I bet it’s a pretty rare thing that one’s boss turns in his two-week notice on the first day a person starts their new job, however, that’s exactly what happened to me Aug. 20, 2012, my first day at Clay Today.
Not shaken, I briefly considered whether his decision was a foreshadowing of events to follow. To make matters worse, the next day, Jacksonville University called and tried to offer me a job for a position I’d interviewed for and never heard from since that July when I had an interview there.
The year 2012 had been a tough one. I had slogged through most of the months on unemployment compensation after having been laid off from a position the previous December. I had interview after interview at multiple organizations offering much more pay, but nothing would pop.
That is, when all of a sudden, I get a Facebook and a LinkedIn request from Jon Cantrell, the publisher of Clay Today, followed by a phone call from my wife.
“Jon Cantrell called me today. He said he had an opening and wanted to interview me for the job, however, I told him that you were still looking,” Beth said.
Steeped in the middle of wrapping up another freelance writing project and set to cover the election returns that night for the Associated Press at the Supervisor of Elections office in Green Cove Springs, I told her, “I’ll call him tomorrow.”
Two things happened in that very moment that I seemed oblivious to until now, as I look back. My wife pitched my skills and abilities to a paper that was once her rival (when she wrote for the old County Line and later My Clay Sun sections of the Florida Times-Union) and Jon Cantrell knew enough about me and my skills and experience to consider giving me a call. And, when Jon hired me, he took a chance on me, something for which I am grateful.
Almost seven years later, my season at Clay Today comes to an end on Feb. 22. I have accepted the position of editor at a 7-day, daily newspaper in West Virginia.
I look forward to meeting the movers and shakers of Marion County, West Virginia, but yet also sort of fear having to learn how an entirely new state works. My Journalism 101 professor Joe Cumming Jr. once told me, “Eric, to be a good journalist, you simply have to know everything!” Although he shouted – it was because he was losing his hearing after a long exemplary career in journalism – he was not angry. He was trying to stress an important point.
I truly have loved my time here in Clay County where we raised our son, worshipped, volunteered and participated in fellowship and community. It’s what anyone would want for their children – a sense of place and safety.
However, as I prepare to not only leave the paper, but uproot my entire life, I leave with a lot of questions, and other thoughts mixed with a sense of great accomplishment.
First, the accomplishments. The crème de la crème came last year when we won First Place for Breaking News in the Florida Press Association’s Better Weekly Newspaper Contest for our coverage of Hurricane Irma. We have won other FPA awards during my tenure here, but you simply can’t top first place.
Coming in a slight second, was the creation of Black Creek Living, the first of its kind lifestyle magazine created by Clay Today. The publication was well-received, and I trust it will continue to tell the ‘heart and soul’ stories of the people and places and organizations of Clay County.
Prizes and publications are great, but I have to say it’s quite an accomplishment to have two solid reporters in Nick Blank and Wesley LeBlanc to say goodbye to. I trust they will carry the torch with grace and dignity and integrity and continue to hold people accountable. No lapdogs, please.
Although the questions linger, I carry on.
Will Clay County follow through on some of the things the community has asked for and needs, such as a new Animal Control or animal services headquarters?
Will the First Coast Expressway end up being a plus or a bust for Clay County? And can the projected housing need that officials say will exist get fulfilled when all of those families move here that are expected due to the new thoroughfare?
What about the Green Cove Springs Airport Study? Is that just going to get brushed away as though it never happened?
How will the county fund and use the Fairgrounds Master Plan study that was conducted by the University of Florida? Will it really put its money where its mouth is and make the improvements or continue to sit around and question spending money like a widow on a fixed income. One of the oldest principles in economics is that ‘it takes money to make money.’
Will Michael Renard Jackson ever get a new trial. After all, he’s been back in the Clay County Jail since January 2013 and it seems to keep dragging and dragging.
The same thing for Joseph Lloyd and Bobbi Lee White who have been incarcerated since Dec. 17, 2015 charged with premeditated first-degree murder. I’d like to think we are still a nation of “innocent until proven guilty” and still have the right to a speedy trial, but I’m not feeling it.
And then, there is Donald Hugh Davidson Jr. who has been in jail since December 2014.
While all of these crimes are heinous, the U.S. Constitution seems to act slower in Clay County than any other place I’ve ever covered courts as a reporter.
And finally, there is Victor Lamar Cruger Jr. who has been behind bars since Aug. 31, 2015. All five of these people face the potential of being put to death for the crimes they committed. Jackson’s case is the most unique in that the Florida Supreme Court has already thrown out the case once and sent it back here.
These are all questions that people need to start asking. The families of both the victims and the defendants want justice. Justice delayed is still justice denied.
And despite all of the yelling, threats and intimidation I’ve endured from the public in my tenure here at Clay Today, I honestly say I would not have traded any of it for a sack of gold. And even though I have been bad mouthed on social media – what I call the realm for cowards – and other forums, such as passive aggressive comments in county commission meetings, I carry on.
And so, I write these last words to say, Thank you, Clay County. This place has a lot of change that needs to happen, but at the same time, it has a lot to offer people who want to live here and raise a family.
Stay resilient, Clay County, and carry on.