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GAINESVILLE – At press release, the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of REALTORS (GACAR) raised close to $5,500.00 and collected over a dozen overflowing boxes of food and personal hygiene donations for the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank.

Thanks to the generous contributions from GACAR members, local businesses, and the general public, GACAR is able to provide over 54,000 meals to Bread of the Mighty during such a critical time. GACAR is extremely grateful to our media contacts at WCJB TV20, The Gainesville Sun, Alachua County Today, and the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce for promoting this important charitable event and enabling us to better serve this community.

GACAR President Jeremy Thomas was on hand today helping unload donations and thanking visitors (from an acceptable social distance, of course).

“It is truly humbling to see not only our REALTORS and business partners today, but also regular members of the community and representatives from surrounding offices have dropped off donations,” said Thomas. “Everyone has been so kind and encouraging. I am proud that our community has come together to help alleviate some of the hardship caused by food insecurity. “

While summer months are typically difficult for local food banks, it becomes downright devastating when coupled with the economic effects of COVID-19 rippling through the community. Even though this event was successful, food insecurity is still a major issue within our community. For those that are able, please consider visiting www.breadofthemighty.com/donate to contribute directly to this worthwhile organization.

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ALACHUA – Alachua City Commissioner Dayna Miller has been sworn in for a three-year term after running unopposed for seat 3 on the commission. City Manager Adam Boukari administered the oath of office at the May 18 commission meeting. Miller also served as Vice Mayor during her first term.

Miller completed the Florida League of Cities' Institute for Elected Municipal Officials (IEMO) III "The Leadership Challenge" educational program in March and was presented with certificate of completion by Mayor Gib Coerper. The program is specially designed for elected officials who completed the Advanced Institute for Elected Municipal Officials program. The primary objective of the IEMO is to provide elected municipal officials with an intensive academic program that will assist them in their elected role.

In other business, Commissioner Robert Wilford will assume the duties of Vice Mayor for the coming year. According to the Alachua City Charter, the City Commission elects a new Vice Mayor annually from its members at the first City Commission meeting after the City election. This year Wilford was selected by unanimous vote.

This meeting was the first in-person meeting held in the Alachua City Commissioner Chambers since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down public gatherings. Social isolation state rules required all government offices closed to the public and that most employees work from home. Phase 1 of reopening has allowed for more openings and expanded crowd size. But there were noticeable differences. The meeting was sparsely attended and audience members wore masks and were separated in different rows. The Commission also wore masks, occasionally taking them off when necessary to speak.

Local resident Virginia Johns has been reappointed to the Planning & Zoning Board (P&Z), which serves as the Local Planning Agency and consists of five voting members and a non-voting School Board representative. The P&Z provides recommendations to the City Commission on development issues and makes decisions on certain zoning, building and development applications.

Members of the P&Z must be a City of Alachua resident. Board member Virginia Johns served a three-year term, which expires May 22, 2020 and will now begin an additional three-year term ending May 22, 2023. Local resident Malcolm Dixon also applied for the appointment. During the Commission meeting, applicants for the appointment were invited to speak prior to the vote. Of the two candidates, only Johns was present and she was subsequently voted unanimously for reappointment.

In other news, the City of Alachua Police Department (ADP) will be receiving new computer equipment. On Feb. 24, 2020, the City Commission approved submitting a grant application to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program. The grant application for $20,157 was submitted on behalf of APD for the purchase of tablets and laptops. The department has since received notice of award from FDLE for the grant project and can now purchase the items.

The annual audit of the City's Fiscal Year 2018-2019 financial statements has been completed by Purvis, Gray and Company, the City's independent Certified Public Accountants and the City received an unmodified ("clean") opinion of its the financial statements for the 2018-2019 year. This is the highest audit opinion that can be received and is the 17th consecutive year the City has received this distinction. Once the audit report is accepted by the City Commission, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) will be submitted to the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) of the United States and Canada for review to receive the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.

The City of Alachua has received notice that Pressure Technology, Inc. is considering Alachua to expand its operations. The firm focuses on hot isostatic pressing services to industries such as aerospace and medical. If the company locates in Alachua, it is anticipated to create 15 new jobs over three years, beginning in 2021 with an average annual salary of $60,000.

Pressure Technology, Inc. is making application for participation in the state’s Qualified Target Industry (QTI) Tax Refund program. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) offers several incentives to prospective and expanding businesses, including the QTI program. A company may receive refunds on taxes it pays including corporate income tax, sales tax, ad valorem tax following job creation. Pressure Technology, Inc.’s application totals $75,000.

The QTI program requires a 20 percent local government match. The match totals $15,000, which would be divided equally between Alachua County and the City of Alachua. The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners approved its share of the QTI match at its May 12 meeting. The City of Alachua Commission subsequently approved its share of the match at the May 18 meeting.

Should Pressure Technology, Inc. expand in Alachua, it must demonstrate job creation and will only receive a refund for actual jobs created and can only receive refunds on taxes paid.

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ALACHUA COUNTY The Class of 2020 will have a fitting venue as they prepare to ‘cross the finish line’ and mark the end of their high school careers.

The district has arranged with the Gainesville Raceway to hold open air graduation ceremonies at the facility June 8-10 for the district’s seven high schools.

To maintain social distancing, students and their families will drive into the Raceway and up to a decorated stage. As the graduates’ names are called out over the loudspeaker, they will get out of their cars, walk across the stage to accept their diplomas and have their photos taken. They will then get back in their cars and drive down a strip that runs next to the racetrack before exiting the facility.

The Gainesville Raceway is providing their facility to the district free of charge.

“We’re happy we can help the Class of 2020 have a graduation ceremony,” said track manager Mike Yurick. “We hope it will be a memorable experience for them.”

“When COVID-19 closed schools, I made it a priority to have some sort of in-person graduation ceremony for our seniors,” said Superintendent Karen Clarke. “This ‘hybrid’ approach gives graduates the opportunity to walk across the stage in their caps and gowns while still keeping everyone as safe as possible.”

The schedule of ceremonies will be as follows:

June 8: Newberry High School, 9-11 a.m.

Hawthorne High School, 2-3:30 p.m.

PAM@Loften High School, 6-7:30 p.m.

June 9: Eastside High School, 9:30-noon

Buchholz High School, 5-7:30 p.m.

June 10: Santa Fe High School, 9:30-noon

Gainesville High School, 5-7:30 p.m.

Each high school will be sending specific instructions for the ceremonies directly to students and families.

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HIGH SPRINGS – For the last several weeks, High Springs City Hall has been attempting to balance the health and safety of city staff while still delivering good customer service. Beginning next week, the first two phases of a three-phase plan will begin.

During Phase 1, for the week of May 26, live operators will be available weekdays from 8 a.m. to noon to answer any questions by phone at 386-454-1416. Calls outside of that time will be answered by voicemail, and a member of staff will return the call.

During Phase 2, beginning the week of June 1 and until such time that City Manager Joel DeCoursey, Jr. authorizes, City Hall will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment only.  These appointments are for new accounts, closing or transferring an account and tag related transactions only.  To pay a bill, continue using the City drop box or paying on line.

Plans may be subject to change in accordance with further guidance from county, state or federal government.

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ALACHUA COUNTY – Like many states, Florida has begun reopening business and easing social restrictions. As of May 19, there were 46,944 cases and 2,052 deaths in Florida. While numbers have declined somewhat from early April when cases were averaging between 800 to 1,100 daily, infections continue to spike and recede with single day increases varying between 500 and 850 cases per day.

Part of this represents an increase in testing while part of the decline from early April is due to the month-long stay at home requirements, many of which have been lifted in the past week. Any upswing in infections due to reopening will not become apparent for a week or two due to the incubation period of the virus. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and many businesses feel economic pressure building to further ease restrictions. DeSantis has now issued revised rules for reopening in Phase 1 and is now considering Phase 2 of the three-phase plan.

Alachua County has had more stringent requirements on social distancing, regarding what establishments can open and how, and requiring that masks be worn. Alachua County officials issued a revised emergency order May 17 that brings local COVID-19 rules closer to those issued by the state the previous Friday.

New regulations allow certain businesses to operate at up to 50 percent versus the previous local rules that capped businesses at 25 percent. If a restaurant has outdoor seating spaced six feet apart, then that is not included in the 50 percent rule. Local gyms may now open using social distancing.

Individuals considered most vulnerable to infection are still urged to stay home as much as possible and to use care when leaving home. Public places where social distancing is difficult to maintain remain closed, including zoos, playgrounds, bowling alleys, pool halls, movie and other theaters and concert halls and bars, among others. All services and activities must still keep the six-foot distance rules between employees and members of the public, including when customers are standing in line. Churches are now open, but are limited by the same occupancy and social distancing rules as businesses.

Bowing to pressure from some groups, the governor also declared that while masks are suggested he would not make it mandatory. In Alachua County mandatory mask rules were instituted on May 1, but in a 3-2 vote on May 19 the County Commission voted to reverse that ruling and not make masks mandatory. Later in the day, the County Commission reversed that decision and are still requiring that face masks be worn. There will no longer be a criminal penalty for disobeying the county's order, although earlier there were fines up to $500 for not wearing masks. The County also now allows pool halls and bowling alleys to open as long as they don’t serve alcohol.

With the reopening, things are beginning to have a semblance of normalcy as local businesses and restaurants partially reopen. Traffic has increased and more people are out on the street. Many still wear a mask both for their own safety and out of respect for others’ safety as well. Other places, especially outdoor recreation locations are overwhelmed with people who have been stuck at home for a month. Unfortunately, some people are not concerned about the safety rules or crowds. On Saturday, May 16, the popular Ginnie Springs Recreation area was so overwhelmed by crowds, that they had to close entrance to the park by 11 am.

For local businesses and entrepreneurs, the reopening is a financial relief, especially for the self-employed or service workers. For many there has been no income for at least a month. Massage therapist Carrie Lynn had set up a massage chair outside a farmer’s market at Bambi’s Cafe in High Springs. She was offering massages for a donation. “I just need to get out and work my profession. I have been in self quarantine since February and no income due to the COVID,” Lynn said.

“Massage therapists were not considered essential medically so we had to stop all business. Massage therapists have always been concerned about transmission of disease and conditions; we use disinfectants and clean materials between each client. Now the only change is an increased use of gloves and masks by therapist. If there is something good that comes out of this maybe it will be an increased awareness of the importance of hygiene,” Lynn said.

The Great Outdoor Restaurant closed when restaurants were only allowed to do take-out orders as they didn't think it was practical for their menu. That left many of the restaurant employees facing the possibility of being laid off with no income. Instead, they used the closed time to renovate, repair and clean the restaurant and patio using the staff instead of contractors, which kept the staff employed.

As Florida progresses through Phast 1,all eyes are on when and what to expect when Florida enters Phase 2 of reopening, although there is no timeline for when that will happen.

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HIGH SPRINGS – With 36.5 million Americans suddenly unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have seen both their income and savings disappear. It becomes a challenge to decide what bills or necessities can be done without. Mortgage or rent, utilities, food or medical all are important, but food is essential.

Many individuals and organizations have stepped in to donate or volunteer for food giveaways and deliveries. The Alachua County school system has provided over a million meals to school kids during the pandemic. Farm Share and other charity food distribution organizations travel the state bringing semi-trucks of food to communities.

Locally, many churches or community organizations have donated food or money, distributing the food to people in cars lined up in parking lots, masked and never coming in direct contact with the drivers. Most of these organizations hold these drives weekly or bi-weekly, but one small ministry in High Springs is making an effort daily to provide for those in need.

Every day, Pastor Sammy Nelson has overseen the distribution of donated food to families in need with children. He usually ran the distribution in his small downtown ministry, Witness of Christ (WOC), on Main Street in High Springs. But the Covid-19 has brought a bigger challenge. “I have seen a huge rise in families in need. People coming to the food distribution has increased 100 percent or more, but you have to meet the challenge to help them,” Nelson said.

The pastor is a big man with a powerful build but a soft, calm voice. He was born in Archer and spent 23 years in the Army as a Military Policeman. During his service he participated in Desert Storm and retired as a First Sergeant.

During his time in the Army he also had other duties as a father and a pastor. He and his wife of 35 years raised 10 children and have seven grandchildren. They share both a strong religious belief and a love for children as well. While raising 10 of their own, they also founded a ministry for children. Nelson made use of the Army's education benefits and received a degree in law enforcement and a Bachelor’s Degree in sociology. Once he retired, he became a full-time student and received a Master’s in Divinity and a Doctorate in Ministry.

Ten years ago, Nelson and his wife opened a storefront where they could offer after-school services to struggling parents. The ministry also collects food for the children and struggling families. Most of it comes from donations by individuals, farms and food stores such as Hitchcock’s and Publix. The biggest provider is Bread of the Mighty Food Bank in Gainesville. Three days a week, Nelson would go to each location, as well as some farms, to gather the food donations.

With the increasing need caused by the pandemic, Nelson searched for more sources and sponsors to meet the skyrocketing demand. He also needed a bigger place to distribute and worked with the City of High Springs to distribute from a parking lot behind Main Street with police to direct the traffic.

The ministry still does smaller distributions from the building three times a week, but the other is a bigger operation with trailers full of food pallets. On May 16 the WOC held its largest distribution with 14 pallets supplying multiple boxes of food to the long line of cars winding through the parking lot. Nelson, along with volunteers from his ministry, all wearing masks and gloves, loaded each car's trunk with boxes holding a variety of food including fresh vegetables, cheese, milk, snacks and chips. “We will be here and providing for those who go hungry as long as the need exists,” Nelson said as he loaded another box in a car.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - Highlights of the Second Amendment to Emergency Order No. 2020-25 include three new categories of establishments that are opened in Chapter 3 f. (Social Clubs, Country Clubs, and Fraternal Organizations). Further clarification is given that failure to wear a mask is not a criminal offense and does not authorize search or arrest, in chapter 15. Chapter 7 acknowledges the Governor's Executive Order 20-31, removing any state restrictions on summer camps and sports activities for youth. It clarifies that the Commission is taking input from stakeholders on best practices to keep kids and their families safe.
Read the entire Emergency Order.
For more information, contact Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton at 352-264-6979 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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ALACHUA COUNTY - Pursuant to Executive Order 20-123, Alachua County's request to re-open vacation rental operations was approved by Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears today. In his acceptance of the County's re-opening request and safety plan, Mr. Beshears stated that, "Based on the Department's review of the safety plan for vacation rental operations that accompanied your request, Alachua County has established the necessary plans for operation of vacation rentals at this time. Accordingly, I approve the operation of vacation rentals in Alachua County pursuant to the plans as submitted."
"We are deeply appreciative of the careful consideration Secretary Beshears has placed in his decision to approve the County's request to re-open vacation rentals," said Alachua County Tourism Manager Jessica Hurov. "The Alachua County plan was developed in alignment with Department of Business and Professional Regulation and Centers for Disease Control recommended safety measures to ensure that our vacation rental lodging providers are offering safe and clean rental properties for our visitors. The re-opening of vacation rentals provides expanded options for visitors as we welcome them back to Alachua County, and will assist vacation lodging operators and managers in their COVID-19 business recovery plans."
Reservations and stays will be allowed from U.S. states with a COVID-19 Case Rate less than 700cases/1OOK. Reservations from areas identified by Florida's Governor as COVID-19 hot spots through Executive Orders are to be avoided for the next 45 days. In the event the Governor issues subsequent Orders addressing vacation rentals and/or "hot spots" in the U.S., those restrictions shall be incorporated into the plan. Reservations from international travelers will not be accepted. Vacation rental operators can access information on COVID case rates online.
In addition to the recommended best practices and safety measures in the re-opening plan, Alachua County vacation rental owners and operators shall follow the guidelines developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for cleaning and disinfecting facilities; all Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation requirements and safety measures related to vacation rentals;  and all Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) sanitation guidelines.
For more information, contact Jessica Hurov at 352-363-8619 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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FLORIDA - The Florida National Guard (FLNG), under the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, is responding to the needs of the state alongside our interagency partners, helping to protect citizens and guests throughout this crisis.

As of May 27, 2020, the Florida National Guard has 2,383 Guardsmen on duty in support of Florida's COVID-19 response, and are operating 24 Community Based Testing Sites (CBTS).  Those drive-through and walk-up sites have helped administer almost 279,450 sample collections to date.

The FLNG is supporting airport screening operations in support of the Florida Department of Health at seven airports:  Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Miami International Airport (MIA), Orlando International Airport (MCO), Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), Tampa International Airport (TPA), Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) and Palm Beach International Airport (PBI). 

The FLNG Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen are also mobilized in support of the State Logistics Readiness Center (SLRC) in central Florida, ensuring needed supplies are getting to the right place at the right time across the state. Additionally, FLNG members are working in the State Emergency Operations Center and local emergency management offices across the state, serving as liaisons, ensuring local authorities understand the capabilities and equipment of the FLNG.

As this crisis continues, the Florida National Guard will maintain a ready force across the state for a variety of missions to include medical support and distribution of necessary commodities.

It is important that everyone follow the guidance put out by the Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information about COVID-19 and the State of Florida's response, visit http://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/COVID-19/covid19-toolkit.html.

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TALLAHASSEE, FL — Florida retail stores are stocked up and staffed up to help Florida families load up on supplies for hurricane season during Florida’s Disaster Preparedness Tax-Free Holiday, which begins this Friday, May 29, and runs through Thursday, June 4. 

“Forecasts indicate it’s going to be an active hurricane season, and we’re here to help make sure Florida families have all the supplies they need to weather any storm,” said Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “Take advantage of the tax savings and the sales this weekend at your local retail store. When you support Florida businesses, you’re supporting Florida jobs and Florida families.” 

Beginning Friday, May 29, Florida families can save on the purchase of eligible disaster preparedness items, including: 

  • Portable self-powered light source selling for $20 or less;
  • Certain portable radios selling for $50 or less;
  • Tarps selling for $50 or less;
  • Ground anchor systems or tie-down kits selling for $50 or less;
  • A gas or diesel fuel tank selling for $25 or less;
  • Packages of certain battery types, selling for $30 or less;
  • A nonelectric food storage cooler selling for $30 or less;
  • Portable generators for use in a power outage selling for $750 or less; and
  • Reusable ice selling for $10 or less.

As the state continues to safely and slowly re-open after safer-at-home orders were lifted, there are a number of ways consumers can take advantage of the tax-free holiday at Florida retail stores. Options include: 

  • Visit: Visit your local retailer to shop all the options available. 
  • Online: Find your favorite Florida retailer online to select what you need. 
  • Curbside or Delivery: Call your local retailer to place an order for curbside pick-up or delivery, where available. 

“We are grateful to Governor Ron DeSantis for supporting this measure that saves Florida families money as they stock up on supplies,” said Shalley. “Thanks also go to the Florida Senate and Florida House for pushing this important legislation through this year.”

This year’s Disaster Preparedness Tax-Free Holiday was established when Governor DeSantis signed HB 7097 into law on April 8. The legislation was championed by Budget Chairs Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings, and the tax-free holiday was a priority of Sen. Joe Gruters, Sen. Keith Perry, Sen. Kelli Stargel and Rep. Bryan Avila. 

Florida’s hurricane season begins June 1. Floridians can visit FloridaDisaster.org to learn more about how to prepare and what supplies are needed.

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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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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

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

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Special to Alachua County Today

ALACHUA COUNTY – Alachua County Veteran Services, the North Florida/South Georgia Veteran Health System, and multiple organizations are hosting the Vietnam Veteran Tribute Ride (motorcycle ride) on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. The ride begins (kickstands up) at 10:30 a.m., from the V.A. Medical Center in Gainesville, located at 1601 S.W. Archer Road.

The ride travels along Archer Road to the Veterans Memorial Park at 7400 S.W. 41st Place, where the 2020 Vietnam Veterans Tribute is held, beginning at 11 a.m. The Veterans Tribute honors Vietnam Veterans for their service and sacrifice. The tribute includes music of the era, food trucks, organizational displays, a Vietnam Virtual Display, patriotic demonstrations, and more. Both events are free and open to the public.

United States Navy Veteran and Alachua County Veteran Services Director Kim Davis stated, “Veterans of all eras, their families, and all those who love our nation are encouraged to participate in the ride and/or attend the tribute attend and enjoy the comradery of celebrating with our Veteran Family.”

For more information, contact Alachua County Veteran Services at 352-264-6740 or kdavis@alachuacounty.us.

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Email editor@

alachuatoday.com

Special to Alachua County Today

ALACHUA COUNTY – Alachua County Veteran Services, the North Florida/South Georgia Veteran Health System, and multiple organizations are hosting the Vietnam Veteran Tribute Ride (motorcycle ride) on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. The ride begins (kickstands up) at 10:30 a.m., from the V.A. Medical Center in Gainesville, located at 1601 S.W. Archer Road.

The ride travels along Archer Road to the Veterans Memorial Park at 7400 S.W. 41st Place, where the 2020 Vietnam Veterans Tribute is held, beginning at 11 a.m. The Veterans Tribute honors Vietnam Veterans for their service and sacrifice. The tribute includes music of the era, food trucks, organizational displays, a Vietnam Virtual Display, patriotic demonstrations, and more. Both events are free and open to the public.

United States Navy Veteran and Alachua County Veteran Services Director Kim Davis stated, “Veterans of all eras, their families, and all those who love our nation are encouraged to participate in the ride and/or attend the tribute attend and enjoy the comradery of celebrating with our Veteran Family.”

For more information, contact Alachua County Veteran Services at 352-264-6740 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Email editor@

alachuatoday.com