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HIGH SPRINGS – In spite of a meeting that lasted past 11 p.m. last Thursday, the High Springs City Commission was unable to address all items on the prepared agenda, and scheduled a special commission meeting for Dec. 15.  Considerable debate was spent on the city’s water and sewer rates with Mayor Dean Davis, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas and Commissioner Linda Clark Gestrin voting against raising water, sewer or solid waste rates, despite that the rate increase had been factored into the City’s current fiscal year budget.

Commissioner Eric May said the increase is necessary to keep the City afloat. He said the budget was passed based on a 2 percent increase in water rates, a 1.6 percent raise in sewage rates and a $1 a month charge for all trash customers.

Not passing the increases leaves the City with up to a $70,000 deficit in the budget, finance director Helen McIver said, adding that High Springs needs $38,000 for the sewer system.

Davis refused to support the increase saying the sewer project was not handled the right way. He said all of the older homes should have been connected to the system first, instead of starting with the newer developments.

“Everything was working fine with septic tanks,” he said. “Now, not everyone is hooked up.”

May countered that saying with about half the city on the sewer system, it will continue to be expensive for users unless more of the city is hooked up. He said the fixed cost required to build the facilities is costly for a small group of people to support. If more users were hooked up, the cost would be spread among a greater number of people and the costs would go down for everyone.

Without the funding to keep working on the project, he said the rates will likely never go down.

May said the increase was the responsible thing to do for the City’s future and for residents by raising rates slowly over time rather than hitting customers with a huge increase at a later date.

“It’s not doing anything anybody enjoys doing,” he said. “I have to pay the increase, too. I just don’t want to pass the buck.”

Commissioner Sue Weller agreed, saying it would be “irresponsible” to not pass the increase.

Barnas said there are other solutions and that the City will find them.

May asked several times to hear possible ideas, but nothing was specifically discussed.

Referring to the pending budget deficit, May said, “Seventy-thousand dollars. Where are you pulling that from the budget? That’s not magic money. That’s real money that’s paying for police officers and fire fighters.”

He suggested that raising the solid waste rate by $1 a month would make a significant difference, especially because it has more users than the sewage system.

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NEWBERRY – At the last city commission meeting of this year, the Newberry City Commission set the stage for next year, and that includes improving its image by focusing on cleaning up unkempt property and by giving the nod to open-sided commercial pavilions.

In a slideshow presentation, City Commissioner Jordan Marlowe pointed out some areas around the community that seemed to be abandoned due to untrimmed shrubbery. The issue was brought to his attention by a previous mayor, Freddie Warmack.  Marlowe said when residents neglect their properties, not only does the city suffer, but also the neighbors of those properties. It was also suggested that a home’s property value might be lowered due to a neighbor’s carelessness.

City manager Keith Ashby said some residents might be hesitant to warn the city about other people’s property.  “Citizens are reluctant to come forward when it’s their neighbor,” he said.

Aside from private property, a resident suggested the city should also take care of its own neglected property. The codes enforcement committee, currently headed by fire chief David Rodriguez, will be informed since fines can be levied when residents do not maintain their properties.

Along with keeping Newberry looking clean and aesthetically pleasing, the commission approved the use of open-air pavilions, labeled as commercial pavilions in the ordinance, to be placed around the city. Since the city introduced its farmer’s market in the downtown area in November, city attorney S. Scott Walker said the city is trying to situate vendors in a particular area. The farmer’s market, which is held every Saturday, has been located around the railroad tracks, a few blocks away from City Hall.

Some residents disagreed with the pavilions, saying it could be interpreted that other local vendors’ fruit and vegetable stands are not viewed as aesthetically pleasing by the city. They are concerned that pavilions will compete and eventually force out the few remaining produce stands.

City Commissioner Lois Forte said she appreciates having local farmers selling their produce and encourages small businesses, making them a unique asset to Newberry. After her comments, she voted against the ordinance establishing open air pavilions, but the measure passed with a 4 to 1 vote.

Wrapping up the meeting, the commission announced annual holiday events, such as the Festival of Lights and a Christmas parade, both scheduled for Saturday, Dec.17.

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GAINESVILLE – Just a day after Robert Matthew “Matt” Judah, 36, died, the State Attorney’s office filed attempted murder charges against 71-year-old Patrick A. McCall, the man they say is responsible for the shooting that took Judah’s life.

While skeet-shooting at Forest Grove Baptist Church in October, Judah was allegedly shot by McCall, a disgruntled neighbor.  Injuries resulting from the shooting reportedly required a follow-up surgery last Tuesday, a procedure which Judah did not survive.  Since the October incident, Judah had remained hospitalized.

Filed with the Clerk of Court on Nov. 30 was a document charging McCall with four counts of attempted murder in the first degree.  Judah, who was shot, was named as one of the victims as were three others who were not believed to have been struck by bullets during the incident.  It is likely that additional charges will be forthcoming in light of Judah’s death last week.  In conjunction with the formal filing of the charges, the State Attorney’s office also filed a notice of intent to seek enhanced penalties against McCall as a “10/20/Life offender.”

Meanwhile, on Dec. 5, McCall filed his own motion for release, noting that more than 40 days had elapsed since his arrest.  That motion was stricken by the judge on the grounds that it could not be considered since it was not filed by McCall’s attorney.

The incident in which Judah was shot occurred Oct. 21 at about 6:40 p.m. while a group of church members were engaged in a skeet-shooting match with shotguns on the church’s property located at 22575 NW 94th Avenue.  That’s when Patrick A. McCall walked out of his house, which is located at 9306 NW 226th Street across the street from the church, and randomly fired a handgun in the direction of the church, Alachua County Sheriff Office deputies reported.

According to the arrest report, McCall said he was inside his house when he heard gun shots coming from the direction of the church. He retrieved his 9 mm Sig handgun and while standing behind his house, he fired quick, successive shots until the magazine was empty. He reloaded and fired again, but could not remember if he emptied the magazine, the report states.

McCall claimed to be pointing the gun in the air in the direction of a pecan tree in front of his house. McCall said he fired rounds because he heard other people firing rounds. It is something he has done in the past.

But, according to the police report, McCall later said he fired the rounds because he wanted the church members to stop. He said he had no intention of hurting anyone.

Medical personnel from Alachua County Fire Rescue and deputies from the sheriff’s office arrived a short time later to find Judah suffering from a gunshot wound to the abdomen. The deputies and fire rescue personnel administered first aid on the scene before Judah was air lifted to Shands Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Deputies evacuated the remaining people, including several children, from the church due to the nature of the investigation. They located several objects that had been struck by the random gunfire.

After several hours, McCall reportedly exited his home and surrendered himself to deputies.  He was arrested and charged with attempted homicide and is still being held in the Alachua County Jail on $750,000 bail pending court appearances.

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DavisDavis_Senior_Care_DSCF5105_copyPhoto 1: As High Springs newly elected mayor, long-time resident Dean Davis looks forward to helping bring back the small-town charm he feels the city has lost.  Photo 2: When High Springs Mayor Dean Davis isn’t at City Hall, it is likely he is visiting with friends and neighbors in the town where he has lived for 60 years. L-R: Howard Minzenberg, Executive Director of Plantation Oaks Senior Living Residence, enjoys a casual conversation with Davis Wednesday afternoon.

HIGH SPRINGS – Dean Davis remembers High Springs before Interstate 75 came close to stopping near the town.

He remembers sitting shirtless in an un-air-conditioned ’37 Ford, laughing with his best friend and their girlfriends on a dim country road.

He remembers when every kid spent their summers learning to swim at Poe Springs.

He remembers when every store in town closed at noon on Wednesdays so people could go fishing.

“I get my history from Dean,” said Davis’ lifelong friend, Nicky Peacock. “What we don’t know, Terry Thomas does.”

Their conversations are peppered with the names of locals, passed on or moved out or still living up the street. They remember the times when High Springs was “the friendliest little town in Florida.”

Davis misses those times. He has seen people moving from big cities bringing big city ideas. It is no longer his High Springs, the one he grew up in.

Now the newly elected mayor, he hopes to bring back the small-town, family feel he thinks the city has lost.

“We didn’t used to lock our doors,” he said. “I want us to slow down and smell the flowers, enjoy the flowers.”

Railroad Important Asset

Davis said he wants to do this by focusing on the things that make High Springs unique. His first goal is to redevelop the railroad.

“I moved here in 1951, in seventh grade. I was born a few miles out on a farm. Here, everybody worked for the railroad,” he said.

He said the city exists because of the railroad. While most towns have east-west or north-south oriented roads, the streets in High Springs are skewed to accommodate trains.

By making use of rail that already runs to Newberry, Davis said High Springs could turn into a tourist destination.

He said people could ride down from Newberry on the train after watching their kids play baseball all day, eat a meal at the Great Outdoors and sleep at the Grady House. In the morning, there could be a trolley to pick them up and take them to Poe Springs. When it got dark, they could be driven back to the train and go on home.

Using what High Springs already has is important to him. He said when he grew up, Poe Springs was what people did in the summer.

“There was no TV, no video games, no Wi-Fi,” he said. “Taking my grandkids there is like stepping back into history. And it’s all tied to the railroad.”

He said while the Poe Springs issue was more recent, people have been talking about fixing up the railroad since 1988. The city commission continues to talk about the need for growth, he said, but it has options already waiting.

The city has had problems with debt in this pursuit, taking on expensive projects that the new mayor said are unnecessary. He mentioned the sewer system, explaining that with his father being a plumber, he grew up understanding waste systems. To Davis, the system is too costly for a service the city doesn’t need.

More than that, he said, people were forced to hook up to it who weren’t interested.

“Little old ladies are being forced to hook up to something they didn’t want,” he said.

Since his election to the commission in 2009, he said working for the people’s concerns has been his priority.

Change in Direction

He said he had to join the commission after seeing the direction the town was traveling. The city was spending more than it was making in the name of progress.

“Credit is okay.  Debt is not,” he said.

His wife of 55 years, Elaine, prayed with him about the city, and they decided he should run. He won his first election by what he said was the highest percentage since 2000.

Davis said he felt comfortable because had a background in public speaking, having been on a parliamentary-procedure team that went to the state competition three or four times. While he was at the University of Florida, he took speech classes.

“Some people think I’m an ignorant hick, but my experience is pretty in-depth,” he said.

He was worried about his accent while in college, but a professor told him he just needed to be himself. Davis said that is why he still talks like a country boy today.

“My diction is not always crisp, and I talk a little fast,” he said. “I’ve got so much to say, I got to hurry up.”

Davis said being on the commission has given him a greater respect for the job commissioners do. He said there’s always complicated decisions to be made and disgruntled people that are never satisfied. Even harder is trying to do what the city wants without raising taxes, a move he pledges to never support.

“I keep asking, ‘How are we going to pay for this?’” he said. “And the commission hasn’t answered me back yet.”

His wife Elaine put it more simply: “He’s been beat up a lot.”

It’s been his wife’s influence that’s kept him straight, Davis said. They started dating in the tenth grade.

“I played football for High Springs High School,” he said. “We were playing Lake Butler, and this one guy ran over me like I wasn’t even there. I ran up to the coach and said, ‘I’m done with football.’ Then I sat with the cheerleaders.”

He said he married the prettiest one.

Davis studied at the University of Florida for a short while but ended up leaving to marry Elaine. For a long time, he worked for High Springs Auto Parts, eventually leaving to open up his own shop.

Peacock, who is 23 years Davis’ junior, said the shop helped a lot of young men in town establish credit. He bought a part from Davis, who put it in Peacock’s name, not his father’s.

“I used that as a reference when I got my own light bill,” he said. “That’s the kind of man Dean is.”

Davis had to close the shop in the 90s because competition from big stores like Wal-Mart was too much. This taught him the importance of buying locally.

“We used to be an industrial nation, but it starts on the local level,” he said. “We need to give preference to local contractors. Why did the elementary school expansion use a Gainesville contractor? There are local people who are qualified.”

Personal Beliefs Give Focus

For Davis, problems arise when the government thinks it’s smarter than the constituency. He said working in real estate, his current job, has taught him that the way to get what one wants is to help others get what they want.

This position came out of his commitment to Christianity.

“I accepted Jesus Christ in 1965,” he said. “Lightning didn’t flash, thunder didn’t crash, but my life has taken a different path.”

He calls Jesus his biggest inspiration, reminding him to always do his best to help others. Christianity has given him a strong sense of right and wrong, especially in government.

“I have no agenda,” he said. “I have nothing to gain. My only goal is to unify the city, to heal the hurt of the city.”

Davis has seen divisions in the city over the past six or seven years that were never there before. He said he wants citizens to get involved, to ask him questions and speak up on issues that matter.

His focus has and will always be the needs of the taxpayers. He said the problem is he no longer knows half the people in town, an issue he traces back to big-city ideas.

“If I want to live in a big city, it’s 144 miles to Tampa. It’s 25 miles to Gainesville,” he said. “It’s simpler to move somewhere else than to try to change what is meant to be a small town.”

He is excited by the different direction new commissioners Linda Clark Gestrin and Bob Barnas preach. For him, it is never too late to take a look at what is important to High Springs and bring back some of the things it has lost.

“People think that when you’re going on a journey, which we all are, it’s too late to go back.” he said.  “But you can go back. If there was a fork in the road, you can go back and take the other way.”

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HIGH SPRINGS – In spite of criticism from residents and even two of its own members, on Dec. 1, the High Springs City Commission approved an employment contract for newly hired interim city manager Jeri Langman.

Langman was appointed to the position at the Nov. 29 commission meeting after newly elected Vice Mayor Bob Barnas initially made the suggestion at a goal-setting workshop.  Langman will replace former interim city manager Jenny Parham who will return to her duties as city clerk.  The City of High Springs has been undergoing a search process for a permanent manager to replace former city manager Jim Drumm who resigned under pressure on Oct. 21, 2010.

Referring to Langman’s hiring, Mayor Dean Davis explained at the Dec. 1 meeting that the commission had no intention of firing anyone and that Langman will serve on a temporary basis to keep City Hall on track during the remainder of the hiring process.

“She will work until we don’t need her,” Davis said. “She loves the city and is interested in helping us.”

Langman’s contract passed in a 3-2 vote with Davis, Barnas and Commissioner Linda Clark Gestrin in favor of the contract with commissioners Eric May and Sue Weller opposed.

Terms of the contract call for Langman to fill the position of interim city manager as a temporary employee with no insurance benefits. If she, for some reason, ends up serving for more than four months, her compensation and benefits package will be reviewed.

Gestrin said that although there is no intention for Langman to serve for four months, if she does, the city will certainly need to be in a place where it needs to re-evaluate.

“Isn’t that a point where we review where we’re at?” she said. “I don’t think any of us dreamed we’d be this far along without a city manager.”

Under Langman’s contract she will be expected to work a minimum of 40 hours per week and be present during “normal city hall office hours.”

Barnas made it a point to obtain City Attorney Thomas DePeter’s interpretation of “normal” hours on the record. DePeter explained that Langman must be working onsite during normal office hours, taking care of official duties, answering citizens’ questions and supervising employees.

DePeter said that according to the city charter, charter employees, like the city manager, are in office until they resign or are terminated by resolution. DePeter said, in his opinion, this makes Langman a permanent employee until she is removed.

DePeter admitted in this case, the expectation is that Langman will resign when the commission finds a replacement. However, he explained that since the charter says the manager serves “at the pleasure of the commission,” she could be terminated at any time without any stated reason.

In that case, she would be permitted a review hearing. The city would have to wait 20 to 30 days to meet the review requirement before appointing a new manager.

Langman will be paid $4,000 a month for her services. The city has received 31 applications for the permanent city manager position and plans to start reviewing applications immediately.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Christmas is all hustle and bustle. There’s shopping and rushing around and all sorts of responsibilities.

Fellowship Church in High Springs just wants everyone to slow down and “celebrate Jesus.”

On Dec. 10 and 11, they are holding “One Story LIVE From Bethlehem.” This free event is an interactive telling of the story of Jesus’ birth, held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. both nights.

Windy Bridges, ministry assistant, said Fellowship Church began hosting the event in 1988. For over 20 years, they shared the story of Christmas with the community.

The church took two years off from the event to focus on what it wanted to share the most, Bridges said. She said they decided to put the focus on Jesus.

“Our goal is to give the community a gift,” she said. “We want to remind people that Christmas is simple: Christmas celebrates Jesus.”

Last year, the church’s Christmas Eve service featured three dramatizations of Christmas scenes. Bridges said this was only a preview of this weekend’s event.

“This event is an interesting, dramatic take,” she said. “People will go, ‘Oh, wow.’”

She explains that visitors will enter the city gates and be greeted by city elders, who will tell them about Bethlehem and set the stage for the event. Then, they will visit a marketplace with vendors who will answer questions about their wares and lifestyle.

People will be able to interact with live animals, seeing and touching them like they could in the real town. Eventually, they will make their way to an outdoor theater where they will watch the dramatization.

The original script was written by two church members, Matt and Suzie Walters. It is performed by churchgoers ranging in age from younger than one-year old to 75-years old. Bridges said it is truly a church-run event.

“Everything is funded through the giving of church members,” she said. “There are over 100 volunteers involved.”

Planning has gone on for a year. The volunteers started working on the set in spring and started rehearsing in summer. Bridges said this is because Fellowship Church is committed to being authentic and producing a quality show.

“We don’t want people to be presented the story, but we want them to have an emotional experience,” she said.

The church expects 1,000 to 2,000 people each night, with visitors in the past traveling from other states to see the show. While people will be admitted throughout the three hours the event is open each night, Bridges advised that guests arrive early because there is limited space.

She said the turnout is always high because Fellowship strives to create a meaningful experience. Her favorite part is seeing the children’s reactions.

“It’s always really meaningful to see children visit this re-creation and magically end up feeling like they’re transported back 2,000 years,” she said. “It’s an experience.”

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ALACHUA – The City of Alachua Senior Resources Advisory Board is currently accepting applications for membership. The board was recently established by the Alachua City Commission to raise awareness of issues affecting senior citizens in the community.

The Board will consist of five members, with at least three residing in the city of Alachua and up to two members from the greater Alachua area. The Board is expected to meet at least four times a year. Members may be appointed for one- to three-year terms.

Prior to the creation of the Senior Resources Advisory Board, beginning in January 2005 the city worked with the State of Florida Department of Elder Affairs and invited citizens to participate on the Elder Readiness Committee, which was recognized by the city, but was never formally established. The committee focused on affordable housing and transportation.  This committee is scheduled to sunset later this month.

The Senior Resources Advisory Board will serve as the official advisory board to the City of Alachua Commission and members will advocate for senior citizens and serve as an information source on senior and aging topics. To apply, residents may stop by Alachua City Hall at 15100 NW 142nd Terrace during business hours to pick up an application, or they can fill one out online at www.cityofalachua.com. Applications must be received by Jan. 11, 2012.

For more information about the City of Alachua Senior Resources Advisory Board, call 386-418-6131.

 

Cont: Deadline is Jan. 11, 2012

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