W- HSPD Workshop Walker

Carol Walker/Alachua County Today

L-R: ACSO Director of Operations Major Mike Fellows, ACSO Chief Deputy Col. David Huckstep, City of Alachua Police Chief Joel DeCoursey, Jr., High Springs City Manager Ed Booth and High Springs Vice-Mayor Sue Weller.


HIGH SPRINGS – A larger than usual audience was on hand at the High Springs City Commission March 20 workshop to discuss changes to the High Springs Police Department (HSPD). Expecting the larger crowd, the city shifted the meeting location from City Hall to the High Springs Civic Center.

Alachua County Sheriff's Office (ACSO) representatives Col. David Huckstep and Director of Operations Maj. Mike Fellows along with City of Alachua Police Chief Joel DeCoursey, Jr., formed a panel to review, comment and answer questions related to City Manager Ed Booth’s plan to add two positions to the HSPD...an investigator and a lieutenant.

Booth originally laid out his plan at a March 6 workshop. At that time, he presented a chart showing the current HSPD staff structure and also a second chart showing the proposed structure with the two new positions added.

An investigator, said Booth earlier, would be able to do follow up when a crime occurs, leaving the street officer free to handle other calls. The department formerly had an investigator, but the position had never been filled after it was vacated according to the city.

The second proposed position was the addition of a lieutenant to provide additional leadership and take over some of the duties currently handled by the police chief. Some of those duties may include acting as the public information officer, providing staff management, monitoring social media and helping to reduce cyber crime.

All three members of the panel stressed that the commissioners should first ask themselves what amount of service they wanted to provide their citizens and then decide how those services could best be provided. They explained how those two positions worked at ACSO and in the Alachua Police Department and suggested that if the city could afford it, the addition of the two positions would provide more services to the citizens.

Col. Huckstep explained that if the city wanted to keep one officer on duty 24/7, it would require five officers. One sergeant would oversee five to nine officers, which would comprise a squad. For every four to five squads, you would have a lieutenant, he said.

While Mayor Byran Williams attempted to keep questions from audience members on topic, he often had to ask the audience to be quiet and polite. He also struggled with some members of the audience, many of whom preferred to talk about the police chief’s position rather than ask the panel of officers questions regarding the proposed staffing changes.

After Williams suggested that if there were no further questions for the officers, they should be let go, some audience members asked the officers a series of questions in an attempt to involve them in disputes they felt they had with the city and/or city manager.

The officers had to defend themselves several times on the issue of how the city could afford the two new positions, which the mayor reminded audience members was not the topic for the officers panel.

The “if it isn't broken, why fix it” argument came up again. Once again the mayor had to reiterate that the issue was not the workshop topic and not appropriate for this panel, which was to address how these positions function in their specific organizations, something the officers had already discussed.

Some speakers tried to turn the conversation topic toward the issue of the former police chief’s firing, something city officials have said several times they are not free to discuss. Although former police chief Steve Holley was in the audience, he did not address the commission or the panel.

Some commissioners said they would support at least one, if not both, of the suggested positions if funding was available during the budget process.

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W - Music in Park Soundman

Carol Walker/Alachua County Today

Program Organizer Michael Loveday was caught by the camera as he manned the soundboard for performers during the second annniversary celebration and concert for the Music in the Park entertainment series on Sunday, March 16, at James Paul Park in High Springs.


HIGH SPRINGS – A celebration of the second anniversary of High Springs' Music in the Park (MIP) Series was a resounding success with at least 160 people stopping by the hear the music, play in the Bounce House, sample the anniversary cake and generally enjoy the day with friends and neighbors.

The MIP program, headed up by Michael Loveday, was started as a way to help support musicians and local artists find an audience for their music. “People started showing up to hear a couple of people play music,” said Loveday, and it has grown from there.

Performers for the Sunday, March 16, event included Darryl Brewer, Higgs McGee Band, Museum of Oddities and H.R. Hertner.

Programs feature acoustic music “a hair over talking level,” he said. Programs are good family-friendly music that you would not normally hear on the radio and are performed by area musicians who are excellent. Newberry artist Rick Randlett, a blues musician is one such artist. “He is on the top 10 worldwide,” said Loveday. Higgs McGee Band, a new country band is also a favorite. H.R. Gertner is the number one Americana acoustic act in Gainesville said Loveday. He also touts local country musician, Cliff Dorsey. “He has a great voice,” he said.

Each month he tries to locate a different musician or group. “Everyone is a volunteer,” he said. “We put out a tip jar, but that's the only money the musicians get for playing here. They just do it for the love of the music and the appreciation they receive from anyone who stops by to listen.”

Looking forward to the rest of this year, Loveday explained that there will be a larger show in April for High Springs’ Pioneer Days, which is a two-day event the weekend of April 26-27. “We plan to do a few larger shows throughout the year with single acts in between,” he said. The High Springs Community School Band, under the direction of Vito Montauk, will be invited to perform as one of the larger shows. Beginner, intermediate and symphonic bands will play for that event, he said.

Many people and businesses helped sponsor the second anniversary show. The City of High Springs, the High Springs Chamber of Commerce, Subway, Winn-Dixie, Ship It & More, The Diner, Walker's Second Fiddle and Moonwalk Entertainment were among them.

“Moonwalk brought their bounce house out for donations only,” he said. “We couldn't do this every month without the help of the local businesses that help sponsor our events. We really appreciate their support.”

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ALACHUA – The gymnasium at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex will be getting a new roof and improved front.

The Alachua City Commission approved replacement of the existing 45-year-old roof and a front façade treatment at its March 10 meeting.

A budget amendment was approved at the March 24 commission meeting in order to fund both projects, which are scheduled to be completed by May 15.

Scherer Construction of North Florida, LLC will be overseeing the roof replacement for a proposed $76,085, while Hoffman Construction, Inc. is coordinating the façade improvements (a front elevation enhancement to the gym to include a stucco wall system) at a base bid of $80,380.

Commissioners had allotted $100,000 for the roof and façade improvements as part of the city budget, but the two bids that were accepted totaled $156,465.

The Commission approved a budget amendment that transfers $56,465 from the General Fund Contingency budget to the Parks and Recreation Department budget in order to pay the balance.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Representatives from Causseaux, Hewett & Walpole, Inc. (CHW), a Gainesville-based engineering and land planning company, requested a Site Review Committee meeting with High Springs city officials on March 6. The map they brought for review was of a potential site for a new Walgreen's Drug Store on U.S. 441 in High Springs.

The Site Review Committee is comprised of the city manager and heads of each department. The purpose of the review was to determine if the initial site plan for Walgreen's had any fatal flaws such as ingress/egress problems, or parking issues. The committee detected no major flaws in the design and gave CHW the “go ahead” to proceed.

City Manager Ed Booth displayed the site plan for commissioners at a workshop held later that night and said it would be located where Urban Threads and the gas station next door are presently, which is close to the CVS Drug Store location across U.S. 441.

However, in checking with Walgreen's home office in Illinois, nobody at that location was familiar with the proposed project. When contacted, Jerry Dedenbach, Director of Planning at CHW, seemed surprised that the possible location for a new Walgreens was known. The Site Review Committee is a public meeting, which Booth said led him to make the announcement when he did.

Dedenbach said his company searches across the state looking at hundreds of sites for their clients, but indicated that this site was only one of many sites they were reviewing.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs is looking into a more direct way to notify customers when a power or water outage occurs as happened recently when the water supply was cut to residents in the southeast area of the city.

City Manager Ed Booth said in a recent interview that although the city followed protocol with the water outage, he believes there may be a more direct way using the 911 system to contact affected residents by cell phone or with text messages.

“The city is looking into how we can make that happen,” said Booth. “We will also be notifying residents using our marquee and will record a message so people calling into City Hall will know what is going on and what they need to do," he said.

Meanwhile, the city lost 690,000 gallons of water when the water supply was cut at approximately 5 p.m. on March 20. The accident left homes in the southeast part of the city without water overnight. Water pressure was restored to most homes by 7 a.m. the following morning. But because water pressure was lost for more than two hours, the city was required to go through a mandatory “boil water to drink”" period.

City Manager Booth issued a press release on March 21, alerting citizens to the necessity to boil their drinking water. The Alachua County Health Department sampled water daily and alerted the city it could lift the drinking water ban on March 24.

The outage occurred when the driver of a company trimming trees for Duke Electric drove over a water hydrant at S.E. 7th Ave. and S.E. 3rd St. The truck was owned by Buford Tree Service and was driven by Jackie Carl Huggins according to the accident report.

City officials have contacted Duke Electric's insurance carrier. The city suggests that anyone who suffered an economic impact due to the accident save their receipts or document their loss in the best way possible and send the information to Duke Energy's insurance carrier, Sedgwick Insurance at 800-541-0139, Ext. 47114.

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ALACHUA – The City of Alachua’s financial report has received the highest audit opinion for the eleventh consecutive year.

Alachua received an “unmodified” opinion on the annual audit of its basic financial statements for fiscal year 2012-2013.

The results were revealed at the city commission meeting on March 24 by the city’s independent certified public accountants, Purvis Gray & Company.

There also were no recommendations issued for Alachua to improve financial management.

According to Ron Whitesides, presenter for Purvis Gray & Company, Alachua also had an increase in total revenues of approximately $1.7 million, due in large part to utility rate adjustments and federal and state grants received.

City expenditures also decreased by nearly $800,000, Whitesides said, in part due to lapsed salaries and road resurfacing projects being delayed to next fiscal year.

The entire report can be accessed online at the City of Alachua Website at www.cityofalachua.com, “Agendas & Minutes” under the “Quick Links” section.

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W - Top Gear 4314Carl McKinney/Alachua County Today

Professional racecar driver Tanner Foust rolls through Main Street in High Springs, leaving a trail of smoke behind him as part of a stunt. For several minutes after he drove by, onlookers were coughing and covering their noses and mouths to protect themselves as air cleared.


HIGH SPRINGS – Main Street in High Springs was lined with onlookers. Some of them knew why, but some of them only knew something interesting was about to happen.


“All I know is it’s some TV show called ‘Top Gear’,” said a man sitting on a bench in High Springs’ historic downtown area.


The History Channel’s “Top Gear,” a show exploring car culture, made a stop in High Springs on Thursday, March 13 to film part of an episode focusing on the history of drag racing.  


After filming in Gainesville and Micanopy, the crew chose High Springs next because it kept in line with the theme of the episode, said Tabitha Lentle, co-executive producer of the show.


“It has that gorgeous Americana look that goes with the muscle cars we have,” she said.


High Springs represents what America looked like when these cars were made, she said, with high streets and little stores.


Around 5:30 p.m., the film crew and producers started arriving. Ambulances, police cruisers and fire engines got into positions.


As one producer talked to High Springs Mayor Byran Williams, he explained what the episode would be about.


“It’s about how drag racing evolved in America,” he told Williams.


Bystanders, many of them wearing Gatornationals gear, the annual National Hot Rod Association drag racing event held every March at the Gainesville Raceway, waited for something to happen.


As City Manager Ed Booth stood on a corner, he said the traffic was unreal. On the bright side, he said, it seems to have brought a lot of business to the local shops.


Three muscle cars drove through Main Street, one for each of the show’s hosts.


Actor and comedian Adam Ferrara drove a 1972 Dodge Charger. Professional racer and stunt driver Tanner Foust drove a 1967 Shelby Mustang. Fox Sports racing analyst Rutledge Wood drove a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro.


For about two hours, they drove up and down Main Street shooting various scenes. Even the audience watching didn’t seem to know what the hosts were doing.


When Alan DeVaney was asked if he could tell what was going on, he responded with “not a single idea.” Devaney had been following the filming of the episode on social media all week, he said.


They drove around the block a few times. As the hosts raced past cars on Main Street, multiple cars with a device attached to them had their alarms set off.


Each of the three cars drove from one end of the street toward Railroad Avenue in an apparent stunt where the back tires appeared to be smoking.


Host Rutledge Wood didn’t want to spoil exactly what they were doing or how the finished episode might look, wanting to preserve the element of surprise for the viewers at home. He did say they were not drag racing.


“We were flexing the muscle of some muscle cars,” he said.


Wood stuck around to pose for photos and converse with fans.


The smiling kids watching the filming with their parents was one of the coolest parts, Wood said.


“Everyone could not have been nicer,” he said. “It reminds me so much of my home town.”


The episode is expected to air sometime around late May.

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