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Last updateThu, 20 Aug 2015 9pm

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Newberry open to help from GSC with Nations Park

The Newberry City Commission acknowledged its dissatisfaction with the performance of Nations Park at a joint meeting with the Alachua County Commission last week.

“The first two years have been disappointing,” Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad said. “We have not achieved the number of tournaments we would like. We are going to relook at all our options with our newly-elected commission.”

Nations Park is an open invitational tournament baseball and softball park featuring 16 stadiums according to the park Web site. It was built in 2012.

Conrad said the City was grateful to the county for funding close to $7 million of the approximate $7.3 million to build the park.

“The County understood it would take time for the park to really get going,” County Commission Chair Lee Pinkoson said. “We figured it would take about three years to ramp up, and we’re in year two. We did make a major commitment, and it’s eating up a lot of the bed tax, but I think it has all the potential in the world.”

Conrad stated that Newberry was open to receiving as much help as it could get from the Gainesville Sports Commission in attracting events to the park for the summer.

“We would like to work to book tournaments with the GSC,” Conrad said. “The City is open to managing the park itself or having an outside agency, like GSC, manage it. By 2015 we hope to have a new contract with either GSC or a new entity.”

City Commissioner Jordan Marlowe added that the new commission would bring fresh insight concerning the park.

“Nations Park is a central part of Newberry, and we have some new ideas to work with,” he said. “Everyone wants to see Nations Park succeed.”

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Annual biotech celebration draws record crowd

Q - bio tech 1SUZETTE COOK/Alachua County Today

Mia Laduke and Josh Fisher, center, are entertained by a humanoid robot at the 11th Annual Biotech Celebration.

ALACHUA – Brent Johnston says the View Master is the way to go. The sales rep for BioTek Instruments, Inc. based in Highland Park, Vt. says no one can resist picking them up. “People like them,” he says. “They’re retro you know.”

But take a look at the images inside the classic stereoscope first introduced in 1962, and it’s anything but retro. BioTek touts some of the most complex microscopes and cell imaging systems in the world used by scientists to see cells with up to 60 times magnification. And then there’s the camera built into each instrument for digital imaging.

It’s vendors like this that Director at UF Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator Patti Breedlove said made the 11th Annual BioFlorida Celebration of Biotechnology held at Progress Park, “The biggest turnout ever.

Innovation corridor, the tent that actually had biotech representatives in it, was packed and stayed packed the whole time,” Breedlove said.

“One of the CEOs just about lost her voice. It was just non-stop talking.”

Breedlove said more than 655 people were in the tents and that 165 were putting on the event so 500 were strictly attendees.

“It does put the spotlight on what goes on here,” Breedlove said about Progress Park and RTI Surgical which hosted the event on May 1.

What started out as an event with tables filled with scientific equipment and supply vendors for scientist only, has now become a showcase for support businesses surrounding research and more.

“Over the years, other companies that are important support to the biotech sector including insurance companies, banks and law firms have joine,” Breedlove said.

“Now you also have UF departments because they’re looking for students for their graduate programs.”

Santa Fe College surgical technology major Josh Fisher and his friend cognitive neuroscience major Mia LaDuke were entertained by the humanoid and programmable robot known at Nao. The 59 centimeter (23 inches) tall unit was dancing and showing off for them.

Fisher Science Education sales rep Steven Steinfeld noticed the growth in attendees. “We definitely were busy the whole time,” he said. “The visitors seemed pretty excited to see what we had.”

Steinfeld was promoting the Nao robot which is an educational robot from Aldebaran Robotics based in Paris. The bot is used to teach coding and comes complete with voice recognition software and STEM curriculum. Purchase price: $17,000.

Rep Lindsay Kotula said there are hundreds of videos on YouTube that have been made starring Nao, which she says has a given name of “Sonny.”

Breedlove is excited about the turnout of the event and the timing of it as she announced news about recent IPO that are homegrown.

“The greater Gainesville Area now has four NASDAQ listed biomed tech companies,” Breedlove said. Those four companies are RTI Surgical, AGTC, Exactech and Axogen.

“That’s more per capita than any other city in the United States.”

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HSPD unorganized, low officer ratio

HIGH SPRINGS – A lengthy press release, issued by the city of High Springs on April 18, summarized the findings of an independent management review and evaluation of the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) by a member of the Florida Police Chief's Association (FPCA). FPCA chose Chief William A. Liquori (retired), a 44 year veteran of law enforcement, to assist the city. Liquori's exemplary experience as Police Chief of Altamonte Springs, Deputy Police Chief of Orlando and Past President of the Florida Police Chiefs Association made him uniquely qualified to perform the assessment.

He spent several days reviewing different aspects of the department including the ratio of officers and staff to the number of citizens they serve, maintenance of employee training records and other record-keeping procedures, departmental structure and written directives. He also met one-on-one with HSPD personnel to determine morale and workflow concerns.

The purpose of the assessment was to provide an independent view of how the department has been operating and to recommend ways in which the city could improve work flow and the department's service to the community.

In his report Liquori suggested items he thought should be addressed. While some of those changes have already taken place or are in the process of being addressed, some require funding decisions, which will not be made until commissioners consider the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Sept. 1, 2014.

In his report, Liquori states that the national average for police officers is 2.4 officers per thousand population and the state average is 2.3 officers per thousand. Currently, HSPD is at 1.63 officers per thousand population. Even if the department was at full authorized strength, Liquori said the department would still be below national and state averages at 2.18 officers per thousand population.

His report suggests that the city take immediate steps to hire a Chief of Police, allow the reinstitution of the ranks of lieutenant and detective, hire an additional officer and promote one to sergeant, conduct a cost-benefit study of continuing to operate the Dispatch Center locally, and if proven cost-effective, make budget adjustments to compliment, provide a supervisor for all shifts, assign an Internal Investigator and provide proper training in correct process, form a working group to review and update all written directives, hire cleaning staff to maintain the building in a clean and presentable manner and perform an immediate and thorough review of all written directives with technical assistance from FPCA.

A review of the written directives was performed by Liquori while he was conducting his assessment. His report listed changes he saw that immediately needed to be addressed.

He noted that training files were found to be poorly managed and paperwork for firearms qualifications were not correctly filed, although they now have been reorganized.

Vehicle maintenance was listed as an area of concern as police cars exceeded 100,000 miles and broke down regularly. One officer brought a pillow from home to put on the driver's seat because the seat had been worn down to the springs. However, officers revealed that vehicle maintenance has been better addressed under Acting Chief Antoine Sheppard since he assumed the position.

Officers reported that requests for assistance with firearms and taser training had gone unanswered in the past. However, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is currently providing technical assistance to the department on this issue.

Equipment storage appears to have been a problem in the past as well. An inventory of all equipment and disposal of non-working items was suggested to Liquori by some officers.

In summary, Liquori's report said, “I feel, after interviewing the majority of the employees, they are dedicated, loyal to the department and happy to be employed by the High Springs Police Department.

“If the city of High Springs, FL wants a professional Police Department they must support the Department. They must also hold them accountable through the direction of the City Manager and the Chief of Police."

A copy of Liquori's full written report has been provided to all commissioners, but will be formally presented at the upcoming April 24 commission meeting according to the city's press release.

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Newberry swaps city manager

NEWBERRY – The Newberry City Commission announced City Manager Keith Ashby is stepping down immediately and appointed former Mayor and City Manager Grady Hartzog as an interim replacement.

At the first city commission meeting with three newly-elected commissioners, Mayor Bill Conrad mentioned Ashby’s desire to transition to his new job with Santa Fe College and then suggested that Hartzog was willing to fill the position until a new city manager would tentatively be hired in June.

Commissioners Jordan Marlowe and Jason McGehee both questioned Conrad’s ability to recommend a specific city manager replacement, even on an interim basis, without some sort of vetting procedure.

“Since it’s for such a short term, about a 30 day period, I felt we should just go ahead and fill the position instead of going through an advertising process,” Conrad said after stating he’d already talked with Hartzog and was told he’d be willing to accept.

Hartzog served as city manager from 1984 to 1989 and as mayor/city manager from 1993 to 2004. Most recently he was city manager of Chiefland from 2007 to 2013.

Marlowe then mentioned that another former mayor, John Glanzer, was also interested. Glanzer was present at the meeting and commented that he wasn’t interested in creating controversy as both he and Hartzog were capable of handling the job.

It was also mentioned that Conrad, himself, could temporarily fill the position along with the help of Utilities Director Blaine Suggs. Conrad said he would do so if it was the will of the commission, but he would prefer not to.

After over an hour of deliberation, the commission voted three-to-two for Hartzog to be approved as interim city manager for an expected month, but for as long as six months while the interview process is conducted for a full-time manager. Dissenting votes were from Marlowe and Tim Marden.

Hartzog will be paid at the same rate as current manager Ashby for as long as he serves.

The commission also announced the decision to narrow down candidates for full-time city manager to an initial interview pool of six. Conrad had averaged the rankings each commissioner had provided to a pool of four choices from a previously narrowed list of 10, but commissioners Rick Coleman and McGehee each had a top candidate they wanted included in the interview process.

After discussion, the commission agreed to interview Stephen Cottrell, William Vance, Lyndon Bonner, Isaac Turner, Matthew Burke and Mark Clark. It was noted that each candidate except Vance (who is from Ohio) is either from Florida or has ties to Florida.

Commissioner opinions varied on what qualities were most important in a new city manager. Marlowe expressed his desire to see a manager with extensive experience with electrical utilities management, while McGehee was more concerned with having a manager with experience successfully working with a wide variety of people.

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Relay for Life brings out the pirates

W - Walker - RFL Pink Purple Storm Roberts S5000178Radio personality Storm Roberts served up spirits pirate style at the Alachua/High Springs Relay for Life Pink & Purple Party.  Roberts was one of several celebrity servers pitching in to raise funds at the Great Outdors Cafe in High Springs.

HIGH SPRINGS – A couple from Dixie County, wearing purple shirts, sat side by side on the patio of the Great Outdoors Restaurant last Thursday evening.

The back of his shirt read “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step.”

David and Toni Warner, along with a multitude of other people, gathered on April 10 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the downtown restaurant in High Springs.

They came to raise money and awareness, as well as have fun for the Alachua and High Springs Relay for Life Committee’s second annual Pink & Purple Party.

“I’m here so that other people can be survivors,” Toni Warner said.

The shirt is dedicated to her. For 16 years she fought a personal battle with breast cancer.

Toni Warner explained that one of the reasons for her survival was because attitude is everything. “And, I have one of those,” she said laughing.

Warner also wants people to know that awareness and early detection was key to her survival. “Don’t wait until you feel something,” she said. “If I did, I wouldn’t be here. Early detection is curable,” she said, smiling as she holds her husband, David Warner’s hand.

Everyone attending was supporting a Relay for Life team, labeled with a sticker noting which team would benefit from the proceeds of their dinner.

Gib Coerper, mayor of Alachua, supported Mebane Middle School.

“I haven’t been in junior high in 50 years,” he said, laughing.

Mayor Coerper also hoped that Thursday’s event would exceed last year. “I hope that this year is a record year,” he said.

And, it proved to be. Last year, according to Sharon Yeago, Relay for Life event co-chair for High Springs and Alachua, the party raised $2,000. This year, the event made about $3,500.

“The Pink and Purple Party on the Patio was another great success this year. We are so grateful to the Great Outdoors staff for the outstanding job they did to make this such a great event,” Yeago said.

She was also pleased to add that the City of Alachua signed up for a Relay Team at the event. “This really capped off the night with the recruitment of our 22nd team for this year’s Relay,” she said.

In addition to the success, there were also raffles throughout the evening, as well as tickets sold for raffles to be given away on the day of relay, which will be May 9 and 10 at the High Springs’ Civic Center.

There was also a section in the corner of the patio for people to buy and decorate luminaria bags These bags will be lit up on the track at the civic center during Relay for Life to represent survivors and the memories of loved ones.

“It’s nice to do in memory of loved ones. They’re very pretty,” said Patti Lamneck, who was selling and decorating her own luminaria bags at the event.

A highlight of the evening was the staff of celebrity bartenders who came from Alachua, High Springs and Gainesville for the event. “We are also grateful to the celebrity bartenders and supporters who gave gifts and made donations at the event,” Yeago said.

The celebrity bartenders were also decked out in colorful pirate attire, and included radio personality Storm Roberts of KTK 98.5, the “morning drive guy.”

“I’m a cancer survivor, and this is real close to my heart,” Roberts said. “And, it’s always fun to dress like a pirate,” he added, smiling while sporting his three-cornered black pirate hat and shiny beads that complemented his pirate garb.

Roberts also added that the main goal of the event is to raise awareness. “I talk about it on my radio show, to let people know what is going on, and to bring it to life,” he said.

He is an advocate to stop childhood cancer, and also added that the more people do to fight cancer, the more people are doing to fight for a cure.

And, he said, “When you get everyone together at events like this, everybody wins.”

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