People can see things in clouds. This photo captures what looks like a Gator in the orange and blue sky of morning, looking east toward Gainesville from Levy County on Wednesday morning (Sept. 28). This particular view is from some place along Levy County Road 347.
Photo by Sharon Hardison © Sept. 29, 2016 @ 9:37 a.m., All Rights Reserved
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National Voter Registration Day
Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones and her staff members were out at Wal-Mart on Tuesday (Sept. 27) from 5 to 8 p.m. as part of the National Voter Registration Day. They registered 17 more voters in Levy County. The last day to register to vote in the Nov. 8 election is Oct. 11. The office of Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones will be open late that day. Please see that advertisement by clicking HERE.
Published Sept. 28, 2016 @ 9:57 p.m. on the Home Page of HardisonInk.com.
Dixie and Levy counties
declared federal disaster zones
Methods to seek help listed
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 28, 2016 @ 2:47 p.m.
* Updated Sept. 28, 2016 @ 4:17 p.m.
LEVY-DIXIE COUNTIES -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday (Sept. 28) announced that President Barack Obama has declared Levy and Dixie (and other Florida) counties to be available for federal assistance as a result of damage from Hurricane Hermine, according to documents provided by Levy County Emergency Management Assistant Director David Peaton.
As for the Tri-County Area, Gilchrist County was not so affected by the Category 1 hurricane as the other two counties. However, several other counties are noted as being elig
There are different types of assistance available from the federal government as a result of this declaration.
The incident leading to federal aid was Hurricane Hermine, according to records.
The incident period was Aug. 31 to Sept. 11, according to the document from FEMA.
Gov. Rick Scott requested federal assistance on Sept. 20.
The designations and types of assistance noted are:
• INDIVIDUAL ASSISTANCE (assistance to individuals and households): Citrus, Dixie, Hernando, Hillsborough, Leon, Levy, Pasco and Pinellas counties.
• PUBLIC ASSISTANCE (Assistance for emergency work and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities): Citrus, Dixie, Franklin, Jefferson, Lafayette, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Pasco, Pinellas, Suwannee, Taylor and Wakulla counties, according to records.
• HAZARD MITIGATION GRANT PROGRAM (Assistance for actions taken to prevent or reduce long term risk to life and property from natural hazards): All areas in the State of Florida are eligible for assistance under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, according to records.
• OTHER: Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments, according to records.
* Individuals and business owners who sustained losses in the designated area can begin applying for assistance tomorrow (Sept. 29) by registering online at http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). Disaster assistance applicants, who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use TTY, should call 1-800-462-7585 directly; for those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) seven-days-a-week until further notice.
Chiefland gives preliminary
zoning approval for
Suwannee River Hospital
Franklin Schupp addresses Chiefland City Commissioners concerning a zoning change for the Suwannee River Community Hospital.
By Terry Witt
Senior Reporter © Sept. 26, 2016 @ 11:17 p.m.
CHIEFLAND -- The Suwannee River Community Hospital apparently has new life.
Chiefland City Commissioners Monday approved the first reading of an ordinance rezoning 20-acres behind Wal-Mart to the highest level of commercial zoning available in Chiefland.
Commercial 1 zoning would allow any type of commercial health care development on the property including a hospital, a nursing home or an assisted living facility.
Franklin Schupp, representing property owner Sam J. Lewis, was asked by Commissioner Teresa Barron why he wanted C-1 commercial zoning when the property was already zoned C-2, which would allow a hospital.
Schupp responded that if a future buyer wanted to purchase three acres of the property for a nursing home, for example, but didn’t want C-2 zoning, the way would be clear for the sale.
The 20-acre site was identified as the future location for the hospital many years ago but the project faltered after the the local economy went into a slump and later when financing became question mark.
City commissioners were told financing for the hospital won’t be a problem this time.
Schupp said 100 percent of the hospital funding has been approved by a “New York conglomerate.” He did not reveal the name of the company or companies that would finance the project.
He said the hospital funding is separate from any medical building. When the community hospital project was active earlier this year, an office building was part of the project, but Schupp said the approved funding is for the hospital alone. He said there is no discussion at this time of a medical office building.
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration is reviewing a request by Ameris Health for an extension of the hospital’s expired Certificate of Need (CON). A Tallahassee attorney is providing information to AHCA. The CON expired earlier this year.
Schupp said Lewis is committed to building the community hospital in Chiefland.
“Sam said you tell them no matter what we’re going to keep going,” Schupp said after the meeting.
Schupp said Lewis has hired him to speak for the project. He was previously involved with the hospital project along with Lewis. Schupp said Lewis has invested millions in the community hospital.
Schupp said CBC Real Estate will be part of the project. CBC had been part of the most recently proposed project previously.
voting precinct changes
Published Sept. 22, 2016 @ 4:17 p.m.
On the Home Page of HrdisonInk.com
CEDAR KEY -- Cedar Key voters who normally vote at the Cedar Key City Hall will be voting at the Cedar Key Community Center for the Nov. 8 General Election, Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones announced on Thursday (Sept. 22).
Precinct 4 has temporarily moved, due to damage at City Hall caused by hurricane Hermine. The address to the new polling location is: 809 Sixth St., Cedar Key, FL 32625.
Future elections will be held at Cedar Key City Hall. Voters’ precinct number and representatives will remain the same. Information will be sent to all Precinct 4 voters to their mailing address on record with the Levy County Supervisor of Elections’ Office.
Anyone with questions is asked to please call the Supervisor of Elections Office at 352-486-5163.
Suggested benefits cut
for elected leaders
gets chilly reception
Bronson Town Councilwoman Katie Parks
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 21, 2016 @ 1:47 p.m.
BRONSON – Bronson Town Councilwoman Katie Parks expressed an idea Monday night (Sept. 19) that struck a nerve with Councilman Aaron Edmondson.
Here is a detailed listing of payments and benefits for Bronson Town Council members.
Parks said she felt that the Bronson Town Council might consider cutting its benefits, including all health, dental and vision insurance, to the elected members of the Town Council.
Parks said this reduction in pay to the five Town Council leaders might help the annual budget.
The councilwoman said she also believes this could lead to the ability to hire another full-time worker and another part-time worker.
Parks said she feels like Town Council members are part-time workers who are getting full-time benefits. She noted that in some cases of these five individuals, the monetary value of benefits exceeds the stipend that is paid to the Town Council member.
Bronson Town Councilman Aaron Edmondson
Following is the breakdown of the annually budget payment totals of the stipend (including the annual $250 bonus) combined with the value of benefits for each municipal leader, including the iPad rental, and all forms of insurance:
* Seat 4 Mayor Bruce Greenlee $11,118.65
* Seat 3 Vice Mayor Beatrice Roberts $17,651.46
* Seat 1 Councilman Aaron Edmondson $16,351.46
* Seat 2 Councilwoman Katie Parks $7,218.65
* Seat 5 Councilman Jason Hunt $15,595.46
Vice Mayor Roberts said that while Parks may see the stipend and benefits as being excessive for Town Council members to accept as compensation for what they do, she reminded Parks that whenever a person calls any of them about matters in the town, then they are called into some sort of action.
Edmondson said he especially needs his health insurance, and he believes he has earned the benefit provided to him by the taxpayers as an elected member of the Bronson Town Council.
Edmondson said insurance for Town Council members started 15 years ago, when Jamie Griffin was mayor, and it has continued ever since then.
Edmondson had just retired back then, he said, and so he had no health insurance. Griffin’s action helped Edmondson and that health insurance benefit continues to be part of the compensation to the councilman for his service to the residents and visitors of Bronson.
Edmondson said it was his feeling that Parks was just tearing down what had been established for 15 years now, as he noted she has only been in her office for a couple of years. Parks does not need to accept health insurance and some of the other benefits, because she has a job that covers those needs in her life.
Edmondson said he plans not run for reelection after he completes this term.
Beyond that, if the majority of the Town Council votes to eliminate benefits for elected Town Council members, then Edmondson is going to leave his position, he said, indicating that exit would be before his term ends.
Edmondson said he thinks the town has a sufficient amount of employees and they are doing an adequate job.
Vice Mayor Roberts had noted that the $22,000 that the town would save annually by eliminating benefits for council members would not pay the $30,000 worth of salary and benefits to hire one full-time worker, much less a full-time worker and a part-time worker for a year.
“If my stuff gets cut,” Edmonson said. “I am through with it. I am finished. It’s as simple as that. That’s the way I feel about it. You say you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but if you cut my benefits, then I am finished.”
Mayor Greenlee said he felt that if this matter was going to go forward, then it will take more discussion. There was no action on the suggestion by Parks, including no planning for a workshop or mention of putting the matter on a future agenda.
The Bronson Town Council does not have regular meetings in October each year.
Fanning Springs buys
about $30,000 worth of nothing;
City Council orders
Ron McQueen reinstated as fire chief
Fanning Springs Fire Chief Ron McQueen gives a report to the City Council.
Story, Photos and Video
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 14, 2016 @ 8:47 p.m., All Rights Reserved
FANNING SPRINGS -- The bills are still coming in, and the calculator has some tallying to go (ka-ching), but the tentative projected cost of a gamble on what a law means by Fanning Springs Mayor Howell E. “Trip” Lancaster III looks like it will cost the city between $25,000 to $30,000, according to information released during the City Council meeting on Tuesday night (Sept. 13).
Lancaster interpreted a Florida law to mean something that it did not mean, and after he suspended Fanning Springs Volunteer Fire Chief Ron McQueen as a result of Lancaster’s conceptualization, the fire chief contested that suspension.
And the delays in resolving the issue led to it taking nine months before the final answer was given.
In this video, a woman who is unfamiliar with volunteer firefighters and is unfamiliar with the conditions in the Tri-County Area of Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties shares some gossip she heard. She is brought up to speed in a relatively short time, though.
Mayor Lancaster after first making the decision said that he felt it was something he needed to do, because he thought that is what the law called on him to do. Back then, he asked, what if his interpretation of the law was correct and he did nothing?
On Tuesday night (Sept. 13), however, the Fanning Springs City Council unanimously agreed with the hearing officer's rulings on this matter (CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PREVIOUS STORY).
On a motion by Fanning Springs City Councilwoman Jane Nogaki, seconded by Councilwoman Barbara Locke, and with positive votes from Council Chairman Paul Chase, and Councilman Ron Queen and Councilman Tommy Darus, the City Council followed the recommendations of Hearing Officer David W. Wagner, Esq.
Fanning Springs City Council Chairman Paul Chase
City Councilwoman Jane Nogaki
City Councilwoman Barbara Locke
City Councilman Ron Queen
City Councilman Tommy Darus
Mayor H.E. 'Trip' Lancaster III and City Attorney Jamie L. White
The City Council ruled that it is:
• Reinstating Chief McQueen as the voluntary fire chief of the fire department comprised of volunteers;
• Overturning Mayor Lancaster’s determination that an amended Florida Statute requires Volunteer Fire Chief McQueen to have obtained a Firefighter II certification rather than a Firefighter I certification to be the chief of a volunteer fire department;
• Overturning Mayor Lancaster’s determination that Fire Chief McQueen can be disciplined by the mayor as an employee for failing to update a fire personnel roster;
• Vacating Fire Chief McQueen’s 30-day suspension without pay and his demotion from volunteer fire chief to volunteer firefighter;
• Paying the $11,950 legal fees (and $92 worth of fees for copies) McQueen incurred defending himself from the suspension and demotion; and
• Reimbursing the chief for his lost stipend and benefits (including the payment to the Florida Retirement System).
In making her motion, Councilwoman Nogaki said the determination of the amount of the loss from not being on calls for a month of suspension will be based on an average of calls to which he had responded during the prior six months to that time.
Councilman Darus questioned if McQueen as a volunteer chief is entitled to the city paying for his Florida Retirement System benefits. Attorney Sunshine Baynard, who represented Chief McQueen, told Darus that there is case law and there are other departments using that as one of the minimal methods to compensate a volunteer fire chief. Baynard contends that case law supports this action by the city for its volunteer fire chief.
Darus asked the attorney to please provide him with case law citations. Baynard said she would do so.
Darus then asked if McQueen was reimbursed for calls.
During the nine months that it took the city to respond to the question of the suspension, there was a period when he was inactive for 30 days due to Mayor Lancaster’s command -- and then McQueen was allowed to serve as a regular volunteer firefighter.
While Darus voiced his opinion that he felt the 30-day suspension should not be compensated, and although Darus questioned whether the city could pay for Florida Retirement System benefits for a volunteer fire chief, he voted in favor of the motion, just as his four colleagues voted in favor of the multi-part motion.
One woman who failed to identify herself before she spoke said she never heard why McQueen did not have Firefighter II certification.
She was told by Councilwoman Nogaki that the hearing officer determined from all of the facts and evidence presented that in Florida a Firefighter I certification is enough to be a volunteer fire chief.
The woman surmised, according to gossip she reportedly heard, that McQueen could not pass the test. There was audible groaning throughout the council meeting room at that point.
She then asked if he would be able to carry her out of a burning building if she was in it.
Fanning Springs Deputy Fire Chief Elania Spain tried to help the confused woman understand by explaining to her that the majority of firefighters in the Tri-County Area of Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties are volunteers.
“So if they are going to you,” Spain said to the unidentified complainer, “they are going to be a volunteer. So, do you want nobody to show up or do you want a volunteer to show up?”
The woman then said she lives in Levy County, in response to Deputy Chief Spain mentioning firefighters coming from Gilchrist County. The same situation exists throughout the Tri-County Area.
Spain let the woman know that the volunteers in Fanning Springs “Are just as good as any paid firefighter there is.”
“I’d put our volunteer department up against anybody’s on a structure fire,” Spain continued. “And if you look around at the surrounding areas, talk to the career fire chiefs and ask them who is the best, dependable fire station that they know they’ve got personnel that are going to work right beside their career people, and they will tell you ‘Fanning Springs Fire Rescue.’”
Roger Nogaki of Fanning Springs said the woman had a good question, but she apparently did not have any understanding of the fire service in the community, and the difference between paid and volunteer firefighters.
Chief Nogaki was in charge of a 55-member volunteer fire department up north years ago. He gave a speech about the volunteer firemen who run into a dangerous situation while others are told to run away – and they do it at all hours, on holidays.
Volunteer firefighters in Fanning Springs risk their lives every single day to help people in this community, he said, and they do so without pay.
Later in the meeting, it was asked when Fire Chief McQueen could expect repayment from the city. There was no clear answer but it seemed that the payment will occur within the next 30 days.
Also later in the meeting, Chief McQueen answered a resident who asked how much money the city lost as a result of Mayor Lancaster suspending McQueen and continuing to fight to keep his decision firm.
With fees from short-term City Attorney Ray Earl Thomas, the first Hearing Officer Attorney M. Michael O’Steen, Hearing Officer Wagner and other attorney fees, McQueen estimated it will cost the city between $25,000 to $30,000 altogether for Lancaster’s error.
When Chief McQueen spoke about this matter during his time to address City Council for his report on the fire department, he said nine months is too long for the city to have to deal with personnel issues for a volunteer.
He asked that Fanning Springs City Attorney Jamie Lynn White of the Dell Graham Gainesville Law Office create a better process to deal with this type of issue in the future.
White came under fire a bit during another part of the meeting. At least one resident asked about the mayor’s salary being increased to $14,000 a year during Mayor Cheryl Nekola’s administration – and carrying forward with Mayor Lancaster – when there was no ordinance to increase it.
White said the spirit and intent of the raise was reflected by budget notations, but that the charter does require this increase to be by ordinance. White said an ordinance can be drafted and adopted to meet that requirement of the charter.
As for the Fanning Springs City Charter, former Fanning Springs City Attorney Conrad C. Bishop Jr. of Perry -- who had been the city attorney since 1988 up until he resigned suddenly in February of this year – had mentioned the charter was in need of improvement.
Bishop’s resignation and the hiring of the Dell Graham Gainesville Law Office has resulted in a significant increase in the annual budget for legal fees. The former attorney had given the city an extraordinary discount on fees over time.
As for what may become known as Lancaster’s Folly, the suspension of Chief McQueen is now clearly an expensive mistake.
Dana Sheffield, a Fanning Springs resident who comments on occasion at City Council meetings, said he hopes that the city can now return to its previous status quo of a smooth operating volunteer fire department.
Chief McQueen has said this action by the mayor did affect the morale of the department.
That chapter in the city’s history, however, appears to now be over.