Last updateMon, 31 Aug 2015 8pm


Evidence of Waldo ticket quota is 'overwhelming'

WALDO – “No charges will be filed at this time,” says State Attorney Bill Cervone, in response to three recent Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigations of the Waldo Police Department. In a Dec. 11 letter to FDLE Resident Agent in Charge, Yolanda Carbia, Cervone explained his reasoning and praised the investigative team.

“The professionalism and quality of the investigation in this matter [by FDLE] was exemplary,” said Cervone.

Although several areas for improvement of the department's handling of evidence were noted by FDLE, Cervone's letter pointed out that the investigation did not reveal any missing item of evidence and no indication of evidence tampering or theft had occurred.

“Your report does not identify any person to charge with any crime, nor does your report request that this office file a criminal charge against any person, and, as such, no charges will be filed based on this report,” said Cervone.

Regarding FDLE's investigation into ticket quotas, Cervone said that after interviews with present and past officers the evidence is “overwhelming” that the “City of Waldo Police Department had and enforced a ticket quota.”

“...The motoring public believes, wrongly, that a ticket quota is a criminal offense. It is not,” said Cervone. Although Florida Statute 316.640(1) provides that “'[a]n agency of the state... is prohibited from establishing a traffic citation quota,'” it “'is not subject to the penalties provided in Chapter 318.'”

“There is no criminal penalty associated with this statute; therefore any violation of this statute may not be prosecuted in criminal court,” he said. “More importantly, from the way the entirety of Section 316.640 is written it likely does not apply to municipalities.” “As such, there is no charge available for criminal prosecution as a result of the City of Waldo ticket quota,” said Cervone.

Allegations that former Chief Mike Szabo unlawfully recorded his in-person and telephone communication with Officer Roy Steadman in violation of Florida Statutes required more deliberation on Cervone's part, but resulted in the same outcome.

Cervone noted that Szabo admitted recording conversations with Officer Steadman on six different occasions without making Steadman aware of the fact that he was being recorded. While Florida Statutes generally prohibit the intentional and unknown interception of any wire, oral or electronic communication, as occurred in this case, he said, “several other factors must be considered in determining whether criminal charges are appropriate.”

In order for the State to prove their case, they must prove that the individual being recorded had a reasonable expectation of privacy in that communication. When Szabo and Steadman were on the phone, Steadman was aware he was on speakerphone and that the entire department, other than the Chief's office, was under audio and video surveillance.

On one occasion, Steadman admitted he saw an active recorder being used in the office. “His [Steadman's] admitted knowledge that he was being recorded on at least one occasion defeats prosecution for that incident and also suggests that he knew or should have known of that on other occasions as well,” said Cervone.

In addition, an affirmative defense could be made by Szabo that he subjectively believed that he was authorized by law to make the recordings. Cervone listed several factors that Szabo could use as a defense against prosecution that would impact the ability of the State to get a conviction on charges related to his recording of Steadman's conversations.

Among those factors was Szabo's statement that his intended use of the recordings was for agency business and to “protect the agency from a lawsuit from Officer Steadman.” As there are other “law enforcement” exceptions in Chapter 934, the Chapter in question, Szabo's confusion about fine legal issues could be seen as legally credible.

“While these factors are present, this is an affirmative defense and the burden of bringing forth that defense is on the defendant and, as such, does not preclude the filing of criminal charges. They do, however, impact the viability of a prosecution,” said Cervone.

Long-time Waldo Mayor Louie Davis remarked after reading the disposition letter, “I appreciate the thorough investigation done by FDLE and the resulting letter from Bill Cervone's office. We believed all along that there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of our police department. We believed all along that any mistakes that were made by our police department were unintentional. Former Chief Szabo always looked out for the best interests of the city,” said Davis. “We appreciate the efforts made on behalf of our citizens by the entire Waldo Police Department and wish our former officers the best.”

The Waldo Police Department was disbanded earlier in the year and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office has taken over law enforcement responsibilities on a permanent basis for the municipality.

#   #   #

Email cwalker@

Add a comment Add a comment

Santa Fe High School hosts annual career fair

W - SFHS CareerDay DSC 0688ALACHUA – For the second year in a row, Santa Fe High School (SFHS) hosted a career fair in its gym with some of the area’s top employers.

Students of all grades were welcome to attend and learn more about job areas they have interest in. The gym was wall-to-wall booths of everything from military careers to UF health careers and everything in between.

Pamela Gonzales, a counselor at SFHS, said that she consulted different schools in how they set up their career fairs and then adapted and modified their own to better benefit the students of SFHS.

School counselors have many roles, one being preparing students for college and career readiness,” Gonzales said. “A career fair is a natural piece to this preparation.”

Gonzales said that a career fair benefits high school students in many ways. It not only educates students about different careers and professions as well as introduces them to the largest employers in Alachua, but also shows them what to expect and how to prepare for a job interview and the education level required for different positions.

Gonzales said that she chose businesses targeted towards students of high school age and that would most benefit students who are still exploring different careers as well as students who already have an idea of the profession they are interested in.

Shelby Sapp, a senior at SFHS, said the career fair helps students get a more realistic grasp on what it is they want to do.

“You apply for colleges and think that you’re going to go into the basic fields, but then here you get to meet people and talk to them about the more practical aspects of the job,” Sapp said.

Sapp said she would like to go into the medical field, and that the different health career booths give her an insight to narrow her broad interests.

Josephine Dornbusch, a first year University of Florida veterinary student, along with her German Sheppard Kalis, manned the veterinary booth. Her booth seemed to be one of the most popular, but she said that Kalis was probably the big draw. She said she was representing the UF vet school, but that her booth focused on the veterinary field as a whole.

“I love this sort of thing. I give tours of the college. I love answering questions because when I was in their shoes, I jumped at those opportunities to ask people those questions,” Dornbusch said. “It’s a good source of information and I like to kind of return the favor.”

“It’s an amazing opportunity to help people just figure out what it is they want to do,” she added.

Gonzales believes that the career fair has a great impact on the students who have attended.

“This event is a real-life experience that can’t be created in the classroom,” She said. “Student’s awareness of careers and employers have broadened beyond the knowledge they have from the working adults in their lives.”

#     #     #

Email jhundley@

Add a comment Add a comment

Newberry may merge fire department with county

NEWBERRY – A non-binding referendum may provide City of Newberry Commissioners with the information they need to decide whether to consolidate the city's fire services with Alachua County Fire Rescue or continue to maintain the service as a city-owned entity. That is the hope expressed by some commissioners at the Dec. 8 meeting.

A lengthy discussion began as Commissioner Jordan Marlowe expressed concern, “The citizens seem split on whether they want to do this [consolidate].” He suggested the idea of a referendum to help the city better gauge how the citizens really feel about the issue.

Commissioner Rick Coleman was not in favor of consolidation with the current Alachua County Commission. Commissioner Monty Farnsworth was in favor of putting the question on a ballot while Commissioner Tim Marden wanted to keep the fire department as is. “I don't think there is enough support for changing it,” he said.

Mayor Bill Conrad said, “There should be solid support for it [consolidation] before we make such a change.”

In a 4-1 vote, with Farnsworth dissenting, commissioners voted not to proceed with the consolidation issue without some type of referendum that they hope will clarify how the majority of Newberry citizens feel about it. A decision was made to make the referendum a non-binding straw vote when it was pointed out that the vote could be close, with only a few voters swinging the vote one way or the other.

Coleman expressed concern than an agreement forged with the current county commission could be altered over time by the county and the local fire department might end up being moved to Jonesville or somewhere else in the county. He also said the price the city would pay the county to maintain fire services would likely increase over the years and could end up costing the city more than the cost of maintaining it as a city-owned department.

City Manager Mike New said he believed the interlocal agreement could be forged to forestall some of the problems for which Coleman expressed concern.

City Attorney Scott Walker suggested the city should consider whether the ISO rating, which strongly influences the insurance industry's rates to property owners, might be altered by consolidation. He also commented that after consolidation, it would be up to the county whether the fire station remained in the city or was moved elsewhere in the county. Marlow and the other commissioners seem to agree that the fire station must remain in the city. "That's a deal breaker," said Marlowe.

City Manager New said the interlocal agreement could make sure the fire station remains in Newberry. The county could say either they can't live with that and the city will have to provide their own service or suggest items that need to be changed in order for the county to agree to consolidate.

"This would be a yearly agreement," said Conrad in a later interview. "The city can opt out of the agreement anytime they feel the costs may become unreasonable or if the county decides to move the department out of Newberry," he said.

In an effort to minimize costs for putting the question to a vote, Walker suggested the question could be made part of the general election in April.

Marlowe followed up with a motion to ask staff to research the costs and procedure involved in including the straw vote referendum on the next election ballot. Farnsworth seconded the motion which resulted in a 3-2 vote to approve with Coleman and Mardan providing the dissenting votes.

City Clerk Judy Rice is tasked with researching costs and procedures and discussing the city's options with the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections. A report is expected on that issue at the Jan. 12, 2015 commission meeting.

Mardan suggested that the city ask their approximately 1,400 utility customers how they feel about the issue utilizing a bill stuffer. Although City Manager Mike New said in a later interview that everyone in the city is not a city utility customer, the bill stuffer might provide added information for commissioners to help them determine the citizens' feelings on the issue.

#   #   #

Email cwalker@

Add a comment Add a comment

NAACP calls for removal of city official

ARCHER – Representatives from the NAACP asked for Archer Assistant City Manager John Mayberry to be removed from him position at the Dec. 8 commission meeting.

It was said that Mayberry made some posts to his personal Facebook page that certain citizens found racist and offensive.

Evelyn Foxx, President of the Alachua County Branch of the NAACP, said she was contacted by concerned citizens about two months ago, and that she has been having meetings with these citizens leading up to Monday night’s meeting.

Foxx said that she called the City of Archer for their issue to be put on the agenda for the meeting and she was denied. She said she felt she was received in a hostile way.

She said one of the biggest goals her group had that night, and continuing into the future is to have Mayberry removed from office.

“He is being paid by the taxpayers of Archer,” Foxx said.

Foxx said it was a white citizen who had originally invited the NAACP to Archer because they were upset about Mayberry’s Facebook posts.

“If you are a public figure, especially if you are being paid by the public, there are some things you can think all day long, but you should never say openly,” she added.

Archer City Manager Al Grieshaber said the city is an advocate of first amendment rights, and by firing Mayberry, the city would be treading on those rights.

“What [Foxx] asked for was for the city commission to commit an illegal act,” Grieshaber said. “She asked specifically for the city commission to terminate Mr. Mayberry. She is asking for something that she herself would not want.”

Grieshaber said what the group had asked for during the commission meeting would have denied Mayberry of due process. He said they are asking to take away Mayberry’s constitutional rights, something they would not want to have done to themselves.

The City of Archer, Grieshaber said, is wary of interfering with someone’s freedom of speech. He said it is important that all citizens, not just commissioners, have the freedom to express their opinions openly and freely.

He said the city is not taking Mayberry’s side or endorsing his views, but they support the first amendment and people’s right to express their opinions.

“I would never advise anyone to tread on anyone’s first amendment rights without a firm legal opinion that the city would not be violating his rights,” Grieshaber said.

He also said any repercussions or requests for Mayberry to take down any posts would have to come from the city attorney.

“Treat others as you would like them to treat you,” he said. “Let everyone express their opinion.”

Foxx said the group of citizens and the NAACP plan to follow up on this issue, but need to meet and decide where they will go from here.

“It’s not going away,” she said.

#     #     #

Email jhundley@

Add a comment Add a comment

Hungry Howie’s back in Alachua and more to come

DSC 0682ALACHUA – Alachua isn’t just a small town anymore. The reopening of Hungry Howie’s is only one indicator of Alachua’s economic potential.

Dee Vreen, 38-year-old co-owner of Hungry Howie’s in Alachua, explained that bringing Hungry Howie’s back was an easy decision to make.

“Alachua is booming right now,” he said. “There’s new growth in Alachua.”

A Zaxby’s opened in Alachua on Oct. 7 of last year, a new Raceway gas station opened a little over a month ago and a site plan has been recently approved for a Publix to be built next to Santa Fe High School.

With rumors of a Wal-Mart coming to Alachua for years, the opening of these businesses might actually be the push that Wal-Mart was waiting for to get a site plan in order.

“Alachua has seen a lot of economic development over the past 12 months, and that’s a strong selling point [to potential businesses],” said Adam Boukari, assistant city manager of Alachua.

Boukari said in addition to the economic development, the fact that Alachua is in the Interstate 75 and Highway 441 corridor also makes it a target spot for tourists and potential businesses.

“Publix is an anchor-type business,” he said. “It’s going to draw other businesses to the area.

“Our city commission is very serious about economic development and we’re committed to doing it the right way.”

Vreen said that the Hungry Howie’s second time around is going to be much different.

“This time I’m running it,” he said. “There’s going to be better customer service and more organization within upper management.”

He added that the Alachua branch of Hungry Howie’s isn’t going to deliver this time. They’re only offering carryout and drive-thru.

Vreen believes that offering delivery is one of the reasons why Hungry Howie’s originally closed four years ago.

“It’s been a long journey, but I’m glad to be back in Alachua,” he said.

Previously, Vreen worked at the Pizza Hut in Alachua for six years.

“It’s always been a dream of mine and when the opportunity came forth, I couldn’t pass it up,” Vreen said. “I achieved one of my main goals in life.”

Boukari said that Alachua’s economic development is also going to be beneficial to its residents.

“Seeing commercial development [in Alachua] is wonderful because you get a diverse employment base that provides more opportunities for our citizens,” Boukari said.

“Alachua has a bright future. I can’t wait to see it come to fruition.”

#     #     #

Email Tschuyler@

Add a comment Add a comment