ALACHUA ‒ Two members of the Alachua City Commission have been returned to their positions on the Commission for three-year terms. Commissioners Shirley Green Brown and Jennifer Blalock Ringerson were sworn in during a brief ceremony at the April 22, 2024 Alachua City Commission meeting.

Blalock Ringerson Swearing inIncumbent City Commissioner Ringerson won the majority of votes in the City of Alachua election conducted on April 9, 2024, defeating Eric L. Ford for Seat 5. She was first elected to the Alachua City Commission in 2021 and served as Vice Mayor in 2022-2023. Commissioner Ringerson was sworn in by City Manager Mike DaRoza.

Incumbent City Commissioner Brown earned another term after running unopposed in the April 2024 election. Brown holds Seat 4 on the Commission and has served four previous terms, serving as Vice Mayor 2020-2021. Brown was sworn in by Circuit Court Judge Susanne Wilson Bullard.Brown Swearing in

In addition to welcoming back Commissioners Brown and Ringerson, Commissioner Ed Potts was unanimously selected by his peers to serve as Vice Mayor for the term spanning 2024 to 2025.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Downtown High Springs was buzzing with activity spanning the sidewalks from Main Street to U.S. Highway 27 as the seasonal Art Walk unfolded on Saturday, April 20 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event featured local artists and makers situated on the sidewalks in front of businesses in the charming downtown area. The picturesque town center transformed into a vibrant hub of artistic expression, drawing locals and visitors alike to immerse in the creative flair of the community.

Boosted by beautiful springtime weather complete with picture perfect clear blue skies, and adding to the art lover’s scene, were the hospitable restaurants and vibrant shops showcasing High Springs’ walkable, charming small-town hospitality.

The event showcased a number of local artists and makers who set up shop along the sidewalks. Against the backdrop of High Springs' picturesque streets, attendees strolled between artist areas, admiring a diverse array of artwork ranging from paintings and ceramics to intricate handcrafted jewelry and woven crafts such as crocheted tote bags and whimsical animals—something to captivate every imagination and cater to every taste.

ArtWalk is a visual cornucopia that reflects the diversity and creativity of the local artistic community. Supported by the City of High Springs, Art Walk, a series of seasonal gatherings, serves as a platform for local artisans to exhibit their talents and connect with the community. It not only provides artists with an opportunity to showcase and sell their work but also fosters a connection among creators and art enthusiasts alike.

Buoyed by the success of Art Walk, organizers have already set their sights on future events, with the next one happening on Saturday, May 18, 2024 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Additional Art Walks are scheduled throughout the year, with later dates set for the third Saturday in October, November, and December, promising additional afternoons of artistic discovery

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GAINESVILLE – At 9 a.m. on Sunday, April 7, authorities apprehended a 39-year-old Alachua woman, charging her with grand theft of a vehicle and possession of drug paraphernalia

Crystal Fay CascaddanA Gainesville Police Department (GPD) officer responded to the intersection of Northeast 35th Avenue and Northeast 11th Terrace after a concerned citizen reported a suspicious vehicle. The officer found Crystal Fay Cascaddan sleeping in the driver’s seat of a 2004 Saturn SUV with no tag. The officer discovered that the SUV had been reported stolen from Tomlinson Motor Company on April 3.

Cascaddan reportedly told the officer that she had the keys to the SUV and that she got the vehicle from a friend.

When the officer asked her to get out of the vehicle, she allegedly threw a piece of tin foil into nearby bushes and tried to bury a glass pipe in leaves at her feet. The officer reported that he didn’t find any contraband in the foil.

A search incident to arrest reportedly produced a long copper pipe that appeared to be modified for the consumption of narcotics.

Post Miranda, Cascaddan reportedly said she got the SUV from a friend and threw the foil into the bushes because she thought it contained “meth.” She reportedly admitted having a small amount of fentanyl in a bag in the car. However, for the officer’s safety the substance was not field-tested and was sent to FDLE for testing.

Cascaddan reportedly said the copper pipe was her “straw” that she uses to smoke fentanyl. The officer reported that Cascaddan eventually admitted finding the keys to the SUV on top of one of its tires a few nights earlier. She admitted that she took the vehicle and didn’t know who owned it.

Less than two weeks ago, Cascaddan entered a plea in two cases of retail theft and was sentenced to two years of probation, with a condition that she live without breaking the law.

Cascaddan has five non violent felony convictions and five non violent misdemeanor convictions. She has served one state prison sentence and was released in 2019.

Cascaddan was ordered to be held without bond for violating her probation and Judge Susan Miller-Jones set bail at $11,000 on the new charges.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Great entertainment, food and fun were a winning combination at Newberry’s sixth annual Westfest this past Saturday. From 4 – 9 p.m., the event at Lois Forte Park lived up to its advanced billing of a hometown family friendly celebration of music.

Sponsored by the Newberry Main Street Organization, Westfest has become a staple in the community, offering a platform for local and not-so-local talents and a chance for residents to come together and revel in the spirit of music and entertainment.

Performances by Cam Wheaton, Houston Keen, The Ben Carter Band and Logan Ryan Band offered something to suit every musical taste.

Wheaton hails from Trenton and is a singer-songwriter who was a favorite Saturday evening along with Houston Keen, another North Florida artist based out of Chiefland.

Crowds were also treated to the dynamic sounds of The Ben Carter Band, whose energetic performance had attendees on their feet, dancing and singing along. Closing out the evening was the Logan Ryan Band, bringing a taste of Texas with their blend of country and southern rock, rounding off the night on a high note.

The excitement of the evening was further heightened by the announcement of the music festival shirt winners. Among the lucky recipients were Willie Watson, Rebecca Campos, Hailee Ford, Dawna Summers, and Danny Herrington, who walked away with memorabilia to commemorate the event.

Sponsors of the event were Visit Gainesville Alachua County, George F. Young Engineering and Surveying, Scorpio Construction, OEC Business Interiors, Purvis Gray Certified Public Accountants, CHW Civil Engineering & Land Surveying Consultants, EDA Consultants, Holiday Inn University Center, Greenfield Preschool, Oelrich Construction, Gator Fire Equipment Company, and Woodard & Curran.

As the last notes of music faded into the night, it was evident that Newberry's sixth annual Westfest had delivered an unforgettable experience for all who attended.

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ALACHUA ‒ In an effort to enhance its utilities infrastructure, the City of Alachua is advancing the expansion of wastewater facilities and the acquisition of a state-of-the-art bucket truck.

The Alachua West Wastewater Improvement Project took a significant step forward as the City Commission on April 8, 2024, approved the bid for infrastructure construction.

With population growth and development in the western part of the City of Alachua placing increasing demands on existing systems, the project aims to bolster capacity and improve operational efficiency.

On Jan. 31, 2024, the City solicited formal bids from qualified vendors to furnish key components of the wastewater project including labor, materials, services, expenses, equipment, direct and indirect costs, lump sum price to construct approximately 9,000 linear feet of pressurized Wastewater Main and improve the existing lift stations under the Alachua West Wastewater Improvement Project.

Qualified bids were received from Art Walker Construction, Inc. in the amount of $1,924,301 and GWP Construction Inc. in the amount of $1,137,069. GWP was the lowest responsive and responsible bidder.

The project is being funding in part through a Florida Department of Environmental Department (FDEP) grant of $850,000 of which $150,000 is going to engineering leaving the remaining $700,000 available for a portion of the construction cost. The remaining project cost will be paid through the City’s Waste Water Fund.

The Commission unanimously approved awarding the bid to GWP Construction Inc.

And, after a nearly two-year delay, the City of Alachua Utilities Department will soon be the recipient of a new state-of-the art bucket truck.

On Sept. 26, 2022, the City Commission authorized $179,500 to provide for the purchase of one AT48M Bucket Truck. The demand for new bucket trucks along with production delays created long lead times, sometimes multiple years, creating price increases from the original quote.

In April 2022, Altec Industries, Inc. quoted the bucket truck at a cost of $179,425. After supply delays, the AT48M truck is now in production at a current price of $192,222.

Altec Industries, Inc. honored the original quote of $179,425 with the $12,797 increase coming from a newer 2024 Ford F550 4x4model chassis along with a slight increase in the delivery charge.

The purchase will be paid for out of the City’s Electric fund with the specially equipped vehicle enhancing the operation and reliability of the utility department.

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NEWBERRY ‒ After months of rigorous public debate, townhalls, and public campaigning, the parents and teachers at the three public schools in Newberry have voted down proposed conversions from public schools to charter schools.  The April 17 tallying of votes at the Newberry Municipal Building lasted for several hours and ended in some doubt as to the outcome of the vote for the Newberry Elementary School conversion.

There was no doubt that both parents and teachers voted no on conversion of Oak View Middle School with 244 parents voting against conversion and 134 parents voting against conversion.  Teachers at Oak View Middle School also turned down the conversion with an affirmative 40 votes against and just nine in favor of the proposed change.  Two teachers abstained from voting, and so therefore count as a “no” vote, leaving a total of 42 votes against conversion.  Similarly, 149 parents of Newberry High School students voted against converting to a charter school compared to 114 casting ballots in favor.  The story was a little different when it came to teachers at the High School, with 17 voting in favor of converting to a charter school compared to just six teachers affirmatively voting “no” to conversion of the school.  There were six other teaches who abstained from voting, bringing the total number counted against the change to just 12 votes.

At Newberry Elementary School, meanwhile, parents voted in favor of the conversion with 149 “yes” votes compared to 125 “no” votes.  The concern at Newberry Elementary School centered primarily on a single ballot among those cast by teachers.  Of the total 44 eligible teachers, 22 affirmatively voted in favor of the transition while 17 affirmatively voted against the change.  Since four teachers at Newberry Elementary abstained from voting, they counted as “no” votes, bringing the votes against the conversion to just 21.  

In contest is one ballot in favor of conversion, but was a parent ballot inside a teacher envelope, could account for the 44th teacher, and bring the total of teachers in favor to 23.  The ballot was disqualified, however, based on the uncertainty in how it should be counted.  If it is simply not counted, then exactly 50 percent of the teachers at the school voted in favor of the conversion.  The controversy appears to be whether 50 percent is sufficient or if a majority is required for the measure to pass.  

Florida Representative Charles “Chuck” Clemons believes the Newberry Elementary School conversion to a Charter school has passed as required by Florida law.  On April 17, Clemons sent a letter to Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz and Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd asking for the State to weigh in on the issue.  Clemons believes that a majority of teachers is not required for passage of the measure, writing, “[t]he plain language of the law states ‘at least 50 percent of the teachers employed at the school’ and does not require a majority.”

Clemons requested clarification from both state-level officials, stating, “[a]s both of you have served as respected lawmakers, I know that you understand that had the Legislature intended to require a majority vote, it would have done just that. While I feel strongly that the statute, as it plainly reads, is not ambiguous and thus, the effort as it relates to Newberry Elementary cannot be characterized as anything other than successful. However, your opinions and the opinions of your Legal Counsel are critical in insuring that this election is certified properly.

While no one with the State has officially responded, Alachua County Public Schools appears confident that this matter is a dead one.  The school district posted on its webpage, “[a]s you may know, the votes cast by eligible teachers and parents on the conversion of Newberry’s public schools to charter schools were counted on Wednesday, April 17 at a public meeting overseen by Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton. The results of the count are as follows: Newberry Elementary School: did not pass; Oak View Middle School: did not pass; Newberry High School: did not pass.  This means that Newberry Elementary School, Oak View Middle School, and Newberry High School ARE NOT eligible to become charters for the 2025-26 school year.”

The measure to convert the publics school was brought by a group called Newberry Education First.  If passed, the conversions to charter schools would have been effective with the 2025-26 school year.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ According to an article published by “The Edvocate,” an online magazine that says it was created to advocate for education equity, reform and innovation, High Springs was recently named one of the 10 best small towns for outdoor enthusiasts in Florida.

“Florida is renowned for its bustling cities, theme parks and beaches, but it’s also home to some of the most charming small towns perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. From the Panhandle to the southernmost point, these small towns offer a slower pace with an impressive array of activities in nature. Here are the 10 best small towns in Florida that cater to those who yearn for adventure in the great outdoors.”

Listed as number eight of 10, the article lists High Springs as an area that “teems with natural springs like Ginnie Springs, making it ideal for those who enjoy freshwater swimming, cave diving or river tubing adventures.

Other cities listed are Dunedin, Mount Dora, Apalachicola, Cedar Key, Crystal River, DeFuniak Springs, Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Everglades City and Venice.

The article further reads that “For those looking to connect with nature while enjoying quaint community life, these towns represent Florida’s diverse ecological offerings — from serene beaches and bountiful lakes to dense forests and unique swamplands — each holds untold adventures waiting to be discovered by outdoor enthusiasts.”

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