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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ A local High Springs student was among just a handful of students statewide to be named winners in the state’s 2021 Black History Month Contest. Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis held a student essay and art contest with six winning students receiving a fully paid four-Year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.

“The Governor and I are honored to celebrate this year’s Black History Month student and teacher award winners and their achievements,” DeSantis said in a news release from the Governor’s Office. “It is our hope that today’s award recipients continue to share their gifts and serve as inspirations across our great State of Florida.”

This year’s contest theme was “Community Champions – Celebrating the Contributions of African Americans in Florida’s Communities,” sponsored by the Florida Lottery and other partners. The contest received thousands of student entries across the state. On April 22, 2021 First Lady DeSantis announced the six winners, two of whom are from Alachua County. Brynley Ashraf from the High Springs Community School had the winning essay and Immanuel Howard from W. A. Metcalfe Elementary won the art contest.

Ashraf wrote the top elementary school essay, while Howard was one of just two Florida students to win the art contest.

When Ashraf chose the person she considered a ‘community champion,’ she didn’t have to look further than her own school. Ashraf featured Officer Adam Joy, her school resource officer, who serves their community not only through his profession, but also by giving back through his involvement with numerous organizations and as an Ordained Minister at the Deeper Purpose Community Church.

Ashraf, who is a fourth grader at High Springs Community School, bypassed a list of suggested subjects and instead decided to write about Officer Adam Joy. In her essay, entitled “The ‘Joy’ of Our Community,” she outlined the many ways Officer Joy serves the High Springs community, including organizing programs like Meals on Wheels, No Son Left Behind, back-to-school haircuts, backpacks with school supplies, senior citizen Valentine meals, Easter and Christmas gift giveaways, and even raising money to donate cars to families in need and a variety of giveaways and community events. This past January, Officer Joy rallied the community to gather necessities for a family whose home burned down.

“I believe Officer Joy should be recognized for his amazing work,” wrote Ashraf. “From mentoring kids, supporting families and helping senior citizens, there’s no limit to his kindness. I cannot think of anyone more worthy of recognition. My family has contributed to the toy drive and I gave Officer Joy some stuffed animals, which he keeps in his patrol car to help calm kids that are scared or have been in accidents,” Ashraf said.

Joy grew up in High Springs where he currently serves as a police officer and as of this year he is also assigned as the School resource Officer for the Community School. As a boy he always wanted to be a police officer and make a positive impact on the community. In 2007, Adam graduated from the Police Academy.

Joy is also an Ordained Elder at his church. Over the 14 years, he has sponsored over 300 events and programs that are completely free to the public. Some programs include Meals on Wheels, where he cooks and delivers meals to senior citizens in need. He also runs “No Son Left Behind,” a program for boys K-12th grade. “The purpose is to provide a positive male role model while focusing on mentoring, behavioral updates and goal setting. It's all about the children, they are our future,” Joy said.

He was surprised when Ashraf chose to make him the focus of her essay and asked to interview him. “It was very humbling,” he said. “You just never know who may be watching what you do. I’m really honored. When they announced she had won out of the thousands of entries it reminded me how good this school is to help nurture students like Brynley. She did a great job and put a lot of work into this project,” Joy said.

For Brynley Ashraf it was a story she felt needed telling, never expecting the scholarship. But despite being in fourth grade, she already has plans laid out for that scholarship. “I want to be a sign language interpreter and translator. The University of North Florida has a good program so I am planning to go there,” she said.

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ALACHUA ‒ J ennifer Blalock has defeated Malcolm Dixon in the May 4 runoff election to become the next commissioner on the City of Alachua Commission. Blalock clinched the race for Seat 5 on the commission with 452 votes, or 58 percent, compared to 327 votes, or 42 percent for Dixon.

Blalock faced Dixon and Gary Kocher in a three-way race on April 13, which led to the runoff election as no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote. In that race, Blalock received 389 votes, Dixon received 263 votes and Kocher received 231 votes. Commissioner Gary Hardacre did not seek re-election to Seat 5, leaving the post open to the three candidates.

Alachua Commissioner Shirley Green Brown was re-elected to Seat 4 during the April 13 election, defeating Gregory E. Pelham. Brown claimed victory with 51.4 percent of the vote as compared to Pelham’s 48.6 percent of the votes counted.

Blalock has lived in Alachua for 20 years and is currently the regional manager for O2B Kids, an early childhood learning center. About winning the election Blalock said, “I am extremely honored and humbled by the results of this election. I love this community and I love the people who call the city of Alachua home. I am ready to take on this great responsibility and to work tirelessly for all of my neighbors here in the city of Alachua. I promise to be a diligent leader and a compassionate listener. Thank you for this great opportunity.” Blalock stressed her knowledge of the community in the race. She said she likes the direction of the current commission and is particularly interested in maintaining quality recreation and education, adding jobs and repaving and maintaining roads.

Blalock will be sworn into office during the regular City Commission meeting on May 10, 2021 at 6 p.m.

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ALACHUA – The City of Alachua April 13 municipal election saw incumbent Shirley Green Brown re-elected to seat 4. But none of the three candidates running for seat 5 received 50 percent of the votes resulting in the top two vote getters facing off in a runoff election on May 4.

Jennifer Blalock received 44.1 percent of the vote in the April 13 election. She has lived in Alachua for 20 years and is currently the regional manager for O2B Kids. She opened and ran the Alachua location for 14 years. While Blalock has not been directly involved in politics before, she has been involved in a number of community organizations, especially involving children. She worked with the Boys & Girls Club in Gainesville, worked with United Way and was with the Gainesville Job Corps Center. In addition, she coaches basketball at Santa Fe High School and volunteers with the Hal Brady Recreation Center with children's programs.

Malcom Dixon, the youngest candidate running for Alachua’s City Commission at the age of 23, received 29.8 percent of the vote in the April 13 election. He is a lifelong resident of Alachua, attended Santa Fe High School and participated in the student advisory council. Dixon currently works at the Florida Department of Corrections Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler and he is preparing to open a mortuary business. He also is an NAACP member, an organizer for Faith in Public life, is involved in the county’s Truth and Reconciliation initiative and an elder in the Church of God in Christ.

Both candidates responded to a questionnaire on the issues and changes they want to bring to the Alachua City Commission.

If elected to the Commission, what are your top three priorities?

Malcom Dixon: My top three priorities are to help create environmentally friendly jobs, promote further economic development and lower utility bills

Jennifer Blalock: My top three priorities will be providing opportunity for growth, self-sustainability, and investment in infrastructure and public safety for our children and families. My personal priority will be to continue to listen to the cares and concerns of our residents while establishing myself as a pragmatic, hard-working leader on the City Commission.

Alachua is growing at a reasonably fast pace. Where do you see the city in five years, 10 years? How can the City best prepare for the likely changes?

Malcom Dixon: I want to see the City with more resources for both the young and older generations including expanding cultural activities and recreation for both generations to keep them involved within the community. Implementing programs for low-income families to send their children to after-school and during the summer break is something the City could use in the near future. Expanding and creating more reliable transportation for the elderly to get around is another issue that needs to be addressed. Hiring more police officers will be instrumental with a growing city’s population. Change can be scary and definitely takes time, but as the population of the city continues to grow we must do the same. We must make smart financial decisions to insure our spending won’t affect the cost of living in the long run.

Jennifer Blalock: I see Alachua becoming North Central Florida’s premier hub for new growth and opportunities while remaining true to the values and close-knit community that make this The Good Life Community. The B.E.S.T. Business Climate plan that the Commission approved earlier this month provides a vision of economic development, greater quality of life, and community enhancement that I fully support. The City of Alachua can best prepare for likely changes by remaining open to the cares and concerns of our residents and by keeping our community values at the core of our growth and development.

Would you encourage or discourage the City to apply for grants and why?

Malcom Dixon: I would encourage the City to apply for grants on behalf of the citizens and the betterment of the community. If applying for grants will improve the community as whole and help to build it up, I’m all for it. At the end of the day, the citizens of Alachua are my main concern and I want to do what is best for them as well as the city. I see no harm in applying for what is essentially “free money” for great causes that will benefit the City and its citizens as a whole.

Jennifer Blalock: I fully encourage the City to apply for grants in areas that are beneficial to our community and the quality of life of our residents. Billions of dollars in federal grant money is available for local governments like ours to provide the economic resources necessary to accomplish our goals and to improve the lives of our residents.

List your experiences that are relevant to the City Commission position and why you want to join the commission.

Malcom Dixon: My experience on the NAACP Membership Committee, member of the National Action Network and as former Chair of Alachua Youth Advisory Council Board give me experience in community relations and leadership that are necessary for the Commission position.

Jennifer Blalock: I have spent the last 18 years as a leader in early childhood education in our community. I’ve been actively involved with our local schools both as a parent and as a leader. From coaching basketball at Santa Fe High School, to volunteering with the Hal Brady Recreation Center, to working with various organizations such as the United Way, I have been devoted to serving my community and giving back to the city of Alachua. I have listened to the concerns of residents and have worked to develop solutions to the issues that matter most to families in our community. I spent over a decade as the Director of O2B Kids here in Alachua and have grown into the Regional Manager position here in Alachua County. I will bring all of my leadership experience and work ethic to the City Commission where I will continue to serve the city that I love and the place that I call home.

Why should voters elect you over your opponent?

Malcom Dixon: I believe I bring a fresh and different innovative feature to the table that the City needs to progress in the future. To meet the needs of the City and its citizens requires an open mind and willingness to compromise when necessary. Creating a promising future because the citizens depend on us, as representatives, to keep things growing and flourishing for the greater good of the community in its entirety. I’m all for making sure that voices are heard and taken into consideration when making decisions. Most importantly, I value integrity above all else and that should never be compromised. Voters can be reassured that I’m here to be the change that not only I want to see but as well as the citizens within the community.

Jennifer Blalock: The City of Alachua needs leaders with proven experience who have shown they have the skills and work-ethic necessary to represent our residents on the City Commission. I have proven that I have the integrity, experience, and skills necessary to work with our current leaders to ensure the high quality of life that our residents and our children deserve. Our current City Commission has done a great job of facilitating growth while preserving the values and way of life that are so important to our community. I will continue this work while bringing new ideas and a new voice to the table. I look forward to being an active listener, a vigorous leader, and an inclusive representative for all residents of the city of Alachua.

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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry has formally certified results of the April 13 municipal election. The Oaths of Office were administered to the elected officials at the 6 p.m. meeting on April 26, 2021.

Seats up for election were for Commissioner Group Four, held by incumbent Tim Marden; Commissioner Group Five, held by Commissioner Paul Norfleet and Mayor, Jordan Marlowe.

Marden was victorious after receiving the majority of the votes for Group Four at 53 percent or 487 votes to his opponent, Joy Glanzer, who garnered 47 percent or 430 votes.

Norfleet did not run for reelection and Tony Mazon ran unopposed for Group Five.

Marlowe also ran unopposed and retains his position as mayor.

Marden, Mazon and Marlowe all received their Oaths of Office administered by City Clerk Judy Rice.

Subsequently, an election was held to elect a Chairperson Pro-Tempore. Marden was nominated and was unanimously elected to that position. In the event that both the mayor and chairperson pro-tempore are both absent, an alternate chairperson pro-tempore must take over the running of the meeting. Commissioners nominated Commissioner Mark Clark to fill that position, and he was unanimously elected as well.

Mayor Marlowe announced that a Canvassing Board meeting would take place Thursday, April 29, 2021, at 4 p.m. to formally validate the votes, which will be the fourth time the election results will be announced. This meeting is open to the public.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission at its April 26 meeting approved a resolution requesting that Alachua County include funding in the Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget for road projects. The City is asking that the County develop an annual rural highway improvement/resurfacing program and to allocate funding for improvements and resurfacing of County Road 337 in southwest Newberry.

City Manager Mike New said that CR 337, which is south of State Road 26 in Newberry and runs to the Levy County line, is in poor condition and is in need of resurfacing. The 8.4-mile-long highway is extremely narrow at 18 feet, which should be 24 feet, and has failing asphalt. In 2011, that highway ranked fifth on the county’s Prioritized Pavement Management List. Aside from routine maintenance, no modifications or improvements have been undertaken on the highway since adoption of the priority list.

New said, “Alachua County reports 48 traffic incidents over the past five years on that road with three involving fatalities.”

In other business, the Commission tentatively approved Ordinance 2021-23 vacating a portion of Southwest Third Avenue from Southwest 252nd Street west to the CSX Railroad right-of-way. A petition was brought by Billy Beltz, agent for 352 Construction, LLC, requesting the transfer. New said the street segment is platted but unimproved and presented a map showing the location, which he described as “difficult to recognize as a road” due to vegetation.

The city evaluated that segment of the street and determined that no utilities are present on it. New said that staff believes the street segment serves no public purpose as a public street or for public utilities, now or in the future.

The petition received unanimous approval. If the ordinance is approved again on second reading the property within the street segment will be divided equally and will be transferred to adjacent property owners, 352 Properties LLC on the north and the Florida Department of Transportation on the south.

The City will be paying off a State Revolving Fund (SFR) loan early and expects to save some $60,000 in interest charges by doing so. The City currently owes $425,501 with 20 more annual payments due. “Given current interest rates and the return on investment of the city’s cash, it would be favorable to pay off this debt,” said Finance Manager Dallas Lee. “Additionally, paying off the debt would increase the city’s debt rating for future debts issued. The City has sufficient cash reserves on hand to make this payment.”

The loan was taken out in 2009 through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s SRF Loan Program for water system improvements and expansion. The loan funded a new public supply well, well pump, disinfection system, auxiliary power systems and associated engineering. The project was completed in 2011, and the City began making its first debt service payments in March 2012.

“Total serviceable debt for Newberry had been about $2.2 million,” said Marden after the meeting. “The move reduces the overall debt nearly 20 percent.”

The City of Newberry has received a 2020 Safety Award from the Florida Municipal Electric Association for a perfect record of no incidences of work-related reportable injuries or illnesses for 2020. “This is the sixth year the city has won this award,” said Director of Utilities and Public Works Jamie Jones.

Upcoming meetings include a tentatively scheduled in person joint meeting with the Newberry City Commissions and the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners on June 28. The meeting will be held at the Easton-Newberry Sports Complex, 24880 N.W. 16th Avenue. A time has not yet been specified.

Two in person public forums have been scheduled, also taking place at Easton-Newberry Sports Complex. The forums are to receive input from the community about what they would like to see in Newberry in the next 10 years. Forums will take place May 8 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. and May 11 from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. The May 8 meeting will be held in person. Attendees must RSVP in advance via the city’s website or Facebook. The May 11 meeting will be presented via Zoom. All citizens of Newberry are invited to participate in these meetings.

Commissioners will hold a workshop May 19 at 7 p.m. to discuss the Community Redevelopment Agency.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs City Commission has approved a transportation, parks and general government impact fee study for High Springs at a cost of $32,250.

Impact fees would be a one-time fee collected on new developments to help pay for the expanded capital facilities that will be required to serve new residents and businesses that will occupy the developments. The transportation aspect of the fee would be determined by the number of trips generated. The parks portion of the fee would be based on residential use. General government impact fees would be assessed for police and fire facilities and public works.

The study is estimated to take six months and the City will hold three public meetings before implementing whatever impact fees the Commission chooses to set.

City Manager Ashley Stathatos said when the City has found a firm to conduct a sewer and water impact fee study, those fees will also be brought to the Commission for approval.

In other business, commissioners heard information about an advanced water metering system project that could help the city accurately account for consumed water and recover water delivery costs. The water metering system is referred to as AMI or Advanced Metering Infrastructure.

AMI is an integrated system of water meters, communication networks and data management systems that enable two-way communication between the property owner and the City. The system doesn’t require meter reading by personnel. Instead, the meter reports water usage directly to the hub, which is the utility billing department.

Benefits of the system include hourly water meter readings, operating cost savings, reduced billing adjustments, water theft protection and better asset management.

Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said that currently the City is experiencing a 34 percent water loss. About 13 percent of that is un-billed, which comes to approximately $177,000 annually. The other 21 percent is from areas where the City has to flush the lines.

The Commission heard Ordinance 2021-02 on first reading and approved the measure relating to the City’s Land Development Code in a roll call vote. The ordinance addresses the procedure for obtaining development permits. The most significant change relates to certain designations which would be changed from a Level One to a Level Three review.

A Level One Review allows for administrative staff approval. Level Two provides that the permit must be reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Board. A Level Three Review requires review by the Planning Board and the City Commission and includes review of improvement plans, improvement agreement, final plat, preliminary plan, construction plans, final plan, and special use/special exception.

Another ordinance that received approval establishes a Communications Service Tax on all communications services within the City. Stathatos said this ordinance does not change the current Communications Service Tax, but brings the City’s ordinance into compliance with the new state statute. She indicated the base is 5.10 percent and the aggregate is 5.22 percent.

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HIGH SPRINGS - After a year on hiatus because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pioneer Days was in full swing April 17 and 18 with locals in full attendance at the annual celebration. The town of High Springs took a trip back in time to the 1880s when the town was known for its rowdy ways. For more than four decades, the High Springs Chamber of Commerce has hosted the Pioneer Days festival to celebrate the town's colorful past.

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