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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission voted of 4-1 Thursday, Oct. 11, to officially terminate former City Manager Jeri Langman following a relatively short quasi judicial public hearing.  Attorney Bill Whitley represented the City Commission as hearing officer and conducted the proceedings.

Whitley said he had prepared two resolutions for Commission consideration after the hearing.  The first was Resolution 2012-T to terminate and the second was Resolution 2012-U to reinstate Langman.

One reason for the hearing’s brevity was that Langman, who was sworn in to testify by Whitley, read a statement specifying that her attorney “has asked in writing at least three times for this hearing to be postponed as her husband had surgery today and is unable to attend this hearing.”  Langman said the attorney has not received a reply from the City to her request.

Langman requested the city attorney contact her attorney, Carla Franklin, to see if they could agree to delay the hearing to Oct. 28 to allow her attorney to be present.  This is “a reasonable request normally afforded to any officer of the court who requests it.  To afford me any less due process is continuing this unlawful retaliation against me for blowing the whistle on Mayor Davis, Vice-Mayor Barnas and Ms. Gestrin for unlawful activities,” she said.

Former City Attorney Thomas DePeter was sworn in.  He commented on the procedural nature of the hearing and suggested the Commission ask their new attorney whether granting an extension would be a violation of the Charter, and pointed out that in a quasi judicial hearing any ex-parte communication regarding the issue would mean the findings are flawed.

Following the two speakers and seeing no one else to testify, Whitley closed the hearing and returned the meeting to the mayor and commissioners.

Commissioner Sue Weller asked if the Commission was in compliance by continuing.  City Attorney Tosha Fernandez, noting the meeting had been properly noticed and followed the City Charter, said, “It is your prerogative to make a decision this evening.”

Vice-Mayor Barnas moved and Commissioner Sue Weller seconded a motion to pass Resolution 2012-T to officially terminate Langman.

During public comments, DePeter said he did not hear any testimony from anybody regarding the performance of the city manager or whether she is pleasing the Commission.  “I heard no substantial evidence at all presented at this hearing,” he said.

Attorney Paul Regensdorf commented that as a lawyer he had been in several hearings where one side or the other has a scheduling issue.  “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a hearing where, because of the unavailability of a lawyer, the presiding body did not grant a continuance when requested,” he said.  “My opinion would be that, whatever the time limit is for a hearing is one that obviously could be waived as long as both parties agree.”

“It is a little bit startling to me,” he continued, “that a body such as this does not allow a person who is going to be fired to have their attorney present when the grounds requested for that continuance is the unavailability due to some sort of medical problem in the family.  I’ve only practiced law 40 years.  I’ve never seen that happen before.  I guess this will be the first time if, in fact, you don’t grant her that continuance.”

The Commission moved forward and voted 4-1 to approve Resolution 2012-T.

The dissenting vote was cast by Commissioner Scott Jamison who had earlier stated he would hope that the Commissioners would “take note from this as we go into the next City Manager…that we inventory what we’ve done and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes dealing with the next one as we move forward.”

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ALACHUA – Officers with the Alachua Police Department (APD) conducted a vehicle stop on Interstate 75 at the 397 mile marker on Wednesday.

The vehicle, a black Nissan SUV driven by Zactores Fields was traveling in excess of the posted speed limit. While making contact with Fields, officers noticed an odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. APD K9 Blitz was utilized to check the perimeter of the vehicle for the odor of narcotics. A search of the vehicle was subsequently conducted.

Upon searching the vehicle, a loaded, unsecured .22 caliber handgun was located underneath the driver’s seat. In addition, a baggy containing marijuana was located between the driver’s seat and center console.

Fields was identified as a convicted felon and did not possess a concealed weapons permit.

Fields was arrested on four counts and charged with Carrying a Concealed Weapon, Possession of Marijuana (less than 20 grams), Possession of Firearm by Convicted Felon and Possession of Ammunition by Convicted Felon.

Fields is being held at the Alachua County Jail in lieu of $125,000.

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W_-_Haunted_House_DSCF7278_copyL-R: Richard Piz and Eric Shupe are setting the stage for thrills and chills as they put the finishing touches on a haunted house in High Springs.

HIGH SPRINGS – Looking for a real Halloween scare?  The answer may lie within a 2800-sq. ft. adult-style haunted house, with rooms awash with zombies, werewolves, scary clowns, a nasty-looking butcher and an assortment of foul bugs.  The seasonal haunted house has been erected by Eric Shupe, of AllStar Tattoo and The Art of Spinning with Eric in High Springs.

Located at 625 NW Santa Fe Boulevard/US Highway 441, which is next to High Springs Diner, the five-room house and three dark hallway mazes were built by Shupe with donations from Lowe’s in Alachua.

Shupe and Richard Piz, also from AllStar Tattoo, got the idea of the haunted house as a fundraiser after hearing the High Springs Police Department was in need of money for renovations as part of the city’s effort to bring the police dispatch center back to High Springs.

“This is our first year doing a project like this,” said Shupe.  He and Piz saw a need for the money plus a desire on the part of the older kids to find something constructive and fun to do around the Halloween season.

The haunted house will be open from 8-11 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, Oct. 12-13, 19-20, 26-27 with a Grand Haunt on Oct. 31.  The cost is $7 for adults and $5 for children age 10 and under if accompanied by a parent.

“Some of these rooms are really scary,” said Shupe, who says they have a sign up indicating young children should not be allowed to go through the house and maze alone.

“Free face painting and free stick-on tattoos will be available to younger children,” Shupe said.  “Just because they may not want to go through the house, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be included, too,” he said with a chuckle.

The Halloween night Grand Haunt will include a display of various old hotrods and “Munster-type” cars.  In addition, area artists who have made their own sculptures, paintings and jewelry will set up to show and sell their handmade items when the house is open to the public.

“We saw this as an opportunity to promote our own local artists,” said Shupe.  “If they made it themselves, they can sell it.  We hope to expand this opportunity next year,” he explained.  The cost to the artist is $20 per weekend.

Shupe explained that he and Piz currently have at least 50 volunteers such as parents and students from Santa Fe High School, P.K. Yonge, Ft. White and other area schools, who also wanted to participate in the fundraising event.

Students will be earning community service hours for their efforts.  “Parents get the enjoyment of participating in this project with their kids,” said Schupe.  “And it’s fun,” he said.

In addition to Lowe’s contribution to the project, “Chris from Alachua Pawn & Gun has been terrific,” Shupe said.  “Richardson Paint of Lake City, generously donated paint for the project as well.”

“Other area businesses have put up our posters and given handouts to the public to help publicize the event,” he explained.  Among those are Spring Diner, Bealls Outlet, Advanced Auto Parts, Kangaroo, Great Outdoors Trading Post & Restaurant and the Halloween Mega Store in Butler Plaza, Gainesville.

All funds will benefit renovations for the police department and will be given to High Springs Police Chief Steve Holley, explained Shupe.

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NEWBERRY – In the wake of Olympics silver medalist archer Jake Kaminski’s visit, the Easton Newberry Sports Complex is on a mission to enhance its high-quality intermediate sports program, and the Unites States Olympics Committee (USOC) will visit the complex on Dec. 3.

The USOC has researched and found that kids have a better shot at training for Olympics if they are in their hometown near a complex such as Easton, which in turn hopes that its local youth archers can maximize their potential to participate in the Olympics and Paralympics training system.

The complex has a steadily growing Junior Olympic Archery Development Program that just raised $16,000, and has set its sights on partnering with national governing bodies and community sports groups to become a Community Olympics Development Program (CODP), said Doug Engh, the outreach director for Easton Foundations. USA Archery has also established a memorandum of understanding with the facility, which has produced two national champions.

With CODP designation the complex would have access to USOC corporate sponsors, national recognition and media exposure, considering how few and far between the development program sites are. Designation could also grant access to the USOC-funded annual conference for COPD managers at an Olympics training center.

Participation in the program would require monthly progress reports from a steering committee coupled with local outreach. Once designated, an athlete at the facility would have a much higher probability to be considered for Olympics training.

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cgrinstead@alachuatoday.com

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission moved forward with several hiring matters Tuesday, Oct. 9. After considerable discussion and debate about whether the city manager or city attorney was more important to the City, and amid suggestions and motions that went nowhere, attorney Scott Walker was eventually hired for a period of six months to represent the City of High Springs.

Bronson City Attorney Steven Warm, who told commissioners he could work within the City’s budgeted amount of $40,000, and Walker, who requested $4,500 per month or $54,000 per year for two meetings a week, plus $280 per hour for litigation, appeared to be the front runners.

Initial motions by the commission to approve one and then the other failed for lack of the required second to the motion.

Confronted with the lack of a decision, Mayor Dean Davis said he was concerned that a $250,000 grant might be at risk because the City had no attorney.  Commissioner Linda Gestrin suggested that City Clerk Jenny Parham could negotiate the dollar amount with whichever attorney they selected. Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas searched the budget to see where he could find the funds to hire Walker.  Unable to locate the funds immediately, Barnas made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Sue Weller, to hire the firm of Folds & Walker for a six-month period at $4,500 per month.  The motion passed 4-1 with Commissioner Scott Jamison dissenting.  Jamison maintained that the City should stay within the budget and hire Warm, who was equally qualified and would work for the budgeted amount.

City Manager Interviews

On another issue, although the commission earlier said they would narrow the pool of city manager applicants to a total of five, they decided to interview all seven.  The decision was made because commissioners were unable to obtain a majority vote on the remaining candidates.

Parham was asked to contact all seven applicants to schedule 30-minute interviews each beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 22.  Resumes will be available on the City’s web page for public review.

Candidates are Scott Lippman, Kathleen Margoles, Doug Hewitt, Andrew DeCandis, Isabel Smith, Edwin Booth and Marty Simone.  Candidates arriving from out of town will be provided a hotel room for one night not to exceed $100.

The interview process is open to the public.  Residents with questions they would like to have answered by candidates should submit them to the commission as soon as possible.  However, commissioners will choose the final group of questions.

Interim City Manager

Lee Vincent was approved as interim city manager for a period of 30 days, with the right to extend the contract another 30 days if a city manager has not been chosen by that time.  Vincent will be paid a pro-rated amount based on $61,000 annually and will be on hand 40 hours a week to address City issues.

Parham was instructed to contact newly appointed city attorney Scott Walker to request he draft a Memorandum of Understanding between the City and Vincent, stipulating there would be no benefits paid and there would be no appeal should he be released from service.  Parham agreed to stay in the position as interim city manager until Vincent is on board.

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HIGH SPRINGS – On Nov. 6, voters will elect a new commissioner to fill the soon-to-be vacated seat of Mayor Dean Davis.  The two candidates running for that seat are Pat Rush and Byran Williams.  Commissioner Scott Jamison’s seat was also up for election, but his opponent, Edward Riess, withdrew from the campaign, leaving Jamison unopposed. Here voters can find the remaining candidates’ responses to a selection of Alachua County Today questions.

Candidate Pat Rush

Age:  55

Family:  Wife Robyn; daughter Caitlyn, 24 years old; daughter Shannon, 14 years old

Education:  Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, University of South Florida

Occupation:  Electrical Engineer for the University of Florida

Time in High Springs:  Eight years

Political experience:   Member plan board City of High Springs; Campaign manager brother, Brian Rush, State House of Representatives, Tampa

Questions

What is the main issue that needs to be addressed in High Springs?

High Springs suffers from financial problems arising most largely from poor decisions and mismanagement. Information presented to the commission and outside agencies such as the USDA for the sewer system included erroneous figures. Our city commission presented to the USDA that the sewer system would be funded in part by impact fees of $3,500 per household, which the commission then voted to suspend. The people of High Springs were told that they would be put on this new sewer system at no cost, and to charge $3,500 to be hooked up would have been met with outrage. With 700+ users on our system at present, and at $3,500 each; this amounts to about a $2.5 million shortfall.

Are there other issues facing the city that also require commission attention?  If so, please identify.

The city has numerous issues which plague its operation: No plan for economic development, poor coordination between our charter officers, etc.

As a commissioner, what would be your short-term and long-term goals?

My short term and long term goals are one and the same. Divide up our tasks and duties according to the charter. Put our city manager, finance director, clerk, and attorney in charge of their tasks, and keep the commission informed as to what each is doing. Then we can get our finances and our plans for the future on track. At present our operations are paralyzed.

The commission is in the process of looking for a new city manager.  What would you be looking for in a candidate for that position?

The city is looking for a manager with experience, and a proven track record. That person must also have a strong financial background.

What should High Springs do to gain strength economically?

High springs has not only failed to promote economic development, but has in fact interfered with it. For years businesses which wanted to locate in High Springs, or expand were met with burdensome requirements from our city planner. It is the duty of the city building official to make such determinations. In fact Florida statute 489 prohibits anyone else from interfering in the building officials duties. As such, we were discouraging good clean businesses with unnecessary costs, not called for by our building department. We have earned our reputation as a “business un-friendly city.”

What budget process would you employ to create a budget for the next fiscal year?

Our budget process was flawed by inaccurate figures which changed at every meeting. The procedure was not at fault. I also propose modifying the budget dynamically through the year. This will be particularly important as our budget has very little room for error this year.

What are your core political principles?

I am a monetarily conservative person. Whenever we spend the taxpayer’s money we have to say “This is their money… Is this the way they would spend it.” I think in so many cases in the past we would have to answer no.

What made you run for city commissioner?

Very simply I love High Springs. It is my home, and I want the best for its citizens and for my family. I hate to say it, but anyone who has attended the commission meetings, served on its boards, or met regularity with its officers as I have, knows that this city is a mess right now. I hope the voters will give me the chance to serve them, and improve the conditions we live under.

What would you bring to the commission that other candidate would not?

I work hard, I educate myself and will show up ready to do business, not just talk about doing business. In past campaigns my opponent has said that we need to educate our city residents. Let me say this: Our residents are more educated than the residents in any other city I’ve been in. I’ve been meeting hundreds of voters at their homes, and they know what’s going on and they don’t like it. Rather than trying to school them. We should listen to what they are asking for.

If you have been on the commission before, what would you do differently this time and why?

I have not served on the commission before.

What is something residents do not know about you?

I would rather get work done than argue about it. There is a surplus of talk which is not followed up by action. I will work with everyone on the commission, and know that we will be judged by the merits of our actions.

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Candidate Byran Williams

Age: 54

Family: Single, father of four, four grandchildren

Education: 2011- Currently enrolled in Emory International Theological Seminary, Atlanta Ga.

Florida League of Cities Institute for Community Housing, 2007

Advanced Institute for Elected Municipal officials, 2006

Institute for Elected Officials, 2004

Santa Fe College, 1983

Graduate of Santa Fe High School, 1976

Occupation: Pastor of Mt Carmel United Methodist Church, High Springs; Owner of Byran’s Car Wash and Wax

Time in High Springs: Lifelong Resident

Political Experience: High Springs City Commissioner (2003-2009); Former Vice Mayor/ Mayor (2005-2006); Former member of the following organizations: Florida League of Cities, North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, Growth Management and Transportation Committee.

What is the main issue that needs to be addressed in High Springs?

High Springs is a weak mayor, city manager style of government by charter. We must go back to funding and selecting a professional proven city manager with the experience to manage daily operations of the city.

Are there other issues facing the city that also require commission attention?

I feel there are four critical issues. 1) Funding local dispatch; 2) Completing the sewer project; 3) Improve city employee morale; 4) Infrastructure review and improvements.

As a commissioner, what would your short and long term goals be?

Short term would be finding a professional city manager, improving employee morale and citizen communication with commission at commission meetings.  Long range would be enhancing economic development opportunities that can provide economic stability to the city by bringing clean industry that provides jobs and a complete review of infrastructure needs.

The commission is in the process of looking for a new city manager. What would you be looking for in a candidate for that position?

I would be looking for a person with proven professional experience in managing the daily operation of a city.

What should High Springs do to gain strength economically?

Improve economic development efforts through eco-tourism, be more business friendly and reestablish full time planning department.

What budget process would you employ to create a budget for the next fiscal year?

I would insist that the city manager, finance director, and department heads create a balanced budget that is within the guidelines set by the commission, as required by charter.

What are your political principles?

I will be open minded and will listen to the concerns and desires of the citizens. My political principles are simple: I believe in fairness, honesty, and open communication with all people. I will listen to and will work hard for the citizens of High Springs.

What made you run for city commissioner?

I am proud to have served as city commissioner and mayor. I am now a candidate for city commissioner because I love this city and I am saddened by the direction that the city has taken under the present leadership.

What would you bring to the commission that the other candidate would not? I would bring seven years of experience and I am a lifelong resident of High Springs. I think I know this city very well.

If you have been on the commission before, what would you do differently this time?

I will be more assertive in expressing my opinions on the issues after consulting with the citizens. At the present time citizens are intimidated by the present commission and will not speak at the meetings. I will try to set up community meetings to bring the city to the people and insure that we have direct communication with all of our citizens.

What is something residents do not know about you?

I served in the United States Army and was stationed in Germany, Fort Campbell Kentucky, and had the privilege to serve as an instructor at the United States Military Academy at West Point New York.

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NEWBERRY – Residents will have an opportunity to vote on the Fix Our Roads Alachua County ¾ cent sales surtax on Nov. 6. The surtax is projected to generate $22.5 million per year in revenues, which will be shared by the county and the municipalities. If approved by the electorate, it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

Gas tax revenue fuel the county’s transit operations, maintenance and capital, but due to inflation and less overall driving coupled with fuel efficient vehicles, revenues have decreased by about $600,000 dollars since 2008.

According to Mark Sexton, communications coordinator for Alachua County, the Fix Our Road Alachua County sales surtax is a method to handle the county’s “road maintenance challenge.”  There are 2,517 road projects eligible for the funding. Alachua County currently has a 6 percent sales tax, and the surtax would increase that rate to 6.75 percent.

Existing gas tax revenues are not sufficient for taking care of Alachua County’s road-upkeep needs. From 1999 to 2010, gas tax revenues before reimbursements and other funding totaled $114 million and expenditures for improvements, maintenance, and capital infrastructure was $138.4 million.

“Fix Our Roads tax would create a revenue source to bring our county’s roads up to speed and get on pace to get to where we can use existing gas tax and other revenue the county commission allotted to roads to take care of future maintenance,” Sexton said.

The surtax revenues are allotted between the county and each of its municipalities with a compound equation that takes into account both the population and road traffic numbers to determine a percentage. Of the proposed $22.5 million to be accrued within the first year, Newberry should receive 4.89 percent or $1.1 million.

Over its 15-year lifetime, the surtax is anticipated to bring in about $300 million for road repairs, and was proposed in reaction to the recently estimated countywide road and street repair needs of $550 million, said Tricia Kyzar, an administrative assistant with Alachua County Public Works, who specified the maintenance issues in a presentation to the Newberry City Commission.

Cities will have the option to map out their own use of the funds, but the county’s portion of the revenues will be used to fix its roads in order of priority.

If the initiative is not approved, it is estimated that by 2030, the county would accrue an additional $65 million in maintenance needs as costs for paving and capital infrastructure increase. For an interactive map for specific proposed road projects, visit http://growth-management.alachuacounty.us/fixourroads/.

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