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W_-_Marlowe_-_DSCN4270_copyNEWBERRY – Politicians have nationally embraced social media as a major campaigning outlet, but Newberry City Commissioner Jordan Marlowe’s main concern is still community communication two years after his election. He maintains an active Facebook page and a personal website as a way to directly link to the people. He wrestles with the fine line between online participation and attendance at physical commission meetings twice a month, and knows the time that must be taken to learn how to articulate information to the public.

“I don’t know that politicians have grasped the importance of social media, and how you can use it as a data collecting device,” Marlowe said. “I ran on a platform consisting of ‘let’s open the doors of communication. Let’s get the word out so we know what’s happening so the residents can have a say.’”

When he set up his social media over a year ago, he did not realize the drastic inequality of online and physical meeting participation. Steps are being taken to adjust the style of the commission meetings to accommodate a live streaming format, but this just scratches the surface of the communication issue. At the root of the matter is the public’s level of feedback and participation. Marlowe utilizes Facebook as a way to pose questions and spark conversation, but his website is a major forum for in-depth discussion.

He provides summaries of the commission meetings on his personal website, which in turn gives him a direct connection with residents’ misunderstanding and concern. “People will take more time than it takes to vote, writing lengthy responses, well thought-out responses—certainly more time than going into a voting booth,” Marlowe said. “The responses can matter more, but I don’t know how to bridge the gap by communicating through social media and then relating it to the commissioners in the same powerful way. There’s not a way quite like residents showing up saying they will hold the commissioners to what they say.”

People participating on the website are mostly middle-aged or older, but many students are involved as well. Marlowe was told at first that the website would be of little use, but recently he averages 4,000 hits a week on his personal website.  There are about 5,000 people in the city, and over 400 people follow him on Facebook.  This is in contrast to the city’s average voter turnout of 500. This suggests that there is a desire among the citizenry for more direct communication.

He keeps us all informed on City business,” said Linda Woodcock, a local retired teacher. “That is why I use it. That is why everybody uses it. He asks for input. The best part about it is being able to respond and that he wants your input. He is the only commissioner that does this.”

The communication issues lies in the fine-tuning. Marlowe wishes that all the commissioners would utilize social media, even though it is a lot of work. “To me, the more of us who are putting out info are getting feedback, then the more we can compare it,” he said.

The fine-tuning is not just the logistics of changing the style of the meetings, but also the commissioners’ perspective on the attendance level. Low attendance could be viewed as apathy towards City business. But the manner in which he posts on his media draws out an “unbelievable amount of hits” said Woodcock.

“His site shows not only what you think, but you get a feel for what the overall community is thinking, too,” she said. “As a commissioner, you at least feel like he is listening and taking into account what the public is wanting or saying.”

“The passion people show on Facebook shows me they want to be involved, but that they aren’t taking the next step,” Marlowe said. “Something is keeping the people from being involved in the physical meetings.

“I can see the commissioners placing value only on those who attend, but we need to revolutionize the way we do the meetings so that people can be elsewhere and still be involved.”

There is inconsistency of communication between the commission as a whole and the residents. Marlowe communicated with over 500 people on the issue of whether or not the City should fund employment of the Martin Luther King Community Center or run it with volunteers, and the majority was against the funding. At the commission meeting, about 10 or 12 people came to the meeting and appealed for the funding, and one person was against it.  Marlowe knew that as a commissioner on the dais, it looked as though funding the center would be the majority opinion, but that there were many opinions that were not presented.

“I think all politicians are very reactive to who is in front of them. A commissioner can take up an issue and make it their own, but by and large, especially with this commission, we are responsive to the citizens.” He values the idea of live streaming because the residents could watch the issue they are waiting for, but also understands that despite the integration of the Internet in people’s everyday lives, face to face is always more effective. Social media is the first step, but the second step is facing the commissioners.

“At one point the citizens must take an initiative,” Marlowe said. “And I have to believe that if a high school teacher can get 424 people to listen on Facebook and 4,000 to read a website, that if the City did the same thing, it could get exponentially more.”

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ALACHUA AxoGen, Inc. and PDL BioPharma, Inc. have entered into a structured financing agreement, which will provide $20.8 million to AxoGen.  Founded in 2002, AxoGen makes products and technologies that help repair nerve damage, and is located in Alachua’s Progress Corporate Park. Based in Nevada, PDL focuses on intellectual property asset management, investing in new revenue generating assets and maximizing the value of its patent portfolio and related assets.

AxoGen reports that the financing will allow the company to strengthen and accelerate its sales and marketing efforts as well as to explore pipeline opportunities.

The total financing of $20.8 million includes $19.05 million in cash PDL paid to AxoGen on Oct.5, 2012 and $1.75 million PDL paid to AxoGen on Aug. 14, 2012. The firm reports that net proceeds were approximately $14 million after repayment of $5 million in existing debt and payment of transaction related fees and expenses.

A revenue agreement between the two firms calls for an eight year term and provides PDL with royalties based on AxoGen revenues, subject to certain minimum payment requirements beginning in the fourth quarter of 2014 and the right to require AxoGen to repurchase the revenue contract at the end of the fourth year. AxoGen has been granted certain rights to call the revenue contract in years five through eight. John McLaughlin, President and Chief Executive Officer of PDL, was elected to the Board of Directors of AxoGen, Inc. immediately following the closing.

“PDL is an exciting partner for AxoGen. The PDL team has a strong track record of creating commercial value and their knowledge will be an asset as we build AxoGen’s business,” said Karen Zaderej, CEO for AxoGen.

“The PDL transaction provided both operating capital and the ability to pay off AxoGen’s existing bank debt,” said Greg Freitag, AxoGen’s CFO and General Counsel. “We were able to raise significant capital without diluting our outstanding share-base while maintaining a clean capital structure. Furthermore, our agreement provides extensive flexibility for future financing and business development activity.”

AxoGen ’s products offer surgical nerve reconstruction solutions including Avance® Nerve Graft, the only commercially available processed nerve allograft for bridging severed nerves, AxoGuard® Nerve Connector, a coaptation aid allowing for close approximation of severed nerves, and AxoGuard® Nerve Protector, a bioscaffold used to reinforce a coaptation site, wrap a partially severed nerve or isolate and protect nerve tissue.  The company sells its products in the United States, Canada, Italy, and Switzerland.

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Violations for prescription drugs and drug tests

GAINESVILLE - Political activist Charles Grapski, who is on probation for the 2007 battery of an Alachua police officer, has been arrested and charged with multiple violations of his probation.

According to the Department of Corrections Violation Report filed with the court, the first incident happened Sept. 21, 2012 when Grapski refused to submit to a random drug test.

When the probation officer called Grapski on Sept. 20 to inform him about the random drug test, Grapski became “verbally hostile” and “screamed and yelled so loudly until this officer could not speak,” according to the report. The officer noted that Grapski “was so hostile until he sounded like he was having some type of mental breakdown.” The officer eventually hung up on Grapski and transferred Grapski to a supervising officer, according to the report.

In the “Offender Statement” portion of the Violation Report, Grapski is shown to argue that he is not on probation for drug charges and should not have to be tested for drugs. He then refused to submit to a drug test until he talked to his lawyer.

University of Florida law professor Joe Little, who has represented Grapski numerous times, has since submitted a limited notice of appearance in the case.

Condition 11 of Grapski’s original Order of Probation states, “You will submit to random testing as directed by your officer or the professional staff of the treatment center where you are receiving treatment to determine the presence or use of alcohol or controlled substances.”

In addition to refusing to submit to a drug test, Grapski was arrested Sept. 23 when probation officers found Xanax and Trazadone in a box sitting on Grapski’s bed in his Osceola County home.  Xanax is a drug used to treat anxiety, and Trazadone is used in the treatment of depression.

According to the reports, Grapski claimed the pills were from previous prescriptions, but he was unable to produce the prescriptions when officers asked for them, so he was arrested and taken to the Osceola County Jail.

Due to the above incidents, Grapski’s probation officer, Earline White, wrote in the probation violation reports that, “It is the belief of this officer that the offender is not amendable to probation supervision. It is unreasonable to believe, that this offender should be permitted to remain on probation, when he cannot follow simple instructions, such as reporting when instructed and submitting to a drug test. At this point, officer safety is now an issue.”

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W_-_pumpkin_patch_DSCF7262_copySelecting that perfect pumpkin can be a daunting task when there are thousands from which to choose.  The First United Methodist Church’s annual pumpkin patch on U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua is in full swing throughout the month of October.

ALACHUA – If you’re craving pumpkin, First United Methodist Church’s annual pumpkin patch might just be for you.

With the fall season in full swing and Halloween just around the corner, there’s no better time to get in the spirit than now.  And nothing says ‘fall’ better than pumpkins.

Whether for carving into jack-o-lanterns, baking in a pie or simmering in a stew, pumpkins of every kind are available.

The 12th annual Pumpkin Patch, located on U.S. Highway 441 north of Hitchcock’s Market, is open for business Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.

The pumpkin patch was opened Sept. 26, and it will be open until the end of October. Prices for pumpkins range from $1 to $50, depending on the size.  There are 2,500 pumpkins in the pumpkin patch, and more will be added mid-October.

First United Methodist Church Pastor Lamar Albritton said the pumpkin patch is a youth fundraiser, but it’s also a ministry.

“It’s a church-wide effort,” he said. “The body of Christ works together.”

Members of the church volunteer to man the pumpkin patch, and Albritton said the church has prayed the event will go smoothly.

He said the church welcomes everyone who visits the pumpkin patch, regardless of whether they’re buying pumpkins or just stopping by to enjoy the vast display of the colorful gourds.

“We try to reflect Jesus Christ through how we welcome people,” he said.

He said some people have joined the church after visiting the pumpkin patch.

“They said the reason they came is because they felt so welcomed out there,” he said.

Every child who visits the pumpkin patch will receive a free gift.

“We try to reach the children in a special way,” Albritton said.

Money raised from the patch are the main source of funding for the church’s youth mission trip. Students will travel to the Appalachian Mountains and partner with the Appalachia Service Project to help repair homes. Other churches from around the country will also help with the project. Albritton said it’s a good experience because it combines hard labor and building relationships with people.

“We’re there to love them,” he said.

The money will also help fund summer camps and other youth events.

The public is also invited to attend a fall festival Oct. 28 at 2 p.m. The event is free to everyone and will include free food, a bounce house, a hay bale maze,  hayrides and numerous other activities.

“Come and join a family friendly, fun atmosphere,” Albritton said.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission has set a hearing date of Oct. 11 to consider former City Manager Jeri Langman’s appeal of their decision to terminate her employment.  The hearing was set during a special city commission meeting held Oct. 2; at the same meeting in which commissioners short-listed replacement candidates for her position.

Langman initially requested a hearing date of Oct. 25, the second regularly scheduled meeting of the month, to give her attorney time to prepare for the hearing; noting that she had requested, but not yet received, a list of goals and directions commissioners gave as the reason for her termination.

Because the requested date was past the 30-day deadline called for in the High Springs City Charter, the Commission denied her first request.

Langman then asked for a hearing on Oct 18 or 16.  Noting that Commissioner Sue Weller would be out of town on those dates, the Commission denied her second request as well.

Commissioners decided on the Oct. 11 date because it would fall on a regularly scheduled Commission meeting night.  Mayor Dean Davis directed Interim City Manager/City Clerk Jenny Parham to include the hearing on the agenda as the last item, saying that citizens wouldn’t have to sit through a lengthy hearing before getting to the business on the agenda.  As of press time, 16 new items were recently added to the agenda for that meeting, all scheduled for consideration prior to the Langman termination hearing.

Commissioners also asked Parham to locate an attorney, if a new city attorney wasn’t on board by that date, to act on the City’s behalf during the hearing.

The City Charter specifies a quasi judicial hearing as the format for a hearing on the termination of a charter officer.  During a quasi judicial hearing, the meeting is open to the public, but anyone giving testimony must be sworn in prior to testifying and are usually restricted to facts without personal opinions.

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email Cwalker@alachuatoday.com

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W_-_HS_Citizens_JGroup_DSCF7234_copyConcerned Citizens for a Better High Springs hosted a lunch for City employees on the heels of a 6.07 percent pay cut.

HIGH SPRINGS – Members of the newly-formed group, “Concerned Citizens for a Better High Springs” (CCBHS), delivered lunch on Wednesday, Oct. 3, for City of High Springs employees affected by the recent 6.07 percent salary cut to all non-union City employees.

“We want to encourage our City employees to hang in there by providing support in a meaningful way,” said CCBHS Publicity Chair Sharon Yeago.  “Our employees are taking a financial hit for the benefit of the city.  We want them to know how much we appreciate their efforts and supplying lunch is one small way we can help relieve one burden, the financial responsibility of lunch, and show our appreciation,” said Yeago.

The group, which has grown to more than 150 members in fewer than five days, was “formed to support good policy decisions in our government,” said CCBHS Steering Committee Chair and High Springs resident John Manley. Other members of the Steering Committee include local residents Becky Johnson, Bob Jones and Linda Jones.

Both Yeago and Manley are proud that they were able to attract so many citizens interested in supporting good policy decisions by city government in such a short time using Facebook, email and personal outreach.

“We are a nonpolitical, nonpartisan organization,” explained Yeago.  The group has already created a mission statement and guiding principles, which are all listed on the organization’s Facebook page. The group’s mission and key principles are to provide for professional, experienced management of the City of High Springs and restoration of long-held standards of governing that include a comprehensive budget process and restoring High Springs’ reputation as a fair and open government that is inclusive, open and fair.

Steering and Events committees have been established by the group,” said Yeago.  One of the first actions of the Events Committee is the provision of Wednesday’s lunch for non-union city employees.  Events Committee members include Ed MacKinnon, Linda Hewlett, Tom Hewlett, Lisa Phelps and Sandra Webb.

“This citizens group came together out of a deep concern and love for the city of High Springs.  This city is at a crossroads,” Manley said.  “We feel it is important to put any history aside, and build a broader, more rational and encompassing plan for the future of High Springs that the majority of the citizens can get behind and work to make happen,” explained Manley.

“We are encouraging citizen participation in deciding the direction of our city,” said Yeago.  “This is a group to help our government consider policy decisions that make our city viable,” she said.  “Our group has no political agenda.  We just want to help the city make the best decisions they can for our citizens and the future of High Springs,” she said.

Yeago explained further, “Our agenda is based on good policy and we will be making what we consider to be good policy recommendations on an ongoing basis.  Good policy transcends politics.  It’s not about who happens to be in the office at the moment.  It’s about how our government serves its citizens now and in the future.”

“What we’re trying to do is develop solutions for what we feel are the problems we now have,” Manley said.  “We are a strategic group, not a political group,” he insisted.  “Politics is not a part of what we’re doing.  We want to contribute solutions and encourage other citizens to get involved to help do the same,” he said.

“We have problems that may take 5 or 10 years…or possibly more, to solve.  Previous commissions made decisions under different economic conditions than we have today.  Perhaps we have to look at earlier decisions in a different light given our current economic condition.  We want a city that is professional and well run,” he said.  “We just want to participate in the process.”

Anyone interested in more information about Concerned Citizens for a Better High Springs may locate their website on Facebook or contact a member of the organization.

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W_-_Kersom_Muscular_Dystrophy_DSCN6854_copySam Hersom and the overall 1st place finisher Dan Monteau of Gainesville take a moment to celebrate after the Samstrong 5k race.

NEWBERRY – Inspiration can motivate people to think, feel, do good or be creative. On Sept. 29, an 11-year-old boy was the inspiration for hundreds of people to come together for a good cause. Sam Hersom has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, an inherited disorder involving muscular weakness that worsens rapidly. He was diagnosed at 18 months of age, and his birthday this past July will be remembered by family and friends as the last time Sam was able to walk by himself. Now he is confined to a wheelchair, and his worsened condition requires a handicap accessible van as well.  And now his home needs accessibility improvements, too.

On Sept. 29, Newberry Elementary, with help from Gainesville’s Grace at Fort Clarke United Methodist Church, held the Inaugural Samstrong 5K race with over 200 participants, and a silent auction to help the family.  Event proceeds of about $2,000 will go toward the Hersom family, which includes Sam’s 13-year-old brother Cole and 4-year-old sister Kaitlyn.

Past involvement with Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy prompted the idea to hold a fundraiser for muscular dystrophy advocacy in Newberry, said Kris Hersom, Sam’s mother. But family friends at the church, the elementary school, and Oak View Middle School came together and added a slight twist to the original plan: the Hersom family would be the benefactors of the fundraiser.

“They took our concept and ran with it in terms of setting up the 5K run and finding sponsorships,” said Sam’s dad, Matt Hersom. “That’s where we started. Then we finished with over 200 hundred people out there supporting us. It was a whirlwind. A lot of people we know and a lot of people we didn’t know decided that the Samstrong 5K was a worthy thing to do.”

“I drove my power chair in the race,” Sam Hersom said. “And I beat my mom. And I also beat my brother.”

The Hersom family looks forward to making the event an annual one, and enthusiasm for it has already attracted sponsors for next year.

“This was the inaugural event, and you can’t have an inaugural event without a follow up one,” Matt Hersom said.

Audra Pardo, a database clerk at Oak View Middle School, and database manager Kim Barnett and nurse Pauline Eagle at Newberry Elementary School were essential to the success of the fundraiser in their efforts to coordinate donations and set up the race and auction events.

Carissa Clayton at Grace Methodist Church coordinated the silent auction the elementary school hosted, and assisted in the church’s efforts to transfer the funds as aid to the Hersom family.

Gainesville’s TNT Graphics and Newbery’s Bounds Heating and Air, RPM Auto, The Floor Store, and First Choice Immediate Care Center, among others, were integral in the fundraising efforts, Pardo said.

Newberry’s Villagio’s Pizzeria and Hitchcock’s Market were also contributors, along with Gainesville’s Fit2Run who supplied Sam a pair of shoes.

“It was a group effort,” Pardo said. The planning started back in spring break of this year and has created a successful sponsorship, with almost the entire $25 sign-up fee going towards the family’s house renovation fund.”

Although this year’s event is over, anyone wishing to make a donation can do so online by visiting Grace at Fort Clarke’s website, http://www.gracefl.org/, and following the link.

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