MONDAY  JAN. 24  9:11 a.m.  Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties



Williston City Hall hit by COVID-19, again
City Charter may be revised
Clerk evaluation set
Young Eagles Flights

City of Williston Florida
City Planner Laura Jones is seen before the start of the City Council meeting Tuesday evening. The meeting began about 10 minutes late due to technical problems.

Story and Photos 
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 19, 2021 at
Some Williston City government employees who work in City Hall tested positive for COVID-19, causing visitors for the Tuesday night (Jan. 18) meeting of City Council to see a paper sign warning that Williston City Hall has again become a hotbed for COVID-19, again.

City of Williston Florida
Marvin Johnson, a barbershop owner whose business is near to Back Door Antiques, noted his appreciation for the city workers grading some potholes in the public parking lot behind those businesses. He personally thanked Williston Director of Utilities Jonathen Bishop for the improved parking lot.

City of Williston Florida
Cammeron Smith speaks to the City Council about wanting central sewer service after voluntarily annexing into the city some years ago. He learned Tuesday night that the main sewer line that would connect his home for sewer service is between two and four blocks away from being available for him to connect. It would cost about $500,000 to add the needed pipeline to serve him, according to city staff. City Manager Jackie Gorman said the city is seeking a Community Development Block Grant to increase city sewer and water services, however if the grant or combination loan-grant are provided, even then that construction will be some time in the more distant future rather than in the near future. Smith said people to whom he had rented his house caused thousands of dollars’ worth of damage, and he needs to spend thousands more to repair the septic tank, too, that currently serves the structure. He said he intends to move into the house rather than renting it to others.


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City Councilman Michael Cox, City Manager Jackie Gorman and City Attorney Scott Walker are seen during the meeting Tuesday night. Walker’s office is in Gainesville. While most people wore facemasks that night, in contrast with some previous meetings, the attorney chose not to do so.
     It was just two weeks ago when Williston Mayor Jerry Robinson rejoiced after having attracted scores of unmasked parents and children to City Hall for the Mayor’s Student of the Month program.
     Employees caught COVID-19, or some mutation of it, coincidently.
     The closure of City Hall on Tuesday morning does not mean people cannot conduct business inside Williston City Hall, such as paying utility bills. It does show, nonetheless, a return to the procedure that first occurred starting Aug. 2, 2021, when COVID-19 positive tests among City Hall employees caused the closure of City Hall until further notice.
     Eventually, City Hall was reopened. Facemasks and hand sanitizer have been readily available in City Hall throughout the pandemic, but some people choose against wearing masks, or being vaccinated, or keeping six feet or more apart, or avoiding meetings with large crowds.
     Now, rather than being able to wave a hand in front of the sensor to have the door open automatically to Williston City Hall’s lobby, for handicapped or other visitors, and rather than being able to simply open that glass door by pulling on it, the procedure again calls for people to knock on the door and be admitted.
     As noted on the paper sign seen Tuesday night on the front door to City Hall, no more than two people at a time can be in Williston City Hall to approach the employees at the front desk.
     On Wednesday morning (Jan. 19), City Manager Jackie Gorman said the city is doing what it can to keep employees, residents and visitors in Williston as safe as reasonably possible. Hence the return to the limited number of people at one time in the lobby to pay electric bills and the like.
     As for the February Williston Mayor’s Student of the Month event, there was a suggestion during the City Council meeting Tuesday night to have two students at each of the two meetings that month, rather than all four students at one meeting.
     City Councilman Michael Cox alleged that he had seen in the media that Student of the Month presentations had been occurring in Chiefland and Bronson.
     Chiefland and Bronson are not as close to Ocala and Gainesville as Williston is to those two more metropolitan municipalities.
     There was no firm announcement Tuesday night about specifics of whether there would be a Mayor’s Student of the Month event next month at Williston City Hall. In Chiefland, some students and parents have opted out of showing up for the event.
     On another point, the mayor showed his choice against being cooperative with the media. When City Council President Debra Jones mentioned to Mayor Robinson that members of the press would like to see the verbiage used for the presentation of awards to the students beforehand, as had been the case for at least 10 years prior to him becoming mayor, Robinson said the press can get information from the city clerk after the fact.
     City Clerk Latricia Wright was absent from the Tuesday night meeting due to illness. In her stead, City Planner Laura Jones accepted the duties of city clerk there and then.
     City Council Vice President Marguerite Robinson, Mayor Robinson’s wife, was absent from the meeting as well, although she was reportedly watching the event live online via YouTube.com. 
     Vice President Robinson was not able to vote on any matters before the City Council that night, because although Gov. Rob DeSantis previously had established that there could be off-premises participation and voting via teleconference of governmental entities like Williston City Council, the governor has since rescinded his executive order that allowed that ability, according to what was said at the City Council meeting Tuesday night.

City Charter may be revised
     City Attorney Scott Walker shared with the City Council that there are methods for the municipal government to revise the document that forms how it functions.
     A Williston City Charter Review Committee can be formed if at least 10 percent of the electorate from the previous municipal election sign a petition for the committee to be formed, Walker said.
     The other method is for the Williston City Council members themselves to appoint members a Charter Review Committee.
     “The movement is to make charters more simple,” Walker said.
     There is no need to fix something that is not broken, he continued, but simplifying the city’s charter is recommended. The lawyer said the Florida Constitution provides certain powers to municipalities. Beyond that, there is law governing the amending of city charters.
     In Florida Statute 166.031, it notes the following:
“166.031 Charter amendments.
     (1) The governing body of a municipality may, by ordinance, or the electors of a municipality may, by petition signed by 10 percent of the registered electors as of the last preceding municipal general election, submit to the electors of said municipality a proposed amendment to its charter, which amendment may be to any part or to all of said charter except that part describing the boundaries of such municipality. The governing body of the municipality shall place the proposed amendment contained in the ordinance or petition to a vote of the electors at the next general election held within the municipality or at a special election called for such purpose.
      (2) Upon adoption of an amendment to the charter of a municipality by a majority of the electors voting in a referendum upon such amendment, the governing body of said municipality shall have the amendment incorporated into the charter and shall file the revised charter with the Department of State. All such amendments are effective on the date specified therein or as otherwise provided in the charter.
      (3) A municipality may amend its charter pursuant to this section notwithstanding any charter provisions to the contrary. This section shall be supplemental to the provisions of all other laws relating to the amendment of municipal charters and is not intended to diminish any substantive or procedural power vested in any municipality by present law. A municipality may, by ordinance and without referendum, redefine its boundaries to include only those lands previously annexed and shall file said redefinition with the Department of State pursuant to the provisions of subsection (2).
      (4) There shall be no restrictions by the municipality on any employee’s or employee group’s political activity, while not working, in any referendum changing employee rights.
      (5) A municipality may, by unanimous vote of the governing body, abolish municipal departments provided for in the municipal charter and amend provisions or language out of the charter which has been judicially construed, either by judgment or by binding legal precedent from a decision of a court of last resort, to be contrary to either the State Constitution or Federal Constitution.
      (6) Each municipality shall, by ordinance or charter provision, provide procedures for filling a vacancy in office caused by death, resignation, or removal from office. Such ordinance or charter provision shall also provide procedures for filling a vacancy in candidacy caused by death, withdrawal, or removal from the ballot of a qualified candidate following the end of the qualifying period which leaves fewer than two candidates for an office.”
     The attorney said he recommends creating a resolution to appoint members to the Williston Charter Review Committee, as well as to appoint a City Council member or the mayor to have a liaison between that charter review board and the City Council. Of course, the mayor has not vote on these matters, according to the city charter as it stands now.
     Walker went on to say some cities change how they are governed, going from a strong mayor form to a city manager form. Currently, Williston has a strong City Council with a weak mayor and a city manager as chief administrator.
     The committee meets several times, Walker said, looking at sister cities’ charters and discussing the current charter as well as how it may be amended to improve it.
     There is not mandate for reviewing city charters, he said, but every 10 to 15 years is a good practice.
     Walker said he has seen Charter Review Committees that chose against making any changes.
     City Councilman Elihu Ross, even before a committee was formed, said he likes the current charter the way it is and does not want change.
     While the committee can recommend amendments to the city charter, ultimately the City Council can reject in whole or in part those recommendations. The voters who show up and cast their votes will be the final deciders once amendments are proposed for adoption.
     Walker said there can be a special election for charter amendments, but he advises against this because it is more expensive than allowing voters to make those choices during a regularly scheduled election. 
     There was no action after the discussion, other than President Jones asking City Planner Jones to have Clerk Wright send the members of City Council, and the mayor, a copy of the current city charter.
     There is a potential for this matter to be on the agenda for the next City Council meeting. As far as how a City Council member might choose who is best to sit on the committee, that is up to the individual member, as best as can be determined right now.

Clerk evaluation set
     Once again, the city clerk is to be evaluated by the City Council.
     There are some modifications in the latest iteration of how to judge the clerk’s performance; however, once again, even though there is nothing in the current city charter for the mayor to be part of this evaluation, he is being provided with the form to provide his numeric input as well as for his comments.
     It was mentioned during this part of the meeting on Tuesday night that when a person gives a low numeric rating that shows his or her belief that the city clerk is not meeting requirements, then there should be a comment on the form as well to support the low rating. Likewise, in this evolving method of personnel evaluation, if a judge of quality of workmanship sees the clerk as performing at an excellent level, then there should be citations to support that numeric value as well.
     While the City Council evaluates the city manager and the city clerk for their quality of work, the other city employees just get across-the-board pay increases of some percentage, based on projected revenue rather than based on individual merit.
     During a conversation that started when City Council President Jones mentioned that she felt City Manager Gorman deserved a 4 percent pay increase, Fire Chief Lamar Stegall intimated that he feels the paid staff of the Williston Fire Rescue Department are not getting as much pay as they deserve.
     The fire department employee salaries will be among the topics slated for budget workshops for the next fiscal year. The City Council and the city manager decide pay increases, not the mayor – even for the fire department and police department in Williston.

     In other action, the City Council amended verbiage to set terms of service for members of two separate pension boards in the city, as well as to take other action for those boards.
     A previous gun show was rescheduled after approval by the City Council to allow it again.

Young Eagles Flights
     Williston Municipal Airport Manager Benton Stegall announced that the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter #812 at the airport is scheduled to conduct a Young Eagles Day on Jan. 29 at the airport.
     Children aged between 8 years old and 17 years old can sign up for a 20-minute flight in an airplane that day, Stegall said. Founded in 1992, the Young Eagles program is dedicated to giving children an opportunity to go flying in a general aviation airplane. These flights are offered free of charge and are made possible through the generosity of EAA member volunteers.
     It’s the only program of its kind, with the sole mission to introduce and inspire kids to become part of the world of aviation.
     There are a limited number of seats. Pilots from the Ocala EAA are anticipated to be helping provide flights as well as the pilots from Williston’s EAA chapter.
     Any parent who wants to register for his or her child to be able to participate in this event can register by clicking HERE.


Dixie County Chamber of Commerce
shares success stories
56th Annual Meeting shows
reasons for celebration

Dixie County Chambre of Commerce
2021 Dixie County Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Rains points to a person in the audience Thursday afternoon (Jan. 13).  Rains is co-president in 2022 with Melanie Anderson.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 15, 2022 at 4:11 p.m.
Members and guests enjoyed the 56th Annual Meeting of the Dixie County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday afternoon (Jan. 13), as officers and board members were installed, a homemade lunch was enjoyed, a gentleman was recognized for his honorable work, and there were stories shared about success in Dixie County in 2021, despite adversity caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Dixie County Chambre of Commerce
Dixie County Court Judge Jennifer J. Johnson (standing at right) administers the oath of office to the Dixie County Chamber of Commerce 2022 officers (from left) Co-President Andrew Rains, Treasurer Debbie Dembo, Vice President Debbie DeWeese, Co-President Melanie Anderson and Secretary Tina Keen.

Dixie County Chambre of Commerce
Three of the four brand new members of the 2022 Dixie County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors are seen here and they are (from left) George Hubac, Sheila Frierson and Tina Keen, who is the secretary to the Chamber as well. Karen VanAernam, another of the new Chamber Director members, arrived just after this photo was taken near the start of the meeting, and is not seen in the picture. Other Chamber Board of Directors in 2022 who are not new are Richard Balog, Cindy Bellot, John Cherry, Rebecca Fusco, Beverly Pivacek and Carol West. As officers, the other Chamber Board members include Co-President Melanie Anderson, 
Co-President Andrew Rains, Vice President Debbie DeWeese and Treasurer Debbie Dembo.

Dixie County Chambre of Commerce
Terry Dembo, who will be 78 in May (at right), accepts a plaque from Dixie County Chamber of Commerce President Andrew for Dembo’s service to Dixie County in the ‘Our Hero Flag Program.’

     The 2022 Dixie County Chamber of Commerce officers and board of directors are Co-President Melanie Anderson, Co-President Andrew Rains, Vice President Debbie DeWeese, Treasurer Debbie Dembo and Secretary Tina Keen; and other directors George Hubac, Sheila Frierson, Karen VanAernam, Richard Balog, Cindy Bellot, John Cherry, Rebecca Fusco, Beverly Pivacek and Carol West.
     Dixie County Court Judge Jennifer J. Johnson administers the oath of office to the Dixie County Chamber of Commerce 2022 officers. 
     Some of the members, including Carol West, Debbie Dembo and Melanie Anderson provided the lunch for the meeting. That included shepherd’s pie, a pineapple dish, green beans, cakes and cookies, as well as sweet tea to drink.
     Terry Dembo introduced two new business owners who he asked to join and who joined the Chamber.
     There was some discussion about the planned Eighth Annual Dixie County Chamber of Commerce Expo and Fly-In scheduled for April 2 at the Cross City Airport. Jeff Carey is in charge of trying to round up enough volunteers to help set up the day before, serve the 3,000-plus visitors and many vendors, as well as the takedown operations on April 3.
     Terry Dembo received a plaque he earned for a project where he and his wife Debbie have been involved from the outset. Since the start of the “Our Hero Flag Program,” the posting of American flags and crosses to honor living military service veterans and to memorialize those who have passed away has grown.
     The current count of those flags posted on the east side of a very long stretch of U.S. Highway 19 through Cross City for a period of time around and including Veterans Day and Memorial Day is now at 481 flags.
     Terry Dembo, who plans to celebrate his 78th birthday in May, is stepping back a little bit from building every structure and painting or repainting every one of them too. Meanwhile, several other people help plant and later remove the crosses and flags, and a business owner stores all of them as a free donation to the Chamber.
     Another positive aspect about the Dixie County Chamber of Commerce meeting on Jan. 13 was the sharing of highlights from 2021. Dixie County Manager Duane Cannon shared his perspective in that regard.
     By the way, in addition to County Court Judge Johnson, other Dixie County elected officials at the meeting were County Commissioner Mark Hatch and Property Appraiser Robbie Lee.
     As County Manager Cannon started, he mentioned that the big flood of the year was not positive, but it brought some positive reaction from the county government and from volunteers who helped their neighbors.
     There were about 150 residential structures where inhabitants had to vacate as a result of the 2021 flood in Dixie County, Cannon said. 
     As a result, the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners have developed a Stormwater Task Force, Cannon said. Cleaning drainage ditches is part of the program to help the future.
     Beyond that there are five major arterial canals coming from Mallory Swamp to the north of Dixie County, Cannon said. Maintenance of those canals for proper drainage is problematic because some of canals’ path travels through privately owned land.
     Cannon shared that the County Commission is working with the Dixie County Sheriff’s Office to make the County Courthouse more secure by limiting access into the structure to one entrance. This will help assure safety for county employees, as well as residents and visitors of Dixie County who visit that courthouse, he said.
     Another positive project is the improvement to the Dixie County Jail roof, where the 9-1-1 dispatch is located. By stopping the inbound rain through the leaking roof, Cannon said, that helps assure dispatch services can continue from there.
     Another person who shared good news from Dixie County was Dixie County School District Curriculum Director Tracy Lee. She was speaking on behalf of Dixie County Superintendent of Schools Mike Thomas who was absent due to illness.
     Lee said the teachers from across the district are striving to overcome the learning loss caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. 
     In other school news, Anderson Elementary is preparing for Literacy Week Jan. 24 through Jan. 28, Lee said. 
     Claire Horsley is a fourth grade teacher at this school, Lee said.
     “She’s like super bubbly, energetic,” Lee said. “She’s just one of my favorite people that work in this district.”
     The director of curriculum said Horsley creates lesson plans that help the children enjoy learning. Likewise, Lee continued, this teacher helps parents understand the importance of literacy and reading.
     Old Town Elementary School attained an extremely high standing in the academic community, Lee said.
     The East Coast Technical Assistance Center (ECTAC) pours over data from every one of the more than 3,200 Title One schools in Florida, Lee said. Based on data requirements being met, ECTAC narrowed the list to 1,895 schools that met a certain level of data requirements, Lee said.
     After site visits and interviews with teachers and students after looking at the stringent data requirements, Lee said, ECTAC determined Old Town Elementary School was one of only 26 schools in Florida that earned the ECTAC Exceeding Expectations Award.

Old Town Elementary School met 100 percent of the requirements to earn the ECTAC Exceeding Expectations Award. Of the 3,200-plus schools, only 26 in Florida earned this award.
-- Dixie County Curriculum Director Tracy Lee


     “I am so proud of that school and that staff for those reasons,” Lee said.
     Ruth Rains Middle School and Dixie County High School both succeeded in significant transitions this year, Lee said. Fifth grade was moved to middle school and eighth grade went to the high school.
     This change in student population, Lee said, caused revisions in curriculum, lunches, teacher certification requirements and other aspects of school life.
     Everything is working well now, Lee said, thanks to both schools’ administrations and faculty working and planning during the summer beforehand and considering almost every conceivable issue.
     And while almost every probable problem was considered, some unknown issues appeared, but every obstacle was overcome, Lee added.
     Lee concluded her presentation by sharing with everyone that Dixie County Superintendent of Schools Thomas is a humble man, who considers what staff members have to say about planning, strategy, the decision-making process and more.
     Superintendent of Schools Thomas, Lee said, respects workers for their knowledge and experience. He takes that, she continued, and he trusts the people to do their jobs. Subsequently, people meet or exceed expectations, and this is why the district is rated as an “A” school district in Florida.
     Another set of positive news from 2021 in Dixie County resulted from the Cross City Restore and Renew Project. This is a grassroots community effort that started in November, Karen VanAernam, a leader in that program said.
     The Turkey Trot fundraiser for the group raised close to $14,000 for this effort to improve the downtown Cross City community, VanAernam said.
     The Cross City Restore and Renew Project partnered with the Dixie County Anti-Drug Coalition, and cleaned and decorated, especially for Christmas.
     Among the next projects is landscaping and flagpole improvements in front of the United States Post Office in Cross City, she said.
     The next meeting of the Dixie County Chamber of Commerce is set for Feb. 10 at noon in the Dixie County Library in Cross City.


Flight school owner moves
forward with Williston business
Specialized agricultural pilot
training starts here

Ag Flight School
Beverly Berry stands near the back of the large hangar at Williston Municipal Airport after an interview Thursday morning (Jan. 11).

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 12, 2022 at 12:11 p.m.
A 68-year-old woman who has been a key administrator in an aviation flight school specifically for agricultural pilots is continuing her enterprise at Williston Municipal Airport.
     Beverly Berry had just completed moving everything from the Inverness Airport on Saturday (Jan. 8), and she had introduced herself to the Williston City Council on the previous Tuesday (Jan. 4).


Ag Flight School
This front view into the large hangar shows the biplane in the front and the two other airplanes.

Ag Flight School
Here is a side view of one of the three airplanes in the hangar.

Ag Flight School
This logo on the biplane shows it is part of the fleet for the school to teach pilots best methods for crop-dusting.

Ag Flight School
This golf cart is used by Eagle Vistas Agricultural Aviation Academy and is part of equipment other than aircraft. Among the other equipment the academy, is a portable air-conditioned office, a John Deere tractor and a big flat trailer, as well as a strong assortment of tools for maintenance of aircraft.

Ag Flight School
This is a relatively close-up view of the piping and spray nozzles on an aircraft used to apply liquid chemicals to pastures.

Ag Flight School
This view of the Pawnee D shows the nozzles visible at the back edges of the front wings.

Ag Flight School
All three aircraft are seen here parked in the hangar. As the academy becomes more active there is a potential for better photographs of the machines on a taxiway and the like.

     The three aircraft in the hangar are an Aircraft Model G-164A - 1976 Grumman ACFT ENG Cor-Schweizer, which is the yellow-colored biplane (a two-seater Nav-Cat); a 1974 PIPER Model PA-25-235 (Pawnee D), with spray nozzles that are used for spraying crops; and a 1995 Cessna/Weaver model 305E (or 305 L-19), which also is known as a ‘Bird Dog’. The ‘Bird Dog’ is quasi-marked as a USAF airplane, which shows some of its history.
     Beverly Berry and her late husband Randy Berry started the business more than 14 years ago. Randy Berry died in an agricultural air crash about 18 months ago (Sept. 23, 2020), she said. He was 67 years old.
     He was flying east-to-west over a pasture as he sprayed for armyworms, she said.
     The term "armyworm" can refer to any of several species or worms, often describing the large-scale invasive behavior of the species' larval stage.
     Normally, on that pasture, she said, he flew north-south, but the wind direction on that day forced a different approach to spraying.
     As he approached a dead tree in the pasture that morning, she said, he was eastbound and the sun rising in the east probably blinded him. This is believed to have caused him to not see it. He just lost sight of the object for a second, and the plane hit the tree, resulting in his death, she said. 
     The couple had spoken previously about the dead trees in that narrow field, she said in her interview Jan. 11.
     Despite that tragedy 18 months ago, Beverly Berry continues their program for training agricultural pilots. She said her husband had created mandatory minimum standards, which the Federal Aviation Administration had not set for this type of specialized commercial flying.

Owner seeks test fields for spraying and short-term housing for visiting student pilots

     The instructors serving students at are certified flight instructors who believe in the program to better train agricultural pilots, Berry said. In addition to the instructor who lives in Dixie County, they live in California, Louisiana and Arkansas, Berry said. They, too, will need short-term housing, except perhaps the instructor from Steinhatchee.
     As she begins the operations at Williston Municipal Airport, where the city started her lease for a large hangar space in December, Berry said she needs two things to help the business flourish.
     First, she is seeking local pasture-owners who will allow her instructors and students to fly over and spray with water. She noted no herbicide or fertilizer applications will happen during the training phases for these pilots.
     Next, she told the Williston City Council, she is seeking short-term living accommodations for student pilots.
     Student pilots who are just learning how to fly may stay in the area for a four- to six-month period, Berry said. More experienced pilots may complete their educational programs within two weeks, she said.
     Two graduates from Eagle Vistas Agricultural Aviation Academy are currently furthering their post-graduate studies to become certified to fly single-engine air tankers that are used to fight forest fires.
     Eagle Vistas Agricultural Aviation Academy trains pilots who come to this school from all over the United States and from all over the world, Berry said, including Ecuador and Saudi Arabia.
     “There is a need for minimum standards for agricultural pilots,” Berry said during her interview Tuesday (Jan. 11).
     Crop dusters fly in very low environments as they apply chemicals to crops.
     The level of ability of the pilots who come to the academy ranges from a person who has not flown to a pilot who has earned his or her commercial pilot license.
     The first step to legally flying an airplane in the United States requires the pilot to earn his or her private pilot license. One next step can be to earn an instrument rating to understand how to navigate using aircraft instruments.
     For pilots who want to earn money by flying, they need to earn a commercial pilot license. 
     In her appearance before the Williston City Council on Jan. 4, Berry introduced John Becker, an ag pilot instructor, who is a former fighter pilot with the United States Air Force. Becker lives in Steinhatchee, she said.
     Berry introduced Ty Sabata, the chief mechanic for the academy, who has been with the organization for more than six years now. Sabata is certified as an aircraft mechanic, has earned his pilot license, and in April will be certified as an aircraft inspector.
     During her interview on Jan. 11, Berry mentioned that Eagle Vistas Agricultural Aviation Academy has attained an excellent reputation in the aviation industry both in the United States and worldwide.
     Students who come to Eagle Vistas Agricultural Aviation Academy will pay certain fees depending on the level of pilot license they want – private pilot, instrument rating, commercial pilot and the specialized agriculture pilot certification from the academy.
     Depending on the student’s previous experience and level, including if they have a tailwheel endorsement will determine the fee, Berry said.
     As an example, without the instrument rating, she said the fee is $50,000 to $65,000.
     “Add $8,000 to that for an instrument rating,” she said.
     If a student wants to take an accelerated program and “study when we say study,” then Berry said a student can get their fee closer to the $50,000 range.
     An experienced pilot who just needs the agricultural endorsement from Eagle Vistas Agricultural Aviation Academy, would pay $18,500 for the course, she said.
     She said a former F-16 pilot, who also has flown Falcon jets, and who graduated from Eagle Vistas Agricultural Aviation Academy in October of 2021 just completed his firefighting school to be certified to fly a single-engine tanker.
     She mentioned he is one of two of the graduates from her school who are taking this extended set of training for that certification.
     “Those firefighters,” Berry added, “are in most cases, going to make $200,000 a year.”
     As for Berry retiring from her profession, she said that is not in her plans.
     “I’m not retiring,” she said. “What would I do? My kids don’t need me. My grandkids don’t need me.”
     As for them needing her love as a mother and grandmother, Berry said “We make appointments to do that. We schedule time with them.”
     She said her grandchildren are in south Florida, except for the ones in Australia. 
     Meanwhile, as Berry starts the school at Williston Municipal Airport, she is seeking methods for short-term stays by instructor-pilots and student pilots, and she is looking for farmers who will let the students spray fields with water as they train.
     Berry said she has some Dunnellon area farmers who let her use their pastures, but she would prefer some places closer to Williston to reduce the time and fuel needed to get to and from those practice sites.


Dixie County deals with RV requests
Special exceptions are not so special

Julie Asbell of Dixie County
Julie Asbell of the Dixie County Planning and Zoning Department reads into the record all of the information during the public hearings portion of the meeting Thursday (Jan. 6) as well as she did when the County Commission returned to its regular meeting to approve resolutions after it granted or tabled 16 different special exceptions or variances from existing zoning laws.

Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 7, 2022 at 11:11 a.m.
– The Dixie County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday morning (Jan. 6) approved eight requests for special exceptions from zoning to allow recreational vehicles (RV) on land not zoned for RVs.

Leon Wright - Building Official
Dixie County Building Official Leon Wright explains matters to representatives of the Town of Horseshoe Beach during a special meeting of the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday morning (Jan. 7). That night, Wright also went to that municipality’s government meeting to state facts related to flood plains, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and more.

Steve Fremen
Steve Fremen is the Dixie County Code Enforcement Officer as well as being the Dixie County Veterans Services Officer. Since accepting the newly created code enforcement officer post, he has been highly active. As of Thursday morning (Jan. 7) Fremen is working on 140 cases, and 20 have been to court so far. The process to bring people into compliance with building and zoning laws is cumbersome and expensive; however, it works. Commissioner W.C. Mills mentioned there is one case of the county seeking to have crab traps moved from a place, and that case has been active for two years now.

     One request for a special exception for an RV placement was tabled. These special exceptions may be called “common exceptions” now in Dixie County, given that they occur with such frequency as to not be seen as abnormal or different than routinely accepted.
     One request for a special exception to allow the expansion of a campground was granted. That seemed to be more documentation than changing much other than adding some more sites.
     While one special exception was tabled for more research, every variance requested of the County Commission on Thursday was granted.
     Six variances from zoning regulations were granted. Those variances from the zoning codes are for a lean-to fish cleaning area, deviations from required setbacks of lot lines, a pole barn, a big metal carport, and a setback reduction for a metal cargo lift.
     Among the more interesting moments of special exceptions was when the County Commission chose to let a couple from North Carolina place an RV on property not zoned for that purpose. The man said he planned to build a house in 2023 on the land where the couple will be staying in an RV in the meantime.
     County Commission Vice Chairman W.C. Mills first moved to table the request due to objections by neighbors, which was seconded and passed 5-0.
     However, after another matter was heard, Mills made a motion to rescind his previous motion. That motion to rescind was seconded and passed 5-0. Then Mills made a motion to allow that special exception for placement of an RV in an area not zoned for it, which motion was seconded and passed 5-0.
     In Dixie County, some people are asking “Are these RVs for recreation or are they for residential use?”
     And at least one person who showed up Thursday expressed her discontent in weekenders coming to Dixie County and leaving litter galore around their specially excepted RV sites.
     Meanwhile, at that meeting on Thursday morning, there was opposition voiced against allowing RVs to be in areas where they are not zoned to be permitted.
     The special exceptions passed every County Commission meeting in Dixie County are creating a county dotted with RVs to create urban sprawl without that spreading need of service from the county migrating out from the urban areas to the more rural areas occurring from not permanent residential structures being built, or even from mobile homes being placed, but instead from RVs being put in areas not zoned for them.
     The County Commission members uniformly have expressed their intent to not deny any requests for these RV placements, given its history of allowing RV after RV after RV to be granted the special exception, which circumvents zoning laws created as part of the county’s growth management.
     Following is a more detailed breakdown of the County Commission’s actions taken regarding zoning regulations in Dixie County.
     The eight approved special exceptions for RVs were granted for (The motion to approve in each case was made by the commissioner for that area.):
     ● Donald and Karen Hickey to permit one recreational vehicle at 853 N.E. 904th St., Old Town (Commission District 1, Jody Stephenson)
     ● John and Donna Adelsperger to permit one recreational vehicle at 125 N.E. 766th St., Old Town (Commission District 1, Jody Stephenson)
     ● Forrest Cothron to permit one recreational vehicle at 334 N.E. 972nd St., Branford (Commission District 1, Jody Stephenson)
     ● Michael Lindsey to permit one recreational vehicle at 462 N.E. 790th St., Old Town (Commission District 1, Jody Stephenson)
     ● Luna Erik Rene Quinones to permit one recreational vehicle at 243 N.E. 644th St., Old Town (Commission District 2, W.C. Mills)
     ● Alice Ashley to permit one recreational vehicle at 1753 N.E. 796 St., Old Town (Commission District 1, Jody Stephenson)
     ● Arthur Palecek to permit one recreational vehicle at 620 N.E. 550TH St., Old Town (Commission District 2, W.C. Mills)
     ● The petition by Brian Kowalski Jr. and Katherine Witt requesting a Special Exception to be granted, as provided in Section 4.3.5 Special Exceptions of the Dixie County Land Development Regulations to permit one recreational vehicle (ESA) zoning district, in accordance with the petition dated Nov. 17, 2021, to be located on the property at Dixie County Parcel # 35-09-13-4498-000B-0120 250 NE 327 Avenue, Old Town, Fl. 32680; 0). (Commission District 2, W.C. Mills) was approved. However, this is the one that was dicey for a few moments as Commissioner Mills flip-flopped on his motion to table it until more research was completed.
     Guy Richardson Sr. was among the people objecting to this RV being allowed. 
     “I bought out there as a resident,” Richardson said. “And I had to buy a mobile home and put it up out there, and everybody else should have to buy one – instead of running the neighborhood down.”
     Richardson said he has seen people with RVs move in and dump litter and then move away and the county does nothing to resolve the problem. Richardson said he has another neighbor who was not in attendance at the meeting that morning in Cross City, but she opposes it, too.
     One man who lives a couple of lots away from where Kowalski and Witt say they plan to build expressed his opinion that the RV should be allowed. This couple has spent countless hours cleaning the property in preparation to build a house there, he said.
     Dixie County Attorney M. Michael O’Steen and County Building Official Leon Wright explained that if the couple intends to begin construction in 180 days, there is no need for a special exception.
     Kowalski, speaking to the County Commission via telephone, said he plans to start construction in mid-2023. The couple is from North Carolina and is currently staying in their RV at an RV campground, but they want to move it to their future home’s site.
     Another man shared his opinion that he felt the special exception should be allowed because the people are following procedures and they plan to build a home.
     As noted, at first, Commissioner Mills voted to table the request. After pondering it, and after Richardson expressed his objection to RVs just being allowed special exceptions unless there are objections, Mills changed his action and moved to allow it.
     Mills told the audience that he did not base his changed action as a reaction to Richardson noting his objection, but instead felt the North Carolina couple probably were going to build as they had stated.
     The one RV special exception request that was denied was for: 
     ● Kimberley Hawkins saw he her request to permit one recreational vehicle at 1430 N.E. 796th St., Old Town was tabled. 
     County Commissioner Jody Stephenson’s motion to table it for more research to be completed came because there are deed restrictions prohibiting RVs in that subdivision.
     Building Official Leon Wright and Dixie County Attorney M. Michael O’Steen helped the County Commission understand that while the county does not enforce deed restrictions. Instead, Wright noted, the Building Department does enforce land rules and regulations through the code enforcement office, which has one officer – Steve Freeman.
     “If the Board (of Dixie County Commissioners) voted to let it happen (approve the special exception), if they did,” Attorney O’Steen said, “the county didn’t do anything wrong. But the private landowner livin’ in that neighborhood, be it the homeowners’ association, in some bigger areas have those, they would go to and ask the court for injunctive relief.”
     The attorney told the County Commission that given there is an objection to this special exception, the judge would most likely rule in favor of the plaintiff who objects to that RV being placed in the subdivision, which has specific active rules in its deed restrictions to stop that RV from being placed there. 
          ●  The special exception sought by Woods To Water Preserve (formerly known as Dixie Sportsman’s Club) is for Campgrounds, in an area that is zoned agricultural. It was approved.
      This 320-acre site has an address of northwest Highway 358, Cross City. It is in Commission District 5, County Commissioner James Valentine’s district.
     Building Official Wright explained that there was no previous special exception found for the hunt club to have a campground. The owner wants to add six more spots to the already-established cabins on the site, Wright said. This request, Wright asserted, was simply cleaning up records and making a previous action of special exception being exercised to not be recorded properly.
     This facility is used for guided hunts of exotic animals, Wright explained. The request for the special exception, as noted, was unanimously approved on a motion by Commissioner Valentine, seconded by Commissioner Mark Hatch.
     The six variances were for 
     ● Jeffrey Milhausen was granted a variance for a 10-foot by 10-foot by 12-foot lean to (fish cleaning area) at 40 S.E. 218th St., in the community of Suwannee.
     ● Salvatore and Lisa Bologna were granted a variance for a reduction of front setback from 30 feet to 10 feet, and they were allowed to reduce the western side setback from 15 feet to 10 feet at 6090 S.W. Highway 358, Jena.
     ● Nina Coker was granted a variance for a 24-foot by 40-foot pole barn at 200 N.E. 759th St., Old Town.
     ● James and Robin Reinhart were granted a variance for a 24-foot by 40-foot metal carport at 4906 N.E. Highway 353. Old Town.
     ● Loren and Debbie Boone were granted a variance for a 20-foot by 30-foot open carport for an RV located on the property at 48 S.W. 470th Ave., Steinhatchee.
     ● Christina Williams was granted a variance for a four-foot setback from the eastern property line for a metal cargo lift at 273 S.E. 218th St., in the community of Suwannee.

     In other action by the County Commission on Thursday, the five men are moving forward with what is required to keep proper minutes, including acting on minutes from 2020.
     ● The County Commission approved a request that will help the residents and visitors of Lafayette County.

     Dixie County Building Official Leon Wright is allowed to serve as the Lafayette County building official. This request was granted after the man formerly serving Suwannee County and Lafayette County died from heart failure.
     Before the start of the regular Dixie County meeting on Jan. 7, Building Official Wright assured HardisonInk.com that he can perform the activities requested of him from Lafayette County, as well as what is needed in Dixie County.

     ● The County Commission unanimously approved the minutes from the regular meeting of Oct. 21, 2021; the Gulf Coast Consortium Workshop of Nov. 4, 2021. 
     ● The County Commission unanimously accepted the minutes from the regular meeting of June 18, 202o, and of the regular meeting of July 2, 2020.
     ● The County Commission reaffirmed the minutes of the three regular meetings of Nov. 19, 2020; Dec. 3, 2020; and Dec. 17, 2020.


Mayor reminded of limits
By Jeff M. Hardison © Jan. 6, 2022 at 4:11 p.m.
After the presentation of honors and awards to some students in Williston Tuesday night (Jan. 4), there was some other business conducted by the five City Council members and the mayor.

     One issue arose, though, after Mayor Jerry Robinson complained that his numeric score was not included in the final tally of average scores in the recent evaluation of Williston City Manager Jackie Gorman.
     After a bit of conversation on the matter, the mayor was reminded that his numeric score is never considered because he does not serve as the boss for the city manager, according to the charter.
     Likewise, the mayor has no vote on matters where the five members of the City Council do vote, although he has other duties. Additionally, the mayor provided no comments on his evaluation form for the city manager, according to records. Beyond all of that hubbub, even if his numbers were considered, the average would not have been altered, according to mathematics when creating averages from the five people who count and the mayor, who only counts for input and not effect.
     The Williston City Council is comprised of President Debra Jones, Vice President Marguerite Robinson, and City Council members Elihu Ross, Darfeness Hinds and Michael Cox.
     In addition to the evaluation of City Manager Gorman, other items that night included the introduction of a new business owner at the Williston Municipal Airport, some input from a business owner in downtown Williston and various city matters regarding the operation of the city.

     As noted, The purpose of the city manager performance evaluation and development report is to increase communication between the City Council and the city manager concerning the performance of the city manager in the accomplishment of his or her assigned duties and responsibilities, and the establishment of specific work-related goals and objectives.
     There is no notation, in the evaluation description or reasons, of the mayor’s relationship with, or to, the city manager to be considered in the evaluation of the city manager.
     Overall, the City Council decided the city manager was performing her job well. Most of the marks were “outstanding” or “exceeds job standard.” The vast majority of all ratings were above just performing the job as expected.
     City Councilwoman Hinds was the only evaluator to show an “improvement needed.” Hinds marked that under the heading “Keeps City Council informed about revenues and expenditures, actual and projected.” Hinds also marked a “2” (“improvement needed”) for “Maintains effective communication with local regional, state, and federal government agencies.”
      Among the highlights of the many successes by the city manager during the past year was the hiring of a human resources director.

     Beverly Berry, the owner of Eagle Vistas -- Agricultural Flight Pilot Training -- spoke to the City Council. This new business is located at Williston Municipal Airport.
     Berry is operating a flight school for agricultural pilots. (A story about this new business is planned for publication HardisonInk.com in the near future.)

     Marvin Johnson, a business owner in downtown Williston, said the potholes in the parking lot behind his business are worsening. The city leaders indicated an intent to see about repairing that public parking lot.
     City Planner Laura Jones brought the City Council into awareness about a possible $4.1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to improve three lift stations that are in need of repair or replacement. There is a match required, and that is 25 percent.
     By a 5-0 vote, the City Council authorized City Manager Gorman to sign needed papers in this process for the grant that will go on for three years. City Planner Jones assured the City Council that no agreements will be made with FEMA unless or until the Council authorizes it.
     Among the other unanimous actions that night was WPD Police Chief Dennis Strow being authorized to list a vehicle as surplus and open for auction. That cruiser was wrecked after hitting a deer.
     Williston Fire Chief Lamar Stegall let the City Council know that it will want to watch Florida House Bill 3019 because it includes a provision for $5 million to construct a new public safety complex to house the Fire Department and Police Department.


Chiefland sets Jan. 24-27 as dates
for qualifying for election
County elections supervisor
sets Candidate University for Jan. 13

By Jeff M. Hardison © Dec. 14, 2021 at 9:11 a.m.
As Chiefland moves forward with its progress toward moving municipal elections to the Tuesday in April that was requested by Levy County Supervisor of Elections, the Chiefland City Commission members on Monday night (Dec. 13) saw information relevant to qualifying for the next city election.

     Chiefland City Manager Laura Cain, who serves as the ex-officio city clerk and is hence the municipal supervisor of elections for Chiefland, provided the information at the regular twice-monthly meeting of the City Commission.
     For the elections in Chiefland, qualified candidates and voters must be registered in and reside within the city limits of Chiefland.
     The two candidates up for the next election are Lewrissa Johns (Group 2) and Lance Hayes (Group 4).
     All candidates must pay an election fee of $448 as part of the process to qualify for election to the Chiefland City Commission.
     The dates and times for candidates to qualify to run for Group 2 or Group 4 seats in Chiefland are from 7 a.m. through 5 p.m. on Jan. 24 (a Monday) through the same office business hours on Jan. 27 (a Thursday) at the Hardy R. Dean Sr. Municipal Building, which is also known as Chiefland City Hall, and which is located at 214 E. Park Ave.
     Chiefland City Hall is not open Fridays.
     The election of the two members of Chiefland City Commission in Group 2 and Group 4 is now scheduled to be Tuesday, April 5, 2022, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Chiefland City Hall.
     Levy County Supervisor of Elections Jones is conducting Candidate University on Jan. 13 at 9 a.m. For more information about this service by the Levy County Supervisor of Elections Office, please contact that office at 352-486-5163.
     For more information about the Chiefland election, please contact Chiefland City Hall at 352-493-6711.


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