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HIGH SPRINGS – On Nov. 6, voters will elect a new commissioner to fill the soon-to-be vacated seat of Mayor Dean Davis.  The two candidates running for that seat are Pat Rush and Byran Williams.  Commissioner Scott Jamison’s seat was also up for election, but his opponent, Edward Riess, withdrew from the campaign, leaving Jamison unopposed. Here voters can find the remaining candidates’ responses to a selection of Alachua County Today questions.

Candidate Pat Rush

Age:  55

Family:  Wife Robyn; daughter Caitlyn, 24 years old; daughter Shannon, 14 years old

Education:  Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, University of South Florida

Occupation:  Electrical Engineer for the University of Florida

Time in High Springs:  Eight years

Political experience:   Member plan board City of High Springs; Campaign manager brother, Brian Rush, State House of Representatives, Tampa

Questions

What is the main issue that needs to be addressed in High Springs?

High Springs suffers from financial problems arising most largely from poor decisions and mismanagement. Information presented to the commission and outside agencies such as the USDA for the sewer system included erroneous figures. Our city commission presented to the USDA that the sewer system would be funded in part by impact fees of $3,500 per household, which the commission then voted to suspend. The people of High Springs were told that they would be put on this new sewer system at no cost, and to charge $3,500 to be hooked up would have been met with outrage. With 700+ users on our system at present, and at $3,500 each; this amounts to about a $2.5 million shortfall.

Are there other issues facing the city that also require commission attention?  If so, please identify.

The city has numerous issues which plague its operation: No plan for economic development, poor coordination between our charter officers, etc.

As a commissioner, what would be your short-term and long-term goals?

My short term and long term goals are one and the same. Divide up our tasks and duties according to the charter. Put our city manager, finance director, clerk, and attorney in charge of their tasks, and keep the commission informed as to what each is doing. Then we can get our finances and our plans for the future on track. At present our operations are paralyzed.

The commission is in the process of looking for a new city manager.  What would you be looking for in a candidate for that position?

The city is looking for a manager with experience, and a proven track record. That person must also have a strong financial background.

What should High Springs do to gain strength economically?

High springs has not only failed to promote economic development, but has in fact interfered with it. For years businesses which wanted to locate in High Springs, or expand were met with burdensome requirements from our city planner. It is the duty of the city building official to make such determinations. In fact Florida statute 489 prohibits anyone else from interfering in the building officials duties. As such, we were discouraging good clean businesses with unnecessary costs, not called for by our building department. We have earned our reputation as a “business un-friendly city.”

What budget process would you employ to create a budget for the next fiscal year?

Our budget process was flawed by inaccurate figures which changed at every meeting. The procedure was not at fault. I also propose modifying the budget dynamically through the year. This will be particularly important as our budget has very little room for error this year.

What are your core political principles?

I am a monetarily conservative person. Whenever we spend the taxpayer’s money we have to say “This is their money… Is this the way they would spend it.” I think in so many cases in the past we would have to answer no.

What made you run for city commissioner?

Very simply I love High Springs. It is my home, and I want the best for its citizens and for my family. I hate to say it, but anyone who has attended the commission meetings, served on its boards, or met regularity with its officers as I have, knows that this city is a mess right now. I hope the voters will give me the chance to serve them, and improve the conditions we live under.

What would you bring to the commission that other candidate would not?

I work hard, I educate myself and will show up ready to do business, not just talk about doing business. In past campaigns my opponent has said that we need to educate our city residents. Let me say this: Our residents are more educated than the residents in any other city I’ve been in. I’ve been meeting hundreds of voters at their homes, and they know what’s going on and they don’t like it. Rather than trying to school them. We should listen to what they are asking for.

If you have been on the commission before, what would you do differently this time and why?

I have not served on the commission before.

What is something residents do not know about you?

I would rather get work done than argue about it. There is a surplus of talk which is not followed up by action. I will work with everyone on the commission, and know that we will be judged by the merits of our actions.

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Candidate Byran Williams

Age: 54

Family: Single, father of four, four grandchildren

Education: 2011- Currently enrolled in Emory International Theological Seminary, Atlanta Ga.

Florida League of Cities Institute for Community Housing, 2007

Advanced Institute for Elected Municipal officials, 2006

Institute for Elected Officials, 2004

Santa Fe College, 1983

Graduate of Santa Fe High School, 1976

Occupation: Pastor of Mt Carmel United Methodist Church, High Springs; Owner of Byran’s Car Wash and Wax

Time in High Springs: Lifelong Resident

Political Experience: High Springs City Commissioner (2003-2009); Former Vice Mayor/ Mayor (2005-2006); Former member of the following organizations: Florida League of Cities, North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, Growth Management and Transportation Committee.

What is the main issue that needs to be addressed in High Springs?

High Springs is a weak mayor, city manager style of government by charter. We must go back to funding and selecting a professional proven city manager with the experience to manage daily operations of the city.

Are there other issues facing the city that also require commission attention?

I feel there are four critical issues. 1) Funding local dispatch; 2) Completing the sewer project; 3) Improve city employee morale; 4) Infrastructure review and improvements.

As a commissioner, what would your short and long term goals be?

Short term would be finding a professional city manager, improving employee morale and citizen communication with commission at commission meetings.  Long range would be enhancing economic development opportunities that can provide economic stability to the city by bringing clean industry that provides jobs and a complete review of infrastructure needs.

The commission is in the process of looking for a new city manager. What would you be looking for in a candidate for that position?

I would be looking for a person with proven professional experience in managing the daily operation of a city.

What should High Springs do to gain strength economically?

Improve economic development efforts through eco-tourism, be more business friendly and reestablish full time planning department.

What budget process would you employ to create a budget for the next fiscal year?

I would insist that the city manager, finance director, and department heads create a balanced budget that is within the guidelines set by the commission, as required by charter.

What are your political principles?

I will be open minded and will listen to the concerns and desires of the citizens. My political principles are simple: I believe in fairness, honesty, and open communication with all people. I will listen to and will work hard for the citizens of High Springs.

What made you run for city commissioner?

I am proud to have served as city commissioner and mayor. I am now a candidate for city commissioner because I love this city and I am saddened by the direction that the city has taken under the present leadership.

What would you bring to the commission that the other candidate would not? I would bring seven years of experience and I am a lifelong resident of High Springs. I think I know this city very well.

If you have been on the commission before, what would you do differently this time?

I will be more assertive in expressing my opinions on the issues after consulting with the citizens. At the present time citizens are intimidated by the present commission and will not speak at the meetings. I will try to set up community meetings to bring the city to the people and insure that we have direct communication with all of our citizens.

What is something residents do not know about you?

I served in the United States Army and was stationed in Germany, Fort Campbell Kentucky, and had the privilege to serve as an instructor at the United States Military Academy at West Point New York.

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W_-_Haunted_House_DSCF7278_copyL-R: Richard Piz and Eric Shupe are setting the stage for thrills and chills as they put the finishing touches on a haunted house in High Springs.

HIGH SPRINGS – Looking for a real Halloween scare?  The answer may lie within a 2800-sq. ft. adult-style haunted house, with rooms awash with zombies, werewolves, scary clowns, a nasty-looking butcher and an assortment of foul bugs.  The seasonal haunted house has been erected by Eric Shupe, of AllStar Tattoo and The Art of Spinning with Eric in High Springs.

Located at 625 NW Santa Fe Boulevard/US Highway 441, which is next to High Springs Diner, the five-room house and three dark hallway mazes were built by Shupe with donations from Lowe’s in Alachua.

Shupe and Richard Piz, also from AllStar Tattoo, got the idea of the haunted house as a fundraiser after hearing the High Springs Police Department was in need of money for renovations as part of the city’s effort to bring the police dispatch center back to High Springs.

“This is our first year doing a project like this,” said Shupe.  He and Piz saw a need for the money plus a desire on the part of the older kids to find something constructive and fun to do around the Halloween season.

The haunted house will be open from 8-11 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, Oct. 12-13, 19-20, 26-27 with a Grand Haunt on Oct. 31.  The cost is $7 for adults and $5 for children age 10 and under if accompanied by a parent.

“Some of these rooms are really scary,” said Shupe, who says they have a sign up indicating young children should not be allowed to go through the house and maze alone.

“Free face painting and free stick-on tattoos will be available to younger children,” Shupe said.  “Just because they may not want to go through the house, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be included, too,” he said with a chuckle.

The Halloween night Grand Haunt will include a display of various old hotrods and “Munster-type” cars.  In addition, area artists who have made their own sculptures, paintings and jewelry will set up to show and sell their handmade items when the house is open to the public.

“We saw this as an opportunity to promote our own local artists,” said Shupe.  “If they made it themselves, they can sell it.  We hope to expand this opportunity next year,” he explained.  The cost to the artist is $20 per weekend.

Shupe explained that he and Piz currently have at least 50 volunteers such as parents and students from Santa Fe High School, P.K. Yonge, Ft. White and other area schools, who also wanted to participate in the fundraising event.

Students will be earning community service hours for their efforts.  “Parents get the enjoyment of participating in this project with their kids,” said Schupe.  “And it’s fun,” he said.

In addition to Lowe’s contribution to the project, “Chris from Alachua Pawn & Gun has been terrific,” Shupe said.  “Richardson Paint of Lake City, generously donated paint for the project as well.”

“Other area businesses have put up our posters and given handouts to the public to help publicize the event,” he explained.  Among those are Spring Diner, Bealls Outlet, Advanced Auto Parts, Kangaroo, Great Outdoors Trading Post & Restaurant and the Halloween Mega Store in Butler Plaza, Gainesville.

All funds will benefit renovations for the police department and will be given to High Springs Police Chief Steve Holley, explained Shupe.

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Email Cwalker@alachuatoday.com

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W_-_Marlowe_-_DSCN4270_copyNEWBERRY – Politicians have nationally embraced social media as a major campaigning outlet, but Newberry City Commissioner Jordan Marlowe’s main concern is still community communication two years after his election. He maintains an active Facebook page and a personal website as a way to directly link to the people. He wrestles with the fine line between online participation and attendance at physical commission meetings twice a month, and knows the time that must be taken to learn how to articulate information to the public.

“I don’t know that politicians have grasped the importance of social media, and how you can use it as a data collecting device,” Marlowe said. “I ran on a platform consisting of ‘let’s open the doors of communication. Let’s get the word out so we know what’s happening so the residents can have a say.’”

When he set up his social media over a year ago, he did not realize the drastic inequality of online and physical meeting participation. Steps are being taken to adjust the style of the commission meetings to accommodate a live streaming format, but this just scratches the surface of the communication issue. At the root of the matter is the public’s level of feedback and participation. Marlowe utilizes Facebook as a way to pose questions and spark conversation, but his website is a major forum for in-depth discussion.

He provides summaries of the commission meetings on his personal website, which in turn gives him a direct connection with residents’ misunderstanding and concern. “People will take more time than it takes to vote, writing lengthy responses, well thought-out responses—certainly more time than going into a voting booth,” Marlowe said. “The responses can matter more, but I don’t know how to bridge the gap by communicating through social media and then relating it to the commissioners in the same powerful way. There’s not a way quite like residents showing up saying they will hold the commissioners to what they say.”

People participating on the website are mostly middle-aged or older, but many students are involved as well. Marlowe was told at first that the website would be of little use, but recently he averages 4,000 hits a week on his personal website.  There are about 5,000 people in the city, and over 400 people follow him on Facebook.  This is in contrast to the city’s average voter turnout of 500. This suggests that there is a desire among the citizenry for more direct communication.

He keeps us all informed on City business,” said Linda Woodcock, a local retired teacher. “That is why I use it. That is why everybody uses it. He asks for input. The best part about it is being able to respond and that he wants your input. He is the only commissioner that does this.”

The communication issues lies in the fine-tuning. Marlowe wishes that all the commissioners would utilize social media, even though it is a lot of work. “To me, the more of us who are putting out info are getting feedback, then the more we can compare it,” he said.

The fine-tuning is not just the logistics of changing the style of the meetings, but also the commissioners’ perspective on the attendance level. Low attendance could be viewed as apathy towards City business. But the manner in which he posts on his media draws out an “unbelievable amount of hits” said Woodcock.

“His site shows not only what you think, but you get a feel for what the overall community is thinking, too,” she said. “As a commissioner, you at least feel like he is listening and taking into account what the public is wanting or saying.”

“The passion people show on Facebook shows me they want to be involved, but that they aren’t taking the next step,” Marlowe said. “Something is keeping the people from being involved in the physical meetings.

“I can see the commissioners placing value only on those who attend, but we need to revolutionize the way we do the meetings so that people can be elsewhere and still be involved.”

There is inconsistency of communication between the commission as a whole and the residents. Marlowe communicated with over 500 people on the issue of whether or not the City should fund employment of the Martin Luther King Community Center or run it with volunteers, and the majority was against the funding. At the commission meeting, about 10 or 12 people came to the meeting and appealed for the funding, and one person was against it.  Marlowe knew that as a commissioner on the dais, it looked as though funding the center would be the majority opinion, but that there were many opinions that were not presented.

“I think all politicians are very reactive to who is in front of them. A commissioner can take up an issue and make it their own, but by and large, especially with this commission, we are responsive to the citizens.” He values the idea of live streaming because the residents could watch the issue they are waiting for, but also understands that despite the integration of the Internet in people’s everyday lives, face to face is always more effective. Social media is the first step, but the second step is facing the commissioners.

“At one point the citizens must take an initiative,” Marlowe said. “And I have to believe that if a high school teacher can get 424 people to listen on Facebook and 4,000 to read a website, that if the City did the same thing, it could get exponentially more.”

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alachuatoday.com

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission moved forward with several hiring matters Tuesday, Oct. 9. After considerable discussion and debate about whether the city manager or city attorney was more important to the City, and amid suggestions and motions that went nowhere, attorney Scott Walker was eventually hired for a period of six months to represent the City of High Springs.

Bronson City Attorney Steven Warm, who told commissioners he could work within the City’s budgeted amount of $40,000, and Walker, who requested $4,500 per month or $54,000 per year for two meetings a week, plus $280 per hour for litigation, appeared to be the front runners.

Initial motions by the commission to approve one and then the other failed for lack of the required second to the motion.

Confronted with the lack of a decision, Mayor Dean Davis said he was concerned that a $250,000 grant might be at risk because the City had no attorney.  Commissioner Linda Gestrin suggested that City Clerk Jenny Parham could negotiate the dollar amount with whichever attorney they selected. Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas searched the budget to see where he could find the funds to hire Walker.  Unable to locate the funds immediately, Barnas made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Sue Weller, to hire the firm of Folds & Walker for a six-month period at $4,500 per month.  The motion passed 4-1 with Commissioner Scott Jamison dissenting.  Jamison maintained that the City should stay within the budget and hire Warm, who was equally qualified and would work for the budgeted amount.

City Manager Interviews

On another issue, although the commission earlier said they would narrow the pool of city manager applicants to a total of five, they decided to interview all seven.  The decision was made because commissioners were unable to obtain a majority vote on the remaining candidates.

Parham was asked to contact all seven applicants to schedule 30-minute interviews each beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 22.  Resumes will be available on the City’s web page for public review.

Candidates are Scott Lippman, Kathleen Margoles, Doug Hewitt, Andrew DeCandis, Isabel Smith, Edwin Booth and Marty Simone.  Candidates arriving from out of town will be provided a hotel room for one night not to exceed $100.

The interview process is open to the public.  Residents with questions they would like to have answered by candidates should submit them to the commission as soon as possible.  However, commissioners will choose the final group of questions.

Interim City Manager

Lee Vincent was approved as interim city manager for a period of 30 days, with the right to extend the contract another 30 days if a city manager has not been chosen by that time.  Vincent will be paid a pro-rated amount based on $61,000 annually and will be on hand 40 hours a week to address City issues.

Parham was instructed to contact newly appointed city attorney Scott Walker to request he draft a Memorandum of Understanding between the City and Vincent, stipulating there would be no benefits paid and there would be no appeal should he be released from service.  Parham agreed to stay in the position as interim city manager until Vincent is on board.

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Email Cwalker@alachuatoday.com

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ALACHUA AxoGen, Inc. and PDL BioPharma, Inc. have entered into a structured financing agreement, which will provide $20.8 million to AxoGen.  Founded in 2002, AxoGen makes products and technologies that help repair nerve damage, and is located in Alachua’s Progress Corporate Park. Based in Nevada, PDL focuses on intellectual property asset management, investing in new revenue generating assets and maximizing the value of its patent portfolio and related assets.

AxoGen reports that the financing will allow the company to strengthen and accelerate its sales and marketing efforts as well as to explore pipeline opportunities.

The total financing of $20.8 million includes $19.05 million in cash PDL paid to AxoGen on Oct.5, 2012 and $1.75 million PDL paid to AxoGen on Aug. 14, 2012. The firm reports that net proceeds were approximately $14 million after repayment of $5 million in existing debt and payment of transaction related fees and expenses.

A revenue agreement between the two firms calls for an eight year term and provides PDL with royalties based on AxoGen revenues, subject to certain minimum payment requirements beginning in the fourth quarter of 2014 and the right to require AxoGen to repurchase the revenue contract at the end of the fourth year. AxoGen has been granted certain rights to call the revenue contract in years five through eight. John McLaughlin, President and Chief Executive Officer of PDL, was elected to the Board of Directors of AxoGen, Inc. immediately following the closing.

“PDL is an exciting partner for AxoGen. The PDL team has a strong track record of creating commercial value and their knowledge will be an asset as we build AxoGen’s business,” said Karen Zaderej, CEO for AxoGen.

“The PDL transaction provided both operating capital and the ability to pay off AxoGen’s existing bank debt,” said Greg Freitag, AxoGen’s CFO and General Counsel. “We were able to raise significant capital without diluting our outstanding share-base while maintaining a clean capital structure. Furthermore, our agreement provides extensive flexibility for future financing and business development activity.”

AxoGen ’s products offer surgical nerve reconstruction solutions including Avance® Nerve Graft, the only commercially available processed nerve allograft for bridging severed nerves, AxoGuard® Nerve Connector, a coaptation aid allowing for close approximation of severed nerves, and AxoGuard® Nerve Protector, a bioscaffold used to reinforce a coaptation site, wrap a partially severed nerve or isolate and protect nerve tissue.  The company sells its products in the United States, Canada, Italy, and Switzerland.

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NEWBERRY – Residents will have an opportunity to vote on the Fix Our Roads Alachua County ¾ cent sales surtax on Nov. 6. The surtax is projected to generate $22.5 million per year in revenues, which will be shared by the county and the municipalities. If approved by the electorate, it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

Gas tax revenue fuel the county’s transit operations, maintenance and capital, but due to inflation and less overall driving coupled with fuel efficient vehicles, revenues have decreased by about $600,000 dollars since 2008.

According to Mark Sexton, communications coordinator for Alachua County, the Fix Our Road Alachua County sales surtax is a method to handle the county’s “road maintenance challenge.”  There are 2,517 road projects eligible for the funding. Alachua County currently has a 6 percent sales tax, and the surtax would increase that rate to 6.75 percent.

Existing gas tax revenues are not sufficient for taking care of Alachua County’s road-upkeep needs. From 1999 to 2010, gas tax revenues before reimbursements and other funding totaled $114 million and expenditures for improvements, maintenance, and capital infrastructure was $138.4 million.

“Fix Our Roads tax would create a revenue source to bring our county’s roads up to speed and get on pace to get to where we can use existing gas tax and other revenue the county commission allotted to roads to take care of future maintenance,” Sexton said.

The surtax revenues are allotted between the county and each of its municipalities with a compound equation that takes into account both the population and road traffic numbers to determine a percentage. Of the proposed $22.5 million to be accrued within the first year, Newberry should receive 4.89 percent or $1.1 million.

Over its 15-year lifetime, the surtax is anticipated to bring in about $300 million for road repairs, and was proposed in reaction to the recently estimated countywide road and street repair needs of $550 million, said Tricia Kyzar, an administrative assistant with Alachua County Public Works, who specified the maintenance issues in a presentation to the Newberry City Commission.

Cities will have the option to map out their own use of the funds, but the county’s portion of the revenues will be used to fix its roads in order of priority.

If the initiative is not approved, it is estimated that by 2030, the county would accrue an additional $65 million in maintenance needs as costs for paving and capital infrastructure increase. For an interactive map for specific proposed road projects, visit http://growth-management.alachuacounty.us/fixourroads/.

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Email cgrinstead@alachuatoday.com

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W_-_pumpkin_patch_DSCF7262_copySelecting that perfect pumpkin can be a daunting task when there are thousands from which to choose.  The First United Methodist Church’s annual pumpkin patch on U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua is in full swing throughout the month of October.

ALACHUA – If you’re craving pumpkin, First United Methodist Church’s annual pumpkin patch might just be for you.

With the fall season in full swing and Halloween just around the corner, there’s no better time to get in the spirit than now.  And nothing says ‘fall’ better than pumpkins.

Whether for carving into jack-o-lanterns, baking in a pie or simmering in a stew, pumpkins of every kind are available.

The 12th annual Pumpkin Patch, located on U.S. Highway 441 north of Hitchcock’s Market, is open for business Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.

The pumpkin patch was opened Sept. 26, and it will be open until the end of October. Prices for pumpkins range from $1 to $50, depending on the size.  There are 2,500 pumpkins in the pumpkin patch, and more will be added mid-October.

First United Methodist Church Pastor Lamar Albritton said the pumpkin patch is a youth fundraiser, but it’s also a ministry.

“It’s a church-wide effort,” he said. “The body of Christ works together.”

Members of the church volunteer to man the pumpkin patch, and Albritton said the church has prayed the event will go smoothly.

He said the church welcomes everyone who visits the pumpkin patch, regardless of whether they’re buying pumpkins or just stopping by to enjoy the vast display of the colorful gourds.

“We try to reflect Jesus Christ through how we welcome people,” he said.

He said some people have joined the church after visiting the pumpkin patch.

“They said the reason they came is because they felt so welcomed out there,” he said.

Every child who visits the pumpkin patch will receive a free gift.

“We try to reach the children in a special way,” Albritton said.

Money raised from the patch are the main source of funding for the church’s youth mission trip. Students will travel to the Appalachian Mountains and partner with the Appalachia Service Project to help repair homes. Other churches from around the country will also help with the project. Albritton said it’s a good experience because it combines hard labor and building relationships with people.

“We’re there to love them,” he said.

The money will also help fund summer camps and other youth events.

The public is also invited to attend a fall festival Oct. 28 at 2 p.m. The event is free to everyone and will include free food, a bounce house, a hay bale maze,  hayrides and numerous other activities.

“Come and join a family friendly, fun atmosphere,” Albritton said.

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email astewart@alachuatoday.com

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