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NEWBERRY – The time has come for residents to let their voices be heard in their city government through the ballot box.

The Newberry general election will be held on Tuesday at the Newberry Fire Station at 310 NW 250th Street. Registered voters can cast their ballot for candidates running for the Newberry City Commission from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

These candidates will answer questions at a forum held tonight at 7 p.m. at Newberry City Hall at 25440 W. Newberry Road.

Three incumbents are up for re-election in this year’s election.

In Group One, incumbent Joe Hoffman will run against Tim Marden and Linda H. Woodcock.

Hoffman is a business owner who has served on the city commission since 2002. Fellow business owner Marden owns Space Walk of Gainesville and has over 20 years of business experience. The third candidate running in Group One, Woodcock, has an extensive background in education and spends her time volunteering and serving on both the Planning and Zoning Board and the Cemetery Committee.

Incumbent Lois Forte will run against Barbara Hendrix in Group Two.

Forte has served on the city commission for about 20 years and has been working for the Newberry Senior Citizen Program since 1997. Her challenger, Hendrix, is the executive director of the Newberry Main Street Program and owns daba designworks in Newberry.

In Group Three, incumbent Alena King Lawson will run against Monty Farnsworth.

Lawson has served on the city commission for about 10 years and is an investigator for the Public Defender’s Office. Farnsworth has experience in the nursing field and has served on the Newberry City Commission previously.

Tonight, the seven candidates will get a chance to answer several questions submitted by the Newberry Chamber of Commerce members. Residents can also submit questions to ask the candidates.

Former State Representative and Newberry Commissioner Debbie Boyd will moderate the forum, which will be televised on channel 97 for Cox Cable subscribers.

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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs voters will select one of two candidates for city commission during a special election Tuesday, April 10.  High Springs residents Ann Carter and Scott Jamison were the only two candidates qualifying for the race to fill a vacant seat on the commission in a town where political tensions have reached a fever pitch.

Whichever candidate receives the most votes will be sworn in to fill the remaining seven months of a three year term vacated on Jan. 31 when Commissioner Eric May unexpectedly resigned from the commission, citing concerns of impropriety by city officials.

Scott Jamison has a bachelor’s degree in public recreation and additional credentials to teach.  He taught at area schools for several years and is now a personnel specialist in the human resources department at the School Board of Alachua County.

Carter is retired but recently started a baking business.  Most of her career was with the federal government, including with the United States Departments of Agriculture, Treasury, Transportation, Defense, Energy, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Air Force among others.

Both candidates have said if elected, they would likely seek re-election in November when the term expires.  Mayor Dean Davis’ seat on the commission will also expire in November.

Approximately 825 voters cast ballots during the November 2011 election in which Bob Barnas and Linda Gestrin defeated incumbent commissioners Larry Travis and Byran Williams.

There are 3,413 registered voters in the City of High Springs according to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections.

High Springs city officials said Wednesday that 19 absentee ballots had been issued and may be returned to City Hall up until the closing of the election on April 10.

Voters may cast ballots between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on April 10 at the High Springs Civic Center, which will serve as the only voting precinct.

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HS_Poe_Springs_3-27-12_DSCF5774_copy

Construction at Poe Springs Park is at a standstill due to permit issues.  The park consists of 202 acres, and is located three miles west of High Springs on County Road 340 along the banks of the Santa Fe River.

HIGH SPRINGS – With an agreement for the City of High Springs to assume management of nearby Poe Springs Park all but signed, construction delays may jeopardize the takeover.

An impending agreement that would transfer management of the park to the city was nearly finalized by the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on March 13 when High Springs Vice Mayor Bob Barnas alerted County Commissioners that his city did not wish to assume management of the park while construction at the springs was incomplete.

High Springs commissioners later agreed during a March 20 meeting that they didn’t want the city to start running the park while construction was ongoing.  The commission directed City Manager Jeri Langman to draft and send a letter to Alachua County informing them that if construction exceeded 30 days, the city might consider backing out of the agreement.

City commissioners were concerned that lingering construction would limit the full use of the park, most notably the spring itself, where a project is underway to rebuild the steps leading into the water.  The spring is currently closed due to the construction, meaning what many people consider to be the park’s hallmark feature is unusable to the public.

Alachua County officials now say the steps restoration project at Poe Springs may not be completed until the beginning of May, or even later due to a permit delay.

Alachua County Parks Superintendent Rob Avery said the contractor performing the reconstruction originally had until the end of April or beginning of May to complete the project.  Excavation of the existing steps was well underway when work was halted until a required permit was obtained.  It has been three weeks since construction was unexpectedly stopped.

Avery said the County has been informed verbally that the permit has been approved, although it was not yet in hand as of March 28.  He remained hopeful that the private contractor conducting the work would be able to complete it, at or near the original deadline.

Even if the reconstruction is completed by May 1, it places it well beyond the 30-day window set by High Springs commissioners, many of whom knew nothing of the construction until a private citizen mentioned it at a March 10 town hall meeting.

High Springs city officials said Wednesday that Barnas had been communicating with Alachua County officials about the delays although no specific information was provided.  Barnas could not be reached for comment.

Terms of the pending agreement, which is currently awaiting a more definitive date on construction completion, include an initial one-year period, which can be renewed.

According to the arrangement, the City of High Springs would take charge of the daily staffing and maintenance of the park while the county would review fees, plans, and events at the park. The county would further take charge of larger upkeep such as mowing and building repairs.

Under the latest draft of the agreement, the park would be open Wednesday through Sunday, with Wednesday and Thursday being free admission days. On weekends, High Springs would charge $5 to $8 per vehicle, and $2 for individuals.  High Springs has proposed to offer annual passes to local families and individuals.

The agreement states that after the city recovers its costs of managing the park through entrance fees, additional revenue will be split between Alachua County and the City of High Springs.

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W_-_HS_Gazebo_3-27-12_copyHIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission will move forward with improvements to the pocket park along Railroad Avenue.  The decision was made at a special Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) meeting on Friday, March 30.

After concerns were raised earlier about safety, the commission discussed the possibility of moving the gazebo from its current location to another within the city. Commissioner Linda Gestrin worried that the current placement of the gazebo so close to the street could potentially cause an accident.

In March, City Manager Jeri Langman halted further progress on the park until city leaders decided how to proceed.

The High Springs Community Development Corporation (CDC) began talks about the project in 2008 and obtained two grants totaling $6,000 to help the city with associated costs. The CRA contributed an additional $3,000 to cover any costs accrued beyond the $6,000. In February 2012, the CDC money was handed over to the City of High Springs for construction on the park.

However, after the City’s recent move to stop progress on the park, the CDC requested that the City return the money.

“As the recipients of the two grants, we have a fiduciary responsibility to the grantors to assure these monies are used for their designated purpose,” stated Dot Harvey, president of the CDC, in a letter to the city manager.

Since the safety concerns were raised, Langman hasworked with the city’s building inspector to determine how the project could safely move forward.  The city has decided to close off the exit to the gazebo that leads into the street and build an alternate exit from the side.  Langman said the High Springs Fire Department has offered its time to move wood from the side of the gazebo to close off the back exit. Several benches, which are being restored by the fire department, will be placed inside the structure for seating.

In addition, landscaping will be added around the rear of the gazebo to create a barrier between the street and the gazebo. To comply with American Disability Association requirements, one of the exits will have a ramp leading from the gazebo to the sidewalk.

Lighting at the pocket park will be provided either by Progress Energy or through solar lighting, depending on which is the most economical, said Vice Mayor Bob Barnas. He said water will also be hooked up to the park for landscape irrigation.

Barnas said if any money is left over from the donated $6,000, it will be returned to the CDC.

“It’s a nice project,” Barnas said.  “It’s in a good location and it will be safe.”

City staff added that the park will provide a space for people to gather during events such as Pioneer Days or simply to eat lunch outside on a beautiful day.

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HS_Candidate_forum_3-27-12_DSCF5800_copyL-R: High Springs commission candidates Scott Jamison and Ann Carter answered questions during  a March 27 forum.

HIGH SPRINGS – Two candidates running for commission in a special High Springs election responded to a series of questions in a March 27 forum hosted by the New Century Woman’s Club.  The question and answer session marked the only public discussion with both candidates, Ann Carter and Scott Jamison, in what has been an abbreviated campaign period.

Moderated by Woman’s Club President Barbara Miller, the forum provided for five preselected questions of the candidates as well as opening and closing statements.  Roughly 40 people attended the forum, which lasted about 45 minutes.

In providing personal background, Carter, retired, said she recently started a baking business.  She is originally from Jacksonville, Fla., but after attending college, Carter said she was employed at numerous places across the country throughout her career.  Most of Carter’s career was with the federal government, including with the United States Departments of Agriculture, Treasury, Transportation, Defense, Energy, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Air Force among others.

Jamison, 55 years old, said he has been married to his wife, Lynn, for 32 years.  He has three children and moved to the area in 2000 and to High Springs in 2005.  Originally from Gulfport, Fla., a small town south of St. Petersburg, Jamison said he has a bachelor’s degree in public recreation and later took additional courses to become a teacher.  He taught at area schools for several years and is now a personnel specialist in the human resources department at the School Board of Alachua County.

Editor’s note: The following is a summary of the questions and answers from the candidates

Q: Are you in favor of maintaining the city manager/commission form of government?

Jamison: I am in favor of the current system because the alternative is a commission that is involved in day-to-day operations of the city and politicizes the process.  It’s important to keep politics separate from administration so employees don’t have five or six bosses and everyone gets a fair shot.

Carter: I prefer a stronger commission where commissioners have more input into how things are run.  When you put all of the power under the city manager, you get someone who builds an empire and you take away the input from all of the voters.  I want the people of this city who vote for me to have a say and that power is through me.

Jamison rebuttal: The commission can solicit information under the current system, but the commission cannot direct an individual employee in their job.  The power is in the commission who ultimately hires and fires the city manager.

Q: How do you feel about media coverage of events occurring within High Springs’ city government and are you concerned with private filming or recording during public meetings?

Carter: It doesn’t bother me, but I don’t know why it would be appropriate, other than by the newspaper, but I see no point in a private citizen recording the meeting.  I strongly object to and am embarrassed by the media coverage, and it’s a disgrace.  I think freedom of speech and debate is good.  The ugliness needs to stop.

Jamison: When people know they’re being watched, they tend to do the right thing.  It should not matter if there is a camera or audio recording.  I don’t see any issue with it because the commission ought to be transparent anyway.  When the commission is casting votes, the people should know what they’re saying.

Carter Rebuttal: I do not have a problem with people speaking their mind at commission meetings.  But I was directing my comments to the ugliness that I have seen at the commission meetings and outside of the commission meetings:

Q: Which issues confronting High Springs today need to be addressed immediately?

Jamison: We are indebted to the sewer system so we need to figure out the most economical way to do it.  We need to increase the tax base.  We need to bring in some sort of industry, which means light manufacturing.

Carter: We need a plan for dealing with our sewer system when there is a storm and our electricity goes out.  I believe the present commission has taken some measures to control spending.  I also want us to get our police dispatch center back.

Q: Should the public be able to speak on published agenda items?

Carter: When it’s appropriate and when time is available, I think it’s healthy for members of the community to be able to speak on all matters.

Jamison: I think having a consistent policy is important so that if residents come to commission meetings, they know they will have the opportunity to express themselves.

Q: If you were elected, you would only serve for about six months; would you run for re-election in November?

Jamison: Yes.  This is where we chose to live.  I’m not going anywhere and barring any unforeseen circumstances, I would run again.

Carter: If it is God’s will, I will run for re-election.

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NEWBERRY – Instead of reading about what candidates think about the latest issues in Newberry, residents will get a chance to hear from the candidates themselves on issues such as economic development.

Candidates running for the Newberry City Commission will answer questions on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Newberry City Hall at 25440 W. Newberry Road.

The seven candidates will get a chance to answer several questions prepared by the Newberry Chamber of Commerce members. At the forum, residents can also submit questions to ask the candidates.

The election will be held on April 10 at the Newberry Fire Station at 310 NW 250th Street. Residents can vote from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Former Newberry City Commissioner and State Representative Debbie Boyd will moderate the forum, which will be televised on channel 97 for Cox Cable users. The Newberry Chamber of Commerce has held the forum for about a decade, according to the Newberry Chamber of Commerce Vice President Joy Glazner.

Three incumbents are up for re-election in this year’s election.

In Group One, incumbent Joe Hoffman will run against Tim Marden and Linda H. Woodcock.

Hoffman is a business owner who has served on the city commission since 2002. Fellow business owner Marden owns Space Walk of Gainesville and has over 20 years of business experience. The final candidate running in Group One, Woodcock, has an extensive background in education and spends her time volunteering and serving on both the Planning and Zoning Board and the Cemetery Committee.

Incumbent Lois Forte will run against Barbara Hendrix in Group Two.

Forte has served on the city commission for about 20 years and has been working for the Newberry Senior Citizen Program since 1997. Her challenger, Hendrix, is the executive director of the Newberry Main Street Program and owns daba designworks in Newberry.

In Group Three, incumbent Alena King Lawson will run against Monty Farnsworth.

Lawson has served on the city commission for about 10 years and is an investigator for the Public Defender’s Office. Farnsworth has experience in the nursing field and has served on the city commission previously.

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ALACHUA – Nearly two years after property owners sought to annex into the City of Alachua the former battery plant on U.S. Highway 441, commissioners gave the nod to four of those parcels on March 26.

Alachua City Commissioners approved the annexation of about 10 acres of land broken up into four tax parcels at the former Gates Energy Products manufacturing site.

The parcels annexed Monday had been withdrawn for consideration more than a year ago by their owners who then rescinded that withdrawal in recent months, and asked that the city move forward with annexation proceedings.

Three other adjacent parcels of land that remained up for annexation have been delayed indefinitely since 2010 when city officials raised concerns over liability on the site due to possible contamination in the past.

Although owners of Phoenix Commercial Park have maintained that there is no existing contamination on their property, city officials have said they want to ensure the city does not incur a legal liability if contamination is later found.

About half of the nearly 150 acres is reported to be contaminated and cleanup efforts there date back to the 1970s and still continue.

The portion of the property now known as Phoenix Commercial Park is said not to be contaminated, but is designated as a “brownfield site” because of the perception of contamination.

Lisa Albertson, one of the representatives for Phoenix Commercial Park, told commissioners in 2010 that her company’s property isn’t contaminated.

“The brownfield designation is on property that is not contaminated.  It has gone through a phase one evaluation and passed with flying colors.

“[Phoenix Commercial Park] is one of those brownfield assigned designations because we are next to a parcel that does have contamination and that’s how we got the brownfield designation; we are not contaminated,” Albertson said during that 2010 meeting.

Lithium Nickel Asset Holding Company, Inc. (LNAH) owned one of the largest parcels in the 150-acre site but requested to withdraw their annexation more than a year ago, city officials said.

A representative from LNAH said in 2010 that cleanup efforts on their site have been underway for years and the contaminating substance is “naturally attenuating,” and expected to be fully remediated within the next seven years.

The nearly 150-acre site along U.S. Highway 441 has historically been operated as a battery manufacturing facility.

The vote on March 26 finalizes the annexation of only about 10 acres of the property.  The Phoenix Commercial Park annexation remains on hold.

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