City News Blog


The latest happenings in your city government.

LAKELAND, Fla. – Though sadly missed, the memory of two dedicated volunteers will live on in the naming of a special memorial pass gate created in honor of long-term community volunteers, Joe O’Leary and Cecil “Pete” Haupert. The memorial pass gate is located on the northwest side of Jenkins Arena and welcomes hundreds of athletes, FHSAA officials, members of the media and guests each year. As long time members of the Championship volunteer committee responsible for the management of this pass gate, both gentleman were instrumental in the hospitality provided for the state tournaments. A special dedication ceremony and unveiling of a commemorative plaque is planned for Tuesday, February 21st at 1:00pm in conjunction with the first day of the FHSAA Girls Basketball Championships. The public is invited to attend the ceremony.  

Pete Haupert was a member of the Lakeland High School Century Club, Florida Southern College Sixth Man Club and the University of Florida Gator Boosters. He was an active member of First United Methodist Church of Lakeland. He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Frances Coleman Haupert and three children.  Pete passed away in 2009. Joe O’Leary was a founding member of Resurrection Catholic Church and served as a volunteer with Lakeland Vision, Polk Vision, United Way and Santa Fe High School. He is survived by Mary Jo O'Leary, his wife of 58 years, eight children and eleven grandchildren. Joe passed away in 2011.

Lakeland Center Executive Director, Mike LaPan had this to say about the upcoming ceremony, “Pete and Joe were pillars of the community and dedicated many hours of service to our annual tournaments. This gate will be a testament to the power of volunteerism and will serve as a reminder to those who enter of the importance of leadership and community spirit. The O’Leary and Haupert families are honored by our salute to these fine gentlemen and we are grateful for the opportunity to offer such a fitting tribute.”

The Lakeland Center offers a full variety of sporting events, concerts and shows. Located minutes between Orlando and Tampa in Lakeland, Florida off I-4 on Lime Street, The Lakeland Center is a short drive from anywhere in Central Florida. Regular box office hours are Monday-Friday 9:30am-5:30pm and two hours prior to most events. For ticket information, call the Box Office at (863)834-8111 or visit our website at



Lakeland, Florida – Gene Conrad, Lakeland Linder Airport Director, has a lot to smile about after receiving the call from Ed Warneck and Kay Ellison, managing partners of Direct Air, from their corporate office in Myrtle Beach this week. Not one, not two, but three new routes are being added to the Direct Air schedule starting in May, 2012, less than 9 months from when service began from the under-utilized airport.  Direct Air also reported they were close to finalizing two or three more destinations within a few weeks if all goes well. “For now,” commented Warneck, “let’s get ready for Pittsburgh, Columbus, Ohio, and Gulfport-Biloxi.” 

Direct Air announced today the introduction of new nonstop service between three additional destinations; 

1) Pittsburgh, PA will begin nonstop service Friday, Saturday, and Monday beginning May 18, 2012

2) Columbus, OH, served from Rickenbacker International Airport, will begin nonstop service Thursday and Sundays beginning June 17, 2012

3) Gulfport-Biloxi, MS will begin nonstop service Wednesday, Friday, and Sundays beginning June 15, 2012

“This is the typical expansion pattern of Direct Air,” states Warneck. “We start off with a few flights per week and add frequency and additional destinations based on demand. I guess you could say we grow with the market. The support from the community and careful management by the Lakeland Airport Director and his staff helped accelerate the process.”   

“What a year it has been for Direct Air, our marketing partners and Lakeland Linder Regional Airport,” said Gene Conrad, Lakeland Airport Director. “When we began service back in June of last year we never thought we would see the passenger numbers we are seeing now.  We will move over 100,000 passengers through our facility in our first year of operations and we are looking forward to far exceeding those numbers with the additional destinations that are being added today.”

The addition of Gulfport-Biloxi, MS; Columbus, OH; and Pittsburgh, PA, will compliment the already served markets of Niagara Falls, NY; Plattsburgh, NY; and Springfield, IL. 

To celebrate the announcement of the new service from Lakeland a special promotional fare of $99 will be offered, certain restrictions may apply.  The reservation must be booked before midnight, Wednesday, February 22, 2012. Reservations can be booked at or by calling Direct Air’s Reservations Department toll-free at 1-877-432-3473.

Tourism and Casino officials in Gulfport applauded Direct Air when they received notice of the introduction of year-round air service between Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, Florida and Gulfport-Biloxi Airport, MS beginning this spring. The nonstop ninety-minute flight service will be offered three times per week, on, Fridays, Sundays, and Wednesdays beginning June 15, 2012.

Florida residents are eager for the nonstop flights between the two vacation destinations. Scheduled service did not exist at Lakeland prior to June 23, 2011 when Direct Air began service from the under-served airport. From the beginning, Direct Air was pleased with the positive response it received and quickly began researching additional destinations that would fit the Direct Air model.

Direct Air has been providing scheduled public charter flights since March 2007; flying 67,000 passengers the first year of operation.  Since then, Direct Air has carried over 1.5 million passengers and increased service from 4 destinations to 17. The company has carved out a strong niche in developing secondary markets through under-utilized airports with a focus on leisure travel. 

When asked the reason for their success when others are ending service and grounding planes, Warneck responded by saying, “Our business foundation has been built on four basic cornerstones.

1) Safety is always first.

2) Selling to the needs of the customer – low fares, nonstop service.

3) Building community relationships by working with them rather than doing it alone.

4) Bringing economic growth and jobs to the community. “

Warneck’s partner Kay Ellison commented, “Are we excited, you bet we are! Gulfport, Mississippi has always been an attractive vacation destination. Year after year, Gulfport is consistently a top leisure destination for people from central and western Florida looking for a quick getaway. Gulfport offers the excitement of eleven world-class casino resorts, twenty top-tier golf courses, and an abundance of outdoor activities.  We believe Gulfport will be the getaway destination of choice for our customers from the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas. Travelers in central Florida have discovered the exceptional value and convenience that Direct Air offers.”

Direct Air offers flight service in the following markets: Myrtle Beach, SC; Pittsburgh, PA; Newark, NJ; Columbus, OH; Plattsburgh, NY; Toledo, OH; Kalamazoo, MI; Worcester, MA; Niagara Falls, NY; Allentown, PA; Rockford, IL; Springfield, IL; Orlando-Sanford, FL; Punta Gorda, FL, West Palm Beach, FL, and Gulfport, MS. 

 All Direct Air flights are Public Charters operated on Boeing 737-400, 150 passenger jet aircraft by Xtra Airways and by Sky King Airlines.


For additional information contact Stan Rydelek at Direct Air Corporate Office at 1-843-916-9700.


Airfares are one-way, subject to availability and subject to change.  Fares do include Federal Excise Tax of 7.5%.  Fares do not include Federal Flight Segment Tax of $3.80, September 11th Security Fee of $2.50, and Passenger Facility Charges of up to $4.50 per person per direction of travel.   A convenience fee of $15 per direction will be assessed for customers who book at  Reservations booked by calling Direct Air’s Reservations department will cost an additional $25 per person each way, reflecting a $15 convenience fee and $10 call center fee. See Operator-Participant Agreement for full disclosure.



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Lakeland Police and Citrus Connection have worked together on a new Domestic Violence brochure, which will be placed on buses to give the community information about domestic violence and resources that are available to victims.  The brochures are dedicated to remembering the Citrus Connection employee lost to domestic violence, Radiah Craft-Enzor. 

In addition to providing these brochures, Citrus Connection will roll out a new bus wrap honoring Polk County Public Servants.  The new wrap will be unveiled at a press conference on Thursday, February 16, 2012.  In attendance at this event will be City of Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields, Police Chief Lisa Womack, Citrus Connection representatives Tom Phillips, Executive Director; Dean Kirkland-McMillan, Director Revenue Services; Brian Jeruszewski, CFO; Cathy Wolosin Director Community Relations & Marketing, a member of Radiah’s family, and Polk County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Mike Wiggins and Wayne Lott.

What:    Ribbon Cutting and Photo Op

Where:  Lakeland Police Department

              219 N Massachusetts Avenue

When:   Thursday, February 16, 2012

Time:     3:00 p.m.

Domestic Violence affects more than the victim, and the effects are devastating and long-lasting.  Help us make a difference by getting the message out.

Start Living Now. Stop Domestic Violence.

LAKELAND, FL (February 14, 2012) – City Manager Doug Thomas announced that Bob Donahay is the City of Lakeland’s new Director of Parks & Recreation with the retirement of Bill Tinsley who has been appointed to a newly established part-time position as Special Liaison to the Detroit Tigers / Manager of Community Resources Development. Donahay has been the Assistant Director of Parks & Recreation since 2006. 

Donahay said, “I am so pleased to be given the opportunity to lead the department where I have spent the last 34 years. We have a dedicated group of employees that love their jobs and enjoy what they do; we are like a big family.”   He added, “The Parks & Recreation Department has been blessed to have strong, dedicated leadership over the years and I look forward to continuing that tradition.”

City Manager, Doug Thomas said, “We had two very talented internal candidates for this position and we felt that Bob’s years of experience and associated institutional knowledge of the various Parks & Recreation divisions, coupled with his vision for the future of the Department contributed to him being chosen for the job.”

In conjunction with the restructuring of the senior leadership of the Parks & Recreation Department, Pam Page will transition from her current responsibilities as Assistant Parks & Recreation Director-Administration & Planning to Deputy Director of the Department.  Thomas said, “Lakeland is extremely fortunate to have the talents and passion that both Bob and Pam have for our Parks & Recreation operations.  I have the utmost confidence that their leadership will successfully build upon the rich tradition of providing outstanding public spaces, quality recreational programs and award winning parks as they guide the Department in the coming years.”

Donahay started with the City of Lakeland Parks & Recreation Department in 1977.  He was promoted to Superintendent of Parks in 1998 and served at that position until 2006 when he was promoted to Assistant Director of Parks.  Donahay graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Recreation Administration and he is a Certified Public Manager. 

Donahay started as the City of Lakelands Parks & Recreation Director on February 14, 2012 with an annual salary of $100,640.   He is 54 years old.