Police Chief Jim Troiano will receive severance pay

Fire Chief Verne Riggall resigned

Troiania_RegallL-R: Troiano, Reggall

The City of High Springs is losing both its police chief and fire chief this Friday at 5 p.m.

The employment contract for High Springs Police Chief James Troiano will be terminated according to a press release issued by Interim City Manager Jenny Parham.  The press release also noted that on Monday Fire Chief Verne Riggall submitted his resignation, which will also be effective Friday.

“The proposed FY 2011/2012 budget contains a salary reduction for the Chief of Police and proposes elimination of the Fire Chief’s position,” Parham stated in the release.

“Since coming to the City of High Springs, Chief Rigall and Chief Troiano have made a positive impact and improvement to both departments and the overall safety of the community,” she wrote.

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.”

Troiano will receive a severance pay of one half his annual salary, which is currently set at $77,000.

It may have been Troiano’s salary that ultimately led to the termination of his contract.

Troiano said the City wanted him to take a pay cut of as much as $20,000 annually.

“I’m a married man, I’m a family man and I have kids and college,” he said.  “I can’t afford to do that.”

By lowering Troiano’s pay, the commission could more easily hire a permanent city manager at a salary greater than the police chief’s, but still well below that of former City Manager James Drumm.

Facing termination, Drumm resigned Oct. 21, 2010.  He was provided with a severance of $66,434 and health benefits for six months.

Over the last year, commissioners have contemplated combining the police and fire departments into one public safety office, thereby eliminating the need for two chiefs.  It appears that those considerations may be coming full circle as both men will leave their posts Friday.

But Troiano said he believes the move is a mistake.

“Right now, we have two working chiefs, but we’re going to create one position with someone who is so overworked that they can’t do anything but push paperwork every day,” he said.

The police department will be working with an even small staff given Troiano’s departure on Friday.  The High Springs Police Department (HSPD) currently has 11 police officers, including Troiano, an office assistant and a police service technician/office assistant.  On Friday, that number will change to just 10 officers.

During the weekdays, the police chief, a lieutenant and a police officer are the only officers on duty, Troiano said.

“The [City] has put us in a position that we are below critical staffing levels,” said Troiano.  “I work for [the commission] and if they say this is what happens, then I carry the flag, and I do it.”

Although Troiano has been criticized in the past for his management style, he believes much of it was unwarranted.  “It was a contrived attempt by the PBA and a few other people to try to overcome the changes we’ve made here,” he said.

In defending the department and his own record, Troiano said, “This has absolutely nothing to do with performance…if it did, I would have an ‘A’ right now according to the city manager.”

“I’ve been honored to be the police chief here; I’ve learned a lot and I’ve made a lot of good friends,” he said.  “We’ve had a huge impact here on the City.”

In a memo to his staff, Troiano wrote, “Together, many of us have had to endure much and have grown stronger by overcoming the obstacles many have put in our way. This change and strive for excellence has resulted in a new department; one where you have all embraced a philosophy of change that included training, technology, accountability, integrity and professionalism.”

Although he’s leaving HSPD, Troiano said he wouldn’t be leaving law enforcement as he said he plans to be a “strong advocate for the employees of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.”

“I’m concerned that the changes at the Sheriff’s Office have not been productive,” Troiano explained, adding that he believes some people at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) are paid “exorbitant salaries.”

Troiano’s tenure as Chief of HSPD began in March 2008 after some 20 years at ACSO where he rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant.  The City of High Springs hired him on a $75,000 per year salary and a five-year contract slated to end in 2013.

Filling Troiano’s position on an interim basis will be Lieutenant William Benck.  Riggall’s interim replacement at the High Springs Fire Department will be Captain Bruce Gillingham.

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FelverAlachua resident and former teacher Diana Felver will be sitting on her front porch this weekend offering over 25 years of accumulated teaching supplies for sale at affordable prices.

After 25 years as a teacher, Alachua resident Diana Felver has amassed a cache of school supplies that could fill a room.  And now that she’s formally given up on returning to teaching, Felver is hoping to pass along some of her teaching aids.

“I want to give teachers the opportunity to buy these supplies at an affordable price,” Felver said.

Felver started teaching in California where she spent most of her career.  After she and her husband, Rob, moved their family to Alachua in 2005, Felver continued teaching for a few years.  She sold off her collection of teaching supplies before the move, but when she later learned that her mentor in California was retiring, Felver purchased from her some 800 pounds of classroom aids.

Every pound was shipped through the United States Postal Service, she said.

“The folks down there at the post office must have hated me because I was down there every day picking up shipments,” she joked.

Her mentor’s collection was similar to her own, and included everything from puzzles and books to puppets and maps, said Felver.

“In California, teachers are paid substantially higher, so when I needed to go out and buy items for my classroom, it wasn’t a big deal,” she said of the teacher pay disparity between Florida and California.  Salaries of Florida teachers fall about $8,000 short of the national average according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Felver spent the vast majority of her teaching career in elementary education, particularly kindergarten through 2nd grade.  Her areas of specialty include clinical education, literacy, special education and early childhood development among others.  And the collection of school supplies she’s offering reflects the diversity in subject matter and materials.

Up for sale are over 1,000 literature books including trade, picture and big books.  She has buddy book kits, leveled libraries, literacy and math games, listening centers and puzzles. Also available are bulletin board supplies, bulletin board trim, pointers, professional teacher books, educational CDs and DVDs, teacher decor, clerical supplies and student supplies.

In her seemingly incessant quest to be organized, Felver has built complete kits around subjects with a variety of materials from books and pocket charts to puppets and visual aids.  Subjects for which she has kits include eggs, bees and ants, insects, pets, ocean life, geography, spiders, bats and many more.

The themed tubs will cost between $15 and $40 depending on the subject matter.  Paperback books will be up for just 25 cents and hardback books 50 cents.

Although Felver is stepping away from teaching, she has plenty keeping her busy.  In addition to being Alachua’s volunteer decorator responsible for keeping the downtown district’s seasonal flags and lighting displays in tip-top shape, she is also on the City of Alachua’s Citizens Advisory Task Force (CATF).

More recently, Felver started a new business called De-Clutter Bugs, a service in which she uses her passion for decorating and organizing to help clients clean out the clutter from their rooms, homes and offices.

The teacher supply sale is slated for this weekend at Felver’s downtown Alachua home located at 14503 NW 148th Place.  The sale runs Saturday, Sept. 3 through Monday, Sept. 5 from 8 a.m. until noon daily.

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Nearly three months after 697 cats were seized from Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary in High Springs, the vast majority of the felines will be up for adoption this weekend.

The adoption event will be held at the Alachua County Humane Society on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day.

An estimated 550 cats will be available for adoption this weekend through the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which worked with Alachua County Animal Services on the June 7 seizure and now has custody of the felines.  Cats looking for new homes include those of all ages and types, the Humane Society says.

An adoption fee of just $5 is being charged for each cat adopted.  There is a limit of two cats per household.  Humane Society officials say each cat has been “fully vetted” and spayed/neutered, vaccinated, FELV/FIV tested, and received internal and external parasite control, microchips and veterinary exams. Health information will also be available on all cats, officials say.

Prospective adopters should bring to the adoption event, identification, cash and a pet carrier if possible.  Residency in Alachua County is not required to adopt.

Prospective adopters will also receive a group orientation at the Alachua Humane Society and then be transported to the nearby adoption site.

Humane Society officials say coordinators will be on site to assist in interviewing prospective adopters, help match adopters with cats and answer questions.

The event will be held at the Alachua County Humane Society’s new location at 4205 NW 6th Street, Gainesville, Fla.

Of the original 697 cats taken from the sanctuary, Alachua County Animal Services Director David Flagler said 626 remain.  More than 70 of the felines died or were euthanized after veterinary staff determined they were beyond treatment, he said.

Pennie and Steve Lefkowitz, who operated Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary, were charged last week with 47 animal cruelty charges related to the seizure.  The allegations of animal cruelty were accompanied by a report detailing such conditions of the cats as 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.

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School officials say year is off to a smooth start

BackToSchoolSFHSBackToSchoolMMSPhoto 1:  Big yellow buses were back on the road Monday as the school year started in Alachua County. Santa Fe High School students congregated at the bus zone waiting for their ride home at the end of the first day. Photo 2: Students at Mebane Middle School in Alachua leave campus as the final bell rang marking the end of the first day of school in Alachua County.

Students were back to the books, back to the busses and back to school Monday morning.  But Monday marked a first of many things, not just the first day of school.

Eva Copeland has checked off her first school day as the new principal at Alachua Elementary School, where roughly 425 students welcomed her.

Copeland was tapped to fill a vacancy left by retiring principal Jim Brandenburg.  After some 20 years as the school’s principal, Brandenburg decided over the summer he wanted to spend more time with his family and community organizations.

But Brandenburg apparently left Copeland in good hands.

“It has been an extremely smooth start to the school year,” said Copeland.  “Students were quickly placed and it’s been great.”

Copeland is no stranger to Alachua Elementary.  She previously taught at the school for some 16 years.

“This has just felt so natural coming back home. The way things are done around here came back so quickly,” she said.

Down the road at High Springs Community School, Principal Jeff Means welcomed aboard two full-time teachers.  Ms. Jamie North, who previously taught at Ft. Clarke Middle School, and Ms. Heather Fultz, who was a part-time music teacher at Mebane Middle School, have both been hired at High Springs Community School.  The school also has a new part-time agriculture teacher.

With a combined total of some 840 middle and elementary-aged students, Means said the first three days have gone off without a hitch.

“We’ve had a terrific start to the school year,” he said, crediting a high level of participation at the school’s Meet the Teacher event Friday.

Students at Santa Fe High School walked into a newly constructed expansion on campus.  An excited Principal Bill Herschleb said the school officially opened the doors on eight new mathematics classrooms and two teacher planning rooms, all of which are part of a science building that opened on the campus last year.

The classrooms are equipped with the latest audio/visual technology.  Using a digital setup similar to a SMART Board, the classrooms have a system called Sympodium, which includes wireless slates that can be passed around the room, allowing students to interact with instruction media.  The rooms also have student response systems, allowing the teachers to gauge student comprehension of subject matter in real time.

The new addition also includes two computer labs, each of which are outfitted with 34 computers.

Along with the expansion of the science and mathematics building, the school is now an official WeatherBug reporting site, Herschleb said.

Complete with an anemometer for measuring wind speed and direction, a thermometer, barometer and a live camera, the system has been operational for just a few weeks, said Herschleb. Weather measurements and video from the site can be found by searching for the zip code 32615 on www.weatherbug.com.

Herschleb echoed the sentiments of Means and Copeland, saying the first few days have been smooth-running.

“We’ve had very few requests for schedule changes because we do a lot of personal contact with parents and students over the summer to ensure that schedules are indeed what students had requested,” he said.

Santa Fe High School has about 1,000 students on campus and another 100 or so who are dual-enrolled at Santa Fe College.

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Local police will be participating in a drug deal Saturday in a statewide initiative to take unused or expired drugs off of the streets.

Alachua Police Department (APD) and the Police Explorers will be at Walgreens and Hitchcocks from 10 am to 2 pm to accept the prescription and over-the-counter drugs, which will then be destroyed.

The Lions Club will be at the Hitchcock’s location to provide free diabetes testing. They will also be handing out a limited supply of glucometers, which will be donated by the Hitchock’s pharmacy.

In addition to helping clear your cabinets of unnessary bottles and pills, these events will help society in a broader sense, said APD Public Information Officer Jesse Sandusky.

“This is important so that these drugs do not get into the wrong hands,” Sandusky wrote in a press release. “It’s also important to dispose of these drugs properly so that children do not get a hold of them.”

Those with questions about this event may contact APD Detective Carrie Lund or Officer Sandusky at 386-462-1396.

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Blanchard_-_Mugshot_ASO11JBN008373Police have arrested an Alachua man on molestation charges.

Lotus Mango Blanchard, age 30, of Alachua was arrested Friday morning at his home. 

According to a police report filed by the Alachua Police Department (APD), the child claims the molestation occurred about 10 times.  The incidents date back to as early as December 2010.  The last such incident reportedly took place in July.

Blanchard has been charged with two counts of lewd or lascivious offenses committed upon or in the presence of persons less than 16 years of age.  The first charge is for lewd or lascivious battery.  The second charge is lewd or lascivious molestation.  Both charges are second degree felonies.  If convicted, Blanchard could be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison for each of the felonies, APD officials say.

Blanchard was released from jail earlier this week on a $50,000 bond and ordered not to have any contact with the victim.

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Commissioner Roberta Lopez announced Monday that she would be stepping down from her seat on the Archer City Commission.

First elected to the commission in 2002, Lopez did not seek re-election in 2006.  But she did find herself back on the city commission after being elected again in 2008.  Most recently, Lopez left her mark on the city with the Aug. 2 opening of the Archer Community Center, a project she has championed since 2003.

Lopez was born in Archer but moved away at the age of 17, she said.  In 2000, she moved back to Archer along with her husband.  After organizing several clean-ups and senior and youth events in Archer, she tossed her hat in the ring, seeking election to the commission in 2002.

It was after that election that she first saw the inside of the old Archer High School gymnasium, which was built in 1937.

“My first thought was, how do I get this place restored and turned into a multi-purpose center,” she explained.

Organizing efforts to fund restoration of the dilapidated building was a major reason she decided not to seek re-election in 2006.

All of that work paid off as Lopez led the charge to raise more than $900,000 through donations and grants.  The opening held earlier this month drew hundreds of area residents, dignitaries and elected officials to celebrate with the Archer community.

Lopez sees that restoration as the pinnacle of her success with the City, but it isn’t the end of her work on the center.

“My commitment remains steadfast and strong and I will continue to work with the City and the Development Committee to make the Archer Community Center a total success,” she said.

Lopez has also long championed the cause of wastewater infrastructure in Archer.

“We should applaud our new commissioners and the city manager for getting on board and seeing the need for the sewer system,” said Lopez.  “We have started the process and it is my hope that we will continue.”

While on the commission, Lopez had been selected by her colleagues to serve as vice-mayor and mayor of the City of Archer.

Lopez said her involvement as an elected official has been an eye-opening experience.

“I have grown in many ways and learned that putting the community first is of vital importance in today’s environment.

“It has been a challenge and an honor working with the citizens of Archer while accomplishing many goals that benefited the people,” said Lopez.

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