Last updateMon, 03 Aug 2015 3pm

Newberry swaps city manager

NEWBERRY – The Newberry City Commission announced City Manager Keith Ashby is stepping down immediately and appointed former Mayor and City Manager Grady Hartzog as an interim replacement.

At the first city commission meeting with three newly-elected commissioners, Mayor Bill Conrad mentioned Ashby’s desire to transition to his new job with Santa Fe College and then suggested that Hartzog was willing to fill the position until a new city manager would tentatively be hired in June.

Commissioners Jordan Marlowe and Jason McGehee both questioned Conrad’s ability to recommend a specific city manager replacement, even on an interim basis, without some sort of vetting procedure.

“Since it’s for such a short term, about a 30 day period, I felt we should just go ahead and fill the position instead of going through an advertising process,” Conrad said after stating he’d already talked with Hartzog and was told he’d be willing to accept.

Hartzog served as city manager from 1984 to 1989 and as mayor/city manager from 1993 to 2004. Most recently he was city manager of Chiefland from 2007 to 2013.

Marlowe then mentioned that another former mayor, John Glanzer, was also interested. Glanzer was present at the meeting and commented that he wasn’t interested in creating controversy as both he and Hartzog were capable of handling the job.

It was also mentioned that Conrad, himself, could temporarily fill the position along with the help of Utilities Director Blaine Suggs. Conrad said he would do so if it was the will of the commission, but he would prefer not to.

After over an hour of deliberation, the commission voted three-to-two for Hartzog to be approved as interim city manager for an expected month, but for as long as six months while the interview process is conducted for a full-time manager. Dissenting votes were from Marlowe and Tim Marden.

Hartzog will be paid at the same rate as current manager Ashby for as long as he serves.

The commission also announced the decision to narrow down candidates for full-time city manager to an initial interview pool of six. Conrad had averaged the rankings each commissioner had provided to a pool of four choices from a previously narrowed list of 10, but commissioners Rick Coleman and McGehee each had a top candidate they wanted included in the interview process.

After discussion, the commission agreed to interview Stephen Cottrell, William Vance, Lyndon Bonner, Isaac Turner, Matthew Burke and Mark Clark. It was noted that each candidate except Vance (who is from Ohio) is either from Florida or has ties to Florida.

Commissioner opinions varied on what qualities were most important in a new city manager. Marlowe expressed his desire to see a manager with extensive experience with electrical utilities management, while McGehee was more concerned with having a manager with experience successfully working with a wide variety of people.

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HSPD unorganized, low officer ratio

HIGH SPRINGS – A lengthy press release, issued by the city of High Springs on April 18, summarized the findings of an independent management review and evaluation of the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) by a member of the Florida Police Chief's Association (FPCA). FPCA chose Chief William A. Liquori (retired), a 44 year veteran of law enforcement, to assist the city. Liquori's exemplary experience as Police Chief of Altamonte Springs, Deputy Police Chief of Orlando and Past President of the Florida Police Chiefs Association made him uniquely qualified to perform the assessment.

He spent several days reviewing different aspects of the department including the ratio of officers and staff to the number of citizens they serve, maintenance of employee training records and other record-keeping procedures, departmental structure and written directives. He also met one-on-one with HSPD personnel to determine morale and workflow concerns.

The purpose of the assessment was to provide an independent view of how the department has been operating and to recommend ways in which the city could improve work flow and the department's service to the community.

In his report Liquori suggested items he thought should be addressed. While some of those changes have already taken place or are in the process of being addressed, some require funding decisions, which will not be made until commissioners consider the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Sept. 1, 2014.

In his report, Liquori states that the national average for police officers is 2.4 officers per thousand population and the state average is 2.3 officers per thousand. Currently, HSPD is at 1.63 officers per thousand population. Even if the department was at full authorized strength, Liquori said the department would still be below national and state averages at 2.18 officers per thousand population.

His report suggests that the city take immediate steps to hire a Chief of Police, allow the reinstitution of the ranks of lieutenant and detective, hire an additional officer and promote one to sergeant, conduct a cost-benefit study of continuing to operate the Dispatch Center locally, and if proven cost-effective, make budget adjustments to compliment, provide a supervisor for all shifts, assign an Internal Investigator and provide proper training in correct process, form a working group to review and update all written directives, hire cleaning staff to maintain the building in a clean and presentable manner and perform an immediate and thorough review of all written directives with technical assistance from FPCA.

A review of the written directives was performed by Liquori while he was conducting his assessment. His report listed changes he saw that immediately needed to be addressed.

He noted that training files were found to be poorly managed and paperwork for firearms qualifications were not correctly filed, although they now have been reorganized.

Vehicle maintenance was listed as an area of concern as police cars exceeded 100,000 miles and broke down regularly. One officer brought a pillow from home to put on the driver's seat because the seat had been worn down to the springs. However, officers revealed that vehicle maintenance has been better addressed under Acting Chief Antoine Sheppard since he assumed the position.

Officers reported that requests for assistance with firearms and taser training had gone unanswered in the past. However, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is currently providing technical assistance to the department on this issue.

Equipment storage appears to have been a problem in the past as well. An inventory of all equipment and disposal of non-working items was suggested to Liquori by some officers.

In summary, Liquori's report said, “I feel, after interviewing the majority of the employees, they are dedicated, loyal to the department and happy to be employed by the High Springs Police Department.

“If the city of High Springs, FL wants a professional Police Department they must support the Department. They must also hold them accountable through the direction of the City Manager and the Chief of Police."

A copy of Liquori's full written report has been provided to all commissioners, but will be formally presented at the upcoming April 24 commission meeting according to the city's press release.

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Putting down roots for the Great American Cleanup

W - Great Am CleanupDSC 0120City employees and community members gathered at the Boy Scout Troop 88 Scout Hut across from City Hall to lay 22 pallets of sod as part of this year’s “Keep Alachua County Beautiful” campaign.

ALACHUA – The City of Alachua launched its annual “Keep Alachua County Beautiful” initiative this past weekend, joining communities across the nation as volunteers came together to spruce up local areas. The city coordinated a voluntary trash pickup in parts of town, carried out special projects to clean up and beautify areas as well as a city-wide waste tire roundup.

City mayor Gib Coerper officially proclaimed April 12 as Alachua’s “Keep Alachua County Beautiful” day. “The City of Alachua is proud to be a sponsor and participant in the annual cleanup,” Coerper said. “It is a great opportunity for people to work together to keep their community clean and make a difference locally.”

The City of Alachua Public Services Department coordinated with Waste Pro, Inc. and local volunteers to undertake this year’s cleanup on Saturday. Volunteers gathered at 8 a.m. at the Swick House located behind City Hall on the Municipal Complex site. Volunteers were assigned various locations to carry out planned projects until noon. Armed with the necessary accessories such as gloves, trash bags, safety vests, and instructions, the volunteers headed to their worksites.

Headquarters for the waste tire roundup was the city’s Paul O’Dea Advanced Water Reclamation Facility located at the southern end of NW 126 Terrace. Other locations included Welch Park at 13801 NW 142nd Ave., and property at the Boy Scout Troop 88 Scout Hut across from City Hall.

After the cleanup ended at noon, lunch was provided back at the Swick House for the volunteers.

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Relay for Life brings out the pirates

W - Walker - RFL Pink Purple Storm Roberts S5000178Radio personality Storm Roberts served up spirits pirate style at the Alachua/High Springs Relay for Life Pink & Purple Party.  Roberts was one of several celebrity servers pitching in to raise funds at the Great Outdors Cafe in High Springs.

HIGH SPRINGS – A couple from Dixie County, wearing purple shirts, sat side by side on the patio of the Great Outdoors Restaurant last Thursday evening.

The back of his shirt read “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step.”

David and Toni Warner, along with a multitude of other people, gathered on April 10 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the downtown restaurant in High Springs.

They came to raise money and awareness, as well as have fun for the Alachua and High Springs Relay for Life Committee’s second annual Pink & Purple Party.

“I’m here so that other people can be survivors,” Toni Warner said.

The shirt is dedicated to her. For 16 years she fought a personal battle with breast cancer.

Toni Warner explained that one of the reasons for her survival was because attitude is everything. “And, I have one of those,” she said laughing.

Warner also wants people to know that awareness and early detection was key to her survival. “Don’t wait until you feel something,” she said. “If I did, I wouldn’t be here. Early detection is curable,” she said, smiling as she holds her husband, David Warner’s hand.

Everyone attending was supporting a Relay for Life team, labeled with a sticker noting which team would benefit from the proceeds of their dinner.

Gib Coerper, mayor of Alachua, supported Mebane Middle School.

“I haven’t been in junior high in 50 years,” he said, laughing.

Mayor Coerper also hoped that Thursday’s event would exceed last year. “I hope that this year is a record year,” he said.

And, it proved to be. Last year, according to Sharon Yeago, Relay for Life event co-chair for High Springs and Alachua, the party raised $2,000. This year, the event made about $3,500.

“The Pink and Purple Party on the Patio was another great success this year. We are so grateful to the Great Outdoors staff for the outstanding job they did to make this such a great event,” Yeago said.

She was also pleased to add that the City of Alachua signed up for a Relay Team at the event. “This really capped off the night with the recruitment of our 22nd team for this year’s Relay,” she said.

In addition to the success, there were also raffles throughout the evening, as well as tickets sold for raffles to be given away on the day of relay, which will be May 9 and 10 at the High Springs’ Civic Center.

There was also a section in the corner of the patio for people to buy and decorate luminaria bags These bags will be lit up on the track at the civic center during Relay for Life to represent survivors and the memories of loved ones.

“It’s nice to do in memory of loved ones. They’re very pretty,” said Patti Lamneck, who was selling and decorating her own luminaria bags at the event.

A highlight of the evening was the staff of celebrity bartenders who came from Alachua, High Springs and Gainesville for the event. “We are also grateful to the celebrity bartenders and supporters who gave gifts and made donations at the event,” Yeago said.

The celebrity bartenders were also decked out in colorful pirate attire, and included radio personality Storm Roberts of KTK 98.5, the “morning drive guy.”

“I’m a cancer survivor, and this is real close to my heart,” Roberts said. “And, it’s always fun to dress like a pirate,” he added, smiling while sporting his three-cornered black pirate hat and shiny beads that complemented his pirate garb.

Roberts also added that the main goal of the event is to raise awareness. “I talk about it on my radio show, to let people know what is going on, and to bring it to life,” he said.

He is an advocate to stop childhood cancer, and also added that the more people do to fight cancer, the more people are doing to fight for a cure.

And, he said, “When you get everyone together at events like this, everybody wins.”

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Santa Fe's Bednarek signs with Jacksonville University

W - Bednarek JU Group SigningCenter: Surrounded by family, friends, teammates and coaches, Matthew Bednarek signs his National Letter of Intent to play for the Jacksonville University Dolphins

ALACHUA – Santa Fe High School senior Matthew Bednarek has signed his National Letter of Intent to play football at Jacksonville University (JU).

Bednarek, who graduates from Santa Fe in June, will major in marine science and will move to Jacksonville in early August to start working out with the JU Dolphins. Bednarek was starting offensive lineman and left tackle, and assisted in earning a winning season for the Santa Fe Raiders.

Family members credit Santa Fe Head Football Coach Bill Wiles for being instrumental in molding Bednarak into a well-rounded student, player and teammate. He has been an honor and Advanced Placement student since starting his high school career, and his GPA currently stands at 4.3.

Matt expressed thanks to his parents, Nancy and Tom Bednarek of Alachua, his family, coaches, friends and school administrators for all of their support throughout his high school career. He attributes his faith and strong community support as having been and will continue to be key to his success.

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