See what it’s like not to see

ALACHUA – What are seemingly simple tasks for people with healthy vision are much more complex for the visually impaired.  How do the blind count change, pour a glass of water or cross the street?  The Alachua County Council for the Blind (ACCB) intends to answer those questions and more, as the sighted experience what it’s like to be visually impaired this coming Saturday.

The ACCB will be conducting its 12th Annual White Cane Walk in Alachua on Oct. 8 at 10 a.m., and the public is invited to participate in the exciting and educational event.  The walk is held annually to raise awareness about Florida's White Cane Law.

Participants will begin the walk at the former Alachua City Hall located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and County Road 241/NW140th St and finish about two blocks away at the Alachua Lions.  The walk will last about 20 minutes.  Lunch will be provided for participants who will also have an opportunity to try their hand at routine tasks performed by blind and visually impaired people.

Event organizers say it will conclude by noon.

School service clubs and other civic minded groups are encouraged to participate.  For additional details, contact the ACCB at 352-338-7951.

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Jenny Franklin and her neighbor, Joan Levins, shell chestnuts, which are currently being harvested at Franklin’s organic orchard on State Road 45 near High Springs.

HIGH SPRINGS – Jenny Franklin picked up a prickled ball in her gloved hand. She shoved a dull oyster knife into the seam, cracking it open. Gently, she peeled back the covering, revealing the dark, meaty chestnuts inside.

When Franklin moved to High Springs with her husband and daughter in 1996, she bought 28 acres of land.

She had never grown a fruit tree before.

Now, plants cover 10 acres of her land with blueberries, persimmons, apples and chestnuts. She and her husband, Chuck Franklin, are the owners of High Springs Orchard and Bakery, 10804 NW State Road 45.

“Ten acres is all I can do between me and him,” she said.

The Franklins run the organic orchard themselves with the help of their dog, Collins, and 11 beehives.

Right now, Jenny Franklin is harvesting chestnuts.

“Everybody thought the chestnut is a winter crop,” she said. “We have them now and people don’t know what to do. How much fun can you have roasting them in the Florida heat?”

She explained that chestnuts offer a great deal of variety. They can be boiled or baked. Chestnuts also offer the next best alternative to gluten for those with allergies, she said.

She generally uses chestnuts in cooking, making casseroles or stuffing.

“I grow what I like to eat,” Franklin said. “Being Oriental, most of my friends know about chestnuts, and like persimmons.”

She and her husband moved to the United States from Singapore. In Singapore, she said, people live on top of one another.

“Having land is very expensive,” she said. “I was lucky. My backyard was about the size of a dining room table.”

When they arrived in Gainesville, she was surprised by all the empty space.

“When I come here, I saw all this land and I thought, what a waste,” she said.

Franklin started bringing plants home without knowing anything about how to grow them in Florida weather. She learned the hard way.

“My neighbor would say to me, ‘Jenny, that’s going to die,’” she said. “‘Why?’ I would ask. So I learned.”

She got books about gardening and went to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services extension office. When looking for a 3- to 5- acre piece of land to grow a few fruit trees, Franklin stumbled upon the land now housing the orchard.

She turned her orchard into a business by offering “U-Pick” fruit during harvesting season. She said the international community created by UF makes up her largest customer base.

“Most of my friends are from customers who became good friends.”

One year ago, a friend suggested opening a bakery at the orchard. He is now the head baker.

The bakery makes pastries for all occasions, offering everything from custom-made wedding cakes to guava empanadas. All orders are placed at least a day in advance, as the bakery does not hold goods every day.

“There are not a lot of people wandering through here,” she said.

She reaches the larger Alachua County community by bringing baked goods and produce to the Gainesville Union Street Farmers Market every Wednesday. She also does tours for local children and UF students, teaching them about organic farming.

All of her produce is organic because she does not want to eat pesticides, she said. She explained that the porous Florida sand holds any pesticides that run off the fruits during rainstorms.

“My purpose in going organic is for myself,” she said “I eat my fruits right off the plant. I drink water straight from my well.”

Starting with this personal mission, Franklin is now trying to break into the bigger produce distribution companies. She and another grower just sold 500 pounds of chestnuts to a wholesale distributor.

“What happens if there is a bumper crop and none of my customers are here? I have to eat them all,” she said.

Next fall, Franklin is planning a chestnut festival to celebrate her most unexpected fall crop.

She attributes her success to the North Central Florida weather and a lot of hard work.

“I like challenges,” she said. “The trees cooperate with me and listen to me.” Add a comment

NEWBERRY – The Newberry City Commission gave the final nod to the City’s proposed 2011/12 fiscal year budget for $7,761,518.  Except for the inclusion of a $6,000 commission travel expense item Monday evening, little changed in the budget since the first public hearing on Sept. 12.

Funding for commission travel expenses was reinstated in the budget when City Commissioner Alena Lawson suggested that each commissioner and city manager have $1,000 available for projected city-related travel, adding up to $6,000 to the final budget. The move sets up a travel fund reserve, leaving it up to the individual commissioner to decide if they need to use the money for city-related travel expenses.

Commissioners also formally approved a 2 percent salary increase for all city employees. Commissioners clarified that raise does not increase the salary of commissioners.

The property tax millage rate was kept at 3.8500, the same as last year.  The millage rate determines the taxes a property owner must pay based on the assessed taxable value of their real estate or tangible property.

Meals on Wheels, a non-profit program for senior citizens, which was at risk for of being cut from city funding during the first hearing, survived with its $22,000 budget intact.  Funding for a city fireworks display was slashed after commissioners determined that a senior citizen program was a priority.

Ashby said the most challenging part of getting the budget approved was making sure the City had enough revenue to continue providing city services. Money transfers were made from investment funds to shore up the final budget.

“With those transfers, we were able to meet our level of service requirements,” Ashby said.

The Canterbury project is still in the works, Ashby said, referring to the City’s request for funding from the Alachua County Commission. Ashby added that before further planning continues with the equestrian center, Newberry has to submit its proposal to several committees as directed last week by the Alachua County Commission.

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 GAINESVILLE – A grand jury convened on Sept. 16, indicted Russell Dewayne Hogg, of High Springs, on five charges, two of which were murder in connection with the Sept. 11 shooting deaths of his wife and son.

The grand jury indicted Hogg of two counts of first degree murder, one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm.

Hogg is being held without bail on the murder charges and on $100,000 for each of the other three charges.

The Public Defender’s office has been assigned to represent Hogg against the charges.  Hogg’s counsel submitted a plea of not guilty on his behalf on Sept. 22.

Hogg is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on Oct. 6, although the Public Defender’s office wrote in the plea of ‘not guilty’ that Hogg “waives formal arraignment.”

Hogg, 58, has been accused of shooting and killing his wife, Trenda Hogg, 48 and their 22-year-old son, Anthony Wayne Hogg, on Sept. 11, reportedly after a family dispute over a pickup truck.

According to an arrest report, just before 1 p.m. on Sept. 11, Russell Hogg pulled into the driveway of the family home at 240 Poe Springs Road in High Springs.  He allegedly exited his vehicle, pulling out an AK-47 rifle and pointed it at his son stating, “I told you I was going to kill you,” to which Anthony Hogg replied, “shoot me then.”

Russell Hogg reportedly fired two rounds at his son, striking him in the torso.  The report states, “[Russell Hogg] then walked up to him and shot one round to his face.”

Upon realizing Anthony Hogg had been shot, Trenda Hogg ran outside where “Russell [Hogg] pointed the gun at her and fired several rounds at her,” the arrest record states.

Russell Hogg then threw the gun down and an eyewitness grabbed the gun and threw it under the house to prevent further access to it.  Russell Hogg then got into his car and left, officials report.

Two witnesses told investigators that Hogg stated his intentions to commit the crime beforehand.  “Russell was at their home and made the statement he “was going over to kill them.”  After the shooting, Russell Hogg allegedly returned to the witnesses’ home where he stated, “I told you I was gonna’ kill them,” the report states.

Columbia County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Russell Hogg on U.S. Highway 441 a short time after the shooting.

Hogg made several statements acknowledging that he killed his wife and son, according to Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sandra Myers.

Among his statements to investigators was that, “Tony [Anthony Russell] had gotten too big for his britches,” and that if he could have whipped his son, he would have, “rather than having to kill him.”

Myers wrote, “Russell [Hogg] also stated that it hurt him to see his wife laying there barely breathing because he did not want her to die.”

“I just killed my family and the bread winner of the home,” Russell Hogg allegedly said.

The arraignment is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 6 at 9 a.m.

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HAWTHORNE – Hawthorne city commissioners unanimously approved the city’s final budget of $2,425,416 for the 2011/12 fiscal year during a meeting on Sept. 20.

The city’s general fund is budgeted at $767,281; the water fund at $220,800; wastewater at $1,217,335; and the sanitation fund at $220,000.

The new budget represents an overall increase of about 18 percent when compared to the 2010/11budget of $1,987,983. Although the budget was initially believed to be balanced last year, there was a deficit of nearly $400,000 that placed the city in a state of financial emergency.

Commissioners also unanimously adopted the final 2011/12 millage rate, or the rate at which property taxes are levied on property, at 5.3194 mills.  City Manager Ellen Vause estimates that the adopted millage rate, which is the same as last year, will result in $244,386 in ad valorem tax revenues to the city.

A surcharge was added to the water and sewer bills beginning in May to help reduce the budget deficit. During the meeting, City Attorney Audrie Harris described the deficit as a “work in progress.”

“Our water and sewer rates should stabilize our historical deficits that we have had every year so that we could be able to start a rebuilding process,” she said. “It will be a long journey for us because there are a lot of things we have to straighten out before we start rebuilding.”

In a letter to the State of Florida Auditor General that detailed the current economic standings of Hawthorne, the City said 2012 is expected to be the break-even year for the budget.

However, there is still a $1.12 million deficit between the enterprise and general funds. Commissioner William Carlton said he believes more action will need to be taken to reduce the deficit.

“We are shortchanging ourselves by not trying to get enough taxes in to start reducing this deficit we have,” he said during the meeting.

Hawthorne will continue to be considered in a state of financial emergency until the deficit is corrected.

City commission members met on Aug. 2 to announce the millage rate proposals. On Sept. 8, they adopted the preliminary millage rate of 5.3194 mills.

In anticipation of its annual audit, Vause said the city has completed five of eight balance sheets to close the 2010/11 fiscal year.

“We are really doing a whole year’s worth of bookkeeping in two months,” she said.

City Commissioner William Carlton said he hopes the new budget can aid the current deficit.

“We still got a $1.12 million deficit between our accounts here. Somehow, we have to get money from somewhere to pay for this.”

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ALACHUA – Decisions about who should represent the City of Alachua against four separate lawsuits sparked a contentions discussion Monday evening.

In a special meeting, not open to the public, before the regular city commission meeting Sept. 26, commissioners, legal staff and other city officials strategized about a host of legal issues facing the city.  During the regular public meeting that followed, commissioners took action on four lawsuits in particular, prompting a debate on the part of at least two commissioners who said they were concerned with legal representation on the cases.

City Attorney Marian Rush asked that her firm, Rush and Glassman, be appointed by the commission as co-counsel with attorney David Theriaque in a federal lawsuit.  Brought by The Lions Den, that case challenges the legality of a city ordinance and seeks to overturn it, allowing the company to open an adult novelty store near Interstate 75 and U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua.

Theriaque was responsible for writing the city’s Ordinance 11-06, an ordinance that restricts the types of businesses allowed to operate within an area labeled the “Gateway Activity Center,” a 2,000-foot zone surrounding the intersection of I-75 and U.S. 441.

The city’s insurance carrier has reportedly agreed to pay $180 of Theriaque’s $200 per hour fee to defend the city.  But Monday, Rush said her firm should be appointed as co-counsel in the case because “this case is going to be inextricably intertwined with the case in 2003,” a similar lawsuit by another adult novelty store.

Vice-Mayor Ben Boukari, Jr. opposed appointing co-counsel and cited concerns of increased legal fees saying, “I don’t know that we need more than one person or a group to litigate for us.”

Rush, whose firm defended the city against the 2003 case brought by Adult World, argued that her knowledge of the prior case would be a benefit.  She also noted that three law firms are representing the Lions Den.  Addressing Boukari’s concerns, Rush said, “It’s actually going to save money.”

Boukari, however, suggested that the $10,000 monthly fee already paid to Rush and Glassman should be sufficient to cover Marian Rush’s involvement.

“Should [Theriaque] need help or information, I would imagine under our current contract with our city attorney, she would provide what needed to be provided,” Boukari said.  “My concerns are financial.  I don’t want to see us push the limits in terms of legal costs.  [Theriaque] can defend that ordinance, I would think, on his own, that’s why he’s being hired.”

City Manager Traci Cain said assistance with The Lions Den lawsuit wouldn’t be covered under the $10,000 monthly fee.  “If [Rush] helps in anyway with this case, it’s not going to come under her retainer,” said Cain.

Responding to Commissioner Gary Hardacre, Cain said “We can always monitor and make sure that Mr. Theriaque’s office is performing more of the duties and that he is doing the leg work since his fees would be paid by insurance, rather than Ms. Rush.”

Apparently referring to earlier statements made by Rush, Cain said, “This is going to be a case that is probably going to be very lengthy.  It’s going to go on for several years probably and be very costly.”

Those costs are what, Boukari said, the City needed to control.   “Costs are going to hit our general fund directly and not just our insurance,” he said.  “This strictly comes down to money.  I’m concerned that should this go on for years, like we’re expecting it to, [Rush is] saying it will save money, I’m not so sure.”

After the heated discussion, commissioners voted 4-1 to appoint David Theriaque as the lead attorney with Rush and Glassman as co-counsel.  Boukari cast the dissenting vote.

In two separate cases against the City brought by the same company, JGC Land Development, LLC, commissioners were asked to give Cain and Rush the authority to negotiate with Theriaque and attorney Skip Kohlmyer to defend against the cases.

The company is seeking injunctive relief to keep the City from spending nearly $1 million set aside for infrastructure in the Heritage Oaks neighborhood near Santa Fe High School. In a separate case, JGC Land Development is seeking $3.2 million plus interest and legal costs because it claims the City “interfered” and “disrupted” its project.

Commissioner Robert Wilford opposed utilizing Theriaque in either of the cases pointing to the City’s case load already being carried by Theriaque.

“I don’t think it should be Mr. Theriaque.  I think it should be Mr. Kohlmyer or someone else because we’ve got a lot of things tied up with Mr. Theriaque.

In a vote of 4-1, commissioners approved the negotiations, with Wilford dissenting.

Commissioners unanimously agreed not to file a counterclaim in lawsuit filed against the City by Jones Edmunds & Associates, Inc., a design and engineering firm working on the city’s wastewater treatment plant expansion.  The company is seeking a half-million dollars in redesign costs it says were necessary because of the City’s failure to provide information from its Land Development Regulations (LDRs).

In its complaint, Jones Edmunds said a city representative approved the necessary changes mid-project, but the city has only paid the fees of $1.25 million outlined in the original agreement rather than the increased fee of $1.8 million.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs commission voted on Sept. 22 to continue the search for a new city manager.

The commission had interviewed Judith Jankosky on Sept. 15, the last candidate for the position. The search, which started out with 47 candidates, was narrowed to a list of six hopefuls.

Out of that six, four dropped out due to the salary offered. The commission decided at the Aug. 25 meeting to publically interview the last two candidates, Jankosky and Terry Leary, after they both had individual meetings with each commissioner.

However, Leary took a job at another city.

Commissioner Sue Weller expressed concern should the city hire Jankosky without interviewing other candidates. She said she was impressed with Jankosky’s background and knowledge, but did not feel comfortable focusing on one candidate at this point.

“We don’t know at this point if there’s a candidate out there that would be available, that would meet our qualifications, that might be a better fit,” she said.

Mayor Larry Travis agreed with Weller. He said he was unsure that Jankosky had the necessary ability to come before the public and put together a plan of action.

“This position is very, very important,” he said. “So I feel it’s advantageous for us to go forward in looking for other individuals to fill this seat.”

The position will be advertised again, seeking another round of new candidates. Once the city has a list of applicants, Paul Sharon, a “Range Rider,” will review the individuals.

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

The new advertisement will include the salary for the position, set at $50,000 to $72,000. This additional information is at the request of Commissioner Eric May.

He suggested this in light of the city losing two-thirds of its candidates after announcing the salary. After an unsuccessful five-month search, he does not want to see the city follow the same procedures.

“We don’t do this everyday, as Mr. Sharon pointed out,” May said. “I don’t want to see us use the exact same process and get the exact same results.”

Vice Mayor Byran Williams reiterated that the salary must be mentioned at the beginning of the process. Commissioner Dean Davis did not attend the meeting.

City Clerk Jenny Parham will stay on as interim city manager while the city continues its search to replace former city manager Jim Drumm, who resigned last October.

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