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ALACHUA COUNTY - All businesses opened in the Governor's order may open in Alachua County at 50% occupancy and are subject to OHSA and CDC guidelines. The County still requires retail, grocery stores, and gyms to remain at a maximum of 50% occupancy, groups in public to be ten or less, and facial coverings in businesses and outside where social distancing is not possible.
For more information, contact Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton at 352-264-6979 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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HAWTHORNE – As part of the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) widening improvement project on State Road 20 from the Putnam County line to SW 56th Avenue, access to Gordon Chapel Road from State Road 20 is scheduled to close temporarily Monday, June 8 through midJuly, weather and schedule permitting. The closure is necessary to complete drainage and reconstruction work.

Eastbound and westbound traffic will detour via County Road 20A to Orange Avenue and Old Hawthorne Road to access Gordon Chapel Road. The improvements include widening State Road 20 from a two-lane roadway to a four-lane urban roadway with curbs, gutters, grassed medians, bicycle lanes, 5-foot sidewalk on the north side of the roadway, 10-foot multi-use path on the south side of the roadway and 5-span bridge at Fowlers Prairie. This segment will complete a 12-mile span of improvements on State Road 20 from Alachua County to Putnam County.

Lane closures will be allowed Monday through Friday after 8:30 a.m. Intermittent detours may be necessary to complete reconstruction work at access points to State Road 20. Periodic traffic shifts will be necessary to allow the contractor to safely complete work. Motorists should stay alert and adhere to posted construction and regulatory signs while traveling through the active construction zone.

Anderson Columbia Co. Inc is estimated to complete the $49 million widening improvements by late 2022, weather and unforeseen circumstances permitting.

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HIGH SPRINGS – For many Americans, Memorial Day is a three-day weekend to travel, enjoy the outdoors or party. The original meaning of the holiday may be acknowledged, but oftentimes little is done to honor it during their weekend plans. Locally, the springs were packed with people enjoying a weekend outside after a month of stay-at-home restrictions, and for many, that was the main focus for the holiday weekend.

For others, the true meaning of Memorial Day carries a more somber quality.  Memorial Day is one of three holidays designated to honor the men and women who serve in our military. We celebrate Armed Forces Day on the third Saturday in May to honor those currently serving. On Nov. 11, which was the day World War I ended, we honor all veterans who served their country in the past on Veterans Day. On the last Monday in May we remember those who served and did not return, as well as those who came back but have since passed. This is the real meaning of Memorial Day.

Since the Revolutionary War, over 1,355,000 have made the supreme sacrifice for their country and the values they cherished. Every community has lost some of its youth to war and many families have lost a slice of their future. In many towns, there is a monument or statue to those who paid the ultimate price in some conflict.

The COVID-19 pandemic put lives into a period of isolation. To try and contain the spreading virus, it was necessary to issue stay-at-home orders for over a month. All events over 10 people were canceled, so all the traditional ceremonies for Memorial Day didn't happen. While the state partially reopened last week, there are still restrictions on crowd size and social distancing for any event, and many people are still cautious about going out in crowds.

But some local businesses and organizations wanted to make sure those who made the sacrifice were honored despite the restrictions. The High Springs Ace hardware gave free small American flags to all customers on Monday to place at home, graves or memorials, such as the High Springs Veterans Memorial next to City Hall.

The monument was built in 1980 by American Legion Post 97, which used to be in High Springs but is no longer active. On one side of the six-foot granite monument, which is shaped like a headstone, there is a tribute to all of those veterans who have fought in war. The other side contains the names of High Springs residents who answered the call to arms but never returned. The High Springs Lions Club and the Military Vets MC club help maintain the monument and hold ceremonies to honor the veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to social distance, this year the ceremony was canceled due to crowd size and health concerns for some of the older participants. The Lions Club did set up a station at the monument and give out free flags and silk poppy flowers that were donated by the Newberry American Legion Post 149 to place at the monument.

The poppy as a symbol for fallen soldiers dates back to a poem written by John McCrae, a Canadian officer who served as a brigade surgeon for an Allied artillery unit in World War I. After witnessing the carnage of the Second Battle of Ypres, which left 124,000 men dead, wounded or missing, McCrae wrote a poem called “In Flanders Fields.” McCrae was struck by the contrast of the pretty red poppies that sprouted on the battlefield where so much death had occurred. The poppy became a symbol for fallen soldiers. McCrae himself did not survive the war, dying near the end in 1918.

In America, the tradition dates back to the American Legion Auxiliary's first National Convention in the early 1920s when the red poppy was adopted as The American Legion Family's memorial flower. On Sunday and Monday members of the High Springs Lions Club tended to the monument for six hours to give people a chance to place a flag of remembrance at the granite monument.

Over 30 people came during the course of the two days, many doing it in honor of a family member who served. On Monday an older couple stopped by. They have come every year to honor a particular fallen soldier. They brought a beer and a Dixie cup to place on the monument along with the flag and poppy. Asked why they left a beer, they responded, “It's who he was and how he would want us pay tribute to him with a toast.”

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ARCHER – The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) was called to the scene of a one-vehicle deadly crash on May 25 at 1:40 a.m. The incident occurred on State Road 24 and Southwest 135th Street, east of Archer.

The 29-year-old passenger was killed and the 24-year-old driver suffered critical injuries.

The two-door vehicle was traveling east on State Road 24 when it traveled off of the roadway to the left and struck a mailbox and multiple trees. The passenger was ejected from the sedan and was pronounced deceased on the scene by Alachua County Fire Rescue.

The driver was transported to UF-Health Shands Hospital in critical condition.

Both the driver and passenger were Gainesville residents.

FHP reports that the passenger was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, however the driver was wearing a seatbelt.

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ALACHUA/HIGH SPRINGS – The cities of Alachua and High Springs are partnering with the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County to provide COVID-19 testing to residents ages 10 and older.

The tests will be available by appointment only to ensure residents receive important information and to increase the speed of the testing process. The Florida Department of Health of Alachua County will administer the nasal swab test, which takes less than a minute to perform. Results are not available immediately and are typically available within 3-7 days. Residents should not bring any pets with them during testing.

While not required to receive a test, individuals with health insurance should have that information available when scheduling an appointment. There is no out of pocket cost, insured or not, for testing.

In High Springs, testing will be offered on Wednesday, June 3 from 9 a.m. to noon by appointment only inside the High Springs Civic Center, 19107 N.W. 240th Street. To make an appointment, High Springs residents should call City Hall at 386-454-1416. City staff will be available 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for scheduling. For additional information, High Springs residents are encouraged to visit https://highsprings.us/2020/05/26/free-covid-19-testing-in-high-springs/

In Alachua, drive-thru COVID-19 testing will be offered on Monday, June 8 from 9 a.m. to noon at Santa Fe High School. Tests can be administered to multiple people in one vehicle if members of households want to be tested at the same time for convenience. Residents will remain in their vehicle during the process. To make an appointment, Alachua residents should call 386-418-6147 Monday through Thursday between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. anytime. Appointments must be scheduled no later than 5 p.m. on June 3.

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ALACHUA – The class of 2020 has seen traditional education turned upside down. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all schools in the state closed on March 13 and will remain closed for the rest of the school year.

Teachers and students had to change their entire way of teaching and learning as all education went online. Not only did the Class of 2020 deal with a change in education and isolation from their peers, but for seniors it means no traditional graduation, prom or the various other activities associated with the transition out of high school.

For many the final year in high school is a transformative time of vivid memories. The last month or so of high school is a busy time finishing school work while a multitude of events and parties occur culminating in the graduation ceremony, which has been a tradition throughout history. The class of 2020 will have none of these events as traditionally conducted. Restrictions on crowd size severely limited the traditional activities associated with senior year, especially the final school month when stay-at-home order even eliminated social contact with many of their friends.

Each high school has also created events for their own students to show school unity and pride. The City of Alachua teamed up with Santa Fe High School to honor graduating seniors by conducting an appreciation celebration event last week. On May 21, the school and city combined efforts to show their appreciation for the seniors’ hard work. Students initially came to the school in their cars to drop off textbooks and pick up caps and gowns. In what was a surprise to the graduating seniors as their cars entered the school property, they faced a line of individual signs featuring the photo and name of each student and the welcoming committees that were lined up offering congratulations and more.

As cars drove through the parking lot, stopping at designated areas, school staff gave each student a t-shirt featuring the graduating year, school name and City of Alachua logo. As the students passed each stop, they were met by applause and congratulations. The final stop was set up and funded by the City of Alachua. The city gave each student a black and red gym bag imprinted with the graduating year and the school and city logos, and containing a special message of congratulations, a variety of snacks, a Frisbee, flashlight carabiner, a pen and red thermos cup with the Class of 2020 emblazoned on it.

At the next stop they were offered a bagged lunch and drink provided by the city. City of Alachua staff and commissioners were all there to offer their support and congratulations to the students clapping and cheering as each car moved down the line. Also participating and handing out gym bags were Florida State Representative Clovis Watson, Jr. and Circuit Court Judge Susanne Wilson Bullard, both Santa Fe High School graduates.

“We wanted them to know that the city stood by them and wanted to acknowledge their achievements,” said Mayor Gib Coerper as he waved a sign congratulating the students.

All of the county’s seven high schools are developing events to make the year end special for this unique senior class, as is the school district itself. The Alachua County School District is finalizing plans for a combination of activities, programs and events to celebrate graduates, but is also asking local citizens to display messages of support for the Class of 2020 sometime during the period from May 26 through June 10, which is the final day the district will be holding graduation ceremonies. This could include messages on marquees/signs at businesses, churches, schools and other organizations, yard signs, even signs in windows or along fence lines at homes and businesses. The district is currently working with local media outlets to honor the Class of 2020 in other ways.

While traditional graduation ceremonies in auditoriums are canceled due to social distancing restrictions, the school district has arranged with the Gainesville Raceway to hold open air graduation ceremonies at the facility June 8-10 for the district’s high schools. To maintain social distancing, students and their families will drive into the Raceway and up to a decorated stage. As the graduates’ names are called out over the loudspeaker, they will get out of their cars, walk across the stage to accept their diplomas and have their photos taken. They will then get back in their cars and drive down a strip that runs next to the racetrack before exiting the facility. The Gainesville Raceway is providing their facility to the district free of charge. “We’re happy we can help the Class of 2020 have a graduation ceremony,” said track manager Mike Yurick. “We hope it will be a memorable experience for them.”

Between June 8 and 10, the senior class of 2020 will have their final ceremony before moving on in life beyond high school. “When COVID-19 closed schools, I made it a priority to have some sort of in-person graduation ceremony for our seniors,” said Superintendent Karen Clarke. “This ‘hybrid’ approach at the Raceway will give graduates the opportunity to walk across the stage in their caps and gowns while still keeping everyone as safe as possible.” Each high school will be sending specific instructions for the ceremonies directly to students and families.

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TALLAHASSEE – Last week, investigators with the state’s Office of Agriculture Law Enforcement (OALE) obtained an arrest warrant for Lori Marie Esteve, President and Director of Stories of Babies Born Still (SOBBS), a charity under investigation regarding allegations of engaging in a scheme to defraud donors and misappropriation of funds. The accused, Lori Marie Estevez was arrested yesterday and booked into the Polk County Jail. Bond was set at $8,000.00. OALE is a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).

 “The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has zero tolerance for sham charities perpetrating fraud against its donors. Stealing the money of parents grieving the loss of a child is a vile and appalling act,” stated Commissioner Fried. “After a thorough investigation by our OALE  investigators, we will be taking legal action and holding this charity accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Investigation: On March 29, 2019, the FDACS Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement (OALE), opened an investigation into a Solicitor of Contributions: Stories of Babies Born Still, FDACS license CH40585.  This case was opened in response to a referral from the FDACS Regulatory Investigative Section (RIS).  The referral was a result of complaints received by RIS concerning the SOBBS Charity.

SOBBS is alleged to have misled donors and misappropriated funds that were donated to the charity for the purchase and delivery of a Comfort Cradle Device(s) to a hospital or clinic of their choosing. The named charity collected donations via their website for the acquisition of Comfort Cradle Devices from the manufacturer, Comfort Innovations LLC, a Florida for profit corporation. These devices were to be used as a temporary holding system for still born infants to allow the family to cope and grieve during the tragic event.  The investigation revealed that deposits and full payments had been given to the SOBBS charity, however, numerous orders had not been fulfilled. The manufacturer of the cradle, Comfort Innovations LLC, had not received payment for approximately half of the orders placed for the devices.

Results: Acting on the information obtained during the investigation, OALE Investigators submitted a Probable Cause Affidavit to the Circuit Court of Polk County and obtained an arrest warrant for the suspect: Lori Marie Esteve. The investigation revealed the charity’s President and Director, Lori Marie Esteve, engaged in a scheme to defraud donors, misappropriated funds solicited and donated to the charity, and failed to comply with Florida State Statutes and regulations concerning charities registered and licensed by the State of Florida.


Florida State Statute 817.034.4(a)2, Scheme to Defraud for 1 (one) count, 2nd Degree Felony

Florida State Statute 496.415.1, Engage in the Solicitation of Charitable Contributions Without Registration for 1 (one) count, 3rd Degree Felony

Florida State Statute 496.415(13), Violation of Disclosure Requirements and Duties of Charitable Organizations for 1 (one) count, 3rd Degree Felony

Florida State Statute 496.415(16), Failure to Properly Apply Charitable Funds for 1 (one) count, 3rd Degree Felony.


Lori Marie Esteve

(W/F) (DOB: 09/21/1966)

535 Hancock Street W, Lakeland, FL 33805

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ALACHUA COUNTY - Highlights of the Second Amendment to Emergency Order No. 2020-25 include three new categories of establishments that are opened in Chapter 3 f. (Social Clubs, Country Clubs, and Fraternal Organizations). Further clarification is given that failure to wear a mask is not a criminal offense and does not authorize search or arrest, in chapter 15. Chapter 7 acknowledges the Governor's Executive Order 20-31, removing any state restrictions on summer camps and sports activities for youth. It clarifies that the Commission is taking input from stakeholders on best practices to keep kids and their families safe.
Read the entire Emergency Order.
For more information, contact Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton at 352-264-6979 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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ALACHUA COUNTY - Pursuant to Executive Order 20-123, Alachua County's request to re-open vacation rental operations was approved by Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears today. In his acceptance of the County's re-opening request and safety plan, Mr. Beshears stated that, "Based on the Department's review of the safety plan for vacation rental operations that accompanied your request, Alachua County has established the necessary plans for operation of vacation rentals at this time. Accordingly, I approve the operation of vacation rentals in Alachua County pursuant to the plans as submitted."
"We are deeply appreciative of the careful consideration Secretary Beshears has placed in his decision to approve the County's request to re-open vacation rentals," said Alachua County Tourism Manager Jessica Hurov. "The Alachua County plan was developed in alignment with Department of Business and Professional Regulation and Centers for Disease Control recommended safety measures to ensure that our vacation rental lodging providers are offering safe and clean rental properties for our visitors. The re-opening of vacation rentals provides expanded options for visitors as we welcome them back to Alachua County, and will assist vacation lodging operators and managers in their COVID-19 business recovery plans."
Reservations and stays will be allowed from U.S. states with a COVID-19 Case Rate less than 700cases/1OOK. Reservations from areas identified by Florida's Governor as COVID-19 hot spots through Executive Orders are to be avoided for the next 45 days. In the event the Governor issues subsequent Orders addressing vacation rentals and/or "hot spots" in the U.S., those restrictions shall be incorporated into the plan. Reservations from international travelers will not be accepted. Vacation rental operators can access information on COVID case rates online.
In addition to the recommended best practices and safety measures in the re-opening plan, Alachua County vacation rental owners and operators shall follow the guidelines developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for cleaning and disinfecting facilities; all Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation requirements and safety measures related to vacation rentals;  and all Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) sanitation guidelines.
For more information, contact Jessica Hurov at 352-363-8619 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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FLORIDA - The Florida National Guard (FLNG), under the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, is responding to the needs of the state alongside our interagency partners, helping to protect citizens and guests throughout this crisis.

As of May 27, 2020, the Florida National Guard has 2,383 Guardsmen on duty in support of Florida's COVID-19 response, and are operating 24 Community Based Testing Sites (CBTS).  Those drive-through and walk-up sites have helped administer almost 279,450 sample collections to date.

The FLNG is supporting airport screening operations in support of the Florida Department of Health at seven airports:  Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Miami International Airport (MIA), Orlando International Airport (MCO), Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), Tampa International Airport (TPA), Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) and Palm Beach International Airport (PBI). 

The FLNG Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen are also mobilized in support of the State Logistics Readiness Center (SLRC) in central Florida, ensuring needed supplies are getting to the right place at the right time across the state. Additionally, FLNG members are working in the State Emergency Operations Center and local emergency management offices across the state, serving as liaisons, ensuring local authorities understand the capabilities and equipment of the FLNG.

As this crisis continues, the Florida National Guard will maintain a ready force across the state for a variety of missions to include medical support and distribution of necessary commodities.

It is important that everyone follow the guidance put out by the Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information about COVID-19 and the State of Florida's response, visit http://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/COVID-19/covid19-toolkit.html.

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TALLAHASSEE, FL — Florida retail stores are stocked up and staffed up to help Florida families load up on supplies for hurricane season during Florida’s Disaster Preparedness Tax-Free Holiday, which begins this Friday, May 29, and runs through Thursday, June 4. 

“Forecasts indicate it’s going to be an active hurricane season, and we’re here to help make sure Florida families have all the supplies they need to weather any storm,” said Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “Take advantage of the tax savings and the sales this weekend at your local retail store. When you support Florida businesses, you’re supporting Florida jobs and Florida families.” 

Beginning Friday, May 29, Florida families can save on the purchase of eligible disaster preparedness items, including: 

  • Portable self-powered light source selling for $20 or less;
  • Certain portable radios selling for $50 or less;
  • Tarps selling for $50 or less;
  • Ground anchor systems or tie-down kits selling for $50 or less;
  • A gas or diesel fuel tank selling for $25 or less;
  • Packages of certain battery types, selling for $30 or less;
  • A nonelectric food storage cooler selling for $30 or less;
  • Portable generators for use in a power outage selling for $750 or less; and
  • Reusable ice selling for $10 or less.

As the state continues to safely and slowly re-open after safer-at-home orders were lifted, there are a number of ways consumers can take advantage of the tax-free holiday at Florida retail stores. Options include: 

  • Visit: Visit your local retailer to shop all the options available. 
  • Online: Find your favorite Florida retailer online to select what you need. 
  • Curbside or Delivery: Call your local retailer to place an order for curbside pick-up or delivery, where available. 

“We are grateful to Governor Ron DeSantis for supporting this measure that saves Florida families money as they stock up on supplies,” said Shalley. “Thanks also go to the Florida Senate and Florida House for pushing this important legislation through this year.”

This year’s Disaster Preparedness Tax-Free Holiday was established when Governor DeSantis signed HB 7097 into law on April 8. The legislation was championed by Budget Chairs Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings, and the tax-free holiday was a priority of Sen. Joe Gruters, Sen. Keith Perry, Sen. Kelli Stargel and Rep. Bryan Avila. 

Florida’s hurricane season begins June 1. Floridians can visit FloridaDisaster.org to learn more about how to prepare and what supplies are needed.

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 TALLAHASSEE — Today, May 22, 2020, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) announced Florida’s April 2020 Employment Data. This month, Florida saw considerable changes in employment data due to COVID-19.
 Florida Economic Indicators for April 2020 include:
  • Unemployment rate was 12.9 percent.
  • Labor force was down 893,000, 8.6 percent, over the month.
  • Florida businesses lost 989,600 private-sector jobs over the year.
  • Florida’s private-sector over-the-year rate of decline of 12.7 percent was less than the national over-the-year decline of 14.6 percent.
  • Consumer Sentiment Index is 75.9 in April 2020, 11.2 points lower than the March revised figure of 87.1.
 Governor DeSantis’ Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery Full Phase 1 Plan is providing the opportunity for many of Florida’s businesses to reopen their doors and reemploy many Floridians. Governor DeSantis and DEO continue to encourage Florida businesses impacted by COVID-19 to utilize state and federal resources currently available. For a list of federal and state resources available to businesses impacted by COVID-19, please visit Floridajobs.org/COVID-19.
To view the April 2020 jobs report by region, please see below:

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Editor’s Note: High Springs Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham is also the Emergency Management Coordinator in High Springs, a position he has held for nine years, and he is the key contact between the City and other agencies regarding the Coronavirus. He meets remotely with Alachua County Department of Health three times per week, the Department of Health EMS twice weekly and the Florida Fire Chief’s Association weekly. He is knowledgeable about the Coronavirus pandemic, and periodically he will be writing about the pandemic and updates on best practices.

“Uncharted territory.” “Unprecedented times.” “Flatten the curve.” All phrases we have heard way too often. COVID-19 has changed life as we know it. Businesses have closed. There are now lines at grocery stores and millions out of work. To a certain extent, a modern day Pearl Harbor: “A [time] which will live in infamy.” (President Franklin Roosevelt)

As we continue to learn about this deadly virus, I encourage us all to do our part. The Stay-At-Home order is in place to protect your family and mine. Unless you need to travel for essential purposes, such as grocery shopping or going to an essential job, try to stay home. The only way to prevent the spread of this virus is to wash our hands often, wear a mask when in public and maintain social distancing.

As a department, we are taking extra steps to ensure our firefighters remain healthy and safe. Our lobby remains closed and new cleaning procedures, both for equipment and our personal gear, are in place.

While we manage a new normal, we are also trying to focus on a certain area of our community that is impacted the most by COVID-19—our seniors. Those are the people who may live alone, and who now find themselves in near total isolation with the cancellation of countless services and programs once available to them.

We recently launched the Caring Card Drive. With the help of members of our own community who are creating thoughtful and encouraging “caring cards,” we plan to deliver these cards to those in need in an effort to bring a moment of joy, and to remind them they have not been forgotten. This is the perfect activity to do with the kids. Cards can be big or small, simple or elaborate. Cards can include a saying, positive words, a poem or whatever card creators think fits best. A bin has been positioned outside of the main High Springs Fire Station lobby as a drop off location for cards. The address is 18586 N.W. 238th Street, High Springs.

In closing, let us remember to all do our part. We are in this together and we will persevere.

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During this time of crisis, America’s courageous patriots in uniform still deserve our utmost respect and admiration for keeping us free and safe from the bad guys of this world.

They are fulfilling an undying and faithful commitment to ‘'duty, honor, country” for every American no matter how they look or what they believe.

Today, these military heroes are joining countless millions of other American heroes in the brutal war against an adversary we call “Coronavirus or COVID-19.

The list of these patriotic heroes is long and consists of American warriors from every walk of life. They include:

  • Doctors, nurses, and other medical workers and support personnel,
  • Hospitals, nursing homes, and pharmacies,
  • Law enforcement and first responders,
  • Truckers and warehouse stockers,
  • Supermarkets and local grocery/convenience stores,
  • Restaurants and fast food chains who are finding creative ways to feed us and provide some degree of normalcy in our lives,
  • School systems for developing creative methods to teach our children,
  • Volunteers who are courageously putting others above self,
  • Corporations and small business who are “retooling” operations to make respirators, masks, and other personal protective equipment,
  • City, county, state, and national government bodies,
  • Broadcast and print media outlets, and
  • The millions of Americans who are faithfully committing to “social distancing” to combat the spread of this insidious and deadly disease.

Got the picture? We are all in this battle together. Sadly, just like every other war: “Some are giving some while others are giving all.”

Let us continue together as “One Nation Under God” in faithful commitment to “duty, honor, country” in fighting this war against humanity.

I am confident we will defeat this brutal enemy and come out stronger with renewed respect for one another. I know we can do it; I have to believe; I can do no other.

God Bless America!

Robert W. Wilford

City of Alachua

There is no legitimate argument for making this change now and sending government further into a black hole and out of the light.

If you haven’t heard, the Florida Legislature is attempting to abolish the requirement that governmental agencies publish legal notices in newspapers, which would push government further into the shadows and make it harder for Floridians to learn about public policy issues, make their voices heard and hold their leaders accountable. This bill, HB 7 is scheduled to be heard by the full House on Tuesday. 

First off, this bill flips public notice on its head by reducing government transparency. Simply put, putting legal notices on government websites means very few Florida citizens will ever read them.  Public notice along with public meetings and public records have been part of our nation’s commitment to open government since the founding of the Republic. Our Founders placed public notices in newspapers to be noticed.

Secondly, from the perspective of efficient use of technology, I believe the bill takes a step backwards by placing these notices on government websites. 

The Florida Press Association has a comprehensive website which aggregates and places all of the notices under one umbrella – it’s called floridapublicnotices.com.  We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars building this website to serve Florida’s state government as well as its towns, municipalities, businesses and taxpayers. To date, we have over 32,000 registered users and over 70,000 monthly page views in addition to the notices in the newspapers and their websites. And, it’s free for the public to use. Why re-invent the wheel now? 

If this bill is passed, city and county governments will be required to recreate the same infrastructure currently in place to make notices easily searchable, mobile friendly, and provide email notification upon request of a specific notice (which newspapers do today), that recreation will not be cheap. In fact, the promised savings may not be there.  Nor will the audience, without a major investment in marketing to direct our citizens to what would be hundreds of government websites.

Further, the bill has the impact of significantly reducing notice. 

Despite what you read and hear, newspapers or should I say, media companies are alive and well. Our weekly newspapers are growing, and our dailies are growing digital subscriptions and page views. In some cases, double-digit online growth.  

Newspapers in Florida alone are reaching 7.5 million readers in any given week, and our websites typically will reach more audience than most city or county websites. Our websites draw a minimum of 58 million unique online users in any given month.

By moving notices to less-frequently visited government websites, not only will you reduce the reach to the Florida public, you also lose the active and well-informed citizen. These are people who read often and find notices while they’re staying current with other community news. 

Finally, while this bill claims to save cities and counties money, the unintended consequence is that notices will lose both readership and the legally important third-party verification. 

With notices in newspapers -- in print and online -- it provides a verifiable public record through sworn required affidavits of publication.   Does the government really want to take on this responsibility of residents not being properly notified? 

In closing, 250 years ago our founders decided to place these public notices in a public forum -- newspapers – an open space where The People were most likely to see them… not on hundreds of different government sites hoping folks will find them.

Let’s keep Florida transparent and informed.  Please feel free to call your local legislator to share your voice before it’s too late.

Jim Fogler is the President & CEO Florida Press Service

336 E. College Ave. Suite 304, Tallahassee, FL  32301

 This Valentine’s Day, many Veterans who fought to preserve our freedoms will be hospitalized, receiving the medical care they earned, but separated from the homes and communities they defended.  No one should be alone on Valentine’s Day, and with the help of our grateful community, no Veteran has to be.

I would like to personally invite every one of your readers to show their love and appreciation to Veterans by visiting the Malcom Randall or Lake City Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers as part of the National Salute to Veteran Patients Feb. 9-15.

During the National Salute, VA invites individuals, Veterans groups, military personnel, civic organizations, businesses, schools, local media, celebrities and sports stars to participate in a variety of activities at the VA medical centers.

During the week we are excited to host many various organizations, groups, schools and others that are taking the time out of their busy schedules and visit our some of our facilities.

The love doesn’t have to end on Valentine’s Day.  Many of our Veterans are coming to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with special needs and challenges that require the hearts and hands of a new generation of VA volunteers. North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System invites citizens, young and old, to join us in honoring our Veterans year-round by learning more about VA’s volunteer program as well.

Every citizen can make a positive difference in the life of a Veteran patient.  Visits from community groups do so much to lift the spirits of our patients.  I invite every member of our community to participate.

Call our Voluntary Service office at 352-548-6068 for the Malcom Randall VAMC or 386-755- 3016, ext. 392032 for the Lake City VAMC to schedule a visit and learn how to join the VA’s National Salute to Veteran Patients.

Thomas Wisnieski, MPA, FACHE


North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System

When I started graduate school at Florida State University, I had never seen a sawfish in the wild but I was excited to be part of the recovery of a species I had been so awestruck by in aquariums.

The smalltooth sawfish, the only sawfish found in Florida, has been protected in Florida since 1992 and became federally listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2003. Little was known about the species when it became listed but since that time, scientists have learned a lot about its biology and ecology.

As sawfish recovery efforts continue, we expect there to be more sawfish sightings, especially in Florida. This includes anglers who may accidentally catch one on hook-and-line while fishing for other species.

Sawfish encounters

Sawfish can be encountered when participating in a number of activities including boating, diving and fishing. Further, the species may be encountered by waterfront homeowners and beach goers in the southern half of the state where juvenile sawfish rely on shallow, nearshore environments as nursery habitats. When fishing, targeting sawfish is prohibited under the ESA, though incidental captures do occur while fishing for other species. Knowing how to properly handle a hooked sawfish is imperative as sawfish can be potentially hazardous to you. One of the first things that stood out to me while conducting permitted research was the speed at which a sawfish can swing its rostrum (commonly referred to as the saw). For creatures that glide along the bottom so slowly and gracefully, they sure can make quick movements when they want to. It’s best to keep a safe distance between you and the saw.

If you happen to catch a sawfish while fishing, do not pull it out of the water and do not try to handle it. Refrain from using ropes or restraining the animal in any way, and never remove the saw. It is important that you untangle it if necessary and release the sawfish as quickly as possible by cutting the line as close to the hook as you can. Proper release techniques ensure a high post-release survival of sawfish. Scientific studies show us that following these guidelines will limit the amount of stress a sawfish experiences as a result of capture. Note that a recent change in shark fishing rules requires use of circle hooks, which results in better hook sets, minimizes gut hooking, and also maximizes post-release survival. 

In addition to capture on hook-and-line, sawfish can easily become entangled in lost fishing gear or nets. If you observe an injured or entangled sawfish, be sure to report it immediately but do not approach the sawfish. Seeing a sawfish up close can be an exciting experience but you must remember that it is an endangered species with strict protections.

If you are diving and see a sawfish, observe at a distance. Do not approach or harass them. This is illegal and this guidance is for your safety as well as theirs.

An important component of any sawfish encounter is sharing that information with scientists. Your encounter reports help managers track the population status of this species. If you encounter a sawfish while diving, fishing or boating, please report the encounter. Take a quick photo if possible (with the sawfish still in the water and from a safe distance), estimate its length including the saw and note the location of the encounter. The more details you can give scientists, the better we can understand how sawfish are using Florida waters and the better we can understand the recovery of the population. Submit reports at SawfishRecovery.org, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone at 1-844-4SAWFISH.

Sawfish background

Sawfishes, of which there are five species in the world, are named for their long, toothed “saw” or rostrum, which they use for hunting prey and defense. In the U.S., the smalltooth sawfish was once found regularly from North Carolina to Texas but its range is now mostly limited to Florida waters.

In general, sawfish populations declined for a variety of reasons. The primary reason for decline is that they were frequently caught accidentally in commercial fisheries that used gill nets and trawls. Additional contributing factors include recreational fisheries and habitat loss. As industrialization and urbanization changed coastlines, the mangroves that most sawfishes used as nursery habitat also became less accessible. For a species that grows slowly and has a low reproductive rate, the combination of these threats proved to be too much.

Engaging in sawfish recovery

During my thesis research, which focuses on tracking the movements of large juvenile and adult smalltooth sawfish, each tagging encounter is a surreal experience.

The first sawfish I saw was an adult, and what struck me the most was just how big it was. I also remember being enamored by its mouth. Like all other rays, its mouth is on the underside of its body. The mouth looks like a shy smile and I found it almost humorous how different the top of the sawfish was compared to the bottom. After seeing my first baby sawfish, the contrast seemed even greater. It’s hard to believe upon seeing a 2 to 3 foot sawfish that it could one day be 16 feet long! No matter the size, anyone who has encountered a sawfish will tell you it’s an experience like no other.

The hope is that one day the sawfish population will be thriving once again, and more people will be able to experience safe and memorable encounters with these incredible animals. Hopefully, we can coexist with sawfish in a sustainable and positive way in the future.

For more information on sawfish, including FWC’s sawfish research visit:
MyFWC.com/research, click on “Saltwater” then “Sawfish.”

For more information on smalltooth sawfish and their recovery watch:

Sadly, 10 law enforcement officers have already died in the line of duty this month in the United States.

In addition to two dying in vehicular crashes related to crime, three were mercilessly killed as a result of gunfire by cowards who had no respect for human life or the rule of law.

Please let us never forget the bravery our men and  women in blue display each day for EVERY American as they don their uniform and leave for duty. Unfortunately, they do not know if they will return home to loved ones at the end of their shift.

As Americans, we take for granted:

- When turning on the faucet, without thinking, we expect clean water to pour out.

- When flipping a switch, without thinking, we expect the room will be illuminated.

- When purchasing something to eat from a grocery store, restaurant, or fast food establishment, without thinking, we expect these edible products will not be contaminated.

- When sending our children off to school each day, without thinking, we expect they will be educated by qualified and dedicated teachers.

- When resting our heads on the pillow at night, without thinking, we expect our faithful members of the armed forces will protect us from the bad guys of this world.

- When venturing out into the community, without thinking, we expect our highly trained and brave police officers will keep us safe from harm.

It is acceptable to expect these things we take for granted because our forefathers believed each American was special and declared every citizen had certain unalienable rights.

Let us remain steadfast in never forgetting, and do think about and honor, the tremendous sacrifices America’s men and women in blue make by courageously: “putting others above self.”

Robert Wilford

Alachua, Florida



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Quitting tobacco isn’t easy, finding help should be. If you are ready to quit, join our next Tools to Quit Tobacco group on Thursday, March 12 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at The Cancer Center of North Florida Regional Medical Center or Sunday, March 29 from 12 pm. .– 2 p.m. at Tower Road Library. This FREE one time, two- hour group will give you tips on how to deal with triggers, withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse. You will also receive up to 4 weeks of FREE nicotine patches, gum or lozenges. This group more than doubles your chance of quitting for good. Pre-registration is required. Call 866-341-2730 to reserve your spot