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        HIGH SPRINGS – James “Steve” Holley, police chief for High Springs, has taken time off after covering shifts for officers who were sick or attending special training during the past year.

        “He asked for time off, and had the comp and vacation time available to do so,” said City Manager Ed Booth. “I granted his request for 30-days leave,” he said.

        While Holley is out, Sgt. Antoine Sheppard has been appointed acting chief of police.

        Sheppard began his law enforcement career as a police explorer with the Alachua Police Department, according to the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) website. He was hired by the HSPD on April 26, 2001 as a police officer. He has risen to the rank of Sergeant and has been a patrol supervisor.

        In addition to Sheppard's regular assigned duties, he also was in charge of the coordination of the bicycle unit, neighborhood crime watch and the reserve officer program. Sergeant Sheppard is a member of the city's safety committee and is a trained Crisis Intervention Officer.

        City Manager Booth denied rumors that Holley would be demoted to sergeant at the end of the 30 days.

        “That’s all just rumor,” Booth said.

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TALLAHASSEE – Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam and the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame Foundation announced four honorees who will be inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame for 2014. These individuals have made outstanding contributions to Florida’s agriculture industry and mentored future leaders in this field.

“These individuals have made incredible contributions to agriculture in our state and beyond,” Commissioner Putnam said. “The changes and improvements they have made will help ensure the strength of Florida’s $100 billion agriculture for generations to come. I am pleased to announce the awards for these outstanding gentlemen.”

The honorees are:

  • Scottie Butler, Gainesville, former general counsel, Florida Farm Bureau Federation. Scottie Butler has spent more than 40 years advocating for Florida’s farmers and ranchers. He retired as general counsel from the Florida Farm Bureau Federation in September 2013, after more than four decades of service. He understood the importance of developing relationships to bring together associations, coalitions and government agencies to move key issues forward. In addition to his expertise, he strongly believed in helping raise up the next generation of agriculture leaders and has mentored several of today’s industry leaders.
  • Bruce Christmas Sr., Cottondale, former Director of the Poultry Evaluation Center at the University of Florida. Bruce Christmas is a fifth generation farmer from Jackson County and a former Orange County Extension Agent. He has been recognized by many organizations for his leadership and his volunteer service to youth and was previously chosen “National Volunteer of the Year” for the National Agriculture Alumni and Development Association.
  • Dr. Elver “Doc” Hodges, Wauchula, retired Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida. Dr. Hodges’ contributions to the livestock industry in Florida are enormous. His research as an agronomist identified problems and found solutions to enrich low-quality Florida soils, which revolutionized peninsular Florida beef production. He served with the University of Florida Range Cattle Research and Education Center and with the USAID International Program in Malawi. In addition, he was involved with his local 4-H program for many years.
  • Dallas Townsend, retired Director of the University of Florida Hendry County Extension Office. Dallas Townsend served 39 years as an extension agent in Southwest Florida and was instrumental in working with IFAS and the agriculture industry to bring more research capacity to the area through the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center. His involvement with youth and 4-H is legendary, coaching more than a dozen 4-H teams and thousands of 4-H youth.

The award winners will be honored on Feb. 11, 2014 at the Ag Hall of Fame Dinner. For tickets, or more information about the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame, go to http://floridaaghalloffame.org/2013/10/2014.

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Tallahassee Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam announced today the top three complaints received in August 2013 at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services were regarding the statewide Do Not Call List, telemarketing and communication services.

The agency received 5,271 written complaints in August. In addition, there were 20,208 calls and 669 emails requesting consumer assistance and information. The top three calls to the agency’s 1-800-HELP-FLA hotline were related to the solicitation of contributions from charities, landlord/tenant issues and motor vehicle repair.

In the past month, the department has responded to many consumer concerns and taken action against several individuals or businesses operating outside of Florida law. During the month of August, the agency:

  • Registered 5,607 businesses.
  • Initiated 93 investigations.
  • Arrested 8 individuals.
  • Recovered $273,641 on behalf of Florida consumers.
  • Added 11,249 telephone numbers to Florida’s Do Not Call List. Currently, there are more than 558,000 numbers on the list.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints, protection and information. The call center is staffed with trained analysts who can respond to questions about programs and regulations under the department’s purview, provide information on a wide variety of topics, or direct callers to the appropriate government agency.

Consumers who believe fraud has taken place can contact the department’s consumer protection and information hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or, for Spanish speakers, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832). For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit www.FreshFromFlorida.com.

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HAWTHORNE – Less than a month ago the city of Hawthorne lost a member of the community with the passing of Eleanor “Kit” Randall. Randall left behind not only friends and family, but a city commission seat as well. On Wednesday, Sept. 4, the commission filled that seat.

At the city commission meeting last week, the commission reviewed three candidates for the position and chose Patricia Bouie to hold seat four on the commission. Normally, city commissioners are elected. Because the commission was filling a seat vacated by someone’s death, the position was appointed instead.  

Bouie has served on the commission before, completing a two-year term ending about four years ago.

Prior to her time as a city commissioner, Bouie worked as a board member on the planning and zoning committee in Hawthorne. Due to her past involvement with the city, the transition to being a commissioner once again should be easier, said Ellen Vause, Hawthorne city manager.

“We are fortunate to have her as the appointment to fill Commissioner Randall’s seat,” Vause said.

Filling the seat, not replacing Randall, is precisely what Hawthorne Mayor Matthew Surrency wants Bouie to try to do as well.

“I expect her to stay true to who she is and to do what she can do,” Surrency said. “Pat will do her own thinking and act on what she believes is right, she knows you can’t replace Kit.”

Bouie is also involved with her church, which helps her to stay plugged in to her community, Surrency said. She was a part of the process in the past and it will allow her to have an impact immediately.

Commissioner Randall served on the commission for several years over the course of two separate terms. She also acted as Hawthorne’s mayor for a number of years before Surrency took office. She then worked alongside him as a commissioner.

Surrency went to school with both Commissioner Bouie’s children and with the late Commissioner Randall’s children. He said he has always believed that having people in a leadership role that are familiar with each other can make progress easier.

“Serving with people you know is what makes this community great,” Surrency said. “I’ve known Mrs. Bouie for quite a while, and I know she will be right for the job.”

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ALACHUA COUNTY – Bad news for government employees, good news for everybody else, it seems.

Eight out of ten industries in the Gainesville metropolitan statistical area, which includes all of Alachua and Gilchrist counties, have expanded the number of people they employ over the last year, according to a report from the Alachua County manager's office.

Only the government sector experienced a reduction in employees, with 2.6 percent fewer workers now compared to May of last year. The information sector remained the same, with no growth or reduction.

"When only one industry is declining, that is a healthy indicator," said Alachua County Economic Development Coordinator Edgar Campa-Palafox. The report from the county manager collects its data from the U.S. Department of Labor, and is meant to provide local lawmakers with a quick snapshot of the state of the economy in the area.

The biggest growth was seen in the mining, logging and construction industries, which had a combined increase of 7.3 percent.

One reason for the increase is that these kinds of businesses have traditionally not had a large presence in the area, so even a small surge in the number of employees would cause the percentage to shoot up, said Ray Schaub, from the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

"When dealing with a smaller sample, these numbers tend to fluctuate more," he said. For example, an industry that employs 1,000 people could add only 70 jobs and it would be reflected in a 7 percent increase. Industries like leisure and hospitality, which has been small because of the lack of tourism in the area compared to the rest of the state, had a 6.9 percent expansion in workers since even a small hiring surge would have a major impact.

Even so, the increases are still significant, said Economic Development Coordinator Campa-Palafox. Schaub also agreed.

“It’s still a positive sign,” Schaub said.

Despite what the numbers indicate, not everybody in the construction world has seen the effects.

Ron O'Steen, of construction company O'Steen Brothers Inc., said his firm has not been able to add on new employees in the last year. Although he has seen more work lately, it has been sporadic and not steady enough.

"The work is not consistent enough," he said. "We'd put them to work for a month or two then have to lay them off."

Most of his work comes from government contracts, but the building block of revitalizing construction in Alachua County is the residential market, which feeds business development, he said.

"We've been sucking air for the last four or five years," O'Steen said in regards to the housing construction market.

The increase in construction jobs is probably a result of pent-up demand from the last five years, said County Commissioner Lee Pinkonson.

O'Steen said he still hasn't lost hope, and he expects things to improve.

"It's like a train with a lot of cars. It's slow getting started," he said, but it builds momentum eventually. There has been an increase in residential construction activity, a good sign. When more houses are constructed, it means more people to put money into the economy and attract new businesses.

Ronald Kless started Leading Edge Advertising Agency in January, which offers search engine optimization, web design and advertising packages. Although he is the only full-time employee, his company has employed several freelancers. With the business services sector in the combined counties of Alachua and Gilchrist growing 6.3 percent in the last year, more companies like Leading Edge might be created. He expects to add three to six full-time employees by sometime in 2014.

Kless attributes the growth in demand for business services to the arrival of companies, especially startups, attracted by the nearby university.

"There's a constant influx of money from all over the state because of the students," he said. Because startups don't have the resources an established company might have, they need an advertising agency that can provide customized service, he said.  

"We form a symbiotic relationship. They need us and we need them," he said. Companies providing professional services reflect what is going on in the local economy in general, Kless added.  

Nanotherapeutics, based in the city of Alachua, announced earlier this year it would create 150 manufacturing jobs in Florida. Manufacturing saw a 4.7 percent increase in employment over the last year. In addition, education and health services increased 5.2 percent, financial activities increased 1.6 percent, transportation and utilities increased 1.7 percent, and the miscellaneous sectors increased by 5 percent. Total non-farming business increased 2.2 percent.

County Commissioner Pinkonson said the economic indicators report is encouraging.

"Things definitely look better," he said.  

Although Gainesville is the economic hub of the area, the agriculture-heavy rural areas make a large contribution to the economy too, Pinkonson said.

The reduction in government employment is probably a result of the recession, he said.

Schaub disagreed, saying it was probably due to a combination of decreased funding from the state, and the state setting trends by reducing the size of its payroll.

Overall unemployment in the area rose slightly over the period from April to May, going from 4.9 percent to 5.3 percent, but it is still well below the state average of 7.1 percent and the national average of 7.6 percent.

"The trend is going," said Campa-Palafox, "but not as fast as everybody would like it to."

The inclusion of Gilchrist County in the average probably doesn't change the figure that much, Campa-Palafox said. Without it, the average would probably only be about .1 or .2 percent lower.

The economic report paints a good picture he said, but unemployment is still too high.

Alachua County Commissioner Susan Baird agreed.

"We're doing well, but it should be outstanding with the potential we have."

One problem is that electricity rates in Alachua County are too high, making it difficult for businesses to move in, Baird said.

"With a city that has so much employment from the university and government, the unemployment should be around 3 percent," she said.  

"I think that's a realistic goal."

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