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HIGH SPRINGS – In spite of criticism from residents and even two of its own members, on Dec. 1, the High Springs City Commission approved an employment contract for newly hired interim city manager Jeri Langman.

Langman was appointed to the position at the Nov. 29 commission meeting after newly elected Vice Mayor Bob Barnas initially made the suggestion at a goal-setting workshop.  Langman will replace former interim city manager Jenny Parham who will return to her duties as city clerk.  The City of High Springs has been undergoing a search process for a permanent manager to replace former city manager Jim Drumm who resigned under pressure on Oct. 21, 2010.

Referring to Langman’s hiring, Mayor Dean Davis explained at the Dec. 1 meeting that the commission had no intention of firing anyone and that Langman will serve on a temporary basis to keep City Hall on track during the remainder of the hiring process.

“She will work until we don’t need her,” Davis said. “She loves the city and is interested in helping us.”

Langman’s contract passed in a 3-2 vote with Davis, Barnas and Commissioner Linda Clark Gestrin in favor of the contract with commissioners Eric May and Sue Weller opposed.

Terms of the contract call for Langman to fill the position of interim city manager as a temporary employee with no insurance benefits. If she, for some reason, ends up serving for more than four months, her compensation and benefits package will be reviewed.

Gestrin said that although there is no intention for Langman to serve for four months, if she does, the city will certainly need to be in a place where it needs to re-evaluate.

“Isn’t that a point where we review where we’re at?” she said. “I don’t think any of us dreamed we’d be this far along without a city manager.”

Under Langman’s contract she will be expected to work a minimum of 40 hours per week and be present during “normal city hall office hours.”

Barnas made it a point to obtain City Attorney Thomas DePeter’s interpretation of “normal” hours on the record. DePeter explained that Langman must be working onsite during normal office hours, taking care of official duties, answering citizens’ questions and supervising employees.

DePeter said that according to the city charter, charter employees, like the city manager, are in office until they resign or are terminated by resolution. DePeter said, in his opinion, this makes Langman a permanent employee until she is removed.

DePeter admitted in this case, the expectation is that Langman will resign when the commission finds a replacement. However, he explained that since the charter says the manager serves “at the pleasure of the commission,” she could be terminated at any time without any stated reason.

In that case, she would be permitted a review hearing. The city would have to wait 20 to 30 days to meet the review requirement before appointing a new manager.

Langman will be paid $4,000 a month for her services. The city has received 31 applications for the permanent city manager position and plans to start reviewing applications immediately.

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ALACHUA – The City of Alachua Senior Resources Advisory Board is currently accepting applications for membership. The board was recently established by the Alachua City Commission to raise awareness of issues affecting senior citizens in the community.

The Board will consist of five members, with at least three residing in the city of Alachua and up to two members from the greater Alachua area. The Board is expected to meet at least four times a year. Members may be appointed for one- to three-year terms.

Prior to the creation of the Senior Resources Advisory Board, beginning in January 2005 the city worked with the State of Florida Department of Elder Affairs and invited citizens to participate on the Elder Readiness Committee, which was recognized by the city, but was never formally established. The committee focused on affordable housing and transportation.  This committee is scheduled to sunset later this month.

The Senior Resources Advisory Board will serve as the official advisory board to the City of Alachua Commission and members will advocate for senior citizens and serve as an information source on senior and aging topics. To apply, residents may stop by Alachua City Hall at 15100 NW 142nd Terrace during business hours to pick up an application, or they can fill one out online at www.cityofalachua.com. Applications must be received by Jan. 11, 2012.

For more information about the City of Alachua Senior Resources Advisory Board, call 386-418-6131.

 

Cont: Deadline is Jan. 11, 2012

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McCall_-_Mugshot_ASO11JBN010562  McCall

 HIGH SPRINGS – The 36-year-old man allegedly shot by a disgruntled neighbor while skeet-shooting at Forest Grove Baptist Church in October died Tuesday.

According to Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) officials, Robert Matthew “Matt” Judah had remained hospitalized since being struck by a bullet more than a month ago.  Injuries resulting from the shooting reportedly required a follow-up surgery Tuesday.  Judah did not survive that procedure.

ACSO Spokesman Todd Kelly said in a news release Tuesday evening that a full examination would be conducted by the medical examiner’s office.

The Oct. 21 incident occurred at about 6:40 p.m. while a group of church members were engaged in a skeet-shooting match with shotguns on the church’s property located at 22575 NW 94th Avenue.  That’s when 71-year-old Patrick A. McCall walked out of his house, which is located across the street from the church at 9306 NW 226th Street, and randomly fired a handgun in the direction of the church, ACSO deputies reported.

According to the arrest report, McCall said he was inside his house when he heard gun shots coming from the direction of the church. He retrieved his 9 mm Sig handgun that had a loaded magazine and grabbed another magazine that was loaded.

Standing four feet behind his house, he fired quick, successive shots until the magazine was empty. He reloaded and fired again, but could not remember if he emptied the magazine, the report states.

He said he was pointing the gun in the air in the direction of a pecan tree that is in front of his house. McCall said he fired rounds because he heard other people firing rounds. It is something he has done in the past.

But, according to the police report, McCall later said he fired the rounds because he wanted the church members to stop. He said he had no intention of hurting anyone.

ACSO Deputy Heather Phillips interviewed Thomas Jackson, Sr., one of the skeet-shooters at the scene. He said the church members were shooting on the south side of the property in a southerly direction.

As they reloaded their shotguns, there was a lull in the shooting. They heard a succession of shots and saw Judah go down, saying he had been shot.

Jackson did not see the suspect. He took his two sons inside for cover. His vehicle was hit by gunfire, shattering the back windshield.

His 12-year-old son saw the suspect. He heard a pause in the shooting, followed by “a lot of fast shots” that sounded like they were coming from across the street.

He saw the man focusing on something in the direction of where everyone was skeet shooting. It sounded like the shooter ran out of bullets. He then saw the man walk back to his residence.

Another witness, Jayde Roof, went over to help Judah, seeing that he had a hole on one side of his stomach and a graze on the other side. He applied pressure to Judah’s wounds while telling the others they should shoot the suspect if he approached.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office received a call at approximately 6:41 p.m. saying that someone had been shot. Medical personnel from Alachua County Fire Rescue and deputies from the sheriff’s office arrived to find Judah suffering from a gunshot wound to the abdomen. The deputies and fire rescue personnel administered first aid on the scene, and the victim was air lifted to Shands Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Deputies evacuated the remaining people, including several children, from the church due to the nature of the investigation. They located several objects that had been struck by the random gunfire.

After several hours, McCall reportedly exited his home and surrendered himself to deputies.    He was arrested and charged with attempted homicide and is still being held in the Alachua County Jail on $750,000 bail pending court appearances.

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Mebane_045Green and gold were on prominent display throughout the A.L. Mebane High School Homecoming Reunion celebration.  Saturday’s parade down Alachua’s Main Street was just one event of many that took place over the three-day event.

ALACHUA – While most folks spend the Friday after Thanksgiving either recuperating from overindulging in too much turkey and pumpkin pie, or are madly jumping into the holiday season shopping fray, there is another group of devoted individuals who are otherwise engaged. And chances are they are wearing green and gold and proclaim themselves “Hornets.”

Just as surely as Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November each year, by the following day, A.L. Mebane High School alumni are busy putting the finishing touches on their homecoming celebration, which traditionally commences on Friday and continues into the weekend.

This year was no different as the A. L. Mebane High School Homecoming Reunion put into motion a full schedule of weekend festivities that brings former students and the community together as each graduating class boasts its preeminence over the others.

The series of events began Friday evening at St. Matthew Baptist Church in Alachua with what was described as a “Gospel Explosion.”

On Saturday, Alachua’s downtown was the site of the alumni parade that began at Lee’s Preschool on County Road 241 N., crossed US Highway 441 and then followed Main Street through the historic business district.

Leading the parade was City of Alachua Chief of Police Joel DeCoursey. The event featured a variety of vehicles, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and high-stepping horses. Colors of the day were vibrant green and gold that decorated not only parade entries, but also many of the alumni who represented classes from 1957 to 1975.

After the parade, revelers headed over to Mebane Middle School to continue with an afternoon and evening of activities.  The lineup included an alumni luncheon, the Ms. Alumni and Little Miss Alumni pageant and a basketball game.

Sunday marked the conclusion of the homecoming events with a church service at Foundation Chapel Church of God by Faith, Alachua.

The A.L. Mebane High School Alumni Association holds various fundraisers and community projects throughout the year in Alachua and surrounding communities. Money raised during the weekend’s festivities contributes to the scholarship fund of the alumni association.

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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry has scrapped plans to lure the Alachua County Fairgrounds to the Canterbury Showplace equestrian center located within the city.  The decision to drop the proposal was confirmed Monday as commissioners voted to approve sending a letter to the county, stating that they will no longer pursue the fairgrounds project.

City manager Keith Ashby said the letter will be sent out sometime this week and that the county should already be expecting withdrawal. However, Ashby said the city will continue pursuing the acquisition of Canterbury.

During an Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting held Nov. 22, the board said that the fairgrounds should be the number one priority for the tourist development tax funding in Gainesville. Assistant County Manager Richard Drummond referenced Newberry’s previous interest, but suggested a revised plan. Newberry was not cited in the fairgrounds’ future plans, hinting that the city had lost its interest before the official motion was made. Drummond said as of the day of the meeting, Gainesville could not afford a $20 million new fairground.

Drummond said more detailed plans will be provided in January and his goal is to bring the overall cost of the first phase of the fairgrounds down to $14 million. Board members also expressed concerns that Gainesville residents might be upset if the fairgrounds moved out of the city as it was previously promised it would stay in the area.

Even if Newberry wanted to acquire Canterbury and the fairgrounds, a number of residents have expressed their disapproval of a carnival-like atmosphere at the equestrian center, dating back to September during a town hall meeting.

In past meetings, Newberry city commissioners have said they didn’t want a fairgrounds if residents opposed it, and also worried about the safety issues it could bring.

For now, if Newberry officials want to save Canterbury from being purchased by a private party, it appears the city will have to fork out potentially millions of dollars. The last purchase price bandied about in September was $4 million or more.

What is next for Canterbury is unknown, as city commissioners plan to discuss the matter at future meetings.

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High Springs Commission split on new interim city manger

HS_CommissionL-R:  Current Interim City Manager Jenny Parham, Mayor Dean Davis, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas, Commissioner Eric May; foreground: Jeri Langman. The High Springs Commission meeting held Tuesday night turned into a heated debate between commissioners and the public regarding the appointment of Jeri Langman as the new Interim City Manager.

HIGH SPRINGS – With the search for a city manager dragging on much longer than expected, the new High Springs City Commission appointed local resident Jeri Langman as interim manager on Tuesday.

The move came after a lengthy and contentious debate among residents and commissioners at a special commission meeting, which was originally called to make routine budget amendments and settle a litigation matter.

In a 3-2 vote, Mayor Dean Davis and newly elected Commissioner Linda Clark Gestrin sided with new Vice Mayor Bob Barnas’ proposal to replace current Interim City Manager Jenny Parham, effective Monday, Dec. 5.  Parham will continue performing her duties as the City Clerk.  Commissioners Eric May and Sue Weller opposed the move appointing Langman.

Commissioners made the move before determining the salary, terms and nature of Langman’s employment.  Those details still have not been hammered out as the commission scheduled another special meeting on Dec. 1 at 6:30 p.m. with the intention of finalizing a memorandum of understanding.

Preliminary discussions called for Langman to be paid $4,000 a month for her services, without a contract and without benefits.

Langman didn’t publicly speak to the commission at Tuesday’s meeting until after the 3-2 vote to appoint her as the interim city manager.

Barnas and May go head-to-head

Barnas had suggested at the Nov. 22 goal-setting workshop that Langman, member of the Planning Board and a former insurance office manager, take over for Parham despite Langman’s lack of government experience.

Barnas said at Tuesday’s meeting that Parham and the staff are overwhelmed trying to handle city business. He said he has an extensive background in management and, after watching the city operate, saw the need for a temporary city manager to relieve Parham, market the city and help businesses come to High Springs.

“I firmly believe that Jenny has done the best job she can, but that’s not good enough for this city to move forward,” he said. “There have been mistakes made, and I believe it’s because of lack of help.”

Barnas explained on Nov. 22 that he would feel more comfortable with someone else temporarily filling the position because he does not agree with “Jenny’s style of not responding to the commission.”

When Commissioner Eric May asked for an example, Barnas said he did not approve of the way Parham handled a complaint about former Police Chief Jim Troiano.

In an interview Tuesday, May said it is not fair for Barnas to comment on Parham’s communication with the commission because he was a public citizen up until his official swearing in on Nov. 17. He said at the meeting that Parham has done a “tremendous” job, and there is no need to replace her, especially since she has agreed to stay on until the permanent position is filled.

“If you were to give Ms. Parham an evaluation, which you would not, because you have not done your job long enough to do so,” he said to Barnas, “you would find that she’s a very competent city manager.”

May told the commission and the public on Tuesday that he feels this issue arose for personal reasons, not for the betterment of the city. He pointed out that Langman supported both Barnas and himself in prior elections, explaining that someone so politically active is not appropriate for the position.

He also questioned the motivation behind the appointment at Tuesday’s meeting, expressing concern that the new commission has no intention of hiring a new city manager in six to eight weeks.

“I’m getting a bit fatigued of hearing, ‘We were put in for change, so we don’t have to debate or discuss issues or talk about qualifications or issues at all,’” he said. “The commission has changed, yes, but does that mean any change is good? No.”

Barnas said at the meeting that he received an “obnoxious” email that called the possible appointment cronyism. He said there were no secret meetings or personal agendas involved. He said he planned this by himself to get help for the city to do what it needs to do.

“I’m not doing this to relieve Jenny Parham of a job,” he said, “but to bring back-up to the town and get projects I want to deal with done in a proper manner.”

Davis said that with this decision the city has no intention of firing Parham. Instead, she will return to her position as city clerk and help Langman with any problems she has. He said he has spoken to Parham about the appointment and praised Parham for the work she’s done in a position she never wanted.

“We have no desire to run this city into the ground,” he said. “She [Parham] knows more about the city than anyone in this room, and she can help Ms. Langman.”

Jenny Parham has been serving as interim city manager since former city manager Jim Drumm was fired in September 2010.

She originally gave a deadline of Dec. 30 for the city to hire someone to fill the position. At that point she would return to being city clerk, a position she has held for 24 years.

The commission had narrowed the search to one candidate in September. However, they voted on Sept. 22 to not hire Judith Jankosky, assistant city manager of Arcadia, Fla., and re-advertise the city manager position.  May noted that much of the reason the prior search failed was because the city neglected to include a salary range of $50,000 to $72,500 for the position.  The end result, he said, was that the commission narrowed the field down to a handful of candidates, and most of them dropped out upon learning of the salary.

Langman handed her resume to each commissioner, except Barnas, at the Nov. 22 workshop. She said her intention was not because she wanted the city manager job; rather, she said she wanted to help High Springs.

“This was volunteering to help you do something you may need to do to take the pressure off of your city clerk, off of your city employees and off of you, to allow you the time to revisit what you want to do,” she said.

Lack of Experience Cited in Opposition to Langman

May said Tuesday that he could not support Langman’s appointment because she has no experience in crucial areas of the job.

“You’re putting somebody who has no experience in police, fire or public works in charge of police, fire and public works,” he said.

He also said he had problems with discussion of the appointment of a temporary city manager being speedily placed on Tuesday’s agenda.  May said the public had not been given appropriate notice that the position would be open.

Commissioner Sue Weller agreed with May, explaining that she could not accept the commission appointing an unqualified person to the position, especially when no other names were offered. She said it was unacceptable to reach a decision without “due diligence.”

“You wouldn’t hire somebody off the street to run your business for you who has no experience, does not have the qualifications and hasn’t even been interviewed for the position,” she said.

She suggested the city perhaps hire an office manager to help the two person City Hall staff or look into getting an organization consultant. Weller said she would have no problem with Langman filling a job like this because it would better fit her qualifications.

Davis said in an interview Wednesday that the emphasis on professional government employees is “what got us in the mess we’re in.” He said Congress and the Senate are made up of professionals, and the country is $6 trillion in debt. Langman has corporate managerial experience, he said, making her the best person to help Parham with her duties.

“She’s a classy woman,” he said, responding to concerns by some residents about Langman’s experience. “She is not somebody off the street. That was a hurtful statement.”

Langman said at the Nov. 22 meeting that her strengths are helping people, businesses and offices streamline their practices.

“My talents are something you may need,” she said. “I am a ‘mega organizer.’ That’s what I’ve done my entire life.”

Residents were as conflicted as the commissioners about the issue. Some supported the decision, citing the general election results as a sign of the city’s desire for a new direction.

Others said the undertaking was ridiculous this late in the process, adding a financial burden to the citizens, who will have to pay Langman, and a time burden to Parham, who will have to help train her. One resident suggested that since Langman says she is a concerned citizen who wants to help the city, she should volunteer her time a few days a week to do whatever Parham needs done.

Langman will serve as interim city manager for six to eight weeks while the commission works to fill the fulltime position. She is expected to submit her resignation to the Planning Board, a board to which she was recently appointed.

The city accepted applications for the permanent city manager position until Nov. 30. As of Tuesday, the city had received 22 applications, according to May and Davis. The commission has been working with Paul Sharon, a “Range Rider,” to develop applicant criteria.

The Range Riders is a group under the Florida City and County Management Association. They offer free guidance to cities in the search for city managers, using former managers as counselors.

Parham explained on Nov. 22 that Sharon will review all of the candidates using the criteria the commission has established and send his recommendations back.

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ALACHUA – On Monday night, the City of Alachua Commission approved the rezoning of a parcel of land near Shaw Farms and San Felasco Hammock Preserve State park. The 275-acre property, owned by University of Florida Foundation (UF Foundation), was previously zoned as both agricultural and industrial, but now it falls under the new zoning designation titled Corporate Park.

At the Nov. 14 meeting, the Commission approved the establishment of the Corporate Park zoning category, and the new zoning designation was applied to the UF Foundation’s property on the future land use map.

Monday’s action was the first in at least two meetings required to finalize a full rezoning of the property to Corporate Park, which would allow for multi-use purposes on the land, and would be the first zoning designation specifically intended for biotechnology facilities.

According to Gerry Dedenbach of Causseaux, Hewett & Walpole, an agent for UF Foundation, the rezoning would allow for a campus-like atmosphere for a future medical radioisotope laboratory. With residential units on the property along with retail establishments, scientists, researchers and their families can live and work in one place.

An issue raised by a resident at the meeting Monday was of increased traffic in the immediate area. Alachua City Planner Brandon Stubbs said in a presentation that the applicant would still be required to provide a site plan before development and it will only be approved if the proposed development did not degrade a public facility, including traffic.

Another city resident requested of commissioners to “keep our concerns in mind”

Vice Mayor Ben Boukari, Jr. responded with “We hear you,” and added that the commission would “do what we can to make sure things are done the right way.”

A second public hearing on the rezoning is required, but a date has not yet been determined.

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