DavisDavis_Senior_Care_DSCF5105_copyPhoto 1: As High Springs newly elected mayor, long-time resident Dean Davis looks forward to helping bring back the small-town charm he feels the city has lost.  Photo 2: When High Springs Mayor Dean Davis isn’t at City Hall, it is likely he is visiting with friends and neighbors in the town where he has lived for 60 years. L-R: Howard Minzenberg, Executive Director of Plantation Oaks Senior Living Residence, enjoys a casual conversation with Davis Wednesday afternoon.

HIGH SPRINGS – Dean Davis remembers High Springs before Interstate 75 came close to stopping near the town.

He remembers sitting shirtless in an un-air-conditioned ’37 Ford, laughing with his best friend and their girlfriends on a dim country road.

He remembers when every kid spent their summers learning to swim at Poe Springs.

He remembers when every store in town closed at noon on Wednesdays so people could go fishing.

“I get my history from Dean,” said Davis’ lifelong friend, Nicky Peacock. “What we don’t know, Terry Thomas does.”

Their conversations are peppered with the names of locals, passed on or moved out or still living up the street. They remember the times when High Springs was “the friendliest little town in Florida.”

Davis misses those times. He has seen people moving from big cities bringing big city ideas. It is no longer his High Springs, the one he grew up in.

Now the newly elected mayor, he hopes to bring back the small-town, family feel he thinks the city has lost.

“We didn’t used to lock our doors,” he said. “I want us to slow down and smell the flowers, enjoy the flowers.”

Railroad Important Asset

Davis said he wants to do this by focusing on the things that make High Springs unique. His first goal is to redevelop the railroad.

“I moved here in 1951, in seventh grade. I was born a few miles out on a farm. Here, everybody worked for the railroad,” he said.

He said the city exists because of the railroad. While most towns have east-west or north-south oriented roads, the streets in High Springs are skewed to accommodate trains.

By making use of rail that already runs to Newberry, Davis said High Springs could turn into a tourist destination.

He said people could ride down from Newberry on the train after watching their kids play baseball all day, eat a meal at the Great Outdoors and sleep at the Grady House. In the morning, there could be a trolley to pick them up and take them to Poe Springs. When it got dark, they could be driven back to the train and go on home.

Using what High Springs already has is important to him. He said when he grew up, Poe Springs was what people did in the summer.

“There was no TV, no video games, no Wi-Fi,” he said. “Taking my grandkids there is like stepping back into history. And it’s all tied to the railroad.”

He said while the Poe Springs issue was more recent, people have been talking about fixing up the railroad since 1988. The city commission continues to talk about the need for growth, he said, but it has options already waiting.

The city has had problems with debt in this pursuit, taking on expensive projects that the new mayor said are unnecessary. He mentioned the sewer system, explaining that with his father being a plumber, he grew up understanding waste systems. To Davis, the system is too costly for a service the city doesn’t need.

More than that, he said, people were forced to hook up to it who weren’t interested.

“Little old ladies are being forced to hook up to something they didn’t want,” he said.

Since his election to the commission in 2009, he said working for the people’s concerns has been his priority.

Change in Direction

He said he had to join the commission after seeing the direction the town was traveling. The city was spending more than it was making in the name of progress.

“Credit is okay.  Debt is not,” he said.

His wife of 55 years, Elaine, prayed with him about the city, and they decided he should run. He won his first election by what he said was the highest percentage since 2000.

Davis said he felt comfortable because had a background in public speaking, having been on a parliamentary-procedure team that went to the state competition three or four times. While he was at the University of Florida, he took speech classes.

“Some people think I’m an ignorant hick, but my experience is pretty in-depth,” he said.

He was worried about his accent while in college, but a professor told him he just needed to be himself. Davis said that is why he still talks like a country boy today.

“My diction is not always crisp, and I talk a little fast,” he said. “I’ve got so much to say, I got to hurry up.”

Davis said being on the commission has given him a greater respect for the job commissioners do. He said there’s always complicated decisions to be made and disgruntled people that are never satisfied. Even harder is trying to do what the city wants without raising taxes, a move he pledges to never support.

“I keep asking, ‘How are we going to pay for this?’” he said. “And the commission hasn’t answered me back yet.”

His wife Elaine put it more simply: “He’s been beat up a lot.”

It’s been his wife’s influence that’s kept him straight, Davis said. They started dating in the tenth grade.

“I played football for High Springs High School,” he said. “We were playing Lake Butler, and this one guy ran over me like I wasn’t even there. I ran up to the coach and said, ‘I’m done with football.’ Then I sat with the cheerleaders.”

He said he married the prettiest one.

Davis studied at the University of Florida for a short while but ended up leaving to marry Elaine. For a long time, he worked for High Springs Auto Parts, eventually leaving to open up his own shop.

Peacock, who is 23 years Davis’ junior, said the shop helped a lot of young men in town establish credit. He bought a part from Davis, who put it in Peacock’s name, not his father’s.

“I used that as a reference when I got my own light bill,” he said. “That’s the kind of man Dean is.”

Davis had to close the shop in the 90s because competition from big stores like Wal-Mart was too much. This taught him the importance of buying locally.

“We used to be an industrial nation, but it starts on the local level,” he said. “We need to give preference to local contractors. Why did the elementary school expansion use a Gainesville contractor? There are local people who are qualified.”

Personal Beliefs Give Focus

For Davis, problems arise when the government thinks it’s smarter than the constituency. He said working in real estate, his current job, has taught him that the way to get what one wants is to help others get what they want.

This position came out of his commitment to Christianity.

“I accepted Jesus Christ in 1965,” he said. “Lightning didn’t flash, thunder didn’t crash, but my life has taken a different path.”

He calls Jesus his biggest inspiration, reminding him to always do his best to help others. Christianity has given him a strong sense of right and wrong, especially in government.

“I have no agenda,” he said. “I have nothing to gain. My only goal is to unify the city, to heal the hurt of the city.”

Davis has seen divisions in the city over the past six or seven years that were never there before. He said he wants citizens to get involved, to ask him questions and speak up on issues that matter.

His focus has and will always be the needs of the taxpayers. He said the problem is he no longer knows half the people in town, an issue he traces back to big-city ideas.

“If I want to live in a big city, it’s 144 miles to Tampa. It’s 25 miles to Gainesville,” he said. “It’s simpler to move somewhere else than to try to change what is meant to be a small town.”

He is excited by the different direction new commissioners Linda Clark Gestrin and Bob Barnas preach. For him, it is never too late to take a look at what is important to High Springs and bring back some of the things it has lost.

“People think that when you’re going on a journey, which we all are, it’s too late to go back.” he said.  “But you can go back. If there was a fork in the road, you can go back and take the other way.”

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HIGH SPRINGS – Christmas is all hustle and bustle. There’s shopping and rushing around and all sorts of responsibilities.

Fellowship Church in High Springs just wants everyone to slow down and “celebrate Jesus.”

On Dec. 10 and 11, they are holding “One Story LIVE From Bethlehem.” This free event is an interactive telling of the story of Jesus’ birth, held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. both nights.

Windy Bridges, ministry assistant, said Fellowship Church began hosting the event in 1988. For over 20 years, they shared the story of Christmas with the community.

The church took two years off from the event to focus on what it wanted to share the most, Bridges said. She said they decided to put the focus on Jesus.

“Our goal is to give the community a gift,” she said. “We want to remind people that Christmas is simple: Christmas celebrates Jesus.”

Last year, the church’s Christmas Eve service featured three dramatizations of Christmas scenes. Bridges said this was only a preview of this weekend’s event.

“This event is an interesting, dramatic take,” she said. “People will go, ‘Oh, wow.’”

She explains that visitors will enter the city gates and be greeted by city elders, who will tell them about Bethlehem and set the stage for the event. Then, they will visit a marketplace with vendors who will answer questions about their wares and lifestyle.

People will be able to interact with live animals, seeing and touching them like they could in the real town. Eventually, they will make their way to an outdoor theater where they will watch the dramatization.

The original script was written by two church members, Matt and Suzie Walters. It is performed by churchgoers ranging in age from younger than one-year old to 75-years old. Bridges said it is truly a church-run event.

“Everything is funded through the giving of church members,” she said. “There are over 100 volunteers involved.”

Planning has gone on for a year. The volunteers started working on the set in spring and started rehearsing in summer. Bridges said this is because Fellowship Church is committed to being authentic and producing a quality show.

“We don’t want people to be presented the story, but we want them to have an emotional experience,” she said.

The church expects 1,000 to 2,000 people each night, with visitors in the past traveling from other states to see the show. While people will be admitted throughout the three hours the event is open each night, Bridges advised that guests arrive early because there is limited space.

She said the turnout is always high because Fellowship strives to create a meaningful experience. Her favorite part is seeing the children’s reactions.

“It’s always really meaningful to see children visit this re-creation and magically end up feeling like they’re transported back 2,000 years,” she said. “It’s an experience.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cont: Deadline is Jan. 11, 2012

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GAINESVILLE – Just a day after Robert Matthew “Matt” Judah, 36, died, the State Attorney’s office filed attempted murder charges against 71-year-old Patrick A. McCall, the man they say is responsible for the shooting that took Judah’s life.

While skeet-shooting at Forest Grove Baptist Church in October, Judah was allegedly shot by McCall, a disgruntled neighbor.  Injuries resulting from the shooting reportedly required a follow-up surgery last Tuesday, a procedure which Judah did not survive.  Since the October incident, Judah had remained hospitalized.

Filed with the Clerk of Court on Nov. 30 was a document charging McCall with four counts of attempted murder in the first degree.  Judah, who was shot, was named as one of the victims as were three others who were not believed to have been struck by bullets during the incident.  It is likely that additional charges will be forthcoming in light of Judah’s death last week.  In conjunction with the formal filing of the charges, the State Attorney’s office also filed a notice of intent to seek enhanced penalties against McCall as a “10/20/Life offender.”

Meanwhile, on Dec. 5, McCall filed his own motion for release, noting that more than 40 days had elapsed since his arrest.  That motion was stricken by the judge on the grounds that it could not be considered since it was not filed by McCall’s attorney.

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

According to the arrest report, McCall said he was inside his house when he heard gun shots coming from the direction of the church. He retrieved his 9 mm Sig handgun and while standing behind his house, he fired quick, successive shots until the magazine was empty. He reloaded and fired again, but could not remember if he emptied the magazine, the report states.

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

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

Medical personnel from Alachua County Fire Rescue and deputies from the sheriff’s office arrived a short time later to find Judah suffering from a gunshot wound to the abdomen. The deputies and fire rescue personnel administered first aid on the scene before Judah was air lifted to Shands Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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High Springs Commission split on new interim city manger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barnas and May go head-to-head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lack of Experience Cited in Opposition to Langman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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