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Cuts Gainesville Transit Initiative

ALACHUA – In a narrow 3-2 vote Tuesday, Alachua County Commissioners decided to move forward with a ¾ cent sales tax initiative that, if approved by voters in the fall, would fund roadway improvements.  Not making the cut, however, was a ¼ cent ballot initiative that would have funded transit projects in the City of Gainesville, including a bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

The vote came one day after the County Commission’s joint meeting with the Alachua City Commission, at which city commissioners and Alachua citizens expressed views on the proposed sales taxes.

At Monday’s joint meeting, Alachua County Commissioner Ben Boukari noted briefly that the ¼ cent transit tax would be paid for by the entire county but benefit only Gainesville, while Gainesville would also benefit from the ¾ cent tax for road improvement.

County Commissioner Mike Byerly countered by saying individual cities that have been allotted transportation tax money should be trusted to correctly use that money.

“We should stay on the course where we let cities – including the City of Gainesville, including the City of Alachua – decide, ‘What are [our] priorities,” Byerly said.

Commissioners from both the city and county stated the importance of clear language in the balloting of the proposed taxes, which will go to voters in November.  The county set a tentative date of July 10 for final approval of the language of the ballot.

The surtax was initially discussed last year, when the County Commission proposed a one-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects, asking individual cities of Alachua County to submit plans for projects they would fund with their share of the tax revenue.

The City of Alachua submitted a list of plans that included road and sidewalk improvements.  The City of Gainesville was the only city to submit transit plans in addition to road improvement plans.

The ¾ cent tax ballot approved Tuesday included provisions for sidewalk improvement which initially had been excluded from a proposal approved by the county commission May 22.

Lee Pinkoson, Winston Bradley and Susan Baird, the three county commissioners who voted to remove the ¼ cent tax for transit, said Gainesville’s proposed plan for the money was unclear.  Additionally, they said the city’s proposed BRT system was unnecessary.

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E-mail: delsesser@alachuatoday.com

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W_-_Langman_Press_Conference_DSCF6068_copyHIGH SPRINGS – After working as the High Springs City Manager since Nov. 29, 2011, Jeri Langman held a press conference on Friday, June 8, 2012 to announce that Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas has repeatedly violated the city’s charter over the course of his time in elected office. Speaking to approximately 50 people, Langman called for Barnas’ resignation.

Citing Section 2.04 in the City Charter, Langman said that Barnas overstepped his authority as a commissioner.

“Therefore, as a result of Vice-Mayor Barnas’ repeated refusal to follow the law of the Charter of High Springs, I am calling for him to do the right thing and step down from his position as High Springs Commissioner immediately,” Langman said.

On Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Barnas said the accusations made by Langman were unfounded and that he had no intention of stepping down as a commissioner.

“It’s all up to her what she wants to do,” Barnas said, after stating that the issue was last week’s news.

After Langman spoke with Mayor Dean Davis about the charter violations, he said the issue will be discussed during Thursday’s regularly scheduled commission meeting. The mayor was unsure how the situation would be handled because severe accusations had been lodged by both parties.

“I respect both sides,” he said, “and I think the only way to deal with it is to let the attorney tell us what is legal.”

Within the Charter, the rules clearly state that the mayor shall operate as a figurehead and have no administrative duties other than those necessary to accomplish tasks of process, ceremonial matters and execution of contracts, deeds and other documents.

The city manager, Langman stated during the press conference, has the power to direct and supervise the administration of all departments of the city.

“Since I was appointed city manager, Vice-Mayor Barnas has attempted to run the day-to-day operations of the City of High Springs by directing me to take various actions,” Langman said. “He is a rogue commissioner.”

According to Commissioner Sue Weller, Langman is bringing attention to what has been going on within the walls of City Hall.

“I’m not surprised,” Weller said. “I’ve seen emails showing what she’s talking about.”

During the conference, Langman detailed several accounts of Barnas using his powers as a commissioner to accomplish goals not approved by the commission. In February, Barnas allegedly attempted to exclude former High Springs City Planner Christian Popoli from meetings regarding the city’s sewer system. Throughout the month of February, Langman said Barnas and High Springs City Commissioner Linda Gestrin asked her to fire Popoli.

“Because I refused to fire [Popoli], Vice-Mayor Barnas manipulated the budget to eliminate Christian’s position,” Langman said during the press conference. Since beginning her job as city manager, Langman has kept a record of Barnas’ violations, which include berating city employees, directing Langman to fire employees and carrying out instructions not decided on by the Commission.

Langman intends to contact the State Attorney and Governor’s Office to file a formal complaint.

However, not everyone in attendance agreed with Langman’s allegations.

“Usually when you walk in, make a statement and walk out, you have something to hide,” Bob Hallman said, referring to the lack of time available for the press and residents to ask questions of the city manager during the meeting.

Joyce Hallman questioned whether High Springs should be operating under a city manager form of government. With the regulations surrounding the city manager government, commissioners have their hands tied, and taxpayers cannot hold them responsible, Joyce said.

Resident Linda Hewlett said she was not surprised by the announcement because of emails she has received from Barnas.

“I think that Mr. Barnas is required to follow City Charter, just as he expected past commissioners to follow the rules and regulations,” Hewlett said.

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E-mail awilliamson@alachuatoday.com

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Alachua resident designs and creates works of art

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Photo 1: Working out of her home, Alachua resident Linn Check-Mathis is still doing what she loves – creating stained glass pieces of art, many of which have been installed in area churches. Photo 2: The stained glass window for The Family Church in Gainesville is one of the more difficult pieces Check-Mathis has created.  The large window had 13 separate sections with over 800 pieces of glass in the entire work.

ALACHUA – Light speckled through the red and green stained glass. Linn Check-Mathis had been meaning to place such a stained glass window in the door since she and her husband moved in 10 years ago, but hadn’t gotten around to it until the last three or four years.

It’s kind of like the shoemakers’ kids running around without shoes, she said.

The 67-year-old Alachua resident is the founder of North Florida Stained Glass, which she runs out of her home. She’s been working in the art since the 1980s, and in the past she had a shop on Alachua’s Main Street.

“After 32 years, I’m so lucky I still love what I do,” she said.

One of her most recent pieces is a large stained glass window for St. John’s United Methodist Church in Alachua. Shades of yellow, red, green and a hint of blue make up the color palette of the window. It was installed just in time for Sunday morning’s Easter service.

Charlie Fink, a trustee with the church, said he was stunned by how quickly the window was finished. It was greatly appreciated in the sunrise service on Easter Sunday.

“It was absolutely stunning to just watch the windows come to life as the sun rose over the horizon,” Fink said.

Linn’s passion for her art began in Rockford, Mich., where she started taking classes in making stained class. After taking a part-time job at a stained-glass business, she moved up to management. She then moved to Alachua, where she founded her own shop.

Her art even led her to find her husband, Rich Mathis. He had been taking glass art classes in Gainesville at the time. Linn was wearing a shirt that said, “Star light, Star bright, Where the Hell is Mr. Right?” when he walked into her shop under the blinking light on Alachua’s Main Street. A couple of years later, the couple was walking down the aisle.

Her career has also led her to integrate others’ stories into her art.

When she created a stained glass for Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Gainesville after it burned to the ground, she was able to incorporate some of the ashes from the burned building in the window. Another customer wanted a window, so she made the illusion of a window out of an old window frame.

These days, Check-Mathis does commission pieces and is experimenting with other forms of glass art. She said she could never leave her line of work that allows such creativity and freedom.

“If I had to go back to a nine to five job, I’d be in serious trouble,” she said.

The glass pieces, which can be as large as 8-by-12 feet, can be physically difficult, she said. One of the more difficult pieces she’s done was a stained glass window for The Family Church in Gainesville. The large window had 13 separate sections with over 800 pieces of glass in the entire work.

The dark blue background of the window contrasts the large gold cross outlined in radiating lines of red. She admits she didn’t know if all of the pieces would match up until after it was installed.

Stained glass pieces can take anywhere from three weeks to three months to complete. First, she sketches out what she wants the piece to look like and replicates that sketch to make it true to scale. Then, she hand cuts the glass and lines it with a special metal to hold the pieces together. After the glass pieces are soldered together, they are installed.

Check-Mathis said creating a stable window has always been important to her. She wanted to prove wrong those who said women couldn’t make stable stained glass and create a quality product for her customers, she said.

Check-Mathis isn’t limited to just making stained glass pieces. She also began experimenting with fused glass and jewelry in the past couple of months.

“The list of what I want to do gets longer as I get older, not shorter,” she said.

A round glass plate with a smiling cat wearing a cheese hat rests on a table. Her inspiration for the piece was a love for her cat, Bobbi, and the Green Bay Packers.

A fused plate like the one of her cat may go into the kiln four separate times before it’s completely finished.

She said she finds the new types of glass art she’s been working with refreshing. Each piece she works on, Check-Mathis sees as a different challenge.

“Every one has its own potential to be fun and different and exciting,” she said.

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E-mail mharvard@alachuatoday.com

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ALACHUA – Former Alachua City Manager, Clovis Watson, Jr., has officially qualified as a candidate for the newly drawn House District 20 seat in Alachua and Marion counties.

Watson, who grew up in Merrillwood, has been serving the communities in Alachua County for nearly 30 years. He entered the police academy in 1983, becoming Alachua’s first African-American sergeant and later the first African-American Deputy Chief of Police. He earned an appointment as Alachua City Manager in 2002.

"My priorities in the legislature will be focused around providing real opportunities for our children – to get an education that prepares them to compete for good jobs, no matter how wealthy or poor their parents are,” stated Watson. “I will also continue to work closely with our corporate partners to bring investments and high quality jobs to our state.” He added, "I can't wait to get started, Floridians need help and they need it now."

House District 20 contains major portions of the former House District 23, but due to redistricting this district was redrawn. The area has been represented in the past by Alachua County Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, former Representative Ed Jennings and most recently Representative Chuck Chestnut.

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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry’s first budget meeting for the upcoming 2012-13 fiscal year showed a projected decrease of ad valorem tax revenues of $180,000.  The anticipated revenue loss prompted discussion among the commission and city staff about how to recover from this loss as well as other anticipated losses.

The ad valorem tax revenue decrease is the result of a recent property assessment of Vulcan Materials Company, formally known as Florida Rock Industries Inc.

Disregarding Community Development Block Grant revenues and expenditures, anticipated revenues are down 5.6 percent and anticipated expenditures are down 7.3 percent.

One suggestion from City Manager Keith Ashby included reworking city positions. After City Clerk Gayle B. Pons retires, Ashby proposed that current Deputy City Clerk Judy Rice be promoted to City Clerk. The position of Deputy City Clerk would be abolished.

To offset a projected 20 percent increase in healthcare costs, city staff proposed charging city employees $25 a month to offset the cost, which would bring in $17,000, half of the anticipated increase.  Another option would be to offer employees a $350 monthly stipend, which would save the city a projected $49,000.

There was also discussion about transferring money from utility reserves to mitigate the deficit.  The commission will continue budget and personnel discussions in the coming weeks.

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Email mharvard@alachuatoday.com

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NW 156th Avenue northeast of Alachua is closed at two locations due to two culverts that were washed out overnight due to storms on Thursday afternoon.
The first closure is located at 6100 NW 156th Avenue approximately 2/3 mile east of CR 237 between CR 237 and NW 59th Drive. Public Works staff is working to repair this damage but the culvert had another failure during work efforts. The initial projection for reopening the road is sometime within the next week.
The second closure is located at 8000 NW 156th Avenue approximately 1/2 mile west of CR 237 between NW 90th Street and NW 78th Terrace. This section of road will be closed until further notice. A detour has been established sending traffic north on CR 237 to SR 235 and then east to Burnett's Lake Road. See map above for detour route.
The culvert located at 8000 NW 156th Avenue is due for replacement. The County has completed plans for the replacement of the culvert and is preparing to go to bid. The bid and construction process will be accelerated due to the washout to reduce the length of time the road closure will be in effect.
For more information please contact Ruth Findley, Civil Engineer with the Alachua County Public Works Department at 352-260-7744. Add a comment

ARCHER – The search for a new city manager for the City of Archer is underway and the city commission held a workshop Tuesday, June 5 to discuss five candidates who have applied for the position.

With former city manager John Glanzer’s resignation effective May 11, the commission is pressing forward to find a replacement.

Commissioners shared their thoughts on each candidate after their one-on-one interviews with them last week. City commissioners Fletcher Hope and Blanch Parker and Vice Mayor Marjorie Zander were present out of the five officials who will chose the new city manger for Archer.

Fourteen applications were submitted in response to advertisements for the city manager position, which was posted at the end of April. Each commission reviewed the applications and rated them based on a grading rubric with 10 to 12 different criteria.

Only five of the original 14 candidates made it to the second phase in the process, and they were given an hour interview with each commissioner separately.

The five candidates are Carlos Tobar, Judith Jankosky, George Hayfield, Craig Gould and Al Grieshaber.

Despite the progress in the application process, the city commission is still accepting applications for the position. The application process will stay open until the position is filled.

City Commissioner Fletcher Hope said, “If it takes us until September, I don’t want it to be until September, October, we need to make sure we have the correct review of profile and criteria for the right fit for Archer.

“I don’t want to slow it down, but I don’t want to rush it either, because we’re frightened of a budget final,” he said. “That’s why we did what we did at an expense to carry John Mayberry on as a temporary employee, and we quickly made sure we had our interim stuff taken care of,” Hope said.

The salary cap for the position is $75,000 including salary and benefits. Applicants are offered the option to give their preferred salary range on the application.

Some of the candidates have previous municipal experience and others have had leadership experience elsewhere.

Hope and Parker were both impressed by Carlos Tobar who has paid and unpaid experience in municipal government in Tampa, Jacksonville and California.

Parker said Tobar had plans for the recreation department that didn’t cost the city any money.

Commissioners Hope and Parker both agreed that someone with diverse skills would be a good fit for Archer.

“We’re so small we just have to get somebody that’s able to do not just the job in the office but they got to be able to move and do,” Parker said.

The city manager candidates are expected to be on the agenda for the next city commission meeting scheduled for June 11.

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Email aloguerre@alachuatoday.com

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