Last updateWed, 30 Nov 2016 11pm


Newberry park named after Lois Forte

NEWBERRY – Current and former city officials, family, friends and residents of Newberry gathered on a cool and windy Nov. 1 morning to participate in the dedication ceremony and official naming of a city park. The park, which has previously been referred to as Triangle Park due to the shape of the property, will now be known as Lois Forte Park.

The land was originally vacant, city-owned property. Forte envisioned it as a space for children and families to gather. Due, in part, to the diligence and perseverance of former Newberry City Commissioner Lois Forte, the formerly unused eight acres was turned into a park.

“I saw all those old live oak trees and saw the potential for the land to be used as a gathering place for our citizens and their families and friends,” she said. “I just had to fight for that land to be used by area families in a way that would also maintain the beauty of the property.”

Forte also advocated the city obtaining a Wild Spaces and Public Places grant to help develop the park and make it more useful and accessible. The grant was used to pave walkways, install lighting, benches, playground equipment, a large gazebo and three smaller gazebos.

Forte says she's proud of the park. “It's one of the most beautiful parks in the county,” she said. “My family, friends and my tribe are also proud of what I have been able to accomplish here,” she said referring to her heritage as a member of the Native-American Lumbee Tribe of eastern North Carolina, the largest tribe in that state.

Currently, the park is used by a church to show movies, as a place for family reunions, birthday parties and a distribution location for Thanksgiving dinners.

“People visiting Newberry use it as well,” said Forte. “We often have people here from surrounding areas.”

“The desire to officially name the park for Commissioner Forte was in recognition of her 21 and a half years of service to her city as a city commissioner and as an advocate for the preservation of the park for the citizens of Newberry,” said Mayor Bill Conrad.

The park is located at 255 N.W. 260th Street in Newberry.

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Boukari weight-loss story #1 on

@benboukarijr featured on @cnn and @weeklyweighin

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According to one CNN iReporter editor, the story of Ben Boukari Jr.'s drastic weight loss posted on CNN.con on Aug. 4 has received more than 5.8k shares on Facebook and has remained the #1 story on CNN mobile as of Thursdasy.

ALACHUA – The story went live on Monday, Aug. 4 at 8 a.m. Facebook “likes” and comments and twitter notices were getting stirred up by CNN iReport editors.

“I knew Friday from Talia Day, CNN iReporter,” local realtor and Alachua City Commissioner Ben Boukari Jr., said.

“When they posted it, they requested I post it on my social media,” Boukari Jr. said. “And people started sharing it. I got 20 shares just from me putting it out there and 178 people liked it.”

Boukari Jr., now 30, became the youngest City of Alachua commissioner in 2010 at the age of 26.

That win is the reason he Boukari Jr. decided take on another challenge – weight loss. At 379 pounds, Boukari Jr. was unable to run or take part in excercise.

“When you’re 379 pounds, I don’t care how you get to where you can lose weight to be healthier,” Boukari Jr. said. “I couldn’t run. I couldn’t do pushups. The diet set the platform for me.”

“Low carb dieting got me to eat healthier. It cut my appetite, got me to eat less, got me interested in eating green beans, salads.”

Boukari Jr.’s official diet start date was Sept. 28, 2010 and he said he worked on weight loss until June 1, 2011 before he “weighed myself again. The scale read 294 to be exact,” Boukari Jr. said.

“I started doing exercise after that.”

By April of 2013, Boukari reached his goal weight and has maintained a healthy at 250 pounds for his 6 feet 3 inches tall frame.

Last month, Boukari Jr. found a way to celebrate his success.

He turned to CNN and a feature the news program showcases in its health section called “Weighin.”

People who have succeeded at drastic weight loss are encouraged to submit their story by the following prompt:

Do you have a weight-loss success story to share? Tell us how you did it and you could be featured in our weekly weight-loss story on”

Out of thousands of responses, Boukari Jr. was notified weeks later that his story was going to be featured.

“To me, food was like a best friend after a long day at work,”Boukari Jr.wrote in hisCNNiReport.

I submitted mine and they liked it a lot,” Boukari Jr. said. “They vetted me a lot. I got called twice for an interview and to confirm the facts.”

He said he spent most of Monday fielding and monitoring the social media buzz created by CNN’s post which showed a before and after image of Boukari Jr.

“People asked ‘How do you stay motivated,’ ” he said. “Or commented ‘Congrats!’”

“I know that CNN is very active. They’ve got a twitter page @cnnireport, another @cnn, @cnnhealth,” Boukari Jr. said. “All three of those listed the article. They’ve been tweeting to different entities. “It said @alachuacounty make sure you see @benboukarijr featured @cnn @weeklyweighin.

“There’s a hashtag “weeklyweighin” I haven’t even looked at that,” he said.

Some discoveries he made in the first 24 hours of CNN’s aggressive social media strategy?

“It went to CNN Mexico, now it’s in Spanish,” Boukari Jr. said. “It’s been to La Crosse, Wisconson, Bayou Buzz, Louisianna, WGN, Chicago, WPIX New York, New York, Norfolk, Virgina, Portland, Maine. They picked it off the wire.”

Some of the comments have been sarcastic, funny or mean, but Boukari takes it in stride since he noticed the good responses far outweigh the negative.

“There have been thousands of comments on CNN’s main page. There’s been more than 3,500 likes and more than 400 shares,” he said at just 24 hours after the posting was launched.

By Tuesday, his story was moved off the front web page but remained on the health page.

“One guy thought the article had to do with Big Ben (the iconic clock tower built in 1859) in London being taken down,” Boukari Jr. said about the headline “No more ‘Big Ben’: City leader loses 145 pounds.”

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High Springs gets new acting chief of police

        HIGH SPRINGS – James “Steve” Holley, police chief for High Springs, has taken time off after covering shifts for officers who were sick or attending special training during the past year.

        “He asked for time off, and had the comp and vacation time available to do so,” said City Manager Ed Booth. “I granted his request for 30-days leave,” he said.

        While Holley is out, Sgt. Antoine Sheppard has been appointed acting chief of police.

        Sheppard began his law enforcement career as a police explorer with the Alachua Police Department, according to the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) website. He was hired by the HSPD on April 26, 2001 as a police officer. He has risen to the rank of Sergeant and has been a patrol supervisor.

        In addition to Sheppard's regular assigned duties, he also was in charge of the coordination of the bicycle unit, neighborhood crime watch and the reserve officer program. Sergeant Sheppard is a member of the city's safety committee and is a trained Crisis Intervention Officer.

        City Manager Booth denied rumors that Holley would be demoted to sergeant at the end of the 30 days.

        “That’s all just rumor,” Booth said.

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Commission meeting ends on sour note

HIGH SPRINGS – Citizens sat through another contentious meeting on Thursday, April 24 that led to the removal of one citizen by Acting Police Chief Antoine Sheppard at the direction of Mayor Byran Williams.

Although Williams has suggested removal of argumentative citizens at previous meetings, this is the first time he has actually followed through. The individual escorted out by Sheppard was in a wheelchair and may have been a veteran as was later claimed by another citizen. He did not settle down when asked to do so, but instead kept wagging his finger at the mayor and ultimately wheeled his chair over Sheppard's foot as he was being escorted out. When he was admonished by Sheppard for doing so, he denied it had happened at all.

At that Commissioner Bob Barnas quickly stood up and said he didn't feel well and was going home.

Commissioner Linda Gestrin also got up and left the room. City Clerk Jenny Parham followed to ask if she was also leaving, and Gestrin said she was not. She came back shortly thereafter, picked up her items and left. Due to the previously planned absence of Commissioner Scott Jamison, the commission no longer had a quorum and the mayor closed the meeting with none of the new agenda items addressed.

Prior to closing, commissioners heard from several members of the High Springs Farmers' Market as part of the agenda item to approve a short-term contract with Basti Gonzales to continue to run the market until September.

Gonzales will continue on a month-to-month verbal agreement and City Attorney Scott Walker will draw up and advertise a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) in an attempt to locate a permanent market manager.

Another old business item addressed was a request by Bryan Sperry to purchase a piece of city-owned property adjacent to his own. Commissioners decided the city should create a surplus property policy for any property the city believed had no usefulness. Properties deemed surplus would then be advertised to allow any interested citizen to bid on the property. Booth said he would look at the existing plans for Tillman Properties to determine if the property had usefulness to the city. No action was taken to sell the property during the meeting.

A lengthy report on his findings regarding an earlier survey of computer equipment at the High Springs Police Department was conducted by Eric May. The report addressed certain specific items which most of the audience did not have a list of or a copy of the report. Barnas asked most of the questions, adding that he was talking with employees and conducting his own investigation. City Manager Ed Booth objected to the commissioner questioning his employees as it would violate the City Charter. Barnas then clarified his earlier statement saying he was talking with “former employees.”

Resident Sylvia Newcomb commented that the city manager should resign, which then set off some audience members who started clapping at her suggestion. At this point one person was escorted out of the meeting.

A special meeting was called for Wednesday, April 30, to consider approval of a time-sensitive contract with WCA for solid waste services. Without an approved contract, citizens would not have their garbage picked up on Friday, May 2, the contract start date.

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Ag Commissioner Putnam announces 2014 Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame Honorees

TALLAHASSEE – Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam and the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame Foundation announced four honorees who will be inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame for 2014. These individuals have made outstanding contributions to Florida’s agriculture industry and mentored future leaders in this field.

“These individuals have made incredible contributions to agriculture in our state and beyond,” Commissioner Putnam said. “The changes and improvements they have made will help ensure the strength of Florida’s $100 billion agriculture for generations to come. I am pleased to announce the awards for these outstanding gentlemen.”

The honorees are:

  • Scottie Butler, Gainesville, former general counsel, Florida Farm Bureau Federation. Scottie Butler has spent more than 40 years advocating for Florida’s farmers and ranchers. He retired as general counsel from the Florida Farm Bureau Federation in September 2013, after more than four decades of service. He understood the importance of developing relationships to bring together associations, coalitions and government agencies to move key issues forward. In addition to his expertise, he strongly believed in helping raise up the next generation of agriculture leaders and has mentored several of today’s industry leaders.
  • Bruce Christmas Sr., Cottondale, former Director of the Poultry Evaluation Center at the University of Florida. Bruce Christmas is a fifth generation farmer from Jackson County and a former Orange County Extension Agent. He has been recognized by many organizations for his leadership and his volunteer service to youth and was previously chosen “National Volunteer of the Year” for the National Agriculture Alumni and Development Association.
  • Dr. Elver “Doc” Hodges, Wauchula, retired Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida. Dr. Hodges’ contributions to the livestock industry in Florida are enormous. His research as an agronomist identified problems and found solutions to enrich low-quality Florida soils, which revolutionized peninsular Florida beef production. He served with the University of Florida Range Cattle Research and Education Center and with the USAID International Program in Malawi. In addition, he was involved with his local 4-H program for many years.
  • Dallas Townsend, retired Director of the University of Florida Hendry County Extension Office. Dallas Townsend served 39 years as an extension agent in Southwest Florida and was instrumental in working with IFAS and the agriculture industry to bring more research capacity to the area through the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center. His involvement with youth and 4-H is legendary, coaching more than a dozen 4-H teams and thousands of 4-H youth.

The award winners will be honored on Feb. 11, 2014 at the Ag Hall of Fame Dinner. For tickets, or more information about the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame, go to

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