County Commission candidate Jimmie T. Smith recently authored a guest column in our local paper. The nature of the article was that too many government regulations were impeding growth in the County. As such, Smith contents it is the basis for the County’s high unemployment rate. A rate which far exceeds State and national averages.
An analysis of the information provided by Smith reveals significant factual errors in Smith’ column. First here’s what Smith said in his column:
“suggest that you drive to Dunkin Donuts on Hwy 44 just east of Croft. When you pull in you will see a stub out (which is a portion of a parking lot developed to allow a road to an adjacent property) for a potential service road and here you ask the question why? Go to the animal clinic on County road 491, . . . as well as others and you will see them there as well.
These are examples of how the government has mandated something be done that delays growth. This can be understood best when you notice that the Dunkin Donuts stub out faces a drainage ditch and the animal clinic one faces private property. When business talks about the burden of over regulation and how the process slows them down and cost them more money, the above is a great example and a huge disincentive to business growth.”
Smith’s broad statement warrants clarification and needed accuracy. First, the proper terminology is a cross-access driveway, Smith refers to them as "stub-outs." It is done with the purpose of reducing traffic and conflict points where parking lots abut major or arterial road ways. A conflict point, by Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) standards is defined as any point on a roadway where the normal free flow of traffic can be impacted. Private property driveways meet this criteria.
A cross-access driveway is a planner’s tool used to keep traffic confined to a specific area and will ultimately direct traffic to a minor arterial drive or another minor driveway. It came as a result of our friends in Tallahassee (Jimmie’s old club) who wanted to see the use of more service roads. County’s, instead of getting into the “taking” of property issues, developed these cross-access drives as an alternative to massive service roads. As future properties develop, the idea is that one can travel from one business to the next without the need for more driveways onto our major thorough fares.
The second issue with Smith’s column is that it is simply wrong with respect to the Dunkin Donuts (DD) property and the “stub-out,” (Smith’s word) running into a drainage ditch. The cross access apron abuts a private parcel of property, it’s owned by Mr. & Mrs. Morton of Inverness, which if developed later would be required to “tie-into” this existing cross- access apron. Which may ultimately save the Morton's money. Both in terms of a State (SR44) right-of-way permit cost, as well as valuable real estate for a drive way onto SR44.
Is there a drainage ditch, commonly referred to as a drainage retention area (DRA) on the DD property? Yes. But it is immediately north of the cross access apron, it does not affect the apron whatsoever. In fact, as is so often the case, the apron is used for additional parking. It should also be pointed out that Dunkin is experiencing such devastating effect from this apron that they recently opened another location in the “Small Town Done Right” jurisdiction of Inverness. Dunkin is also currently looking at another location in the County. So while Smith’s “government is killing” businesses in the County mentality may have some validity. It certainly does not appear so in Dunkins case.
Finally, there’s the Animal Hospital property adjacent to the Builders Association on 491. Smith fails to point out that it is the Builders Association which benefits from this cross-access apron. The very entity Smith would have citizens believe is being harmed. The reason being is that the County requires all developments of this nature to receive the consent of adjoining property owners (see pic below).
If or when the Builders Association increases the development of their parcel they would be required to “tie into” the Animal Hospital access. There are exceptions to this provision based upon other access points and any geographical impediments. In our phone interview with a senior County official, it was noted that Smith never contacted the Planning Department as to how all this works from a planning perspective. We did not reach out to Smith, simply because the article speaks for itself.
If one were to conclude these aprons were a waste of money and unnecessary, it’s not as though they are not being utilized. Both Dunkin and the Animal Hospital had cars parked at them when we visited (see Animal Hospital photo). Any costs Smith complains of are not wasted but rather being apportioned differently.
Are there opportunities where County government gets things wrong? Sure, absolutely. This just isn’t it.
In a positive sign for all parties, the 9 dogs which were placed on the County’s "5 day hold and kill list," are gradually finding forever homes. Through the hard work of citizen volunteers and area rescues some of the dogs have been adopted out. Six of the dogs have found temporary or permanent homes, of the remaining three, two need some rehabilitation, the other one would require a professional trainer.
In a sign of leadership, which Animal Services has been desperately lacking, incoming Animal Services Director Morgan Woodard provided the following email to the volunteers.
I want to extend my appreciation towards all of you and the effort which have gone into pulling the dogs out of the shelter which are on the “5 day hold” list. As of right now, there are only 3 dogs remaining on the list which need to be pulled.
I applaud all of your efforts and all of you should do the same!!
Due to the swift response from all of you, I am going suspend the requirement of euthanasia at the end of the “5 day hold” for 2 of the dogs. This should afford all of us more time to find rescues for them. Please continue to network these dogs, because should space become an issue, these dogs would be at the highest level of risk for euthanasia. These two are 33583746 Big Boy and 33457736 Stray CCAS.
As for the 1 dog remaining (33651776 Big Boy II), it has been evaluated (by Cindy) and recommended that it only be placed with a professional handler. This particular dog will remain on the “5 Day Hold” and will follow the path as directed within the policy, unless a professional handler is willing and able to come forward.
Again, Thank you all for your hard work and efforts in getting these dogs out of the shelter!
This is very positive sign for the animals and the volunteers after what the community has been though recently regarding the decisions made at the shelter.
At some point the remaining three dogs may ultimately be put down. They can be rehabilitated, but will require special attention. Any one who may know of an individual who is a professional trainer or is willing to give these animals some special attention is encouraged to contact Animal Services at 352-746-8400.
Overall this is a good healthy first step by Woodard, in setting the shelter up for success, rather than its recent string of notable failures.
At the BOCC meeting on September 27 many citizens brought their concerns to the Board regarding Acting Animal Services Director Tobey Phillips decision to kill several dogs. Phillips ordered for the dogs to be killed because they were deemed “aggressive.” This, despite the fact, the County has no set policy defining “aggressive,” nor any sort of behavioral assessment by a qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.
The decision, according to County Administrator Randy Oliver, was made because the dogs had some history of having bitten someone. Therefore, they posed a threat to the public’s safety, and needed to be put down. Animal advocates argued that without being properly assessed, such a classification was too broad.
At September’s meeting Oliver offered a compromise to the animal advocates (see video below), providing for the opportunity for any dog which was deemed aggressive to be placed on hold with the opportunity for an outside rescue to adopt the dogs. The rescue would have 5 days to adopt the dog or it would be put down. Or at least that’s what citizens believed Oliver was offering as a compromise.
Despite these representations made by Oliver, Phiilips continues to order for dogs to be put down. As recently as September 29, only 2 days after Oliver’s recommendations, three dogs were put down at Phillips direction at Animal Services.
According to public records obtained from the County, two of the dogs were put down because the dogs got into a fight with other dogs (see below). A citizen adopter was bitten in the course of breaking up a dog fight, at her home. The other bite case dealt with a volunteer at the shelter who was bitten after she came between two dogs lunging at one another.
The final instance concerned an adopter who brought the dog back to the shelter claiming, “the dog pinned her 6 year old down while he was laying on the couch watching TV.” Claiming the child is afraid of the dog now, according to the Animal Service's records.
None of the dogs were placed on the 5 day hold Oliver mentioned at the September meeting, nor were they offered to any rescue group(s) or individual(s).
In a recent phone interview, Oliver stated that the policy will be adjusted again and will allow for the creation of an “aggressive hold” list of dogs which will be available for rescues to adopt. However, Oliver did state that such a policy would need to be approved by the County Attorney and he has not had an opportunity to do so, as she was out of town Monday.
At Monday’s adoption event at the auditorium, Ms. Phillips was seen with the new Animal Services Director Morgan Woodard. Both spent a significant amount of time at the event and kept to themselves without interacting with many of the citizen volunteers or members of the community.
It remains to be seen to what extent the new director will implement any new policies which will save dogs, while being mindful of staffs public safety concerns.
It is clearly apparent from the actions taken by both Phillips and Oliver, that when in doubt, put the dog done. Any public outcry, will be dealt with by falling on deaf ears. At least that's what appears to be the case so far.
County Administrator Randy Oliver's Comments at September 27 BOCC Meeting
On Wednesday Federal Judge Mark Walker ordered for Secretary of State Ken Detzner to extend the voter registration deadline. The order now requires voter registration to be extended until October 18, 2016 at 5:00 pm.
Below is the attached order from Walker. Another case is also before Walker regarding how signatures are handled with absentee ballots when the ballot signature does not match that which is on file with the supervisor of elections office. That matter is scheduled to be heard by the court on Friday October 14.
On Monday Federal Court Judge Mark Walker ordered for the voter registration deadline to be extended until Wednesday October 12, 2016. The previous deadline was October 11. The deadline was extended after the Democratic Party of Florida brought a lawsuit against Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
The basis for the suit was that due to Hurricane Matthew bearing down on the east coast of Florida, as well as having such a significant impact on the entire State, many citizens may not have been able to register by the original deadline. The Supervisor of Elections throughout the State were ordered to notify citizens of the extension (below). Walker also noted in his order that Governor Scott was not a proper party to the action.
A sampling of some of the Supervisors offices throughout the State notes varying degrees to which citizens are being notified of the extension, including Citrus County’s Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill.
Ms. Gill’s office for instance posted the extension notification to her agency’s Facebook page, but did not update her official website. A similar practice was followed by the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections office (see both below).
In contrast, Alachua, Marion, and Leon counties all posted the extension notification to their web sites (below), and also posted it on their agency’s Facebook page.
While Walker’s order gives no specific direction on how the Supervisors are to comply with his order, it would seem as though more notification is better.
We did place a phone call to Ms. Gill, which was returned, but we were unable to obtain comment from her regarding why the notification was not updated on their web site. Walker ruled on the matter Monday and directed Secretary Detzner to notify all election offices by Tuesday at 11:00 am.
The relief outlined in Walker’s ruling on Monday is merely temporary. The case will be heard in full on Wednesday morning, as the plaintiff’s are seeking a further extension of the registration deadline until next week.
Walker has another Florida voter case before him as well. In the second case, brought by the state and national Democratic parties, Walker will decide whether counties are allowed to reject mail ballots if a voter's signature doesn't match the signature on file.
In both cases, Walker's rulings will have significant affects with overall vote tabulations in the State. The second case regarding signatures is set to be heard on Friday in Tallahassee. Updates to these cases will be provided as they develop.
Many citizens have begun to speculate that the euthanasia of so many animals was calculated by either County Administrator Randy Oliver or Community Services Director Tobey Phillips. Based upon a review of past numbers from the Animal Services division it is hard to argue with that point.
For instance (as seen below) in July 2015 there were 8 dogs put down, in July 2016 the number rose to 14, with the overall save rate for dogs dropping 3% from 96% down to 93%. What is even more shocking is what has occurred most recently for the month of August.
During that one month alone, Community Services Director Phillips authorized the killing of 43 dogs and 139 cats. As a result of such decision making the save rate for dogs plummeted to 78%, with cats fairing even worse with a monthly save rate of only 35%.
All of which presents a sad commentary indeed, based upon the efforts animal advocates have put in throughout the years to improve save rates at the shelter. For instance, the overall save rate for fiscal year 2013 – ‘14 was 90% for dogs and 42% for cats. In fiscal year 2014 – ’15 those rates improved to 96% for dogs and 56% for cats. Clearly demonstrating that the efforts and education system put in place by animal advocates and volunteers was having an effect. Until this past August.
In addition to these overall numbers Oliver and his staff have done little if anything to follow the County’s own Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) program. Oliver contends the program does not work because citizens do not want the cats brought back to their neighborhood. Unfortunately, for citizens, Oliver offers no proof to support such a claim. And the data clearly supports that little, if any, effort is put forth by the County to improve the program.
The TNR program was originally put in place in June 2015. At the time animal advocates had high hopes that many feral cats would simply be trapped, neutered, vaccinated, and released. Unfortunately that seldom occurs. With the exception of one month last year (September), when 14 cats were released, the average number of cats returned through the TNR program is zero. Month after month, zero cats are caught, neutered, and released.
The more common occurrence is for the cat to enter the shelter and be “put down” at some point. August numbers (above) reveal that 157 cats met their demise at the Citrus County Animal Shelter. A number which was almost two and a half times what the number was for August 2015 when 67 cats were put down.
It is clearly apparent that since Phillips has taken over the direction of the shelter the save rates for animals has plummeted. Whether by design or simply a lack of concern remains unclear. What is certain is that the life expectancy of an animal with Phillips and Oliver in charge is abysmal.
Editor’s Note: The term euthanasia is used by ourselves, other media outlets, and citizens in general. For clarification, the term is routinely misused and misunderstood. Euthanasia refers to, “the act or practice of killing someone who is very sick or injured in order to prevent any more suffering.” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). The dogs and cats being put down do to “euthanasia” implies they are sick or injured. That is false. There is a separate category for such an occurrence. The dogs/cats being put down are being killed for no apparent reason other than a perceived “space needs” issue.
The decision by Community Services director Tobey Phillips to euthanize 15 dogs in the first two weeks of September continues to fester amongst animal right advocates. What has also begun to emerge, is that any “fear” which Ms. Phillips claims to have felt from animal advocates, may have been embellished by herself and/or her supporters at the Citrus County Chronicle.
GroundHog recently made a public records request to the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office to determine the extent of any threats Ms. Phillips may have received. The Sheriff’s office responded that there were no open or closed investigations into threats of ANY kind, either by Phillips or County Administration.
The Sheriff’s Office did state there would be additional security at the courthouse. Which brings up an interesting question for citizens. If Ms. Phillips has not reported any threats, and there are no active investigations into any threats - what exactly is the basis for the additional security?
While it appears that Ms. Phillips is the darling of Chronicle Publisher Gerry Mulligan and Senior Reporter Mike Wright, there appears no logical reason for any added security. There is no doubt Ms. Phillips has ties with the law enforcement community (a former spouse works there), so that may play some part in these additional steps. But additional security does seem a bit out of the ordinary.
Citizens deserve to know specifically how Ms. Phillips was able to garner additional security at the courthouse when there is no apparent threat. Ms. Phillips does contend that she has “never been afraid in this County,” presumably until now, and contends that she is “losing sleep thinking about Tuesday’s meeting.” Neither of which, one would think, would garner additional security. Ambien does the trick for most people’s sleepless nights, or so the commercial claims, so perhaps Ms. Phillips should give that a try first.
Chronicle publisher Mulligan contends in his “Out The Window” column that Ms. Phillips is not to blame for what ails the animal shelter. While that may be true in part, it misses the larger point. Under Ms. Phillips watch AND direction, the Chronicle’s own “Pet of the Month” was essentially executed - her name was Leena. And is also a point which Mulligan fails to acknowledge while heaping praise upon Ms. Phillips. Perhaps this is some change in policy for the Chronicle and all County employees will now get front page accolades when a management decision they make goes sour. Because I certainly do not recall Mr. Mulligan, or the Chronicle in general, coming to anyone’s defense during the pan/scraper fiasco.
It would seem that if the Chronicle was going to take the time to sponsor a pet of the month, they would raise “some” concern over the fact that there is no policy or system in place which protects an animal that has been recognized. Perhaps, instead of praising Ms. Phillips, they could be inquiring why Ms. Phillips did not bring the lack of a policy defining “aggressive” behavior to the BOCC’s attention prior to killing the dogs. An idea which may have saved our County Administration time and Ms. Phillips her “sleepless” nights.
What citizens are clearly witnessing is how being connected to the “right” people in our community goes a long way towards advancing one’s career. And as the Chronicle has profoundly, and to a large extent unethically, demonstrated is the lengths some organizations will go to protecting certain chosen one’s, whenever they have their “oopsie” moment. Unfortunately in this case, animals lives were lost. All because of the mindless decisions made by the few chosen ones .
Animal advocates are planning to peacefully protest on the corner of Main Street and Apopka at 10 am. Tuesday, before the BOCC meeting at 1 o’clock. They are demanding that commissioners take action regarding these decisions.
Editor’s Note: I have asked for Ms. Phillips resignation based upon the circumstances surrounding these events. I received no response either from Ms. Phillips or County Administrator Randy Oliver. This is brought to our readers attention in the interest of full disclosure.
She was found off Reynolds and Cyprus roads in Crystal River. One neighbor contacted another neighbor looking for her owner. When no one could be found, Citrus County Animal Control was contacted and she was picked up and taken to the animal shelter. Once she was in the possession of Citrus County her fate was sealed. Citrus County Community Services Director Tobey Phillips signed the order to euthanize her on September 14. The reason – “behavior.” Her name was Miley and she was one of many dogs “put down” in the past two months at the shelter under the direction of Phillips.
These chain of events occurred despite one critical element missing in the story. Hannah Soulia, who originally found Miley, advised the attending animal control officer, Tina Andes, that she would take the dog should her owner be unable to be located. Ms. Soulia’s interest in Miley was clearly stated on the kennel card in capital letters (see below).
Soulia was given an ID number and notified that Miley would not be available for some time do to the County requirement that the dog must first become the property of the County. A legal requirement which does not occur until 5 days have expired once the County takes possession of the animal. After which time the animal becomes the property of Citrus County and they can dispose of the animal however they choose.
Miley was allowed to spend the night at a “foster slumber party.” During this visit the prospective foster referenced that she is, “good and loving but dominates if kids/other dogs are present.” She was returned within hours. All of which contradicts the medical notes taken prior to her spay procedure, which stated she was, “friendly.”
In a phone interview with Ms. Soulia she expressed both extreme remorse and anger over the death of Miley. “There was absolutely nothing aggressive about that dog,” Soulia stated. Stating that when she put Miley in the front seat of her truck she jumped to the back seat and was licking her 4 year old. Soulia could not believe the dog would have ever been put down after specifically stating, "I would have taken the dog if the owner could not be located."
Soulia noted that she is self-employed and it becomes difficult to remember everything, but she would have definitely taken the dog had she been given some sort of reminder. She feels simply horrible about the whole thing and is prepared to take the issue up with the County.
Now several citizens on Facebook are reporting that Miley was also scheduled to be taken in by a rescue group. The rescue group was known as Rugaz Rescue and claims they would have taken Miley had the slumber foster not worked out. The rescue organization was also never contacted.
Why the County would even entertain housing an animal that a citizen has prospectively expressed an interest in remains a mystery. And why there is not a system in place which immediately alerts the individual that the dog they (citizen) found is now available for adoption remains unclear.
What also remains unclear is why the County would go through the trouble of spaying a dog which is later deemed to be aggressive. One can easily see how that may be a case of the cart before the horse.
Animal advocates were out protesting at two locations on Tuesday and are expected to do so again next Tuesday before the County Commission meeting. They believe shelter animals (dogs and cats especially) have been put down without sufficient documentation or justification. A point which is clearly hard to argue against, at least in Miley’s case.
Many are demanding Phillips be fired over these events. And while that occurrence may remain unlikely, there is no doubt animal services continues to be plagued by unnecessary issues and poor management.
The only commissioner who has begun looking into the matter is Scott Carnahan. Carnahan stated, "until the issue is resolved I'm gonna make certain no more animals are put down, we owe that to our citizens."
(Please note: since this was originally published I have spoken with the slumber party foster and she adds yet another element to these unfortunate and unnecessary circumstances).
There are vast differences of opinion in the world on a daily basis - Citrus County is no different. But in times of need citizens band together to help each other out. That was on full display Saturday as a group of approx. 75 friends and members of the Crystal River Church of God gathered at the High Octane Saloon to assist with the hurricane cleanup efforts in Homosassa and Crystal River.
The event was put together by Pastor Ronny Reid and Associate Pastor Justin Strickland from the church, along with High Octane owner Doug Doty. Doty had been previously approached by residents who were looking for a way to do some laundry. While Doty was putting together a way for residents to do their laundry, going so far as to pay the laundry fees, he and Strickland realized there was a much greater need for further assistance to effected residence.
Doty contacted the new owners of the Crystal River Mall who provided space for citizens to donate any unused furniture or other non-perishable goods. The Homosassa Walmart and Inverness Lowe’s stores also provided assistance with meeting the need for supplies. Both in water and cleanup supplies for the workers. Homosassa Walmart store manager Ed Shaw and community relations coordinator Susanne Green said, “this is our community, we live here, people shop here, we should help take care of them in times of need.”
Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) also arrived on Saturday, and will be here on Sunday as well, to begin assessing the damage. The County and the City of Crystal River have combined losses in excess of $100 million. Those numbers along with the assessment reached by FEMA will be submitted to President Obama for a federal disaster declaration. It is not certain that the financial numbers along with the number of homes effected will be sufficient to meet certain threshold levels FEMA has in place. Inverness City Manager Frank DiGiovanni said the City really was not impacted to the extent or degree of those living on the coast. Therefore, the City offered no input for any FEMA assistance.
Doty wanted to give special thanks to all the citizens behind the scenes who contributed time and money to the cleanup efforts. Doty noted that even an old high school friend, now living in Texas, who heard about the storm, donated a $1,000 toward the efforts. The efforts put forth on Saturday show what a community can do when the need arises.
Before we know it seven o’clock will arrive, the polls closed, and the results slowly trickling in. The primary election season will finally, once and for all, be OVER. Only to begin again, the general election is just slightly more than two months away.
Citrus County residents have experienced the pain and anguish of a favored son in the Sheriffs race suddenly passing away. And witnessed the onslaught of the dirty ugly side of politics in the District 5 commission race. As campaign mailers were sent out by Commissioner Scott Adams accusing candidate Brian Coleman of being a “double dipper” - a claim that has widely been debunked. The same race found a local businessman attacking Coleman with allegations that Coleman lied to him during a noise complaint investigation of the businessman. A charge which has elements of truth to it, but is not entirely accurate either, or at the very least requires more details than what are being presented.
So here we are. Primary election day finds us witnessing over 21k total votes having already been cast, through absentee and early voting ballots. In the Republican races alone there have been over 13k cast. What that means, for all intents and purposes, is the election has already been decided. There is such a large statistical sampling, which has already been generated, that election day votes will hardly make any significant difference. But vote today I will do, as should others, simply because one never knows.
And what exactly goes on during election day. Well if you’re a candidate or close supporter utter chaos and anxiety. Many candidates or their unpaid volunteers get up at the wee hours before dawn to begin the arduous task of placing campaign signs at all, or many of, the various voting precincts throughout the County. Having personally done this, it took over 2 hours once, and I only covered half the precincts, from Inverness northward over to Crystal River. It is not a task which can be completed an hour before the polls open.
Candidates will generally make the rounds at the various polling locations thru out the County, checking in with their sign waving supporters and getting a feel for voter turnout. Today could be interesting depending upon how the weather system treats us. It would not be a surprise to see a lower than expected election day turnout, based upon that one simple unknown.
Eventually candidates will find themselves gravitating to one of two places. Either the Supervisor of Elections office or their campaign celebration headquarters. Election night at the Supervisors office is truly a sight to behold. Beginning at seven, or moments after, the political junkies in the County will begin to assemble upon the Supervisors office. Desperately waiting for an indication of how the results have panned out. After the polls close the Supervisor will run the absentee and early votes tallies through the system. Once this is completed the results will be posted, generally between 7:20 and 7:30 at the latest. This will set the flavor for how the overall campaign has gone.
If a candidate has a particularly big lead after absent and early votes have been calculated it will be tough, if not impossible, to make up any differences with election day votes. However, if it’s close, leads can certainly vaporize with the results of election day votes. The one race that looks particularly close in that regard is the Sheriff’s race. I have heard polls suggest it will be close between two candidates, with those candidates varying between who was providing the polling information. Who really knows is anyone’s guess.
As for myself, I’m one of those political junkies who will be at the Supervisors office, waiting for votes tallies to arrive. No endorsements, no expectations, no nothing. The longer I stay involved in covering, monitoring, and trying to understand our County and Country’s civic and political processes the less attached I become. The votes are just numbers, the candidates just people, and the results are just something we have to deal with. In the end, democracy will survive, and tomorrow we can start rebuilding what has been torn down. It’s just the way it works.
Publisher - Bob Schweickert, Jr.
Is the Publisher and Executive Editor of the GroundHogNews web site. Mr. Schweickert, Jr. is a public records and First Amendment advocate. He has successfully obtained public records from various governmental agencies.. He resides in Inverness with his 3 dogs Jake, Harley, and Rommel and is a graduate of the University of Tampa. Bob enjoys spending time outdoors, swimming, cycling, and reading,