Last updateTue, 24 Nov 2015 12am


High Springs MLK march

HS MLK IMG 0007The High Springs community came together Monday, uniting in their commitment to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs Community Development Association (CDA), in conjunction with the City of High Springs and McDonalds in Alachua, sponsored a Commemorative March in celebration of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday on Mon., Jan. 19. The march began at City Hall and culminated at Catherine L. Taylor Park.

Master of Ceremonies at the park location was Rev. Byran Williams, CDA President. Speakers included Rev. Morris and Gloria Kelly. Music and singing were also part of the celebration. Refreshments were provided to help celebrate the event.

“We have been conducting events around MLK's birthday for at least 15 years,” according to Rev. Williams. “We have a weekend of events to celebrate each year.”

In addition to the march, which attracted about 75 people, an open service was held on Thursday, Jan. 15, King's actual birthday, at Allen Chapel AME Church, 10 S.E. MLK Blvd., and a 4 p.m., Sunday worship service was held on Jan. 18 at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, 948 S.E. Railroad Avenue.

Church service offerings, donations and proceeds from the weekend events are donated to the High Springs Child Care MLK Center, 125 S.E. Douglas Street.

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County’s top educator listens to Alachua

Dr. Owen Roberts takes educational pulse of community

W - Alachua school forum DSC 0022Alachua County Superintendent of Schools Owen Roberts responds to community members attending the Alachua school forum and explains his vision of achieving excellence in education

ALACHUA – Alachua County Superintendent of Schools Owen Roberts has been front and center listening to communities voice their thoughts about the local school system. High Springs held the first forum in Alachua County on Oct. 16 and since then Roberts has been on the circuit throughout the county conducting listening sessions. The latest such session was held in Alachua on Thursday, Jan. 15.

A crowd of parents, teachers, administrators and community members turned out at the Alachua Woman’s Club to participate in the forum that centered on local schools Irby Elementary, Alachua Elementary, Mebane Middle School and Santa Fe High School.

Participants were divided into working groups that tackled a series of questions posed by Jackie Johnson, Public Information Officer for the school board. Johnson transcribed comments onto oversized yellow paper that was mounted on easels for group discussion. Roberts told meeting participants that he would listen to their input and he was prepared to consider every recommendation or suggestion made.

Issues raised included the existing economic disparity in the area as compared to Gainesville, the potential for crime due to ease of access from I-75, excessive school testing and that a school’s grade could be detrimental to future local economic development.

Many comments were in a positive vein and spoke about the strong faith-based aspect of the community, the importance of agriculture, the educational pipeline starting with elementary school through high school and then to college, referencing the Santa Fe College Perry Center for Emerging Technologies located across U.S. Highway 441 from the Progress Park and the Sid Martin Biotech Center. A number of participants agreed the area is a tight-knit community where there is a sense of familiarity amongst the residents and community leaders are involved in the schools. Hailed as areas of excellence were the recreation program, the public library and the community’s population diversity.

Suggestions to improve educational opportunities included additional tutoring programs for students, increased parental involvement, additional partnering with local businesses, conducting school activities on Saturdays and encouraging schools to have school-wide activities and celebrations rather than restricted to a single grade or classroom.

In closing the session, Roberts referenced districtwide strategies including a renewed focus on language development. “A child’s achievement is tied to their ability to use language, and that is critical,” Roberts said. He also noted that while schools are a vital catalyst for positive change, it takes commitment from all parts of the community to make transformative changes in schools.

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Publix site work begins

W - Publix 1 DSC 0612A much anticipated Publix supermarket slated for Alachua appears to be underway as site preparation has begun on the property located along U.S. Highway 441 and adjacent to Santa Fe High School in Alachua. Land clearing crews were at work on the property where the proposed Publix is to occupy 46,031 square feet of a 56,431 building. It is expected that another 10,400 square feet will be divided among eight retail bays. Michael Ryals of Bosshardt Realty confirmed that the developer has closed on the real estate, and that they have commitments on roughly three quarters of the retail spaces. Among the shops planned for the space is a restaurant, salon services, nail services and a liquor store. On Nov. 18, the City of Alachua’s Planning and Zoning board gave the nod to a site plan presented by developers of the property. Ryals said actual construction could begin as earlier as this month or next.

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Coquí Radiopharmaceuticals receives 25-acre land transfer from UF

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Coquí Radiopharmaceuticals President and CEO Carmen Bigles will be leading the company's operations.

ALACHUA – Coquí Radiopharmaceuticals has officially secured a 25-acre plot of land for their future facility in Alachua.

The University of Florida transferred the land to the company with the conditions they develop the road needed to access the land and they receive approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

President and CEO of Coquí, Carmen Bigles, said she is thrilled about the land transfer.

“I’m ecstatic,” Bigles said. “I’m so happy to be part of Alachua, and I can’t wait to break ground.”

Coquí Radiopharmaceuticals is a medical isotope company and will be the first commercial company to produce Molybdenum-99, an isotope used to create Technicium-99m.

Technicium-99m is used in the diagnosis of many illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, coronary disease and even Parkinson’s. According to Bigles, it is used in approximately 50,000 medical diagnostic procedures per day in the U.S.

Technicium-99m is currently not being produced in the U.S. and many major producers of the isotope are shutting down.

Bigles said there are many other benefits to producing Technicium-99m domestically. The isotope has a very short shelf life and cannot be stockpiled, Bigles said. Therefore, producing it within the U.S. will make it more readily available to patients around the country.

The production of Technicium-99m within the country will benefit more than just the patients who need it, Bigles said.

“[It] is really important, not just for the patients that need it, but it’s also really important to progress in medicine,” she said. “You need this to also do the research and studies of it.”

When deciding on a location for their facility, Bigles said they originally wanted to do it in Puerto Rico. When it became apparent that would not work, she said they were drawn to Florida because of the University of Florida.

She said they were excited about the possibility to partner with the university’s research groups and scientists.

Bigles also said she felt a pull to the area when she came for her first meeting. Rick Staab, who is part of Tyler’s Hope Foundation, had offered her his boardroom to hold the meeting.

Staab’s children have Dystonia, a neurological movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions. Tyler’s Hope is a foundation working toward the cure for dystonia.

Bigles said when she went into the building, there is a poster Tyler had made in the third grade perfectly describing what Molybdenum-99 was and what it did and why it was important.

“I always think of it as if it was meant to be,” Bigles said.

Win Phillips of the University of Florida said the university agreed to the land transfer because the growth of business is exactly what that land was intended for. According to Phillips, the parcel of land is adjacent to Progress Corporate Park.

“The whole intent of Progress Park is economic development and attracting business and opportunities in this town,” Phillips said.

“The deal is that Coquí locating there brings appreciation to that property. And the fact that they are willing to bring in development of that property increases the value of that property and the adjacent lands and the opportunity that other companies will locate there,” he added.

Phillips also said the university is looking forward to the partnering of their researchers and resources with Coquí.

“We think it’s a great opportunity for the joint development between Coquí Pharmaceuticals and ourselves,” he said.

Bigles said the facility is expected to bring 200 new permanent jobs to Alachua with average salaries around $80,000. This facility will draw new families to the area as well, creating more business.

Bigles says they hope to have all the necessary documents submitted to the NRC by the end of 2015. The NRC will then look over and evaluate the plans. If everything goes accordingly, Bigles said they hope to break ground in 2017, being operational by 2020.

“I’m just ecstatic that we will be part of all the brainpower that is emerging from Alachua.”

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NAACP threatens reprisals in Archer


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Evelyn Foxx, President, Alachua County Branch of NAACP (at podiuim) cals for the firing of Assistant City Manager of Archer, John Mayberr.

ARCHER – A relatively short agenda for Archer's first city commission meeting of 2015 ended up in a 2 1/2-hour. battle to get to and stay on agenda items. At every juncture, citizens brought up issues relating to firing the assistant city manager or questions as to the exact city process that had been used to make commission or city government decisions. In particular, realtor Laurie Costello stood up on each issue to condemn the city for their actions, which she characterized as irresponsible, not proper procedure, not transparent or just plain wrong.

The focus of much of the meeting surrounded comments made by Evelyn Foxx, President, Alachua County Branch of NAACP. Foxx addressed commissioners early in the evening to further her request for the City to fire Assistant City Manager John Mayberry for comments she deemed “racist” on Mayberry's personal social media site.

Foxx had made her initial request at the last commission meeting in 2014 and was back to see what the commission had decided.

She indicated that although she knew only the city manager could actually fire Mayberry, she also knew that City Manager Grieshaber served at the pleasure of the commission. She was hopeful that commissioners had directed Grieshaber to fire Mayberry. In addition, Foxx requested Mayberry publicly apologize to the citizens of Archer and remove the comments on his social media page.

Since Mayberry was sitting directly behind the podium as she spoke, it was clear he had not been fired, which dismayed Foxx and many of the citizens who were seated and overflowed into the commission lobby listening to the proceedings.

The large crowd appeared due to Foxx's invitation to a “mass meeting” of 50-60 people earlier in the evening at a local church. She confirmed later that many residents of Holly Hill subdivision showed up to that meeting. Several members of the press had also been invited. Approximately 15 minutes before the commission meeting was to begin, the group followed Foxx to City Hall.

The City was prepared with a statement after listening to Foxx's second request to dismiss Mayberry.

“The City of Archer stands with the NAACP to ensure political educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. Likewise, Archer stands with the NAACP to educate persons as to their constitutional rights and to take all lawful action to secure and allow the exercise of them.

“In the U.S. where we have the first amendment, the remedy for speech with which we disagree or find offensive is not censorship. The remedy instead is counter speech to add more speech to the marketplace of ideas. There is no democracy without words printed or uttered. Silence is the end of freedom.

“The U.S. Supreme Court noted that 'the fact that the society might find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it. Indeed, if it is the speaker’s opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection.'”

City Attorney Scott Walker also was prepared with several cases indicating decisions that had been made by the courts in similar circumstances which supported Mayberry's right to free speech when he was expressing his personal opinion separate from the city government.

Foxx said she understood Mayberry had not broken any laws, but felt that Mayberry's social media comments showed his true feelings about African-Americans and others and may be responsible for why the residents of Holly Hills felt they were being neglected by the city. Foxx said later the Holly Hills residents commented to her that in earlier times, their part of town was not neglected, but that had now changed.

When asked why she did not accept the invitations by the City to sit down and talk about this after it was brought up at the 2014 meeting, she responded, “This is not 1963 where white men call in a few blacks behind closed doors and discuss things. Things need to be transparent. What are you going to talk about behind closed doors that you can't discuss in public?”

In a later interview, Foxx also pointed to comments made by Commissioner Fletcher Hope indicating he had not seen the City's statement until just before the meeting and he felt the comments reflected the opinion of Mayor Frank Ogdon. He said he personally agreed with the first paragraph of the statement, but not the rest.

Foxx said that statement by Commissioner Hope indicated to her there had been a meeting “out of the sunshine” if everyone else knew about the statement except Commissioner Hope.

Hearing that the city was not planning to fire Mayberry, Foxx left the podium indicating that the full force of the NAACP would be focused on the City of Archer. “We don't want to have another Ferguson,” she said. Later she said, “Commissioners are angry. Citizens are angry. When both sides are as angry as they are, there's no telling what might happen.”

In a later interview, Ogdon said, “I'm saddened by the statement by Ms. Foxx that we are going to have another Ferguson on our hands in Archer. Are we to expect violent unrest, looting, burning and total mayhem because we live in a city, state and country that protects Mr. Mayberry's right to free speech? Ms. Foxx said she realized Mr. Mayberry's action were not illegal, but she thought we should fire him anyway because his freedom of speech offended her and some others. I am sorry people are offended by Mr. Mayberry, but I am offended Ms. Foxx would threaten the City with another Ferguson-type response. I am also sorry Ms. Foxx did not choose to meet with city officials to help resolve this issue earlier, as the City requested, rather than further divide our community by her threats.”

In a subsequent interview, Foxx indicated she would have to talk to the NAACP's state conference president as to how to proceed. “If we have to do something drastic, it will be through the national organization. I am not going to stop just because they [the city] want[s] me to,” she said.

Foxx said a rally would be held on Monday, Jan. 19, at around 2 or 3 p.m., which will include a voter registration drive. “The only way that things change is through the ballot box,” she said. She said their focus would probably be on unregistered voters in the Holly Hills neighborhood, but details had not been worked out yet.

“The controversy that has been brought to our attention stems from postings, albeit insensitive to one or another, were expressions by an individual as are opinions of others that the postings were offensive,” commented Grieshaber. “Free speech is about fair debate and comment. It is not about censorship.”

He also confirmed that he and the city attorney are in the process of crafting a policy to address social media. Once it has been completed, it will be put before the commission for a vote. If it is approved, it will be added to the City of Archer Personnel Policy and Employee Handbook.

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