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Author: Sandi Kemp

Out and About

Hopefully county officials have figured this out and are meeting regionally. I know there are statewide groups that meet – Association of Counties, Association of Cities, and more. I don’t believe the statewide meetings are as valuable as knowing what is going on in your neighboring counties. I’m sure mayors get together and discuss best practices, right?

Or are they holding their cards close to their chests? Today I attended a Tourist Development Council meeting for Okaloosa County in Crestview. They have just started having occasional meetings on the north end of their county, something Santa Rosa County has been doing for years. Maybe they adopted that after learning best practices from Santa Rosa County?

Regardless, I picked up on a few ideas that I’m going to share with our Santa Rosa County TDC as far as reporting more details. Okaloosa County reports on pre-bookings, which gives an idea of what the next season is going to look like. I don’t remember ever hearing of a similar forecast report in Santa Rosa County.

We have the Jingle Bell Run, the Parade, the Market and this weekend Caring and Sharing will be distributing food to those in need. Company holiday parties are still going on and will probably all wrap up this week so businesses can start concentrating on their families at home, not at work. Though, work families are very important, that is why we celebrate with them as well. What hasn’t happened yet is the announcement of our Holiday Sweepstakes winners.

Our sweepstakes software will be drawing two random winners first thing Thursday morning (today) and they will each have $800 (or more) in gift cards from our local businesses, just in time to bring Christmas cheer to all those they hold dear, or to themselves. Up to them.

We are very happy to announce our new editor, Dusty Ricketts. He is new to us but not to this area.

We have had two false starts this year, but apparently we were just waiting for Dusty to become available.

He is a great addition to our team! Now, Gail can do her job as the Publisher, and I can do my job in Business Development and great things are going to happen for our communities.

Someone commented to me today in Crestview that they were happy to see that we brought Dusty on board and described him as someone that “could write.”

That was a dig at the last couple of hires, who, unfortunately, as it turns out, couldn’t or at least, didn’t write. I didn’t mind the dig. I loved it because they felt like they could be truthful and honest with me and that is the largest compliment anyone can pay me or anyone else.

Quote of the week: “The great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809 -1894), American physician, poet and humorist notable for his medical research and teaching, and as the author of the “Breakfast-Table” series of essays.

Six alternatives whittled down to three for Northwest Bypass

The public comment period ends December 2, and a decision will be made in 2023 regarding which alternative will move forward for a more detailed phase, the Project Development and Environment, or PD&E, Study. Future phases are not currently funded but are expected to be funded.

The Northwest Crestview Bypass will be the continuation of the Southwest Crestview Bypass where it leaves off at US 90 and Antioch Rd. The Southwest Bypass is well underway including the new I-10 interchange at Antioch Road.

John Wimberly, Project Manager with HDR (right) speaks with Crestview area resident, Judy Newton, as Brad Collins, an engineer with HDR stands in the background. They are looking at current projects and how the three possible Southwest bypasses will tie in. “I’m glad we will have a second exit. We have been asking for another exit for 30-years.” said Newton.

The Northwest segment connects to the Southwest bypass at US 90 and continues northwesterly and then east until it connects with S.R. 85. Northwest bypass continuation is made possible by Okaloosa County surtax dollars (half cent) and a Florida Department of Transportation grant and is being developed by Okaloosa County who has contracted with HDR. HDR is a design firm, specializing in engineering, architecture, environmental, and construction services. 

Okaloosa County is also coordinating with the City of Crestview and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on this massive multi-decade project.

National real estate fraud trend reaches the northwest Florida

Recently, a vacant Navarre Beach lot was sold without the knowledge of the owner. The lot didn’t have a mortgage and the owner lived out of state.

An imposter seller went through a referral company and reached a Realtor in Fort Walton Beach. The imposter seller claimed there were family issues and the lot needed to be sold in two weeks with a cash deal.  The Realtor received copies of driver’s licenses and social security cards from the imposter sellers that looked credible.

The eventual buyer of this property saw the land become available and jumped on the deal and took money out of retirement funds to “make it happen.” Within two weeks, the land was closed on, the commission check went to the Realtor and the Realtor showed up at closing with a bottle of wine saying, “This is the easiest deal I’ve ever closed on – except for the seller’s thick accent,” according to the buyer.

The buyer put in a variance request with the county and had no idea that the sale was not legitimate. However, everything started to unravel almost two weeks later when they received a phone call from the real owner who had been notified by Scott Parsons of Navarre’s Reliable Land Title, that the property had been sold.

Luckily, due to a hiccup with the wire transfer to the fraudulent seller, red flags appeared, and Parsons started trying to find the seller by phone numbers other than what the real estate agent provided. Parsons was able to recover all funds for the buyer, who was also a Navarre Beach property owner. Parsons even reimbursed the buyer for ancillary fees that were not recoverable.

While similar, the actions are not considered identity theft because the imposters did not have access or use the victim’s actual account and identification numbers. This attempted crime would not have been stopped in its tracks by services such as “Home Title Lock.”  The title lock service would only catch this crime after the fact. According to the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, if the transaction had gone through, it would be a matter for state and federal government. “The goal is always recovery,” a department spokesman said.

This type of fraud can be prevented if all parties involved in the transaction remain skeptical and analytical. A similar fraud was attempted just a few weeks ago on Pensacola Beach. According to the Realtor involved, they received a future client through a referral agency, similar to the Navarre Beach case, though the specific referral agency has not been revealed. When the Realtor contacted the fraudulent seller from the referral, he was very well spoken but was eager to get started.  “Let’s do this,” he said. The Realtor was immediately skeptical because the fraudulent seller never asked what the market was like, or the commission that would be charged.

The Realtor searched the area where the real property owner was living and found three different families with the same last name. She contacted them and left messages to make sure they were one and the same as the person that had contacted her. In the meantime, the Realtor contacted the fraudulent seller and asked him to send his driver’s license, adding “There is a lot of fraud going on.” He didn’t flinch and immediately sent his driver’s license.  The Realtor didn’t hear back from any of the messages she had left earlier, so the Realtor listed the property.

Within 24-hours the Realtor received a call from a family member. “I was told that I had no right to list their property.” The Realtor told the family member that she had been sent what was supposed to be her husband’s driver’s license. “She asked me to describe her husband and verify the eye color,” said the Realtor.  In the end, the Realtor convinced what turned out to be the true owner’s wife to send a copy of her husband’s driver’s license. The Realtor took both licenses to a Sheriff’s Department annex where they verified that one was an imposter, and the real owner was the driver’s license that the wife sent the Realtor. “And that was the end of it,” said the Realtor. “The Sheriff’s department said I could be talking to someone in Russia. They didn’t want to pursue it further. I just quit answering texts and emails and took the property off the Multiple Listing System (MLS). “

The Pensacola Beach case was caught early by an astute Realtor. In the Navarre Beach case, the Realtor seemed to be blindsided by a quick and easy sale for a premium lot below market value and missed all the warning signs. The buyer of the Navarre Beach property was very disappointed that it was in the end, not a legitimate sale, but feels fortunate to receive their money back.

“At one point, fingers started pointing at us as if we should have known better because the lot was undervalued. You can’t blame us for jumping on a deal. I thought I was dealing with a licensed professional who should have done their homework. I knew more about the property than the Realtor did,” said the buyer.

In both instances, the Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Escambia Sheriff’s departments did not want to pursue the leads because, “funds had been recovered, or never exchanged hands.” However, since Navarre Press’s inquiries, the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Department has referred the evidence collected by Navarre’s Reliable Land Title’s owner, Scott Parsons, to the Major Crimes Division.

Moving forward, Parsons is investing in a paid service that will verify the seller’s identity and make sure the seller is communicating via computer and phone from the United States. The service also asks the seller a series of questions that only they would know such as addresses they formally resided at, and models of cars they have owned. The service will also check the wire transfer information and make sure the money is going to the correct person.

“We are all in this together. Everyone needs to keep their eyes open.  Everyone had an opportunity to catch the Navarre Beach deal before it got to the point of a wire transfer, – us included,” said Parsons.

In Parsons’s after-action report, he stated several observations and warning flags that surfaced:

  • All contact via email and phone
  • Vacant lot with absentee owner
  • Used a family emergency for the reason that the deal had to close fast and with cash
  • Changed wire instructions
  • Emailed wire instructions
  • Lack or difficult contact with wife even though DLs show they live under the same roof.
  • FedEx package dropped nearly 4 hours away from where real owners lived but had a Santa Rosa County Notary. (Notary ended up being faked.)
  • Listing based on a referral – and seems to be common with fraud. (Referral services include Zillow,, RedFin, and more.)
  • Sold significantly under market value
  • Title was free and clear. That means no loan payoff so no real SSN or loan number required.

What can property owners do to make sure this doesn’t happen to them?

  • Keep some kind of loan or encumbrance on your property.
  • Place a lien on your own property.
  • File a letter with the Clerk of Court that says verified contact must be made with the owner prior to any sale of the property.

What can Realtors do?

  • Heed the warning signs
  • Conduct public records searches on sellers that you are listing property for especially if they are remote and the property they are selling is unencumbered.
  • Do your best to reach the sellers independently other than the number that was given to you from a referral service.

Durell Peaden, Jr. Pharmacy campus celebrates 10 years

The historic building known previously as the Alatex building in downtown Crestview across from Crestview City Hall, now houses the only Doctor of Pharmacy program (Pharm D.) west of Tallahassee.

The building was constructed in the late 1930s and was owned by the City of Crestview until 2010 when the city signed the title of the building to FAMU after the Florida Legislature budgeted $7 million in 2010 toward the FAMU Crestview Education Center project for the restoration of the building. According to published reports, Peaden steered more than $12 million to the Crestview campus for program planning and building renovations.

Dr. Durrell Peaden, Jr. was born in DeFuniak Springs, Fla., in 1945 but remarked to many about his childhood running barefoot in what is now downtown Crestview. He went on to graduate from Crestview High School in 1963, Tulane University in 1967 and Universidad De Autonoma de Guadalajara, Mexico in 1973 and then completed his family medicine residency through the University of Florida.

Dr. Peaden practiced medicine in Crestview from 1975 until his retirement in 1999. While practicing medicine, he attended and graduated in 1977 from Jones Law School at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala. and earning his Juris Doctorate degree.

In 1994, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives where he served until being elected to the Florida Senate in 2000. He served as a senator of District 2, which consisted of Holmes County, Washington County and parts of Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton until he was term-limited out in 2010.

As early as 2002, Peaden sought out Dr. Henry Lewis, professor, and Interim President of the Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and shared with him his vision for a health center in Crestview. “He wanted, pharmacy, nursing and other programs to come here,” said Lewis at the anniversary celebration held Sept. 7.

On August 2, 2012, FAMU officially opened the “FAMU Rural Diversity Healthcare Center” and the College of Pharmacy admitted its first Crestview students on August 27, 2012. Peaden passed away at the age of 69 in June of 2015, and the building was officially renamed the Durell Peaden, Jr. Center on October 26, 2015. The first graduating class of 21students received their Pharm D. diplomas in March of 2016, less than a year after Peaden’s passing. In 2020, the FAMU Board of Trustees approved the renaming of the site as “Durell Peaden, Jr. Rural Pharmacy Education Campus.”

Margareth Larose-Pierre, Pharm D and director and dean of the campus spoke warmly of Peaden. “I know Senator Peaden is watching over us – (we are) a beacon not only for the City of Crestview but also for the State of Florida and for the nation as a whole.” Larose-Pierre cited the schools 93% passing rate on the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination, which is 9 points above the national average.

“His sight was not on one person – it was on Crestview where he grew up and on Northwest Florida, He also had sight on the global community.” She went on to say, “This school was his baby – no offense to the Peaden children.”

Speakers at the 10-year anniversary included Florida Representative Pat Maney, Larry Robinson, Ph. D., President of Florida A&M University, Johnnie Early II, Ph.D. Rph, NPhA Fellow, Dean College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, IPH, Dr. Harry Lewis, Former Dean of the College, and City of Crestview Mayor, J.B. Whitten who unveiled a historic marker for the Alatex building during the celebration.

About the Alatex Building:
Built in the 1930’s, this manufacturing plant building opened as the Smith-Johnson Garment Factory and later operated as the Alatex Textiles Garment Factory.

It was built while the Choctawhatchee National Forest, just south of Crestview, was being converted to use as nine air and gunnery training fields that we now recognize as Eglin Air Force Base, the largest Air Force base in the world

It is the only example of historical industrial architecture in Okaloosa County. It provided the first significant large-scale opportunity for employment in Crestview and assisted the area economy in pulling out of the post-Depression era and continued its impact on the area economy into the 1980’s, operating as the Rainbow Apparel Manufacturing.

Over the year, various items were produced in the building including military clothing and provided significant military support in the years of preparation for and during WWII.

In 2010, the City of Crestview signed the title of the property over to FAMU in the summer of 2010.

History museum now open in Crestview

The ceremony included the Crestview JROTC who presented the colors, the Crestview Community Chorus that sang the national anthem, descendants of the Bush family, city and county officials and just less than a hundred members of the public. The Crestview Historic Preservation board has had a museum as a top priority for twenty years.

“This has long been a dream of the Crestview Historic Preservation Board members, to have a place that we could call home in which to establish a Crestview History Museum,” Ann Spann, Historic Preservation Board president said. “We are grateful today for our city officials who worked to obtain funding to restore the Bush House to make this dream a reality and for allowing our board to be a part of it.”

Brian Hughes had his dreams come true when he was asked in October of 2021 to be the head of Cultural Services for the City of Crestview. He was previously the city’s public information officer and prior reporter for the Crestview News Bulletin. He has been diligently working on the renovation of the Bush House, and future home of the now Crestview History Museum for a year.

Hughes told the group that gathered for the grand opening that he found himself running around trying to make things just right minutes before the celebration began when he realized, the museum would always be a work in progress.

“You have no idea how exciting this is. Up to two minutes before we started, I was running around placing tags. We finally realized, a museum is never finished – there is always more history to add and new items are acquired,” said Hughes. “So, every time you visit the Crestview History Museum you will find some new things and be able to discover, some wonderful old things.”

City Mayor JB Whitten praised Hughes’s efforts in the project and reflected on the disrepair the Bush House was in prior to the restoration efforts when it was the home of elder services.
“When I was on the (city) council, I came into this building to visit elder services. I went to the city councilman, and I said, ‘that building is in bad shape – who owns it?’ He looked at me and said, “We do.” We decided we needed to do something.”

Whitten outlined the path that it took to make the history museum a reality. “It has taken the involvement of the city, the CRA, the county, the state legislature perseverance and the money to finally bring it into fruition today. We are giving a home, not only to the museum but also the historic preservation board and the sister cities program.”

Rick Rausch, who owns Triple R Construction based in Navarre, Fla, won the bid for the restoration of the Bush House. Rausch was praised for his care in restoring the home including the heart pine floors that were hidden under carpet and linoleum and especially for restoring the upper balcony that faces Wilson St. The former structure for the balcony could not be found and due to Rausch’s expertise, the balcony has been restored with support that goes fourteen feet back into the home. According to Hughes, the balcony is very sturdy. “We can send our biggest citizen up on the balcony and have them jump up and down and that’s not going anywhere.”

This is just the beginning of many revitalization projects in the downtown area according to Betsy Roy, who recently retired as the Crestview City Clerk and is now working with the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).

“I’d like to share a quote from our mobility study; ‘The CRA District is the heart of the city of Crestview.’ We are looking forward to strengthening the area to keep the heart beating strongly for years to come. CRA stands for Community Redevelopment Agency in my mind it stands for a community realizing a dream,” said Roy.

City Manager, Tim Bolduc, expressed his excitement for the future of the City of Crestview and shared a portion of the City of Crestview’s vision statement, which includes maintaining the city’s culture. “We want to remember where we came from and honor the things we have done well as we move forward.”

A highlight of the grand opening included the unveiling of a portrait of Lorenza and Laura Bush, former owners of the home. Lorenza Bush was a tracks supervisor for the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad Co. that runs just east of where the home sits.

In attendance were descendants of the Bush family, Tonya Nunes and Michael Bush, who had not met each other before that day of the grand opening. Michael said that he had seen Tonya’s name on his Ancestry family tree prior, but it was good to see her in person at the grand opening.

Out and About

I’ve known Rep. Gaetz for a long time, but I wouldn’t say we are close friends. I still have to wait my turn to talk to him and I have his cell phone number, but he doesn’t always answer my texts. I still have to go through his communication director and his chief of staff, just like anyone else. I believe we have a mutual respect for each other, or it could just be that Matt’s dad, Don, used to be in the newspaper business and he is just tolerating me to humor his dad.

Regardless, Matt is elected to serve our district and our newspapers have a responsibility to report on and seek out information in our areas of coverage and Matt is someone we need to talk to and cover so we can bring our readers the information they need for their daily lives.

In our meeting, Matt was genuinely interested in our recent expansion into Crestview and Milton and even took the time to look through the papers I brought with me and posed for our “On the Road” pictures. Matt is extremely intelligent and fast on his feet when it comes to answering questions (though we were sitting down for our conversation) and answers them insightfully, occasionally with humor. That being, we do not treat Matt or cover him differently than any other politician or elected representative that we cover.

As a refresher, here is our mission statement which is printed in every edition of Crestview News Bulletin:

Our Mission Statement: Our newspaper’s only license to publish is the freedom of the press clause in the Constitution. Crestview News Bulletin is pledged to an aggressive, responsible, and fair pursuit of the truth without fear of any special interest and with favor to none. It is our social responsibility to listen to the voiceless, avoid all acts of arrogance and to face the public politely and candidly.

And, also that being said, sometimes our elected officials are actually constrained to actually be voiceless. They may be in a place of power, but they can be rendered practically defenseless when accusations are hurled at them. If they fight back, they end up being in the mud with the pigs and many choose not to do that. If there is a lawsuit, they can’t say anything until it is over, which can be many years later.

In the meantime, people are walking around thinking that their elected representative is the person that others have portrayed them to be in the media, social media platforms and even billboards. Any one can be accused of anything. Case and point, the “Russia Collusion” accusations against President Donald Trump. He had to endure that for most of his presidency while everything he had ever done was under a microscope only to be vindicated in the end. “Journalists” even won Pulitzer’s writing about the “alleged” Russia Collusion.

When I was Googling Matt, I saw some awful political cartoons that were “caption this” and many were responding making reference to the so far unfounded accusations of his trips with underaged girls. When we posted a few months ago about Matt’s upcoming rally in our county, people were posting, “hide your daughters.” Matt says all of that comes with the territory, and it does but journalists have the responsibility to get to the truth. We don’t have the resources to write every story and do it well, but if the allegations were in our coverage area, we would be on it.

We are thankful that Matt is willing to take the time to talk to his constituents through our publications and have an open door for all our elected representatives to do the same.

There’s a truth about public service that is often unspoken and rarely understood – that the role of our elected officials is about much more than balancing budgets and ensuring the delivery of essential services.
J. B. Pritzker (1965- ) An American businessman, philanthropist, and Democrat politician serving as the 43rd governor of Illinois.

North Okaloosa Medical Center provides supplies for Ukraine

With less than 24-hours’ notice, North Okaloosa Medical Center was the first hospital in the Panhandle to be able to round up a conference room table full of medical supplies after a desperate call from the Ukrainian wife of a local surgeon, Olga, on behalf of her friends and family in Ukraine. 

She is from Kharkiv which is the second largest city in Ukraine and was once Ukraine’s capital. It has been heavily shelled since the beginning of the war due to its size and proximity to the Russian border. Reports from the war say that all Kharkiv is a front line.

“When we got the call, we wanted to respond,” said Mary Alice, who works at North Okaloosa hospital. She continued, “Our hearts are in healthcare, and we are all praying for the Ukrainian people.” Supplies gathered included: catheters, surgeon gowns, tubing, hand sanitizer, tongue depressors, needles, iodine, pediatric supplies, scalpels, syringes, gauze, gloves, and draping. The surgeon’s wife rented a 20-foot moving truck and was picking up the supplies at area hospitals and then driving it to Chicago or New Jersey to meet up with Meest-America which is an international parcel delivery service that is currently helping get supplies to Ukraine. “I have family in Kharkiv, my parents and brother. They have run out of basic supplies like ibuprofen, surgeons are operating in the metro stations, babies are being born in theaters, and I know they are out of blood,” Olga said.  

Out and About

I started Navarre Press in May 2000 without any prior institutional newspaper experience, which I can say with confidence has a lot of pluses. I can say that I now have 21 years of “in the trenches” experience.

I don’t have a lot of space here, so I’ll try to keep this brief.

When the websites are finished, you will find more information there. I started Navarre Press because I grew up reading newspapers and we didn’t have a good newspaper when I moved to Navarre with my husband on military orders. The best thing I’ve ever done was to hire people smarter than me, talk to people who have more experience than me, read a lot of books and learn fast from my mistakes, and learn from other people’s mistakes.

You will see our core values on this page and our philosophy regarding journalism. Currently, your team for the Crestview News Bulletin consists of the same amazing team of professionals that has been producing Navarre Press every week. And, what I mean by “producing” is that we put our heart and soul into each issue. We do not take what we do lightly. We are community journalists.

We are not space fillers that create excuses or vehicles for advertising. We are on a mission, more like a crusade. And that crusade is in our mission statement that can be found on each issue. We are here to serve the communities that we work with, and what we serve is the truth. As the saying goes, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” 

We do our best to find the truth before the untruth can put its shoes on. The truth causes different feelings depending on the circumstance, and people handle the truth in different ways. Sometimes it is accepted because, after all, it is just that – the truth, or fact. Some use the truth as an opportunity to get angry with everyone but the person that can change their truth and might possibly be themselves.

We will have opinions, but they will be based on truth, but our opinions will be kept on the editorial page and labeled as opinion. And, you know what they say about opinions – everyone has one. We are looking forward to hearing yours.

I’ll try to address a few questions you may have. We will be hiring, and we will have an office in Crestview. In the interim, we hope to hang out a little bit at the Crestview Chamber or at a coffee shop. This column will eventually be taken over by a future team member. We believe we must meet people where they are and many still like paper. We love paper and believe paper is where it is at.

However, everything we do in print is also digital. Today’s news is tomorrow’s history, and we are dedicated to recording history accurately. We love to see pages of newspapers decorating the walls of schools, businesses and homes. We are still working on the transition of the existing website name and social media accounts. We had about 30 days of notice that the sale would take place, though we knew of the possibility since late June 2021. We signed a nondisclosure agreement and could not discuss even the possibility. There are a lot of loose ends we are tying up and we find new ones every hour. I’m asking for your patience during the transition. We purposefully changed the masthead on 1A to show that we are under construction.

We are a work in progress…aren’t we all? Please know that we have a professional team that cares about you, and we are making it as convenient as possible for you to communicate with us. Current subscribers will have their subscription through the expiration date that we received from Gannett.

I’m sure you have a lot of questions, and I have more to say. We included information about us – and our history with Navarre Press – on our editorial pages only to show you this isn’t our first rodeo.

We will create a new history with you and your paper will not be a version of Navarre Press. You will have your own community newspaper because you deserve one. Please follow us in the weeks and years to come. It will be a fun ride and we will learn a lot from each other. I always end my columns with a quote – other people’s wisdom.

Quote of the Week: “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)