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Eric_May HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs Commissioner Eric May resigned from his post on the commission effective Tuesday morning.  In an alarming statement, May wrote in an email, “High Springs’ government is in an emergency situation and I cannot stop it.”

May’s resignation comes amid intense political unrest in High Springs, where just last week, Interim Police Chief William Benck resigned, giving two weeks notice, and was then dismissed immediately by Interim City Manager Jeri Langman.

The night before May resigned, Langman effectively canceled a meeting in which the commission was to consider a partnership with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) to help run the High Springs Police Department.  Langman promoted Officer Steve Holley to a sergeant Friday then to Police Chief on Monday.

In an email, May was specifically critical of Langman’s actions, writing, “Decisions such as our interim manager's electing to terminate a police chief, promote a friend within the department -- unilaterally in the chief's absence --to the rank of sergeant, then going on to name that person to chief of police on the same day the city was to approve a memorandum of understanding with the Sheriff's Office to bring in an outside, interim chief are just scratches on the surface of the problems we have here.”

He also accused Langman of playing favorites with commissioners.  “For me personally, I have fallen victim to the manager neglecting to inform me of meetings and appointments and being left in the dark on information that is being fed to other commissioners,” he wrote.

In his letter to High Springs City Clerk Jenny Parham, May wrote, “…the direction our city has taken in recent months has caused me to reevaluate the impact completing my term would have on my life, including my family and my personal health.”

The former commissioners said in his letter that the city was on an “irreparable course filled with continued cronyism complimented by unethical and illegal behaviors.” The likes of which, May said he, “Simply could not have any personal part of.”

“It breaks my heart to see what is going on in our town but I, as one commissioner, do not have the ability to change the city’s course and cannot stay on board and take on the liability that will be assumed in the coming months.”

May seemed to call on the current commission to take responsibility, writing, “remember, it doesn’t matter who created the problems, it’s just our job as a city to fix them.”

He wrote in an email that he was being denied avenues to obtain pertinent information, “all the while my phone rang off the hook with more bad news on the other end.  Often it was a concerned citizen who witnessed such cronyism as a commissioner's political supporter being preferred for a job or another discouraged from applying.  Other times it was a city employee speaking confidentially of the unethical or questionably-legal behaviors the city manager or her cronies were performing at city hall.”

As for his accomplishments as a commissioner, May said he stood proudly behind them.

“Since joining the commission in November 2009 I have undertaken the mission of cutting wasteful spending and attracting jobs to our community.  I personally championed a commercial tax abatement program that is unmatched in our local area and I’m happy to report our annual budget was reduced over a half a million dollars annually – not an easy feat given a city our size.”

He is also largely responsible for arranging to have audio recordings of the commission meetings placed online and open to the public.

His departure will likely leave Commissioner Sue Weller as a lone wolf on many issues before the commission.  Weller said Tuesday that she would continue to serve.  “The voters of High Springs elected me to serve a three year term, and that’s what I intend to do,” Weller said.

Having been elected in 2009, May said he already made the decision he would not seek re-election when his term was set to expire in November 2012.

He said he was sad to leave office and felt like he was letting the citizens down, but added, “I cannot … have my name and reputation attached to the antics that are absolutely tearing this city apart.

“I am incredibly humbled to have had the opportunity to serve as a city commissioner,” May wrote.

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Construction of the baseball park is 65 percent complete

2012NationsBallParkFebToday the fields of Nations Park lie silent, but in a few short months the cracks of bats connecting with balls will fill the air.

NEWBERRY – For months, Newberry has created local buzz about the construction of Nations Park, a state-of-the-art baseball complex just south of the city’s downtown.

The $7 million project is now 65 percent complete, according to City Manager Keith Ashby. He estimated that construction would be completed in March, which leaves two months for the turf to mature. The completion of the park will bring in not only crowds for summer camps, but also economic development.

The 16-field baseball park will hold tournaments this summer. The first tournament begins June 22, according to Kyle Donnelly, who is in charge of baseball operations at the park.

Donnelly, who goes by Don, said the success of the baseball park is not a hope but a certainty.

There have already been signs of the success of the park. The Red Wok Buffet, a Chinese restaurant located in the Hitchcock Plaza off State Road 26, recently opened, and another restaurant, Firefly, is to open in March, Ashby said.

A new commercial and residential complex to be built south of Oak View Middle School has also been approved. The City is currently pursuing another Community Development Block Grant to bring infrastructure to the complex.

There will be opening ceremonies for the baseball park on the weekend of June 30. The celebration will begin at 10 a.m. with a parade of teams through downtown Newberry, Ashby said. A ribbon-cutting ceremony, complete with fireworks will also take place during that weekend at the park.

Nations Park was built by a company affiliated with Cooperstown Dreams Park, a New York baseball park that draws crowds from around the country. The hope is that Newberry’s park will have similar results.

“There is a lot of development excitement that has been generated by both the Archery Center and the Nations Baseball Complex,” Ashby said.

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ALACHUA – An Alachua woman managed to avoid a carjacking Tuesday morning.  The incident reportedly happened just before 7 a.m. while the woman was waiting at a traffic signal located at 14000 NW U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua, near downtown.

The driver was alone in her car at the signal when an unknown person tried to gain entry to the car through the passenger side rear door.

The would be carjacker was described as a younger black male, skinny build, wearing a dark colored hoodie style sweatshirt and jeans.

When the driver began honking her horn repeatedly, the man fled the area on foot, Alachua Police Department (APD) reports state.

He was unable to get into the car because all of the doors were locked, officers say.

The woman reportedly drove home after the incident to tell her husband what occurred.  The woman’s husband contacted APD.

Police say there were no suspects as of Wednesday.  They ask anyone who may have witnessed the incident or has additional information to call the Alachua Police Department at 386-462-1396.

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NEWBERRY – Tractors will take over Oak View Middle School this Saturday.

The 20th annual Farm Toy Show and Antique Tractor Parade will take place at the school from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event will be hosted by the Newberry Lions Club and the North Florida Antique Tractor Club.

Dealers will display and sell both toys and collector’s items. The annual tractor parade put on by the North Florida Antique Tractor Club will take place in the afternoon.

According Lions Club member Mindie Fortson, there will also be a slow tractor race, a blindfold tractor race, a concession stand and a baked goods table.

Admission to the show is $3 for adults and $1 for students. Children who are pre-school age can get in free.

The proceeds from the event will be used by the Newberry Lions Club to fund their sight conservation projects.

The Newberry Lions Club is one of more than 50,000 Lions Clubs in 205 countries working to eradicate preventable blindness.

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Newberry_solar_ribbon_cutting__MG_8310_copy Newberry City officials cut the ribbon to commission the photovoltaic system on the roof of the Easton-Newberry Sports Complex Monday. Left to Right: Solar Source Vice President Rick Gilbert, City Utility Director Blaine Suggs, City Planner and Grant Writer Wendy V. Kinser, City Manager Keith Ashby and Mayor Bill Conrad.

NEWBERRY – The sweltering Florida sun beat down on the roof of the Easton-Newberry Sports Complex Monday afternoon. Though the bright, hot sunshine might be cause of lament in the middle of January, on this day it was a source of celebration and hope for the City of Newberry.

The city hosted a “Green Celebration” to commission the solar photovoltaic system on the roof of the sports complex. The celebration included two public workshops about solar energy and a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Bill Conrad and City Manager Keith Ashby.

Conrad told attendants at the event that future plans for the complex involve turning it into a hurricane shelter. With more advancements, the solar energy the complex produces could be used in emergencies when power is out.

The mayor also noted that the system would save the city about $16,000 a year.

The solar photovoltaic system converts light energy from the sun to electricity.

According to Blaine Suggs, the city’s utility director, construction for the $51,347 system began in October of last year. It will provide about five percent of the electrical needs of the 19,000-square-foot building.

Wendy V. Kinser, the city’s planner and grant coordinator, said the system should pay for itself in about three and a half years. The 42 solar modules will produce about 15,000 kilowatts of energy a year.

The system was funded by a grant from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, a federal program founded in 2007 to reduce energy use and fossil fuel emissions.

Newberry was one of four cities out of 34 applicants to receive the grant.

“I was just thrilled that the City of Newberry got a grant,” Teresa Vickers, a 31-year-old Newberry resident said.

This excitement about solar energy is exactly what Kinser hopes to encourage in other environmentally friendly projects.

Kinser said she is trying to find ways to spark interest in solar energy with other citizens in Newberry. Part of this outreach program involves teaching local students about the benefits of solar energy.

Residents can also see first-hand what the system is doing on monitors in the lobby of the Easton-Newberry Sports Complex and at the City of Newberry City Hall.

At approximately 12:34 p.m., shortly after the ribbon was cut, the monitor at the complex showed that the system avoided 1,438.86 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

Solar Source, the contractor for the system, also provided two full scholarships to the City of Newberry to train local residents in solar panel installation and maintenance.

The Largo-based contractor has built solar systems as large as soccer fields and is one of the largest solar contractors in the state, according to Solar Source Vice President Rick Gilbert.

The company also facilitated two public workshops during the day to educate attendants about the benefits of solar power.

“There’s a lot of energy out there, we just gotta figure out how to use it,” Solar Source presenter Jeremiah Rohr said.

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HIGH SPRINGS - Commissioner Eric May has submitted his resignation to the High Springs Commssion in a letter slated to be opened by City Clerk Jenny Parham on Tuesday, Jan. 31. 

In an email to the media, May gave additional details about his decision to step down from the commission, writing, "I as a commisioner was being denied the avenues to obtain pertinent information all the while my phone rang off the hook with more bad news on the other end.

"Often it was a concerned citizenw who witnessed such cronyism as a commissioner's political supporter being preferred for a job or another discouraged from applying.  Other times it was a city employee speaking confidentially of the unethical or questionally-legal behaviors the city manager and her cronies were performing at city hall," he wrote in the email.

Read May's entire resignation letter here.
PDF view required to view this document.

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ALACHUA – The City of Alachua Commission has announced its upcoming election to fill commission terms that are expiring this year.

According to the City Charter, the election falls on the second Tuesday in April, which this year will be on April 10. If needed, a runoff election date is scheduled for Tuesday, May 1.

Seats 4 and 5, currently filled by Orien Hills and Gary Hardacre, respectively, are up for election. Both seats are for a three-year term.  After five consecutive terms, Commissioner Hills has said he will retire from his Seat 4 position. Commissioner Hardacre will run for his second term.

The qualifying period opens at noon on Thursday, Feb. 16 and closes at noon on Thursday, Feb. 23. The qualifying fee is set at $25, and the election assessment fee is set by State Statue at $165.

The Hal Brady Recreation Complex, Plantation Oaks at Turkey Creek and the Cleather Hancock, Sr. Community Center will serve as the polling stations for the April 10 election.

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