1995, Law’s Secretary for Ministerial Personnel was commissioned a bishop by John Paul.

    This egregious action was effectuated despite the pope knowing this monsignor was aware of a number of priests in his archdiocese being sexual predators. In 1998, this bishop was promoted to head his own diocese.

    He was probably rewarded for being the proverbial “corporate man” in shielding Law and the Vatican from being fingered as co-conspirators in the rape of innocent children. Is this action worthy of sainthood?

    Thousands of allegations were made around the world in 2002 against priests and bishops alleging sexual misconduct.

    This crisis was again prevalent in the Archdiocese of Boston. Law was unscrupulously transferred to the Vatican instead of keeping him in Boston to face the music.

    This convenient relocation allowed Law to escape possible legal action in America since he maintained dual citizenship status in America and in Vatican City.

    Rewarding Law for failing to protect children from harm was the ultimate “Conspiracy of Catholicism” committed by John Paul during his inglorious tenure. Is this action worthy of sainthood?

    Allowing Law to run and hide in the Vatican is the clincher in insisting the canonization process for John Paul cease immediately.

    A number of saints of the church had checkered pasts prior to becoming truly repentant for their sins and crimes.

    Saints Paul and Augustine are wonderful examples of sinners who displayed outward signs of repentance prior to being canonized.

    To the contrary, John Paul went to his grave never publicly displaying sorrow for his grievous sin of indifference in allowing children to be raped by clerics and by not laicizing known sexual predators.

    Does John Paul’s lack of contrition make him worthy of sainthood? 

    I implore you to let God be the supreme impartial judge in determining John Paul’s worthiness of being declared a saint.

    The church must not perpetuate “The Conspiracy of Catholicism” by canonizing a dubious leader of the world’s Catholics, one who never asked for forgiveness for the heinous crimes he committed against humanity.

     I still love my church and its sacred traditions, participate in the sacraments, contribute financially to my parish and other Catholic charities, and proudly “cross” myself in public whenever prayers are said at meetings and other events.

     On the other hand, I have very little respect for the church’s hierarchy, notwithstanding my belief in many of the church’s doctrines and beautiful traditions.

     Hopefully, you can improve my less than flattering opinion of the Vatican and the bishops of the church.

     Taking a bold step into the future by leading a spiritual rebirth of a broken “Christian” church thereby erasing “The Conspiracy of Catholicism” once and for all may just do it.

     I pray that you will have the courage to take this step.

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Email editor@

alachuatoday.com

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