Last updateThu, 01 Oct 2015 9pm


Alachua resident held on $3.6 million bond in drug arrest

W-howard vonzellALACHUA – An Alachua man was arrested recently on several drug-related charges stemming from an ongoing investigation by the Gainesville/Alachua County Drug Task Force with participation by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Vonzell Demond Howard, 31, was arrested and booked into the Alachua County Jail on May 12, on several counts of drug possession and possession with intent to sell. Howard, who lives at 13912 N.W. 142nd Place, Alachua, is also charged with maintaining a drug dwelling.

At the time of his arrest, Howard was out on $25,000 bond for a previous arrest on Sept. 19, 2013. His earlier case was still pending when his bond was revoked and he was rearrested on May 12.

Gainesville Police Department and Alachua County Sheriff's Office arrest records show Howard was in possession of morphine, oxycodone, methamphetamine, cocaine and cannabis. The total bond amount for all charges is set at more than $3.6 million.

Howard was arrested on three warrants. His first warrant was for trafficking in cocaine, a felony of the first degree, carrying a bond of $50,000.

His second warrant was for drug possession with intent to sell Schedule III or IV drugs, a felony of the third degree and maintaining a drug dwelling, a misdemeanor of the first degree, carrying a bond amount of $5,100. During a search of Howard's home, investigators found morphine and oxycodone.

His third warrant was filed by the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and carries a bond amount of $3.6 million. He is charged with five drug-related charges including possession of methamphetamine and the purchase of cocaine, both of which are second degree felonies, the purchase and possession of marijuana, both of which are third degree felonies and trafficking in cocaine of more than 28 grams, but less than 150 kilograms, a first degree felony.

Howard has a history of arrests for drug possession, possession with the intent to sell, trafficking in cocaine, keeping a dwelling or vehicle with drugs inside and has either bonded out with a $25,000 bond or was released on his own recognizance in those cases.

At press time, Howard remains in the Alachua County Jail under a combined bond of $3,655,100.

#  #   #

Email cwalker @


Add a comment Add a comment

Newberry rethinking its strategy: Q&A for manager candidate

NEWBERRY – Mayor Bill Conrad announced to the Newberry City Commission Tuesday night that he had checked Mike New’s references and background and was ready to move forward on negotiations with a contract to hire New as the next city manager.

Commissioner Jordan Marlowe was ready to move a motion in that direction until dissenting commissioners brought up reasons to slow the process down.

“I checked Mr. New’s background,” Mayor Conrad said. “I talked to Gib Coerper, the Mayor of Alachua, he gave him a very high recommendation. I talked to Clovis Watson, our State Representative, who gave an extremely high recommendation,” Conrad said. “And he [Clovis] offered to come and speak on Mr. New’s behalf.”

Commissioner Tim Marden then said he also checked references on both New and Isaac Turner, the second place candidate.

With that Commissioner Marlowe stated, “I will make a motion that we begin contract negotiations with Mr. New.” Commissioner Marden seconded the motion and then Conrad asked, “Any further discussion?”

Commissioner Monty Farnsworth expressed concern over making the decision before getting a background report back on second-place candidate Isaac Turner. Conrad replied that even if Turner gets a clean report, based on rankings, New would still be the top candidate.

Farnsworth then said he wanted to bring New back to discuss “more specific things” other than the formatted questions they were required to ask during the formal interview process.

Marlowe tried to explain that he felt commissioners had plenty of time with the candidates and said he had talked on the phone with each and had meet-and-greets with both candidates.

“The strongest negative comment I heard about Mr. New is that he can be stubborn,” Marlowe said.

“He’s local, has qualifications…I’m ready to move forward.”

Commissioner Rick Coleman agreed with Farnsworth. “At least bring him in here for off-the-wall questioning for the next meeting,” Coleman said. “We’ve had a lot of citizens telling us not to hurry this. Maybe even get some questions from the citizens.”

Conrad declared that two commissioners were ready to go, Marlowe and Marden, and that there were two commissioners who wanted to wait two weeks.

“It all comes down to you Mr. McGehee,” Conrad said and turned the floor over to recently elected Commissioner Jason McGehee.

McGehee said, “I spent more time researching these two guys than I should have.”

“This is the most important thing we’re going to do for some time,” he added. “I would like to move forward. I would like the citizens to have a chance. That way they feel it’s not just us five up here making the decision.”

City Attorney Scott Walker then urged the council to establish a pay range so that he could begin drafting a contract.

“Start at a number that you feel is appropriate given the candidate’s qualifications,” Walker said. “That is something that may go back and forth over some period of time,” he added. “Then get with Mr. New and drop the numbers into the contract.”

Conrad said, “My recommendation would be the low number because he doesn’t have a lot of experience as a city manager.”

But Marlowe was cautious about a low offer. “We get what we pay for,” he said. “We set that range based on the average salary of cities our size.”

Marlowe offered an idea of a salary that could increase with incentives. “I’d be comfortable with saying $80k for your first six months and reach benchmarks as incentive,” he said.

Coleman reminded his peers that New would be getting more than salary if he took the position. “He’s got a car he’s taking home. He’s got all of his benefits, there’s a severance package that’s going to be sitting out there.

“It’s a whole lot more than $80,000. We gotta look at it like that too,” he said about New, who currently works for the City of Alachua as Public Services Director.

“I don’t think he has that over there where he’s at,” Coleman said. “He’s not riding around in a car and probably doesn’t have his six-month package.”

Marlowe asked the city attorney, “New didn’t meet the criteria set. Can we start out with something lower than we advertised?

The advertised amount for the Newberry City Manager position was $85,000 - $120,000 for a qualified candidate.

According to Conrad, a qualified candidate, according to the job posting, should have a Bachelors degree in Public Administration, (masters preferred), five years of experience as a city manager (10 preferred), strong background in utilities, strong background in economic development through sports.

“The commission decided to look at Mr. New, who did not have city manager experience, but had served under Clovis Watson for five years,” Conrad said. “Also, it was felt that his exceptionally strong background in utilities and his engineering degree would more that make up for lack of actual city manager experience.”

Walker answered Marlowe’s question, “This is a negotiation. You can do what you think is appropriate.”  

Coleman said, “I don’t want him to think we misled him,” about a possible shift in salary offered.

The commission settled on a motion for a beginning salary of $80,000 and possible raise after a six-month probation and for staff to negotiate three benchmarks for New to meet for further salary hikes.

McGehee seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.

Farnsworth questioned, “That does not necessarily mean we hired him?”

The collective answer was, “No.”

#     #     #

Email scook@


Add a comment Add a comment

Newberry man plans splash park: project in lieu of attempted cocaine possession sentence

NEWBERRY — Rodney Hyden, a local concrete contractor, is building a splash park for the City of Newberry in lieu of a 10-year prison sentence.

City of Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad said Hyden was facing a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence after a jury convicted him of attempted possession of cocaine with intent to distribute it.

The court accepted Hyden's proposal that he be allowed to perform community service and sentenced him to a drastically reduced punishment. At his trial, Hyden, 56, said he'd been entrapped into committing the crime, but the jury rejected that defense.

Conrad said he met with Hyden, who proposed his idea for the Splash Park. Then Conrad wrote a letter to the judge indicating his interest.

“He would build it, design it, oversee construction and do fundraising through his subcontractors to provide us with a splash park in the City of Newberry for little or no cost,” Conrad said.

Hyden’s sentence is 60 days in jail followed by five years of supervised release, during which time he will be required to perform community service including construction of the splash park, said his Jacksonville-based lawyer, Mark Rosenblum.

In addition to the splash park, Hyden is volunteering his time and expertise in construction to Alachua Habitat for Humanity, Rosenblum said.

The park is in its planning phase, and there is no start or completion date yet. Conrad said they have tentatively decided on Triangle Park for the location.

“We like that location,” Conrad said, “but we have a lot of research to do before we’re sure that’s going to work.”

Hyden will not be involved in the project when he starts his jail sentence in early June, but Rosenblum said Hyden will start the project when he is released.

“This is an example of a forward thinking court engaging in creative sentencing of a non-violent person,” Rosenblum said, “allowing for a gain for the community rather than the warehousing of a productive person.”

#     #     #

Email ksu@


Add a comment Add a comment

High Springs Commission election qualifying period set for June

HIGH SPRINGS – Any citizen who has always wanted to have more of a say in their local government should make plans to step up to the plate soon. Resolution 2014-E, which details the election date and qualifying period for two High Springs City Commission seats, was approved at the May 22 commission meeting.

This year Commissioners Bob Barnas and Linda Gestrin's three-year terms are coming to a close. Although the actual election isn't until Nov. 4, the qualifying period for Seats #1 and #2 begins at 7:30 a.m., June 16, and closes again at 6 p.m. on June 20. Anyone interested in running for either seat should contact City Hall and plan to pick up a qualifying packet and declare their candidacy during the qualifying period.

Explaining why the qualifying period is earlier this year than last, Pam Carpenter, Alachua County Supervisor of Elections said, “Please note that in the even numbered years the High Springs election appears on our county/state/federal ballot and in the odd numbered years, High Springs conducts their own City election. When the City election is on our ballot, the qualifying dates must follow state law.

“When High Springs conducts their own elections, their qualifying dates would be set by their Charter and City Ordinances,” she said.

Last year's city-only election brought out 20.15 percent of qualified High Springs voters. Based on figures from the past six years, it appears that this year's joint election could bring out as many as 55-75 percent of qualified voters in High Springs.

The number of registered voters in the city of High Springs is 3,565, according to Carpenter.

#     #     #

Email cwalker@


Add a comment Add a comment

Schedule of fines in the works for High Springs

HIGH SPRINGS – The city's Code Enforcement Board may soon have a schedule of fines they can levy to those citizens who do not comply with city codes. While the city already has an ordinance allowing their board to levy fines, a schedule of fines has never been created. In the past, the board could levy a fine based on their own discretion depending on the degree of infraction. However, if the citizen complied with the regulations, the board frequently forgave the fine, even if it cost the city to pursue the case.

In cases where citizens have not complied within a reasonable time, the city would notify the property owner that they would go onto the property and either clean up the problem or remove a dilapidated structure, depending on the issue, and would then be able to file a lien against the property for the cost of cleanup and all relevant fines.

While all of these remedies are still available to the city, the schedule of fines will eventually be set by the city commission as part of this new ordinance and fine waivers, should the property owner ask for one.

Citizens will have to go before the city commission to plead their case for reduction or waiver of fees instead of asking for fee waivers from the Code Enforcement Board at the time they present evidence of compliance with city codes.

Commissioners may decide to waive fines when the property owner comes into compliance, but they likely will also take into consideration and possibly charge citizens for the city's cost in having to pursue the case, especially if the case leads to the cost of filing a lien.

City Manager Ed Booth recommended at the May 13 commission meeting that the city attorney's office determine a schedule of fines based on what other cities of similar size have set.

Although no action was taken at the meeting, it is expected that a new ordinance will be presented in the future for commission approval.

#    #  #

Email cwalker @


Add a comment Add a comment