Sun07242016

Last updateFri, 22 Jul 2016 3pm

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Archer politics heat up ahead of April 12 election

Q - City of ArcherARCHER – The City of Archer will hold an election for three city commission seats on April 12, only one of which is being contested.

Incumbents Doug Jones is running against Joan White, a former city commissioner, according to Archer City Manager Zeriah Folston.

Jones said he moved to Archer from Gainesville in 2008 because of the rural and charming character of the area, something he acknowledges in his official platform.

As a commissioner, he’s also served as Rural Advisor and a non-voting member of the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization for Gainesville.

“I did not just show up to cast my votes at the meetings,” he said. “I have been very involved in government both in the city limits and outside of the city limits.”

While he has been on the board, Archer was added to the funded priority project list for the first time, Jones said. This long-term project is intended to allocate $12 million toward widening Archer Road.

According to his platform, other goals include building a sanitary wastewater collection and treatment facility and working with the Alachua County School Board to lobby for a hybrid school option for the city that implements virtual or distance­learning.

Jones' challenger, White, said she is ready to clean up a town that she knows citizens take pride in.

“We’ve let our mowing go, we’ve let our maintenance go, we’ve let our parks go – the kids can’t play in them, they look so bad,” she said. “We have a wonderful little town; the people in it are great, they are so good about helping one another and are friendly. We have a lot to offer.”

White said she would like to enliven the recreation in Archer.

Some of her other aspirations include implementing an affordable, reliable and environmentally conscious sewer system.

“We’ve been shut out of all city politics for the last five years,” she said. “And I want these people to know [that] when they come before us, there’s gonna be somebody there listening to them. I am, for one. We’re gonna act on it.”

Fletcher Hope, who currently holds seat three, is unopposed and will return to his seat.

Hope said he wants to continue working toward the platform of his initial campaign, which was resurrecting the recreational offerings within Archer and taking care of the infrastructure and maintenance of the city.

“We’ve steered away from that, put our energies more into developing a waste water system,” he said. “That can’t be the only thing we’re looking at.”

He said citizens have voiced concerns regarding the maintenance of streets, signs and sidewalks.

“Public works administration needs to be a higher priority,” he said. “I hope to be a part of that and not just a siren of complaint, but to actually assist our new city manager and staff with identifying these things and helping in any way I can.”

He said there’ve been recent efforts to allot money for recreation in the city.

“That’s certainly exciting for anybody that has children or resides here with children,” he said. “It was always very important for my wife and I when we had children of school age.”

Marjorie Zander, the incumbent in seat two, will not be returning for another term but will be replaced by Michelle Harris, a newcomer to city government, Folston said.

Harris said she feels like it was her calling to be a part of the city commission.

“I know I was meant to come back to this community and serve here,” she said. “I didn’t know it would happen so quickly because I really didn’t know that there’d be a seat open or that doors would open so rapidly.”

Harris, who has been a teacher at Jordan Glen School & Summer Camp in Archer for 21 years, said her main effort as a commissioner would be to create the best community for the children of Archer.  

“I want to make sure that our parks are clean, that we have community gardens, that our town is beautiful for our children to enjoy [and] that they feel like they are part of a community that supports and loves them, that they’re in a safe place to grow.”

She said her enormous amount of energy – physical, mental and spiritual – will serve as assets as she steps into her new position.

“Being somewhat of an idealist, I have visions,” she said. “I have visions of what we can be. I have dreams of what we can create here.”

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Lion's Club Raises Funds for Sight and Hearing Charities

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Photo Special to Alachua County Today

The Alachua Lions Club held its largest charity fundraiser of the year to a packed house at Santa Fe River Ranch, just outside of Alachua.

ALACHUA – It was another fun filled evening of laughter, good food and music at the 77th Annual Alachua Lions Club Cattlemen’s Banquet Tuesday night.

The locally renowned banquet was held for the third year at the Santa Fe River Ranch. Also included in the night’s festivities was a social hour and a silent auction leading up to the main event, as well as a live auction afterward.

Opening the banquet and welcoming guests was Alachua Lions Club President Joel DeCoursey, Jr., followed by the tradition of Lion Gussie Lee leading the crowd in singing “God Bless America.”

DeCoursey then handed off the evening’s agenda to Master of Ceremonies Chuck Clemons, Vice President for Advancement at Santa Fe College and an Alachua native.

Before presentation of the Cattleman’s award, Clemons used his time at the podium to share a few jokes and offer a good ribbing to some in attendance, eliciting roars of laughter from the crowd.

Alan Hitchcock, former owner of Hitchcock’s Markets and current owner of Santa Fe River Ranch, was honored as this year’s Cattleman of the Year, something that Clemons emphasized was a total surprise for Hitchcock.

“This was obviously a surprise for me when you look at my attire,” Hitchcock said, poking fun at himself.

The Keynote Speaker was University of Florida President Dr. Kent Fuchs. Dr. Fuchs related personal stories regarding his family background with farming and cattle ranching and emphasized the importance of the cattle industry in Florida’s unique history, its present, and its anticipated contributions in the future.

In keeping with tradition, the Santa Fe High School Chapter of FFA was on hand to serve up the choice aged controlled steaks, potato casserole and dessert.

The Cattlemen’s Banquet is the Alachua Lions Club’s largest fundraiser of the year, and all profits from the banquet support charitable sight, hearing, youth and community service activities within the Alachua community.

Clemons said the banquet had 33 corporate sponsorships this year, an increase from last year’s 30.

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Newberry's Katy Mae Harrison is Florida's Watermelon Queen

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Special to Alachua County Today

Florida Watermelon Queen Katy Mae Harrison represents the Florida watermelon industry throughout the country.

NEWBERRY – Katy Mae Harrison of Newberry is the new Florida Watermelon Queen.

Harrison was crowned as the 2016 Florida Watermelon Queen during the 48th Annual Florida Watermelon Association Convention held Jan. 15-17 at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel.

As Watermelon Queen, Harrison travels all over the state and nation to promote the importance of the watermelon industry in Florida.

“As the Florida Watermelon Queen, I will travel throughout the United States and Canada, serving as a spokesperson/ambassador for the watermelon industry,” Harrison said. “I will hold the state title for one year and then in February 2017 I will represent Florida and compete for the 2017 National Watermelon Queen.”

Harrison, 23, is the daughter of Billy Ray and Sherri Harrison of Newberry. She attends Santa Fe College in Gainesville, majoring in Business Administration.

The goal of the Florida Watermelon Queen is to encourage consumers to buy Florida watermelons. Her work includes in-store promotions, visiting schools and touring farms.

She will make appearances at fairs and agricultural conventions to educate consumers about the health benefits and economic value of watermelons.

Harrison says her family played a huge part in helping her achieve the honor.

“I have a wonderful family that encouraged and supported me to compete to be the 2016 Florida Watermelon Queen,” Harrison said. “This unique adventure and opportunity allows me to travel and experience the agricultural industry at many different levels.”

According to its official website, www.flfwa.com, The Florida Watermelon Association was formed to enable growers and marketers of the Florida Watermelon Association to unite and through a concerted, organized membership work to promote the consumption of watermelons grown in Florida.

“After all,” Harrison said, “Florida is the biggest producer of watermelons in the United States, and watermelon is Florida’s fifth top value crop, producing $80 million a year. It is a big responsibility to represent the growers, brokers, and everyone that is involved in the watermelon industry. I am very excited to be the 2016 Florida Watermelon Queen.”

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LaCrosse Housing Rehab Grant Spawns Ethics Issues

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CM WALKER/Alachua County Today

L-R: Mayor Dianne Dubberly, Town Attorney John Maines, Councilwoman Barbara Thomas, Councilman Johnny Ho, Vice-Mayor Tom Ewing and Councilman Richard Dubberly seek opinion from State DEO Department of Ethics.

LACROSSE – The most time-consuming issue facing members of the the LaCrosse Town Council at the March 14 meeting was how to handle conflict of interest relating to a $600,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for Housing Rehabilitation.

In a town as small as LaCrosse, with a population of fewer than 400 people, it is not surprising that many residents are related to each other.

The conflict arose as Gloria Garcia was a member of the Citizen Advisory Task Force (CATF) which helped to determine whether the Town should seek the grant. Garcia attended one CATF meeting, but has removed herself from any involvement in the selection process by not attending the second meeting where the list of applicants was reviewed and recommended for inclusion.

Three of Garcia's relatives, sister Aimee Garcia, father Pedro Garcia and aunt Gabriela Bustamante were among the applications reviewed and ultimately found to qualify under CDBG's guidelines for inclusion in the program.

“The CDBG program requires that each applicant provide information on family relationships with Town elected officials, Town employees, Citizen Advisory Task Force or Board Members,” said Jay Moseley, Senior Consultant for Government Services Group, Inc. (GSG).

GSG is the firm that assisted the Town in obtaining the grant and is also administering the grant to make sure it is handled according to the CDBG grant requirements.

“It is not uncommon for a community of this size to have these conflicts arise during the process of providing Housing Rehabilitation programs,” said Moseley. However, in a case like this, “the Town Council is required to apply for a conflict of interest waiver for the applicants,” he said.

In addition to Garcia's three relatives, who applied before the deadline along with other applicants, one additional person applied after the initial deadline and, according to Moseley, is also financially qualified. That person is Gloria Garcia herself.

“As we are contracted with [the Department of Economic Opportunity] to provide assistance to a total of nine single family homes, the inclusion of [this home] will assist the town in reaching their goal – and we have one additional slot to fill,” Moseley said.

Following lengthy discussion, Council members voted 4-0 to apply for a conflict of interest waiver for the four qualified applicants.

Although that vote met CDBG requirements, one more hurdle remained concerning the State's consideration regarding ethics related to Gloria Garcia's application to be included in the grant.

Town Attorney John Maines said he spoke with C. Christopher Anderson, III, General Counsel/Deputy Executive Director, Florida Commission on Ethics. Regarding the inclusion of Gloria Garcia's application, he said Anderson told him he could either leave it as is or the Town Council could submit a waiver to review the situation.

Although the Council voted 4-0 to apply for an opinion from the Department on Ethics, the Department of Economic Opportunity, administrators of the Housing, Rehabilitation and Replacement Grant, moved on their own Tuesday to request a legal opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Although it may appear that the grant is stalled, Moseley will continue to do the work required prior to beginning construction on the properties not in question.

In addition to the $600,000 CDBG grant, the county's State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) Program also added $125,000 more as a match. According to Town Mayor Dianne Dubberly, the SHIP Program has helped many of the smaller communities, but this is the first time she is aware of that they are providing funds for the Town of LaCrosse.

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Celebrating Yulee Days

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KRISTINA ORREGO/Alachua County Today

Loud booms and billowing smoke accompanied Archer Historical Society member Robert Kasicki's firing of a 19th Century style cannon.

ARCHER – The whistles of the trains in Archer were once loud enough to distract children as they sat in school. The noise scared chickens so much they stopped laying eggs.

Ann Green, a member of the Archer Historical Society, said the people of Archer didn’t have the easiest time getting used to the Yulee Railroad when its line was completed through Archer in March of 1858.

Yet nearly 160 years later, it’s a reason for a festival.

Local families and vendors came out Saturday for Yulee Day, an event held every March in Archer to celebrate the Yulee Railroad.

A line-up of cars, men on motorcycles from the Gainesville Shrine Club and an Alachua County fire truck all made their way through the street for a parade during the afternoon.

Boisterous booms left heavy clouds of gray smoke in the air as Historical Society member Robert Kasicki fired 19th Century-style canons outside his home.

The Archer Historical Museum was open to visitors to peruse 19th Century relics and featured a miniature model railroad, which continuously coursed around while children watched on in awe.

Mayor Corey Harris said he was excited about the event because he considers it to be a great way to show Archer’s rich history.

“Yulee Day is an opportunity for the citizens to host a number of families and individuals from surrounding communities and showcase and highlight what the city of Archer is all about,” he said.

David Levy Yulee, born June 12, 1810, founded the Florida Railroad Company and served as its president from 1853 to 1866. It was the first cross-state railroad and ran from Fernandina Beach to Cedar Key, according to Green.

Green said the railroad became the way Yulee, owner of Cotton Wood Plantation just outside of Archer, could transport cotton either to Fernandina or Cedar Key, where it would get put on boats and sent to Cuba or Northern states.

Yulee also studied and practiced law in St. Augustine. He served as a U.S. senator from 1845 to 1851 and 1855 to 1861.

“The sentiment around the railroad is it’s about the main thing we have right now that we celebrate on an annual basis,” Green said. “[The railroad] doesn’t run anymore, but it’s still marked.”

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