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DrummThe city’s two newly elected commissioners are not opposed to the idea of bringing back former City Manager Jim Drumm, making it a possibility that he could be rehired.

High Springs Commissioner-elect Sue Weller said there’s a lot to discuss before she could decide whether she wants him to return to the position.

“I don’t know yet,” she said, “But I’m not ruling anything out at this point.”

Possible scenarios under which Drumm might return include a majority vote by the commission to reinstate him, or if the position was openly advertised according to the city’s usual hiring process, he could apply for the job and be considered like any other applicant.

Weller is sure the issue will come up one way or another, but she doesn’t yet know what she’ll do.

There needs to be open, public discussion among the commissioners before any decisions are made, Weller said.

Fellow commissioner-elect Byran Williams said he hadn’t really thought about Drumm’s return as a possibility.

But he agreed that it would need to be discussed, but was noncommittal whether he would support it.

“I’m not in favor, but I’m not opposed.”

Vice Mayor Eric May suspects there are those who intend to rehire Drumm, although he didn’t specify which commissioners, but did say it would be “a huge mistake.”

May said if a majority votes to hire the former manager again, he will be more than willing to work with Drumm, and he will respect that decision, but he wouldn’t vote in favor of it.

May said that as long as the commission follows the proper process of advertising the manager position fairly for all who are qualified to apply, then Drumm has the right to apply – but he shouldn’t be brought back carte blanche.  “We need to find a manager we all mutually agree on,” May said.  “There’s too much animosity surrounding Drumm.”

Facing termination, Drumm resigned on Oct. 21.  At that time, the city commission gave unanimous approval to accept a severance agreement which included $66,433.80 in severance pay, retention of city health insurance including family coverage for the next six months, and a neutral reference letter for future employers. 

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LibertyFestGraphicRev your engines and motor over to the south end of Santa Fe College's Northwest campus (by the large flagpole!) for the All American Liberty Fest, a new family-friendly event featuring a motorcycle Flag Run and a car show.

Sponsored by Santa Fe's Collegiate Veterans Society, this first-annual festival, 11 a.m-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, replaces the Bikers on Parade event as the fundraiser for Alachua County veterans' associations.

"We're hoping to get a lot of donations, because this one event holds over the veteran organizations for the entire year," said Tamsen Pintler, Santa Fe College's veterans' advocate specialist. "This is what sustains them, so I hope everybody opens their minds, their hearts, and their pockets to keep great veterans' organizations in Gainesville."

The All American Liberty Fest represents an official Veterans Affairs (VA) "Welcome Home" event, and a mobile unit from the VA hospital will be available enrolling veterans for their services and administering flu shots to those already enrolled. Veterans can also sign up for unemployment benefits at the event, thanks to the Florida Works Veterans Employment Services.

While grease monkeys can get their fill of automobiles old and new at the motorcycle run and car show, bounce houses, clowns, face painting, and a rock-climbing wall will be among the attractions aimed at the younger set. 

Other attractions include a SWAT team exhibit, military vehicles, and a Gainesville police department K9 demonstration. Food vendors will be out in force, and several musicians are booked for the event, including the country-rock group Sin Waggin' and Hartley Leacock's collective format band.

Leading this year's festivities is honorary chair Joe Galloway, a newspaper correspondent famous for co-authoring the book We Were Soldiers Once... And Young, which was adapted into a 2002 Mel Gibson movie.

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FeatureVetCeremony_DSF2749Dozens of military veterans were recognized a day early at Alachua Elementary School’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony. 

Invited as personal guests of students, staff and teachers, school principal Jim Brandenburg welcomed each of the veterans by name to Wednesday’s service held in their honor. 

Brandenburg recounted the beginnings of the annual ceremony.  At the urging of longtime Alachua resident and D-Day veteran the late Glynn Markham, Alachua Elementary School began recognizing veterans some 19 years ago, Brandenburg said.  Markham died in May 2007, but his legacy lives on in the numerous veterans’ memorials and services he saw to fruition.

“Veteran’s Day marks an important occasion for the Alachua Elementary family,” said Brandenburg, noting the large number of veterans who are part of that extended family.

One of the reasons the ceremony is held is to make sure the students know why they have the day off, Brandenburg said.  “Tomorrow is not just a day to goof off, but a time when you should take a few minutes to remember that veterans have made that day possible,” he told the students as they were gathered underneath the outdoor pavilion.

Officially kicking off the ceremony was the University of Florida’s Naval ROTC Color Guard.  Following a choral reading by “Uncle Sam,” everyone joined in for the Pledge of Allegiance.

A small group of chorus members led the school in several patriotic songs including “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Grand Old Flag.”  The school also sang Markham’s favorite, “God Bless America.” Closing out the ceremony were rousing renditions by the all of the school’s students of “This Land is Your Land” and “God Bless the USA.”

After the ceremony, Brandenburg invited veterans and their hosts to join him in the school’s cafeteria for a reception and breakfast also in their honor.

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SunStateSunState FCU employees Brad Walden and Cassandra Davis team up to build a prosthetic hand destined for an accident victim in a third world country.

SunState Federal Credit Union (SunState FCU) recently partnered with the CU Philanthropy Group, to provide employees with a truly unique training and team building exercise. Ninety nine credit union participants assembled 33 fully functional prosthetic hands during the Helping Hands program.  The event was part of SunState’s annual training day.

SunState FCU became the latest credit union nationally to participate in the Credit Union Helping Hands program. In teams of three, credit union employees worked together to assemble the prosthetic hands destined for victims of land-mines, as the central exercise in a team building and process improvement program.

This was “a huge win-win; probably the best team building exercise we’ve ever done; and in doing it, we attained the additional pleasure of helping someone else,” said SunState FCU CEO Jim Woodward. “What a powerful way to build teamwork,” echoed Vice-President of Marketing Robert Hart. “It’s a rewarding exercise that helps you take a very real look at how your teams truly interact. Not only is there valuable self-discovery, but helping to dramatically improve a person’s quality of life at the same time is a powerful thing.”

The prosthetic hands built by SunState FCU staff during their program will be distributed and fitted globally at no cost to recipients through Odyssey Teams, Inc. and Rotary International. Photos of each assembly team will accompany the hands to their final destination, where lives will be positively impacted by the power of this innovative event.

“Once the teams figured out what they were building, and then where the prosthetic hands were going, a regular team building exercise became a truly life changing event,” said SunState FCU Senior Vice President Joe Bour.  “In little over an hour, each team had built a hand for someone that needed it to survive in a developing country. The message that just a little effort on our part, and a few minutes of our time, can mean the world to our members, really hit home. I can’t say enough good things on so many levels about the Helping Hands project.”

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No children were hurt when the school bus taking them home from High Springs Community School was hit Monday afternoon.

Around 2:30 p.m., 96-year-old Howard T. Doucette of High Springs was driving west on NW 182nd Avenue when he braked and swerved to avoid a truck stopping in front of him.

Doucette was unable to avoid the vehicle, and his Chevrolet Impala struck the back of the Toyota Tacoma truck stopped in front of him.  The truck, driven by 57-year-old Mary Kitchel of Lake Wales, Fla., was propelled forward into the stopped school bus with eight school children and the driver inside.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the school bus had stopped to let children off the bus and the bus stop signs were extended and red lights were flashing.

Both Doucette and Kitchel were wearing seatbelts, and suffered minor injuries.  The bus driver and the children reported no injuries.

The Florida Highway Patrol estimated the crash caused $4,000 worth of damage to Doucette’s car and $9,500 to the truck he hit, as well as $1,000 in damage to the bus.

Doucette was cited for careless driving, and that he “failed to drive in a careful and prudent manner.”

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Civilians, veterans and active military personnel alike are invited to the High Springs Civic Center this afternoon to join in honoring the men and women who fight for their country.

The event, Veterans’ Day in High Springs, is sponsored by the Marine Corps League of Gainesville, and will run from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Local community activist, league official and Vietnam vet, Bob Barnas, has been planning the day for months. He said there is going to be live music, food and guest speakers from different military branches and different wars.

What Barnas referred to as the main event, a flyover by a World War II L-4 spotter plane, is scheduled for 3 p.m.

The plane and its pilot, Bob Oehl, hail from Wings of Dreams Aviation Museum in Keystone Heights.

The event is completely free and open to the public, and there will be special motorcycle and handicapped parking available. Though the event will be going on outdoors, the Civics Center restrooms will be open for use.

Barnas encouraged everyone to come out and either bring a vet or meet a vet, and of course, thank a vet.

The High Springs Civic Center is located at 330 Santa Fe Boulevard (US Highway 441).

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A once operational battery plant along U.S. Highway 441 is on the path to annexation by the City of Alachua.

The 146.23-acre site broken up over three tax parcels got approval on first reading from the Alachua City Commission Monday.  Although the battery manufacturing facility is considered by many to be in the City of Alachua, the one-time major employment center has never been within the city’s corporate limits.

A concern among city leaders about contamination at the site has long been a major factor in keeping the property outside of the City of Alachua’s boundaries.

About half of the nearly 150 acres is contaminated.  City of Alachua Planner Brandon Stubbs said cleanup efforts on the site date back to the 1970s and still continues.

The half of the property now known was Phoenix Commercial Park is said not to be contaminated, but is designated as a “Brownfield site” because of the perception of contamination.  That designation lends itself to incentivizing use of the park by companies wishing to take advantage of the already industrialized site.

When asked about pending environmental or legal issues associated with the site, Stubbs and City Attorney Marion Rush said the city would not be taking on the liability by annexing the property.

Mayor Gib Coerper said he wants absolute confidence that annexing the former battery plant site will not lead to a liability for the city in future years.

Meanwhile, Coerper also lauded the Hipp family who purchased and opened a part of the site as Phoenix Commercial Park.

“The Hipp family has done a terrific job of with the Phoenix park,” he said.

General Electric (GE) opened the plant in1963.  Years later in the late 1980s, it sold to Gates Energy Products.  By 1993, Energizer Battery purchased the plant and property and added additional capabilities such as lithium ion battery cell manufacturing.

Moltech Power Systems purchased the facility in 1999 but went bankrupt about two years later.  That was the last major manufacturing the site has seen since much of the original battery production equipment was transferred to a Chinese company which purchased belly-up Moltech Power Systems.  The Chinese company was blocked from transferring the $150 million lithium ion plant originally built by Energizer. 

The lithium ion manufacturing facility remains at the site today and has since been in use on a smaller scale.  In its heyday, Energizer employed nearly 1,500 people at the site.

The annexation was passed in a 5-0 vote of the commission.  A second and likely final public hearing on the annexation is set for the city’s Nov. 22 commission meeting.

Other annexations

Commissioners also gave the initial okay for annexation of 225.46 acres known as the Jeffords property.  Located across from Santa Fe Ford along U.S. 441, the property is currently zoned as agriculture and would remain that way upon annexation.

An application by 441, LLC to voluntarily annex 17.5 acres into the City of Alachua was also unanimously approved by the commission.  The parcel is located along U.S. 441, northwest of the entrance to Turkey Creek.  That property is also currently zoned Agriculture under the Alachua County zoning atlas.

All three annexations considered Monday are set to be reviewed at a second public hearing scheduled for the Nov. 22 commission meeting.

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