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Court Orders Resentencing For ‘Gravely Ill’ Sex Offender

Court Orders Resentencing For ‘Gravely Ill’ Sex Offender

An appeals court Monday ordered a new sentencing hearing for a “gravely ill” Santa Rosa County sex offender who was could face nearly five years in prison for failing to report a new address. The inmate, 50-year old Anthony Paul Childers, sought to have his 57.6-month sentence reduced because of severe medical conditions including cirrhosis of the liver and internal bleeding. His attorneys pointed to part of state law that allows such reductions when inmates have physical disabilities and are “amenable” to treatment. A Santa Rosa County judge turned down Childers’ request. But a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court ordered resentencing because it said it was “unable to discern from the record why the trial court rejected (Childers’) request for a downward departure sentence.” The ruling said Childers pleaded no contest to a charge of failing to report or register a change in address. It said a circuit judge should determine whether Childers meets the legal requirements for a reduced sentence and, if so, whether that is the “best sentencing option” for him. by The News Service of Florida  Read More →

July 28, 2015 | Read the story »

Putnam Fast-Tracks Concealed Weapons Licenses For Military Members, Veterans

Putnam Fast-Tracks Concealed Weapons Licenses For Military Members, Veterans

Florida, which already has the most concealed-weapon licenses in the nation, is now fast-tracking the process for active-duty military members and honorably discharged veterans. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced Monday that active and retired service members will immediately begin to get top priority when applying for the licenses. The expedited process is part of the state’s reaction to a shooting rampage in Tennessee in which four Marines and a sailor were killed on July 16. “The men and women who serve and have served our country deserve all of the support we can provide,” Putnam said in a prepared statement. The announcement expands upon an executive order issued July 18 by Gov. Rick Scott. The executive order included a requirement that preference be given to members of the Florida National Guard when applying for concealed-weapon licenses. The order also directed Adjutant Gen. Michael Calhoun to temporarily move National Guard members from six “storefront” recruitment centers to armories and to work with local law-enforcement agencies to arrange regular security checks of armories. Putnam expanded the license fast-tracking to include all military members. Active members of the military are advised to include copies of their Common Access Cards or other forms of official military identification with their applications. Veterans have to file copies of their DD 214 long forms with their applications to get fast-tracked. The state agency hasn’t estimated how many members of the military and veterans will take advantage of the expedited process, said Putnam spokeswoman Jennifer Meale. Currently, there are more than 1.41 million concealed-weapon licenses issued in Florida, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which administers the program. The state went over the 1 million mark in December 2012, becoming the first state in the nation to surpass that figure. Pennsylvania, which does not post its concealed-weapon numbers, has reportedly joined Florida in surpassing the 1 million mark. According to a 2014 study from the Pennsylvania-based Crime Prevention Research Center, Texas has issued the third most concealed-carry permits among the states. There were 825,957 concealed-carry permits in Texas as of Dec. 31, 2014, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Meanwhile, Florida lawmakers in 2014 made it more convenient to apply for a concealed-carry licenses by allowing county tax collectors’ offices to accept applications. So far, 13 offices — Brevard, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lee, Marion, Martin, Nassau, Okaloosa, Pasco, Pinellas, St. Johns and Walton — accept the applications. by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

July 28, 2015 | Read the story »


Miller Among U.S. Senate Hopefuls; Pollster Says No Front-Runner Yet

In another sign of “muddled” races, Congressmen Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy are virtually tied in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, while Congressman David Jolly holds a slight lead among announced Republican candidates, according to a Mason-Dixon poll released Monday. No far behind is Congressman Jeff Miller of Chumuckla. “There is no clear favorite in either primary race for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat,” pollster Brad Coker said in an analysis accompanying the results. “In the current field of declared or highly likely candidates, no one currently appears to have enough strength to be labeled as the ‘front-runner.’ ” The race to replace Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio likely will be one of the most-closely watched Senate contests in the country in 2016. But it has not attracted any candidates with big statewide names, leading to primaries that Coker described as “muddled to say the least.” “There is no clear favorite in either primary race for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat,” pollster Brad Coker said in an analysis accompanying the results. “In the current field of declared or highly likely candidates, no one currently appears to have enough strength to be labeled as the ‘front-runner.’ ” A Quinnipiac University poll released last month also showed that voters knew little about the candidates. The Mason-Dixon poll, conducted last week, showed Grayson with the support of 33 percent of registered Democratic voters and Murphy with the support of 32 percent. The poll indicated 35 percent of Democrats were undecided in such a head-to-head match-up. On the GOP side, the poll gave Jolly the support of 16 percent of registered Republicans. He was followed by Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera at 10 percent; Congressman Ron DeSantis at 9 percent; Congressman Jeff Miller at 8 percent; and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox at 2 percent. A whopping 55 percent of GOP voters indicated they were undecided. Miller has not announced whether he will run for the seat. The poll also asked voters about two potential wildcards in the Senate race: Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham and former state Attorney General Bill McCollum. Both have faced speculation that they will run for Senate, with the speculation about Graham largely fueled by an upcoming congressional redistricting process. Graham, the daughter of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, trailed the other Democrats by double digits in a hypothetical contest, with Murphy at 26 percent, Grayson at 24 percent and Graham at 11 percent. “It is apparent that most Florida Democrats statewide currently do not make the personal connection between her and her iconic father — former Governor and Senator Bob Graham,” Coker said in the analysis. “Over the course of a campaign that would change of course, and she certainly has great potential to become the heavy Democratic favorite over the next year. But she will have some work to do to get there.” McCollum, meanwhile, would jump to the top of the Republican field. When his name was added to the poll, McCollum was at 22 percent, Jolly was at 11 percent, DeSantis was at 8 percent, Lopez-Cantera was at 7 percent, Miller was at 6 percent and Wilcox was at 1 percent. In the analysis, however, Coker noted that McCollum has lost statewide races in the past, including the governor’s race in 2010 and two U.S. Senate bids. “Given his history of losing early leads in several previous statewide races, that number (22 percent) would not be daunting enough to scare away any rivals,” Coker said. Coker’s firm, Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., conducted the poll from July 20 through Friday. It surveyed 500 registered Republican voters and 500 registered Democrats. The results said the margin of error is “no more than 4.5 percentage points.” by Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

July 28, 2015 | Read the story »


Hot, Near 100 This Afternoon

Here is your official North Escambia area forecast: Tuesday: A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1pm. Mostly sunny and hot, with a high near 99. Heat index values as high as 107. Northwest wind around 5 mph. Tuesday Night: A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms before 1am. Partly cloudy, with a low around 75. West wind around 5 mph. Wednesday: A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly after 1pm. Mostly sunny and hot, with a high near 97. Heat index values as high as 107. Northwest wind around 5 mph. Wednesday Night: A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 76. Northwest wind around 5 mph becoming calm. Thursday: A 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 94. Northwest wind around 5 mph. Thursday Night: A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 76. Southwest wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the evening. Friday: A 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 93. North wind around 5 mph becoming south in the afternoon. Friday Night: A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 74. South wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the evening. Saturday: A 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 91. Saturday Night: A 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 74. Sunday: A 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 89. Sunday Night: A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 74. Monday: A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly sunny, with a high near 91.  Read More →

July 28, 2015 | Read the story »

Northview Grad Weeks Inks With Jeff Davis Baseball

Northview Grad Weeks Inks With Jeff Davis Baseball

Northview High School graduate Bratt Weeks has signed a full baseball scholarship with Jefferson Davis Community College in Brewton. Weeks was part of Northview’s district and regional championship teams and the’s first appearance in the state final four. Pictured: Brett Weeks (center), his mother Julie Weeks, father Ray Weeks (right) and Northview Coach Marty Lister (standing). Photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.  Read More →

July 28, 2015 | Read the story »

State, Tribe At Odds On Card Games

State, Tribe At Odds On Card Games

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is refusing to fold on its push to continue hosting blackjack and baccarat at most of its casinos, but Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is trying to shut down the lucrative “banked” card games. Letters swapped Monday between the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the tribe indicate that the two sides may be heading toward a showdown later this year over the card games, part of a 20-year gambling “compact” inked in 2010. Authorization of the card games is set to expire Friday. The compact gives the tribe 90 days to put an end to the card games, which include blackjack, baccarat and chemin de fer. In a letter sent to tribal chief James Billie, Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson asked the tribe “to discuss your plan and proposed timeline for the closure of banked card games at your tribal facilities.” Lawson also took note of the state’s “great working relationship” with the tribe in his note to Billie, adding that “I look forward to continuing that good will.” The tribe quickly responded with a letter to the governor’s office requesting mediation in the dispute. “The tribe alleges the state has triggered the exception to the sunset provision for banked card games, as well as other compact remedies, by electing to permit other entities in Florida to conduct various types of banked card games,” part of the letter reads. The 2010 agreement gave the tribe exclusive rights to operate banked card games at five of its seven facilities for five years. In exchange, the Seminoles pledged to pay Florida a minimum of $1 billion over the same time period, an amount the tribe has exceeded. The tribe and its lawyers contend that the state has allowed other gambling operators to operate banked card games, however, in violation of the exclusivity deal. Billie sent Scott and state legislative leaders a “notice of commencement of compact dispute resolution procedures” last month outlining what the tribe considers violations of the agreement. The June 24 letter included a claim the tribe has made for years regarding slot machines that look like blackjack and roulette and are authorized by state gambling regulators at non-tribal pari-mutuels. The slots operate essentially the same as the banked games, Billie wrote, the only difference being that the cards are electronic instead of paper, “a distinction we assert is without a difference.” The Seminoles also raised a new issue in last month’s letter about whether player-banked card games in which the “bank” is another player instead of “the house” — first authorized by state gambling regulators in 2011and now at play in at least three pari-mutuel facilities — also violate the tribe’s rights to exclusivity. “Banked” card games, such as blackjack, are typically considered those in which players bet against the house instead of each other. The June request triggered a 30-day period — which ended Sunday — for negotiations that apparently went nowhere. According to Monday’s letter from the tribe’s lawyers, “the parties met on July 16, 2015, but did not resolve the dispute.” Federal law gives both sides the right to request mediation if the dispute hasn’t been resolved. Lawmakers failed to pass a renewal of the compact or a new deal during this spring’s legislative session. But some believed that the 90 days provided to the Seminoles to shut down the games would give enough time to reconsider the issue when the Legislature returns for committee meetings in the fall. The tribe’s push to keep running the games — and possibly add others, such as craps and roulette — comes as out-of-state casinos continue to seek a foothold in Florida. But leading GOP senators, who have been on front on the issue, insist that no gambling legislation will be approved unless the compact is resolved first. If the state refuses to renew the deal, it is almost certain the Seminoles will turn to the courts to resolve the matter. Monday’s exchanges, however, don’t mean that litigation is a certainty, according to Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, who headed negotiations with the tribe while a House member in 2010. “This is similar to the position we were in last time before we were able to enter into a deal. I think the state has significant leverage at this point, and there’s nothing to preclude us from having those negotiations,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said. by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

July 28, 2015 | Read the story »

One Injured In County Road 97 Crash

One person was injured in a single vehicle crash Sunday night on County Road 97, just south of West Kingsfield Road, when they left the roadway and struck a tree. Further details have not been released by the Florida Highway Patrol. NorthEscambia.com photo by Kristi Price, click to enlarge.  Read More →

July 27, 2015 | Read the story »

Wahoos Drop Series To Biloxi

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos started off the first inning by scoring a run against the Biloxi Shuckers for the fourth time in the five game series. Shuckers pitcher Jorge Lopez allowed the run on a double by Blue Wahoos shortstop Zach Vincej and an RBI-single by Jesse Winker to start the game and tie it at 1-1. However, Pensacola would not get another hit off Lopez until 14 batters later in the fifth when Blue Wahoos catcher Yovan Gonzalez singled to left field. Biloxi would go on to pull out a, 10-2, victory on 14 hits and win the last three games of the series over Pensacola in front of 4,173 Sunday at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium. The Shuckers improved its record to 11-4 in three series against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos—its best record against a Southern League team. The Shuckers are also 11-4 against the Jacksonville Suns. Lopez, who entered the game 1-1 against Pensacola, improved to 9-4 with a 2.72 ERA after surviving the first inning. The 22-year-old righty retired 11 in a row through the fourth inning. The Milwaukee Brewers No. 15 prospect has not allowed more than three earned runs in his last nine starts dating back to June 2. Pensacola Manager Pat Kelly said Biloxi’s starting rotation impressed him this series. “It came down to starting pitching,” Kelly said. “We just got outpitched this series.” Although Kelly said he likes his rotation and bullpen, he’s interested in seeing the pitchers the Cincinnati Reds may send Pensacola’s way following its trade of starter Johnny Cueto to the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. The Shuckers improved to 14-15 (57-40) in the second half of the Southern League South Division. The loss dropped Pensacola to 17-13 (42-56) in the second half and they remained tied for second with the Mississippi Braves. Zach Vincej led Pensacola at the plate, going 1-2 with a double to center field, earning two walks and scoring a run. He has hit .348 in July (23-66) — his best month this season — to raise his season average to .264. Against Pensacola, Shuckers left fielder Victor Roache extended his on-base streak to 11 games. Roache tore up Pensacola pitching, hitting .474 (9-19), including a two-out, three-run homer Sunday in the third inning that put Biloxi up, 4-1. “We didn’t pitch him very well,” Kelly said of Roache. “When we made a mistake, he didn’t miss, that’s for sure.” The Pensacola Blue Wahoos start a five-game series against the Minnesota Twins Double-A affiliate the Chattanooga Lookouts, followed by a five-game series against the Miami Marlins Double-A affiliate the Jacksonville Suns. The Blue Wahoos next home game is scheduled at 6:35 p.m. Friday Aug. 7 with the Chicago White Sox Double-A affiliate Birmingham Barons.  Read More →

July 27, 2015 | Read the story »

Storytime Held Each Week At The Local Library

The West Florida Public Library offers Story Time for children five and younger each week. Story Time programs introduce young children to books, rhymes, music and other fun activities. The events incorporate the early literacy skills that children must master before they can learn to read. Story Time is held: Main Library Weekly on Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. Century Branch Weekly on Thursday, 4 p.m. Southwest Branch Weekly on Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. Tryon Branch Mommy & Me Lap-sit Story Time for Babies Weekly on Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. Preschool Story Time - Weekly on Thursday, 10:30 a.m. Molino Branch Weekly on Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. Westside Branch Weekly on Thursday, 11:30 a.m. For more information call (850) 436-5060 or visit www.mywfpl.com. The events are always free of charge.  Read More →

July 26, 2015 | Read the story »

Florida Gov’t Weekly Roundup: Battle Lines And Power Lines

In case you were wondering, the 2016 general election is still more than 15 months away. But with new congressional districts about to be crafted by lawmakers and a Republican presidential primary campaign already in full swing, the off-season ain’t what it used to be. Once and potentially future congressmen are already plotting their comebacks depending on what Florida’s next political map looks like. And a former governor of the state stopped in Tallahassee to vow to take on the lobbying corps in a different capital city: Washington, D.C. The wheels of state government kept turning. The Department of Education approved a new funding formula for colleges, and a big-box retailer asked the Public Service Commission to let it out of energy-efficiency payments. Those were footnotes, though, in a political city already beginning to eye the next election. GETTING IN LINE A spot in the part-time Florida Legislature is increasingly beginning to look like a full-time job. After the Florida Supreme Court struck down the state’s existing congressional districts as an unconstitutional gerrymander in a July 9 ruling, legislative leaders this week unveiled the dates of a special session to redraw the boundaries for at least eight of the 27 seats: Aug. 10 to Aug. 21. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli R-Merritt Island, also directed staff from the new House Select Committee on Redistricting and the new Senate Committee on Reapportionment to work with legislative attorneys to initially draft a “base map” that complies with the ruling. “This map proposal will be drafted solely by staff in collaboration with counsel, without our participation or the participation of any other member, and will be provided simultaneously to all members and the public prior to the convening of the special session,” Gardiner and Crisafulli wrote. “We believe that presenting a base map that follows the Supreme Court order to you and the public will make it easier to discuss all legislative actions in an open and transparent manner.” Of course, lawmakers had already spent the last three years saying that the 2012 process that produced the map thrown out by the court was the most transparent in the state’s history, as Florida Democratic Party spokesman Max Steele sarcastically noted on Twitter. “I know we said it last time. And then the time before that. And also the time before that. But for real this time,” Steele tweeted. In any case, holding the special session in August means that the Legislature will have met in a regular session, special session or in committees during nine of the 12 months in 2015. Lawmakers’ decision to start the next regular session in January 2016 — pushing up committee meetings to prepare for that gathering — certainly looked like a good idea before a budget blow-up and the redistricting case sparked two special sessions. And whether the new lines will be influenced by politics or not, the possibilities were already influencing politics. Former Gov. Charlie Crist sounded ready to once again crank up his portable electric fan and re-enter the fray by running in Congressional District 13, a swing district that is expected to take on a more bluish tint as it pushes into the southern end of Pinellas County. “If the new congressional map includes my home, I intend on running to serve the people again,” said Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat who was elected governor in 2006 as a Republican but later switched parties. Meanwhile, incumbent Republican Congressman David Jolly was throwing his hat into the ring for a U.S. Senate seat. Jolly had already been weighing a bid for statewide office, but the impending changes to his district and the chance he would face the telegenic Crist probably helped him make up his mind. “Over the next year, I intend to run for the United States Senate on an unwavering platform that will reject the politics of division and class warfare that have defined the current administration, reject the failed foreign policies that have projected only weakness and apology on the world stage, and embrace a new economy founded on the principle that individuals and families, not government bureaucrats, create success,” Jolly, 42, of Indian Shores, said in a prepared statement. And former Republican Congressman Steve Southerland was looking at jumping back into the race for the North Florida seat he lost to Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham last fall. While Graham’s district wasn’t thrown out by the Supreme Court, changes to a neighboring seat will almost certainly give her far more Republican-friendly territory. “I was as surprised as anyone (by the ruling). But when you look at the maps that are floating around — and one in particular that seems to be gaining traction — you know, I represented 80 percent of the land mass that they are proposing in the new Florida (Congressional District) 2,” Southerland told The News Service of Florida. ‘A DIFFERENT AGENDA ALTOGETHER’ There are no maps required to know whether you’re going to run for president, and two of the Florida GOP’s favorite sons — former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — have already taken that plunge. This week, Bush came back to Tallahassee to pitch his ideas for fixing the federal government. Bush, seeking to portray himself as a Washington outsider, laid out plans for civil-service and congressional reforms, including plans to push for constitutional amendments that would require a balanced budget and give the president line-item veto power on appropriation bills. “I’m offering a different agenda altogether,” Bush said “It will be my intention not to preside over the establishment, but in every way I know to disrupt that establishment and make it more accountable for the people.” Democrats were quick to question how much credit Bush should get for the state’s economic growth and snarked away at the idea of someone who shares a name with two former presidents challenging the status quo. “It’s hard to think of a plan less likely to change the way Washington works than a Bush running for president promising to change the way Washington works,” Steele said. “It’s also hard to take his proposals to reform lobbying seriously when he delivered his speech to a roomful of applauding Tallahassee lobbyists.” And Bush wasn’t the only one preparing for November 2016 regardless of the map. Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana sent 100,000 petitions this week to county elections supervisors, one of the first steps in getting the proposal before voters next year. It’s the second shot for United for Care, the committee behind the petition drive, to get the proposal on the ballot. A similar plan received 58 percent of the vote in November, just shy of the 60 percent required for passage. Local supervisors of elections have 30 days to validate at least 68,317 petitions to trigger scrutiny by the Florida Supreme Court, which signed off on the previous version of the proposal last year on a 4-3 vote. Like all other petition initiatives, United for Care needs 683,149 validated, signed petitions to get “Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions” on the November 2016 ballot. United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara said he expects the Supreme Court to receive the validated petitions by August. “We’re way ahead of the eight-ball this time. Last time, I was totally stressed and our staff was working 18-hour days all through the holidays, and this time I believe we will have effectively put this thing to bed well before Christmas,” he said. ALWAYS LOW PRICES FOR ELECTRICITY? “Save Money. Live Better” might not just be a slogan for Wal-Mart. At least when it comes to electricity bills, the retail giant is hoping it will become a reality. Wal-Mart and a group representing other large users of electricity say they can do a better job of saving energy if state regulators would let them opt out of a nearly 35-year-old conservation program. However, the state’s most influential energy providers told the Florida Public Service Commission that such a proposal would shift costs to small businesses and residential customers. And an environmental group said the “radical” proposal could further diminish conservation efforts in Florida. The proposal would allow Wal-Mart, as well as others that use massive amounts of energy — including large grocers and cement manufacturers — to opt out of paying the energy conservation charge on their bills. Wal-Mart attorney Robert Scheffel Wright and Jon Moyle, representing the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, noted there are models Florida could emulate. A number of other states have similar opt-out programs. Customers would “have to meet the utilities’ energy percentage savings goals as established by your decisions,” Wright told commissioners. “So opt-out cannot result in any less energy conservation than utilities’ programs and can reasonably be expected to produce more savings, because we’ll probably be doing a cushion and doing more than the minimum specified by your goals.” But Florida Power & Light executive Thomas Koch told the commission the costs could be in the millions of dollars just for the administrative changes to the conservation programs. A decision isn’t expected until at least September. Meanwhile, the Florida Board of Education approved a new performance-funding system for state colleges, the latest step in Florida officials’ drive to tie money for higher education to how well institutions and their students do. The performance system will control how the state divvies up a total of $40 million, including $20 million of new funding for colleges and $20 million in money that colleges were already receiving. In that respect, it resembles a larger performance plan for state universities that started last year. According to information provided to the board, seven colleges will receive their existing funding back and a higher share of the new money: Santa Fe College; Valencia College; Tallahassee Community College; Lake-Sumter State College; Gulf Coast State College; State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota; and Florida SouthWestern State College. Five schools — Pasco-Hernando State College, the College of Central Florida, Daytona State College, Northwest Florida State College and Pensacola State College — will not receive new funding and will have some of their existing funding held back until they show improvement. The other 16 colleges will receive their existing funding and some performance funding, though not as much as the seven highest-scoring schools. STORY OF THE WEEK: The repercussions from a Supreme Court ruling ordering the Legislature to redraw at least eight of Florida’s 27 congressional districts were already being felt, as politicians jockeyed for position. QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It’s raining. There’s no place to park out there now. And this poor kid comes screaming up in some little car and grabs this box of stuff and runs up to the door and he’s pounding on the door. And 5:00 is like a minute away. His face was up against the glass. He’s mouthing ‘Please open the door!’ He’s sopping wet.”— Jeff Sharkey, a lobbyist who represents the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, describing the frenzied scene at the Department of Health as nursery representatives raced through a downpour to submit applications to become the state’s first legal medical-marijuana producers. by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

July 26, 2015 | Read the story »

Sapp Graduates From Basic Training

Air Force Airman 1st Class Kenneth Sapp Jr graduated from basic military training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, San Antonio, Texas. The airman completed an intensive, eight-week program that included training in military discipline and studies, Air Force core values, physical fitness, and basic warfare principles and skills.Airmen who complete basic training earn four credits toward an associate in applied science degree through the Community College of the Air Force. Sapp is the son of Tosha Sapp of Jay  and Kenneth Sapp of Milton. He is a 2015 graduate of Milton High School.  Read More →

July 26, 2015 | Read the story »

State Sees Sharp Spike In Number Of Children In Foster Care

The number of Florida children in the state’s foster-care system has reached its highest level since 2008 — driven by both a spike in the number of kids being removed from their homes and a drop in the number being discharged after a stint in foster care. In the last 24 months, the number of children in what’s known as out-of-home care has reached 22,004 statewide, up from 17,591 in 2013. These and other trends are included in a report developed by the Department of Children and Families for a recent meeting of the state’s privatized community-based care organizations, which oversee foster care and adoption services. Child-welfare professionals say there are multiple reasons for the surge, among them the state’s new method for assessing risks to a child’s safety. The new methodology involves looking past a single incident that prompts a visit from a child protective investigator to the likelihood of danger down the road. “The safety methodology requires that the investigators ask a lot more questions regarding (a family’s) past history,” said Mark Jones, CEO of the Community Partnership for Children, which serves Volusia, Flagler and Putnam counties. “The more questions they’re asking, the more red flags they’re seeing, and they’re seeing that children may not be safe for the long term.” DCF Assistant Secretary for Child Welfare Janice Thomas agreed. “In our previous practice, we did (put) a lot of focus on what was happening right then, specifically what had been reported to the hotline,” she said. “Now we are trying to take a different lens to that family and include any kind of prior history that we have.” Jones, who said his agency had seen a spike of 35 percent in out-of-home placements over the last nine months, also noted that over time, the number of children in the system typically varies. For instance, he said, the last spike came in 2012, due to the state’s prescription-drug epidemic. The Legislature responded to concerns about so-called “pill mills” earlier this decade by cracking down on prescription-drug abuse, leading to more child-protection actions. “Every three or four years, we see the pendulum swing, from family preservation to child safety,” Jones said. “I think it’s got less to do with methodology and more to do with the focus in the media, specifically on child safety and child deaths.” A wave of media reports on child deaths in 2013 culminated in sweeping new legislation that went into effect a year ago this week. “The cultural environment that we have right now is one where no one wants a kid to die, ever,” said Mike Watkins, chief executive officer of Big Bend Community Based Care. “And the easiest way to make sure kids don’t die is to remove them. I think the department and pockets, certain communities like Miami, Broward and West Palm Beach, are extremely risk-averse and decide to remove the child if there’s any question.” Watkins also pointed to the fact that the state’s population has increased since 2008, when the number of people moving to Florida fell due to the recession. “Now that’s picked back up,” he said. Many agree that another factor is high turnover among child protective investigators at DCF and the six sheriff’s offices that handle child-protection cases, and among case managers at the community-based care organizations. The 2014 child-welfare reform law was accompanied by an increase of $21.2 million for new child-protective investigators. However, because there is still a high rate of turnover among the CPIs, as they’re known, many are relatively new and more likely to err on the side of removing a child from the home. And while the community-based care organizations got $10 million in new funding last year and $29.1 million in new funding this year, they say it won’t meet the need caused by the uptick of children in foster care. “It will not be enough,” Watkins said. “The new dollars don’t take in the projections we’re seeing.” Former state senator Ron Silver, who handles legislative affairs for Our Kids, the community-based care lead agency in Miami, agreed. “We’re very grateful for what they’ve done,” he said. “But that was catch-up time. They gave us more money, but they had not given us (increased) money for a long period of time.” According to DCF, between May 2013 and July 2014, the number of children receiving Our Kids in-home services in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties increased more than 63 percent, while the number in out-of-home care increased nearly 36 percent. The increased numbers also have revealed statewide gaps in family services that allow children to stay with their parents after verified findings of abuse or neglect. Christina Spudeas, executive director of the advocacy group Florida’s Children First, said she found the most troubling aspect of the DCF report to be the fact that “in-home services to prevent removal have declined since a peak in 2012.” “The key to successfully leaving children in the home after an allegation of abuse or neglect is to have the right services provided to the family at the right time, with sufficient oversight,” Spudeas said. “If the lead agencies are not working hard to have those services in place, then they are part of the problem.” But DCF’s Thomas, who has worked in child welfare for more than 30 years, said the new methodology was still being implemented and would ultimately succeed. “The practice we’ve established is the best I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It’s the best we’ve ever practiced in Florida, in my opinion. … People are still learning it. by Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida NorthEscambia.com photo.  Read More →

July 26, 2015 | Read the story »

Biloxi Beats The Wahoos

After being shut down for seven innings getting only one hit — a solo home run by left fielder Jesse Winker — the Pensacola Blue Wahoos lineup came alive in the eighth and ninth innings getting a double, two singles and a walk. However, Pensacola’s hopes for a comeback against the Biloxi Shuckers fell short, 4-2, and the Shuckers evened the series at two games apiece in front of a sellout crowd of 5,038 at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium. It was the 19th sellout of the season in 47 home dates and 123 since Pensacola’s first season in 2012. There were plenty of theatrics in the ninth inning and not just at bat. Home plate umpire Alex Ziegler ejected Pensacola catcher Kyle Skipworth over an alleged argument on a foul tip. Skipworth, who was behind the plate, took his catcher’s gear off and threw it toward the umpire. Pensacola manager Pat Kelly came out in the middle of the argument and was ejected. Kelly threw his helmet and hat down, took off his jersey and threw it to the ground and then ejected each of the umpires on the field. Kelly said afterward that he was mad because the home plate umpire wouldn’t admit any wrongdoing after both teams argued about his strike zone throughout the game. “My temper is good for 30 seconds,” Kelly said. “Once I reach 30 seconds, then it’s over. I don’t carry a grudge. I get it out of my system.” Pensacola shortstop Juan Perez doubled off Shuckers reliever Jacob Barnes and scored on center fielder’s Bryson Smith’s single in the eighth that cut Biloxi’s lead to 3-2. However, Biloxi came back in the ninth and scored a run when third baseman Taylor Green scored on a perfect squeeze bunt by Shuckers catcher Parker Berberet to go up, 4-2. In the ninth inning, first baseman Marquez Smith walked and right fielder Juan Duran singled but they were both left on base. Kelly credited Biloxi’s left-handed starter Hobbs Johnson and reliever Jacob Barnes. “They have good pitching and we face another good one tomorrow,” said Kelly, referring to Shuckers Jorge Lopez (8-4, 2.70). “That’s how they won the first half.” For the third time against Biloxi this series, Pensacola smacked a solo home run in the first inning. Bryson Smith did it Wednesday, Ryan Wright did if Friday and Winker did it Saturday. Winker smacked his seventh homer of the year and earned his team-leading 35th RBI to put the Blue Wahoos up 1-0. It was the only hit Biloxi pitcher Johnson, the Milwaukee Brewers No. 23 prospect according to Baseball America, gave up in his seven innings of work. Johnson, in fact, retired 16 Blue Wahoos in a row from the second inning through the seventh inning before reliever Barnes came on. Perez doubled in the eighth off the Shuckers reliever to end the streak of 17 straight Blue Wahoos set down. Zack Weiss gave up his first run in relief since July 16 when Berberet’s squeeze bunt scored Green to put the Shuckers ahead, 4-2. In his 15 appearances since June 15, Weiss has given up just three runs in 17 innings for a 1.59 ERA. The Blue Wahoos closer has converted all 10 save opportunities and struck out 26 batters. Biloxi went ahead, 2-1, in the second inning when Green doubled in two runs. In the top of the sixth, Biloxi shortstop Nick Shaw scored on a deep fly ball by first baseman Nick Ramirez to make the score, 3-1, Shuckers. The Shuckers improved to 13-15 (56-40) in the second half of the Southern League South Division season. The loss dropped Pensacola into second place behind the Mobile BayBears at 17-12 (42-55) in the second half. The final game of the five-game series is scheduled at 4:05 p.m. Sunday with the Milwaukee Brewers Double-A affiliate Biloxi Shuckers. RHP Barrett Astin (2-1, 3.45) takes the mound for the Wahoos and is scheduled to be opposed by Shuckers RHP Jorge Lopez (8-4, 2.70).  Read More →

July 26, 2015 | Read the story »

Century Completes $176K Paving Project

The ride around some parts of Century is a lot smoother after the town completed a $176,000 paving project. The following streets were resurfaced or patched as noted: Jefferson Avenue – Resurface from curve at Mincey Lane to railroad tracks – $11,467.50 Jefferson Avenue – Patch near Carver Community Center – $696 Robert Road — Patch – $319 Tedder Road – Patch near fire station $1,517 Pond Street – Resurface from Century Business Center to bridge near sewer plant – $32,817.90 Pinewood Avenue – Resurface from Hecker to Front Street – $17,701.65 Mayo Street – Resurface from Hecker to Front Street – $25,437 Mayo Lane – Resurface from Mayor Street to Jefferson Avenue – $16,367 Kelly Field Road – Pave gravel road beside railroad tracks – $6,090 Kelly Field R0ad – Overlay section between ball field and cemetery  – $6,595.65 Kelly Field Road –  Resurface from Hecker Road to ballpark gate  -  $8,201 Lodge Drive – Resurface from Hecker to Front Street $12,690.70 Wood Street – Resurface from Lodge Drive to Bradley – $4,746.85 Hecker Road -Patch near Alger Road – $725 Renfroe Street – Resurface from Hwy 29 to Ivey Street – $5,650.35 Ivey Street — Resuface — $16,588 The total cost was set to be $176,392.44 to contractor Roads, Inc. A mobilization fee of $2,100 was also included in the total.  The project was not be bid; the council piggybacked on an existing Escambia County contract with Roads. A second company is set to add striping and lines to the repaved street. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.  Read More →

July 25, 2015 | Read the story »

103-Year Old Della Godwin Passes Away

Della Godwin of Century, one of the oldest residents of the North Escambia area, has passed away. She was 103. Godwin was born in Jay back in 1912, one of 12 children born to her parents Annie and William Griffis. She has two younger surviving siblings -  Jean Clark of Bluff Springs and Veda Welch of Pineview. She raised two sons, one of which is deceased, and has four grandchildren. She was raised in the Mount Carmel community of Santa Rosa County. In her early years, she spent most of time in the cotton fields, but she was always in church on Sundays. At a birthday celebration, Godwin attributed her long life to hard work and faith. Those who know her said that she was always caring for and helping others. She always put family first, even if it meant she had to do without the things she needed. Godwin was longtime resident of the Century area and was the oldest resident at the Century Health and Rehabilitation Center. Funeral services for Della Godwin will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at Petty-Eastside Chapel in Atmore with burial to follow at the Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Jay. For the complete obituary, click here. Pictured top: Century resident Della Godwin turned  103-years old in April. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.  Read More →

July 25, 2015 | Read the story »

Research, Education Center Holds Field Corn Field Day

UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center in Jay held their annual Field Corn Field Day Friday.  Producers were able to learn about a corn variety trial and demonstration, environmentally smart nitrogen, fertilizer timing and more. They were also able to see how different varieties  of corn perform side by side. Pictured: Crop systems specialist during Field Corn Field Day. Courtesy photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.  Read More →

July 25, 2015 | Read the story »

Air Force Captain Sentenced In Child Sex Scheme

An Air Force captain has been sentenced in a child sex sting. Kenneth D. Lebay, 31, was sentenced by Judge Michael Jones to 28 months in state prison, plus seven years probation. He will also be required to register as a sex offender.  Lebay’s attorney immediately appealed the sentence and asked that he be released pending the outcome of the appeal, but Jones denied the motion . Lebay was remanded into custody. According to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, Lebay traveled to a local business to meet what he believed was a juvenile female but was actually an undercover investigator. He was charged  with obscene communication using a computer to lure a child for sex, and obscene communication using a two-way device. The arrest came as part of “Operation Blue Guardian”, in which six other people were arrested.  Read More →

July 25, 2015 | Read the story »

Weekend Gardening: Distinctly Southern Hydrangeas

by Santa Rosa County Extension Nothing defines a southern landscape more than hydrangeas. These beautiful, large flowering shrubs fill gardens with their green, leafy foliage and incredible blooms during the warm months. In order to ensure consistent and reliable blooms, these shrubs must be cared for correctly. In addition to proper site location, fertilizer and moisture conditions, hydrangeas may require pruning. Proper pruning includes correct timing. Hydrangea aficionados are constantly debating pruning techniques. There are many different types of hydrangeas and pruning differs according to the type. It is a big genus of plants and so it’s important to know what type of hydrangeas you may have and on what type of wood they bloom on. Blooms on old wood, prune after flowering The bigleaf hydrangeas, known scientifically as Hydrangea macrophylla, are what most people think of when you mention hydrangeas. Most gardeners will know these as mopheads (also called hortensias) and lacecaps. Many of these blooms will be blue or pink although other colors now are available. Many large colonies of bigleaf hydrangeas have existed around old homes for decades, surviving and blooming in spite of neglect.  This tells us that it is not necessary to prune bigleaf hydrangeas. However, if you want to keep these shrubs within a defined boundary, control their height or rejuvenate old shrubs, it will be necessary to prune them. Bigleaf hydrangeas can be reduced in size immediately after flowering.  A general rule of thumb is that you may remove up to a third of the shrub’s height.  Be sure to complete your pruning before August.  This is critical because next year flower blooms start to form in August.  Pruning after August will remove next year’s blooms. There now is a small group of bigleaf hydrangeas that are everblooming or remontant.  Endless Summer® is one well-known brand.  According to the developers of these reblooming hydrangeas, remove spent flowers to encourage rebloom.  They are quite forgiving and will not suffer if left unpruned or pruned at the wrong time because these cultivars bloom on both old and new growth. Our native oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is a large, deciduous shrub that can grow up to six feet tall.  It has deeply lobed, oak-like leaves which turn bronze in the fall.   This plant does not usually need pruning. If reshaping or size-reduction is necessary, prune after blooms begin to fade. Article Continues Below Photo Lacecap hydrangea Blooms on new wood, prune in early spring Smooth hydrangea (H. arborescens) is the other U.S. native. The most common cultivar, ‘Annabelle’, produces rounded inflorescences that may reach up to a foot in diameter. The panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata) is more of an upright type.  It is typically a 10 to 15-foot large shrub or low-branched tree. Panicle and smooth hydrangeas flower on current year’s growth and can be pruned anytime from late summer until early spring. If pruning these two species in the spring, try to prune before leaves appear. Winter pruning Established bigleaf, panicle, oakleaf and smooth hydrangea plants can often benefit from rejuvenation pruning. Remove about one-third of the oldest stems each year.  The result is a fuller, healthier plant. This type of pruning is easiest to do in winter, since the absence of leaves makes it easier to see and reach inside plants. Hydrangeas offer a wide variety of plants which can make the timing of pruning difficult to remember.  Just keep in mind, if in doubt, either don’t prune at all or prune after flowering.  Read More →

July 25, 2015 | Read the story »

Rejected Medical Pot Apps Likely To Be Challenged

Even before selecting five nurseries to become Florida’s first legal pot producers, Department of Health officials will face a challenge from at least one grower whose application was tossed out because it was late. The department’s Office of Compassionate Use staff rejected two of the 30 applications from nurseries hoping to get chosen as one of the five coveted “dispensing organizations.” Both were tossed because they were received after a 5 p.m. deadline following a frenzied scene during a torrential downpour July 8 at the agency’s headquarters. Both nurseries say their representatives were told by Department of Health workers that the 5 p.m. deadline didn’t apply. Lawyers for O.F. Nelson & Sons say they intend to challenge the rejection because the Apopka-based nursery’s representatives were told that the deadline was extended for a day, in part because of the weather. “Our application was complete, and we were prepared to submit it until the DOH expressly represented that it would extend the deadline a day. We relied on that representation, and the following day the DOH accepted our application and fee without reservation. We only recently discovered that the DOH rejected the application despite its previous assurances that we were timely,” Derek Young, a lawyer with Kaplan Young & Moll Parron who represents the nursery, told The News Service of Florida on Friday. The O.F. Nelson application was time-stamped 12 p.m. on July 9. “Our dispensing organization is by far the most qualified and includes one of the leading medical cannabis companies in the world. Florida’s patient population deserves the high standards of quality and safety our dispensing organization represents, and we therefore intend to challenge the DOH’s indefensible position to ensure our patients receive exactly that,” Young said. Ed Miller and Son Nursery also received a letter from Patricia Nelson, then-director of the Office of Compassionate Use, saying that the application from the Palm City nursery — time-stamped at 5:27 p.m. July 8 — was “untimely.” Nelson left the Office of Compassionate Use post a week ago. The certified letters, sent July 16, also say that the nurseries have 21 days to file a challenge. Department officials referred to state law in response to questions about the rejections. Ed Miller and Son is trying to get a license in the southeastern region of Florida. Anthony Ardizzone, a partner in the nursery, said the deadline wasn’t clear and he is considering a challenge. “We’re reviewing our options,” he told The News Service of Florida this week. While the application for the dispensing organizations said that documents would be accepted “no later than 5 p.m.” July 8, the Office of Compassionate Use’s website says that the applications would be taken “through” 5 p.m. Ardizzone is relying on Webster’s Dictionary definition of “through,” which means “during the entire period of” or “from the beginning to the end of.” That means the applications should have been accepted all through the 5 o’clock hour until 6 p.m., according to Ardizzone. Ardizzone also said that a representative who delivered his nearly 2,000-page application was told by a Department of Health worker that applications received before 5:30 “would be OK.” “The doors were open. It was accepted. It was received,” Ardizzone said. “Our contention is that they took it. And they took additional information two days later.” The health department responded to requests for comment with excerpts from a rule, which says that applications would be received “no earlier than 10:00 AM, Eastern Time, on the effective date of this rule and no later than 5:00 PM, Eastern Time, 21 calendar days after the effective date of this rule.” The rule went into effect on June 17. Health Department spokeswoman Mara Burger also referred to the language in letters sent to the two nurseries citing Florida law allowing affected parties to petition for administrative hearings within 21 days of receiving the letters. Nearly all of those seeking licenses waited until the last day to submit the applications, resulting in a frenzy at the health department’s Tallahassee headquarters as the 5 p.m. deadline loomed and a downpour raged during rush-hour traffic, according to one observer. The door to the building facing the street was locked and visitors were supposed to enter through a side door, creating more confusion as individuals toting boxes of documents scrambled to beat the clock, said Jeff Sharkey, a lobbyist who represents the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, which he founded. “You could smell the anxiety and the desperation in the air as the clock ticked towards 5 p.m.,” Sharkey said. “People are coming in and handing in their applications. … One person came at 4:55 and ran up to the door and I opened the door for him. They stamped in at 4:57.” Things worsened one minute before 5 p.m., Sharkey said. “It’s raining. There’s no place to park out there now. And this poor kid comes screaming up in some little car and grabs this box of stuff and runs up to the door and he’s pounding on the door. And 5:00 is like a minute away,” he said.”His face was up against the glass. He’s mouthing ‘Please open the door!’ He’s sopping wet.” Sharkey said he opened the door for the man, who was told by a worker that he had missed the 5 p.m. deadline. “And the poor kid just freaked out,” Sharkey said. A three-member panel, which includes the new head of the Office of Compassionate Use, has three months to choose five nurseries — one from each region of the state — to grow, process and distribute marijuana that is low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD. Parents of children with a severe form of epilepsy pushed the Legislature last year to approve the low-THC cannabis, believing it can end or dramatically reduce life-threatening seizures. Doctors were supposed to be able to begin ordering the medical marijuana for patients with severe muscle spasms or cancer on Jan. 1, but the 2014 law has been mired in challenges. In November, Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins rejected health officials’ first attempt at a rule governing the pot industry, agreeing with Miami-based Costa Farms and others that objected to the Department of Health’s proposed use of a lottery to pick the licensees. Watkins upheld a second version of the rule in May after it, too, was challenged. Under the current regulations, the panel will pick the five licensees based on a weighted scorecard that evaluates cultivation, processing, dispensing, financials and the operation’s medical director. Nurseries that have been doing business in Florida for at least 30 continuous years and grow a minimum of 400,000 plants at the time they apply are eligible for a license. The applications ask nurseries about their investors, pot consultants, protocols and the types of cannabis they intend to cultivate. Applicants had 21 days to collect documents, secure the $5 million bond required in the law and submit them to state health officials, a timeline many grumbled was too hasty. Some out-of-state consultants were charging at least $150,000 to craft the applications. Nearly everyone in the industry, including those on the sidelines, predict that, once awarded, the licenses will be challenged. From four to seven nurseries applied in each of the five regions. In addition to the non-refundable $60,063 application fee, $5 million bond and costs to submit the license, Ardizzone estimated that it would cost $12 million to get his operation up-and-running. The possibility that Florida voters could have another shot at legalizing full-blown medical marijuana in November 2016 makes the licenses even more appealing. The applications are a public record, except for information that is deemed “proprietary” or is exempt by Florida’s broad open records laws, so losers will be able to scrutinize their competitors’ winning documents. “Everyone involved in this process has always assumed that the losers of the selection process will challenge. I think that is a given,” said Louis Rotundo, a lobbyist who represents the Florida Medical Cannabis Association. by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

July 25, 2015 | Read the story »

Biloxi Ends Wahoos Win Streak

No one expected the Pensacola Blue Wahoos to win the final 42 games of the season. Although, Pensacola manager Pat Kelly said jokingly that he would have liked that. The Biloxi Shuckers – the first half champions – ended the Blue Wahoo’s four-game win streak and 11 straight wins at home with a 3-2 victory Friday in front of 4,348 at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium. The loss dropped Pensacola into second place behind the Mobile BayBears at 17-11 (42-54) in the second half of the Southern League South Division race. For the first four innings, the Blue Wahoos breezed along. Pensacola second baseman Ryan Wright belted his first home run of the year, a solo shot, to left field to give the Blue Wahoos a 1-0 lead. Wright has played in four games since coming off the disabled list with back spasms July 20 and is hitting .429 (6-14) with two doubles, one homer and four RBIs. “It was a first pitch fastball,” said Wright, who scored both of Pensacola’s runs. “I think I took him (Tyler Wagner) by surprise a little bit. But I wanted to be aggressive and that was the best pitch I saw all night. He’s a very good pitcher. We’ve seen him a few times this year.” Meanwhile, Pensacola starter Tim Adleman started the game by setting down the first nine Shuckers before walking second baseman Nate Orf. He threw four hitless innings before the Shuckers scored three times on two hits in the fifth to go up, 3-1. Biloxi left fielder Victor Roache scored an unearned run and then pitcher Tyler Wagner took matters into his own hands. His double rolled to the left center wall to score third baseman Taylor Green and catcher Adam Weisenburger and give the Shuckers a 3-1 lead. Wagner had a season-high 11 strikeouts in seven innings against the Pensacola lineup and improved to 7-5 with a 2.53 ERA. His two RBIs also helped his cause. The Milwaukee Brewers No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com had been 0-3 with a 2.77 ERA in four starts in July, getting just six runs of support from Biloxi’s lineup. Wagner made one appearance with the Brewers against the Arizona Diamondbacks May 31 and lasted 3.2 innings giving up five runs on nine hits. Kelly said Wagner was impressive. “He singlehandedly won the game for them,” Kelly said. “He was throwing a helluva game. We got some guys on base but he didn’t give us a lot of opportunities.” Pensacola cut Biloxi’s lead to, 3-2, in the sixth inning when right fielder Juan Duran doubled off the left field wall to drive in Wright, who singled up the middle to lead off the sixth inning. Pensacola went down in order in the seventh and eighth before putting the tying run on second and the winning run on first. But second baseman Ray Chang hit a line drive to first baseman Nick Ramirez, who caught the ball and tagged pinch runner Juan Perez out to end the game. The fourth game of the five-game series is scheduled at 6:35 p.m. Saturday with the Milwaukee Brewers Double-A affiliate Biloxi Shuckers. RHP Josh Smith (5-2, 3.00) takes the mound for the Wahoos and is scheduled to be opposed by Shuckers LHP Hobbs Johnson (6-4, 3.36).  Read More →

July 25, 2015 | Read the story »

Escambia Ups County Fire Tax $15 Per Year To Staff South-End Stations

Escambia County homeowners outside the city of Pensacola will pay an extra $15 per year  for fire services, with the money going toward paid firefighters bolstering the ranks at fire stations in the south-end of the county. The Escambia County Commission voted 3-1, with Steven Barry against and Lumon May absent, to add the $15, increasing the  fire tax for the average homeowner from $85 to $100 beginning with the next fiscal year. The proceeds from the extra $15 per year municipal services benefit unit assessment (MSBU) will fund 24/7 paid firefighters at the Ferry Pass and West Pensacola fire stations, with 12 firefighters assigned per station. The board also voted to hire another dozen firefighters using reserve funds. They will either fully staff the Myrtle Grove fire station or be split between Myrtle Grove, Innerarity Point and Bellview. The final staffing decision will be made by Fire Chief Pat Grace and Public Safety Director Michael Weaver. The Ferry Pass, Bellview, Innerarity Point, Myrtle Grove and West Pensacola stations have recorded volunteers missing a large number of calls for service, between 10 and 60 percent of fire calls, according to county data. Two commissioners, Doug Underhill and Wilson Robertson, lobbied Thursday night for a $30 per year increase which would have funded full-time paid firefighter coverage at all five stations when coupled with reserve funds. The county will continue to use available volunteer firefighters at all fire stations. North of Nine Mile Road, the Cantonment fire station is staffed 24/7 by paid crews, while  the Century fire station has a paid crew of three firefighters on duty from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Volunteers are on call the remainder of the day at the Century fire station and all-day  at the McDavid, Walnut Hill, Molino and Beulah stations. Pictured top and inset: A fully involved house fire battled by volunteers on Highway 97 in Davisville. NorthEscambia.com file photos, click to enlarge. Pictured below: Five Escambia County fire station, in priority order, in need of staffing. It would cost each homeowner in the county $7.50 per year to full staff each fire station.  Read More →

July 24, 2015 | Read the story »

BOE Approves College Performance Funding; Pensacola State On Underperforming List

Pensacola State College is among five schools in Florida that  have some of their existing funding held back until they show improvement. A new performance-funding system for state colleges was approved Thursday by the State Board of Education, the latest step in Florida officials’ drive to tie money for higher education to how well institutions and their students do. Board members unanimously approved the model, but some did so hesitantly, discouraged by standards that were left out of the model under legislative instructions or did not feature as prominently in the scores colleges receive because of a scarcity of data. The performance system will control how the state divvies up a total of $40 million, including $20 million of new funding for colleges and $20 million in money that colleges were already receiving. In that respect, it resembles a larger performance plan for state universities that started last year. Colleges will be scored based on four categories: Completion rates for students, retention rates for students, job placement and continuing education for graduates and the entry-level wages for graduates. At least initially, completion and retention rates will be weighed more heavily than job placement and wages. That bothered some board members, who noted that Gov. Rick Scott and other state officials have pushed for colleges and universities to put more emphasis on the prospects of those with college degrees to find work. But Christopher Mullin, executive vice chancellor of the Division of Florida Colleges, said the state isn’t able to get the information it needs from some states where students are likely to move. Both of Florida’s closest neighbors — Alabama and Georgia — aren’t part of a multistate agreement that would allow Florida to get accurate information about jobs and wages, Mullin said. “What we have is a number of colleges along the I-10 corridor whose students might live or work right across the border. … We’re working really hard to get Georgia and Alabama to join in as well, where we won’t have to worry about this issue moving forward,” Mullin said. Board Chairwoman Marva Johnson said the department should try to find other routes to get the information it needs regardless of what happens with the data-sharing agreement. “I don’t want to have to wait on them to get to 50 (states),” she said. “I really would love for us to try to find a way to get, maybe it won’t be perfect data, but as close as we can to the best data, so that we can properly value job placement and wages in the metric system.” Meanwhile, board member Rebecca Lipsey said she was disappointed that lawmakers set aside a recommendation from Education Commissioner Pam Stewart that the performance formula include a measurement focused specifically on students who received federal need-based financial aid. In all, lawmakers dropped five metrics that Stewart had proposed. “By removing that, we’re no longer, when thinking about performance funding for our college system, finding a way to incentivize and reward colleges for specifically ensuring that their low-income students are having great outcomes,” Lipsey said. According to information provided to the board, seven colleges will receive their existing funding back and a higher share of the new money: Santa Fe College; Valencia College; Tallahassee Community College; Lake-Sumter State College; Gulf Coast State College; State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota; and Florida SouthWestern State College. Five schools — Pasco-Hernando State College, the College of Central Florida, Daytona State College, Northwest Florida State College and Pensacola State College — will not receive new funding and will have some of their existing funding held back until they show improvement. The other 16 colleges will receive their existing funding and some performance funding, though not as much as the seven highest-scoring schools. by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service Of Florida  Read More →

July 24, 2015 | Read the story »

Century Man Charged With Burglary

A Century man is facing felony charges for allegedly burglarizing a shed and selling items at a scrap dealer. Travis Leigh Carroll, 23, was charged with burglary of an unoccupied structure, third degree larceny and criminal mischief with property damage. He was booked into the Escambia County Jail with bond set at $75,000. Carroll is accused of burglarizing the shed in the 100 block of East Highway 4 and stealing shock absorbers, an aluminum ladder and copper wire. He also allegedly damaged the shed door and electrical service panel. He then allegedly sold the property, valued at $550 for $80 at a recycling business in Flomaton. The property owner provided deputies with a security camera image that reportedly shows Carroll on the property.  Read More →

July 24, 2015 | Read the story »

Escambia Schools Summer Class Of 2015 Graduates (With List)

The Escambia County School District held their Summer Commencement Exercises today for 47 members of the Class of 2015. They were commended by Superintendent Malcolm Thomas for their determination to “hang in there and not give up until you could walk out of here with a diploma in your hand.” Thomas spoke to the graduates about Walt Disney and Elvis Presley  who were each told they didn’t have what it would take to be successful. But they didn’t give up. Thomas also thanked everyone in the room who had supported the students in their efforts to complete high school and reminded the students that “none of those people control your next step. You made the choice to be here today. There is always a way to find success, if you don’t give up.” Summer Graduates Class of 2015: Tate High School Logan Taylor Ahl Sheldon Wayne Biggs Emmalie Desirae Earnest Dalton Ray Flowers Ashton Daniel Hand Samuel Vernon Henke Johnnie Randall Jarman Keith Michael Maresca Tara Grace Maresca Savannah Graye Marron Jacob Bryce Marsh Quintin Dante McGhee Dominick Anthony Mondello Cory James Walker Arkisha Lashae Williams District Extended Program Demondo Weathers Pine Forest High School Tatiana Janae Andrews Stephen Brent Bodree Amie Marie Bradley Christopher Peter Jaycub Byrd Nicholas Ryan Coon Devin Austin Cushing Rolence Dubois Marcus Jermon Ephfrom Samuel Miguel Fast Wesley Shane Gainey Paul Tyler Jesus Garcia Michael Guadulupe Gonzalez Clark Arthur Edward Hampton Creay Tonetta Howard Bruce Edward Lindsey Cassandra Maxine Mayon Dylan Ross McFadyen Shaunderrick Ja’Marcus Jerome Purifoy Christopher Jordan Rape Steven Chappell Smith Tanner G. Ward Escambia High School Matthew Budzinsky Amanda Gelano Ethan Griffith Xavier Pope Booker T. Washington High School Cameron David Carr Melody Chen Robert Wade Fretland Qudarius Timothy Sanders Jacob Morgan Vincent Logan Dakota Yancy Escambia Virtual School Kenthea Davis  Read More →

July 24, 2015 | Read the story »

Millionaires Make Up Nearly One-Third Of Florida Legislature

Nearly a third of state lawmakers are millionaires, with two members of the Senate having net worths that top $20 million, according to newly filed disclosure reports. Almost half of the Senate is in the millionaires club, and more than two dozen senators saw their net worths grow in the past year. Some reports remain to be filed, but so far no senator sits in the red financially, according to the reports posted on the Florida Commission on Ethics website. In the House, about one-fourth of the 120 members have net worths stretching to seven figures. Twenty-five House members — including seven of the millionaires — reported their net worths dropped in the past year. Another nine representatives have negative net worths, including six who each have negative net worths of more than $100,000, mostly because of student or home loans. The reports, which reflect 2014 finances, were due July 1, but not everyone has filed their paperwork. Rules set by lawmakers mean late paperwork doesn’t become an issue until September. The Senate has some of the wealthiest legislators, topped again by Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who co-founded VITAS Healthcare Corp. and reported a net worth of $26.99 million. The next highest net worths belonged to Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, at $21.2 million, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, at $14.5 million. Brandes, who made money in real estate, is also a shareholder in Bay Cities Bank in Tampa and Green Bench Brewery in St. Petersburg. Simpson is involved with the family-owned Simpson Environmental Services and Simpson Farms. Simpson, along with Sen. David Simmons, a Republican attorney from Altamonte Springs, and Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat who is a former executive at Yahoo, each reported incomes topping $1 million in the past year. At the other end of the fiscal spectrum is freshman Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando. The retired New York City Transit Police detective added a residential mortgage to his portfolio in 2014, raising his negative net worth from $28,017 in 2013 to $354,165 last year. Other House members who have liabilities exceeding assets by more than $100,000 include Republican Danny Burgess of San Antonio and Democrats Katie Edwards of Plantation, Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, Edwin Narain of Tampa and Bobby DuBose of Fort Lauderdale. That’s not to say your typical elected representative, with a state salary of $29,697 a year, plus food, lodging and travel expenses, is struggling. The average net worth of House members — based on the disclosure reports now available for 2014 — is $1.27 million. The average grows to $1.386 million if the 2013 totals are added for nine House members who have yet to submit disclosure reports for 2014. In 2013, before 24 seats were turned over due to term limits and elections, the average net worth of House members stood at $1.374 million. Democrats in the House who have filed their 2014 papers had an average net worth of $792,019, while the average net worth of the Republicans was $1,721,145. Last year’s wealthiest House member, Miami Republican Michael Bileca, who reported a net worth of $14.2 million for 2013, is among those yet to file. Bileca, who co-founded the Towncare Dental Partnership firm now located throughout Central and South Florida, has requested an extension until Aug. 15. Ben Wilcox, with the watchdog group Integrity Florida, said state lawmakers have made strides in recent years to improve the financial-disclosure reports, but the information remains vastly incomplete. “The Commission on Ethics should be given the authority to do random audits of a sample of public officials’ financial disclosure reports each year,” Wilcox said. “It is a concern that assets can be hidden or moved, thus giving the public an inaccurate picture of an official’s assets. Among the problems with the reports, according to Integrity Florida, is that assets can be easily hidden under a spouse’s name, and lawmakers don’t have to reveal if firms they own or work for have business before the Legislature or state government. Also, Integrity Florida contends that with the requirement that numbers be based on a single day rather than the full year lawmakers can “secretly engage in major transactions throughout the year undetected.” The July 1 deadline is also a misnomer, Wilcox noted. Besides the ease in which lawmaker can get extensions, late fines of $25 a day — up to a maximum of $1,500 — don’t begin until Sept. 1. “The grace period is too long and sends a message that it is not important to meet the July 1 deadline. Ideally the deadline should be the deadline,” Wilcox said. Even without immediate penalties, the majority of lawmakers got their paperwork in on time. The average net worth of a sitting senator, based upon the 2014 filings, stands at $4.5 million. Last year, the Senate average was $3.59 million, with a total net worth of $143.7 million. Those who have already filed this year reported a combined $144.6 million net worth. Democrats in the Senate average $3.25 million, while Republicans have a $5.2 million average. The Senate includes 17 millionaires in the 2014 records recently submitted. Two other senators, Brandon Republican Tom Lee and Bradenton Republican Bill Galvano, have both been above the seven-figure mark in the past, but have requested extensions until Aug. 15 to file the new disclosure forms. The Senate so far is showing everyone in the black. Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat and attorney who has been steadily paying down home loans, recorded a positive net worth of $28,346 for 2014, an improvement upon a negative $6,663 in 2013 and a $32,351 negative figure a year earlier. Meanwhile, Sen. Thad Altman, a Rockledge Republican who received $169,891 in 2014 as president and CEO of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, joined the ranks of millionaires in the past year. Altman reported a net worth of $1,003,878 in 2014, up from $899,676 a year earlier. Also, the Senate’s newest member, Elkton Republican Travis Hutson, posted a net worth of $6.99 million. Hutson, a former House member, joined the Senate this spring after winning a special election in a Northeast Florida district. Among the most-recent figures for the 40 senators, Orlando Democrat Geraldine Thompson’s $828,099 net worth hugs the median among her colleagues, slightly above the $815,179 reported by Stuart Republican Joe Negron. In the House, freshman Rep. Mike Miller, R-Winter Park, stands at the median among his colleagues. Miller’s $480,000 is just above the net worth of $478,248 reported by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. Crisafulli, a Republican from Merritt Island, is involved in the family-owned Crisafulli Builders Inc. Crisafulli’s net worth grew $24,259 from year to year. House members who as of Friday morning had yet to file their financial-disclosure paperwork were Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz, Delray Beach Republican Bill Hager, Orlando Democrat Bruce Antone, Orlando Democrat Randolph Bracy, Jacksonville Democrat Reggie Fullwood, West Park Democrat Shevrin Jones, Coral Springs Democrat Jared Moskowitz and Alachua Democrat Clovis Watson. by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

July 24, 2015 | Read the story »

Century Budget Meeting Postponed

The Century Town Council was scheduled to hold a final budget workshop Thursday afternoon, but that meetng was rescheduled. The council will now hold final budget talks on Thursday, August 6. Pictured: Century Town Hall. NorthEscambia.com photo, click to enlarge.  Read More →

July 24, 2015 | Read the story »

Storm 12U Team Wins Global World Series

The Pensacola Storm 12-year old Majors team recently won the Global World Series in Orange Beach, competing against 35 other 12U teams from across the county. They went 8-0 in tournament play, scoring a total of 56 runs while allowing just 16 runs. The Storm finished their season at 48-11, ranked 42nd in the nation out of 4,687 teams in 12U. Pictured are Pensacola Storm 12U Majors team members (front, L-R) Damarius McGhee, Josh Turner, Aaron Noack, Tanner Rouchon, Ian Ladieu, (back) Jordan Jarman, Jordan McCants, Tyler Michanowicz, Hunter Pierson and Brady Garcia.  Read More →

July 24, 2015 | Read the story »

Blue Wahoos Win 11th Straight Home Game

In his last three starts — all wins — Pensacola Blue Wahoos right-hander Daniel Wright has used his mix of four pitches to keep the opposing batters off balance. Wright won his third straight start over the Biloxi Shuckers, 2-1, Thursday in front of 4,533 at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium. Pensacola narrowly escaped when second baseman Juan Perez ended the game on a perfect one-hop relay throw from shallow center field to catcher Kyle Skipworth to nail Biloxi pinch runner Brent Suter, who stumbled rounding third base. The Pensacola dugout went from “a low to high moment really quick,” said Wright, who improved to 7-7 with a 4.32 ERA. The Blue Wahoos won its fourth straight game and 11th straight home game. Pensacola improved to 17-10 (42-53) and sole possession of first place in the Southern League South Division. For the first time in franchise history since 2012, Pensacola improved to seven games above .500. Mobile BayBears defeated the Mississippi Braves Thursday to propel the Blue Wahoos into first. With his dad, Paul, and Little League manager Steve Knott traveling from Memphis to look on, Wright threw eight innings, allowing just one run on four hits with a walk and struck out five. After allowing Biloxi’s only run in the sixth when center fielder Michael Reed doubled in third baseman Nate Orf to cut Pensacola’s lead, 2-1, Wright retired the next seven hitters. Wright has a 1.17 ERA, allowing one run in each of his last three starts covering 23 innings. In five of his last six starts, Wright has allowed one run or less. His second half ERA is 1.74, giving up eight earned runs in 41.3 innings. He said having his dad and coach look on was no distraction. “I waved to them before the game but once the game starts, you’re just thinking about the next pitch,” Wright said. “As the game went on, I got a little bit sharper.” Pensacola manager Pat Kelly said he was worried Wright would run out of gas after scoring from first base in the fifth inning on Bryson Smith’s triple over the center fielder’s head. His score put Pensacola up, 2-1. The Blue Wahoos went up, 1-0, in the fourth inning when right fielder Juan Duran singled in center fielder Bryson Smith. “Daniel (Wright) was outstanding again,” Kelly said. “That’s the way he threw for me in Bakersfield.” Last year, Wright led the Cincinnati Reds’ minor league pitchers with 14 wins (first) and 141 strikeouts (second) pitching for Low-A Dayton Dragons and High-A Bakersfield Blaze. Bryson Smith went 2-3 with a triple, scored a run and drove in another. Smith is now hitting .381 (8-21) with one homer and three RBIs in six games with Pensacola. Pensacola shortstop Zach Vincej also went 2-3 and has hits in 14 of his last 15 games. He’s batting 22-53 or .415 during that span. He’s hitting .362 in the second half and has raised his season average to .267. The third game of the five-game series is scheduled at 6:35 p.m. Friday with the Milwaukee Brewers Double-A affiliate Biloxi Shuckers. RHP Tim Adleman (6-7, 2.36) takes the mound for the Wahoos and is scheduled to be opposed by Shuckers RHP Tyler Wagner (6-5, 2.53).  Read More →

July 24, 2015 | Read the story »

Five Century Families Receiving New Homes Thanks To Grant

Five Century families are receiving brand new home homes thanks to a Community Development Block Grant received by the town. Three mobile homes, one added-on trailer and one traditional built home will be demolished and replaced with new homes. Each of the homes being replaced are substandard — some so bad with mold and missing floors  that residents have already been moved out, according to Robin Phillips, the town consultant that is administering the program. Each of the new homes will be fully funded by the grant with residents required to pay nothing. The homes being replaced are (with address, owner name, bid winner and construction amount): 6890 Jefferson Avenue, Mary Ann Bradley, Bill Walther Construction $81,900 6800 Gilford Avenue, Annie Mims, Parker Construction, $85,725 121 Mincy Court, Ethel Brown, Walther Construction $86,000 6845 Jefferson, David and Betty Washington, Motes Construction, $84,800 7024 Hartley Lane, Ruby and Olivia Fleeton, Motes Construction, $85,600 Construction work will begin as soon as contract documents are executed and approved. Pictured: Three of the five homes being replaced with new grant-funded homes in Century. The home at top is at 6890 Jefferson Avenue, below is 121 Mincy Court and at bottom is 6845 Jefferson Avenue. Photos courtesy Escambia County Tax Collector for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.  Read More →

July 23, 2015 | Read the story »

National Animal Cruelty Class Learns From Panhandle Equine Rescue

Animal cruelty investigators from across the U.S. and Dominican Republic attended an Advanced Investigators Class this week at Panhandle Equine Rescue in Cantonment. PER hosted the National Animal Cruelty Investigations School from the University of Missouri as they conducted classes for animal control, law enforcement and other agencies. The students were able to get hands-on experience with PER’s horses, learning how to catch, halter, body score and other techniques. The class was led by Christy Fischer of the Sedgwick County (KS) Sheriffs Department. The only horse rescue in Escambia County, Panhandle Equine Rescue was founded by a small group of concerned citizens with a mission to rescue, rehabilitate and provide adoption services for abused, neglected and abandoned equines. PER is authorized by the court system to investigate equine cruelty in Escambia County. Pictured: A group of animal cruelty investigators from across the country visited Panhandle Equine Rescue in Cantonment. Photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.  Read More →

July 23, 2015 | Read the story »

Escambia Man Indicted For Manslaughter Of Football Standout

State Attorney Bill Eddins announced Wednesday that Xavier Tyrone Moore was convicted by an Escambia County Jury of third degree murder, manslaughter with a weapon, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.  Immediately following  the verdict, Moore was remanded into custody with no bond. The charges stemmed from the June 13, 2014, shooting death of Shaquille Purifoy. While Moore was sitting on the trunk of a car off of Country Walk Drive, he had a loaded .38 caliber Derringer pistol in his lap.  When he got up from the trunk of the car, the pistol fell on the ground and discharged one time.  The one shot struck Purifoy in the head resulting in a fatal wound. Circuit Judge Linda Nobles ordered a presentence investigation due by September 2.  Moore’s prior record includes robbery, possession of a firearm by convicted felon, felony battery and multiple drug offenses. Based on the charges and his prior record, Moore could face sentencing under Florida’s 10-20-Life statute as well as a habitual felony offender. Moore is facing up to 60 years in state prison. Purifoy was on the basketball and football teams at Pine Forest High School and went on to play football for Grambling State University.  Read More →

July 23, 2015 | Read the story »