HIGH SPRINGS – In the midst of a recurring trend associated with employee layoffs, High Springs City Clerk Jenny Parham finds her position the next to fall under the questioning gaze of at least one city commissioner.

After voicing his lack of confidence in the city clerk and the city finance services director in a previous meeting, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas elaborated on his earlier comments during the April 12 commission meeting saying Parham needs to refocus on the good of the city.

“I feel, with my vote of no confidence, the city’s not getting what they should,” Barnas said.

Parham has worked 24 years with the City of High Springs, but Barnas said, “Does that mean we owe you something or does that mean you owe us something?”

According to the City of High Springs Charter, the city clerk works at the pleasure of the commission, said Barnas. During the April 12 commission meeting, Barnas said to Parham and the other commissioners that there are choices available regarding the city clerk position.

“Do a resolution and send her down the road, or do nothing,” he said.  Barnas stated that he did ask for a resolution prior to the April 12 meeting, but he was unable to get one.

“If you’re directed to do something, it is done immediately,” Barnas said. “On the part of taking the initiative, to perhaps force the commission to get you help, on saying it needs to be done, on saying the scanners not working, on saying the tax parcels are in a drawer and we need to deal with those things – the constant little things that have just irritated the snot out of me,” Barnas added.

Only six years away from retirement, Parham suggested to the commission that they bring a part-time clerk on staff to learn from her and to help her with daily tasks. With the nearly insurmountable amount of records that need to be scanned, Parham said the task would be finished a lot quicker if she had someone to help.

Barnas agreed, saying that Parham was the city’s intellectual capital. He wants to bring on a part-time person who would eventually become full-time, and he or she would be able to help in case Parham was unavailable for any reason.

When the city brings on the assistant clerk, Barnas said the salary should come from reductions in the paychecks of Parham and the finance services director, Helen McIver. Other departments are working for a lot less, such as the police chief and the fire chief, said Barnas.

“I have been here longer than any department head you have,” Parham said. “I make less than any department head you have. I have less help than any department head you have, and I don’t think it’s fair to cut my salary.”

Last year, Parham said, the city didn’t have the money to bring on extra staff, so she took on the city clerk position because she was trying to help the city.

Newly elected Commissioner Scott Jamison said it was ironic that other commissioners were acknowledging how much work Parham had and how impossible it was to do it on her own, yet in the same statement, they were holding her accountable for it.

“Certain employees you need to prod, and certain employees you don’t,” he said.

Commissioner Sue Weller said she has every confidence in Parham, and Mayor Dean Davis said he has never asked Parham to do anything that she didn’t do.

In a follow-up phone call to Vice Mayor Barnas, he refused to comment on his statements and his reasoning for requesting a resolution to fire Parham or about why he wants to reduce the pay for the city clerk and city finance services director.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Former High Springs City Planner Christian Popoli is asking for a $147,858 severance package in lieu of filing a lawsuit against the city.

According to Linda Chapman, Popoli’s attorney, the package takes into account six months of salary and benefits, loss of wife’s income, compensatory time owed to Popoli, sale of home and sick leave payout, among several other things.

After working for the City of High Springs for six years, Popoli was laid off to fund a new city position, that of city engineer.  Popoli applied for the job, but doubt was raised by Mayor Dean Davis during the April 12 Commission meeting about Popoli’s qualifications as a city engineer.

“Is that a possibility that he could get a job as an engineer, even though he’s not an engineer?” Davis said.

City Manager Jeri Langman said Popoli has every right to apply, and that she would consider each applicant when selecting the future city engineer. As an employee let go by the city, Popoli could apply for any job available within the city, Langman said.

The Cityof High Springs posted a salary of $21 hourly, the equivalent to $43,800 annually, for the new position.

Because of the constant threat of termination, the Popoli family experienced significant stress at the hands of the city, Chapman stated in her letter. In addition, Popoli will most likely have to move a great distance to find a job in this economy, which will result in the family having to sell their home and loss of the salary of Popoli’s wife, Christy.  All of these items have been factored into the requested severance package by Chapman.

“He is asking for much less from the City in settlement than a Court would award him, as he has not factored the loss of his future pension, front pay until retirement or back pay after ‘termination’ into this demand,” reads Chapman’s proposed settlement letter.

Earlier, Chapman had said her office has been filing and will continue to file documents and complaints with the State Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Governor, the United State Department of Labor and the Alachua County Circuit Court.

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HIGH SPRINGS – On the evening before City Planner Christian Popoli was to serve his last day on the job, a High Springs commissioner brought up discussion in an April 5 meeting about other positions he thought were not working to their full potential.

Vice Mayor Bob Barnas announced that he had no confidence in the positions of City Clerk and the City Finance Services Director.

On Thursday, April 12, city commissioners will discuss Barnas’ remark about his lack of confidence in the City Clerk, a charter position, and its budget funding. As of Monday, Barnas’ only comment about his lack of confidence in the City Clerk position was “to come to the meeting on Thursday.”

“We have record losses that happened,” Barnas said during the April 5 meeting. “We have e-mails that were lost. We have tax parcels that didn’t get taken care of. I wanted to go on the record. I am not happy with the performance of the city clerk.”

Under the city clerk staffing section of the budget, Barnas read during the March 29 budget meeting that there were positions of deputy city clerk, city clerk, information technology supervisor and administrative clerk – student. However, only one position is salaried and funded, he said.

“But should we, before the end of the year, want an information technology person under city clerk, we could still do that?” Barnas asked Finance Services Director Helen McIver during the March 29 budget meeting. “We could move the city clerk, somehow, to city manager.”

McIver responded by saying that a budget adjustment would have to be made to move funds from one position to another, the same way the city moved funds from the city planner to the city engineer position.

Previous city managers, such as Jim Drumm, held the position for both the city manager and the deputy city clerk. Commissioner Linda Gestrin said the previous system worked well and that it might be something that should be looked at.

Commissioner Sue Weller said the city clerk position was moved away from the city manager to save money. When High Springs moved away from the city manager/city clerk position, the deputy city clerk position was eliminated.

As for the finance director, Barnas said there has been a constant waffling of how much money the city is over or under budget.

In a previous interview, McIver stated that it is still early in the year to analyze how the budget will be at the end of the year. She estimated that it would fall $75,000 short in the General Fund based on current trends, but that could change.

Barnas said he knows that under the City Charter he has no say over the position of the finance director, but he wanted to make his displeasure known.

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HAWTHORNE – While local city election season just ended in Alachua, Newberry and High Springs, it’s just starting in Hawthorne.

The qualifying period for the Hawthorne commission election began on Monday, April 16 and will end on April 25 at noon.

Seats currently held by incumbent Hawthorne Commissioner DeLoris Roberts and Commissioner Eleanor Randall are up for re-election. The election will be held Tuesday, June 12.


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W_-_High_Springs_Election_2012_Jamison_DSC_0248_copyCommissioner-elect Scott Jamison is congratulated by campaign supporters at a celebration after Jamison won the April 10 special election in High Springs.

HIGH SPRINGS – After a long High Springs election day, Scott Jamison celebrated an 86 vote lead over his opponent, Ann Carter, and a victory with nearly 59 percent of the vote.

When all votes had been tabulated, 503 people had cast their ballots in the April 10 special election to support their candidate of choice for Seat 5 on the City Commission.  After the polls were counted, Carter finished with 209 votes, and Jamison received 295 votes.

For a special election, Carter said there had been a great voter turnout. Barbara Martin, an election poll watcher, said the election was fair and done by the books, adding that everyone did a good job.

Despite Martin’s comment, High Springs City Clerk Jenny Parham said all the ballots will be recounted by hand because of a mix-up with the machine’s total numbers. The problem, she said, is not with the final vote count for each candidate, but the number of votes received. The machine provided a number that was one off from what the poll workers tallied as the correct number.

Parham said that even if the inconsistency had not happened, there would still have to be a post-election audit to check for discrepancies, but it would not have required a total recount.

Jamison will now assume city commission seat 5, which was vacated in January by former commissioner Eric May’s unexpected resignation.  At that time, May cited illegal activities within the city as his reason for resigning.

For both Jamison and Carter, this election was the first time they had run for political office.

“You don’t do it by yourself,” Carter said. “I’ve had a lot of support.”

Carter said that she is comfortable with the results, that she ran for election because she was concerned about what was happening with the town and felt that she had – and has – something to offer that would help the community.

“It was a great experience,” Carter said.

Carter said she doesn’t know a lot about Jamison, adding that Jamison was a “nice family man,” but personally, she wanted to win the election and bring the community together.

Prior to the results being announced, Jamison said he was confident, but worried. He thought a larger group of voters would benefit him in the end and hoped that the crowd would pick up toward the 7 p.m. poll closing.

“The hard part, as opposed to sports, is that I don’t dictate the outcome,” he said. It’s the unknown that makes it tough, he added.

Jamison said he felt like the special election had divided the community, more so than it had ever been.

“Regretfully, I think the line was drawn by certain individuals,” he said, adding that Carter was on one side of the line, while he stood on the other side. “I don’t think it’s good for the city,” he added.

After being elected, Jamison said he was humbled by the number of people that came out to support him.

“I’m going to do what’s best to warrant their trust,” he said, adding that he intends to do what is best for the city.

He thanked Carter for running a positive campaign.

High Springs Mayor Dean Davis said he was disappointed in the low voter turnout. “But it is a win- win situation,” he said, because “both candidates are good people.” Davis said that Jamison will do a good job on the commission.

Suzie Clarke, owner of the Wellness Spa in High Springs, said that rules and regulations had been disregarded by the current commission and that Carter reflects the views of those currently in office, adding “I think Scott’s win shows that people are a little disgusted.”

High Springs resident Linda Hewlett said, “I feel people want the government in High Springs to be more inclusive of different people’s views and opinions.”

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W_-_Grinder_Pumps_DSCF5843_copyCity of High Springs Streets Superintendent David Benton displays one of the many damaged grinder pumps.

HIGH SPRINGS – After replacing approximately 162 grinder pumps as of March 10, the City of High Springs will be issuing an educational brochure to city residents to teach proper methods for care and maintenance of the pumps which are connected to the town’s centralized wastewater system.

During the March 10 Saturday Town Hall meeting, the wastewater system topped the list of commission priorities for 2012. The city commissioned a study from the engineering firm, Mittauer and Associates, Inc., to decide the best course of action regarding the system and the associated pump failures.

Working with the engineering company, High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman said the city devised a tip sheet for the handling of the systems. Currently, the city loses two to three grinder pumps a month due to issues that could be preventable. Gregory Lang, of Mittauer and Associates, Inc., said a city should have a three to five percent failure rate.  High Springs has been experiencing a much higher rate of failure.

Lang said the company and the city are still trying to understand what is causing the issues with the grinder pumps.

“We think it’s a combination of factors,” he said.

Mittauer and Associates, Inc. directed Langman and the city staff to start organizing a database for the grinder pumps. It would contain detailed reports about each grinder pump failure, including where the failures are located, what may have caused them and possibly photos of the failed pumps.

Lang expects the city will see benefits from the new database over the coming months, and certainly within the coming year.

According to a rough draft of the educational brochure, there is currently no charge for replacement of a grinder pump, if it fails for unknown reasons. The city keeps replacement pumps on hand to fix residential pumps that go out.

Currently, there are 22 broken pumps the city needs to swap out for working ones. During the Town Hall meeting, Langman mentioned working with an Orlando, Fla., company to purchase refurbished pumps. That plan fell through after the refurbished pumps failed quickly due to a difference in wiring configurations from the original to the remanufactured units. Now, Langman is working with the original manufacturer, E One, and Jacksonville-based Water Resources to purchase refurbished pumps at a reduced cost.

The city can charge residents penalties and fees for replacing pumps that have obviously been misused or improperly cared for, according to the city's grinder pump brochure. With the growing database, the city can track which residences and areas have a recurring problem with the grinder pumps.

“The same items that create problems for septic tanks create problems for the grinder pump sewer system,” Langman said.

Part of the sewer system remains on a gravity-fed system, but the tips for maintaining proper care remain the same, said Langman.

Grinder pumps crush waste on site before pumping the wastewater from individual homes to the local sewer plant. Langman said that common-sense items, such as t-shirts, cannot be thrown into the sewer system as the grinder pump will not be able to break down large items.

On the electrical panel, a flashing light warns pump owners if there is a problem. When the light starts flashing, problems associated with the pump are less costly and can probably be repaired without full removal of the grinder pump. Full replacements are costing the city between $3,000 and $6,000, said Langman.

Residents are cautioned against attempting any repairs.  They are further cautioned to be careful what items are flushed down into the sewer system because some, such as diapers, cooking grease, socks, rags and cat litter, can cause sewer overflows or back-ups.

Introducing substances such as flammable material, gasoline, strong chemicals and explosives is a violation of city, state and federal laws.

Residents are instructed, that if a problem occurs, to contact the Public Works Department at 386-454-2134 during business hours.

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W-AlachuaElection_2012_DSC_0250_copyAlachua commission candidate Shirley Green Brown reacts to news that she won the April 10 election.

ALACHUA – While besting her opponents by a 2-1 margin, it was still a razor thin victory for Shirley Green Brown as she narrowly avoided a run-off election with 50.1 percent of the votes cast in the April 10 City of Alachua commission election.

With a total 473 votes cast, Brown garnered 237 ballots while Patricia Lee picked up 108 and Billy Rogers 108.

The three candidates squared off in hopes of winning a commission seat currently held by Orien Hills, who did not seek re-election to a sixth term.

Just one vote made the difference in an election where the city’s canvassing board overseeing the process had to refer to the City’s election laws for clarification.  With a three-way race, splitting the vote meant that it was possible no candidate would win a majority of the total votes.

In referring to the city’s election laws, the board found that the language stated the winning candidate must have not only more votes than their opponents, but also more than 50 percent of the total votes cast.

After polls closed at 7 p.m., Brown had a lead of 226 votes to Lee’s and Rogers’ 104 and 106 votes respectively.  That was a 51.835 percent lead for Brown.  When 35 absentee ballots were tallied, however, Lee picked up 24 more votes, Brown, 9 votes and Rogers, 2 votes.  Two provisionally cast ballots were verified and added into the tally, giving Brown the two votes she needed to move above the 50 percent mark and avoid a runoff.

If Brown garnered just one vote less, she would have been sent into a run-off election with Lee.

After the canvassing board declared the winner, an elated Brown was congratulated by opponents Lee and Rogers.

With 473 ballots cast, only 8.3 percent of the City of Alachua’s 5,732 registered voters participated in the April 10 election.

Bown may have been given an edge with an endorsement by Commissioner Hills, a friend of more than two decades.  “I’m so grateful to him for his endorsement and to my husband, family, friends, campaign team and my heavenly father who gave me this blessing,” she said.

A Speech and Language Pathologist with the School Board of Alachua County for some 31 years, Brown has been a resident of Alachua since the 1970s.  She is a member of numerous community organizations including the Alachua Woman’s Club, St. Luke A.M.E Church and Friends of the Alachua Branch Library.

Brown credited much of her support from people who have seen and known her over the years from schools to community events and ball games.  “I love people and I love serving others,” she said.

She plans on retiring from the school board in June, leaving more time for her new role as a commissioner.  “This is just another job for me to do,” she said, adding, “I plan to be a new voice for the people of Alachua and I will do my best for everyone and represent the city well.”

Brown’s son, Marlon Brown, 37, said in a telephone interview that he was proud of his mother adding, “It’s a wonderful day in the city of Alachua.”

As for his mother’s new role as a commissioner, Marlon Brown said Shirley Brown would “bring to the commission good spirits and the motivation to help Alachua.”

About the campaign season, Shirley Brown said she believed it to be a clean one, adding, “Everyone was respectful of each other and exhibited a lot of integrity.”

Candidate Patricia Lee agreed with Brown that the campaigns were clean, but did not believe the election received enough media attention.

“I would like to see the strong hold of the people who help people get elected in Alachua broken,” said Lee.

Now an executive director with a Leesburg, Fla. area Community Development Corporation, Lee was once an employee of the City of Alachua.  She unsuccessfully ran for commission in 2008.  She also added that although she believes any one of the three candidates would make good commissioners there are certain issues she would have brought to the commission.

“A higher level of integrity and transparency needs to be reached,” Lee said of the city.

Commissioner Orien Hills will serve until the beginning of the April 23 commission meeting when Brown will take her oath of office and assume Hills’ seat on the dais.

Commissioner Gary Hardacre ran unopposed for his seat on the commission and was automatically re-elected as a result.  Commissioners are elected to three-year terms in the city of Alachua.

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