HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The City of High Springs Police Department (HSPD) will be modernizing equipment thanks to American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The City Commission on April 13 authorized $35,000 to provide HSPD with fully-equipped rifles and tasers. The department’s existing rifles are Vietnam era and owned by the federal government’s 10-33 program. Police Chief Antoine Sheppard said that upgraded or more modernized equipment is needed to rapidly deploy to severe crimes or armed disturbances. “Handguns are inadequate for these types of situations,” he said. In addition, the majority of City tasers have also depleted their shelf life. Rifles will cost $21,000 for 20, and tasers will cost $14,000 to replace. The City will return the antiquated rifles to the federal government once the new equipment is received.

In other business, the Commission approved submission of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) application for a stormwater project. The Citizens Advisory Task Force (CATF) committee met prior to the Commission meeting to consider the issue. Grant categories included Housing Rehabilitation, Commercial Revitalization or Neighborhood Rehabilitation. Grant writer David Foster of Fred Fox Enterprises was present at the meeting and said the City could only apply for one. The CATF selected Neighborhood Rehabilitation and discussed project topics within that category including water lines and drainage issues.

During the Commission meeting, Foster addressed the CATF’s suggestions in a CDBG public hearing. As the deadline for the $700,000 CDBG application is May 5, Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said that a Low- to Moderate-Income (LMI) study, something that would help the grant application to be considered, had already been done in an area where the City has received several complaints regarding lack of water drainage. Because of the close deadline, this project idea was considered as opposed to a project having to do with water lines.

A significant amount of discussion regarding the CATF’s suggestion about water lines ensued. If the Commission were to pursue a more complex water line project, an LMI study would have to be conducted, they could pass on this CDBG submittal date and submit a grant request after more work was completed by the engineers and the LMI study was conducted.

Ultimately, the Commissions voted to pursue the stormwater project grant and review their suggestion with the CATF members at the next meeting on May 4 at 5:30 p.m.

In other City business, the Commission approved an ordinance governing the operation of golf carts on designated city streets. Gillingham said the ordinance was similar to one that had been recently passed by the City of Newberry. The ordinance limits golf cart top speed to 20 mph. Carts are not allowed on Northwest 74th Avenue, U.S. Highway 27, U.S. Highway 27 ALT, Northwest 186th Avenue, Northwest 182nd Street, Northwest 190th Avenue and Northwest 202nd Street.

Although the ordinance closely follows state regulations, there was debate about the age of the driver. State regulations call for a minimum age of 14, while the ordinance lists operators must be 15 years of age or older. Commissioner Katherine Weitz pushed for a 16-year minimum age for operators with a driver’s license, but she was ultimately outvoted 4 to 1. Other regulations are included in the ordinance regarding equipment.

Chief Sheppard said that the legislature is considering regulations on All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and Utility Task Vehicles (UTVs), which should be forthcoming. This ordinance does not address those types of vehicles.

The Commission unanimously approved a change to the Blue Gem Site Plan, which had been originally approved on Feb. 23. Once construction was underway, the applicant ran into an issue with concrete from the pool that existed prior. To avoid the expensive removal of the concrete, the applicant asked to amend the size of the pole barn from 30 x 48 feet to 40 x 40 feet. The project is located at 19544 N.W. U.S. Highway 441.

In other business, an update on the redevelopment site plan for Palms Medical Group (formerly Fellowship Church), located at 16916 NW U.S. Highway 441 was given by CHW Project Manager Mitchell Mason. The access road is being improved and additional parking and landscaping has been added. Improvements to the building will include new paint, new doors and roof repairs. Detailed plans and an artist’s rendition of the completed facility were enough to obtain unanimous approval.

The Commission gave unanimous approval for People’s Choice Storage site plan on behalf of Tricore Investment Group, Altamonte Springs. The site is located at 26020 W. U.S. Highway 27. Although the site plan was approved, Commissioner Ross Ambrose brought up the Conditional Use Plan, which specified Dark Night lighting. Ambrose pointed out that the owner had previously indicated he would work with the City regarding the lighting issue.

A contract for WastePro will be presented at the next Commission meeting. The Alachua-based company will begin serving High Springs on May 1. They will provide waste and recycling rolling containers for residential customers and are expected to be collecting waste in the city Monday – Thursday with yard waste collection on Wednesday and recycling waste collection on Fridays. A complete waste/recycling program will be featured on the City’s web site along with a short film.

Upcoming meetings include a special City/County Commission Meeting on Thursday, April 20 in High Springs and a Strategic Planning Meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., May 23. The Utility District ordinance (Ordinance 2023-02) will be included on the May 25 agenda.

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HAWTHORNE ‒ Rachael Marie-Faye Clifford, 30, was arrested Friday, March 31, and charged with two counts of child abuse, two counts of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia after deputies reportedly found drugs in her diaper bag.

An Alachua County Sheriff’s (ASO) Deputy pulled Clifford over on Hawthorne Road for a window tint violation and issued a written warning. A four-year-old male and one-year-old female were reportedly unrestrained in the back seat of the vehicle. The deputy reported that when he asked Clifford to get out of the vehicle, she picked up a red diaper bag from the seat next to her and tried to bring it with her. The deputy wrote in his report that he had to tell her multiple times to put it back in the vehicle. She eventually put it in the back seat in front of one of the children.

An ASO K-9 alerted to narcotics in the vehicle and a search of the diaper bag reportedly produced 5.5 grams of a substance that tested positive for methamphetamine, about 1.5 grams of marijuana laced with MDPV (molly) and a charred glass pipe, along with diapers, children’s clothing and other baby items.

Post Miranda, Clifford reportedly said she uses methamphetamine, but she didn’t know that the marijuana contained molly. She said she does not smoke in front of her children.

Clifford was charged with child abuse without serious bodily harm for keeping narcotics in a bag with her children’s diapers and clothing, two counts of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Clifford served two concurrent state prison sentences between 2015 and 2018 for burglary and grand theft charges out of Gilchrist and Levy counties. Locally, adjudication of guilt was withheld on a 2013 charge of drug possession and she was fined after pleading to a charge of resisting arrest without violence in 2015 when ASO deputies arrested her for violation of her Levy County probation. At this time, her fine has not been paid. She was cited for driving without a valid license in September 2022 in Alachua County. That charge was just dropped on Wednesday, March 29.

Bail was set at $65,000 by Judge David P. Kreider and Clifford remains in the Alachua County Jail as of this writing. She is also not allowed unsupervised visits with her children.

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GAINESVILLE –  The annual Friends of the Library Spring Book Sale will take place from Saturday, April 22, through Wednesday, April 26, 2023 at the FOL Bookhouse located at 430 N. Main Street in Gainesville.

Patrons will be able to browse through more than 500,000 items for sale. Most of the items will range in price from $0.25 to $5. On the fifth and final day of the sale, April 26, all items will be $0.10.

As is tradition, a bagpiper will play some traditional Scottish tunes to open the sale Saturday, April 22.

Profits from the sale support the Alachua County Library District and community literacy projects throughout the county.

2022 Fall Book Sale hours:

  • Saturday, April 22, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m.
  • Sunday, April  23, noon - 6 p.m.
  • Monday, April  24, noon - 6 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April  25, noon - 6 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April  26, noon - 6 p.m.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities, contact P.J. with Friends of the Library at 352-375-1676 or find out more information at the website www.folacld.org.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Rakheem Tavares Hoyt, 28, was arrested on Monday, April 10, in Newberry and charged with selling drugs near two Newberry churches.

Alachua County Sheriff’s Office deputies surrounded Hoyt’s vehicle in the 500 block of Northwest 252nd Street at about 6:10 p.m. and arrested him on an active warrant in Alachua County. Hoyt had reportedly run from a deputy earlier, leading to the presence of more deputies surrounding the vehicle Hoyt was in at the time of his arrest.

A search incident to arrest reportedly produced two bags of suspected narcotics located in his front right jacket pocket and a bundle of U.S. currency located in his front left pants pocket. One bag weighed 7.8 grams and was field tested presumptive positive for crack cocaine. The second bag weighed 14.8 grams and the substance field tested presumptive positive for synthetic substitute cathinones (bath salts). The cash was bundled in a manner consistent with narcotic sales.

The incident took place within approximately 498 feet from Jones Temple Church of God by Faith and approximately 651 feet from Bethel AME Church.

Hoyt has been charged with possession of cocaine with intent to sell within 1,000 feet of a place of worship and possession of trafficking quantities of phenethylamines. He also had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear at a hearing for a charge of driving without a valid license.

Hoyt has a juvenile criminal history, along with three adult felony convictions (none violent) and 28 misdemeanor convictions (none violent). He has served a three-year state prison term for burglary and selling cocaine and was released in March 2021. Judge Susan Miller-Jones set bail at $250,100.

Hoyt remains in the Alachua County Jail.

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GAINESVILLE, April 17, 2023 – Santa Fe College’s Provost Search Committee has recommended three individuals as finalists for the position of Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order with a brief bio on each candidate. 

Dr. Jodi Long currently serves as the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs – Health Sciences at Santa Fe College, a position she has held for the last 10 years. Prior to her current position, Dr. Long has been a Department Chair of the Sciences for Health Programs, where she previously was a full-time tenured professor. Dr. Long also has teaching experience at Georgia Southern and the College of Coastal Georgia and continues to teach as an adjunct at Santa Fe College. 

Under her leadership, she oversees both open and limited access programs in the Health Sciences on the Northwest Campus and the Perry Center for Emerging Technologies as well as multiple clinical sites across the region. She assures compliance with the college’s clinical affiliations to maintain good standing with accrediting bodies, seeks out alternative funding sources to support students and academic programs, and co-chaired and co-authored the college’s quality enhancement plan in 2012. 

Dr. Long balances her students-first mindset with the need to address external social and economic issues that students and faculty face on a daily basis. 

Dr. Long earned her Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Florida, her M.S. in Kinesiology from Georgia Southern University, and her B.A. in Mathematics from Erskine College in South Carolina. 

Dr. Margo Martin is the Chief Accreditation and Institutional Effectiveness Officer at the College of Southern Nevada. During her five years at that institution, she also served as Vice President for Academic Affairs and as Acting President. Under her leadership, she improved collaboration among Accreditation, Assessment, Strategic Planning, Institutional Research and other departments; expanded opportunities for student athletes; and helped develop noncredit to credit pathways for nontraditional students. 

Prior to arriving at her current institution, Dr. Martin served as Dean in multiple areas at Florida State College at Jacksonville. She also has a long history as a tenured full-time professor at FSC-J and has continued to serve as an adjunct faculty member at a number of institutions while maintaining her leadership roles. 

Dr. Martin is committed to establishing and growing partnerships across the region to expand educational opportunities for community college students. 

Dr. Martin earned her Doctor of Education from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. She earned her M.A. (English) and B.A. (English and Earth Sciences) from Stephen F. Austin State University. 

Dr. Irene Rios is the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Dean at Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman Campus, a post she has held since 2018. Under her leadership, the college expanded opportunities for students and grew enrollment in Practical Nursing, organized a weekend Business program for working adults, and designed a Learning Commons plan at the college library. Her previous leadership experience includes roles as an academic dean in both community college and private college settings. 

Dr. Rios also has a background in the classroom and has served as an adjunct professor for most of the last 20 years. 

She shifted her focus to community colleges because of the opportunities these institutions can provide, especially to underserved communities. She is focused on removing barriers to education and working with community stakeholders to expand opportunities for community college students. 

Dr. Rios earned her Doctor of Education from the University of Hartford School of Education. She earned her M.S. (Curriculum Design and Instructional Strategies) and B.S. (Business Administration and Management) from Rochester Institute of Technology. 

The finalists will be scheduled for two-day visits to SF for their interviews as well as forums with students, employees and the community. The community is invited to attend a Community Social for each of the candidates during their visits. The reception for Dr. Rios will be Tuesday, April 25, the event for Dr. Martin will be Tuesday, May 2, and the reception for Dr. Long will be Thursday, May 4. All of the Community Socials will be held from 4:30-6:30 p.m. in Building S, Room 29 on SF’s Northwest Campus. All updates will be posted on the college’s Provost Search webpagesfcollege.edu/provost-search

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Joanna Hogg Rivers, 39, of Alachua, was arrested on Monday, April 10, and charged with simple battery and aggravated assault after allegedly accelerating her car toward a woman in High Springs.

A High Springs Police Department officer responded to a home in High Springs, where the victim reportedly told him that Rivers had come to her house and shouted obscenities at her. The victim said she went inside the house and Rivers left in her car but came back a short time later and started yelling again.

The victim said that Rivers accelerated her car onto the property, leaving tire marks in the yard and skid marks on the pavement. She said she had to jump behind a palm tree on the side of her house because she said she was in fear of her life. She said she thought Rivers was trying to run her down.

She said Rivers then followed her onto the back porch of her home, pushed her against the wall, grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground. The victim said Rivers “got in my face, pulled me [to the] ground and stomped on my face.” A witness reportedly corroborated the victim’s story.

Rivers has one misdemeanor conviction for petit theft. Bail was set at $55,000 by Judge Susan Miller-Jones.

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By JENNIFER CABRERA/Alachua Chronicle

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. ‒ Florida House Speaker Pro Tem Chuck Clemons (R-Newberry), on April 10, 2023, filed HB 1645, which would create a governor-appointed board to govern Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU).

The board, which will be known as the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority, will begin governing GRU on Oct. 1, 2023, if the bill passes. The Authority’s powers and duties will include managing, operating, and controlling all GRU utilities; establishing and amending all rates, fees, regulations, and policies related to selling utility services; acquiring property and constructing projects, provided that the title to all of the property is vested in the City of Gainesville; exercising the power of eminent domain; issuing revenue bonds to finance or refinance projects; disposing of GRU assets under the same conditions that the City Commission must meet in disposing of those assets; submitting a budget to the City Commission every year; and appointing and/or removing GRU’s General Manager.

Each member of the Authority must be a “person of recognized ability and good business judgment as identified by the Governor,” and they are expected to perform their duties “in the best interests of GRU and its customers.” Except for one member who must be a resident of the unincorporated area of Alachua County or a municipality other than Gainesville, members must be qualified electors in the City of Gainesville and must maintain their primary residence within the electric service territory of GRU’s electric utility system.

  • One member shall be a residential customer “with substantial knowledge of GRU, its operations, and its history.”
  • One member shall be the owner or a representative of a private, non-government customer consuming at least 10,000 kilowatt hours per month of electric usage during each of the previous 12 months.
  • Three members shall be competent or knowledgeable in one or more of the following fields: law, economics, accounting, engineering, finance, or energy.

Members can be removed if they stop receiving GRU electric service at any time during their appointment. If more than 40 percent of GRU’s electric meters serve customers outside the city limits in the future, the governor must appoint a second member who lives outside the City limits at the time of the next appointment. Members of the board are not term-limited.

Authority appointment process

The governor will issue a public notice soliciting citizen nominations for the board at some point between July 1 and Oct. 1; the nominations will remain open for 30 days, then the governor will appoint the initial members of the Authority. One member’s term will expire on Oct. 1, 2024; one will expire on Oct. 1, 2025; one will expire on Oct. 1, 2026; and two will expire on Oct. 1, 2027. Subsequent appointments will be for four-year terms.

The first meeting of the Authority is set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, and the first official action of the Authority will be the election of a chair and vice chair from among its members; the GRU General Manager will serve until the Authority appoints a General Manager.

Authority members will not be compensated, but expenses can be reimbursed after the approval of a majority of the members. The Authority will meet monthly and will be a Sunshine board.

All GRU employees will report to the General Manager, who will have the exclusive authority to hire, fire, and set salaries. The General Manager’s salary will be set by the Authority.

The existing Utility Advisory Board, or any other utility advisory board established by the City Commission, will “have no role with respect to the Authority.”

The bill puts a cap on the General Services Contribution (GSC), which is currently referred to as the General Fund Transfer (the amount transferred from GRU to the City’s General Government budget each year). The GSC may not exceed the amount left over after operating expenses (as defined in the bill) are subtracted from net revenues. The bill states that any excess funds above the GSC shall be dedicated to debt service or used as equity in future projects.

The Authority is required to make decisions based on “only pecuniary factors and utility industry best practices standards, which do not include consideration of the furtherance of social, political, or ideological interests.” The bill further specifies that these factors “are those which solely further the fiscal and financial benefit of [GRU] and customers.”

The bill will likely have committee hearings before it goes to the floor of the House and then to the Florida Senate, but those have not yet been scheduled. The last day of the Florida 2023 Legislative Session is May 5, 2023.

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