Williston City Council
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 20, 2017 at 2:57 p.m.
WILLISTON -- With the qualifying period finished for the regular municipal election in Williston, City Clerk Fran Taylor, who serves as the supervisor of elections for the municipal elections in Williston, announced Friday (Jan. 20) that three men are appointed to City Council seats.
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Those qualified and elected will serve in the designated seats for a new term beginning in April, Taylor said. Three men filed unopposed. They are deemed as being "elected" as the result uncontested races, Taylor said in a press release
The winners are Kori Lamb (Group "A"); Elihu Ross (Group "B"); and Timothy "Tim" Hass (Group "C").
Swearing in of the officials elected for the new term will take place the second Tuesday in April (April 11).
As for the matter of the unexpired portion of the term for the current Group "C" vacancy, Taylor said, there are two men who submitted applications for appointment.
It is anticipated that the Williston City Council will make the final decision on the appointment at the Jan. 24 regular meeting, Taylor said.
Levy County Court Judge J.T. "Tim" Browning has agreed to administer the oath of office and investiture for the new appointee at the Feb. 7 regular City Council meeting, Taylor said. The individual appointed will serve out the remainder of the unexpired term until the swearing-in of the newly elected officials in April.
The two men under consideration for the temporary appointment, where they are replacing former City Councilman Danny Etheridge, are Robert "Bob" Schmidt and Timothy "Tim" Hass.
"Congratulations to those elected unopposed today (Jan. 20)," Taylor said. "We wish the candidates for appointment the best of luck in their efforts. We certainly appreciate the willingness of everyone who qualified in this process to serve the City of Williston. Have a great day!"
FDLE arrests Dixie County man
for possession and transmission
of child pornography
Story by FDLE Office of Public Information
Published Jan. 19, 2017 at 5:07 p.m.
Updated Jan. 20, 2017 at 10:27 a.m.
on the Home Page of HardisonInk.com
DIXIE COUNTY -- Agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement today arrested John Harold Grant, 51, of 24 S.E. 151st Ave., Old Town, on three counts of possession of child pornography and one count of transmission of child pornography.
John Harold Grant
FDLE special agents, with assistance from the Dixie County Sheriff’s Office, executed a search warrant at Grant’s home today (Thursday, Jan. 19), and seized several cell phones. FDLE agents conducted a search warrant on his email account and recovered images of child pornography, some involving children as young as two years old.
Grant was booked into the Dixie County Jail. The case will be prosecuted by the Office of the Third Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Siegmeister.
Please visit the Secure Florida website to review tips for keeping your children safe online by clicking HERE.
State leaders hear requests
from the people of Levy County
Rep. Charlie Stone (R-Dist. 22) (left) and Levy County Commissioner Mike Joyner speak before the start of the public hearing. Joyner politely interrupted the hearing just after County Commission Chairman John Meeks spoke, to ask everyone for a moment of silent prayer in recognition of a Texas law enforcement officer who had just been killed. County Commissioner Joyner retired from law enforcement after 38 years, although he is still a member of the Florida Intelligence Unit, which is how he learned about the death of an officer in the line of duty.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 19, 2017 at 3:07 p.m.
BRONSON -- Elected county and municipal leaders, organizational and church leaders, and members of the general public shared with one member of the Florida House of Representatives and one member of the Florida Senate some thoughts about how the state could help the residents and visitors of Levy County.
The Levy County Legislative Delegation, consisting of Chairman State Rep. Charlie Stone (R-Dist. 22) and State Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Dist. 5), conducted a public hearing in the Dogan Cobb Municipal Building, in Bronson, on Wednesday (Jan. 18).
The delegation accepted input from the people on matters of statewide concern as well as local matters, where the constituents felt the state government might help.
State Rep. Charlie Stone (R-Dist. 22) (left) and College of Central Florida President James Henningsen, Ed.D., speak before the start of the public hearing on Wednesday (Jan. 18). Rep. Stone was instrumental in CF being funded to build the future campus in Levy County, and Rep. Stone was at the forefront of the state funding the construction of the new Williston Middle High School.
State Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Dist. 5) (left) and State Rep. Charlie Stone (R-Dist. 22) listen to their constituents in Bronson on Wednesday (Jan. 18).
Rep. Stone is one member of the Florida House of Representatives. The House is composed of 120 members representing an equal number of districts, with each district having an average population of 156,677.
Connie Mullis is Rep. Stone’s staff member at his office located on the campus of the College of Central Florida in Ocala. Dennis Ragosta is Rep. Stone’s aide in Tallahassee.
Rep. Stone has served the people of Levy County for one complete four-year term and he is in his second set of a four-year term. His district includes all of Levy County and part of eastern Marion County.
Sen. Bradley has several staff members, including his Chief of Staff Steven Richardson. The 11 counties from whence Sen. Bradley is elected are Levy, Dixie, Gilchrist, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Lafayette, Suwannee, Union and part of Marion.
Sen. Bradley is one of the 40 senators who serve the people of Florida.
Bradley was a senator in a district that included part of the area that was redistricted to include Levy County. This will be his first time hearing specifically from the people of Levy County, although every state senator and every member of the Florida House represents every person in Florida.
Bradley was elected to his position as the District 5 state senator with no opposition in the most recent election.
The 2017 Legislative Session is scheduled to convene on March 7 in Tallahassee.
LEVY COUNTY CCOMMISSION
CHAIRMAN JOHN MEEKS
Levy County Chairman John Meeks was the first speaker to approach the Levy County Legislative Delegation.
Like all presenters, Chairman Meeks said he is thankful to the Town of Bronson for hosting the event.
* Internet And Other Infrastructure Needs
Meeks said he appreciates any help the state can give to counties to improve Internet service.
Other infrastructure facilities such as roads and installing or replacing paved roads, and pipes for water and wastewater facilities will make areas like Levy County more attractive to developers.
* Print Legal Ads
Doing away with the state requirement for print advertisement of legal ads, including the three weeks of delinquent tax notices, was mentioned by Meeks.
He said that allowing just an online publication to print legal ads, including the three weeks of delinquent tax notices, would be a relief from the budget.
At the same time, Meeks said thanked the state legislators for allowing counties to have a bed tax for tourism development.
By allowing counties to tax tourists for sleeping in motels, camping grounds and the like, that provides revenue for counties to advertise and attract more tourists.
* Rural County Issues
He asked the Florida Legislature members to work so that they and their colleagues support all funding for small counties that are fiscally constrained. There are certain state programs which target counties like Levy County.
A Web page that shows these topics is http://smallcountycoalition.org/legislative_agenda.html.
Meeks said Levy County Transit was hit hard fiscally by federal funding being cut for people transported for Medicaid and Medicare purposes.
The Levy County Board of County Commissioners cannot use enough General Fund revenue to offset the loss, and the county may need to stop public transportation services as a result. Levy County is among the largest Florida counties geographically, wnd if public transit disappears here, some individuals and families will be hit with a crippling loss.
* State Rural Hospital System
Meeks said small rural Florida hospitals like Regional General Hospital of Williston can use some support from the state. It is not just RGH, but all rural Florida hospitals are being affected as a result of the state’s choice to stop allowing the Florida Department of Health’s county units to serve as a primary treatment care center.
With the loss of the Levy County Health Department for that purposes, Meeks said, the elderly and poor all over rural Florida are going to rural hospitals.
If Levy County loses its rural hospital Williston, that would put the burden back onto the taxpayers, because instead of being able to walk into the emergency room at RGH, those people will call 9-1-1 for a transport to Gainesville to go to an ER there.
* Placing All Of Levy County In SRWMD
Meeks said the division in Levy County, where some of its eastern and southern area are in the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) rather than being like the rest of the county in the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD).
Permitting and tax collection are a couple of the areas he noted where having two separate districts in one county presents a problem.
Meeks mentioned that with agriculture being a major industry in Levy County, he knows farmers see more advantages from being in the SRWMD rather than in Swiftmud.
By changing the boundary line so that Levy County is all in SRWMD rather than 12 percent or so it being in Swiftmud will provide for a more level playing field for all farmers and ranchers, as well as providing all of Levy County with the same services.
SRWMD Governmental Affairs Director Steve Minnis answered questions posed by Rep. Stone and Sen. Bradley.
The SRWMD does not endorse or oppose the proposition to put all of Levy County in the Suwannee River district, Minnis said. SRWMD will provide any technical assistance the Florida Legislature requires if it chooses to do this, Minnis said.
As for whether the Office of Gov. Rick Scott had any concern about granting this request from Levy County, Minnis said he does not know as he answered Stone.
What determines the water management districts’ lines? Bradley asked.
Minnis said he believes hydrologists helped create the line based on water basins in the region.
Bradley asked if there was any Swiftmud staff in the room. There was not. Minis quickly said he had told that water management district that he would cover for them when they asked.
“I don’t want to bash them (Swiftmud),” Sen. Bradley said, “but that should never be a question that a representative of the water management district should be coming to the Legislative Delegation meeting.
“There should never be a phone call between the two districts,” Bradley said, “see ‘would you cover for me.’”
LEVY COUNTY SHERIFF ROBERT B. “BOBBY” McCALLUM
Levy County Sheriff Robert B. “Bobby” McCallum Jr. asked the state for help with a communications problem.
Radio signals in the 800 megahertz range in eastern Levy County, especially around Williston, are not working for the Levy County Sheriff’s Office, he said.
The sheriff said there is an event known as “Crab Fest” in the county near Williston each year and that draws crowds of 8,000 to 15,000 people within a very confined area. In 2013, there were five people shot and one killed at “Crab Fest,” he said, and the LCSO and other emergency responders were unable to communicate over radios.
One unofficial estimate of $1 million for a radio tower was mentioned.
Sheriff McCallum said Rep. Stone succeeded in having the state provide a mobile communications system for that weekend now, however this same area is seeing crowds of 500 to 1,000 people every weekend.
The sheriff said this radio blackout dilemma presents a significant danger to the safety of deputies and all other first responders in that area every day.
Rep. Stone asked Sen. Bradley to meet with him and the sheriff to further attend to solving this problem.
Another issue the sheriff mentioned is the state considering allowing inmates to stay in county jails for 18 months. Right now, when a person is sentence to a year or more, he or she is sent to the Florida Department of Corrections for housing.
The proposal to keep inmates in county jails for another six months, without added funding from the state, presents a significant cost for the county taxpayers, the sheriff said.
Sen. Bradley said he would not endorse any new legislation where the county would have to absorb that cost. With some number of empty cells in county jails, however, and the crowded state prisons, the placement of state prisoners in county jails is being considered.
Levy County Assistant Superintendent of Schools John Lott and Assist Assistant Superintendent of Schools Candy Dean appeared on behalf of Superintendent of Schools Jeff Edison.
Lott thanked Rep. Stone for his work leading to the funding and construction of the new Williston Middle High School.
SCHOOL BOARD CHAIRMAN CHRIS COWART
Levy County School Board Chairman Chris Cowart thanked both Rep. Stone and Sen. Bradley for their person donations to the Levy County Schools Foundation.
He also thanked Rep. Stone for improving the ability of the school district to have more digital equipment.
Cowart asked the county by providing more funding for school bus transportation, due to the large geographical area.
BRONSON MAYOR BRUCE GREENLEE
Bronson Mayor Bruce Greenlee welcomed the leaders to Bronson.
He thanked Rep. Stone and Sen. Bradley for their support of the Small County Outreach Program, which helps counties with roads.
Greenlee mentioned that Bronson’s expansion of its wastewater treatment collection system has helped its infrastructure to be more inviting to commercial development.
INGLIS MAYOR DRINDA MERRITT
Inglis Mayor Drinda Merritt said a wastewater treatment facility is needed for the area of southern Levy County, not only for economic development but it is vital for the health of the Withlacoochee River and Gulf of Mexico.
She said a business is interested in coming to Inglis to help tourism, but that business owner needs municipal sewer service.
WILLISTON CITY MANAGER SCOTT LIPPMANN
Williston City Manager Scott Lippmann mentioned to the state leaders that there are sewer pipes in that city that were built in the 1940s, and they require replacement.
As for the old water pipes, the city is losing as much as 18 to 20 percent of the water it pumps to structures, Lippmann said.
Needing water and sewer pipes are infrastructure issues that affect economic development, he said.
Williston and other areas need a high speed Internet provider, he said.
There are business interests at the Williston Municipal Airport Industrial Park “who are crying for high speed Internet,” Lippmann said, because they need to be able to communicate and conduct business with interests nearby and around the globe.
Having an inventory of shovel-ready sites that can be quickly developed is an area, too, where the state may be able to help the city, Lippmann said.
The city manager mentioned another matter that is more from the public education realm.
There is a problem with not having people in skilled trades – like plumbers, electricians and welders. Lippmann said he has seen a report that shows as many as 70 to 80 percent of the high school graduates are not able to read a tape measure.
Other elected officials who spoke with the legislators included Levy County Property Appraiser Osborn “Oz” Barker and Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones.
PASTOR JOHNNIE JONES III
Pastor Johnnie Jones III President of the Ministerial Faith Alliance Inc. said this group is currently organizing a community coalition of public and private partners to acquire the campus of the former Williston Middle School so that it can be repurposed as the Williston Civic Center.
“Our vision is that the Williston Civic Center will include community, youth and senior centers as well as educational, cultural and recreational programming and economic development activities,” Pastor Jones said. “The proposed Williston Civic Center has the potential to become a statewide model for repurposing abandoned public facilities to create one-stop community resource centers.”
The construction of the new Williston Middle High School made a major impact on the Williston community, Jones said, and what happens to the vacated properties of the two schools stands to be equally as impactful either negatively or positively.
Jones made three requests of the state.
* Become familiar with this group’s plans.
* Support this endeavor and bring all of the resources that the state has to bear on the project.
* “Use your knowledge and network to assist our coalition in any way that you can.”
Other people who approached the state leaders were Joan Walker of the Archer Family Health Care Clinic; Brian Graham, the director of development for the Quit Doc Foundation; Kristen Griffis, executive director of Elder Options; and Juanita Melchoir, who spoke about trees being planted by the Florida Department of Transportation between Chiefland and Williston.
FHP seeks fatal
Suspect car seized
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 17, 2017 at 1:17 p.m.
* Updated Jan. 18, 2017 at 6:07 p.m.
MARION COUNTY -- An unknown vehicle hit a person at 2 a.m. on Tuesday (Jan. 17) and that pedestrian died. The Florida Highway Patrol is seeking the driver of that vehicle.
* The FHP has seized today (Jan. 18), a silver-colored 2002 Honda four-door sedan from The Villages, FHP Lt. P.V. Riordan said on Jan. 18. No arrest has resulted yet, he added.
The unknown vehicle was traveling southbound in the right lane of U.S. Highway 301 in the wee hours of the morning, according to a press release from FHP Lt. Connie McNeill, based on information from crash investigator FHP Trooper A. Fernandez and homicide investigator FHP Cpl. S. Lattinville.
The pedestrian -- Alexis Monroe, 43, of Summerfield -- appeared to have been walking south in the right lane of U.S. 301, north of Southeast 177th Place, the FHP said.
The vehicle struck Monroe and the driver fled the scene in an unknown direction, the FHP said.
Monroe came to final rest in the southbound right lane of U.S. Highway 301, the FHP said.
John L Gandy, 64, of Orlando was driving a 2015 Freightliner semi tractor-trailer southbound and Timothy Barhorst, 44, of Summerfield was driving a 2003 Toyota Tundra southbound in the right lane of U.S. 301, at an unknown distance or time behind the hit-and-run driver, the FHP said.
David Kotowski, 47, of Summerfield was a passenger in the Toyota, the FHP said.
Both the semi and the Toyota struck Monroe, and both vehicles stopped at the scene, the FHP said.
Monroe was pronounced dead at the scene by Paramedic Adam Grace in Engine 10 with the Marion County Fire Rescue, the FHP said.
The hit-and-run vehicle is possibly gray or silver in color, the FHP said. No further information is available at this time. Anyone with information about this crash is asked to contact Cpl. Lattinville at 352-732-1260, extension 236.
Wilbur Dean appointed
as county coordinator via 3-2 vote
Wilbur Dean speaks to the Levy County Commission.
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 18, 2017 at 8:07 a.m.
LEVY COUNTY -- Despite the mention of potentially switching from the antiquated county coordinator method of running Levy County to having a county manager or county administrator, a short discussion and then a quick motion by Levy County Commissioner Lilly Rooks, seconded by County Commissioner Mike Joyner on Tuesday (Jan. 17) led to the appointment of Wilbur Dean as the county coordinator - effective immediately.
Dean was the assistant to the county coordinator.
The appointment came after a motion by Commissioner Lilly Rooks (left) was seconded by Commissioner Mike Joyner.
Listed as a request from Levy County Human Resources Manager Jacqueline Martin as "Request direction from the Board on how to proceed with filling the vacancy left by Mr. (Freddie) Moody's retirement," Rooks almost instantly made a motion to appoint Dean.
That was followed by a second by Joyner. Commissioners Matt Brooks and Rock Meeks both stated their opinion that Dean had performed well as the assistant county coordinator.
County Commission Chairman John Meeks said the county leaders may want to consider changing to a county manager form of leadership for the day-to-day operation of Levy County.
When the vote was called, it was Chairman Meeks and Commissioner Brooks who voted "No."
County Commissioner Matt Brooks (left) and County Commission Chairman John Meeks voted 'No' to the appointment.
After the meeting, the chairman said his vote was not a reflection on his not feeling Dean had done a good job as assistant county coordinator or that he was not the best choice. However, Chairman Meeks said after the meeting, had the County Commission advertised for more candidates and Dean been the choice over the other contenders, then that may have been better for Dean as well as for the county.
County Attorney Anne Bast Brown (left) is seen during the meeting. To her right, County Commissioner Rock Meeks is among the three who voted in favor of Wilbur Dean being the person to replace now-retired County Coordinator Freddie Moody.
There was some discussion during the meeting about the recently-filled post of assistant to the county coordinator. Dick Tummond formerly held that post. In his job, Tummond handled SHIP loans and other facets of county government. After Tummond's retirement from county work, Chairman Meeks saw Moody having to answer the phone one day due to a staffing shortage, and that is when he felt motivated to get that post filled.
Dean's selection as assistant to the county coordinator, Chairman Meeks said, should not have been seen as him being the "heir apparent," just as the next person to be chosen for that post should not feel some sort of automatic choice is bound to happen.
Dean has experience as a member of the Levy County Board of County Commissioners as well. He served two, four-year terms there -- from 1992 until 2000.
Dixie County Superintendent of Schools Mike Thomas deep fries some of the 250 fish filets that he and the School Board gave away on Monday (Jan. 16) in Cross City. For more on the 12th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade and festivities there (and the second annual MLK Day in Bronson) -- including several more photos, a relatively well-written story and two videos, please visit the LIFE PAGE.
Photo by Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 17, 2017 at 4:07 p.m. -- All copyrights are reserved on the stories, photos and videos on HardisonInk.com
Open house at Animal Services
to adopt a loveable pet
A yellow cat with a good personality asks to be petted at Saturday's adoption event at Levy County Animal Services.
Story and Photos
By Terry Witt, Senior Reporter © Jan. 15, 2017 at 6:57 a.m.
BRONSON -- There’s never a shortage of loveable dogs and cats waiting at Levy County Animal Services for a family to adopt them.
Saturday (Jan. 14) was no exception, except that the facility is normally closed for adoptions on Saturdays. Levy County Animal Services held an open house pet adoption event at their office near the landfill and solid waste transfer station. A steady stream of potential adopters tickled in all day to look at prospective dogs and cats.
A dog with a peppy personality looks curiously at the photographer.
The dog kennel and cat house were populated by tail-wagging and meowing residents willing to do whatever it took to win over a new owner. One dog dropped his head in disappointment after realizing this photographer was only there to take his picture and not take him home.
By the noon hour, the animal services team had provided new homes to two lucky animals. Since the start of January, the animal services office has found homes for 16 dogs and cats, an unusually active period for adoptions, according to Levy County Animal Services Director David Weatherford.
The meet and greet room of the cat house gives prospective pet parents a chance to interact with the cat before making a final decision.
One of the cats adopted on Saturday had been housed in the relatively new “cat house” since Sept. 29 last year. Crystal Pruitt, a secretary for animal services, said they try to find adoptive homes for as many of the dogs and cats as possible.
Some animals are euthanized if homes can’t be found. Dr. Dee Esler, the animal services veterinarian, said the animals that are euthanized are given a sedative to relax them and put them to sleep before they are injected intravenously with the chemical that euthanizes them. She said she doesn’t like euthanizing animals, but when it has to be done, it is done humanely in her sterile surgery center.
The reason the open house adoption event took place at Levy Animal Services was related to complaints about the cost of adoption events. Many of the adoption events take place at Tractor Supply Co. in Chiefland, a business with a high customer traffic count and therefore a greater stream of potential pet parents walking past the cages.
“We’ve been having complaints that we need to have it here, so we thought we’d give it a try,” said County Commissioner Lilly Rooks, who is assigned to oversee animal services.
She said the complaint was that the county was using too much manpower to take the adoption events to Chiefland and too much money was being spent on overtime, but Rooks said the county still had to pay overtime for the event the Levy County Landfill on Saturday. Rooks spent the day at animal services.
One positive side of using Levy County Animal Services as the site of a special adoption event is that more dogs and cats are seen by prospective pet parents. The county carries fewer dogs and cats to remote events like the one at Tractor Supply Co. or Ace Hardware in Bronson. The special adoption events also allow for the office to be opened to visitors on Saturdays.
Weatherford said the county has looked at whether opening the office on Saturday would increase adoptions.
To adopt a male dog from the shelter the fee is $40, which covers neutering, rabies vaccination (if age appropriate), deworming, flea control and microchipping. To adopt a female dog from the shelter the fee is $55, which covers spaying, rabies vaccination (if age appropriate), deworming, flea control and microchipping. To adopt a male cat from the shelter the fee is $25, which covers neutering, rabies vaccination (if age appropriate), deworming, flea control and microchipping. To adopt a female cat from the shelter the fee is $40, which covers spaying, rabies vaccination (if age appropriate), deworming, flea control and microchipping.
All transactions such as adoption, impounding, etc. are cash payment only – no checks or cards.
Other than this special event, adoptions can be done Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. The staff encourages people to get there by 3:30 p.m. to give them time to complete the required paperwork. All adoptions are done on a first come basis. A current list of adoptable dogs and cats can be found at the website by clicking HERE.
Prior to Dr. Esler joining the staff as the onsite veterinarian, the cost of adoption was twice what it is now, according to Weatherford.
Weatherford said the Levy County Commission at one point talked about the possibility of establishing a mobile spay and neutering clinic but doing so would have been costly. He said the price of bringing a mobile veterinary unit from Jacksonville is $1,300 per day including staff, medicines and travel costs.
The animal services office has been using its new cat room to keep felines in a comfortable climate controlled setting. The eight-month-old cat room was developed with money from a private donor. The facility includes a “meet and greet room,” where prospective pet parents can become acquainted with their choice of cats before making a final decision. The door of one cage was opened for a photo opportunity. The yellow-colored cat immediately walked out to introduce herself to what she thought was a prospective owner, purring and indicating she was ready for a petting.
Prospective pet owners walk along the concrete path between dog cages to find a potential match that suits them.
Critics of Levy County Animal Services are relentless in their criticism of the department. During the open house pet adoption Saturday, Ed Roehl of Critter Crusaders took a tour of the dog kennel. He said he had been asked to make the visit to look at conditions in the kennel. The kennels had been sprayed clean with water, and smelled clean, but Roehl said he wasn’t happy with what he saw. “I’ve seen worse,” he said.
Weatherford noted that this is the first time in ages that one of the dog kennels is vacant. He said the empty dog kennel is the result of successful adoptions.