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In 24 Hours: 228 More Floridians
Dead From COVID-19;
1 More Gilchrist County
Resident Dead From COVID-19
Above are the results on Friday (Aug. 14), according to the Tallahassee office of the Florida Department of Health (FDOH). These records are the current TOTAL numbers updated by the FDOH in the most recent 24-hour period measured. In the Tri-County Area, there are 16 people who have died from COVID-19 so far -- including one more added today tp the death toll record. There have been 103 people TOTAL so far from the Tri-County Area who have been hospitalized because their COVID-19 symptoms were so serious they needed to go to the hospital. This is a unique, very contagious and extremely dangerous virus. Please act accordingly. Published Aug. 14, 2020 at 2:10 p.m.
PUBLIC HEALTH ADVISORY Residents are advised to wear masks
in public and to socially distance.
Avoid crowds, closed spaces & close contact.
COVID-19 can be transmitted by people who show no symptoms.
The best method to reduce the odds of infection and the subsequent symptoms of serious illness and even death from COVID-19 is to limit contact with other humans.
To find the most updated information and guidance on COVID-19, please visit the FDOH’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage by clicking HERE.
For information and advisories from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), please visit the CDC COVID-19 website by clicking HERE. For another set of data, former Florida Department of Health geographic data scientist Rebekah Jones has created FloridaCOVIDAction.com. Those numbers are different than the FDOH, which are in the graphic above.
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FDOT almost done with
SR 24 sinkhole repairs;
Lane closures and delays continue
These two blinking signs on the east side of the barricaded area, show SR 24 was closed a for a couple of weeks at least. Now, there is passage, however delays and lane closures may still occur as the FDOT continues in the battle against a sinkhole. Therefore, motorists may want to consider that as they think about travel time. Photos By Sharon Hardison
State Road 24 between Rosewood and Otter Creek in Levy County has reopened following weeks of repairs due to the sinkhole, which first caused a traffic issue on July 24. Today (Aug. 14) heralds the third Friday since the roadway problem first appeared. Though the roadway is open now, Roberts noted late Thursday afternoon, repairs are continuing. Motorists should expect lane closures and potential delays in the coming weeks while repairs are completed.
A barricade a couple of weeks ago mades it clear that passage was not working on SR 24 from this point looking westward toward Rosewood in Levy County. The roadway is open now, however there is some work that may cause lane closures and delays for motorists on that part of SR 24.
On July 24, the Levy County Sheriff’s Office was the first agency to advise motorists traveling toward Cedar Key from the Town of Otter Creek (U.S. Highway 19) on State Road 24 that there was FDOT construction in progress to repair a sinkhole that is in the road just before reaching State Road 345 in Rosewood.
Lance Hayes wins Chiefland
election by a landslide 132-70
Lance Hayes holds a campaign sign before the election on Aug. 4. He is scheduled to take the oath of office on Sept. 14 with City Commissioner Marissa Mainwaring. Mainwaring was elected without opposition. Photo By Amy Gernhardt
allegations from Lawrence
School Board Chair Paige Brookins (seated) listens to School Board Member Chris Cowart as he expresses his opinion and reasons to believe that accusations lodged against him by Jerry Lawrence are unfounded and should be ignored.
In this video, Levy County School Board Member Chris Cowart says he lives in District 2 as he has for several years, and he has done nothing wrong in regard to claiming Homestead Exemption from property he co-owns with his former wife Molly Cowart.
The special meeting, scheduled to approve or reject the proposed Levy County School Year 2020-2021 Calendar, including the start date of public school in Levy County on Aug. 17, did not show on the agenda a chance for public input.
Nevertheless, School Board Chair Paige Brookins asked for any commentary from the public near the outset of the meeting, just as she would at a regular School Board meeting. That is when Cowart gave his speech.
Jerry Lawrence, a No Party Affiliate candidate for the school superintendent post, has complained to the Florida Commission on Ethics that Cowart lives outside the District 2 zone. The Ethics Commission ruled it has no jurisdiction over the issue and therefore did not address it.
Lawrence also has noted he believes Cowart misrepresented the truth in regard to Cowart’s benefit from Homestead Exemption when, according to Lawrence, Cowart does not live at an address of property owned by Cowart and his former wife Molly Cowart.
Residency for election and candidacy purposes, Cowart said, is very straightforward.
Cowart said his residence for all intents and purposes, including voting, and running for office and serving as the Levy County School Board District 2 member -- always has been in District 2.
He told the School Board and others at the meeting, that he co-owns a residence at 773 Fifth St. in Cedar Key with his former wife Molly Cowart.
Cowart said that up until his 2011 divorce from his wife, they both lived in that house.
“Subsequent to my divorce,” Cowart said, “I remained in the house until 2016. Since 2016, I have resided at the in-district residence of 10251 Southwest State Road 24, Cedar Key.”
Cowart added he always has intended to return to the Fifth Street residence after the graduation from high school of his and Molly’s daughter, and his marital settlement agreement allowed him to return to that property as a resident.
For the past several years, Cowart added, he has cared for his aging parents, including his father who underwent open heart surgery in 2016. In 2018, both of Cowart’s parents were in a crash and they were hospitalized with major medical issues, he said, and his mother has since died.
As for Homestead Exemption, Cowart said it is allowed because his wife lived in the Fifth Street residence, as best as she can recollect into early 2019.
Cowart said Lawrence went outside the realm of politics, in his opinion, by bringing this complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics, and by Lawrence requesting the School Board censure Cowart for living outside District 2 – and asking the School Board to seek Cowart’s immediate resignation for that reason.
Cowart said that he has chosen so far to not seek monetary compensation from Lawrence, which Cowart asserted is his statutory right, for the attorney fees Cowart spent to defend himself from the complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics, as well as to seek whatever costs or damage Cowart feels any false accusations may have caused him.
“However, I cannot assure I will not seek such a remedy for any future frivolous actions,” Cowart added.
Cowart said his announcement Wednesday was the extent of his choice to discuss this matter. If Lawrence wants to discuss or debate matters related to education in Levy County, then Cowart will participate in that.
“However,” Cowart said, “if Mr. Lawrence intends to waste more time, resources and efforts on non-issues, including my residence, juvenile name-calling, selective video editing, or other fake news, he will receive no response from myself.”
Cowart, who is the Republican candidate facing fellow Republican incumbent Levy County Superintendent of Schools Jeff Edison, asked the other School Board members to ignore Lawrence’s request to censure him.
“To the journalists who have covered this,” Cowart said, “I appreciate your professionalism, and thank you for all you do for our communities and our school district.”
Cowart also expressed his apology to his fellow Levy County School Board members and the people of Levy County to have to deal with “this non-issue,” instead of concentrating on how to move forward into the school year.
Cowart, who gave the opening prayer at this special School Board meeting before everyone said the Pledge of Allegiance, said he is appreciative of all of the people who have reached out and told him they are praying for him and his family.
“I leave you with this Mr. Lawrence,” Cowart said as he concluded his six-plus minutes of speaking on the topic. “I pray for you daily, along with (praying daily for) our schools and our local leaders.”
Lawrence asks School Board
to censure Cowart
This photograph is a screen capture taken Friday afternoon (July 24) from the Levy County School Board website, and it shows Chris Cowart of Cedar Key as being the current vice-chairman of that School Board.
(from left) Chris Cowart, Jeff Edison and Jerry Lawrence are the three candidates currently seeking the office of Levy County Superintendent of Schools. File Photos Previously Provided By Candidates
Levy County Superintendent of Schools Edison is seeking reelection and is facing Cowart in the Republican primary on Aug. 18 to decide the winner of that race, and then the winner of that race is scheduled to face Lawrence, No Party Affiliation, on Nov. 3 in the general election.
Lawrence said he believes that Cowart is in violation of Florida Statutes, which require Cowart to live in District 2 as long as he serves as the Levy County School Board from that district.
Lawrence is calling for a formal censure by the Levy County School Board of School Board member Cowart for Cowart’s allegedly living outside of District 2 while being a School Board member representing that he lived in that district.
In his letter, Lawrence notes that he filed a complaint on March 10 with the Florida Commission on Ethics. Lawrence alleged in his complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics that Cowart did not live in District 2, specifically Cedar Key, but instead lived at 13950 N.E. 80th Ave., Newberry, an address that is on the Levy County side of the Levy County-Gilchrist County line.
Established in 1978, Jac Pac Distributors is located at 13950 N.E. 80th Ave., Newberry.
This is a business listed in the categories industry, industrial supplies and equipment miscellaneous, industrial supplies merchant wholesalers and industrial supplies, and has been part of the Cowart family interests.
On June 5, The Florida Commission on Ethics met. The Florida Commission on Ethics determined that it lacks jurisdiction over the alleged violation of Florida Statutes presented by Lawrence. The Florida Commission on Ethics noted that Cowart made the statement that he lived within District 2 as a private person that was a candidate, rather than in his official capacity as a member of the Levy County School Board.
Cowart’s act, the Commission ruled, was not made as a School Board member.
In his complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics, Lawrence further noted his contention that Cowart misrepresented his place of residence for several years when Cowart allegedly claimed Homestead Exemption at a place where he did not live – 773 Fifth St., Cedar Key. If Cowart had violated that law regarding Homestead Exemption, according to Florida law, it would be a misdemeanor. As of July 23, no law enforcement agency om Florida has announced any action on that matter.
In an April 9 letter from Levy County property Appraiser Osborn “Oz” Barker, the property appraiser noted he investigated Lawrence’s complaint about Cowart claiming Homestead Exemption at a place where he did not reside.
Barker said his office had erred in not removing the Homestead Exemption from Cowart as it should have.
Barker provided a detailed track of records for that property. In March of 2007, Chris and Molly Cowart received Homestead Exemption on the property, Barker noted, as a married couple.
In July of 2011, the Levy County Property Appraiser’s Office received a final judgment of divorce from the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court, showing the termination of the marriage of Chris Cowart and Molly Cowart, Barker noted.
The divorce ruling gave 50 percent equal ownership of the property to each of those two individuals, with Molly Cowart being granted residential rights with a minor daughter until the daughter graduated from high school, at which time the property would be sold, according to Barker’s email to Lawrence in this regard.
Barker noted this is when the Property Appraiser’s Office failed to remove the shared Homestead Exemption that existed for Chris Cowart on that particular property in Cedar Key.
Barker’s office found the property had become completely vacant after Molly Cowart’s mother Shirley Beckham became ill and Molly moved in with her mother, Barker noted in the email to Lawrence.
Barker determined that neither Chris Cowart nor Molly Cowart had done anything fraudulent regarding Homestead Exemption, because any conflict there was a result of clerical issues within Barker’s office regarding this property.
As for the Florida Commission on Ethics complaint by Lawrence against Cowart on March 10, it was “… dismissed for failure to constitute a legally sufficient complaint with the issuance of this public report. Ordered by the State of Florida Commission on Ethics meeting in executive session on Friday, June 5, 2020.”
Copies of the Commission on Ethics’ complaint and its ruling were sent to Lawrence and Woodroe Blake Fugate, the attorney for Cowart in this matter before the Florida Commission on Ethics.
In his July 23 letter to the Levy County School Board, Lawrence noted that after previously turning over all of the information in the complaint filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics to Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones, and after she sought legal advice as to how and who should handle these concerns, the Florida Secretary of State’s Division of Elections referred Jones and Lawrence to the entity that should review these concerns -- the Levy County School Board.
Lawrence tried to be placed on the July 14 School Board meeting agenda, he said. Superintendent of Schools Edison refused to allow Lawrence to be on the agenda for that meeting to discuss whether Cowart still lived in District 2, and when or if Cowart may have moved outside of that district’s boundaries during Cowart’s term as a school board member from 2016 to 2020.
Lawrence noted that he asked “that the School Board of Levy County investigate the following alleged violations of the Florida State statutes by Chris Cowart and take appropriate action.”
Lawrence said Superintendent of Schools Edison verbally denied his request to be on the July 14 meeting agenda. Edison would not put this decision toward Lawrence’s request in writing, however, Lawrence noted in his July 23 letter to Edison and the Levy County School Board.
Lawrence in the July 23 letter to Edison and the Levy County School Board recited the complaint he had filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics, in which he noted -- Florida Statute 1001.34(1) states that “each member of the district school board shall … be a resident of the district school board member residence area from which she or he is elected, and shall maintain said residency throughout her or his term of office.”
Cowart was neither a resident of District 2 when he was elected to office in 2016, Lawrence wrote, nor has he maintained said residency during his term.
Lawrence noted his belief that Cowart currently resides in School Board District 4, just inside the Levy County-Gilchrist County line at 13950 N.E. 80th Ave., which is the Jac Pac site.
“By moving from the residence area from which he was elected, Mr. Cowart has violated the residency requirement, and he has, based on F.S. 1001.38, vacated his school board office,” Lawrence has noted.
Lawrence contends that “further perpetuating the falsehood that he resides in Cedar Key,” Cowart gave misleading information to the Levy County Supervisor of Elections Office, which allowed him to qualify to run for the District 2 School Board Seat in 2016.
“Mr. Cowart directly benefits from perpetuating this falsehood. He (His) annual school board salary is approximately $29,000,” Lawrence noted for the Ethics Commission and the School Board.
Lawrence said that on Wednesday (July 22), he spoke with Cowart over the phone to give him the opportunity to respond to the concerns Lawrence had regarding where Cowart lived from 2016 through the current time.
“I asked him how had he managed to claim a Homestead Exemption in Cedar Key when he hadn’t lived here since 2011?” Lawrence said.
Lawrence said Cowart’s response was to ask if this was a conversation about educational issues.
“I answered that this was a conversation about elected officials being responsible to constituents,” Lawrence said. “I asked him, as he was a School Board member, if he shouldn’t be living in his district. Again, Mr. Cowart asked me if this was a conversation about educational issues. I told him that he was my elected School Board member of District 2, and that that was what I wanted to discuss with him.”
Lawrence said he was asking another question of Cowart, when Cowart hung up on him.
His July 23 letter to the superintendent of schools and the School Board shows Lawrence requesting that Superintendent Edison and the Levy County School Board members formally censure Chris Cowart to have him vacate School Board Seat, District 2, effective immediately.
Cowart noted in a Facebook post on July 13 that he was having to self-isolate due to probable exposure to COVID-19.
A phone call, an email as well as a private message via Facebook were sent late Thursday afternoon (July 23) and Friday afternoon to Cowart for his response to the allegation by Lawrence that he lived in a place other than District 2 while being the Levy County School Board member in that district. A phone call to Cowart’s cell phone just after 2 p.m. on Friday (July 24) was another attempt for a response from Cowart.
If Cowart has moved out of District 2 of the Levy County School Board’s districts, then he must resign, and he would send a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis for a person to be appointed for the remainder of his term -- if he was in the midterm of his term or before.
On Aug. 18, the voters of Levy County will choose between two candidates that are seeking to fill Cowart’s Levy County School Board, District 2seat. The general election is Nov. 3, but this School Board race is going to be decided in the August primary.
Also in the primary on Aug. 18, registered Republican voters in Levy County will choose between Cowart and Edison, and the winner of that race will face Lawrence in the General Election on Nov. 3.
Late Friday afternoon (July 24), Cowart who previously has been dismissive in responding to Lawrence’s complaint, said he intends to answer questions about his residency from 2016 through the current time – during a special Levy County School Board meeting scheduled for Wednesday (July 29).
Meanwhile, Cowart, a man who is well-established as a humanitarian, as well as a kindhearted, community-oriented, thoughtful, caring person, is presumed to have told the truth for the past four years in regard to his residing in District 2.
Also, given Property Appraiser Barker noting his office made clerical errors for several years in regard to the Homestead Exemption question presented by Lawrence, no law enforcement agency in the state appears to want to pursue a misdemeanor case from that allegation.
Likewise, the Levy County School Board is bound to take the mandatory minimum action to notify the public of the special meeting reportedly set for some time and place on Wednesday.
As for Cowart’s residency in regard to his running for Levy County Superintendent of Schools, he is qualified as long as he lives somewhere in Levy County.
on telephone lines
inconveniences LCSO; Sheriff tells County Commission
about needed improvements
Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum tells the Levy County Board of County Commissioners about a terrorist attack on the LCSO non-emergency lines. The sheriff said 9-1-1 was not affected. He also spoke to the County Commission about his being relatively shorthanded on personnel due to COVID-19 taking some of his staff members out of action. No inmates at the Levy County Jail have tested positive, he added.
Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum on Tuesday morning (July 21) speaks about steps being taken to overcome a telephonic terrorist attack, where the phone lines were held hostage. The 9-1-1 service was never interrupted.
The analog telephone system reacted by rolling over to the next number on the series of lines at the LCSO as literally thousands of unwanted calls poured in simultaneously from a hacker. As the person conducting this federal criminal enterprise continued their venture, the LCSO worked with AT&T to create two new telephone numbers for non-emergency calls to the LCSO.
Sheriff McCallum asks anyone who needs to contact the LCSO for something other than an actual emergency to use the two NEW non-emergency phone lines. Only these two lines are operational so delays in answering may occur.
The NON-EMERGENCY lines are 352-727-2241 and 352-727-3091.
The attack on the LCSO phone system that started Thursday, Sheriff McCallum said, continues today (July 21). The “denial of service” happened when thousands of unwanted, malicious, purposefully sent calls came in, he said.
The LCSO phone bank on non-emergency calls rotates from the “5111” number to other numbers on the bank, McCallum said.
This attack took out all of the non-emergency numbers, he said. The 9-1-1 service was not impacted, except by people using that line to make calls to the LCSO that were not emergencies – because the normal non-emergency lines did not function, he said.
The sheriff got a call from the attacker, who said he was holding the phone lines ransom for $6 million.
Since Sheriff McCallum did not have $6 million handy, he worked with Levy County Emergency Management and Verizon to establish the two new non-emergency lines.
The sheriff said the county has spoken about replacing this analog phone system. Now is the time for that, he said.
Sheriff McCallum said he will be speaking with Finance Officer Jared Blanton of the Office of Levy County Clerk and Comptroller
Danny Shipp about what needs to be done regarding the method to fund a new telephone system at the LCSO, which will be more secure.
The sheriff gave an off-the-cuff estimate in the $95,000 range for the new system. Sheriff McCallum said he understands that his message today is not on the agenda for consideration, but that he is giving the County Commission information. Replacement of the telephone system, he said, is a must, nonetheless.
This capital expense is an emergency that came to be from an attack from a person who sounded like they had a middle eastern accent. Since this was an attack against a law enforcement agency in the United States, it is an active criminal case.
A company known as Secure Logic monitors phones 24-hours every day and it has been the go-to company used by the FBI after such an attack, McCallum said. A $63,000-range written quote was provided to sheriff by that company today (July 21), he said.
That is over three years with a $9,000 up-front cost, McCallum added as he spoke to the County Commission.
The sheriff said he will need help with the Voice-Over Internet system of the future telephone lines. The sheriff said he intends to return to the County Commission in the very near future as everyone works together to provide the people with a safe and reliable telephonic communication method with the LCSO.
Commissioner Nikki Fried calls
for Florida statewide order
to wear face masks By FDACS Office of Communications
Published June 25, 2020 at 4:10 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE – Today (Thursday, June 25), in response to skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, an independently-elected member of the Florida Cabinet, called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue a statewide face mask order. “With 31,299 new cases in the past week alone, Florida has emerged as a new hotspot for COVID-19,” Commissioner Fried said. “While this pandemic threatens to spiral out of control, our leadership is rushing headlong into further re-opening the state. We must take basic protective measures immediately – that’s why today, I am calling on the governor to issue a statewide order requiring masks to be worn in public places.
“This is common sense, violates no one’s liberties, and follows the lead of 18 other states like North Carolina, Kentucky, and New York,” she added. “If we’re to beat this virus together, we must all act together, with all Floridians doing their part.”
Florida has seen an explosion of new COVID-19 cases, with a record 5,508 new cases on Tuesday, and 114,018 cases overall so far.
According to reports, 42 percent of Florida’s cases have come in June alone, while the state’s positivity rate is 15.91 percent, up from 2.3 percent on May 17.
The World Health Organization has indicated a state should have a positivity rate of under 5 percent for 14 days to continue reopening, yet the governor moved to the next phase of reopening for 64 of the state’s 67 counties. As the state alters how hospitals’ Intensive Care Units availability data is reported, hospitalizations from COVID-19 are increasing.
At least 18 states have issued statewide face mask orders as far back as April 8, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Studies have shown that widespread mask usage “can dramatically reduce transmission rates if enough people wear them in public.”
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