2011Year_Review_2The heartland communities experienced a wide variety of triumps and tragedies in 2011, making it a particularly memorable year.  Festivals, the closing of a cat sanctuary amid charges of abuse, a school shoooting and along awaited community center opening all made the headlines from May through August.

Editor’s note: This edition comprises Part II of our traditional year in review, as reported on the pages of the Alachua County Today newspaper from May through August. Topping headlines in 2011 were the usual election battles and a host of financial issues facing local cities as well as triumphs and tragedies and ongoing battles waged in the heartland communities.


Reported in the May 5 edition of Alachua County Today was that the City of Alachua had almost entirely restored a $1.7 million deficit in restricted funds. The news marked a big turnaround for the City, which learned in mid-2010 that it had serious financial deficiencies and was even teetering on a financial state of emergency.  The 2008-2009 audit, presented in June 2010 revealed the city spent $1.7 million of restricted funds on city operations.  But a 2011 audit report covering a one-year period ending Sept. 30, 2010 revealed that through budget cuts, all but $15,771 had been paid back into the restricted cash reserves.  By the time the report was delivered to the commission, all of the restricted funds had been repaid.

Former High Springs City Manager James Drumm was picked to lead the City of Zephyrhills, Fla. starting in May, 2011.  Drumm had been High Springs City Manager for about six years until his departure in October 2010, when the High Springs City Commission voted 4-1 to terminate his contract.  Before a final vote was taken, Drumm resigned from the post and left with six months’ salary and benefits.  According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Zephyrhills is a city of 13,288 people located in Pasco County, northeast of St. Petersburg, Fla.  High Springs has about 4,700 residents.

JGC Land Development, LLC, developer of Heritage Oaks subdivision near Santa Fe High School, filed suit in July against the City of Alachua after commissioners agreed in a May meeting that the City would stand by its actions in requiring and drawing down a $914,000 irrevocable letter of credit (ILOC).  In a complaint initially delivered to the City in 2010, JGC also alleged that the City wrongly required payment of $175,000 to make improvements to a wastewater lift station impacted by the development.  The ILOC was intended to cover the estimated costs of all required remedial repairs and improvements such as streets and drainage if the developer failed to make them by an agreed upon deadline.  In the complaint, JGC says requiring the $914,000 ILOC placed an inordinate burden on the development and has essentially led to foreclosure proceedings.  The litigation remains in the courts today.

After years of discussions, the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and the City of Alachua finally sealed the deal that would give the local business organization a permanent home.  With fitting timing, Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, City Manager Traci Cain and Chamber President Bob Page signed the lease agreement during the Chamber’s annual banquet on May 5.  In lieu of charging a fee for the lease, the City agreed to provide the space to the chamber in exchange for the Chamber’s repair, maintenance and general upkeep of the building in addition to continuing to fulfill the common business interests it shares with the City.  The Chamber is currently engaged in a fundraising campaign to pay for renovations to the building.

The area was rocked by news that shots had been fired at High Springs Community School on May 18.  The incident landed 63-year-old Robert Nodine in jail. The day’s events were apparently sparked by a request from the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) that the school not release Nodine’s two grandchildren because of an investigation being conducted by the agency.  DCF had not yet arrived at the school to deal with matters related to that investigation when Nodine arrived.  Nodine is charged with four felonies, including two counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer and two counts of possession of a weapon on school property.  According to police, Nodine armed himself with a handgun and fired several shots before being taken down by gunfire from law enforcement.  Police say Nodine became irate while at the school, and while being escorted off the campus, the grandfather was reportedly able to arm himself.  As the altercation escalated, both Nodine and police officers reportedly fired their weapons.  Nodine was the only person reported to have been injured.  He was taken to an area hospital for treatment of his injuries, then released and remanded to the Alachua county jail, where he remains.  Although most of the school’s children had already been released on the day of the incident because of an abbreviated Wednesday schedule, as many as 175 students remained on campus for after-school activities.  A Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) report released in August indicated that the use of deadly force by officers against Nodine was warranted.  The FDLE investigation was prompted by officers firing shots, which ultimately brought down Nodine.

The City of Hawthorne was hit with a $9,000 increase in its annual auditing bill, dealing yet another blow to the financially troubled city.  The city had been dealing with a number of financial issues and hired Sexton & Schnoll, a certified public accounting firm, to conduct a financial audit.  Sexton & Schnoll’s initial fee was estimated at around $19,000, but in May, the firm requested a fee increase of $9,000, bringing the total estimated cost to $28,000.  The increase was blamed on unanticipated bookkeeping the firm had to conduct.

What began as a measure to clarify the City of High Springs’ alcohol ordinance in May has since become a politically divisive issue among commissioners.  A dispute between a local private school and a local business exposed the shortfalls of High Springs’s alcohol ordinance. In May, that disagreement led commissioners to discuss options for clarifying its ordinance, and perhaps even making it more lenient.  The ordinance was blamed by some for pushing businesses out of the city, but others regarded it as a safety and moral issue.


Exactly three weeks after gunfire was reportedly exchanged on the campus of High Springs Community School (HSCS), parents, students and the community as a whole joined together June 1 to honor and recognize the law enforcement officers who responded to the scene.  Called “A Celebration of Success,” the gathering drew a wide array of parents, residents and officials who packed the school’s cafeteria.  Alachua County Superintendent of Schools Dan Boyd, then High Springs Police Chief James Troiano, Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, then High Springs Mayor Larry Travis and over a dozen law enforcement officers were among those attending.  Deputy Brian Phillips of Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) and Sergeant Chuck Harper of the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) were the first responders to the incident on May 18.  Phillips, the school’s resource officer, had reportedly escorted 63-year-old Robert Nodine off campus when the man was somehow able to arm himself with a gun.  As the confrontation with Nodine escalated, Harper went to the school to assist Phillips and gunshots were fired moments later, police say.  Parents and local businesses raised some $2,100 to put on Wednesday’s celebration.  Both Deputy Phillips and Sgt. Harper were given a box of gifts donated by local businesses and stacks of handwritten cards from the school’s students.

Alachua County Animal Services along with two other organizations seized 697 cats and one rooster from the Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary near High Springs.  Steve and Pennie Lefkowitz, whose home is also on the property, operate Haven Acres.  The seizure, which occurred over a two day period beginning June 7, was part of a criminal investigation and in response to concerns of alleged hoarding.  Animal Services was reportedly tipped off in late May when a person wanting to drop off a cat at the sanctuary became concerned upon seeing the conditions of the animals there.  The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) both took lead roles in the seizure.  The final tally of 697 felines was more than triple the 200 cat limit Haven Acres was permitted by Alachua County to keep.  Most of the cats were being kept in pens scattered across the eight-acre property, but some were kept inside the home and elsewhere.  Deceased cats were found, including some in a refrigerator and at least one in a cage, according to Animal Services officials.  The county’s permitting of the sanctuary had resulted in a lawsuit filed several years ago by the City of High Springs.  Neighbors complained of a strong odor emanating from the property and for several years, city officials warned Alachua County officials that they worried the ‘sanctuary’ could be a public health threat.  About two months after 697 cats were seized, sheriff deputies arrested the owners of the facility on 47 animal cruelty charges related to the couple’s sanctuary.  Among the health concerns called out in the 14-page charging document were muscle atrophy, fleas, ear mites, missing and abscessed teeth, emaciation, dehydration, feline leukemia virus, alopecia, feline immunodeficiency virus, severe upper respiratory infection, ocular discharge, nasal discharge and several others.

AxoGen, Inc., a high tech company located at the University of Florida Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator announced in June a merger and transition to a public company. AxoGen, Inc., underwent a merger with Texas based LecTec Corporation. The merger resulted in at least $12.5 million for the Alachua-based biotech company.  AxoGen, which specializes in developing products that repair nerves that have been severed or severely crushed.

Hawthorne City Commissioner William A. Carlton, 84, was re-elected to serve for an additional two years on the city commission.  The clash for Seat 3 on the commission ended June 14 after Carlton defeated his opponent, James G. Franklin, Sr., for the position.  Of the 600 registered Hawthorne voters, 112 voted for Carlton, with 57 voting for his opponent.  Hawthorne Mayor Eleanor Randall and Commissioner DeLoris Roberts will be up for re-election in June 2012.  Voters also approved all 13 charter amendments on the June 14 ballot.

After nearly three months, Alan Hitchcock Park on Alachua’s Main Street reopened to the public. The local landmark, commonly known as the Old Theatre Park, was closed on March 14 due to structural safety concerns.  Renovations, which included repairs to the east wall of the park, construction of two new columns and reinforced fiberglass rods, were paid for by the Downtown Redevelopment Trust board (DRTB), and cost some $40,000.

A 6,000-acre wildfire burning in eastern Alachua County, prompted the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) to close on June 15, its property within the Santa Fe Swamp in Alachua and Bradford counties.  The blaze engulfed the entire 6,000-acre swamp when a strike of lightning ignited the wildfire on June 6.  Local firefighters from three counties were called in to assist with preventing structural property damage.

Charles Grapski was cleared of charges of probationary violations on June 21 when they were dismissed by Judge James Nilon.  The one-time Florida House and City of Alachua commission candidate had been facing four violations of probation alleged in a March 15 report.  Most of the violations were for failing to pay fees.  Although Grapski was off the hook for the probation violations, his alleged conduct in the courtroom on June 21 resulted in a charge of criminal contempt of court, which remains unresolved today.

On June 28, former Alachua City Manager Clovis Watson, Jr. confirmed what had been rumored for some time, that he would make a run for the Florida House of Representatives.  Watson said he decided to run for the seat, which is currently held by incumbent Charles S. “Chuck” Chestnut, in order to provide the type of leadership in Tallahassee that brings opportunity and results.  Watson, the fourth of six children, lived in Alachua’s Merrillwood Housing Projects during his childhood.  After graduating from high school in 1976, Watson stayed in his hometown of Alachua to work at the Copeland Sausage Company and later became the first African-American police sergeant and Deputy Chief of Police. He was appointed Alachua City Manager in 2002.

Waldo celebrated with the “High Tea Party and Fashion Show” in June.  Fancy hats, linen tablecloths and dainty finger foods were only the precursors leading up to the main show.  The event was sponsored by Waldo Concerned Citizens for the Community, Inc. (W3C’s).  Proceeds from the event are used to provide financial assistance to a Waldo community high school graduate seeking post-secondary education.  The Waldo Community Center was transformed into a well-appointed tearoom befitting the 35-40 ladies dressed appropriately in elegant attire, complete with the required hats and gloves. Adding spice to the excitement, the Red Hat Divas of Gainesville came out to support the cause and joined in the action by showing off their purple wardrobes and their always stylish red hats.


As first reported by Alachua County Today, it was discovered that the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) was coming under scrutiny from the State Attorney’s Office.  What began as a review, later became an investigation by the State Attorney’s Office followed a citizen-led effort in which it was alleged that county commissioners repeatedly used informal meetings to formulate decisions on issues without public input or review.  Ward Scott, a former candidate for county commission and city of Alachua resident had criticized the BOCC for holding what he dubbed, “the meetings before the meetings.”  The State Attorney’s Office recently closed its investigation and reported that it found no violations of the law.  Attention called to the matter by Scott and the media did lead the County to alter its procedures by providing an agenda for the type of meetings in question.

With less than three months remaining in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, officers at the Alachua Police Department (APD) approved a bargaining unit agreement with the City.  As members of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), officers at the Alachua Police Department had been seeking pay raises.  Union negotiations seemed to reach a standstill several months beforehand with little chance of an agreement in sight.  The stalemate was broken when Florida Governor Rick Scott increased the amount employees would be required to contribute into the Florida Retirement System (FRS).  Meanwhile, he also reduced, by a greater amount, the percentage of an employee’s pay that the State, city, county or other participating agency must pay.  In light of the changes, City of Alachua Commissioners, like other boards in the area, authorized an across-the-board pay increase of 3.1 percent to nearly all city workers to offset the employee’s increased contribution requirements.  But APD officers were left out of that move because wages and salaries for officers are managed through the FOP union contract with the City.  The increase did, however, open the doors for a concession by the City, which agreed to provide that same 3.1 percent employee offset increase to officers under the terms of the contract up for consideration.

Alachua Elementary School Principal Jim Brandenburg finally hanging up his hat after two decades at the post.  The decision to retire shocked many of his teachers, students and the community as a whole.  Brandenburg didn’t cut all ties the community.  He still leads the Alachua Chamber of Commerce as president.  He said the retirement would allow him to dedicate more time to his volunteer activities.  Just weeks after Brandenburg announced plans to retire, his replacement, Eva Copeland, had already been picked.  At the recommendation of Superintendent Dan Boyd, board members of the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) voted unanimously to appoint Copeland as the principal of Alachua Elementary School.  Copeland was already teaching at Alachua Elementary when Brandenburg began as an assistant principal in 1991.  Copeland taught at Alachua Elementary for about 16 years and spent the last four and a half years at High Springs Community School.

Jorge Avina, owner of Los Avina Mexican restaurant, made the decision in July to call it quits on his High Springs location and instead reopen it on Alachua’s Main Street. After two years on NE 2nd Avenue in High Springs, Avina said his business was being hindered by the City of High Springs’ alcohol ordinance, which prevented him from serving customers beer and wine.  By the time Avina made the move on Sept. 1, the City of High Springs altered its alcohol ordinance, but it was too late for Avina who had already signed a lease in Alachua.

Former City of Alachua mayor and commissioner Jean Calderwood announced July 20 that she was stepping back into the political arena with plans to run for Alachua County Commission. The longtime Alachua resident was joined by supporters when she kicked off her campaign with a press conference at Alachua City Hall.  The former mayor said she plans to run for the District 3 seat currently held by Alachua County Commissioner Paula DeLaney.  Since stepping down in April 2010 from her role as the City of Alachua mayor, Calderwood said a number of people had asked, urged and encouraged her to run for the County Commission.  But she said the final decision to run came after discussions with her family.  Calderwood said she wants to restore a sense of pride to living in Alachua County, saying, “It makes me sad that you don’t hear anybody bragging about Alachua County.”

CTD Holdings, Inc. officials and local dignitaries joined in cutting the ribbon on the company’s new headquarters in Alachua on July 25.  CTD Chief Executive Officer Rick Strattan and Director Dr. Jeffrey Tate explained the future promise the growing company holds not only for local jobs and the economy, but for medicine as well.  Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper publicly welcomed CTD Holdings and its child companies.  “We want to think Nanosonic for choosing Alachua,” he said.  Specializing in the manufacture of cyclodextrin compounds, the company has been ramping up production at its newly-acquired facility in Alachua as final equipment installations and construction were completed.

In a 3-2 vote, High Springs commissioners gave the okay on July 28 for a controversial new ordinance removing the distance requirements that a restaurant serving alcohol must be from a church or a school.  The new law became effective Aug. 7.  Under the previous ordinance, alcoholic beverages were not to be served within 500 feet of a church or 600 feet of a public or private school.  The alcohol issue became a key issue in the 2011 commission election in November, and since that time commissioners have discussed reinstituting the more restrictive law.

High Springs attorney Tom Weller was named by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce as the Citizen of the Year. Weller was honored at the chamber’s annual banquet July 29.  High Springs Chamber of Commerce President Donna Mogler pointed to Weller’s eagerness to volunteer. “He’s always there to lend a helping hand whenever you need it,” she said.  “He’s just an all-around good guy.”  Weller was among four other citizens who were nominated for the title.  The honor also earned him a spot in the Christmas parade as its grand marshal.  Also recognized at the annual banquet were Leda Carrero, Kelly Deese, Barbara Martin and Sandra Webb.  All five of the nominees were selected because of their volunteerism in the community.  Weller said of the honor, “I think it’s fantastic, especially considering the other four people that were nominated…all of them do an awful lot for the community.”  Weller spends much of his volunteer time with the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, but he also works with High Springs’ Main Street Organization, a mentoring program, and has previously served as president of the High Springs Chamber of Commerce.



The community mourned the loss of 35-year-old firefighter Chad Hood who was killed August 2 when the Suzuki motorcycle he was driving collided with a Volkswagen minivan on U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua. The accident happened early in the morning near a Sunoco gas station in the area of the Turkey Creek neighborhood.  Hood was reportedly on his way to the High Springs fire station when the accident occurred.  He was a Gainesville resident and graduate of Buchholz High School.  He had been with the High Springs Fire Department since 2007.  Hood left behind a wife, Susan, and a young son, Wyatt.

Hundreds of Archer area residents and dignitaries celebrated the opening of a community center as they cut the ribbon and the doors were opened on the historic Archer High School Gymnasium August 2.  The ceremony marked the realization of a dream for Archer Commissioner Roberta Lopez who has spent the better part of the last decade spearheading grant writing and fundraising efforts.  The 1937 building has now been returned to its original condition, but with some interior upgrades.  The multi-purpose facility will serve as meeting space, a community playhouse and community center among other uses.

Amid budget woes, the City of High Springs lost both its police chief and fire chief during the last week of August.  The employment contract for High Springs Police Chief James Troiano was terminated while Fire Chief Verne Riggall submitted his resignation.  The termination and resignation apparently came as the upcoming budget called for a salary reduction in Troiano’s pay and a complete termination of Riggall’s position.  In Riggall’s resignation letter, he wrote, “Current issues and the proposed elimination of the Fire Chief’s position make it impossible for me to continue with my employment.”  Meanwhile, Troiano received a severance pay of one half his annual salary.  Troiano said the City wanted him to take a pay cut of as much as $20,000 annually, a reduction he said he could not afford.

Sonny’s Real Pit Barb-B-Q of Alachua was sold on Aug 30.  Since it opened in 1983, the Alachua location had been owned by Sonny Tillman’s family.  A long-anticipated sale of the restaurant was finalized when it was signed over to new owners Ken Kirkpatrick and Chip Dixon.  The restaurant was temporarily closed as the new owners made renovations to the building.  The changes included the installation of a lunch counter and upgrades to the general dining room.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The man who reportedly robbed a High Springs convenience store last week remains at large, High Springs Police Chief William Benck said Wednesday afternoon.

Police say the robbery occurred Thursday, Dec. 29 at about 6 a.m. when a man entered the Sunrise Food Store at 830 NW 1st Avenue in High Springs.  The man allegedly brandished a small handgun and demanded cash from the clerk.  Benck said the clerk was the only person on duty at the store at the time.

Police are looking for the man described as a 250-pound black male standing between 5-foot-10 to 6 feet tall and wearing a dark blue or purple sweat suit and flip-flops.

The man escaped with what Benck called a “medium sum” of cash.

Benck said his office is working several leads on the case although he couldn’t say an arrest was imminent.  He said surveillance video of the robbery was not immediately available because of technical differences between the convenience store’s system and the High Springs Police Department’s equipment.

Benck lauded the clerk for taking the correct action by turning over the cash as demanded.

Thursday’s robbery did not appear to be related to any other crimes in the area as Benck said there had not been a pattern of armed robberies recently.

Anyone with information that may lead police to the armed robber is asked to contact the High Springs Police Department at 386-454-1415.

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GAINESVILLE – High Springs city leaders met Wednesday with officials from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development in Gainesville and Washington D.C. via teleconference in hopes of saving $1.6 million grant funding for the city’s wastewater system.

High Springs Interim City Manager Jeri Langman said the City presented its case as to why the $1.6 million should not be withheld from the city even though it had not used the funds within a purportedly stipulated five-year timeframe.

“It wasn’t in the fifth year or the end of the fifth year, but the end of the sixth year that [USDA was] then calling back the monies,” Langman said.

Several years ago, USDA Rural Development awarded High Springs with more than $10 million in funding for its wastewater system, including a $6.353 million loan and a $4.05 million grant.

High Springs made its case before a federal hearing officer, who is expected to rule on the matter by the first week of February.

If the City is allowed to retain the $1.6 million, it would be used for connecting additional users to the wastewater system.  That could have a big impact on costs to utility customers.  With more users connected, the City could spread out the costs of maintaining and operating the wastewater treatment facility.

Commissioners are already scrambling to find funds to shore up the city’s budget since they voted last month against raising the wastewater rates.  An already tight budget approved by commissioners in September called for the rate hikes.

The budget meeting to discuss the expected shortfall in funding is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 6:30 p.m.

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GAINESVILLE – It was report card time for Alachua County high schools as the Florida Department of Education released grades today for schools statewide.

Based on those grades, six of Alachua County’s seven high schools are classified as ‘high performing.’

Buchholz, Newberry and the Professional Academies Magnet (PAM) at Loften High School all earned ‘A’ grades, while Eastside, Gainesville and Santa Fe High earned ‘B’ grades. The state considers schools that earn ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades ‘high performing.’

Hawthorne High boosted its standing by receiving a grade of ‘C,’ up from a ‘D’ the last two years. Hawthorne significantly increased the number of students taking and passing high level courses and tests and graduating college-ready in 2011.

Newberry moved up a notch from a ‘B’ to take an ‘A’ grade this year and PAM @ Loften’s ‘A’ this year is three points higher than last year’s ‘D.’

“I’m so proud of the work that’s being done in our high schools by our teachers, administrators and the students,” said Superintendent Dan Boyd. “Despite rising standards and many other challenges, our schools are maintaining and boosting their academic performance.

High school grades are based on a combination of factors, including FCAT scores, graduation rates, and students’ success in advanced level courses and career/tech programs. Schools earn points based on student performance in each category, and the total number of points determines the grade.  However, some criteria, such as achievement of lowest-performing students, are weighted more heavily than others.

Eastside, GHS and Santa Fe all earned far more points than were needed for an ‘A’ grade, but were docked an entire letter grade based on the achievement of their lowest-performing students.

The state’s grading formula places a very heavy emphasis on the performance of those students who struggle the most. Schools can lose an entire letter either because their lowest performers didn’t do well enough on the FCAT test or because not enough of them graduated on time. The FCAT scores of what the state calls the ‘lowest quartile’ are actually counted several times under the state’s formula.

During a conference call with superintendents from across Florida, state officials reported that many high schools were penalized entire letter grades this year.

Eastside and Santa Fe both dropped to ‘B’ grades because of the FCAT scores of their lowest performers, while GHS was a ‘B’ due to the graduation rate of its at-risk students.

Statewide, 78 percent of Florida’s high schools were rated high performing. In Alachua County, that figure is 86 percent.

District officials say that the success of local high schools can’t be attributed to any one program or strategy.

“We have to come up with a variety of ways to educate our students, then constantly monitor and adjust what we’re doing to meet their needs,” said Sandy Hollinger, Deputy Superintendent for Instruction and Student Services. “Those efforts have to be sustained over the long haul, and that’s what we’re accomplishing.”

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Year_1Editor’s note: This comprises Part I of our traditional year in review, as reported on the pages of the Alachua County Today newspaper from January through April.  Topping headlines in 2011 were the usual election battles and a host of financial issues facing local cities as well as triumphs and tragedies and ongoing battles waged in the heartland communities.

The closing of Turkey Creek golf course, a visit by Florida Commissioner Of Agriculture Adam Putnam, renovations for an Alachua Chamber welcome center and local politics all made the headlines from January through April 2011.


The Alachua Chamber of Commerce started the year off with a little spring cleaning.  In a Main Street building that most recently served as the Alachua Police Department and was originally built as a United States Post Office, the Chamber hopes to house its offices in the coming months.  Chamber officials and a local organization teamed up to clean out the remnants of furniture and equipment left by the police department.  The Chamber plans for the building to not only serve as its offices, but a welcome center and historical museum as well.

By a narrow margin, commissioners in Hawthorne agreed to pay out $26,370 to Ed Smyth, the city manager they fired just weeks earlier.  The agreement to pay the severance called for in Smyth’s employment contract didn’t come without anxiety from some who questioned if the city had enough funds to make the payment.

Beef O’ Brady’s on Alachua’s Main Street shut its doors amid financial difficulties.  The closing came just months after Ristorante Deneno, another Main Street restaurant, did the same thing.  Owner of the local Beef O’ Brady’s, Dan McCann, said although the restaurant had many regular customers, the net gain simply did not add up enough to keep the Alachua location open.  “We had some good moments when we were packed, but those moments weren’t enough to sustain us throughout the rest of the weeks and months,” he said.

Alachua commissioners unanimously approved an extension to Alachua City Manager Traci Cain’s employment contract during a January meeting.  Cain’s previous contract began March 1, 2010 and was set to expire on Feb. 28, 2011.  The new contract extended Cain’s employment to Sept. 30, 2014.  The new timetable coincides with the city’s budget cycle and falls just after a performance evaluation of the city manager.  In addition to the extension, other changes, mostly minor, were made to the terms of Cain’s employment.  Her current salary of $111,500 annually did not increase as a result of the extension.

Commissioners in High Springs were hit with the news that due to declining city revenues over the preceding three years, the city’s water utility fund had been shrinking.  The realization was based on an audit that revealed that if action wasn’t soon taken to correct the deficit, High Springs will be obligated to declare a state of financial emergency to the state auditor.  The deficit was reportedly created when the city began seeing losses in water utility revenue as homes were foreclosed and its customer base shrank. With fewer households and businesses using city water, the fund failed to replenish itself. Simultaneously to those declines, the city had been making routine transfers from the water account for other budgetary needs, as had been done when the water fund was showing a profit. Because these transfers continued even when revenues dropped, the city is now facing a negative balance. The issue was first raised in 2010 as the city prepared to approve the budget for the current fiscal year, and the base rate for water was increased by about $3.  The news that the fund was still shrinking meant that city officials were considering a base rate hike from $6 for the first 3,000 gallons used to $14.

The Hawthorne City Commission appointed Ellen Vause as the new interim city manager of Hawthorne in a meeting on Monday, Jan. 24.  Vause was one of five candidates who were considered for the position. The remaining applicants were Cheryl Elmore, James Drumm, Linda Chapman and Lillian Hutchinson.  Vause served on the mayor advisory panel from 2007 to 2008 and was also chair of the planning and zoning board for the City of Hawthorne.  With an unbalanced budget, Hawthorne put a lot on Vause’s plate.  Her salary was initially set at $800 per week with no benefits.  Aside from her city involvement, Vause was previously the president of Florida Septic Inc., a local company in which Hawthorne Commissioner Surrency is also an employee. The company is now run by other members of the Vause family.


An advanced screening of the film “Sanctum” honored the late Wes Skiles – recognized as one of the world's foremost underwater explorers as well as a renowned photographer, diver and environmentalist from High Springs, Fla.  The film was co-produced by Academy Award- winning executive producer James Cameron and was shown at Regal Royal Park Stadium 16 in Gainesville to a limited 238 ticket holders.  The film brings back to life the true story of a 1988 incident in which 22 explorers were trapped underwater in Pannikin Plains, a dangerous cave system in the remote Nullarbor plain in south-central Australia.  An unexpected rainstorm caused parts of the cave system they were diving in to collapse.  Skiles was among those trapped.  He and others survived that expedition, and Skiles went on to continue exploring and documenting dive sites around the world, until his untimely death last year.

A proposed plan to include a referendum on the 2012 ballot that would create a one-cent sales surtax for the purpose of roadway improvements garnered harsh criticism.  During a two-hour-long county commission meeting held Feb. 1, few residents offered support for the referendum dubbed “Penny for Pavement.” The plan called for fund that would be dedicated to fixing and resurfacing roads.  The planned referendum has slowly moved forward and as of December, county officials had already pitched the proposed surtax to several municipalities, seeking their support.

The Alachua City Commission enacted a 5-month moratorium that suspended all development applications concerning properties within 2,000 feet of the intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and Interstate 75.  Exempted from the moratorium was the site of a proposed Walmart supercenter which fell largely within the 2,000-foot zone.  City officials said the purpose of the moratorium was to allow the commission to create a Gateway Activity Center near the area. Alachua's Comprehensive Plan mandates that the city establish such a center in order to “welcome existing and future residents and visitors to the City of Alachua, and to promote Alachua as an attractive, vibrant, and economically prosperous community.”  In August 2010, Alachua commissioners voted to move ahead with establishing and implementing the Gateway Activity Center when it approved an Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR), a state mandated planning document.

As the City of Alachua passed a 5-month moratorium on development near the Interstate 75, it came to light that a company running a chain of adult novelty stores had applied for permits to open in a retail location within the area.  Lions Den Adult Superstores, a sexually oriented business, first submitted paperwork on Oct. 20, 2010 to open in the former Scultura building near Waffle House.  The same building had been home to The Western Teepee, a western clothing store, for many years before it closed in 2005.  According to City Manager Traci Cain, the application by Lions Den did not meet the regulation requirements to change the location from retail to a sex shop.

More than four months after a budget riddled with errors was passed by Hawthorne commissioners, the City was still without a balanced budget.  State law mandates that all municipalities shall have approved a balanced budget before the start of the fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.  Shortly after approving the 2010/11 budget, a Hawthorne resident and Alachua County Today reporters uncovered errors in it, which revealed that not only was the budget out of balance but that it would operate at a nearly $400,000 budget deficit if it weren’t corrected.  Just weeks after signing on as the interim city manager, Ellen Vause promised to have a balanced budget ready for approval by the middle of March.  By the end of March, no such budget had been approved.

On Feb. 10, High Springs finalized the requirements and procedures for granting ad-valorem tax exemptions to new and expanding businesses.  The exemptions were the result of a referendum in which High Springs residents approved of offering industry incentives to locate in their city.  For a business to be considered for an exemption, it must submit an application to the city, including a $500 fee to be paid only upon approval. Factors that determine whether the business will be granted an exemption, and for how much, include business type, how many local jobs it will offer initially and over time, as well as the pay rates for those positions.

Charles “Charlie” Morris, the man that helped lead the City of Alachua into some of its most prosperous years died Feb 18.  He was 77 years old.  Morris was first hired by the city in 1989 and was selected as City Manager in October 1992.  He retired from the city in September 2000.  It was during Morris’ later years as city manager that economic development in Alachua began to skyrocket, most notably with the building of a massive Dollar General distribution center. The more than one-million square-foot warehouse and distribution facility would become Morris’ and other city leaders’ legacy.  It also paved the way for other similar projects in the city, which in total brought over 1,000 new jobs to Alachua. After retiring from the city manager position, Morris stayed close to home, becoming an Alachua area realtor.  Morris was active in the Alachua Lion’s Club where he served as President for a term.  Morris’ wife, Jane is a longtime teacher at Alachua Elementary.

During a week-long qualifying period, no one filed to run against Alachua Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr. who previously ran for a vacated seat on the commission.  Boukari was first elected to the commission in April 2010 after defeating challenger Michael Canney.  Despite the win, there was only one remaining year in that vacated seat, meaning if Boukari wished to retain the seat in 2011, he would have to seek re-election.  Without a challenger in 2011Boukari ran unopposed and, in May 2011, he was sworn in to a three-year term.


Turkey Creek Golf & Country Club sent waves of shock, sadness and uncertainty throughout Turkey Creek community and the city of Alachua on March 4 when management announced that the course would close at the end of the month.  According to the announcement, economic factors forced the club, which opened in 1978, to close down.  “It has been a struggle the past couple of years,” officials with the country club wrote in the announcement, which was e-mailed to members.  The club attempted to increase membership in January 2010 by offering a “now or never” deal to residents of the roughly 1,200 homes surrounding the golf course. The total value of the property is currently estimated at just over $1.6 million by the Alachua County Property Appraiser.  In 2006 and 2007, golf course owners sought and received approvals from the City of Alachua to rezone about 10 acres of land.  The rezoning was intended to shore up the financial viability of the golf course, but much of that land has remained undeveloped. The driving ranges, pool, pro shop and tennis courts were also shut down March 31. The club also included a sports bar, Mulligan’s, and a catering service, Chef's Brothers. Chef's Brothers continues to lease kitchen space and the clubhouse, but Mulligan’s was shut down.

After months of contemplating a utility rate hike to cover declining revenues, the High Springs commission finally approved a measure.  On March 10, commissioners voted 4-1 to raise the base water rate by $2 to $8.08 and increase the sewer base rate by 1.8 percent, taking it from $33.80 to $34.40 for residential users.  Commissioner Dean Davis cast the dissenting vote.

In the works for the better part of the last five years, Walmart finally submitted site plans to the City of Alachua for consideration of its proposed supercenter store in the city.  But, as it later turned out, those plans did not meet the city’s expectations and have since undergone more revisions.  The site of the store falls along Interstate 75 just south of McDonald’s.  The proposed store would be about 155,000 square feet and would include a drive-through pharmacy and garden center. The site plan, which uses about 37 acres, also includes a 34-space park and ride facility. The parking lot would include more than 600 parking spaces and will wrap around the sides of the building. The store will also have tenant space available for other retailers, but the tenants have yet to be determined.  Several weeks after receiving the site plans, city officials sent them back to Walmart for additional changes. The final plans have not been submitted.  After city staff and Walmart agree that the review is complete, it will be considered by the city’s Planning and Zoning board.

At its 72nd Annual Cattlemen’s Banquet, the Alachua Lions Club hosted recently-elected Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Adam Putnam.  Serving as keynote speaker, Putnam also endured his fair share of roasting from longtime Lions Club member Ralph Cellon.  Held at the Alachua Woman’s Club, the banquet brought together more than 300 people who were in a chorus of roaring laughter after listening to Cellon’s classic deadpan comedic style as he made jokes about dozens of friends and attendees.  The 2011 banquet honored Polly Golden, who was presented with the distinguished Cattleman of the Year award for her 30 years of service to Florida’s cattle industry.

A bike rider participating in the Bike Florida 2011 and Share the Road campaign ride through North Central Florida died after being hit by a car in Newberry on March 30.  Robert King, 65-year-old from Prescott, Az., was riding from Trenton to Newberry on State Road 26 a half-mile east of NW 298th Street when a 1999 Ford F-250 pickup truck driven by a 23-year-old Newberry resident.  Leigh Matusick, president of Bike Florida, said it was the first fatality and first car-bicyclist accident in the event’s 18 years.


After a long six weeks of campaigning, the City of Newberry election ended on April 12 with a new mayor and two new commissioners elected to office.  Bill Conrad, a former Commissioner of Group 4, won the mayoral seat with a total of 503 votes, to Harry Nichols’s 316 and Debbie Campbell’s 41.  Winning Conrad’s former Group 4 seat was Robert Fillyaw with 644 votes, and Jordan Marlowe, who won the Group 5 seat with 526 votes.

Alachua officials deemed its popular Alan Hitchcock Theater Park on Main Street was a safety hazard.  Three weeks after scaffolding blocking entrance to the park was installed, city commissioners voted to make structural modifications to the brick entryway.  The proposal to make the repair was initially expected to cost about $32,000, but that was later revised upward to $40,000 as more structural faults were found.  The modifications called for removing the top portion of the walls to reduce the wind load on the structure as a whole. The removal included the top 12 feet from the front wall and as much as six feet from the side walls.  The repairs were funded by the city’s Downtown Redevelopment Trust Board's tax increment funds.

Residents living in three unincorporated areas surrounding Newberry overwhelmingly defeated a measure that would annex their properties into the City of Newberry. The referendum election that concluded on April 26 followed what was a nearly two-year process according to Newberry Planning Director Lowell Garrett.  Of the 110 votes cast across the three referendums, 100 were against the annexations.  In Annexation area 1, located along the Gilchrist County line, voters stood up 49 to 3 against the measure.  Located in the northwestern most portion of Newberry, Annexation area 2 also failed with every one of the 21 votes cast, nixing the annexation.  Annexation area 3, which runs across the north and south sides of State Road 26, east of Hitchcock’s Market was also defeated with 30 votes against and only seven in favor of the annexation.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Two meetings slated for Thursday evening will have commissioners in High Springs talking about nearby Poe Springs Park and economic development within the city.

At a specially called 5 p.m. workshop, the commission will consider the possibility of taking over operations of Alachua County-owned Poe Springs Park.  Commissioners called an unscheduled, last-minute meeting Dec. 29 to preliminarily discuss the idea.  In a 4-0 vote, they approved of the takeover in concept.  Commissioner Eric May was unable to attend the meeting.

Chief among concerns with some commissioners is if running the park is to the city’s advantage.  Commissioners are not only considering the cost of staffing the park, but also how its management might boost economic development within the city.

For about two decades, the park was managed under a contract between Alachua County and the YMCA with the county providing about $50,000 annually toward the upkeep and management.

But looking to cut costs, the county issued a contract in 2009 to Nature Quest, a private company, which managed the park without any funding assistance from the County.  That contract was cancelled last year and Alachua County took over operating the park in October 2011, when county officials were dissatisfied with maintenance of the park.

High Springs and County officials have yet to agree on a deal that would allow the park to be operated by the city.  Thursday’s meeting aims to further hammer out details of a possible deal.  Among the possible arrangements are that the County would continue general maintenance at the park while allowing High Springs to operate the facility and handle day-to-day maintenance.

Located along the Santa Fe River, and outside of High Springs city limits, the 202-acre park has historically featured swimming and canoeing amenities, concessions, meeting facilities, a playground, soccer and softball fields and volleyball courts.  The driving attraction at the park is a natural spring, which feeds the Santa Fe River with about 45 million gallons of water each day.

The County turned down a previous proposal offered by High Springs in November, which included $55,000 budgeted for personnel to staff the springs and handling day-to-day operations while the county would handle long-term needs such as maintenance

A 6:30 p.m. workshop at the City of High Springs will focus on economic development.  Interim City Manager Jeri Langman said Wednesday that the commission would discuss at least two issues, including possible tax abatement for a local business.

Under a measure approved by High Springs voters, the city may offer a tax abatement incentive to a business that would contribute to economic development.  Plantation Oaks Senior Living Residence at 201 Northeast 1st Avenue is seeking consideration for such abatement, which would reduce ad valorem property taxes paid by the owner.

Commissioners have also invited John Manley, a local High Springs resident, to provide his ideas on how to save a railroad that may be dismantled by the rail line operator.  Manley has been advocating usage of the railroad to promote economic development in High Springs.  The tracks, owned by CSX, had been slated for removal in the first quarter of 2012.

In an impassioned letter to Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad, Manley urged that plans to remove the rail line be halted until the City of High Springs could offer alternatives to its removal.

Working under a tight timeline, commissioners are looking to Manley for guidance in how the city might save the railroad.

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GAINESVILLE – On Wednesday, more than a dozen people were scheduled to give their accounts of a school shooting earlier this year.  The May 18 High Springs Community School shooting that rocked the area landed 63-year-old Robert Nodine in jail.

The public defender’s office filed a notice that at 9 a.m. Wednesday, it would begin taking depositions of 13 witnesses in the case. Those witnesses include school, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) and High Springs Police Department (HSPD) officials and others.

Nodine is charged with four felonies, including two counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer and two counts of possession of a weapon on school property.

According to police, Nodine armed himself with a handgun and fired several shots before being taken down by gunfire from law enforcement.

The incident was apparently sparked by a request from the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) that the school not release Nodine’s two grandchildren because of an investigation being conducted by the agency.  DCF had not yet arrived at the school to deal with matters related to that investigation when Nodine arrived.

Responding to the scene when a 9-1-1 call came in around 12:51 p.m. were both ACSO deputies and HSPD officers.

Police say Nodine became irate while at the school, and while being escorted off the campus, the grandfather was reportedly able to arm himself.

Court documents indicate that not only did Nodine have a gun, but also a knife when the incident occurred.  As the altercation escalated, both Nodine and police officers reportedly fired their weapons.

Nodine was the only person reported to have been injured.  He was taken to an area hospital for treatment of his injuries, then released and remanded to the Alachua county jail, where he remains.  Nodine has a prior criminal history including resisting arrest.

Although most of the school’s children had already been released on the day of the incident because of an abbreviated Wednesday schedule, as many as 175 students remained on campus for after-school activities.

It was originally reported that none of the students were believed to have been directly exposed to the incident, but 9-1-1 calls seems to call that accounting of events into question.

A case management hearing in Nodine’s case has been set for Jan. 26 at 1:30 p.m.

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