FWC removes 12 derelict vessels
from Levy County waters
Five in the Withlacoochee River,
one in the Wacassassa River
and six from Cedar Key
Story By FWC Regional Public Information Coordinator Karen Parker
Photos By FWC
Published June 29, 2022 at 11:12 a.m.
LAKE CITY -- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced today (Wednesday, June 29) that a total of 12 derelict vessels will be removed from the waterways of Levy County.
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“I’ve been assigned to Levy County for the past 17 years and some of these vessels were here before I arrived. Seeing these derelict vessels finally removed means so much to me and my crew. I’m glad to see these go."
-- FWC Lt. Robert Johnston
There are five vessels to be removed from the Withlacoochee River, with one of those being removed on a Citrus County removal contract. Another vessel, a concrete hull shrimp boat that has been there for more than 20 years, will be taken out of the Wacassassa River. Another six derelict vessels will be removed from the waterways surrounding Cedar Key.
Work began June 21 with the removal of the “Miss Katherine,” a 38-foot shrimp boat.
“The ‘Miss Katherine’ has been derelict for several years and has been obstructing the Withlacoochee River,” explained Lt. Robert Johnston, FWC area lieutenant in Levy County.
The contractor removing the vessels is Sammy Royal with Sea Tow in Horseshoe Beach.
The DV Removal Project in Levy County is being funded by an FWC Direct Removal Project, using funding that may only be used by FWC to contract removal projects.
“We also have another program where local governments can apply for grants to remove derelict vessels. This has been exhausted for FY 21/22; however, we are now accepting local government applications for the FY 22/23 budget. This funding will be available beginning July 1 for local DV removal grants,” said Phil Horning, FWC Boating and Waterways.
Both FWC and local governments will continue to remove derelict vessels throughout the state at the same time. With both processes working simultaneously, more derelict vessels removals can occur throughout the state.
“I’ve been assigned to Levy County for the past 17 years and some of these vessels were here before I arrived,” Lt. Johnston said. “Seeing these derelict vessels finally removed means so much to me and my crew. I’m glad to see these go.”
CFEC Board votes ‘Yes’ on broadband
By Madison Redd, CFEC Communications Specialist
Published June 28, 2022 at 3:12 p.m.
CHIEFLAND – The Central Florida Electric Board of Trustees has voted to move forward with a network project to provide a fiber-based system to operate its electric equipment and to bring much-needed access to high-speed Internet service to 100 percent of its members and communities.
“Our Board of Trustees and leadership team here at CFEC have been working on this subject for some time. We have taken the time to analyze the metrics, the process, and the need. We feel like CFEC is uniquely suited to deliver this service given our knowledge of and equipment in Dixie, Gilchrist and Levy counties.”
-- CFEC General Manager Denny George
This project is a continuation of the rural electric cooperative’s commitment, which was first made 80 years ago – to improve the lives and communities of the individuals it serves. Then, it was with safe and reliable electricity and now it will be broadband too.
The cooperative will work with rural fiberoptic network design and construction management leader, Conexon, to build and operate a fiber-to-the-home network, which will deliver gigabit-speed Internet service. This is among the fastest and most robust available.
This network, too, enables the smart grid technology to improve the CFEC infrastructure. This network also will improve the ability for the electric system to “self-heal” when certain types of outages occur.
CFEC is among the first cooperatives in Florida to offer fiber-to-the-home broadband to its members, ushering in an era of world-class Internet availability, and offering new economic, educational and lifestyle benefits for the rural communities and residents that CFEC serves.
The cooperative will announce more details about the project in the coming weeks, including the timing of project initiation, roll-out and progress it plans to make.
Forum attracts 18 national, state,
circuit and county candidates
Fountain of Life Church Pastor Johnnie Jones III prepares to call people to their seats a few minutes before the start of the event, which he began promptly at 6:30 p.m. on June 24. The program lasted until 9 p.m.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © June 25, 2022 at 8:12 p.m.
WILLISTON – A forum provided Friday night (June 24) in Williston drew 18 candidates in races for national, state, circuit and county positions.
Not every candidate in every race appeared, however the two and one-half hour session offered plenty of insight into the individuals who spoke.
Sponsored by the Fountain of Life Church, which is located at 623 E. Noble Ave. (U.S. Alt. 27) in Williston, the event was held in the R. Gerald Hethcoat Community Center, which is part of the Williston City Hall Complex located at 50 N.W. Main St. in Williston.
Fountain of Life Church Pastor Johnnie Jones III served as emcee for the event, and Levy County Democratic Party Chair Gussie Boatright sent invitations and organized the event with help from others.
Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones opened the night with a plethora of information about elections in this county. She spoke after Pastor Jones welcomed everyone, and then led everyone in prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag.
Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones speaks to people at the forum in Williston on Friday night.
“This is how we have democracy,” Levy County Supervisor of Elections Jones said, “by having people run for office so that we can elect the best people that we can. Fortunately, Levy County has such great candidates seeking office.”
Jones is enthusiastic and she said with great emphasis that she is excited to conduct elections in Levy County.
Levy County Supervisor of Elections Jones stressed in no uncertain terms “Failure is not an option” as she said the mission of correctly counting every vote cast in Levy County is what is going to happen. This will be a repeat performance for her and her staff because they have succeeded year after year, election after election here.
Supervisor of Elections Jones is well known for being a stalwart supporter of veterans, of American freedom, of fair and accurate elections and of professional objectivity in performing her duties.
“I’m appreciative,” Jones continued, as she spoke about the duties entrusted to her. “I’m humbled for the opportunity. I take great pride in conducting elections. I want to make sure, at the end of the day, when the elections are over, we have fair, transparent, safe and accurate elections.”
The supervisor of elections for Levy County let everyone know that America is based on free and fair elections.
And while there can be only one winner in an election, Jones said, she will assure that every, single eligible voter in Levy County will have an equal opportunity to cast their ballot for the candidate of their choosing. And every vote will be counted correctly, Jones said, and that count will be verified.
A new machine will be used this year to assure that every vote counted is verified as having been counted correctly, Jones said.
“I want you to know that it matters,” Jones said. “I am doing it for the voters of Levy County. It doesn’t make my job any easier – I promise you.”
Levy County Supervisor of Elections Jones had a table available at the event, where she could register voters, and perform other action as the supervisor of elections.
Jones provide the brand new three versions of sample ballots for the Democratic, Republican and other “NP / Other” primary election on Aug. 23.
The supervisor of elections made an announcement that clearly made her happy that night.
A 17-year-old Levy County girl pre-registered earlier that very evening shortly before the start of the program, Jones said. Given this new voter’s birthday, she will be able to vote in the Aug. 23 primary election as her first time to vote, Jones said, because this young lady will be 18 years old before then.
The deadline to register for the Aug. 23 primary is July 25, and this 17-year-old turns 18 before that deadline.
Jones said she remembers the first time she herself voted. Voting is a precious American right, and this supervisor of elections is dedicated to preservation of that freedom.
One thing Jones wants for all voters is a good experience when they vote, as well as when they have interactions with her office.
She wants people who seek vote-by-mail opportunities, or when they register to vote by coming into the office in Bronson, or when they do anything with her office, that they feel welcome and that it is a good experience for them.
Jones concedes that she cannot guarantee 100 percent that this is going to happen for every single person, every time, but that is the goal.
Jones has been involved in elections for 28 years. She said that while some people might think the 2020 election was tough, she sees the 2018 election as being more difficult for her and her staff.
“We had three state recounts,” Jones said. “So we literally had the governor’s race, the U.S. Senate race and the (Commissioner of) Agriculture race, where we had to literally put through (every ballot card) every machine to verify and double-check the votes.”
Jones said the machines in Levy County are very accurate. The 2018 election was successful. As an expression of the work that team completed, she said, they took a picture of everybody lying on the ground to show how exhausted they were.
“That was a good sign,” she said, “because we made it. I am going to be working hard for you. I am going to be working as many hours as I have to. I enjoy what I do. My husband may not enjoy me working so much.”
She said her husband understands how committed she is to her responsibilities as the Levy County Supervisor of Elections.
“I just want you to know,” Jones said, “we are going to have fair elections. I don’t care who you are or what you are running for, you can depend on a fair election in Levy County. I’m going to make sure of that.”
Jones said she will assure that all machines are tested properly. She will make sure that every person on her staff does the best job they can.
She thanked Pastor Jones and Democratic Party Chair Boatright for everything they do in the community, including having this event.
Jones shared with listeners that it was 5 p.m. on that very evening that her office was given certification of the ballots.
These are the official names of candidates that voters will see on the ballots. She mentioned to listeners Friday night that she will be working Saturday and Sunday to assure material reaches printers so that they go out in the mail on time.
She encouraged listeners to become poll workers or become poll watchers.
“I’ll tell you poll watchers are my friends, too,” Jones said. “You are Levy County voters. Don’t hesitate this year to work with your party and your candidates and be a poll watcher.”
She mentioned that all of the poll workers have been hired for the primary election on Aug. 23.
By having open, transparent elections, Jones said she believes Levy County will shine. She and her staff members are working diligently to assure elections are fair and accurate, Jones said.
Williston CRA is winning
the fight against blight
Williston CRA Chairman Nick Williams announces construction and other improvements to improve the blighted area across the street from City Hall. That stretch of dilapidated buildings has been an eyesore in downtown Williston for many years now.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © June 23, 2022 at 3:12 p.m.
WILLISTON – The five members of the Williston City Council, Williston Mayor Charles Goodman and others heard Tuesday night (June 21) about the biggest project ever attempted by the Williston Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), since its creation on March 16, 1999.
The two photos above are from the graphics that were brought to City Hall for the meeting to show some of an artist's conception of the future for this part of the city.
(from left) Williston City Manager Jackie Gorman, Deputy City Manager and HR Director Deanna Nelson and Williston City Attorney Kiersten Ballou are among the appointed municipal staff who assure this easternmost Levy County city continues its high standard of living and quality of life for residents and visitors.
Moments before the start of the June 21 meeting Williston City Planner Laura Jones is seen as she sits ready for the event. Jones is a vital part of the team seeking to continue progressing in the city with growth, while maintaining the appeal of this quaint city.
Williston City Council Vice President Marguerite Robinson and City Councilman Michael Cox prepare to perform their local legislative duties on June 21.
Williston Mayor Charles Goodman and Williston City Council President Debra Jones agree to a photo op just before the start of the regular twice-monthly meeting of this municipal government body.
City Councilman Zach Bullock, the newest member of this City Council, prepares for the start of the meeting Tuesday night.
City Councilman Elihu Ross, one of the statesmen who serves his constituents as he has for several years, is seen moments after casting his first vote of the evening on June 21.
Williston CRA Chairman Nick Williams announced improvements for almost every part of the structures right across Main Street (State Road 121) from City Hall.
It has taken many years for the CRA to address blight conditions in the center of Williston’s downtown area, Williams said. Improving blighted conditions to help communities is among the reasons the Florida Legislature many years ago created the CRA option for municipalities, and other political subdivisions of the state. Ridding areas of slum conditions is another driving force for the CRAs of Florida.
Williams let listeners know it took years for the CRA to buy the property to improve it.
“We also purchased, for demolition, buildings that had been sitting there – unused – in a state of decay, for perhaps half a century or more,” Williams said.
The work before the actual construction began includes decades of efforts by CRA volunteers and city staff.
The arcade walk-through area from the sidewalks on Main Street going into the structure is among the parts being improved in this project where Walker Architects designed the improvements and Oelrich Construction is making those architectural concepts become a reality.
This arcade will serve as a gateway to the existing businesses on Main Street, Williams said, and it ideally will provide a better environment for new business interests.
Williams said all of the construction will be completed within the next few months, when he was asked outside of the meeting room to define “soon” on the graphic posters that showed “Opening Soon.”
The Williston CRA Vision Statement notes “The goal of the Williston Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is to revitalize business and residential sections within the downtown area. By suggesting improvements intended to preserve and enhance downtown Williston, the CRA envisions a town that is visually attractive and welcoming to visitors and those who live in the surrounding countryside. The CRA plan will ensure the safety and enjoyment of all pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists, while at the same time maintaining a town of diversity and interest. Williston will be appealing for its services, as well as cultural, educational and health facilities, maintaining what is best about our town, physically and spiritually.”
During the meeting Tuesday night (June 21), Williams spoke about the scope of the work that has started on this huge project in Block 12, one of the places in the city designated as suffering from blight.
During the May 9 meeting of the CRA, Chairman Williams said, Oelrich Construction was approved for construction and renovation of the arcade, the building that used to be a Coca-Cola bottling plant (from the early 1900s), as well as the replacement of awnings, painting and repairs of five storefront on Main Street.
The awning replacements and façade work will not include the buildings, along that stretch, on the southern corner of Noble Avenue (U.S. Alt. 27), nor at the northern end of that city block, he said, as a result of the property owners for those buildings refusing to cooperate with the CRA efforts to end blight conditions on that city block.
The City of Williston Public Works Department completed some of the demolition work on this project, Williams said, saving the city a significant amount of money on the project. Among the many existing things being removed are seven large palm trees, Williams said.
There will be four skylights in the arcade that is being built, he said. An opportunity will exist for artwork in the future on both sides of the hallway of that arcade, he said. Both ends of the arcade hallway will have decorative gates, he added.
There will be a space created in this project for a passive park for outdoor gatherings, Williams said. In the future, there may be a stage and movie screen added to that park part of this project, he added.
As for the question on some business-owners’ minds, the parking lot to the east of this set of structures will be improved. That is set to start next year, Williams said, adding that the revitalization of the stores jumped in front of the projects planned as a result of problems with planning, designing and starting the work needed to complete that parking lot.
A five-year permit that had been acquired from the Southwest Florida Water Management District expired, he said. That had to be renewed. An attempt for supplemental funding did not succeed, he added. There may be grant funding now, Williams said, for paving the parking lot. Also, by working with the city’s utility department, this project is being set for next year.
In the meantime, the existing parking lot is functional, and businesses such as Back Door Antiques and Gifts have customers who use it now. After the Florida Department of Transportation removed on-street parking on Noble Avenue and almost all of Main Street, business interests like Back Door Antiques had customers finding new places to park.
The antique and gift shop has a back door main entrance as a result of the FDOT actions from years ago – hence, its name Back Door Antiques and Gifts.
Among the other actions and informational items on Tuesday evening, Williston City Manager Jackie Gorman and City Planner Laura Jones announced the city is getting a $500,000 grant to improve Cornelius Williams Park.
The mayor and City Council recognized Christy Richardson and Alex Rodriguez for earning their licenses in regard to natural gas utility services in the city.
Williston Fire Chief Lamar Stegall received a unanimous vote from the City Council for the city to buy a 2022 Dodge Sierra Brush Truck to replace the Williston Fire Rescue (WFR) Brush Truck that is being retired.
Williston City Attorney Kiersten Ballou said that the City Council foregoing its three-bid requirement for this relatively big purchase is justified by the immediate need for this emergency services vehicle.
The fire chief said that by replacing the outgoing truck in this timely manner, the city maintains its ISO rating that affects property insurance rates in the city, by showing the level of fire service available in Williston is continuing rather than declining by what would have been the loss of one firefighting vehicle.
In other WFR news, Chief Stegall said the new extrication equipment the Fire Department obtained is working as expected, and it had a first-use just recently as WFR personnel put it to work to help people in need. He thanked City Council for its help in obtaining the lifesaving equipment.
And, while there were many other actions and announcements, City Manager Gorman shared that the quarterly newsletter from the city will be going to the utility customers with their next billing statement.
Publisher overcomes most obstacles
to start candidate questions
By Jeff M. Hardison © June 21, 2022 at 10:12 a.m.
JEMLANDS – Multiple award-winning journalist Jeff M. Hardison, a former daily newspaper editor, weekly newspaper editor, daily newspaper reporter and weekly newspaper reporter who became the publisher of the now 12-year-old HardisonInk.com, has sent out the first questions to candidates in the Aug. 23 races.
“The first four candidates who are going to be replying, if they want, and providing photos of themselves are Sean Brewer, AuBroncee Starlin Martin, Nathan Andrew Skop and Dan Weisman, who are the four qualified candidates seeking to be elected as circuit court judge in the Eighth Judicial Circuit.”
The publisher said some races require the candidates to receive email at a location other than where they work, like in the Florida House of Representatives of Florida Senate.
“I am having a tiny bit of difficulty finding email addresses for local candidates in Gilchrist County,” Hardison said. “Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones and Dixie County Supervisor of Elections Starlet Cannon have helped me find emails for Levy County and Gilchrist County candidates and some other federal and state candidates, for whom Levy County voters will vote. The Office of Gilchrist County Supervisor of Elections Connie Sanchez has helped me find some local candidates' emails and phone numbers."
The publisher said other than some work he must complete to find a very few emails for Gilchrist County candidates, the single state candidate so far who may not have an email address is State Senate District 3 (Dixie, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Suwannee, Taylor and Wakulla counties) candidate Corey Simon (R-Tallahassee).
“I have a telephone number for Mr. Simon,” Hardison said, “and I reached out to the Republicans of Leon County to help me obtain an email address for him. This guy is a former college and professional football player as best as I can tell, so far. That race won’t be decided until November because both he and his opponent in the race have no opposition in the Aug. 23 primary.”
The publisher said he is sending questions first to candidates whose races are decided in the Aug. 23 vote, including the candidates in Florida House of Representatives and Florida Senate.
“I’m not going to attempt to contact the many candidates in primaries for governor and federal posts,” Hardison said. “After the primaries, I may venture into those races for helping people see some things about those candidates.
“As for non-responding candidates, or candidates with no email, I will note that, too,” he continued. “I may call a couple of them on the phone, because I’m all about helping the people who are unable to read English, or to have an email, etc., as best as I can within the limits of my meager resources. And there can be follow-up stories after they answer these initial questions. We’ll see where serendipity, and fate, and all that take this search for answers to help voters goes.”
Juneteenth Celebrated In Chiefland
Cecilia Jones (left) and Alice Monyei are seen near the start of the Third Annual Chiefland Juneteenth Celebration at Eddie Buie Park on Saturday (June 18). To See More Photos And The Story, Go To The LIFE PAGE.
Photo By Jeff M. Hardison © June 18, 2022 at 4:12 p.m.
USA hits one million COVID-19 deaths
Dixie County has lowest
COVID-19 rate in Tri-County Area
This graphic created by the CDC shows trends and total numbers in the United States.
Graphic From CDC Tracker
By Jeff M. Hardison © June 18, 2022 at 9:12 a.m.
JEMLANDS -- From the Code Orange Office inside The Ink Pad, located in the unrecorded subdivision known as Jemlands in the unincorporated area of Levy County, about three miles west of the intersection of State Road 345 and Levy County Road 347, using a computer to connect to the Internet today (Saturday, June 18), data retrieved from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), reflects that the United States and the rest of the world continue coping with the global COVID-19 pandemic as of today. The number of humans in the United States of America who have been recorded as having died as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic as of June 17, reached in excess of one million and there have been 86 million Americans detected with COVID-19 so far in the past three years, according to Johns Hopkins University.
As far as the percentages of people who are in the United States and who are eligible for vaccinations, currently, 66.7 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, and 46.9 percent of vaccinated people have received booster doses, according to data from the CDC.
The FDOH provides information 24-hours-day, which includes updates two times a week of COVID-19 data. The FDOH site is able to be reached by going to https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/.
The CDC has information to show daily the number of deaths and much more information to help individuals as they make personal health decisions related to COVID-19. That resource is able to be visited by clicking HERE. There are days when the CDC tracker is not updated. Saturday through Monday (June 18-20), the tracker is not being updated.
A news organization known as Stacker compiled a list of the counties with highest COVID-19 infection rates in Florida using data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and vaccination data from Covid Act Now.
Founded in 2017, Stacker combines data analysis with rich editorial context, drawing on authoritative sources and subject matter experts to drive storytelling.
In the Stacker story about the 50 most infected Florida counties, counties are ranked by the highest infection rate per 100,000 residents within the week leading up to June 15.
As of the June 16 report from Stacker, based on population, the local counties in the Tri-County Area of the top 50 of 67 Florida counties are noted below, with the most infected to least infected rankings.
Dixie County is noted to not even be among the top 50 of 67 counties in regard to COVID-19, according to the Stacker story.
#7. Alachua County
- New cases per 100,000 people in the past week: 341 (917 new cases, +4 percent change from previous week) - Cumulative cases per 100,000 people: 27,045 (72,764 total cases) --- 6.8 percent less cases per 100,000 people residents than Florida - Cumulative deaths per 100,000 people: 250 (673 total deaths) --- 28.2 percent less deaths per 100,000 people residents than Florida - Population that is fully vaccinated: 66.8 percent (179,843 fully vaccinated)
#31. Citrus County
- New cases per 100,000 people in the past week: 240 (359 new cases, +13 percent change from previous week) - Cumulative cases per 100,000 people: 21,033 (31,477 total cases) --- 27.6 percent less cases per 100,000 people residents than Florida - Cumulative deaths per 100,000 people: 658 (984 total deaths) --- 89.1 percent more deaths per 100,000 people residents than Florida - Population that is fully vaccinated: 56.8 percent (85,033 fully vaccinated)
#32. Lafayette County
- New cases per 100,000 people in the past week: 237 (20 new cases, +122 percent change from previous week) - Cumulative cases per 100,000 people: 33,436 (2,816 total cases) --- 15.2 percent more cases per 100,000 people residents than Florida - Cumulative deaths per 100,000 people: 724 (61 total deaths) --- 108.0 percent more deaths per 100,000 people residents than Florida - Population that is fully vaccinated: 39.7 percent (3,340 fully vaccinated)
#41. Marion County
- New cases per 100,000 people in the past week: 215 (787 new cases, +19 percent change from previous week) - Cumulative cases per 100,000 people: 23,781 (86,938 total cases) --- 18.1 percent less cases per 100,000 people residents than Florida - Cumulative deaths per 100,000 people: 583 (2,132 total deaths) --- 67.5 percent more deaths per 100,000 people residents than Florida - Population that is fully vaccinated: 57.4 percent (209,674 fully vaccinated)
#42. Levy County
- New cases per 100,000 people in the past week: 205 (85 new cases, +12 percent change from previous week) - Cumulative cases per 100,000 people: 25,413 (10,547 total cases) --- 12.5 percent less cases per 100,000 people residents than Florida - Cumulative deaths per 100,000 people: 410 (170 total deaths) --- 17.8 percent more deaths per 100,000 people residents than Florida - Population that is fully vaccinated: 47.6 percent (19,748 fully vaccinated)
#46. Gilchrist County
- New cases per 100,000 people in the past week: 183 (34 new cases, +21 percent change from previous week) - Cumulative cases per 100,000 people: 25,083 (4,661 total cases) --- 13.6 percent less cases per 100,000 people residents than Florida - Cumulative deaths per 100,000 people: 506 (94 total deaths) --- 45.4 percent more deaths per 100,000 people residents than Florida - Population that is fully vaccinated: 36.9 percent (6,861 fully vaccinated)
Among the sets of information from the FDOH is an answer to the question “How can I prevent COVID-19?”
The FDOH notes, “The best way to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death is to get vaccinated. You should also avoid being exposed to the virus (and avoid exposing other people). You can also prevent illness by practicing tried and true public health mitigation measures.”
Exclusive First On HardisonInk.com
Dixie County commissioner
to plead for mercy
for convicted county attorney
By Jeff M. Hardison © June 17, 2022 at 6:12 a.m.
OLD TOWN – Dixie County Commissioner Mark Hatch last night (Thursday, June 16) received a 4-0 vote of approval to travel to Jacksonville this morning (Friday, June 17) to plead with the United States Middle District (federal) Court for some leniency for the Dixie County Attorney, so that the county attorney can tend to some government legal issues in Dixie County. Dixie County Commissioner Jody Stephenson made the motion, which was seconded by Dixie County Commission Vice Chairman W.C. Mills to allow Commissioner Hatch to ask the court for some time before the county attorney is put in federal prison.
County Commission Chairman Jamie Story voted in favor of the motion as did Commissioner Hatch, who had made the request of his colleagues to go to Jacksonville. Dixie County Commissioner James Valentine was absent for about 90 percent of the meeting that night, coming in near the end of the meeting.
Hatch told the other three members of the County Commission present during that part of the meeting last night that he had received a call from Dixie County Attorney M. Michael O’Steen asking for a representative of the County Commission to present to the federal court a plea for O’Steen to have some time to get his legal work in order for a smoother transition to the time when another attorney will be named as the interim attorney to represent matters on behalf of the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners
Dixie County Attorney O’Steen has continued to represent the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners while he was free on bail after being indicted about a year and a half ago for some federal criminal offenses. The County Commission apparently took no prior action to prepare for the potential conviction of O’Steen on federal felony charges.
On Wednesday, a jury decided the federal government proved beyond and to the exclusion of reasonable doubt that O’Steen was guilty of one federal felony and one federal misdemeanor, according to court records. (Please see related story below, published yesterday).
Taylor County Attorney Conrad C. Bishop Jr. sat as the substitute county attorney for one night Thursday night in the County Commission held in Old Town, according to what he said at that meeting. Bishop intimated during the regular twice-monthly meeting of the Dixie County Commission the Florida Bar generally suspends or even permanently revokes the right of a Florida attorney to practice law relatively soon after that attorney is convicted of a felony.
Bishop said he was called at the last minute to assist the Dixie County Commission Thursday evening, because most involved in observing the federal criminal trial of O’Steen presumed the trial, including the time the jury would deliberate, would last through today (Friday, June 17).
Attorney Chana M. Watson of Cross City is the heir apparent to take the post that O’Steen probably must surrender if the Florida Bar takes away his ability to practice law in Florida. She was present for part of the meeting Thursday.
It can be one to three months before a federal judge sentences O’Steen after the jury ruled he is guilty of interference with commerce by extortion, and as a subset -- guilty of both extortion and extortion under color of official right; as well as being guilty of failure to file Form 8300 as required by law. (The law requires that trades and businesses report cash payments of more than $10,000 to the federal government by filing IRS/FinCEN Form 8300.)
During his request for approval from the other commissioners for him to go to Jacksonville as the representative of the County Commission, Commissioner Hatch said he felt that O’Steen had done an excellent job representing the county during the previous five years.
For more coverage of the complete meeting of the Dixie County Commission from Thursday night (June 16), including a follow-up of whether the clock in the Dixie County School Board’s meeting room in Old Town had batteries added, as long as two weeks after that shortcoming was first published in HardisonInk.com, please continue checking the daily news website.
Click HERE to receive alerts of new stories published on the award-winning daily news website.
O’Steen ruled guilty on two counts,
acquitted on two counts
By Jeff M. Hardison © June 16, 2022 at 4:12 p.m.
JACKSONVILLE – A jury on July 15 ruled that attorney M. Michael O’Steen of Dixie County was guilty of 50 percent of the four counts of federal laws that the government accused him of having violated in conjunction with a former Third Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeffrey Siegmeister, according to federal court records checked on June 16.
The jury determined after being presented with facts and evidence and applying the federal laws, ruled O’Steen was:
● Not guilty of conspiracy to use a facility of interstate commerce for unlawful activity.
● Not guilty of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by extortion.
● Guilty of interference with commerce by extortion, and as a subset -- guilty of both extortion and extortion under color of official right.
● Guilty of failure to file Form 8300 as required by law. (The law requires that trades and businesses report cash payments of more than $10,000 to the federal government by filing IRS/FinCEN Form 8300.)
Federal court records show the above and that O'Steen was represented by attorney Mitchell A. Stone on this date and others during the course of these actions.
The United States was represented by United States Attorney Kelly Karase and other federal prosecutors during the course of these actions.
Having not traveled to Jacksonville to watch the trial, this is the extent of information available so far.
To read a June of 2021 published stories about this matter, click HERE.
State agency shows plans
for Internet service improvement
This map from the March of 2021 survey, shows Lafayette County as the only one of Florida’s 67 counties where no person noted they lived as they answered questions about the Availability and Accessibility of Broadband Internet in Florida.
Graphic Created By Florida Department of Economic Opportunity
By Jeff M. Hardison © June 16, 2022 at 10:12 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE – A request from HardisonInk.com for more information about the effort to improve Internet service in Florida, and if fiberoptic cable was the lone method for “broadband,” resulted in Leigh McGowan, the press secretary for the Office of Communications and External Affairs in the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), providing information to help the public better understand the state government's role in this endeavor.
Additionally, the DEO is in the final stages of developing Florida’s Strategic Plan for Broadband to increase and improve the availability of, access to, and use of broadband Internet service in the state. The Strategic Plan is due to the Governor and the Florida Legislature on June 30, 2022.
-- Leigh McGowan, the press secretary for the Office of Communications and External Affairs in the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity
A June 2 request to DEO Office of Broadband Director Katie Smith brought the June 15 response from the press secretary who provided answers to many questions as well as offering resources for use by the general public.
The DEO partners with federal, state, local and private organizations and businesses to gain insights and opportunities for expansion of current and future broadband services for Florida residents, specifically in small and rural communities, McGowan noted.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), broadband can be provided over different platforms, including digital subscriber line (DSL), cable modem, fiber (fiberoptic lines), wireless and satellite. Additional information on broadband is available on the FCC website.
That FCC website can be visited by clicking HERE. https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/getting-broadband-qa
The DEO is implementing several initiatives, including the facilitation of Local Technology Planning Teams and the development of Florida’s Broadband Availability Map, to identify existing needs and bring Florida’s communities up to speed, McGowan said.
The Levy County Local Technology Planning Team has met three times so far. Every county in Florida has an LTPT, and the urban counties have shown more progress in moving more quickly toward obtaining grants and forming plans to overcome Internet service shortfalls in those parts of Florida, according to information shared during a discussion at the Levy County LTPT meeting on June 2 in Bronson.
The Florida Legislature directed the DEO to build and facilitate Local Technology Planning Teams, McGowan said, representing the many economic sectors in Florida communities, as part of the state’s efforts to further involve communities in the state’s broadband planning process, McGowan said.
Local Technology Planning Teams, along with the DEO, work on county or regional levels to gain insight on their current broadband availability, locate unserved and underserved businesses and residents, identify assets relevant to broadband deployment, build partnerships with broadband service providers, and identify opportunities to leverage assets and reduce barriers to the deployment of broadband internet services in their communities, McGowan said.
More information about the resources that the DEO has made available to Local Technology Planning Teams across the state can be seen by clicking HERE.
The DEO has developed Florida’s Broadband Availability Map to identify a location’s speed, connectivity, and access to broadband services, McGowan said.
This map is further developed through the state’s one-minute, anonymous Internet Speed Test, which helps to better identify unserved and underserved areas of the state. Results from the speed test populate the map in real time, and can assist local communities and internet service providers with broadband planning efforts, McGowan said.
Additionally, the DEO is in the final stages of developing Florida’s Strategic Plan for Broadband to increase and improve the availability of, access to, and use of broadband Internet service in the state. The Strategic Plan is due to the Governor and the Florida Legislature on June 30, 2022, McGowan said.
Previously, McGowan said, the DEO conducted a survey on the Availability and Accessibility of Broadband Internet in Florida. The results of that survey can be found by clicking HERE.
Those results from March of 2021 show Lafayette County was the only one of 67 Florida counties with zero responses. From the Tri-County Area, Dixie County had more responses than Levy County and Levy County had more responses than Gilchrist County.
To view DEO’s Broadband Availability Map, Take the Speed Test, or to stay up to date on new information regarding the Office of Broadband, click HERE.
To see the June 2 story in HardisonInk.com and to see photos about that third meeting of the Levy County Local Technology Planning Team click HERE.
Publisher starts process
for candidate questions
10 weeks remain
before vote decides
final outcome in many races
By Jeff M. Hardison © June 14, 2022 at 12:12 p.m.
JEMLANDS – HardisonInk.com publisher and sole proprietor Jeff M. Hardison has started the process to seek answers from candidates in races for Florida House of Representatives and Florida Senate for residents of Levy County, Dixie County and Gilchrist County; Eighth Judicial Circuit and Third Judicial Circuit candidates; Levy County Property Appraiser; and County Commissions and School Boards for Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties.
“Most people don’t care how the sausage is made,” Hardison said. “They just want to cook it and enjoy it with breakfast or some other meal. However, I am providing this story, right here and now, for some candidates to notice, as well as to help people have an idea of what is planned for publication relatively soon”
The publisher said the deaths of Levy County Commissioner Mike Joyner and Levy County Property Appraiser Osborn “Oz” Barker, and the governor’s choice not to replace them, caused a couple of short-term races to be opened and then decided on Aug. 23.
Added to that, the choice of the honorable Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Monica J. Brasington to not seek reelection has brought another race into the field to be decided Aug. 23. This is a unique race, because very often circuit court judges are relatively easily reelected, he said.
“The single most important thing I want potential voters to see in this story,” the multiple award-winning journalist said, “is that the deadline to register or change party affiliation for the Aug. 23 primary election is July 25. The second most important message is that the Aug. 23 election will be the only election to choose which person is elected in several races not matter what political party you are registered as.”
The 66-year-old Florida native said the first obstacle he faced was finding an email address for every candidate.
“My guess is that Brandon Peters and Chuck Clemons,” Hardison said, “are the probable Democrat and Republican candidates respectively who will win the primary election on Aug. 23 for Florida House of Representatives District 22. They both responded to an email request I sent to various email addresses to find the best one to send them questions.
“Both of those candidates personally responded within hours of me sending an email last night,” the University of Florida, College of Journalism and Communications graduate said. “Eva Olysha Magruder (D-Gainesville), another candidate in this race, indirectly sent me the correct email after I filled out a form on her political campaign website. Tayari Amie Appiah (R-Bronson) has not contacted me although I filled out a questionnaire on his website the same night I sought information from Peters, Clemons and Magruder. I also hand-delivered my business card to Appiah’s wife at the Chiefland Watermelon Festival and asked her to request her husband to send me an email to contact him.
“I am not going to detail other obstacles I am overcoming to communicate with these and other candidates,” the writer continued. “Elections are not decided by a candidate’s ability to communicate with his or her constituents. I really can never call an election. I may be betting on a Clemons-Peters faceoff in November, but it could be a Magruder-Appiah contest, or the other varieties of those candidates’ winning in August, which will lead to the choices in November.”
All four candidates for Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge, Group 12 position have qualified, as of a review of state records on Monday night (June 13).
Appiah, Clemons, Magruder and Peters were listed as “active” last night, which is the listing before being listed as “qualified.”
Qualifying for county and state races is set for yesterday (Monday, June 13) at noon until Friday (June 17) at noon.
PLAN FOR COVERAGE
As for planned preliminary coverage of the races via HardisonInk.com, each candidate in each race will be sent questions from the journalist in an email. A deadline will be provided to the candidates to reply. Candidates will reply or just be noted as “non-responsive” if they fail to meet the deadline.
The journalist said he plans to have the answers from the candidates published in time for the people who practice early voting to have that information to consider before they cast their votes.
“If a candidate waits to read what another candidate writes, and then apologizes for not meeting a deadline and sends his or her answers, then his or her answers will not overcome the non-responsive tag they earned earlier,” Hardison said. “Some voters will have made up their minds even before seeing word one from a candidate. I’m just going to do what I can to help the people who are responsible enough to have registered and then to actually vote. I know I am writing for a minority of the population. I am an American journalist. This is something I believe is the best thing to do.”
The publisher said he is not going to attempt to interview candidates for the United States House of Representatives, the United States Senate, governor or other offices before the primaries, due to the volume of candidates in those races.
After the primaries, those candidates may see an email from the publisher to help readers see how they respond to questions.
“I have interviewed many high-ranking candidates before,” Hardison said, “including Jeb Bush, Bob Martinez, Kenneth Hood "Buddy" MacKay Jr. and others as they ran for election or reelection. I interviewed Adam Putnam when he first ran for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, and I have interviewed other city, county, judicial circuit, state and federal candidates and officeholders.
“There is no way for me to predict what I will be able to do to help voters after the Aug. 23 choices; so, the best method I can give to readers, viewers and listeners (yes, the videos have audio on HardisonInk.com) is to just keep watching this 12-year-old daily news website, which does not charge a subscription fee,” he added.
Commander John Caddigan
honored by United States Coast Guard
John Caddigan, commander for the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Division 15, Station Yankeetown, Sector St. Petersburg, is seen holding his most recently presented awards, The Auxiliarist of the Quarter, Outstanding Auxiliarist Plaque and a challenge coin from Station Yankeetown and a challenge coin from Sector St Petersburg.
By Jeff M. Hardison © June 10, 2022 at 4:12 p.m.
ST. PETERSBURG – The United States Coast Guard honored the commander for USCG Auxiliary Division 15, Station Yankeetown, Sector St. Petersburg recently. United States Coast Guard Capt. M.A. Thompson, the USCG commander of Sector St. Petersburg, noted that Commander John Caddigan was selected as Sector St. Petersburg's Auxiliarist of the Quarter (AOQ) for the first quarter, Fiscal Year 2022, in a letter dated Jan. 25, 2022.
“I note with pride and am pleased to announce your selection as Sector St. Petersburg's Auxiliarist of the Quarter (AOQ) for the first quarter, Fiscal Year 2022,” Capt. Thompson wrote to Cmdr. Caddigan.
Capt. Thompson noted that during the previous three months, Caddigan had “consistently demonstrated your incredible and steadfast subject matter expertise and dedication to Division 15, Station Yankeetown and Sector St. Petersburg. Your efficiency in boating safety education and willingness to train and assist others has been a fixed point around which the Auxiliary has operated as we continue to serve the American public.
“Your efforts in disseminating the boating safety message were evident through 17 press releases and social media posts,” the captain continued, “the distribution of over 1,200 boating safety books and brochures, and over 30 advertisement signs around town, including an electric roadway sign displaying ‘Life Jackets Saves Lives. Wear It!’ This was instrumental in ensuring local mariners remained safe on the water.”
Caddigan’s dedication and judgment were demonstrated through his involvement in community outreach, too, Capt. Thompson noted.
“During the quarter you conducted nearly 100 vessel safety checks, 34 of which were performed in the Cedar Key area,” Thompson wrote. “In addition, you presented a safe boating course to Cedar Key High School students participating in the University of Florida's SALT program, a two-year certification program focused on preparing students to enter the clamming industry.”
Caddigan’s ability to work around obstacles was noted in the document showing why the commander earned the recognition.
“Facing COVID-I9 restrictions,” Capt. Thompson wrote, “that kept you from presenting to the students in the physical classroom, you quickly adapted to using virtual presentations to ensure students met their training requirements and were well educated on safe boating practices.”
Capt. Thompson, the United States Coat Guard commander of Sector St. Petersburg, thanked USCG Auxiliary Cmdr. Caddigan for all that Caddigan does for the Coast Guard Auxiliary and for Sector St. Petersburg.
“Your significant contributions towards the safety of life at sea, to your shipmates at Station Yankeetown, and the boating public are well beyond our expectations. Your commitment to Team St Pete serves as an inspiration to us all,” Capt. Thompson noted in conclusion of his letter noting the award.
Willow Sink returns
as a voting place in Levy County
Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones tells the four member County Commission about reverting Precinct 5 back to being active.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © June 8, 2022 at 8:12 p.m.
BRONSON – The four members of the Levy County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday morning (June 7) agreed to restore a voting precinct to an active state.
Levy County voters qualified to use the Precinct 5 Willow Sink facility at 6731 N.W. 100th St. (State Road 345), in Chiefland, near to Barnhill Landscaping, will be able to vote there at the Aug. 23 primary election.
On July 21, 2020, Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones recommended, and the County Commission agreed to move Precinct 5 to the Tommy Usher Community Center, 506 S.W. Fourth Ave. (State Road 345), in Chiefland.
This action was due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the space limitations at Precinct 5.
During both the 2020 Primary and 2020 General Election, both Precinct 5 and Precinct 13 voted at the Tommy Usher Community Center (which is also known as the Tommy Usher Pineland Center).
Levy County Construction and Maintenance Department Director Jimmy Jones is working with his team to complete the project before the Aug. 23 primary election. He is seen here during the June 7 meeting.
On June 4, 2019, the County Commission approved $15,000 in Capital Reserves to make the necessary improvements at Precinct 5 Willow Sink, but there were delays adding on to the building due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, as well as the cost of materials.
The Levy County Construction and Maintenance Department, with Director Jimmy Jones, is currently overseeing the Precinct 5 project to provide enough room to accommodate the voters and efficient ADA accessibility. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
Levy County leases the Willow Sink property from the Usher Family Trust, according to records, and the trustees have agreed to the lease.
Supervisor of Elections Jones said she is sending every Levy County voter a new voter identification card due to redistricting. She hopes every voter will look at their card to see where they vote.
In other action the County Commission voted 4-0 to approve the following:
● A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with LIUNA Local 630.
● A request for the Levy County Board of County Commissioners’ approval of Resolution 2022-26 amending the final budget for fiscal year 2021-2022 in the amount of $692.
● A requesting for the County Commission’s approval of Resolution 2022-27 approving application for a resilient Florida Planning Grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; providing direction and authorization to the County Coordinator or designee; and providing an effective date.
Business owner warns about Google
search results producing scammer bait
Screen capture shows the results from using the Google search engine for ‘Towing In Chiefland.’ The phone number here is a phishing device. Do not call this one to get a tow. The actual numbers to call for Tri-County Towing & Recovery are 352-493-1818 or 352-498-5401.
Screen Capture On Monday Night (June 6)
By Jeff M. Hardison © June 6, 2022 at 11:12 p.m.
OKEECHOBEE – A man who said is name is Victor David and who claimed to live in the City of Okeechobee and who alleged that he is “working from home” answered when the telephone number 352-268-1491 was called at 8:41 p.m. on Monday (June 6).
That is the number that Google presents as the first pick for “towing in Chiefland.”
The owner of Tri-County Towing & Recovery said she discovered people using her company’s name under a Google search listing when a person types “Towing In Chiefland” are being misled and falling prey to fraud.
She discovered this after people who were defrauded called the correct telephone number of her business and told her what happened, seeking recompense from the actual business. She said those people had to stop the credit cards they had and get new credit cards after the thieves stole from them.
The actual numbers to call for Tri-County Towing & Recovery are 352-493-1818 or 352-498-5401.
People who call the “268” number will be put on hold. Then they told they are being tape-recorded, and then have a person answer the phone “24-7 Towing.”
Clicking on the Google “reviews” for this fake listing of Tri-County Towing and Recovery shows the writers do not have English as a first language. It also shows five of the 15 reviews happen within an hour, another sign that they are part of a counterfeit effort to trick people.
The difference between this person or persons who reportedly is or are working out of his home “in the City of Okeechobee” is that Tri-County Towing & Recovery will not ask for a driver’s license number or a credit card number over the phone. The real company will accept the credit card number when they arrive to provide towing or recovery services.
The company owner said Google told her it refuses to correct the listing it has when this search comes up, until a court action forces it to do so.
Levy County and Florida law enforcement agencies reportedly have been informed of this phishing scam to get credit card numbers and driver’s license numbers.
The single best law enforcement agency to use if fraud is committed against a person by using the Internet is the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
As noted by the FBI -- On the Internet: Be Cautious When Connected
“Everyday tasks—opening an email attachment, following a link in a text message, making an online purchase—can open you up to online criminals who want to harm your systems or steal from you. Preventing Internet-enabled crimes and cyber intrusions requires each of us to be aware and on guard,” the FBI notes on its page related to Internet-oriented crime.
See scams and safety tips by clicking HERE.
As noted on that website -- If You are a Victim, File a Report with IC3.
If you are the victim of an online or internet-enabled crime, file a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) as soon as possible.
Crime reports are used for investigative and intelligence purposes. Rapid reporting can also help support the recovery of lost funds.
Visit ic3.gov for more information, including tips and information about current crime trends.
Learn about other common scams and crimes by going HERE.
The owner of Tri-County Towing and Recovery wants everyone to become aware that there are criminals committing fraud by luring customers by using company names to steal. She said every company owner may want to look up their own Google listings to see if their name is being used to trick people into calling some telephone number that is not connected to their company, even though Google shows it that way.
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