Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hendry's Kristina Kulpa Loses Fight For Re-Election

Circuit Judge Finds Against Kulpa In Expensive Tax Appraiser Case

LABELLE, FL. -- After a ten-month court fight with a half dozens lawyers paid handsomely, three at Hendry county taxpayer expense, former Hendry Tax Appraiser Kristina Kulpa lost the battle to get a new election after losing by five votes last November.

Circuit Judge Christine Greider signed an order September 25th denying Kulpa a new election and denying Kulpa's request for an award of court costs.

Judge Greider says although Kulpa relied in her complaint on what Kulpa claimed was illegal voting by felons, the law actually says felons gain their civil rights automatically without a hearing under a new law in April 2007. The evidence provided at trial by Kulpa did not establish anything illegal going on at the polls November 4th, 2008.

In the lengthy order, Greider cites all the facts she heard during the day and one-half trial regarding testimony by all the witnesses, including testimony surrounding events at the Clewiston voting place by Brenda Brooks, who was claimed by Kulpa to be giving illegal help to voters. Brooks, Greider noted, was not called as a witness by any of the attorneys, and it could not be established she did anything wrong.

The 18-page Order against Kulpa by Judge Greider can be read here:

Hendry Forest Day October 10

Learn Wild Places And Get Outdoors

LABELLE, FL. -- Everyone is invited to the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest in Hendry County, south of Labelle, Saturday, Oct. 10, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.  Foresters, rangers and volunteers will be on-hand to help visitors explore the forest and learn about the many outdoor activities it offers.

The event is part of Get Outdoors Florida!, a cooperative effort to encourage families to explore outdoor spaces available throughout the state. 

Adventures include:

·         walking tours of the state forest on foot and in vans

·         spring onto the wetland walkway

·         touch an attack firefighter bulldozer

·         spray water out of a fire engine

·         see animals that live out on the state forest

·         touch plants and learn about destructive plants and animals

·         learn how to identify and plant trees and shrubs

·         play games

Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest is about 13 miles southeast of Labelle on County Road 832. CR 832 can be reached from State Road 29. Look for the signs.

Contact Mike Weston, Senior Forester, at (239) 690-3500, ext. 118, or go to www.fl-dof.com for more information.

Hendry Sheriff's Citizen Academy Opens

14 Week Free Classes Open To Public

LABELLE, FL. -- How much do citizens really know about law enforcement?  Most of what people know about law enforcement is what they see on television from crime-action TV which captivates the public�s imagination. 

Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden would like to invite citizens of Hendry County to participate in a Citizen's Academy to give the public a behind the scene look at what the men and women of the Hendry County Sheriff's Office do. 

Most people have little or no first hand, accurate knowledge about this vitally important element of our community.  This can put law enforcement at a tremendous disadvantage because it is human nature to fear or even mistrust what you do not understand, says Sheriff Whidden. 

Participants will spend about 2 hours a night in a classroom once a week for 14 weeks.  Members will learn about call taking; what happens after you call for help; the latest trends and procedures in law enforcement as well as the duties and responsibilities of the various departments.  Those attending will also get to spend one day at a firing range learning how to handle firearms. 

Members will also have the opportunity to tour the various sheriffs� buildings and ride in an agency vehicle with a road patrol deputy and most of all, learn how to develop confidence in their ability to make themselves and their property less attractive to criminals. 

Because the men and women are graduates of the Citizens Academy they may become involved in the newly formed volunteer programs that will be offered by the Hendry County Sheriff's Office. 

The Citizens Academy is great for anyone over 18 years of age, with a background free of felony convictions, who wishes to learn more about the field of law enforcement in general and about the Hendry County Sheriff's Office.  The class is free.  Class dates and time will be announced.

Please stop by the Sheriff's office and pick up an application. If you have questions or want to learn more about the Sheriff's Citizen Academy call Lt. Susan Harrelle at 863-674-5604.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Felons Caring For Hendry's Children And Disabled?

Three Felons Recorded Working As Care Workers

LABELLE, FL. -- According to a database used by the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Hendry county has three care workers at local child or disabled care facilities showing past criminal records.

Florida does require criminal background checks for care workers but they may start work before the screening is complete. Those found with a criminal record can then still qualify by applying for an exemption claming they have been rehabilitated.

Mayra Gamez shows up with a criminal history, but is listed as working for Silky's Comprehensive Group Home located in a Port LaBelle neighborhood. According to the database, Gamez, DOB May 30, 1980 has an August 2005 offense date with a record of domestic violence-assault, battery, sexual battery, and an injunction against her.

The group home for disabled adults (photo above) is at 8073 Marsh Circle in Port LaBelle just one street east of LaBelle Middle School. The home is owned by Clint Dodds, according to property records. Dodds had a prior group home business in Miami now out of business, and operates this LaBelle business with partner Agnes George as a for-profit company Silky's Group Home, Inc. The business Silky's Comprehensive Group Home, Inc. went out of business in Miramar, Florida in 2005.

In Clewiston, according to the database Earl C. Vickers, DOB March 17, 1934 has a record of aggravated assault and worked for Betty Vickers Family Day Care Home at 704 Alabama Avenue in Clewiston.

Lisa M. Kline, DOB January 24, 1965, according to the database has a record of domestic violence, assault, battery, sexual battery and an injunction against her from an offense date of May 8, 2003. She is the owner of Mother Goose and Friends Day Care at 340 Commercio Street in Clewiston.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ten Hendry Grow Houses Busted

Arrests Made In Hendry Marijuana Grow House Operations

LABELLE, FL. -- Hendry County Sheriff Narcotic Officers received valuable information earlier this week that lead to the location of ten grow houses and the arrest of seven individuals from the Pioneer Plantation and Montura Ranch subdivisions in central Hendry county.

Investigators closed down eight grow houses in Montura and two in Pioneer. They were able to confiscate seven long rifles and two handguns, according to a news release by Hendry Sheriff Steve Whidden.

One of the drug grow locations was a 12' x 12' building that had been completely set up and ready to begin the grow process. Another location in Pioneer was a new grow operation that had just begun yielding very young plants.

Taken into custody were 389 marijuana plants, with an approximate weight of 489 pounds with street value $2,347,200. Sheriff Whidden stated, "We will continue to cooperate with all agencies in the fight against drugs.''

Arrested were:

September 18, 2009
Alberto Garcia, 45 years of age, of 822 North Arboleda Street, Montura; 35 marijuana plants, approximately 40 lbs.

September 21, 2009
Yoel Relova Serrano, 36 years of age, 470 south Hacienda Street; 70 marijuana plants, approximately 110 lbs.
Vladimir Padron, 46 years of age, 855 South Zambria Street; 81 marijuana plants, approximately 15 lbs.

September 22, 2009
Jorge Fleitas, 46 years of age, 380 S. Hacienda Street
Jenny Reyes, 20 years of age, and Martha Lira, 44 years of age, 212 Montura Ave.; 44 plants, approximately 56 lbs.

September 23, 2009
Alberto Velis Duarte, 39 years of age, 5120 4th Street, Pioneer; 24 plants, approximately 39 lbs.

Arrests are pending after recovered marijuana at:

745 Willow Street;17 marijuana plants, approximately 91 lbs.
420 South Hacienda Street; 73 marijuana, approximately 110 lbs.
385 South Hacienda Street; 6 plants, approximately 13 lbs.
995 Tampa Ave.; 40 plants, approximately 1 lb. – New Grow House

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Record Real Estate Sales In LaBelle

11 LaBelle Home Closings In Seven Days

LABELLE, FL. -- In what may be a record number of home sale closings in the LaBelle area, glimpses of a recovering market may be seen.

During the week of September 15th to September 22 there were 11 homes sales closed in the LaBelle area for an average price of $64,364. Eight sales were in Port LaBelle, three in the city of LaBelle.

1) $89,000 on Chickasaw Ave (city of LaBelle)
2) $120,000 on Fire Ct
3) Unknown price on Garden St (city of LaBelle)
4) $95,000 on Nobles Rd (city of LaBelle)
5) $69,000 on Pinetree Cir
6) $80,000 on Royal Cir
7) $47,000 on E Palomar Cir
8) $79,000 on S Edgewater Cir
9) Unknown price on S Edgewater Cir
10) $40,000 on S Edgewater Cir
11) $89,000 on S Riverview St

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hendry-Glades Leadership Dinner In Lakeport

Leadership Hendry Glades Counties Orientation Dinner

On September 15, 2009, the Hideaway Restaurant in Lakeport hosted the Leadership Hendry Glades Counties (LHGC) Orientation Dinner. The event was attended by over 50 new leadership class members, alumni of previous classes and sponsors.

Mr. Tris Chapman, Hendry County Commissioner, served as MC for the event. He also introduced the incoming class members. The group heard from Dr. Alvin B. Jackson, a motivational speaker and CEO of The Quantum Leadership Group, Inc.

Sponsors for the event included: Alico Land Development, Clewiston Christian School, Southern Gardens Citrus, First Bank, Johnson-Prewitt & Assoc. Inc., Hendry Regional Medical Center, Wright Construction Group, Seminole Tribe of Florida, Talkin� Monkeys Project, Gulf Citrus Growers, Royal Properties, Ridgdill Construction and Missimer Groundwater Science.

Incoming class members are: Crissie Carter, Seminole Tribe; CynDeLee Dalton, Seacoast National Bank; Phillip Flood, Jr., SFWMD; Sommer Foster, Johnson-Prewitt & Assoc. Inc.; Kim Harris-White, First Bank; Denise Hatton, Clewiston Christian School; Victor Lancaster, Jr., Glades Electric Cooperative.; Scott Loiacano, Wright Construction Group; Alonzo McKenzie, New Bethel Baptist Church ; Steve McKown, City of Clewiston; Steve Nisbet, Jr., Caloosa Design; Janet Papinaw, Hendry County Grants Department; Church Roberts, Johnson Engineering; Laura Smith, Dyess Real Estate; Lucinda Tevlin, Seacoast National Bank; Davis Theroux, Hendry Regional Medical Center; and Butch Wilson, Clewiston Museum.

Ms. Kim Hamilton, Vice-President of LHGC, made the first annual Founders Award presentation. The Founder�s Award was given to Deborah Van Sickle of First Bank of Clewiston for her passion in the community, helping to establish the LHGC and her demonstrated leadership abilities.

The next event will be a Team-building/Cultural day for the incoming class on September 23rd followed by a Civic & Cultural Day on October 28, 2009.

Who Is Leadership Hendry & Glades, Counties Inc.?

The LHGC is a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization interested in developing leaders in the Hendry and Glades county region by ''holding meetings and presentations'' according to it's filing with the IRS.

According to the organization's last IRS Form 990 filed November 2008 for year 2007, as required to be filed by non-profits with $25,000 or more in income, they received $31,820 in public contributions and $12,500 from program service revenue.

Expenses were $20,160 for programs, and $6,391 for management. The expenses include $5,219 for ''administrative expenses'', $2,122 for insurance, $1,916 miscellaneous, and $976 in legal fees. The excess funds (income less expenses) were $17,769.

Janice Groves was the Chairman of the organization, Sarah Van Sickle, Treasurer. None of the officers or directors received any compensation in 2007, according to the filing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hendry-Glades Commission Meets In Okeechobee

Restoration of Okeechobee Ecosystem Under Consideration

OKEECHOBEE, FL – On Friday, September 25, 2009, the County commissioners of Glades, Hendry and Lee, along with Forest Michael, Landscape Architect, Lynn Topel, Executive Director of the Florida Heartland Rural Economic Development Initiative (FHREDI) and the South Florida Water Management District, will present a single-topic agenda, the restoration of Lakes Hicpochee and Lake Clewiston. 

The 10 County Coalition Meeting will be held at the Okeechobee County Health Department, 1728 NW 9th Ave., Okeechobee, FL.

The restoration of Lake Hicpochee (4.5 mi x 3 mi), located along the Caloosahatchee river between LaBelle and Clewiston, was drained in the 1880s by Hamilton Disston under a State of Florida contract, is under consideration by the 10 County Coalition Commissioners.  The opportunity exists to invigorate the area economically while improving water storage and quality. 

This was recently envisioned by Glades residents in the Glades Visioning Process, and other concerned people. 

Also under consideration by the Commissioners is a 728-acre portion of Lake Okeechobee which was severed by the Herbert Hoover Dike in the 1930s at historic Sand Point, also known as the Clewiston Waterfront.  This lake is called ''Lake Clewiston'' and was originally envisioned by Clewiston Commissioner Franklyn Jones, P.E. in the 1990s. 

Lake restoration opportunities include providing revenue generating eco-tourism sites and lakefront economic development sites.  Specific opportunities include improving southwest Florida's estuarine health, birding and nature watching, pleasure boating, fishing, hunting, native habitat restoration, hiking, paddling, Pre-Columbian archaeological interpretation and improved scenic viewsheds.

Water storage and water quality improvement areas are also proposed for the Caloosahatchee, as one integrated improvement.  The historic ''Headwater Lakes'' will help protect the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary and the Caloosahatchee River as they did before the 1880s dredging.  Floodplain areas are intended to protect residents as well as maintaining the current water levels and this project will increase flood protection for the area.

Please call (863) 462-5819 for directions to the meeting in Okeechobee.

Judge Greider - 'Very Important Case' In Hendry

Judge In Hendry Case To Render Decision In Election Dispute

Update: September 28 - Judge Greider has signed an order keeping Phillip Pelletier as Hendry Property Appraiser.

LABELLE, FL. -- Circuit Judge Christine Greider heard final arguments Tuesday morning in LaBelle for the case former Hendry Tax Appraiser Kristina Kulpa brought against Hendry Supervisor of Elections Lucretia Strickland, the Hendry Canvassing Board, and Hendry Tax Appraiser Phillip Pelletier.

Kulpa is disputing the November 2008 election results, in which she lost by 5 votes of some 10,500 counted. Kulpa alleges 14 convicted felon votes were illegally received by Election Supervisor Strickland, as well as alleging absentee votes were made by three non-residents, and a some voters had unauthorized assistance at the polls by Clewiston community activist Brenda Brooks.

Judge Greider told the parties, at the conclusion of ten hours of testimony and legal argument, that this ''is a very important case...requiring extensive fact finding.'' Greider must determine whether any illegal votes were counted that would be enough to change the status of the November election results for Hendry's Tax Appraiser.

Greider said she will make a written decision ''as quickly as possible'' considering Florida state statutes require the courts to provide an immediate hearing in election disputes. This case has gone on for 10 months, having been before the appellate court before resuming pleadings in the Circuit court a few months ago.

A complicated case based on Florida's election laws from the Florida Statutes, and Florida Administrative Code, Greider will have to determine the facts from testimony and exhibits as to whether there were any illegal votes counted, if there were non-residents voting, and if any alleged improper assistance at the polls would render any votes illegal.

And finally Greider, will have to determine if any illegal votes would have changed the election. If she finds affirmatively, she would have the option to vacate the November election, and cause a new election to be held as a remedy.

Meanwhile, Hendry county taxpayers are on the hook for attorney's fees for Lucretia Strickland, represented by attorneys Owen Luckey, Jr. and Jimmy Luckey. As of August 26th, the firm had been paid $77,609.77 by Hendry county for legal costs. County attorney Mark Lapp is defending the Hendry Canvassing Board.

Pelletier and Kulpa are paying their own way for attorneys, respectively attorneys Tom Hart and Peter Feaman, although Kulpa had received some several thousands of dollars from the Hendry Republican Party at the beginning of her lawsuit.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thomas McGill Arrested In Charlotte County

Wanted In Hendry, Okeechobee - Caught In Charlotte County

LABELLE, FL. -- Thomas McGill Jr., on the run after a no-show for a Hendry County criminal court date, was finally arrested in Punta Gorda, Florida on September 12.

Arresting officer James Vanande found McGill, 29 at 6485 Gewant Avenue in Punta Gorda, McGill is charged with possession of methamphetamine, and resisting officer/obstuction without violence,

Hendry County Sheriff's Investigators in LaBelle were looking for Thomas McGill on outstanding warrants for Failure to Appear for Possession of a Weapon or ammo and Theft More Than $300, no Bond.

In Okeechobee county, he has arrest warrants out for burglary of a structure while armed, $30,000 bond; grand theft firearm, $10,000 bond; and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, $15,000 bond.

McGill, born September 15, 1980, 5' 11'', 170 pounds, according to Hendry county, was convicted May 26, 2004 of 1st and 3rd degree larceny. His booking sheet from Charlotte county has him weighing in at 185 pounds, after his brief run from the law and bounty hunters.

According to the crime report filed in the Hendry county criminal court case, McGill was wanted on the latest charges after an investigation of the theft of a safe containing $25,000 from the La Mexicana convenience store on South State Road 29 led to finding McGill and stolen property on B Road south of LaBelle.

Photo: Tom McGill's Neck Tatoo - from Charlotte County Sheriff's Department

Hendry Property Appraiser Trial Begins

Former Hendry County Appraiser Kristina Kulpa Presents Case

LABELLE, FL. -- Former Hendry County Tax Appraiser Kristina A. Kulpa presented her case at LaBelle's courthouse today, attempting to redo the November 4th, 2008 election. Kulpa's attorney Peter Feaman made an opening argument to Circuit Judge Christine Greider at  day one of of the 2-day non-jury trial.

Kulpa is suing the Hendry Canvassing Board, current Tax Appraiser Phillip Pelletier, and Supervisor of Elections Lucretia Strickland, all defendants in the 10-month old case.

Kulpa is protesting the 2008 election which was lost by only 5 votes of some 10,500 counted, alleging 14 convicted felon votes were illegally received by Strickland, as well as absentee votes made by non-residents, and ballots made by voters with unauthorized assistance by Clewiston election worker Brenda Brooks.

Of the voters presented as convicted felons by Kulpa's attorney, Strickland's attorney Owen Luckey, Jr. told the court that at least three had been pardoned, allowing them to legally vote. Kulpa's attorney told the court he had no evidence of any pardons.

Robert Corbett Jr., a U.S. Sugar employee testified today that he had called Strickland, and then Hendry Sheriff Ronnie Lee after his friend, a mentally handicapped man, was picked up and taken to the polls by community election worker Brenda Brooks, who he said told his friend how to vote. The call to the Sheriff put in motion an investigation.

Cindy Graham, a Hendry property appraiser employee stationed in Clewiston, testified seeing election worker Brenda Brooks assist many elderly male voters, and heard Brooks instruct one of them to "mark here'' while pointing at the ballot. She said she told Election Office Manager Linda Franklin about her concerns, and later a Hendry Sheriff's investigator interviewed Graham about the allegations.

Bonnie Knowles, property appraiser office manager in Clewiston said she also saw Brooks assist many voters but told the court she didn't think the voters were being influenced by Brooks. Knowles also gave a statement to the Hendry Sheriff's office after a complaint was made earlier by Corbett.

Property Appraiser employee Deena Pittman told the court she also noticed Brooks. Pittman says she assumed Brooks was influencing voters by pointing at the ballot while assisting.

Ryan Hoots, son of a LaBelle elections office employee, testified he was hired as a Deputy Election worker for the Clewiston office, and told the court his brother had not lived in Hendry county for some time, but allegedly voted in the Hendry election.

Phillip Pelletier was called to the stand and admitted his campaign brochure listed his son as living in Kentucky, but Kulpa claims he improperly voted in Hendry county in the 2008 election. Pelletier said his son's wife owned a mobile home in Hendry county, and although traveling for work out of state, the couple visited Hendry county between jobs.

After presenting his witnesses, and in response to defendants' motion to dismiss,  Kulpa's attorney Feaman argued that he has shown the court evidence of illegal felons voting, improper assistance provided to voters by Brenda Brooks without having signed assistance cards as required, and non-resident voters casting ballots. Judge Greider reserved judgment on the motions and will continue to hear the Defendants' arguments on Tuesday

Day 2 of the trial will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday, as defendant attorneys Owen Luckey, assisted by son and attorney Jimmie Luckey for Lucretia Strickland, Tom Hart for Phil Pelletier. and Mark Lapp for the Hendry Canvassing Board present their opening arguments and bring on their witnesses.

Friday, September 18, 2009

LaBelle's Forrey Grill - 9 Food Safety Violations

Restaurant Had Flies In Kitchen And More Food Safety Problems

LABELLE, FL. -  The state of Florida's Division of Hotels and Restaurants is required to do periodic spot inspections of restaurants, hotels and motels each year, and publishes the results of each inspection online. The Sunday Morning News looked at the most recent health inspection of LaBelle's well known restaurant the Forrey Grill on North Bridge Street (State Road 29).

A state food safety inspector observed the violations June 4th, 2009 finding 9 violations, 8 being critical. The inspector found among other things, flies in the kitchen.

A summary of the violations found during the inspection are listed below. The department cites violations of Florida's sanitation and safety laws, which are based on the standards of U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Food Code. In general, critical violations are those that, if not corrected, are more likely to contribute directly to food contamination, illness or environmental damage.

Although the report uses the industry-standard term "critical", varying degrees of severity and potential risk to the public require inspectors to assess each situation in determining the appropriate action. In addition, while an establishment may have multiple violations, the inspectors' training and judgment formulate the overall result of the inspection to ensure the public health and safety. While most establishments correct all violations in a timely manner (often during the inspection), the division's procedures are designed to compel compliance with all violations through follow-up visits, administration action or closure when necessary.

Inspection: June 4, 2009 at 280 North Bridge Street in LaBelle. Although many problems were corrected on site during the inspection, it may be assumed that similar problems would be found at any random inspection.

Violation     Observation
02-07-1     Critical. Observed processed ready-to-eat, potentially hazardous food held more than 24 hours not properly date marked after opening--lunch meat . Corrected On Site.
08A-24-1    Critical. Observed raw animal foods not properly separated from each other in holding unit/during preparation. raw beef above raw seafood reach-in storage cooler Corrected On Site.
09-01-1    Critical. Observed improper use of bowl/plastic food container or other container with no handle used to dispense ready-to-eat food. grated cheese Corrected On Site.
09-04-1    Critical. Observed bare hand contact of ready-to-eat food by employees and establishment has no approved Alternative Operating Procedure in effect while under a boil water notice. Corrected On Site.
21-12-1    Wet wiping cloth not stored in sanitizing solution between uses.
22-17-1    Critical. Observed soiled reach-in cooler gaskets.
24-05-1    Clean glasses, cups, utensils, pots and pans not stored inverted or in a protected manner.
35A-08-1    Critical. Observed live flies in kitchen.
35B-04-1    Critical. Outer openings of establishment cannot be properly sealed when not in operation.

Salaries Of Hendry/Glades Government Officials

Are Elected Officials Earning Their Salaries?

LABELLE, FL. -- The practice of determining the compensation of Florida's county constitutional officers is determined by state law and was first sanctioned by the Constitution of 1885 and has been maintained since the 1968 constitutional revision.

However, it was not until 1973 that the Legislature authorized the salary compensation formula that was the precursor to its present form. The current salary formula methodology specifies that the latest official population estimates for each county serve as a major component of the salary computation.

In addition to the population estimates, the salary formula contains five other components. The base salary and group rate components for the separate officers are specified in various sections of the Florida Statutes. The initial factor component is currently set in law as a constant numerical value. The Florida Department of Management Services (DMS) annually certifies the remaining two components, the annual factor and cumulative annual factor, used in the salary formula computations.

Here's what the Hendry and Glades county officials receive for year 2009-2010:

            Clerk of Court | Appraiser | Tax Collector | Elections Sup. | Sheriff    | Commissioners  | School Sup. | School Board
Glades  $  90,630         $ 90,630     $ 90,630         $ 73,993           $ 99,226     $ 24,965             $ 88,732       $ 23,988
Hendry $ 100,266       $ 100,266    $ 100,266         $ 83,170         $ 108,861     $ 34,142             $ 97,765       $ 26,537

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where Will New Hendry County Bridge Be?

Comments Welcome On Caloosahachee Bridge Location

The New River Crossing Project Development and Environment study public information workshop was held on Tuesday, September 15, 2009. This project is a potential bridge to be located in western Hendry County over the Caloosahatchee River, either east of the city of LaBelle or on the west. 

The workshop was held at the LaBelle Civic Center, in LaBelle, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.  The workshop was held to present project information to the public and to give the public the opportunity to express their views regarding specific location, design, socioeconomic effects, and environmental impacts associated with the two locations being considered. An east and a west location with three possible alignments for each, is under consideration in this study.

A total of forty-eight people signed the attendance sheets at the workshop.  Aerial photos showing the six alignments were on display along with draft project reports and other project information.  Hendry County and their consultants' representatives were available to answer questions and receive comments.

There were a total of sixteen written comments received at the workshop.  Two additional comments were submitted via the project website ( www.newrivercrossinghendryco.com) to-date. The comment period related to this meeting is still open but will end on Friday, September 25, 2009.

An interactive survey is also available on the project website. Residents are encouraged to visit the website at http://fs17.formsite.com/newriver/form038046058/index.html to complete a survey. Hendry County administrators say they want to know what residents think about this project.

A Public Hearing for the New River Crossing PD&E Study will be held October 27, 2009 during the Hendry County Board of County Commissioners Meeting. At that time the public will have the opportunity to make comments on the results of the study.

Project documents are available for public review through Friday, November 6, 2009 at the Barron Library, 461 N. Main Street, LaBelle, and at the Hendry County Engineering Office located at 99 East Cowboy Way, LaBelle. For further information please call 863-675-5264.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Clewiston's Gutjahr Joins Goodwill Board

Real Estate Company Owner Appointed To Board

CLEWISTON,. FL. -- Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida, Inc. has announced that Cheryl Eby Gutjahr of Clewiston has joined the organization's volunteer Board of Directors.

Gutjahr is the Owner/Broker in Charge of Rawls Real Estate in Clewiston. She has worked with Rawls since 1996, and took her current position three years ago. In addition to her work with Goodwill, Gutjahr holds several other director positions, including the Hendry and Glades County Economic Development Councils and The Rotary Club of Clewiston.

Goodwill has welcomed four directors to its board in 2009: Michael R. McKinley, Esquire, of Punta Gorda, and Carolyn S. Green and Tami Hirshberg, both of Fort Myers, have also joined the organization�s Board of Directors this year.

Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida, Inc. helps people with disabilities and other barriers to employment discover and develop their full potential through work and career development services. In 2009, Goodwill provided vocational and social services to 8,160 Southwest Floridians in Charlotte, Lee, Collier, Hendry, and Glades counties.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

LaBelle's Olivia's Restaurant - 12 Food Violations

11 Critical Food Safety Violations On 2nd Inspection

LABELLE, FL. -- The state of Florida's Division of Hotels and Restaurants is required to do periodic inspections of restaurants, hotels and motels each year, and publishes the results of each inspection online. The local restaurant run by the Port LaBelle Inn, Olivia's, had this year's first inspection by a state food inspector in April, where he found the place was operating without a license, without a food manager, and no employee training had been provided to workers.

At a 2nd inspection four months later on August 28,  the inspector found three times the amount of violations than the first inspection. The most recent inspection found 12 violations of food safety requirements, including 11 critical violations. The April 21 inspection came up with four critical violations, which required the follow-up inspection in August:

April 21, 2009 Inspection Report -

Violation    Observation
50-08-1    Critical. Establishment operating without a current Hotel and Restaurant license--license expired 12/1/2008.
53A-01-2    Critical. Manager lacking proof of Food Manager Certification.
53A-07-1    Critical. No Certified Food Manager for establishment.
53B-08-1    Critical. No proof of required employee training provided. All public food service establishments must provide the division with proof of employee training upon request, including, but not limited to, at the time of any division inspection of the establishment. Pro

August 28, 2009 Inspection Report -

Violation    Observation
01B-11-1    Critical. Observed cheese with mold-like growth. discarded. Corrected On Site.
02-07-1    Critical. Observed processed ready-to-eat, potentially hazardous food held more than 24 hours not properly date marked after opening.
02-11-2    Critical. No oyster warning sign with required language provided. Corrected On Site.
02-13-2    Critical. Required consumer advisory for raw/undercooked animal food not provided. Corrected On Site.
02-22-1    Critical. Ready-to-eat, potentially hazardous food prepared on site and held more than 24 hours with not properly date marked. reach-in storage cooler
08A-22-1    Critical. Observed improper horizontal separation of raw animal foods and ready-to-eat foods. reach-in cooler.
08A-26-1    Critical. Observed raw animal food stored over ready-to-eat food. reach-in cooler
08A-27-1    Critical. Observed raw animal food stored over cooked food. reach-in cooler
08A-27-1    Critical. Observed raw animal food stored over cooked food. reach-in cooler
09-01-1    Critical. Observed improper use of bowl/plastic food container or other container with no handle used to dispense ready-to-eat food. salt, sugar.
32-15-1    Critical. No handwashing sign provided at a handsink used by food employees.
51-11-1    Carbon dioxide/helium tanks not adequately secured.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Hendry Commission - Tentative Lower Budget

New Hendry County Budget A Possible $76 Million - One Meeting To Go To Finalize

CLEWISTON, FL. -- The Hendry County Board of County Commissioners met on September 3 in Clewiston to tentatively adopt the fiscal year 2009-2010 budget. The tentative budget is $76,077,313, down from the last fiscal year budget of $87 million and the previous fiscal year of $95 million.

The Commissioners had been looking for a 9.75% decrease in the budget across the board from both the general fund and from the constitutional officers to account for the 9.75% reduction in property values countywide. The Commissioners also wanted taxpayers to get the tax cut to which they�re entitled in these difficult economic times.

Hendry county employees this year will be taking on a greater share of the costs for their insurance benefits to help cut costs. The employees will have an opportunity to choose to keep their current benefit level at an additional out of pocket expense, dependent upon the type of coverage chosen.

The Commissioners conveyed their appreciation for the excellent job staff did in restoring the $2.7 million the Commissioners borrowed from the Disaster Relief fund used to balance the FY 2008-2009 budget. The tentative 2009-2010 budget will also be balanced by temporarily borrowing $367,481 from the Disaster Relief fund. County administrative staff will be working throughout the next fiscal year to make it whole, as was done in the current fiscal year.

The second and final public hearing on the proposed 2010 budget is scheduled for September 22nd at 5:15 p.m. in the Hendry County Courthouse in LaBelle. For further information call 863-675-5264.

Hendry/Glades Elderly Receive Benefits

No Cost Home Improvements Through New Program

LABELLE, FL. -- Many elderly residents of Glades and Hendry counties are receiving home improvements, repairs and household appliances at no cost to them through the Hope Connections program.

Hope Connections, a program of Hope HealthCare Services, provides special home care and support services to the elderly in Glades and Hendry counties. The home improvements are the result of a one-time expenditure by the State Department of Elder Affairs through the Area Agency on Aging.

The home improvements are intended to enhance each individual�s quality of life. For example, two homebound clients now have wheelchair ramps, ensuring safety and comfort whenever they leave home. A woman in a rural area who had no running water now has a new well. Bathroom conversions enable one client to move easily from her wheelchair to the shower. Other clients now have lift chairs, fans, washers, refrigerators and other items and upgrades, all with the goal of making their lives better.
Hope Connections provides a number of services, including: Hot meals, Personal care, Homemaker services, Household chores, Transportation, Medical equipment and supplies, Counseling, and Emergency response systems.

For more information about Hope Connections, call the Elder Helpline at (866) 413-5337.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Clewiston Inn - Food Safety Violations Recurring

Four Of Seven Inspections Require Follow-ups At Clewiston Inn

CLEWISTON, FL. -- The state of Florida's Division of Hotels and Restaurants is required to do periodic spot inspections of restaurants, hotels and motels each year, and publishes the results of each inspection online. The Sunday Morning News looked at the most recent health inspection of Clewiston's well known restaurant at the Clewiston Inn Colonial Room.

A state food safety inspector observed the violations August 11, 2009 finding violations still existing after a June inspection found  15 violations. The inspector found among other things, no hot water at employee sink.

A summary of the violations found during the inspection are listed below. The department cites violations of Florida's sanitation and safety laws, which are based on the standards of U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Food Code. In general, critical violations are those that, if not corrected, are more likely to contribute directly to food contamination, illness or environmental damage.

Although the report uses the industry-standard term "critical", varying degrees of severity and potential risk to the public require inspectors to assess each situation in determining the appropriate action. In addition, while an establishment may have multiple violations, the inspectors' training and judgment formulate the overall result of the inspection to ensure the public health and safety. While most establishments correct all violations in a timely manner (often during the inspection), the division's procedures are designed to compel compliance with all violations through follow-up visits, administration action or closure when necessary.

Follow up inspections required, noted the inspector. Four of the last seven inspections since February 2008 have required follow up inspections due to the food safety problems found.

August 11 Re-Inspection Results

27-16-1     Critical. Violation: 27-16-1 Hot water not provided/shut off at employee hand wash sink.at center prep/kitchen -only one faucet -cold water-at callback 8/11/09 no hot water provided-only sink available for
48-12-2    Critical. Violation: 48-12-2 No current boiler certification provided/available. For reporting purposes only.
51-13-1     Violation: 51-13-1 No Heimlich maneuver sign posted.

June 9, 2009 Inspection Results

03A-07-1     Critical. Observed potentially hazardous food cold held at greater than 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Walk-in cooler at 44 F-maintenance arrived and adjusted cooler dropped to 41 during inspection. Corrected On Site.
03A-07-1    Critical. Observed potentially hazardous food cold held at greater than 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Melon at 2 door stainless reach-in at dessert prep-maintenance adjusted and temp reached 41 F  Corrected On Site.
03A-07-1    Critical. Observed potentially hazardous food cold held at greater than 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Sliced turkey /sliced ham in reach-in cooler at salad prep found at 55 degrees Corrected On Site. PHF food removed to another unit
03A-07-1    Critical. Observed potentially hazardous food cold held at greater than 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Diced ham /sausage at 55 degrees at reach-in prep end of cook-line Corrected On Site.discarded food will not use unit until maintaining 41 degrees
08A-28-1    Critical. Observed food stored on floor. 2 bags potatoes on walk-in cooler floor
08A-28-1    Critical. Observed food stored on floor. 2 boxes v pork on walk-in freezer floor
10-04-1    In-use utensil for non-potentially hazardous food not stored in a clean, protected location.ice scoop on top of ice machine in wait station
25-04-1    Observed single-service items stored on floor. Boxes of j cups in dry storage
27-16-1    Critical. Hot water not provided/shut off at employee hand wash sink.at center prep/kitchen -only one faucet -cold water
36-13-1    Observed grease accumulated under cooking equipment.at back kitchen hood
36-22-1    Observed floor area(s) covered with standing water.in back dry storage area
37-10-1    Observed attached equipment and walls soiled with accumulated grease in back kitchen area at hood/cooker/hand sink area
48-12-2    Critical. No current boiler certification provided/available. For reporting purposes only.
51-13-1    No Heimlich maneuver sign posted.
53A-01-2    Critical. Manager lacking proof of Food Manager Certification.

Home Sales In LaBelle

Seven LaBelle Homes Sold In Two Weeks At Distressed Prices

LABELLE, FL. -- From August 18 to September 1, there were seven homes sold in the LaBelle area for an average price of $58,429. All homes were in the Port LaBelle subdivision, except the Lincoln Avenue property in the city of LaBelle. Most of the properties sold at prices that a vacant lot was selling for two years ago. The homes sold during the two week period include:

1) $47,000 on Lady Ln
2) $45,000 on Penny Cir
3) $40,000 on Penny Cir
4) $67,000 on Royal Cir
5) $130,000 on Springview Cir
6) $38,000 on E Lincoln Ave
7) $42,000 on W Palomar Cir

State Cuts Some Cell Phones

Chief Financial Officer Sink Wants To Sink State Costs

Florida CFO Alex Sink today announced that her department will realize savings of $210,209 in state-paid annual wireless costs by implementing the recommendations of her Wireless Communications Cost Efficiency Team�s report. CFO Sink�s cost-cutting measures represent a 37% reduction in annualized costs for cell phones, BlackBerries, and air cards.

'We are always looking for more efficient and cost-effective ways to do business and figuring out ways to cut cell phone and blackberry spending just made sense,' said CFO Sink. We need to be doing everything we can in state government to cut waste and I am excited by the money we will save for the taxpayers of Florida.'

By disconnecting 116 BlackBerrys, 56 cellular phones, and 40 aircards that did not meet the newly established criteria, the Department of Financial Services (DFS) will realize an annual savings of $122,061. By matching employee usage to the most appropriate vendor, lowering monthly costs for air cards, and reducing unused services, DFS will realize an additional $88,148 in annual expected savings.

Less than a year ago, CFO Sink announced plans to consolidate the Department�s 11 consumer call centers into 2 call centers, saving millions and improving customer service.  The call center consolidation took effect February 1, 2009 and has already saved nearly $727,000, with $2.25 million projected in annual, recurring savings.  In March 2009, CFO Sink announced that her initiative to renegotiate existing department contracts already has saved Florida taxpayers more than $300,000.

At www.GetLeanFlorida.com, CFO Sink allows citizens to offer tips on how to cut government waste and inefficiencies.  Get Lean has already received approximately 1,226 citizen suggestions since March 2009 about how state government can rein in wasteful spending and has passed these tips along to the agencies for action. Get For more information visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

Bald Eagles Arriving In Florida

Bald Eagles - Florida's First Snowbirds

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has received reports of bald eagles returning to nesting territories throughout Florida the past few weeks.

This majestic bird that calls Florida home during its nesting season has been flying back to former nesting sites from Duval to Collier counties, although there are no reports of nesting activity yet. The official start of the nesting season is Oct. 1.

The FWC removed the bald eagle from the state's threatened species list in 2008 and at the same time implemented a bald eagle management plan with guidelines to help residents avoid causing a disturbance to nesting bald eagles. People should follow the management plan whenever activities or projects are being conducted within 660 feet of an eagle�s nest when eagles are present. Bald eagles are protected from disturbance by the Florida Administrative Code, as well as two federal laws: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

The FWC is committed to conserving the bald eagle. All known nesting territories are surveyed annually by aircraft to monitor nesting activity and reproduction, according to Kirkpatrick.

In Florida, bald eagles may begin gathering materials for nests in late September or early October. They begin laying eggs as early as October and as late as April, with incubation lasting approximately 35 days. Once hatched, the fledglings begin flying from the nest at 11 weeks, but stay with their parents an additional four to 11 weeks.

For more information on bald eagles and a copy of the management plan, go to MyFWC.com/Eagle. If you suspect there is a potential wildlife violation occurring, call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Hendry's Harlem Library Reduces Hours

Reduced Library Hours At Harlem

CLEWISTON, FL. -- The Harlem Public Library in Clewiston will soon be changing the hours it is open. Effective September 11, 2009, the Hendry county library will be open on weekdays from 12 noon to 7 p.m. It will be closed on Saturday and Sunday.

Head Librarian Florida Thomas observed, 'The reduction of hours was done to help with budget constraints and still give the community quality service.' Statistics from daily logs show that the reductions made will affect the fewest number of library patrons.

Located on Harlem Academy Drive, the library serves about 3,000 residents. For further information please call 863-675-5264.