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Chief’s Corner – by High Springs Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham

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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Don’t Take Away Floridian’s Access to Public Notice

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

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Living outside the city

I get asked all the time, "Why don't you live in Gainesville?"

It's a valid question; I'll give you that. I go to UF and work in Gainesville. I have to get out of bed 30 minutes earlier to leave for school than I would if I lived in Gainesville. If I want to go home before I go to work, I spend like $12 in gas just to make the back-and-forth trip.

Driving home to change before going out on the weekends takes so much time that I often just end up staying home most of the time. All these things may seem like deal breakers to most, but they're only minor sacrifices to me.

I love living in High Springs. I grew up here on a dirt road with nothing to do but get in trouble. I climbed trees, stared at the stars, stole my momma's cigarettes and spent so much time outdoors that the five-minute walk home felt like an eternity in the infinite darkness of night.

I love the trees, the smell in the air and the kind people.

In Gainesville, you struggle to find a parking spot that won't get you towed. In High Springs, you can double park and not feel guilty.

In Gainesville, you're constantly stuck in traffic. In High Springs, the only traffic you worry about is foot traffic at the Farmer's market.

In High Springs, you don't worry about car washes because you prefer dirt roads. Rain washes your car.

It's just so peaceful here. I know Alachua's starting to get bigger with new restaurants and franchises opening up left and right, but there's still this serenity about the area. A small town atmosphere that makes you wish your grandparents’ house was right around the corner so that you can pick up some freshly baked cookies before you start your day.

I live five minutes from my parents’ house and I raid their house whenever my roommates and I are low on groceries. They don't care; they just enjoy having me around. In all honesty, I don't visit as much as I should. My dogs about have a heart attack every time I stop by. I just know that it would be much worse if I lived in Gainesville.

That's High Springs, though. It's close to home. It's close to my family. It's close to my heart.

No matter where I go, I'll never forget my time here. This is where I grew up. This is where I became who I am today. 

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Sawfish: What to do when you accidentally hook one

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 sawfish@MyFWC.com 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:
YouTube.com/watch?v=NSRWUjVU3e8&t=3s

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The Conspiracy of Catholicism

Dear Most Holy Father:

    Thank you for attempting to humanize the office of pope.

    The majority of Catholics have blindly viewed pontiffs as God-like and incapable of making mistakes because of being infallible.

    Your actions, so far, do give me hope. I pray you will lead us toward renewal (retaining the good stuff), reformation (discarding the bad stuff), and rebirth (uncompromising justice and renewed spirituality).

    I first contacted John Paul II in 1993, and again in 2002. I contacted Benedict XVI several times during his papacy.

    I challenged them to reform an indifferently corrupt and a conspiracy-driven theocracy for the innumerable crimes the hierarchy had committed for centuries.

    Mandated priest celibacy, the murder of Joan of Arc, persecution of Martin Luther, imprisonment of Galileo, unjust inquisitions and crusades and the coddling of clergy sexual predators are examples of the church’s abuse of power.  

   The current crisis is attributable to the disreputable leadership of John Paul and Benedict for not putting the needs of victims first over predator priests.

    John Paul and Benedict shamefully elected to shelter sodomizers and the institution of Catholicism itself above all else.

    I urge you to stand on your perch at Saint Peter’s this Ash Wednesday and declare:

    We, the popes, cardinals, bishops and priests of the Roman Catholic Church have been grievously and sinfully wrong since the very beginning of the church’s history in protecting predator priests at the expense of the victims of clergy sexual abuse. Humbly, we openly admit our culpability, and, in professing our shame, ask for forgiveness from God and all humanity for the unspeakable crimes we have committed against victimized children and their families for nearly 2,000 years.”

    One critical action you need to take is to stop the canonization process for John Paul which will be the ultimate “Conspiracy of Catholicism.”

    There are a number of reasons this unworthy pontiff should not be canonized.

    John Paul had numerous opportunities to thwart the church’s sexual abuse scandal. He did virtually nothing to rid the church of sexual predators.

    In 1985, there was a major crisis in Lafayette, La. A priest was sentenced to 20 years in prison for molesting dozens of children.

    This scandal provided John Paul an excellent platform to become a hero for Catholicism by laicizing predator priests and by setting a “zero tolerance” standard for known sexual predators.

    He failed to do so. Instead, he became a co-conspirator with bishops everywhere by harboring clergy sexual abusers who were moved from parish to parish to sodomize other children. Is this action worthy of sainthood?  

    In the early 1990s, John Paul was given another opportunity to take action. Clergy sexual abuse allegations were surfacing all across America, especially in Massachusetts.

    John Paul chose to ignore the severity of an ever-increasing scandal by not calling Cardinal Law to task for sheltering known clergy sexual predators in the Boston archdiocese. Is this action worthy of sainthood?

    In 1995, Law’s Secretary for Ministerial Personnel was commissioned a bishop by John Paul.

    This egregious action was effectuated despite the pope knowing this monsignor was aware of a number of priests in his archdiocese being sexual predators. In 1998, this bishop was promoted to head his own diocese.

    He was probably rewarded for being the proverbial “corporate man” in shielding Law and the Vatican from being fingered as co-conspirators in the rape of innocent children. Is this action worthy of sainthood?

    Thousands of allegations were made around the world in 2002 against priests and bishops alleging sexual misconduct.

    This crisis was again prevalent in the Archdiocese of Boston. Law was unscrupulously transferred to the Vatican instead of keeping him in Boston to face the music.

    This convenient relocation allowed Law to escape possible legal action in America since he maintained dual citizenship status in America and in Vatican City.

    Rewarding Law for failing to protect children from harm was the ultimate “Conspiracy of Catholicism” committed by John Paul during his inglorious tenure. Is this action worthy of sainthood?

    Allowing Law to run and hide in the Vatican is the clincher in insisting the canonization process for John Paul cease immediately.

    A number of saints of the church had checkered pasts prior to becoming truly repentant for their sins and crimes.

    Saints Paul and Augustine are wonderful examples of sinners who displayed outward signs of repentance prior to being canonized.

    To the contrary, John Paul went to his grave never publicly displaying sorrow for his grievous sin of indifference in allowing children to be raped by clerics and by not laicizing known sexual predators.

    Does John Paul’s lack of contrition make him worthy of sainthood? 

    I implore you to let God be the supreme impartial judge in determining John Paul’s worthiness of being declared a saint.

    The church must not perpetuate “The Conspiracy of Catholicism” by canonizing a dubious leader of the world’s Catholics, one who never asked for forgiveness for the heinous crimes he committed against humanity.

     I still love my church and its sacred traditions, participate in the sacraments, contribute financially to my parish and other Catholic charities, and proudly “cross” myself in public whenever prayers are said at meetings and other events.

     On the other hand, I have very little respect for the church’s hierarchy, notwithstanding my belief in many of the church’s doctrines and beautiful traditions.

     Hopefully, you can improve my less than flattering opinion of the Vatican and the bishops of the church.

     Taking a bold step into the future by leading a spiritual rebirth of a broken “Christian” church thereby erasing “The Conspiracy of Catholicism” once and for all may just do it.

     I pray that you will have the courage to take this step.

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