News Bites: Hurricane Bills Stack Up; WWII Black Panthers; Youth Leaders in Clay County

Fernandina Beach News-Leader

Hurricane Irma was a come-to-Jesus moment for public officials across the state, and Northeast Florida was no exception. Locally, the human cost was small, and we’re grateful, but the monetary costs were tremendous, and in some cases they’re still adding up. Nassau County, for example, spent more than $300,000 operating emergency shelters and providing services to its residents, but now that the bills are coming due, there is some dispute over who’s going to pay them.

Fernandina Beach News-Leader reporter Julia Roberts (not that Julia Roberts—well, maybe, but probably not) wrote on June 14 about the efforts being made by the Nassau County School District to recoup the expenses incurred when schools were converted to temporary shelters last year. “In the past,” she writes, “the School Board applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which reimbursed the district for those costs. However, that agency has changed the way it will reimburse the district for those costs. FEMA now requests that the local government-in this case the Board of County Commissioners-reimburse the district for shelter costs and then in turn apply to FEMA for reimbursement.” It seems that FEMA seeks to pass the buck, as opposed to passing actual bucks, which is putting a strain on local budgets that are already tight.

Out of the $321,000 spent on the venture, only $63,000 has been repaid. In the real world, this would mean a kneecapping, but the bureaucratic process is a bit more anodyne. Commissioner Pat Edwards depicts all this as a sign of things to come. “When the bell’s rung, we’re going to be fighting this together,” he says. “They’re going to be, from what I’ve seen since I’ve been on the Board of County Commissioners, they’re trying to figure out how not to send a check. … I don’t want them throwing me a life ring because they’ll throw me a third of it.” All of this means that local communities will need to start fending for themselves in times of crisis. Any Puerto Rican could tell you that.

The Florida Times-Union

The movie Black Panther was one of the most successful box-office performers of all time, but the name itself enjoys a vast provenance going back decades. In its June 15 issue, The Florida Times-Union’s writer Matt Soergel gave us a glimpse into the lives of perhaps the most important Black Panthers there ever were: the members of Company A, 263rd Regiment, whose work in the 66th Infantry Division during World War II remains the stuff of legend. The group recently reunited at Camp Blanding, where the troops first mustered some 75 years ago.

Soergel’s story centers on the enduring friendship between two of the veterans, Jerry “Red” Roettger and Frank “Cue Ball” Bertino. A relationship forged under fire mellowed into a deep, resonant brotherhood that has taken both men into their 10th decade. “They say they’d do anything for each other, even now,” he writes. “They’ve visited each other’s homes, their families have become friends. And Jerry says that after he was captured, in France, Frank the mess sergeant insisted on grabbing a rifle and going looking for him.” A unit that had once numbered thousands was pared down to 12 for this most recent gathering, which was their last. It was the end of an era for them, and for Camp Blanding, which trained nearly 800,000 men for the war. Thank you all for your service!

Clay Today

The misdeeds of wayward youth are standard fare in mass-media, especially here in #Florida, where we have so many. Unfortunately, what’s far less common is the good news, the new generation of leaders rising up in our community on an almost daily basis. Clay Today’s Wesley LeBlanc wrote a lovely story on June 13 about the Clay Youth Connection, an excellent name for a band. It’s actually a great organization working to address the unique challenges faced by at-risk kids in our community, whose numbers have steadily grown over the past few years. Under the tutelage of Connie Thomas of the Orange Park Town Council, and with the Moosehaven retirement community as their base, they have provided housing, food, school supplies and job training, and have now produced their first two success stories: Tavian Raggins and Milena Carter, both of whom graduated from high school a few weeks ago. Having shown that the program works, Clay Youth Connection is poised to expand for the next school year, and that’s good news for the kids, and the community.