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High Springs needs to change its direction

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Columns2012Guest Column by Gene Levine, High Springs resident

 Did you realize that High Springs is a business? Do you realize that our once vibrant City is on the brink of going out of business? I don’t want that to happen and hopefully you don’t want that either.

Let me summarize. I am fed up with the way three of the five commissioners have put our city in harm’s way. Commissioners Dean Davis, Bob Barnas and Linda Gestrin form a voting majority. Whenever important votes are called, it is always "Three for and two against" giving them the majority, which is their right. But as I hope to point out, there are no right ways to do wrong things.

This trio seems to have one trait in common: they act as all-knowing commissioners. Based on their actions, voting record and their lack of realization as to what they don't know and what they need to know, they have brought our City to its tipping point.

When the three assumed control they charged into office like the raging bull in a china shop that makes no distinction between what is good or bad as it destroys everything in its path. They immediately fired the experienced and capable City Planner, Christian Papoli. They pressured our City Attorney, Tom DePeter, to quit and in violation of our City Charter, and began to make veiled termination threats to City employees who wouldn't agree with the changes the trio directed them to make.

This trio's modus operandi is to also disregard our Charter and constantly reject input from the other two commissioners, Scott Jamison and Sue Weller. When Mayor Davis reluctantly allows well-meaning residents to speak, as they come forward to the podium, he points his gavel at them, and using bullying tones and gestures, threatens them with statements such as, "I caution you not to say anything disparaging or I will gavel you back to your seat or have you removed." In other words, if you decide to address this commission, Davis will deny your freedom of speech guaranteed to you by the 1st Amendment of our Constitution.

Because this trio displays an obvious lack of leadership and factual decision making, they rely on a group of less than capable cronies for advice. Ill-conceived advice apparently directed the trio to again ignore our Charter first by how they hired, and then illegally tried to fire Jeri Langman, their new City Manager. Because the trio got caught, they encouraged still another lawsuit. Langman getting fired happened when the trio learned she was an authentic professional and wanted no part in helping them break the law. She took the trio’s misdeeds to the press and the State and as a result she unfairly lost her job.

For some hard-to-explain reason, this trio also seems to shrug off the inevitable string of lawsuits they alone continue to cause. They have caused so many lawsuits against the City that our annual liability insurance premiums will spiral from; $13,754 in 2011 to the actuaries' projected $237,949 in 2013. And guess who is going to pay these premiums? If you said, "we the citizens," you guessed correctly.

Want more proof of the impending devastation to the City this trio is causing – beyond just spending money we don't have to finance expensive projects we don't need? It is the trio’s roughshod treatment of our remaining, hard-working City employees. Their threats and actions have brought the morale of these employees to so low a point that, based on my considered labor law experience during union organizing campaigns, it wouldn't surprise me if, to ensure their job security, the City employees decided to invite a union in to protect them.

Davis, Barnas and Gestrin defend their imprudent actions as the only way to balance the budget. What good is their balancing of our budget if, in the process, they destroy the future of our City?

The trio continuously denies any and all formal charges brought against them calling them, "lies and conspiracies." They continually blame past City administrations, stupid citizens, the present economy and what they call an, "outdated City Charter" for the mess our City is in.

My case for putting the blame for our City's potential demise where it belongs is solidified by having you look at the thriving City of Newberry just a few miles south of us. Newberry has faced the same economic challenges we have, but acted positively and proactively. Newberry is constantly expanding and adding jobs, while High Springs is steadily declining. Newberry will come to be widely known as the home of its Nations Park sports complex while our boarded up High Springs will fade into oblivion. Why can't we also thrive? It's because those who govern Newberry have better leadership skills, knowledge, attitudes, vision and abilities to successfully run and grow a City.

High Springs cannot survive unless you do something to help reverse our present trio's poor, unprofessional, uninformed, bullying and disastrous track record. If in past elections you voted for Davis, Barnas or Gestrin, you can help get High Springs out of the visible mess this trio has caused by opening your eyes to the truth. In the upcoming election on Nov. 6, 2012, think hard and try not to compound any previous voting error you may have made. On this election day do what is right for the City by voting for a well-seasoned professional past commissioner, Byran Williams who has pledged "to bring economic development and jobs back into the area, as well as work to get the City moving forward again."  Scott Jamison is now unopposed. and fortunately our City will still have his voice on the commission.

Running against Williams is Pat Rush who pledges "To rein in spending, that adding to the City's debt, lack of money and sloppy bookkeeping is inexcusable." My question is; how can the City survive if he makes any more of his pledged budget cuts? Furthermore, Pat Rush's record shows that he once owned Pats' Place Coffee Shop on Main Street. It went out of business. Interesting isn't it that that he couldn't run his own small business successfully – where he had absolute control – yet he wants us to put him in a position to run our City.

We all know Byran Williams. He is a deeply religious man with impeccable and searchable personal credentials. On the other hand, Pat Rush's past and character raises many questions about his background and qualifications. You can therefore do what is best for our City and tip the scale back to the City's favor by voting for the only well informed and highly experienced Commission Candidate, Byran Williams.

Williams and present commissioners Jamison and Weller will focus on providing the many things our City sorely needs including much needed jobs. They have the skills, knowledge, abilities, attitudes and vision to provide much needed guidance and a willingness to better position High Springs to get jobs for its residents so we may thrive once again.