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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ City of High Springs voters will be choosing between six candidates to fill two open seats on the High Springs City Commission in the upcoming election. On Oct. 20, these voters had an opportunity to hear from each of the candidates running for spots on the commission.

All six candidates gathered at the new Farmers Market Pavilion for a meet and greet event to share their views with residents. The first half hour was spent with the candidates talking individually to the public before taking seats at a long table decorated with patriotic colors.

The event was sponsored by the GFWC High Springs Woman's Club to help inform citizens of candidate options and the difference between them. Once the candidates were seated at the forum, each one was presented with three question supplied by the moderator and each had two minutes to respond to each question.

Questions ranged from the three most pressing issues facing the city to deteriorating buildings to city services and economic development.

Candidates for seat one are Ross Ambrose, Sharon Decker and Janet Evans. Ambrose believes it is important to manage growth while also maintaining the small-town identity and balance the environmental needs of the river system with growth and increased tourism. He also said it is necessary to pay city employees and first responders enough to retain them to keep consistency in government. Sharon Decker echoed those concerns and believes that public safety is an important issue, especially in making sure first responders have the staffing and equipment they need to properly do their job. Janet Evans believes in small government that can focus on the specific issues facing citizens, with priority on managing growth and infrastructure.

Seat two has three candidates as well. Gloria James is presently a commissioner and is running for reelection. She is currently Vice Mayor and believes that her experience as part of city government gives her a better understanding of the issues facing the town and its expanding growth. Zachary Walters is the youngest candidate and believes that bringing more employment and jobs to High Springs is important. While he favors more jobs, especially in higher tech industries, he also wants to make sure growth is well managed to maintain the small-town feel while also offering incentives to keep youth from leaving. Engineer and scientist Kathrine Weitz expressed concern over aging water and wastewater system infrastructure. With the expanding population growth in the area she believes the City needs to address improving a system that is already overburdened and outdated. She also spoke about the cost and getting back to long-term budget planning for future growth.

In a time when political debate is heated, this forum stood out for its civility and mutual respect among the candidates..

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NEWBERRY ‒ The pandemic changed the concept of live music entertainment and put many musicians in dire financial situations. To make any income, performers have come up with other ways to reach their audiences and generate revenue. Unable to perform in bars and concerts due to the pandemic, many musicians went to online performances. But part of the magic of music is the energy and sense of unity between an audience and the performers.

The band Sister Hazel is taking today’s reality of COVID-19 limitations and blending it with the public’s historic love affair with drive-in movie theaters. The band, founded by Ken Block, Drew Copeland and Jett Beres in 1993 is no stranger to the area and Newberry seemed to be an ideal location for a novel idea.

Much of the band's income comes from touring, performing live in front of large crowds, but that came to a screeching halt in April 2020 as the pandemic raged across America. All music concerts were canceled and most bands were forced onto an unexpected hiatus. The world of music was changed in a matter of weeks.

“Touring was a way of life for us,” singer/guitarist Copland said. “Not only did the pandemic affect our income, but we had a crew of about 15 that was suddenly out of work. We tried to continue to pay them, but the loss meant that most of them had to supplement their income with other jobs to provide for their families. This meant they weren't always available to go on the road even if we had gigs,” Copeland said.

“We saw other groups use stream live and online video to try and survive, but it is just not the same energy as playing to a live audience. We wanted to try and find a safe way to get concerts going again, creating a model that could also help other musicians survive monetarily and bring normalcy back to the music world for both performers and audiences” Copeland stated. “Some musicians were doing live outdoor performances but on a much smaller scale, so we decided to try the concept of a drive-in concert. The band felt that safety was the main concern and CDC rules had to be maintained to keep from spreading the virus.”

“We took a big risk setting this model up and did the first show in Tampa. There were a lot of expenses involved that we had to cover up front and hoped the event was successful enough to compensate and provide some income for the band and support staff. We learned a lot of lessons from that show,” Copeland said.

For the second show they had support from the City of Newberry, and the band set up a show at the Post Farm at 28957 W. Newberry Road. The initial date was postponed due to the resurgence of the pandemic in late summer and it was rescheduled for Oct. 23. The venue offered a large field where cars could be parked at a staggered zig zag formation that included a second spot for each car's occupants to tailgate, which allowed for social distancing in the audience.

Tickets were sold per four-person vehicle for $149, but fans could purchase limited VIP for $169 utilizing the first several rows and $25 for any additional people per car with a maximum of six people. Cars were placed by parking attendant staff with cars and trucks placed based on size with lower cars in front, bigger cars in back so everyone could have an unobstructed view of the stage. Masks were required if anyone left their assigned area. Bathrooms were available and food was provided by Woodyard Grill in Newberry. More than a hundred cars packed full of people filled the lot as the band gave a flawless and energetic performance.

“This show showed we can do this safely and get back to some normalcy with live music,” Copeland said. “We are going to do several more shows in Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte to refine the logistics and see about creating concerts with other musicians to help provide a source of income despite the current situation. It felt great to play live again.”

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ALACHUA ‒ The COVID-19 pandemic is having a dramatic effect on the methods Americans are using to vote. Due to concerns about social distancing and the spread of the virus, records numbers are choosing to either vote by mail or early voting to avoid long lines on Nov. 3. The election is expected to produce record turnout in the number of Americans that are participating in the election process and has already set records for both mail-in and early voting with more than 29 million voting early by Monday, Oct. 19, according to the US Election Project. In contrast, only 6 million had voted by this time in 2016.

A number of states, including Florida, are breaking previous records. Texas and Georgia have already set records, and in Ohio, a crucial swing state, more than 2.3 million postal ballots have been requested, double the figure in 2016. Despite claims of voter fraud by mail in-ballots there is little evidence that it exists. According to a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, the rate of voting fraud overall in the U.S. is between 0.00004 percent and 0.0009 percent. Reports indicate that registered Democrats have so far outvoted registered Republicans—casting more than double the number of ballots.

Florida counties have mailed out more than 5.6 million ballots for the Nov. 3 general election and nearly 1.8 million have already been returned, according to the Division of Elections website. That’s more than 12 percent of registered voters in the state. Two factors help explain the massive spike. Several states changed laws from four years ago to either offer or expand early voting, and more people are taking advantage of it, particularly voting by mail, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, Oct. 19, early voting in person opened in Florida with long lines forming at all six polling places in Alachua County. Each voter maintained a 6-foot social distancing in line and most wore masks as an extra precaution to not catch or spread the virus. It is expected that the pace will continue up to Oct. 31 when early voting closes.

Early voting is required in any election that contains a state or federal office race. The early voting period must start at least on the 10th day before the election and end on the 3rd day before the election. In addition, supervisors of elections have the option to offer more early voting on the 15th, 14th, 13th, 12th, 11th, or 2nd day before an election. Early voting hours must be at least eight hours, but no more than 12 hours per day at each site during the applicable period.

There are six locations for early voting in Alachua County. The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office at 515 N. Main St., Suite 100, Gainesville; Tower Road Branch Library at 3020 S.W. 75th St., Gainesville; Millhopper Branch Library at 3145 N.W. 43rd St., Gainesville; Orange Heights Baptist Church at 16700 N.E. SR 26, Hawthorne; J. Wayne Reitz Union on the University of Florida Campus at 655 Reitz Union Drive, and Legacy Park Multipurpose Center at 15400 Peggy Road in the city of Alachua. Early voting sites will be open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

A number of people who planned to vote by mail are delivering their ballots in person at drop boxes to ensure their timely delivery. The drop boxes are located outside the polling sites, so people delivering their filled in mail ballots do not have to stand in line. Polling locations have drop boxes Oct. 19 through Saturday, Oct. 31. However due to concerns about COVID-19, record numbers are still using the mail-in option. For people interested in voting by mail, the deadline to request a ballot is Saturday, Oct. 24.

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ Alachua County Public Schools and the Alachua County Health Department, in cooperation with the Scientific Medical Advisory Council, have issued a statement regarding COVID-19 in local schools.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alachua County Public Schools and the Alachua County Health Department have worked closely to limit the spread of the virus in local public schools. Their efforts include a rigorous testing procedure for students and staff who have symptoms or have had significant contact with a positive COVID-19 case in a school and rapid contact tracing.

To promote their efforts, both the district and the Health Department have collaborated on a daily basis with the Scientific Medical Advisory Committee (SMAC), a team of medical professionals from the University of Florida with expertise in pediatrics, infectious diseases, and environmental and global health.

The protocols the district follows in addressing an active COVID-19 case in a school, including quarantine guidelines, testing timelines, and return to school protocols, were all developed in collaboration with the SMAC and are updated based on SMAC recommendations.

The SMAC also developed the criteria for determining when a classroom/school should be closed due to COVID. SMAC members review all COVID cases in the district on a daily basis and advise the district on steps that need to be taken to limit spread. SMAC also meets weekly to discuss trends in the data and consider adjustments to protocols.

Currently both the SMAC and the Health Department confirm that there are primarily individual cases in elementary and middle schools, with increased numbers in the high schools related to sports teams.

To date, there has been minimal to no in-classroom transmission in the schools. A majority of cases in the district have been traced to team sports and social events outside of school.

In keeping with recommendations from the medical experts, entire sports teams have been quarantined when there is a positive case. Under the protocols, an entire class would be quarantined if there were three or more positive cases within a 14-day period in that class. To date, only one classroom at Gainesville High School has been quarantined based on this metric. That occurred as the result of a positive test result received yesterday (October 28). However, all but five students from that class had already been quarantined due to significant contact with a positive case.

In fact, many positive cases at schools are actually identified during the quarantine period and as a result of contact tracing and testing conducted by the Health Department at local schools. The number of cases at GHS and all other schools in Alachua County Public Schools do not currently meet the SMAC criteria for closing an entire school. Such a step would be taken if 10 percent of all classes in a middle or high school or three or more classes in an elementary school were closed due to quarantines and after consultation with the SMAC.

All protocols can be found on the district’s COVID-19 webpage at https://fl02219191.schoolwires.net/Page/30007

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Ross Ambrose, Sharon Decker and Janet Evans are running for High Springs City Commission Seat #1 on Nov. 3. Statements from each candidate, in their owns words, are presented in alphabetical order to help voters learn more about each contender.

Voters are also invited to attend the 2020 High Springs Candidates’ Forum on Oct. 20. This event is hosted by the GFWC High Springs New Century Woman’s Club and will be held at the High Springs Farmers’ Market Pavilion, located on Railroad Avenue, east of High Springs Main Street.

A Meet-and-Greet will be held from 5:30 – 6 p.m. The Forum will begin at 6 p.m. Face masks are required. Social distancing will be followed. Seating is limited.

Ross Ambrose

I am running for City Commissioner because I understand a great deal about the history we love and the realities of change, growth, and the need to act with a long-term vision. I understand how important the City’s services are to residents as well as the importance of tourism and the need to nurture our small-town feel. High Springs is a unique community that has strong roots. Our community roots can continue to nourish an amazing future. If elected, I am ready to help make choices that protect our identity as a small town while managing growth.

Sharon Decker

I am a problem solver. For the past 20 years I have been invited into towns and organizations to help smooth out the rough edges and restructure organizations to enable them run smoother. I am an experienced grant researcher/ writer. I have worked to successfully increase economic development opportunities and worked with state, federal and local organizations to get things done that many thought couldn’t be done. I have a history of developing water resources, road financing and every type of infrastructure opportunity a town faces. My degree and experience is in business and business development, as well as in short- and long-term planning. My goal, if I become your commissioner, is to help bring jobs and economic opportunities to High Springs.

Janet Evans

I am Janet Evans, running for Seat #1, High Springs City Commission. I would be honored to have your vote on November 3. My pledge, as your elected official is to first hear your concerns and needs, and then act on your behalf. I stand for limited government, fiscally smart leadership, and a free market that encourages job growth.

Three primary focus areas (and others as they arise) will best serve our community: 1) government that represents and responds to all residents; 2) understand and protect our local geology for better aquifer systems, and; 3) assess, maintain, and upgrade infrastructure as needed.

To learn more, and reach out with your questions and comments, please visit my campaign's Facebook page (Search FB: @ElectJanetEvans).

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Alachua ‒ It’s not Mardi Gras season, but visitors to downtown Alachua may think otherwise. For the past 15 years, the Alachua Chamber of Commerce has sponsored Scarecrow Row along Alachua’s Main Street in celebration of Halloween and the fall season. Each year, Scarecrow Row has a theme and scarecrows carry out that theme through use of colorfully decorated costumes, props and whatever the imagination can create. This year, it’s Mardi Gras in October as Scarecrow Row pays tribute to the famous New Orleans celebration.

Each business on Main Street has the opportunity to decorate one of the light pole locations on Main Street with a scarecrow they create. They can also partner with a local corporate business sponsor such as grocery stores, realtors, banks and distribution centers. While not all Main Street businesses have a scarecrow, most decorate their display windows to reflect the season.

Businesses not located on Main Street can either partner with a Main Street business or purchase their own pole, which also includes their business name on the banner at each end of Main Street. The money raised goes toward programs and events hosted by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce to help promote business on Main Street and provide services and facilities to the community, including events like Trick or Treat on Main Street and the Christmas Parade. Funds raised by the Chamber of Commerce have also been used to make improvements at Alachua's Hal Brady Recreation Center as well as other projects.

Scarecrow Row is an on-going event throughout the entire month of October. People can walk the street and see a wide variety of hand created scarecrows decked out in the Mardi Gras theme. Some are funny, some are spooky, some are simple, some are extensive, but all are creative. Each participating business has designed and constructed their own display that is entered into the Scarecrow Row contest that will be judged. Prizes, as well as plaques, will be presented for first, second, and third place winners.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Incumbent Gloria James and opponents Zachary Walters and Katherine Weitz are running for High Springs City Commission Seat #2 on Nov. 3. Statements from each candidate, in their owns words, are presented in alphabetical order to help voters learn more about each contender.

Voters are also invited to attend the 2020 High Springs Candidates’ Forum on Oct. 20. This event is hosted by the GFWC High Springs New Century Woman’s Club and will be held at the High Springs Farmers’ Market Pavilion, located on Railroad Avenue, east of High Springs Main Street.

A Meet-and-Greet will be held from 5:30 – 6 p.m. The Forum will begin at 6 p.m. Face masks are required. Social distancing will be followed. Seating is limited.

Gloria James

Gloria was born in High Springs and moved away to pursue higher education. After retirement, she moved back home to care for her mother and has been an active part of this growing community ever since. She realizes that this city’s quaint atmosphere encourages enduring friendships among its citizens, something she wants to make sure is maintained even through growth. She has been on the city commission and presently serves as vice mayor. Gloria serves on the Chamber of Commerce, the New Century Woman’s Club and AARP. After learning about the challenges facing the city, she ran for a seat on the city commission and won. She continues to work hard to better the city and wants to continue to serve the citizens for another term.

Zachary Walters

I’m running for a seat on the Commission because I love High Springs. I’ve been here since middle school and I love what we have to offer, but I know we can do so much more for our citizens when it comes to jobs, housing, infrastructure, etc. Envision being minutes away from your place of work or business instead of driving to another city, or being able to find quality affordable housing. That is possible with the right leadership. I want us to be prepared for the future and fulfill our untapped potential. I will bring the vision and energy needed to make that happen if I am elected.

Katherine Weitz

As a technically educated person with experience in science and business, I am uniquely qualified to understand the critical issues facing High Springs’ water and wastewater. Hands-on experience in a laboratory coupled with many years working in engineering, makes me the best choice to help lead High Springs to a more solid utility to serve the community. I am committed to resuming long-term budget planning for the city to help better manage the growth of our community. I am connected to High Springs through schools, civic organizations, and faith groups, and am dedicated to improving the city’s operations.

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