The High Springs community was stunned by the news of a double homicide on Sept. 11. A family dispute over a pickup truck left a woman and her son dead. The alleged shooter, Russell Dewayne Hogg, 58, was arrested a short time later. He was charged in the shooting death of his wife, Trenda Hogg, 48, and their 22-year-old son, Anthony Wayne Hogg. According to arrest reports, just before 1 p.m. on Sept. 11, Russell Hogg pulled into the driveway of the family home at 240 Poe Springs Road in High Springs. He allegedly exited his vehicle, engaged in a dispute with his son, Anthony, before firing multiple rounds from an AK-47 rifle, shooting the 22-year-old. Hogg reportedly then shot and killed his wife who was running to the aid of their son. Hogg is facing multiple premeditated murder charges for the shootings.
A federal lawsuit was filed against the City of Alachua in early September. The complaint was lodged by a company that runs a chain of adult novelty stores. The suit seeks to challenge the City's Ordinance 11-06, which was passed by the commission earlier in 2011 and prevents the store from opening in a building that had been home to The Western Teepee several years ago. The ordinance restricts the types of businesses allowed to operate within an area labeled the "Gateway Activity Center," a 2,000-foot zone surrounding the intersection of Interstate 75 and U.S. Highway 441. Alachua Retail 51, L.L.C., operating under the name of The Lions Den Adult Boutique was seeking immediate injunctive relief from Ordinance 11-06 citing claims that not allowing the adult novelty to open would result in "irreparable injury." The case remains in the courts and no immediate injunctive relief has been granted.
Former High Springs mayor and multi-term commissioner Georgian Roberts died of acute leukemia on Sept. 18. Roberts, 71, had also been an Alachua County schoolteacher and Newberry Elementary School principal. Billye Dowdy, her close friend, said, "Number one in her heart, besides her family, was her Sunday School class, The Encouragers." Serving as mayor from 1990 to 1991 and again from 2000 to 2001, Roberts was always accessible to the people. She was in service to her community, coming down hard on private interests, Dowdy said. Roberts is survived by her husband, two daughters and three grandchildren.
One-time State House and City of Alachua Commission Candidate Charles Grapski has filed a lawsuit against Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell. In the complaint, he alleged wrongdoing on the part of jail officials when he was held there in 2007. The suit filed in September stems 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. 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.
The High Springs commission voted on Sept. 22 to continue the search for a new city manager. The commission had interviewed Judith Jankosky on Sept. 15, the last candidate for the position. The search, which started out with 47 candidates, was narrowed to a list of six hopefuls. Out of that six, four dropped out due to the salary offered. The commission decided at the Aug. 25 meeting to publically interview the last two candidates, Jankosky and Terry Leary, after they both had individual meetings with each commissioner. However, Leary took a job at another city. The commission opted to restart the city manager search process. The position was advertised again, seeking another round of new candidates. The new advertisement included the salary for the position, set at $50,000 to $72,000. City Clerk Jenny Parham stayed on as interim city manager while the city continues its search to replace former city manager Jim Drumm, who resigned in October 2010.
Despite being in a state of financial emergency according to State accounting rules, Hawthorne city commissioners unanimously approved the city's final budget of $2,425,416 for the 2011/12 fiscal year during a September meeting. The budget represented an overall increase of about 18 percent when compared to the 2010/11budget of $1,987,983. Although the budget was initially believed to be balanced last year, there was a deficit of nearly $400,000 that placed the city in a state of financial emergency. Commissioners also unanimously adopted the final 2011/12 millage rate, or the rate at which property taxes are levied on property, at 5.3194 mills. City Manager Ellen Vause estimated that the adopted millage rate, which is the same as last year, will result in $244,386 in ad valorem tax revenues to the city. To shore up budget gaps, a surcharge was added to the water and sewer bills beginning in May 2011. In a letter to the State of Florida Auditor General that detailed the current economic standings of Hawthorne, the City said 2012 is expected to be the break-even year for the budget.
State Attorney's office filed a notice that it plans to seek the death penalty against 58-year-old Russell Dewayne Hogg, the High Springs man accused of killing his wife and son in a September shooting. The notice of intent to seek the death penalty also invoked another provision in the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, which required Hogg's mental state to be considered. The State Attorney also filed a notice of intent to seek enhanced penalties against Hogg under the "10/20/Life Offender" law. The law mandates a minimum sentence based on the use of a firearm during certain crimes. Hogg was indicted by a grand jury in September on five charges, two of which were murder. The grand jury indicted Hogg on two counts of first degree murder, one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm. Hogg is being held without bail on the murder charges and on $100,000 for each of the other three charges. The Public Defender's office has been assigned to represent Hogg against the charges. Hogg's counsel submitted a plea of not guilty on his behalf on Sept. 22.
Discussion surrounding the City of High Springs noise ordinance became a disturbance at the city commission meeting on Oct. 13. The ordinance, part of the land development code, requires enforcements on noise violations after 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. Receiving a permit from the city allows events to be exempt from the ordinance. Commissioner Eric May said he brought the issue to the commission because he has heard citizens' complaints. Thomas DePeter, city attorney, said the ordinance is typically not enforced unless there's a complaint. May agreed, calling the enforcement "probably close to zero."
The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted in October to fund an expansion to City of Alachua Hal Brady Recreation Complex. The move came despite a vote the week before from the Alachua County Tourist Development Council (TDC) against the measure. The City of Alachua had been eyeing a 105-acre tract of land lying adjacent to its recreation complex along County Road 2054 for more than a year. City officials negotiated a $1.2 million purchase price on the land, which is already zoned for a 215-home development with a taxable value of $1.9 million. Dubbed "Project Legacy," the additional land would more than quintuple the 25-acre recreation complex area the city currently owns. In exchange for the City of Alachua building three multi-purpose arenas with seating and lighting that could be used for lacrosse, a growing sport, among other activities, the BOCC voted to provide the remaining $500,000 needed to close the deal.
The City of Newberry began pursuing the acquisition of Canterbury Equestrian Center in September, but by October, there seemed to be more questions than answers about the property's use and method of funding. Although the use of the facility was uncertain, in October, Newbery commissioners voted 4-1 to continue considering the purchase. Newberry officials had hoped that Alachua County would partner with the city to acquire the property, possibly making it into the County's new fairgrounds.
A High Springs man was arrested early in the morning on Nov. 1 for allegedly threatening his neighbor with a shotgun and then firing a round into his own couch. According to an Alachua County Sheriff's Office (ACSO) report, Ronnie M. Hammond, 59, of High Springs was arrested after repeatedly pumping a shotgun and threatening a neighbor. Deputies say a 24-year-old sleepwalking neighbor walked up to Hammond's home asking for help just after midnight. Another neighbor, who allegedly witnessed the incident, said Hammond walked out of his residence carrying a shotgun. The neighbor claims that Hammond then pumped the shotgun and pointed it at the sleepwalking neighbor and said he was going to kill him. The 58-year-old father of the man who was sleepwalking reportedly approached Hammond stating that his son was sleepwalking and was not trying to do anything except ask for help. According to the report, Hammond then turned the gun on the father and said he was going to kill him as well. After making that statement, Hammond allegedly pumped the shotgun two more times. The father and son both fled, the report states. Hammond was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and taken to the ACSO Department of the Jail. He was released later that morning following a first appearance and posting a $10,000 bond.
Two challengers beat the two incumbents in the High Springs City Commission election Nov. 8. Linda Clark Gestrin and Bob Barnas received the two highest numbers of votes, overtaking Mayor Larry Travis and Vice Mayor Byran Williams. Neither Gestrin nor Barnas had previously held political office. Also on the ballot were six city charter amendments. All passed, leading to some significant changes in city policy. Those changes include requiring in future elections that commission candidates run for specific seats. City ordinances can now be proposed by citizens. An amendment passed giving them the authority to petition before the commission if they receive signatures from 50 voters. The number of ballots tallied was 826, including absentee ballots and provisional votes. The new commissioners were sworn in on Nov. 17.
High Springs learned that it may lose $1.6 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, backing up the city's five-phase sewer project for the foreseeable future. In a letter, USDA informed the city that it plans to de-obligate, or take back, money granted in 2005 for the second and third phases of the High Springs' wastewater system. The project was originally approved in 2001 with an expected cost of $26 million. Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of requesting an appeal with then Commissioner Dean Davis voting against the measure.
Thanks to an ordinance passed by the Waldo City commission in November, residents of Waldo are now able to house two chickens, one goat and one beehive on their land. The ordinance mandates that chicken coops should be placed a minimum of 10 feet from the rear and side property lines and a minimum of 40 feet from any residential home on adjacent properties. Chickens and goats must be kept in fenced areas, and chickens should be kept within the coop from dusk until dawn. Beekeepers must be registered with the State of Florida and adhere to the Best Management Practices set forth by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The City of Alachua Commission passed three ordinances Nov. 14 allowing for the creation of the new zoning designation "Corporate Park" and the rezoning of previously agricultural and industrially zoned property to the newly created Corporate Park zoning. Corporate Park zoning is the designation for a multi-use area, allowing residential and commercial endeavors to coexist with biotechnology firms. The UF Foundation may develop the newly rezoned area, which was created specifically for biotechnology research and development and is intended to be used for a campus-like atmosphere featuring housing and research buildings together.
High Springs Commissioner Dean Davis was selected by the commission to serve as the mayor of the city on Nov. 17. The annual mayoral selection followed the Nov. 8 election when two incumbent commissioners were defeated. Newly-elected commissioner Bob Barnas was selected as the vice mayor. Commissioner Sue Weller nominated former Vice Mayor Eric May for the mayoral position. But Davis was selected as the new mayor after being nominated by Barnas and voted for by Barnas and commission newcomer Linda Gestrin.
With the search for a city manager dragging on longer than some commissioners expected, the new High Springs City Commission appointed local resident Jeri Langman as interim manager in a special meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 29. The move came after a lengthy and contentious debate among residents and commissioners at a special commission meeting, which was originally called to make routine budget amendments and settle a litigation matter. In a 3-2 vote, Mayor Dean Davis and newly elected Commissioner Linda Gestrin sided with new Vice Mayor Bob Barnas' proposal to replace current Interim City Manager Jenny Parham, effective Monday, Dec. 5. Parham would continue performing her duties as the City Clerk. Commissioners Eric May and Sue Weller opposed the move appointing Langman.
Robert Matthew "Matt" Judah, 36, died Nov. 29, more than a month after being allegedly shot by a disgruntled neighbor. The incident happened Oct. 21 while Judah and others were skeet-shooting at Forest Grove Baptist Church. While the group of church members was engaged in the skeet shooting excursion, 71-year-old Patrick A. McCall reportedly walked out of his house, which is located across the street from the church at 9306 NW 226th Street, and randomly fired a handgun in the direction of the church. According to the arrest report, McCall said he was inside his house when he heard gun shots coming from the direction of the church. He retrieved his 9 mm Sig handgun that had a loaded magazine and grabbed another magazine that was loaded. Standing four feet behind his house, he fired quick, successive shots until the magazine was empty. He reloaded and fired again, but could not remember if he emptied the magazine, the report states. Judah had remained hospitalized since being struck by at least one bullet. Injuries resulting from the shooting reportedly required a follow-up surgery, but Judah did not survive that procedure. McCall was arrested and charged with four counts of attempted murder in the first degree and is still being held in the Alachua County jail.
The City of Newberry scrapped plans to lure the Alachua County Fairgrounds to the Canterbury Showplace equestrian center located within the city. The decision to drop the proposal was finalized at a Nov. 28 commission meeting as commissioners voted to approve sending a letter to the county, stating that they will no longer pursue the fairgrounds project. During an Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting held Nov. 22, the board said that the fairgrounds should be the number one priority for the tourist development tax funding in Gainesville. Even if Newberry wanted to acquire Canterbury and the fairgrounds, a number of residents had expressed their disapproval of a carnival-like atmosphere at the equestrian center, dating back to September during a town hall meeting.
Despite criticism from residents and even two of its own commission members, on Dec. 1, the High Springs City Commission approved an employment contract for newly hired interim city manager Jeri Langman. Langman replaced former interim city manager Jenny Parham who returned to her duties as city clerk. The City of High Springs has been undergoing a search process for a permanent manager to replace former city manager Jim Drumm who resigned under pressure on Oct. 21, 2010. Langman's contract passed in a 3-2 vote with Mayor Dean Davis, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas and Commissioner Linda Clark Gestrin in favor of the contract, while commissioners Eric May and Sue Weller opposed. Terms of the contract call for Langman to fill the position of interim city manager as a temporary employee with no insurance benefits. Under Langman's contract she will be expected to work a minimum of 40 hours per week and be paid $4,000 monthly. Meanwhile, the city received 31 applications for the permanent city manager position.
The City of High Springs alcohol ordinance was the source of heated debate at the Dec. 8 commission meeting. At the center of the controversy was a business seeking a permit to open on Main Street in downtown High Springs to sell beer, wine and liquor. The permit request was denied in a quasi-judicial hearing during the meeting. Vice Mayor Bob Barnas said the shop should not be allowed because it is "substantially out of character with the existing neighborhood," one of the reasons listed in the code to refuse a permit. When Commissioner Eric May tried to respond, Mayor Dean Davis instructed him to keep it brief, leading to an argument about legal procedure. Davis banged his gavel, shouting at May that he was out of order. Since the city denied the permit, the building's owners said they planned to appeal the decision. Immediately following the permit denial, the commission decided to reverse the alcohol ordinance to its prior state, disallowing restaurants and bars to serve liquor within 500 feet of a church or 600 feet of a school. Commissioners May and Sue Weller voted against the measure, which is yet to be discussed at length a future workshop.
After a five month investigation, in a statement released Dec. 20, State Attorney Bill Cervone said Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) had not violated Florida's Sunshine Law. The investigation was the result of allegations by Ward Scott, an Alachua resident and former candidate for county commission. Among Scott's allegations were that the BOCC uses informal meetings to discuss matters, reach conclusions and make decisions on which they will later take a formal vote. Cervone, however, says no laws were broken.
By the end of December, Alachua County staffers had pitched the idea of a transportation system surtax to cities throughout the county, attempting to garner support for the initiative. The surtax would be added to the county's sales tax to make road and transportation improvements countywide, generating an estimated $30 million annually, with about half going directly toward the County's projects. The remainder would be split among each municipality. County commissioners would need to pass a final ordinance and ballot language by the end of July for inclusion on the Nov. 6, 2012 general election ballot.
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 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.