Last updateMon, 16 Jan 2017 3pm

Sheriff Candidates Spar at Debate

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RAINA BARNETT/ Alachua County Today

 Supporters of all three candidates engaged in coversation following the debate.


NEWBERRY – An open debate was held on the evening of Thursday, Aug. 4 at Newberry High School between the three candidates for Alachua County Sheriff: incumbent Sadie Darnell (D) and challengers Zac Zedalis (D) and Jack Jacobs (R).

Opening statements allowed each candidate three minutes to state their mission and purpose in running for the Alachua County Sheriff.

“I have served in the law enforcement career unwaveringly for 38 years,” Darnell said.

Jacobs said his motto is to train others. “If you’re a supervisor, you should be mentoring someone to eventually take your position,” he said.

Zedalis is running based on a service-first method, which means focusing on the needs of others, especially team members, before consider personal needs.

“If you treat people with respect, whether you’re black or white, people will respond to that,” Zedlais said. “But you have to treat people with respect first.”

The top two topics discussed were budgeting and community involvement.

Darnell said she would not decrease the budget because she feels the department is understaffed and underfunded.

“It's increased by only $40,000,” Darnell said. “A $25 million budget over a six-year period has only increased by $40,000.”

Zedalis and Jacobs said they were interested in decreasing the budget.

“I’m talking about trimming the fat,” Zedalis said. “It is not helping us and is not protecting you. We have a lot of people sitting in higher-up positions, a lot of bureaucracy at the sheriff’s office who are sitting behind desks, supervising four people, making approximately $105,000 apiece.”

Jacobs had a similar viewpoint.

“We need to see what we can both live with and keep the community safe; we’re not going to hold hostage programs that are some of our best programs that we have,” Jacobs said.

Alachua County Resident Carrie Roberts said Zedalis made a good impression on her.

“I was sitting by myself and he actually made it a point to come over and say hi and shake my hand,” she said. “I think it’s about making others see that you care, and not just doing things to get their vote.”

The election process has not been devoid of drama, as Zedalis was fired by Darnell in February from his position as detective with the Sheriff’s Department over a domestic dispute. This happened after Zedalis had declared his candidacy to replace Darnell as Sheriff. Zedalis claimed at the time his firing was politically motivated.

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Communities in Profile: City of Waldo

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BOB BROWN/Alachua County Today

 Waldo has a rich past, but recent times haven't been as kind as closures of the city's police department and public school have dealt serious blows to the community that once served as a bustling hub of trade and commerce.


WALDO – A tiny city most recently noted for its large flea market and a now-defunct speed trap, Waldo has a far richer history than many people may realize.

“Waldo’s history has had many ups and downs,” said Waldo City Manager Kim Worley via email. “Right now we are experiencing a down, so we are hoping that the upswing is on its way.”

Two significant events have negatively impacted the small but tight-knit community in the last two years. First, the city police department was dissolved in 2014 in the wake of illegal ticket quota allegations, and second, the Waldo Community School was closed by the Alachua County School Board at the end of the 2014-2015 school year because of low enrollment.

“Waldo residents really come together in a crisis to help their neighbors, and we all stick together,” Worley said. “We are not perfect, but we do pretty good.”

If Waldo’s older, deep history can be relived, prospects for the community would surely look promising.

The area around Waldo was one of the earliest settled by Americans in present day Alachua County. The first federal highway, the Bellamy Road, passed nearby in 1824, and an important Second Seminole War fort – Fort Harlee – was built slightly north along the Santa Fe River in 1837.

According to Jess Davis’ seminal work “History of Alachua County: 1824-1969,” Waldo began to grow in importance when the first cross-state railway – David Yulee’s Florida Railroad running from Fernandina Beach to Cedar Key – passed through in 1859. The rail also ran through Gainesville and Archer on its way to Florida’s west coast.

During the Civil War, a local Confederate company commanded by Captain John Dickison had its camp stationed near Waldo for a time. Dickison was the officer in charge of Confederate forces during the 1864 Battle of Gainesville.

A Florida Historical Marker off of State Road 24 even notes that Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ personal baggage and government records were seized by Union forces at a nearby house after the Confederate surrender in 1865.

The golden era of Waldo began not long after the Civil War’s conclusion. The citrus industry was particularly strong in the area, and two canals were completed in 1879 that connected Waldo directly to Lake Alto, then Alto to Lake Santa Fe, which created a water route connecting Waldo to Melrose.

According to another Florida Historical Marker located on Southwest 5th Boulevard in Waldo, the Santa Fe Canal Company established its headquarters in Waldo and started a lucrative freight and passenger service with a steamship traversing the route between Waldo and Melrose.

The Peninsular Railroad completed a line through Waldo in 1881, making it an important railway junction with the existing Florida Railroad line. Waldo became home to several railroad shops and a division headquarters for the Seaboard Air Line Railway.

Waldo’s prosperity took a severe hit along with other North Florida communities dependent on the citrus industry when hard freezes, one in 1886 and others in 1894-1895, ruined the citrus groves and led to the abandonment of the industry in the area.

Beginning in 1929 with the Great Depression, the rail industry also gradually began to decline in Waldo. The railroad shops and division headquarters were soon moved, and Waldo’s economy became primarily dependent on agriculture.

Today, the Waldo Farmer’s Flea Market is perhaps the most popular draw for visitors, but City Manager Worley sees additional reasons to spur Waldo’s growth in the near future.

“The bypass around Starke scheduled to be completed by 2019 will really change Waldo and bring growth this direction,” she said, referencing the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) planned bypass on U.S. Highway 301 around the City of Starke. U.S. 301 is one of two major highways, along with State Road 24, that run through Waldo.

“If FDOT will work with Waldo, we would like to do a downtown rehab,” Worley added. “However, the holdup is that downtown literally sits in the middle of [State Road] 24, which is a very busy highway with fast traffic [and] not much parking. So we are kicking around ideas to make changes that will make the Downtown walkable.”

Worley sees downtown revitalization as important to Waldo’s future.

“If we can get the town looking better, I think that will help get the excitement built back up,” she said.

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Children's Ministry Faces Losing Home

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 Photo special to Alachua County Today


Witnesses of Christ Ministry in downtown High Springs serves the community with food and other necessities.


HIGH SPRINGS – Children and families have found a safe haven the past three years at Witnesses of Christ Ministry, located next door to The Great Outdoors on Main Street.

The non-denominational program, headed by Pastor Sammy Nelson, Jr., is a U.S. Department of Agriculture Commodities distribution location. In addition to providing food, it also provides and seeks donations to provide furniture, appliances, clothing and other necessities to assist families in need.

After helping many people, the Ministry now has a need of its own. Its current location is being sold. Nelson and his group of mostly children will be out on the street if funding for a new location cannot be found.

Nelson has been looking for a location large enough to house the growing ministry and provide a safe place for children to do their homework, learn and play safely.

Both Nelson and his wife, Belinda, spend time tutoring children from third grade through college for free. Nelson has a doctorate in ministry and his wife has a Masters in counseling and has been a middle-school counselor.

Although Nelson has scouted out a great location next to the Civic Center, the cost to get into the building and pay the rent each month is much more than Nelson currently receives in monthly donations.

“I believe the Lord will help us find the money to move us to the new location,” said Nelson.

Some of his friends and colleagues believe the Lord could use a little help answering Nelson's prayers.

The location he has in mind was at one time a day care center and most recently the location of Born Too Late Antiques. The building has a full kitchen as opposed to the kitchenette Nelson has at his current location. It has an alarm system and people have to be buzzed in the back, which provides an additional layer of safety. The building is 2,080 sq. ft. inside with three bathrooms, a basketball court and ping-pong tables. The property encompasses the equivalent of five building lots and is entirely fenced, which Nelson appreciates for safety reasons.

“The location is perfect for us,” said Nelson. “We will be able to serve more children from that location and will have easy access for the children and families using the field across the narrow street.

“The building's current owner is willing to hold the mortgage at eight percent interest,” he said. “Down payment will cost us $20,000 and an estimate of deposits is another $2,000. Monthly payments of more than $1,300 will be required to satisfy the mortgage.”

Many of Nelson's children have performed at municipal and community events in the High Springs area over the past few years. The summer feeding program has served more than 5,500 meals for children, and Nelson and his group have provided a youth ball for Valentine’s Day, a hoedown for Father’s Day, and Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day dinners.

“We try to instill pride in young ladies and teach both young men and young ladies how to treat each other respectfully,” said Nelson. “The Valentines Day Youth Ball is one way we help to accomplish that goal. Young ladies are escorted to their seats; chairs are pulled out for them. Both young men and young ladies learn the proper etiquette and what is to be expected of each. It's a great teaching tool, and the children love learning about the proper way to treat each other.”

Anyone interested in learning more about Witnesses of Christ Ministry may stop in when they are downtown, access their Facebook page at or call Nelson at 352-284-8535.

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Newberry City Limits to Increase by 1,000 Acres

Newberry Welcome Sign ES5A7228

NEWBERRY – Commissioners took the first step in the voluntary annexation of 23 parcels equaling slightly more than 1,000 acres into the City of Newberry at a commission meeting held Monday, July 25.

“Part of this is an attempt to begin to fill in some of our enclaves,” said Mayor Bill Conrad.

Two of the larger parcels to be annexed include Komoko Ranch at 171.38 acres and Loncala at 160 acres. Properties over 10 acres in size comprise 973.46 acres and properties under 10 acres comprise 49.61 acres, according to City records.

“We attempted to incorporate some of these properties into the City earlier at the property owners' requests,” said Conrad, “but ran into roadblocks dealing with the County. We were trying to take steps to fill in enclaves and pockets of finger-like properties, but I guess the County wanted us to fill in each enclave completely at one time.

“With the repeal of the Boundary Adjustment Act in February, the City now can deal directly with the State,” he said.

“These annexations, when they are completed, will not extend the City's property farther out, but will increase the compactness of the City by eliminating enclaves and pockets,” said Bryan Thomas, Newberry's Planning Director.

“The entire process, start to finish, could take as long as a year to complete as there are several steps in the process,” said Thomas. “The City will have to amend the Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map. Multiple State agencies have to review everything and may have questions or comments the City will have to address.”

The properties will also have to be rezoned from a designation of County to City.

The City is currently comprised of 34,176 acres, according to Thomas.

In other City business, City Attorney Scott Walker informed commissioners that internet sweepstakes cafes are not legal according to Florida Statutes. The City is therefore not licensing one business already situated on U.S 27/41 and is to deny the requests of two other businesses seeking licenses in Newberry.

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Communities in Profile: City of Newberry

Q - Newberry Downtown ES5A7267


BOB BROWN/ Alachua County Today


Newberry is the fourth most populous community in Alachua County with approximately 5,500 residents. Due to expanding its city limits over the last two decades, Newberry is now geographically amost the same size as Gainesville, the county's largest city.


NEWBERRY – During the peak of the Florida phosphate boom in the 1890s, communities quickly sprang up throughout Western Alachua County as entrepreneurs scrambled to capitalize on the mineral’s abundance in the area.

Towns appeared that boasted populations of hundreds, surrounding a swath of mines that dotted the landscape. As fast as they began, though, once bustling communities just as rapidly disappeared when the phosphate industry collapsed with the beginning of the First World War.

Afterward, whereas the names of Wade, Dutton, Lexington, and Haile were mostly forgotten, Newberry endured.

Incorporated in 1895 and surrounded by 14 phosphate mines, Newberry began strictly as a community dedicated to that industry. It found longevity beyond phosphate as it was able to transition into a focus on agriculture.

“We’re an agricultural community to this day,” said Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad. “We want to keep those values. Our vision for the future is to grow in the areas of agri-business, agri-tech, and focus on utilizing the railroad that runs through our community.”

The most popular civic event is the annual Watermelon Festival, which began in 1946 as a way of celebrating the most profitable crop for many local farmers.

The focus on land extends beyond agriculture, though. While Newberry is only the fourth most populous community in Alachua County with approximately 5,500 residents, it has rapidly expanded its city limits over the last two decades to the point that it is geographically almost the same size as Gainesville.

“We’re the 19th largest city in Florida by landmass out of about 900,” said Conrad, “but our population density is one person per seven acres.”

Aside from acquiring land, Conrad said an emphasis for the City is on enjoying it, as recreation is a major community emphasis. The Easton Sports Complex has a renowned archery center where several Olympic hopefuls and past participants train, while Champions Park (formerly Nations Park) is a vast, 16-stadium baseball tournament venue.

“We also manage Diamond Sports Park in Gainesville,” Conrad said. “In all, we have 38 baseball fields. Our philosophy is to have a real robust recreation department.”

Conrad said one challenge the City faces is keeping its business growth commensurate with the rapid residential expansion underway in the form of several subdivisions. He noted that population growth for the City is at a rate of approximately five-percent per year.

“We don’t want to be a bedroom community [for Gainesville],” he said. “Businesses allow us to keep our taxes low. We’ve had over 50 businesses come into Newberry in the last six years, and we’re working really hard to get more.”

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