News Cast 5/24

News Cast for May 24th:

Okeechobee City Council learned a dedication ceremony has been set for July 23 to dedicate the new cattle drive sculpture and Cattlemen’s Square Park. 

Mayor Dowling Watford asked Okeechobee Main Street to ask the Cattlemen’s Association to get involved so a parade can be held to welcome the sculpture to town. 

July 23 is also National Day of the Cowboy. 

“The cowmen or cow hunters can escort them in.  That would be a great event.  I’m sure the sheriffs office and the police department will escort them.” 

The council also honored Fire Chief Herb Smith for 30 years of service.  He retires at the end of the month. 

Martin County agreed to spend $1 million to buy body-worn cameras for sheriff deputies. 

The program could cost up to $10 million over the next decade. 

The biggest cost comes in hiring staff to edit videos the public and the press will request. 

Sheriff William Snyder said these cameras would help prevent embarrassing cases to law enforcement like the Stephen O’Leary case where a former deputy was sent to prison for falsifying evidence. 

Snyder admitted deputies don’t want to get involved in minor issues anymore due to the risk it can place them in. 

“Cops are hesitating everywhere.  They are becoming more and more reluctant to intervene in lower level issues, like license tags out of date, speeding that is not horribly reckless, suspicious people on a street corner.  There is more pressure on street cops than ever before.  Because of grand jury indictments and cops going to jail, cops are more reluctant to engage.” 

Congressman Greg Steube said he was disappointed to lose Glades and Okeechobee counties as part of his district next year. 

He will be representing more coast communities around Sarasota if he is re-elected. 

The new congressional district will include portions of Polk County, and all of Highlands, Glades and Okeechobee. 

“Unfortunately members of congress don’t have any involvement in the redistricting process. That is unfortunate not just for the people of the district but the process as a whole.  There is nobody better to explain the issues and needs of the community you represent than the person that actually represents them.” 

Steube said he was opposed to the federal government removing the ICE contract with the Glades Detention Center possibly putting the facility at risk of closure. 

He said the Biden administration cares more about illegal aliens than it does US residents. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in Okeechobee County. 

The County Commission approved a proclamation at a recent meeting. 

Commissioner Kelly Owens said we are all impacted by mental illness in one form or fashion. 

“Over half the adults living with mental health issues do not seek treatment.  A growing number of youth in the US lives with depression.” 

She said 20 percent of teenagers reported bouts of major depression in 2021. 

Leah Suarez with Our Village said Okeechobee needs more resources to battle the problem. 

“It is a three braided cord of trauma, addiction and mental illness.  If I were to ask people in this room whether they were a survivor of assault, mental illness or attempted suicide, or knew someone who was, everyone in this room would have to raise their hand.” 

Residents have strong opinions on clerk issue 

The Okeechobee City Council heard public comment on a proposal to split the charter ballot questions into two questions on election day. 

One would include the charter changes itself. 

The second would change the city clerk from an elected to an appointed position. 

Councilmember Monica Clark explained why she supports changing the clerk to appointed. 

“Our city population is getting older.  I’m very concerned that we are having trouble finding people who live in the city that can fill these positions.” 

Resident Jamie Gamiotea said it’s important to keep the clerk elected so people have a voice in the day to day operations of the city. 

“You feel like there is no way you can affect anything on a federal level or the state level, but its nice to think that you can affect and make changes on the local level.” 

Billy McCullers said the public should vote on the clerk even though they aren’t perfect. 

“How qualified is anybody that we elect?  I’m not trying to be ugly, I’m being honest.  We(the voters) do the best we can.” 

Some said this would give the city council too much control of city hall. 

The council tabled the issue until the June 7th meeting. 

Moore Haven Junior Senior high school celebrated graduation over the weekend. 

They had 41 graduates with 14 of them receiving associates degrees from Florida Southwestern College. 

Valedictorian Natalie Aguirre urged her classmates to not be discouraged or deterred from achieving goals. 

“Congratulations to my fellow class of 2022.  We should be proud of ourselves.  No matter where you go or what job you choose, I sincerely hope that you get where you want to be.” 

Superintendent Dr. Beth Barfield said students got a huge payoff from their education. 

“This is the unofficial opening of the doors to all that America promises to each of us.  This is your moment, your victory and your great achievement.” 

Resident James Collins wants Okeechobee County to enact a noise ordinance so the Sheriff’s Office can clamp down on loud neighbors. 

He lives on North West 47th Court and claims he can’t get his neighbors to quiet down. 

He noted on many occasions he has been able to record decibel levels above those recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. 

Commissioners took no action on the request. 

The city of Belle Glade plans to hold a gun violence awareness event on June 3 at city hall at 6 pm. 

They also have invested $600,000 to improve the Torrey Island campground. 

City Manager Robert Reese points out they get major economic impacts from the campsites. 

“That is money that is coming into this city.  Not only are they camping, they are shopping, going to restaurants, and bring revenue into our community.” 

Activist Robert Mitchell had complained that the city was spending money to improve something that city residents do not benefit from. 

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office reported they have hired more school crossing guards and have added a motorcycle unit to crack down on traffic violations. 

Councilmember Kenny Berry complained the Mayor is railroading items through the agenda without the proper thought or debate. 

He also criticized staff for not answering his questions, especially about budgets and city spending. 

“I didn’t get a text or email from staff.  There is no reason for us to be here if we can’t ask questions and get no response to these questions.”