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GAINESVILLE ‒ A 28-year-old Micanopy woman has been sentenced to 30 days in jail, three years of probation and 300 hours of community service on 20 charges of animal cruelty. Erin A. Douglas is also prohibited from having any animals.

Douglas was initially charged with 24 counts of aggravated animal abuse, all third-degree felonies, and five counts of improper disposal of a dead animal. She entered a plea of nolo contendere to 20 first-degree misdemeanor charges of tormenting or depriving animals.

Seven others were also charged after investigators found 19 malnourished dogs, two dead puppies, and three puppy skeletons. Dawson Hicks has also been sentenced to three years of probation on four misdemeanor charges and one felony charge, with adjudication of guilt withheld on the felony charge. The remaining cases are still pending.

Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies and Alachua County Animal Control responded to the 17400 block of Southwest County Road 234 on April 27 after a report of animal cruelty. At that time, they found a large number of dogs in “obviously frail and neglected condition.” They reported that “several dogs could be heard yelping and wailing in physical pain.”

They reported that they saw young puppies lying in the driveway, too weak to physically stand on their own. Other “extremely malnourished” dogs were around the house. All dogs also had a large number of fleas and ticks, “with flies circling them.”

According to the report, investigators found 19 dogs alive, along with five dead dogs, three of which were skeletal remains only. Three living puppies were found in a cage with the two dead puppies. The living puppies were lying on top of the dead animals, which were in the water bowl inside the cage. The cage and water bowl both had obvious mold on them. Two other dogs were found in cages in the woods without any food or water. One female dog had several puppies which were too weak to stand on their own. The female dog was malnourished and injured but was still trying to care for the puppies and pull them under a vehicle to get out of the rain.

Six more dogs were inside the house, which did not appear to have electricity or running water except in one bedroom, but the dogs did not have access to that room. According to the report, animal feces littered the house and there were holes in the flooring. Large amounts of trash littered the front yard. In addition, a camper on the property had an open waste line that poured human feces directly onto the ground.

Investigators concluded that all animals on the property showed signs of a long-term lack of care and the lack of food, water, clean or adequate shelter and veterinary care directly led to the condition of and death of several of the dogs on the property. All residents on the property were directly responsible for care of the animals, yet all failed to take action to protect the animals from death and unnecessary pain and suffering.

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GAINESVILLE ‒ They are sometimes called the “One Percent” because they make up under one percent of the country's population. They are the men and women who put their lives on hold to serve in the military to protect their fellow Americans. There were nearly 2.4 million military personnel in the five branches of the Armed Forces in 2020. Comparing this with the U.S. population of 329.5 million, active military only makes up 0.727 percent.

Military service can leave scars, both mental and physical, that can affect a veteran’s future once out of the military. There has always been a large number of veterans who fall on hard times and homelessness, and on any given night, 40,056 veterans are homeless. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness. Only seven percent of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly 13 percent of the homeless adult population are veterans.

Additionally, a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.

In Alachua County, there is a group that offers support for all veterans and active military. The American Legion Auxiliary 16 (ALA) is comprised of spouses, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, and sisters of U.S. war veterans. They are a separate entity from the American Legion, which is a veteran’s organization, but share the same values and dedication to supporting those who served. For the past 10 years, the ALA has held an event for homeless or in transition veterans, providing a thanksgiving dinner, clothing and footwear donations and what’s called a “blessing bucket,” which contains needed household and sanitary supplies as well as blankets.

Most of the supplies are either donated by other veterans’ organizations or provided as monetary funds or supplies from sponsors such as Rural King, Sav A Lot, Winn Dixie, Home Depot and Sandy's Place. The veterans were also offered free haircuts provided by volunteer barbers.

This year’s event held in early November featured a number of veteran supporters, including local singer Josh Tayler who sang the National Anthem. ALA Chaplain and event coordinator Ronna Jackson spoke to the veterans, expressing that the ALA was honored to help these men who had served their country. Jackson, a gold star mother whose son, John Reiners, was killed in action, now dedicates much of her time supporting other servicemen and veterans.

Guest speaker Vicki Jackson-Herndon delivered a moving story of her veteran father who abandoned the family when she was 11 and how he lived in poverty, homelessness and substance abuse. Jackson-Herndon said that for years she hated her father for what he did, but after finding religion she reached out in her early twenties. Over the next few years, she saw the hard times her father suffered mentally, and they reconnected until his passing. Her message to veterans is that there are people who care about them, and they are not alone. In dedication to her father's memory, she created the Blessing Bucket program.

State of Florida ALA President Jane Hardacre expressed the state's support for veterans, and Ronna Jackson presented her with a stuffed plush rainbow pillow signed by all staff and veterans present. The meal was served by ALA staff, including several male veterans who were associated with ALA women members.

While there were donated shoes and clothes for veterans to take, one homeless veteran could not find a pair that fit to replace his worn-out shoes. A male staff member took off his own shoes to give him. Later, Taylor gathered the veterans in a circle to all sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” to show the camaraderie between all who served.

“We want them to know they are not forgotten and there are people here to lend a helping hand and support them,” Jackson said. “Everyone deserves a second chance, especially those that served their country.”

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) has approved a request by the First Baptist Church of Newberry to demolish a residence. On Nov. 7 the Board approved a Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish the residence located at 90 N.W. 255th Street, next door to the church.

The action came after concerns were raised that the building is a structure in the historic district and an example of a Craftsman architectural style. Initially, Newberry Principal Planner Jean-Paul Perez recommended against approval of the demolition, suggesting the church consider relocation of the single-family home.

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the City has worked with the owner for three years to relocate the building to another property. Although some people showed interest, none were able to either find a property to move the building to or couldn’t afford the cost of moving the structure and rehabilitating it at another location.

Church representative Bill Martin described the lengths to which the church has gone in an effort to get the building moved. Martin said that the building has serious termite infestation observed around the windows and that the back part of the building has already collapsed. He said it was not structurally sound and the church had already begun to remove the windows and some of the doors to repurpose them for other projects. Martin said he wasn’t aware that they needed to apply for a permit to dismantle the building as the church owned the structure.

Upon learning of the prior efforts to relocate the building, Perez reversed his recommendation from denial to approval. Board members unanimously approved the application to demolish the structure. The church plans to use the soon-be-vacant property for additional church parking.

A second request for approval of a Certificate of Appropriateness in the City’s Historic District did not end as well when the Board voted to delay the action until Dec. 5. Pat Post applied to construct a single-family home at 144 S.W. 258th Street. An artist’s rendering of the 1,258-square-foot home was included in the presentation. Although the City was able to request certain embellishments to the home to make it fit in better with the historic feel of the neighborhood, Board members deemed the structure “cookie cutter” in design.

They unanimously voted to table the item to the Dec. 5 meeting to establish what the guidelines should be for new additions in that district. Perez informed the Board that they could vote to extend again at that meeting if necessary.

In other business, Perez updated the Board on the funded State Small Matching Grant for an Historic Resources Survey. Perez said the grant has been fully executed, and staff is working to issue a Request for Proposals. The City last conducted an historic survey in 2011.

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NEWBERRY ‒ On Oct. 24 the Newberry Board of Adjustment considered and approved three issues in quasi-judicial public hearings.

A Special Exception for a Small-Scale Rural Subdivision for the Lakota development was unanimously approved. The 45.53 +/- acre site located at 17512 S.W. 15th Avenue, northwest of the intersection of Southwest 15th Avenue and Southwest 170th Street, is in the Agricultural (A) zoning district.

Small-Scale Rural Subdivisions permit the subdivision of land at a density of one dwelling unit per two acres, greater than the standard one dwelling per five acres allowed in the Agricultural zoning classification.

The property owner proposes 15 lots of an average density of one unit per three acres and lots ranging from two to four acres. Access is provided on Southwest 15th Avenue and the privately-owned access driveway will be built to City standards. Perpetual maintenance of this access driveway will be the responsibility of the Lakota Subdivision homeowner’s association (HOA).

A platted 50-foot undisturbed buffer exists along the southern plat limit abutting Southwest 15th Avenue and a 25-foot perimeter undisturbed buffer is provided along the remaining plat limits. The property owner is voluntarily providing a 40-foot undisturbed buffer along the western plat limits encumbering Lots Five – Eight, which has been made a condition of approval for the companion Preliminary Plat petition (SD 22-04) at the request of the owner.

The property will be serviced by Clay Electric and potable and wastewater services will be provided on-site through well and septic systems.

North of the Lakota property is the recently approved Barrington subdivision. While Barrington also provides for lot sizes less than that permitted by the Agricultural (A) zoning district, it was approved prior to the City’s adoption and implementation of the Small-Scale Rural Subdivision regulations. Barrington cannot be considered a Small-Scale Rural Subdivision under the rules by which it was approved. As required by the Land Development Regulations, a HOA will be established.

In a separate matter, a petition for a variance to allow a pool in the side yard of a property within the Newberry Place Planned Residential Development was also approved in a 3 – 1 vote with Board Member Monty Farnsworth casting the dissenting vote.

Property owner Wilfredo Gonzalez Valentin requested a variance to “Accessory uses and structures” of the City’s ordinances to allow an in-ground pool in the side yard of a developed single-family lot. The property is located at 649 S.W. 242nd Terrace in a Planned Residential Development zoning district and has a future land use designation of Residential Low Density of four dwelling units per acre.

The property is Lot 87, which is located on the corner of Southwest 6th Place and Southwest 242nd Terrace. This street corner incorporates a cul-de-sac-like turnaround into the design of the street corner. Due to the location of Lot 87 and the design of the street corner, the lot’s corners are not right-angles or comparable to a typical interior lot within the same subdivision. When considering lot shape, typical house size and the required 20-foot front yard and 15-foot rear yard setbacks, the footprint of the home fills the buildable area of the lot and does not leave sufficient room in the rear yard for a pool. The owner is requesting a variance to place an in-ground pool within the side yard.

“The owner has demonstrated a unique hardship that is not self-imposed,” said Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas. “Pools are an amenity commonly enjoyed by other residents within the same subdivision. However, a majority of the pools are located on interior lots with right-angled corners and sufficient rear yards,” said Thomas. Thomas said that granting this variance would not negatively impact the public health, safety or welfare.

A third petition was also a variance request related to pool construction. The petition was by property owners Jacob D. and Gilberto M. Gonzalez-Welker for a variance to allow an eight-foot encroachment into the required 10-foot rear yard setback. This property is located at 24647 S.W. 21st Circle, Lot 128 in CountryWay at Newberry, Phase 3, on the interior of the arc of Southwest 21st Circle. The site-built home is of a common size within the subdivision and has a covered porch in the rear yard. Due to the lot being located on the southern interior arc of the bend of Southwest 21 Circle, the lot has an unusually large street frontage and a significant portion of the lot is dedicated to the front yard setback. The atypical lot shape required the developer to place the building footprint further into the rear corner of the lot. The lot is pie-shaped and encumbered by a 20-foot front yard setback. While it was always the intent of the owner to construct a pool, the form boards for the foundation were placed too close to the rear yard. This error did not leave sufficient area to place a pool in the rear yard.

“When also considering the lot shape, depth and location, standard size of the home and the required 20-foot front yard and 10-foot rear yard setbacks, the owners adequately demonstrate a hardship that was not self-imposed,” said Newberry Principal Planner Jean-Paul Perez. “Furthermore, pools are an amenity commonly enjoyed by other residents of the neighborhood.”

This item was unanimously approved with the setback at five feet from the fence line for the pool water edge, not including the decking.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ This year, Halloween is back, and in the days leading up to Oct. 31, Halloween festivities were in full swing. After a hiatus due to COVID, many people went full force on decorating, with yards filled with ghostly apparitions, frightening creatures of all sorts and haunting graveyards complete with spooky lighting and eerie sound effects.

Halloween is an ancient tradition. In Celtic Britain, it was the Celtic celebration of Samhain, which marked the end of summer harvest and the coming of winter. The roots of modern Halloween activities in America go back to the mid-19th century when large numbers of new immigrants, especially those fleeing the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, helped popularize Halloween. Over the years it evolved to a celebration of treats for children and dressing in costumes. Today, Halloween has become the nation’s second-largest commercial holiday with total Halloween spending expected to reach a record $10.6 billion.

Locally, in numerous neighborhoods, dimly lit decorations and spooky figures beckoned costumed trick or treaters to free candy and gifts Accompanied by parents, dozens of families came out in each neighborhood. The High Sprigs Police Department also had officers in each area of town to help with safety. Some, like Corporal Hampton, gave out candy as well at each stop.

For some residents like Darin Erskine, creating a spooky wonderland was a long-term project. “It’s been in the planning stage for a while and it took the month of October to put it all together,” Erskine said. “Building the graveyard fence took a full day and the rest was put up piece by piece over the month,”

Several of his neighbors had equally impressive displays. In Bailey Estates, the main road was lined with cars as large crowds wound through the neighborhood while multiple families set up tables and chairs in their driveways handing out treats. One of the most popular sites featured a grill with the homeowners offering free hot dogs. Not to be outdone, the High Springs Fire Department sponsored a haunted house in the fire station bays.

This year, these activities and celebrations returned to neighborhoods across America, and a holiday tradition has returned.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs City Commission on Oct. 27 approved rezoning 688 acres in a 3 – 1 vote with High Springs City Commissioner Katherine Weitz casting the dissenting vote.

The rezoning request remained a point of controversy for residents who oppose the proposed Bridlewood development and associated Ordinance 2022-18.

Although the developer, upon learning that Mayor Byran Williams would not be present at the Oct. 27 meeting, requested consideration of the proposed Bridlewood development be rescheduled to the November meeting, citizens requested that the issue go ahead as planned. The ordinance rezones the 687.81 acres from PD-1, Planned Development, and R-1, Residential, to PD-12 Planned Development. The property is located in the southern sector of the City east of U.S. Highway 41 near the City’s wastewater treatment plant.

Residents had earlier complained that the subdivision was too large and would cause traffic congestion and increase crime in the city.

At the Oct. 27 meeting, one citizen proposed that a referendum be voted on by residents instead of five people sitting as a Commission making a decision that affects all the citizens. He also said he wanted the City to use an independent engineer and not the developer’s engineer to “school” the Commission.

City Manager Ashley Stathatos responded that there have been several meetings open to the public at the Commission level and also at workshops at the Civic Center. “State statutes deal with how to deal with property rights and planning and zoning items, said Stathatos. “You cannot do a referendum on planning and zoning items, and we have had more meetings than I can count.”

The intent of the rezoning request is to develop the property as a master planned, mixed-use development consisting of single-family, multi-family, senior living facilities, nonresidential (commercial) uses, school facilities and public facilities.

Currently there are three existing plats on the property, Tamiami Gardens No. 3, 5 and 6 consisting of approximately 1,440 residential lots to which the developer has entitlements.

The Planned Development proposes 1,437 single-family lots ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 square feet. A maximum of 250 multi-family units and 200 senior living facilities are also proposed. Acreage for a school site, public facilities and non-residential development is included as well.

Another concern raised by a resident at the Oct. 27 meeting was reuse water being applied to lawns. The developer’s consultant, JBPro, Inc. Engineer Chris Potts, said that while the EPA has no regulations on this in the state of Florida, water coming out of a wastewater treatment plant is regulated more stringently than potable (drinking) water. Potts also said that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) prefer to use alternative methods for irrigation so that potable water can be extended further and that all state agencies will be applied to for permits included the Florida Department of Transportation, SRWMD and FDEP at the appropriate point in the process.

High Springs City Commissioner Katherine Weitz disagreed, saying that regulations on reuse water do not address nitrogen and phosphorus as well as other pollutants.

According to Weitz, the scope of the development and the rezoning is fairly new to people in town and she is in favor of another public meeting so citizens could have input. Stathatos responded that there have been numerous Commission meetings, Planning and Zoning Board meetings and workshops that have been above and beyond what the City would normally require. “I think we’re getting into dangerous territory to ask for more, more and more after three renditions of this application and changes that the developer has made based on previous citizen input,” Stathatos said. “I think we need to make a decision at this or the next meeting.”

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GAINESVILLE ‒ Based on news accounts, it may seem there are more shark sightings — and attacks — than usual along the northeastern shores of the United States, but a University of Florida shark expert says that’s a misleading perception.

“Every summer, stories about shark attacks tend to get amplified, which can generate the false idea that things are different this year,” said Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “Globally, we’re on track for a very normal shark-bite year, with about 70-80 unprovoked around the world.”

Unprovoked shark bites have increased slightly over the last 30 years, but Naylor attributes that to the growing number of people enjoying recreational ocean activities.

“Sharks don’t target humans,” he said. “Nearly every bite is due to mistaken identity. Sharks can’t see very well, especially in murky water, and they are simply following food.”

Naylor said changes in local conditions can contribute to increased marine activity within a region. Long Island, New York, is one area that has experienced five non-fatal attacks within two weeks in July.

“I’m sure for people in New York, it can feel like there is an uptick in shark attacks, especially when several occur in rapid succession at their beaches,” he said. “Five unprovoked bites happening in an area is odd but not a trend and shouldn’t cause people to avoid beaches around the world.”

Naylor, who is also program director of the “International Shark Attack Files,” is in high demand by reporters this time of year as media fascination and high-rated shark week TV programming capture the country’s attention. Naylor sees the elevated interest as an opportunity to teach people about the fish he has studied for nearly three decades.

“People are interested in sharks because they like to be frightened,” he said. “If we can help the general public see that they are remarkable animals that have been here for 400 million years with intriguing qualities, like one species that can live as long as 400 years and another that can clone itself, then maybe they’ll be amazed and forget to be frightened.”

Those wanting to learn more about sharks can visit the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), which is the world’s only scientifically verified database of all known shark attacks, covering the period from the early 1500s to the present. The ISAF provides an abundance of data and resources for those interested in understanding shark attack trends, the odds for being attacked by a shark and how to reduce your risk. Tips include avoid being in the water during low light hours, like dawn or dusk, when many sharks are most active and feeding; not wandering too far from shore; and always staying with a buddy since sharks are more likely to approach a solitary individual.

“We have added an interactive shark attack map, so you can choose any period of time going back more than 100 years and see for yourself the trends in unprovoked shark bites in any given area of the world,” Naylor said. “You can even narrow it down by species.”

Five facts from the 2021 ISAF:

  • The 2021 worldwide total of 73 confirmed unprovoked cases was in line with the most recent five-year (2016-2020) average of 72 incidents annually.
  • The U.S. has the most unprovoked bites in the world, with 47 last year.
  • Florida had the most unprovoked bites in U.S., with 28 last year.
  • Most bites are related to surfing and board sports.
  • The odds of getting bit by a shark are less than 1 in 4 million.

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MIAMI — Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis on Friday joined hundreds of competitors to kick off the 2022 Florida Python Challenge®. Over 800 participants and counting, from 32 states and Canada, are beginning their search to find and remove invasive Burmese pythons from the Everglades ecosystem. Participants are eligible to win thousands of dollars in prizes while removing Burmese pythons from the wild as part of the competition that kicked off today at 8:00 a.m. and runs through 5:00 p.m. on August 14. Additionally, the First Lady announced the milestone of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)'s python removal contractors removing more than 10,000 Burmese pythons from the wild in Florida.

“I am excited to kick off the 2022 Florida Python Challenge® by going out into the Everglades to join those coming from near and far, both novices and professionals, to hunt pythons – today marks another year of innovative conservation strategies to protect Florida’s beautiful natural resources for generations to come,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “This is significant because every python removed is one less invasive species preying on our native birds, mammals and reptiles. Our family will continue to support conservation efforts in the Everglades, and today I’m doing that by being one of the first out to hunt this invasive species.”

Under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, FWC, South Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida host the Florida Python Challenge® to increase awareness about invasive species and the threats they pose to Florida’s ecology. The annual competition encourages people to get directly involved in Everglades conservation through invasive species removal.

“Florida’s wildlife and unique landscapes are like nowhere else in the world," said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto.  "The proactive leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis has been instrumental in providing us with the resources we need to remove harmful invasive species such as the Burmese python, and events like The Florida Python Challenge® provide an opportunity for the public to become personally involved in this important effort to protect our spectacular natural resources.” 

“Thanks to the tremendous support of Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis, conservation and the protection of our natural resources in Florida remains a top priority,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. Through the partnership we share with the South Florida Water Management District, python contractors, and the dedicated participants of the Florida Python Challenge®, we remain unified to explore and implement the methods to control this invasive species in order to make a lasting impact in the protection of our treasured Everglades ecosystem.”

“Removing invasive pythons from the Everglades ecosystem is one of our agency’s most important goals,” said Florida Depatment of Environemntal Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “We are grateful for the Governor’s leadership in coordinating this effort among state agencies, the South Florida Water Management District and researchers to address the Burmese python infestation, and for giving the public an opportunity to engage in ecosystem restoration. The participants in this year’s Python Challenge will play a pivotal role in helping to preserve and protect the Everglades.”

“I thank Governor Ron DeSantis and our First Lady Casey DeSantis for fighting to save America's Everglades and protect Florida’s natural resources,” said SFWMD Governing Board Member “Alligator Ron” Bergeron. “With the strong support we receive from the DeSantis Administration, we are removing record numbers of pythons from the Everglades while restoring this important ecosystem. Everyday citizens play a big part in this fight through the annual Python Challenge and add to the important work of our hardworking professional python removal agents. Let’s save the Everglades!”

“Wow, more than 10,000 pythons! Florida is making monumental progress on our Everglades restoration efforts and the fight against the harmful Burmese pythons thanks to the support of the DeSantis Administration,” said SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett. “We are grateful for our partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the public during this year’s Python Challenge. Your efforts make a difference, and we appreciate the Governor’s and First Lady’s commitment to our precious natural resources.” 

Participants in both the professional and novice categories can win cash prizes of up to $2,500 for removing the most pythons. There will be additional awards for the longest pythons removed in both categories. This year, Edison National Bank is sponsoring thousands in cash prizes awarded to eligible active-duty military and veteran participants.

People interested in competing can still register through the final day of the competition, August 14, at FLPythonChallenge.org. There is a $25 registration fee and participants must complete a free online training to compete.

Visit FLPythonChallenge.org to register for the competition, take the online training, learn more about Burmese pythons and the unique Everglades ecosystem and find resources for planning your trip to south Florida to participate in the Florida Python Challenge®.

About invasive Burmese pythons

Burmese pythons are not native to Florida and negatively impact native species. They are found primarily in and around the Everglades ecosystem in south Florida where they prey on birds, mammals and other reptiles. A female Burmese python may lay 50 to 100 eggs at a time. More than 17,000 Burmese pythons have been removed from Florida since 2000. For more information on Burmese pythons, visit MyFWC.com/Python.

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TALLAHASSEE – Florida's Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis warns Floridians of a recent cryptocurrency scam known as “pig butchering” or “pig slaughtering” in which victims are enticed to put more and more money into a fake cryptocurrency investment scheme only to “fatten them up” before a scammer disappears with vast sums of their cryptocurrency. This cryptocurrency scam is reportedly most often perpetrated on dating sites and social media as a new form of a romance scam.
 
CFO Jimmy Patronis said, “In Florida, we embrace emerging technology and innovation, but consumers must always stay on guard for scams especially as new financial products like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies become increasingly popular. Reports say cryptocurrency scams have bilked millions out of unsuspecting crypto investors; many of which were scammed through online dating apps over the course of several months. Just like with any major financial decision, consumers should do research and never transfer funds to someone you think is suspicious, untrustworthy, and whose identity you haven’t verified. You may as well kiss your money goodbye. If you feel you have been the victim of a scam, report it immediately at FraudFreeFlorida.com. Always remember, if an opportunity sounds too good to be true, it is.”
 
Three tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to avoid crypto scams:
 
• Only scammers demand payment in cryptocurrency. No legitimate business is going to demand you send cryptocurrency in advance – not to buy something, and not to protect your money. That’s always a scam.

• Only scammers will guarantee profits or big returns. Don’t trust people who promise you can quickly and easily make money in the crypto markets.

• Never mix online dating and investment advice. If you meet someone on a dating site or app, and they want to show you how to invest in crypto, or asks you to send them crypto, that’s a scam.

For more tips on how to avoid cryptocurrency scams, click here.

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TALLAHASSEE - On May 22, Florida angler, Dale Dew, caught the first pink-tagged bass of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) TrophyCatch 10-Tag Celebration. Dew will receive a $5,000 gift card to Bass Pro Shops and $1,000 to shop at AFTCO. This catch also means he has a chance to win an additional $10,000, which will be awarded at a ceremony this fall.

FWC biologists tagged this specific largemouth bass in February on Lake Griffin. Dew caught the fish near the same spot it was tagged, using a plastic worm. He successfully submitted his catch according to TrophyCatch rules.

Dew is originally from Antiqua and he and his family now live in central Florida. While he was not originally going fishing for the pink tag, he saw a sign about the promotion that day.

“It was the first time we heard about it, and we were like, ‘Whoa what’s this? We aren't going to catch it. We’re two guys who can’t fish!’” said Dale Dew, the first lucky angler to catch a pink-tagged largemouth bass. “We don’t have all the nice equipment or a nice bass boat but we got lucky and caught it! So, it could be any ordinary person who catches it. You never know, it’s crazy.”

Nine more pink-tagged bass are swimming in other waterbodies across the state: Newnans Lake; Lake George; Lake Talquin; Lake Walk-in-Water; Tenoroc Fish Management Area; Lake Trafford; Lake Istokpoga; Lake Rousseau; and Johns Lake. Anglers have until the end of September to fish for these special, prized fish.

To celebrate Season 10 of the TrophyCatch program, biologists with the FWC tagged and released 10 largemouth bass with bright pink tags in 10 different locations across the state. Anglers should check the TrophyCatch website for rules and updates.

The TrophyCatch program rewards anglers who provide documentation of their catch and release of largemouth bass weighing 8 pounds or heavier in Florida. To be eligible for prizes, anglers are required to submit photos or videos of their catch to TrophyCatch.com, showing the entire fish and its weight on a scale, before releasing it back into the water. Participants are also automatically entered in a free boat drawing just for registering. FWC biologists use TrophyCatch data for bass research to make informed decisions about the management of Florida bass fisheries and to promote the catch and release of trophy bass. The associated TrophyCare program promotes best handling practices for trophy bass to ensure that each TrophyCatch bass is released alive.

For the latest news about the TrophyCatch 10-TAG Celebration subscribe to the program’s topic email (select “TrophyCatch” under “Freshwater Fishing”). For more information about the TrophyCatch program or the 10-TAG Celebration, email KP Clements at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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TALLAHASSEE, - Today, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) is encouraging businesses throughout the state to prepare for the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season, which begins June 1. DEO urges businesses to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season by visiting FloridaDisaster.biz, which provides business owners with resources to prepare for potential disasters, critical updates during a disaster, and post-disaster resources to help Florida’s businesses recover and Floridians return to work.

 During the Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday, which runs from Saturday, May 28 to Friday, June 10, business owners can also purchase some equipment to prepare their businesses for a disaster tax-free, including batteries, tarps and generators. A full list of eligible tax-free items is available here.

 “Thanks to Governor DeSantis’ strong leadership, Florida businesses have access to the resources they need to prepare for disasters and make a quick recovery following a disaster,” said DEO Secretary Dane Eagle. “FloridaDisaster.biz enables businesses to make the best decisions for their employees and business operations during disaster events, and DEO encourages all businesses to utilize this valuable tool.”

 Taking the steps to build a business disaster continuity plan, as well as encouraging employees to create a family emergency plan, can reduce the financial and physical impact that a disaster can have on businesses. 

For information about how to create a plan, what to include in a disaster kit, where to find storm updates, and more information, please visit the resources below:

  •  FloridaDisaster.org is maintained by the Division of Emergency Management, with resources and information about what businesses should do during and after a disaster.
  • FloridaDisaster.biz is a partnership between DEO and the Florida Division of Emergency Management that provides a hub for businesses before, during, and after emergencies.

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GAINESVILLE – The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention invites applications for its 13th Annual Cade Prize for Innovation. Inventors and entrepreneurs in Florida, Georgia and Alabama may apply June 1 – August 1, 2022. 

“The Cade Prize for Innovation supports an ecosystem of invention throughout the Southeast,” said Richard Miles, Cade Prize Committee Chair. “It rewards early-stage ideas with the promise to change the world and fuel billion-dollar economies.” 

This year’s Cade Prize is one of the largest cash prize competitions for innovation in Florida, awarding $64,000: $34,000 for first place, $13,000 for second place, $8,000 for third place, $5,000 for fourth place, $3,000 for fifth place and $1,000 for the People’s Choice. Each winner also receives $2,000 of in-kind legal services. 

Designed to help early-stage inventors move beyond invention and into the marketplace, the Cade Prize provides capital to help secure patents, licensing, manufacturing, distribution and marketing.  

The Cade Prize awards candidates whose work addresses critical issues impacting the Southeast: Agriculture/Environment, Health Care/Biomedicine, IT/Technology, Energy and a Wild Card category. Applicants do not need to have a working prototype. 

Since 2010, hundreds of inventors with groundbreaking inventions have applied for the coveted prize. Some have achieved great success. “Winning the Cade Prize helped take us from an invention to a sustained business,” said 2010 Cade Prize winner, Ethan Fieldman, co-founder of Tutor Matching Service.  

 Fieldman and his team developed Tutor Matching Service, a website and Facebook application matching college students with educators from around the world. “Winning the Cade Prize validated our proof of concept, led to industry-wide support and an explosion of sales,” he said. After many universities partnered with the company, it attracted a multi-million dollar investment from several venture capitalists to expand its offering to an app. In 2021, Fieldman sold the business to the Carlyle Group and enjoys staying connected with the Cade Museum team. 

To be eligible, individuals or companies may have no more than $500,00 in outside investment such as funding from investors in exchange for stock or convertible notes. R1 research universities in Alabama, Georgia and Florida are invited to nominate one entry for automatic inclusion to the first round of judging. Applications may be submitted virtually at cadeprize.awardsplatform.com with a $55 application fee. 

The first round of judging, to determine the 21 Fibonacci Finalists - named after the 11th century Italian mathematician who created the building blocks of Western mathematics – is August 15, 2022. The Fibonacci Finalists are invited to the Cade Museum in Gainesville, Florida for a public Q & A about their inventions on September 8, 2022. The Cade Prize Awards Ceremony takes place at the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention on September 29, 2022.  

This year’s Cade Prize is sponsored by Scott R. MacKenzie, Florida Trend, Modern Luxury, James Moore Certified Public Accountants and Consultants, Community Foundation of North Central Florida, and Saliwanchik, Lloyd & Eisenschenk law firm. To learn more about the Cade Prizevisit cademuseum.org/cadeprize

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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

 

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.

Tina Corbett

High Springs, Florida

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.

Angel Cruz

Postmaster High Springs, FL 32643-9998

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.

Peggy Portwine

Alachua, Florida

“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

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Floridians,

This week, I announced the new Mental Health Care Service webpage on the Department of Financial Services (DFS) website, which aims to provide resources and assistance to mental health services for consumers. This past legislative session, HB 701 was signed by Governor DeSantis and establishes new communication duties for health insurers and HMOs and creates reporting requirements for DFS.

I’m proud to provide Floridians with resources they need to seek vital treatment so they can live a healthier life. As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, mental health challenges are on the rise nationwide, especially within our first responder and front-line healthcare communities. Thank you to Governor Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for stressing the importance of mental health resources in our communities.

On Tuesday, I recognized, October 12th, as National Savings Day and urged Floridians to make saving a priority to secure their financial well-being. Saving is the cornerstone of a strong financial foundation. Setting money aside each month allows families to handle unexpected costs or prepare for future expenses, like college tuition. As your CFO, I remain focused on ensuring all Floridians have the tools they need to make their hard-earned money work for them. For information about financial literacy programs available through the Department, please visit Your Money Matters, which is a one-stop shop for tips and resources to help Floridians manage their finances wisely.

Lastly, in recognition of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, I encouraged Floridians to 'Be Cyber Smart' and raised awareness in an effort to stay safe and secure online. Recently, officials are warning consumers of a new scam where fraudsters are creating fake Google Voice accounts to scam people without being detected. Scammers are always searching for new ways to trick their next victim and using fake Google Voice accounts is their latest ploy. I encourage all individuals and businesses to take action today to 'Be Cyber Smart' and learn how to protect your identity online to ensure you don’t fall victim. Learn about the latest scams and report signs of fraud immediately at FraudFreeFlorida.com

Jimmy Patrons

State of Florida CFO

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ALACHUA COUNTY, FL - February 7, 2020, commemorates National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). NBHAAD aims to increase HIV education, testing, community involvement, and treatment among black communities. This year's theme, "We're In This Together," highlights the importance of social support in eliminating stigma and reducing new HIV diagnoses among individuals that make up the black community. TheFlorida Department of Health in Alachua County (DOH-Alachua) joins community partners across the country to improve access to testing, overcome barriers for linkage to and retention in care, increase access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and reduce new infections and HIV-related disparities.
"We have a robust peer program here at the Florida Department of Health. Our staff knows what it's like to live with HIV. They are here to offer support to our community," said Gay Koehler-Sides, HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator, Florida Department of Health, Alachua County.
In 2018, 119,661 Floridians were confirmed to be living with HIV. Approximately 1,098 people in Alachua County were living with HIV, and of those, about 61% belong to the African American community.
There are different options for getting tested for HIV. Visit KnowYourHIVStatus.com to learn more about testing options, or to order a free at-home HIV testing kit (while supplies last).
It's crucial that people living with HIV begin treatment as soon as possible. Immediate treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART) typically leads to long, healthy lives for people living with HIV. It's also a method of HIV prevention. ART reduces the amount of HIV in the body, which makes it harder to transmit to others. People living with HIV who reach and maintain what's called "viral suppression" (fewer than 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood) have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner.
There are also prevention tools for people who haven't been diagnosed with HIV. While HIV prevention is truly a group effort, it can look very different from person to person. A health care provider can do a risk/needs assessment to determine appropriate next steps, which might include taking PrEP and using condoms to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV. Prevention may also take the form of regular retesting.
For more information, call 352-334-7960 or 1-800-FLA-AIDS. Visit KnowYourHIVStatus.com.
For more information about the DOH-Alachua Peer Program, call 352-334-7969.