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W_-_Alachua_Hills_Coerper_DSCF5850_copyW_-_Alachua_Hills_Commission_Group_DSCF5854_copyPhoto 1: L-R: Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper presents a plaque to Commissioner Orien Hills in recognition of his 15 years of service on the city commission. Photo 2: 

L-R:  Commissioner Gary Hardacre, City Manager Traci Cain, City Attorney Marian Rush, Commissioner Orien Hills, Mayor Gib Coerper, Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr. and Vice Mayor Robert Wilford.

ALACHUA – Monday night at the Alachua City Commission Meeting was a night of change.

Orien Hills, a commissioner for 15 years, retired from his position on Seat 4, sitting through his final meeting on Monday, April 23. The City of Alachua honored him with a plaque in recognition of his service and with a special presentation of pictures taken throughout his career.

Mayor Gib Coerper presented the plaque, which stated the years Hills was in office and the date the plaque was presented.

Being a Commissioner, said Coerper, is not about sitting on the dais and waving.

“It’s about getting out and speaking to the people in the community,” he said. “There’s no better connection than that.”

Coerper said that Hills embodies that idea. When Hills was needed, Coerper said, he was there.

Former Alachua City Manager Clovis Watson, Jr. said Hills was a mentor when Watson was a young man as well as when he was working with the City.

“I miss seeing you here,” Watson said, adding that those were special times.

Jean Calderwood, Alachua’s former mayor, started working with Hills on the Planning and Zoning Board. Both eventually moved on to serve with the Commission. She called Hills a man of few words.

“But when he speaks, people listen,” Calderwood said.

When school children in Alachua were going to have to be bused elsewhere because of capacity issues, Calderwood said Commissioner Hills battled the School Board of Alachua County to ensure that the neighborhood children would stay in the schools located in their neighborhood.

“You have created a legacy here in the City of Alachua,” Calderwood said, “a legacy that leaves big shoes to fill for those remaining in the Commission.”

All four of the commissioners thanked Hills for the years he served the City. Commissioner Gary Hardacre said he appreciated the time Hills spent teaching him, both on the commission and at the Alachua Lions Club.

“I just want to thank the people of the community for allowing me to serve this many years,” Hills said. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here, aggravating everybody in City Hall.”

After the commission thanked Hills for his service, newly elected Commissioner Shirley Green Brown was sworn into office, assuming Hills’ former seat on the dais, and Hardacre was sworn in for his second three-year term. During the commissioners’ comments period of the meeting, all of the commissioners welcomed Brown.

According to election rules, because Hardacre ran unopposed in the April 10 election, he must vote for himself to be re-elected to Seat 5.

“It was a tough decision, but I would vote for myself,” he joked.

The city commission selected a new Vice-Mayor on Monday as well. Former Vice-Mayor Ben Boukari nominated Commissioner Robert Wilford. No one else was nominated, and through consensus, Wilford became Vice-Mayor.

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NEWBERRY – The bidding process for four City of Newberry projects began several weeks ago but some confusion regarding Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) certification left contractors frustrated.

The city commission approved the bid recommendations for four of the five projects, but voted to rebid the Drainage Improvements Project because all of the bids were higher than the amount the city had budgeted to spend.

To some of those who attended the commission meeting on Monday, there was more to the story.

The ensuing conversation about the FDOT certification riled residents in the packed commission chambers.

The FDOT certification is an expensive certification to maintain, Hipp Construction Company's Virginia Johns said at the meeting.

Some persons in attendance alleged that bidders had been told ahead of time that the FDOT certification was not a prerequisite to place a bid, while yet others said they were told they’d have enough time to complete the FDOT certification. Another line of argument was that many times bidders are not required to be FDOT certified for bids under $250,000.

City Attorney Scott Walker said that the city has used the FDOT certification for over five years, but added that the language in the city's advertisements could have been clearer.

“It ticks me off when the local people don’t get the job,” resident Kevin Coleman said at the meeting.

Because of the expensive maintenance level, the FDOT certification favors certain businesses over others, it was argued.

While the project was voted to be rebid, the rebid was not based on the FDOT certificate, but rather on the high bid prices.

The commission did discuss ideas about how to handle bid projects in the future to save the city money. Discussion included using similar guidelines that the FDOT certification requires, but not requiring the bidder to be officially FDOT certified.

Also discussed was adding residents with more construction experience on the Request for Proposals/Qualifications Committee, which gives the bid recommendations to the city commission. Add a comment

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Thousands of area residents flocked to Alachua were they strolled up and down Main Street during the 10th Annual Alachua Spring Festival.

ALACHUA – A long wooden sign with the carved words “WOOD IS GOOD” caught the eye of those walking by Brian Hoblick’s tent on Sunday afternoon.

Each piece is different, the Alachua resident said. The booth was filled with cypress and pine wooden carvings. There was a sign with a crane carved into it, a plaque with a fish and one piece with a carved cross.

Pops of color from flowers and art lined Main Street on Sunday afternoon. The sound of blue grass bands filled the street at the 10th Annual Alachua Spring Festival.

The festival took place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and featured 174 vendors, according to one of the event organizers, Valerie Taylor. What started as primarily a festival to showcase home improvement vendors and gardeners has grown to encompass a variety of vendors, such as homemade dog treat bakers, churches, charities, artists and musicians.

“There’s kind of something for everyone here,” Brad Campen, of Gainesville, said. Campen, his wife Shirley and their 13-week-old son Cooper visited the festival because of the variety.

They said they preferred the Alachua Spring Festival to the art festival that was happening on the same day in Gainesville.

The vendors at the festival came out for a number of different reasons. Newberry residents Mike and Elizabeth Ewing said they came out for fun, rather than to make a profit.

They had a board full of bracelets with various names spelled out in the beading. Mike said when they first started, they picked up three different yearbooks and began making bracelets from those names. When they received feedback that they didn’t have a certain name, they started to take custom orders.

Gainesville resident Stephanie Key had other reasons for attending the Alachua Spring Festival. Her business, the Curlie Girlie Bowtique, was started about two years ago after her then 23-month-old daughter Kylie was diagnosed with diabetes.

Kylie is the inspiration for starting this business. The profit goes to pay the medical bills and other expenses, Key said, who is now pregnant with her second daughter.

Daughter Kylie also inspired the product she makes. “She wears big, big bows,” Key said.

The hand-sewn bows were laid out on the table in various colors from bright pink to dark blue. Behind the bows was a framed picture of Kylie modeling one of her mom’s bows.

Another vendor at the festival sold plants and plant-growing kits. Renee Shiver and her husband sell mushroom growing plugs at festivals and around the world. The website for their business, Southeast Mushroom, has shipped the plugs to places like Hungary, China, Italy and Spain.

“People are interested, and it’s not a hard thing to do,” Shiver said.

Taylor said she was pleased at the turnout on Sunday. People kept moving at a steady pace, and the scene of art in front of her shop on Main Street created a wonderful atmosphere for the public to walk through, she said.

“Main Street is just a beautiful place to walk on, even without all this stuff,” she said. “So when you add all this stuff back in, it’s really beautiful.”

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W_-_Shirley_Brown_sworn_in_DSCF5859_copyShirley Brown (right) officially became the newest member of the Alachua City Commission as she was sworn in at the beginning of the April 23 commission meeting.  Alachua City Manager Traci Cain (left) administered the oath of office to Brown, who won in the April 10 election for a seat on the commission.

Although Brown won the race by a 2-1 margin over her opponents, she was victorious by a razor thin margin, carrying 50.1 percent of the votes and avoiding a run-off election.  Brown garnered 237 of the 473 votes cast, while opponent Patricia Lee picked up 128 and opponent Billy Rogers received 108 votes.

Brown is replacing longtime Commissioner Orien Hills who opted not to seek re-election.

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HIGH SPRINGS – In the midst of a recurring trend associated with employee layoffs, High Springs City Clerk Jenny Parham finds her position the next to fall under the questioning gaze of at least one city commissioner.

After voicing his lack of confidence in the city clerk and the city finance services director in a previous meeting, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas elaborated on his earlier comments during the April 12 commission meeting saying Parham needs to refocus on the good of the city.

“I feel, with my vote of no confidence, the city’s not getting what they should,” Barnas said.

Parham has worked 24 years with the City of High Springs, but Barnas said, “Does that mean we owe you something or does that mean you owe us something?”

According to the City of High Springs Charter, the city clerk works at the pleasure of the commission, said Barnas. During the April 12 commission meeting, Barnas said to Parham and the other commissioners that there are choices available regarding the city clerk position.

“Do a resolution and send her down the road, or do nothing,” he said.  Barnas stated that he did ask for a resolution prior to the April 12 meeting, but he was unable to get one.

“If you’re directed to do something, it is done immediately,” Barnas said. “On the part of taking the initiative, to perhaps force the commission to get you help, on saying it needs to be done, on saying the scanners not working, on saying the tax parcels are in a drawer and we need to deal with those things – the constant little things that have just irritated the snot out of me,” Barnas added.

Only six years away from retirement, Parham suggested to the commission that they bring a part-time clerk on staff to learn from her and to help her with daily tasks. With the nearly insurmountable amount of records that need to be scanned, Parham said the task would be finished a lot quicker if she had someone to help.

Barnas agreed, saying that Parham was the city’s intellectual capital. He wants to bring on a part-time person who would eventually become full-time, and he or she would be able to help in case Parham was unavailable for any reason.

When the city brings on the assistant clerk, Barnas said the salary should come from reductions in the paychecks of Parham and the finance services director, Helen McIver. Other departments are working for a lot less, such as the police chief and the fire chief, said Barnas.

“I have been here longer than any department head you have,” Parham said. “I make less than any department head you have. I have less help than any department head you have, and I don’t think it’s fair to cut my salary.”

Last year, Parham said, the city didn’t have the money to bring on extra staff, so she took on the city clerk position because she was trying to help the city.

Newly elected Commissioner Scott Jamison said it was ironic that other commissioners were acknowledging how much work Parham had and how impossible it was to do it on her own, yet in the same statement, they were holding her accountable for it.

“Certain employees you need to prod, and certain employees you don’t,” he said.

Commissioner Sue Weller said she has every confidence in Parham, and Mayor Dean Davis said he has never asked Parham to do anything that she didn’t do.

In a follow-up phone call to Vice Mayor Barnas, he refused to comment on his statements and his reasoning for requesting a resolution to fire Parham or about why he wants to reduce the pay for the city clerk and city finance services director.

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L-R: Newly-elected High Springs Commissioner Scott Jamison is administered his oath of office by City Clerk Jenny Parham at the beginning of the April 12 commission meeting.  With 295 votes, Jamison defeated challenger Ann Carter who garnered 205 votes in the April 10 special election.  Jamison is filling a vacancy left on the commission by the January resignation of former Commissioner Eric May Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS – Former High Springs City Planner Christian Popoli is asking for a $147,858 severance package in lieu of filing a lawsuit against the city.

According to Linda Chapman, Popoli’s attorney, the package takes into account six months of salary and benefits, loss of wife’s income, compensatory time owed to Popoli, sale of home and sick leave payout, among several other things.

After working for the City of High Springs for six years, Popoli was laid off to fund a new city position, that of city engineer.  Popoli applied for the job, but doubt was raised by Mayor Dean Davis during the April 12 Commission meeting about Popoli’s qualifications as a city engineer.

“Is that a possibility that he could get a job as an engineer, even though he’s not an engineer?” Davis said.

City Manager Jeri Langman said Popoli has every right to apply, and that she would consider each applicant when selecting the future city engineer. As an employee let go by the city, Popoli could apply for any job available within the city, Langman said.

The Cityof High Springs posted a salary of $21 hourly, the equivalent to $43,800 annually, for the new position.

Because of the constant threat of termination, the Popoli family experienced significant stress at the hands of the city, Chapman stated in her letter. In addition, Popoli will most likely have to move a great distance to find a job in this economy, which will result in the family having to sell their home and loss of the salary of Popoli’s wife, Christy.  All of these items have been factored into the requested severance package by Chapman.

“He is asking for much less from the City in settlement than a Court would award him, as he has not factored the loss of his future pension, front pay until retirement or back pay after ‘termination’ into this demand,” reads Chapman’s proposed settlement letter.

Earlier, Chapman had said her office has been filing and will continue to file documents and complaints with the State Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Governor, the United State Department of Labor and the Alachua County Circuit Court.

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