W_-_HS_Citizens_JGroup_DSCF7234_copyConcerned Citizens for a Better High Springs hosted a lunch for City employees on the heels of a 6.07 percent pay cut.

HIGH SPRINGS – Members of the newly-formed group, “Concerned Citizens for a Better High Springs” (CCBHS), delivered lunch on Wednesday, Oct. 3, for City of High Springs employees affected by the recent 6.07 percent salary cut to all non-union City employees.

“We want to encourage our City employees to hang in there by providing support in a meaningful way,” said CCBHS Publicity Chair Sharon Yeago.  “Our employees are taking a financial hit for the benefit of the city.  We want them to know how much we appreciate their efforts and supplying lunch is one small way we can help relieve one burden, the financial responsibility of lunch, and show our appreciation,” said Yeago.

The group, which has grown to more than 150 members in fewer than five days, was “formed to support good policy decisions in our government,” said CCBHS Steering Committee Chair and High Springs resident John Manley. Other members of the Steering Committee include local residents Becky Johnson, Bob Jones and Linda Jones.

Both Yeago and Manley are proud that they were able to attract so many citizens interested in supporting good policy decisions by city government in such a short time using Facebook, email and personal outreach.

“We are a nonpolitical, nonpartisan organization,” explained Yeago.  The group has already created a mission statement and guiding principles, which are all listed on the organization’s Facebook page. The group’s mission and key principles are to provide for professional, experienced management of the City of High Springs and restoration of long-held standards of governing that include a comprehensive budget process and restoring High Springs’ reputation as a fair and open government that is inclusive, open and fair.

Steering and Events committees have been established by the group,” said Yeago.  One of the first actions of the Events Committee is the provision of Wednesday’s lunch for non-union city employees.  Events Committee members include Ed MacKinnon, Linda Hewlett, Tom Hewlett, Lisa Phelps and Sandra Webb.

“This citizens group came together out of a deep concern and love for the city of High Springs.  This city is at a crossroads,” Manley said.  “We feel it is important to put any history aside, and build a broader, more rational and encompassing plan for the future of High Springs that the majority of the citizens can get behind and work to make happen,” explained Manley.

“We are encouraging citizen participation in deciding the direction of our city,” said Yeago.  “This is a group to help our government consider policy decisions that make our city viable,” she said.  “Our group has no political agenda.  We just want to help the city make the best decisions they can for our citizens and the future of High Springs,” she said.

Yeago explained further, “Our agenda is based on good policy and we will be making what we consider to be good policy recommendations on an ongoing basis.  Good policy transcends politics.  It’s not about who happens to be in the office at the moment.  It’s about how our government serves its citizens now and in the future.”

“What we’re trying to do is develop solutions for what we feel are the problems we now have,” Manley said.  “We are a strategic group, not a political group,” he insisted.  “Politics is not a part of what we’re doing.  We want to contribute solutions and encourage other citizens to get involved to help do the same,” he said.

“We have problems that may take 5 or 10 years…or possibly more, to solve.  Previous commissions made decisions under different economic conditions than we have today.  Perhaps we have to look at earlier decisions in a different light given our current economic condition.  We want a city that is professional and well run,” he said.  “We just want to participate in the process.”

Anyone interested in more information about Concerned Citizens for a Better High Springs may locate their website on Facebook or contact a member of the organization.

#     #     #

email Cwalker@alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

Violations for prescription drugs and drug tests

GAINESVILLE - Political activist Charles Grapski, who is on probation for the 2007 battery of an Alachua police officer, has been arrested and charged with multiple violations of his probation.

According to the Department of Corrections Violation Report filed with the court, the first incident happened Sept. 21, 2012 when Grapski refused to submit to a random drug test.

When the probation officer called Grapski on Sept. 20 to inform him about the random drug test, Grapski became “verbally hostile” and “screamed and yelled so loudly until this officer could not speak,” according to the report. The officer noted that Grapski “was so hostile until he sounded like he was having some type of mental breakdown.” The officer eventually hung up on Grapski and transferred Grapski to a supervising officer, according to the report.

In the “Offender Statement” portion of the Violation Report, Grapski is shown to argue that he is not on probation for drug charges and should not have to be tested for drugs. He then refused to submit to a drug test until he talked to his lawyer.

University of Florida law professor Joe Little, who has represented Grapski numerous times, has since submitted a limited notice of appearance in the case.

Condition 11 of Grapski’s original Order of Probation states, “You will submit to random testing as directed by your officer or the professional staff of the treatment center where you are receiving treatment to determine the presence or use of alcohol or controlled substances.”

In addition to refusing to submit to a drug test, Grapski was arrested Sept. 23 when probation officers found Xanax and Trazadone in a box sitting on Grapski’s bed in his Osceola County home.  Xanax is a drug used to treat anxiety, and Trazadone is used in the treatment of depression.

According to the reports, Grapski claimed the pills were from previous prescriptions, but he was unable to produce the prescriptions when officers asked for them, so he was arrested and taken to the Osceola County Jail.

Due to the above incidents, Grapski’s probation officer, Earline White, wrote in the probation violation reports that, “It is the belief of this officer that the offender is not amendable to probation supervision. It is unreasonable to believe, that this offender should be permitted to remain on probation, when he cannot follow simple instructions, such as reporting when instructed and submitting to a drug test. At this point, officer safety is now an issue.”

#     #     #

email editor@alachuatoday.lcom

Add a comment

W_-_HS_Farmers_Market_-_IMG_4700_copyThe High Springs Farmer’s Market is proof that the popularity of farmer’s markets is growing.  In Florida, recent “cottage food” legislation has eased restrictions on manufacturing, selling and storing some products in an unlicensed home kitchen, paving the way for a greater variety of available products.

HIGH SPRINGS – Nationwide the popularity of Farmer’s Markets continues to grow as people discover that buying fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables is not only easier on the pocketbook, but these foods are both tasty and healthy.  And what is good news for High Springs residents is that recently High Springs Farmer’s Market Manager Maria Antela was confirmed as market manager for another two years by the High Springs City Commission.

Citing a doubling of participating vendors during the past two years, Antela said, “Foot traffic has also increased significantly, which has led to increased participation by more vendors.”  The market location, currently at 201 NE 1st Avenue, a main road into High Springs, has also helped area residents become more aware of the market.

Another reason for increased participation is that the government passed a Food Cottage law at the beginning of this year, which enables individuals to prepare baked good and other items at home without the requirement of having to own and maintain a certified kitchen.  “Other regulations do apply, but the cost of setting up a certified kitchen is not one of them,” Antela explained.

Because of the Food Cottage law, participation by homemakers and others this year has added to the number of vendors available to serve the public.  “Plus,” she said, “their food is really, really good and adds an additional element to the market that helps attract buyers.”

“Since people have become more aware in recent years of the movement to buy local and keep the impact of transportation to a minimum, folks are more interested in buying food from people they know and helping their local economy,” said Antela.  “People like supporting their neighbors.”

Buyers also like to get to know the vendors and are aware that some are organic growers and some provide pesticide-free produce.  “Through rain and the heat of summer, vendors show up every week to serve their customers,” Antela said.  “They have a lot of pride in what they produce.  They bring their best produce to the market and enjoy seeing how well the food is received by local buyers.”

“Many of our local farmers lost crops this year due to rain.  I’m glad the citizens want to help support those farmers,” said Antela.  “Their purchases help the local economy to flourish and grow,” she said.

But folks don’t just stop by the market to buy produce.  “The market has become a social event for the community,” Antela said.  “People stop by to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables and run into neighbors and friends.  People feel comfortable there.

“They actually stay and visit with the farmers and others they meet at the market and sometimes exchange recipes.  We have picnic tables around and folks will sometimes have lunch and stay the whole time the market is open to visit with neighbors and friends, which is wonderful,” Antela added.

Antela, who originally took over the farmer’s market in October 2010, started out as a vendor.  As previous coordinator for the community garden in High Springs, which won the Project for Public Spaces award in 2007, she sold produce from that garden to be able to support the program and also sold local honey.  She also previously managed a military warehouse and said she understands proper inspections and best management practices.

As a previous owner and operator of her own business in south Florida, Antela said she “understood the demands of management and the entrepreneurial spirit it takes to become a vendor.”

The position, which Antela describes as “fun,” also is a lot of work.  “I enjoy it immensely.  I like to eat well and know what it’s like to grow your own food from my previous experience with the city garden.”

“Volunteers help significantly,” she said.  “I couldn’t do it without their support and the excellent support of the city.”

A prime example of the volunteer spirit and “can do” attitude of her volunteers is the completion of a $250,000 USDA grant application for a pavilion for the market.

“The grant application process was a collaboration of individuals from different areas who helped to write the grant,” said Antela.  “It was a community effort,” she said proudly.

The final draft of the application was recently submitted.  If approved, a 30- x 100-ft. pavilion will be erected on City property located near the chamber building and railroad tracks, which was the original location of the market.

The pavilion, which is expected to take 90-120 days to build, will provide water and electrical power, as well as protection from the elements for vendors.  In addition to scheduled farmer’s market sales every Thursday and the first Saturday of the month, Antela said the market will do community events and fund-raisers for the market at that location.

According to Antela, the City has already provided $59,000 of in-kind donations toward the farmer’s market pavilion, and the Community Redevelopment Agency paid $17,000 for the architectural design of the pavilion, which had to be submitted to USDA along with the grant application.

The farmer’s market partners with schools to help supply seeds and other items necessary for children to learn to grow their own food.  “They provide us with a wish list and we try to provide as many of the items on the list as possible,” said Antela.  “This is an investment in our future.”

“As farmers grow older and retire, our children will be the ones responsible for taking care of the food system.  Through this partnership, we are able to help children learn about their local food supply and how it is cultivated,” she said.

The farmer’s market gives children (through their schools) a free vendor spot to sell the food they grow so they can see the entire process of farming from working the soil, planting and taking care of their gardens through the sales process.  “We help support the schools and ask that they support FFA with our contributions to their programs,” explained Antela.

“We want everyone to be able to participate in the farmer’s market,” said Antela.  The market now accepts debit and credit cards as well as food stamp cards.  “We want the process of buying locally to be easy for our citizens,” she said.

The High Springs Farmer’s Market is open each Thursday from noon to dusk and the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

#     #     #

email Cwalker@alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission has set a hearing date of Oct. 11 to consider former City Manager Jeri Langman’s appeal of their decision to terminate her employment.  The hearing was set during a special city commission meeting held Oct. 2; at the same meeting in which commissioners short-listed replacement candidates for her position.

Langman initially requested a hearing date of Oct. 25, the second regularly scheduled meeting of the month, to give her attorney time to prepare for the hearing; noting that she had requested, but not yet received, a list of goals and directions commissioners gave as the reason for her termination.

Because the requested date was past the 30-day deadline called for in the High Springs City Charter, the Commission denied her first request.

Langman then asked for a hearing on Oct 18 or 16.  Noting that Commissioner Sue Weller would be out of town on those dates, the Commission denied her second request as well.

Commissioners decided on the Oct. 11 date because it would fall on a regularly scheduled Commission meeting night.  Mayor Dean Davis directed Interim City Manager/City Clerk Jenny Parham to include the hearing on the agenda as the last item, saying that citizens wouldn’t have to sit through a lengthy hearing before getting to the business on the agenda.  As of press time, 16 new items were recently added to the agenda for that meeting, all scheduled for consideration prior to the Langman termination hearing.

Commissioners also asked Parham to locate an attorney, if a new city attorney wasn’t on board by that date, to act on the City’s behalf during the hearing.

The City Charter specifies a quasi judicial hearing as the format for a hearing on the termination of a charter officer.  During a quasi judicial hearing, the meeting is open to the public, but anyone giving testimony must be sworn in prior to testifying and are usually restricted to facts without personal opinions.

#     #     #

email Cwalker@alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

Cites pending lawsuits, bad decisions

HIGH SPRINGS – John Glanzer, who previously served as the mayor of Newberry as well as Archer’s interim city manager, respectfully declined a Sept. 24 invitation by the High Springs City Commission to step in as interim city manager.

Citing the City’s legal problems as his main concern, Glanzer said that, on advice of attorneys he consulted, it probably was not in his best interest “to step in, in an interim format, especially as a manager in a city that is experiencing legal difficulties.”

“I notice that all of you are subject to being involved in lawsuits,” Glanzer said.  “Any of your appointed officials that are constitutional, are subject to being involved in lawsuits, whether they had any basis in the decisions that were made prior to, or decisions that they make.”

Glanzer said further, “I cannot expose myself to any potential legal issues at this point in my life.”

“Based on that and in discussions with my wife,” he explained, “I respectfully decline the opportunity to help the City, although my heart says I want to.”

Glanzer’s advice to commissioners was that they “need a strong city manager.”  As a multi-million dollar business, “you don’t need amateurs running that for you,” he said.  “I’m not saying that I couldn’t do it.  I’m just saying that I’m not in a position in my life where I want to do it.”

He further noted, “You guys did a barebones budget.  I would hope that the cutting that was done [was done] on the basis of knowledge of expenses that are going to be generated; not just on the hope we won’t spend that money…because at the end of the year,” he said, “you might find yourselves a little bit backwards on that.”

Another thing that was glaring when Glanzer reviewed the budget was “the drastically increased insurance costs for this commission…$12,000 to $120,000.”  “That speaks to actuary history and I think that it says there probably…were bad decisions made and there is a fear on the part of the insurance company that they are at risk.”

Glanzer further advised, “Any manager or interim manager that comes in here needs to be given the authority to manage this community with a minimum of interference from the commission.”  “Anybody that comes into this position is going to have to have your trust and not your questions,” he said.

Additional Business of Note

A final public hearing will be held on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, to receive input regarding the City’s budget.  This is the last time citizens can comment on the proposed budget prior to approval by the Commission.

Commissioners appointed City Clerk Jenny Parham to act as interim city manager for two weeks until an interim city manager can be located and installed in her place.  Commissioner Linda Gestrin provided the only dissenting vote.

Lee Vincent, former city manager of Starke and also Port St. John, will attend the regular commission meeting on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012.  He is one of five people suggested as an International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Range Rider who could step into the position as interim city manager.  Range Riders are retired city managers who can act in a temporary capacity to help cities out whenever a vacancy arises.

Interim City Manager Parham was instructed to notify the City’s insurance company that a lawsuit had been filed against the City by a former employee, Christian Popoli.

The City received one application for the city attorney position from Lake City.  Attorney Crystal Patterson Talley, assistant state attorney for the Third Judicial Circuit in Hamilton County, submitted her application for consideration.  No action was taken during the Sept. 24, 2012 meeting on the matter.

High Springs is also serving notice to contractors that effective Oct. 1, 2012, the City’s building department hours will be reduced to Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.

#     #     #

Email Cwalker@alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

W_-_Kersom_Muscular_Dystrophy_DSCN6854_copySam Hersom and the overall 1st place finisher Dan Monteau of Gainesville take a moment to celebrate after the Samstrong 5k race.

NEWBERRY – Inspiration can motivate people to think, feel, do good or be creative. On Sept. 29, an 11-year-old boy was the inspiration for hundreds of people to come together for a good cause. Sam Hersom has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, an inherited disorder involving muscular weakness that worsens rapidly. He was diagnosed at 18 months of age, and his birthday this past July will be remembered by family and friends as the last time Sam was able to walk by himself. Now he is confined to a wheelchair, and his worsened condition requires a handicap accessible van as well.  And now his home needs accessibility improvements, too.

On Sept. 29, Newberry Elementary, with help from Gainesville’s Grace at Fort Clarke United Methodist Church, held the Inaugural Samstrong 5K race with over 200 participants, and a silent auction to help the family.  Event proceeds of about $2,000 will go toward the Hersom family, which includes Sam’s 13-year-old brother Cole and 4-year-old sister Kaitlyn.

Past involvement with Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy prompted the idea to hold a fundraiser for muscular dystrophy advocacy in Newberry, said Kris Hersom, Sam’s mother. But family friends at the church, the elementary school, and Oak View Middle School came together and added a slight twist to the original plan: the Hersom family would be the benefactors of the fundraiser.

“They took our concept and ran with it in terms of setting up the 5K run and finding sponsorships,” said Sam’s dad, Matt Hersom. “That’s where we started. Then we finished with over 200 hundred people out there supporting us. It was a whirlwind. A lot of people we know and a lot of people we didn’t know decided that the Samstrong 5K was a worthy thing to do.”

“I drove my power chair in the race,” Sam Hersom said. “And I beat my mom. And I also beat my brother.”

The Hersom family looks forward to making the event an annual one, and enthusiasm for it has already attracted sponsors for next year.

“This was the inaugural event, and you can’t have an inaugural event without a follow up one,” Matt Hersom said.

Audra Pardo, a database clerk at Oak View Middle School, and database manager Kim Barnett and nurse Pauline Eagle at Newberry Elementary School were essential to the success of the fundraiser in their efforts to coordinate donations and set up the race and auction events.

Carissa Clayton at Grace Methodist Church coordinated the silent auction the elementary school hosted, and assisted in the church’s efforts to transfer the funds as aid to the Hersom family.

Gainesville’s TNT Graphics and Newbery’s Bounds Heating and Air, RPM Auto, The Floor Store, and First Choice Immediate Care Center, among others, were integral in the fundraising efforts, Pardo said.

Newberry’s Villagio’s Pizzeria and Hitchcock’s Market were also contributors, along with Gainesville’s Fit2Run who supplied Sam a pair of shoes.

“It was a group effort,” Pardo said. The planning started back in spring break of this year and has created a successful sponsorship, with almost the entire $25 sign-up fee going towards the family’s house renovation fund.”

Although this year’s event is over, anyone wishing to make a donation can do so online by visiting Grace at Fort Clarke’s website, http://www.gracefl.org/, and following the link.

#     #     #

Email cgrinstead@alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs, which continues to find itself embroiled in one legal battle after another, was slammed Sept. 21 with a lawsuit from former City Planner Christian Popoli.  The suit alleges that the City wrongfully terminated his employment earlier this year and that City officials violated state public records and Sunshine laws.

At the heart of the lawsuit filed by Attorney Linda Rice Chapman on behalf of Popoli is the claim that Mayor Dean Davis and Vice Mayor Bob Barnas sought Popoli’s ouster in retaliation for the city planner refusing to bend state and other laws.

Specifically referenced is a March 2, 2010 telephone conversation in which then Commissioner Dean Davis allegedly threatened Popoli with his job.  That conversation was reportedly in reference to state building codes that Davis hoped to have overlooked on one of his buildings or a building he was managing.

The incident did result in an ethics complaint against Davis.  The State ethics commission conducted a preliminary investigation, but determined that the evidence wasn’t sufficient to support a claim that Davis used his position as a commissioner to secure a special benefit to him or others.

Earlier this year, Barnas, Davis and Commissioner Linda Gestrin seemed to become frustrated with Popoli when the commission sought to provide tax abatement to Plantation Oaks retirement home.  There was fierce disagreement as to whether or not the property met the criteria for the tax abatement.  The lawsuit quotes Davis as saying, “It’s a problem and we got to find our way to get around it…Our city staff doesn’t feel like we need to do that.”

Also in the lawsuit are gripping details about how certain commissioners reportedly asked then Interim City Manager Jeri Langman to fire Popoli during her first days on the job.  But when Langman refused, those commissioners looked to other ways to push Popoli out, the complaint alleges.

It goes on to assert that Mayor Davis, Vice Mayor Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin illegally used the City’s budget as a mechanism to manipulate the City administration and staff, particularly writing Popoli’s position out of it.  The Commission narrowly adopted a mid-year budget amendment that inserted an unfunded City Engineer position.  Just weeks later, the Commission changed the budget to move funds from Popoli’s position as City Planner to the City Engineer position.

Davis and Barnas are named dozens of times throughout the case, alluding to instances in which commissioners used their power to intimidate staff.

In one such instance, now former City Attorney Ray Ivey wrote in an email that he was “concerned about whether Plantation Oaks met the criteria [for tax abatement].”  Just days later, Barnas wrote back to Ivey, “I felt we had a product that would get Planation Oaks a tax rebate or abatement…you backed off and stated you basically could not do this because of the ordinance…should anything that you are not sure will fly when presented…inform the Manager…that the item should be farmed out…”

The implication in the lawsuit is that Barnas was threatening Ivey that if he didn’t go along with something the commission wanted, they would simply find another attorney who would.

The lawsuit also notes that Popoli, who was hired by the City in 2006, was also named Employee of the Year in 2008.  It cites Popoli’s personnel file where performance evaluations described him as “clearly outstanding” and “exceeds expectations.”

The 45 page complaint is backed by several exhibits and also alleges that the City is violating public records laws as minutes for meetings since February 2012 are largely nonexistent.  That, the lawsuit says, is because the Commission meets so frequently that City staff cannot keep up with the workload.

Perhaps more disturbing is the claim that the Commission meets at times inconvenient for certain commissioners and the general public.  Additionally, the legal case charges that without prior notice, commissioners take official action on issues at special commission meetings and other meetings although such matters had not been advertised to the public.

#     #     #

Email editor@alachuatoday.com

Add a comment

More Articles ...