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GAINESVILLE – It was report card time for Alachua County high schools as the Florida Department of Education released grades today for schools statewide.

Based on those grades, six of Alachua County’s seven high schools are classified as ‘high performing.’

Buchholz, Newberry and the Professional Academies Magnet (PAM) at Loften High School all earned ‘A’ grades, while Eastside, Gainesville and Santa Fe High earned ‘B’ grades. The state considers schools that earn ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades ‘high performing.’

Hawthorne High boosted its standing by receiving a grade of ‘C,’ up from a ‘D’ the last two years. Hawthorne significantly increased the number of students taking and passing high level courses and tests and graduating college-ready in 2011.

Newberry moved up a notch from a ‘B’ to take an ‘A’ grade this year and PAM @ Loften’s ‘A’ this year is three points higher than last year’s ‘D.’

“I’m so proud of the work that’s being done in our high schools by our teachers, administrators and the students,” said Superintendent Dan Boyd. “Despite rising standards and many other challenges, our schools are maintaining and boosting their academic performance.

High school grades are based on a combination of factors, including FCAT scores, graduation rates, and students’ success in advanced level courses and career/tech programs. Schools earn points based on student performance in each category, and the total number of points determines the grade.  However, some criteria, such as achievement of lowest-performing students, are weighted more heavily than others.

Eastside, GHS and Santa Fe all earned far more points than were needed for an ‘A’ grade, but were docked an entire letter grade based on the achievement of their lowest-performing students.

The state’s grading formula places a very heavy emphasis on the performance of those students who struggle the most. Schools can lose an entire letter either because their lowest performers didn’t do well enough on the FCAT test or because not enough of them graduated on time. The FCAT scores of what the state calls the ‘lowest quartile’ are actually counted several times under the state’s formula.

During a conference call with superintendents from across Florida, state officials reported that many high schools were penalized entire letter grades this year.

Eastside and Santa Fe both dropped to ‘B’ grades because of the FCAT scores of their lowest performers, while GHS was a ‘B’ due to the graduation rate of its at-risk students.

Statewide, 78 percent of Florida’s high schools were rated high performing. In Alachua County, that figure is 86 percent.

District officials say that the success of local high schools can’t be attributed to any one program or strategy.

“We have to come up with a variety of ways to educate our students, then constantly monitor and adjust what we’re doing to meet their needs,” said Sandy Hollinger, Deputy Superintendent for Instruction and Student Services. “Those efforts have to be sustained over the long haul, and that’s what we’re accomplishing.”

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HIGH SPRINGS – Two meetings slated for Thursday evening will have commissioners in High Springs talking about nearby Poe Springs Park and economic development within the city.

At a specially called 5 p.m. workshop, the commission will consider the possibility of taking over operations of Alachua County-owned Poe Springs Park.  Commissioners called an unscheduled, last-minute meeting Dec. 29 to preliminarily discuss the idea.  In a 4-0 vote, they approved of the takeover in concept.  Commissioner Eric May was unable to attend the meeting.

Chief among concerns with some commissioners is if running the park is to the city’s advantage.  Commissioners are not only considering the cost of staffing the park, but also how its management might boost economic development within the city.

For about two decades, the park was managed under a contract between Alachua County and the YMCA with the county providing about $50,000 annually toward the upkeep and management.

But looking to cut costs, the county issued a contract in 2009 to Nature Quest, a private company, which managed the park without any funding assistance from the County.  That contract was cancelled last year and Alachua County took over operating the park in October 2011, when county officials were dissatisfied with maintenance of the park.

High Springs and County officials have yet to agree on a deal that would allow the park to be operated by the city.  Thursday’s meeting aims to further hammer out details of a possible deal.  Among the possible arrangements are that the County would continue general maintenance at the park while allowing High Springs to operate the facility and handle day-to-day maintenance.

Located along the Santa Fe River, and outside of High Springs city limits, the 202-acre park has historically featured swimming and canoeing amenities, concessions, meeting facilities, a playground, soccer and softball fields and volleyball courts.  The driving attraction at the park is a natural spring, which feeds the Santa Fe River with about 45 million gallons of water each day.

The County turned down a previous proposal offered by High Springs in November, which included $55,000 budgeted for personnel to staff the springs and handling day-to-day operations while the county would handle long-term needs such as maintenance

A 6:30 p.m. workshop at the City of High Springs will focus on economic development.  Interim City Manager Jeri Langman said Wednesday that the commission would discuss at least two issues, including possible tax abatement for a local business.

Under a measure approved by High Springs voters, the city may offer a tax abatement incentive to a business that would contribute to economic development.  Plantation Oaks Senior Living Residence at 201 Northeast 1st Avenue is seeking consideration for such abatement, which would reduce ad valorem property taxes paid by the owner.

Commissioners have also invited John Manley, a local High Springs resident, to provide his ideas on how to save a railroad that may be dismantled by the rail line operator.  Manley has been advocating usage of the railroad to promote economic development in High Springs.  The tracks, owned by CSX, had been slated for removal in the first quarter of 2012.

In an impassioned letter to Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad, Manley urged that plans to remove the rail line be halted until the City of High Springs could offer alternatives to its removal.

Working under a tight timeline, commissioners are looking to Manley for guidance in how the city might save the railroad.

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GAINESVILLE – On Wednesday, more than a dozen people were scheduled to give their accounts of a school shooting earlier this year.  The May 18 High Springs Community School shooting that rocked the area landed 63-year-old Robert Nodine in jail.

The public defender’s office filed a notice that at 9 a.m. Wednesday, it would begin taking depositions of 13 witnesses in the case. Those witnesses include school, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) and High Springs Police Department (HSPD) officials and others.

Nodine is charged with four felonies, including two counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer and two counts of possession of a weapon on school property.

According to police, Nodine armed himself with a handgun and fired several shots before being taken down by gunfire from law enforcement.

The incident was apparently sparked by a request from the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) that the school not release Nodine’s two grandchildren because of an investigation being conducted by the agency.  DCF had not yet arrived at the school to deal with matters related to that investigation when Nodine arrived.

Responding to the scene when a 9-1-1 call came in around 12:51 p.m. were both ACSO deputies and HSPD officers.

Police say Nodine became irate while at the school, and while being escorted off the campus, the grandfather was reportedly able to arm himself.

Court documents indicate that not only did Nodine have a gun, but also a knife when the incident occurred.  As the altercation escalated, both Nodine and police officers reportedly fired their weapons.

Nodine was the only person reported to have been injured.  He was taken to an area hospital for treatment of his injuries, then released and remanded to the Alachua county jail, where he remains.  Nodine has a prior criminal history including resisting arrest.

Although most of the school’s children had already been released on the day of the incident because of an abbreviated Wednesday schedule, as many as 175 students remained on campus for after-school activities.

It was originally reported that none of the students were believed to have been directly exposed to the incident, but 9-1-1 calls seems to call that accounting of events into question.

A case management hearing in Nodine’s case has been set for Jan. 26 at 1:30 p.m.

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GAINESVILLE – High Springs city leaders met Wednesday with officials from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development in Gainesville and Washington D.C. via teleconference in hopes of saving $1.6 million grant funding for the city’s wastewater system.

High Springs Interim City Manager Jeri Langman said the City presented its case as to why the $1.6 million should not be withheld from the city even though it had not used the funds within a purportedly stipulated five-year timeframe.

“It wasn’t in the fifth year or the end of the fifth year, but the end of the sixth year that [USDA was] then calling back the monies,” Langman said.

Several years ago, USDA Rural Development awarded High Springs with more than $10 million in funding for its wastewater system, including a $6.353 million loan and a $4.05 million grant.

High Springs made its case before a federal hearing officer, who is expected to rule on the matter by the first week of February.

If the City is allowed to retain the $1.6 million, it would be used for connecting additional users to the wastewater system.  That could have a big impact on costs to utility customers.  With more users connected, the City could spread out the costs of maintaining and operating the wastewater treatment facility.

Commissioners are already scrambling to find funds to shore up the city’s budget since they voted last month against raising the wastewater rates.  An already tight budget approved by commissioners in September called for the rate hikes.

The budget meeting to discuss the expected shortfall in funding is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 6:30 p.m.

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GAINESVILLE – More than five years after being handcuffed and dragged from a City of Alachua commission meeting, one-time State House of Representatives and City of Alachua Commission candidate Charles Grapski has reportedly settled a federal case in which he alleges violations of the Constitution.

Grapski is reported to have been paid nearly $200,000 as a condition of the settlement offered by the insurance company defending the case on behalf of the City of Alachua.

The agreement hammered out between Grapski and the insurance company is not a public record at this time, but a notice of the settlement was entered in the federal court docket system earlier this month.  Last week, a federal clerk entered the dismissal into the docket.

Reportedly, as a condition of the agreement, Grapski may not discuss its specific terms.  Instead, Grapski is only permitted to read a generic pre-written statement, which does not cite him as the victor in the case.  Despite those conditions, Grapski conducted an interview on a local radio show in which he specifically commented on details about the case, including the financial settlement offered. That interview may have occurred prior to Grapski’s agreement to the terms of the settlement, although it is unclear at this time.

Grapski first filed the lawsuit in July 2010.  Earlier this year, Federal District Court Judge Maurice Paul agreed with defendants in the case that the original complaint was too ambiguous and required that Grapski file an amendment.

The City of Alachua was not the only defendant in the case.  Also sued as part of Grapski’s complaint were former Alachua city manager Clovis Watson, Jr., former Alachua police chief Robert Jernigan, former Alachua mayor Jean Calderwood, current mayor Gib Coerper and Alachua police officer Patrick Barcia, Jr.

The lawsuit alleged a host of federal violations including several constitutional abridgments.  Grapski claimed that his rights to freedom of speech, equal protection and against illegal searches and seizures were violated when he was removed from at least one Alachua City Commission Meeting in 2006 and handcuffed on two occasions.

Grapski criminal case

Hearings have been scheduled for Jan. 5 and 6 for a criminal case in which Grapski has been charged with contempt of court.  The case is still working through the legal system.

The charge is the result of Grapski’s alleged actions and statements made in Judge James Nilon’s courtroom on June 21 during a violation of probation hearing.

In a petition alleging Grapski’s contemptuous behavior it is stated that he approached the podium and told Assistant State Attorney Shawn Thompson to “get a real job.”

At a later hearing on the same day, Grapski allegedly approached Thompson’s table in an “aggressive manner,” pointed his finger at Thompson and stated to him, “you are a f---ing liar” not less than two times, the order alleges.

Grapski has demanded a jury trial on the contempt charge according to a notice filed by his attorney, Eric Atria.

Case against sheriff now in federal court

Grapski appears to be taking matters to federal court for a lawsuit first filed in state court against Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell and two of her employees.  That case, first filed in the Alachua County Circuit Court in August, now appears on the federal court’s docket system.

In a civil cover sheet, Grapski notes that the federal court’s basis of jurisdiction is a “Federal Question.”  On the standardized cover sheet form, he also checked a box indicating that the nature of the suit is “Other Civil Rights,” and that the case had been removed from state court.

Similarly to his original lawsuit, Grapski alleges “excessive use of force” and “inadequate medical care.”

The original lawsuit filed in August stemmed from Grapski’s incarceration at the jail after being arrested for battery on Alachua Police Department officers more than four years ago.  He claims in the six-page complaint that he was improperly strip searched by two corrections officers, Brenda Spencer and Lee Jackson.

According to the complaint, at least one of those officers was female, making it unlawful for her to conduct a strip search on a male inmate.

Moreover, he claims the correctional officers failed to obtain written authorization from a supervising officer on duty.

“Spencer, Jackson and others violently forced Grapski onto the concrete floor in the strip search room,” the political activist wrote in the lawsuit.  “The violence Spencer, Jackson and others expressed against Grapski caused him to be bruised and contused, to suffer chemical burns and pain in his eyes, to suffer difficulty breathing and to become extremely ill from the chemicals in the mace.”

Although Grapski did not mention it in his lawsuit, charges were filed against him for allegedly knocking one of the corrections officers to the ground and causing her injuries.

Following the incident in the strip search room, Grapski was reportedly taken to a solitary cell where he says medical treatment was not provided.  He reports later passing out and hitting his head on a metal bench and the concrete floor.

Grapski alleges that he was strapped to a chair for several hours, and being denied medical treatment in spite of his requests.  This caused him to become sicker, and eventually admitted to the Alachua County Detention Center (ACDC) medical unit, he wrote.

“As a result of Sheriff’s practices and custom of providing inadequate medical care, training and supervision in ACDC Grapski suffered severe illness including kidney failure,” he wrote.

He asserted, “After being ill and throwing up, Grapski lost consciousness and fell unconscious in the ACDC medical unit.”

Described as a “coma” by Grapski, he blames his condition on the ACDC, although he had admitted publicly to engaging in a hunger strike.

The suit charges that Spencer and Jackson intentionally battered Grapski in “wanton disregard of his human rights and safety and causing him to suffer physical injuries and pain and suffering.”

The Sheriff had “negligently and inadequately” supervised, trained and instructed staff that caused physical injuries and pain to Grapski, the suit also charges.

In another charge, Grapski wrote that he was denied adequate medical care.  He also points to the United States Constitution in stating that he was denied rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, presumably his right to due process.

The Alachua County Circuit Court docket system still shows the civil case as active.

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Year_1Editor’s note: This comprises Part I of our traditional year in review, as reported on the pages of the Alachua County Today newspaper from January through April.  Topping headlines in 2011 were the usual election battles and a host of financial issues facing local cities as well as triumphs and tragedies and ongoing battles waged in the heartland communities.

The closing of Turkey Creek golf course, a visit by Florida Commissioner Of Agriculture Adam Putnam, renovations for an Alachua Chamber welcome center and local politics all made the headlines from January through April 2011.

January

The Alachua Chamber of Commerce started the year off with a little spring cleaning.  In a Main Street building that most recently served as the Alachua Police Department and was originally built as a United States Post Office, the Chamber hopes to house its offices in the coming months.  Chamber officials and a local organization teamed up to clean out the remnants of furniture and equipment left by the police department.  The Chamber plans for the building to not only serve as its offices, but a welcome center and historical museum as well.

By a narrow margin, commissioners in Hawthorne agreed to pay out $26,370 to Ed Smyth, the city manager they fired just weeks earlier.  The agreement to pay the severance called for in Smyth’s employment contract didn’t come without anxiety from some who questioned if the city had enough funds to make the payment.

Beef O’ Brady’s on Alachua’s Main Street shut its doors amid financial difficulties.  The closing came just months after Ristorante Deneno, another Main Street restaurant, did the same thing.  Owner of the local Beef O’ Brady’s, Dan McCann, said although the restaurant had many regular customers, the net gain simply did not add up enough to keep the Alachua location open.  “We had some good moments when we were packed, but those moments weren’t enough to sustain us throughout the rest of the weeks and months,” he said.

Alachua commissioners unanimously approved an extension to Alachua City Manager Traci Cain’s employment contract during a January meeting.  Cain’s previous contract began March 1, 2010 and was set to expire on Feb. 28, 2011.  The new contract extended Cain’s employment to Sept. 30, 2014.  The new timetable coincides with the city’s budget cycle and falls just after a performance evaluation of the city manager.  In addition to the extension, other changes, mostly minor, were made to the terms of Cain’s employment.  Her current salary of $111,500 annually did not increase as a result of the extension.

Commissioners in High Springs were hit with the news that due to declining city revenues over the preceding three years, the city’s water utility fund had been shrinking.  The realization was based on an audit that revealed that if action wasn’t soon taken to correct the deficit, High Springs will be obligated to declare a state of financial emergency to the state auditor.  The deficit was reportedly created when the city began seeing losses in water utility revenue as homes were foreclosed and its customer base shrank. With fewer households and businesses using city water, the fund failed to replenish itself. Simultaneously to those declines, the city had been making routine transfers from the water account for other budgetary needs, as had been done when the water fund was showing a profit. Because these transfers continued even when revenues dropped, the city is now facing a negative balance. The issue was first raised in 2010 as the city prepared to approve the budget for the current fiscal year, and the base rate for water was increased by about $3.  The news that the fund was still shrinking meant that city officials were considering a base rate hike from $6 for the first 3,000 gallons used to $14.

The Hawthorne City Commission appointed Ellen Vause as the new interim city manager of Hawthorne in a meeting on Monday, Jan. 24.  Vause was one of five candidates who were considered for the position. The remaining applicants were Cheryl Elmore, James Drumm, Linda Chapman and Lillian Hutchinson.  Vause served on the mayor advisory panel from 2007 to 2008 and was also chair of the planning and zoning board for the City of Hawthorne.  With an unbalanced budget, Hawthorne put a lot on Vause’s plate.  Her salary was initially set at $800 per week with no benefits.  Aside from her city involvement, Vause was previously the president of Florida Septic Inc., a local company in which Hawthorne Commissioner Surrency is also an employee. The company is now run by other members of the Vause family.

February

An advanced screening of the film “Sanctum” honored the late Wes Skiles – recognized as one of the world's foremost underwater explorers as well as a renowned photographer, diver and environmentalist from High Springs, Fla.  The film was co-produced by Academy Award- winning executive producer James Cameron and was shown at Regal Royal Park Stadium 16 in Gainesville to a limited 238 ticket holders.  The film brings back to life the true story of a 1988 incident in which 22 explorers were trapped underwater in Pannikin Plains, a dangerous cave system in the remote Nullarbor plain in south-central Australia.  An unexpected rainstorm caused parts of the cave system they were diving in to collapse.  Skiles was among those trapped.  He and others survived that expedition, and Skiles went on to continue exploring and documenting dive sites around the world, until his untimely death last year.

A proposed plan to include a referendum on the 2012 ballot that would create a one-cent sales surtax for the purpose of roadway improvements garnered harsh criticism.  During a two-hour-long county commission meeting held Feb. 1, few residents offered support for the referendum dubbed “Penny for Pavement.” The plan called for fund that would be dedicated to fixing and resurfacing roads.  The planned referendum has slowly moved forward and as of December, county officials had already pitched the proposed surtax to several municipalities, seeking their support.

The Alachua City Commission enacted a 5-month moratorium that suspended all development applications concerning properties within 2,000 feet of the intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and Interstate 75.  Exempted from the moratorium was the site of a proposed Walmart supercenter which fell largely within the 2,000-foot zone.  City officials said the purpose of the moratorium was to allow the commission to create a Gateway Activity Center near the area. Alachua's Comprehensive Plan mandates that the city establish such a center in order to “welcome existing and future residents and visitors to the City of Alachua, and to promote Alachua as an attractive, vibrant, and economically prosperous community.”  In August 2010, Alachua commissioners voted to move ahead with establishing and implementing the Gateway Activity Center when it approved an Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR), a state mandated planning document.

As the City of Alachua passed a 5-month moratorium on development near the Interstate 75, it came to light that a company running a chain of adult novelty stores had applied for permits to open in a retail location within the area.  Lions Den Adult Superstores, a sexually oriented business, first submitted paperwork on Oct. 20, 2010 to open in the former Scultura building near Waffle House.  The same building had been home to The Western Teepee, a western clothing store, for many years before it closed in 2005.  According to City Manager Traci Cain, the application by Lions Den did not meet the regulation requirements to change the location from retail to a sex shop.

More than four months after a budget riddled with errors was passed by Hawthorne commissioners, the City was still without a balanced budget.  State law mandates that all municipalities shall have approved a balanced budget before the start of the fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.  Shortly after approving the 2010/11 budget, a Hawthorne resident and Alachua County Today reporters uncovered errors in it, which revealed that not only was the budget out of balance but that it would operate at a nearly $400,000 budget deficit if it weren’t corrected.  Just weeks after signing on as the interim city manager, Ellen Vause promised to have a balanced budget ready for approval by the middle of March.  By the end of March, no such budget had been approved.

On Feb. 10, High Springs finalized the requirements and procedures for granting ad-valorem tax exemptions to new and expanding businesses.  The exemptions were the result of a referendum in which High Springs residents approved of offering industry incentives to locate in their city.  For a business to be considered for an exemption, it must submit an application to the city, including a $500 fee to be paid only upon approval. Factors that determine whether the business will be granted an exemption, and for how much, include business type, how many local jobs it will offer initially and over time, as well as the pay rates for those positions.

Charles “Charlie” Morris, the man that helped lead the City of Alachua into some of its most prosperous years died Feb 18.  He was 77 years old.  Morris was first hired by the city in 1989 and was selected as City Manager in October 1992.  He retired from the city in September 2000.  It was during Morris’ later years as city manager that economic development in Alachua began to skyrocket, most notably with the building of a massive Dollar General distribution center. The more than one-million square-foot warehouse and distribution facility would become Morris’ and other city leaders’ legacy.  It also paved the way for other similar projects in the city, which in total brought over 1,000 new jobs to Alachua. After retiring from the city manager position, Morris stayed close to home, becoming an Alachua area realtor.  Morris was active in the Alachua Lion’s Club where he served as President for a term.  Morris’ wife, Jane is a longtime teacher at Alachua Elementary.

During a week-long qualifying period, no one filed to run against Alachua Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr. who previously ran for a vacated seat on the commission.  Boukari was first elected to the commission in April 2010 after defeating challenger Michael Canney.  Despite the win, there was only one remaining year in that vacated seat, meaning if Boukari wished to retain the seat in 2011, he would have to seek re-election.  Without a challenger in 2011Boukari ran unopposed and, in May 2011, he was sworn in to a three-year term.

March

Turkey Creek Golf & Country Club sent waves of shock, sadness and uncertainty throughout Turkey Creek community and the city of Alachua on March 4 when management announced that the course would close at the end of the month.  According to the announcement, economic factors forced the club, which opened in 1978, to close down.  “It has been a struggle the past couple of years,” officials with the country club wrote in the announcement, which was e-mailed to members.  The club attempted to increase membership in January 2010 by offering a “now or never” deal to residents of the roughly 1,200 homes surrounding the golf course. The total value of the property is currently estimated at just over $1.6 million by the Alachua County Property Appraiser.  In 2006 and 2007, golf course owners sought and received approvals from the City of Alachua to rezone about 10 acres of land.  The rezoning was intended to shore up the financial viability of the golf course, but much of that land has remained undeveloped. The driving ranges, pool, pro shop and tennis courts were also shut down March 31. The club also included a sports bar, Mulligan’s, and a catering service, Chef's Brothers. Chef's Brothers continues to lease kitchen space and the clubhouse, but Mulligan’s was shut down.

After months of contemplating a utility rate hike to cover declining revenues, the High Springs commission finally approved a measure.  On March 10, commissioners voted 4-1 to raise the base water rate by $2 to $8.08 and increase the sewer base rate by 1.8 percent, taking it from $33.80 to $34.40 for residential users.  Commissioner Dean Davis cast the dissenting vote.

In the works for the better part of the last five years, Walmart finally submitted site plans to the City of Alachua for consideration of its proposed supercenter store in the city.  But, as it later turned out, those plans did not meet the city’s expectations and have since undergone more revisions.  The site of the store falls along Interstate 75 just south of McDonald’s.  The proposed store would be about 155,000 square feet and would include a drive-through pharmacy and garden center. The site plan, which uses about 37 acres, also includes a 34-space park and ride facility. The parking lot would include more than 600 parking spaces and will wrap around the sides of the building. The store will also have tenant space available for other retailers, but the tenants have yet to be determined.  Several weeks after receiving the site plans, city officials sent them back to Walmart for additional changes. The final plans have not been submitted.  After city staff and Walmart agree that the review is complete, it will be considered by the city’s Planning and Zoning board.

At its 72nd Annual Cattlemen’s Banquet, the Alachua Lions Club hosted recently-elected Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Adam Putnam.  Serving as keynote speaker, Putnam also endured his fair share of roasting from longtime Lions Club member Ralph Cellon.  Held at the Alachua Woman’s Club, the banquet brought together more than 300 people who were in a chorus of roaring laughter after listening to Cellon’s classic deadpan comedic style as he made jokes about dozens of friends and attendees.  The 2011 banquet honored Polly Golden, who was presented with the distinguished Cattleman of the Year award for her 30 years of service to Florida’s cattle industry.

A bike rider participating in the Bike Florida 2011 and Share the Road campaign ride through North Central Florida died after being hit by a car in Newberry on March 30.  Robert King, 65-year-old from Prescott, Az., was riding from Trenton to Newberry on State Road 26 a half-mile east of NW 298th Street when a 1999 Ford F-250 pickup truck driven by a 23-year-old Newberry resident.  Leigh Matusick, president of Bike Florida, said it was the first fatality and first car-bicyclist accident in the event’s 18 years.

April

After a long six weeks of campaigning, the City of Newberry election ended on April 12 with a new mayor and two new commissioners elected to office.  Bill Conrad, a former Commissioner of Group 4, won the mayoral seat with a total of 503 votes, to Harry Nichols’s 316 and Debbie Campbell’s 41.  Winning Conrad’s former Group 4 seat was Robert Fillyaw with 644 votes, and Jordan Marlowe, who won the Group 5 seat with 526 votes.

Alachua officials deemed its popular Alan Hitchcock Theater Park on Main Street was a safety hazard.  Three weeks after scaffolding blocking entrance to the park was installed, city commissioners voted to make structural modifications to the brick entryway.  The proposal to make the repair was initially expected to cost about $32,000, but that was later revised upward to $40,000 as more structural faults were found.  The modifications called for removing the top portion of the walls to reduce the wind load on the structure as a whole. The removal included the top 12 feet from the front wall and as much as six feet from the side walls.  The repairs were funded by the city’s Downtown Redevelopment Trust Board's tax increment funds.

Residents living in three unincorporated areas surrounding Newberry overwhelmingly defeated a measure that would annex their properties into the City of Newberry. The referendum election that concluded on April 26 followed what was a nearly two-year process according to Newberry Planning Director Lowell Garrett.  Of the 110 votes cast across the three referendums, 100 were against the annexations.  In Annexation area 1, located along the Gilchrist County line, voters stood up 49 to 3 against the measure.  Located in the northwestern most portion of Newberry, Annexation area 2 also failed with every one of the 21 votes cast, nixing the annexation.  Annexation area 3, which runs across the north and south sides of State Road 26, east of Hitchcock’s Market was also defeated with 30 votes against and only seven in favor of the annexation.

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HS_Holiday_Cheer_2011The High Springs Police Department made about a dozen house calls last Tuesday morning, delivering gaily decorated bags of Christmas gifts to area families.

HIGH SPRINGS – Christmas will be a little brighter this year for a number of families in the High Springs area.  Thanks to the generosity of the community and efforts of the High Springs Police Department (HSPD), not only did Santa receive a helping hand with his seasonal gift giving, area children benefitted from the gifts.

The HSPD has been hosting Operation Holiday Cheer for the past few years. Through the department’s toy drive, officers collect donations to bring holiday joy to High Springs families in need. HSPD Chief William Benck said it's a project the community really gets behind.

The department accepted donations through last Friday, and with the assistance of several elves, delivered the giftwrapped presents Tuesday morning to about a dozen families.

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