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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Witching hour

COVID-19 may have taken some of the fun out of Halloween, shoppers will still scare up billions in sales.

Witching hour

The witching hour is upon us.

Maybe ghosts, ghouls and superheroes won’t fill the streets this year, but the coronavirus pandemic can’t take all the fun out of Halloween.

While the coronavirus pandemic never got as bad as the horror classic Dawn of the Dead, heading to the mall was a spooky proposition a few months ago. Now that masks and social distancing protocols are the norms, shoppers are starting to head back to the register.

That’s good news for the Florida Retail Federation, which expects Halloween to do wonders for stores across the state — according to a consumer survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, Halloween spending should cross the $8 billion mark this year. While that’s a significant dip from last year, it’s not as bad as once feared.

COVID-19 may have taken some of the fun from Halloween, but shoppers should still scare up about $8 billion in holiday spending.

When FRF needs help in the Legislature, they turn to French Brown of Dean Mead, Jon Johnson and Darrick McGee of Johnson & Blanton and their in-house team of R. Scott Shalley, Jake, Lorena Holley and Grace Lovell.

After a trip to Walmart or Target to grab some garb for the kiddos and something sweet, there’s the question of what to do with the rest of the night.

In a typical year, Halloween on a Saturday would mean plenty of options — parties for adults, Halloween Horror Nights for the tourist crowd and, of course, trick-or-treating for kids without fear of missing bedtime on a school night.

Some may see Universal Studios as a little brother to Disney for most of the year, not in October. Unfortunately, Universal scrubbed its monthlong Halloween bash this year, but the Horror Nights spirit lives on, although in a scaled-down celebration.

The theme park has set up a pair of haunted houses: one themed after the 1935 film “The Bride of Frankenstein Lives,” the other titled “Revenge of the Tooth Fairy” — dentophobics be warned, this one flips the tooth fairy mythos on its head.

Just as horror fans rely on Universal for scares, the tourism juggernaut relies on a talented team of lobbyists to advance its priorities in Tallahassee. The current roster: Brett Bacot, Jim Magill and Kimberly McGlynn of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney; Will McKinley, Angela Dempsey, Fred Dickinson, Erik Kirk and Sophie Smith of PooleMcKinley; Margaret Timmins of Timmins Consulting; and in-houser Melanie Becker.

As for trick-or-treating and partying … the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed both on the high-risk list. It’s for the greater good, of course, but it’s no less disappointing than getting a tube of toothpaste at the door — still, there are a few places for kids to sport their costumes safely.

Down in the Glades area, U.S. Sugar has teamed up with the cities of Moore Haven, LaBelle, Clewiston, Belle Glade, and Indiantown to make sure trick-or-treaters don’t go home empty-handed Saturday night. The events range from drive-in candy pickups to socially distanced, mask-required haunted houses.

U.S. Sugar’s is among Florida’s most prominent businesses and, accordingly, they have on retainer many big-name lobbyists at the biggest firms.

Topping the list are Brian Ballard and Chris Dorworth of Ballard Partners; Gregory Black of Waypoint Strategies; Carlos Cruz of Converge Government Affairs; Charles Dudley and Cory Guzzo of Floridian Partners; Mercer Fearington, Seth McKeel, Sydney Ridley and Clark Smith of The Southern Group; Richard Heffley and Kelly Horton of Heffley & Associates; Frank Mayernick and Tracy Mayernick of The Mayernick Group; Kirk Pepper of GrayRobinson; Christopher Smith of Tripp Scott PA; and Screven Watson of Screven Watson & Associates.

With few knocks at the door and limited party options, many of us will be flipping through channels — or, more likely, streaming services — looking for a festive film.

Sunshine State cinema savants can pocket this piece of trivia: Creature from the Black Lagoon was shot in Florida — more specifically, Silver Springs, Wakulla Springs and Jax. The definitive “deep ones” film went on to be considered a classic, but there’s been few other “Fresh from Florida films” to be so honored in the 65 years since it bowed.

If Film Florida gets its way, that could change. The trade association has been fighting for years to lure film productions back to Florida, most recently through an innovative grant model. It hasn’t squeaked through the Legislature yet, but the proposal has gained traction among influential lawmakers such as Sen. Joe Gruters.

The renewed interest is thanks in part to the lobbying efforts of Al Cardenas, Slater Bayliss, Christopher Chaney, Stephen Shiver, and Sarah Suskey of The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners.

Of course, not everyone is into creature features. For those that want a little Sci-Fi mixed in, all-time greats such as It Came from Outer Space, Alien and The Thing are always good picks for a reliable fright. Space travel is in vogue right now, and the premier name in the business is shooting rockets from the Space Coast to the stars.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX (or “Space Exploration Technologies” for the long-winded) brought joy to people the world over early on in the pandemic when it launched a Falcon9 into orbit from Kennedy Space Center. That rocket carried two astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA.

While the mission was a success, SpaceX’s team of rocket scientists know their limits. That’s why the company turns to Taylor Biehl and Jeff Sharkey of Capital Alliance Group to bring its priorities in for a safe landing at the Capitol.

Back on terra firma, there’s another tech revolution in its nascent phase: Self-driving cars. And unlike the nightmare-inducing Maximum Overdrive, the newfangled innovation is apparently safe enough for Sen. Jeff Brandes to hop in the nondriver seat.

Musk’s Tesla Motors is one of the companies making waves in autonomous vehicles. Still, there’s a truckload more looking to boost their presence in Florida, Starsky Robotics and Google (via Waymo) among them. But until the programming geniuses behind AVs find a way to automate the Legislature, they’ll require some backup in Tallahassee.

For Starsky, they farmed those duties out to Cesar Fernandez, Jonathan Kilman, Paul Lowell, and Brad Nail of Converge Government Affairs. In contrast, Waymo has Rhett O’Doski, Sara Clements, Ryder Rudd and Sean Stafford of McGuireWoods Consulting in the driver’s seat.

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Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado and the staff of Florida Politics.

Take 5

The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Florida unrolls vaccination plan — When COVID-19 vaccines become available, the state will prioritize front-line workers at hospitals, nursing homes and senior centers, as well as first responders, according to a draft plan made public this week. The three-phase plan still must be approved by the federal government. As supplies become more bountiful, the Department of Health and Division of Management, partnered with hospitals, plans to open clinics for mass vaccinations as part of the plan’s second phase, similar to the testing facilities opened across Florida as the pandemic spread through the state. Commercial vaccinations will become available in the third phase of the plan.

Naples man hacks Governor’s voting file — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested a Naples man who confessed to changing Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ voting address to West Palm Beach. When the Governor attempted to vote in Leon County, he discovered someone had changed his voting address without his consent. The Governor fixed his address that day and was still able to vote early. An FDLE investigation traced back to a Naples man, Anthony Steven Guevara, who officers arrested at his home. Guevara, a registered Republican, also accessed voter information for Sen. Rick Scott and star athletes LeBron James and Michael Jordan but changed no info.

DeSantis pushes to lift travel restrictions — The Governor signaled he wants restrictions relaxed on travel from the United Kingdom and Brazil and see cruises running again from Florida ports. Saying the virus was now endemic, DeSantis said travel restrictions no longer make sense but hampers economic recovery for Florida’s tourism industry. He contended rapid test kits could help ease travel restrictions and restore traveler confidence instead of continuing the bans. According to VISIT FLORIDA, international travel from Canada, the U.K., Brazil and Colombia together provide 6.3 million visitors to Florida each year.

Felons to get regular ballots — Former Florida felons registered to vote in the state will be allowed to cast normal ballots, despite a court ruling last month that affirmed a law requiring ex-felons to meet all fees and fines connected to sentencing before the restoration of voting rights. The direction came days before the election from Ron Labasky, counsel for Florida’s supervisors of elections. There had been a possibility that felons would be required to vote using provisional ballots, which are then reviewed by county canvassing boards before they could be counted. Labasky said that should occur only after filing a challenge to a specific voter’s eligibility.

Fried pushed for diversity hiring — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat on the Florida Cabinet, sent a letter to colleagues this week urging them to follow her lead in adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of agencies protected by policy from employment discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year those groups qualify as protected classes. She also encouraged other Cabinet members to ensure greater diversity in its hiring and put policies in place to prevent workplace discrimination based on race, ethnicity or gender. “As we work to address systemic racism, discrimination and inequality, let our actions today be part of the continued march toward progress,” she wrote.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 789,714 FL residents (+27,790 since Oct. 23)

— 10,502 Non-FL residents (+646 since Oct. 23)

Origin:

— 7,123 Travel related

— 299,349 Contact with a confirmed case

— 7,874 Both

— 475,368 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 49,185 in FL

Deaths:

— 16,927 in FL

Diversity in government

Fried is asking the Florida Cabinet to improve the state’s policies on diversity and inclusion within Florida’s agencies.

George Floyd‘s death in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the following nationwide unrest revealed the need for administrative policy change, Fried wrote in a letter to her fellow Cabinet members.

“Through the expression of free speech ensconced in our Constitution, people across our state and country are asking their leaders to address the pervasive issues that exist in society, including in our government,” Fried said.

Nikki Fried is urging the rest of the Florida Cabinet to update its diversity hiring practices. Image via Facebook.

Since the Commissioner took office in 2019, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has made several policy changes, including adding “inclusion” to its core values, outlining social media policies, updating discrimination and sexual harassment policy, and removing a controversial neck restraining technique from the agency’s law enforcement policies.

“Our citizens expect, our laws require and our values demand that everyone will be treated equally when doing business with the State of Florida,” Fried said. “As we work to address systemic racism, discrimination, and inequality, let our actions today be part of the continued march toward progress.”

In May, the Commissioner created a two-member Diversity and Inclusion Work Group within her department to recommend diversity, inclusion and equity improvements. And in July, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes, she requested updates from the Cabinet’s jointly-governed agencies on how they were adapting to the new ruling.

“Given the progress made by the agencies we jointly oversee, I write today to strongly encourage each of you to request the same changes of the agencies you oversee individually,” Fried said. “Recruiting and retaining a talented state workforce relies upon creating a culture, environment, and expectation of freedom from discrimination for every applicant, employee, vendor, contractor, and customer of our state agencies.”

COVID Impact Month

Fried also declared November as “COVID Impact Month” to recognize those affected by the pandemic, either through infection, death or economic loss.

On Friday, just before the end of October, Florida crossed 800,000 COVID-19 cases. Nationally, there have been nearly 9 million cases.

“As the coronavirus continues to sweep across our state and nation, I want to remind Floridians that this pandemic is not over — that’s why here in Florida, November will be COVID Impact Month,” Fried said in a statement. “Whether you lost a loved one, battled the virus firsthand, supported someone who got sick, struggled due to the pandemic’s economic impact, or were affected in any way — we recognize your struggle, and we will come together to get through this.”

Nikki Fried declares November as COVID Impact Month. Image via Twitter.

On Thursday, the Commissioner sent a letter to DeSantis requesting that the Department of Management Services illuminate the Florida State Capitol in red from Nov. 2 to Nov. 8 as a symbol and a display of love, unity and perseverance.

“During COVID Impact Month, I hope we can all reflect on the grave challenges this virus has posed, the loss it’s caused and remember that only together, by all doing our part, can we beat COVID-19.”

Licensing office reopening

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will reopen its regional Division of Licensing Office in Doral next week.

As Florida has recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months, the department has reopened its regional licensing offices one-by-one.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, FDACS remains focused on serving the needs of Floridians while working hard to ensure public safety as we reopen regional Division of Licensing offices across the state,” Fried said. “As we move forward with our strategic reopening efforts, the Doral regional licensing office will be practicing enhanced safety policies to make sure we’re protecting the public while providing important services.”

Nikki Fried is prioritizing safety in the reopening of the Division of Licensing Offices. Photo by Jason Delgado.

The first office to reopen was the Tallahassee regional office on June 15. The North Port, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Tampa regional offices reopened in September.

The Fort Walton Beach and Plantation regional offices reopened this month, the latest being the Plantation office last week.

On March 19, the department closed public access to nine regional offices due to health concerns from COVID-19. Even with the closures, the department has continued processing concealed weapons license applications.

Like the offices that have already opened, the Doral regional office has new, enhanced safety precautions, including Plexiglas barriers at fingerprinting stations and exhaustive cleaning procedures.

Licensing employees will wear masks, gloves and face shields when taking fingerprints. Customers will be required to wear masks and will be seen by appointment only.

Cyberscams in health care

This week, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis urged businesses and consumers to be particularly vigilant of their financial and personal data.

The CFO’s warning comes after the United Healthcare System came under attack by hackers using ransomware — a scheme in which personal and financial data is held hostage for ransom.

Patronis urged Floridians to learn the signs of theft, fraud and scams.

Jimmy Patronis urges Floridians to stay aware of health care scams.

“This announcement is a stark reminder that criminals will stop at nothing to gain access and try to profit from our most sensitive information,” he said. “Understanding what to look for when it comes to fraud and identity theft is how Floridians can protect themselves and their loved ones from becoming a victim. As Florida’s CFO, I will continue to work to defend our state from cyber threats and hold those who commit these crimes accountable.”

Patronis offered several tips to help Floridians keep their personal data safe. Among others, he urged Floridians to be mindful of their social media accounts, use caution when opening email and attachments, and consider using two-factor authentication.

He also suggested that Floridians should frequently check their financial activity. Notably, many banks and credit card companies offer alerts regarding unusual account activity.

Learn about more wars to protect against fraud at FraudFreeFlorida.com.

Halloween fire safety

Florida’s State Fire Marshal offered several fire safety tips this week to help Floridians enjoy Halloween more safely.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, roughly 800 house fires each year start when a decoration catches fire. What’s more, over one-third of those fires began with a candle.

“Every year, families across our state enjoy a fun-filled Halloween,” State Fire Marshal Patronis said. “However, festivities can suddenly become tragic due to fire-related accidents. Displaying decorations away from open flames and buying safe costumes are important precautions to prevent potential mishaps.”

For Halloween, Patronis suggested that Floridians find lighting alternatives to open flames. Things such as battery-operated-candles and glow sticks can substitute inside of decorations such as a jack-o’-lantern.

Patronis — who doubles as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer — also recommended purchasing fire-resistant costumes for children and double-checking smoke alarms.

“Avoid costumes with long, trailing fabric,” he added.

Lastly, Patronis urged Floridians not to let “decorations ruin the day.” He cautioned against dry items such as corn stalks and dried flowers, which can catch fire near heathers, light bulbs and open flames.

“I encourage everyone to remember these safety tips so you can have a safe and enjoyable Halloween,” Patronis said.

To watch the safety tips, click on the image below:

Instagram of the week

 

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President Obama’s speech has us fired up and ready to vote! #ObamaInFL 🔥🗳

A post shared by Biden For Florida 🍊 #WeKnowJoe (@bidenforfl) on

The week in appointments

Florida Gulf Coast University Board of Trustees — Gov. DeSantis appointed Edward “Tee” Baur to the FGCU Board of Trustees on Tuesday. Baur, of Port Royal, is the former President of Baur Properties, a real estate development company. Baur is a veteran of the United States Navy and a proud father of three with 11 grandchildren. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of North Carolina.

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Board of Trustees — DeSantis on Thursday appointed Kenward “Kenny” Stone to the FAMU Board of Trustees. Stone, of Savannah, has served as the co-chief executive officer of Broughton Pharmaceuticals since 2019. Additionally, Stone is the co-founder and managing partner of SL Group Investors, a private investment fund he founded in 2017. Stone earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from FAMU and his MBA from Harvard University.

Closing the digital divide

T-Mobile will provide 600,000 Florida families 100GB of internet per year over the next five years in a partnership with the state as part of its national Project 10Million.

Through the national campaign, T-Mobile is offering free wireless hotspots and free high-speed data. Those services will target the families of K-12 students who participate in the national school lunch program.

First Lady Casey DeSantis announced the partnership during this week’s Florida Children and Youth Cabinet. She hoped the program would help close the educational achievement gap.

Casey DeSantis announces a key alliance toward closing the digital divide. Image via Twitter.

“This underscores the importance of harnessing the private sector to ensure our children can learn, grow and achieve their God-given potential,” DeSantis said. “If a student does not have access to technology or internet connectivity necessary for homework, it’s a disservice to their educational journey.”

School administrators can apply for the program by providing ZIP codes for students that participate in the school lunch program. Schools then distribute the hotspots and devices, with T-Mobile assisting with setup and technical support.

“This is yet another opportunity to level the playing field and provide additional educational supports for Florida students,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said. “A rising tide lifts all boats, and more students will have the opportunity to enrich the critical skills they learn in the classroom, at home.”

Before the pandemic hit the nation this year, more than 9 million of the country’s 56 million households with children didn’t have reliable internet access, according to a T-Mobile regional executive, Peter Vargas.

“This critical ‘homework gap’ can have negative impacts on student outcomes,” he said. “We are proud to join the state in our efforts to best support the needs of Florida students.”

Prepare for reentry

The Florida Department of Corrections announced this week that it assembled a team of inmates from correctional institutions across the state to work on a curriculum for a new inmate-led mentoring program.

The eventual program aims to reduce prison violence and guide inmates who have less than a year remaining on their sentence. The end goal is helping those inmates stay out of trouble once they get out of prison.

“Inmates with short sentences are often unable to participate in long term betterment programs,” said FDC Secretary Mark Inch. “But there are thousands of inmates with longer sentences with wisdom and experience to share with these individuals. This program will pair longer sentence inmates as mentors with those in prison who need guidance at a critically important junction in their lives.”

The FDC is launching an inmate-led mentoring program. Image via Facebook.

Hundreds of inmates applied to be a part of the curriculum development team after Inch issued a call to action. The successful applicants include eight male and two female inmates with diverse backgrounds. They will spend a week in a design workshop facilitated by the FDC program, classification and security staff.

The team will lay the groundwork for the program, combining experiential learning, role-modeling, and instruction to positively influence inmates with short prison sentences.

“FDC security, education and substance use treatment staff will play an integral role in the success of this mentoring program,” FDC Director of Office of Programs and Re-Entry Patrick Mahoney said. “This program will create opportunities for enhanced cooperation and positive choices.”

Manatee moves

Florida’s manatees are on the move and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants you to know about it.

As winter approaches in the Sunshine State, Florida’s community of 8,000 manatees will begin to migrate to warmer waters. Meanwhile, the FWC urges the public and particularly boaters to be on the lookout for the large marine mammals.

“This is a very important time of year for manatees, and we need the public’s help to make sure they get to their warm-water habitats safely and are not disturbed during the colder winter months,” said Michelle Pasawicz, manatee management program lead with the FWC. “By going slow while on the water and viewing manatees from a safe and respectful distance, you can help conserve them, so future generations are able to enjoy these amazing animals.”

This is the time of year when manatees are on the move.

There are several ways Floridians can help manatees migrate more safely.

FWC urges the public to admire Florida’s ‘sea cows’ from a distance. Officials warned that disturbing them may cause them to retreat from the warm-water sites.

FWC also asked the public not to feed or water the manatees. It’s illegal and harmful, they warned.

Additionally, boaters are reminded to respect posted manatee protection zones.

Report any injured, entangled, orphaned or dead manatees to the Wildlife Alert Hotline by dialing (888) 404-3922.

‘Bear in the air’

A stretch of U.S. Highway 41 in Manatee County has been designated as the “Sergeant John C. Baxter Jr. Memorial Highway” in honor of a Florida Highway Patrol who died in the line of duty 35 years ago.

On Oct. 2 1985, Sgt. John C. Baxter Jr. — nicknamed “the bear in the air” — was flying over U.S. 301 to assist his fellow FHP officers in apprehending an armed robbery suspect.

While Baxter was attempting to keep the suspect in sight and maintain radio contact with ground troopers and air control, the aircraft suddenly lost altitude, crashing into a parking lot and killing him. He was 57 years old.

Florida State Troopers honor one of their own — the ‘bear in the air.’

“The brave men and women of the Florida Highway Patrol put themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis to keep our roadways and those who travel them safe. I was proud to sponsor legislation honoring our fallen troopers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty,” Sen. Lauren Book said. “With these designations, our first responders will know that their sacrifice and heroism will never be forgotten by Floridians.”

Rep. Chuck Brannan added, “It was my privilege to sponsor this legislation so that we can permanently honor those troopers who have given their lives in defense of all we hold dear. It is my hope that the motoring public will always remember their sacrifices as they pass by these markers on our state highways.”

The roadway sign dedication ceremony was this week at the FHP station in Bradenton. Baxter’s wife, Fay, and FHP officers and local officials attended the ceremony to pay tribute and unveil the roadway sign in Sergeant Baxter’s honor.

“Paying honor to Sergeant Baxter by naming a portion of U.S. 41 in his honor is a great tribute,” FHP Director Colonel Gene S. Spaulding. “I would like to thank the Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis for ensuring the sacrifices of our fallen heroes are memorialized.”

Volunteer grants

Volunteer Florida has awarded $496,000 in grants to 24 nonprofit and service organizations in the state.

The agency’s Volunteer Generation Fund, paid for by AmeriCorps, helps organizations recruit skilled Floridians to volunteer their services for students, families and communities.

“Skills-based volunteers are an integral part of many nonprofits as they help extend the reach and capacity of organizations to meet their missions,” Volunteer Florida CEO Clay Ingram said.

Volunteer Florida has awarded nearly $500K in grants to 24 nonprofit and service organizations to help attract skilled volunteers.

Since 2014, the program has spent nearly $17 million funding 50,943 volunteers who served 746,487 hours.

Awarded organizations will primarily receive $20,000, apart from four receiving $24,000.

This fiscal year’s winners include the Big Band Hospice Foundation, which is recruiting 450 volunteers to conduct ceremonies honoring veteran patients, and Girls on the Run of the Panhandle, which will recruit 400 volunteers to inspire girls through an experience-based curriculum that integrates running.

The Jacksonville Humane Society will recruit 400 volunteers to provide veterinary assistance, dog behavior assistance and retail support in their Adoption, Education and Pet Help Center. In Monroe and Collier counties, United Way of Collier County and the Keys will recruit 400 volunteers who will staff the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and other community allocations programs.

Power search

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement overhauled its criminal background check website this week, speeding it up and rounding out its feature set.

The upgrades have made Florida’s Computerized Criminal History Internet webpage, or CCHInet, more mobile-friendly and easier to use. Users can now access the state database through a web browser and through FDLE’s mobile app, which is available for download on both iOS and Android devices.

For $24, plus a $1 credit card processing fee, citizens can request a Florida criminal history search from the website, with results usually returned in seconds.

In addition to criminal histories, FDLE’s mobile app allows users to search Florida’s Sex Offender Registry, unsolved cases and missing persons.

CCHInet is the central repository of criminal history information for the state of Florida. The page allows users to perform a self-service search of FDLE’s files. CCHInet includes only the state of Florida criminal history information.

Alumni support

Florida A&M University’s freshman class of 2000 couldn’t hold their 20-year reunion because of the coronavirus pandemic, but they still found a way to celebrate.

The class marked the milestone by doubling down on a fundraising drive to help current students at their alma mater.

In all, the Freshman Class of 2000s homecoming fundraising campaign raised $273,447.46 across 311 donors, making it the largest gift from an affinity class.

Members of the FAMU Freshman Class of the 2000s.

“The Freshman Class of 2000 has raised the most money out of the affinity groups and this is very compelling because it was done during a pandemic,” Brandi Tatum, assistant vice president of FAMU’s Division of University Advancement. “I’m exceptionally grateful to witness this dedication and commitment to FAMU, but I’m also proud and ecstatic because I’m a member of this class.”

Roshell R. Rinkins, senior director of grants administration at the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, served as the fundraising chair for the Freshman Class of 2000. Their goal was $250,000. When the pandemic hit, the urgency of their campaign became clear, Rinkins said.

“Now more than ever, FAMU needs us,” said Rinkins, who earned a BA and MBA from FAMU. “It feels really great to be able to make such a sizable gift to FAMU, and to do it during a pandemic further cements our continued commitment to the University.”

FSU’s best Day ever

Florida State University’s Dedman School of Hospitality received a $1 million donation this week from the family of Cecil B. Day to establish and support a slate of academic initiatives at the school.

Day was the founder of the Days Inn America hotel chain. He died in 1978, but through his widow, Deen Day Sanders, and his family, the Days have regularly put their support behind FSU and Dedman.

“This gift will have a significant impact on our hospitality students,” said Andy A. Jhanji, interim vice president for University Advancement and executive vice president of the FSU Foundation. “Experiences outside of the classroom, like listening to speakers, joining clubs and traveling to conferences, are important parts of a student’s academic success.”

The family of Days Inn founder Cecil B. Day donated $1 million to the FSU School of Hospitality.

The school will use part of the gift to launch a speaker series to bring recipients of the annual Cecil B. Day Ethics Award to campus. Additionally, the Cecil B. Day Student Ethics Endowment will create a student ethics club and provide funding for travel and academic scholarships. It will also support the formation of a library housed in the school’s technology center.

The library and center will be named after Cecil B. Day.

“I believe it’s more crucial than ever to emphasize the importance of ethical leadership,” said Don Farr, director of the Dedman School of Hospitality. “The Day family and their generosity will ensure that our students have the opportunity to develop those values throughout their education.”

Volunteer Firefighter of the Year

This week, Leon County presented the 23rd Annual Jack Harron Leon County Volunteer Firefighter of the Year award to Lt. Jeff Ward of the Chaires-Capitola Volunteer Fire Department.

“Although we weren’t able to host our Annual Volunteer Firefighter Fire Truck Roundup due to the pandemic, we couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to recognize this year’s Volunteer Firefighter of the Year, Jeff Ward, for his public service,” Leon County Commission Chairman Bryan Desloge said. “Jeff’s commitment to volunteer firefighting in our community has saved lives and inspired others to sign up and do the same.”

Ward has been involved with the Chaires-Capitola Volunteer Fire Department since 2017 and has spent nearly every Saturday over the past five months serving as an assistant instructor in the county’s volunteer firefighter class.

Lt. Jeff Ward of the Chaires-Capitola Volunteer Fire Department is recognized as the Leon County Volunteer Firefighter of the Year.

“Like the many other volunteer firefighters awarded before him, Jeff exemplifies the spirit of community service,” Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long said. “The County is proud to recognize this commitment to volunteerism not just with this award, but year-round through the work of Leon County’s VolunteerLEON and our many community partners.”

The Volunteer Firefighter of the Year Award was established in 1998 and was renamed in 2010 to honor former Miccosukee Fire Chief Jack Harron, who lost a battle with cancer. The Earl Bacon Insurance Agency sponsors the 23rd Annual Jack Harron Leon County Volunteer Firefighter of the Year Award.

“I am incredibly honored to be recognized as this year’s Volunteer Firefighter of the Year,” Ward said. “To be a volunteer firefighter means knowing that you have helped make a difference in someone’s life during crisis — and that is truly rewarding.”

Historic moment

The City of Tallahassee this week honored former Mayor Dorothy Inman-Johnson naming Tallahassee’s park on Kleman Plaza in her honor.

Dorothy “Dot” Inman-Johnson was a youth activist in the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement and continued her dedication to change in the years since, including when she made history in 1986 by becoming the first African American female elected to the Tallahassee City Commission.

She served two terms as Mayor, beginning in 1989 and 1993, respectively.

Tallahassee honors former two-term Mayor Dorothy Inman-Johnson.

On the Commission, Inman-Johnson helped initiate funding to establish the Smith-Williams Neighborhood Center Annex and aided in developing both the City’s Electric Utility Rate Stabilization fund and Mini-Pass program. She was also instrumental in acquiring property to create Kleman Plaza, where her newly named park sits.

“It is a true honor for me and my family to have my contributions to Tallahassee and their sacrifices recognized in this way,” Inman-Johnson said.

According to a city news release, “Tallahassee is a city that remembers its past while focusing on the future, one that works to foster a strong sense of community. The dedication of the Dorothy Inman-Johnson Park on the Plaza supports this vision by honoring a history-making Tallahasseean.”

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