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No talk about landowner vote, yet

SEBRING — If landowners in Sun ‘N Lake have a problem with losing their two board members, they didn’t say so Monday.

Neither supervisors nor attendees at Monday’s Sun ‘N Lake Board of Supervisors meeting mentioned landowner votes, or the move to elect all of the board by popular vote.

Meanwhile, a proposal to do that has gone to the county for legal review, and has not yet returned to the Board of Supervisors with any recommendations, amendments or approvals from the Board of County Commissioners.

If approved as submitted, the change would do away with landowner-elected seats. The two current landowner-elected supervisors would serve out their terms as originally elected.

David Schumacher, attorney for the district, said it’s a delicate matter to balance the voting power of individual landowners, who own one or two lots, with large landowners, who hold hundreds.

Prior to September 2020, the landowner elections were based on numbers of lots, which gave large landowners an advantage. In January 2020, Supervisors Craig Herrick and Mike Gilpin were elected to the two landowner seats on the board.

Gilpin ran unopposed. Herrick ran against Mark Camp, and some residents argued that Tanglewood, which holds a large number of lots, swayed the vote in Herrick’s favor.

Currently, the board has three popularly elected seats, held by Ray Brooks, Mike Hurley and Beverly Phillips.

Jim Jonas, a seasonal resident from northern Indiana, said losing the landowner vote would effectively remove the voice for him and other out-of-area property owners.

“I feel sorry for the Canadians,” Jonas said. “They pay a Sun ‘N Lake assessment, property taxes, a golf membership and other recreation fees, and they’ve got no vote.”

He favored some system that might curtail the lower of the larger landowners while not “punishing everybody else,” but he also did not have an idea how that would work.

When asked by the Highlands News-Sun, Schumacher pointed out that curtailing voting power of large landowners also would be unfair. You could not, for example, let a person with two parcels cast two votes, then tell the owner of 200 parcels that they could only cast the same two votes.

As proposed, the changes would leave the vote with permanent-resident registered voters.

Jonas said he could qualify as a permanent resident, as he spends six months or more in Florida each year. For now, he wants to retain Indiana residency.

Schumacher said Sun ‘N Lake is unique in that when it was created, 1974, the Florida Legislature gave counties the authority to form special improvement districts. The Legislature closed that option shortly after that, he said.

Therefore, if Sun ‘N Lake supervisors want to make changes to their district, they have to run those by the Highlands County commission, not the state.

Popular vote discussion in Sun ‘N Lake has drawn the attention of people in Spring Lake Improvement District, between Sebring and Lorida on U.S. 98. That district was created by the Legislature in 1971 under Chapter 298 Florida Statutes and governed under Chapter 189.

Joe DeCerbo, general manager for Spring Lake, said improvement districts were formed to protect the investments of developers coming into Florida to open up land to residents and businesses. He’s told his board and residents that they can’t just change the representation on the board: It must follow guidelines.

Under Chapter 189, the board starts with one popularly elected seat and the rest elected by landowners with each lot equal to one vote.

Once the district gets to 26% population/urban density, the board can have two popular vote seats, Chapter 189 states. At 51% density, it can be three members.

At 71% density, they can have four popularly elected board members. At 91% and above, all of the board can be popularly elected, Chapter 189 states.

Therefore, under the Spring Lake charter, which DeCerbo described as a combination of Chapters 298 and 189, supervisors cannot make those representation changes until the population density matches those trigger points.

Here's the Pitch - AP Baseball Museum kickoffs fundraising effort

AVON PARK — The fundraising effort to establish a baseball museum in Avon Park officially started Monday afternoon with a “Flash,” in the name of Thomas “Flash” Gordon, who was present with local community leaders.

The Thomas “Flash” Gordon Experience, which is slated to be built as a 1,600-square-foot expansion to the Avon Park Depot Museum, will feature 100 years of Avon Park’s rich history of baseball, both at the youth and professional level.

Gordon, a three-time all-star player, who had an impressive 21-year career in Major League Baseball, is the only MLB pitcher with over 100 wins, over 100 saves and over 100 holds.

Local baseball fan Ronald Sevigny has been the inspiration for the project to not only highlight baseball, but also to make Avon Park a destination.

Sevigny said they are featuring Gordon as Avon Park’s premier player who had a tremendous history in baseball having been in the World Series and all-star games.

That will bring people from out of town to make the museum an attraction, he said. “Our goal is to make Avon Park a destination and bring people downtown.”

He noted that every major league team in the 1920s and 1930s played in Avon Park, like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Dizzy Dean. Avon Park High School has won eight state championships and 12 players have gone on to play major league baseball.

The cost for the museum expansion (building only) is $400,000. They are getting a $200,000 grant, but they have to match it by May, Sevigny said. Organizers have raised $50,000 thus far.

In his announcement Monday, Sevigny said there is a pledge on the table to match donations up to $75,000.

Gordon said in his travels he has been acquiring items for the museum. At a recent baseball fantasy camp he saw 10 of his former teammates who are also happy to do whatever is needed to help.

In her comments to those who gathered for the fundraiser sign unveiling, Avon Park Historical Society President Nancy Fisk said, “We are so excited about this project and in order to be successful we are going to need the support of the community. We are hoping that this project will bring folks to Avon Park. We are sure that it will.

“Avon Park has a fascinating and interesting history of baseball in our community both at the professional level, the Negro Leagues and the high school teams have made a mark here. When we tell those stories that will bring folks to Avon Park. We hope this project will be a continuing step in revitalizing the Main Street here.”

Gordon said, “This is truly a blessing for us and our community.”

He said it was good to see the community get the museum project up and running and also to see the history of a lot of great baseball that was performed in town.

“It will be something great that people from all over the world will want to come to see and experience,” Gordon said. He added that Avon Park is talked about a lot on Fox News and was talked about by ESPN when he was playing, so people will recognize the town’s name.

“This is great. This is an awesome thing we are doing for this community,” he said. “We will have a lot more going on here ... so let us do our part and make it grow.”

Mayor Garrett Anderson said it was a great group of people behind the baseball museum project, which will be a great thing for the community.

Russian shelling kills 5 in tough eastern Ukraine combat

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian shelling killed at least five people and wounded 13 others during the previous 24 hours, Ukrainian authorities said Monday, as the Kremlin’s and Kyiv’s forces remained locked in combat in eastern Ukraine ahead of renewed military pushes that are expected when the weather improves.

The casualties included a woman who was killed and three others who were wounded by the Russian shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the country’s northeast, according to regional Gov. Oleh Syniyehubov.

Moscow’s troops seized large areas of the northeastern Kharkiv region in the months following its invasion of its neighbor last February. But Ukrainian counteroffensives that began in August snatched back Russian-occupied territory, most notably in Kharkiv.

Those successes lent weight to Ukraine’s arguments that its troops could deliver more stinging defeats to Russia if its Western allies provided more weaponry.

Kyiv last week won promises of tanks from the United States and Germany to help its war effort.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Monday hinted at the prospect of more upcoming pledges, saying that “any activity aimed at strengthening Ukraine’s defense powers is under consultation with our NATO partners.”

Such a move could encounter some familiar political obstacles, however.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz, after demurring for weeks over sending Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, looks set to dig his heels in over providing fighter jets.

Scholz, who is currently on a trip to South America, said he regretted the emergence of the fighter jet discussion.

He said in Chile on Sunday that a serious debate is necessary and not a “competition to outdo each other … in which perhaps domestic political motives are in the foreground rather than support for Ukraine.”

Military analysts say more aid for Ukraine is crucial if Kyiv is to block an expected Russian offensive in the spring and launch its own effort to push back the Russian forces.

“The pattern of delivery of Western aid has powerfully shaped the pattern of this conflict,” the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, said late Sunday.

As Ukraine emerges from a bitter winter, attention is turning to the possibility of new offensives when the weather improves.

The British Ministry of Defense noted Monday that the Kremlin never formally rescinded last September’s order for a partial mobilization of reservists that boosted troop numbers for combat in Ukraine. It said Russia may be keeping the door open for further call-ups.

“The Russian leadership highly likely continues to search for ways to meet the high number of personnel required to resource any future major offensive in Ukraine, while minimizing domestic dissent,” it said in a tweet.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that supplies of Western weapons won’t stop Russia.

“Ukraine keeps demanding new weapons and the West is encouraging those demands,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters Monday. “It’s a deadlock, it results in a significant escalation and makes NATO countries increasingly involved in the conflict.”

Ukraine’s presidential office said the eastern Donetsk region, which has been the scene of intense fighting for months, remains “invariably hard.”

Heavy fighting continued to rage around Bakhmut and Vuhledar, with regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko saying that 15 towns and villages in the region came under shelling Sunday.

Russian forces have been trying for months to capture Bakhmut, with the effort being led by the Wagner Group, a private military company led by a rogue millionaire with longtime links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukrainian troops last week said they conducted an organized retreat from Soledar, a few kilometers (miles) from Bakhmut, amid pressure from Wagner, which is believed to have a large number of convicts in its ranks.

Ukrainian authorities said the southern city of Kherson also has come under Russian shelling. The bombardment damaged residential buildings, a hospital, a school, a bus station, a bank and a post office.

Two foreign vessels were damaged in the port of Kherson, the presidential office added without elaborating.

100-year farms: Centennial farming families can get recognized

SEBRING — The state wants to know if your family has grown citrus or row crops, or wrangled cattle or other livestock on the same land for a century.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services wants to recognize your family with the Century Pioneer Family Farm Program. Sebring Historical Society wants to help.

Jim Pollard with the Sebring Historical Society, said that the organization has just started working on that with the state, and wants to help people research if their family has continuously farmed a piece of property for 100 years or more.

“It’s pretty rare,” Pollard said. “I don’t know of anyone in Highlands County.”

Currently, the FDACS online list of century families includes three families from neighboring DeSoto County, nine from Hardee County, a family from Lee County, three from Osceola County and five from Polk County.

That said, Pollard believes research might turn over documents that local farm families may qualify.

FDACS states online that its Century Pioneer Family Farm Program, initiated in 1985, honors families who have maintained at least 100 years of continuous family farm ownership. That refers to family farms and ranches started by pioneers who, in the process, served as stewards of the land for preserving environmental resources and for helping foster the state’s agricultural industry, an important early economic base for Florida.

People may prove ownership from an abstract of title or original record such as a deed or land patent. Other authentic land records may be acceptable, FDACS states. The farm, in whole or in part, must have been in continuous family ownership, with the title residing today in the hands of a blood relative of the original owner or a legally adopted child of a descendant.

Also, title to the property must be continuous over the last 100 years.

Members of the Sebring Historical Society have reached out to the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, in hopes of having an event in October to showcase the founders of Highlands County and the pioneer farming families of the community.

Ray Royce, executive director of the Growers Association, said his family might qualify, depending on how long they had ranch land in the family.

He’s had a few families recommended to him, and will work with them to help find those documents.

“We’ll continue to help spread the word,” Royce said.

Families that receive a certificate from the state will also receive a sign they can post on the property to denote its significance. Royce said it would be great to see those families recognized, especially since Highlands County, as its own entity, is a relatively newly-settled area. The county was founded 102 years ago, and its oldest city, Sebring, was founded just 111 years ago.

Lake Placid was settled in 1912 and incorporated as a town in 1925. Avon Park was incorporated in 1926, although settlers were in the area as far back as 1886.

Interested families who may be able to make this claim can contact Virginia Paxson at the Sebring Historical Society either by calling 863-471-2522 or visiting 321 W. Center Ave. in downtown Sebring, located on the lake side of the Sebring Public Library. Royce said people may also contact him at the Growers Association, 863-385-8091.

People may also learn more by visiting and downloading an application from