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Local News

  • First African-American woman elected to Chiefland City Commission, Mayor Betty Walker, passes away

    A longtime advocate for Chiefland with a smile to light up any room, Mayor Betty Walker, or “Miss Betty,” as she was best known by those who knew her, passed away on Feb. 25 after recent health complications.

    Walker was the first African-American woman to be elected to the Chiefland City Commission. She was 72 years old.

    It’s the second time in less than four years that the sitting mayor of Chiefland has died in office. Teal Pomeroy died in a diving accident while serving as mayor in August 2016.

    Walker was serving as vice mayor at the time of Pomeroy’s death and was subsequently elected mayor in 2016, 2017 and 2018 by the Commission.

    Politics is normally fraught with contention and controversy, but Walker remained a popular figure through more than 15 years serving as a Commissioner, even among her peers. She was first elected in 1997 and served through 2007. Her second stint on the Commission was from 2013 until her passing. She was elected mayor for seven terms and vice mayor for five terms. Those respective positions are elected each year by the Commission.

  • Chiefland renews fire chief’s contract

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    Chiefland Fire Chief James Harris signed his annual contract after receiving kudos from the City Commission on Feb. 11.

    “I’ve only known James for little bit,” said Commissioner Tim West. “I look forward to working with you in the future. You have good character and work ethic. Great person.”

    Commissioner Donald Lawrence added, “Man of his word who speaks it like it is.” Lawrence commended Harris and his team of grant writers for the thousands of dollars in equipment and training that the department has received through grant applications. “I guarantee there’s not many communities this small that have that type of equipment,” he said. “You amaze me how you get money from nowhere.”

    “It’s not just me,” Harris said about how the fire department gets awarded grant monies. “It’s a team of people and it starts right over hear with Ms. Belinda (Wilkerson) who is doing the grant writing. I’ve got firefighters who are looking for grants and searching for what’s going on.”

  • Superintendent rolls out grassroots strategic planning goals

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    Levy County Superintendent Jeffery Edison stood at the podium at the Feb. 12 School Board meeting and pointed to the district mission displayed on the wall behind him. “Our mission is to educate all students in a safe environment and to graduate them ready for college and career success,” the statement reads.

    Every year, the School Board approves a strategic plan. This year, Edison is changing how the Board achieves that goal.

    From the podium, Edison brought the attention of the Board members, staff, community members, teachers and students at the meeting to an 8-foot board with five topics listed. He assigned a Board Member to each topic.

    Student achievement: Ashley Clemenzi, human resources: Cameron Asbell, fiscal resources: Brad Etheridge, public relations: Chris Cowart, and safe schools Paige Brookins. He also assigned district staff and school administrators to those topics.

    “Every school district is required to have a strategic plan,” Edison said. “A lot of times, we redo something we’ve adopted, something we were working on.”

  • Government shutdowns leave impact on Levy County

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    With a possible government shutdown on the horizon, Levy County farmers and federal programs could be affected again by lack of funding.

    President Trump set Feb. 15 as the date of a second shutdown which is three weeks after he opened the government up after record closure of 35 days.

    For rural Levy County and its thousands of acres dedicated to agriculture, a national wildlife refuge, and an aquatic farming industry on the Gulf Coast, the impact of another shutdown could mean further disruptions in federally funded projects, research and of ongoing farming practices.

    Michael Allen, director of the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station based in Cedar Key, said the last shutdown did take a toll on the Gulf region.

    “From the University’s perspective, the biggest impact is to our federal cooperators like the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge which was shut down for a month,” Allen said. “We work with those folks on a daily basis on everything from monitoring wildlife populations to hosting internships to habitat restoration work, fire control burns.

  • Inglis takes steps to control litter along CR 40

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    The County approved an agreement with the Town of Inglis that refuse containers be placed along the right of way adjacent to County Road 40.

    “They’re going to purchase, install and maintain them,” said Administrative Field Manager Casey Duquette, who said he thinks that people will use the containers “instead of throwing a water bottle in the woods.”

    Inglis Mayor Drina Merritt said she thinks the containers will foster a pitching-in mentality from pedestrians as well. “People out walking, if they see a piece of trash out by the sidewalk, they might put it in the trash if they so choose,” she said.

    Concerns about trash along the route were brought up by residents at the recent Bird Creek Boat Ramp town hall meeting.

    The new containers will be on a trial basis said Duquette. “If it becomes a problem, and the City is aware, and it isn’t corrected in a certain amount of time, we’ll request in writing to have them removed,” he said.

  • Recuperating Joyner attends Commission meeting via phone

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    With assurance of legality from Levy County Attorney Anne Bast Brown, County Commissioner Mike Joyner attended the Feb. 5 regular meeting via phone call and took part with full capacity.

    “When the cause for the absence is a medical issue, it is allowable for a commission member to appear by phone,” Brown answered when Joyner asked her to provide the go ahead for his participation. “Full voting rights, full participation,” she said. “Everything is fine.”

    Joyner, who suffers from several injuries as a result of a mishap while riding a horse last month, also reached out to his colleagues and constituents at the top of the meeting.

    “I would like to thank everybody for the prayers and well wishes,” he said. “They say it will be nine weeks before I walk again, but I guarantee I’ll be back in six,” he said.

  • County adopts new water rates

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    The Levy County Board approved two resolutions that put into effect schedules of water rates, fees and charges for customers of University Oaks and Manatee Utilities water systems.

    According to Commission Chair John Meeks, the new rates will help the County collect on abandoned utility bills. “We are increasing the deposit because the old deposit was so low, that people would leave us and wouldn’t come by and pay their bill,” Meeks said. “So this way, at least $100 covers the majority of water usage.”

    The deposit amount increase will not be applied to current customers.

    For returned checks, “We had a $35 return check charge,” said County Water Department Director Jim Jones. Now, the amount charged to a customer for a returned check will be, “the amount that the County is charged,” he said. Sometimes the charge for a returned check is more than the previously set $35 fee, explained Jones.

  • Goat yoga a chance to connect, take cool selfies

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    Rule No. 1: The goats will get into everything. Rule No. 2: Hide your phones. Rule No. 3: Really good manners matter.

    It’s Sunday morning at Black Prong Equestrian Center in Bronson. Two dozen yoga students are set up with mats, towels, water bottles and a bag of treats.

    Yoga Instructor Melissa Montilla of Gainesville is explaining to her class, “We approach them with lovely manners, and do our best to invite them in and invite ourselves to be open enough to invite them in.”

    For Montilla who started out as a dancer and eventually added yoga into her dance training, creating a peaceful space is top priority. “Pygmy fainting goats,” she says. “I would like them not to faint because that means they are stressed out, so we tone down the movement as they come inside.”

  • Common Core end leaves Levy schools in limbo

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    An executive order delivered by Governor Ron DeSantis on Jan. 31 leaves future textbook and classroom curriculum purchases for Levy County schools in limbo.

    Executive Order 19-32 outlines a path for Florida to “improve its education system by eliminating Common Core and paving the way for Florida students to receive a world-class education to prepare them for jobs of the future,” states a press release from the governor’s office.

    “I have heard parents from across the state loud and clear and they all agree that it is time to finally end Common Core,” said DeSantis. “So today, we are taking action through this executive order to ensure that Florida has the best academic standards in the nation and eliminating Common Core from our schools, as well as reaffirming my commitment to prepare our students for the real world through an increased focus on civic education,” the statement reads.

  • Bronson meeting gets heated over mayoral appointment procedure

    The Bronson Town Council drew criticism from citizens at a contentious meeting on Feb. 4 over what was perceived as an injustice against former Vice Mayor Beatrice Roberts.

    Roberts, who was then the vice mayor, was not appointed as the town’s mayor after the recent resignation of Mayor Bruce Greenlee and Vice Mayor Katie Parks late last year.

    Robert Partin was voted mayor by a majority vote from the council after Greenlee and Parks’ positions were filled by Berlon Weeks and James Beck through appointment. The mayoral vote and council member appointments were done at a Town Council meeting on Jan. 22.

    Partin selected Councilman Jason Hunt as vice mayor at the meeting.

    In December, Mayor Bruce Greenlee stepped down for personal reasons as did Council member Katie Parks. Roberts presided as interim mayor at various times over the past year when Greenlee was away from office due to health reasons, and it was Roberts who presided over the meeting on Jan. 22 in which Weeks and Beck were appointed to replace Greenlee and Parks on the council for the remainder of their terms.