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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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W_-_HS_Farmers_Market_-_IMG_4700_copyThe High Springs Farmer’s Market is proof that the popularity of farmer’s markets is growing.  In Florida, recent “cottage food” legislation has eased restrictions on manufacturing, selling and storing some products in an unlicensed home kitchen, paving the way for a greater variety of available products.

HIGH SPRINGS – Nationwide the popularity of Farmer’s Markets continues to grow as people discover that buying fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables is not only easier on the pocketbook, but these foods are both tasty and healthy.  And what is good news for High Springs residents is that recently High Springs Farmer’s Market Manager Maria Antela was confirmed as market manager for another two years by the High Springs City Commission.

Citing a doubling of participating vendors during the past two years, Antela said, “Foot traffic has also increased significantly, which has led to increased participation by more vendors.”  The market location, currently at 201 NE 1st Avenue, a main road into High Springs, has also helped area residents become more aware of the market.

Another reason for increased participation is that the government passed a Food Cottage law at the beginning of this year, which enables individuals to prepare baked good and other items at home without the requirement of having to own and maintain a certified kitchen.  “Other regulations do apply, but the cost of setting up a certified kitchen is not one of them,” Antela explained.

Because of the Food Cottage law, participation by homemakers and others this year has added to the number of vendors available to serve the public.  “Plus,” she said, “their food is really, really good and adds an additional element to the market that helps attract buyers.”

“Since people have become more aware in recent years of the movement to buy local and keep the impact of transportation to a minimum, folks are more interested in buying food from people they know and helping their local economy,” said Antela.  “People like supporting their neighbors.”

Buyers also like to get to know the vendors and are aware that some are organic growers and some provide pesticide-free produce.  “Through rain and the heat of summer, vendors show up every week to serve their customers,” Antela said.  “They have a lot of pride in what they produce.  They bring their best produce to the market and enjoy seeing how well the food is received by local buyers.”

“Many of our local farmers lost crops this year due to rain.  I’m glad the citizens want to help support those farmers,” said Antela.  “Their purchases help the local economy to flourish and grow,” she said.

But folks don’t just stop by the market to buy produce.  “The market has become a social event for the community,” Antela said.  “People stop by to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables and run into neighbors and friends.  People feel comfortable there.

“They actually stay and visit with the farmers and others they meet at the market and sometimes exchange recipes.  We have picnic tables around and folks will sometimes have lunch and stay the whole time the market is open to visit with neighbors and friends, which is wonderful,” Antela added.

Antela, who originally took over the farmer’s market in October 2010, started out as a vendor.  As previous coordinator for the community garden in High Springs, which won the Project for Public Spaces award in 2007, she sold produce from that garden to be able to support the program and also sold local honey.  She also previously managed a military warehouse and said she understands proper inspections and best management practices.

As a previous owner and operator of her own business in south Florida, Antela said she “understood the demands of management and the entrepreneurial spirit it takes to become a vendor.”

The position, which Antela describes as “fun,” also is a lot of work.  “I enjoy it immensely.  I like to eat well and know what it’s like to grow your own food from my previous experience with the city garden.”

“Volunteers help significantly,” she said.  “I couldn’t do it without their support and the excellent support of the city.”

A prime example of the volunteer spirit and “can do” attitude of her volunteers is the completion of a $250,000 USDA grant application for a pavilion for the market.

“The grant application process was a collaboration of individuals from different areas who helped to write the grant,” said Antela.  “It was a community effort,” she said proudly.

The final draft of the application was recently submitted.  If approved, a 30- x 100-ft. pavilion will be erected on City property located near the chamber building and railroad tracks, which was the original location of the market.

The pavilion, which is expected to take 90-120 days to build, will provide water and electrical power, as well as protection from the elements for vendors.  In addition to scheduled farmer’s market sales every Thursday and the first Saturday of the month, Antela said the market will do community events and fund-raisers for the market at that location.

According to Antela, the City has already provided $59,000 of in-kind donations toward the farmer’s market pavilion, and the Community Redevelopment Agency paid $17,000 for the architectural design of the pavilion, which had to be submitted to USDA along with the grant application.

The farmer’s market partners with schools to help supply seeds and other items necessary for children to learn to grow their own food.  “They provide us with a wish list and we try to provide as many of the items on the list as possible,” said Antela.  “This is an investment in our future.”

“As farmers grow older and retire, our children will be the ones responsible for taking care of the food system.  Through this partnership, we are able to help children learn about their local food supply and how it is cultivated,” she said.

The farmer’s market gives children (through their schools) a free vendor spot to sell the food they grow so they can see the entire process of farming from working the soil, planting and taking care of their gardens through the sales process.  “We help support the schools and ask that they support FFA with our contributions to their programs,” explained Antela.

“We want everyone to be able to participate in the farmer’s market,” said Antela.  The market now accepts debit and credit cards as well as food stamp cards.  “We want the process of buying locally to be easy for our citizens,” she said.

The High Springs Farmer’s Market is open each Thursday from noon to dusk and the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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W_-_Newberry_Railroad_DSCF7201_copyAt the request of Florida Northern Rail Road, this railroad crossing at NW 2nd Avenue in Newberry is being considered for closure.

NEWBERRY – There may be one less railroad crossing in Newberry as Florida Northern Rail Road looks to close the crossing at NW 2nd Avenue.  At issue seems to be safety at the crossing, which does not have bells, lights and gates.

At the Newberry City Commission meeting on Sept. 24, the safety manager for the rail company, Matt Schwerin, laid out some troubling statistics. Last year, Florida was 15th in the nation for highway and rail-grade crossing collisions, and 12th in the nation for fatal collisions.

Because the trains that pass through this area move at just 10 miles per hour, the concern is that motorists overestimate the safety of the situation and race to beat the slow-moving train. And because NW 2nd is known as a “passive crossing,” where no lights, gates or bells exist and most train collisions occur around 30 miles per hour, the railroad views the NW 2nd crossing as serious threat.

From the perspective of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the main concerns are safety, the ability to use the alternate routes in a timely fashion and the impact on emergency rescue, said Janice Bordelon, rail specialist with the department.  The application from the railroad company showed an average of 186 trips per day on NW 2nd Avenue. An FDOT timing study found that with the proposed closure, shifting that traffic to the NW 1st Avenue crossing still produces a suitable timeframe for motorists to cross the tracks.

FDOT officials say they are still in the information gathering process and will continue communicating with local law enforcement and city fire services to assess the impacts of the closure.  Those findings are to be incorporated into a final analysis for the commission.

The FDOT will also supply pictures of other closed railroad crossings that have been improved with aesthetic landscaping, which includes trees and bushes to camouflage the industrial rail line and appropriate signage.

The road improvements projects that are taking place in Newberry influenced the proposal to close the railroad crossing in conjunction with other rail crossing improvements and a large-scale sidewalk project.  Still, the proposal to close the NW 2nd Avenue railroad crossing brought confusion and concern among some Newberry commissioners.

They were specifically concerned with whether or not the emergency services were accurately informed, as well as the impact on the school buses and churchgoers who may use NW 2nd Avenue and will have to deal with the uptick in traffic at NW 1st Avenue.

The discussions about the NW 2nd Avenue crossing sparked major concern among some commissioners about habits of some motorists to go around the crossing gate on SW 15th Avenue. Although illegal, motorists apparently do so because the crossing gates at that location reportedly stay down for several minutes, even after the train passes through.  Additionally, children being released from the nearby schools often go around the crossing gates, and cars follow suit, Newberry commissioners say. Rail company officials at the meeting were alarmed to hear about the practice and promised future action to curtail it.

FDOT and Florida Northern Railroad will be back in front of the commission to propose alternatives and improvements for Newberry’s railroad crossings in greater detail, said City Manager Keith Ashby.

The City will advertise about future hearings to alert residents who may wish to address the issues surrounding the proposed closure of the NW 2nd Avenue crossing.

The City expects to hear about the traffic impacts in greater detail as well as changes to church and school routes, said Lowell Garrett, city planner. Also expected is an analysis on the impact of the additional traffic on NW 1st Avenue and whether there are further improvements needed at that crossing as a result of the additional traffic that is likely.

The other crossing improvements underway may include additional safety features, but they will have no immediate cost to the City.  The City may, however, be required to take on maintenance of the improvements in the future.

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Cites pending lawsuits, bad decisions

HIGH SPRINGS – John Glanzer, who previously served as the mayor of Newberry as well as Archer’s interim city manager, respectfully declined a Sept. 24 invitation by the High Springs City Commission to step in as interim city manager.

Citing the City’s legal problems as his main concern, Glanzer said that, on advice of attorneys he consulted, it probably was not in his best interest “to step in, in an interim format, especially as a manager in a city that is experiencing legal difficulties.”

“I notice that all of you are subject to being involved in lawsuits,” Glanzer said.  “Any of your appointed officials that are constitutional, are subject to being involved in lawsuits, whether they had any basis in the decisions that were made prior to, or decisions that they make.”

Glanzer said further, “I cannot expose myself to any potential legal issues at this point in my life.”

“Based on that and in discussions with my wife,” he explained, “I respectfully decline the opportunity to help the City, although my heart says I want to.”

Glanzer’s advice to commissioners was that they “need a strong city manager.”  As a multi-million dollar business, “you don’t need amateurs running that for you,” he said.  “I’m not saying that I couldn’t do it.  I’m just saying that I’m not in a position in my life where I want to do it.”

He further noted, “You guys did a barebones budget.  I would hope that the cutting that was done [was done] on the basis of knowledge of expenses that are going to be generated; not just on the hope we won’t spend that money…because at the end of the year,” he said, “you might find yourselves a little bit backwards on that.”

Another thing that was glaring when Glanzer reviewed the budget was “the drastically increased insurance costs for this commission…$12,000 to $120,000.”  “That speaks to actuary history and I think that it says there probably…were bad decisions made and there is a fear on the part of the insurance company that they are at risk.”

Glanzer further advised, “Any manager or interim manager that comes in here needs to be given the authority to manage this community with a minimum of interference from the commission.”  “Anybody that comes into this position is going to have to have your trust and not your questions,” he said.

Additional Business of Note

A final public hearing will be held on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, to receive input regarding the City’s budget.  This is the last time citizens can comment on the proposed budget prior to approval by the Commission.

Commissioners appointed City Clerk Jenny Parham to act as interim city manager for two weeks until an interim city manager can be located and installed in her place.  Commissioner Linda Gestrin provided the only dissenting vote.

Lee Vincent, former city manager of Starke and also Port St. John, will attend the regular commission meeting on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012.  He is one of five people suggested as an International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Range Rider who could step into the position as interim city manager.  Range Riders are retired city managers who can act in a temporary capacity to help cities out whenever a vacancy arises.

Interim City Manager Parham was instructed to notify the City’s insurance company that a lawsuit had been filed against the City by a former employee, Christian Popoli.

The City received one application for the city attorney position from Lake City.  Attorney Crystal Patterson Talley, assistant state attorney for the Third Judicial Circuit in Hamilton County, submitted her application for consideration.  No action was taken during the Sept. 24, 2012 meeting on the matter.

High Springs is also serving notice to contractors that effective Oct. 1, 2012, the City’s building department hours will be reduced to Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The proposed firing of High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman served to embroil the City Commission in a series of skirmishes over the wording to be included in the City’s formal notice to Langman.  During the September 20, 2012 special commission meeting, the Commission struggled to formulate a resolution to provide notice to Langman of intent to terminate her employment in 10 days.

Due to lack of agreement among commissioners and input from residents, the wording changed often enough that Mayor Dean Davis called for four 10- to 15-minute breaks to allow City Attorney Ray Ivey to change the wording and bring the updated resolution back to the commission for review.

This was done despite the fact that Ivey, who was scheduled to resign from his post the following day, brought with him three different versions of Resolution 2012-R(A)1, which he said he wrote based on comments from different commissioners as to their reasons for Langman’s termination.

Confusion ensued as commissioners sorted out the three separate resolutions, with Ivey’s help, trying to decide which was the most appropriate.

Time and again, when commission agreement on wording seemed to have been reached and Ivey updated the resolution, commissioners altered it again, sending Ivey back to the drawing board for further updates.

Following suggestions by audience member John Glanzer, who previously served as the mayor of the City of Newberry as well as the interim city manager of the City of Archer, that commissioners consider wording indicating Langman was removed without cause, the Commission voted to list that “the city experienced a change in direction of goals in management.”

Glanzer suggested the change in wording would allow Langman to apply for unemployment compensation, and also help heal the split that naturally occurs when residents support either the city manager’s or Commission’s point of view.

The fifth and final alteration to the resolution occurred when City Clerk Jenny Parham pointed out that the commission was amending a resolution, requiring that the resolution be referred to as Resolution 2012-R(A) instead of 2012-R(A)1.

The final resolution was passed by a 3-2 vote with Mayor Dean Davis, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin voting in favor and Commissioners Sue Weller and Scott Jamison dissenting.

Earlier in the meeting Weller suggested the resolution should be handled at a regular city commission meeting and not at special commission meeting scheduled for discussion of the City’s annual budget.

Jamison objected to the whole procedure stating he believed there was “enough blame to go around.”

According to Section 3.03 of the city charter, on which the resolution was based, Langman, as a charter officer, “must accept the offer of a public hearing or file a written response within ten (10) days of the adoption of the preliminary resolution or the resolution becomes final at the expiration of this ten-day period” and she is terminated on that date.

Langman has not commented publicly during the proceedings.  However, in a letter received by commissioners at a Sept. 24, 2012 special commission meeting, Langman requested a copy of any documents, “declarations or public notices of the change in goals and direction of the city of High Springs” as indicated in Resolution 2012-R(A).

Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas indicated his intention to contact Langman’s attorney personally as the letter indicated a copy of the letter had also been sent to her attorney.

No other action was taken during the meeting to address the request.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs, which continues to find itself embroiled in one legal battle after another, was slammed Sept. 21 with a lawsuit from former City Planner Christian Popoli.  The suit alleges that the City wrongfully terminated his employment earlier this year and that City officials violated state public records and Sunshine laws.

At the heart of the lawsuit filed by Attorney Linda Rice Chapman on behalf of Popoli is the claim that Mayor Dean Davis and Vice Mayor Bob Barnas sought Popoli’s ouster in retaliation for the city planner refusing to bend state and other laws.

Specifically referenced is a March 2, 2010 telephone conversation in which then Commissioner Dean Davis allegedly threatened Popoli with his job.  That conversation was reportedly in reference to state building codes that Davis hoped to have overlooked on one of his buildings or a building he was managing.

The incident did result in an ethics complaint against Davis.  The State ethics commission conducted a preliminary investigation, but determined that the evidence wasn’t sufficient to support a claim that Davis used his position as a commissioner to secure a special benefit to him or others.

Earlier this year, Barnas, Davis and Commissioner Linda Gestrin seemed to become frustrated with Popoli when the commission sought to provide tax abatement to Plantation Oaks retirement home.  There was fierce disagreement as to whether or not the property met the criteria for the tax abatement.  The lawsuit quotes Davis as saying, “It’s a problem and we got to find our way to get around it…Our city staff doesn’t feel like we need to do that.”

Also in the lawsuit are gripping details about how certain commissioners reportedly asked then Interim City Manager Jeri Langman to fire Popoli during her first days on the job.  But when Langman refused, those commissioners looked to other ways to push Popoli out, the complaint alleges.

It goes on to assert that Mayor Davis, Vice Mayor Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin illegally used the City’s budget as a mechanism to manipulate the City administration and staff, particularly writing Popoli’s position out of it.  The Commission narrowly adopted a mid-year budget amendment that inserted an unfunded City Engineer position.  Just weeks later, the Commission changed the budget to move funds from Popoli’s position as City Planner to the City Engineer position.

Davis and Barnas are named dozens of times throughout the case, alluding to instances in which commissioners used their power to intimidate staff.

In one such instance, now former City Attorney Ray Ivey wrote in an email that he was “concerned about whether Plantation Oaks met the criteria [for tax abatement].”  Just days later, Barnas wrote back to Ivey, “I felt we had a product that would get Planation Oaks a tax rebate or abatement…you backed off and stated you basically could not do this because of the ordinance…should anything that you are not sure will fly when presented…inform the Manager…that the item should be farmed out…”

The implication in the lawsuit is that Barnas was threatening Ivey that if he didn’t go along with something the commission wanted, they would simply find another attorney who would.

The lawsuit also notes that Popoli, who was hired by the City in 2006, was also named Employee of the Year in 2008.  It cites Popoli’s personnel file where performance evaluations described him as “clearly outstanding” and “exceeds expectations.”

The 45 page complaint is backed by several exhibits and also alleges that the City is violating public records laws as minutes for meetings since February 2012 are largely nonexistent.  That, the lawsuit says, is because the Commission meets so frequently that City staff cannot keep up with the workload.

Perhaps more disturbing is the claim that the Commission meets at times inconvenient for certain commissioners and the general public.  Additionally, the legal case charges that without prior notice, commissioners take official action on issues at special commission meetings and other meetings although such matters had not been advertised to the public.

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LaCrosse church celebrates 106th year


Celebrating the 106th Anniversary of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in LaCrosse, Rev. Jerome Able spreads the good word to parishioners attending a recent Wednesday evening Bible Study.

LACROSSE – It started with a half-acre of land.

In 1903, W.S. Roberts donated a plot of land to the members of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church. The church opened its doors three years later in 1906.

More than a century later, St. Paul Missionary is still thriving.

The church observed its 106th anniversary in a celebratory service Sunday. The service theme was “Standing on the Promises of God.”

“Hallelujah” and “Thank you Jesus” echoed through the crowd as St. Paul members gave thanks for the church’s endurance. An organ played lively music that filled the building, and the church’s choir led the congregation in songs of praise.

The church spent time honoring its oldest member, Mary Dell. Dell, 94, first attended St. Paul when she was 12 years old. She’s still a member 83 years later, although she no longer attends due to health issues.

“She may not be here physically, but she is here.” church member Shirley Washington said of Dell.

Church mother Annie Madison has been a member at St. Paul since 1950. She said her parents, sons, grandchildren and brother have all attended St. Paul at some point. She estimated attendance for the anniversary service to be between 50 and 60 people.

“We were expecting a large crowd, and we think we got what we expected,” she said. “It was well attended.”

Madison said she values St. Paul because of her history there.

“When I go to church, I can look over and see where my dad used to sit and almost see him sitting there,” she said.

St. Paul also dedicated a section of the program to retelling the church’s history. Like Mary Dell and Annie Madison, many church members have attended all their lives.

The church has had 11 pastors during its 106 years, and in 1906 the church counted 32 members. During those years, dues ranged from 5 to 25 cents.

By 1945, the church had nudged its congregation up to 43 members, and the dues were 25 to 50 cents. Between 1945 and 1950, the church experienced a boom in membership, and it soon had 157 members.

Between 1950 and 1959, the growing congregation chose to build a new church. Members worked toward making renovations and improvements for the next several years.

Over the next 40 years, the church purchased new furniture, added a fellowship hall, P.A. system, new lights and replaced the roof of the fellowship hall.  For a period of several years, between 2009 and 2011, the church was without a pastor.  The Rev. Jerome Able was appointed on Sept. 16, 2011.

“He and his wife are very strong leaders,” Madison said about the Ables. “We call them godsends.”

In the past year, the church has appointed two church mothers, two Sunday School teachers and a youth minister. Madison said St. Paul currently has between 20 and 30 members.

She said the church hopes to grow again and reach the numbers it once had, but it’s harder to have large numbers in a small community.

“We want to think positive,” she said. “We’d like to see it where it is a few years ago.”

Madison said the church’s size brings everyone closer together.

“When you have a small setting, it’s more like a family,” she said. “If the pastor doesn’t see you on Sunday, you know you were missed.”

Madison said that’s something that doesn’t happen often in megachurches.

Deacon Joel Allen has been at St. Paul for nearly his entire life. He said he was baptized into the church at 8 years old. Allen has been a St. Paul deacon for 27 years.

“We’ve had pastors that have come and gone,” he said. “What draws people here is we’re all about winning souls for the Lord.”

Allen said the church’s openness is a part of the reason it’s done well.

“This church has been on a solid foundation for 106 years,” he said. “We’re open to everybody. Come on in and praise the Lord.”

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