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HAWTHORNE – While local city election season just ended in Alachua, Newberry and High Springs, it’s just starting in Hawthorne.

The qualifying period for the Hawthorne commission election began on Monday, April 16 and will end on April 25 at noon.

Seats currently held by incumbent Hawthorne Commissioner DeLoris Roberts and Commissioner Eleanor Randall are up for re-election. The election will be held Tuesday, June 12.

 

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W_-_Grinder_Pumps_DSCF5843_copyCity of High Springs Streets Superintendent David Benton displays one of the many damaged grinder pumps.

HIGH SPRINGS – After replacing approximately 162 grinder pumps as of March 10, the City of High Springs will be issuing an educational brochure to city residents to teach proper methods for care and maintenance of the pumps which are connected to the town’s centralized wastewater system.

During the March 10 Saturday Town Hall meeting, the wastewater system topped the list of commission priorities for 2012. The city commissioned a study from the engineering firm, Mittauer and Associates, Inc., to decide the best course of action regarding the system and the associated pump failures.

Working with the engineering company, High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman said the city devised a tip sheet for the handling of the systems. Currently, the city loses two to three grinder pumps a month due to issues that could be preventable. Gregory Lang, of Mittauer and Associates, Inc., said a city should have a three to five percent failure rate.  High Springs has been experiencing a much higher rate of failure.

Lang said the company and the city are still trying to understand what is causing the issues with the grinder pumps.

“We think it’s a combination of factors,” he said.

Mittauer and Associates, Inc. directed Langman and the city staff to start organizing a database for the grinder pumps. It would contain detailed reports about each grinder pump failure, including where the failures are located, what may have caused them and possibly photos of the failed pumps.

Lang expects the city will see benefits from the new database over the coming months, and certainly within the coming year.

According to a rough draft of the educational brochure, there is currently no charge for replacement of a grinder pump, if it fails for unknown reasons. The city keeps replacement pumps on hand to fix residential pumps that go out.

Currently, there are 22 broken pumps the city needs to swap out for working ones. During the Town Hall meeting, Langman mentioned working with an Orlando, Fla., company to purchase refurbished pumps. That plan fell through after the refurbished pumps failed quickly due to a difference in wiring configurations from the original to the remanufactured units. Now, Langman is working with the original manufacturer, E One, and Jacksonville-based Water Resources to purchase refurbished pumps at a reduced cost.

The city can charge residents penalties and fees for replacing pumps that have obviously been misused or improperly cared for, according to the city's grinder pump brochure. With the growing database, the city can track which residences and areas have a recurring problem with the grinder pumps.

“The same items that create problems for septic tanks create problems for the grinder pump sewer system,” Langman said.

Part of the sewer system remains on a gravity-fed system, but the tips for maintaining proper care remain the same, said Langman.

Grinder pumps crush waste on site before pumping the wastewater from individual homes to the local sewer plant. Langman said that common-sense items, such as t-shirts, cannot be thrown into the sewer system as the grinder pump will not be able to break down large items.

On the electrical panel, a flashing light warns pump owners if there is a problem. When the light starts flashing, problems associated with the pump are less costly and can probably be repaired without full removal of the grinder pump. Full replacements are costing the city between $3,000 and $6,000, said Langman.

Residents are cautioned against attempting any repairs.  They are further cautioned to be careful what items are flushed down into the sewer system because some, such as diapers, cooking grease, socks, rags and cat litter, can cause sewer overflows or back-ups.

Introducing substances such as flammable material, gasoline, strong chemicals and explosives is a violation of city, state and federal laws.

Residents are instructed, that if a problem occurs, to contact the Public Works Department at 386-454-2134 during business hours.

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W-AlachuaElection_2012_DSC_0250_copyAlachua commission candidate Shirley Green Brown reacts to news that she won the April 10 election.

ALACHUA – While besting her opponents by a 2-1 margin, it was still a razor thin victory for Shirley Green Brown as she narrowly avoided a run-off election with 50.1 percent of the votes cast in the April 10 City of Alachua commission election.

With a total 473 votes cast, Brown garnered 237 ballots while Patricia Lee picked up 108 and Billy Rogers 108.

The three candidates squared off in hopes of winning a commission seat currently held by Orien Hills, who did not seek re-election to a sixth term.

Just one vote made the difference in an election where the city’s canvassing board overseeing the process had to refer to the City’s election laws for clarification.  With a three-way race, splitting the vote meant that it was possible no candidate would win a majority of the total votes.

In referring to the city’s election laws, the board found that the language stated the winning candidate must have not only more votes than their opponents, but also more than 50 percent of the total votes cast.

After polls closed at 7 p.m., Brown had a lead of 226 votes to Lee’s and Rogers’ 104 and 106 votes respectively.  That was a 51.835 percent lead for Brown.  When 35 absentee ballots were tallied, however, Lee picked up 24 more votes, Brown, 9 votes and Rogers, 2 votes.  Two provisionally cast ballots were verified and added into the tally, giving Brown the two votes she needed to move above the 50 percent mark and avoid a runoff.

If Brown garnered just one vote less, she would have been sent into a run-off election with Lee.

After the canvassing board declared the winner, an elated Brown was congratulated by opponents Lee and Rogers.

With 473 ballots cast, only 8.3 percent of the City of Alachua’s 5,732 registered voters participated in the April 10 election.

Bown may have been given an edge with an endorsement by Commissioner Hills, a friend of more than two decades.  “I’m so grateful to him for his endorsement and to my husband, family, friends, campaign team and my heavenly father who gave me this blessing,” she said.

A Speech and Language Pathologist with the School Board of Alachua County for some 31 years, Brown has been a resident of Alachua since the 1970s.  She is a member of numerous community organizations including the Alachua Woman’s Club, St. Luke A.M.E Church and Friends of the Alachua Branch Library.

Brown credited much of her support from people who have seen and known her over the years from schools to community events and ball games.  “I love people and I love serving others,” she said.

She plans on retiring from the school board in June, leaving more time for her new role as a commissioner.  “This is just another job for me to do,” she said, adding, “I plan to be a new voice for the people of Alachua and I will do my best for everyone and represent the city well.”

Brown’s son, Marlon Brown, 37, said in a telephone interview that he was proud of his mother adding, “It’s a wonderful day in the city of Alachua.”

As for his mother’s new role as a commissioner, Marlon Brown said Shirley Brown would “bring to the commission good spirits and the motivation to help Alachua.”

About the campaign season, Shirley Brown said she believed it to be a clean one, adding, “Everyone was respectful of each other and exhibited a lot of integrity.”

Candidate Patricia Lee agreed with Brown that the campaigns were clean, but did not believe the election received enough media attention.

“I would like to see the strong hold of the people who help people get elected in Alachua broken,” said Lee.

Now an executive director with a Leesburg, Fla. area Community Development Corporation, Lee was once an employee of the City of Alachua.  She unsuccessfully ran for commission in 2008.  She also added that although she believes any one of the three candidates would make good commissioners there are certain issues she would have brought to the commission.

“A higher level of integrity and transparency needs to be reached,” Lee said of the city.

Commissioner Orien Hills will serve until the beginning of the April 23 commission meeting when Brown will take her oath of office and assume Hills’ seat on the dais.

Commissioner Gary Hardacre ran unopposed for his seat on the commission and was automatically re-elected as a result.  Commissioners are elected to three-year terms in the city of Alachua.

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HIGH SPRINGS – On the evening before City Planner Christian Popoli was to serve his last day on the job, a High Springs commissioner brought up discussion in an April 5 meeting about other positions he thought were not working to their full potential.

Vice Mayor Bob Barnas announced that he had no confidence in the positions of City Clerk and the City Finance Services Director.

On Thursday, April 12, city commissioners will discuss Barnas’ remark about his lack of confidence in the City Clerk, a charter position, and its budget funding. As of Monday, Barnas’ only comment about his lack of confidence in the City Clerk position was “to come to the meeting on Thursday.”

“We have record losses that happened,” Barnas said during the April 5 meeting. “We have e-mails that were lost. We have tax parcels that didn’t get taken care of. I wanted to go on the record. I am not happy with the performance of the city clerk.”

Under the city clerk staffing section of the budget, Barnas read during the March 29 budget meeting that there were positions of deputy city clerk, city clerk, information technology supervisor and administrative clerk – student. However, only one position is salaried and funded, he said.

“But should we, before the end of the year, want an information technology person under city clerk, we could still do that?” Barnas asked Finance Services Director Helen McIver during the March 29 budget meeting. “We could move the city clerk, somehow, to city manager.”

McIver responded by saying that a budget adjustment would have to be made to move funds from one position to another, the same way the city moved funds from the city planner to the city engineer position.

Previous city managers, such as Jim Drumm, held the position for both the city manager and the deputy city clerk. Commissioner Linda Gestrin said the previous system worked well and that it might be something that should be looked at.

Commissioner Sue Weller said the city clerk position was moved away from the city manager to save money. When High Springs moved away from the city manager/city clerk position, the deputy city clerk position was eliminated.

As for the finance director, Barnas said there has been a constant waffling of how much money the city is over or under budget.

In a previous interview, McIver stated that it is still early in the year to analyze how the budget will be at the end of the year. She estimated that it would fall $75,000 short in the General Fund based on current trends, but that could change.

Barnas said he knows that under the City Charter he has no say over the position of the finance director, but he wanted to make his displeasure known.

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W_-_Newberry_Election_IMG_9825_copyL-R: Barbara Dudley, Sandra Marin, Shanna Adams and Jason Waldrop hold campaign signs as cars pull into the parking lot to the Newberry Fire Station on Tuesday.
NEWBERRY – A crowd of over 50 people gathered around the Newberry Fire Station Tuesday night. The polls were closed, and they were waiting for the results of the general election.

Three commissioners were up for re-election on Tuesday, and all three won against their respective opponents. Incumbents Joe Hoffman, Lois Forte and Alena Lawson will serve another two years on the Newberry City Commission.

Candidates and supporters arrived at the fire station early Tuesday morning to greet voters as the polls opened at 7 a.m.

After the ballots were counted, the numbers showed that nearly 700 voters turned out and another 69 filled out absentee ballots.

In Group 1, Hoffman, a city commissioner since 2002, won against his two challengers with over 60 percent of the vote. Opponents, business owner Tim Marden and long-time Newberry resident Linda Woodcock garnered 100 and 230 votes, respectively.

Hoffman said he thinks the election results reflect a positive attitude about the city’s dealings with sports tourism.

“This is a lot of hard work by a lot of good people,” he said.

A slightly narrower gap was found between the candidates in Group 2. The two candidates were separated by only about 10 percent, or 81 votes. With 423 votes, Forte, who has served the Newberry City Commission for about 20 years, defeated Newberry Main Street Program Director Barbara Hendrix, who earned 342 votes.

In the last couple of elections, Forte has run unopposed, and her eyes filled with tears when it was announced that she had won.

“I just worked so hard this time,” she said.

Of the people that showed up to vote, Forte said, “I just thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

Hendrix said she hopes to run again in a couple of years.

In Group 3, Lawson retained her seat with 449 votes. Monty Farnsworth, a former city commissioner and nurse, pulled out 311 votes.

Lawson said she learned a lot from her constituents during her door-to-door campaign.

“I’m elated that I was elected for a sixth term, but I don’t take constituents for granted,” she said.

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W_-_High_Springs_Election_2012_Jamison_DSC_0248_copyCommissioner-elect Scott Jamison is congratulated by campaign supporters at a celebration after Jamison won the April 10 special election in High Springs.

HIGH SPRINGS – After a long High Springs election day, Scott Jamison celebrated an 86 vote lead over his opponent, Ann Carter, and a victory with nearly 59 percent of the vote.

When all votes had been tabulated, 503 people had cast their ballots in the April 10 special election to support their candidate of choice for Seat 5 on the City Commission.  After the polls were counted, Carter finished with 209 votes, and Jamison received 295 votes.

For a special election, Carter said there had been a great voter turnout. Barbara Martin, an election poll watcher, said the election was fair and done by the books, adding that everyone did a good job.

Despite Martin’s comment, High Springs City Clerk Jenny Parham said all the ballots will be recounted by hand because of a mix-up with the machine’s total numbers. The problem, she said, is not with the final vote count for each candidate, but the number of votes received. The machine provided a number that was one off from what the poll workers tallied as the correct number.

Parham said that even if the inconsistency had not happened, there would still have to be a post-election audit to check for discrepancies, but it would not have required a total recount.

Jamison will now assume city commission seat 5, which was vacated in January by former commissioner Eric May’s unexpected resignation.  At that time, May cited illegal activities within the city as his reason for resigning.

For both Jamison and Carter, this election was the first time they had run for political office.

“You don’t do it by yourself,” Carter said. “I’ve had a lot of support.”

Carter said that she is comfortable with the results, that she ran for election because she was concerned about what was happening with the town and felt that she had – and has – something to offer that would help the community.

“It was a great experience,” Carter said.

Carter said she doesn’t know a lot about Jamison, adding that Jamison was a “nice family man,” but personally, she wanted to win the election and bring the community together.

Prior to the results being announced, Jamison said he was confident, but worried. He thought a larger group of voters would benefit him in the end and hoped that the crowd would pick up toward the 7 p.m. poll closing.

“The hard part, as opposed to sports, is that I don’t dictate the outcome,” he said. It’s the unknown that makes it tough, he added.

Jamison said he felt like the special election had divided the community, more so than it had ever been.

“Regretfully, I think the line was drawn by certain individuals,” he said, adding that Carter was on one side of the line, while he stood on the other side. “I don’t think it’s good for the city,” he added.

After being elected, Jamison said he was humbled by the number of people that came out to support him.

“I’m going to do what’s best to warrant their trust,” he said, adding that he intends to do what is best for the city.

He thanked Carter for running a positive campaign.

High Springs Mayor Dean Davis said he was disappointed in the low voter turnout. “But it is a win- win situation,” he said, because “both candidates are good people.” Davis said that Jamison will do a good job on the commission.

Suzie Clarke, owner of the Wellness Spa in High Springs, said that rules and regulations had been disregarded by the current commission and that Carter reflects the views of those currently in office, adding “I think Scott’s win shows that people are a little disgusted.”

High Springs resident Linda Hewlett said, “I feel people want the government in High Springs to be more inclusive of different people’s views and opinions.”

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GAINESVILLE – Roberta Lopez, former Archer mayor and city commissioner, has filed to run for the Alachua County Commission District One seat.

Lopez was born in Archer, and in 2000, returned to the town after living in Washington, D.C. and Tampa.

In a statement, Lopez said she returned to her birthplace to give back to the community that raised her. Her first tasks as a community leader included registering unregistered voters and co-founding the Northwest Archer Community Association which developed a plan that beautified Archer neighborhoods and provided home repair assistance to the elderly.

Lopez, a lifelong Democrat, said she hopes to include a wide coalition of progressive voices in her campaign. “I know from experience that as an elected official the most important part of the job is listening to the community.”

Lopez says her goals include bringing a range of issues to the forefront of the campaign, including an expansion of economic opportunity and a return to responsive government. “I am excited and energized by the opportunity to talk with the voters of Alachua County, and to truly hear what they have to say,” Lopez said, adding, “Together, I believe that we can make Alachua County better.”

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