The Voice of the Gem City

News December 8, 2021

This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.

It may not feel like Christmas weather quite yet, but the Christmas spirit is flowing. Rotary Club of Palatka held their annual Christmas party Tuesday at the Bronson—Mulholland House but instead of giving gifts to each other they brought gifts for children. Palatka Housing Authority head Dr. Anthony Woods, a Rotary member, and a couple of Authority elves were there to gather up the gifts that will be given out this year. Kudos to Dr.  Dianne Taylor and Janet Martin for overseeing the setup. Putnam County Historical Society members B.J. Johns and Nicole Grace in costume were on hand to add some historic flavor to the evening. Earlier they’d been giving tours of the house to passengers aboard the American Cruise Lines ship that stopped in Palatka. And by the way, great entertainment from one of Palatka’s own, John Skidmore Jr. He works for the Putnam County Tax Collector and also possesses a terrific voice.

Crews are scheduled to start putting down pavers in the parking lot at the Palatka train depot today. It’s part of a $1.2 million project paid for with federal money. The lot’s been configured and re-engineered to help with drainage, and the pavers will help with water going into the ground. Plantings will be going back in, according to city staff. There has been discussion of removing the caboose on another piece of the property, although that’s not proving popular with a lot of people.

Speaking of not pleasing people, state Sen. Travis Hutson who has introduced a bill to get rid of Soil and Water Conversation Districts and hand over their assets and responsibilities to state Water Management Districts is getting push back. Travis, a Republican, represents Flagler, St. Johns and parts of Volusia counties. His district includes large areas of agricultural land. The bill calls for putting 53 of the 58 Soil and Water Conservation districts into water management hands. Board members for water management are political appointees. The growth in power and regulatory authority of water management districts is a concern to many.

Bunnell has a new police chief after the resignation of Tom Foster, the Flagler County town’s chief for almost eight years. Brannon Snead, a Florida Highway Patrol veteran, Tuesday was named Bunnell’s interim police chief. The appointment came after Foster’s unexpected resignation. His last day was Monday. In an earlier letter to the city manager Foster said in part the recent death of Dominic Guida finalized his decision. Guida, 43, was a sergeant with the Bunnell department who died during a training exercise Nov. 9. 

A domestic dispute escalated Monday after a woman tried to set her ex-boyfriend and his house on fire. Flagler County Sheriff’s Office was called to the Beth Lane residence where victim said he was getting ready to leave his house when Melanie Botts, 39, arrived and the two got into a verbal disturbance. During the argument Botts poured gasoline in the house and lit the can. She also tried pouring gas on the victim before leaving. About 30 minutes later Botts contacted the Sheriff’s Office about a different case and when deputies made contact the found several pills on her. She has previously been arrested on a variety of charges. She’s in the jail this time charged with domestic battery, arson, criminal mischief, possession of Buprenorphine, possession of Amphetamine and felony violation of probation. Bond is $61,000.

Palatka City Commission faces a full agenda Thursday at their 6 p.m. meeting. Up for discussion and some action is the long-ongoing issue of the Palatka water taxis. A group of owners of Palatka Boathouse Marina and the city will be looking at a contract with action expected. Also scheduled is the second reading of an alcohol ordinance that was changed at the last meeting. Originally aimed at just the downtown entertainment and riverfront districts, the final version is citywide with alcohol now allowed to be served on Sundays from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., just as any other day. Before, businesses serving food could serve alcohol from 10 a.m. to midnight. Also changing will be the distance between churches and schools and bars and restaurants serving alcohol to 100 feet. Distance restrictions between bars, which was 300 feet, has now been dropped completely.

James Lewis “Sonny” Harrell Jr., who long kept his video camera on local government, has died. Harrell was general manager of Gospel Vision Television, part of a venture started by his late mother, the Rev. Dolly Harrell. For years he was a fixture at meetings including the Palatka City Commission and Putnam County Commission as well as boards. As former Palatka City Commissioner Allegra Kitchens put it: Sonny was the quiet watchdog of local government, a model unassuming man who had a good sense of humor and deep understanding of all that went on in our local governments.

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