Ocala Gazette | July 6-12, 2020

Page 1

Inaugural Issue

JULY 6 - JULY 12, 2020 | TWO DOLLARS

New City Manager

Wilson faces challenges of pandemic, economic downturn By Brad Rogers Executive Editor


f there is one thing Sandra Wilson is certain about in her new job as Ocala’s city manager, it’s that the days and months ahead are filled with, well, uncertainty. Wilson, a 20-year veteran of City Hall, was named city manager by the Ocala City Council on June 2, after serving as interim in the post for six months. She is the first African American to hold the city manager’s post and succeeds John Zobler, who abruptly resigned late last year after a half decade marked by significant progress in the city, particularly downtown. Wilson served as Zobler’s No. 2 for most of his tenure. Now that she is at the helm of city government, however, Wilson faces some serious challenges. Last month a court ruled that the city’s fire fee was unconstitutional and ordered the city to reimburse those who had paid it. Since the city began collecting the controversial fee in 2007, Ocala pocketed $103 million from city residents – money

used for fire department operations and equipment purchases. The city is appealing the ruling, but if it has to reimburse fee payers, it will put a strain on city finances, to say the least. Of course, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic presents a separate set of financial and social pressures. The pandemic has slowed the economy and, in turn, the city will see lower tax revenues from the state. While Wilson said her immediate to-do list incudes finishing up capital projects that are under way – the Mary Sue Rich Community Center on the city’s westside and the first-responder campus on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue (the third such facility) – she also knows that lower tax revenues likely mean fewer city projects. “We’re probably going to have to be reviewing every capital project out there,” Wilson said. “We’re probably going to have to be pumping the brakes until we know where that (the fire fee issue) is going to take us.” City Council members agree with Wilson’s assessment of what lies ahead.

“Sandra’s got some significant challenges in front of her,” Councilman Matt Wardell said, “but I think she’s measured enough to handle them. There’s always a person for the time. I think she’s the person for this time because we have some tough decisions.” Councilman Justin Grabelle, the only council member not to support Wilson’s hiring, nonetheless praised her and noted that when Zobler started he had a significant advantage compared with where Wilson is starting. “John had money,” he said. “John was riding the wave (of a booming economy) … We saw really unprecedented economic expansion while John was there.” Wilson, on the other hand, faces so much economic uncertainty, he said. Maybe Wilson’s staunchest supporter on the council from the outset was Councilman Jay Musleh. He believes Wilson is best equipped to keep the city moving in the positive direction it enjoyed under Zobler’s lead-

[Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

“Everyone says, ‘You have some big shoes to fill.’ Well, I have my own shoes to fill and they’re different.” -Sandra Wilson

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From Wilson, page 1 ership. “I think she’s going to do a good job,” Musleh said. “She’s certainly got the background. She’s been No. 2 for five or six years.” Wardell initially supported another candidate for the job but became a fan of Wilson’s because of her handling of city operations and employees throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “She was really on the ball, she was always thinking about the employees,” he said. “I think she knows the city’s business.” Now that she is in the job, Wilson has a priority list that begins with finally addressing the downtown homeless issue, something upon which the council members agree. “That’s huge for us,” she said. “It’s really impacting the quality of life of our midtown business. It’s sad, but it’s a complex issue.” Until the homeless question is resolved, or at least mitigated, Wilson foresees the development of the midtown – the area north of Silver Springs Boulevard – to be on hold. “I’m looking for ideas from anyone,” she added. “I don’t have the answer, but it’s important.” The ongoing upgrade of the city’s utility system also is near the top of Wilson’s priority list. “Our utility system is quite old, and like anything, it has to be upgraded,” she said, adding that it will be paid for through



utility rates. She is also working with the county and the World Equestrian Center to extend city utilities to the massive equine development associated with Golden Ocala. Finally, what signature issue would Wilson like to make her own? Affordable housing. Wilson sees the need for affordable housing as a major local issue. Creating affordable housing is part of the City Council’s long-term master plan, and she believes there are a number of opportunities, mostly on the westside, to development neighborhoods to meet that objective. Those areas include Tucker Hill, the proposed development of the former Pine Oaks Golf Course and the former Royal Oak property. She also wants to undertake a program to acquire abandoned, derelict and dilapidated houses and refurbish them, creating affordable housing and urban infill at the same time. Wilson said Zobler was wellliked and respected because he was so responsive to citizens’ queries and complaints. She intends to be the same … but different. “Everyone says, ‘You have some big shoes to fill,’” she said. “Well, I have my own shoes to fill and they’re different. And as for being the first African American to serve as city manager: “I feel good about it. I’m honored to be the first.”

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Welcome to the Gazette

f you are reading this, thank you. It means one of two things: you either care about local news or you are just curious enough to wonder what are these people who are launching a newspaper during a pandemic thinking? I am writing this message to you in either case. We present this paper to you with good intentions. We know you are busy with so many important things, and when you are done with those important things, you probably don’t feel like watching the County Commission or City Council meetings to see if your elected officials are delivering on their promises; or searching the Clerk of Court’s record to see what public notices have been filed - and that is where we come in. You can rest assured that someone from our team will be at those meetings and searching public records. And when we hear or see something that we think you might want to know, we’ll wave a flag asking you to “look over here for a minute, and tell me what you think.” We assure you, however, that we will not wait for issues to come up at public meetings to bring important matters to your attention. Expect us to ask smart questions not only of government, but also the many powerful for-profit and non-profit businesses in this town with agendas and a narrative for which they’d like your buy-in. With additional information, you readers will have more than just carefully packaged press packages to rely on when deciding who the honest players are. We are going to do this for you all because we care. We are part of this community, and we want the same thing you want for all Marion County residents

-health, security, prosperity, transparency, acceptance, and hope when the future gets a little dark. Many of these aspirations cannot be delivered by any government official or entity, instead only through personal and community development. But it starts with communicating, and we are hoping you will participate and bring with you good intentions. But we promise not to always be so serious! We will attempt to wrap news in humor when it is appropriate through columns, but we are even willing to deliver it at our expense. And we will celebrate with you! From your team’s victory, to a business milestone, to all the good people (yes, even our politicians!) working hard to make Ocala a little better every day. We will lift your stories up and shout them just as loud, if not louder, through our platform. You see, we believe that your desire to read the news is not just out of curiosity of who got caught doing what (in fact we hate that type of crime blotter news!) but instead a desire to be part of something bigger than just ourselves. And that just so happens to also be the answer to our Why? It’s safe to bet that journalists did not pick their profession for the likely financial reward, and the same goes for small publishers. While large corporations enjoy the profits that come from stretching national news over many markets, your local Ocala Gazette team will be working to deliver only original content about a place we call home.

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Trinity Catholic pays off mortgage after 20 years “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” - Thomas Jefferson

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By Bill Thompson Deputy Editor


lessed Trinity Catholic School in Ocala was founded in 1927, and for decades afterward, parents had three options to continue their children’s education after they completed the eighth grade: attend a local public high school, travel nearly 100 miles to enroll in a Catholic high school or, for a brief period, finish at St. John Lutheran School in Ocala. That changed in 1999. Then, the Most Rev. Norbert Dorsey, bishop of the Diocese of Orlando, endorsed building a Catholic high school in Ocala. Thus, in December 2000, Blessed Trinity Catholic Church broke ground for Trinity Catholic High School, which turned out its first graduating class in 2004. Twenty years after its launch, Trinity Catholic reached a long-awaited milestone: Its “mortgage” was paid off. The Rev. Pat Sheedy, Blessed Trinity’s pastor, said the high school’s overall debt to the diocese had topped $20 million. Sheedy planned to host a mass at Trinity Catholic’s football stadium to celebrate by burning the mortgage. That’s been tabled until school resumes because of COVID-19. Still, the coronavirus has not dampened the excitement of those who were instrumental in starting Trinity Catholic or those who continue its work. “Everybody’s response in the Trinity Catholic community has just been very positive about this achievement, and it is an incredible achievement,” said Trinity Catholic President Lou Pereira, who noted that the school’s “community” also includes families from as far away as Claremont, Gainesville and areas on the Gulf Coast. “It’s a breath of

fresh air for people who are ardent supporters of the school.” Sheedy, who has been at Blessed Trinity for more than three decades and a parish priest for more than 50 years, said he had never been in a parish that wasn’t connected with a Catholic high school. Before Trinity Catholic, he recalled, the closest Catholic high schools were in Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville. He cited two factors enabled him and his parish to make the case for a school in Ocala. One was the increase in size of Blessed Trinity School. In 1989, the school began an expansion after its enrollment neared 250 kids. Today, it serves roughly 600 students. Sheedy’s other selling point was the commitment of Trinity Catholic’s “founders,” or people who pledged money to build the high school. “It was a great faith on their part. That’s my biggest thing from them,” said Sheedy, noting the founders ponied up even though the church did not have a site for Trinity Catholic. Overall, those donors pledged $4.1 million before the project was publicly announced, according to a church document. “We got between four and five million (dollars) from people who just believed that it was possible,” Sheedy noted. “I was always inspired by the first group that threw their hat in the ring. They just believed it was possible.” The first believers to step up were the late Dominic and Fran Marino. They seeded the initial fundraising drive with $1 million. Over the years, as the high school grew, their total contribution bloomed to $4 million, Sheedy said. The couple’s daughter, who is also named Fran Marino, and her husband, Steve Farrell, recalled that the Marinos originally came

to Marion County as snowbirds from New Jersey, where they had created scholarships and made other contributions to their parish and its school. Once settling in Ocala, their admiration for Sheedy led them to join the Trinity Catholic cause, Marino said. But they were also motivated by philosophy, that of the school and of their faith. “My dad was a successful man and he believed that people should aspire to be successful. But he was also very aware that not everyone had the same opportunities, and when Father (Sheedy) mentioned that he wanted a school where children could go regardless of their religion, regardless of their income level, I think that really spoke to my dad,” Marino said. “I think he saw it as an opportunity for some families and some children who would never really get that chance for a good education and a Catholic education.” Additionally, Marino said, “We are a very grateful family and we’re always very grateful and aware of our blessings. And I think it was a way for them to thank God for their blessings, and to give back, because that’s what we do. We believe in giving back.” With the debt finally paid off, Marino added, “It’s a big endeavor, what they did, and they did it. And I think they (her parents) just would be glad for the community, in that the school had community backing.” With the founders on board, the diocese eventually acquired 55 acres at the corner of Southwest 42nd Street and County Road 475A. Besides the founders’ pledges, Sheedy said the diocese matched the church’s commitment dollar-for-dollar up to $2.5 million to obtain the land, and then floated an interest-free

$10 million construction loan. That total package, once all expenses were accounted for, topped $20 million, he said. “What’s exciting to me is what happens at TC, because you can build stuff and it could be useless,” said Sheedy, adding that Trinity Catholic seeks to promote spiritual development and healthy social life along with strong academic and athletic performance. “It’s a great option for people, apart from Catholics,” Sheedy said. “When you have good schools, one feeds on the other, in sports and academics. It’s good to have good options for people.” Twenty years ago, Trinity Catholic began as a group of portable buildings on a remote corner of Ocala. Today, it is a vibrant comprehensive campus that boasts top-notch academic, athletic and fine arts programs. But Sheedy says paying off the debt to the diocese, which technically owns the school, is not a time to rest on laurels. “My prayer would be that there would always be a great faculty there, great academics, great sports, great spirituality. Otherwise, what good is it?” Sheedy said. But, he added, “You never sit back and say ‘That’s done.’ Because nothing is done.” Pereira agreed. He said the school is planning the addition of a fine arts auditorium. Retiring Trinity Catholic’s debt will free up some resources for that, as well as provide funding for more mundane things such as installing a new school roof or replacing an aging air conditioning system. “Now,” Pereira said, “we don’t have to think about the debt. We can now look to the future and not be harnessed by the debt, and make our little gem here in Ocala better and better.”



How Marion has kept its COVID-19 numbers low

A registered nurse, who only wanted to be identified as Vanessa, left, and Triscia Swineheart, a health support worker, right, collect samples from people during the COVID-19 drive-thru testing at the Florida Department of Health Marion County in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, June 29, 2020. The Department of Health is testing for COVID-19 three-four days a week with prior appointments. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

A registered nurse with the Department of Health tests Steven Verdejo Jr., 16, for the coronavirus during the COVID-19 drive-thru testing at the Florida Department of Health Marion County in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, June 29, 2020. The Department of Health is testing for COVID-19 three-four days a week with prior appointments. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

By Bill Thompson Deputy Editor


he number of new COVID-19 cases in Ocala/Marion County has jumped sharply in recent weeks. Yet the community remains among Florida’s best at avoiding the ravages of coronavirus, according to state data. As of July 1, Marion County reported 727 total coronavirus cases, with 477 added just since June 1, state Health Department data show. But as of last Wednesday, just 10 people, all county residents, had died. That translates to a fatality rate of 2.8 deaths per 100,000 people. Comparatively, the statewide rate is 16.7. And for a wider contrast, New York’s rate was 165 per 100,000. Meanwhile, Ocala/Marion tracks with the state in

other critical metrics. For instance, the community’s hospitalization rate is 9.7 percent, compared to 9.3 percent statewide. And Ocala/Marion County’s positive case rate in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, where residents are most vulnerable, is 7.5 percent. Florida’s overall rate is 8.6 percent. Any increase in deaths, hospitalizations or positive tests tends to focus attention on what may have gone wrong. Yet those same numbers can also illustrate what was done right. In a recent interview with the Gazette, Mark Lander, administrator of the Marion County Health Department, identified several factors that have helped reduce the impact of COVID-19 locally. Distance, in varying forms, was critical among them.

Kristina McClellan, a registered nurse, left, gets her face shield disinfected by Cece Bellot, a registered nurse, right, during the COVID-19 drive-thru testing at the Florida Department of Health Marion County in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, June 29, 2020. The Department of Health is testing for COVID-19 three-four days a week with prior appointments. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

First, there was social distance. “We were very fortunate when it came down to the mitigation practices at first. I really felt like

Those other steps included people wearing masks in crowded areas, such as retail stores, canceling large gatherings and closing bars and restaurants and recreation facilities. “And we were actually adhering to those practices,” Lander noted. “By having that type of social distancing, we limited the availability of the spread.” But Lander noted Ocala/Marion County benefitted from a different kind of “distancing” -- to wit, having a broadly dispersed population. “One of the advantages of Marion County is we are more spread out,” he said, noting that a light population density, relative to severely affected epicenters like New York City or even South Florida, helped Ocala/ Marion County curtail the

Marion County’s fatality rate is 2.8 deaths per 100,000 people. Comparatively, the statewide rate is 16.7. we did a good job with the social distancing, and there were some things that were enacted early on which eliminated a lot of the social areas where people could hang out and get that close contact,” Lander said.

spread of COVID-19. Distance was important in one other way. As the coronavirus took root, Lander and his team had the advantage of watching how other communities reacted and what health experts learned from that. “When you saw what was going on across the country, and even in Florida in some of the impacted areas, where they were started to get the cases when we only had a handful, that brings it home,” Lander said. Consequently, Lander said the agency could understand the effects of interstate and overseas travel and close contacts. “They did a really good job on the contact tracing,” Lander said of his own staff. “We were able to get those secondary contacts, and while some of those may turn positive, their contacts didn’t. We did not see a lot of that secondary spread after that close contact.”


JULY 6 - JULY 12, 2020 | OCALA GAZETTE Lander also maintained that unlike other places, Marion County, like the state as a whole, paid closer attention to what has shown to be the most susceptible areas: the roughly 50 long-term care facilities like nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and rehabilitation centers. “Really before they had enacted a lot of the regulations and requirements for monitoring, dating back to mid-March, we had started calling our facilities on a daily basis, verifying client status, verifying worker status,” he said. “That’s been a success, and the state of Florida has done a really good job with those longterm care facilities.” But, he added, much of the county’s older population, such as residents in many 55-plus communities, stuck to the recommended preventative practices and aggressively sought the Health Department’s input

to learn how they could protect themselves. The Florida Department of Health reports that people 65 or older comprise 85 percent of the 3,550 COVID-19 deaths in the state, even though they represent just 16 percent of all cases. “What we’ve seen from those communities, at least from Marion County’s perspective, is that they were very compliant when it came to the mitigation recommendations,” Lander said. “The message was going out and they were being very, very proactive.” Representatives of those areas, Lander said, wanted to learn about best practices for sanitation, “what-ifs,” how positive cases were handled, among other details. One initial drawback was a strict limit on testing. The department lacked testing supplies and lab capacity to get results. It was not

until around May 1 that the department was able to provide tests on demand. But demand has faded over time, such that the department has scaled back from testing five days a week to just two now. Lander suggested that Florida, in fact, may have done so well at controlling the spread that coronavirus fell off the public radar, and it has only recently popped back into the collective consciousness as reports of a rising number of positive cases emerge. But while the community and Florida have erected a relatively effective firewall against COVID-19, Lander is concerned as Ocala/Marion County sees more cases of late. “I’m not discouraged (about the future), but our future is focused on testing and education,” he said. “It is a novel virus, and they learn more about it every day.”

Members of the Department of Health test people for the coronavirus during the COVID-19 drive-thru testing at the Florida Department of Health Marion County in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, June 29, 2020. The Department of Health is testing for COVID-19 three-four days a week with prior appointments. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

At age 20, Horse Fever rides again By Brad Rogers Executive Editor


wenty years after it created a sensation in Ocala/Marion County, Horse Fever is ready to ride again. For those who did not live here then, Horse Fever was a major public art project that changed the landscape of the community and, especially, the local arts scene back in 2001. Artists from the community and beyond took full-size fiberglass horses – some grazing, some looking forward – and put their own unique designs

and themes to them. The horses were ultimately put on display throughout the county – drawing thousands of tourists from across Florida -- and later auctioned off to raise money for arts in the community. In the end, Horse Fever sponsors raised $1.5 million that was used to create the Marion Cultural Alliance and provide grants, scholarships and sponsorships for the arts as well as 27 other charities in Ocala/Marion County. Laurie Zink, a former thoroughbred owner who was a principal organizer

World Champ painted by Sharon Crute [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

of the first Horse Fever, is heading up the 20th anniversary edition. She said the latest version, while smaller than the first, is aimed at celebrating “an iconic public art project” while giving the community new public art and another boost to the arts. Horse Fever 2020 will feature 20 horses, down from the 53 the original project produced, Zink said. The horses will be on sale on Aug. 5 and are expected to arrive in Ocala in mid-October. The artists, whose designs must be approved by the Horse Fever jurors, will

then have until Dec. 28 to complete their artworks. Zink said under the new Horse Fever rules, there will be two kinds of “calls for artists.” One, a buyer can pick the artist, who will have to submit several designs from which the Horse Fever committee can choose a final design. Or second, the Horse Fever jurors will pick 25 designs submitted by artists and buyers can select a design and the artist will proceed. “We want this to be a juried art show,” Zink said. “They will have to adhere to

the standards of the original Horse Fever.” Those standards include no political themes, no corporate logos, no sports teams, no religious icons and no stones or bricks. Once the Horse Fever horses are finished, they will be put on display in early January in downtown Ocala, after which they will be “pastured” at On Top of the World’s Circle Square Center for a period of time. For more information about Horse Fever, call Jaye Baillie at the Marion Cultural Alliance at (352) 369-1500.



Marion County Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox talks about Vote By Mail ballots as he is surrounded by ballot machines at the Marion County Election Center in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, June 29, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

Wilcox urging electorate to vote by mail By Bill Thompson Deputy Editor


s the 2020 primary elections approach, Elections Supervisor Wesley Wilcox is encouraging Marion County voters to consider mail-in voting. Wilcox’s office has drafted a new flyer to be sent to voters that provides tips on how to obtain a mail-in ballot, and states that voting by mail, or VBM, is “convenient and secure” and features “no lines or crowds.” Wilcox’s advocacy for VBM emerges as mail-in ballots have landed in the crosshairs of controversy. President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General Bill

Barr and other Republicans have condemned the idea of universal VBM nationwide, while Democrats are pushing that it be adopted or expanded for the fall elections. But the controversy indicates that conservatives and liberals are talking past each other on this issue. Back in May House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders added $3.6 billion to a COVID-19 relief bill for a national VBM initiative for all states. Their argument is that mail-in voting should be encouraged, if not mandated, so turnout won’t be suppressed as people feel concerned about contracting

coronavirus by visiting the polls. Trump, Barr and other Republicans counter that all-mail elections increase the risk of tainted results. In an interview with Fox News last month, for instance, Barr argued that universal mail-in voting across the country could “open the floodgates of potential fraud.” That, in turn, “could take the country to a very dark place, if we lose confidence in the outcomes of our elections,” said Barr. The retort by Democrats and the national media has been to highlight alleged hypocrisy, noting that Trump himself, Vice President Mike Pence and other top admin-

Teri Darnell, a deputy Supervisor of Elections, left, and Penny Burns, the Vote By Mail manager, right, prepare Vote By Mail ballots at the Marion County Election Center in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, June 29, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

istration officials have routinely cast mail-in ballots. But their argument lacks nuance. Critics like Trump and Barr do not oppose individual voters requesting mailin ballots from their local election officials, which has become an increasingly popular way to vote, and which has been shown to be largely secure. In Marion County, for instance, VBM has grown from 32,175 requests for mail-in ballots, with 23,026 returned, in 2010 to 54,505 requests and 43,006 returns in 2018, according to Wilcox’s office. When they refer to fraud, which does crop up from

time to time with mail-in ballots, critics of universal VBM reject the idea of states just issuing ballots to all voters. The Wisconsin primary on April 7 underscores the critics’ point. As fear over COVID-19 escalated, Wisconsin’s Democratic governor moved to postpone the election. The Republican-majority state Supreme Court rejected the plan, saying the governor had no legal authority to unilaterally change the election date. The election went forward. More than 400,000 voters went to the polls, and officials attributed relatively few -- between 50 and

Pallets of envelopes for Vote By Mail ballots are shown at the Marion County Election Center in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, June 29, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.


JULY 6 - JULY 12, 2020 | OCALA GAZETTE 70 - new coronavirus cases to voting. Yet as a Washington Post analysis pointed out, turnout in Wisconsin was “extraordinarily” high because of a “staggering number of absentee votes.” Nearly three-quarters of the votes cast arrived by mail, done at the request of individual voters and not because the state issued those ballots universally. Wilcox understands the distinction in the debate. “I vote by mail, and my family votes by mail,” said Wilcox, referring to his wife and three voting-age sons. He added that he wouldn’t encourage voters to trust a process unless he himself believed it was secure and reliable. “I’m not going to do anything that jeopardizes my right to vote,” he said. But Wilcox said he personally opposes mandated universal VBM, and noted that the state association of elections supervisors, of which he is president-elect, did not recommend that to Gov. Ron DeSantis when crafting a set of ideas on how to vote amid the pandemic. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that just five states – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington – conduct all elections by mail. Another 16, including Florida, permit VBM for local elections under certain conditions. But while the process provides convenience and a strong guarantee that ballots will be counted accurately, it also presents some issues. The NCSL points out that a lack of “uniform” mail delivery among all segments of the population is a shortcoming of VBM. Wilcox agreed that “unde-

liverable” mail is problematic with universal VBM. The Data & Marketing Association, a national organization representing more than 1,000 firms that rely on direct-mail marketing, says that as much as 10 percent of direct-mail pieces “could be returned undeliverable or mistargeted due to moves or circumstantial changes in demographic compatibility.” The NCSL also notes with VBM vote tallying can be slow, delaying results for days, if not weeks, in places that allow ballots to be postmarked on election day. And security is a concern. “During all-mail elections (and absentee voting),” the NCSL says, “coercion by family members or others might occur.” “The states that do it do it very well,” Wilcox said. But “it’s not something that can be fully mandated at the flip of a switch. They built that process in a very controlled manner.” Wilcox said his office’s experience provides an example of why the supervisors’ association opted against recommending broader use of VBM. Wilcox said he sought to acquire another high-speed ballot reader to ensure his agency had the capacity to process a spike in mail-in votes, if necessary. Yet he learned that the earliest he could get that machine was next year. “We (as a state) don’t have the infrastructure to process the ballots,” he said. Still, as far as individual voters who want to use mailin ballots, Wilcox encourages them to do so. As his website points out, “Voting by mail is easy and accurate!”

A completed Vote By Mail ballot is shown ready to be mailed to a voter at the Marion County Election Center in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, June 29, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

Cristi Zaharias, a deputy Supervisor of Elections, loads envelopes into the Vote By Mail inserter as she works to prepare Vote By Mail ballots at the Marion County Election Center in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, June 29, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

Completed Vote By Mail ballots are shown ready to be mailed to voters at the Marion County Election Center in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, June 29, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.



From left: Honorees Carolyn Adams, Pamela Lewin, June Dailey, Wendell Dailey, Mary Sue Rich at Legacy Park Recognition Ceremony on June 25 [Courtesy of City of Ocala]


s a bright morning sun filtered through the ages-old and towering oak trees around Legacy Park in West Ocala, people began to gather in preparation for a ceremony showcasing the devotion of several citizens. On June 25th, the Governor’s West Ocala Neighborhood Revitalization Council (GWONRC) hosted its annual Legacy Park Community Service Recognition Program and saluted the contributions of Mary Sue Rich, Carolyn Adams, Wendell Dailey, June Dailey, Dr. Pamela Lewin and, posthumously, George Giles, Sheriff M.A. Clouts and Marshall Burrell E. Dawkins. Legacy Park, in the 900 block of Southwest Ninth Avenue, provides walking trails and greenspace within the city, while reminding residents about leaders who have shaped the community. The honorees at each year’s event are celebrated with engraved pavers bearing their name and a special comment, which are interspersed throughout a winding brick pathway around the spacious park. A Governor’s West Ocala Neighborhood Revitalization Council subcommittee is responsible for selection of nominees. The council leadership team includes President James

Legacies of service Haynes Jr., Vice-President Cynthia Wilson-Graham, Secretary Monica Bryant and Treasurer Ire Bethea. Wilson-Graham welcomed attendees with a quote by Maya Angelou and then invited Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn and newly elected City Councilman Bethea to deliver remarks about each honoree. Guinn talked about Clouts, Dawkins, Lewin and Adams; Bethea spoke about June and Wendell Dailey, Giles and Rich: •

M.A. Clouts – During Post-Civil War reconstruction the Freedmen’s Bureau opened in Marion County in 1867 to promote education, register Black voters, encourage former slaves to apply for land under the Homestead Act of 1866 and appoint Blacks to public office. Clouts was appointed Marion County Sheriff by the local bureau chairman in 1868. He was the county’s seventh sheriff and first Black sheriff. He was one of the first freed slaves to be appointed to public office. He held the office until 1870. Burrell E. Dawkins – Dawkins, appointed to office in 1871, was the county’s first marshal. He was shot and killed

in the line of duty in March 1881, after a violent run-in with an out-of-towner. His badge, dented by a bullet, remains on display in the lobby of the Ocala Police Department. Dr. Pamela Lewin – Lewin is currently the medical director of the Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness and Community Resource Clinic, has practiced medicine in Marion County for more than 40 years, including with the Marion County Health Department, Heart of Florida Health Center and in private practice. Carolyn Adams – Adams graduated from Howard High School and the University of Florida. She is a member of Chi Eta Phi Sorority and Sigma Theta Tau, the honors society of nursing. Her grandmother asked that she return here upon retirement and open a health clinic on her land, which is now the Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness and Community Resource Clinic. June Dailey – She retired from Forest High School after 34 years of teaching accounting, business law and business management.

Legacy Park Recognition Ceremony on June 25 [Photo courtesy of City of Ocala]

At Progressive Union Missionary Baptist Church, she is superintendent of the Sunday School, chair of the church council and more. She is a member of the Ocala Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and has been involved in numerous community organizations. Wendell Dailey – He

graduated from Fessenden High School and Benedict College, and was a stellar athlete at both schools. He was inducted into the Benedict College Hall of Fame. His coaching career spanned 45 years, touching the lives of athletes in track, basketball and football at Fessenden, North



Marion and Forest High schools. He also has been involved with many local organizations. George Giles. Giles was owner of the Ocala Knitting Factory in downtown Ocala from 1912-17. He was president and stockholder of the Metropolitan Savings Bank, owned Giles Metropolitan Realty and Investment Co. and co-owned Metropolitan Knitting Mills. Giles died 1919. Mary Sue Rich – Rich, a native of West Ocala, graduated from Howard High School and the University of Central Florida. She began a career with the Florida Department of Corrections in 1972. She retired as a senior supervisor after 31 years. She represented District 2 on the Ocala City Council for 24 years and spearheaded the Racial Harmony and Cultural Awareness Task Force. Rich has received numerous awards and honors and a community center

that is being constructed will be named in her honor. Rich remarked that she was “greatly honored” to be included among the group, “I am in awe,” said Lewin. “Certainly, I appreciate that our work is being recognized.” Bryant told those gathered that the council was incorporated in November 2002 and has been involved in matters such as disbursement of Community Development Block Grant dollars, zoning and land use issues, transit system routes, housing and environmental issues, infrastructure improvements, crime, economic development, fire protection and code enforcement. The current mission is to encourage cooperation between local, state and federal agencies for community revitalization, local partnerships, job creation and retention, affordable housing and quality of life. The council meets remotely at 9am the second Tuesday of each month. To learn more, find the GWONRC on Facebook. June Dailey accepting award from Ire Bethea at Legacy Park Recognition Ceremony on June 25 [Photo courtesy of City of Ocala]

Since 1919

for County Commission


Paid by Craig Curry, Republican for County Commission



7/8 & 10

Team Building


YL Exchange NetWorks Monthly Meeting

July 18 | 2-6 pm Paddock Mall


Circle Square Commons Farmers Market

Win a dream wedding!


Brick City Farmer’s Market


YPO Pop-Up Social


Marion County Friday Market


Ocala Downtown Market

RSVP at ocalastyle.com/bridal

Community Break Spot Dates Summer Marion County Public Libraries Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays | 5-6pm Vary Free meals for children ages 1-18 are offered at Marion

County Public Libraries. Mondays: Reddick and Fort McCoy; Tuesdays: Belleview; Thursdays: Dunnellon and Freedom; Fridays: Headquarters and Forest. Meals are sponsored by the USDA and provided by Shores Assembly of God. If children are not present, parents/guardians must bring their IDs. Call (352) 671-8551 for more information.

Community Foundation Ocala Marion County - virtual July 8, Part 1; July 10, Part 2 | 1-2:30pm Presented by Mark Freeman, Ph.D., a senior organizational development and behavioral consultant, this workshop is part of the Nonprofit Academic Series hosted by the Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership at the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College. Register with kelsie@ocalafoundation.org to receive a Zoom invitation.

Infinite Ale Works July 8 | 5:30-6:30pm Young Leaders Exchange NetWorks Bring your business cards to this small industry specific networking group for members of Young Professionals Ocala and Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership. Visit www.ocalacep.com for more information.

On Top of the World July 9 | 9am-1pm Shop the outdoor market with socially spaced vendors offering local produce, plants, baked goods and specialty items. Please wear a face mask. www.circlesquarecommonsfarmersmarket.com

Beautiful Moments 4-8pm This new local market brings together farmers and artisan vendors who offer fresh produce, herbs, pasta, eggs, and baked goods as well as locally crafted soaps and jewelry. www.brickcityfarmersmarket.com

Sayulita Taqueria 6-8pm Young Professionals Ocala invites current and future members to this casual gathering to enjoy Sayulita taco and drink specials and $1 frozen margaritas. RSVP Andrea@ocalacep.com

McPherson Government Complex 9am-2pm Shop locally fresh fruits and veggies, cinnamon buns, jerky, freeze dried treats, various olive oils and vinegars, seafood, and more.

SE 3rd Street and SE 3rd Avenue 9am-2pm This longtime local favorite brings together farmers, artisans, food trucks and shoppers every Saturday, rain or shine. A variety of vendors offer local fruits and vegetables, meats and seafood, fresh pasta, honey, arts and crafts. www.ocaladowntownmarket.com

Arts 7/11

Art in the Courtyard

Brick City Center for the Arts 10am-12:30pm Enjoy a 2 1/2 hour socially distanced plein air session and outdoor acrylics class. Space is limited; contact ashley. justiniano@mcaocala.com to register.

Now- Ocklawaha: Wild & Endangered River 7/18

Brick City Center for the Arts Marion Cultural Alliance and Free the Ocklawaha invite you to a mixed-media art exhibit featuring award-winning photographers, Paleo-art sculptors and landscape painters. www.mcaocala.org

Government Robert Fortner, 5, receives his free dinner from Jessica Kelly, a librarian, left, during the Summer BreakSpot free meals for children program at the Belleview Public Library in Belleview, Fla. on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. The members of the Belleview Public Library staff were busy serving and giving away 50 free dinners for kids in Belleview on Tuesday evening. The Summer BreakSpot program is hosted by the Marion County Public Library System and has been sponsored by the USDA for the past three years. The meals were prepared by the Shores Assembly of God Church. The ongoing free meals program runs from June 8 to July 27 and is offered at seven Marion County libraries across the county. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.


Marion County Board of Adjustment Variances

Growth Services Training Room, 2710 E. Silver Springs Blvd. 2pm The Board of Adjustment Variances hears potential variances to code regulations and challenges to zoning code interpretations. Call (352) 438-2600 for more information.





7/8 7/8 7/9



Ocala/Marion County Transportation Planning Organization (TPO)

McPherson Governmental Campus auditorium, 601 SE 25th Ave. 1:30pm At this emergency board meeting, TPO staff will present public and partner agency comments and a revised draft of the fiscal year 2020/21 to 2024/25 Transportation Improvement Plan, with action requested to adopt the plan. Attend online: https://tinyurl.com/TPOJuly6 Meeting: 160 478 7776 Password: TPO2020 Join by phone: (415) 655-0001, access code: 160 478 7776. Send comments/evidence to: rob.balmes@marioncountyfl.org or 2710 E. Silver Springs Blvd. or call (352) 438-2630.

Ocala City Council

Ocala City Hall, 110 SE Watula Ave. and online 5pm In-person seating is limited per social distancing recommendations. Email citycouncil@ocalafl.org to submit questions or get more information. Visit https://www.ocalafl. org/government/public-notices to participate online via Zoom.

Budgeting Wisely Communication of students and of leaders

Allison B. Campbell is a Voice for: Parents of children in Marion County Public Schools.

Marion County Board of Commissioners

McPherson Governmental Complex, 601 SE 25th Ave. 9am All meetings are open to the public. Call (352) 438-2323 for more information and visit https://www.marioncountyfl.org/ about/board-of-county-commissioners/agendas-and-minutes for minutes and agendas.

Every Marion County voter who understands the education our children receive will impact this community for generations.

Marion County Code Enforcement Board

Growth Services Training Room, 2710 E. Silver Springs Blvd. 9am The Code Enforcement Board hears and resolves cases in which there is a code violation dispute. Call (352) 671-8901 for more information.

Marion County Young Democrats

Marion County Democratic Party - virtual 7-8pm Join an online meeting to discuss current topics including police reform, voter registration, upcoming events and future campaigns. https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/368961981

Marion County Tourist Development Council

Visitors and Convention Bureau, 109 W. Silver Springs Blvd. 9am The Tourist Development Council recommends use of tourist development tax revenue to enhance, promote, advertise and develop tourism in Ocala/Marion County. Call (352) 438-2800 for more information.

Northern Turnpike Connector Task Force

Hilton Ocala, 3600 SW 36th Ave. 10am–4pm The task force is evaluating the Northern Turnpike Connector Corridor which extends from the northern terminus of the Florida Turnpike northwest to the Suncoast Parkway. The public is invited to attend and observe. Comments may be submitted by email to fdot.listens@dot.state.fl.us or on-site. A public comment period begins at 4:30pm.

Marion County Development Review Committee

Office of the County Engineer, 412 SE 25th Ave. 9am The DRC votes on waiver requests, drainage/site plans, subdivision master plans, preliminary plats, improvement plans and final plats. Call (352) 671-8686 for more information.

Paso Fino Comeback Show

Southeastern Livestock Pavilion 1:30pm The Ocala Paso Fino Horse Association brings the smoothest riding horses in the world. Enjoy equine elegance in action as these graceful beauties perform in an open, covered arena. www.pasofinoocala.com

Entertainment 7/11

Allison B. Campbell has Vision for improving: Attendance

Equine 7/1112

New Vision. New Voice.



Let It Be

Reilly Arts Center 7:30pm This Fab Four tribute is an extraordinary recreation of a live show with the lads from Liverpool featuring authentically costumed musicians playing Beatles hits on instruments actually played by John, Paul, George and Ringo. Limited in-person seating is available according to social distancing guidelines, and patrons are encouraged to wear masks. www.reillyartscenter.com





A your Marion County School Board, District As 1 representative, I’ll bring a fresh perspective and a strong voice for improvement. With your support, let’s improve our schools with ABC.



Improve Our Schools with

Allison B. T




For Marion County School Board District 1 Paid for by Allison B. Campbell for Marion County School Board, District 1



6-9pm Zack Maruniak Hiatus Brewing Company


6-9pm Delta Rose Band The Wardrobe Exchange


6-9pm John Johnson Horse & Hounds Restaurant & Pub


6-9pm Don Juan Hiatus Brewing Company


5-9pm Jeff Jarrett Eaton’s Beach Sandbar & Grill


9pm-12am Bad Disguise Pi on Broadway


6-8pm Fareeza Ocala Downtown Square Gazebo


2-6pm Conrad Marcum Eaton’s Beach



Some elections already decided, others still contested By Bill Thompson Deputy Editor


arion County voters head to the polls on Aug. 18 to determine who squares off in the fall elections. But much of the suspense of the upcoming election night – and of November – has already been removed insofar as local contests are concerned. Ten prominent countywide offices were supposedly up for grabs when the qualifying period began in mid-June. When it ended, six of those elections had been decided because the winners drew no competition for the fall. Respectively, that list includes: • George Albright, Republican, re-elected as county tax collector; • Greg Harrell, Republi-

• • •

can, elected as the new clerk of the circuit court to succeed longtime Court Clerk David Ellspermann; Beth McCall, re-elected to the District 2 seat on the School Board in a nonpartisan election; Michelle Stone, Republican, re-elected to the District 5 seat on the County Commission; Wesley Wilcox, Republican, re-elected as county elections supervisor; Billy Woods, re-elected as county sheriff. The primary contests that still must be determined include, respectively: County property appraiser, in which Republicans Jimmy Cowan, incumbent County Commissioner David Moore, and Nick Nikkinen are vying to succeed long-

time Property Appraiser Villie Smith, who is retiring; • County Commission District 1, where Republicans Mike Behar, Craig Curry and Michael Saxe battle to replace Moore; • County Commission District 3, where incumbent Republican Jeff Gold seeks to hold off challenger Bobby Dobkowski, also a Republican School Board District 1, where Sheila Arnett, Allison Campbell and Lori Conrad contend in a nonpartisan race to succeed board member Nancy Stacy, who opted to not run for re-election. The outcome of at least three of those four elections will be determined on Aug. 18. That’s because the winners of the GOP primaries for property appraiser and the two County Commission

seats either face no opponent or only token opposition from write-in candidates in November. The School Board election could also be decided if the top vote-getter receives at least 50 percent plus one vote of the ballots cast. Otherwise, Nov. 3 will bring a run-off of the top two. Some Marion voters will get a say on Aug. 18 in elections one level up. In August Republicans in the Dunnellon area will help pick a GOP candidate for District 5 in the state Senate. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, is term-limited out. GOP voters will choose between Jennifer Bradley and Jason Holifield to go up against Democrat Melina Barrat in November. Also, in August, Democrats in McIntosh, Reddick and other parts of northwest Marion will decide a

Democratic primary for the Florida House of Representatives. The race features Rodney Long, a former Gainesville city and Alachua County commissioner, and Yvonne Hayes Hinson, also a former Gainesville city commissioner. The winner is automatically elected to succeed Rep. Clovis Watson, an Alachua Democrat who is term-limited out, since no other opponent filed to run in November. Lastly, in an intensely contested congressional race, voters from both parties will select candidates to follow U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, a Gainesville Republican whose district includes Ocala. Yoho did not seek re-election to honor a campaign pledge he made when first elected in 2012. Ten Republicans and three Democrats seek to take over for Yoho.

All Aboard: handicap-accessible boat at springs By Susan Smiley-Height Staff Writer


or many years, visitors have boarded the glass-bottom boats at Silver Springs to view the incredible underwater world of one of our nation’s oldest and best-loved natural resources. But the boats have not been wheelchair accessible, denying some the joy of gliding over beds of eel grass and peering at the glint of fish flashing in the sunlight reflected below the surface. But soon, thanks to a challenge from a concerned grandmother, that is going to change. A wheelchair accessible glass-bottom boat is being built for service at Silver Springs State Park. The Florida State Parks Foundation recently announced the project, which is supported by grants from the Ocala-based Felburn Foundation and the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund,

Rendering courtesy of Florida State Parks Foundation

headquartered in Jacksonville. According to Julia Gill Woodward, chief executive officer of the Florida State Parks Foundation, in 2015, as part of a disability sports event taking place at Paynes Prairie State Park in nearby Alachua County, a volunteer with the organization was promoting the many accessible features and activities available for people with disabilities in Florida State Parks. “A woman using a manual wheelchair came up to the display table with several children in tow and said, ‘I took the grandkids recently to Silver Springs State Park to take them out on the glass-bottom boat but found out it wasn’t accessible. What is going to be done about that?’, Woodward offers. “This sparked the decision by the foundation to create partnerships with others to fund a wheelchair

accessible glass-bottom boat for Silver Spring State Park. In addition to the Delores Weaver Legacy Fund, the Felburn Foundation is a major supporter as well.” Woodward says construction of the vessel is underway, by St. Johns Shipbuilding, Inc., in Palatka, with an anticipated completion date of late December of this year. It may begin service in early to mid-January. The craft is designed for 30 passengers. “The boat has been specifically designed to carry passengers who use mobility equipment, right along with those who do not,” Woodward remarks. “The boat will be in ordinary daily operation and available for use by everyone, regardless of physical ability.” She notes that the existing gangway will be used. “The critical difference is that the deck of the new boat will be flat, whereas the existing boats require a step

down into and out of, essentially, the hull of the boat,” she explains. “In addition to wheelchair access, the boat will be equipped with an induction loop system which will help passengers using hearing aids to hear the captain’s narration.” Guy Marwick, executive director of the Felburn Foundation, has deep roots in Ocala and Marion County, including working within the school system for many years and serving as the founder and first director of the Silver River Museum, located within the state park property. “I have a love for Silver Springs and it’s nice to do something that will benefit the state park and Marion County,” Marwick states. “It’s something that is cer-

A wheelchair accessible glassbottom boat is being constructed for use at Silver Springs State Park. tainly needed and with the ADA (American With Disabilities Act) requirements and so many who cannot use the boats otherwise, it ranked pretty highly with us as a project to help out with.” Silver Springs State Park Manager Sally Lieb says her team is “really excited.” “The glass-bottom boats have been an icon at Silver Springs for more than 100 years,” she notes. “It’s great to bring them up to modern standards to accommodate more people.”



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When Sydney came home from school, she wasn’t feeling well. She had a high fever and it wasn’t going away. So, her mom found AdventHealth’s online scheduling tool, InQuicker, and reserved an ER treatment time, making Sydney’s visit fast and easy. Get in quicker and get out faster at Marion County’s only dedicated Children’s Emergency Department located at AdventHealth Ocala. GetInQuickER.com In case of a life-threatening emergency, call 911.

AHO-429 Ocala Gazette 10x15.5.indd 1

7/1/20 5:43 PM



Rendering courtesy of The Reilly Arts Center

Ocala’s popular performing arts facility is expanding By Bill Thompson Deputy Editor


he facility’s board of directors announced on June 30 that it is moving forward with a planned $4 million construction effort that will renovate part of the existing facility and add new features. Work is expected to begin within the next 60 days and be completed next summer. While entertainment ventures are dicey these days because of wariness related to COVID-19, the board indicated it is proceeding now partly because of coronavirus. “We’re going to take advantage of the COVID-19 mandated downtime we currently have and build something so phenomenal that it will be hard to imagine our facility as it was,” City Councilman Matt Wardell, who is also CEO of the Reilly Arts Center, said in a statement. “We’ll be able to do more diverse program-

ming, bring enhancements in arts education that our community has never seen before, and come out of this pandemic squarely looking forward to a very bright future for the arts in Ocala.” One aspect of the project is the addition of a second theater. According to the news release, the new Black Box Theatre will be a flexible, flat floor space that can be transformed as needed to accommodate a variety of uses – such as intimate jazz or stand-up comedy, theatre in the round, special dance and multi-media events, and standing-room pop and rock concerts. The Black Box also will be capable of handling banquets, receptions, lectures or other presentations and community events for guests who are seated or standing. The facility also includes an expanded catering kitchen to accommodate such events.

A second piece is expanding the center’s lobby to allow for more guests. And the number of restrooms and concession areas will more than double. The board noted this has been a common request from patrons since the facility reopened in October 2015 after being converted from the old City Auditorium, which was originally completed in July 1940. Additionally, the project includes teaching facilities. A large rehearsal room and multiple studio and lesson rooms will be added for instruction in music and performing arts by Ocala Symphony Orchestra musicians and other arts professionals from Central Florida. Finally, the box office area will be expanded to serve patrons both inside and outside the facility. The changes will expand the center by 15,590 square feet. Laura Walker, chief of the city’s Cultural Arts and Sciences Division,

within the Recreation & Parks Department, said, “It is truly exciting to see that our local arts organizations have not only been able to weather the storm, but have been able to make strides in continuing capital development projects like this. KP Studio Architects crafted the design and architecture of the new space. The Reilly’s board chose Dinkins Construction to do the work. “Thanks to our patrons and the careful planning and groundwork that began more than two years ago by our Board and staff, there is no time like the present to get this project underway and out of the ground,” Wardell said in the statement. The board has raised almost $1.9 million for the renovation. Center representatives said the remaining funding will be come from fundraising efforts and financing. Pamela Calero Wardell, the center’s executive director, said in

an email that the board has financing for the remaining project costs. “Our fund-raising plan moving forward utilizes a combination of project reserves and operations funding to cover the financing while we continue to look for support in the realm of naming opportunities and smaller donations,” she said. “To put it in perspective, in our first renovation project we financed $1.8 million and were able to retire that debt in just over four years in a similar fashion.” Pamela Wardell added, “We have received no direct support from government funding sources at this time and don’t anticipate doing so.” The board’s statement noted that there are several “significant” naming opportunities for potential contributors. Anyone interested in those opportunities or in contributing to the project may contact Pamela Wardell at pamela@ reillyartscenter.com.



CF coping and changing in midst of pandemic By Brad Rogers Executive Editor


hile plans to open the College of Central Florida’s Ocala campus to all students this week have been put on hold due to the resurgent coronavirus, college President Jim Henningsen says coping and changing in the face of crisis has been both positive and transformative for the school. With about 95 percent of CF’s students currently taking their classes online, Henningsen said the college had originally planned to open all of its classroom buildings and other facilities on July 6. But because of soaring coronavirus numbers throughout the state, the campus re-opening has been moved to Aug. 3. Despite the postponement, Henningsen said the college has weathered the past four months better than he expected. When asked if he was surprised by how well students and faculty handled the changes forced by the

pandemic, he responded: “Surprised? I would say shocked. I was shocked at how well it worked. We went from 36 percent online to 95 percent online in 10 days.” “We’re using this as an opportunity to transform ourselves,” he added. “Hybrid is the way our faculty members like to think of it.” To help smooth the way for the transformation, the college received $5 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding, money that was evenly split between the college and students who are receiving financial aid. The college used its $2.5 million share to upgrade its computer systems, adding such things as Zoom, Labster and additional IT people. Once the pandemic has passed, Henningsen believes that online learning will continue to be the mode the majority of students choose. He expects 50 percent to 60 percent of students to continue

A sign stating that that library was closed due to COVID-19 is shown posted on a door of the library on an empty College of Central Florida campus in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

taking classes online once normality returns. “Students like online,” he said. “Those are the first classes to fill up … “There’s a lot of posi-

tives we’ve learned from this. I was worried about engaging, but we engage more now than we did before this.” For all Henningsen’s upbeat assessments, he also is worried about the year ahead. Heading into the fall term, he said projections show that there could be a 20 percent decline in the current enrollment of about 10,000 full- and part-time students. If that were to happen, the lost tuition revenue would amount to about $2 million. Such a fiscal setback would be felt, considering CF has added an array of programs for the coming year, including dental hygiene, paramedic to nurse, surgical tech, medical stenography, cardiovascular tech and additional nursing slots. Those additions cost about $3 million a year. That essentially ate up any budget funding gains CF has seen over the past five years. CF has a $40.7 million budget. “I’m hoping students are just waiting until the

end and will sign up late,” he said. “’Don’t pause your education.’ That’s the message I’m trying to convey. You can take your classes in a safe environment and you can still get a high-quality education.” “But we’re hearing from students that they’re deciding whether to take a year off because of the pandemic.” Nevertheless, if large numbers of students do stay home this fall, the college should be OK financially, Henningsen said, because CF has amassed a contingency fund that should take it through any enrollment dip and more pandemic-related expenses. “We’ve built a contingency that can help us withstand a pretty bad storm.” Regardless, the CF president said the college will continue to be a good higher educational option for students. “We’re still going to be the hometown college with a national reputation with a vibrant on-campus life.”



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‘Just wear a damn mask!’

Librarians Kim Drexel, left, and Jessica Kelly, right, wear masks as they share a laugh as Michael Sunio, another librarian, center, serves a free dinner during the Summer BreakSpot free meals for children program at the Belleview Public Library in Belleview, Fla. on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. The members of the Belleview Public Library staff were busy serving and giving away 50 free dinners for kids in Belleview on Tuesday evening. The Summer BreakSpot program is hosted by the Marion County Public Library System and has been sponsored by the USDA for the past three years. The meals were prepared by the Shores Assembly of God Church. The ongoing free meals program runs from June 8 to July 27 and is offered at seven Marion County libraries across the county. [Bruce Ackerman/ Ocala Gazette] 2020.

By Brad Rogers Executive Editor


veryone should just wear a damn mask!” Those words last week by Florida’s senior U.S. senator, Marco Rubio, nailed it as he and other high-profile Republicans, heretofore reticent to promote the practice in deference to (or maybe fear of ) the unmasked President Trump, began urging citizens to mask up for everyone’s sake. Rubio was joined by Florida’s other senator, Rick Scott, as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and others in the GOP in the new push to wear masks. Rather weirdly, whether to wear a mask or not has become a political issue. Trump has even suggested people are wearing masks not to cover their noses for protection, but rather to thumb their noses at him. That said, good for Rubio and Scott. Among the medical and science community, there is little debate over whether wearing a mask in the middle of a pandemic is a good idea. Depending on the study you look at – and there are several – covering your face reduces your chances of contracting the coronavirus, which is spread mostly through water droplets spewing from our mouths,

by 50 percent or more. In other words, just wear a damn mask! I bring this up because at a Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership event a couple weeks ago, dozens upon dozens of the community’s business leaders jammed into the relatively tight confines of the Brick City Center for the Arts in downtown Ocala. The event, sponsored by the Ocala Gazette, was to honor new City Manager Sandra Wilson and new City Councilman Ire Bethea. It was a lovely event for two nice people, but I’m pretty sure the gathering would have drawn Rubio’s ire. It was impossible to social distance. There was glad-handing, that is, handshaking and hugging, all about. And as for masks, well, let’s just say President Trump would’ve been proud. I know we all are missing personal contact with our friends, but it nonetheless was odd behavior for the business crowd, whose greatest fear right now has to be another shutdown. Consider this: Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California-San Francisco, cited a recent international simulation that found if 80 percent of the population wore masks, it would do more to reduce COVID-19 spread than a

strict lockdown. So, if you want to avoid another lockdown, folks, just wear a damn mask! Again, there is no debate about whether wearing a mask is a good idea. Just as there’s no debate over whether wearing a seat belt is a good idea. It’s a simple act of social responsibility. And growing numbers of Florida’s political leaders are realizing it. Since Florida has seen its COVID-19 numbers skyrocket to record levels in recent days, 18

of the state’s 67 counties have made wearing a mask in public indoor places mandatory, as have 46 cities. Marion County and Ocala, to no one’s surprise, made neither list, nor don’t expect them to be added any time soon. But for the sake of your family, friends and co-workers, wear a mask. This isn’t a political issue and certainly not a matter of one’s constitutional rights. It’s merely a matter of simple respect for your fellow man that can help save lives and jobs.



Chief: Transparency and building relationships steer OPD The following is a statement of policy from Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham, written to several citizens who met with him to see how the Ocala Police Department operates.

By Greg Graham


he Ocala Police Department has a long history of professionalism and fairness in the relationships and approach of policing of our community. We have taken steps over the years to foster relationships and take steps to minimize the likelihood and to prevent tragedies of any sort to occur in our great city. Many years ago, the Ocala Police Department recognized the importance of forming bonds and encouraging open dialogue with the citizens that we serve. We are partners with the citizens and work together as a community. We do not take an “us vs. them” approach of policing in the City of Ocala. We have taken steps to ensure that every citizen is treated with respect and the policies support those encounters we have with our citizens both formally through the Accreditation Process and informally by creating an environment focused on Servant Leadership from our supervisors in the Ocala Police Department. The Ocala Police Department

is Accredited through The Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation. During this process we are evaluated annually on our practices and procedures and undergo a commission review every three years. We have maintained “Accredited” status for 15 years now. Our agency forbids the use of chokeholds and neck restraints and has for the last 20 years. The head, neck and groin area are restricted areas in our use of force continuum. Beginning in 2006, OPD was the first agency in Marion County to have body-worn cameras assigned to officers. This practice was expanded to the entire patrol division in 2012 when I became chief of police. We have an extensive review of our citizen interactions and the results are 93 percent of our Internal Affairs investigations result from internal reviews, and not citizen complaints. Our policy dictates that if an officer sees a violation, they must report the incident to a supervisor. All officers are required to receive citizen complaints as well and assist the citizen with the procedure for filing a formal complaint. There are several examples where internal complaints have resulted in both termination and re-assignment

when warranted. The employees of the Ocala Police Department are held accountable for their decisions. All our Internal Affairs investigations, and the results of those investigations, including any discipline, are public record upon final disposition. The complainant of an Internal Affairs investigation is notified of the outcome, including disciplinary action upon final disposition of the investigation. Those results are also reported to the Criminal Justice and Standards Commission to review the actions of the agency and determine if additional sanctions may be needed against the Police Certificate that all of the Ocala Police Officers maintain, including the increase of departmental sanctions if they feel “significant action” was not initially taken by the agency. The Ocala Police Department recruits heavily within the minority community of Ocala. I have developed a program where individuals can be hired and sponsored through the police academy to obtain their police certificate. This program has been highly successful and since 2012, I have hired a total of 242 full-time employees. The overall make up of our agency is representative with the racial makeup of our community and there is minority representation

in all levels and ranks within the Ocala Police Department.

Below is the breakdown of those hired: 111 – Females 131 – Males 5 – Asian 25 – Black 28 – Hispanic 1 – Native Hawaiian 4 – Two or more races 1 – Unknown 178 – White Each calendar year the Ocala Police Department publishes an annual report. A review is conducted of police/citizen enforcement encounters to ensure that Biased Based Policing is not happening in the Ocala Police Department. Below are the statistics for the previous 5 years for the Ocala Police Department. Traffic Stops: White citizens – 69 percent Black citizens – 26 percent Other citizens – 9 percent Citizen Contacts: White citizens – 71 percent Black citizens – 26 percent Other citizens – 1 percent Report of Force: White citizens – 48 percent Black citizens – 50 percent Other citizens - .05 percent


White citizens – 57 percent Black citizens – 42 percent



Police chief Greg Graham at Black Lives Matter protest on May 31. [Photo courtesy of Dave Miller]

Other citizens - .05 percent Report of Force while making arrest*: White citizen arrest cases – 4 percent Black citizen arrest cases – 6 percent (*We conduct a Supervisory Review of Force on any instance that happens during a citizen contact beyond a “guiding touch.” The Use of Force in a citizen encounter is a response to the actions of the citizen complying or failing to comply with the verbal direction and/or guiding touch of the officer. The citizen determines if the use of any physical force is needed when an officer is enforcing the law through their action(s).) OPD members are trained in modern de-escalation techniques as well as cultural diversity and biasedbased policing/profiling prohibition. Any force that is used beyond the guiding touch of an officer is documented and evaluated through the chain of command to the bureau commander of the officer to ensure that policy has been adhered to. There is an early warning system in place that identifies officers who uses force for citizen compliance more frequently and those cases result in a second review from the bureau captain and Internal Affairs Office. This review is used to identify patterns or training issues that may need to be addressed to ensure that the officers are doing the right thing during all calls for service. The Office of Professional Standards houses the Internal Affairs investigators of OPD where all internal and external complaints are reviewed, with the exception of any death investigation involving an

Ocala police officer or an in-custody death. Any instance where an Ocala police officer is involved in the death of a suspect or in-custody death, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducts an independent investigation of the incident. Having a strong relationship with all members of the community is important to the Ocala Police Department. I meet with several different groups, especially from the minority community, to develop partnerships and strategies to address quality of life issues as well as to combat crime. The Ocala Police Department has recognized that having a strong bond with the community is important to positive and peaceful interactions with the citizens. The Ocala Police Department has been dedicated to and developed several youth programs. We have an extremely popular Summer Camp for all ages and have Police Explorer Post as well. Community engagement is paramount for any police department to be successful in the mission of Community Policing. When I first heard of the planned First Amendment protests in response to the unspeakable events that occurred in Minnesota, I reached out to the minority community leaders and partnered with them to ensure the safety of all of the protesters who were exercising their rights as an American Citizen. As a result of this relationship, the protest happened peacefully, and the event can be used an example to other communities throughout the

country. In fact, I have received five applicants for police officer from minority citizens who participated in the march. Two of the applicants were organizers of the march. This shows how strong the bonds are here in the City of Ocala. If you notice communities that have civil unrest throughout the country, a common factor is a breakdown between the police department and the community. It is important to remain connected with the community and maintain both communication as well as transparency with the citizens. Many people are unaware, but Ocala had a stand your ground incident similar to the shooting that occurred less than 80 miles away in Sanford, Florida, involving Trayvon Martin. The case involved a white citizen who shot a black citizen, and I personally called the minority leaders of the community to keep them informed of the investigation and asked for their help to assist with witnesses and communication in the case. Open communication and transparency provided an avenue for citizens to stay informed during the incident resulting in no civil unrest. Similarly, we have had in-custody deaths that, through a combination of the relationships we have formed, along with the body camera technology that we use, I have the ability to be transparent during my communication with the community. I am proactive in addressing issues that face our great city. Relationships with the community have provided those avenues that are

needed for a successful relationship. This backbone is formed over a long period of time and is not taken for granted. The Ocala Police Department operates under five basic and fundamental rules that both I and my staff preach daily to all the employees: 1. Do the right thing. 2. Ask forgiveness instead of permission. a) Our officers are instructed not to wait for someone to tell them to do the right thing. 3. Find ways to say yes. 4. Treat everyone with respect. a) Everyone matters. b) Everyone’s opinion counts. c) No one is better than anyone else. 5. Have fun. These rules were not developed by me. I learned these rules in kindergarten from Mrs. Winters. Every employee sits through a onehour speech from me prior to being hired where I explain these rules in detail to them. I believe in clear expectations and these are clearly communicated to everyone. My rules have become a motto for the Ocala Police Department. As a community member and the chief of police for Ocala, I am always willing to sit down with any group and discuss any topic that can help make Ocala all that it can be. My roots and my family are here in Ocala and I want all to be able to strive to be better neighbors and friends here in Ocala. Greg Graham is the chief of police for Ocala.



Local businesses coping with virus better than other parts of state By Bill Thompson Deputy Editor


ack in May the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership released a survey outlining how COVID-19 had affected its member businesses. Overall, 199 businesses responded, with 86 percent of them based in Ocala. Here are some of the key results: • Just 12.5 percent of those sampled indicated customer demand had remained steady or actually increased as the coronavirus spread. • Fifty-one percent reported that sales revenue had plunged by 50 percent or more. • About a third said they had laid off at least 20 percent of their workers, with 17 percent – or roughly half this group – saying they slashed staff by 80 percent or more. • Forty-five percent stated they had reduced employees’ hours by at least 20 percent, with a strong plurality – 19 percent – reporting they cut hours for 80 percent of their workers. Still, the report did contain some good news. Sixty percent believed the ad-

verse effects of the virus would be temporary, compared to 19 percent who thought they would be permanent. And 86 percent reported that neither they nor their employees had shown symptoms of COVID-19. Now, nearly two months later, Kevin Sheilley, the CEP’s president and CEO, says Ocala’s business community has weathered the virus fairly well under the circumstances. “All in all, our businesses feel pretty good about the state of the local economy because the key sectors continue to be driving forward as they were,” he said. One metric to consider: the local unemployment rate. The latest figures pegged the community’s jobless rate at 11.7 percent, compared to 14.5 percent for Florida as a whole. As he told the County Commission in May when he presented the survey, Sheilley noted some sectors of the economy -- such as manufacturing and logistics companies -- “have done very well for this period.” “They are really set up to do well in downturns, and so they are strong and remain strong,” he said. He cited Auto Zone, FedEx and Signature Brands as local firms that have thrived, because people did more of their own repair work,

shipped more goods and cooked at home more. “The real big pieces of our economy are strong,” he said. “We’re going to continue to have concerns for smaller businesses, but I think all in all, when you look at our unemployment rate, when you talk to realtors, when we talk to construction (companies), when we talk to even a number of our restaurants, they’re feeling pretty good about things.” Sheilley also noted that in addition to smaller companies calling workers back, new jobs are on the horizon, with Dollar Tree now hiring for its distribution center, and Amazon moving to set up shop in Marion County. After weeks of lockdown, and renewed concerns about a new wave of COVID-19, people yearn for normalcy again, Sheilley added. But, he said, the business community largely thinks the reopening pace is “about right.” The main concern, however, is whether the community will be able to adapt a local revitalization scheme set by the City Council, the County Commission and the county Health Department -- all of whom have done a good job managing the virus reaction – or have to live with a “one-stop” approach, Sheilley said.

But as the Ocala/Marion County business community yearns to reopen fully, county public health officials are concerned about a fresh increase in COVID-19 positive tests, particularly among younger people. “We’re just not adhering to the social distancing,” Mark Lander, administrator of the Marion County Health Department, said during a recent interview with the Gazette. “Even opening back up Florida, it was never the intent not to continue social distancing,” Lander added. “It was open back up cautiously, and understand it’s not just ‘We’re open, go back to business,’ but ‘It’s open and continue to social distance, continue to use good mitigation practices, avoid large crowds … (and) if you can’t social distance, have a mask on.’ … Larger social interactions with less mitigation practices result in the potential spread of the virus.” “We can open up safely,” Lander added, “but you have to adhere to that message” about proper risk management, incrementally increasing numbers of customers and continuing mitigation practices. “It’s awfully hard to judge the effectiveness of opening back up if you’re not adhering to those guidelines.”

We heard you Ocala. Meet your new local newspaper.

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Assessment of pretextual traffic stops and racial profiling

We encourage our readers to share their opinions through letters to the editor. All letters are subject to editing for clarity, length, taste and libel. Letters should contain the writer’s full name, address and phone number. Letters should be 200 words or less. To give as many readers as possible an opportunity, we publish only one letter every 30 days per writer. Submit your letter to letters@ocalagazette.com.

By Henry DeGeneste


Henry DeGeneste retired as director of public safety and superintendent of police for the Port Authority Police of New York & New Jersey. He also serves as vice president of the National Police Foundation.

Keep your dreams alive here at home By Jim Henningsen


program in agribusiness, business, criminal justice, digital media, engineering, health sciences, logistics and many more. They can continue with an associate degree, enhancing their competitiveness and wages in the job market, and add an internship to gain on-the-job experience and make connections with possible employers. CF offers a trusted educational experience at a very affordable cost. We are among the top 150 colleges in the country for quality and are in the running for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in 2021 -- it is the fourth time that we have made the list. We are among the top 1 percent for affordability in the country which allows 75 percent of our students to graduate debt-free. Students will find state-of-the-art lab resources and online tools, free tutoring, counseling and IT assistance. Faculty are fully focused on student success, whether delivering instruction online or in the classroom. As a matter of fact, CF has a history of success with online classes and experienced a smooth transition when COVID-19 necessitated a shift to primarily online delivery. At CF we know that high school seniors have experienced a spring like no other, been put to the test and forced to rethink their priorities. Our CF team wants you to keep your dreams alive. Whether workforce-bound or focused on a degree, CF is ready to help you achieve your goals – right here, right now.

igh school seniors and their families are making critical decisions as they consider the next chapter in their lives during this pandemic. Some who planned to enter the workforce directly after graduation can significantly improve their employability and earnings by investing in advanced skill and talent development. Those who planned to begin their education at a university this fall may want to consider staying home. The College of Central Florida is prepared to serve all these students in a safe, affordable, and high-quality learning environment. University-bound seniors can keep their dreams on track by beginning their higher education at the College of Central Florida. While universities are making decisions about online or on-campus classes, shortened semesters, social distancing in dorms, and the new normal for higher education, these students and their parents should know that CF is a smart choice. Students can apply, enroll and complete coursework from the comfort of their couch at half the cost. Did you know that students who begin their education at CF and transfer to a university outperform their peers who start at a university right out of high school? By earning an associate degree at CF, they are guaranteed admission to one of Florida’s public universities, and that path is even smoother with the University of Central Florida’s Direct Connect to UCF programs and University of South Florida’s FUSE program. Additionally, CF has one of the highest transfer acceptance rates to the University of Florida. Jim Henningsen is president of the Workforce-bound seniorsKnows canthe increase their training needed job—no on-the-job College of Central Florida. employability with a short-term certificate

Qualified. Experienced. Professional. Currently serving Marion County as an Assistant Property Appraiser Knows the job—no on-the-job training needed

As your Marion County Property Appraiser: I will strive to establish the lowest possible assessment and still ensure the tax roll is approved. I will protect the farmer, both large and small. I will instill fairness and equity across all property types. I will increase office transparency through social media and public engagement. I will advocate for the property owners of Marion County. I will insure each property owner has every exemption and assessment cap they are entitled to. I will leverage technology to gain efficiencies and streamline processes. I am tried and tested, and ready to lead from day one. As a proud lifelong Republican, conservative, and NRA member I humbly ask you to choose a professional.

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have determined, based on my long history in law enforcement, that the death of George Floyd and the ensuing national concern may serve as a turning point in necessary police reform. Despite national, state and local efforts, resulting in studies, reports and recommendations, we as a nation have failed. Therefore, I would like to highlight one critical issue that has had a significant negative effect on the minority population over several decades. Police and political leadership need to recognize and deal with the issue of racial profiling of motorists on our nation’s roadways. Commonly referred to as “Driving While Black,” this issue has accounted for incalculable distrust and suspicion among the minority community for decades. It has led to death, injuries and excessive incarceration for members of the minority population in America. It is no secret that the construct of “racial profiling” over the decades has had and continues to have a significant negative impact on communities of color. Police agencies need to end the use of pretext traffic stops as a crime-fighting tool. All evidence to date suggests that using traffic laws for non-traffic purposes has been a disaster for people of color and has deeply eroded public confidence in law enforcement. Legislation on traffic stops needs to be passed in every state – legislation that would require the collection of data that includes the race, ethnicity and sex of the driver and whether a search was performed. At a minimum, police and sheriff ’s departments with 100 or more sworn officers should be required to collect traffic stop data on race, ethnicity and sex of the driver, which then allows for research, study and analysis by an independent entity like the National Police Foundation. (www. nationalpolicefoundation.org) To date there is no empirical evidence to prove that pre-textual traffic stops have been effective as a crime-fighting tactic, and in fact it only exacerbates deeply eroded public confidence in law enforcement that is felt particularly in communities of color. Pre-textual traffic stops fuel the belief that the police are not only unfair and biased, but untruthful as well, especially when the tactic is used primarily against the minority community.



It’s time to watch the weather, wait to water By Ann Shortelle Guest Columnist


s the summer rains return over most of our region, it’s likely Mother Nature will handle watering the lawn for you, leaving you free to turn off your sprinklers. Now if we could only get Mother Nature to take care of cutting the grass, too! Watch the Weather, Wait to Water is the summertime theme of the St. Johns River Water Management District’s water conservation campaign, Water Less. It’s such a simple concept, but one we may overlook while preoccupied with today’s other pressing concerns. We launched our campaign to promote simple ways you can easily integrate outdoor water conservation at your home or business.

Although our annual water use surveys during the last few years have indicated some positive trends — thanks to water conservation and the increasing use of reclaimed water — lawn and landscape irrigation continue to account for half of all daily residential water use. (The districtwide survey results for 2019 will be released later this month.) Besides impacting our precious water supplies, overwatering lawns can promote weeds, insect pests and weakened grass roots. We have all seen broken or misdirected sprinkler heads spraying water onto sidewalks and pavement (check your equipment regularly) or an irrigation system running full blast despite a recent downpour. Watch the Weather, Wait to Water! Water conservation is a daily focus for us, with water supply one of our four core missions. If you missed our “Deeper Dive into the District’s

Marion ahead on census participation Self-report Rate National


State of Florida


Marion County


The deadline to self-report has been extended to October 31, 2020. Learn more at census.gov

Core Missions” series of free webinars, we invite you to catch up at www.sjrwmd.com/education. I was excited to kick off the series with an overview of our water supply core mission on June 4. We hope that with the easy steps outlined as part of our Water Less campaign, water conservation will become a part of your daily routine. Utilities, homeowners’ associations, local governments and municipalities, as well as each of you, play an incredibly important role in this. We’re grateful to all those helping to raise awareness of the small behavior changes that can lead to big improvements and help us protect our water resources now and in the future. Visit our website: WaterLessFlorida.com. Dr. Ann Shortelle is the executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District.



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