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ALACHUA COUNTY - A message from the Alachua County School Board to Alachua County Public School families and staff.

As we shared last week, Alachua County Public Schools has developed an Instructional Continuity Plan so that our students can continue the learning process while schools are closed due to COVID-19. The state of Florida has said that instruction must begin again after Spring Break, which means we will be gearing up again on March 30.

If you have not yet done so, please check out the Plan at https://bit.ly/39poIS6. You will find online resources for all grade levels in a variety of subjects.

You will access these materials through myPortal. If you or your child don’t know or can’t remember his or her myPortal user name and password, please follow the instructions at https://bit.ly/3bxBhvZ.

If you do not have a Family Access account, you can get one by contacting your child’s school on March 30 or by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please understand that we expect a high volume of calls at schools on Monday.

During the first few days of next week, teachers and other school staff will be reaching out to their families to help get everyone off to a good start and discuss specific needs related to remote learning. If you do not hear from your child’s school before April 1, we encourage you to call the school.

Obviously, this will be a very busy time for school staff, who will be working under very unusual circumstances. We appreciate your patience and flexibility as we all learn how to best to keep our kids engaged and learning during this difficult time!

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TALLAHASSEETo keep Florida residents and visitors safe, informed and aware about the status of the virus, The Florida Department of Health has launched a COVID-19 dashboard that will be updated twice daily. As of  6 p.m. on March 25, 2020, there are 1,977 total** Florida cases.

One person has died who tested positive for COVID-19 in Citrus County.

New Florida cases include:

  • 295 additional positive COVID-19 cases (284 Florida residents and 11 non-Florida residents) reported to the Florida Department of Health.
  • There are currently 1,867 positive cases in Florida residents and 110 positive cases in non-Florida residents.

Florida recently partnered with private laboratories around the state to expand COVID-19 laboratory testing capacity. This partnership will increase the number of tests conducted each day and ensure Floridians receive the critical health information they need in a timely manner.

Expansion to private laboratories changes the COVID-19 testing landscape in Florida. Private laboratories are running tests as they receive swab samples from practitioners. Testing and reporting times vary among commercial and DOH laboratories. Demographic information may be updated during investigations. These twice daily reports reflect the state’s efforts to accurately and transparently share information. 

More information on a case-by-case basis can also be found here.

Total cases overview includes positive cases in Florida residents and non-Florida residents tested in Florida.

More Information on COVID-19

  To find the most up-to-date information and guidance on COVID-19, please visit the Department of Health’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage. For information and advisories from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), please visit the CDC COVID-19 website. For more information about current travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State, please visit the travel advisory website.

  For any other questions related to COVID-19 in Florida, please contact the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 Call Center by calling 1-866-779-6121. The Call Center is available 24 hours per day. Inquiries may also be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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ALACHUA - As part of their ongoing efforts to help local communities during the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, Hitchcock’s Markets, in partnership with the Hitchcock’s Charity Foundation, announced today that it will donate more than 3,000 free meals to families in need across its 10 stores.

Director of Store Operations, Ken Story, stated, “We are trying to get ahead of the curve, we know this will get worse financially for many people in our communities who may suddenly find themselves without a paycheck and may not have much disposable income to eat”. Ultimately, Hitchcock’s wants to provide a small bit of relief to their local communities during this stressful and uncertain time. The local chain prides itself in giving back to its communities throughout the year by donating more than 50,000 meals yearly to those in need.


The 3,000 meals will be distributed this Saturday, March 28 starting at 12 p.m. at all 10 Hitchcock’s Markets locations. Families in need are invited to visit the stores at this time to receive a free meal. The distribution will occur in the parking lots of the stores to limit exposure of customers and associates.

Hitchcock’s has store locations in the towns of Alachua, East Palatka, Hawthorne, Indiantown, Interlachen, Jasper, Keystone Heights, Newberry, Trenton and Williston.


In response to the current situation, Hitchcock’s has made several changes in its day-to-day operations. These include a heightened disinfection and sanitization program, an emphasis on restocking and product availability, and a change in store hours to better serve customers. All stores are currently opening 30 minutes early for the elderly population and closing at 8 p.m.

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TALLAHASSEE – On Monday, March 16, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis directed the Department of Revenue (Department) to provide flexibility on tax due dates to assist those adversely affected by COVID-19. Today, Department of Revenue Executive Director Jim Zingale issued an emergency order to extend the final due date for property tax payments for the 2019 tax year. The Department also extended the due date to file railroad, railroad terminal, private car and freight line and equipment company property tax returns.

Order of Emergency Waiver/Deviation #20-52-DOR-01 applies to all 67 Florida counties. Property tax is normally due by March 31 in the year following the year the taxes are assessed. The Department waives the due date so that payments remitted by April 15, 2020, for the 2019 tax year will be considered timely paid. Property tax returns for railroad, railroad terminal, private car and freight line and equipment company property are normally due by April 1. Returns will be timely filed if filed by April 15, 2020.

The Department has implemented the filing date extensions pursuant to subsection 213.005(2), F.S., which authorizes the Executive Director of the Department of Revenue to carry out certain actions during a declared state of emergency. On March 9, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order Number 20-52, declaring a state of emergency in response to the recent COVID-19 outbreak.

Property taxpayers who have additional questions should contact their county tax collectors. Railroad and private car line companies with additional questions may contact the Department at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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NEWBERRY – On Saturday, Feb. 28, Country Way Town Square hosted a new event that was organized and staffed by students from Newberry High School. Country Way is a housing community located just south of the school, but its spacious town square also has become a popular venue for larger special events. In the past two years, it has hosted the Newberry Watermelon Fest, rodeos and music events. This time it was the Newberry Soulfest, an event that was part festival and part cultural history event.

Organized by the students at Newberry High School, it was a celebration of African-American history and heritage. It was also an event to raise money for students in the African American history class to go to Montgomery, Alabama to visit the Equal Justice Initiative and Memorial.

The memorial opened to the public on April 26, 2018, and is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of African American slavery, people terrorized by lynching, and the struggle for equal rights from reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement.

Set on a six-acre site, the memorial uses sculpture, art, and design to illustrate the racial inequality that existed in America from the beginning of slavery to the Civil Rights movement. The site includes a memorial square with 800 six-foot monuments to symbolize thousands of racial lynching victims in the United States and the counties and states where this terrorism took place. Montgomery is also the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement, which started with an incident in 1955 where Rosa Parks, an African American woman refused to give up her bus seat to a white man and was arrested. Martin Luther King was a pastor in Montgomery and helped organize a bus boycott among the African American community, which led to the Supreme Court ruling that segregation on buses was illegal.

Alachua County had its own share of lynchings in the late 1800s to mid-1920s, including the infamous “Newberry Six” incident on Aug. 18, 1916. The episode began with the attempt on Aug. 17 by Newberry constable George Wynne to serve a warrant on Boisey Long, an African American man, for stealing hogs.

Accounts differ how the conflict began and who fired first, but Long shot and killed Wynne, and wounded another man, Dr. L. G. Harris, who had accompanied him. Long escaped, but was captured two days later.

In the meantime, a posse was organized by the sheriff. They then shot and killed Jim Dennis, a friend of Long. The sheriff claimed Dennis was resisting arrest. Relatives and friends of Long were rounded up and taken to jail for allegedly helping him escape; they were Bert and Mary Dennis, Long's wife, Stella Young, and two friends of Dennis, Andrew McHenry and Reverend Josh Baskin.

A mob of 200 took them from the jail the morning of Aug. 18 and hanged them from a single oak tree, one mile from Newberry. Newspapers called it "a lynching bee." A newspaper also reported that the coroner's jury had returned a verdict that the seven lynching victims had died in freak accidents, such as running into a barbed wire fence and bleeding to death, or falling out of a tree and choking to death or breaking their necks.

Long was tried on Sept. 7, found guilty in seven minutes by an all-white jury and sentenced to hang. He was executed in the yard of the Alachua County jail on Oct. 27, 1916.

The Newberry Soulfest featured live music, food vendors and other forms of family entertainment such as a giant Jenga game, face painting and a football toss game. All proceeds were for the students’ trip to Montgomery. The event was also to raise awareness of what life was like for African Americans in their struggle for equality.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs has closed City Hall as of 6 p.m., March 17. It is expected to remain closed until April 6.

Residents are encouraged to utilize online services available through highsprings.us, including tag renewal. “Online fees will be reduced during this time from $3.50 to $2.50,” said High Springs Fire Department Public Information Officer Kevin Mangan.

Building inspections will continue to be conducted and scheduled by contacting the Building Department by telephone at 386-454-7322 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. All other Building Department business will be on hold.

At this time, the City of High Springs has issued no specific directives toward private businesses regarding reducing hours or capacity. Any stories heard otherwise, as they relate to High Springs are at this time are rumors.

The High Springs Police Department will not be accepting fingerprints or non-essential calls during this shutdown. Officers will remain available 24/7 for emergency calls for service.

City staff will continue to monitor this situation closely and will handle emergency requests, such as water or sewer problems as needed.

Residents are encouraged to call 386-454-1416 for rumor control. In the event of a fire, medical or law enforcement emergency, dial 911.

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TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's investigation into a domestic-violence nonprofit and its alleged misappropriation of millions in state funds ramped up this week with a lawsuit against the group's executive leadership.

It says Tiffany Carr, who led the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, was paid $761,000 a year at the time of her resignation and, with paid time off, received $7 million in compensation over three years - even as the shelters under her group's management were short on funding.

Ben Wilcox, research director with the watchdog nonprofit Integrity Florida, says the state probe is long overdue.

"I think it's corruption, yeah," says Wilcox. "I think potentially, you know, criminal corruption. We'll have to see how it plays out. It may be more of a kind of legal corruption."

The Department of Children and Families, which has contracted with the coalition since 2003, filed a lawsuit Wednesday targeting Carr, the coalition's board of directors and executive officers. Yesterday, the Florida House also approved a motion to serve Carr with a subpoena "by any means necessary," after the department accused her of stonewalling oversight attempts.

According to the lawsuit, the coalition received $42 million from the Department of Children and Families in fiscal year 2017 to manage 42 domestic-violence centers that provide victims with an array of services.

Wilcox says department officials should also hold themselves accountable.

"The Department of Children and Families also failed to keep tabs on this situation," he says. "And there should be someone looking at compensation packages for these nonprofit associations that are doing business with the state."

The governor's lawyers are asking the court for more than $30,000 in damages for each of the 51 counts in the complaint against the coalition, Carr and 11 other defendants.

State Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, R-Miami, and Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, sponsored legislation that the governor has signed, repealing a guaranteed state partnership with the coalition.

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More than $20,000 in scholarships will be up for grabs for students participating in the 12th Annual National Archery in the Schools Program Florida State Tournament. The tournament, hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), will be held Feb. 29 in Bartow. Admission is free for tournament spectators.

“Thanks to generous contributions from the National Archery in the Schools Program and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, we’re able to award $20,000 in scholarships to the three top scoring male and female archers at the 2020 Florida NASP State Championship,” said Bill Cline, FWC’s section leader for Hunter Safety and Public Shooting Ranges.

The National Archery in the Schools Program is a cooperative effort between the FWC and the Florida Department of Education that teaches international style target archery in 4th-12th grade physical education classes. The NASP curriculum covers archery history, safety, technique, equipment, mental concentration and self-improvement. 

“Archery is a very inclusive activity. Boys and girls from a wide range of ages, skill levels and physical abilities can participate and succeed,” Cline said. “Plus, archery provides several benefits such as building muscle endurance, flexibility, hand-eye coordination, and grip and body strength. It also teaches discipline, respect and self-control.”

The 12th annual NASP Florida State Tournament is conducted as a multi-site competition with the tournament ending Saturday, Feb 29 at the Carver Recreation Center in Bartow.

Winners will be announced in three divisions: elementary, middle and high school. Trophies will be awarded to the top three schools in each division and the top boy and girl shooter in each division. National tournament bids to the 2020 NASP National Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky, will be awarded to the top male and female archers, as well as first-place teams by age division and additional teams who meet the minimum qualifying score.

In addition to the competition, there will be activities for competitors and spectators attending this event, including an outdoor aerial archery game.  For competing student shooters who wish to participate, there is an additional 3-D archery range competition with prizes, including bows provided by Bear Archery.

For more information about Florida’s National Archery in the Schools Program, visit MyFWC.com/NASP.

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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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 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 , ninapintaThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 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.

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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There is no legitimate argument for making this change now and sending government further into a black hole and out of the light.

If you haven’t heard, the Florida Legislature is attempting to abolish the requirement that governmental agencies publish legal notices in newspapers, which would push government further into the shadows and make it harder for Floridians to learn about public policy issues, make their voices heard and hold their leaders accountable. This bill, HB 7 is scheduled to be heard by the full House on Tuesday. 

First off, this bill flips public notice on its head by reducing government transparency. Simply put, putting legal notices on government websites means very few Florida citizens will ever read them.  Public notice along with public meetings and public records have been part of our nation’s commitment to open government since the founding of the Republic. Our Founders placed public notices in newspapers to be noticed.

Secondly, from the perspective of efficient use of technology, I believe the bill takes a step backwards by placing these notices on government websites. 

The Florida Press Association has a comprehensive website which aggregates and places all of the notices under one umbrella – it’s called floridapublicnotices.com.  We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars building this website to serve Florida’s state government as well as its towns, municipalities, businesses and taxpayers. To date, we have over 32,000 registered users and over 70,000 monthly page views in addition to the notices in the newspapers and their websites. And, it’s free for the public to use. Why re-invent the wheel now? 

If this bill is passed, city and county governments will be required to recreate the same infrastructure currently in place to make notices easily searchable, mobile friendly, and provide email notification upon request of a specific notice (which newspapers do today), that recreation will not be cheap. In fact, the promised savings may not be there.  Nor will the audience, without a major investment in marketing to direct our citizens to what would be hundreds of government websites.

Further, the bill has the impact of significantly reducing notice. 

Despite what you read and hear, newspapers or should I say, media companies are alive and well. Our weekly newspapers are growing, and our dailies are growing digital subscriptions and page views. In some cases, double-digit online growth.  

Newspapers in Florida alone are reaching 7.5 million readers in any given week, and our websites typically will reach more audience than most city or county websites. Our websites draw a minimum of 58 million unique online users in any given month.

By moving notices to less-frequently visited government websites, not only will you reduce the reach to the Florida public, you also lose the active and well-informed citizen. These are people who read often and find notices while they’re staying current with other community news. 

Finally, while this bill claims to save cities and counties money, the unintended consequence is that notices will lose both readership and the legally important third-party verification. 

With notices in newspapers -- in print and online -- it provides a verifiable public record through sworn required affidavits of publication.   Does the government really want to take on this responsibility of residents not being properly notified? 

In closing, 250 years ago our founders decided to place these public notices in a public forum -- newspapers – an open space where The People were most likely to see them… not on hundreds of different government sites hoping folks will find them.

Let’s keep Florida transparent and informed.  Please feel free to call your local legislator to share your voice before it’s too late.

Jim Fogler is the President & CEO Florida Press Service

336 E. College Ave. Suite 304, Tallahassee, FL  32301

 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

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 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

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

 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

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. 

#     #     #

Email tschuyler@

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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.