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NEWBERRY – Newberry’s citizens will soon go to the polls to consider the future of the City, how it will be run and by whom. The election of candidates to fill three Newberry City Commission seats is part of what they need to decide on April 14 as they file into the voting booths.

In addition to filling commission seats, changes to the City’s Charter and lengthening the terms for the mayor and commissioners are also on this year’s election slate.

The Group One and Group Three seats are currently occupied by Rick Coleman and Monty Farnsworth, respectively.

The Group Two seat was recently filled by Rocky McKinley upon the departure of Matt Hersom, who relocated out of the area.

The candidate qualifying period begins at noon on Monday, March 2, and ends at noon on Thursday, March 12. According to the election proclamation, “Candidates for the municipal election shall qualify for office with City Clerk Judy Rice at City Hall, located at 25440 West Newberry Road, Newberry; Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Monday, March 2nd when qualifying begins at noon and Thursday, March 12 when qualifying ends at noon.”

The state required election assessment fee of one percent of the annual salary of the position sought is $108 and will be required as part of qualifying. Newberry City Commissioners receive an annual salary of $10,966, paid biweekly at $4228.

In addition, the City’s proclamation also details the voting precinct location, opening and closing times for the polls and a list of the clerks, deputy and inspectors of the election.

Following a year of review of the existing City Charter by a Charter Review Committee and workshops with Commissioners, proposed changes have been recommended to modify and simplify the Charter.

The first issue voters will consider on the April ballot is whether to replace the existing Charter with the newly-proposed 2019 Charter.

The second issue for voter consideration is whether election term lengths should be increased to three years commencing in 2021.

A copy of the proposed changes to the Charter can be viewed at Newberry City Hall.

A complete 2020 Newberry City Election Calendar was included with the proclamation and may be obtained from Clerk Rice.

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NEWBERRY – The Newberry City Commission has commissioned a traffic study to examine a request to close a private road in Oak View Village. During the Jan. 27 City Commission meeting Oak View Village Homeowners’ Association President Naim Erched requested that a subdivision road be closed due to concerns about heavy traffic.

According to Erched, drivers wanting to avoid the slower school zone traffic for Oak View Middle School on US 27/41-SR 45 have been using Southwest 251st Way as a bypass and exiting at the Southwest 15th Avenue intersection. He said the homeowners have asked the Homeowners Association to have the road closed to through traffic. They believe that they can close it because the roads in the subdivision are owned and maintained by the homeowners association, with public utilities easements for municipal water, wastewater and electric utilities in the rights of way.

The City’s Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas researched the issue and said his findings were that once a private road is opened to the public for use, the local governing body obtains jurisdiction over that road. Therefore, a public process, with appropriate notification, must be followed prior to closing the road to the public. He further outlined the process should the Commission wish to grant the Homeowners Association’s request.

Commissioners were hesitant to take action without a traffic study being performed. Instead of taking action to close the road at the Commission meeting, they decided instead to request that the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office be contacted and a request made by the City for them to perform the study.

Thomas reminded Commissioners that the City’s Land Development Regulations prohibit the creation of “dead-end,” streets. In addition, he said, “the Florida Fire Safety Code also requires that a turnaround be provided to allow emergency vehicles the ability to turn around in an emergency. Therefore, should the Commission decide to close Southwest 251st Way, the Oak View Village HOA would be required to construct either a cul-de-sac or other acceptable form of turnaround at the end of Southwest 251st Way.”

“If the Commission decides to consider closing Southwest 251st Way, it should adopt a Resolution that establishes a time and place for a public hearing to discuss closing the road,” Thomas said.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission once again found itself on the hot seat at the Feb, 13 City Commission meeting. At issue was a letter from the City to the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) regarding a Water Permit Application by Seven Springs.

Although the City has no authority to grant or deny the application, some area citizens have appealed to the Commission on several occasions to take a forceful stand to encourage the water management district to deny the Seven Springs permit. Water from Seven Springs wells have, in the past, been sold to Nestle for their water bottling plant.

The proposed permit renewal, if approved, would increase permitted water withdrawal from the Santa Fe River from 270,000 gallons per day, which is what has been taken in the past, to 1.152 million gallons per day

At the Jan. 9 City Commission meeting, residents packed into the commission chambers to voice their opinions on the matter. Some residents expressed their strongly-held views that this permit should be denied. Other residents, many of whom are employed by Nestle, expressed their just as strongly-held views that the permit should be approved.

Initially, the City Commission directed the city attorney to write a firmly worded letter encouraging the SRWMD to deny the permit. When the letter came back to Commissioners at the Jan. 23 meeting for review, Commissioners, who by that time had a chance to review the previous meeting’s minutes, seemed to agree that all of the citizens’ points of view should be shared with the water management district and not just those of the opposing citizens.

Commissioners also asked that the attorney include wording emphasizing the importance of the area springs and rivers to the economic, aesthetic and natural wellbeing of High Springs and surrounding area.

The city attorney was sent back to the drawing board and asked that the revised letter reflect both sides expressed by area residents, and commissioners suggested the attorney refer the SRWMD to the Jan. 9 meeting minutes and to the YouTube video of the actual proceedings.

At the Feb. 13 City Commission meeting, a second letter was presented for Commission consideration. Although the crowd was not as large this time, some area residents in attendance asked Commissioners to approve the original, more strongly written letter.

Some of the same issues were brought up by opponents at this meeting as had been discussed earlier. Concerns included fears about increased truck traffic, noise and air pollution, road damage and reduction of water levels.

City Attorney Scott Walker read the letter out loud as some citizens said they had not seen it. With no further comment from the audience members, commissioners unanimously approved the new letter and authorized Mayor Byran Williams to sign it.

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 HIGH SPRINGS – Two cities will be sharing one building inspector for the foreseeable future. In light of the recent resignation of the City of High Springs’s Building Official/Public Works Director Bill Whitlock, High Springs commissioners held an emergency meeting Tuesday morning, Feb. 11, in Commission Chambers.

The main focus of the meeting was to provide Commissioners with the opportunity to consider an interlocal agreement with the City of Alachua to provide High Springs with building official services.

The agreement calls for Alachua’s building official, “to provide regulatory building inspection services for permitted construction activities related to building construction, erection, repair, addition, remodeling, demolition, or alteration projects that are subject to the Florida Building Code related to building, plumbing, electrical and mechanical work, and provide all permit holders a record of the inspection results required by statute.”

Fees, method of payment and a term agreement period to end on Dec. 31, 2020 are also part of the agreement, along with an opt-out method should either party wish to terminate the agreement without cause prior to that date.

The quorum of commissioners in attendance unanimously approved the interlocal agreement, which went into effect immediately.

City officials indicate that Alachua’s building official will be in High Springs in the afternoons to meet with builders and conduct inspections.

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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs City Parks & Recreation Director Damon Messina addressed Commissioners at the Feb. 13 meeting to acknowledge the volunteers of High Springs BMX. “During 2019, the organization was given the Jack Hughes Award by the Gainesville Sports Commission and the Florida Sports Foundation,” Messina said. “This is a very prestigious award only given out to a few.”

In addition to the Hughes award, the High Springs BMX track was recently voted the number one track in the state of Florida, as well as being listed as one of the top 20 tracks nationally. “It also ranks quite high internationally,” Messina said.

Messina told commissioners that the High Springs BMX program has provided an economic impact to the county in the millions of dollars.

The organization, which is strictly volunteer run and organized, has been spearheaded by Laura and John Pringle who have been running the facility for over six years. “The Pringles and their team of volunteers have been working tirelessly to maintain and improve the track,” said Messina.

Laura Pringle was on hand to talk about what she called “a very big event” that will be happening in High Springs from Feb. 28 - March 1.

“Later this month we will have 700 – 800 riders from across the state qualifying for the state championships which will take place in May,” said Pringle. “We will also have some folks from out of state here because they love the facility,” she said.

Pringle said that many of the competitors are hoping for warm weather so they can visit the springs. “We will also funnel them into downtown and the wonderful shopping areas in High Springs.”

“We have a great partnership working with them,” said Messina. “We have a great marriage going with the City of High Springs and the BMX riders as well,” he said.

To learn more about the High Springs BMX Track program see their website at hsbmx.com/.

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LAKE CITY – Fifteen miles east of Lake City, Florida, is Olustee, a small town bordering the Osceola National Forest. Usually it is a serene and quiet spot in a rural setting, but once a year on Presidents Day weekend in February, the stirring sounds of bugles and drums mix with the sharp sound of rifle fire and cannons booming. Thousands of reenactors and spectators assemble in the park to experience history and witness the recreated battle.

For the past 44 years, Olustee State Park has been home to a living history event that honors those who fought in the largest and bloodiest Civil War battle in Florida. Olustee State Park, is the state's first park and was dedicated in 1912. The annual event is one of the few reenactment events that is actually carried out on the same ground where the original took place. In the Battle of Olustee, over 10,000 soldiers fought, and in some cases died, 155 years ago.

On Feb. 20, 1864, Union forces marching across the state ran into an equal army of Confederates at the location of the present park. Florida had escaped much of the fighting that had decimated the country. The Union had launched several raids along the coast and had even captured Jacksonville and Key West, but they didn't control the interior.

Union General Truman Seymore landed troops at Jacksonville, aiming to disrupt the Confederate supply line. Florida produced much of the beef and salt supply, which was exported north to the Confederate army. Meeting little resistance, he proceeded toward Tallahassee, which was still under Confederate control. Against orders from his commander, Seymore planned to cut across the state to Tallahassee and cut off the supplies leaving Florida. Assuming he would face only partisans and local militia, Seymore and his 5,500 troops followed the Florida, Atlantic and Gulf Central rail line west toward Lake City.

But it was not just militia the Union would be facing. Confederate General Joseph Finnegan had assembled an opposing force of battle-seasoned Florida troops, supplemented by additional troops from Georgia. At Olustee Station, east of Lake City, the Union forces ran into Finnegan’s 5,400 men. Seymour made the mistake of assuming he was facing Florida militia units like he had previously routed with ease and committed his troops piecemeal into the battle. Fighting raged all afternoon. Twice the Confederates almost ran out of ammunition. The Union forces attacked, but were repulsed by barrages of rifle and cannon fire. Then, just as Finnegan committed the last of his reserves, the Union line broke and began to retreat. Finnegan did not exploit the retreat, allowing most of the fleeing Union forces to reach Jacksonville.

Union casualties were 203 killed, 1,152 wounded and 506 missing, a total of 1,861 men, which was about 34 percent of the Union forces. Confederate losses were lower, with 93 killed, 847 wounded and 6 missing, a total of 946 casualties in all, which was about 19 percent.

The ratio of Union casualties to the number of troops involved made this the second bloodiest battle of the war for the Union, with 265 casualties per 1,000 troops. It also ended Union attempts to take the state and cut the supply lines. At the end of the war, Tallahassee was the only Confederate capitol that had not been captured. Although the battle is relatively unknown to the general public, it was a defining moment in the history of Florida.

This park where so much violence and bloodshed happened on that single day in 1864 now rests peacefully among the pine forest of North Florida, except for that one weekend in February.

The event is much more than a portrayal of a battle. Reenactors portray not only soldiers of both sides, but civilians as well, educating the public as they walk through the campsites. Some reenactors provide music or medical scenarios, female reenactors teach about the woman's role both in the war and home life. The park service also provides lectures, often taught by reenactors, on many aspects of the Civil War and life in the 1860s, including an actor portraying Frederic Douglas to give the viewpoint and experiences of African Americans, both free and slave.

Lake City also marks the event with a two-day festival with artists, vendors and entertainers beginning Friday afternoon and continuing through Saturday with the addition of a parade by the reenactors at 10:30 a.m. The town also sponsors a battle skirmish and naval reenactment of a battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac, at Lake Desoto in downtown Lake City. Although there was no naval engagement at the battle of Olustee, this is meant to portray the first engagement between two ironclad ships.

When Saturday evening comes and the spectators are gone, the camps at the park become a true step back in time. Reenactors relax in camp around a fire or go to a ball with a full orchestra. The only light is candlelight giving the night a warm glow, with the odor of smoke drifting from the campfires.

Then on Sunday, the Battle of Olustee is re-enacted on the same hallowed ground soldiers fought for over 150 years earlier. Long lines dressed in blue and gray meet in conflict, firing volleys and cannons before an audience of over 1,000 spectators. When the battle ends, all the reenactors assemble in long lines before the audience, no longer in conflict but mingled together, reunited as one nation, as a solitary bugle blows taps to honor those who died here so long ago.

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Friday, February 28, 12:30 - 4pm
Waldo City Square
14450 NW 148th Ave, Waldo
The City of Waldo, in partnership with CareerSource North Central Florida and the Greater Gainesville Chamber, is holding a Career Day and Job Fair on Friday, Feb. 28 from 1 – 4 p.m. This event is open to anyone wanting to learn more about jobs in the region. The program will include educational opportunities to be prepared for a job search and will allow participants to hear from regional employers about working for their company. Attending the event are employers such as Milliken-SiVance, Meridian, US Census, and Manpower.
For more information, click here or contact Greater Gainesville Chamber Workforce Services Manager Andrea Mender at andrea@gainesvillechamber.com.
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