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100 Stories From WUFT That Kept You Informed In 2019

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The top stories near you this year

Our newsroom some 18 months ago made a conscious pivot away from covering the day’s minutiae toward a more impactful community journalism mission, one that suited your needs as local public media supporters while harnessing the power of our student-powered operation. This was the year when that decision really began to bear fruit, and we’re proud of the results.

The core subject areas that you, our readers, told us to focus on in surveys and other feedback are laid out below, with the year’s 100 biggest local storylines divided between each.

We can’t wait to get started on next year’s reporting journey and hope you will continue to join us. Journalism and an informed public have never been more important, so if you appreciated what you saw in this newsletter these past 12 months, please share word of our storytelling with your friends, coworkers or family members who want to be smarter and better informed Floridians.

They can sign up at wuft.org/thepoint. Thank you for your support.

Our investigations and projects

Pursuing accountability reporting can be lonely and uncomfortable, but it’s some of the most important work we do. From examining the impact of 20 years of school shootings on an entire generation to digging into a shuttered federal job center’s past while awaiting word of its future, these stories took time, a dedicated team and cooperation (or lack thereof) from often reluctant sources to bring you the truth. If you have a tip for what should be investigated in 2020, please send it our way.

‘Music Was The Only Thing He Had,’ And Police Say It Got Gainesville Rapper ‘Shay Baby’ Killed (March 15)

Invisible Aftermath: A Hurricane’s Unseen Effects On Families (April 8)

Florida Considered Public Money For Troubled Executive (April 10)

Gainesville City Commission Critics Question Catering Expense (April 15)

Civil Lawsuits And Insurance Claims Have Cost Gainesville Over $7.6 Million This Decade (May 3)

How RTS And Alachua County Schools Have Worked To Improve Bus Safety (Nov. 26)

Gainesville-Alachua County Drug Task Force Quietly Dismantled A Cocaine Ring Described As One Of Region’s Largest (Aug. 12)

Florida’s Auditor General Puts Focus On Student Data Protection (Sept. 10)

Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Has Turned Over To ICE More Immigrants Following New Florida Law (Nov. 20)

Buried Alive: The Story Of The Chaotic Rescue To Save A Florida Laborer Inside A Deep Construction Hole (Dec. 2)

Fresh Take Florida

As newspaper budgets have fallen in the past two decades, so has important reporting about state legislatures nationwide. Our Fresh Take Florida team — founded in January — seeks to bridge that coverage gap while bringing a fresh perspective to covering Florida state government. Its reporters helped you get to know new key players in the management of state water districts, elections and medical marijuana. They spent an entire day on a Putnam County lake reporting on the annual state-sanctioned alligator hunt. And they reported on what it means to have the “Gunshine State” surpass 2 million concealed weapon permits. Other big stories included:

Florida to Ban Dumping Blood Off Beaches to Lure Sharks (Feb. 19)

Donors Sticking By Florida Lawmaker Despite Blackface Photo (Feb. 19)

Florida’s Elderly Sex Offenders Shut Out Of Housing (May 2)

Firm Takes Steps To Keep Secretive Voice-Print Technology Used On Florida Inmates (May 6)

Sheriff: Officer Whose Gun Fired In School Cafeteria Fired For Mishandling Pistol (Oct. 16)

Details Emerge In Officer’s Accidental Shooting In School Cafeteria (Oct. 18)

Pasco Deputy Fired Over Accidental Gun Discharge Fighting To Keep His Job (Nov. 26)

Economic development

New construction is rising around Gainesville — including in 2020 on the site of the Swamp Restaurant — and there’s been plenty of government-led economic initiatives and growth to report on, too. Planning for and squabbling over a new sports arena, the reconfiguration of the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area and even the arrival of a Cheesecake Factory at Butler Plaza signal this area is growing. But how, where and for whom?

Commissioner Gail Johnson Leads Gainesville In Discussion Of Development Strategies (March 23)

CRA Hopes Heartwood Will Be ‘Catalyst For More Investment’ In East Gainesville (April 25)

Developer: The Swamp Restaurant Will Live On After All (May 1)

Wawa Reveals Dates For Five Gainesville Site Openings Including State’s First Non-Gas Location (Oct. 16)

Alachua County Commissioners Hear Proposal For Celebration Pointe Sports Center (Oct. 16)

Former Cop Opens Hemp Shop In Chiefland (Oct. 17)

Hawthorne Climbs Back With $27 Million Makeover (Oct. 17)

City, County Leaders Spar Over Celebration Pointe As Possible Sports Arena Location (Nov. 8)

Gainesville City Plan Board Delays Weyerhaeuser Development Plan Decision (Nov. 14)

Deliberation Surrounding Gainesville Sports And Event Arena Continues (Nov. 22)

More Hotel And Mid-Rise Apartment Construction Is On The 2020 Gainesville Horizon (Nov. 27)

South Main Street Transformation Brings In A New Business — A Donut Shop (Dec. 2)

Education

Tracking the effect of state-mandated policies at the local level was again a big focus in 2019, as were the voter-approved Alachua County school improvements and the innovative work from many teachers and principals in our area.

Construction positives and pains

Half-Cent Sales Tax Brings Improvements And New Elementary School To Gainesville (Feb. 19)

Alachua County School District Plans To Put Prairie View Back In Use During Construction On Other Schools (Sept. 13)

Controversy Emerges Over Plan To House Howard Bishop Middle School Students At Other School Campus (Dec. 4)

Innovative educators

Gilchrist County Elementary Students Are Using 3D Printing To Make Valentine’s Day Crafts And Much More (Feb. 14)

Alachua County Library Wins Grant To Teach English To Those Who Don’t Speak It (Feb. 22)

Most K-12 Schools Don’t Teach It, But These Gainesville Students Are Learning to Code (March 25)

How Pigs And Cows Saved A School (March 28)

Diploma Dreams Become Reality For Inmates At Graduation (May 21)

Eastside High School Offers Colombian Students A Taste of American Education (Oct. 11)

Coalition Pushing New Way to Improve Literacy Rates in Alachua County Schools (Dec. 13)

From Tallahassee chambers to the classroom

Alachua County School District Officials Raise Concerns About Hope Scholarships For Bullied Students (Feb. 25)

Do Or Die: A Young Teacher Struggles To Save A Failing Ocala School From Shutting Down (June 19)

Gainesville’s Cost For School Resource Officers To Increase (Aug. 2)

Alachua County Struggling To Attract Teachers For Underperforming Schools In Gainesville (Aug. 8)

Alachua County Teacher Shortage Persists Through The First Month Of School (Sept. 18)

African, African American History Now Taught In All Alachua County Public High Schools (Sept. 26)

Florida Law Requires The Removal Of A Struggling School’s Principal. That’s What Happened At This Gainesville School (Oct. 9)

Florida Standards Listening Tour Stops By Alachua County (Oct. 14)

Attendance Triples At Alachua County Schools’ Paraprofessional Job Fair (Oct. 17)

Is 2% Enough? First-Year Alachua County Teachers Reflect On Finances (Nov. 12)

Other education headlines

Santa Fe College Recognized As Top Fulbright Institution Among Community Colleges (March 18)

College President Sasser Reflects On 17 Years At Santa Fe (April 11)

University of Florida Leaders Honor Former Provost David Colburn (Oct. 9)

What’s Behind Alachua County High School Students’ Math Assessment Decline? (Oct. 16)

Audit: Santa Fe College Decision To Extend Bookstore Contract Could Cheat Taxpayers (Dec. 18)

Environment

Alachua County government continued to aggressively pursue land conservation and opened to the public a new 700-acre preserve (sparsely visited so far because no one can drive there). Revelations from Hurricane Irma of flood-prone areas continued in local neighborhoods and state parks alike, the battle over a proposed phosphate mine heated up, and more tangible progress of the Cabot-Koppers Superfund cleanup became visible.

Kanapaha Prairie Flooding Presents Conundrum For Alachua County Government And Private Property Owners (March 1)

A Drowning Subdivision Reaches For The County’s Help As Hurricane Season Approaches (March 25)

Florida’s Largest Live Oak Protected Amid Gainesville’s Canopy Loss (March 21)

Anglers Line 441 As Fish Flood Canals (May 14)

‘Spinning Its Wheels’: City-County Discussion Over Cabot-Koppers Superfund Site Redevelopment Stalls (June 4)

Alachua County Commissioners Want To Build A Linear Park Along U.S. 441 Through Paynes Prairie. They Need $3 Million To Make It Happen (June 27)

County Commission Agrees On Conservation Easement For Camp McConnell Property (July 11)

Excavation Signals Remediation Progress At Cabot-Koppers Superfund Site (Nov. 6)

The Battle of Bone Valley: Part I, The Case Tolling Florida’s Smallest County (Nov. 20)

Bill Seeks To Replace Septic Tanks With Sewage Lines In Gainesville Neighborhoods (Dec. 10)

Alachua County Commission Concerned About ‘Lack Of Good Information’ Over Proposed Phosphate Mine (Dec. 11)

Cabot Site Contamination Containment Nearly Complete With Help Of Massive Piece Of Construction Equipment (Dec. 12)

Government

Local governments kept working to ban things they don’t like (at times more successfully than others) while also attempting to launch a municipal broadband network and control rising utility rates and property taxes.

Gainesville Bans Expanded Polystyrene, Certain Plastic Bags As Of August 2019 (Jan. 18)

On Second Thought, Alachua County Sticks By Decision To Stop Using Inmate Labor (Jan. 23)

Gainesville City Commission Votes To End Use Of Inmate Labor (Jan. 25)

Report: Get Used To GRU Rate Increases (Feb. 8)

Volume Down: City Commission Votes Against Unlimited Noise Permits After Quality Of Life Complaints (Feb. 8)

Gainesville City Commission Looks At Cutting GRU Fund Transfer While Increasing Utility Rates Or Property Taxes (May 2)

Alachua County Bans Conversion Therapy (May 30)

Consultant’s Report: Cheaper, Faster Internet Possible in Gainesville, But Not Without Significant Challenges (June 11)

Gainesville City Commission Votes to Seek Help and More Information on Broadband Options (June 21)

Gainesville City Commission Votes For Property Tax Increase To Take Effect In October 2019 (July 19)

‘Angry And Annoyed’ Gainesville City Commissioners Push Back Against Critics At Chaotic Meeting (July 19)

Neighboring Cities, Other Entities Weigh Partnering With Gainesville To Improve Internet (July 29)

Gainesville Residents Uncertain On City’s Quest To Build Its Own Internet Network (Aug. 6)

Gainesville City Commission Continues With Broadband Network Analysis, Backpedals On Plastic Bag Ban (Aug. 15)

Abandoned And Stolen Shopping Carts Create Nuisance Across Gainesville (Sept. 26)

Gainesville City Commission Selects Lee Feldman As New City Manager (Sept. 28)

State Committee Votes to Send Auditor General To Examine City Of Gainesville (Nov. 15)

Health

Florida’s three public health crises — opioid overdoses, the Hepatitis A outbreak and youth vaping — each appeared to some extent in this region. We also focused our reporting on gaps in rural coverage and mental health intervention.

Alachua County Approves Ordinance Making It Illegal to Sell Tobacco to Anyone Under 21 (Jan. 23)

City Of Newberry Creates Task Force To Fight Opioid Crisis (Jan. 31)

The Alachua County Commission Doesn’t Want Teens Buying Tobacco. What Happens Next? (Feb. 6)

Williston’s Regional General Hospital Faces Potential Closure In Wake Of Utility Debt (Feb. 22)

Williston’s Regional General Hospital Clears Utility Bill Debt (April 1)

Gainesville’s Mental Health Co-Responder Team Diverts Arrests and Saves Taxpayers Money (April 26)

“I Want People To Know There’s A Solution”: A Fight To Provide Rural Dental Care (Oct. 1)

Emergency Care Proves Difficult For Williston Residents Following Hospital Closure (Oct. 7)

“It’s A Big Overreach Of Government”: Reactions To Newberry’s Decision To Opt Out Of County Tobacco Ordinance (Oct. 21)

Florida Counties Combat Growing Hepatitis A Outbreak Through Vaccination And Public Education (Oct. 24)

Two Cities Have Opted Out of Alachua County’s Tobacco Ordinance (Nov. 15)

Inequity

The aftershocks of a landmark 2018 report about economic and racial inequity across Alachua County continued this year. Progress toward solving it and related problems like unaffordable housing and homelessness remains incremental but worth following.

City Of Gainesville Begins Work To Solve Food Insecurity (Feb. 13)

Gainesville Commissioners And Residents Discuss Affordable Housing Solutions (Feb. 21)

Alachua County Focuses In On Affordable Housing Solution (April 3)

Homelessness Numbers Up Throughout North Central Florida (April 17)

‘It’s Not Just Talk’: Friendship Seven To Discuss Progress Since Inequity Report At Town Hall (April 24)

Gainesville Residents Struggle To Pay Rent Amid Florida’s Housing Crisis (May 8)

Gainesville City Commission To Discuss Affordable Housing Recommendations (May 23)

Gainesville Is The City Affected The Most By Poverty In Florida, Analysis Reports (Aug. 19)

Emotions Run High At City Meeting About Changing Gainesville’s Inequity (Sept. 19)

Dignity Village To Close Down As Grace Marketplace Gets New Funding (Oct. 1)

‘No More Words, More Action:’ City Commission And Alachua County School Board Try To Find Solution For Racial Inequity (Nov. 7)

City and County Officials Lay Out Plans for East Gainesville Development (Nov. 19)

Law and public safety

High-profile dog attacks in this area might not have started this year, but a frenzy over what to do about them did ensue in its first half. That discussion kept our newsroom busy, as did several high-profile criminal court cases, police and fire contract negotiations and a bizarre but deadly bird attack.

The dogs

Gainesville City Commissioner Wants To Discuss Dog Attacks After Another One This Month (March 29)

Fears Become Reality For Gainesville Neighbors Living Near Dangerous Dogs (April 4)

Dangerous Dog Attacks Drive Conversation At City Meeting (April 5)

Alachua County Commission Unanimously Approves Irresponsible Pet Owner Ordinance (April 10)

Skepticism, Frustration Overpower Neighborhood Meeting On Recent Dog Attacks (April 18)

Melrose Area Dog Attacks Threaten Neighbors, Livestock (April 24)

Vet Says Alachua County’s Irresponsible Pet Owner Ordinance Is A Good Start (April 25)

New Pet Ordinance May Be Gainesville’s Next Step Against Dog Bites (Aug. 15)

The courtroom

Tyler Tenbrink Sentenced Up To 15 Years In Prison For Shooting Near UF Campus After 2017 Richard Spencer Event (Feb. 28)

Colton Fears Receives Prison Sentence In Shooting Incident That Followed Richard Spencer Event (March 19)

Former Gainesville Regional Airport Employee Pleads Guilty To Stealing Nearly $50,000 From Parking Lot (Nov. 2)

Michael Reuschel Found Guilty On All Counts In Wife’s Stabbing (Nov. 8)

A Year After The Murders Of A Gainesville Woman And Her Daughter, A Resolution Remains Distant (Nov. 18)

Other public safety headlines

Self-Defense An ‘Underemphasized’ Way To Prevent Sexual Assault On UF Campus (Jan. 3)

Waldo Aims To Curb Speeders With Complete Streets Project (April 24)

‘Just A Safe Solution’: Gainesville Police’s Gun Buyback Event Nets 143 Firearms (Aug. 12)

Autopsy: Cassowary Severed Artery In Alachua Man’s Arm During Fatal Bird Attack (Aug. 28)

Despite Pushback, Alachua County Ramps Up Airboating Curfew Enforcement (Sept. 19)

Shorthanded Gainesville Police Department’s Officers Finally Have A New Contract. Here’s What It’s Been Like For Them To Patrol The City On A Saturday Night (Oct. 7)

Cedar Key Bridge Construction Meets Mixed Emotions From Residents (Nov. 1)

Gainesville Firefighters Get Raise And Paid Parental Leave After New Agreement With The City (Dec. 19)

Politics

The most unsettled amendment from the 2018 ballot — giving certain Florida felons the right to vote — stayed in the headlines all year long, especially when a pair of Marion County candidates ran for office without having been granted the right to do so. We could feel in reporting on political stories all year the coming battles of 2020, many of which can be seen below.

Dozens Of Felons Register To Vote In Alachua County (Jan. 9)

Mayor Lauren Poe, Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos Celebrate Re-Election (March 20)

Joining The Family Business: How The Mayor Of Hawthorne Came To Be (Apri 25)

Alachua County Will Have Bilingual Ballots And Poll Workers At 2020 Elections (April 26)

Advocacy Groups Sue City Of Ocala Over Homeless Arrests (Sept. 23)

Twitter Suspends Personal Account Of Florida Congressman Who Supports Trump (Oct. 31)

Nobody Noticed An Ex-Felon In Florida Ran For Office; Now There Are Questions Whether It Was Legal (Nov. 26)

Ocala Council Blocks Winning Candidate From Office Over 33-Year-Old Felony Conviction, Delays Decision On Another Election (Dec. 3)

‘I Will Not Go Quietly’: The Story Of The First Openly Transgender Candidate To Run For Florida Senate (Dec. 6)

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn Eyes Run For Congress (Dec. 12)

Ted Yoho’s Former Deputy Chief Of Staff Kat Cammack To Run For Congress (Dec. 13)

Eight Candidates Are Running For Three Gainesville City Commission Seats In 2020 (Dec. 13)

Transportation

A deadly fiery crash on Interstate 75 opened the year and served of a reminder of the problems the corridor has through Alachua and Marion counties. The area is also preparing for the state’s recommended routes of a new toll road, watching to see the impacts of a U.S. 301 bypass on Starke and enjoying growth and expansion at the Gainesville Regional Airport.

Coastal Connector Abandoned, Marion County Residents Upset About County’s Proposed Comprehensive Plan (Jan. 18)

I-75 In Alachua County Is Headed Toward ‘F’ Status By 2030. What Are The Solutions To Fix It? (Jan. 21)

Gainesville Regional Airport To Expand, Open Service To Dallas (Feb. 5)

Public Safety Department Heads Present Data, Solutions For I-75 Safety (April 10)

$178M Truck Route Will Attempt To Relieve Congestion In Starke. It’s Likely To Change The City One Way Or Another (Aug. 8)

American Airlines’ New Dallas Route Boosts Gainesville Regional Passenger Traffic (Oct. 16)

How 7 Miles Divided A Small Florida Town (Oct. 28)

GNV Breaks Ground For Terminal Expansion (Nov. 22)

Untold Florida

Listening to and reporting on your curiosities has been a staple of our newsroom for four years now. Here’s a handful of our favorite questions of yours for which we found answers in 2019.

Where In The World Is John Belushi? The Disappearance Of A Melrose Landmark (Feb. 20)

First Jewish Utopia In U.S. Founded In Micanopy (Feb. 20)

Rochelle’s Trio of Trees Witness To History (March 7)

Why Is The Parking Garage Staircase At Gainesville’s VA Hospital Higher Than The Parking Levels? (July 1)

What Are Those Domes Outside Dunnellon? (July 8)

For Whom Or What Are Lake Alice And Bivens Arm Named? (July 15)

How Do Delays At Gainesville’s Airport Compare To Its Competitors? (July 22)

Where Was The Town Of Gracy? (Aug. 12)

How Many Standardized Tests Should Students Be Taking Each Year? (Aug. 19)

Florida Good

The public’s hunger for news that’s not all bad pushed us to find and share these stories of Floridians helping others and persevering past the challenges of our time.

Cerebral Palsy Doesn’t Stop Gainesville Man From Helping, Inspiring Those Around Him (Jan. 2)

After Michael’s Fury, An Angel Saves The Forgotten In A Florida Tent City (Jan. 21)

Gainesville High Students Use 5K Run To Raise $4K For Hurricane Michael Victims (Jan. 28)

Alachua County’s Days For Girls Chapter Offers Sewing Classes While Helping A Worldwide Need (Feb. 5)

As Ocala Celebrates Its 150th Anniversary, One Family Remembers Where Ocala Came From (Feb. 14)

PACE Center Alachua Continues Expansion, Plans To Welcome 14 New Girls (Feb. 26)

Language Barrier-Busting Pamphlet Seeks To Help Crime Victims Who Don’t Speak English (March 8)

Belleview Toddler Becomes Ambassador For Down Syndrome (March 11)

Farm Near Gainesville Builds Handicap-Accessible Strawberry Picking System (April 11)

Mark Brisbane’s Motivation For Life Is Not His Disability (April 16)

Ocala Drive-In Theatre Hangs On Amid Decades Of Nationwide Decline For Drive-Ins (April 26)

Gainesville Residents Rally For Father’s Day Bailout (June 13)

Burn Survivors Join Peers For Week Of Fear-Conquering Fun At Florida State Fire College (July 9)

Gainesville Security Guard By Night, Waldo Summer Camp Organizer By Day (July 16)

Local Metal Artist Finds Beauty Through Sparks And Flame (Aug. 1)

‘Out of the Blue’: Gainesville High School Band Receives Anonymous $100,000 Donation (Aug. 14)

On The Suwannee River, A Surprise Boat Gift Between Longtime Friends (Oct. 3)

In Ocala, Remembering The Bowens’ Sacrifices In Vietnam And Afterward (Nov. 11)

Legacy Of Captain James King Will Live On Through An 11-Year-Old Evolving Clarinetist (Nov. 11)

Rising From The Roots: A Migrant Family’s Story (Nov. 18)

Kyle Smith: From Three Brain Surgeries To Local Entrepreneur (Nov. 18)

Four Who Have Taken A Stand For Justice To Receive Rosa Parks Courage Award (Dec. 6)

How Barbara Petersen Became Florida’s ‘Sunshine Savior’ (Dec. 12)


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About Ethan Magoc

Ethan is a journalist at WUFT News. He's a Pennsylvania native who found a home reporting Florida's stories. Reach him by emailing emagoc@wuft.org or calling 352-294-1525.

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