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W_-_Chili_IMG_9673_copyWith their booth having as much flare as their chili, buffallo is the secret ingredienet for Stephen and Clara Spicer. 

HIGH SPRINGS – As the rain dripped down from the tips of the tents set up at O’Leno State Park on Saturday, cooks huddled underneath, warmed by the spicy, and sometimes sweet, aroma of their chili.

It was the 5th annual O’Leno Olé Chili Cook-Off, and despite Mother Nature’s best efforts to wash out the contestants, the fiery flavor still won the day. The cook-off brought in 15 chefs and garnered $1,500.

The O’Leno Olé Chili Cook-Off began as a simple fundraiser for the Friends of O’Leno organization, but as popularity spread, the Santa Fe River Springs Basin Working Group joined them to create the Springs Celebration, which featured live music, a dance show, shadow puppet shows and other educational activities.

The chili wasn’t the only thing with a unique flair at the cook-off. Some of the contestants displayed their “wild side” through their displays.

A brown buffalo head was positioned on top of a can with chili peppers on it. Two buffalo statues adorned with multi-colored boas and hats framed the colorful shack. Clara and Stephen Spicer, from Sarasota, said the hodgepodge collection doesn’t reflect all of the decorations they have stored at home.

“If it jumps out, it’s ours to keep,” Clara Spicer said of the collection.

The two said they didn’t care if they won, but only cared about making good chili and supporting the charity. Their secret was real buffalo meat. They won second place for showmanship and second in the open class.

The first place winners for showmanship, Mitch Cooper, Dianna Cooper and Clint Herrick showed off their antiques. Mitch Cooper wore black suspenders and cooked the chili on Herrick’s 1888 wood stove. Herrick, who donned a leather getup, also donated several wooden pieces he made and a wagon from the 1900s that he refurbished to look like a western-style covered wagon.

Mitch Cooper said that in his 30 years of making chili, he’s never made two batches of chili the same.

The cook-off is part of an international non-profit called the Chili Appreciation Society International, known simply in the chili world as CASI. When chefs win a CASI cook-off they earn points, and when they earn enough points they are invited to the Mecca of CASI chili cook-offs in Terlingua, Texas.

Candi Knight-Arevalo, an officer for the Florida division of CASI, grew up in the chili world. She made it to the Terlingua International Chili Championship last year.

Her booth featured a wooden cart that read “Candi’s Kisses.” When she was little, Knight-Arevalo said, she ran a kissing both on the side of her parents’ tent while they cooked chili at cook-offs.

She took home a fourth place in the CASI class on Saturday.

The winner of the CASI division, which is graded on a strict system based on five categories, was Bert Dunn, of Homosassa, who has been participating in the O’Leno Olé Chili Cook-Off since its first year.

The winner of the open class, which was graded based on a less restricted scale, was given to Gilchrist County resident Jeff Runde.

The People’s Choice Award was given to Fort White Resident Brenda Smith-McKenzie, or “Granny B,” who had three plaques and six trophies on display to show her chili-cooking prowess.

Another chef, Kathy Gunderson, of Spring Hills, Fla., earned her first chili-cooking trophy on Saturday. Gunderson, who goes by “Kat,” calls her chili the “Kat’s Meow.” She said she was inspired to try a chili cook off after her 20-year-old son, who had moved out, called back home for the recipe, saying that he couldn’t find anything like his mom’s chili.

Gunderson won third place in both the open class and the showmanship category.

While the rain may have prevented some chili cooks from coming out and participating in Saturday’s event, conceded Friends of O’Leno member Harriet Walsh, of High Springs, Gunderson said the weather didn’t keep her down.

“It hasn’t spoiled my time,” she said.

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ALACHUA – Three candidates are vying for one seat in the April 10 City of Alachua election.

Shirley Green Brown, Patricia Lee and Billy Rogers are all seeking election to a seat on the commission currently held by Commissioner Orien Hills.

After serving five consecutive terms totaling 15 years, Commissioner Hills decided not to seek re-election to his seat.  Commissioner Gary Hardacre ran unopposed for his seat on the commission.

Brown, Lee and Rogers will square off in the citywide election scheduled for April 10.  If no candidate receives 50 percent plus one vote, the election would go to a runoff between the top two candidates.

Brown is a speech and language pathologist with the School Board of Alachua County.  Lee is the executive director of CDC of Leesburg & Vicinity, a community development corporation.  Rogers runs Way2Be Music International, a music production services company.

The Hal Brady Recreation Complex, the Cleather Hancock, Sr. Community Center and Plantation Oaks at Turkey Creek will serve as polling stations for the April election.  Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.  According to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections, there are 5,732 registered voters in the City of Alachua.

Editor’s note: The following is a brief biography and answers to questions asked of each candidate.  Candidates were asked to keep responses to 50 words or less.

Shirley Green Brown

How long have you lived in the City of Alachua? Since the 1970's

Who is your current employer, for how long and what is your position? School Board of Alachua County, 31 years, Speech & Language Pathologist

What is your education? B.S. degree in Speech Pathology, Post-graduate studies at the University of Florida and Florida State University

What is your community involvement? I volunteered with the Recreation's skating program, coached basketball teams, scorekeeper for t-ball, baseball, basketball, Pop Warner football, worked the concession stand and supported all programs at the  Recreation center.  I served as a participating member on Irby, Alachua, Mebane and Santa Fe High School Advisory councils as a staff member/parent and tutor students in the area. I am the President of the Alachua Woman's Club, former President and member of the Friends of the Library and St. Luke AME Church.

General questions:

1. Why are you the best qualified to be the next commissioner for the City of Alachua?

I am highly qualified for this office.  My expertise in education as well as my strong leadership skills, integrity, commitment, dedication to the community, respect for others, dependability and amiable personality will enhance the strength of the commission while working cohesively with the other members of the board.

2. What do you believe is the number one issue facing the City of Alachua?

The number one issue is our future growth and how it will impact our community.

3. If elected, what would be your goals or what would you like to see accomplished?

If elected, I will work tirelessly to meet these goals: Improve programs for our youth, increase sporting events for our recreational department, encourage more job opportunities, budget revisions, explore funding for better roads/streets and continue to support the revitalization of the Good Life Community. 

 Patricia Lee

How long have you lived in the City of Alachua? I was born and raised in Alachua and have been back living within city limits or its immediate borders for the past 18 years.

Who is your current employer, for how long and what is your position? I am currently building business and strategic plans for a non-profit organization that will be a new model for community and economic development.

What is your education? I have an MBA with a concentration in accounting from Southern-Methodist University, a B.S. in Business Education from Bethune-Cookman University, and Valedictorian of A.L. Mebane High School.

What is your community involvement? I am a member of Greater New Hope MBC Mission Society, an active Rotarian, member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and Alachua Woman's Club and Greater New Hope MBC.  Also a member of many organizations in the city(s) where most of my work is performed.

General questions:

1. Why are you the best qualified to be the next commissioner for the City of Alachua?

I am best qualified to be the next commissioner for the City of Alachua for the following reasons: Experience working in city government, diverse businesses and non-profits, coupled with my formal and informal education provides the knowledge, experience and exposure to hit the ground running when elected. 
2. What do you believe is the number one issue facing the City of Alachua?

Number One Issue:  I don't rank issues because my number one issue may not be someone else's; nor is my issue more important than another’s. I am proactive solutions oriented believing it better to address a thing before it become a problem.  We must be forward thinkers that employ multi-faceted solutions before situations become number one issues for any element of our community.

3. If elected, what would be your goals or what would you like to see accomplished?

If elected I would like to see the following:
Business friendly government that understands businesses needs, neighborhood community centers with educational components, job creation through recreational, cultural and small business development, more public-private partnering for less reliance on tax dollars, more alternative funding sources for less reliance on tax dollars.

 Billy Rogers

Editor’s note:  As of press time, Alachua County Today had not received a response from Mr. Rogers.  If and when a response is provided, this story will be updated at AlachuaCountyToday.com to reflect the new information.

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W_-_HS_Gazebo_3-27-12_copyHIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission will move forward with improvements to the pocket park along Railroad Avenue.  The decision was made at a special Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) meeting on Friday, March 30.

After concerns were raised earlier about safety, the commission discussed the possibility of moving the gazebo from its current location to another within the city. Commissioner Linda Gestrin worried that the current placement of the gazebo so close to the street could potentially cause an accident.

In March, City Manager Jeri Langman halted further progress on the park until city leaders decided how to proceed.

The High Springs Community Development Corporation (CDC) began talks about the project in 2008 and obtained two grants totaling $6,000 to help the city with associated costs. The CRA contributed an additional $3,000 to cover any costs accrued beyond the $6,000. In February 2012, the CDC money was handed over to the City of High Springs for construction on the park.

However, after the City’s recent move to stop progress on the park, the CDC requested that the City return the money.

“As the recipients of the two grants, we have a fiduciary responsibility to the grantors to assure these monies are used for their designated purpose,” stated Dot Harvey, president of the CDC, in a letter to the city manager.

Since the safety concerns were raised, Langman hasworked with the city’s building inspector to determine how the project could safely move forward.  The city has decided to close off the exit to the gazebo that leads into the street and build an alternate exit from the side.  Langman said the High Springs Fire Department has offered its time to move wood from the side of the gazebo to close off the back exit. Several benches, which are being restored by the fire department, will be placed inside the structure for seating.

In addition, landscaping will be added around the rear of the gazebo to create a barrier between the street and the gazebo. To comply with American Disability Association requirements, one of the exits will have a ramp leading from the gazebo to the sidewalk.

Lighting at the pocket park will be provided either by Progress Energy or through solar lighting, depending on which is the most economical, said Vice Mayor Bob Barnas. He said water will also be hooked up to the park for landscape irrigation.

Barnas said if any money is left over from the donated $6,000, it will be returned to the CDC.

“It’s a nice project,” Barnas said.  “It’s in a good location and it will be safe.”

City staff added that the park will provide a space for people to gather during events such as Pioneer Days or simply to eat lunch outside on a beautiful day.

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NEWBERRY – The time has come for residents to let their voices be heard in their city government through the ballot box.

The Newberry general election will be held on Tuesday at the Newberry Fire Station at 310 NW 250th Street. Registered voters can cast their ballot for candidates running for the Newberry City Commission from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

These candidates will answer questions at a forum held tonight at 7 p.m. at Newberry City Hall at 25440 W. Newberry Road.

Three incumbents are up for re-election in this year’s election.

In Group One, incumbent Joe Hoffman will run against Tim Marden and Linda H. Woodcock.

Hoffman is a business owner who has served on the city commission since 2002. Fellow business owner Marden owns Space Walk of Gainesville and has over 20 years of business experience. The third candidate running in Group One, Woodcock, has an extensive background in education and spends her time volunteering and serving on both the Planning and Zoning Board and the Cemetery Committee.

Incumbent Lois Forte will run against Barbara Hendrix in Group Two.

Forte has served on the city commission for about 20 years and has been working for the Newberry Senior Citizen Program since 1997. Her challenger, Hendrix, is the executive director of the Newberry Main Street Program and owns daba designworks in Newberry.

In Group Three, incumbent Alena King Lawson will run against Monty Farnsworth.

Lawson has served on the city commission for about 10 years and is an investigator for the Public Defender’s Office. Farnsworth has experience in the nursing field and has served on the Newberry City Commission previously.

Tonight, the seven candidates will get a chance to answer several questions submitted by the Newberry Chamber of Commerce members. Residents can also submit questions to ask the candidates.

Former State Representative and Newberry Commissioner Debbie Boyd will moderate the forum, which will be televised on channel 97 for Cox Cable subscribers.

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NEWBERRY – Instead of reading about what candidates think about the latest issues in Newberry, residents will get a chance to hear from the candidates themselves on issues such as economic development.

Candidates running for the Newberry City Commission will answer questions on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Newberry City Hall at 25440 W. Newberry Road.

The seven candidates will get a chance to answer several questions prepared by the Newberry Chamber of Commerce members. At the forum, residents can also submit questions to ask the candidates.

The election will be held on April 10 at the Newberry Fire Station at 310 NW 250th Street. Residents can vote from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Former Newberry City Commissioner and State Representative Debbie Boyd will moderate the forum, which will be televised on channel 97 for Cox Cable users. The Newberry Chamber of Commerce has held the forum for about a decade, according to the Newberry Chamber of Commerce Vice President Joy Glazner.

Three incumbents are up for re-election in this year’s election.

In Group One, incumbent Joe Hoffman will run against Tim Marden and Linda H. Woodcock.

Hoffman is a business owner who has served on the city commission since 2002. Fellow business owner Marden owns Space Walk of Gainesville and has over 20 years of business experience. The final candidate running in Group One, Woodcock, has an extensive background in education and spends her time volunteering and serving on both the Planning and Zoning Board and the Cemetery Committee.

Incumbent Lois Forte will run against Barbara Hendrix in Group Two.

Forte has served on the city commission for about 20 years and has been working for the Newberry Senior Citizen Program since 1997. Her challenger, Hendrix, is the executive director of the Newberry Main Street Program and owns daba designworks in Newberry.

In Group Three, incumbent Alena King Lawson will run against Monty Farnsworth.

Lawson has served on the city commission for about 10 years and is an investigator for the Public Defender’s Office. Farnsworth has experience in the nursing field and has served on the city commission previously.

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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs voters will select one of two candidates for city commission during a special election Tuesday, April 10.  High Springs residents Ann Carter and Scott Jamison were the only two candidates qualifying for the race to fill a vacant seat on the commission in a town where political tensions have reached a fever pitch.

Whichever candidate receives the most votes will be sworn in to fill the remaining seven months of a three year term vacated on Jan. 31 when Commissioner Eric May unexpectedly resigned from the commission, citing concerns of impropriety by city officials.

Scott Jamison has a bachelor’s degree in public recreation and additional credentials to teach.  He taught at area schools for several years and is now a personnel specialist in the human resources department at the School Board of Alachua County.

Carter is retired but recently started a baking business.  Most of her career was with the federal government, including with the United States Departments of Agriculture, Treasury, Transportation, Defense, Energy, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Air Force among others.

Both candidates have said if elected, they would likely seek re-election in November when the term expires.  Mayor Dean Davis’ seat on the commission will also expire in November.

Approximately 825 voters cast ballots during the November 2011 election in which Bob Barnas and Linda Gestrin defeated incumbent commissioners Larry Travis and Byran Williams.

There are 3,413 registered voters in the City of High Springs according to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections.

High Springs city officials said Wednesday that 19 absentee ballots had been issued and may be returned to City Hall up until the closing of the election on April 10.

Voters may cast ballots between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on April 10 at the High Springs Civic Center, which will serve as the only voting precinct.

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HS_Poe_Springs_3-27-12_DSCF5774_copy

Construction at Poe Springs Park is at a standstill due to permit issues.  The park consists of 202 acres, and is located three miles west of High Springs on County Road 340 along the banks of the Santa Fe River.

HIGH SPRINGS – With an agreement for the City of High Springs to assume management of nearby Poe Springs Park all but signed, construction delays may jeopardize the takeover.

An impending agreement that would transfer management of the park to the city was nearly finalized by the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on March 13 when High Springs Vice Mayor Bob Barnas alerted County Commissioners that his city did not wish to assume management of the park while construction at the springs was incomplete.

High Springs commissioners later agreed during a March 20 meeting that they didn’t want the city to start running the park while construction was ongoing.  The commission directed City Manager Jeri Langman to draft and send a letter to Alachua County informing them that if construction exceeded 30 days, the city might consider backing out of the agreement.

City commissioners were concerned that lingering construction would limit the full use of the park, most notably the spring itself, where a project is underway to rebuild the steps leading into the water.  The spring is currently closed due to the construction, meaning what many people consider to be the park’s hallmark feature is unusable to the public.

Alachua County officials now say the steps restoration project at Poe Springs may not be completed until the beginning of May, or even later due to a permit delay.

Alachua County Parks Superintendent Rob Avery said the contractor performing the reconstruction originally had until the end of April or beginning of May to complete the project.  Excavation of the existing steps was well underway when work was halted until a required permit was obtained.  It has been three weeks since construction was unexpectedly stopped.

Avery said the County has been informed verbally that the permit has been approved, although it was not yet in hand as of March 28.  He remained hopeful that the private contractor conducting the work would be able to complete it, at or near the original deadline.

Even if the reconstruction is completed by May 1, it places it well beyond the 30-day window set by High Springs commissioners, many of whom knew nothing of the construction until a private citizen mentioned it at a March 10 town hall meeting.

High Springs city officials said Wednesday that Barnas had been communicating with Alachua County officials about the delays although no specific information was provided.  Barnas could not be reached for comment.

Terms of the pending agreement, which is currently awaiting a more definitive date on construction completion, include an initial one-year period, which can be renewed.

According to the arrangement, the City of High Springs would take charge of the daily staffing and maintenance of the park while the county would review fees, plans, and events at the park. The county would further take charge of larger upkeep such as mowing and building repairs.

Under the latest draft of the agreement, the park would be open Wednesday through Sunday, with Wednesday and Thursday being free admission days. On weekends, High Springs would charge $5 to $8 per vehicle, and $2 for individuals.  High Springs has proposed to offer annual passes to local families and individuals.

The agreement states that after the city recovers its costs of managing the park through entrance fees, additional revenue will be split between Alachua County and the City of High Springs.

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