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Anti-build crowd drives home opposition to county board
  • Updated

The proposed northern turnpike connector has touched a raw nerve from folks who worry the road will venture too close to their home, destroy sensitive environmental areas and waste tax dollars.

Opponents have turned up in force at previous speaking opportunities and they did so again during the county’s commission’s 5:30 p.m. public input session.

Many carried green “no-build” signs or wore shirts saying, “Rural Florida says no toll roads.”

After two hours, commissioners thanked the crowd for being considerate and assured them there will be other speaking opportunities. The board hasn’t taken a stand yet on the connector issue.

But they did get one backer of their cause.

Carnahan

Commissioner Scott Carnahan, who last month said the extension is driven by growth and the goal was to “get ahead of it,” said after listening to the impassioned pleas Tuesday, he now sides with the no-build folks.

“There are many other existing corridors that are already here that can be used to get people where they need to go,” Carnahan said.

Improving Interstate 75 to make traffic flow better is one option, he said.

“Leave us alone,” he said. “We don’t need it.”

Hoping to alleviate traffic, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is planning to extend the Florida Turnpike where it now ends at Interstate 75 in Wildwood along four different corridors.

Two of those corridors would affect Citrus County.

But for protestors, there remains a fifth alternative – the “no-build” option – and they made that loud and clear. They don’t buy the traffic relief argument turnpike extension supporters are saying.

Many of those present Tuesday were non-county residents or outside groups. One of those is the No Roads to Ruin Coalition, comprised of various organizations, environmental groups and businesses that organizes opposition gatherings.

“This is the beginning of the process, it’s not the end of the process,” Commission Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. told the crowd. “(We) all live here, this is our home. We don’t want to destroy it. We want to be good stewards (so) that’s why we’re doing these meetings and there will be more meetings.”

Commissioners have scheduled a workshop for 9 a.m. May 24 to further discuss the issue. Representatives from FDOT will be there.

Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach two months ago proposed scheduling a 5:30 p.m. public input session allowing folks who work late to attend and see if there is public interest. The debut session morphed into a two-hour forum for the anti-build people to again air their views.

Art Jones, founder and president of One Rake at a Time Inc., a nonprofit organization that has been involved in cleaning and restoring the county’s springs, said if the county works with FDOT, the extension would alleviate congestion on Interstate 4 and Interstate 75 and create another hurricane evacuation route.

It would also make it easier for folks to access Crystal River and visit the world-famous manatees, he said.

“It makes sense and it doesn’t have to be environmentally destructive,” Jones said. “Instead of saying, ‘no, no, no’, let’s say, ‘how can we build it the right way.’”

But Jones was in the minority. Here are random comments from Tuesday:

“I don’t know what we can do,” Inverness resident Lee Tripp said during the earlier public input session.

Tripp said stiff opposition against the Suncoast Parkway extension didn’t work “and I doubt it will work here.”

“Those of us who live here do so because we don’t want to deal with the urban sprawl like you see in New Port Richey and other places,” said Inverness resident Bonita Lawrence.

Lawrence said the proposed corridor would adversely affect area springs, agriculture and natural resources.

Barbara Ocasio of Citrus Springs said she and her daughter moved back to Citrus County two years ago from Orlando, which “started looking like congested California freeways.”

“We did not move here to have it follow us,” Ocasio said.

Fighting back tears, Ocasio said her mom lives nearby her and one of the corridor routes would go right through her front yard “and that was her dream home.”

A better option, she said, is to fix existing roads.

“I don’t know how many people here are going to lose their homes and many don’t know,” she said.

Ocasio said every FDOT proposed plan she has seen shows the corridors skirting sensitive environmental areas and it has the potential of threatening the Florida panther and manatees.


Local
Nancy Suto retires from sheriff's office after 32 years of service
  • Updated

“Sometimes, there’s not a lot we can do but we can always do something.”

Nancy Suto did her best to put her words into practice when she protected and educated her neighbors against crime and emergencies for 32 years and almost four months with the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office.

“I hope that’s the lasting thing I’ve left with the community – is that I really did care,” she said. “I couldn’t always make a difference, but I think caring always makes a difference.”

Suto retired from the local law enforcement agency Feb. 10, two days before her birthday. She had trouble afterwards realizing she wasn’t “ditching work.”

“But I don’t miss it; I don’t want to put on the uniform, the vest, the gun belt and go out and take calls,” she said before smiling, “and I realize how poorly everybody drives now that I’m out in my own vehicle and not in a patrol car ... and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, where’s a deputy when you need one.’”

Suto grew up in Citrus County since she was 7 years old, after her family moved from upstate New York.

“This is my home; I never want to leave,” she said, praising the county for its rivers and quaintness. “It’s that small-town feel where you know people, you know the business people, and the people trust each other.”

Suto was 23 years old when she decided to join the sheriff’s office on Oct. 23, 1989, when Charlie Dean Sr. was sheriff.

busterthompson / Buster Thompson / Chronicle Reporter 

Citrus County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Nancy Suto poses in front of her patrol car in May 2017, after the cruiser was painted half as a taxi cab to send a message to motorists not to drink and drive.

A handful of sheriff’s office investigators then, including the late Marvin Padgett, convinced Suto to apply when they were classmates together in a psychology class at what’s now known as the College of Central Florida in Lecanto.

At the time, Suto was also a supervisor for a local metal fabricator, where she worked since graduating from Crystal River High School. Her plan was to finish college “and then go onto bigger, better and greater things.”

“Well,” she said, “that didn’t work out that way.”

Suto didn’t become a deputy right after the sheriff’s office hired her.

Before they could patrol the roads, a sheriff’s office employee had to have at least two years experience as either a communications officer (a call-taker or dispatcher) or corrections officer at the county jail, which was run then by the sheriff’s office.

Suto decided to become a communications officer, a role she had for a little over three years until there was a vacancy for a deputy and someone able to relieve her.

Suto’s transition to a deputy was challenging. While Suto had support from higher ranks, there were others she worked with who didn’t accept her because of her gender.

“Back then, it was difficult; females weren’t as widely received in law enforcement back in the early ‘90s, and it was tough at first,” she said. “I had some really good friends who were sergeants that helped some, but there were people who truly didn’t want me there.”

After first patrolling as a deputy, Suto became part of the sheriff’s office training unit for eight and one half years.

Special to the Chronicle 

Chronicle TV’s Brian Perez, center is “tased” in November 2008 by Training Sgt. Phil Royal, far right, for the “Arrested Developments” show posted on www.chronicleonline.tv. Deputy Nancy Suto, left, and Sgt. Joe Palminteri, right, assist in the demonstration.

Along with teaching lessons in safety and tactics, Suto also made sure to pass on advice to fellow deputies about financial planning, like investing and saving early and often to keep spending and bills from getting out of control.

“Make sure you always pay yourself first; that was a lesson from my mom,” she said. “The only thing you’re guaranteed is what you do for yourself.”

Suto stopped training deputies to start teaching the public as a crime prevention deputy for roughly five years, hosting a variety of informative presentations and demonstrations.

“I had a lot of fun with that because I really enjoyed public speaking and the involvement in community,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of wonderful connections in the community ... I feel very connected in this community, and law enforcement’s been a good job for that.”

Zodee Treier / For the Chronicle 

Nicolas Foote shops with Citrus County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Nancy Suto Dec. 8, 2015, at the annual Shop With A Cop at Walmart in Lecanto.

In 2007, Suto and former Sgt. Joe Palminteri started the local Teen Driver Challenge program through the Florida Sheriff’s Association to help high schoolers stay safe on the roads.

Suto later had a brief stint as a school resource deputy before leaving the position to finish her career patrolling.

Community-oriented policing was paramount for Suto, who worked to build relationships with residents and businesses to keep her informed of issues.

“That’s the lifeline of what happens in the county – good, bad or otherwise,” she said. “If you want to be successful, you’ve got to have a network of people that you communicate with and that trust you so that they’re willing to speak with you.”

While the technology of law enforcement has advanced and digitized throughout Suto’s three decades in the profession, the job itself did not change much.

Zodee Treier / For the Chronicle 

Nancy Suto and David Verity discuss information on disaster preparedness in May 2015 at the annual Citrus County All Hazards and Hurricane Expo at the Crystal River Mall.

“How you deal with people is still the same,” Suto said. “…99.99 percent of people call you when their world has gotten beyond their control, they don’t know what to do, and they want somebody to come in ... make it better right now and go away; they’re not often looking for long-term help.”

Suto also noticed an incremental increase of calls for deputies and other first responders because of Citrus County’s growing tourism and population numbers.

“Deputies are busier,” she said.

To ease her stress from the job, Suto gardened, kayaked, boated, went to the beach, made time with her family, and made friends outside of law enforcement.

“You don’t get away from it if that’s all you live,” she said about disconnecting from work.

Having a moderate lifestyle off duty was also important for Suto so she didn’t fall into the vices that befell some of her colleagues – “bills, booze and broads.”

“But, in my case, I guess that would’ve been boys,” Suto said, laughing. “But that’s absolutely the truth. ... You almost have to live like you’re in a glass house when you’re in law enforcement.”

Suto planned to retire on or around either Feb. 12, her birthday; Oct. 23, her start date with the sheriff’s office; or July 22.

July 22 is the birthday of Suto’s eldest daughter, the day Suto signed the certificate of occupancy for her Crystal River house, and also the day Suto was suspended without pay for 30 days in 1997.

“I joined that club,” Suto said. “It was an honest mistake, and I learned more from that experience than probably anything I’ve ever done with the sheriff’s office.”

Before figuring out her next steps, Suto would like to start her retirement easy by continuing her artwork projects, and enjoying moments with family and friends in Florida and North Carolina.

Zodee Auld / For the Chronicle 

Nancy Suto cuts a piece of California Buckeye wood in February 2017 with her band saw to assemble a free-form jewelry box in her garage at her home in Crystal River. “I just cut what I see in my head,” she said. “I like to work the flaws of the wood into my pieces.”

“I’ve had people say they’re going to miss me, but in six months, most people won’t know who I was, maybe a year,” she said. “People in the community might ... but most people in the agency will be like, ‘Nancy who?,’ and that’s OK because it’s time for somebody else.”


Local
Postscript: Bill Young, from humble beginnings to mental health advocate and much more

Although Dr. William Young had all kinds of letters after his name, including M.Div and Ed.D, he didn’t go to high school.

That was something he never kept a secret.

When Young was 15 his father died, said Tommie McGee, Young’s companion of 22 years.

“There were four other siblings, so Bill had to go to work at the A&P. Then he worked as a paperboy,” she said. “They couldn’t afford to get the newspaper, but they fascinated him and he’d read old copies from the neighbors.

“He used to say he got his education from the Florida Times Union – he grew up in Jacksonville,” she said. “His mother encouraged him to take his G.E.D. and he aced it.”

Young, who died Jan. 25 at age 95, went on to get an education from New Orleans Baptist Seminary, Stetson University and Mississippi State University, among other schools.

Special to the Chronicle 

Bill Young served as a chaplain during the Korean War years.

When World War II started, Young wanted to be an Army Air Corps pilot, but when he went to sign up he was told they had too many, McGee said. So, he signed up as a cadet and then served as a chaplain during the Korean War years.

“When he got out of the service, he didn’t know what he wanted to do, so he went to seminary and became an ordained minister,” McGee said. “He started preaching at little churches in Louisiana. He said some were so small there weren’t any screens on the windows.”

Big on education, Young was a lifelong learner, with a passion for mental health.

He served on the Florida Board of Health and was part of Rep. Maxine Baker’s team that developed the Baker Act.

He was involved with the Child Development Centers, the Psychiatric Outpatient Centers of America and lectured throughout Florida and the Southeast on the topics of mental health, mental retardation, pragmatic religion, public health, and volunteering.

Young was also a former college professor and director of Comprehensive Mental Health Centers in Alabama, Texas and Florida.

He helped start Mental Health Service Centers in Lecanto, Ocala, Sarasota and Demopolis, Alabama.

He was an avid letters to the editor writer and a published author, a psychotherapist and a Guardian Ad Litem case representative.

However, to Tommie McGee, he was just Bill Young, her sweetheart.

Both widowed, they met in the Dixie Shores neighborhood off Fort Island Trail in Crystal River.

“I was riding my bicycle and he was riding around in his big Cadillac,” she said.

They were introduced and Young offered to help McGee with a computer problem, which led to a lunch date.

“He started coming by, and that was that,” McGee said.

The two spent a lot of time out on Young’s boat, a Carolina skiff, shrimping or red fishing.

Young grew up on the waters of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, and as a kid would take a sheet of tin, put a two-by-eight in the back, nail it and tar the holes, then paddle to the middle of the river and fish, he told the Chronicle in 2008.

They also traveled together all over the country and the world.

“He loved to go on fishing trips,” McGee said. “I went with him one time…he had a tent, and when we got to the campground he couldn’t find the directions to put it up. He said, ‘You go this way and I’ll go this way and we’ll ask somebody how to put up a tent.’

“In the whole place, no one had a tent; it was all RVs and big campers,” she said. “Bill came back with two college kids who said they didn’t have a tent, but they could figure it out.

“He had such trust in people,” she said.

McGee said one of their favorite things they did together was ring the bells for the Salvation Army kettles at Christmas.

“I’d wear a red blazer and he’d wear a green one,” she said. “We’d put poinsettias in front of the kettle and play a (music) tape that had a beat to it. We did that for years. He was on the board of the Salvation Army.

“He was an amazing man, very interesting, and his mind never stopped,” McGee said.

However, his mind did slow down when he was diagnosed with dementia.

Young spent the last five years of his life at Sunshine Gardens Assisted Living Facility in Crystal River.

“He was a very sweet man, full of advice,” said Mackenzie Maynard, Sunshine Gardens administrator. “He would tell me about the bridges he worked on (in Jacksonville), and about investing money…I learned a lot from him.

“But I think I mostly learned patience from him,” she said. “When I came here three years ago, I wasn’t very patient, but he helped me find it.

“And he kept reminding me that life is short and there are many things to live for,” she said, “and to invest my money wisely. He was just a really sweet man.”


Local
School boards bill put on hold

A controversial House bill that would impose eight-year term limits on school board members and increase scrutiny of school library books and instructional materials has temporarily stalled in the Senate.

The Senate Rules Committee had been scheduled Wednesday to consider the bill (HB 1467), but Education Chairman Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, requested to postpone it. The House passed the measure on Feb. 10 in a 78-40 vote on nearly straight party lines.

Along with proposing term limits for county school board members, the bill is largely aimed at increasing access for parents and members of the public to the process of selecting school books. Under the bill, committees that meet for the purpose of “ranking, eliminating or selecting” school instructional materials would be required to include parents of students in the school districts. School boards also would be required to publish to individual schools’ websites the procedures used in developing media center collections.

The measure would require that such procedures provide for the “regular removal or discontinuance” based on several factors, including books’ alignment to state education standards and relevance to curriculum. Elementary schools would be required to publish lists of all materials in their media centers or used in school or grade-level reading lists.

House Democrats this month objected to the parts of the bill dealing with books and learning materials.

“Giving a racist who lives anywhere in the world the opportunity to infiltrate our communities and to spread their hatred by banning a book that my child might read, that might redirect them, is wrong,” Rep. Mike Gottlieb, D-Davie, argued. Republicans, however, have argued that the bill is aimed at providing increased transparency about materials that students might encounter in classrooms.


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