Century’s New Wastewater Superintendent Resigns

January 29, 2015

Century’s newly hired wastewater superintendent has resigned, once again leaving the town searching for a certified operator.

April Conatser was hired for the job back in November and held dual certifications in wastewater and water. Mayor Freddie McCall said she gave no reason for her resignation.

The town currently has a  part-time employee able to do the job and keep the town in compliance with state regulations, but the town “desperately” needs to find a replacement for Conatser as soon as possible, McCall said.

New Cantonment Improvement Committee Home Almost Ready

January 29, 2015

Final preparations are underway for a new home for a the Cantonment Improvement Committee in Carver Park. A modular building will be repositioned into its permanent location in the next few days. Courtesy photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Read Like Crazy: Molino Park Premieres Literacy Week Video

January 29, 2015

A couple of days ago, we brought you the story a reading flash mob at Molino Park Elementary School.  Music teacher Katie Powell rewrote the words to the popular song “Call Me Maybe” and created the “Read Like Crazy” video. The final version of the video is now complete, and it’s posted below.

If you don’t see the video above , it’s because your work, school or home firewall is blocking YouTube videos.

Scott Pitches $77 Billion Budget Plan, Tax Cuts

January 29, 2015

Not long after Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his nearly $77 billion state spending plan for the budget year that begins in July, lawmakers were already casting doubt on whether he would get all of a major tax cut at the heart of the proposal.

There were few surprises in the plan that Scott unveiled Wednesday at an annual meeting of reporters and editors hosted by the Associated Press. Scott had already released key details, including a record per-student figure for spending on public education and cuts to taxes on cell-phone bills, television services and college textbooks.

Of the $673 million in tax cuts that Scott pitched, a reduction in the communications services tax, applied to cell-phone bills and cable and satellite television, is by far the largest. It would reduce state revenues by $470.9 million and save an average Florida family about $43 a year, Scott’s office said.

Speaking at the Associated Press event at the Capitol, the governor touted the reach of the proposed tax cut.

“The benefit of the CST (communications services tax cut) is that it impacts pretty much everybody in the state. … It’s going to go to everybody,” Scott said.

But House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, told the same gathering that Scott’s plan on the communications tax was higher than what the House had in mind. And Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said there are “plenty of ideas” about how to reduce taxes in addition to Scott’s request.

“Certainly, that will be on the table,” Gardiner said. “But there will also be quite a few others.”

Overall, Scott’s budget proposal would reduce state spending by about 0.1 percent from the current budget year, but the plan would still be well above the roughly $69 billion budget that Scott signed during his first year in office. Scott, who came into office promising deep cuts in government spending, defended the growth.

“Revenues are growing in our state. Our state is getting bigger. We’re now bigger than the state of New York. But if you look at this budget, like I’ve done every year, we’ve cut taxes. … We’ve paid down debt. We’re doing the right things for our taxpayers,” he said.

Still, to cover the tax cuts and education spending while keeping the overall budget relatively flat, Scott’s proposal calls for deep reductions in other areas. Spending on transportation would fall by almost $235.5 million, though Scott’s office said the Florida Department of Transportation’s work plan is smaller this year and fully funded. The proposal would also cut nearly $120 million from the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration.

The plan would reduce the state’s payroll by more than 1,000 full-time positions. Scott’s office said that the “vast majority” of those jobs are expected to be unfilled by the time the budget takes effect. Most of the positions would come from the Department of Health; the agency would shed 758 full-time positions.

Some agencies would gain jobs. For example, the Department of Corrections, recently plagued by reports of suspicious inmate deaths, would add 163 full-time positions.

Lawmakers will consider Scott’s proposal as they negotiate a budget and tax cuts during the legislative session that starts March 3. In preparation for the session, House and Senate committees will receive presentations about the proposal next week.

But the overall reduction in positions drew questions from House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, a West Palm Beach Democrat who suggested some government functions could be hindered.

“We’re already the leanest state in the nation, I believe, in terms of population versus government employees,” he said. “We’re the leanest. … What were (those jobs) actually doing?”

Scott’s proposal also calls for $271.9 million to be swept from an array of trust funds designated for specific areas of the budget. State workers would not get a raise, but Scott pointed out that they would receive the benefits of the state’s tax cuts. And Scott would bank on the extension of an expiring pool of health-care money worth about $2 billion.

“We’re hoping that we can continue to work with the federal government with regard to that,” he said.

by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

Top Five Finalists Named For Escambia Teacher Of The Year

January 28, 2015

The top five finalists for Escambia County Teacher of the Year have been named.

Anna Barry (pictured) of Northview High School is a top five finalist, as are Krystal Gibson of Beulah Elementary School, Andrew Rehwinkle of Pensacola High School, Sheila Hall of N.B. Cook Elementary and Doreen Wells of Ensley Elementary School.

The Escambia County Teacher of the Year will be announced February 26 at the Golden Apple Awards Dinner, sponsored by the Escambia County Public Schools Foundation.

Woman Gets 15 Years For Trying To Kill Ex

January 28, 2015

Surina Seal was sentenced by Circuit Judge Terry D. Terrell to 15 years in state prison followed by 15 years of probation for two counts of  first degree premeditated attempt murder, aggravated battery with great bodily harm, aggravated battery with a deadly  weapon, leaving the scene of an accident with injuries and two countys of child neglect. Seal previously pleaded no contest to the charges.

On April 26, 2014,  Seal was driving and saw her ex-husband riding a motorcycle with his new girlfriend. Seal chased down the two victims and hit them on the motorcycle with her car. The motorcycle broke into several pieces and the two victims were thrown from the motorcycle. Seal then got out of her car and attacked both victims  before witnesses pulled her off.

She then fled the scene in her car. Seal’s two minor children were in the vehicle at the time of the incident.  Seal’s ex-husband had six broken bones and was in the hospital for three months, while the female victim sustained minor injuries.

Cyberthon Presents Cybersecurity Challenges For High School Students

January 28, 2015

“You got pwnd. We own you.”  For most people working with information technology, seeing this message on a computer screen would cause panic. However, not for Diego Zepeda, he knew just what to do. He knew he needed to immediately access backup information and when that didn’t work, he quickly called on his team for ideas.

“Brandon Thurston came up with the idea that worked and in seconds, we posted a message that our web site would be down for a maintenance period,” said Zepeda. “As soon as that message was up, we were able to access our backup information. From there, we were able to identify the two corrupted folders. We isolated those folders and had everything else back up and running.”

Zepeda explained this phase of Cyberthon 2015, a competition that was locally created to test the internet security skills of two teams of local high school students, as calmly as he might give someone directions to the nearest video game store. Zepeda is a junior at Pine Forest High School and a member of their new Cybersecurity Academy. Thurston is a senior at Pine Forest, also in his first year in the academy.

“Cyber warfare is about a tiny, little attacker trying to take control of the web assets of a monster-sized defender,” explained Doug Underhill, Escambia County Commissioner, District 2, and a key organizer behind the creation of Cyberthon. “The attacker, or hacker, wants to take control and force the larger defender to have to react to his every move. By creating a maintenance window, the defender maintains control and then has time to detect the source of the attack, defend against the attack, and restore their web services to their consumers.”

“By constantly refreshing their team’s webpage and email, Zepeda showed us that he has already figured out the importance of continuous monitoring and found a human solution,” explained Underhill.  “Their quick thinking gave Blue Team 1 their best win of the day.”

The Blue teams’ participants in Cyberthon came from Pine Forest High School, Pace High School, Spanish Fort High School and Catholic High School. The members of the Red Team (aka The Bad Guys) were volunteers from a variety of IT companies and government agencies. Additional volunteers acted as mentors for the members of the Blue Teams. Cyberthon was sponsored by the local chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. (AFSEA) and it was hosted by the Naval Flight Academy, located aboard NAS Pensacola, giving the competitors a chance to utilized the Flight Academy’s Joint Information Bureaus, rooms filled with state of the art computers, and smart technology.

The Red Team’s role was to launch attacks known to IT security training specialists as MSELs, pronounced “measles”, which are activities on a Master Scenario Event List. MSELs incorporate various METs– Mission Essential Tasks. The first MSEL was a missing folder. The students said that was easy to recover and only took them a few minutes to locate and restore. With each round and each new MSEL, it got harder. Their web sites crashed, but they got them back up. They were also attacked by a DDoS – a Distributed Denial of Service (pronounced dee-doss), which is an effort to overload a site until it crashes.

“We used Splunk, an application that shows everything happening in your network. It let us see the attack source and block it,” Alec Le, a Pine Forest High School, 9th grader, explained casually, like this is something he does every day.

These attacks led up to the event described above when they were “pwnd” (pronounced powned), which meant their site had been taken over.

Both teams figured out how to regain their control, but Team 1’s extra quick thinking impressed the Red Team as well as their instructor, Angela Irby.

“They all did an awesome job this weekend; they have been learning these skills in concept and theory. Cyberthon let them tie it all together like fitting together the pieces of a puzzle. I also think they are having a lot more fun than they imagined,” said Irby. “Another positive aspect of Cyberthon is they are getting to meet people in the industry, both civilian and military, and hear some amazing speakers.”

“Cybercrime is an exponentially growing threat,” FBI Special Agent John Windness, told the students.  He explained the variety of cybercrimes and that it isn’t like what you see in the movies with a guy sitting alone on his computer in a basement somewhere attacking the world’s computers. “Today, hackers are incredibly professionally run organizations.”

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan, a sponsor of the event, also spoke to the students explaining that he was honored to assist in making this event happen. He also made a point of telling the students that the money his office donated to help fund the weekend-long competition came from drug seized money. “Those drug dealers, whose money we are spending here today, are not sitting here today; they are in jail.”

Morgan also pointed out the volunteers in the room, people gathered there to coordinate the competition and mentor the students as they worked through the cyber attacks. “These mentors care enough about all of you to give you their time.”

Underhill told the students, “I joined the Navy in 1991 and I worked in counter-intelligence. But cybersecurity is more exciting for me because it has a real impact on protecting my own family. I can’t imagine a more rewarding career path.”

Zepeda sat with his friends Angelo Mayorga (PFHS, 9th grade) and Alec Le (PFHS, 9th grade) comparing notes on how they handled the various attacks. They all knew that after the“pwnd” event that those two corrupted folders were filled safely away, but still there.

“Tonight I plan to try to find a way to deal with them next time,” said Zapeda.

“I used to think that one person could handle defending a computer system, “ explained Mayorga, “Now I see that it takes a team.”

They also talked about what they are learning and how it is affecting their perspective on how to handle their personal computer equipment. Le said, “I was always careful, but now I will be even more careful.”

“I have never worried about it,” said Mayorga.” “I downloaded lots of stuff.”

“Man, you have got to be more careful,” urged his cybersecurity academy classmates. They should know.

All of the high school students who participated in the 2015 Cyberthon received certificates and many offers from mentors to be there to help later with recommendations for jobs or on college applications. They also received limited edition Cyberthon Challenge coins.

“These coins are a military tradition, given by commanding officers to commemorate an exceptional performance,” Underhill explained to the students. “You have joined a pantheon of exceptional people this weekend. We all expect you to continue to perform at an exceptional level in school, and we challenge you to stay involved in science, technology ,engineering or math (STEM) classes and we hope you will persue a career path in a STEM field.”

The 2015 Cyberthon security warriors stood in front of a room filled with local leaders, business owners, military service people, school district personnel and IT specialists who had served as their mentors and their attackers who all joined together to give the kids a standing ovation.  That was the only time, all weekend, that they looked the least bit frazzled.

by Kim Stefansson for NorthEscambia.com

Photos by Ed Barker, NETC Public Affairs, for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Senate Bill Targets Florida Prison Safety

January 28, 2015

With Florida’s corrections system under scrutiny because of inmate deaths and alleged misconduct, a Senate committee next week will take up a wide-ranging bill aimed at improving prison safety and addressing issues such as the use of force by guards.

The 29-page bill is slated to go Monday to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which heard testimony last week from newly appointed Corrections Secretary Julie Jones. During that testimony, Jones pointed to problems including understaffed prisons and a lack of training for guards who deal with mentally ill inmates.

One of the prominent themes of the bill (SPB 7020) is trying to increase the focus on safety in prisons. Current law emphasizes the role of the Department of Corrections in maintaining the security of prisons, but the bill would put into law a similar focus on ensuring the safety of employees and prisoners.

In part, it would require periodic inspections and audits to look for safety problems in prisons. As an example, audits of prison buildings would be required to “include the identification of blind spots or areas where staff or inmates may be isolated and the deployment of video monitoring systems and other monitoring technologies in such areas.”

A series of events during the past year has led to investigations and widespread questions about the prison system. Much of that scrutiny started after the Miami Herald reported last summer about the death of mentally ill inmate Darren Rainey at Dade Correctional Institution. Rainey died after guards allegedly forced him to shower in scalding water as punishment.

The scrutiny also has included probes of inmate deaths by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and a whistleblower lawsuit by a group of corrections investigators.

The Senate bill would try to address several of the key issues that have emerged. For instance, when correctional officers are being taught about the use of force, they would be required to receive specialized training “for effectively managing in non-forceful ways mentally ill inmates who may exhibit erratic behavior.”

Also, guards who have been written up twice for incidents involving inappropriate use of force would not be able to work closely with inmates who are mentally ill or on psychotropic medications.

The bill also would address a frequently cited issue about prison staff being afraid of retribution from co-workers if they report wrongdoing.

One part of the bill would allow staff members to make anonymous and confidential reports to the Department of Corrections’ inspector general if they witness abuse or neglect of inmates but fear retribution.

In addition, the bill would require the department to establish a policy to protect inmates and employees from retaliation for reporting physical or sexual abuse or for cooperating with investigations.

The policy, in part, would have to include “multiple protection measures, such as housing changes or transfers for inmate victims or abusers, removal of alleged abusive employees or alleged abusive inmates from contact with victims, and services for employees who fear retaliation for reporting abuse or for cooperating with investigations.”

by Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

Tate High Chaparrals To Present Winter Guard Show Preview Thursday

January 28, 2015

The Tate High School Chaparrals will hold a winter guard friends and family “True Colors” show preview Thursday at 8 p.m. in the school’s new gym. Their winter guard season begins Saturday in Fairhope. Chaparrals members are Katie Dupre, Celina Dyess, Breanna Langley, Megan Leonard, Katy Luebke, Jo Jo O’Steen, Michaela Overbey, Madison Philley, Brenn Repine, Kelsey Strength, Virginia Vaughn and Savannah VonStein.

Pictured: The Tate High School Chaparrals ready for winter guard competition. Photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

New Coast Guard Display Opens At Naval Aviation Museum

January 28, 2015

The Coast Guard Aviation display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola was refreshed and rededicated with a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday. The Coast Guard aviation section has new displays of older Coast Guard aircraft spanning the nearly 100 years of Coast Guard aviation.

Pictured top: Rear Adm. Jake Korn, commander, 7th Coast Guard District (center), cutters the ribbon for the refreshed Coast Guard Aviation display at the National Aviation Museum Tuesday. Pictured inset:  Korn stands with Jeff Drew, one of the last living Coast Guard World War II veterans. Vice Commandant John Currier, retired (left), Frank Leamy, Jr., Capt. George Krietemeyer, retired and Rear Adm. Jake Korn stand in from of a restored Douglas RD Dolphin fixed-wing aircraft after a dedication ceremony of the Coast Guard aviation section at the National Naval Aviation Museum. Photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

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