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NEWBERRY ‒ A movement in the city of Newberry may be gaining traction as some residents are pushing to convert the town’s three public schools into public charter schools.

According to a statement released by the school district, they were notified about the effort to convert public schools in Newberry into charter schools on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. Newberry Education First is leading the effort.

The City of Newberry issued a press release on Tuesday, Feb. 20, stating that the City acknowledges the recent proposal by a group of concerned parents to convert the city’s local elementary, middle and high schools into public charter schools. As a small community deeply invested in the education and well-being of the City’s children, “we are committed to providing the best possible educational environment for them”.

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe has consistently maintained that the Alachua County School Board is busing students in from the Jonesville and surrounding areas rather than building a school to serve those students. In city commission meetings he has stated that Newberry and Archer students are not the cause of overcrowding in Newberry’s schools.

Although the City of Newberry has been criticized by some who believe overcrowding in Newberry’s schools is the result of large housing developments, which have been approved by the City, Marlowe disputes that notion.

He previously said that the school board is aware of the developments and has time to prepare for increased student populations in the distant future.

The City’s press release continues by saying, “In light of this proposal, we are dedicated to engaging in a constructive and collaborative dialogue with all stakeholders. We look forward to working closely with both the group of concerned parents and the School Board of Alachua County to explore this request thoroughly. Our goal is to navigate this process with the ultimate benefit of our children in mind, ensuring that their academic and personal growth remains at the forefront of any decision.”

For more information on the proposal, visit YesNewberry.org.

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ALACHUA ‒ Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) issued a statement on Feb. 16, 2024 regarding a charge of alleged pornographic materials in schools. ACPS spokeswoman Jackie Johnson on Feb. 16, 2024 issued a media release with a link to the Feb. 9 ACPS statement, writing “…statement from the district regarding the misleading information that was posted earlier today on social media about a book challenge hearing held Jan. 24. You can find the statement at: https://fl02219191.schoolwires.net/Page/31553.”

The posted statement entitled, “A statement from Alachua County Public Schools and Superintendent Shane Andrew about pornographic materials in schools” in its entirety is below.

“February 16, 2024

“Superintendent Shane Andrew issued the following statement on Feb. 16, 2024, about pornographic materials in schools.

“To be clear up front—this Superintendent, the district, and the staff believe no student should have access to pornographic materials in their schools. That belief is shared by the ACPS employee who has been the subject of recent social media postings about a book challenge. This is to set the record straight.

“On Jan. 23, a formal hearing was held before a hearing officer regarding a challenge brought by an ACPS parent to the book ‘Melissa,’ previously published as ‘George,’ by Alex Gino. The hearing was videotaped.

“Earlier today, a very small segment of that video was posted on social media, including X (Twitter) and Facebook.

“That video was taken out of context and was misleading.

“The parent asked the ACPS witness several questions, including whether he felt it was appropriate for an 8-year-old to read “about pornography and dirty magazines” (emphasis added). However, the witness did not intend to convey that this book was, in fact, about pornography and dirty magazines. He certainly does not agree that it is appropriate for an elementary school student or any student to read pornographic materials. It is rather his belief that this particular book is not pornographic, does not violate state statutes and can therefore be read by elementary school students in grades 3-5.

“The parent never actually asked the ACPS witness if he believed this book is pornographic. The witness did clarify later in the hearing that he did not believe this book is pornographic.

“There are two sections of the book in which the words ‘dirty magazines’ or the word ‘porn’ are mentioned. “They are as follows:

“The phrase ‘dirty magazine’ was used by a teenage boy taunting his little brother. The little brother was, in fact, not looking at a dirty magazine.

“The word ‘porn’ appeared later in the book, when the same older brother stated he knew his little brother was not reading porn.

‘This is the full extent of the use of those two terms in the book. The book contains no pornographic scenes, pictures or descriptions.

“The hearing officer recommended that the book remain in the elementary school library. In her order, the hearing officer pointed out that the parent had not objected to the book based on it being pornographic.

“The School Board of Alachua County voted on Feb. 6 to confirm the hearing officer’s decision.

“The district will continue to follow state and district laws and procedures in responding to parent concerns regarding books in our schools.”

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ALACHUA ‒ Renovations to Alachua Boy Scout Troop 88’s scout hut are almost complete. Chartered in 1912, Troop 88 is one of the oldest Boy Scout troops in the United States and has a long history in Alachua and with the Alachua Lions Club. After the Alachua Lions Club was chartered in 1931, the organization began sponsoring Troop 88.

Located on Northwest 142nd Terrace across from the Alachua Post Office, the Alachua Lions Club broke ground for the expansion at the site of the existing scout hut on Nov. 10, 2023. Plans called for extensive renovations on the building, plus a major expansion increasing the scout hut by two-thirds. The existing restroom will be renovated, and an additional wheelchair accessible restroom will be constructed. The expansion also includes an entirely new HVAC system and a covered front porch.

According to Alachua Lions Club records, the first scout hut in Alachua was built in the 1930s with the assistance of the Alachua Lions Club. When that building burned down in 1983, the Alachua Lions Club stepped up once again, and headed by club member Gilbert Whitman, spearheaded the construction of a new scout hut. Funds were raised by the Lions and many “man-hours” were donated to construct the new building, Lions Club records state.

The concrete slab for the current scout hut was poured and the building began to take shape in February 1984. The building was enlarged from the original size, giving the troop a chance to grow and include more scouts into the scouting program. Upon the completion of the building, Boy Scout Troop 88 dedicated the new scout hut in memory of Whitman who was killed in a car accident on Feb. 14, 1984 after spending the day pouring the concrete for the hut.

In 2017, Alachua Lions Club member Gib Coerper began heading up an effort to raise money for a major expansion and renovation of the building. The expansion comes with a price tag of about $185,000, with all construction and design costs and efforts donated either in cash or in-kind.

Completion was originally anticipated for mid-December 2023. But construction lagged due to delays in obtaining materials unique to the building. Speaking about the renovations, Coerper said they now expect completion in the March timeframe. In the meantime, scouts have been utilizing the Alachua Lions Club building next door.

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ALACHUA ‒ The City of Alachua’s Recreation and Culture Department is welcoming in the Spring Season. Currently underway are the Santa Fe Soccer Alliance registration open until Feb. 24 (sfsocceralliance.com) and 399 Sports Volleyball registration open until March 3 (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

This past Saturday, Legacy Park Multipurpose Center hosted a roaring event as the Swamp Bot Robotics regional competition kicked off. The robotics competition is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program. STEM programs are designed to strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills in local youth and is a nationwide program.

The competition included a day filled with games, fun snacks, and entertainment. The highlight of the event was the closing pyrotechnic walk out ceremony to celebrate all of the participants. Congratulations are due to all the competing teams and thank yous as well to the volunteers who made the event so much more exciting.

Upcoming Weekly Events

Senior Bingo at the Hathcock Community Center hosted by Crafty Gemini is scheduled for Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Crafty Gemini is also holding a crafting class at Legacy Park Multipurpose Center in Room 2 on Feb. 24 from 12 p.m. - 1:30 p.m., and refreshments will be provided. Legacy Park Multipurpose Center also hosts free Zumba classes on Tuesdays from 6 p.m. — 7 p.m. and on Thursdays from 6:30. p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

Semi-Pro Football Games

Also, on Thursday, Feb. 24, Alachua Raiders Youth Football will be hosting Semi-Pro Football games as a fundraiser for their organization. Everyone is encouraged to come out and support the local youth football league.

On Thursday, Feb. 29, the Hal Brady Recreation Complex will be hosting the Raider Classics for High School softball.

For more information about what is going on, visit the City of Alachua Recreation and Culture Facebook page or visit the front desk at Legacy Park Multipurpose Center. Come join the City of Alachua, the “Good life Community” where the community congregates—Legacy Park Multipurpose Center and Fields and the Hal Brady Recreation Complex.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ One member of the High Springs City Commission pushed for a staff hiring freeze at the Feb. 8, 2024 High Springs City Commission. Commissioner Andrew Miller voiced his concern that the City should not hire any more staff until a new city manager was on board.

Commissioner Tristan Grunder agreed in part, saying he didn’t see the need for a formal hiring freeze, but instead, he recommended that the City hire only critical staff, if needed, as some positions require full staffing in order to meet required regulatory demands. Positions noted for consideration might be fire personnel and police officers.

City Clerk Angela Stone reported that hiring a new fire chief was already underway. Commissioners suggested that since the hiring process was already in place, the City should move forward with it.

Interim Fire Chief Mike Vogel said he would be available to fill that position until someone new was hired and in place. He also said that a selling point for a new city manager might be that he/she would be able to hire their own team to fill vacant positions.

Miller moved forward with a motion to approve a staff hiring freeze, but the motion died for lack of a second. Instead, Commissioners agreed that they would ask the city manager to refrain from hiring unless a critical position had to be filled.

SFHS Environmental Club

Santa Fe High School Environmental Club/Marine Biology students received a $1,500 grant from former City Commissioner Ross Ambrose, when he was on the Commission, to help fund a trip to Cedar Key, Seahorse-Key Marine laboratory. The only requirement was that the students were to come back to the City Commission and share what they had learned from the trip. Three students and Science Instructor Maureen Shankman were on-hand to talk about their experience and to also thank the Commission for the donation.

The group has recently partnered with the High Springs Youth Advisory Council to participate in several springs clean-up activities.

Other City Business

In other City business, the Commission unanimously approved a proclamation declaring February as Black History month in High Springs.

In response to a citizen’s complaint about the City’s waste hauling rates, the Commission directed the city attorney to contact the City’s contracted waste hauler, Waste Pro, about businesses having private contracts with the waste hauler. The individual complained that the City’s waste hauling prices increased by 60 percent from $188 to $302 per week for a six cubic yard pickup once a week. The business owner said he had the same size and pickup times in Alachua with the same waste company and it was 2 ½ times less for the same size and service.

Another complaint was lodged that the electric vehicle (EV) station had cars parked in the designated EV parking area that were not using the EV facilities and questioned if those drivers could be ticketed. Police Chief Antoine Sheppard said he was not legally allowed to ticket for that purpose.

The same individual also requested the City put in a turn lane on U.S. Highway 441 in front of the Pink Flamingo restaurant and a crossing lane on U.S. Highway 441 in front of Winn Dixie. She was told that in both instances, that the turn lane and the crossing lane are under the jurisdiction of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) as it is responsible for state highways.

In response to a request for the City to install other EV parking areas in the Winn Dixie parking lot, she was told that the City had no authority over business parking lots, but would see if they could facilitate conversation between the store and Duke Energy. Duke earlier expressed an interest in installing five EV parking facilities in downtown High Springs.

In other business, Sheppard said he had two officers on duty over the weekend and they had written 100 tickets during that time period.

Giving an update on the City’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) initiative, Public Works Director Thomas Henry said the project was 150 smart meters away from completion.

Stone updated the Commission on the status of a joint meeting between Alachua County and the City. The Commission agreed to the June 6 date that Alachua County requested.

Stone also reported that two individuals, Wayne Bloodsworth, Jr. and Chad Howell, had qualified for the upcoming March 26 election to fill City Commission Seat #2 The last day to register to vote for this election or to update voter information to vote in this municipal election is Feb. 26.

The next City Commission meeting is scheduled for Feb. 22.

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WALDO ‒ A 46-year-old Bradenton man was arrested on Saturday, Feb. 17, following a call at 5:48 a.m. in response to a burglary of a vehicle at Waldo Motorsports Park, 17000 N.E. U.S. Highway 301. Upon arrival, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) Deputies spoke with security officers on the scene who stated that a disturbance occurred between the defendant, Robert Wayne Powell, the victim and the victim’s boyfriend.

Robert Wayne PowellThe couple indicated they were sleeping in the back of their vehicle when Powell approached and attempted to enter the vehicle. Powell allegedly opened the vehicle door and repeatedly stated that he wanted to have sex with the victim.

The victim’s boyfriend then exited the vehicle and began having a scuffle outside of the vehicle. Multiple other people staying at the motor park ran over and began holding the defendant back. The victim’s boyfriend then returned inside his vehicle with the victim.

The defendant allegedly later returned to the victim’s vehicle and ripped off the passenger side view mirror and scratched the passenger side window. Shortly after that security arrived on scene and detained the defendant.

According to the ACSO, security officers stated that Powell continually mentioned wanting to have sex with the victim and even offered the Security Officers money to facilitate it.

ACSO Deputies estimated the damages to the vehicle at approximately $800.

Post Miranda, Powell stated that he did open the vehicle’s door and broke the mirror. Later, after being asked more specific questions, he denied both allegations.

Powell has been charged with attempted burglary of an occupied conveyance and criminal mischief for damage to the vehicle of more than $200, but less than $1,000.

Powell has no local court history but was convicted of disorderly intoxication and resisting an officer in 2023 in Manatee County.

Bail was set by Judge Sean D. Brewer at $55,000.

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 117, which allows for the public release of grand jury documents, such as those related to the 2006 Florida investigation into Jeffrey Epstein. Two victims of Epstein joined Governor DeSantis in Palm Beach to celebrate the justice that was being delivered.
   
“The public deserves to know who participated in Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “Nobody should be protected from facing justice due to their wealth or status, and those who harm children should be exposed and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
   
“Palm Beach County and the victims suffered from Epstein’s vile behavior before the world ever knew his name,” said Representative Peggy Gossett-Seidman. “I followed the story as we parents kept our kids close, but we never stopped seeking the truth. The police investigated relentlessly, and now the Governor opens up the last chapter of this sordid story.”
   
After a 2006 investigation into Jeffrey Epstein, the Palm Beach Police Department asked the State Attorney to charge Epstein with multiple felony charges, including unlawful sexual activity with a minor and lewd or lascivious molestation. Rather than charge Epstein directly, the State Attorney at the time chose to present evidence to a grand jury—ensuring the names of those involved and the details of the accusations were kept sealed. 
  
HB 117 will allow disclosure of grand jury testimony if the following conditions are met: 
 
  • The subject of the grand jury inquiry is dead.
  • The investigation was about sexual activity with a minor.
  • The testimony was previously disclosed by a court order.
  • The state attorney is notified.
 Because all the above apply to the Jeffrey Epstein Florida case, this legislation will authorize release of the Epstein grand jury documents when it takes effect on July 1, 2024.

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Photo special to Alachua County Today

State

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Phyllis Revord, living just minutes from the Atlantic Ocean beaches on Florida’s east coast, never used to worry about lying in the sun. She even used tanning beds in high school. 

It wasn't until 2020, when she came across a friend's Facebook post detailing her skin cancer journey, that Revord considered a screening for skin cancer. Motivated by her friend’s experience, Revord, now 27, of Jensen Beach scheduled an appointment with her dermatologist and ended up receiving the same diagnosis as her friend: melanoma.

“Had I gone about my life with a tiny mole and just never gotten my skin checked, [the melanoma] could have completely spread to other areas — serious organs in your body,” she said.

Lawmakers in Tallahassee were poised this week to make it easier and cheaper for hundreds of thousands of Florida residents to undergo such potentially life saving screenings by ensuring that all costs are covered by health insurance companies. Earlier efforts to require insurers to pay for skin cancer screenings for everyone with health insurance in Florida failed.

Florida would be the second U.S. state – and the first in the South – to offer such subsidized screenings. Florida estimated it would cost insurance companies, including United Health Care, Aetna, Florida Blue and Capital Health Plan – a total of $357,580 to $416,503 extra per year. In Illinois, annual preventative skin cancer screenings have been covered by health insurance companies since 2020. 

With only days left in this year’s legislative session, the House was expected to vote Wednesday on a bill by Reps. Ralph Massullo, R-Inverness, and Bobby Payne, R-Palatka. It would require contracted state group health insurance plans and health maintenance organizations to cover all costs of annual skin cancer screenings for Florida residents. That includes state employees and their families.

A companion bill by Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, also was nearing a final floor vote in the Senate.

In 2020, Florida reported 7,313 cases of melanoma — the most serious form of skin cancer — and 676 melanoma-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For 2024, the estimated new cases of melanoma skin cancer is 9,880 with projected deaths of 790 individuals, according to the American Cancer Society.

Harrell and Massullo filed similar proposals last year that applied to all individual health insurers. The House version of that legislation passed through all its committee stops but never received a floor vote. The Senate version of the bill stalled in the Banking and Insurance Committee.

This year’s bills have passed unanimously through their committee stops after lawmakers amended the legislation to only apply to contracted state group health insurance plans and health maintenance organizations. The legislation also prohibits an insurer or HMO from imposing any cost-sharing requirement for the annual skin cancer screening, such as a deductible, copayment or coinsurance.

Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, who chairs the Banking and Insurance Committee, voted in favor of this year’s narrower bill. He did not return phone and email messages to his legislative office over five weeks. Among Boyd’s top contributors to his campaigns and political committees is the Florida Insurance Council political committee, a group largely funded by insurance companies that would have had to pay for the new screenings under Harrell’s bill.

Harrell is a former healthcare administrator, having managed the OB-GYN practice of Dr. James E. Harrel, her late husband. The Florida Medical Association, Florida Academy of Dermatology, AARP and other groups supported the proposals.

Harrel said copay costs, even as low as $25, deter patients from receiving annual skin cancer screenings. Passing the legislation would also save insurers money, as fewer skin cancer patients would require the invasive treatments that take place due to a lack of preventative care, she added. 

“This is about helping patients get the appropriate screening and treatment they need and 

that's a bipartisan issue,” she said. “This will save money as well as lives in the long run.”

Massullo said he amended his legislation to apply only to contracted state group health insurance plans and health maintenance organizations due to the former version of the bill’s failure to pass through Florida’s GOP-dominated Legislature last year.

“One of our philosophies as a conservative group is to limit our interference in private industry and that would include the insurance industry as well,” he said. 

Massullo acknowledged that in the short term, there would be a negative cost impact on insurers under his legislation. Over time, he said, preventative care is the least expensive part of healthcare delivery.

“The governor's budget is $114 billion for this year,” he said. “We view those investments as improvements of the lives of the Floridians that have put their trust in us to serve them. I look at this similarly.”

If approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the legislation will hopefully serve as a pilot to demonstrate the effectiveness of preventative care in battling rising melanoma case rates, Massullo said. 

Revord was able to catch her melanoma early and treat it. She has tried to avoid unnecessary sun exposure ever since. 

She wants the Legislature to pass the skin cancer screenings legislation, and dermatologists to begin to encourage younger patients to schedule annual screenings. 

“It was something that I had to fully investigate myself, so that's a concern,” she said. “I believe that a yearly skin check should be automatically covered, no matter your age.”

Dr. Eduardo Weiss, a Hollywood dermatologist and president of the Florida Society of Dermatologic Surgeons, said he sees roughly six melanoma patients per week. 

The ongoing rise in diagnosis is due to a lack of education and awareness surrounding skin cancer, which leads to less people taking preventative action, he said. 

“If you detect a melanoma early, it's very easy to treat,” he said. “The key is early diagnosis.”

Financial barriers can play a significant role in delayed diagnosis. Weiss said requiring insurers to cover annual screenings will allow low-income Florida residents with low-cost insurance plans, like Medicaid, to gain better access to the care they need.

“I have seen patients that live in Palm Beach and they have to come down here to Miami to see a dermatologist because there are few doctors seeing patients with those insurances,” he said. 

Sharon Simonetti, 67, of Clearwater received her melanoma diagnosis a few months after her father passed away from skin cancer in 2018. 

“It started under the arm, it went to his brain,” she said. “At the point that he went into hospice care, it was about three days, and he was gone.”

A longtime Floridian, Simonetti said skin cancer prevention, like wearing sunscreen, was not a priority when she was younger. But since receiving her diagnosis, Simonetti is screened every six months. 

Simonetti said she is disappointed by people who view skin cancer as a minor issue.

“I would really like people to consider that this is a debilitating disease for some,” she said.

Simonetti has made it her personal mission to spread awareness about melanoma through her involvement in Relay For Life, a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. 

She was grateful lawmakers were working to make screenings more accessible and less expensive for Florida residents. If the legislation passes, she hopes it encourages individuals to better prioritize getting annual screenings.

“The cost is really high if they don't go and it's not caught early,” she said.

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PALM BAY, FL.- This week, Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) Troopers spotted a black motorcycle northbound on Interstate 95 (I-95) near mile marker 166, recklessly speeding at approximately 100 miles per hour in a 70-mile-per-hour zone. The motorcycle driver was dangerously weaving in and out of traffic without signaling, and the tag was attached in a way that intentionally obscured the legibility of the license plate.

Troopers attempted to pull the motorcycle over using emergency lights and sirens. However, the motorcycle failed to yield and continued riding northbound on I-95, accelerating to speeds over 100 miles per hour, eventually exiting the interstate on County Road 516 (Palm Bay Road). After exiting the interstate, the motorcycle ran through multiple red traffic signals before turning onto State Road 507. The driver attempted to make a left-hand turn but failed to appropriately negotiate the turn, running off the road.

As the driver continued to flee Troopers, he recklessly drove through the parking lots of several local businesses, jumping curbs and losing control in the parking lot of a Wendy's, where the passenger fell off the bike. Showing complete disregard for the passenger's safety, the motorcycle driver continued eastbound and attempted to jump a grass incline and curb, where he lost control and fell off the bike.

Having never lost sight of the motorcycle, the Troopers, along with officers with the Palm Bay Police Department, stopped to check the passenger's welfare before approaching the operator, who promptly surrendered to verbal commands and was placed in handcuffs. The motorcycle operator was identified as Ryan Scott Malley, 44, of Cocoa, Florida.

Malley advised the Troopers that he was in possession of a firearm, and it was located in his front jacket pocket. Malley was then taken to a local hospital, where he was cleared of injury following his fall from the motorcycle and arrested on the following charges:

Ryan Scott Malley was transported to Brevard County Jail without incident.

The motorcycle passenger, identified as Jennifer Inell Cronin, 38, of Tucson, Arizona, fled into the Wendy’s restroom and was detained by the Palm Bay Police Department. When Troopers contacted Cronin, they also located her backpack, helmet, and jacket on top of a small garbage can in the restroom. Discovered within the garbage can was a loaded syringe, a straw with powder residue, and a bag with a white powder-later confirmed to be fentanyl. Jennifer Inell Cronin was arrested on the following charges:

Jennifer Inell Cronin was transported to Brevard County Jail without incident.

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WILDWOOD, FLA.-Yesterday, a Trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) conducted a traffic stop intercepting a suspect and safely recovering a child following an AMBER Alert issued earlier in the day by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for an abducted 7-year-old child from Rivera Beach.

The Trooper, who had recently received a Be-On-The-Lookout (BOLO) identifying a location in his area for the suspect vehicle, a 2019 BMW 440I with Georgia Tag TBZ4664, positioned himself in a manner that would allow him to see if the vehicle crossed his path.

Less than 10 minutes later, the Trooper observed a vehicle matching the description of the suspect vehicle exiting State Road 91 onto Northbound Interstate I-75. With the help of a Sumter County Sheriff's K-9 Unit, the Trooper conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle. After confirming the suspect's identity, the child was unharmed, recovered, and returned to his mother.

The suspect, Jean R. Simeus, 44, of Macon, Georgia, was arrested on an out-of-county warrant for kidnapping and was transported to the Sumter County Jail without bond, where he was booked without incident.

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WASHINGTON DC - The US Food and Drug Administration has reported a recall issued by Trader Joe’s on Feb. 7, 2024. 

Trader Joe’s of Monrovia, CA is recalling certain products containing cotija cheese, as the cheese used to make these products has the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals may suffer short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Listeria infection can cause miscarriage and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The cotija cheese that was used to produce the products below was manufactured by Rizo-López Foods, Inc. On 2/5/2024, Rio- López Foods initiated a recall of dairy items, including cotija cheese, under multiple brand names. As a result, Trader Joe’s is recalling all codes of the products listed below that were manufactured with cotija cheese.

The recalled products were sold in Trader Joe’s stores nationwide.

Recalled products include all lots of the following products:

  • Trader Joe’s Chicken Enchiladas Verde (SKU 58292)
  • Trader Joe’s Cilantro Salad Dressing (SKU 36420)
  • Trader Joe’s Elote Chopped Salad Kit (SKU 74768)
  • Trader Joe’s Southwest Salad (SKU 56077)

No illnesses have been reported related to these products, to date.

If you purchased any of these products, please discard them or return them to any Trader Joe’s for a full refund.

Customers with questions may contact Trader Joe's Customer Relations at (626) 599-3817 [Monday through Friday, 6:00 am to 5:00 pm Pacific Time].

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson announced the preservation of three family farms in the Florida Wildlife Corridor through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. The K-Rocker Ranch, a 707-acre ranch in Polk County, the Los Niños Farm, a 998-acre timber and cattle operation in Putnam County, and the Kuder Ranch, a 525-acre cattle ranch in Polk County, are being preserved through rural land protection easements for $3,200,000, $1,798,000, and $3,900,000, respectively.

“With the preservation of these three ranches and their over 2,200 acres of productive agricultural land, in addition to the more than 36,000 acres we've permanently preserved in the last year, we are working to protect Florida’s valuable agricultural lands as efficiently and effectively as possible – and before it’s too late,” said Commissioner Wilton Simpson. “The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program is a win-win-win for the state as it not only protects productive agricultural land and our food security, but it does so in a fiscally responsible way by keeping the property on the local tax rolls and requiring property owners to maintain the land and its natural resources according to best management practices.”

The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program purchases the development rights to the agricultural properties through voluntary rural land easements, which prevent the future development of the land and allow agriculture operations to continue to contribute to Florida’s economy and the production of food, timber, and other resources vital to the prosperity of Florida.

K-Rocker Ranch II – Polk County
The 707-acre K-Rocker Ranch has been in business near Lake Wales since 1952 and the third generation of the Keen family now grows Bahia sod as its primary operation. The upland portion of the ranch comprises about 87% of the project, and the remaining wetland areas contain a mosaic of oak and cabbage hammocks along with intermittent wetland sloughs, scrub, and native hardwoods along Catfish Creek. This project fills a gap in the protection of the Lake Wales ecosystem, where it is surrounded by Lake Rosalie and Kissimmee River State Park, the Alan Broussard Catfish Creek State Preserve, the Bombing Range Ridge, and the United States Air Force Bombing Range.

Los Niños Farm – Putnam County
Lying just a half mile off the St. Johns River, Los Niños Farm consists of 998 acres of managed pine timberlands and was one of the first Florida properties to receive a designation under the American Tree Farm System. A small Angus cow-calf operation is also managed on the property, and the Smith family has farmed in Putnam County for nearly a century. Situated across the river from the historic farming town of Hastings, Los Niños Farm continues the rural agricultural traditions of the area and protects important wetlands bordering the river floodplain with intact basin swamps, baygall, and hydric hammocks.

Kuder Ranch – Polk County
The 525-acre Kuder Ranch is a cross-bred cattle operation located just southwest of the Green Swamp within the Lake Wales Ridge ecosystem. The improved pastures are interspersed with ponds, remnants of pine flatwoods, and wetlands that are a mix of baygall, basin swamp, and basin marsh with large cypress trees. In addition to the cattle operations, the Bryant family hosts hunts for wounded veterans on the property, as well as wildlife viewing trips. Wildlife on the project includes turkey, roseate spoonbill, sandhill cranes, alligators, bald eagle, swallowtail kites, osprey, bobcat, and fox. Rare and endangered species also occur on the property including indigo snakes and gopher tortoises.

During the 2023 Legislative Session, HB 1279 was signed to support the department’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program by no longer requiring the department to submit a purchase agreement to the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund for approval for projects with a purchase price of less than $5 million. In early January, Commissioner Simpson announced the first acquisition of a permanent rural land protection easement through the department’s sole authority.

Commissioner Simpson recently highlighted the historic interest in the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program and the results of the 2023 application cycle. Landowners from over 180 properties – representing over 200,000 acres – submitted new applications to be considered for funding. In December, the Governor and Cabinet also formally approved the program’s project acquisition list, which ranks over 250 eligible properties for acquisition, estimated at over $1 billion in value.

Commissioner Simpson has been involved in Florida’s land conservation policy issues long before becoming Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture. As Senate President, Commissioner Simpson championed the successful passage of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, which directed the state of Florida to better protect and connect Florida’s natural areas and wildlife habitats and to preserve working agricultural lands from future development. As Senate President, Commissioner Simpson also secured $300 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

For more information about Commissioner Simpson and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit FDACS.gov.

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The Editorial Board of Alachua County Today has rarely taken to endorsing candidates in local political races; however, there are times when it becomes necessary. Such is the case in the City of High Springs commission races scheduled for Nov. 7, 2023. Up for consideration are four candidates in two races. In Seat 1, electors in High Springs will have the opportunity to select between the incumbent, Ross Ambrose, and Andrew Miller. In Seat 2, voters will consider incumbent, Gloria James, and Steven Tapanes.

For many years, the City of High Springs experienced considerable political tumult, so much so that it created harsh divisions within the community. Over the last few election cycles, voters have managed to regain control of their commission, placing on the dais community-minded, non-partisan commissioners who have been focused on moving High Springs forward, into a more fiscally sound and responsible direction.

Tax increases are rarely, if ever, welcomed by the taxpayers, but tax increases are sometimes necessary. The City of High Springs, like every other small town, is feeling the financial pinch of inflation. We all feel the financial pinch of inflation. Without an increase in taxes this year, the City of High Springs would be setting itself up for financial straits in the years to come. Simply put, the City has to pay someone to fix water pipes, respond to emergencies, put out fires, and maintain the City’s infrastructure. That is to say nothing of the business of running the City. There is no doubt that there are some, including former commissioners, who want to sow divisions, but these efforts are not productive for the citizens.

Some candidates, and one commissioner, who is not up for election this cycle, have criticized the incumbent commissioners for approval of the FY 2023-24 budget, which did include an increase in the millage rate. It’s easy for one commissioner to sit by and criticize, without solution, a budget which she knows will pass while she avoids the political hit by voting against it.

To be sure, there is always work to be done on tightening the belt on government, reducing waste, and finding new and innovative ways to deliver governance and the services the citizens have come to appreciate and expect. The City of High Springs does not exist in a vacuum however, and for that reason, there are simply some economic conditions the City cannot avoid.

It is because of the work done by commissioners like Ross Ambrose and Gloria James that the City has reached a state of stability, a posture that is allowing the City to get its legs underneath it. After years of political disarray and infighting, the City is finally beginning to make headway on projects that hold great promise for the City of High Springs and its residents.

This is not the time to pull the rug out from underneath the commission and management. Instead, voters should reelect Gloria James and Ross Ambrose while encouraging them to seek common ground on budget issues, attempt to increase efficiency, and hold themselves and management accountable.

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I am writing in support of Ross Ambrose for High Springs City Commission. First let me say that I have nothing negative to say about his opponent, and I’m grateful that we have wonderful people willing to serve our great little town. That said, I have plenty of positive reasons to support Ross in this election.

I have known Ross for at 15 years as a neighbor and friend in town. Ross showed his commitment to this town for years by serving on city boards before he ever ran for office. He has always taken anything he does seriously and professionally and that goes for the City Commission as well.

Ross makes it his business to understand every issue and the effects of city, county and state law on the issue, and how everything works together. When he makes a decision one way or the other on anything, I expect that he has researched it thoroughly. I feel like I don’t have to understand everything little thing that comes before the city, because he literally does that hard job for us. He has run a successful business for 10 years and he understands fiscal responsibility as well as investment and looking at the big picture to prepare us for the future. 

Perhaps the biggest reason I support Mr. Ambrose is that he is truthful, even when the truth is not what I want to hear. My example is that I emailed him about the proposed Bridlewood subdivision, coming out strongly against it. Like many in High Springs, I love our small town, and the surrounding open spaces. I don’t want the town to be swamped with traffic and see the beauty around us turn into South Florida-style crowding and sprawl. I want to protect the springs at all costs. I would be very happy to see zero new large-scale subdivisions here.

Ross took the time to email me back and carefully explain how the property that was Tillman Acres/proposed Bridlewood was zoned for crazy-dense zoning many years ago, and that the City can’t undo that and could be subject to a lawsuit if we tried. He was hoping to get the most palatable deal out of a bad situation.

He also told me about several other subdivisions: one along U.S.441, one adjacent to Bailey Estates, where the City had refused to allow an up-zoning to higher density for all the same reasons I state above.

I believe Mr. Ambrose wants to preserve the unique character of High Springs, but is also realistic in knowing you have to play the hand you were dealt.

I went to a candidate forum and one of the other candidates said High Springs needs better infrastructure before any new development is allowed. That sounds great but isn’t always possible, for reasons like the one above and the need to find funding for said infrastructure. I know that Ross Ambrose leaves no stone unturned in looking for funding sources aside from local tax revenue. The effort he puts into this job is Herculean.

Frankly I think we are extremely lucky to have such a dedicated, knowledgeable and hard-working commissioner. 

Stacey Breheny

High Springs, Florida

An election will be held in High Springs on Nov. 7. There are two seats up for election. Since this is an odd-numbered year, the turnout will be poor. Every registered voter in the city needs to read up on the candidates; do the research to see what each is for, and vote.

Things have been running smoothly in the city for some time. Voting for someone merely because they are new is not a good idea.

Ross Ambrose and Gloria James do their homework, are knowledgeable and make decisions for all of High Springs. They are not driven by politics but by what they think is best for the city. For the good of the city, let’s keep them doing what they’ve done so well. Just remember that you need to vote.

Thomas R. Weller

High Springs, Florida

This letter is to express my support for Steve Tapanes and Andrew Miller for City of High Springs Commissioner.

I have watched several of the commissioner’s meetings on line and have noticed on several occasions that although the audience is jammed with people who are concerned about certain issues, that their concerns seldom make a difference in the decisions made because the decisions appear to have been made prior to the meetings.

I would like to see new blood on the board of commissioners as I feel the incumbents get in a rut and although they claim to have the best interests of the citizens in mind some of them don’t seem to be listening. The newer members seem to be the ones listening.

Steve and Andrew both have businesses in High Springs and I feel their freshness would more closely represent the majority of citizens’ current views.

It’s time for a change, time for the younger generation to have a say in what happens for High Springs’ future. Vote Steve Tapanes and Andrew Miller.

Leah Currier

High Springs, Florida

The High Springs Chamber of Commerce would like to send a special thank you to all our volunteers and local businesses who gave their time, talents, and treasures to bring our community together for the annual Fall Festival.

Please support these businesses and tell them thank you the next time you see them. Decades on Main & Renee;

Oliver & Dahlman; Thompson Flower Shop; The Birds Nest; High Springs Church of God; LifeSpring Church; Plantation Oaks Assisted Living & Memory Care; Dawn Cross, Photography; McDonald's in Alachua; Ronald McDonald House; Hardee's in High Springs; Hillary Cowart the Magic Man; Line Dancing Debbie; Bryan's Ace Hardware in High Springs; Winn-Dixie in High Springs; Fort White Garden & Produce; Jennifer Lee & Caleb Henderson, The Perfect Home; Troop 69, Boy Scouts; Willard's Restaurant & Lounge; BlueStar Grill; Nancy's Bake Shop; Chantels' Cakery; Station Bakery & Café; Tom & Sue Weller, Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe; High Springs Police Department; Aunt Lydia Springs, Cake; Louanne Rigano, Cake; Vella Miller, Ballon; Don Decker, Trains; Museum for being open during the Fall Festival hours

There are so many who came together to make this year's Fall Festival one our community will cherish for years to come.

I love our quaint little town with all its southern charm.

Sharon Decker

High Springs Chamber of Commerce

This letter is in support of Ross Ambrose and Gloria James’ re-election for High Springs City Commission.

Over the many years that we’ve known both Ross and Gloria, we’ve witnessed firsthand their dedication to the City of High Springs. They’ve served not only as commissioners but have been active in many service organizations. They are strong leaders in our community, and we need for them to continue to serve as City Commissioners.

We encourage you to vote for Gloria James and Ross Ambrose on Nov. 7.

Scott and Lynn Jamison

High Springs, Fla.

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BOWLING GREEN, Fla. — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis awarded nearly $223 million to expand broadband internet access to Floridians, including small and rural communities. This funding includes $135 million in state funding through the Broadband Opportunity Program and $86 million in federal funds through the Multipurpose Community Facilities Program. Awards through the Broadband Opportunity Program will support 54 projects in 33 Florida counties for broadband internet expansion that will provide internet to over 27,000 unserved residential, educational, agricultural, business and community locations. Awards through the Multipurpose Facility Program will support 29 community infrastructure projects including health clinics, schools and workforce development programs providing internet to Floridians across 18 counties. To learn more, click here
 
This funding comes as the Federal Communications Commission recently enacted new rules relating to private companies’ broadband expansion efforts, aimed at preventing “digital discrimination of access to broadband services based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion or national origin.” Through rules like this, the Biden administration is directly disincentivizing private companies from providing services like broadband internet to rural communities because they don’t meet certain diversity quotas. Florida will not enforce these discriminatory strings attached to federal funding that drive investment away from small and rural communities that are already underserved. 
 
"Connecting Florida’s small and rural communities to broadband internet will help them find jobs, access education resources and expand their businesses,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. "We will continue to make investments in broadband internet that support long-term growth for our communities, without federally imposed strings attached."
 
“Under Governor DeSantis' leadership, Florida's economy has grown at a persistent pace. Today's strategic awards help maintain Florida’s forward momentum," said FloridaCommerce Secretary J. Alex Kelly. "By connecting Floridians with centrally located community hubs, residents have increased access to find their next professional opportunity, upskill for future jobs and access telemedicine resources through a steady broadband internet connection."
 
“Thank you, Governor DeSantis, for your leadership and for investing in our community,” said Representative Kaylee Tuck. “The need for reliable broadband access has never been more prevalent, and the strain on rural communities like Hardee County has never been felt more than it is today. This investment will be incredible for our area.” 
 
Today’s awards build on Governor DeSantis’ earlier announcement of more than $226 million awarded for projects across 53 Florida counties, connecting more than 250,000 homes and businesses through the Broadband Opportunity Program. Additionally, Governor DeSantis awarded more than $247 million through the Broadband Infrastructure Program, connecting more than 59,000 unserved and underserved businesses, homes, farms and anchor institutions like hospitals and libraries to high-speed internet.
 
The federally funded Multipurpose Community Facilities Program supports the construction and rehabilitation of community facilities that provide important resources to Floridians to support workforce development, educational opportunities and access to healthcare in small and rural communities. Projects include community centers, health clinics, schools and workforce development programs serving Floridians across 18 counties.
 
Administered by FloridaCommerce, the Broadband Opportunity Program funds the installation and deployment of broadband internet infrastructure in unserved Florida communities, providing valuable access to telehealth, economic, educational and workforce development opportunities to offer a brighter future for all Floridians.
 
For a list of projects awarded through the Multipurpose Community Facilities Projects Program, CLICK HERE.
   
For a list of projects awarded through the Broadband Opportunity Program, CLICK HERE.
 
For more information on Florida’s broadband initiatives, visit the Office of Broadband's webpage.

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