News Cast 7/20

News Cast for July 20th:

Okeechobee County Commissioners will resume their budget workshops this morning and they will hear presentations from departments such as the County Tax Collector, Animal Control, Tourist Development and Agri-Civic Center. The workshops begin at nine o’clock in the Historic County Courthouse. Seating is limited due to social distancing guidelines. The workshops will be streamed live on the commissioners’ website.

A 53 year old Okeechobee man is dead following a vehicle accident early Thursday morning in Martin County. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers say the man was driving a pickup truck west on County Road 714, also known as the Martin Highway, just east of Fox Road a little before 5:45 at the same time a tractor trailer was coming from the opposite direction. FHP investigators say for some reason both vehicles collided in the middle of the road. On-scene medics say the man succumbed to his injuries almost immediately. The tractor trailer driver, a 55 year old man from Miami, was not injured. The accident is under investigation. The accident forced the closing of the road in that area for at least two hours and traffic had to be re-routed through Indiantown.

This past Thursday night, at the Freshman Campus Auditorium, Okeechobee County residents got the chance to pose direct questions via the internet to several candidates who are vying for local positions as part of a candidates’ forum. One of those races is the District 1 County Commissioner seat currently held by incumbent David Hazellief. Hazellief and his opponent, local contractor Mark Brandel, were posed the question regarding code enforcement and stopping unlicensed contractors from any doing work in the area, specifically on weekends. Hazellief says the code enforcement department has added two more code enforcement officers and actually has a code enforcement officer working on weekends. Hazellief says that the county has recently started a program to deal with homes or buildings that are clearly in serious violation or abandoned.

Brandel, who unsuccessfully ran for District 1 Commissioner four years ago, says the addition of code enforcement officers, specifically on weekends has helped, but it’s really necessary to educate the consumer on hiring unlicensed contractors.

Hazellief, a fourth generation Okeechobee resident, says his knowledge of the area and his ability to work with his fellow commissioners will propel him to another term. Brandel says the county is not growing and it needs to grow with the addition of new businesses and he believes he is open minded and has a different vision for the county that is needed. The primary election will be held on August 18th.

One of the spots up for grabs is the District 5 County Commissioner’s office currently held by incumbent Kelly Owens and her opponent is political newcomer Jack Boon, recently retired from the Okeechobee Police Department. Both candidates share the idea that bringing in new businesses is a necessity for the county as we head into the future. Owens says we are already heading in that direction with the county contracting with the Okeechobee County Economic Development Corporation (OCEDC) in attracting new businesses. Owens says the partnership with OCEDC President Megan Smith and Airport Director Adam Hied has proven to be very effective in getting new businesses to invest here at Industrial Park.

Boon says the way to attract new businesses is trying to find a way to keep the young people from leaving Okeechobee County and to do that, a higher wage of living is necessary.

Owens says her integrity, commitment and experience, plus her ability to be a logical decision maker, building public trust and a voice of reason will propel her to another term. Boon, an Oklahoma native who also worked as a teacher, says his ability to listen and be a problem-solver and his fresh vision of the county will allow him to unseat Owens. The primary election will be held on August 18th.

Okeechobee County residents can be tested for the Coronavirus at CVS Pharmacy in Okeechobee, the Okeechobee County Health Department, the emergency room at Raulerson Hospital or by contacting Florida Community Health Centers at (863) 763-7481. You must meet certain criteria before you can be tested and you need to make an appointment. If you’re not sure if you fit the criteria to be tested, please call the county health department and they’ll let you know for sure. These testing sites are available on weekends. Wal-Mart is no longer doing their drive-thru testing program.

The Okeechobee County COVID-19 information line remains open from 8am to 5pm now every Tuesday thru Saturday. This number, which also doubles as the phone number of the County Library is manned by live personnel and callers can ask about county updates on the Coronavirus and what is being done. The hotline will not address questions about the virus itself or medical questions. The County Library phone number/hotline related to county updates on the Coronavirus is (863) 763-3536. Any questions related to the virus itself, please call the Okeechobee Health Department at (863) 462-5800 or the 24/7 Department of Health hotline at (866) 779-6121. Remember, the key to avoiding the Coronavirus is good personal hygiene. Washing your hands for at least 20-30 seconds with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol in it is recommended. Avoid touching your eyes or face with unwashed hands. Practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet away from someone when greeting them and not shaking any hands. Avoid shopping at peak hours and use delivery services instead.  Avoid places where there are 10 people or more.

If you need further information about the virus and recommendations for preventing it, please log on to the Department of Health at floridahealth.gov or the Center for Disease Control at cdc.gov.

After more than four years of anticipation, it’s finally here. The Hampton Inn Clewiston waved its flags just off of Highway 27 Thursday, boasting the opening of the 86-room facility. According to General Manager William Verbeke, there’s a fully heated pool, free wi-fi, over 100 items available for breakfast and meeting space that accommodates 85 people. Nicole Reid, News Director for WAFC, our sister station in Clewiston, had a chance to catch up with the busy manager on Thursday who was preparing to welcome his first guests just before 3pm.

Verbeke says, as of Friday morning, the hotel is already at over 10% capacity. You can visit www.Hilton.com to check flexible rates.

On the arrest report:

37 year old Russell Osceola Junior of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for aggravated stalking and contempt of court. His bond is set at $110 thousand dollars.

42 year old John Francis Nettle Junior of Okeechobee was arrested on battery charges. His bond is set at five hundred dollars.

35 year old Jesse Dean Schisler of Okeechobee was arrested for failing to register as a career offender. His bond is set at $25 hundred dollars.