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Author: Staff Reporters

Sheriff’s Office receives Excelsior Award from state

The Excelsior Recognition program recognizes some of the finest criminal justice agencies in the state of Florida, and it is the highest level of achievement in Florida accreditation that an agency can receive.

Excelsior Recognition is awarded to agencies that have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to the Florida accreditation process. Additionally, the agency must have been awarded five successful reaccreditation cycles, which represent 15 years of continuous accreditation.

During the December commission meeting, Santa Rosa was one of 25 agencies to be accredited/re-accredited. The Sheriff’s Office also had the honor of being only one of 10 to achieve Excelsior status. To achieve this status, it takes 15 years of no issues of non-compliance.

Additionally, the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office’s Detention Division received its second Excelsior Award from the Florida Corrections Accreditation Commission. Only three agencies were accredited/re-accredited at the December Commission. The Detention Division was also one of the two agencies to receive Excelsior status. To achieve this status two times, it takes 30 years of no issues of non-compliance.

Top 10 stories of 2022

In February, commissioners approved a site analysis and a geotechnical analysis of the land. It was then that things got heated. As residents protested the site of the treatment plant, City Manager Randy Jorgensen and the city council dug their heels in.

“As far as I know, this city has been proceeding with building this plant on the location that was purchased for that purpose in 2009,” Mayor Heather Lindsay said. Lindsay said she had encouraged residents to share their concerns with the council but said the public hasn’t presented any evidence sufficient to change the city’s plans. “Taxpayer dollars are at stake here, and a lot of money has been invested in the course on which we are proceeding.

The course has been charted. So, if we’re going to change course, we need to hear from a licensed expert, we need to hear from an agency telling us we’re doing wrong…we still don’t have an agency telling us not to go forward.”

The first phase, building the plant and the first set of rapid infiltration systems into which treated wastewater will be distributed, is expected to begin early next year and be completed in 2025. The city will fund the almost $44 million project with a mix of city reserves and state and federal grants and loans. Phase 1 will allow the city to process an additional 2 million gallons of treated wastewater each day.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the city to stop discharging treated wastewater into the Blackwater River from the existing Municipal Drive facility by the end of 2025. Besides the state deadline, the existing plant also is nearing capacity; it’s permitted to treat up to 2.5 million gallons per day, but in October, the plant had a 6-month daily average of 1.95 MGD, with total commitments of 2.45 MGD.

FDEP already has issued a construction permit for the plant, which will be built on a 24-acre site between Santa Rosa County Jail and the Blackwater River and is considering a permit application for the RIBS.

Jubilee denied increased density zoning

Residents of Milton learned a lot this year about a Community Development District (CDD) when the Eagle Development Group set out to create one and increase the residential zoning to build 7,500 homes on 2,700 acres in Milton.

The county board of commissioners mandated that they hold public meetings to answer questions from residents in the area before any action would be taken by commissioners. The Jubilee project received major pushback from residents who protested the massive project.

As zoned, the property would only allow one dwelling per acre, but if rezoning was approved it would allow 10 dwellings per acre.

The Eagle Group has been working to create the 2,700-acre-Jubilee community between Luther Fowler and Willard Norris roads since 2008.

Ron Reeser has overcome a variety of financial and legal challenges to pursue his vision for the site; instead of simply building as many homes as the county will allow on the property, Jubilee will include a village center complete with a school, medical services, shops and entertainment, and several distinct neighborhoods to serve different housing needs, all surrounded by parks, trails and ponds.

The county ultimately denied the rezoning request, leaving it at one dwelling per acre. Eagle Group will move forward with development with the current zoning in place and continue to seek the CDD.

After decades of talking about the need for a new judicial center, the First Judicial Court of Florida was preparing to move from the nearly century-old building in downtown Milton to the new site on Avalon Boulevard in August.

The county held a ribbon cutting to welcome the public to tour the new $42-million facility. The official opening of the courthouse is still unknown as they work on furnishing the building.

No decision has been made yet on what the future holds for the downtown site of the old courthouse.

The courthouse’s future will play a leading role in shaping the future of Milton’s downtown. The Milton and Bagdad Riverfront Master Plan, passed in 2015, is guiding the cities’ efforts to make the Blackwater’s western shore a vibrant shopping and entertainment district.

Nov. elections bring change to county commission

While many people’s eyes were on federal and statewide elections across the country, there was plenty of intrigue in local races in Santa Rosa County. The big story of the night in Santa Rosa County was the ousting of District Four County Commissioner Dave Piech by fellow Republican Ray Eddington.

“I wish him the best,” Piech said.

Piech said he wants to see Eddington oversee the completion of projects like the Eglin RIBs Project, which seeks to move effluent from Navarre and Navarre Beach wastewater treatment facilities to sites on Eglin Air Force Base property.

State Representative Dr. Joel Rudman and County Commissioner-elect Kerry Smith both faced write-in challenges, but easily won. Rudman replaced outgoing representative Jayer Williamson, who had represented the district since 2016. During the primary election, Rudman defeated Mariya Calkins in a tough race.

“It is a privilege to be the voice for the 3rd district in Tallahassee,” Rudman said. “I assure you no one will work harder to protect our way of life and our freedoms.”

Smith won an open primary in August for the district two county commission seat, replacing the retiring Bob Cole.

Navarre Beach Fire Rescue was on the ballot with a referendum for the creation of an Independent Special Fire District. The referendum passed 484 “yes”to 190 “no” votes.

Holley Navarre Fire District put a referendum on the ballot to levy ad valorem taxes instead of the non-ad valorem assessments, which is the current rate structure.

With ad valorem, rates for citizens living within the fire district would be based on their property values. Non-ad valorem assessments are fixed rates for different kinds of property, such as residential, commercial, or vacant.

Despite a strong push for the amendment by the fire district, voters rejected the referendum with 8,462 “no” votes to 7,151 “yes” votes.

US 90 widening controversy

Milton City Councilman Vernon Compton pushed a last-ditch effort to stop the Florida Department of Transportation from widening U.S. Highway 90 through downtown Milton.

“We inherited this, but we don’t have to accept it, and we shouldn’t,” he said of the FDOT project. “It’s not good for Milton.”

The council voted 7-0 at its June 23 Committee of the Whole meeting to have Compton work with City Manager Randy Jorgensen to prepare a proposal for the council’s review at its July 5 Executive Committee meeting. Councilwoman Shannon Rice was absent.

At the end of the year, some attempts were made to relax opposition to the project.

“This is my effort to try to bring us together, to try to find some common ground,” Lindsay said of a draft resolution she presented during the council’s regular meeting Dec. 13. The draft reads, in part, that “the government of the City of Milton supports the design and construction of improvements to Highway 90, including through Downtown Milton.”

The resolution also declares the city’s desire to work with the Florida Department of Transportation during the project’s design phase, expected to begin as soon as late January; its expectation that FDOT protect the Imogene Theatre during the project; and the city’s plan to enforce a 25 mile-per-hour speed limit through its historic downtown.

“I think we can come up with something we can all agree on,” said Councilman Jeff Snow. “We do want what’s best for Milton, whether you’re for the four-lane or not…we need to be at the table, I agree with that. But we should expect the best for Milton, whichever one we build.”

Building boom

In the past 12 months, the district has opened one new school – East Bay K-8 – and has a second K-8 – Lake Wallace – under construction in the north end of the county.

The district has also closed on the purchase of two parcels for new schools. One of those will be a high school on the former property of the Gulf Breeze Flea Market. An architect, DAG Architects out of Pensacola, has been selected but needs to be approved by county commissioners.

Conceptual drawings of “Southend High School,” as it has been dubbed, have already been provided to the district. The drawings, which may not represent what the school will look like, show a three-story structure, the district’s first.

“As soon as (the architect) gets approved by the board, we’ll formally get a contract signed and move forward with the design,” said Joey Harrell, assistant superintendent for administration services. “Hopefully, we’ll have a design ready to bid out this time next year.”

The district paid $7.49 million for that 35-acre parcel, which is a few miles west of another site already owned by the district. That parcel will be used for a future school, but the flea market parcel was more desirable for a high school.

Livestock officer charged with killing stray mule

A public outcry for the stray mule that was shot and killed on Tuesday, April 12, resulted in the arrest of Philip Alan Hayes, who was charged with a felony for torturing or inflicting pain, serious injury, or death on an animal, as well as a misdemeanor for the inhumane slaughter of livestock.

Hayes turned himself in to the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office around 10 p.m. on Monday, April 18, almost a week after the incident on Deaton Bridge Road in Milton. Hayes was released just after midnight.

Hayes’s attorney, Dan Stewart, released the phone call Hayes made to the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office requesting guidance on what to do with the mule. Later, SRSO released a statement saying Hayes was never cleared to shoot the animal.

The case is scheduled to go to trial in 2023.

Less stops, longer walks

The Santa Rosa County School District announced drastic changes to the bus routes across the county prior to school starting in the fall.

The change meant the transport of all students K-5 grade stops to be set up to a half mile and grade six through 12 to be set at one mile. Kindergarten students will be met at bus stops by a parent or guardian and there will be no change to ESE routes or stops.

All these distances are the maximum distance a student could walk from their home to the stop, not every student will walk the maximum distance.

Prior to the changes, the criteria for bus stops were door to door for kindergarten, 400 feet for grades one through five, 1,000 feet for grades six to 12, and ESE related stops were done in accordance with the student’s IEP. Up until 2009, bus stops were almost all door to door.

According to the school district, about 50% of all enrolled students ride buses. That equates to nearly 6,486 stops, including door to door for kindergarten and stops at 400 feet or less.

Farrow wins by two votes

The election for the Milton city council seat was won in a recount and it was won by two votes. Political newcomer Marilyn Farrow edged out the victory over former mayor Wes Meiss in the race for Ward 2, Seat 1 on the Milton City Council.

“Heartfelt thanks to the Supervisor of Elections’ staff for spending all day Veterans Day in the recount,” Farrow posted on her Facebook campaign site, “and heartfelt thanks also to my supporters who spent hours last night and again today observing the process.”

Incumbent Shannon Rice chose not to seek reelection after serving a single term on the council. The Ward 2, Seat 1 race was the only Milton contest in which an incumbent did not run.

Voters soundly rejected the city’s status quo during the election, rejecting three incumbent city councilors and returning Mayor Heather Lindsay to office with less than half the votes cast in a three-way race.

Incumbents Vernon Compton, Robert Leek and Shari Sebastiao all lost by more than 6 percent of the vote in their races. Mike Cusack, Gavin Hawthorne and Jason Vance won Seat 1 in wards 1, 3 and 4, respectively.

Navarre Press owner acquires Milton, Crestview papers

Effective January 2022, the Santa Rosa Press Gazette in Milton and the Crestview News Bulletin in Crestview are under new ownership.

Through a partnership between Sandi Kemp of Navarre Press and Todd Neves of Neves Media, the two papers will be two separate companies operated as a weekly print edition and a daily online website.

Kemp, who founded Navarre Press more than 20 years ago, said the newspapers will focus on sharing local news, sports and feature coverage important to each community.

Sandi Kemp

Kemp, a Florida native, moved to Navarre 30 years ago due to her husband’s military career. She is an entrepreneur and newspaper enthusiast, and owns Sandpaper Publishing, which publishes Navarre Press, Navarre Beach News, and Holley by the Sea News; Sandpaper Marketing, a full-service digital/print marketing company; and several other companies.

Neves, a Bay County native, is recognized as an innovator in multimedia and technology solutions for both business and home. He operates several other firms in the southeast through Neves Media Solutions Group, including: an advertising and marketing agency, an information technology firm, an audio/video contracting company and a fire and burglar alarm system company.

Editor’s note: Sandpaper Publishing is the parent company of all three newspapers. We learned a great deal in 2022 and we look forward to serving our readers in 2023.

Disposing of a Christmas tree? Santa Rosa Public Works has a solution

Residents with waste haulers who opt to have their haulers pick up their trees should follow instructions for yard waste pickup as required by their waste hauler (details outlined below).

Santa Rosa County wants to remind residents to never burn their Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove. Pines, firs, and other evergreens have a high content of flammable turpentine oils. Burning trees may contribute to creosote buildup and risk a chimney fire.

For more information, contact the Santa Rosa County Environmental Department, at 850-981-7135.

The following applies to recycling live Christmas trees for Waste Pro customers:

•             Trees will be picked up on residents’ normally scheduled yard waste days.

•             Remove any tinsel, lights, and ornaments from the tree before placing it out for pick up.

•             No artificial trees.

•             Cut any large trees over six feet in half.

The following applies to Adams Sanitation customers:

•             Trees will be picked up on residents’ normally scheduled yard waste days.

•             Remove any tinsel, lights, and ornaments from the tree before placing it out for pick up.

•             No artificial trees.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

–VIRGINIA O’HANLON, 115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except (what) they see.

They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.

All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.

It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove?

Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.

Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, VIRGINIA, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

New York Sun editorial, first published Sept. 21, 1897.

Know your no’s for recycling

•             Tanglers – hoses (including garden hoses), cords, holiday lights, ropes, etc. tangle up recycling equipment. Place in regular household garbage.

•             Styrofoam – these products crumble in the machinery. Place in regular household garbage.

•             Scrap metal – take mixed metals and wires to the Central Landfill metal recycling bin or a local scrap recycling business. 

•             Textiles – consider donating clothing and other textiles to a thrift store.

•             Aerosol cans – these can be fire hazards and should be disposed of at the household hazardous waste (HHW) center.

•             Hazardous or medical waste – these items should always be disposed of at the HHW center.

The household hazardous waste (HHW) center is located near the entrance before the weigh station of the Central Landfill, 6337 Da Lisa Road in Milton. Service is provided free of charge to all Santa Rosa County Residents and is open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.

Non-recyclable materials and garbage placed in recycling bins increase the cost of recycling and jeopardizes the recycling program for the entire county. Ensuring a quality product is delivered to ECUA’s processing facility is critical to the success of recycling.

Santa Rosa County residents are encouraged to focus on the basics and only place the following items in their curbside recycling bin:

•             Clean and dry cardboard and paper

•             Empty, clean, and dry aluminum and steel cans (no pet food cans due to the plastic liner)

•             Empty, clean, and dry plastic bottles and jugs

Santa Rosa County wants residents to remember, ‘when in doubt, throw it out!’

For more information and to check the full list of recycling do’s and don’ts, visit: www.santarosa.fl.gov/recycling.

Mission Christmas: Immanuel Baptist Church helps those in need

Immanuel Baptist Church in Pace served 148 families, including 417 children, at Mission Christmas on Saturday, Dec. 3.

Immanuel Baptist Church once again had a successful Mission Christmas, helping out families in need during the holiday season.

According to Jim Vechery, missions director for the church, each family was able to get a coat and two toys for each child, along with a Bible for each family.

Annabella Holley was one of many Immanuel Baptist congregants who helped with Mission Christmas.

Crestview, other Panhandle cities have lowest gas prices in state, AAA report says

On Sunday, the average for gasoline in Florida was $3.16 per gallon. That’s 11 cents per gallon more than a year ago.

“Economic recession concerns have kept downward pressure on the global fuel market, causing crude oil prices to plummet, dragging gas prices down with them,” Mark Jenkins, Public Relations Manager for AAA – The Auto Club Group, said. “The price of crude plunged 29% in the past month; 11% of that happened last week. This should pave the way for additional discounts at the pump this week. Unless fundamentals change, the state average could easily sink below $3 a gallon before Christmas Day.”

The state average is now $1.73 per gallon less than the record high price of $4.89 per gallon, set back in June. During that time, oil prices traded as high as $123.70 per barrel. On Friday, U.S. oil settled at $71.02/b – the lowest daily settlement of 2022.

Pump prices are already below what drivers paid during last year’s holidays. In 2021, Florida gas prices averaged $3.23 per gallon on Christmas Day and $3.22 per gallon on New Year’s Eve.

AAA said drivers can save on gasoline by shopping around for the best gas prices in their community, paying with cash, combining errands to limit driving time, improving fuel economy by removing excess weight in their vehicle, and driving conservatively, as acceleration and speeding reduces fuel economy.

Daily gas price averages can be found at Gasprices.aaa.com.

Milton man arrested on state, federal charges relating to child molestation

Moore faces federal and state charges. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Northern District of Florida, the federal charges relate to allegations illicit sexual conduct in foreign places from March 2013 through February 2016, specifically in the Republic of Fiji.

According to FDLE, Moore was a preacher who led missionary trips in Florida, throughout the United States, Canada, and Fiji.

At the state level, he faces charges of lewd and lascivious molestation of a victim under 12 years of age. According to an FDLE press release, those charges are related to at least one incident from 2006 in Pensacola.

Moore was booked into Santa Rosa County Jail on Dec. 2. He is currently on hold for the US Marshal Service.

If you have any information involving Jason R. Moore and his contact with minors, and would like to speak with an investigator, please contact the Florida Department of Law Enforcement at 850-595-2100.

‘Yellowstone’ echoes the important message of ‘Atlas Shrugged’

Or maybe women are longing to go to Yellowstone National Park to see something reliable like Old Faithful. Either way, the show “Yellowstone” has defied Hollywood’s predictably woke agenda in order to appeal to the frontier nature of Americans.

What kids know of the frontier West is limited. The National Parks Service has allowed hunters to kill about 1,000 buffalo in order to stem overcrowding. Lefties in big cities were upset. They virtue-signaled by mounting protests demanding that hunters stop killing buffalo and serving their wings at sports bars like Hooters.

In the latest episode of “Yellowstone,” the character Beth Dutton, the bad-ass daughter of the family patriarch, orders a drink at a Bozeman bar. A man imprudently chooses to hit on her, and she warns him,

“This is your last chance to leave me alone with your self-esteem intact.” He makes the mistake of asking her to sum him up, and she pegs him perfectly as one of those liberal elites buying places in Montana.

Beth Dutton: “You’re a professor somewhere fancy.” “Northwestern,” he says. She goes on, “You have two grown kids, your wife left you, and you can now (expletive) the coeds. You decide to move to Bozeman because it is your favorite place to ski, and now you teach a Zoom class from your creekside cabin, lecturing about inequity and concentration of wealth and how they are decimating the middle class. All the while you draw your six-figure salary and finance your dream home with a loan from the university 275 basis points below the loans your students have to pay to listen to your BS. And you paid over asking price, ran up the housing prices here and screwed the middle-class in two states. You (expletive) hypocrite. Bye, pencil (expletive).”

Beth Dutton’s speech sounds like it could be one by Ayn Rand’s character, Dagny Taggart, from the same region and mindset in “Atlas Shrugged.” They are two truly strong women characters, not the victims ones writers write about today.

The left in this country views traditionalists like Beth Dutton as fascist. You must be a sufferer to be a good Democrat today.

Dems say the political rhetoric is “extreme” and solely blame the other side. If you vote Republican, you are “deplorable” and a “MAGA extremist white supremacist.” I was told by Dems that fascism was on the ballot. When I went to vote I did not see it, so I had to write it in.

In fact, with so many folks running for office and the blurring between parties, I am not sure who I voted for. There were so many confusing yard signs for local races that there is a good chance I voted for a realtor.

By not being true to itself, the GOP lost the important Senate seat held by Republican Pat Toomey to a terrible candidate, Democrat John Fetterman. Like GEICO might say, beating Dr. Oz was so easy that even a caveman could do it.

Veterans Day reminds us of the strength this country once possessed and the values that inspired the heroism of our service members. “Yellowstone” and “Atlas Shrugged” values. Today the left is all about politics and winning.

Biden got confused on Veterans Day. He laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Voter.

A libertarian op-ed humorist and award-winning author, Ron does commentary on radio and TV. He can be contacted at Ron@RonaldHart.com or @RonaldHart on Twitter.



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