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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ City Manager Joel DeCoursey, Jr. has tendered his resignation effective Nov. 30.

In his letter of resignation, he said, “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work in this position for the last year. I have truly been blessed and I thoroughly enjoyed working here, as well as, serving the citizens of this great community. I enjoyed the many opportunities you have given me. This is a wonderful team to work with. However, I have committed to one year of service and I have fulfilled my obligation. It is time for a new set of eyes to lead the city into the future.”

DeCoursey was sworn in as interim city manager on Aug. 29, 2019, to replace outgoing City Manager Ed Booth. Contract negotiations between the city attorney and DeCoursey began and the employment agreement was approved during the Sept. 12, 2019, City Commission meeting.

DeCoursey previously served as the Chief of Police for the City of High Springs for nearly four years. He served two separate stints with the City of Alachua prior to that. He served as a police officer for Alachua from December 1988 – August 1990. In early 2008, while employed by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ASO), he was assigned to the position of Interim Chief of Police. He eventually resigned his position with ASO to become Chief of Police with the City of Alachua on July 31, 2008. He served in that capacity until he resigned on June 25, 2015.

Commissioners and the city attorney thanked DeCoursey for his service to the City, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and wished him well in his new endeavors.

Commissioners subsequently approved an advertisement for a new city manager at the Aug. 27 meeting. The first advertisement is scheduled to appear in a Florida League of Cities publication. The requirements for the position are the same as previously advertised when Booth left the position.

Applications may be obtained online at highsprings.us. Applications, a cover letter and resume’ must be returned to City Clerk Jenny Parham at 23718 W. US Highway 27, High Springs, FL 32643 or emailed to jparham@highsprings.us by 4:30 p.m., Oct. 8.

Commissioner Scott Jamison commented that the Commission needs to consider how to handle the fact that a new City Manager would likely not want to start until the first of the year, thereby leaving the City without a manager for two months. “This isn’t something we need to discuss tonight, but it is something we should consider in the near future,” he said.

Briefly, applicant requirements include a Bachelor’s Degree with five years of municipal government experience with an educational emphasis in public administration. An equivalent combination of training and experience may be considered. Professional managerial or governmental financial experience may be substituted on a year-for-year basis for the education and experience requirements.

The starting salary is $90,000 - $100,000 annually with benefits, which include a vehicle allowance and retirement benefits through the Florida Retirement System, insurance coverage and relocation costs of up to $4,000. The successful applicant must ultimately reside in the City of High Springs.

Application screening will begin on Oct. 12. The top five finalists will be selected on Oct. 22 and interviews will be conducted via Zoom on Oct. 27.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Newberry city commissioners turned their attention to wastewater improvements at the Aug, 24 City Commission meeting. The commission approved a bid of $726,004, which includes the base bid of $637,727 and the addition of Alternate One at $88,277 to relocate Lift Station #1 and establish a wet station on higher ground.

Alternate One was described by Director of Utilities and Public Works Jamie JoneJones as including road resurfacing of Southwest 2nd Avenue from Southwest 254th Street to Southwest 258th Street.

Lift Station #1 is located at the intersection of Southwest 255th Street and Southwest 2nd Avenue. It was constructed in 1976 and is the only dry well-style lift station in the City’s wastewater system. “It receives approximately 50 percent of all wastewater generated in the system prior to pumping it to the wastewater treatment facility,” said Jones. Jones said that the intersection floods and allows stormwater into the wastewater system with the additional water overwhelming the pumps and potentially causing a sanitary sewer overflow.

The location is also plagued by limited right-of-way as the lift station is located within five feet of the travel lane of Southwest 2nd Avenue and within 20 feet of a house located at 25455 S.W. 2nd Avenue. Also, the pumps are located 20 feet below ground in a confined space. “Personnel safety requirements involved in maintenance activities are increased over those that occur in a wet well lift station,” he said.

The City worked with the Alachua County School Board to obtain a new site adjacent to Newberry High School. Currently, it is adjacent to the school’s football field. In January 2019 the School Board agreed to transfer ownership of the 50-ft. x 50-ft. lot to the City in exchange for facilitating a future wastewater/water connection point for construction of restrooms adjacent to the football stadium.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) issued construction permits in May 2019. Since the project included removing a portion of Southwest 2nd Avenue, an add alternate was developed to incorporate an additional 1,900 feet of roadwork as part of the City’s annual road resurfacing plan.

Jones explained that the four bids received for the project were evaluated by the engineer and City staff and rejected as the bid amounts were inconsistent. Bidders were notified and the scope of services was reworked and a second request for bids was issued.

Five bids were received the second time and Andrews Paving, Inc. submitted the lowest responsive and responsible bid. Funding will be from a combination of sources including development fees, the General Fund,and the Local Option Gas Tax.

Although no exact start date was mentioned during the meeting, Jones said that he anticipates starting as soon as possible. “Once the contract is executed Andrews will provide a proposed construction schedule for City approval.”

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NEWBERRY – The Newberry City Commission has drawn a line in the sand with respect to Alachua County’s proposed Charter Amendment. At the Aug. 24 City Commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to approve Resolution No. 2020-36 in opposition to the County’s Charter Amendment, which if approved by voters in November, would extend the County’s growth management jurisdiction in various municipalities.

Commissioners voiced concerns that the change would take away home rule from the cities and give it to the County. Mayor Jordan Marlowe said that the Alachua County League of Cities is in opposition to this significant change and he hopes community leaders in the other municipalities will educate their voters as to the significance of the proposed change.

The City’s resolution indicates that if the County’s proposed charter amendment is implemented it is designed to restrict the ability of municipalities to determine the appropriate uses for property within their jurisdiction after annexing property from the County.

The resolution further asserts that the Florida Constitution provides for Home Rule. Article VIII, Section 2(b) of the Florida Constitution reads, “Municipalities shall have governmental, corporate and proprietary powers to enable them to conduct municipal government, perform municipal functions and render municipal services, and may exercise power for municipal purposes except as otherwise provided by law.”

Newberry’s Commissioners said local elected officials make the best decisions about commercial, residential, recreational and conservation development within their community.

The resolution states that the County’s proposed amendment, as drafted, “eliminates the ability of municipalities to determine land uses that allows them to chart their unique course of development and differentiate themselves from other local communities.”

Pointing out that businesses and residential property owners often choose to annex into a municipality because they believe their interests are compatible, this proposed change will negatively impact growth and limit people’s ability to make those types of choices, stressed Newberry’s commissioners.

Commissioners said they are capable of managing their own zoning and policies and do not believe that the extra, unnecessary level of bureaucracy is in the best interest of the citizens of Newberry.

A map of the County’s Growth Management Area indicates just how much land the County will control should this amendment be approved. Commissioners encouraged the public to go to the County’s website to view that map.

The resolution approved by Newberry’s City Commission states “it is in opposition to the County’s proposed Charter Amendment that would prohibit the City from managing growth of land annexed from the County.”

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GAINESVILLE Archer’s Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Cemetery (BME) has received funding to improve cemetery grounds. The Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Cemetery was established in 1875 as part of the Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Church, built by freed slaves. According to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, there have been at least 80 known burials, the earliest of which possibly belonged to former slaves of the Cottonwood Plantation in Archer or the Haile Plantation in Gainesville.

The cemetery has been undergoing restoration since 1999, when the Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Cemetery Restoration Organization (BMECRO) held its first cleanup project. Ever since, it has struggled to bring the total restoration to fruition. In 2019, Keep Alachua County Beautiful grant funds went toward further cleanup and restoration, particularly to manage the debris from Hurricane Irma.

The BME Cemetery does not properly honor those who lie there, namely the African American slaves who hold great historical importance in North Central Florida and the United States. Headstones are shattered, worn and weathered, erasing the significance of the inscriptions. From a closer look, headstones show birth dates as early as 1822, about 43 years before slavery was abolished. Dead tree removal is necessary in order to prevent further damage to the headstones and will pave a pathway to further restoration efforts such as the introduction of native plant species.

The Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund awarded Keep Alachua County Beautiful with $2,000 toward the restoration of the historic cemetery. Keep Alachua County Beautiful and this project have a focus on environmental stewardship and restoring significant historical areas in Alachua County. The $2,000 will be directed toward necessary maintenance, specifically dead tree removal in the cemetery.

The BME Cemetery was added to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation 2019 Florida’s “11 to Save” List in May of 2019. The purpose of the list is to increase public awareness and appreciation of endangered historic sites in Florida. The cemetery’s position on the list emphasizes its important cultural and historical value in the state.

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ALACHUA ‒ Affordable housing for seniors is on the forefront of housing options in the city of Alachua. Alachua County Housing Authority (ACHA) Executive Director Ken Armstrong reported to the City Commission on planned construction of a 40-unit affordable senior community in Alachua’s Merrillwood neighborhood.

Plans for one- and two-bedroom apartment homes include accommodations for people with disabilities and space for support services. A planned community center will include gym, shuffleboard, art classes and other recreation activities in a landscaped green space. Plans are also in the works for shuttle services to Gainesville and the Veterans Hospital.

Residential units in Merrillwood are aging and 17 deteriorating units will be taken down to make way for the senior housing footprint. Residents of the demolished homes will be relocated to other units within Merrillwood or to other neighborhoods with the help of the ACHA through the use of tenant vouchers, which can be used at any Housing Authority neighborhood in the county. The vouchers will cover moving expenses, rent and utility help. Future phases include plans to replace the roughly 40 remaining aging units at Merrillwood with new housing units.

Infrastructure improvements in both the Merrillwood and Hitchcock neighborhood areas have been a priority for the City with extensive repairs to streets and stormwater drainage systems. The City focused on neighborhood revitalization by obtaining Community Development Block Grants, supplemented by City funds, to upgrade streets, curbing and stormwater systems as well as City parks and playgrounds. The two city parks in the area were in need of extensive grounds repairs and refurbishment including lighting, pavilion restoration, erosion control, fencing, picnic tables, complete restoration of basketball courts and new playground equipment.

In other business, the City of Alachua Youth Advisory Council participated in the Florida League of Cities 2020 Youth Council Community Service Contest and was one of five of the state's youth councils to win. The Youth Advisory Council offers students the information and tools to actively participate in addressing issues impacting community youth and to ensure the leaders of tomorrow have input in the local government process today. The organization organizes community meetings with other youth to discuss issues and suggestions for improvement, and they also assist in planning and implementing events to benefit youth.

YAC members opted to help inform other students at their schools about the political and election process. The Florida League of Cities 2020 Youth Council Community Service Contest judging panel was impressed that this Council chose election education as their project, and remarked they never had a youth council choose this subject before. After listening to short discussions on their efforts by council members, Mayor Gib Coerper awarded each member a certificate and the trophy to honor their efforts to inform future voters.

In other business, the Commission gave final approval to revised water rates for the upcoming fiscal year to generate revenue sufficient to meet operating expenses. The proposed 3 percent rate increase provides for changes to the customer charge, availability charge and consumption charge. For the most part, residential rates changed by less than 25 cents, with three different consumption charge rates changing by 6 to 12 cents. Wastewater rates changed by 33 cents to a proposed rate of $11.30 per customer. Irrigation customer water rates went from $8.37 to $8.62 with a consumption increase of 12 cents per 1,000 gallons.

The Commission also voted on two open positions on the City’s Planning & Zoning Board. Board members Sandy Burgess and Anthony Wright were reappointed to serve three-year terms.

The final order of business was the Annual Performance review of City Manager Adam Boukari by the full Commission. All five commissioners commended Boukari's performance and management skills and each gave him an “excellent” rating above 9 on a scale of 1-10.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission is considering strengthening the City’s whistleblower procedures. A legislative public hearing was held on Aug. 24 on first reading of Ordinance 2020-12 that establishes an administrative procedure for employees and others who report illegality, mismanagement, malfeasance, waste or fraud on the part of City employees, agents or contractors.

Commissioners unanimously approved the measure on first reading. It is anticipated that it will be heard again on second and final reading during the first City Commission meeting in September.

Director of Finance and Administration Dallas Lee presented an overview of the proposed ordinance and explained that this ordinance codifies the rules that are already in place with the City on this issue.

In his explanation of the “Whistle-blower’s Act,” Lee said that it provides protections to people who disclose information regarding certain types of behaviors. “The Act provides for the establishment, by local ordinance, of an administrative procedure to permit disclosure of complaints and protect those persons making disclosure from retaliation. Further,” said Lee, “the Act also provides that when a local government adopts a local ordinance establishing such administrative procedures, that the local government will have an opportunity to address complaints locally instead of proceeding directly to court.”

State statute provides that even though the City has adopted policies about Confidential Reporting, state statute provides that “if these policies are adopted by ordinance then both the City and employee receive additional protections.”

Lee explained that it is in the City’s best interest to have the first opportunity to review and address allegations by its employees, agents or contractors and exhaust all administrative means necessary prior to moving forward with allegations. “We want to redress grievances and ensure that operations are always conducted with integrity and responsive to the needs of the citizens of Newberry,” said Lee.

Lee said that adoption of the ordinance allows employees an avenue to have concerns addressed without the expense and time of litigation falling to the employee. “The ordinance also empowers employees to disclose information of unlawful activity or malfeasance to the appropriate employees with assurances the employee will not be retaliated against, or provides recourse for any such retaliation,” said Lee.

This ordinance establishes a new section of code creating a procedure to handle confidential reporting complaints and legal protections for the complainant.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The City of Newberry is aiming to apply for Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding through Alachua County even though there may be a hitch with the City’s eligibility.

At the Aug. 24 city commission meeting Director of Finance and Administration Dallas Lee said that Alachua County’s share of funding from the CARES Act is $46,945,928. The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) developed a distribution plan that allocates $21.1 million for Individual Assistance Grants (up to $2,500), $7.5 million for Small Business Relief Grants (up to $10,000), $7.5 million for Medium Business Relief Grants (up to $15,000) and $8.3 million for Government Assistance Grants.

Lee said that the BoCC distributions to local governments would be based on a variety of factors such as population, needs, existing programs and special circumstances. The City of Newberry has been allocated up to $103,400 in CARES funding according to Lee.

He explained that the City may only utilize these grant funds for expenses incurred as a result of or in response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency from the period of March 1 – Dec. 30, 2020, and reviewed the list of the types of expenses allowed to be reimbursed.

“To date,” said Lee, “the City has incurred approximately $20,000 in COVID-related expenses that would be eligible for CARES Act funding.” However, he also pointed out that funds can be shifted between categories with approval of the County Manager. Additional services or programs could be offered at the direction of the commission with funding provided through the agreement.

Examples of the types of additional services/program that could be approved might include cleaning of public parks or buildings or distribution of additional food assistance.

A possible sticking point with County CARES funding to the City of Newberry is that the agreement requires compliance with all Alachua County Emergency Orders currently issued or those issued in the future.

Lee reminded Commissioners that on May 21 the Commission authorized Mayor Jordan Marlowe to sign a resolution adopting the governor’s emergency orders within the City and declining to enforce the County’s emergency orders.

Lee requested direction on how the City should proceed. Lee explained that individuals and businesses which are in compliance with the County’s orders will be eligible for CARES assistance grants regardless of the City Commission’s situation.

Commissioners unanimously decided that the City should apply for their share of reimbursement funds up to $20,000, but that the application should include an asterisk that the City of Newberry will continue to abide by the governor’s emergency order and directives.

Marlowe pointed to the three other categories of funding that the BoCC has already determined would be reimbursed prior to the individual cities. He also said he believed the BoCC may be softening their stance on the requirement that every city must abide by their directives.

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