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Author: Ken Garner

Lightning adds to amateur radio operators’ challenge


“It was pretty busy here this morning,” ARES Assistant Emergency Coordinator John Holladay said mid-afternoon Saturday, watching volunteers dismantle a telescoping radio antenna.

Six volunteer organizations who work with the county during emergency operations – the Community Emergency Response Team, Food Raising Friends, Legal Services of North Florida, Red Cross, SAFER Santa Rosa and the United Way – had set up tents in the emergency center’s parking lot, Holladay said, ready to share information about their services and recruit volunteers. But a mid-day thunderstorm – especially the lightning it generated – cut their day short.

The ARES volunteers stuck it out, but the storm did hamper their attempts to make as many radio contacts as possible during the 24-hour period beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“The lightning creates a lot of noise in a thunderstorm, it can make it more difficult to receive signals,” ARES Emergency Coordinator Arc Thames explained.

The Milton exercise was part of the 2022 American Radio Relay League Field Day, an annual event that challenges local amateur radio emergency services volunteers to make as many contacts globally as possible using only their radio equipment without supporting infrastructure. Even with nature’s interference, the Milton group made 361 total contacts from as far away as California, Puerto Rico and Labrador, Canada.

ARES volunteers are an important part of the county’s emergency response team. At its June 20 committee meeting, the county commission approved a proclamation declaring last week Amateur Radio Week.

The proclamation said, in part, that “the amateur radio station becomes a critical communication link in the event of a disaster and volunteer radio operators provide situational awareness to emergency managers during and after a disaster.”

It also lauded amateur radio operators for providing free radio communications for community events and their contributions as weather spotters in the U.S. National Weather Service’s SKYWARN program.

“When everything else fails, you still have ham radio,” Thames said

U.S. 90 widening continues to divide Milton

Howard Steele, a small business owner and candidate for Santa Rosa County Commission District 3, told Lindsay she needed to be “the tip of the spear” leading the city’s opposition to FDOT’s plan.

“I believe your approach is to just accept whatever (FDOT) says and move on,” he said at the council’s regular meeting. “I just don’t believe that’s the right approach to take, especially when the consequences are pretty drastic for the people of this city.”

An impromptu survey of the Milton City Council showed all eight councilmembers are against widening U.S. 90.

Lindsay, who was elected mayor in 2018, has said she does not want a four-lane highway through the middle of Milton, but thinks it is more important to work with FDOT than fight the powerful state agency.

Responding to Steele, she said it’s important to adapt to changes beyond the city’s control. The U.S. 90 project, she said, “was planned by an organization that we do not control, with taxpayer dollars (the use of which) we cannot dictate, on a road that we do not own.”

“I grew up here; I don’t want to see a four-lane, I never asked for a four-lane, but I am in favor of working with the government after it prepared a study and evaluated routes and gave us commitments to protect the (historic Imogene Theatre), to protect the Fisher-Hamilton Building and to give us a 25-mph speed limit, a curved road to slow traffic down, and period lighting, brick pavers, and they welcomed further input,” Lindsay said later in the meeting. “So, I am willing to work with them.”

The Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization, comprised of elected officials from Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in Florida and Baldwin County, Ala., decided years ago that traffic congestion on U.S. 90 in Milton was a problem. In 2014, at the TPO’s request, FDOT began a Project Development and Environmental Study. Over the next five years, the department studied a variety of alternatives and held several meetings to share information and seek public comment. The study, completed in 2019, determined that widening the existing roadway was the best solution.

Ian Satter, Public Information Director for FDOT’s Northwest Florida district, said in March that the design phase will take several years and include more chances for public input. But to stop or change the project, opponents would have to convince the TPO to change its priorities.

The Milton City Council initially supported the Florida-Alabama TPO’s suggestion to widen U.S. 90 through the city as part of a larger plan to expand the highway from Scenic Highway in Pensacola to State Road 87.

The project became a major issue in city politics, and by 2018 the council voted to ask FDOT to consider other solutions. In 2019, the council passed a resolution opposing the plan that read, in part, that the widening of U.S. 90 in certain areas would cause harm to businesses and residents, negatively impact the city’s comprehensive plan, and “irrevocably destroy the quality of life, safety and welfare inherent to these adjoining properties.”

Lindsay inadvertently started the discussion when, during her comments near the end of the agenda, she said that some business owners who support the FDOT plan feel unable to discuss the project with their councilmembers because of the councilmembers’ strongly held opinions against widening U.S. 98.

She said she would share the business owners’ names with councilmembers privately and asked councilmembers to reach out to those business owners and to be open to all their constituents.

The mayors’ request led Steele to grill her about her public interactions with the public and other local and state leaders about the project.

Lindsay said she never undermines the council’s position, although she sometimes does share her opinion.

“I have always represented that this council has passed a resolution against the expansion of Highway 90, I have never, never neglected to do that,” she told Steele. “I have always honored what this council has said. At the same time, it’s a free nation, I have a right to have my opinion.”

When Steele said he would like to know each councilmember’s position on the proposed widening project, Councilwoman Shannon Rice suggested polling the council immediately.
Rice said she opposes widening U.S. 90 to four lanes through downtown Milton because, she said, city residents do not want the road widened, she doesn’t believe it will fix the traffic problem, and she doesn’t like the state agency telling the city what it can or can’t do.
“You can bet I’m going to fight against it,” she said.

One by one, each councilmember said he or she opposed the plan and offered a brief explanation for their position.

Councilman Vernon Compton, the newest councilor, represents Milton in the Florida-Alabama Transportation Organization. Before his appointment to the council last year, he served as a volunteer on the TPO’s citizen’s advisory committee for two decades. He spoke the most, and most passionately, against accepting the FDOT plan.

Compton told the council that communities across the nation, including Fort Walton Beach, Pensacola, and DeFuniak Springs in Northwest Florida, are asking for funding to move highways from their downtowns. He also said there are options that FDOT has not studied that ultimately would be less expensive.

He challenged the idea that the city should accept FDOT’s plan “and work with them to make something that is not good for the community the best it can be.
“Why should Milton accept that?” he said. “Milton deserves the best; we deserve the best transportation system through our downtown, not something that’s going to be harmful to it.”

Compton said the city council should lobby the Escambia and Santa Rosa county commissions, which wield the most influence at the Florida-Alabama TPO with five votes each, to support exploring alternatives to widening U.S. 90 in Milton.

But Satter, the FDOT spokesperson, said in March that doing any new studies would delay the whole project, something he doesn’t believe other stakeholders would support.

The council took no action after the discussion.

Five vie for Cole’s seat; Piech seeks second term

“It’s time,” Cole said Monday. “If I could just work with (commissioners and staff), I might keep doing it. But you have so many people complaining to you, complaining about you, questioning you, saying awful things about you behind your back while you sit in that chair; I’ve had enough.”

Candidate qualifying for the Aug. 23 primary election began at noon June 13 and ended at noon June 17. Five candidates qualified to run for Cole’s District 2 seat, which includes the East Milton area: Jeff Ates, Rickie Cotton Jr., Kerry Smith, Clifton Wheeler and Howard Steele. Wheeler is a write-in candidate and did not declare a party. Like Cole, the other candidates all are Republicans.

In commission District 4 (Holley-Navarre), incumbent Dave Piech is running for a second term. Fellow Republican Ray Eddington and write-in candidate Harlan Hall are challenging Piech.

School Board Chairman Wei Uberschaer of Gulf Breeze announced earlier this year that she will not seek a third term representing District 5. Her predecessor, Scott Peden, will be running to replace Uberschaer against Pete Peters and Gregory Seltzer.

Incumbents Linda Sanborn (District 1, Milton) and Carol Boston (District 3, Holley-Navarre) face one challenger each. Wayne Patterson, the husband of Milton City Councilor Shannon Rice, is running against Sanborn. Rice had pre-filed to challenge in the same race but withdrew before qualifying.
Alisabeth Janai Lancaster is running against Boston.

No candidates qualified to challenge Midway Fire District commissioners Justin Labrato and Neal Carter, who will retain their seats.

The Holley-Navarre Fire District and City of Gulf Breeze positions will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Resident: Fencing upgrade is an investment in Milton

“I think this is a remarkable investment in Milton,” Jones said at the council’s June 14 meeting. “(Milton High School is) on the main drag, and people notice it.”

Jones is a 1968 graduate of Milton High School and taught at the school for 30 years. Her children are MHS graduates, and her grandson is a Panther student-athlete “so I’m very invested in Milton High School,” she said, adding that “keeping Milton High School from looking like a prison…is a benefit in many, many different ways.”

Councilman Jeff Snow made the prison comparison at an earlier meeting during discussion of the Santa Rosa County School District’s plan to install standard 6-foot-tall, galvanized-steel chain-link fencing to improve security at the school.

“We don’t want our high school to look like a prison,” Snow said. “We take pride in our city, and we take pride in our schools.”

MHS Principal Tim Short came to the council in May to ask for help paying for a more attractive option.

“We’ll take any fencing we can get,” Short said at the council’s May 26 Committee of the Whole meeting, but said some residents already consider Santa Rosa County’s oldest school – founded in 1916 and located at its current site on Stewart Street since 1956 – to be a “ghetto school.” He worried that standard chain-link fencing would reinforce that reputation.

There is chain-link fencing along Park Avenue, Byrom Street, and part of the western end of Raymond Hobbs Street, Short said, adding that he had asked for additional fencing since he became principal seven years ago, without success.

Then, while school still was in session earlier this year, staff found a homeless man sleeping under a tree on the school’s grounds.

“I sent them that picture (of the sleeping homeless man) and within hours (the school district) had someone there to give us an estimate,” Short said.

A-1 Hurricane Fence Industries of Pensacola estimated a cost of $87,000 to install chain-link fencing along the school’s Stewart Street frontage and around the corners to connect with existing fencing. Short asked for a second estimate, using black, three-rail, aluminum ornamental fencing instead. That cost was more than $164,000.

When the school district said it wouldn’t pay the higher price, Short came to the city for help.

The council unanimously supported paying the school district $77,155.69 from reserve funds to buy the nicer fencing and to ask the district for new estimates to extend the ornamental fencing further around the school.

Former City Councilwoman Sharon Holley questioned the wisdom of spending the reserves to help another government entity with its own budget and taxing authority, but City Manager Randy Jorgensen assured her that the city is in sound financial shape.

He also said the city would not give the district a blank check; the city will ask to approve the fencing plans before committing any funds to the project.

Wastewater spill highlights need for new plant

“The problem is, we have chokepoints in the latter part of that plant, in part due to its age,” City Manager Randy Jorgensen said at the city council’s June 14 regular meeting. “The chokepoints don’t allow that volume to pass. We’re in the process of trying to initiate and ultimately complete the construction of a new facility where those issues won’t surface.”

Jorgensen said the city received almost 7 inches of rain May 26, more than three times the amount forecast. The wastewater treatment plant has a permitted capacity of 2.5 million-gallons-per-day and averages about 2mgd. At its peak that Thursday before Memorial Day, the plant was trying to process the equivalent of about 6mgd.

“The plant is not designed to handle that,” Jorgensen said. Treated wastewater waiting to be chlorinated overflowed into an onsite retention pond. No cleanup was required. “To put it in context, the spill was approximately 10,000 gallons; we were processing 6 million. That equates to about 3/16 of 1 percent of the volume. It did not pose an environmental threat or hazard, it was reacted to in an appropriate way, and it was reported accordingly.

“It equates to having trouble with a single sprinkler head on a golf course when all of the sprinklers are running.”

Councilwoman Shannon Rice asked Jorgensen whether the same failure might occur at the new plant’s site.

“The new plant will be designed to accommodate those issues,” Jorgensen said. “We have the same type of site design, in essence; we also have what will be modern-sized lines and equipment. I believe we’re in a far better position to avoid those difficulties at that location than we are currently.”

The spill was reported to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection within 24 hours as required by law. Last week, a department environmental specialist notified the city that wastewater from the plant met the department’s standards, and no further sampling was necessary.

In related matters, the council approved a deal to acquire 100 acres from Santa Rosa County on which the city will build a rapid-infiltration basin system to disperse treated effluent from the new wastewater treatment plant when it’s completed. The council also approved a task order with Baskerville-Donovan Inc. to begin designing the RIBS.

Disposing of future effluent

In rapid-infiltration systems, treated wastewater collects in shallow basing built in deep and permeable deposits of highly porous soils. The water is further filtered as it drains through the soil, eventually flowing into surface water or groundwater aquifers.

For years, the Milton plant has served Santa Rosa County residents, treating about 100,000 gallons of county-generated wastewater each day. In exchange for the property on which to build its RIBS system, the city has agreed to credit the county’s account $400 per acre, or $400,000, plus the county’s cost for a geotechnical survey and analysis of the land (about $350,000).

The county hired Larry M. Jacobs and Associates to conduct the survey in July 2021, with work expected to be completed late this month. With the survey more than 70 percent complete, Jorgensen asked the city council to approve a task order agreeing to pay Baskerville-Donovan Inc., the engineering company designing the wastewater treatment plant, $74,700 to design the RIB system at. Jorgensen said the firm’s familiarity with the project helped lower the project’s cost. The design should be completed by mid-August.

The council voted 7-1 to begin design work, with Councilman Vernon Compton voting ‘no.’ Compton has consistently said the city shouldn’t proceed until the geotechnical survey – especially information about how and where water flows on the parcel – is finished.

Jorgensen assured Compton that the information will be available in a few weeks.

City to limit parking on Carmell Ridge Circle

“It’s going to be an atrocious change, and I just don’t think it’s going to be for the better,” Kathy Park told the Milton City Council at its June 14 regular meeting. “If there’s trouble with parking now, putting up all these no-parking signs is just going to compound the problem terribly…it’s just going to be a total catastrophe, in my opinion.”

The Carmell Ridge Homeowner’s Association approached the city about limiting parking in the subdivision after a poll of its members showed overwhelming support. HOA President Debra Weaver, in earlier meetings, said cars parking on both sides of the road have disrupted garbage service because the utility trucks simply don’t fit.

City Manager Randy Jorgensen told councilmembers controlling parking in the neighborhood is in the city’s best interest.

“We have trouble getting our sanitation trucks through that subdivision with parking on both sides; that’s a problem,” he said. “Additionally, the fire chief has indicated that he has a fear that he won’t be able to pass if an incident were to occur.
“Those are public safety concerns, and that’s a utility service we provide, and people pay for, and we need to have freedom of movement in order to provide that service,” Jorgensen continued. “So, that’s a legitimate concern from a municipal perspective.”

Councilwoman Shannon Rice supported installing the no-parking signs but predicted the cramped subdivision will face more challenges.

“One of the things that’s going to happen, and it’s just human nature, some of the people that can no longer park in front of their house are going to park in front of your house,” Rice told Park. “So, you will also be walking (to and from an overflow parking area near Carmell Ridge Circle’s intersection with Hamilton Bridge Road) because there’s nothing to stop them from parking in front of someone else’s house….”
“It’s difficult,” she continued. “The whole situation here is difficult. It’s unfortunate that it was designed the way it was designed, but now we’re dealing with it.”

Carmell Ridge Circle is a block west of the intersection of Dogwood Drive and Hamilton Bridge Road, separated by a fence from the David’s Catfish House parking lot.

Hurricane Ivan was one of 13 Category 3 or higher storms to strike the United States in 2004 and 2005.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers paid Conti Federal Services $3.2 million to develop a temporary housing site at Carmell Ridge.

The company prepared the site, built the infrastructure, and installed fifty-two 14-foot by 70-foot trailers. Pensacola Habitat for Humanity became involved in the project, eventually selling the property to Adams Homes of Northwest Florida LLC, which developed the existing subdivision with 38 “cottage homes,” with no garages or carports and short, narrow driveways.

Jorgensen said the city council approved the subdivision plan because, at the time, the city needed entry-level homes. He said the driveways were designed to accommodate two vehicles and the street, with 12-foot travel lanes (24-foot total width) was not designed to accommodate parking.

The city will install “No Parking” signs in front of homes inside the “circle” except on the north side of 5061 Carmell Ridge Circle.

Zoning Board rejects changes proposed in rural communities

“It is insane what is happening in this county,” Angie Carter, a real estate agent who lives on Twin Creeks Circle, told the Santa Rosa County Zoning Board at its meeting Thursday. “We have diminishing quality of life, we have devalued properties because of the things that are being put right next to our houses…When is enough, enough?”

Carter spoke against plans to build townhomes on Luther Fowler Road in Pace, but her comments drew applause from residents waiting to oppose proposed commercial development near Chumuckla Crossroads and an RV park near Juniper Creek in Munson.

“When do we stop and slow down and think about these things and deal with the consequences of them?” she continued. “That’s what adults do; they think things through to the end result and figure out the best way to (develop property), not the best way to put money in the county.”

The board denied all three developers’ requests, just three of 15 cases heard during a meeting that lasted more than six hours.

Luther Fowler Road
Edward Dunn had asked the board to approve a conditional-use request to allow multi-family dwellings on about 14 acres at 4373 Luther Fowler Road in Pace. The property, at the corner of Luther Fowler and Berryhill roads. is zoned for highway commercial development.

Beckie Cato, a former Santa Rosa County planning director, represented Dunn. She said the property was ideal for townhome development.

“Townhome development provides a good transition between single-family homes and commercial development, particularly on this corner parcel,” she said, noting that the preliminary site plan purposely tried to maximize the buffer between the town homes and single-family houses.

Residents’ largest concern was adding traffic to Berryhill Road, but Cato said any development on the property would add traffic and some commercial uses that would not require a conditional-use permit could create far more traffic than townhomes would.

If approved, Dunn could build about 10 units per acre, or about 140 units, depending on the final site plan.

“I just think this is a whole lot for that one particular site,” board member Ed Carson said.

The board voted 7-1 to deny Dunn’s request; Tracy Bragg voted against the motion. The board will forward Dunn’s request to the Santa Rosa County Commission for final action at its June 23 special rezoning meeting.

Chumuckla Crossroads
About 10 miles north of Dunn’s property, Harrell Downey wants to rezone 23 acres in the 9100 block of Chumuckla Highway for commercial development. The property is to the east and southeast of Chumuckla Highway, between Chumuckla Highway and Byrom Campbell Road.

The current zoning is AG-RR (rural residential agricultural), but the Future Land-Use Map designates the property for commercial development. The county purposely designated lots bordering Chumuckla Highway for “commercial” future land-use, Darlene Stanhope of the county’s Planning Services Department told residents.

“We saw the Chumuckla Crossroads area as an area that would be, in the future, a good area for some commercial development that would serve that community,” she explained. “So that has been that way since 1991 (when the county approved its first Future Land-Use Map). We left the zoning the same, but we wanted the property owners to have the ability, if they wanted, to rezone to commercial.”

Harrell said growth since 1991 created a need for the commercial development the county envisioned.

“Staff worked over 20 years ago to create this corridor for future commercial development and identified that as, not only a need, but also something that would come in the future,” Downey told the board. “We would say, first, housing has come into this area, there’s no question about that; schools have come into this area, and there’s more schools coming.”

Downey also pointed out that his request would not create spot zoning, and that the county already had zoned a church and campground south of his property as commercial.

“We’ve heard conversation tonight that the county needs to plan further into the future, look more into the future,” Downey said. “Well, the county did this 20 years ago and now we’re into the future.”

Twelve residents spoke against Downey’s request. Chief among their concerns was the prospect of losing the rural character of the area. Several speakers said they were content to drive into Milton or other areas to shop for goods and services and questioned what benefit any commercial use of the property could be to their community. Some suggested adding a commercial development would create greater safety concerns because of increased traffic and insufficient infrastructure, and one resident said residents already have trouble getting enough water from the existing system.

In his rebuttal, Downey emphasized that his request conforms to the county’s expectations and told residents that growth is inevitable.

“If you’re south of County Road 182, there will more than likely be some type of development from that line back to Publix (at Five Points Shopping Center) at some time in the future,” he said. “That may not be this week or next year, but people are coming.”

Gage Holland made a motion to deny Downey’s request.

“This is a hard one for me…there’s a lot of people out there; one day there’ll be a need for it,” Holland said. “Right now, it’s hard for me to say it’s a dire need…I think there will be a time and a place for it, but right now I want to take it to a vote to deny.”

The motion passed 7-1, with Kirk Darby voting against denying Downey’s request. The board’s vote is a recommendation to the county commission, which will hear Downey’s request and make a final decision at its special rezoning meeting June 23.

Juniper Creek
The board voted 8-0 to deny Charles and Melissa Baxley’s request for a conditional-use request to put an RV park on a 31.5-acre lot in the 1000 block of Hutto Parker Road in Munson, just east of Big Juniper Creek. The property, zoned rural residential agricultural, is currently used for tree farming.

More than 10 residents spoke against Baxley’s request, citing a lengthy list of objections, including inadequate electricity service, potential stormwater pollution, increased traffic, and damage caused by driving heavy vehicles on roads not designed to carry their weight.

The Baxleys will not be able to attend the June special rezoning meeting, staff said, so the county commission will hear their request at its July 28 rezoning meeting.

Scott Slay and the Rail to headline
bluegrass celebration at Imogene Theatre

“I think I was about 9 or 10,” Slay said Sunday during a phone interview with the Press-Gazette. “I don’t remember a lot about playing at the Imogene, but we had a lot of fun wherever we played.”

Slay was born in Pensacola, raised in Walnut Hill, and graduated with the Northview High School Class of 2000. His, father, Tracy Slay, played banjo for local band Highway 99 and Scott joined him on the summer circuit, playing a variety of fairs and festivals in northern Florida and southern Alabama and Georgia. He was 8. Saturday, the elder Slay will sit in with his son’s band – but not on banjo.

“He’ll be playing dobro (an acoustic guitar with a metal resonator built into its body),” Scott said. “His first instrument is the banjo, but we have a banjo player; we don’t need two.”

Slay has fond childhood memories of the Pensacola area’s bluegrass scene.

“The Gulf Coast Blue Grass Association used to have events in Milton, including some play-alongs at the (West Florida) Railroad Museum,” he said. “My dad used to take me over there and I had a blast. There were a lot of pickers just sitting around jamming.”

Rural northwest Florida didn’t have a lot of bluegrass musicians, he added, but the area has produced some good ones, including Brandon Bostic from Pace and Guthrie Trapp from Lillian, Ala. Like Slay, Bostic and Trapp are guitarists who bring a variety of other skills to recording sessions and live performances.

But back to Slay’s story. He studied jazz performance and music education at the University of West Florida, before life took him to Hampton Roads, Va., and then to the Mile-High City of Denver.

He released his first album, “The Rail,” in 2017, and the single “Mine, All Mine” two years later. Slay writes most of the band’s original music, finding inspiration in both real and imagined experiences. Influences include groups like The Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek, The Lonesome River Band, Mountain Heart, Sam Bush, Dead & Company, Leftover Salmon, and more.

Scott Slay and The Rail was featured at the RockyGrass and Telluride Bluegrass festivals in 2018 and Slay also was featured as an artist-in-residence with banjoist and Lonesome River Band front man Sammy Shelor as part of the group Big Virginia Sky, which performed at the 2015 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh, NC.

For an opening act, Slay reached out to another band with local roots. The Gator Boys, based in Pensacola, got together in 2019. Their Facebook page lists a broad range of influences: anywhere from bluegrass and old-time folk to punk rock to rap.

To add even more bluegrass flavor to the evening, Slay also recruited Richard Weeks, director of the Washington Bluegrass Association, to act as master of ceremonies.

“He happened to know Richard would be in Pensacola that week, so he called him up,” explained Patty Briggs of Events with Live Music Productions, who organized the concert with the blessings of the Santa Rosa Historical Society, which owns and operates the theatre. “(Slay has) been terrific. It’s going to be a great time!”

Calkins wants commission to ban abortion clinics in Santa Rosa County

Calkins, county commissioner for District 3, said he wants the county “to make sure an abortion clinic never comes to Santa Rosa County.”

“I’d like to ask my fellow board members to do your research, check out all the laws; I’d like to ask our County Attorney, let’s see what we can do,” Calkins said early in Monday’s Committee meeting. “I know there is court precedent; I know there are state laws. Let’s challenge those to save babies. Let’s be proactive; let’s be the first in the state to save babies.”

Calkins presided over the meeting in Chairman Bob Cole’s absence. The commission meets as the Committee of the Whole the first and third Mondays of each month to receive and discuss staff reports and decide what action, if any, to take at its regular business meetings the following Thursday.

No business or organization in Santa Rosa County provides abortion services, according to Calkins, but added that “our neighbor next door, Escambia County, has abortion clinics, and millions of babies are being murdered next door to us.”

According to statistics compiled by William Robert Johnston for johnstonsarchive.net, 693 abortions were performed in Escambia County in 2017, the last year the state reported abortions performed in each county. In 1996, there were 2,698 abortions performed in Escambia County, the most in any year since 1990.

By contrast, 515 abortions were reported in Okaloosa County in 1993, the last year procedures were reported in that county; Santa Rosa County had only one abortion reported between 1990-2017 (in 1994).

Those figures do not include women who reside in those counties who go elsewhere to have an abortion.

Supporters and opponents of the Roe vs. Wade decision – which ruled that the U.S. Constitution protects a pregnant woman’s right to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction – have been energized by the leak in May of a draft ruling in a Mississippi abortion case would overturn the longstanding precedent. Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the document was authentic, but said it was not final.

Most onlookers expect the Court to rule on the Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, later this month, before its summer recess.

Calkins wants to be ready to act if, as expected, Roe vs. Wade is overturned, effectively returning jurisdiction over abortion to state legislatures.

“I would like to ask my fellow board members that we add this item to Thursday,” he said. “Thursday might not be the day we get something passed, but I just want to start the conversation.”

Calkins’ motion was approved without objection. Commissioners Cole and Dave Piech were not at Monday’s meeting.

The initiative isn’t Calkins’ first foray into the abortion debate. He helped draft the county’s “pro-life sanctuary” resolution while running for county commission in January 2020. In November of that year, about 57 percent of voters approved a referendum making Santa Rosa County the first pro-life sanctuary in Florida, symbolically declaring the county to be against abortion.

Counties in Texas and Mississippi had passed similar resolutions earlier in 2020.

The Santa Rosa County Commission debated a “pro-life sanctuary” resolution in February 2020 but decided to put the declaration on the ballot after several contentious meetings.

The 2020 referendum reads, in part, “The Board of County Commissioners of Santa Rosa County, Florida, desires to express its deep concern that all human life, beginning from life inside the womb, through every stage of development, up and until a natural death, in Santa Rosa County should be afforded protection by their government, including local government, from acts of cruelty, and should be treated humanely and with dignity.”

Attorney recommends updating Milton election rules

The Santa Rosa County Supervisor of Elections, Tappie Villane, must send mail-in ballots to voters who requested them by Sept. 24, Milton City Attorney Alex Andrade told the current city council at its committee of the whole meeting last week.

To meet that deadline, Villane must receive proposed ballot items by Aug. 26 (75 days before the general election).

“That creates a conflict with the city’s charter, namely the fact that the charter indicates that (a potential candidate) cannot even collect petitions to qualify for the ballot more than 50 days prior to the general election,” Andrade said. “The charter actually allows potential candidates who have been nominated by petition to accept that nomination up to 10 days before the general election on Nov. 8.”

Fifty days before the 2022 general election is Sept. 19, more than three weeks after the ballot deadline.
Andrade recommended that the council pass an ordinance changing the qualifying period for 2022 city elections to 100 days prior to the general election (Aug. 1) and add a referendum amending the charter to remove qualifying standards from the charter. Setting the qualifying standards by ordinance gives the council more flexibility to resolve future scheduling changes, he explained.

Because the city must provide orderly elections, Andrade said he believed the council does have the authority to change qualifying dates without a referendum to meet logistical challenges.

The attorney also told the council he has identified several amendments he believes should be made to the charter’s elections rules, including allowing candidates to open campaign bank accounts before they have qualified, clarifying residency requirements for candidates, and further defining “campaign activity.”

“Opening up this discussion also allows for the opportunity to discuss some other inconsistencies between the charter, tradition and practice, state law and activity,” he said. “There’s not much in the charter or ordinances right now regulating activity for these elections.”

Andrade asked councilors to consider changes they believe should be made to the charter’s election provisions and contact him before the council’s Executive Committee meeting on Monday, June 6.

Milton voters will choose a mayor and four city councilmembers in November. Councilwoman Shannon Rice (Ward II, Seat I) has said she will not seek re-election. Other councilors (all hold Seat I positions in their respective wards) whose terms end this year are Vernon Compton (Ward I), Robert Leek (Ward III) and Shari Sebastiao (Ward IV). Mayor Heather Lindsay’s term also ends this year.

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