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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ High Springs City Commissioners chose their top candidate for the City Manager’s position following four interviews conducted via Zoom on Oct. 27. Previously, Commissioners narrowed down the roster of 27 candidates to five and scheduled interviews with each to choose the top candidate. However, one candidate withdrew from consideration.

To facilitate faster action on their part, the City held a Special Commission meeting rather than a workshop so Commissioners would be able to vote on their top choice immediately following their interviews.

Although all of the candidates interviewed well and presented outstanding resumes, Ashley Stathatos, who was the last candidate interviewed, impressed them the most.

Comments about her energy and the diversity of work experience she has performed in the past, which fit well with High Springs’ current needs, made her a standout as all of the Commissioners chose her as their top candidate.

“First and foremost, she has been a city manager and has past experience in managing water and sewer projects,” said Commissioner Scott Jamison. “In addition, it was evident that she had researched the city and came prepared to talk on such. Finally,” he said, “I was impressed with her energy and enthusiasm.”

Another asset was Stathatos’ ability to be in High Springs two weeks after being hired. As current City Manager Joel DeCoursey, Jr. is scheduled to leave the position on Nov. 30, it is likely there will be time for overlap, which pleased Commissioners.

Stathatos indicated she has over 20 years of municipal experience including planning, economic development, overseeing capital projects, acted as liaison to the Planning and Zoning Board and Board of Adjustment, worked with the Economic and Community Development Boards and the Parks Advisory Board.

Other Commissioners commented as well as to what made her the overwhelming favorite for the job.

“After the interview process, I had the feeling that Ms. Stathatos had the education and the experience to lead the city effectively,” said Commissioner Nancy Lavin. She also noted that Stathatos had researched the community and had enthusiasm and energy that would be welcome at City Hall.

“She also appears to be someone who gets involved in the community and will be willing to open up further channels of communication for our staff and citizens,” Lavin said. “I am excited about this new leadership choice for our city.”

“Ashley answered questions with examples of the work she has performed in her current and previous positions,” said Commissioner Linda Jones. “She was energetic and positive and she was overwhelmingly the number one choice,” she said. “I’m very excited to get her onboard.”

Stathatos has earned a Masters in Public Administration and her BA in Political Science. In addition, her resume indicates she has continued her education with Texas Certified Public Manager Program Courses at Texas State and training courses with the International Economic Development Council.

The next step in the hiring process is for the city attorney to conduct a background check and begin negotiations on a contract. The published salary for the position is $100,000 annually with additional items that have been provided to previous city managers.

The next City Commission meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 12. It is likely the City will hold a Special Commission meeting on Thursday, Nov. 5, should the city attorney successfully complete the candidate’s background check and contract agreement. Whenever the meeting occurs, Commissioners will consider the negotiated contract with Stathatos, and if approved, formally hire her as the High Springs City Manager.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - Based on the projected path, heavy rains and sustained winds from Hurricane Eta, and in consultation with local emergency management officials, the decision has been made to close Alachua County Public Schools on Thursday, Nov. 12.

Employees should NOT report to work on Thursday.

No decision has yet been made regarding school on Friday, Nov. 13. The district will be closely monitoring the storm and communicating with Emergency Management. ACPS families and staff will be notified when a decision about holding school on Friday is made.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The City of High Springs is poised to formally join the cities of Alachua, Archer and Newberry to approve an ordinance on second and final reading to litigate against one of Alachua County’s proposed Charter Amendments. The amendment titled, “County Charter Amendment Establishing County Growth Management Area,” if approved by the voters on Nov. 3, would limit each municipality’s right to home rule guaranteed to them by the Florida Constitution.

In addition, approval of the ordinance will allow the City of High Springs to use public funds to educate its citizens about the referendum. The City Attorney emphasized that although the City Commission approved Ordinance 2020-12, they are not allowed to use those funds to tell the voters how to vote. What it does allow the City to do is to explain how the amendment would impact their city should it pass.

In response to Alachua County’s proposed amendment, which is listed on the Nov. 3 ballot as, “County Charter Amendment Establishing County Growth Management Area,” the City of Alachua filed suit against the County seeking injunctive relief. The case, referred to as City of Alachua v. Alachua County, Florida, et al., was heard on Oct. 14 by Circuit Court Judge Donna M. Keim.

High Springs City Attorney Scott Walker reported to City Commissioners that the judge determined that the County’s Charter Review Commission should be added to the lawsuit. “Now the City of Alachua has amended their pleading to do that. Alachua County, the Charter Review Board and the City of Alachua have agreed that there would be a very abbreviated process to go to summary judgment hearing on Nov. 24.”

“If voters approve the amendment, the lawsuit will go forward. If the voters don’t approve the amendment, no further action will take place,” said Walker.

He said that voters are confused by the amendment because it doesn’t state how approval will impact Home Rule. In addition, state regulations indicate that amendments can’t be more than 75 words. “In English, it meets the criteria. In Spanish, it is 90 words,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how that issue will be determined.”

On Monday the City Attorney will file lawsuits on behalf of the cities of Archer and Newberry. “Micanopy may be interested, as might the City of Waldo and the Town of LaCrosse,” Walker said.

He asked the City Commissioners to also include in their motion to approve the ordinance their authorization to allow him to file suit on behalf of the City of High Springs.

Mayor Byran Williams had to leave the meeting, but rejoined later. Commissioner Scott Jamison was out of town. Therefore, neither one was present to vote on that issue during the Oct. 22 meeting. The remaining three Commissioners indicated they were not comfortable making that motion without the full Commission present. However, the consensus between them was that the missing commissioners would likely vote to take that action had they been available. The topic will be placed on the next meeting agenda for a future vote.

Commissioner Nancy Lavin moved and Commissioner Linda Jones seconded a motion to approve Ordinance 2020-12 allowing use of public funds to educate the public regarding the amendment. The motion received unanimous approval.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - After leading Alachua County Public Schools since the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, Superintendent Karen Clarke has announced that she plans to step down from her position effective June 30 of 2021. In a letter to the Board members, Clarke expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to serve the district’s students, families and staff, particularly during such challenges as Hurricane Irma and the COVID pandemic. She also highlighted a number of accomplishments during her tenure. Those include: the district raising its state grade to an ‘A’ for the first time in four years; an overall graduation rate increase from 83% to 88% and an increase from 68% to 79.9% for African American students, both of which were all-time highs; passage of the Half Cent for Schools initiative, which is already funding massive facilities improvement projects; the recent renewal by voters of the One Mill, which currently helps pay the salaries of more than 300 local teachers, is the primary source of technology funding and guarantees a nurse in every school; an increase in the district’s average teacher salary from 55th in the state to 21st; new career-tech programs at Eastside High and Hawthorne Middle/High School; a record number of students earning national career certification, and; a number of equity initiatives, including the AVID and AP Capstone programs, universal gifted screening and a magnet lottery. Clarke said the decision to step down was not an easy one, but she believes the new school board, which will be in place on November 17, should have the opportunity to select a new Superintendent. She also wanted to give the School Board time to plan for a Superintendent search. This is especially critical during a time in which the district is addressing major issues such as COVID-19 and rezoning for the new Elementary School I. “I am honored to have spent nearly 29 years as an educator with Alachua County Public Schools and am very proud to have led this wonderful district for the past 3 ½ years,” wrote Clarke in her letter to board members. “I am sure that with the support of the Board, the staff and the entire community, this district will continue to achieve great things.”

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NEWBERRY ‒ Newberry American Legion Auxiliary invited Newberry American Legion to join them in sponsoring a dinner in honor of the memory of Legionnaire Larry Spears who passed away July 2, 2020. Larry was a member of American Legion Post 16. He was diagnosed with melanoma cancer and was in the hospital six days before returning home to his loving family the last two days before he deceased.

Larry was originally from Ohio. He moved to Gainesville the latter part of the 1960s. He retired from the Knights of Columbus where he served as an insurance agent in St. Petersburg and was promoted to General Manager in North Palm Beach. Larry, his wife of 29 years, Betty Lynn Brown-Spears, a native Floridian, and his step-son, Zachary Hunter Brown, moved back to their home in Gainesville when he retired.

Larry’s family says it is an honor and a privilege to be invited by their Auxiliary and Legion to have dinner with the “Angels beneath my wings” and especially in the memory of their husband and father. Betty and Zachary say they are proud to be a member of the American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of the Legion, respectively, in Newberry.

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NEWBERY ‒ Alachua County and UF/IFAS held a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the beginning of the construction for the new county extension office headquarters in Newberry at the former Canterbury Equestrian Showplace site at 23100 Newberry Road.

Construction of the facility and auditorium is scheduled to be finished by November 2021. The auditorium will have seats for 300 to 400 people and a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen for cooking. The kitchen will be available for 4-H and nutrition classes that will be offered to the public.

The current equestrian facilities will be incorporated in the IFAS program. Not only will residents in Alachua County be able to take classes, but they will also have the opportunity to participate in extension programs and 4-H events, as well as Master Gardener and Youth Fair training. The building will also house six extension faculty agents, three county staff, and one 4-H program assistant. The auditorium can be divided into three meeting rooms, allowing for different programs to occur simultaneously. The property will also be used as the new location for Alachua County Fairgrounds and will host the various events that happen there.

The project is a partnership between the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners and the University of Florida IFAS in coordination with the City of Newberry. The creation of this project has taken 40 years according to former Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson. “They kept it together with baling wire, duct tape and chewing gum, but their perseverance was ultimately rewarded, and here we are today” he said at the groundbreaking.

Other speakers at the event included IFAS Vice President Dr. Scott Angle, State Representative Chuck Clemons, Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe, and UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension Director Dr. Cynthia B. Sanders.

Several locations had been discussed over the years for both the IFAS Extension office and a new location for the fairgrounds. Since the early 2000s Alachua County has planned to move the fairgrounds, in part so that its current location by the airport could serve as a business and commercial center that would be the impetus for economic development along the Waldo Road corridor.

In 2018 the Alachua County Commission voted to relocate the county fairgrounds and extension services to Newberry. Another five acres was purchased by the City of Newberry for $1 million, using Wild Spaces and Public Places funds, and will be the site of the new extension office. Wild Spaces and Public Places is a one-half percent sales tax collected between 2017 and 2024 to protect environmentally sensitive lands and to create, improve and maintain parks and recreational facilities.

Funding for this project came from Alachua County, the City of Newberry and a Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services grant. The total cost of the project is $20.5 million, Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman said. The county provided $13 million of its Tourist Development Tax and General Fund dollars for the project, while Newberry provided $1.5 million. The grant from the State of Florida Department of Agriculture provided $400,000.

“IFAS is number two globally for agricultural and natural resources research, so this is a powerhouse of an organization and of a university,” UF/IFAS Vice President Dr. Scott Angle said. “Agriculture is a driving force in Florida’s overall economy, as well as the local economy in Alachua County.”

Alachua County Extension Director Dr. Cynthia B. Sanders said the UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County will provide county residents with new programs and opportunities. “No matter where we are in the county, we are going to serve all citizens,” Sanders said. “We have been on the east side of the county for 40 years, and we served everybody here in Newberry, Alachua, Micanopy, Waldo, LaCrosse, and we will continue to do that at our new location.”

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MICANOPY ‒ The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) was called to the scene of a tractor-trailer crash in the northbound lane of Interstate 75 on Monday, Oct. 26. with a guardrail A traffic alert was sent out at 4:30 p.m. asking drivers to avoid the 377 mile marker area north of Micanopy as Alachua County cleanup and removal of the overturned tractor trailer was in progress.

According to FHP, the tractor-trailer’s right front tire blew out, and in an effort to avoid hitting other vehicles, the driver steered left into the guard rail where the tractor-trailer overturned onto its left side.

The driver, a 63-year-old man from Porterville, California, received only minor scratches in the incident.

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