The Voice of the Gem City

August 25, 2020

This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.

Putnam County Commissioners hold an online workshop at 2 p.m. today on the future of the Confederate soldier memorial statue at the Putnam Courthouse. Among groups scheduled to speak is one calling itself Common Ground represented by Palatka City Manager Don Holmes and seeking to have the statue moved. Charlie Douglas with the Putnam County Chamber has sent in a letter seeking relocating the statue as has the Putnam County Bar Association. Both Douglas and Holmes are attorneys as is Palatka Mayor Terrill Hill who has been pushing for removal of the statue. Hill has also been adviser to two college students who began the push that originally included removal of all oak trees including the 170-year-old Malthy Oak from the courthouse lawn. They contended the trees were also symbols of oppression, but have apparently changed their minds on that demand. Letters raise concerns over people seeing Putnam as racist if the statue remained and thus deterring growth. Also raised were concerns that leaving the statue would lead to rioting and destruction of downtown. A number of people have come out in favor of retaining the statue, which has been in place almost 100 years and was put up through public subscription. Comments can be sent to commissioners via email and people can listen and participate via Zoom. Go to the county website to get on the meeting site.

In St. Augustine University of Florida officials without any notification to the public early Monday morning removed a memorial to Confederate Gen. William Loring. Loring is buried at the site. UF, which owns the property, said they had received a request from the family although no details were offered. Legal questions are being raised including concerns about violation of a law that makes disturbing a gravesite a felony. The statue is being moved to Trout Creek Fish Camp, according to one report. That’s where St. Augustine officials are moving the Confederate obelisk that honors 47 St. Johns County men who died fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Schools opening in Putnam and Flagler counties Monday were basically smooth although with a few bumps when it came to providing the electrically component for those who have decided to go with online instruction because of coronavirus. Students at brick-and-mortar school were wearing masks and as an extra precaution in Putnam had Plexiglass surrounding desktops. “So far as we can do this safely, we are,” said Putnam Superintendent Rick Surrency today about reopening, adding, “Face covering are the new normal for us.” Other changes include separate health rooms at each school funded through the federal CARES Act where students exhibiting coronavirus symptoms can be quickly isolated. Additional custodial staff has been added in order to clean high traffic and touch areas. “We might have had a few teachers express concerns,” Surrency said but added schools were trying to address potential problems. About 69 percent of students opted to return to brick-and-mortar schools in Putnam. In Flagler County about 6,000 students attended brick-and-mortal schools Monday, less than half the 13,000 enrolled last year, according to district officials. First-time superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt also saw fewer students on buses with more parents opting to bring students to school. Masks are mandatory in grades three though 12 and strongly encouraged for younger students.

Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom, 56, died Sunday, according to officials. Newsom has had several health emergencies and hospitalizations this year but his death was unexpected. He was well-liked by staff although he has been in controversy with some commissioners this year.

St. Johns County schools are set to reopen next Monday, Aug. 31. For one teenager he’ll be going on crutches. Peyton McGinn, 14, was bitten by a shark as he surfed Saturday near the St. Augustine Beach Pier. He was in knee-deep water when the four-five foot shark bit him on the foot. The bite took 25 stitches and McGinn will be on crutches for a couple of weeks. That will delay his being able to take part in football practice. Experts say the chances of being bitten by a shark are extremely low and this is the first shark bite reported this year in Northeast Florida.

Florida Department of Health in Putnam County reported no new coronavirus cases Monday. Two transfers brought the overall number of cases to 1,725. In Flagler County 11 cases were reported Monday, putting their total at 1,257. In St. Johns County one death and 11 new cases were reported. Since counting began in March, St. Johns has had 53 deaths total and 4,160 cases.


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