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CEDAR KEY — Miss eating your favorite shellfish in restaurants? Never tasted delicious Cedar Key clams? Come pick up a bag of FREE clams to enjoy on this Memorial Day holiday, Monday, May 25, from 1-4 pm. Drive through the parking lot of B&E Seafood located at 7431 SW State Road 24, Cedar Key (5 miles east of #4 Channel Bridge, nearby the Marathon gas station).

Clams will be distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis with a limit of one 75-count bag per family. Must bring a cooler with an ice pack or frozen jug; ice will not be available. Recipes and handling information will be provided.

Thanks to the following Cedar Key wholesalers: B&E Seafood, Big Moon Seafood, Cedar Key Aquaculture Farms, Cedar Key Seafood Distributors, Cedar Shoals, Clamtastics, Davis Seafarms, Dog Island Blues Clam Co., Sloan’s Seafood, Southern Cross Seafarms, and Quality Shellfish. Sponsored by the Cedar Key Aquaculture Association and University of Florida/IFAS Shellfish Extension.

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GAINESVILLE –Alachua County Farm Bureau has awarded three $1,000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors from ACFB member-families.

“Alachua County Farm Bureau has been providing financial help to high school graduates who plan to go on to college or other forms of higher education for decades,” said ACFB President Winston Rushing. “We are proud to carry on this tradition.”

The recipients are:

  • Jessie Lee, daughter of Robbie and Tracy Lee of Cross City, who will graduate from Dixie County High School. She indicated Florida State University is her top choice.
  • Alice Burnett, daughter of Garrett and Kirsten Burnett of High Springs, Fla., who will graduate from Santa Fe High School. Alice plans to attend Florida State University.
  • Eric Hester,, son of Eric and Summer Hester of Newberry. He will graduate from Newberry High School and plans to attend Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee.

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GAINESVILLE - On Friday, May 22, The Southeastern Conference Presidents voted to allow student-athletes to participate in voluntary in-person athletics activities on campus beginning June 8.

UF Health officials, along with University Athletic Association (UAA) Athletic Training, Strength and Hawkins Center staffs have prepared protocols for student-athletes to use our training facilities, which will focus on a gradual return of student athletes to campus over the course of the summer. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the UAA has been working closely with state, campus & UF Health officials.

One thing to note is that all student-athletes, coaches and UAA staff will be screened and tested for COVID through the UF Health program before coming back to campus or utilizing training facilities.

Attached, please see a copy of an executive summary of the program. Below is a quote from Athletics Director Scott Stricklin. We've also attached a copy of the current phasing and testing plan of our student athletes.

"Our student athlete wellness group has been working for some time with UF Health officials on a plan to integrate our student athletes back on campus," said Athletics Director Scott Stricklin.  "They have developed a gradual phasing program, so that we don't have an influx of a large number of student athletes returning at once. Football, Volleyball and Soccer teams will return in phases within those teams in the month of June. Our student athletes will be screened and tested through a partnership program with UF Health and our staff has worked with a number of experts to promote a safer environment for the return of our Gator student athletes."

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GAINESVILLE – The Florida Department of Transportation is scheduled to begin a resurfacing project next month on Hawthorne Road (State Road 20) in Gainesville.

The project is set to begin on June 1, weather and unforeseen circumstances permitting, and take place from State Road 26 (University Avenue) to just east of County Road 329B. In addition to resurfacing, the $4 million, approximately 4-mile project will include sidewalk and drainage improvements, as well as other incidental construction.

FDOT has hired Preferred Materials, Inc., to complete the work.

Daytime lane closures are expected through the course of the project, and some nighttime construction activities are expected. However, lane closure restrictions will be in place during peak times to limit impacts to motorists. Lane closures are not allowed from:

  • 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Sunday from University Avenue (State Road 26) to Southeast 21st Street
  • 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Sunday on Hawthorne Road (Eastbound) from Southeast 21st Street to County Road 329B
  • 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Sunday on Hawthorne Road (Westbound) from Southeast 21st Street to County Road 329B
  • 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday on University Avenue (State Road 26)
  • In school zones, from one hour before school begins to 30 minutes after school begins, and one hour before school ends to 30 minutes after school ends

The project is expected to be completed later this year.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - Today, concerning Alachua County's authority to make masks mandatory, Judge Donna M. Keim of the 8th Circuit Court hearing denied the request for an emergency injunction motion, on all counts. This serves as a good reminder that the County's Emergency Order requiring mandatory masking is within the County's authority, and cities are required to follow the Order. Cities may issue orders that are stricter than the County orders, but not more lenient.

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GAINESVILLE - Infotech, a leader in infrastructure construction software solutions, announced today a partnership with University of Florida M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of Construction Management to advance the transportation construction industry. This strategic partnership will connect critical industry research directly with users in the field by advancing technology offered in the transportation construction industry.

“UF Rinker is one of the top construction management schools in the U.S., conducting advanced research on BIM, IFC standards and other technologies needed on the jobsite today,” Will McClave, Infotech President of Systems, said. “Infotech has a longstanding relationship with the University of Florida and this new partnership will help bring critical research to the field faster so that we can collectively move the industry forward.”

Led by assistant professor Aaron Costin, Ph.D., Rinker has been conducting research on many key issues facing the transportation construction industry today. With the rapid adoption of new, integrated technologies and the evolution of Building Information Modeling (BIM) on infrastructure projects, it became a top priority for Infotech to coordinate efforts with one of the leading academic programs that addresses these market shifts.

“Infotech is in a unique position to drive the adoption of innovative and emerging technologies that are impacting the transportation construction industry across the country,” Dr. Costin said. “Our new partnership will lead us to better ways of implementing research and focus our joint efforts on BIM and the data standards needed to reach our common objective of advancing this space.”

Prior to this formal partnership, Dr. Costin and Infotech hosted the first workshop on Linked Building Data and Semantic Web Technologies in September 2019, which included national and international expert speakers. Dr. Costin is an expert on linked data in architecture and construction and has served on many committees for the Transportation Research Board and other international groups on this topic, in addition to authoring multiple peer-reviewed articles. “It’s exciting for me to work with a company who has such deep roots in the transportation construction space, so that I can share my research and knowledge in order to shorten the curve to enlightened product development that meets or exceeds the needs of the industry both today and tomorrow.”

As the contract developer of AASHTOWare Project™, which is used by 43 Departments of Transportation across the country, and the developer of the Bid Express® service, which has managed more than $1 trillion in bids on infrastructure projects, Infotech has always been a leader in e-Construction and the digitization of traditional paper processes that include electronic bidding, site inspection, document management, invoicing and payments. “UF, my alma mater, has been a driving force behind a tremendous amount of research for TRB, BIM, IFC standards, ontologies and data schemas, and so much more,” McClave added. “Infotech needs to consider that intelligence as we develop our strategies and incorporate these efforts into future product development.”

The first initiative UF Rinker and Infotech will focus on is BIM and its impact on the infrastructure construction industry.

“With the growing need for data standards and the adoption of BIM for infrastructure across the transportation industry, it became obvious to us that it was time to take the necessary steps to collaborate on a greater scale with Aaron Costin and his team of experts at UF.”

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 TALLAHASSEE — Today, May 22, 2020, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) announced Florida’s April 2020 Employment Data. This month, Florida saw considerable changes in employment data due to COVID-19.
 Florida Economic Indicators for April 2020 include:
  • Unemployment rate was 12.9 percent.
  • Labor force was down 893,000, 8.6 percent, over the month.
  • Florida businesses lost 989,600 private-sector jobs over the year.
  • Florida’s private-sector over-the-year rate of decline of 12.7 percent was less than the national over-the-year decline of 14.6 percent.
  • Consumer Sentiment Index is 75.9 in April 2020, 11.2 points lower than the March revised figure of 87.1.
 Governor DeSantis’ Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery Full Phase 1 Plan is providing the opportunity for many of Florida’s businesses to reopen their doors and reemploy many Floridians. Governor DeSantis and DEO continue to encourage Florida businesses impacted by COVID-19 to utilize state and federal resources currently available. For a list of federal and state resources available to businesses impacted by COVID-19, please visit Floridajobs.org/COVID-19.
 
To view the April 2020 jobs report by region, please see below:
 
  

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TALLAHASSEE — Following the direction of the Florida Legislature, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) established a partnership with the Florida 211 Network to provide support and post-release resources to inmates and offenders. Services such as crisis counseling, health and human services and employment assistance will fill gaps between incarceration or probation and enable a successful re-entry back into Florida communities.

“Following release from prison, returning citizens often discover a world much different than the one they previously knew. We hope to prepare them with the skills, education and counseling they need to succeed, but we know it takes the community to welcome them with support when they leave our supervision,” said FDC Secretary Mark Inch. “By integrating our resources with 211, we’re able to provide released inmates and offenders a number to call and an avenue to learn about resources and support in their community.”

FDC established a partnership with the Florida 211 Network to build upon an existing and well-known community resource service. Their services, combined with FDC Re-Entry Resource data, will strengthen the referral services available to the previously incarcerated.

“211 offers around-the-clock support and connects individuals and their families with local resources to help ease the re-entry period and ensure a successful transition. We believe that this important partnership between the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida 211 Network is a best practice model that will ultimately enhance individual success and reduce recidivism,” said Sheila J. Smith, President/CEO of Florida Alliance of Information and Referral Services.

The hotline is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week, and is offered in more than 180 different languages. All communication is confidential and those wishing to remain anonymous may do so. Trained professionals are standing by for those in need. For more information, visit www.211.org.

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FLORIDA - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding the public that it’s waterbird nesting season. Many Floridians and guests are returning to the state’s beaches to celebrate Memorial Day weekend but this is also a critical time for Florida’s vulnerable wading birds, shorebird and seabird populations. By respectfully sharing our beaches and waterways with these birds, people can help ensure their survival.

Shorebirds and seabirds, such as snowy plovers and black skimmers, build shallow nests on the ground. Their eggs and chicks are well camouflaged and can easily be missed and even stepped on. Wading birds, such as herons, egrets and pelicans, are also nesting now. They typically nest in mangroves and on tree islands around the state. When people come too close to their nests, they can cause birds to abandon their nesting sites, leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable.

“Startling birds might not seem like a big deal, but disturbing shorebirds and seabirds can actually be deadly,” said FWC Florida Shorebird Alliance Coordinator, Shea Armstrong. “If a mother bird is forced to leave her nest, her eggs or chicks are left behind where they can be eaten by predators, exposed to the hot sun, or trampled by unsuspecting beachgoers.”  

Boaters and beachgoers can make a big difference for Florida’s vulnerable nesting shorebirds and seabirds by following these simple guidelines:

  • Keep your distance from birds, on the beach and on the water. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. Birds calling out loudly and dive-bombing are signals to back off.
  • Respect posted areas. When possible, stay at least 300 feet from a posted nesting area. Avoid entering areas marked with signs for nesting birds and use designated walkways.
  • Do not enter Critical Wildlife Areas. CWAs are established to give wildlife the space needed for nesting, roosting and foraging, and they are clearly marked with signs or buoys to alert boaters to areas that are closed to public access.
  • Avoid intentionally forcing birds to fly or run. This causes them to use energy needed for nesting, and eggs and chicks may be left vulnerable to the sun’s heat or predators. Teach children to let shorebirds and seabirds rest instead of chasing them, and encourage friends and family to do the same. Shorebirds and seabirds outside of posted areas may be feeding or resting and need to do so without disturbance.
  • It is best to leave pets at home but if you bring them to the beach, keep them leashed and avoid shorebird and seabird nesting areas. Pets are not permitted on most beaches, including state parks, so always check and be respectful of local rules when preparing for a day at the beach.
  • Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators, such as raccoons and crows, which can prey on shorebird eggs and chicks. Litter on beaches can entangle birds and other wildlife.
  • Spread the word. Let your friends and family know how important it is to give shorebirds space and share the message on social media!
  • Report disturbance of nesting birds to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com. You can also report nests that are not posted to our Wildlife Alert Program.

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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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Editor’s Note: High Springs Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham is also the Emergency Management Coordinator in High Springs, a position he has held for nine years, and he is the key contact between the City and other agencies regarding the Coronavirus. He meets remotely with Alachua County Department of Health three times per week, the Department of Health EMS twice weekly and the Florida Fire Chief’s Association weekly. He is knowledgeable about the Coronavirus pandemic, and periodically he will be writing about the pandemic and updates on best practices.

“Uncharted territory.” “Unprecedented times.” “Flatten the curve.” All phrases we have heard way too often. COVID-19 has changed life as we know it. Businesses have closed. There are now lines at grocery stores and millions out of work. To a certain extent, a modern day Pearl Harbor: “A [time] which will live in infamy.” (President Franklin Roosevelt)

As we continue to learn about this deadly virus, I encourage us all to do our part. The Stay-At-Home order is in place to protect your family and mine. Unless you need to travel for essential purposes, such as grocery shopping or going to an essential job, try to stay home. The only way to prevent the spread of this virus is to wash our hands often, wear a mask when in public and maintain social distancing.

As a department, we are taking extra steps to ensure our firefighters remain healthy and safe. Our lobby remains closed and new cleaning procedures, both for equipment and our personal gear, are in place.

While we manage a new normal, we are also trying to focus on a certain area of our community that is impacted the most by COVID-19—our seniors. Those are the people who may live alone, and who now find themselves in near total isolation with the cancellation of countless services and programs once available to them.

We recently launched the Caring Card Drive. With the help of members of our own community who are creating thoughtful and encouraging “caring cards,” we plan to deliver these cards to those in need in an effort to bring a moment of joy, and to remind them they have not been forgotten. This is the perfect activity to do with the kids. Cards can be big or small, simple or elaborate. Cards can include a saying, positive words, a poem or whatever card creators think fits best. A bin has been positioned outside of the main High Springs Fire Station lobby as a drop off location for cards. The address is 18586 N.W. 238th Street, High Springs.

In closing, let us remember to all do our part. We are in this together and we will persevere.

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During this time of crisis, America’s courageous patriots in uniform still deserve our utmost respect and admiration for keeping us free and safe from the bad guys of this world.

They are fulfilling an undying and faithful commitment to ‘'duty, honor, country” for every American no matter how they look or what they believe.

Today, these military heroes are joining countless millions of other American heroes in the brutal war against an adversary we call “Coronavirus or COVID-19.

The list of these patriotic heroes is long and consists of American warriors from every walk of life. They include:

  • Doctors, nurses, and other medical workers and support personnel,
  • Hospitals, nursing homes, and pharmacies,
  • Law enforcement and first responders,
  • Truckers and warehouse stockers,
  • Supermarkets and local grocery/convenience stores,
  • Restaurants and fast food chains who are finding creative ways to feed us and provide some degree of normalcy in our lives,
  • School systems for developing creative methods to teach our children,
  • Volunteers who are courageously putting others above self,
  • Corporations and small business who are “retooling” operations to make respirators, masks, and other personal protective equipment,
  • City, county, state, and national government bodies,
  • Broadcast and print media outlets, and
  • The millions of Americans who are faithfully committing to “social distancing” to combat the spread of this insidious and deadly disease.

Got the picture? We are all in this battle together. Sadly, just like every other war: “Some are giving some while others are giving all.”

Let us continue together as “One Nation Under God” in faithful commitment to “duty, honor, country” in fighting this war against humanity.

I am confident we will defeat this brutal enemy and come out stronger with renewed respect for one another. I know we can do it; I have to believe; I can do no other.

God Bless America!

Robert W. Wilford

City of Alachua

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Wisnieski, MPA, FACHE

Director

North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System

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

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

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

Sawfish encounters

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

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

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

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

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

Sawfish background

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

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

Engaging in sawfish recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Americans, we take for granted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Wilford

Alachua, Florida

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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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 TALLAHASSEE — Today, May 22, 2020, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) announced Florida’s April 2020 Employment Data. This month, Florida saw considerable changes in employment data due to COVID-19.
 Florida Economic Indicators for April 2020 include:
  • Unemployment rate was 12.9 percent.
  • Labor force was down 893,000, 8.6 percent, over the month.
  • Florida businesses lost 989,600 private-sector jobs over the year.
  • Florida’s private-sector over-the-year rate of decline of 12.7 percent was less than the national over-the-year decline of 14.6 percent.
  • Consumer Sentiment Index is 75.9 in April 2020, 11.2 points lower than the March revised figure of 87.1.
 Governor DeSantis’ Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery Full Phase 1 Plan is providing the opportunity for many of Florida’s businesses to reopen their doors and reemploy many Floridians. Governor DeSantis and DEO continue to encourage Florida businesses impacted by COVID-19 to utilize state and federal resources currently available. For a list of federal and state resources available to businesses impacted by COVID-19, please visit Floridajobs.org/COVID-19.
 
To view the April 2020 jobs report by region, please see below:
 
  

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TALLAHASSEE — Following the direction of the Florida Legislature, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) established a partnership with the Florida 211 Network to provide support and post-release resources to inmates and offenders. Services such as crisis counseling, health and human services and employment assistance will fill gaps between incarceration or probation and enable a successful re-entry back into Florida communities.

“Following release from prison, returning citizens often discover a world much different than the one they previously knew. We hope to prepare them with the skills, education and counseling they need to succeed, but we know it takes the community to welcome them with support when they leave our supervision,” said FDC Secretary Mark Inch. “By integrating our resources with 211, we’re able to provide released inmates and offenders a number to call and an avenue to learn about resources and support in their community.”

FDC established a partnership with the Florida 211 Network to build upon an existing and well-known community resource service. Their services, combined with FDC Re-Entry Resource data, will strengthen the referral services available to the previously incarcerated.

“211 offers around-the-clock support and connects individuals and their families with local resources to help ease the re-entry period and ensure a successful transition. We believe that this important partnership between the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida 211 Network is a best practice model that will ultimately enhance individual success and reduce recidivism,” said Sheila J. Smith, President/CEO of Florida Alliance of Information and Referral Services.

The hotline is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week, and is offered in more than 180 different languages. All communication is confidential and those wishing to remain anonymous may do so. Trained professionals are standing by for those in need. For more information, visit www.211.org.

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FLORIDA - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding the public that it’s waterbird nesting season. Many Floridians and guests are returning to the state’s beaches to celebrate Memorial Day weekend but this is also a critical time for Florida’s vulnerable wading birds, shorebird and seabird populations. By respectfully sharing our beaches and waterways with these birds, people can help ensure their survival.

Shorebirds and seabirds, such as snowy plovers and black skimmers, build shallow nests on the ground. Their eggs and chicks are well camouflaged and can easily be missed and even stepped on. Wading birds, such as herons, egrets and pelicans, are also nesting now. They typically nest in mangroves and on tree islands around the state. When people come too close to their nests, they can cause birds to abandon their nesting sites, leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable.

“Startling birds might not seem like a big deal, but disturbing shorebirds and seabirds can actually be deadly,” said FWC Florida Shorebird Alliance Coordinator, Shea Armstrong. “If a mother bird is forced to leave her nest, her eggs or chicks are left behind where they can be eaten by predators, exposed to the hot sun, or trampled by unsuspecting beachgoers.”  

Boaters and beachgoers can make a big difference for Florida’s vulnerable nesting shorebirds and seabirds by following these simple guidelines:

  • Keep your distance from birds, on the beach and on the water. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. Birds calling out loudly and dive-bombing are signals to back off.
  • Respect posted areas. When possible, stay at least 300 feet from a posted nesting area. Avoid entering areas marked with signs for nesting birds and use designated walkways.
  • Do not enter Critical Wildlife Areas. CWAs are established to give wildlife the space needed for nesting, roosting and foraging, and they are clearly marked with signs or buoys to alert boaters to areas that are closed to public access.
  • Avoid intentionally forcing birds to fly or run. This causes them to use energy needed for nesting, and eggs and chicks may be left vulnerable to the sun’s heat or predators. Teach children to let shorebirds and seabirds rest instead of chasing them, and encourage friends and family to do the same. Shorebirds and seabirds outside of posted areas may be feeding or resting and need to do so without disturbance.
  • It is best to leave pets at home but if you bring them to the beach, keep them leashed and avoid shorebird and seabird nesting areas. Pets are not permitted on most beaches, including state parks, so always check and be respectful of local rules when preparing for a day at the beach.
  • Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators, such as raccoons and crows, which can prey on shorebird eggs and chicks. Litter on beaches can entangle birds and other wildlife.
  • Spread the word. Let your friends and family know how important it is to give shorebirds space and share the message on social media!
  • Report disturbance of nesting birds to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com. You can also report nests that are not posted to our Wildlife Alert Program.

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