Two GoFundMe funds have been set up to assist family members of Sunday’s mass shooting victims with funeral costs for the four who died and medical costs for the child who was wounded, Axios Tampa Bay reports. The 11-year-old Lake Gibson Middle School student has had four surgeries and is receiving blood transfusions after suffering 11 gunshot wounds, mostly below the waist, and a broken leg, family members say. | Fund for child’s mother | Fund for child’s grandmother
Polk County commissioners today decided to reword their letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis about alternative COVID-19 treatments such as ivermectin after getting feedback on the issue in a public meeting today, The Ledger reports. The head of Polk’s health department urged commissioners not to send the letter, saying, “I think you’re sending a message to the public that it’s the Wild West of anything you can get your hands on, take it. That message bothers me as a physician.” | ALSO: News Channel 8
Gov. Ron DeSantis came to Lakeland today to announce a three-prong legislative plan to attract more recruits to law enforcement, including $5,000 signing bonuses. He said he chose Lakeland for the announcement because he was impressed by the local Police Department’s out-of-state recruitment efforts, Fox 13 News reports. | ALSO: The Ledger | Video: full news conference
The staff at Lakeland Regional Health is anxiously waiting to see if the past week’s retreat from record high numbers of COVID-19 patients signals a peak in the current surge or just a momentary blip, a hospital vice president told city commissioners this morning. More
The 11-year-old girl who survived with wounds as four others died at the hands of a gun-wielding stranger on Sunday morning in two north Lakeland houses will remain at Tampa General Hospital for several months, family members tell Fox 13 News. She has undergone four surgeries for her 10 wounds, but she is awake, talking, reading, writing, and in good spirits, family members say. | ALSO: News Channel 8 – Girl told investigators she survived by playing dead More
Forty-year-old Justice Gleason, one of the four people murdered in two north Lakeland homes on Sunday, was “an amazing father” whose “smile could light up a room,” the mother of his 4-year-old daughter tells 10 Tampa Bay. Now Miranda Watson is grappling with how to one day tell her daughter about what happened to her dad. | ALSO: News Channel 8 – Neighbors grapple with fate More
Brian Riley will remain jailed after being denied bail this morning when he went to court for the first time after being charged with four counts of first-degree murder and other felonies in the shooting deaths of four people, including in infant, in two North Lakeland homes and wounding an 11-year-old girl multiple times. More
5:30 P.M. UPDATE: A gunman in military armor who said he was high on methamphetamines shot and killed four people, including an infant, in two houses off North Socrum Road early this morning, then exchanged gunfire with deputies and police before surrendering, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. More
Polk County Public Schools’ new COVID-19 dashboard shows that 11,163 students and 323 staff have had to quarantine during the last two weeks. Quarantined students without access to digital devices and wifi are having difficulty keeping up with classwork, the head of the teachers’ union tells News Channel 8. | View the dashboard More
- REGENERON: Lakeland Regional Health has ramped up the number of monoclonal antibody treatments it can provide. LRH follows the FDA guideline of reserving the treatment for people who have tested positive for COVID-19; the state of Florida’s Regeneron site at Lakes Church also accepts individuals who have been in close contact with a confirmed case. | MORE: LRH info
- ALTERNATIVE COVID TREATMENTS are being touted by a majority of Polk County commissioners in a letter to Gov. DeSantis written by Commissioner Neil Combee. Commissioners on Tuesday take a formal vote on the letter, which promotes options such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine that are not approved by the FDA and shunned by pubic health experts. | ALSO: News Channel 8
- JUDGE’S MEMORIAL: A public memorial service for the late Judge Oliver Green is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Aerospace Center for Excellence on the SUN ’n FUN Expo Campus.
This week’s COVID-19 update from the Florida Department of Health yields hope that the toll of the delta variant may have peaked in Polk County and Florida. During the last week, 6,174 new infections were reported in Polk, a solid drop from last week’s record 7,510 new cases. The testing positivity rate continued its slide for a second week, falling below 20% for the first time in five weeks.More
The recent surge in COVID-19 infections is being felt at Lakeland City Hall. During August, 154 city employees tested positive for the virus. That is almost three times the 53 infected last December, the previous high month. And it represents 28.6% of the total 539 cases reported among city workers since April 2020. More
- COVID AT SCHOOLS: Polk County Public Schools’ new COVID dashboard, unveiled Thursday, shows infections were reported in 792 students and 115 staff from Monday through Wednesday this week. Students quarantined during that period numbered 4,321. | View the dashboard
- MERCHANTS WALK shopping center is getting two new stores in the space vacated by Stein Mart: off-price retailer Burlington and discounter Five Below. LINKS: Merchants Walk stores | Burlington | Five Below
- POLK EMS AND FIRE employees have worked an average of 449 hours of overtime during the last year, leaving them exhausted amid worker shortages, union leaders say. A county spokeswoman said 74% of the overtime hours were voluntary.
- LAKELAND ELECTRIC workers being laid off as part of the shuttering of the McIntosh 3 plant no longer have to sign a separation agreement. Union officials, who said the agreement would have deprived workers of their rights, still are dissatisfied because the city issued no apology.
With its record COVID-19 patient load, Lakeland Regional Health has brought in a mobile refrigerator cooler as a contingency to expand its morgue capacity, Fox 13 News reports. On Monday, the hospital reported 442 patients with COVID, nearly two-and-a-half times its peak of 180 during the winter surge. LRH has not disclosed how many COVID-related deaths have occurred there. Elsewhere, Advent Health says it has 10 mobile coolers at its Central Florida hospitals, and Sarasota Memorial has also added extra capacity. More
Tensions are flaring between the city of Lakeland and the union representing around 26 Lakeland Electric workers who are being laid off today in connection with the closing of the city’s coal-fired electric plant. Bob Mahoney of Utility Workers Union of America told The Ledger he has several objections to an agreement workers are being asked to sign in order to receive eight weeks’ severance pay, including a provision he fears would end ongoing claims for job-related injuries. City Manager Shawn Sherrouse said the city is working with the union “toward a resolution.”
Houses in the Lakeland metro area are the most overvalued in Florida and 21st most overvalued in the U.S., according to a new Florida Atlantic University study. Home prices here are 31.39% higher than would be expected based on trends of the last 25 years, the study concluded. One of the professors conducting the study told The Ledger he was unsurprised by the finding because of relatively low housing costs here and projections that metro Lakeland’s population will grow 24% population over the next 10 years. MORE: WFLA | News release | U.S. list | Florida list | Methodology
A preliminary report of COVID-19 cases in Polk public schools released Friday shows that 1,170 students and 297 staff have been reported as positive for the virus since Aug. 2. In addition, 8,228 students and 223 staff have quarantined after exposure to infected individuals. More
Polk County added 7,510 new COVID-19 cases this week, setting a new record for a fifth week in a row, according to the weekly update from the Florida Department of Health. The average positivity rate of tests in Polk dipped to 23.2% this week from last week’s record of 28.9%, but still significantly above the 5% rate desired by public health officials.More
Unlike neighbors in Orlando and three Tampa Bay area counties, Lakeland residents don’t need to worry about COVID-19 treatments affecting municipal water supplies or the taste of drinking water. More
Which face masks and techniques for wearing them offer the best protection against spreading COVID-19? With more people wearing masks again as infections surge, LkldNow asked local public health officials about best practices. More
- OLIVER GREEN, retired appeals and circuit judge and decorated Korean War veteran, died Wednesday at age 88 of a disease unrelated to COVID-19. | ALSO: Family-placed obituary in LkldNow
- U.S. REP. SCOTT FRANKLIN holds town hall meetings differently than nearby colleagues. Instead of announcing them in advance, Franklin issues invitations by automated telephone calls to a vendor’s list moments before the meetings begin, usually at 7 p.m.
- POLK DEPUTY CHRISTOPHER BROADHEAD will be memorialized at 10 a.m. Monday at Victory Church. He died at age 32 after being hospitalized for several weeks with COVID-19. Both the church service and law enforcement honors that follow will be live-streamed on the PCSO Facebook page. | Learn more
Some Central Florida hospitals say they’re seeing signs that the surge in COVID-19 patients is leveling off, but that’s not the case at Lakeland Regional Health. The hospital’s snapshot of patient load at 10:30 a.m. today showed that 443 patients had tested positive for the virus, the highest number reported yet. More
At the end of the five-month transition period after Lakeland Electric’s coal-driven McIntosh 3 power plant was taken offline, 26 employees are slated to be laid off Sept. 4, The Ledger reports. Initially, 60 were told they would be laid off when the utility announced it would shut the plant earlier than the previous 2024 target. That number was reduced as 23 found other jobs with the city and others left for other jobs or retired, Lakeland Electric said.
Masks remain optional in Polk public schools. Polk School Board members heard passionate debate from both sides of the mask debate on Tuesday, but did not vote on the issue. Vice Chair Kay Fields tried to make a motion for an emergency mask mandate, but Chair Lori Cunningham ended the meeting without calling for a second, The Ledger reported. Earlier in the meeting, Superintendent Frederick Heid said a new COVID-19 dashboard with real-time data is coming to the school district’s web site; the current dashboard has been criticized for lags in updating data.
Following the COVID-19 death of 32-year-old Polk Deputy Christopher Broadhead, Sheriff Grady Judd is urging people to vaccinate against the virus. Fifty of Judd’s 2,000 employees are infected with the virus, and as many as five are in the hospital. Judd, who received the Moderna vaccine when it became available, told News Channel 8 he doesn’t know how many of his officers are vaccinated and won’t say whether Broadhead received a vaccine. But he said he will not mandate his employees be vaccinated, declaring to do so would be government overreach. More
The state of Florida today opened a monoclonal antibody treatment center at Lakes Church, 1010 E. Memorial Blvd., that has the capacity to treat up to 300 patients a day. Gov. Ron DeSantis came to Lakeland to announce the clinic, which will provide free treatments to people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and vulnerable people who have been exposed to somebody with COVID, ClickOrlando reported. The treatments are provided regardless of vaccination status and are intended to keep recipients from needing hospitalization. | MORE: Learn more & make an appointment | DeSantis news conference
With nearly 7,000 new COVID-19 infections reported in Polk County this week — the fourth consecutive week of setting a new high mark — Polk has exceeded 100,000 total infections since testing began in March 2020. The county recorded an average positivity rate of 28.9% this week, also a new high mark.More
The path to Don Bosko bringing the first Beef ‘O’ Brady’s restaurant to Lakeland in 1991 began with his working for free for a month before the chain’s owner granted him a franchise. This weekend, the 74-year-old restaurateur celebrates 30 years in business. More
Citing rising public concern about school safety as COVID numbers increase, Polk School Board Vice Chair Kay Field has called for the board to consider a 30-day mask requirement. She also says that her three requests to hold a special School Board meeting to discuss safety concerns have been ignored. More
Returning to Lakeland for an 86th season, the Detroit Tigers will lead off Spring Training 2022 at Joker Marchant Stadium with an exhibition game against Southeastern University on Feb. 25 followed the next day by a home game against the Washington Nationals. More
- FLORIDA SOUTHERN COLLEGE is asking unvaccinated students to supply a negative COVID-19 test before returning for the fall semester and will randomly test those students. FSC is also requiring all students and staff to wear masks in classrooms and other indoor communal spaces.
- AN INDOOR ARTS FESTIVAL features works from at least 18 artists Saturday and Sunday at the Magnolia Building on Orange Street. | Facebook: Fine Art at the Magnolia
Even before the Watson Clinic announced last week that it would require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by November, a local group had planned a rally to oppose vaccine mandates. More
Upcoming pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Lakeland include one today from 3 to 7 p.m. at Bryant Stadium and one on Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon at the Cleveland Heights Golf Clubhouse. Both are open to the public, no appointments are necessary, and vaccines are free. More
- POLK’S HISPANIC/LATINO population grew 76.2% between 2010 and 2020, according to new U.S. Census data. The groups constituted 25.9% of Polk residents in 2020, compared with 17.7% in 2010. (Subscribers-only story)
- MCKEEL ACADEMIES staff must wear masks at work after 12 individuals across the three campuses tested positive for COVID-19. The director of schools said he is preparing an opt-out form in case a temporary mask mandate becomes needed for students.
Lakeland Regional Health is stepping up employee recruitment and getting creative in how it uses space as its staff copes with a burgeoning number of COVID-19 patients, CEO Danielle Drummond told city commissioners today. More
The newest candidate for the seat in Congress that represents Lakeland is Eddie Geller, a 37-year-old entertainer and activist who recently moved to Brandon to run for the seat, The Ledger reports. Geller faces Jesse Philippe in the Democratic primary that will determine who faces Republican incumbent Scott Franklin of Lakeland next fall. He said he was motivated to run by seeing Franklin “vote to challenge the election results and perpetuate the big lie.” LINKS: Tampa Bay Times article | Campaign website | YouTube announcement
- ELDERPOINT SERVICES, a nonprofit agency that provided transportation and nutrition for seniors, has discontinued its services. VISTE and Citrus Connection are working to serve as many former ElderPoint clients as possible.
- LAKE WIRE RETIREMENT CENTER on Peachtree Street has closed, its owner retiring and selling the property to a developer who plans to build apartments. New housing has been found for the 38 residents, owner Jacquelyn Dawson said.
For a third week in a row, Polk County set record highs for the number of new COVID-19 cases — 6,521 new infections were confirmed — and the rate of tests that come back positive — 27.2% — according to the weekly update from the Florida Department of Health.More
A mobile tour aimed at educating Latinos about COVID-19 vaccines and combatting misinformation is coming to two Lakeland flea markets this weekend. More
The property at North Florida Avenue and 8th Street is special to Denise Gilmore. She spent much of her childhood there in her grandparents’ house. She worked across the street at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center for 27 years. And she is in the process of making it the home of Mary’s Bagel Café, named after her grandmother. More
With Tropical Depression Fred expected to bring tropical storm conditions to Central Florida this weekend, Polk County is offering filled sandbags for flood protection. Nearby pickup locations include 8970 N. Campbell Road in Lakeland and 900 NE 5th St. in Mulberry. More
Starting Friday, students and staff at South McKeel Academy, a charter elementary school, will be required to wear masks indoors and on school buses for two weeks. Students at a sister elementary, McKeel Academy Central, will also be required to wear masks while riding school buses. Alan Black, director of schools for The Schools of McKeel Academy, told The Ledger that an increase in COVID-19 cases led to the new policy, but he did not say how many students were affected.
Watson Clinic is requiring its more than 200 doctors and its 1,600+ employees to vaccinate against COVID-19 by November. The clinic’s board of directors made the decision in recognition of “the serious threat the COVID-19 Delta variant posses to our patients and community at large,” the clinic said in a news release. More
News Service of Florida reporter Dara Kam explores some tricky issues that could face Florida Chief Justice Charles Canady if his wife of 24 years, Jennifer Canady of Lakeland, succeeds Colleen Burton in the Florida House of Representatives. The Canadys respond that they will follow all rules and laws. “My husband has spent his entire career in public service meticulously following the law,” Jennifer Canady said. Florida News Service has allowed LkldNow to publish the full article: More
City of Lakeland employees have once again been told to wear face coverings at work while indoors or in city vehicles when they are unable to maintain social distancing of six feet, The Ledger reports. “These protocols are necessary to protect our city workforce,” City Manager Shawn Sherrouse wrote in an email to employees. There is no mask requirement for non-employees visiting city buildings, but masks are encouraged.
Zack Kirkland, a teen who started a project 4 1/2 years ago to bring cheer to children at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, has received a letter from the White House praising his work. His Silly Sock Saturdays, now a nonprofit organization, delivers bags with colorful socks, coloring books and other fun items monthly, Fox 13 News reports. MORE: Silly Sock Saturdays website
Shaina Day was counting down the days until Krispy Kreme opened in north Lakeland on July 27. The traditional glazed doughnuts at the popular doughnut shop were calling her family’s name.
Krispy Kreme joins two other new food establishments, Arby’s and Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux, on U.S. 98 North, where Toys R Us lived for 30 years. More
Lakeland city commissioners are at odds over two key pending decisions: next year’s property tax rate and whether to equip police officers with body cameras. At a budget workshop Tuesday, commissioners discussed either keeping the tax rate at the current $5.46 per $1,000 of assessed value or reducing it to $5.43, The Ledger reported. Both are above the 5.20 “rollback rate,” the level expected to bring in the same amount of property tax revenue as the current year. The 5.43 level pushed by Commissioners Bill Read and Mike Musick is the highest level that can be adopted with a simple majority vote.
With the number of patients testing positive for COVID-19 rising eightfold since late June, Lakeland Regional Health today announced it will temporarily postpone elective surgeries that require an overnight hospital stay. More
With COVID-19 infections in Polk surging, The Estates at Carpenter senior living facility is requiring all employees to be vaccinated, News Channel 8 reports. Its CEO says the move is for the safety of residents and he is calling on Lakeland Regional Health to also require all of its staff be vaccinated. A hospital spokesman told the station that a vaccination rate of employees is unavailable. ALSO: Fox 13 News | The Ledger
Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland is taking on a new role working with young adults in addition to his position at Southeastern University. He has been named interim CEO of College to Congress, a non-profit organization that provides financial support for low-income students who are placed in congressional internships. More
LkldNow’s COVID-19 chart, below, illustrates the virus’ trajectory in Polk County far more dramatically than our words can. This week’s 5,703 new cases is the highest weekly number yet, and Polk’s average positivity rate of 26.3 for the past week is also a record.More
Local medical professionals say the science shows that children should mask up in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but Polk School Superintendent Fred Heid said his hands are tied by the state, News Channel 8 reports. Polk’s school district has no plans to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order on masks, as other districts have done, Heid said during a virtual news conference Friday. MORE: News conference video | Fox 13 News | 10 Tampa Bay | ABC Action News | The Ledger
Propelled by the ultra-contagious delta variant, COVID-19 is spreading rapidly through Polk County, sending record numbers of people to the hospital, most of them younger than 50 and almost all of them unvaccinated.
That was the message Thursday afternoon at a news conference called by the leaders of Lakeland Regional Health, Watson Clinic and the Florida Department of Health’s Polk County office. The main way to prevent the spread, they said, is by getting more people vaccinated. More
Usually U.S. News & World Report rates Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center somewhere among the top 35 hospitals in Florida for treating complex and high-risk cases, but not this year. More
With public school classes starting Tuesday, several campuses in Lakeland are getting new principals and assistant principals. They include: More
Polk County commissioners today made very different decisions on two land-use issues that both faced major opposition from neighbors, The Ledger reports. They unanimously approved rezoning land at the Imperial Lakes Golf Course for 188 homes. They rejected 4-1 a request involving 200+ apartments that front U.S. 98 North and back up to single-family residences, saying apartments are incompatible with the nearby houses. (Subscribers-only story)
The number of accidents along South Florida Avenue in Dixieland has decreased from a high of 15 during the first month of the one-year road diet there, a Florida Department of Transportation engineer told Lakeland city commissioners Monday. But Steven Davis Jr. said he’s hoping to see more improvement. More
Leaders at Lakeland Regional Health are taking to social media to urge more people get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the hospital admits record levels of patients infected with the virus. The hospital reported it was treating 247 Covid patients on Monday, 37.2% higher than the peak of 180 during January’s spike. Close to 38% of the current Covid patients are under 50 and many require high-flow oxygen, hospital officials told News Channel 8. | MORE: LRH Facebook video More
In the wake of the chaos left by the Covid crisis, some nonprofit organizations emerged with new goals, names and plans. Polk County’s only professional orchestra is no exception.
After being known for more than 30 years as the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, it will enter the 2021-2022 season as the Lakeland Symphony Orchestra, the name it originally had when it was formed in 1965. But that’s only the start of changes in store. The orchestra will have a different home and day of the week for its major concerts, shorten its programs and hold multiple small concerts around the county. More
Learning Station Academy, a day-care center near the northern tip of Lake Gibson, has had to close. The center took in no revenue when it had to close briefly four times when somebody tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, it has been difficult keeping workers at a time when employers like Amazon were offering higher pay, Fox 13 News reports.
The last full week of July closes out with Polk County reporting its highest-ever number of new COVID-19 cases and Lakeland Regional Health filling more beds with Covid patients than ever before.
Polk County recorded 4,100 new infections for the week of July 23-29, according to the Florida Department of Health’s weekly report, which was released this evening. The previous high was 3,579 for the week of Jan. 10-16 at the height of the post-holiday surge. More
Watson Clinic opened the first center for long-haul COVID-19 patients in Florida and it’s still one of the only ones, Orlando’s WKMG reports. The clinic takes a team approach, with physicians representing different specialties collaborating to discover potential solutions. Founder Dr. Kathleen Haggerty says the team spends a lot of time with each patient, and that’s one of the reasons there’s a six-month waiting list. More
Nurses at Lakeland Regional Health tell News Channel 8 they are facing exhaustion as the number of COVID-19 patients increases rapidly and the hospital has had to start putting patients in overflow rooms again. The hospital is offering financial incentives to work extra shifts, the nurses say, and hospital officials are actively recruiting more nurses, seeking to add 150 as winter approaches. More
With the federal eviction moratorium ending Saturday, local officials are urging renters who are behind on payments and were affected by COVID-19 to apply for assistance through a Polk County emergency fund; they can also seek help through United Way’s 2-1-1 phone line. Polk courts face a backlog of 765 eviction cases dating to January 2020, The Ledger reports. | MORE: Polk rental assistance
A few years ago, when Vivian Calloway had a life-threatening allergic reaction to something she ate, she was lucky to be at a church breakfast, surrounded by friends and medical professionals.
“We were all eating and all of a sudden, I could feel my body swelling up,” said the 64-year-old Lakeland resident. “I couldn’t swallow.” More
Lakeland police have canceled a Silver Alert that was issued this morning for Sherri Carpenter, 56, saying she has been located and is being reunited with her family. More
To prepare for a winter patient influx and cope with rising Covid cases, Lakeland Regional Health is working to shore up its staff of nurses and other medical professionals via weekly Wednesday walk-in job fairs, ABC Action News reports. The hospital was treating 179 COVID-19 patients on Monday, up from the mid-30s at the start of July. | MORE: LRH Careers on Facebook More
Dale “Snort” Snodgrass, chief pilot at Lakeland’s Draken International, died Saturday when the Italian-built SIAI Marchetti SM.1019 he was flying solo crashed and caught fire shortly after taking off from Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport in Idaho, The Aviationist reported. Snodgrass, 72, who retired as a captain after 26 years as a U.S. Navy pilot, was the original demonstration pilot for the F-14 Tomcat and flew more than 850 airshows during the last 20 years. | ALSO: A personal remembrance in The War Zone
A Krispy Kreme donut shop opens Tuesday at 3790 U.S. 98 N. near Lakeland Square mall, replacing the south Lakeland store that closed in June. It’s the company’s fourth location using a larger design that lets customers view the doughnut-making process, The Ledger reports. (Subscribers-only story)
Polk County reported 2,514 new COVID-19 infections last week, five times the number reported for the last week in June and the fourth-highest weekly level since the state Department of Health started counting cases 16 months ago. More
West Pipkin Road will be widened between South Florida Avenue and Medulla Road to meet the demands of growth in southwest Lakeland, The Ledger reports. The work by Hubbard Construction of Winter Park starts next month and is expected to take around two years. The cost to Polk County: $42 million, with $6 million coming from the city of Lakeland.
Dr. Alan “Rico” Rich points to his favorite object in the collection of African and Oceanic art that he and his wife, Linda, acquired over the years. It is an imposing 4-foot tall wooden figure, carved from a single piece of wood, painted and embellished with woven grass and shells, given to him by the chief of the Iatmul people of New Guinea. It represents the ancestors of the tribe, bearing both male and female characteristics, and its face is marked in a distinctive design that displays the tribal or family name. More
- LAKE MORTON residents met to seek solutions to loud partying and parking problems at Airbnbs and other short-term rentals in the neighborhood. City officials explain that state law gives them little enforcement power. One suggestion: Have short-term rental owners give neighbors their contact information to let them know when things get rowdy. (Subscribers-only story)
- A SHARK BITE sent Katie Wood, 35, of Lakeland, to the hospital with deep cuts on her foot during a trip to Satellite Beach. Still, the avid beachgoer doesn’t blame the shark: “We’re in their habitat.” (Subscribers-only story)
Mike and Missy Dalton thought it was a prank when they received a call about their cleaning company appearing on a new A&E reality show. It wasn’t a joke; the Lakeland company is one of three spotlighted on “Dirty Rotten Cleaners,” which shows them taking care of huge messes, Fox 13 News reports. | ALSO: News Channel 8
- MICHAEL DUNN, a former Lakeland city commissioner, will proceed toward trial on a second-degree murder charge. A three-judge appeals panel rejected his lawyers’ claim that Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen erred when he rejected Dunn’s bid to dismiss the charge on “stand-your-ground” grounds. Next step: Pre-trial conference Aug. 16.
- DAVE WALLER of Lakeland was recognized by the national Toys for Tots organization as coordinator of the year for civilian volunteer campaigns and the Polk County operation as the top campaign.
Teens in Lakeland are invited to the Lakeland Police Department’s first Peace Teen Summit at 9 a.m. on Friday, July 30. The morning-long summit at Lake Mirror Auditorium is geared to those ages 13 to 18 in an effort to enhance communication with law enforcement and improve race relations, said Police Chief Ruben Garcia. More
A 32-unit townhouse community will be built between Lake Parker and the Lakeland Hills Boulevard medical corridor as a result of City Commission action on Monday. The commission also approved a major update to the city’s comprehensive plan, tax incentives for two planned Garden District apartment complexes, and developing a plan to extend sewers to six pockets where septic tanks are now used. More
The commercial district just north of I-4 and U.S. 98 continues to expand, with a Cajun-themed sports bar, Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux, which opened June 21. It’s located adjacent to Lakeland Square in the space formerly occupied by Toys ”R” Us. More
- PROPERTY TAX: Polk County commissioners are being asked to keep the millage rate the same as last year’s, meaning taxes will increase for many residents due to higher property assessments. County administrators say they need the added funds to keep up with road needs and to prepare for voter-mandated minimum-wage increases. Commissioners discuss the tax rate at a 9 a.m. meeting Tuesday. (Subscribers-only story)
- KIDNEY SOUGHT: Marc Hutek, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County, is seeking a kidney donor after his kidneys failed in December. Until he gets a transplant, he’ll be on a six-times-a-night dialysis regimen. (Subscribers-only story) | MORE: News release | Living Donor form
Polk County reported 1,424 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 this week, more than double last week’s report of 687 new cases and the largest one-week jump since the beginning of the year. More
Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin of Lakeland has raised a “modest” $81,627 toward his re-election in the most recent quarter and has $153,244 cash on hand, while his two Democratic challengers have reported no funds yet in the current cycle, Florida Politics reports. A little more than half of second-quarter contributions came from individuals; the rest came from political action committees representing developers, agriculture and aerospace, among others. | MORE: Campaign finance reports
- BODY CAMERAS for police officers are tentatively placed in next year’s city of Lakeland budget. City commissioners voted 4-3 to approve the cameras as long as the $1.4 first-year costs don’t result in higher property taxes. Voting in favor: McCarley, McLeod, Mutz, Walker. Against: Madden, Musick, Read.
- PCSO PUSHBACK: A Facebook post by the Polk Sheriff’s Office became a flashpoint in the competing narratives about the Jan. 6 incursion into the U.S. Capitol. The post seeking help for the FBI’s efforts to apprehend Lakeland fugitive Michael Pollock has drawn more than 3,200 comments, most of them critical of law enforcement efforts to pursue Capitol-related arrests. (Subscribers-only story) | The Facebook post
- CELL TOWER: The city of Lakeland succeeded in getting a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the City Commission relied on public sentiment, not substantial evidence, in denying zoning that would have allowed a cell tower on undeveloped land between Ariana Street and Lake Hunter.
Polk County has 21 public schools on the list of 149 struggling schools in Florida that will share $44 million in federal United School Improvement Grant funds, The Ledger reported. Only Hillsborough County has more: 30. Lakeland schools on the list include Crystal Lake, Dixieland, Griffin, Jesse Keen, Oscar J. Pope, Phillip O’Brien and Tenoroc. MORE: Governor’s announcement | List of Florida schools getting grants
The owners of Sweet Cup Café, which offers a taste of Mexico on Lakeland Hills Boulevard, had to delay opening by more than a year because of the pandemic, but they say social media has given their business a big boost. More
BS Ranch and Farm in east Lakeland has been fined $88,000 by a Polk county code enforcement magistrate who found the business violated the county’s off-site odor regulations, News Channel 8 reported. The company, which turns solid waste into soil, has 10 days to appeal the ruling.
A student represented by Morgan & Morgan has filed a class action lawsuit against Polk State College seeking the return of activity fees collected last year from all students but unused because of Covid campus closures, The Ledger reports. The suit also challenges a new state law shielding colleges from such lawsuits. Plaintiff Shantrell Fisher’s fees were $13.42, but the collective fees of all PSC students in 2020 are estimated at more than $268,000. A Tallahassee lawyer representing the college has asked that the suit be dismissed based on the college’s sovereign immunity and that the fees are mandated by state law, so they’re not paid as a “fee for service.”
When 6-year-old Leon Vega walks into Mi Escuela Montessori on August 10, it will be a day filled with many beginnings. This is Leon’s first day of first grade. It is also the first time Mi Escuela Montessori opens its doors to students – 210, to be exact, with a waiting list for certain grade levels. More
- LCS TRAFFIC: A Monday community meeting on easing traffic congestion and safety issues near Lakeland Christian School during pickup times surfaced several suggestions from neighbors. They included a traffic signal at Forest Park Street and Harden Boulevard, change the pickup route to Forest Park and Unitah Avenue, stagger start and dismissal times, and increase police presence. City planners will use the comments to draft suggestions for improvement.
- CUBAN EXILES living in Lakeland expressed hope that mass protests in their native land will lead to change. They have held solidarity rallies around Lakeland the last three days.
Lakeland Regional Health reports a dramatic rise in the number of patients treated for COVID-19 as the number of confirmed cases in Polk increases. Hospitalizations have risen from the 30s a few weeks ago to 82 on Tuesday. Most are middle age and younger and almost all are unvaccinated, News Channel 8 reports. Asked about why the virus is spreading here again, Mayor Bill Mutz said, “We are probably a little quick to focus on our rights, and not enough on the consideration and health of others.” | ALSO: Fox 13 News More
Nearly 80 percent of the $22.7 million the city of Lakeland expects to receive from the federal American Rescue Plan will go to replace a failing sewer trunk in southwest Lakeland, city commissioners decided today. More
Police are trying to determine who dumped around four dozen tires in Lake Parker over the July 4 weekend. The city of Lakeland’s Brian Rewis told News Channel 8 it’s the most egregious case the city has seen since establishing a dumping hotline (863-834-DUMP) two years ago. “Once (tires) float out into the lake or sink to the bottom of the lake, they become a hazard for generations because they will not biodegrade,” he told Fox 13 News. | MORE: Lakeland anti-dumping info More
Overall crime in Polk County dropped 12% last year, from 13,787 incidents in 2019 to 12,117 in 2020, but violent crime increased more than 6% from 1,990 to 2,115, according to recent data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Similarly in Lakeland, property crimes were down but violent crimes were up, Chief Ruben Garcia told The Ledger. | MORE: Florida county crime stats | Other FDLE crime reports
Jennifer Smurr, the 33-year-old founder of Born & Bread Bakehouse, was named to the Forbes list of “Next 1,000” emerging entrepreneurs. As the pandemic spread, she kept the business growing by pivoting to a pre-order system, and in the subscribers-only Ledger article she hints at coming changes: “I’ll leave it with we want to be more consistent than what we are doing now.” MORE: Born & Bread | Forbes Next 1,000 | Smurr’s listing
- COVID-19 infection rates in Polk County increased for the third week in a row, according to figures released Friday. With 687 new cases, infections were highest in people ages 20 to 39, age groups with lower vaccination rates.
- TRAFFIC patterns near Lakeland Christian School will be the subject of a city workshop scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at Legacy Church, 901 W. Beacon Road.
- CENTENARIAN: Andy Bosko Sr., a World War II veteran who helped secure Iwo Jima, celebrated his 100th birthday this week with friends and family at Lake Morton Plaza, where he is known for making new residents feel welcome.
Tampa Bay Business Journal launched its first Lakeland edition today, focusing on growth and development. Topics include warehouse expansion, why Lakeland matters, LEDC’s Steve Scruggs, banking, Catapult, residential growth and employment. A registration with TBBJ is required to read the articles. | MORE: the cover
When Polk County schools resume classes next month, students will be able to choose between in-person classes and Polk Virtual School but will no longer have an option of hybrid learning or Campus eSchool, The Ledger reports. Face coverings will be optional, but encouraged for unvaccinated people. Those who are vaccinated will not be required to self-isolate if they were in close contact with somebody infected with COVID-19. | MORE: News release
New federal documents reveal details about four Lakeland residents and a Plant City associate charged with violent acts in connection with the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. According to USA Today: Olivia Pollock, 30; Joshua Doolin, 22 and Joseph Hutchinson III, 25, all of Lakeland, Florida were arrested on June 30 along with Michael Perkins, 37, of Plant City. Pollock’s brother, Jonathan Pollock, 21, remains at large. There were 19 charges in all; Doolin is the only one not charged with assaulting officers.
- JAMES RING — an otherwise healthy, 39-year-old business owner, Army reservist, former police sergeant and current president of the Republican Club of Lakeland — describes being “certain I was dying” of COVID-19 during a recent hospital stay. He had become less careful about wearing a mask and hadn’t taken time to get a vaccine, but now says he hopes everybody makes personal choices to do both. | Ring’s Facebook post
- TROPICAL STORM ELSA caused little damage in Lakeland, but 1,970 Lakeland Electric customers lost power Wednesday morning and Horney Park on Poinsettia Street was flooded when a drainage pump failed.
Nedra Butler, a business owner and minister, discusses overcoming a difficult childhood in Lakeland and her passion for finding beauty outside and in.
Polk County deputies are seeking the hit-and-run driver of a white Ford F-150 pickup truck that hit two girls, killing one of them, on Independence Day, Fox 13 News reports. Shana Blair, a 14-year-old Advanced Placement student who would have attended Kathleen High School this fall, was killed while walking with a friend near Old Tampa Highway and Clark Road around 9:30 p.m. Sunday. More
Minutes after city commissioners approved a 20-year partnership today with Summit Broadband of Orlando to provide high-speed Internet service to Lakeland residents and businesses, the CEO of the company told reporters the company should be ready to serve its first local customers within four months. More
With the gap left by the relocation of the Confederate monument in mind, Lakeland’s Historic Preservation Board formed a committee recently to examine what, if anything, should become the focal point of Munn Park in downtown Lakeland. More
Nastia Katchalova, 16, of Lakeland, was recently named to USA Gymnastics’ 2021 Junior National Tumbling Team and will compete in the world competition in Baku, Azerbaijan, in November. “This year at three of my competitions I have hit first place at each of the three qualifying competitions,” she told Bay News 9. More
Lakeland police are trying to learn the identities of two men who shot and killed a 34-year-old man at a Mobil gas station at 1615 W. Memorial Blvd. shortly after midnight Sunday. More
Specifics of an Orlando broadband company’s deal with Lakeland to provide high-speed Internet emerged this week as the City Commission prepares to vote on a proposed contract next Tuesday. More
- Her parents said though an attorney that they were never given details of her May 2020 death and are “actively pursuing this matter.”
- The academy’s director said the organization has nothing to hide and is cooperating with authorities.
- Naomi’s roommate said girls in the program knew that requests to see a doctor would go unanswered.
A third Lakeland resident faces federal charges related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, The Ledger reports. Olivia Pollock, shown as living in north Lakeland, was charged Wednesday with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers or employees; presence in a restricted area of the building or grounds; and violent entry and disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds.
Independence Day fireworks and festivities in Polk County set for this weekend will be booming back now that the COVID-19 restrictions of 2020 are in remission. In addition to Lakeland’s fireworks display, cities around Polk County are also putting lights back in the sky at their Independence Day celebrations. More
- CAPITOL ARREST: Joshua Christopher Doolin, 23, of Lakeland, was charged Wednesday with crimes related to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. Hired in May as a Polk EMT, he was fired after his arrest.
- UNITED WAY of Central Florida reported record pledges of $23.8 million for 2020-21, with $12.8 million of that coming via federal CARES Act relief. The agency served roughly 350,000 people in Polk, Highlands and Hardee Counties.
- REP. SCOTT FRANKLIN joined most fellow Republicans in voting against removing Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol. The bill, which passed, breaches the federalist tradition of letting states choose their own statues, he said.
Lakeland Regional Health is expanding into northwest Lakeland, announcing plans to open an ambulatory care center on 20 acres at I-4 and Kathleen Road in 2023 to serve northern Polk County. More
Gabriel Dindy, a senior Lakeland High School defensive lineman, is more than a hot prospect being recruited by the nation’s top college football programs, Fox 13 News reports. He’s also an entrepreneur; he co-founded Beyond Our Best, which he describes as a “fitness movement,” with his sister, Destiny, a personal trainer. | Rivals.com profile | Beyond Our Best
Local authorities are investigating the death of a 17-year-old student at Lakeland Girls Academy, a faith-based, therapeutic school for teens, News Channel 8 reports. Naomi Wood of Vermont received no medical treatment despite chronic stomach pains, according to a report from the Florida Department of Children and Families that verified findings of “inadequate supervision and medical neglect.” The academy has changed medical procedures since the incident, the report noted. | Fox 13 News coverage | The DCF report, which we linked to earlier, is no longer available. More
Though “Explorations” and “V” will no longer officially be part of the name of Lakeland’s children’s museum, both exploring and using the five senses will continue to be very much a part of each child’s experience – maybe even more so. More
The 16 months since COVID-19 struck have been hard for independent bookstores, but the owners of three Lakeland shops specializing in used books say they are are ready for a new chapter, eager to move forward and working hard to make Lakeland a destination for bibliophiles. More
LkldNow’s weekly newsletter, emailed on Thursday, included incorrect information for the Miss Florida Scholarship Competition, which takes place this week at the RP Funding Center. Here is the correct information: The preliminaries took place Thursday evening. Miss Florida’s Outstanding Teen Preliminaries take place tonight (Friday) at 7 p.m. The finals for both Miss Florida’s Outstanding Teen Pageant and the Miss Florida Scholarship Competition take place on Saturday at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m, respectively. Tickets are $56 for preliminaries and a single $108 ticket for both finals. | LINKS: Fox 13 News preview | Miss Florida | RP Funding event info | Watch live ($18-$20 per event)
Aspyre Properties of Lakeland was part of a partnership that sold a 510,272-square-foot spec warehouse on the Hillsborough side of County Line Road for $48.49 million, the Business Observer reports. Lexington Realty Trust bought the County Line Distribution Center, built last year on 34 acres at 3657 Fancy Farms Road, from a partnership involving Wharton Industrial of New York, Red Rock Developments of South Carolina and Aspyre. | ALSO: Tampa Bay Business Journal
The city of Lakeland faces two federal lawsuits over decisions denying cell towers requested for southwest Lakeland, The Ledger reports. North American Towers LLC claims city commissioners improperly denied its request for a monopole on undeveloped land between Ariana Street and Lake Hunter based on citizen testimony that “lacks sufficient factual content.” In a separate lawsuit, 1 Source Towers says denial of a tower at 1800 Harden Blvd. prohibits Verizon from solving a 3.71-square-mile gap in coverage. The city is contesting both suits.
A community of 199 workforce houses near Lake Parker, Florida Southern College’s plans to move its graduate nursing program to the former St. Joseph Academy and a new home for Alliance for Independence programs all got the go-ahead to proceed from the Lakeland City Commission today. More
The city of Lakeland has updated its mobile app and added new features that let residents alert the city to problems and submit ideas for improvements. More
- POLITICS: Lakeland Christian School teacher Jennifer Canady has a significant fund-raising lead in the fall 2022 race for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives, collecting $115,508, compared with the $36,960 raised by Lakeland City Commissioner Phillip Walker.
- PAGEANT: The Miss Florida Scholarship Competition returns to Lakeland this week. It will be held June 24-26 at the RP Funding Center. | Learn more
A University of Florida experiment in growing hops has benefitted Lakeland’s Swan Brewing, ABC Action News reports. Scientists have successfully grown cascade hops at a Wimauma research center as a possible new crop for Florida, and they are giving the harvest to local breweries, including Swan, which just debuted GPA, or Gator Pale Ale. | Untappd reviews | ALSO: Fox 13 News
- GARDEN DISTRICT: The pending completion of a three-story, 90-unit apartment complex at Lake and Lime signals the first of several multi-family buildings in the Garden District northeast of Lake Morton. City officials said the building boom reflects careful planning paving the way for higher density in expectations that more people want to live closer to downtown. This subscribers-only package also includes pieces about Sunday’s move of a 1920s-era house from Orange Street to Lime Street and two historic homes sandwiched between new apartments.
- VACCINES: Forty-seven percent of eligible Polk residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, compared with a statewide rate of 55%, according to the latest weekly report from the Florida Department of Health.
Despite heavy equipment coming through and road detours planned, residents living next to Bonnet Springs Park continue to be encouraged by the progress of the massive, privately funded public park, expected to open in 2022. More
- JUNETEENTH: Lakeland’s Juneteenth observance on Saturday is one of six in Polk County . It includes a 3 p.m. live event at the Coleman-Bush building includes free dinners for youth and COVID-19 vaccines and a 7 p.m. virtual program with speakers. | Learn more | ALSO: Fox 13 News
- RESTAURANT WORKER SHORTAGES were debated in several Facebook posts after the owner of Reececliff Family Diner posted a sign (since removed) blaming “government handouts.” Critics said it’s more complicated and post-pandemic job applicants are seeing higher wages.
Thirty of the 73 hospitals in the Tampa Bay area do not comply with a new regulation aimed at making costs more transparent, and Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center is one of them, according to a nonprofit organization monitoring compliance. More
Nathaniel Kendrick, a young Lakeland entrepreneur, discusses how his career choices were affected by his father’s sudden passing and how he pivoted from accounting to a digital consulting firm to a new venture with vegan cupcakes.
An Orlando Sentinel article about expanded LGBTQ-focused venues in Central Florida since the Pulse massacre five years ago opens with a segment about amateur drag competitions at The Parrot in Lakeland. Japonika Work, who performs there regularly, said the Polk community has become more accepting during the last five years. (The article is for subscribers only, but the photo gallery isn’t.)
- BROADBAND: The city’s negotiations with Summit Broadband of Orlando to expand high-speed Internet options in Lakeland have taken longer than expected, but a proposal is expected to be presented to the City Commission later this month. (subscribers only)
- BONNET SPRINGS: As construction accelerates on the massive Bonnet Springs park west of downtown, developers this week activated an anti-pollution system that will filter runoff before it reaches a recreational lagoon and keep trash from draining into Lake Bonnet. (subscribers only)
- RENTS in Lakeland are rising rapidly as in-migration exacerbates an apartment shortage. (subscribers only, too)
- SCHOOL MASKS: Face coverings will be optional next school year, Polk School Board members decided Tuesday. The decision will need to be formalized at a meeting in September. | ALSO: Fox 13 News
- LCS TRAFFIC: Several hundred cars a day leaving Lakeland Christian School endanger people and property as they travel neighborhood streets not built for that volume of traffic, residents told city commissioners Monday. The mayor pro tem asked city staff to discuss solutions with residents and the school. | Neighbors’ website
- BUILDING FEES: Polk County is raising the fees paid by developers for plan reviews, site inspections and traffic studies for the first time in 20 years. The fees, which will be phased in starting Oct. 1, are aimed at covering development costs; the impact will be $700 to $1,000 per lot, estimates Commissioner George Lindsey, a homebuilder. (subscribers-only story)
Aron Yichye knows what it’s like to struggle financially. He is all too familiar with how it feels to suddenly lose someone you love dearly. He was the new kid in school, learning a new city, making new friends and building a new comfort zone. More
A resident of the Sunshine Village mobile home park on Reynolds Road has been threatened with eviction if he doesn’t remove his pride flag, Fox 13 News reports. Park management says that only the American flag can be flown, but Jimmy Anderson notes that a neighbor’s “Don’t Tread on Me” still flies. Sunshine Village has not responded to Fox 13’s requests for comment.
A homey bungalow in the South Lake Morton neighborhood and an angular office building on Bartow Highway have two things in common: Both have undergone major transformations, and both won the city of Lakeland’s beautification award for June. Scroll on for before-and-after photos of both. More
At least 17 businesses in Dixieland and downtown have signed up for a city program to brighten up the Florida Avenue corridor with large murals, The Ledger reports. Officials with the Community Redevelopment Agency are hoping the Art Infusion program attracts more businesses, but one board member said some owners are concerned about being responsible for long-term maintenance. | Learn more
Mayor Bill Mutz said today he is optimistic that federal officials will approve the first phase of Lakeland’s air traffic noise mitigation plan this fall and implementation can begin by December. More
- FREE COVID VACCINES will be available for Polk public school students ages 12+, employees and their families on Saturday 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at George Jenkins High School. | Learn more
- LGBTQ activists gathered at state Sen. Kelli Stargel’s Lakeland office to protest her role in sponsoring a bill restricting transgender athletes’ participation in school sports. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into the law on the first day of Pride Month.
- LEGAL FEES: Kathleen residents have sued Polk County and a developer over approval of a subdivision, but only the county — not the developers — is footing the bill for the out-of-town law firm defending the suit. County commissioners expressed concern and have asked their staff to develop a policy that they’ll consider at a future meeting. (Subscribers-only story.)
One year ago, Lakeland learned it was far from immune to the racial tension simmering across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. More
- WILDFIRES: Florida Fire Service’s Lakeland office has responded to 16 wildfires since Friday, including one at Lakeland Highlands Scrub. The environmental preserve is closed as the fire, reported Tuesday, remained active on Wednesday, but it is expected to reopen by the weekend.
- IMPERIALAKES: A request to replace the golf course at ImperiaLakes with at least 188 homes passed a hurdle as it received unanimous approval from the Polk County Planning Commission. Opponents say they’ll fight on as the project faces two public hearings in front of the Polk County Commission and a review by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. (Subscribers-only story.)
- SCHOOL MASKS: A lawsuit filed against Polk County Public Schools by more than 40 families demands $100,000 in damages and a halt in the policy requiring students to wear face masks at schools. (Subscribers-only story.)
- LEGISLATOR Fentrice Driskell, a 42-year-old Lake Gibson High graduate who represents a Hillsborough district, was elected leader-designate for the Florida House Democratic Caucus for 2024-26.
- JUDGE: Lakeland lawyer Lori Winstead, 41,was elevated from county judge to circuit judge by Gov. Ron DeSantis. She replaces Steven Selph, 67, who retired from the 10th Circuit bench.
- SCHOOL: Polk County commissioners dashed the hopes of WonderHere, a private school, to stretch out from its small downtown Lakeland location to 9.3 acres on Colbert Road behind the Highland City Publix on U.S. 98. County planners and the Planning Commission recommended approval, but commissioners in a 4-1 vote sided with nearby residents who told them the school doesn’t belong on land zoned residential. (Subscribers-only story)
With just under half of eligible people in Polk County vaccinated against COVID-19, the rate of new vaccinations is slowing locally, and local health officials say the slowdown is both expected and disappointing. More
A Lakeland company that added 300 jobs last year as it ramped up production of N95 respirator masks during the pandemic intends to continue producing the masks for health-care workers, Bay News 9 reports. Advanced Concept Innovations at 4100 Frontage Road has manufactured 90 million N95 masks, and its president says it can compete with Chinese producers on cost. | website
The roof structure and Craftsman porch have been removed from the century-old house at 721 E. Orange St. in preparation to move it to an empty lot one block away next month. More
A large and empty new Life Sciences Logistics warehouse on Galloway Road was the site of a Friday news conference by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The company has contracted with the state of Florida to help implement a program to provide low-cost prescription drugs from Canada to Floridians, 10 Tampa Bay reports. DeSantis is seeking approval from the Biden administration to let the program proceed. | ALSO: The Ledger
Andrea Oliver chats with Lakeland Assistant City Manager Emily Colón about public service, what drew her to Lakeland, her role in Lakeland’s city government, and managing through COVID-19. Since the conversation was recorded in late March, Emily has been given more responsibilities and a new title: Assistant City Manager and Manager of Innovation & Strategy.
Lovers of books and all things coffee will soon have a new brick-and-mortar storefront in downtown Lakeland at which to peruse and sip. More
Dry weather and an increased risk of brush fires has prompted Polk County Fire Rescue to issue a burn ban that affects unincorporated Polk and all its municipalities except Lake Wales, News Channel 8 reports. Among other things, the ban includes campfires, burning of yard trash or construction debris and use of fireworks.
- RENTAL ASSISTANCE: Tenants in Polk County who are behind on rent or utilities can apply for up to $12,000 in assistance, which will be paid to the landlord or utility companies. County commissioners allocated $17 million in federal funding to the program. Applications open Tuesday. | Learn more
- LAKELAND ARTIST Stacy Tabb’s painted prints of animals are on display in a solo exhibit at the Mulberry Cultural Center. | Learn more: the art, the exhibit
Roughly 200 people came to the RP Funding Center tonight to learn about and comment on Amazon’s plans to expand its air cargo facility at Lakeland Linder International Airport. The event included a chance for attendees to ask questions of airport officials, a slide presentation summarizing the proposal and its environmental impacts, remarks by Airport Director Gene Conrad about plans to mitigate noise and a public comment period. The video starts just before the slide presentation began. | COVERAGE: News Channel 8 | Fox 13 News | The Ledger
A public hearing Thursday evening on Amazon’s plans to nearly double the size of its massive air cargo facility at Lakeland Linder International Airport is expected to attract a large crowd. Those who can’t attend will be able to watch a live stream on the LkldNow Facebook page starting at 7 p.m. More
The stately house at 1022 Success Avenue that has fallen into disrepair has been purchased by a company headed by local Realtor Holly Cuthbertson that plans to rehab it in order to sell it to somebody willing to do a full restoration, The Ledger reports. The decline of this century-plus-old house and other historic homes has raised questions about whether Lakeland commissioners should pass an ordinance giving the city more tools to prevent “demolition by neglect,” Gary White reports in the subscribers-only article.
- BUSINESS: National Powersports Auctions breaks ground Wednesday on a 14,000-square-foot facility fronting I-4 roughly across from Brew Hub. The auction house will sell motorcycles and other recreation vehicles to dealers, not direct to consumers. It is expected to take two years to build and will employ about 30 people, a company official said.
- HISTORIC HOMES: The city of Lakeland is about to update its survey of properties in historic districts, likely adding more houses to those considered “contributing structures” and needing approval for exterior alterations. (subscribers-only story)
- LAKE GIBSON head football coach Robert Paxia resigned unexpectedly to return to his alma mater in Flagler County.
- R.I.P.: Mary Toothman, 66, full-tilt journalist, columnist, truth-teller. Article | Obituary (no paywall)
Several of Lakeland’s Black community leaders are working toward establishing the African American Historical Museum of Lakeland and have been gifted property to house the museum. More
- 3 CAR DEALERSHIPS will open soon in Lakeland: CarMax on U.S. 98 south of I-4 on Wednesday; Jaguar Land Rover on Interstate Drive off I-4 between Kathleen Road and U.S. 98 on June 10; and Lakeland Mazda on U.S. 98 South across from Polk State College in late June.
- ACCIDENTAL SHOOTING: A 3-year-old boy fired a gun he found stuffed between couch cushions and accidentally wounded his 2-year-old sister, who is in critical but stable condition, the Sheriff’s Office said. The 23-year-old man who brought the gun into the Lakeland home was arrested. | ALSO: Associated Press/ABC News
Three Kathleen residents are suing Polk County over its approval of a 94-home development off Kathleen Road east of Ross Creek Road, The Ledger reports in an article available only to subscribers. The residents claim the county failed to follow its own procedures; the county claims the development is “consistent with all relevant requirements.”
Florida Emancipation Day was celebrated in Lakeland Thursday with a ceremony at Lake Wire that included Buffalo Soldier re-enactors and a reading of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by Mayor Bill Mutz, News Channel 8 reports. Emancipation will be celebrated again next month with Lakeland’s annual Juneteenth observance June 19 at 3 p.m. at the Coleman-Bush Building. More
For May, mental health awareness month, Andrea Oliver talks with mental health counselor Morgan Whitaker Smith of Peace River Center about the effects of the past year on mental health, how to take care of your own mental health during difficult times as well as how to recognize and manage mental health disorders. If you or someone you know needs support, you can find resources at Peace River Center.
The people planning a downtown shuttle service that starts later this year have released maps showing the routes their eight-passenger carts will take during weekday lunchtimes and weekend evenings. More
U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin of Lakeland got an unwelcome distinction this week when Axios reported he is among the five freshman House members who have missed the most votes this session. But Franklin said today that all of the votes he missed were taken during a quick trip to Lakeland for a major announcement and none were on issues where his vote would have been decisive. More
In a move expected to improve recruitment and retention of police officers, Lakeland commissioners approved a union contract that increases starting pay, grants delayed raises and reduces the time it takes to achieve the highest salary. The agreement between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police applies to officers, sergeants and lieutenants, The Ledger reports. | Memorandum summarizing the changes
Gloria Rivera called 911 and alerted neighbors Monday morning when she realized several apartments were on fire at Cecil Gober Villas, a 55+ village behind the main Lakeland post office, News Channel 8 reports. Injuries were averted. The electrical fire, which was deemed accidental by the Lakeland Fire Department, destroyed two apartments and damaged two more. More
Additional outdoor dining is planned for downtown Lakeland by late summer after a “streetscape” project extends the sidewalk and builds in safety buffers on the block of Main Street across from Munn Park. More
Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets has eased its mask policy: Shoppers and employees who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer be required to wear facial coverings in stores. More
Lakeland city commissioners agreed today to continue discussing body cameras for police officers after hearing officials from two other Florida cities say the cameras have become essential policing tools that once-skeptical officers now embrace. More
The first project at the 730-acre Lakeland Central Park logistics park at the western edge of the Polk Parkway will be a 708,000-square-foot spec warehouse, Tampa Bay Business Journal reports. Ultimately, the project is expected to include 5 million square feet of industrial space in multiple buildings and 500,000 square feet for multifamily, retail and general commercial uses. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for next Friday. | Project website
Thirteen thousand origami swans are hung along a windowed walkway at Lakeland Regional Health, and each one represents a COVID-19 patient treated at the medical center, ABC Action News reports. Most are white; about 600 blue swans represent lives lost. The display will continue for several weeks and then move to the Polk Museum of Art so more people can see it. More
Children are ready to return to Polk County preschools and child-care centers, but owners are having trouble finding workers and more than 200 positions are unfilled, Fox 13 News reports. A $4 million federal grant to the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County will give some financial relief to owners, but it’s a short-term solution, the organization’s director says.
A new Publix supermarket opening this summer on County Line Road at Pipkin Road will include some new amenities, The Ledger reports. The deli will be located in the middle of the store, and a mezzanine with a balcony will give customers an area to relax, socialize, eat or work using free wifi. (Subscriber-only story)
Residents of a neighborhood near Tigertown are on the lookout for a 2 1/2-foot tegu lizard, an invasive species that can become aggressive, Fox 13 News reports. A trapper has set traps on Swannanoa Street, where the lizard has been spotted under sheds and in crawl spaces.
U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, whose district includes most of Lakeland, declined to say how he voted Wednesday when House Republicans removed Liz Cheney from her leadership post, The Ledger reports. Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota, whose district extends to some south Lakeland suburbs, voted to remove Cheney as the chair of the House Republican conference. Cheney was ousted after repudiating former President Trump’s allegations that the 2020 election election results were fraudulent.
- MASKS remain mandatory in Polk Schools through the end of the school year. School Board members disappointed anti-mask protesters Tuesday by agreeing to wait until June to vote on a mask policy so that new Superintendent Frederick Heid can be involved in the discussion. ALSO: Fox 13 News
- WALK-UP COVID VACCINES are being offered by the Polk Health Department on Mondays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at its Lakeland office, 3241 Lakeland Hills Blvd. | Learn more
- TWO NURSING HOMES in Lakeland face negligence lawsuits filed by family members of residents who died from COVID-19. But a new Florida law will make it nearly impossible for them to collect damages, experts say. (Subscribers-only story)
Florida Southern College plans to move its graduate nursing program into the former campus of St. Joseph Academy, a private K-8 school that the Catholic Church’s Diocese of Orlando shuttered after the 2019-2020 school year. Before buying the property, FSC needs city approval for a change in land use. More
- COMPENSATION: Reginald Jackson was thwarted again this year by the Florida Legislature in his attempt to collect $312,500 from the city of Lakeland. The money is part of a jury verdict finding the city negligent when Jackson was shot in the neck by a police officer in 2001. A claims bill directing the city to pay the money never made it past a legislative committee. | Previous coverage: LkldNow, WUFT
- MASKS IN SCHOOLS: A move to end the mask requirement in Polk County Schools is gaining steam as a School Board member asks that the issue be placed on the board’s Tuesday evening agenda and members of a vocal Facebook group are signing up to speak to the School Board. (subscribers-only story)
- GROWTH: The Lakeland-Winter Haven metro area had the second highest rate of population growth in the U.S. from July 2019 to 2020. At 2.7%, that’s a tie with Boise, Idaho, and second only to the 3% rate of Austin, Texas, based on a New York Times analysis of new U.S. Census data.
- BODY CAMS: As Lakeland’s police department considers adopting body cameras, The Ledger surveyed a few Florida police agencies who use them about their costs. Their conclusions: LPD cost estimates are “possible” for the cameras, low for the needed docking bays and high for data storage. A companion article discusses effectiveness at other agencies. Both are subscriber-only stories.
People have lots of questions before visiting Mayfaire-by-the-Lake, Lakeland’s premiere outdoor art festival: Where should we park? What if I get hungry? (Where are the bathrooms?) Here is a guide, including Covid safety precautions and information about a first-ever virtual Mayfaire. More
Culver’s, a Wisconsin-based restaurant chain known for its butter burgers and frozen custards, is coming to two locations on opposite ends of Lakeland, The Ledger reports. One will front the Fort Fraser Trail in Highland City along U.S. 98 at Clubhouse Road; the other will be on U.S. 98 north of I-4 near Walmart and Sam’s Club. The separate franchisees hope to open by the end of the year.
Three years in the making, The Well business center is finally springing up from the ground at 114 E. Parker St. in Lakeland’s Midtown neighborhood, The $1.3 million, 4,700-square-foot collaborative workspace is scheduled to open in early 2022. More
Lakeland voters today selected Mike Musick to serve on the Lakeland City Commission until the end of the year. He received 50.7% of the vote against Shandale Terrell in a runoff election for the seat representing southeast Lakeland on the nonpartisan board. More
Florida Southern College, Polk State College and Southeastern University are not requiring students to be vaccinated for COVID-19, but the institutions are encouraging students to receive a vaccine. Florida Polytechnic University has not yet made a decision. More
Polk County Public Schools will continue requiring face coverings on campuses and offices through the end of the school year. In a Facebook post this morning. the school district clarified that an order from Gov. Ron DeSantis suspending local government COVID-19 restrictions does not apply to schools, News Channel 8 reported. | Facebook post
LkldNow is introducing a new events calendar, one we think is the most comprehensive listing of things to do in Lakeland and Central Florida. More