Cedar Key Chamber
employee arrested

By Jeff M. Hardison © Nov. 24, 2015 @10:27 a.m.

     CEDAR KEY --
A woman who has been the managing director of the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce for the past two years was arrested a week ago Monday (Nov. 16) for grand theft, scheming to defraud and fraudulent use of a credit card, according to Cedar Key Police Chief Virgil Sandlin, the arresting officer.
     Leslie Ann Valen, 41, of Cedar Key was arrested without incident, Sandlin said, and she claimed to him this is just a misunderstanding that resulted from the Cedar Key Board of Directors not paying as much salary as she felt she was owed.
     However, she did not have authority to use Chamber credit cards that she used, Sandlin said.
     Current Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce President Caryn Stephenson saw discrepancies between income and expenditures and the amounts that were recorded in the Chamber’s bank account, Chief Sandlin said. On Sept. 29, Stephenson contacted the Cedar Key Police Department about what appeared to be thefts.
     A review of credit card statements showed that from Nov. 14, 2014 there was in excess of $2,000 worth of purchase made by Valen for her personal use, Sandlin said. She bought a computer, a couple of iPhones, groceries from Winn-Dixie, paid monthly NetFlix charges, paid her monthly cell phone bills and bought items from Amazon.com, Sandlin said.
     There was cash taken as well, which can be proved by records, Sandlin said.
     The previous system of checks and balances now has been revised, Sandlin said.
     Former Chamber President Bill Heckler said the new safeguards will prevent this from happening again. There is now a new paid person and there are volunteers who are manning the Cedar Key Chamber Of Commerce Welcome Center.


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     Heckler said there are Chamber board members who are continuing to help assure the Chamber serves its members as well as the visitors to Cedar Key, just as it has done for many years now.
     When there is little or no supervision of the manager of any account, that can be a situation that is ripe for exploitation, Heckler said. He added that everyone was shocked by Valen performing actions that indicate she violated the law by allegedly stealing from this public, non-profit Chamber of Commerce.
     Valen’s bond was set at $90,000 after her first appearance in court on these charges.
     Sandlin mentioned there were three months when there were zero cash deposits made.  The Chamber lost $5,000-plus, Sandlin said financial records showed. If he was guessing how much was actually lost, it could be in excess of $10,000, Sandlin said.
     Sandlin said that once a person discovers they can take without proper authorization and not be caught, they are tempted to continue on that road. Some people just take what is not rightfully theirs until they are caught by a law enforcement officer, he said.
     The police chief said it can be embarrassing for the person accused of a crime, just as it is for him, when he knows them. Sandlin said he had worked with Valen on a number of Chamber functions. It is his job, though, to enforce the law.

Williston declares
war on sinkhole;

Dog, jets, fair, humor and more discussed

Levy County Fair Association President Amanda Henderson leaves the podium after learning the city will renew the annual lease for the 2016 Levy County Fair.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Nov. 18, 2015 @ 1:57 p.m.
There were a number of messages from the Tuesday night (Nov. 17) meeting of the Williston City Council meeting, not the least of which was "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

     That pearl of wisdom applies to an insurance company advising the city to close Williston City Hall in early December for 30 to 45 days as grout and other material are added to fight potential sinkhole damage.
     Among the other messages were that it is not illegal to have humor in a meeting; there is a dog seeking a home; Williston wants jet owners to visit; Williston welcomes the Levy County Fair again; the city is prepped for another municipal election; and the mayor is thankful for people who care about their city.

(from left) Williston City Council Vice President Danny Etheridge, Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat, Council President Charles Goodman, Councilman Jason Cason and Councilman Elihu Ross tend to the business of their city.


     Office workers in Williston City Hall will be serving the public via a couple of portable trailer units to be placed in part of the parking lot in front of City Hall starting in early December, Williston City Manager Scott Lippmann told the City Council on Monday night.
     The insurance company that covered the sinkhole issue and repaired the damage to the Williston Police Department and Williston Fire Rescue Station found gaps that need filling under City Hall.
     Lippmann said this work is costing nothing from the city coffers, however there was a comment from the dais that increased insurance premiums are one potential outcome.
     In any event, there will be some level of inconvenience for people who use city services right at city hall during that month or so as the structure is shored up to counteract potential sinkhole damage. City residents and visitors may want to visit Williston’s website to determine if some services may be possible without going to City Hall. That website can be visited by clicking HERE.
     City Councilman Jason Cason announced that Williston Animal Control took custody of a male, yellow Labrador Retriever that seemed to want to make Cason’s house his own.
     The dog apparently has been someone’s pet, Cason surmised, because he wanted to be indoors. The Cason house was not to become his.
     City Council President Charles Goodman, after Cason announced the dog’s owner may want to find the dog, asked if it was big and then said “I wonder…” and without hesitation, Sue Ellen Goodman announced from the audience “No!”
     Everyone understood that she preempted his potential of adopting that dog, even if that was not what he was wondering. However, that particular conversation wrapped up from the council president’s perspective.
     Williston Deputy Police Chief Clay Connolly said the dog’s owner can learn about the dog’s whereabouts by calling 352-528-4991. The people in Williston will call the WPD to speak with Wayne Carson for animal control or code enforcement issues.
     After some discussion, the Williston City Council voted 4-0 to approve City Manager Lippmann’s recommendation to buy a $21,000 ground power unit.
     This machine offers an electric power source for corporate jets or charter jets that land at Williston Municipal Airport, while those jet pilots wait for their passengers to complete business in Williston. The city manager said this improves the airport to make it even more attractive as a destination for those business owners who use those jets.
     Among the interests he mentioned are people who come to this part of Florida for the Horses In The Sun event. Lippmann said other people with jets are business owners looking at Williston as a location for their business. It was on a motion by Councilman Cason, seconded by Councilman Elihu Ross and with positive votes from President Goodman, Vice President Danny Etheridge that the motion passed 4-0. Councilman Matt Brooks was absent Tuesday night.
     There was not a lot of discussion needed for the 4-0 approval of the annual lease by the Levy County Fair Association.
     City Clerk Fran Taylor introduced LCFA President Amanda Henderson. The annual lease agreement shows the Levy County Fair is scheduled to be at the fairgrounds near Williston Municipal Airport on March 31 through April 3.
     Levy County Fair Association Vice President Judi Yaegar was in the audience too. Henderson and Yaegar mentioned the LCFA is seeking to create a jingle. There is a potential for the LCFA to note for HardisonInk.com in the future a method for how the general public may become involved with the submission of a fair jingle.
     As for the lease with the city, this year’s contract is not different than the most recent one – except that the starting and ending dates are different.
     Councilman Cason reminded his colleagues that he is not seeking reelection, because he has moved outside of the city limits.
     Qualifying to be a candidate for the seats currently held by Group “D” Charles Goodman, Group “E” Jason Cason and Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat is set to be from noon on Jan. 11, 2016 to noon on Jan. 15, according to the City Charter, City Clerk Taylor announced.
     Taylor serves as the supervisor of elections in Williston city elections. She has conferred with Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones.
     While the City Council approved the qualifying dates, there was a delay on the appointment to the canvassing board for that election. New state law requires an alternate member of the canvassing board.
     As it stands, the likely people for the canvassing board will be Police Chief Dennis Strow, City Manager Lippmann and County Commissioner Danny Stevens. The alternate is going to be some neutral party, such as Levy County Judge James T. “Tim” Browning.
     City staff were tasked with the mission to ask possible canvassing board members if they can and will serve. The approval of the canvassing board, including the alternate member, is anticipated to be at the next regular Williston City Council meeting.
     Councilman Ross mentioned the closure of City Hall during the addition of grout and material to offset a sinkhole. City Manager Lippmann said the insurance company assured him that City Hall will be open for business long before that election in the spring.
     Mayor Hethcoat handed out certificates to many people who helped pick up debris from the roadways of Williston in a recent anti-litter campaign.
     He found that as the volunteers went around neighborhoods, there were people who joined the effort and cleaned up their part of the city too.
     Among the people who participated was Latricia Wright. The mayor said she worked tirelessly to organize this event.
     Others who were given certificates included City Council President Goodman, Sue Ellen Goodman, Vice President Etheridge, Councilman Brooks, City Clerk Taylor, her daughter Katie Taylor, Wayne Carson, Dr. Ken Schwiebert, Heidi Schwiebert, Dale Neal, Ann Larkins, Larry Wininger and Nancy Wininger.
     The mayor said there are many more certificates to be presented as well.
     Wrapping up the evening, which included many jokes and funny remarks, Williston City Attorney Frederick Koberlein Jr. assured all listeners that having a fun meeting with jokes is not illegal.
    While his statement is no joke, it was funny. And so, just as Sue Ellen Goodman’s announcement to her husband that the stray dog was not to be considered for their pet, the city’s counselor for legal issues wrapped up the fun-filled evening on a happy and positive note.

UMM Works On Pavilion

Members of the United Methodist Mens (UMM) group of First United Methodist Church of Chiefland work on the pavilion on Saturday (Nov. 14). The men went to work after their monthly breakfast meeting. These shots show a view of the whole structure from a distance and of some of the ornamental handiwork. The UMM of Chiefland enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the Fellowship Hall (basement) of the church. Another project that saw some work on Saturday was the plywood painted Christmas cards, which have been planted on church property each Christmas season for the past few years.

Photos by Jeff M. Hardison © Nov. 14, 2015


Singing Children

This video captures part of the children at Clyatt House Learning Center singing You're A Grand Old Flag. For another video, photos and the story, please see the LIFE PAGE.
Video By Jeff M. Hardison © Nov. 11, 2015 @ 5:27 p.m.

City approves RV park by 4-1 vote

The Chiefland Planning Board and Chiefland City Commission is (from left) Teresa Barron, Rollin Hudson, Teal Pomeroy, Betty Walker and Chris Jones. City Manager Mary Ellzey, who is a city employee and does not vote, is on the right side of this photo.

By Jeff M. Hardison © Nov. 10, 2015 @ 8:07 p.m.
-- The five-member Chiefland City Commission accepted the recommendation it made to itself Monday night (Nov. 9) after it had previously sat that evening as the five-member Chiefland Planning Board.

     By a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Teal Pomeroy being the lone dissenter as a Planning Board member and in his mayoral capacity, the city's leaders approved a request to rezone 45 acres in northeast Chiefland to make that land able to be developed into a recreational vehicle (RV) resort-park.
     City Commissioner Teresa Barron made the two motions, both as a Planning Board member and as a City Commission member, that were required for this rezoning.
     Barron added four caveats, though, to assure the developer would do as was expected. First, the project had to start within two years. Second, this was to be an RV park-resort and not an apartment complex or anything else which would have been allowed in a residential high-density zoning. Third, the development must abide by the Chiefland city ordinances that regulate an RV park. Fourth, the property would revert to its previous zoning if this project fell through.
     All of the parties involved agreed with these provisions.
     To reach the point where the project was given the green light took some discussion.
     Attorney Wyman Russo Duggan of Jacksonville provided the City Commission with a binder type of notebook that was an inch and a half thick and included documentation to support reasons to approve the request.

Attorney Wyman Duggan

     The notebook had 22 tabs to mark pages for quick reference. Attorney Duggan brought three expert witnesses, as well, who testified at the public hearing to prove the truth of statements that were made by the applicants – Hal Lyons of Bushnell and Lois Livingston of Chiefland.
     Thomas E. Rhodes, president of Rhodes and Rickolt, PA, of Ocala is the expert who presented statements about the appraised value of surrounding property and how that would not be negatively affected after the RV Park-Resort came to fruition.
     Anthony S. Robbins, AICP, a senior planner with Prosser Inc. of Jacksonville, explained that the city’s comprehensive land use plan reflects this rezoning as being a perfect fit.
     Henry A. Vorpe Jr., P.E, is the president of AVA Engineers of Jacksonville. Vorpe helped the City Commission understand the planned development of this RV Park creates no burden on the infrastructure.
     Mayor Pomeroy, Vice Mayor Betty Walker, City Commissioner Barron, City Commissioner Rollin Hudson and City Commissioner Chris Jones all said they had heard from members of the general public who expressed opinions.
     Chiefland City Attorney Norm Fugate said that the testimony and presentation at the public hearing is what the Planning Board and City Commission must consider when it rendered its approval or rejection of the rezoning request.
     City Manager Mary Ellzey explained that the 45-acre parcel owned by Livingston was sought to be rezoned from residential and commercial to high-density residential.
     Vorpe handed the books to the City Commissioners as Duggan entered this set of documents into the public record as one unit for the hearing.
     Duggan opened by noting the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council had conducted a concurrency management assessment.
     High-density residential zoning “will continue to meet all of your adopted levels of service for your infrastructure, no matter what gets built out there,” he said, as he paraphrased the report from the professional planning agency.

Anthony Robbins gives expert testimony as attorney Wyman Duggan elicits information from him.

     Roads, water service, storm-water drainage, and sewer service are in fine shape to provide for any uses that would be allowed in a high-density residential zone, the regional planning council said. One of those uses in a high-density residential zoning is an RV park.
     After the meeting, Mayor Pomeroy said he voted “No” because it was his opinion that the RV park would not be conducive to the area.
     During the hearing, Duggan reminded the City Commission that this development will not cause the city to increase its capital improvement budget. The attorney said he understood this was a high profile rezoning request, and he let the City Commission know he had brought expert witnesses.
     Early on in the presentation, the attorney let the city leaders know the developer was amenable to agreeing to limit this development of 45 acres to be only for an RV resort-park.
     The first expert witness to speak was Robbins.

(above) Developer Hal Lyons speaks to the Chiefland City Commission and answers questions.
(below) Developer Hal Lyons stands with photos from one of the RV parks he developed.

    Robbins said the city’s comprehensive plan in its future land use element proves there is consistency with this rezoning being granted. Higher density uses, such as this, should be located next to arterial roadways and collectors, he said as he began his part of the presentation. This development on Levy County Road 320 east of Walmart fits that requirement.
     This rezoning for higher density residential is compatible with what is zoned to the south – the same zoning; and to the north, commercial. In fact, he said, to consider a single-family zoning that exists now between the current high-density residential on the southern side of the property and a commercial zoning on the north side shows a three-fold variance in zoning and is not good planning.
     It puts incompatible zoning in between two higher intensity types of zones, Robbins said. Robbins added that the mixed use of commercial and residential would need revision as the city progresses in its growth management.
     There will be areas set aside on the 45 acres for open space, for buffers and for non-residential uses, Robbins said, which matches the requirements for this planned development.
     This area is the combined node of the commercial heart for the city, Robbins said, and in fact for the whole region. This area is not planned for continued agricultural use. It is in the city and it is in an area planned for development, including a new hospital to the west of this spot.
     This application also discourages urban sprawl. It is not annexing land, because the land is already in the city limits, Robbins said. It is within the exiting municipal services area for Chiefland, he added.
     This development adds to the diversity of housing types in Chiefland, he said. This adds a temporal living facility for people to consider.
     This development adds to the diversity of business for economic development as well, Robbins said. The addition of an RV resort community brings in people who travel. People may be attracted to take their RVs to this part of Florida to see the springs, the state parks and other attractions that are here.
     This RV resort-park creates a source of new customers for stores, restaurants, retail outlets and for medical and other professional services, he said. This business will pay ad valorem property taxes which will go to all of the taxing authorities, including the Levy County School Board, even though the RV crowd will not bring in children as students.
     This will “give an economic shot in the arm to the city of Chiefland,” Robbins said.
     Rhodes was the next expert witness.
     This Ocala-based real estate appraiser has been involved in that profession for about 40 years, including being in the Marion County Property Appraiser’s Office from 1976-1982, as well as being an appraiser with Albright and Associates from 1982-89, and as the owner of his business from then until now.
     Rhodes said he concurs with Robbins in regard to the consistency of the land use for this property. With the north and west adjacent property being commercial and the immediate southern property being high-density residential zoning, the question put to Rhodes was -- Would the change of this 45-acre tract to high-density residential zoning have any adverse impact as far as property value on adjacent properties?
     “After considering this,” Rhodes said, “I think there will not be (any adverse impact as far as property value on adjacent properties)
     The high-density residential zoning is still a lesser intensity of zoning than the commercial zoning which is to the north and west of this property, Rhodes said.
     Any type of residential development is not going to have an impact to value of the commercial land that is next to it, Rhodes said.
     As for the vacant land to the south, which is zoned high-density residential zoning, this RV resort-park will have no negative impact on the value of that land, Rhodes said as he expressed his opinion as an expert witness.
     The property to the east is zoned single-family, he said. It is on a 10-acre tract. That house is in the southeast corner of the property with trees around it. That is so buffered that it wouldn’t have any diminishing of value from the use of this adjacent property as an RV resort-park, Rhodes said.
     Lyons, the developer, spoke to the City Commission. He is from Pinellas County. He has developed a number of RV parks in Florida. He does not operate them.
      The people with RVs have earned enough disposable income to enjoy this lifestyle, Lyons said. If they like an RV resort-park, they will stay there. If it is not kept up, then they can and will leave. They expect the park to be maintained, he said.
     Lyons said he has been developing RV parks since 1972.
     Vorpe was the final expert witness to speak. He has been a civil engineer for many years. For 15 years, his company has done the engineering of a park in Jacksonville that is similar in size to this one that is proposed for Chiefland.
     Vorpe said one advantage for this development is that it will be on a municipal wastewater treatment system, versus septic tanks. The city is at about 50 percent of its capacity now, he said, adding that the developer has obtained the Florida Department of Environmental Protection permitting to connect the park for sewer service with the city.
     The regional planning council has said the plan meets concurrency requirements. Likewise, the research for traffic and roads shows the roads for this RV park are not going to become congested or overburdened, Vorpe said.
     Tommy Miles of Chiefland spoke to the City Commission. He said the people who come to Williston in their RVs help with food drives and charitable functions. He quoted Williston Police Chief Dennis Strow as saying Williston Crossings is the crown jewel of the city.
     Miles, who is a partner with Livingston, said they have not been approached by any other developers since they bought the property as investment 10 years ago, when they thought the hospital would be built in Chiefland.
     Since then, Miles said, he has done research and found that a hospital is not necessarily a seed for economic development around it.
     Medical offices and commercial development around small hospitals is not something to expect, he said, if a person looks at similar situations in Florida.
     Seven Rivers Hospital in Crystal River, he said, has a medical plaza with 75 percent vacancy.
     At Shands of Starke, there are 25 beds. There are no medical offices or retail outlets around it whatsoever, Miles said.
     At Doctors Memorial Hospital in Perry, there are no doctors’ offices or retail nearby, he said.
     He spoke about more than a half-dozen other towns and hospitals to show there is no commercial development springing up around hospitals.
     As for RV parks, he sees them bringing wealthy seasonal tourists to communities in Florida.
     Attorney Duggan told the City Commission that David Smith of Levy County Property Appraiser Osborn Barker’s office showed an annual tax revenue of $79,791.06 from this development and that $21,839.12 of that estimated taxes would be going to the city of Chiefland. Research also showed $7,386.33 would be generated for EMS assessment annually at the current assessment rates.
      Heath Davis of Cedar Key spoke against the development. He was speaking on behalf Sonya R. Judy, the trustee for land that is part of the Lucille W. Rogers GST Exempt Trust. That house and land is to the south of the RV park development area.
     Davis married Judy’s daughter. Thomas Brookins has leased this property to grow crops and raise cattle for more than 50 years, Davis said.
     Davis said his family did not envision an RV park as something that would be in that area. Davis said he thought that RV park dwellers would not like bellowing cows when their calves are separated from them, as must occur when they are weaned from them.
     Mark Graham, a fifth or sixth generation Levy County resident, spoke about the property. He is a cattle rancher.
     He farmed the property for 30 to 35 years with his grandfather.
     When the late Owen Baynard owned it, and the next two owners owned it, the property was zoned as commercial, Graham said. Leasing that property for agricultural purposes, Graham said they always were told that it was a year-to-year lease.
     This has been an investment property, just as the Rogers’ property has been a “heritage” property, Graham said, for years and years.
     Graham said if a set of single-family dwellings are built on the property, the majority of them will use homestead exemption for the first $25,000 of taxable value.
     “And when they homestead,” he said, “they are not going to pay the tax base that this RV park is going to generate.”
     He reiterated the fact that the Levy County School Board is scoring a windfall as a result of tax revenue without the added students.
     “These people are bringing in cash money,” Graham said. “And they are going to spend it at the dentist, at Walmart, at the doctors’ offices.”
     As for the need to burn fields, spraying and the weaning of calves, Graham said it is as Lyons said. If the RV campers do not like it, they will relocate to another RV park.
     Graham said he saw the RV development built in Bushnell. He did not see that as a destination. However, that RV park is packed with good visitors to the area.
     From hearing the expert witnesses, and from the report of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, Graham said he sees this development as being something that will benefit Chiefland.
     Other people who spoke in favor of the rezoning mentioned the potential for increasing jobs from the seasonal residents, and that there are very well-maintained RV parks.
     In the Planning Board session, Barron’s first motion to recommend approval was seconded by Hudson. After that in the Planning Board and in the City Commission meeting, it was Barron’s motions being seconded by Jones. Each time, it was a 4-1 vote with Pomeroy dissenting.

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Sixty-Fifth Jingle Singers

The newest duo of singers to perform the HardisonInk.com jingle are Joseph “Capt. Jack Sparrow” Cassella and Cheryl Guagliardo. They sang on Sept. 20 on Cedar Key during part of the Annual Pirate Invasion. If you see Jeff Hardison and you want to sing the jingle, just let him know or send an email to hardisonink@gmail.com. He asks people to sing it, too, and some of them agree to sing it. (Thanks people!)
Published Oct. 26, 2015 @ 4:27 p.m.
-- Video by Jeff M. Hardison

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