HIGH SPRINGS – During the final moments of an Aug. 9 commission meeting, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas suggested once again to send out an ad in search of a new city manager, but decided to wait until the Wednesday, Aug. 15, meeting to discuss the future of the position and the woman who currently holds it.

“Do I have to go on record to say that I’m not happy with what’s happened with the city manager and me and things that have happened? Absolutely not happy,” Barnas said. “Do I think I want to have this continue? Absolutely not. I think we ought to go in a different direction.”

Barnas asked High Springs City Attorney Raymond Ivey to draft a preliminary resolution to terminate High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman in preparation for the Aug. 15 meeting. Despite the fact that Barnas stated he wanted to consider placing a 90-day hire process, which includes a 30-day ad, during the Wednesday meeting, the agenda reads a consideration of Resolution 2012-L, which will notify Langman of the commission’s intent to terminate her employment.

According to Barnas, attorney Ivey said the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the current manager from when she was originally hired as an Interim Manager still holds. Based on the MOU, Langman is a temporary employee helping the City until a permanent manager can be found.

Barnas suggested the City place an ad in search of a city manager who has finance knowledge so that High Springs could combine the positions of city manager and the city finance services director.

Commissioner Sue Weller contends that Langman’s status was changed to permanent manager at some point, and therefore the City Charter requires a resolution providing notice to Langman that she is going to be released from employment.

“I’m not trying to argue with you in terms of what you want to do,” Weller said. “I’m concerned about the process of it.”

The Commission stated during the Aug. 9 meeting that Langman’s status was made permanent to comply with labor laws concerning benefits.

“You can’t make her full-time to be compliant with wage and benefit laws, but come back to say this [the MOU] trumps it,” Commissioner Scott Jamison said. “To me, it’s mind-boggling that this would even be considered.”

Despite the fact that the majority of the Commission seemed in favor of placing an ad in several local papers, Jamison felt it was inappropriate to advertise a job when there was currently someone filling the position.

“Just because it’s legal to do it, doesn’t make it right. What’s going on right now is wrong,” he said.

Barnas’ suggestion does not come as a surprise.  As recently as July 10 and June 28 meetings, he questioned his fellow commissioners about whether they were happy with Langman’s work.

“Obviously, we put a city manager in place as an interim city manager and then as a permanent city manager. Did we make a mistake? Yes or no, it will be debated forever and ever,” Barnas said during the June 28 meeting.  “But, the question now becomes, as another commissioner put it, Mr. Mayor, is it working for us?

During that meeting, the Commission scheduled a July 10 special meeting to discuss the hiring process for a new city manager, and Barnas requested Ivey to draft a resolution to terminate Langman. Although the commission didn’t take action on July 10, they did set a salary range of $48,000 to $75,000 annually for a new city manager. Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin were in favor of moving forward with the search for a new manager.

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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman has released a final draft of a letter concerning former High Springs City Planner Christian Popoli’s demand for payment of compensatory and flex time hours.

In an article published on Aug. 9 titled “Department of Labor Rules Against High Springs,” it was reported that the United States Department Labor (DOL) advised the City to pay Popoli approximately $8,200 in order to avoid a full scale investigation.  The DOL also suggested the City pay back wages or compensation time to current salaried employees or former employees as far back as two and a half years if they had earned it.

Langman had initially identified a number of current employees as being affected by the decision, including City Clerk Jenny Parham, Finance Services Director Helen McIver, Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham, City Engineer John Morrison, Police Chief Steve Holley and City Manager Jerri Langman as well as former employees James Drumm, Verne Riggal, James Troiano and William Benck.

In Langman’s most recent letter, she states that the positions of City Engineer, Police Chief, Fire Chief, Finance Services Director, City Clerk and City Manager are exempt from the DOL decision due to the nature of the positions.

Langman proposed submitting recommendations to the Commission regarding these positions detailing the typical work hours expected of each position as well as how employees would be compensated for exceeding those hours.

Langman also stated in the letter that currently all the referenced employees, with the exception of the City Manager and the Finance Services Director, are being sent home after they reach 40 hours of work for the week.

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W_-_Feature_Babe_ruth_Champs_Pitt_NC_DSCF6652_copyPitt County North Carolina takes Babe Ruth World Series Championship

ALACHUA – After a long road to the end, a team from Pitt County, North Carolina took the championship in the 2012 12U Babe Ruth Softball World Series that wrapped up Wednesday evening.  After a big 16-3 win against Marshall County, Tennessee Tuesday evening, Pitt County rode the wave into the championship games.  Having been dealt their only loss by Lodi, California in a Monday evening game, Pitt County could not afford another loss.  And it was the undefeated girls from Lodi who Pitt County would face off against in the Championship games.

Pitt County pulled out a 6-5 win in the 11:30 a.m. game against Lodi Wednesday.  With both teams having suffered a loss to each other, the two battled it out in a winner-take-all game Wednesday afternoon.  And the winner was the Pitt County team, which knocked in a 6-0 shutout to clinch the championship title.

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HIGH SPRINGS – After discussing potential changes to the City’s personnel procedure manual, including capping vacation time, the High Springs Commission delayed taking action until the City’s Finance Services Director was able to attend a budget meeting.

“I want to address some serious issues in here that I think we have to address,” Vice Mayor Bob Barnas said.

During the Aug. 9 commission meeting, discussion centered on compensatory time, flex time, vacation time and merit pay.  The discussion follows a recent communication to the City of High Springs by the United States Department of Labor to pay the city’s former planner for unpaid compensatory and flex time.

Following the Department of Labor’s warning of a full-scale investigation, Barnas said City staff has improved their efforts within the last week to keep up with compensatory time.

Currently, employees earn vacation time based on years of service to the City. Employees with more than 20 years with High Springs earn 200 hours per year, while hours earned by employees with fewer than 20 years is calculated based on the years. Most employees are not allowed to accrue in excess of 240 hours, but department directors may accrue up to 320 hours.

Barnas suggested capping vacation time at 240 hours for department heads and 200 hours for all other employees.

Commissioner Sue Weller cautioned Barnas about the process of cutting vacation time, stating employees may feel like they’ve earned the right to the time they have already accumulated.

“I feel department heads should have better benefits,” Weller said, referring to the higher cap on hours. “Right now, that’s all they have that’s more than the employees they supervise.”

Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham suggested the City not cap the total hours, but limit the amount of carry-over hours to 40 a year. He also added that the carry-over deadline should be set for anniversary year instead of fiscal year so that City employees are staggered instead of fighting for vacation at the same time.

If the City decides to cut vacation time, the Commission would allow employees a year to use any time accumulated over the new set amount.

“Every city across the country is saying we can’t afford these things,” Barnas said. “If you ask me to vote on this now, I’m cutting everything.”

“I want to come up with something that truly gives someone a merit raise,” Barnas said.

City Manager Jeri Langman said before the City can hand out merit bonuses, there needs to be a uniform description of each job. She said staff is currently working on putting these together.

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Agency says former planner due $8.2K

HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs convened in a shade meeting on Aug. 2 to discuss an ongoing lawsuit with former city planner Christian Popoli.  In July, the City was notified by the United States Department of Labor (DOL) that the department had ruled in Popoli’s favor concerning his claim to overtime pay owed him by the City.

Initially, the DOL ruled that Popoli was due $2,057 for unpaid compensation and flex time. However, after the former city planner contested the hours, the DOL increased the amount to $8,209.

“In order to avoid a full investigation, which would be very detailed for all employees, the investigator is requesting that we pay for the uncompensated time immediately,” High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman wrote in an email to commissioners.

In addition to Popoli’s unpaid wages, the investigator suggested the City pay back wages or compensation time to current salaried employees or past employees as far back as two and a half years if they have earned it.

According to Langman, the decision will affect the following employees: Jenny Parham, Helen McIver, Bruce Gillingham, John Morrison, Steve Holley and Jeri Langman, as well as former employees James Drumm, Verne Riggal, James Troiano and William Benck.

For current employees, she recommended paying each employee on a bi-weekly basis so the City does not accumulate an outstanding balance year’s end.

In order to cover the costs associated with the DOL’s finding, the City’s contingency fund for this fiscal year will be affected, as well as departmental budgets in the upcoming fiscal year budget.

Due to the ongoing litigation, the city commission has not discussed this issue during an open public meeting.

However, in an email, Commissioner Linda Gestrin advised Langman to seek a second opinion from an attorney before any direction is given regarding paying employees.

City Clerk Jenny Parham responded to Gestrin’s inquiry by stating Langman intended to contact an employment attorney and inform the commission prior to paying the compensation time.

As of Aug. 8, Popoli still had not received the money.  Based on the shade meeting, Popoli said he believes the City will try to fight the ruling.

“I’m not shocked,” he said. “But I rather hoped that once the DOL made the recommendation that they [the City] would follow through.”

In lieu of suing the City, Popoli had earlier requested a $147,000 severance package. The City denied his request.

After working for the City of High Springs for six years, Popoli was laid off, with his salary savings earmarked to fund a newly created city engineer position.  Popoli applied for the job, but during an April 12 commission meeting Mayor Dean Davis raised doubts about Popoli’s qualifications as a city engineer.

Popoli expects that his attorney Linda Chapman will be filing a lawsuit against the City in the coming weeks.

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Alachua to host additional tournaments next year

W_-_Babe_ruth_Champts_Hal_DSCF6806_copyCity of Alachua Recreation Director Hal Brady displays one of the 2012 Babe Ruth World Series pink commemorative helmets.  Area merchants purchased a helmet for each girl to collect signatures from other teams as well as Babe Ruth officials and World Series volunteers.





ALACHUA – The Babe Ruth Softball World Series has once again brought business and pleasure to the city of Alachua.

The tournament, which brought 20 aged 12 and under softball teams to compete at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex, concludes this week and has provided an influx in purchases at local hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

Hal Brady, recreation director for the City of Alachua, estimates that around 2,100 hotel room nights were booked in local hotels by families in town for the event.  Brady also said hotel rooms were not the only things purchased by visitors.

“A lot of families from out of town had to get rental cars,” Brady said.  “And there were many meals purchased this week.”

Babe Ruth League President Rob Connor said he is already working to arrange dates for next year’s tournament in Alachua and said the city is likely in line for a few additional tournaments next year.

Connor and the Babe Ruth League are holding the inaugural World Series for their new “Xtreme Fastpitch” softball leagues next year, and Connor said he aims to have Alachua host the championship tournaments for both the under 16 and under 14 Xtreme Fastpich leagues.

“We’re looking to add two more weekends of tournaments in Alachua,” Connor said.  “We would stagger the tournaments around the end of July and beginning of August.”

Connor said the new tournaments would also be held at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex, and he estimates the championships would bring a 200 percent increase in revenue from what the Babe Ruth World Series currently brings.

The Babe Ruth Softball World Series began Friday with an opening ceremony attended by over 2,000 people, highlighted by a fireworks display and an impromptu dance competition among the many young softball players.

Brady said the fireworks were paid for primarily with $2,500 donations from both Cox Communications and the Alachua Detonators and noted that the tournament was aided largely by contributions from local merchants.

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HIGH SPRINGS – In what may be a series of legal missteps, the High Springs City Commission passed an ordinance at the July 31 meeting, and then quickly rescinded the motion and passed a subsequent one placing a charter amendment on the November ballot that, if approved by voters, would limit the Commission’s borrowing authority to $1 million.

During the July 31 public hearing, the Commission initially passed Ordinance 2012-13, proposing a charter amendment to limit the borrowing authority to $2 million, although the public hearing notice had been advertised with a $1 million limit.  After closing out the public hearing, the Commission then voted to change the proposed charter amendment again to reduce the “municipal borrowing” authority amount from $2 million to $1 million.

That measure passed 3-2 with Commissioners Sue Weller and Scott Jamison opposing.  Prior to the re-vote, former High Springs City Attorney Thomas Depeter informed the commission that passing the reconsideration violated the law, indicating that the ordinance would have to be advertised again to give notice to the public and that a subsequent public hearing would be necessary.

The commission voted 3-2, with Commissioners Scott Jamison and Sue Weller opposing and Mayor Dean Davis, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin in favor, to suspend the rules and take up the matter immediately.

“It has been brought to my attention that we may also have a procedural issue with the passing of ordinance 2012-13 by its amendment,” City Attorney Ray Ivey said later in the meeting regarding the amended ordinance.

He stated if any substantial change was made to an ordinance then the process must start anew and be advertised again. According to Ivey, the increase from $1 million to $2 million could be considered a substantial change.

“My recommendation, rather than analyze it and second guess ourselves, is just redo it,” Ivey said. “You start the process over.”

In order to have adequate time to get the ordinance on the ballot for the November election, the ordinance had to be acted upon at the July 31 meeting. However, Ivey said that returning to the original ordinance still violated the law.

Despite the warning, Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas made a motion to reconsider the ordinance and return it to its advertised language. With the rules suspended, the motion passed.

In November, barring any injunctions against the ordinance, High Springs residents will have an opportunity to vote on whether or not to limit the Commission’s borrowing authority to $1 million or less.

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