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HAWTHORNE – Hawthorne city commissioners may be receiving a salary increase even though Hawthorne is still considered in a state of financial emergency.

During Tuesday’s city commission meeting, members debated if it was the correct economic timing to raise commission members’ salaries back to their original rates.

There was a 10 percent salary reduction for the commissioners last year in an attempt to help mitigate the city’s budget deficit of about $400,000.

Now that the 2011/12 fiscal year’s budget has already been balanced, the commission debated if salaries should be raised back to their original amounts. Mayor Matthew Surrency opposed the increase.

“I had always been a big proponent of taking that 10 percent off anyway ever since I have been in office,” he said.

When it came time for the commission to vote, three of the four members agreed with the raise, while Vice Mayor Tommie Howard voted against the proposition. This was the only item on the agenda that was not passed unanimously.

Any ordinance that raises compensation of an individual or a group must be passed by a super majority, or 80 percent, of the commission. Since Howard voted against it, the proposition failed.

However, all of the commissioners were not present during the meeting to vote with or against the super majority. City Commissioner DeLoris Roberts was absent during the meeting due to illness.

Commissioner William Carlton objected because he said all of the members should be involved in the decision.

The mayor did not vote for the matter, but he made it known that he will voice his position regardless. Carlton disagreed with the mayor’s opinion to keep the salary lower.

“You often do voice your opinion, but it is kind of abnormal for a chair person to take that position,” he said.

The current fiscal year’s budget was passed during the last commission meeting, with the higher commission salaries included.  If the ordinance for the 10 percent raise were to pass, the budget would remain the same.

City Manager Ellen Vause defended the past actions that worked toward a break-even point in the budget.

“We were under a budget crisis, and we had to take any measures to get balanced,” she said. “The commission and city employees did make a sacrifice in order to help the city get out of the severe budget issue we had.”

It was argued that the salary increase is not technically a raise because salaries were expected to be returned to the original rate. Commissioner Eleanor Randall said she believed the ordinance was just reestablishing the actions that were already decided upon in a past meeting.

Even though everyone knew the decrease was to be temporary, city code mandates that it is a raise, City Attorney Audrie Harris said.

“It is difficult because you took the action to reduce your salaries,” Harris said. “I can’t sit here and honestly say that it is not an increase.”

Harris later said it would be more appropriate to bring the matter to a full commission. Members agreed with this, and a final decision will be made during the next meeting on Oct. 18 when Commissioner Roberts is in attendance.

However, Mayor Surrency is unlikely to change his opinion on the subject.

“I couldn’t consciously take that increase when people next door to me are losing their jobs,” he said. “Nobody is getting rich up in here. That’s for sure.”

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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry may be applying for up to $700,000 in economic development funding through the Small Cities Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). 

Florida receives about $30 million annually from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for its CDBG program to be allocated within the state.

At the Sept. 26 commission meeting, Scott Modesitt, project development director for the consulting firm, Summit Professional Services, described the program, explaining the types of businesses that would be considered, the application process and the job creation requirement of 21 jobs.

Newberry would most likely apply for funding under the economic development umbrella, which finances public infrastructure intended to assist businesses and create jobs.

"At least half of those 21 jobs, 51 percent of jobs created, have to go to low-to-moderate income persons," Modesitt said. He added that to be eligible for the funding, the business must not have been able to open without the infrastructure, the job commitment is two years, and the Agency likes to see the jobs created at least a year after the grant closes out.

He also explained that prior to submitting an application to the Sate of Florida, the City of Newberry must hold a second public hearing.

Commissioner Alena Lawson suggested having a workshop before the second hearing so “everyone has an informed decision whether they want to apply for it or not.”

Modesitt added that interested businesses should not be discouraged if they don't know where to start.  Summit Professional Services, a community and economic development consulting firm, prepares, consults and works with applicants. The firm will supply a technical assistance package during the workshop, which will instruct local businesses about what they need to summit

Scoring of the grant applications includes characteristics such as private financing, timing and if one business is more prepared than another. Typically, only one business is awarded the grant, he said. The funding would go to the City of Newberry to manage and use for public infrastructure to support the business.

The City will be scheduling a workshop for local businesses to learn more about the grant and the application process.

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Jenny Franklin and her neighbor, Joan Levins, shell chestnuts, which are currently being harvested at Franklin’s organic orchard on State Road 45 near High Springs.

HIGH SPRINGS – Jenny Franklin picked up a prickled ball in her gloved hand. She shoved a dull oyster knife into the seam, cracking it open. Gently, she peeled back the covering, revealing the dark, meaty chestnuts inside.

When Franklin moved to High Springs with her husband and daughter in 1996, she bought 28 acres of land.

She had never grown a fruit tree before.

Now, plants cover 10 acres of her land with blueberries, persimmons, apples and chestnuts. She and her husband, Chuck Franklin, are the owners of High Springs Orchard and Bakery, 10804 NW State Road 45.

“Ten acres is all I can do between me and him,” she said.

The Franklins run the organic orchard themselves with the help of their dog, Collins, and 11 beehives.

Right now, Jenny Franklin is harvesting chestnuts.

“Everybody thought the chestnut is a winter crop,” she said. “We have them now and people don’t know what to do. How much fun can you have roasting them in the Florida heat?”

She explained that chestnuts offer a great deal of variety. They can be boiled or baked. Chestnuts also offer the next best alternative to gluten for those with allergies, she said.

She generally uses chestnuts in cooking, making casseroles or stuffing.

“I grow what I like to eat,” Franklin said. “Being Oriental, most of my friends know about chestnuts, and like persimmons.”

She and her husband moved to the United States from Singapore. In Singapore, she said, people live on top of one another.

“Having land is very expensive,” she said. “I was lucky. My backyard was about the size of a dining room table.”

When they arrived in Gainesville, she was surprised by all the empty space.

“When I come here, I saw all this land and I thought, what a waste,” she said.

Franklin started bringing plants home without knowing anything about how to grow them in Florida weather. She learned the hard way.

“My neighbor would say to me, ‘Jenny, that’s going to die,’” she said. “‘Why?’ I would ask. So I learned.”

She got books about gardening and went to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services extension office. When looking for a 3- to 5- acre piece of land to grow a few fruit trees, Franklin stumbled upon the land now housing the orchard.

She turned her orchard into a business by offering “U-Pick” fruit during harvesting season. She said the international community created by UF makes up her largest customer base.

“Most of my friends are from customers who became good friends.”

One year ago, a friend suggested opening a bakery at the orchard. He is now the head baker.

The bakery makes pastries for all occasions, offering everything from custom-made wedding cakes to guava empanadas. All orders are placed at least a day in advance, as the bakery does not hold goods every day.

“There are not a lot of people wandering through here,” she said.

She reaches the larger Alachua County community by bringing baked goods and produce to the Gainesville Union Street Farmers Market every Wednesday. She also does tours for local children and UF students, teaching them about organic farming.

All of her produce is organic because she does not want to eat pesticides, she said. She explained that the porous Florida sand holds any pesticides that run off the fruits during rainstorms.

“My purpose in going organic is for myself,” she said “I eat my fruits right off the plant. I drink water straight from my well.”

Starting with this personal mission, Franklin is now trying to break into the bigger produce distribution companies. She and another grower just sold 500 pounds of chestnuts to a wholesale distributor.

“What happens if there is a bumper crop and none of my customers are here? I have to eat them all,” she said.

Next fall, Franklin is planning a chestnut festival to celebrate her most unexpected fall crop.

She attributes her success to the North Central Florida weather and a lot of hard work.

“I like challenges,” she said. “The trees cooperate with me and listen to me.” Add a comment

ALACHUA – A biopharmaceutical company in Alachua has received a government contract for $4.8 million to develop an oral drug treating radiation contamination.

Nanotherapeutics, a graduate of UF’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator in Alachua, will modify the chemical diethylenetriaminepentaacetate (DTPA) to be taken orally.

DTPA is a chelating agent, which works by binding and holding on to radioactive materials or poisons that get into the body.  Once bound to the radioactive material or poison, the DTPA then passes from the body in the urine.

Currently the drug is administered intravenously or by nebulizer, but the government is eager to find a way to administer it orally so they can distribute it to many people, said Patti Breedlove, Associate Director of the UF incubator.

The multi-million dollar contract was awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). The development is to occur over an 18-month period but can be extended for a total of up to five years and up to $31.l million

BARDA is reportedly working in several areas to combat potential bio-terrorism. Large projects funded by BARDA are broken down into phases.  If it is determined that development in the initial phase is satisfactory, the project may be extended with awards for ensuing phases.

Nanotherapeutics started operations at the UF incubator in 2000, and graduated in 2007 and now has its own facility at Progress Corporate Park in Alachua.

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 GAINESVILLE – A grand jury convened on Sept. 16, indicted Russell Dewayne Hogg, of High Springs, on five charges, two of which were murder in connection with the Sept. 11 shooting deaths of his wife and son.

The grand jury indicted Hogg of 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.

Hogg is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on Oct. 6, although the Public Defender’s office wrote in the plea of ‘not guilty’ that Hogg “waives formal arraignment.”

Hogg, 58, has been accused of shooting and killing his wife, Trenda Hogg, 48 and their 22-year-old son, Anthony Wayne Hogg, on Sept. 11, reportedly after a family dispute over a pickup truck.

According to an arrest report, 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, pulling out an AK-47 rifle and pointed it at his son stating, “I told you I was going to kill you,” to which Anthony Hogg replied, “shoot me then.”

Russell Hogg reportedly fired two rounds at his son, striking him in the torso.  The report states, “[Russell Hogg] then walked up to him and shot one round to his face.”

Upon realizing Anthony Hogg had been shot, Trenda Hogg ran outside where “Russell [Hogg] pointed the gun at her and fired several rounds at her,” the arrest record states.

Russell Hogg then threw the gun down and an eyewitness grabbed the gun and threw it under the house to prevent further access to it.  Russell Hogg then got into his car and left, officials report.

Two witnesses told investigators that Hogg stated his intentions to commit the crime beforehand.  “Russell was at their home and made the statement he “was going over to kill them.”  After the shooting, Russell Hogg allegedly returned to the witnesses’ home where he stated, “I told you I was gonna’ kill them,” the report states.

Columbia County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Russell Hogg on U.S. Highway 441 a short time after the shooting.

Hogg made several statements acknowledging that he killed his wife and son, according to Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sandra Myers.

Among his statements to investigators was that, “Tony [Anthony Russell] had gotten too big for his britches,” and that if he could have whipped his son, he would have, “rather than having to kill him.”

Myers wrote, “Russell [Hogg] also stated that it hurt him to see his wife laying there barely breathing because he did not want her to die.”

“I just killed my family and the bread winner of the home,” Russell Hogg allegedly said.

The arraignment is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 6 at 9 a.m.

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See what it’s like not to see

ALACHUA – What are seemingly simple tasks for people with healthy vision are much more complex for the visually impaired.  How do the blind count change, pour a glass of water or cross the street?  The Alachua County Council for the Blind (ACCB) intends to answer those questions and more, as the sighted experience what it’s like to be visually impaired this coming Saturday.

The ACCB will be conducting its 12th Annual White Cane Walk in Alachua on Oct. 8 at 10 a.m., and the public is invited to participate in the exciting and educational event.  The walk is held annually to raise awareness about Florida's White Cane Law.

Participants will begin the walk at the former Alachua City Hall located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and County Road 241/NW140th St and finish about two blocks away at the Alachua Lions.  The walk will last about 20 minutes.  Lunch will be provided for participants who will also have an opportunity to try their hand at routine tasks performed by blind and visually impaired people.

Event organizers say it will conclude by noon.

School service clubs and other civic minded groups are encouraged to participate.  For additional details, contact the ACCB at 352-338-7951.

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ALACHUA – Decisions about who should represent the City of Alachua against four separate lawsuits sparked a contentions discussion Monday evening.

In a special meeting, not open to the public, before the regular city commission meeting Sept. 26, commissioners, legal staff and other city officials strategized about a host of legal issues facing the city.  During the regular public meeting that followed, commissioners took action on four lawsuits in particular, prompting a debate on the part of at least two commissioners who said they were concerned with legal representation on the cases.

City Attorney Marian Rush asked that her firm, Rush and Glassman, be appointed by the commission as co-counsel with attorney David Theriaque in a federal lawsuit.  Brought by The Lions Den, that case challenges the legality of a city ordinance and seeks to overturn it, allowing the company to open an adult novelty store near Interstate 75 and U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua.

Theriaque was responsible for writing the city’s Ordinance 11-06, an ordinance that 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 I-75 and U.S. 441.

The city’s insurance carrier has reportedly agreed to pay $180 of Theriaque’s $200 per hour fee to defend the city.  But Monday, Rush said her firm should be appointed as co-counsel in the case because “this case is going to be inextricably intertwined with the case in 2003,” a similar lawsuit by another adult novelty store.

Vice-Mayor Ben Boukari, Jr. opposed appointing co-counsel and cited concerns of increased legal fees saying, “I don’t know that we need more than one person or a group to litigate for us.”

Rush, whose firm defended the city against the 2003 case brought by Adult World, argued that her knowledge of the prior case would be a benefit.  She also noted that three law firms are representing the Lions Den.  Addressing Boukari’s concerns, Rush said, “It’s actually going to save money.”

Boukari, however, suggested that the $10,000 monthly fee already paid to Rush and Glassman should be sufficient to cover Marian Rush’s involvement.

“Should [Theriaque] need help or information, I would imagine under our current contract with our city attorney, she would provide what needed to be provided,” Boukari said.  “My concerns are financial.  I don’t want to see us push the limits in terms of legal costs.  [Theriaque] can defend that ordinance, I would think, on his own, that’s why he’s being hired.”

City Manager Traci Cain said assistance with The Lions Den lawsuit wouldn’t be covered under the $10,000 monthly fee.  “If [Rush] helps in anyway with this case, it’s not going to come under her retainer,” said Cain.

Responding to Commissioner Gary Hardacre, Cain said “We can always monitor and make sure that Mr. Theriaque’s office is performing more of the duties and that he is doing the leg work since his fees would be paid by insurance, rather than Ms. Rush.”

Apparently referring to earlier statements made by Rush, Cain said, “This is going to be a case that is probably going to be very lengthy.  It’s going to go on for several years probably and be very costly.”

Those costs are what, Boukari said, the City needed to control.   “Costs are going to hit our general fund directly and not just our insurance,” he said.  “This strictly comes down to money.  I’m concerned that should this go on for years, like we’re expecting it to, [Rush is] saying it will save money, I’m not so sure.”

After the heated discussion, commissioners voted 4-1 to appoint David Theriaque as the lead attorney with Rush and Glassman as co-counsel.  Boukari cast the dissenting vote.

In two separate cases against the City brought by the same company, JGC Land Development, LLC, commissioners were asked to give Cain and Rush the authority to negotiate with Theriaque and attorney Skip Kohlmyer to defend against the cases.

The company is seeking injunctive relief to keep the City from spending nearly $1 million set aside for infrastructure in the Heritage Oaks neighborhood near Santa Fe High School. In a separate case, JGC Land Development is seeking $3.2 million plus interest and legal costs because it claims the City “interfered” and “disrupted” its project.

Commissioner Robert Wilford opposed utilizing Theriaque in either of the cases pointing to the City’s case load already being carried by Theriaque.

“I don’t think it should be Mr. Theriaque.  I think it should be Mr. Kohlmyer or someone else because we’ve got a lot of things tied up with Mr. Theriaque.

In a vote of 4-1, commissioners approved the negotiations, with Wilford dissenting.

Commissioners unanimously agreed not to file a counterclaim in lawsuit filed against the City by Jones Edmunds & Associates, Inc., a design and engineering firm working on the city’s wastewater treatment plant expansion.  The company is seeking a half-million dollars in redesign costs it says were necessary because of the City’s failure to provide information from its Land Development Regulations (LDRs).

In its complaint, Jones Edmunds said a city representative approved the necessary changes mid-project, but the city has only paid the fees of $1.25 million outlined in the original agreement rather than the increased fee of $1.8 million.

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