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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry Garden Club has chosen Brenda Kay Bader’s yard at 475 S.W. 254th Street as Yard of the Month for July. “We are all rewarded by her efforts in making her yard such a fun place to see,” a garden club spokesperson said. “It is evident that she is a very creative in placing yard art and potted plants around to attract one's eye to her space. The pollinators enjoy it, too.”

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The City of High Springs, on July 28, tabled discussion of an ordinance to amend design standards for murals. The delay was requested by City Attorney Scott Walker who said the item needed more work. Commissioner Linda Jones voiced concern about the delay, “We don’t have any protection in place and we need it.” Jones wants to see it on the next commission agenda. The subject of outdoor wall murals has been a topic of controversy in the community, with opposing viewpoints leading to continued friction.

Solar Farm Zoning Final Approval

In other business, the Commission approved in a 4-0 vote second reading of an ordinance changing zoning on some 735 acres from County Agricultural to City Agriculture to clear the way for construction of a solar power facility proposed by Duke Energy. The property is located south of Northwest 174th Avenue on the southwestern outskirts of High Springs. The related Comprehensive Plan Amendment was approved by the state a few weeks ago.

Commissioner Ross Ambrose recused himself from the vote although he maintains he has no conflict of interest, but since he had recused himself from the first vote on the related application, he thought it best to do so again in an abundance of caution.

Emergency Repairs of Sewage Lift Station

In other city business, the Commission authorized staff to move forward with emergency repair of a section of piping, fittings and valves at the City’s main lift station that serves as the main point for all city sewage. Public Works Director Thomas Henry said, “You can touch a bolt with your fingers and it just crumbles in your hand.” Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said he would bring back prices to the next Commission meeting for authorization to proceed with the emergency repairs.

Chamber Freebie Questioned

In other action, the Commission is questioning whether the High Springs Chamber of Commerce should continue using City-owned facilities free of charge. A facilities fee waiver for the use of the Civic Center by the organization was pulled from the Consent Agenda for discussion. Previously, the City approved a fee schedule for use of City buildings and facilities that allowed for a 50 percent reduction in cost to non-profit organizations.

Commissioner Ambrose said it was not appropriate for a 100 percent exemption to be allowed for the Chamber so they can hold their monthly meetings, referencing the Chamber’s growth and ability to pay. He pointed out that originally the Chamber said they couldn’t afford to rent the building.

Reading from an email sent out by the Chamber president on June 17, Ambrose said that the communication talked about starting out with only 30 members two years ago but now boasted 100 members. With a significant growth in membership, Ambrose wondered why the Chamber couldn’t afford to rent the Civic Center at the 50 percent rate.

Commissioner Jones asked for a list of organizations that rent City facilities that have not paid. The Commission voted unanimously to allow the Chamber to use the Civic Center for their August meeting and to address the issue again when the list Jones requested was available.

Advanced Metering Infrastructure Interim Financing

The Commission approved on May 12 an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project and now City Finance Director Diana Wilson wants to use the General Fund to foot the costs until financing is obtained. Wilson presented a resolution to formalize the request. The Request for Proposal (RFP) for financing is pending, but has not yet been finalized. Meanwhile, Utility Services Co., Inc. a/k/a Suez is ready to begin the project.

Wilson said formally taking this action makes the reimbursement of funds “transparent” and appropriate. Commissioner Katherine Weitz opposed the action because a specific dollar amount that would need to be reimbursed could not be determined at this time. The motion passed in a 4-1 vote with Weitz casting the dissenting vote.

FY 2022-23 Budget in the Works

The Commission unanimously approved the proposed tentative not-to-exceed millage rate for FY 2022-23 at 6.25 mills and the rolled-back-rate at 5.5251. Wilson is preparing next fiscal year’s budget based on last year’s 5.99 millage rate. “The rolled-back rate is what a city would need to set the millage rate at to collect the same amount of revenue as the previous year,” said Wilson.

Budget workshops are set for Aug. 4 to discuss the General Fund, Aug. 16 to discuss other funds and Aug. 23, if needed. Budget hearings are set for Sept. 8 for First Reading and Sept. 19 for Second Reading. Budget hearings will take place at 6:30 at High Springs City Hall Commission Chambers.

Water Pressure, School SRO, Summer Arts Camp

The Commission also approved awarding low bidder General Underground out of Chiefland to improve water pressure and flow on the west end of town. This Suwannee River Water Management District Water System Interconnect Project is a grant funded project that will connect West U.S. Highway 27 and U.S. Highway 441 water lines through River Run Plantation and Riverglen subdivisions. It will eliminate the need for flushing of the water system in this area and will help reduce non-revenue water loss. The City is providing a financial match for the project.

Commissioners approved an agreement to provide one High Springs police officer to act as a School Resource Officer (SRO) for First Christian Academy. The School Board agrees to pay up to $53,071 as its share of funding for this SRO for the 2022-2023 school year.

Good News Art Director Jessica Caladas addressed the Commission to review the Summer Arts Camp, which was in held in partnership with the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. Caladas said that 130 youth from kindergarten to eighth grade participated in the program over the summer with 60 – 80 children participating per week. She said the Children’s Trust of Alachua County provided scholarships to those children who couldn’t afford to pay as well as helping to provide lunches and snacks.

Caladas reviewed the field trips the group took to Poe Springs, Cade, Harn and Florida Museums and thanked the Parks and Recreation Director Damon Messina for his help and support. Caladas invited everyone to attend the Summer Arts Camp Art Show at Good News Arts on Aug. 6 from 5 – 7 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Amanda Reann Messer, 21, of Newberry, was arrested on Tuesday, July 26, along with two juveniles for conspiring to rob an Archer man.

Messer is accused of driving two juveniles to the robbery location and waiting in the car while one of them robbed the Archer man of cash and the keys to his vehicle by holding him at gunpoint. A juvenile then allegedly took the victim’s wallet from his truck, got back into Messer’s car, and fled the scene.

The vehicle and tag were seen on a surveillance video at the robbery site and the vehicle was later located in Newberry. A search of the vehicle reportedly found a ski mask, the victim’s wallet, a handgun, and cash in several denominations. Messer reportedly said that the other juvenile had come up with the idea to rob the victim.

Messer has been charged with armed robbery, armed burglary and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Messer has been released on her own recognizance with a curfew of 7 p.m. – 7 a.m. along with a requirement that she be accompanied by her mother if she is out of the house.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The city of High Springs came together with its police department, High Springs parks and recreation department and other city departments for a night of music, fun, and giveaways. For the past 39 years, on the first Tuesday in August, communities throughout America hold a National Night Out event. Over 38 million neighbors take part across 16,000 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories and military bases worldwide. National Night Out gives residents an evening to meet neighbors, area first responders and other organizations that provide services to the community.

“We work very well together in the city with a lot of communication, especially as the school year approaches,” said the City’s Parks and Recreation Director Damon Messina. “We like to bring fun activities like this and our summer programs to our citizens, and we have good support and working relationship with many community groups.”

High Springs is one of 100 communities in Florida that sponsor a National Night Out event. Each year High Springs first responders and City staff host the event at the Civic Center field. A line of police and fire vehicles are parked with lights flashing for kids to explore along with games and prizes hosted by local civic organizations and churches.

“The goal is to get out there and interact with the community, show we are their neighbors whose kids attend the same school, we shop at the same stores and attend the same churches,” said High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard. “We want to break down the walls that hinder communication. We want to empower the community with the ability for them help protect their community and to have a more confidence in working together with the police as a team. But we want it to be a fun event as well.”

This year, a long line of parents and students formed at the doors of the civic center for a back-to-school giveaway. Deeper Purpose Church, 1st Baptist Church, Lee's Pre School, Santa Fe Kiwanis club and the GFWC High Springs Womens Club spent months gathering new school supplies to distribute at the event to families. Everything was laid out in orderly rows as families collected needed supplies for the start of a new school year.

Outside, police and fire vehicles were parked with crews who were interacting with people and giving tours of their vehicles to curious children. A DJ played music for the crowd as people lined up for free hot dogs, pizza or burgers served by police and City staff

Various groups set up stations to give away small prizes or games for the kids. By far though, the favorite game was a dunking machine. People took turns testing their skills at tossing a baseball at a bullseye target to dunk a police officer in a water filled tank. Police officers took their dunking good naturedly, even encouraging children to hit the target with their fists to send the officer into the water accompanied by hilarious laughter and a resounding splash.

The High Springs Lions Club had their “train” on site offering free rides to children while the Florida National Guard gave tours of a Humvee. In the middle of the field was a small kiddie pool filled with water balloons, which quickly turned into a favorite spot for the kids, as they threw water balloons at each other and at several daring police officers who became involved.

The event brought residents out for a fun evening where they could meet their neighbors and meet with police officers and firefighters who protect the public. “We want to maintain a positive environment for our residents,” said Messina. “Let them know that the City of High Springs and first responders are there for them as part of the same community.”

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ALACHUA ‒ The Alachua Police Department (APD) responded to 22 vehicle burglaries that occurred around midnight on July 28. Most of the vehicles were in the area of Traveler’s Campground in the 17700 block of April Boulevard.

Several of these burglaries included forced entry by utilizing a window punch. Of the 22 vehicle burglaries, seven firearms were stolen. “This is currently an ongoing investigation by our detectives,” said PIO/Detective Thomas Stanfield.

Stanfield said this is a reminder not to leave unattended valuables in vehicles. These valuable items include electronics, purses, wallets, money, keys and weapons.

Citizens are asked to remove visible and hidden valuables from their vehicles, even if their doors are locked. In addition, the public can help law enforcement stop these crimes by keeping a record of valuables and by notating the make, model, color, any special characteristics and the serial number of valuables. This is important information to assist law enforcement in locating stolen items and possibly the suspect(s) of the crime.

“Currently, we don’t have any suspect information or surveillance video of the incident, but we are diligently working on establishing leads and suspect information,” Stanfield said.

Anyone having information pertaining to these incidents is asked to contact the Alachua Police Department at 386-462-1396.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ One person is dead after a head-on crash in High Springs on Wednesday, July 27.

Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) troopers say a semi-truck crashed head-on with a Mazda 6 on U.S. Highway 441 near High Springs around 9:30 a.m. killing a 35-year-old man.

Troopers say a car was driving erratically on the highway and a High Spring police officer tried to initiate a traffic stop.

The driver did not pull over and continued to drive at a high rate of speed, eventually crossing the median near Northwest 210th Lane and hitting a southbound truck head on. The driver of the Mazda was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced deceased on the scene. The semi-truck driver, a 51-year-old man from St. Petersburg, was not hurt.

“This is a death investigation that FHP is conducting,” said Lt. Patrick Riordan, FHP spokesperson. “We will be at this for several hours because in a situation like this we want to make sure that we factually collect and document everything that is there on the roadways as far as evidence and tells us the story of exactly what transpired.”

About a half mile of the roadway was blocked off and traffic was re-directed. After several hours of investigation, the roadway re-opened.

High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard Department said that officers from his department observed a vehicle driving erratically around High Springs Main Street and Northwest 83rd Avenue. With a suspicion of impaired driving, the officer attempted to initiate a traffic stop on the driver.

The vehicle then evaded law enforcement and continued to drive recklessly through downtown High Springs and proceeded north on Main Street before connecting to U.S. 441 toward Columbia County.

“At the request of the High Springs Police Department, the Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the traffic accident,” said Sheppard. “As with every HSPD vehicle pursuit, an internal review is conducted to ensure our policies are adhered to. HSPD vehicle operation policy authorizes vehicle pursuits in forcible felonies or when the driving and/or other actions of the vehicle driver or occupants place the public in extreme danger.”

Sheppard added, “A preliminary review indicates that the officer acted within policy.”

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MIAMI — Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis on Friday joined hundreds of competitors to kick off the 2022 Florida Python Challenge®. Over 800 participants and counting, from 32 states and Canada, are beginning their search to find and remove invasive Burmese pythons from the Everglades ecosystem. Participants are eligible to win thousands of dollars in prizes while removing Burmese pythons from the wild as part of the competition that kicked off today at 8:00 a.m. and runs through 5:00 p.m. on August 14. Additionally, the First Lady announced the milestone of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)'s python removal contractors removing more than 10,000 Burmese pythons from the wild in Florida.

“I am excited to kick off the 2022 Florida Python Challenge® by going out into the Everglades to join those coming from near and far, both novices and professionals, to hunt pythons – today marks another year of innovative conservation strategies to protect Florida’s beautiful natural resources for generations to come,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “This is significant because every python removed is one less invasive species preying on our native birds, mammals and reptiles. Our family will continue to support conservation efforts in the Everglades, and today I’m doing that by being one of the first out to hunt this invasive species.”

Under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, FWC, South Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida host the Florida Python Challenge® to increase awareness about invasive species and the threats they pose to Florida’s ecology. The annual competition encourages people to get directly involved in Everglades conservation through invasive species removal.

“Florida’s wildlife and unique landscapes are like nowhere else in the world," said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto.  "The proactive leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis has been instrumental in providing us with the resources we need to remove harmful invasive species such as the Burmese python, and events like The Florida Python Challenge® provide an opportunity for the public to become personally involved in this important effort to protect our spectacular natural resources.” 

“Thanks to the tremendous support of Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis, conservation and the protection of our natural resources in Florida remains a top priority,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. Through the partnership we share with the South Florida Water Management District, python contractors, and the dedicated participants of the Florida Python Challenge®, we remain unified to explore and implement the methods to control this invasive species in order to make a lasting impact in the protection of our treasured Everglades ecosystem.”

“Removing invasive pythons from the Everglades ecosystem is one of our agency’s most important goals,” said Florida Depatment of Environemntal Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “We are grateful for the Governor’s leadership in coordinating this effort among state agencies, the South Florida Water Management District and researchers to address the Burmese python infestation, and for giving the public an opportunity to engage in ecosystem restoration. The participants in this year’s Python Challenge will play a pivotal role in helping to preserve and protect the Everglades.”

“I thank Governor Ron DeSantis and our First Lady Casey DeSantis for fighting to save America's Everglades and protect Florida’s natural resources,” said SFWMD Governing Board Member “Alligator Ron” Bergeron. “With the strong support we receive from the DeSantis Administration, we are removing record numbers of pythons from the Everglades while restoring this important ecosystem. Everyday citizens play a big part in this fight through the annual Python Challenge and add to the important work of our hardworking professional python removal agents. Let’s save the Everglades!”

“Wow, more than 10,000 pythons! Florida is making monumental progress on our Everglades restoration efforts and the fight against the harmful Burmese pythons thanks to the support of the DeSantis Administration,” said SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett. “We are grateful for our partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the public during this year’s Python Challenge. Your efforts make a difference, and we appreciate the Governor’s and First Lady’s commitment to our precious natural resources.” 

Participants in both the professional and novice categories can win cash prizes of up to $2,500 for removing the most pythons. There will be additional awards for the longest pythons removed in both categories. This year, Edison National Bank is sponsoring thousands in cash prizes awarded to eligible active-duty military and veteran participants.

People interested in competing can still register through the final day of the competition, August 14, at FLPythonChallenge.org. There is a $25 registration fee and participants must complete a free online training to compete.

Visit FLPythonChallenge.org to register for the competition, take the online training, learn more about Burmese pythons and the unique Everglades ecosystem and find resources for planning your trip to south Florida to participate in the Florida Python Challenge®.

About invasive Burmese pythons

Burmese pythons are not native to Florida and negatively impact native species. They are found primarily in and around the Everglades ecosystem in south Florida where they prey on birds, mammals and other reptiles. A female Burmese python may lay 50 to 100 eggs at a time. More than 17,000 Burmese pythons have been removed from Florida since 2000. For more information on Burmese pythons, visit MyFWC.com/Python.

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TALLAHASSEE – Florida's Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis warns Floridians of a recent cryptocurrency scam known as “pig butchering” or “pig slaughtering” in which victims are enticed to put more and more money into a fake cryptocurrency investment scheme only to “fatten them up” before a scammer disappears with vast sums of their cryptocurrency. This cryptocurrency scam is reportedly most often perpetrated on dating sites and social media as a new form of a romance scam.
 
CFO Jimmy Patronis said, “In Florida, we embrace emerging technology and innovation, but consumers must always stay on guard for scams especially as new financial products like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies become increasingly popular. Reports say cryptocurrency scams have bilked millions out of unsuspecting crypto investors; many of which were scammed through online dating apps over the course of several months. Just like with any major financial decision, consumers should do research and never transfer funds to someone you think is suspicious, untrustworthy, and whose identity you haven’t verified. You may as well kiss your money goodbye. If you feel you have been the victim of a scam, report it immediately at FraudFreeFlorida.com. Always remember, if an opportunity sounds too good to be true, it is.”
 
Three tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to avoid crypto scams:
 
• Only scammers demand payment in cryptocurrency. No legitimate business is going to demand you send cryptocurrency in advance – not to buy something, and not to protect your money. That’s always a scam.

• Only scammers will guarantee profits or big returns. Don’t trust people who promise you can quickly and easily make money in the crypto markets.

• Never mix online dating and investment advice. If you meet someone on a dating site or app, and they want to show you how to invest in crypto, or asks you to send them crypto, that’s a scam.

For more tips on how to avoid cryptocurrency scams, click here.

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TALLAHASSEE - On May 22, Florida angler, Dale Dew, caught the first pink-tagged bass of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) TrophyCatch 10-Tag Celebration. Dew will receive a $5,000 gift card to Bass Pro Shops and $1,000 to shop at AFTCO. This catch also means he has a chance to win an additional $10,000, which will be awarded at a ceremony this fall.

FWC biologists tagged this specific largemouth bass in February on Lake Griffin. Dew caught the fish near the same spot it was tagged, using a plastic worm. He successfully submitted his catch according to TrophyCatch rules.

Dew is originally from Antiqua and he and his family now live in central Florida. While he was not originally going fishing for the pink tag, he saw a sign about the promotion that day.

“It was the first time we heard about it, and we were like, ‘Whoa what’s this? We aren't going to catch it. We’re two guys who can’t fish!’” said Dale Dew, the first lucky angler to catch a pink-tagged largemouth bass. “We don’t have all the nice equipment or a nice bass boat but we got lucky and caught it! So, it could be any ordinary person who catches it. You never know, it’s crazy.”

Nine more pink-tagged bass are swimming in other waterbodies across the state: Newnans Lake; Lake George; Lake Talquin; Lake Walk-in-Water; Tenoroc Fish Management Area; Lake Trafford; Lake Istokpoga; Lake Rousseau; and Johns Lake. Anglers have until the end of September to fish for these special, prized fish.

To celebrate Season 10 of the TrophyCatch program, biologists with the FWC tagged and released 10 largemouth bass with bright pink tags in 10 different locations across the state. Anglers should check the TrophyCatch website for rules and updates.

The TrophyCatch program rewards anglers who provide documentation of their catch and release of largemouth bass weighing 8 pounds or heavier in Florida. To be eligible for prizes, anglers are required to submit photos or videos of their catch to TrophyCatch.com, showing the entire fish and its weight on a scale, before releasing it back into the water. Participants are also automatically entered in a free boat drawing just for registering. FWC biologists use TrophyCatch data for bass research to make informed decisions about the management of Florida bass fisheries and to promote the catch and release of trophy bass. The associated TrophyCare program promotes best handling practices for trophy bass to ensure that each TrophyCatch bass is released alive.

For the latest news about the TrophyCatch 10-TAG Celebration subscribe to the program’s topic email (select “TrophyCatch” under “Freshwater Fishing”). For more information about the TrophyCatch program or the 10-TAG Celebration, email KP Clements at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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TALLAHASSEE, - Today, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) is encouraging businesses throughout the state to prepare for the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season, which begins June 1. DEO urges businesses to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season by visiting FloridaDisaster.biz, which provides business owners with resources to prepare for potential disasters, critical updates during a disaster, and post-disaster resources to help Florida’s businesses recover and Floridians return to work.

 During the Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday, which runs from Saturday, May 28 to Friday, June 10, business owners can also purchase some equipment to prepare their businesses for a disaster tax-free, including batteries, tarps and generators. A full list of eligible tax-free items is available here.

 “Thanks to Governor DeSantis’ strong leadership, Florida businesses have access to the resources they need to prepare for disasters and make a quick recovery following a disaster,” said DEO Secretary Dane Eagle. “FloridaDisaster.biz enables businesses to make the best decisions for their employees and business operations during disaster events, and DEO encourages all businesses to utilize this valuable tool.”

 Taking the steps to build a business disaster continuity plan, as well as encouraging employees to create a family emergency plan, can reduce the financial and physical impact that a disaster can have on businesses. 

For information about how to create a plan, what to include in a disaster kit, where to find storm updates, and more information, please visit the resources below:

  •  FloridaDisaster.org is maintained by the Division of Emergency Management, with resources and information about what businesses should do during and after a disaster.
  • FloridaDisaster.biz is a partnership between DEO and the Florida Division of Emergency Management that provides a hub for businesses before, during, and after emergencies.

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GAINESVILLE – The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention invites applications for its 13th Annual Cade Prize for Innovation. Inventors and entrepreneurs in Florida, Georgia and Alabama may apply June 1 – August 1, 2022. 

“The Cade Prize for Innovation supports an ecosystem of invention throughout the Southeast,” said Richard Miles, Cade Prize Committee Chair. “It rewards early-stage ideas with the promise to change the world and fuel billion-dollar economies.” 

This year’s Cade Prize is one of the largest cash prize competitions for innovation in Florida, awarding $64,000: $34,000 for first place, $13,000 for second place, $8,000 for third place, $5,000 for fourth place, $3,000 for fifth place and $1,000 for the People’s Choice. Each winner also receives $2,000 of in-kind legal services. 

Designed to help early-stage inventors move beyond invention and into the marketplace, the Cade Prize provides capital to help secure patents, licensing, manufacturing, distribution and marketing.  

The Cade Prize awards candidates whose work addresses critical issues impacting the Southeast: Agriculture/Environment, Health Care/Biomedicine, IT/Technology, Energy and a Wild Card category. Applicants do not need to have a working prototype. 

Since 2010, hundreds of inventors with groundbreaking inventions have applied for the coveted prize. Some have achieved great success. “Winning the Cade Prize helped take us from an invention to a sustained business,” said 2010 Cade Prize winner, Ethan Fieldman, co-founder of Tutor Matching Service.  

 Fieldman and his team developed Tutor Matching Service, a website and Facebook application matching college students with educators from around the world. “Winning the Cade Prize validated our proof of concept, led to industry-wide support and an explosion of sales,” he said. After many universities partnered with the company, it attracted a multi-million dollar investment from several venture capitalists to expand its offering to an app. In 2021, Fieldman sold the business to the Carlyle Group and enjoys staying connected with the Cade Museum team. 

To be eligible, individuals or companies may have no more than $500,00 in outside investment such as funding from investors in exchange for stock or convertible notes. R1 research universities in Alabama, Georgia and Florida are invited to nominate one entry for automatic inclusion to the first round of judging. Applications may be submitted virtually at cadeprize.awardsplatform.com with a $55 application fee. 

The first round of judging, to determine the 21 Fibonacci Finalists - named after the 11th century Italian mathematician who created the building blocks of Western mathematics – is August 15, 2022. The Fibonacci Finalists are invited to the Cade Museum in Gainesville, Florida for a public Q & A about their inventions on September 8, 2022. The Cade Prize Awards Ceremony takes place at the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention on September 29, 2022.  

This year’s Cade Prize is sponsored by Scott R. MacKenzie, Florida Trend, Modern Luxury, James Moore Certified Public Accountants and Consultants, Community Foundation of North Central Florida, and Saliwanchik, Lloyd & Eisenschenk law firm. To learn more about the Cade Prizevisit cademuseum.org/cadeprize

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ALACHUA COUNTY – The Alachua County Tax Collector’s office has been awarded the 2022 Governor’s Sterling Award for performance excellence in management and operations.

The Sterling award is presented annually to organizations and businesses that meet or exceed the Sterling/Baldrige National Criteria for Performance Excellence – a framework for achieving and sustaining organizational performance excellence and efficiency. The Tax Collector’s office is the only organization in the state of Florida receiving the prestigious award this year.

The award follows a rigorous assessment process based on criteria from seven categories:  leadership; strategic planning; customer focus; measurement analysis, and knowledge management; workforce focus; operations; and results. 

The Sterling Council’s panel of judges consists of six judges that are nationally and internationally recognized experts on organizational performance excellence in the Sterling/Baldridge Management System.  Throughout the last four years, the Alachua County Tax Collector’s office boasts high performance ratings exceeding their comparative peer groups.

“We are an organization focused on continual improvement with the goal of mastering all aspects of organizational efficiency. This award shows the citizens of Alachua County our office is committed to excellence and is achieving great success,” said Alachua County Tax Collector John Power. “I respect and admire every member of our team and thank them for their dedication and hard work. Receiving this award from the Sterling Council is an honor for our team and the entire community.”

The Alachua County Tax Collector’s office acts as an agent for multiple local and state agencies, providing a wide range of services to the public.  Total collections are approximately $390 million annually in taxes and fees, which are distributed among 25 taxing authorities.  The Tax Collector also provides services for Motor Vehicle titles and registrations, Driver Licenses including road tests, Concealed Weapons licenses, and Birth Certificates.

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It is a great honor to serve High Springs as your new Postmaster. In my years with the United States Postal Service, I have seen firsthand the role the Postal Service plays connecting neighbors and our community to the nation.

Our Post Offices serve as a lifeline for our small businesses to reach customers no matter where they are. Under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s leadership and Delivering For America, the Postal Service’s 10-year plan, we are maintaining universal six-day mail delivery and expanded seven-day package delivery, stabilizing our workforce, and spurring innovation to meet the needs of our modern customers.

Just as the Postal Service continues to provide a vital service for our nation, the staff of the High Springs Post Office will proudly continue that same public service in this community.

On behalf of the 650,000 women and men of the United States Postal Service, I thank you for continuing to support the Postal Service. Providing reliable mail delivery while strengthening the future of this treasured institution is our commitment to you.

Angel Cruz

Postmaster High Springs, FL 32643-9998

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As a volunteer and advocate with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this month I am asking everyone to join us and demand #MoreForMentalHealth.

I am doing more by calling on my legislators at the federal and state levels to support legislation that will fund the implementation of 988 and the suicide and mental health crisis system across our nation, particularly for those in underserved communities.

Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255 and de-escalates the crises of tens of thousands of callers each day. On July 16, those in distress and those that support them will be able to reach the Lifeline through a simple 3-digit number: 988.

By making the Lifeline more accessible through this shorter number, calls, texts, and chats to the Lifeline's network of crisis call centers are expected to increase. It is vital that the federal government work with states to ensure callers in distress will have: 1) someone to call, 2) someone to come help, and 3) somewhere safe to go.

We must act NOW to secure funding to equip call centers and community crisis response services throughout the country with the staff and resources to respond to everyone in crisis.

Join me this month in urging our federal and state public officials to do #MoreForMentalHealth. You can start by visiting moreformentalhealth.org.

Together, we can help #StopSuicide.

Peggy Portwine

Alachua, Florida

“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” These words are as moving today as when first spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the passionate and influential civil rights leader who stood as a “pillar of hope and a model of grace” in his fight towards equality for all.

On January 17, we will reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King, who, with his brave supporters, stood in strong opposition to racial discrimination, as well as the wrongful and unequal treatment of people who differed in national origin and religious beliefs.

The State of Florida continues to carry Dr. King’s legacy forward, committed to ending discrimination and ensuring all within our state have fair and equal access to employment and housing - because every person deserves to live the American Dream. The Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) was established in 1969 to enforce the Florida Civil Rights Act and address discrimination through education, outreach, and partnership. Annually, the FCHR recognizes and honors Floridians who advance civil rights throughout the state in the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

As we take this time to honor Dr. King, let us consider how we can improve our own communities. Everyone should have the opportunity to live the American Dream. Dr. King paved the way for our society to embrace equality, and it is our job as Americans and Floridians to ensure the civil rights of all people.

Angela Primiano, Vice-Chair

Florida Commission on Human Relations

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Floridians,

This week, I announced the new Mental Health Care Service webpage on the Department of Financial Services (DFS) website, which aims to provide resources and assistance to mental health services for consumers. This past legislative session, HB 701 was signed by Governor DeSantis and establishes new communication duties for health insurers and HMOs and creates reporting requirements for DFS.

I’m proud to provide Floridians with resources they need to seek vital treatment so they can live a healthier life. As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, mental health challenges are on the rise nationwide, especially within our first responder and front-line healthcare communities. Thank you to Governor Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for stressing the importance of mental health resources in our communities.

On Tuesday, I recognized, October 12th, as National Savings Day and urged Floridians to make saving a priority to secure their financial well-being. Saving is the cornerstone of a strong financial foundation. Setting money aside each month allows families to handle unexpected costs or prepare for future expenses, like college tuition. As your CFO, I remain focused on ensuring all Floridians have the tools they need to make their hard-earned money work for them. For information about financial literacy programs available through the Department, please visit Your Money Matters, which is a one-stop shop for tips and resources to help Floridians manage their finances wisely.

Lastly, in recognition of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, I encouraged Floridians to 'Be Cyber Smart' and raised awareness in an effort to stay safe and secure online. Recently, officials are warning consumers of a new scam where fraudsters are creating fake Google Voice accounts to scam people without being detected. Scammers are always searching for new ways to trick their next victim and using fake Google Voice accounts is their latest ploy. I encourage all individuals and businesses to take action today to 'Be Cyber Smart' and learn how to protect your identity online to ensure you don’t fall victim. Learn about the latest scams and report signs of fraud immediately at FraudFreeFlorida.com

Jimmy Patrons

State of Florida CFO

With Memorial Day behind us and Independence Day on the horizon, I’m happy to report that our state parks have never been more popular.

Our beaches – two of which were recently named among the 10 best in America by beach guru Dr. Beach – and our springs have attracted a record number of visitors, and we expect that trend to continue in the weeks and months ahead.

Not only that, but our campsites are filling up too as more people discover the joys of camping and RVing.

As it turns out, now is a great time to plan an overnight stay. June is National Camping Month, and the Florida Park Service has just launched a new reservation system that provides our visitors with quicker, easier access to their favorite parks.

The new system shows clearly which parks and sites are available for camping and provides online users with a streamlined process for making reservations. Additionally, campers can now reserve same-day accommodations, which is something that we’ve been wanting to implement for a long time.

The changes will also be apparent at each park’s ranger station, as we’ve updated our point-of-sale system to be more modernized and, most importantly, faster. That means less time at the park gates and more time inside the park.

You might also notice welcome additions such as the ability to be notified when a site becomes available. And, in the future, we’ll be looking to add expanded reservation capabilities for Florida residents.

When thinking about your favorite parks, you might remember an unforgettable paddling adventure or boat tour. But take a moment to consider the park operations needed to offer our visitors the best experiences possible.

Food sales, camp stores, kayak rentals, ferries and trams are services that we could not provide if not for a specially selected group of businesses – many of them owned locally. These companies and their employees are a part of our park community, and they’re just as committed as regular park staff to making your visit safe and enjoyable.

The business that helps us with reservations is just one of our partners that help make 800,000 acres, 30 springs and 100 miles of beaches special places to visit.     

Eric Draper

Director, Florida State Parks

 

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is on June 15. On this day, and throughout the month, communities, seniors, caregivers, governments, organizations, and the private sector unite to prevent the mistreatment of and violence against older people.

Social Security imposter scams are widespread across the United States. Scammers use sophisticated tactics to deceive you into providing sensitive information or money. They target everyone – even the elderly – and their tactics continue to evolve.

Most recently, Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has received reports of phone scammers creating fake versions of the identification badges most Federal employees use to gain access to Federal buildings. The scammers may text or email photos of the fake badges to convince potential victims of their legitimacy. These badges use government symbols, words, and even names and photos of real people, which are available on government websites or through internet searches.

If you receive a suspicious letter, text, email, or call, hang up or do not respond. You should know how to identify when it’s really Social Security. We will NEVER:

  • Text or email images of an employee’s official government identification.
  • Suspend your Social Security number.
  • Threaten you with arrest or other legal action unless you immediately pay a fine or fee.
  • Require payment by retail gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or cash by mail.
  • Promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment.
  • Send official letters or reports containing your personal information via email.

We only send text messages if you have opted in to receive texts from us and only in limited situations, including the following:

  • When you have subscribed to receive updates and notifications by text.
  • As part of our enhanced security when accessing your personal my Social Security account.

If you owe money to us, we will mail you a letter with payment options and appeal rights.

We encourage you to report suspected Social Security imposter scams — and other Social Security fraud — to the OIG website at oig.ssa.gov. You may read our previous Social Security fraud advisories at oig.ssa.gov/newsroom/news-release. Please share this information with your friends and family to help spread awareness about Social Security imposter scams.

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LARGO, Fla. —  On Jan. 13, First Lady Casey DeSantis announced the launch of a free substance abuse curriculum for schools in the form of a ‘School Assemblies Toolkit’ through Florida’s The Facts. Your Future. campaign. This program directly engages youth in Florida to improve their understanding of the life-altering effects of drug abuse and empowers teens to reach their full potential.

“With the heartbreaking overdose death statistics we’re witnessing across the country, and as a mom of three, I want Florida’s youth to know they have the power to resist and overcome drug use and abuse,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “Our The Facts. Your Future. initiative is reinventing the way substance abuse prevention is taught in our schools. It’s not “Just Say No” — it’s “Just Say No and Here’s Why.” Together with community partners, schools can use this toolkit to give kids proper context and perspective on the dangers of drug use.”

The ‘School Assemblies Toolkit’ provides schools with free content to engage in Florida’s The Facts. Your Future. initiative through interactive, hands-on elements that can be incorporated throughout the school year. The toolkit contains materials such as fact sheets, conversation maps, and a school assembly template to guide schools in hosting their own events. Schools are encouraged to partner with local law enforcement and others in their communities to host dynamic, multimedia assemblies that will share real life scenarios and science-based facts about substance abuse. 

“The resources in this toolkit are essential for helping schools prevent substance abuse among our youth,” said State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. “Giving students the facts through interactive assemblies will help ensure students know that engaging in substance abuse at a young age can severely impact their development, health, and futures. The First Lady’s initiative continues to evolve to address the health needs of Florida’s students at such a critical time in their lives.” 

“First Lady Casey DeSantis has devoted much of her time and effort traveling across the state speaking to parents, students, and survivors to better understand how Florida can help provide their children with opportunities for a better future,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. “This toolkit is a direct result of her dedication to Florida’s 2.9 million K-12 public school students and will be a valuable resource for our schools to utilize in their efforts to educate students regarding the dangers of drug abuse.”

As Florida’s The Facts. Your Future. initiative expands, schools will be provided additional resources to engage and equip students with tools they need to make decisions about their health and future. 

Florida’s The Facts. Your Future. ‘School Assemblies Toolkit’ can be found here.

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