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GAINESVILLE ‒ Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) has extended the deadline for parents to notify the district if their students need a laptop and/or Internet connection at home.

Thanks to federal funding, the district has the opportunity to provide thousands of students with a laptop, Internet service or both at home beginning this fall. However, families need to let the district know what their students need by filling out the Home Technology Survey

More than 1,800 of the surveys have been returned so far. The original deadline of May 13 has now been extended to May 20 to give more families time to respond.

Hard copies of the survey were sent home with all students at the end of April, but parents can request another by contacting their child’s school. They can also respond to the survey online at https://www.sbac.edu/techsurvey. The online version can be completed on a cell phone, tablet or desktop. All responses will be confidential.

The district is hoping to order, receive and distribute devices to students in time for the beginning of the school year, although that will depend on the availability of devices and other supply-chain issues.

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ The Florida League of Cities (FLC) has recognized three of Alachua County’s municipal leaders as 2022 Home Rule Heroes for their work during the 2022 legislative session.

City of Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, City of Hawthorne Commissioner Matthew Surrency and City of Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe were among the 150 municipal officials recognized for the award. Each of these people is being recognized for their work and advocacy efforts during the 2022 Legislative Session.

Coerper, Marlowe and Surrency worked throughout the session to promote local voices making local choices, protect the Home Rule powers of Florida’s municipalities and advance the League’s legislative agenda.

“I am greatly humbled to be selected for this honor,” Coerper said. “I’ve always felt the government closest to its community should be the one making decisions based on the best interests of that community and the Home Rule allows municipalities like Alachua to do just that.”

“I am so honored to be a recipient of this prestigious award, and I will continue to work hard to protect local authority,” said Marlowe.

“It’s an honor always to be recognized for the work that we do on the local, state and national level to advocate for keeping policy making at the local level,” Surrency said.

“On behalf of the League and its legislative team, we’re very proud to present this year’s Home Rule Hero Awards to a deserving group of municipal leaders,” said FLC Director of Legislative Affairs Casey Cook. “We had a record number of Home Rule Heroes this year, which shows the dedication and impact of local officials on behalf of their residents and businesses in protecting local decision-making. These local officials were constantly engaged and actively advocating for their communities throughout the 2022 Legislative Session. They’re heroes for Home Rule and we thank them for their efforts.”

Home Rule is the ability for a city to address local problems with local solutions with minimal state interference. Home Rule Hero Award recipients are local government officials, both elected and nonelected, who consistently responded to the League’s request to reach out to members of the legislature and help give a local perspective on an issue.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Once again, the subject of building murals was the dominant and contentious theme at the High Springs Commission meeting. At the April 28 meeting, City Manager Ashley Stathatos and City Attorney Andrea Parker presented the results of their research on mural ordinances in other cities. Cities contacted included Gainesville, Sarasota, Lake Park and Ormond Beach, and findings revealed that murals are handled differently from city to city and there is no one way to address a mural ordinance.

Some commissioners did express concern that the murals should not be on the main entrance of a building, but rather on the sides or rear of the structure. Artwork submitted to the City should be drawn to scale and also include the size of the wall. Staff would be directed not to accept applications that were not complete. A suggestion was made to notify the public of the intended artwork on the City’s website and also to include a section on the website to show existing murals.

Winzoir Van Durr called in to say he was against mural painting. “If the paint is peeling or falling off the building, there should be a plan to remediate the damage by the artist.”

Commissioner Katherine Weitz was not present at the Commission meeting, but she did provide a letter in which she suggested that the City accept only one application at a time and that another application not be accepted until the first mural was completed and inspected.

Longtime resident Alice Brown said she wanted to stop the Walldogs mural group and thought approving one mural at a time would accomplish that goal and that she wanted input into the ordinance. City Attorney Parker said she would try to have a draft by the next meeting, but that a proposed final ordinance would not be ready by that time.

Christy Swilley remarked that it should be up to the person’s family whether their relative’s face is included in a mural, a consideration with which Parker and Stathatos seemed to agree.

Some cities have a blanket statement that murals are permitted by right while other cities allow for murals within certain parameters to be permitted by right with a mural application process. Of those, some cities require staff approval while others require commission or a multi-step approval process.

Sample ordinances of each type were included in Commission packets for the commissioners to review. In some cities mural applications were reviewed and approved by City staff. In other cities approval was done by either the Planning Board or the Commission. In some cities the historic board was part of the decision-making process, especially in the historic district.

Commissioner reviewed sample ordinances and Stathatos cautioned the Commission that the High Springs ordinance should include enough guidance for staff to be able to administratively review applications. Setting a reasonable fee for applications and keeping the review process content neutral were other considerations she mentioned.

The attorney and city manager said they believed they had enough information to formulate an ordinance for the Commissioners to consider.

In other business, final plat approval was given to Crockett Springs, owned by Double B Property, LLC. The property is located on some 72 acres and is east of County Road 236 and Northwest 210th Street. The proposed subdivision is served by well and septic and includes 12 single-family lots of approximately 4.20 - 4.99 acres. Stathatos said the plat meets all City regulations.

High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard addressed a domestic violence protection ordinance proposed by the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners and suggested the City Commission vote to opt into the ordinance.

The County’s ordinance pertains to protections for victims of domestic violence and intimate partner violence and will be heard at the May 3 County Commission meeting.

The proposed new code provision authorizes survivors of domestic/dating/sexual violence to request their residential locks to be changed, and if the landlord fails to respond, the survivor can change the locks themselves. If the landlord changes the lock, the landlord can charge the tenant the actual costs associated with the change. The ordinance applies only in unincorporated Alachua County unless jurisdictions decide to opt in.

Sheppard said, “The ordinance was drafted in response to a presentation from Peaceful Paths regarding domestic violence in Alachua County.” With the City Commission’s vote to opt in, the City is now authorized to coordinate with the County on this matter.

High Springs may soon be restricting truck traffic in the city. Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham reported that he and the public works director had met with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). One topic discussed was an ordinance to restrict truck traffic on 186th Avenue (old U.S. Highway 27). FDOT requires that the City pass an ordinance for their review. “Once that’s done, they’ll get the signs together and we’ll start restricting truck traffic coming from U.S. 441 up to Main Street,” said Gillingham.

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ALACHUA ‒ On a busy Friday night on April 29, customers at Sonny's in Alachua were greeted by some unusual waiters. Four police officers from the Alachua Police Department (APD) volunteered their time as “Celebrity Waiters” to collect tips at Sonny's restaurant to support the Special Olympics program.

Officers Thomas Stanfield, B. Railey, T. Brown and Sgt. C. Hunt joined the regular wait staff to serve beverages and interact with the customers to raise money for Special Olympics Florida in an event known as “Tip a Cop.”

Accompanied by three athletes from the Special Olympics, Jason Cacciotti, Richard Sullivan, and Gabby Taylor, the officers went from table to table introducing people to the athletes, explaining the significance of the program and collecting donations to help fund the athletes’ training and events.

The Special Olympics was the vision of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family that included Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for people with intellectual disabilities who wish to participate, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness and gain confidence in themselves.

Neither athletes nor parents are charged a fee to participate in the program, and activities exist for those of all ability levels, from the highly functioning to the severely challenged.

The programs are funded by donations and organized by volunteers. Each state has its own Special Olympics organizations with all funding raised staying within the state. Special Olympics Florida serves over 60,000 athletes and offers training and competition in a variety of team and individual sports, with the help of over 38,000 coaches and volunteers statewide. However, besides state events, there are national and international competitions as well.

The “Tip a Cop” event is an official Law Enforcement Torch Run Campaign fundraising event that is organized throughout the country with law enforcement officers and department personnel volunteering their time as “Celebrity Waiters” to collect tips at a restaurant in support of Special Olympics.

In Alachua, Sonny’s Restaurant offered to sponsor the event and the restaurant was at full capacity for most of the evening. Many of the customers were there especially for the event, but there were more than a few surprised patrons who did not expect to be served by police officers in full gear and uniform during their dining night out.

“The Alachua Police Department with the help of Sonny's and the Special Olympics Florida Athletes raised $1,757 and 100 percent will be given to Special Olympics Florida,” said Officer Stanfield. “In addition to this event, all the law enforcement agencies in Alachua County will be participating in a “Torch Run” on May 6 in Tioga to raise more funds for the Special Olympics. The race route will start at Jonesville Publix and end at Tioga Towne Center,” Stanfield said.

On May 20 the Special Olympics State Summer Games will be held in Kissimmee, Florida and from June 5-12 the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games will be held in various Florida cities.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Changes are coming to the pedestrian crosswalk on Main Street at the intersection of Northwest 185th Road. The High Springs CRA Board met April 28 and approved changes that include new motion detector flashing pedestrian crossing signs to alert drivers that a person is in the crosswalk area to help provide more safety to those attempting to cross the street. This project has been approved by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

High Springs Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said that in a recent meeting with FDOT staff, they said the CRA could apply for a permit, which they would grant. The City can install the signs at a projected cost of about $4,000 or FDOT can do the install in 18 to 24 months. Board members opted for the faster installation to complete the project.

Commissioner Byran Williams suggested a sign be placed in advance of the intersection to alert drivers that they may need to stop.

In a related safety matter, the Board considered awarding a contract to one of four companies that bid on a railing to be installed along the elevated sidewalk at 23517 NW 185 Road in front of the Chamber of Commerce’s building.

This sidewalk is elevated and has been a safety issue as people have misjudged the distance or not seen the drop. With increased traffic on Northwest 185th Road and Northwest 235th Street due to Farmers’ Market Pavilion activities and the openings of new businesses, a railing to prevent people from falling and guiding them to a pedestrian crossing is important to prevent potential future injuries, said CRA Coordinator David Sutton.

Companies submitting bids were Gainesville Ironworks, MPH Industries, Inc., dba Boone Welding, Rogers Welding and English Metalworks LLC. The range of prices, dependent on the style and materials chosen, ranged from $11,000 to $36,000.

Board members authorized a price range of $25,000, but asked for the companies to submit designs for future consideration that are more historic in nature to compliment the building’s style.

The Board approved $3,441 to purchase 16 American flag-related and 20 fireworks-related style banners. Last year, the CRA purchased new banners for the downtown area, along with seasonal banners that were displayed during the holidays. Sutton suggested that the banner should be rotated so they last longer in the Florida sun.

The Board also gave thumbs up to Gillingham and Sutton to coordinate a proposed Hometown Heroes banner project.

Hometown Heroes banners would include a picture of a service person who a citizen would like to honor. The banners could be located throughout the downtown area or at the four entrances into High Springs, depending on space availability and the number of applications the City receives. The cost for each banner would be $111.

The Hometown Hero banners would be on display for Patriot Day on Sept. 11 through Veterans Day on Nov. 11, in mid-November.

The program would continue yearly, and Gillingham said, “We expect to have a lot of people want to participate in this program.” Several options were discussed as to how the program would work, but ultimately the person who submits the application will receive the banner after it has been hung so they could keep it for themselves and their family.

Gillingham and Sutton will bring back details of how the program would work to the Board for final consideration.

The Board approved an agreement with Extreme Exposure for an Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Station. The charging station license agreement addresses the area at 18481 High Springs Main Street and, if finally approved, will provide one charging station at that location. After Extreme Exposure reviews the agreement, it will come back to the Board for final approval.

The CRA is sponsoring a Social Soiree upstairs at the Opera House on May 17 at 6:30 p.m. with guest speaker Joe Cirulli, Gainesville Health and Fitness Center founder and owner. Light refreshments will be served, and both Sutton and Gillingham will be on hand to discuss changes occurring in the downtown area. “This will give people an opportunity to learn what projects the City is working on and how they will impact residents,” said Suttong. “It also gives people an opportunity to ask questions of City staff and keep the dialogue open and informative.”

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ALACHUA ‒ There is a new member of the City of Alachua Commission as Ed Potts was sworn in at the April 25 commission meeting. Interim City Manager Mike DaRoza administered the oath of office to both Potts and incumbent Mayor Gib Coerper, who ran unopposed in the April 12 election. Potts beat out opponent Gregory Pelham for seat 2 with 715 votes representing 53 percent of the 1,340 votes cast while Pelham received 625 votes representing 47 percent of the vote.

Commissioner Jennifer Blalock assumes the duties of Vice Mayor as the Commission voted unanimously to appoint her to position. Blalock joined the Commission in 2021 after winning seat 5 in a three-way race.

In other business, the Commission honored Alachua Police Department Officer Zachary Flaherty. On Feb. 25, Flaherty received a call of a medical emergency at the Alachua McDonalds Restaurant. Upon arrival, he found several people gathered around an unconscious man in the restroom. Flaherty recognized the symptoms of a drug overdose as he examined the unconscious man whose breathing was becoming labored and his lips were turning blue.

The man had ingested cocaine that had been laced with fentanyl, a Schedule II controlled substance similar to morphine but about 100 times more potent. Flaherty stabilized the man using Narcan, a prescription medicine used for the treatment of a known or suspected opioid overdose. By the time the EMT's arrived the man was beginning to respond and Flaherty was told that his actions saved the man's life.

The Commission presented Flaherty with an award as Alachua Police Department officers applauded from the commission chambers. Flaherty said that what he did was not heroism—he was simply doing his job as any police officer would have done.

The Commission turned their attention to petitions regarding development and land use. Clay Sweger, of EDA Consultants, Inc., agents for JTFA, LLC and Kevin & Shima Carter, property owners, requested amending the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) on a 162.5-acre property from Agriculture to Community Commercial for seven of the acres, a Low-Density Residential designation for 115.5 acres, and Moderate Density Residential for the remaining 40 acres.

The property is located south of the intersection of Northwest U.S. Highway 441 and Northwest 188th Street. The property is undeveloped and is primarily comprised of lands used as a tree farm and planted pine. Low density allows for one dwelling per acre or a potential of 115 new houses while moderate density allows for four dwelling per acre or 160 houses for a potential of 275 new houses along with 4,000-square feet for a neighborhood amenity center and commercial businesses along U.S. Highway 441 frontage.

The Commission approved the FLUM request as well as an accompanying rezoning request on first reading and will consider the matter again at a second and final reading to be scheduled.

The Commission also issued final rezoning approval to a planned development – residential (PD-R) for Fletcher Trace. Ryan Thompson, of CHW, Inc., petitioned on behalf of Waco Properties, Inc. for consideration of rezoning the property from Agricultural to PD-R. This project was previously known as Savannah Station Phase 3, but is now named Fletcher Trace.

The 118.2-acre property is located east of CR 235, north of Northwest 110th Avenue, and south of the Pilot Forest Subdivision. The PD-R zoning permits a maximum of 472 residential units on the property. The development will consist primarily of single family detached structures, but approximately 22.5 percent of the units could be developed as single family attached units, with up to eight units in a single building. The proposed development will be constructed in one or more phases.

The Alachua City Commission next meets on April 9.

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MICANOPY ‒ Four Micanopy residents were arrested Wednesday, April 27, after an Alachua County Sheriff’s Deputy was called to a residence in response to a neighbor’s report of animal cruelty. An additional four more people were subsequently charged in the case following investigation.

According to the deputy’s report, when he arrived at the residence, he found a large number of dogs in “obviously frail and neglected condition.” As he approached the house several dogs, including three young puppies, were laying in the driveway and were “too weak to physically stand on their own.”

Additional dogs were located surrounding the house, all of which he said “appeared extremely malnourished indicated by the visible presence of the ribs showing through their skin.”

During interviews the deputy established that Erin Alexandra Douglas, 27, Kimberly Ann Hicks, 43, William Cecil Garcia, 27, and Dawson Alan Hicks, 22, lived at the residence at 17415 S.E. County Road 234, Micanopy, the location of the dogs.

Stephen Lancaster also said he was a resident living on the property in a camper. William Ferguson, Sr. and Debra Ferguson were also identified as residents and made statements that they assisted in the care and custody of the dogs. Stephanie Prentzler, another resident, said she lived in a shed on the property.

Erin Douglas said she recently moved back into the house after being gone for a few months and indicated that several of the dogs belonged to her as well.

Kimberly Hicks, also a resident, said she assumed custody and control of the animals since her ex-boyfriend moved out of the residence over a month ago. She told deputies that she knew the dogs needed help and has been feeding them, but has not contacted anyone for assistance other than trying to get her ex-boyfriend to take them.

During discussion with the deputy, William Garcia said that there were multiple deceased puppies buried at the location, in addition to the two deceased inside of a kennel on the front porch. He said the puppies died approximately a month previously when it was cold and they were buried to the back side of a camper on the property. Three small dog skeletons were located above ground in the area Garcia described.

The Sheriff’s report indicated a total of 19 dogs were found alive, but in questionable condition, and were located mixed in with the five deceased dogs, three of which were skeletal remains only. Alachua County Animal Control assisted in the investigation and stated that “the condition of many of the animals was life-threatening and cause for immediate removal and veterinary care.” Two additional dogs were found in separate cages in the woods without food or water.

A description of the condition of the structure, along with the yard and camper, was described as “unhealthy for humans or animals.”

The four main residents were arrested and charged with 24 counts of aggravated animal cruelty and five counts of unlawful disposal of a dead animal.

The Fergusons and Prentzler are charged with 24 counts of aggravated animal cruelty and five counts of unlawful disposal of a dead animal via sworn complaint. Steven Lancaster is charged with 24 counts aggravated animal cruelty, five counts of unlawful disposal of a dead animal and one count of dumping raw human waste via sworn complaint.

Alachua County Animal Resources and Care has worked with the confiscated animals and they are now reporting that they actually received 22 dogs and one pig. The agency says they have received numerous calls to adopt the animals.

“These animals will not be available for adoption for some time,” said Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton. They are undergoing evaluation and extensive veterinary care to help rehabilitate them and improve their physical and emotional condition.

However, Sexton said that the best thing concerned citizens can do at this time is to adopt another animal from the facility to make room for the dogs that have just been confiscated.

“We are bulging at the seams right now and there are many animals that are healthy and looking for their forever homes,” said Sexton. “People who adopt at this time will ease the burden on the facility and make room for these unfortunate animals to get the care they deserve.”

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