ALACHUA ‒ After more than 17 years as Vice President of Advancement at Santa Fe College (SFC), Chuck Clemons will be retiring from his position.

ClemonsWAn announcement by SFC of Clemons’ retirement spoke to the college’s growth and development across various facets of its operations, from academic expansion to infrastructural enhancements. “Under his leadership, the college expanded scholarship opportunities. The Santa Fe College Foundation now awards more than $1.6 million in student scholarships annually. VP Clemons was instrumental in raising funds and support to help support several capital projects and expand a multitude of educational and academic opportunities to citizens throughout the service district.”

Beyond his professional achievements at SFC, Clemons was elected in 2016 to the Florida House of Representatives, District 21, serving Dixie, Gilchrist, and part of Alachua County. He currently representants District 22, serving Gilchrist, Levy and part of Alachua County and serves as the Speaker Pro Tempore under the leadership of Florida House Speaker Paul Renner.

A High Springs native, and a Santa Fe High School graduate, Clemons is a first-generation college student, earning his Associate’s Degree from Florida Gateway College and his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Florida. Clemons and his wife, Jane, live in Newberry and have four children and three grandsons.

Clemons spent much of his early career in private business as a Chartered Financial Consultant. He was elected to the Alachua County Commission from 1996-2000. And in 2001, he was appointed by President George W. Bush as the State Director of USDA Rural Development overseeing a $2 billion portfolio with operations in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the coming weeks, SFC will conduct a search for Clemons’ successor, utilizing the services of the consulting firm AGB Search, the same firm that assisted in the search that led to the hiring of President Broadie and more recently, Provost Nate Southerland.

In a statement, the College wrote, “the Vice President for Advancement and Chief Philanthropy Officer will be responsible for executing a strategic vision that establishes and implements an annual growth strategy which encompasses major and planned gifts, annual giving, sponsorships, special events, and donor engagement. Additionally, they will cultivate key donors and prospects, while developing a robust alumni donor base.”

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry Board of Adjustment met following the April 22 Newberry City Commission meeting to consider a site and development plan for Ultimate Boat, RV and Mini Storage Expansion. The property is located on the south side of State Road 26/West Newberry Road, between Southwest 218th Street and Southwest 226th Street.

The application was brought to the City by eda consultants, inc.’s Director of Planning Clay Sweger, acting on behalf of Todd Russo, operator of Tibbets Land Holdings, LLC.

Newberry Principal Planner Jean-Paul Perez presented the site and development plan to the Board. Perez said the property is within the City’s Urban Reserve Area and consists of a 100,000 square feet pre-engineered metal building for self-storage, a 27,000 square feet pre-engineered metal structure for covered vehicular storage and related site improvements such as a parking lot and stormwater basin.

Perez said the site and development plan was considered on April 1 by the Planning and Zoning Board, which recommended approval with minor changes.

The drawings identified the location of the Knox Box for emergency access to the facility, landscaping and the location of an eight-foot fence for screening of the self-storage area.

Perez said the City recommended approval of the site and development plan.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Tensions flared at the April 25 High Springs City Commission meeting as community members voiced their concerns over the sudden dismissal of former Utility Director and Assistant City Manager Thomas Henry by new City Manager Jeremy Marshall.

During the Public Comment portion of the meeting, a number of attendees expressed their support for Henry and his contributions to the city. Comments were unanimous in praising Henry's work ethic and dedication to the community.

Chrissy Swilley, a commenter at the meeting, addressed potential misinformation surrounding Henry's dismissal. “He has never once been written up or received a negative employment evaluation from this administration,” said Swilley. “He was nominated by this current Commission to be part of a trio providing coverage of City Manager duties until a suitable City Manager could be hired.

“He was not compensated for these additional duties, nor did he request them. He did them so that he could help the City continue to move in a forward direction.”

Mayor Katherine Weitz read a letter during the public comment session, which highlighted concerns about City Manager Marshall's decision to remove Henry from his position. The letter from former High Springs Mayor and City Commissioner Scott Jamison and wife Lynn Jamison criticized Marshall for breaking his promise not to make personnel changes within the first six months of his tenure and expressed dismay at the removal of an experienced employee like Henry, especially during challenging times for the City.

“We met with Jeremy Marshall on Tuesday, April 23, to welcome him and ask him about the removal of Thomas Henry from his position as Director of Public Works the morning of the fifth day on the job, before he even knew all the names of his employees. He removed Mr. Henry, one of the best employees with 33 years of experience in the field, an employee who at every meeting one or more of our Commissioners had only positive things to say about him and actually had glowing remarks about how he got things done.”

“Need I remind everyone Mr. Marshall said he would not make any personnel changes for six months when he was interviewed for the job? We are sick that he would remove an exemplary employee like Mr. Henry when we are in such tumultuous times. We will email each of you additional details about our meeting in the next couple of days. We were appalled by some of Mr. Marshall’s responses and his complete lack of emotional engagement. We are quickly losing confidence in Mr. Marshall’s ability to be able to lead us through these very difficult times. Respectfully, Scott and Lynn Jamison.”

Brad Riddle, Chair of the High Springs Historic Preservation Board, expressed shock and disappointment at Henry's dismissal, emphasizing Henry's effectiveness and the positive impact he had on various city initiatives. “I gotta say I was shocked… Thomas was awesome. I was able to get a lot of things accomplished through Thomas that I wasn’t able to before… I would love to see Thomas come back.”

Despite the outcry from the community, City Manager Jeremy Marshall was not present at the meeting to address the issue due to a prior commitment. However, it was noted that even if he had been present, he might not have commented due to the sensitive nature of the personnel matter.

In response to the comments, Mayor Weitz refrained from offering her own opinion but expressed gratitude for the community's input.

Henry's abrupt departure has left some community members questioning the rationale behind the decision and has raised doubts about the new city manager and the future of the the city's leadership.

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WALDO – On Saturday, April 27, at 4:45 p.m., emergency crews from Alachua County Fire Rescue, Melrose Fire Department, and the Windsor Fire Department rushed to the scene of an RV fire on U.S. Highway 301, just south of the City of Waldo.

Emergency Unit 42 arrived to find the RV fully engulfed in flames, with the fire spreading to an adjacent vehicle. Despite the intensity of the blaze, firefighters were able to swiftly bring the situation under control. The occupant made it safely out of the vehicle prior to the arrival of fire crews. 

However, both the RV and the accompanying vehicle were complete losses. The incident led to the closure of the northbound lanes of U.S. Highway 301, causing traffic delays as authorities worked to contain the situation.

Following the extinguishing of the fire, emergency crews undertook a thorough overhaul of the scene to ensure there were no remaining hot spots or hazards. Once deemed safe, the area was turned over to law enforcement for further investigation and traffic control.

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ALACHUA ‒ The City of Alachua has given the green light for alcoholic beverages to be served, sold, and consumed at special events held in Legacy Park, marking an update to the City's Code of Ordinances.

The decision, finalized on April 22, 2024, by the City Commission, comes after a series of amendments over the past years gradually easing restrictions on alcohol consumption in public spaces. The latest amendment, known as Ordinance 24-08, received initial approval on April 8, 2024, with a unanimous 4-0 vote during the first public hearing.

Prior to 2015, alcoholic beverages were prohibited from being sold, served, delivered to another, or consumed in any municipal park or recreation area and on any municipally leased, operated, or controlled property or area, including public right-of-way. In July 2015, the Code was amended to permit alcoholic beverages at the Swick House when the facility was rented for a private event, such as for wedding receptions.

In February 2018, the City again amended its Code to permit alcoholic beverages during specified events at the downtown Theatre Park and the Legacy Park Multipurpose Center.

In 2020, Phase 2 of Legacy Park, which included the addition of three multipurpose sports fields and the amphitheater, was completed. Ordinance 24-08 adds the Legacy Park property as a designated City property where alcoholic beverages are permitted.

Under the updated ordinance, alcoholic beverages will be allowed at Legacy Park during events that obtain a Special Event Permit issued by the City of Alachua. Specific circumstances outlined in the ordinance include:

Individual personal consumption at a fundraising event sponsored by a governmental entity;

Individual personal consumption by a not-for-profit entity that charges admission for the event but does not charge for the delivery of alcoholic beverages;

As permitted in accordance with a rental agreement which specifies such terms and conditions and permits the sale, service, or delivery for individual personal consumption during the period of the rental agreement.

Commissioner Jennifer Blalock made a motion to approve the ordinance with Commissioner Dayna Miller providing the second. The measure was passed unanimously with a 5-0 vote.

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High Springs ‒ The 47th Annual Pioneer Days festival in High Springs kicked off with an on-again off-again soggy start on Saturday, but mother nature smiled upon the event, delivering clear skies and sunshine for its second day, much to the delight of organizers and attendees alike.

This past weekend, April 27 and 28, the charmingly vibrant town of High Springs turned back the clock to its rough and tumble beginnings as a railroad and mining hub with the much-anticipated Pioneer Days festival. Hosted by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce, the 47th annual celebration offered festivalgoers a nostalgic journey into the life and times of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, downtown High Springs near the sinkhole, museum, and police station became a lively hub of activity. People were greeted with an array of craft vendors showcasing their handmade wares, tempting food vendors offering a variety of culinary delights, and a kid’s corner complete with pony rides. Attendees were also treated to music that echoed through the streets, while activities harkened back to simpler times.

One of the perpetual highlights of the festival was the reenactment of a wild west cowboy gunfight, where lawmen clashed with bank robbers in thrilling shows that captivated audiences throughout the weekend. These performances not only entertained but also provided a glimpse into the lawless frontier days that shaped the town's history.

Over the years, Pioneer Days has become a tradition in High Springs, drawing visitors not only from High Springs, but from surrounding communities as well to experience its charm and rich heritage. For those who may have missed out on this year's festivities, fear not. Pioneer Days will return next year, promising another opportunity to experience the magic and charm of High Springs' rough and tumble beginnings.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs City Commission at its April 25, 2024, meeting unanimously approved construction documents for Saddle Ridge Estates, a rural 30-lot subdivision project on 154.06 +/- acres, located off of 142nd Avenue in the southern part of the High Springs. The subdivision will include a path around the property for horseback riding, a minimum lot size of two acres and the property will not be gated and will not have curbs and gutters. The lots will be serviced by well and septic tanks and the subdivision will have a Homeowners Association (HOA).

Addressing concerns raised by the community, Christopher Potts, JBPro’s Civil Engineering Director, assured the Commission that the Homeowners Association (HOA) would oversee the maintenance of roadways and the implementation of measures to preserve the rural character of the area, including the paths for horseback riding.

Rick Tesla, a member of the City’s Planning and Zoning Board, expressed concern that the trail around the property will be used for ATV and motorcycle riding. Potts said that the path will be rural and not as attractive as a graded path for ATV use, but that the HOA will be responsible for keeping the path for horseback riders.

Prohibition Pizza Urges

Expanded Permits

In other business, a High Springs business is advocating for expanded special permits to address the closure of a local brewery on their operations. The owner of Prohibition Pizza brought attention to the significant impact of the High Springs Brewing Company's closure on their business operations, sparking discussions about the need for expanded permits to support local businesses.

The owner of Prohibition Pizza emphasized that Sunday is one of their busiest days, with an average of 270 pizzas sold both on Saturday and Sunday. However, the closure of the High Springs Brewing Company on a recent Sunday due to a lack of a special permit had a detrimental effect on their ability to accommodate customers.

Expressing their reliance on being able to seat their patrons at the brewery, the owners of Prohibition Pizza urged the Commission to consider expanding permits to find a solution that would benefit all local businesses. They emphasized the potential of extending operating hours to make High Springs a two-day destination for tourists, rather than solely relying on Saturdays.

BMX Camping

In another permit matter, the Commission unanimously approved a Special Event Permit application by High Springs BMX Gold Cut Regional Qualifier, allowing camping on City property. High Springs BMX will be collecting and paying the Alachua County Bed Tax on all fees collected.

The event will begin on Friday evening, June 28, with tent set-up and a small practice. The main event will take place on Saturday and Sunday, June 29-30. An agreement has been drawn up to allow for proper tent set up, sound equipment to be within the City’s noise ordinance.

Saddle Ridge Estates

Swoyer Replat

In other business, a minor replat for two tax parcels known as Swoyer was unanimously approved, aiming to transform the area into a usable commercial parcel. The property currently still has lot lines from the original ‘Columbia Heights’ plat from 1925. The project is located off of U.S. Highway 441, just north of Tractor Supply and south of Boat Ramp Road. Previously the Commission approved the closure of the internal alleyways and roads to accommodate this change, said High Springs Planning Technician Kristyn Adkins.

Joint Resolution

In another property related matter, the Commission resolved property ownership discrepancies with a Joint Resolution. The Commission passed the resolution affirming the City of High Springs as the rightful owner of two tax parcels (00634-000-000 and 00634-001-000), resolving discrepancies in property ownership records and requesting that the Alachua County Property Appraiser adjust their records to show the same.

At some unknown time, the property appraiser’s records indicated the property was owned by the Alachua County Library District. The City of High Springs and Alachua County Library District have been unable to locate any records or documents to support that the Library District has any interest in the parcels.

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